Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Whoever you vote for the political class gets in

Nick Boles's idea of a National Liberal Party is, of course, a nonsense. As the Continuing SDP and the Pro-European Conservatives demonstrated, you cannot establish a successful political party from above. And if Boles is seeking to attract those Liberal Democrat members who think that Nick Clegg is too left wing, I hope he has not booked to large a hall.

What is behind the idea is surely an attempt to allow a few Liberal Democrat MPs - it may be significant that in his speech Boles praised both Jeremy Browne and David Laws by name - to join the Conservatives by stealth.

At the next general election they would hold their seats with the help of Conservative votes, beating the new Liberal Democrat candidate. When the National Liberal party folded a year or two later, they could quietly and regretfully join the Tories.

Stephen Tall (and sometimes this blog feels like a dialogue with him) has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice, where he tentatively reaches a tamer version of the same conclusion.

What interests me is what he goes on to say:
It’s a shame because there is an interesting speech to be made about the prospects for a National Liberal party, one which brings together the Orange Bookers, the Blairites and the Cameroons. There would be disagreements over civil liberties, but on the economy, public services, the environment and Europe they would have more in common with each other than with their current parties. Tribal loyalties, combined with our stultifying electoral system which inhibits new parties, means such an alliance is unlikely to come to pass.
To which I say is thank goodness for tribal loyalties.

Because this natural seeming confluence between large parts of the three main parties is based less on shared ideology than on a shared social background.

These days mainstream politicians are overwhelmingly likely to come from the same wealthy middle-class families, to have been to the same limited range of schools and universities, to have worked as special advisers (and perhaps in a more lucrative career  and then to have been selected to fight winnable seats.

The are all light on ideology and tend to buy in their policies from charities and think tanks. Their shared enthusiasm for "evidence-based policy" disguises a tacit, unexamined agreement about the nature of the problems we face. Where is the evidence-based policy for reducing income inequality, for instance?

I can see the idea of a party of sensible, moderate party that would unite people of good will and stay in power for ever will attract some politicos - especially exhausted Liberal Democrats. But the idea of institutionalising this social exclusivity and political timidity does not attract me.

Is the pejorative term "tribalism" - of which Liberal Democrat were accused in the 1990s when we stubbornly and unaccountably refused to join Labour when Tony Blair was so wonderful - just another way of describing what little distinctive thinking British parties still possess?


Phil Beesley said...

Top Lib Dem blogger, David Boyle yacks on. Thankfully. And non Lib Dems comprehend that he has much to say.

Squirrel Nutkin said...

Not sure I ever saw much enthusiasm, let alone commitment, for evidence-based policy from any of the groupuscules you mentioned

asquith said...

These coalitions are very difficult to achieve, too. The old-school Whigs were very different from Tories, and they were only absorbed into the Tory party so thoroughly because it ate them: they were into advanced decline as a force, as penetratingly explored by David Cannadine in "Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy" which is why, especially after Gladstone died, they had no hope of ever really being listened to by anyone.

But if Boles is right, and the people who could become national liberals are a rising force, then it'd just make Cameron's job nigh-on impossible. David Laws, "right-wing" though he may be, is unimaginable in the same party as Peter Bone.

That is also why the idea of a Tory-UKIP pact is not going to go anywhere (also UKIP, for whom I have very little time, appeal to many ex-Labourites and ex-non-voters who hate Tories, a fact which seems not to have occured to a surprising number of people).

Life, similarly, is not going to be easy for Miliband if millions of social liberals join Labour, whose traditions are far from liberal. All liberals are aligned on a lot of things, such as civil liberties, which is why as an economic liberal I'd rather align with social liberals than any other faction.

Finally, I accost Stephen Tall for his apparent belief that Blairites and Cameroons have anything to do with liberals of any form. That Blair wasn't a civil libertarian is a point of utter obviousness, and I go further to say that he was not an economic liberalism (cringing before the ultra-rich at all times is NOT akin to economic liberalism, in spite of what socialists and some others will say) or a social liberal either.

The Cameroons, likewise, have to live with Cameron's own illiberal fixations, such as restricting pornography (believe it or not I don't actually watch porno, though I'd probably fall foul of a filter for some "reason" or other). They are not liberal in their own right and the fact that there's been so little Tory resistance to the Theresa May tendency is telling- imagine if there had been!

If self-styled "Orange Bookers" want to perpetrate the belief that economic liberalism is just about making money then they can get off my liberalism, in all honesty. Or else they wouldn't consider joining with Blairites or Cameroons in anything but the loosest of coalitions.

One thinks of the multi-party system which exists in Germany. And something else, but I've forgotten what that was.

asquith said...

Of course it's not just Stephen Tall who holds this opinion. That is why I dwelt on it at such length. If he is reading this I apologise if I seemed to be singling him out. It is a widespread vein of thought which I oppose.

Gawain said...

"tend to buy in their policies from charities and think tanks".

We are consistently guilty of this as a Party and it doesn't, I think, come so much from the MPs as the activists, many of whom work for just such organisations and see the Party as an easily-manipulated standard-bearer for their cause. Entryism, I think it's called and it works in just the same way as UNITE in Falkirk and big-business in the Tories. We are the soft touch for social-pseudo scientists across the nation: one 'peer-reviewed' piece of 'research' from the University of Steeple Bumpstead and we are making policy on the back of it, rather than *thinking*.

crewegwyn said...

I don't mind being described as an Orange Booker.

But a Blairite!

You will be hearing from my solicitor.

David Cox said...

Unfortunately for Nick Boles the Nat Lib label is taken by some ex NF folk, so a bit of a tarnished brand. What Nick should do is simply take over the (continuing) Liberal Party. It comes with a handful of councillors, logo and website; however it only requires twenty people to turn up to the Assembly to have a majority.