Monday, December 03, 2018

GUEST POST For Liberalism to succeed we must embrace all of its creed

Patrick Maxwell fears identity politics and the fight against Brexit are undermining Liberalism in the Liberal Democrats.

Liberalism is the most popular political ideal in the world. The notions of freedom and justice have had the power through the centuries to inspire and drive social, political and economic freedom.

Despite this, the creed espoused by the greatest civil rights activists and the big beasts of international suffrage seems in danger of succumbing to the identity politics mob and losing its original purpose and soul.

The dawn of identity politics has led to liberal values being widely distorted. Centrist politics remains in danger of becoming ignored in favour of a clear left-right divide ignoring any compromise and sensible pragmatism.

The 'culture wars' in the United States have driven many into their respective moral trenches, never to be reconciled from their echo-chambers. The 'no-platforming' evident in many universities in a quest to conform to the 'respect' agenda has driven many on the right to cry wolf about their new found state of victimhood.

Many a commentator has lamented the loss of freedom of speech, which has led to 'freedom fighters' and keyboard warriors to launch a more visceral attack on their 'social justice warrior' opponents. This war of attrition could have desperate ramifications for centrist and liberal values. Honest, pragmatic politics must respond.

Liberalism can only work when economic freedom and social and personal emancipation go hand in hand together. The task for progressive parties across Europe and America is to make the case for a Liberalism that allows for personal freedom but also the right to offend. This challenge includes standing up for all liberal principles, in positive and compassionate capitalism, cultural and social freedom and the right of equal opportunity.

John Locke, one the greatest Enlightenment philosophers and a founding father of the modern Liberal creed, was instrumental in the rising popularity of British freedom of religion, separation of Church and state, arguing the case for every man to have the right to life, liberty and property, the phrase also used by the Founding Fathers of America in their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness expression in the opening lines of The Constitution.

It was this early promotion of civil rights, free trade and democratic suffrage that founded the basis of the Welfare State in the early 20th century under Campbell-Bannerman, Lloyd-George and Asquith. The Liberal Democrat party today seems to have forgotten its original roots in the vain hope of stopping the biggest issue of the day in Brexit and distancing themselves from the mark the party made during the Coalition years.

For a party that had long been seen as a fringe protest movement, having members around the Cabinet table showed what progress the party had made. With Vince Cable as leader, a man who cites capitalism as only practical, not morally positive, the party is in danger of becoming that fringe wing that does not visibly promote the widespread benefits of modern free-trade policy out of a fear of being called a right-wing neo-liberal.

This position is not sustainable for the long-term future of the party and the obsession with Brexit and a second referendum, though honourable causes, won't do them any good come the next election.

Henry Campbell-Bannerman's two-and-a-half year stint as Prime Minister led to the beginning of the Welfare State and the Liberal reforms in the run to the great People's Budget of 1910. CB's pragmatism in ensuring 'peace, retrenchment and reform' secured widespread popularity, friendly foreign relations and better conditions and rights for workers, the man himself affirmed that he was 'keenly in sympathy' with members of the newly-formed Labour movement.

Yet he was still labelled an old-style Gladstonian Liberal by many, despite his large reforming stance. His example as leader is one of pragmatism and compromise to achieve progress, and the modern party could take a lot from his example.

To make headway in the age of identity politics, the winner-takes-it-all type of politics that has enveloped many of the movements in Westminster, the Liberal Democrats must present a reforming, pragmatic, socially and economically progressive message to the electorate, which means including all the aspects of their core belief to ensure a positive and influential future for the party.

Patrick Maxwell blogs at Gerrymander.

1 comment:

Phil Beesley said...

The people I have most enjoyed meeting are "natural liberals". I mean people who instinctively identify liberal principles.

I don't know whether you can teach liberalism. Post-WWII West Germany required that tolerance and respect was taught in schools, and that didn't work out entirely well. Tolerance and respect are indicators of liberalism; liberalism is open and welcoming and different in a way that I don't know how to describe.

Laws to protect people, rights for a particular lifestyle -- we have them because a lot of people have to be told how to behave. And that isn't liberal.