Monday, 7 April 2014

For The Sake of Democracy, We Need Big Ideas, Re-engagement and Progressive Visions


Is this what the end of history looks like? Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History”, which was developed at the end of the Cold War, represented the triumph of free market western democracy over communism, fascism and feudalism. Three decades after the free market revolution of Margaret Thatcher, our political system in Britain has been transformed. For domestic British politics, the end of history seems to have embodied the triumph of neoliberalism over democratic socialism, social democracy, social liberalism and one nation conservatism. The democratic battle between the Keynesianism of the left and the free market of the right seems to be over in Britain. One of Margaret Thatcher's most famous free market slogans was "there is no alternative" a phrase that was often referred to by the acronym of TINA. Thirty five years since Thatcher came to power and in the age of austerity; TINA still dominates the political discourse in Britain. This is bad both for Britain and for our democracy.

 

Since Thatcher's government, we have seen a steady hollowing out of party politics. Politicians today take great pride in the fact that they have no guiding philosophy or ideology. Valueless pragmatism is the name of the game in 21st century politics. It is very common to hear politicians attack their political opponents for being "ideological" or "political." The person who embodied the hollowing out of politics more than any other was the New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. New Labour used focus groups to develop policies as well as having a great emphasis on the need to spin and manage the party's media presence. Blair no doubt saw ideology as a relic of the past that surely must have died out at the end of the 20th century. But far from phrases such as ideological or political being insults; isn’t it these things, what are supposed to fuel democracy? Democracy should be a politically driven competition between different ideas and philosophies.

 

Today the main political parties in Britain all represent different versions of the neoliberal consensus of the last three decades. A kind of fifty shades of neoliberalism. The Conservatives were obviously the first party to adopt the neoliberal framework as Thatcher went to war with the one nation Tory old guard within her own party. This was followed by Tony Blair co-opting the Labour Party into the neoliberal consensus. The one-time party of socialism and social democracy became staunch defenders of the free market and many public service reforms under a programme called “the third way.” Far from being an alternative to traditional social democracy or the free market; the third way in reality represented a slightly more moderate version of the policies begun by Margaret Thatcher. Finally, the Liberal Democrats have increasingly adopted free market based policies influenced by the neoliberal Orange Book. The Orange Book has gone against the grain of the Lib Dems’ philosophy of social liberalism; which has been dominant in the party since 1906. Orange Book liberalism has seen its zenith under the coalition with the Conservatives, with many contributors to the Orange Book holding senior posts in the Coalition Government.

 

In 2014, apathy in British politics as well as mistrust of politicians is very high. These factors are probably partly influenced by the fact that there is no discernible difference between the philosophies of the main three parties. No senior politician in Britain today seems to articulate a real vision of the future. Clement Attlee had his "New Jerusalem", Margaret Thatcher had her "Property Owning Democracy" but where is the big political vision of 2014 coming from? Where is the essence of democracy, the ideas and the visions?

 

Politicians of all political stripes need to re-engage with the people, and perhaps no group needs more engagement than the working classes. Over the past 20 years, the working classes have been increasingly alienated by British politics as politicians from across the spectrum have sought the votes of Middle England. There is a danger that this gap in the focus of the main parties may be filled by extremist parties. In particular, the right wing nationalist party, UKIP are seeking to reach out to disenchanted working class voters. UKIP are exploiting the political void left by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Surely, the main three parties cannot abandon many working class voters to UKIP and the politics of fear. The political mainstream need to invoke the spirit of Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan and David Lloyd George; politicians who inspired millions of working class people to get involved in politics. Whoever can successfully reach out and harness the working class vote will determine the outcome of general elections.

 

A second group that politicians desperately need to re-engage with are young people. The voters aged between 18 and 25 represent the literal future of Britain and its democracy. Yet the same age group is suffering immensely in the current economic climate. One in five young people are unemployed. That's a youth unemployment rate of 20%. The average rate of unemployment during the years of the Great Depression was 17%. We must face the reality of the situation that in this country we have mass youth unemployment. This is an entire generation of people who feel unable to contribute to our economy and unable to take the first step on the job ladder. Politicians are often (quite rightly) concerned with the issues of older voters, however many young people feel neglected by our current politicians and feel turned off by politics in general. This is going to be very bad if fewer people have faith in politics and if young people do not think it can make a real difference to their lives.

 

A healthy democracy is one that flows with new political ideas. Big ideas, guiding philosophies and political passion will re-engage many voters who have been turned off by the politics of recent decades and will ensure a revival of democratic participation. The Liberal Democrats need to reassert their historic social liberal philosophy over the Orange Book. Whereas, Labour need to rediscover progressive politics. In fairness to the Conservatives, they are the only party in British politics that are able to follow their true conservative ideology as it is the only one that naturally seeks to expand the reach of the free market economy. Thus modern conservatism is the only ideology that naturally seeks to advance neoliberalism.

 

We need to bring back the battle of ideas and with it politicians who seek to make a real difference, according to their own set of ideals and philosophies. The strength of our democracy depends upon it. Britain desperately needs a progressive alternative to the neoliberal consensus, and it is ultimately up to the Liberal Democrats and Labour (and perhaps even some Conservatives) to provide one. Politicians must be proud to be political again. Politicians need to have a defining vision. But above all in the age of austerity what people really need is hope. Hope for a better, fairer future for them and their friends and families. Hope that will encourage them to become active in our democracy again. Because if Britain's politicians are not willing to revive democracy and engage many of those alienated in recent years; then the future of politics will indeed be hopeless, especially from the perspective of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society. For British democracy to remain strong, we need to revive big ideas, we need to re-engage with alienated groups and we need progressive visions to help everyone in society; not just the ultra-wealthy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Britain’s Many Conservative Parties

It was once believed in Britain that traditional conservative attitudes towards Europe, law and order, immigration, gay rights and nationalism had long been in decline amongst Britain's political parties. However over the last few months British politics has seen a resurgence of traditional conservatism. Three political parties in particular have spearheaded this resurgence. Firstly the Conservative Party, secondly and quite surprisingly the Labour Party and thirdly the UK Independence party (UKIP). This right wing shift in social policy may have grave consequences for British society and is there anyone left to make the case for a more liberal and more tolerant society?

The Conservatives’ Rightwards Shift
Perhaps it is only obvious that a rightward shift in social attitudes and a return to traditional conservatism would happen within the Conservative Party. The Tories, when David Cameron first became leader portrayed a more tolerant view of society. This was coined by the media as "hug a hoody." However following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the Conservative Party has begun to return to the hard justice traditional conservative policies of Michael Howard in the 1990s. This even lead to the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling calling for homeowners to be able to use force to defend their property. This policy was dubbed "bash a burglar" by the media. This has been accompanied by a re-emphasis on punishment and prison within law and order policy, this focus on tough justice was first displayed a year ago in the response to the summer riots.

The European Union remains a bone of contention for the Conservative Party; an increasing number of Tory MPs are becoming Eurosceptic and vocally attacking Europe on many issues. Many right-wing Tories would like to scrap the Human Rights Act the because of the codification of the European Convention on human rights within it. Some Tories are even talking about Britain leaving the Council of Europe because of this opposition to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Conservatives have returned to their traditionalist roots in regard to many issues that affect society. There are even over 100 Tory MPs willing to vote against same-sex marriage. The notions of hug a hoody have long since faded and the re-emergence of the Nasty Party has taken place.

Labour’s One Nation Conservatism
Lord Glasman shortly after the last general election developed a thesis called Blue Labour. Blue Labour combined the Labour Party's traditional focus on social democracy with traditional conservative values. This conservative social democracy has increasingly crept into the mainstream of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband at the last Labour conference even adopted the Conservative slogan of "One Nation." This slogan had originally been applied to Conservative Prime Ministers such as Benjamin Disraeli, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath. The thread of one nation conservatism within the Labour Party would no doubt have had former Labour Party leaders turning in their graves.

Labour have continued to pursue very populist policies on law and order usually attacking the Coalition for not being strict and hard enough in tackling crime and punishing those responsible. The Labour Party also remains committed to authoritarian policies such as a CCTV surveillance state and an illiberal DNA database, both of which would erode civil liberties. A few weeks ago the Labour Party allied itself with Eurosceptic Tories to vote for a cut in the European budget. This event in particular showed that the Labour Party is becoming much more opportunistic on Europe and is increasingly unwilling to make the case in favour of the European Union. When Labour does make a progressive argument on the economy, it does so by wrapping it in nationalist terms, for example "how will this work programme help to create one nation?"

Labour’s incorporation of one nation conservatism within its existing social democratic views is very much in the essence of the Blue Labour thesis. When it comes to law and order, Europe, immigration and the concept of the nation, Labour is becoming increasingly traditionally conservative.

UKIP: The Ultra-Conservatives
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is an emerging force in British politics. In most opinion polls UKIP is only a couple of points behind the Liberal Democrats, meaning that UKIP are now the undisputed forth force of British politics. The party of Nigel Farage is very right wing party and the more conservative than the Tories on both social and economic issues. Their primary objective is to withdraw from the UK from the European Union. They are spearheading Eurosceptic sentiment in the UK. Furthermore they are incredibly anti-immigration and want to prevent hardly any immigration from the EU into Britain. They are the only senior party that is openly hostile and opposed to the concept of equal marriage between gay and lesbian people. This Eurosceptic party as its name and philosophy suggests is profoundly nationalistic in its political views.

An Opportunity For The Liberal Democrats
Considering the increasingly conservative attitudes of the Tories, Labour and UKIP, who is left to make the case in favour of the EU, immigration, civil liberties, human rights and a tolerant view of law and order? The move to the right on social issues may provide an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to defend a liberal view of society. Their liberalism embodies civil liberties, internationalism and socially tolerant view of law and order. The Lib Dems must use this as an opportunity to defend liberalism in the face of increasingly conservative opponents. Crime, justice and prison policy are almost entirely viewed through conservative lenses by the other political parties. They mst also avoid the populist nationalism of the Tories, UKIP and increasing Labour. Furthermore they must not be afraid to be proud pro-Europeans who are pro-immigration and display an unwavering commitment to internationalism in contrast to the Euroscepticism of the right and the opportunism of the one nation Labour Party. If the Liberal Democrats cannot defend liberal principles amongst the rise of increasingly conservative parties in Britain, no other political party will.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Empowering The Poor and Tackling Poverty at the Local Level

In 1909, the Liberal Party Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George delivered his People's Budget. During his delivery he stated that;
"I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.”

One hundred and three years on from the People's Budget how close are we to seeing David Lloyd George’s "good time" when poverty will be remote to this country? Well in the previous century, Britain has developed a strong welfare state, built a National Health Service (NHS) and established progressive taxation, much on the foundations laid by Lloyd George. However despite these progressive achievements poverty still remains in 21st century Britain.

The United Kingdom is currently going through a period of harsh austerity measures. The nature or austerity means that it will naturally impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially when cuts are made to the welfare budget and to social services. The charity, Save the Children in its first ever UK appeal says that too many children in Britain today from poor families "are going without hot meals, new shoes and winter clothes" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/05/save-the-children-uk-campaign).

For most of the last few decades the poorest people in Britain have been suffering. This was long before the latest period of austerity. During this time Britain has seen both Conservative and Labour governments come in and out of power. Take my hometown of Blackpool in the mid-2000s for example, I had many school friends whose parents struggled with food bills and struggled to feed themselves and their children properly. Added to this, many of their parents couldn't afford new clothes and often had to put up with damaged and worn out shoes. Food and clothing are the very basics in life, and yet in the mid-2000s during what Labour would have you believe was an age of plenty, the poorest in our country still struggled to afford them. Many poor working class areas, most of which vote Labour have in many cases been abandoned by the tradition party of the working class.

In-order to tackle poverty we need a multi-pronged approach. An approach that includes a redistributive welfare state, free healthcare, a good education, tackling personal debt, tacking addiction and community engagement and local empowerment. I shall focus mostly on the last one of these prongs, community engagement and local empowerment.

It is time for a truly localist route to tackling poverty. We must tackle poverty at its local grassroots. Firstly we need local authorities to be actively engaging with their poorest communities. This should include establishing community leaders that can work alongside the local council, local councillors, police officers, social workers, trade unions and local charities. This should establish an active and positive dialogue between communities and local authorities and charities. This community engagement should be used to recognise what the social issues are that prevent poverty from reducing. The community and local authorities should cooperate in addressing the social issues.

Secondly, their needs to be an efficient targeting of resources at a local and community level. National government should devolve funding and recourses to local government specifically for tacking local poverty. Local councils should be able to target this funding at the poorest areas where it would be most effective at eradicating poverty. The funding should be directed according to what problems need to be tackled to reduce poverty and increase opportunity. This funding could be directly redistributed to the poor, used to improve underperforming schools, used to tackle alcohol and drug addiction or used to renovate poor areas and communities.

Thirdly we must ensure the poor have an effective democratic voice. Having the vote and actually feeling part of the democratic process are two different things entirely. What is needed in order to give the poor an effective democratic voice is community politics. Community politics is the doctrine of empowering individuals within their communities. It is an ideology of “social transformation” (The Theory & Practice of Community Politics: http://www.cix.co.uk/~rosenstiel/aldc/commpol.htm).

Community politics is a doctrine that is most practiced by the Liberal Democrats. It involves active local politicians engaging with communities to determine what local issues are affecting those communities. Local politicians and local people then campaign together by delivering leaflets, lobbying the local authorities and by organising local petitions. The hope being to achieve the enactment of the policy being campaigned upon.  Examples of community politics may include the need to have a new playground built, to prevent the closure of a youth centre or to protect local hospital services.

Community politics should form the liberal and democratic foundations of any attempt to tackle poverty as well as any attempt to empower and engage with poorer communities. In short, community politics should be perused to give our poorest communities a genuine stake in the democratic process. We must not only strive to tackle inequalities of rights, wealth and opportunities, but we must also tackle inequalities in power between the rich and poor as well.

To tackle poverty in the 21st Century, we must empower people especially the poor. We must ensure that society has a social minimum below which no one is allowed to fall. Rights, wealth, opportunity and power must be openly available to everyone. It has been 103 years, since Lloyd George’s budget and poverty is still not “remote to the people of this country”, far from it. But if we are to tackle poverty we must not just redistribute wealth through an active welfare state, but actively seek to engage with, direct resources to and democratically empower our poorest people at the local level.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Politics of Doctor Who

At the weekend the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) returned as series 7 of Doctor Who began on BBC One. I have been a committed Whovian ever since Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005. In between bouts of sci-fi madness I also took the time to get a degree in Politics. So how better to celebrate the start of Doctor Who series 7 than by analysing the politics of what is surely the greatest sci-fi show in existence.
The left-wing bias of Doctor Who
It is often stated that Doctor Who especially the classic series had a subtle left wing bias to it. People point to numerous left-leaning references throughout the Pertwee and Baker years. These range from supporting striking interplanetary Mineworkers to opposing right-wing female dictators. The Russell T Davies years made numerous references to the progressive centre-left. Amongst them was Harriet Jones being in effect a Labour Prime Minister, Harold Saxon (the Master) being a one-time Labour defence Minister before subtly taking over the world and the appearance of Barack Obama in the Christmas special "The End of Time: Part One". If there has been a bias towards centre-left politicians it hasn't affected the episodes of Stephen Moffat for he has already featured two prominent conservative politicians Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon. Whether there was a left-wing bias in the past is arguable however there does not appear to be an overt left-wing bias in the new series at least not towards socialism.
Is the Doctor an anarchist?
When considering the Doctor's political affiliations it is often the case that he is cited as being an anarchist. This ranges from the clear individualism he displays as being a "madman in the box" to his clear disregard of external authority. The ability to travel through time and space in the TARDIS is obviously very anarchic in the sense that the Doctor and his companions can travel wherever or whenever they choose (in theory). The Doctor’s quirky eccentric personality which embodies his individualism along with him being the “last of the Time Lords” makes him a perfect candidate for being a classical individualist anarchist.
However To call the Doctor an anarchist is to overlook the sparks of pure authoritarianism that he displays from time to time. The Doctor's flashes of authoritarianism usually emerge when he is without a companion or when he's forced to relive aspects of the Last Great Time War. Examples of such authoritarianism can be seen with how he treated the Racnoss (in "The Runaway Bride") or when he enforced the protocols of the Shadow Proclamation, when the Atraxi tried to destroy Earth (in “The Eleventh Hour”). Furthermore the lordly qualities of the last of the Time Lords have led some to refer to the Doctor as a "mighty warrior" ("A Good Man Goes to War"). All things considered how many determined anarchists would travel in a blue police box, even if the chameleon circuit was broken?
Why the Doctor is probably a liberal.
The Doctor embodies freedom in his very nature. The freedom to travel throughout space and time is the Doctor’s raison d'ĂȘtre. The Doctor doesn't just represent freedom he promotes it as well. Not to mention the legions of alien threats that he and his companions have freed people from throughout the ages. The Doctor also embodies a liberal sense of equality with his clear tolerance and accommodation of different species. Most notably in "Cold Blood" when he encourages negotiations between humanity and the Silurians. The Doctor is also an advocate of justice, in both its social and legal senses. In the 2010 Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol", the Doctor is critical of how Kazran treats the poor people of his planet. In the final confrontation with the Teselecta at the end of series 6, the Justice Department remind the Doctor that they uphold law and order as he has always done. Perhaps the Doctor’s most liberal trait is his use of reason and logic which for a man who never carries a gun, can often be the greatest weapons he possesses. It is difficult to say exactly which political philosophy that the Doctor best embodies however all things considered the philosophy that best sums up the Doctor is that of liberalism.

The Daleks: Pepper pot fascists.
The Daleks are the ultimate enemies of the Time Lords. And no Time Lord is a greater enemy to them than the Doctor (or the “Oncoming Storm” as he is often referred). The Daleks are pepper pot shaped machines piloted by screaming slug-like aliens originally from the Planet Skaro. The Daleks are the embodiment of hatred, whose whole purpose is to “Exterminate” all life that isn't Dalek. Added to this the Daleks usually create empires through which to conquest the universe. Think of the Daleks as being intergalactic equivalent of the Japanese Empire equipped with Dalek Emperors, Dalek Supremes, Dalek social hierarchy and ultimately Dalek racial supremacy. The Daleks also appear to have a legislative branch beneath the Emperor, the Parliament of the Daleks which is overseen by the Dalek Prime Minister as seen the first episode of series 7 the "Asylum of the Daleks." This screaming and ranting aspects of the Daleks as well as their severe hatred is obviously comparable to that of the Nazis. The Daleks are thus the equivalent of fascists and they are clearly based on the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese.

The Cybermen: The silver socialists.
Finally no Doctor Who analysis would be complete without a look at the Doctor's other great enemy, the Cybermen. Cybermen are cyborgs with human organs encased within a metallic silver body. The Cybermen claim that human conversions are necessary to eliminate all class, colour, creed and emotions. They're famous rallying cry is that "you will become identical, you will become like us." This embodies an absolute collectivism that seeks to abolish individualism as well as to eliminate social and physical inequality. This most resembles a creed of socialism born out of a cybernetic equality. The Cybermen are authoritarian and they have a limited hierarchy, thus they probably best resemble the sci-fi equivalent of Leninists or Stalinists.
Conclusion
Overall Doctor Who as a television programme can probably be best seen as promoting a small L liberal outlook in its political make-up. It is a great sci-fi programme and I hope it will continue to inspire people for many generations to come.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A Lib Dem Five Point Plan For Economic Growth And Stability

Today it has been revealed that for the second quarter of this year, the British economy has shrunk and failed to grow. I for one have never been very enthusiastic about austerity and I personally think it can only ever be enacted alongside strong policies to ensure economic growth. We should aim to balance growth and austerity. The policy of outright austerity in Britain has seemingly failed to work and our economy is now continuing to decline, while being in recession. and unemployment remains stubbornly high. The political and economic discourse in our country should turn towards growth.

As a member of Liberal Democrats, I believe we need to start promoting strong policies to create economic growth alongside austerity. We cannot ignore the changing political reality across Europe with the election of Francois Hollande in France, the continuing crisis in Greece and the potential of a bailout being needed for Spain. Labour often sight their “five point plan” hence I have created a Liberal Democrat equivalent. This is a five point plan that covers Lib Dem policies that are desperately needed in order to get growth and stability back into our economy.

1. Regulate and immediately break-up the banks
We must remember that the current economic crisis initially began as a crisis of confidence in the banking system as a result of a decade of under-regulated by the last Labour government. The financial risk-taking and rampant speculation in the big banks destabilised the global economy and threatened to bring the whole banking system down. As a result taxpayers around the world had to bail out the banks to prevent people losing their life savings. This must never be allowed to happen again. The banks, as recommended by the Vickers Report must be immediately split up between their risky financial investment arm and their retail arm creating an economic firewall in case of a future banking crisis. Furthermore sufficient checks must be put in place to ensure that the aggressive speculation and rampant risk-taking of the banks never again leaves the taxpayer and our country exposed. This will free the government from the fear of having to use public expenditure to bailout the banks in the future. The government must also get the banks lending again to small and medium sized businesses.

2. Ensure Fairer Taxes
The richest in our society must always pay their fair share especially during times of economic difficulty. This means that a fully fledged mansions tax must be introduced at a rate of 1% on houses worth over £2 million. We should also seriously consider introducing a land-value tax to ensure that wealthy landowners make their necessary contribution. Furthermore the highest rate of income tax should be raised back up to 50p in the pound and should apply to everyone earning over £150,000. The extra revenue raised through these taxes should be re-invested into the economy to help achieve points 3 and 4.

3. Build More Houses
Four years after the housing property bubble burst, houses remain ruinously expensive and far out of the price range of first-time buyers. We should seek to build 100,000 more homes a year, as suggested by Lord Oakeshott. This would stimulate the construction industry which is in much need of growth. It would also provide houses for thousands of people who need them and as supply catches up to the demand, house prices will become more affordable.

4. Invest in a Green People’s Budget
Liberal Democrats have always been passionate about the environment and tackling climate change. Also it is 103 years since David Lloyd George’s famous “People’s Budget.” It is time for a “Green People’s Budget” to advance a green Keynesian strategy for a green stimulus plan. This would be a nationwide plan to ensure green project spending, green jobs and ultimately green growth. This would include constructing both onshore and offshore wind turbines as well as developing and building other forms of non-carbon and renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, tidal, HEP, kinetic and possibly nuclear. This will stimulate the construction sector and the science and technology industry. The aim of the plan should be rapidly reduce out carbon emissions to meet a target of 30% reductions by 2020, as once suggested by Chris Huhne. We are going to have to invest in these technologies sooner or later and when it comes to tackling climate change, time is of the essence. The green investment bank and the green deal are a great start in this direction.  The plan would create jobs for thousands of people and ensure that while tackling climate change would also be tackling our economic difficulties as well.

5. Do not renew Trident
Finally for one of the most unique and popular policies of the entire Liberal Democrat political platform. The Trident nuclear weapons system would cost £100 billion over the course of its lifetime and is unaffordable in the current economic climate. It is a Cold War weapon system that no longer has any place in a world that is no longer dominated by two ideological opposed superpowers. We must find a much cheaper alternative to Trident. The extra revenue raised by not renewing Trident would be used to help achieve points 3 and 4 and to directly reduce the structural deficit.

1.     Regulate and immediately break-up the Banks to get them lending again.
2.     Ensure Fairer Taxes: a mansion tax, a land-value tax and a 50p top rate of income tax.
3.     Build 100,000 more houses per year.
4.     Invest in a Green People’s Budget to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2020, by ensuring green growth and green jobs.
5.     Do not renew Trident.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Liberal Left and What It Means

A few days ago it was announced that a new centre-left pressure group would be launched within the Liberal Democrats called ‘Liberal Left.’ Liberal Left seeks to promote Liberalism as an outlook of the centre-left. The group is opposed to the current Coalition Government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, which it sees as being “Eurosceptic, neo-liberal, and socially conservative.” The group aims to oppose the Coalition on economic and fiscal policy and to provide a “positive alternative”. Furthermore Liberal Left aims to create a broad alliance on the left between the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens. Ultimately Liberal Left would like to replace the current centre-right Coalition Government with a new centre-left Coalition Government (after the next General Election) between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

As someone who openly describes himself as a ‘Lefty Liberal’ I warmly welcome the launch of Liberal Left. Anyone who opposes Euroscepticism, Neo-Liberalism and Social Conservatism can’t be all that bad. It is clear that the current neo-liberal austerity plan of the current government is failing to tackle the deficit or achieve social justice and a fairer Keynesian alternative is much needed. Hopefully Liberal Left can embody such an alternative. The Liberal Democrats are after all quite literally the party of John Maynard Keynes.

What could Liberal Left mean for the Lib Dems as a political party? There are four points to mention.

Firstly, the group has been depicted as the anti-Clegg Lib Dems. This would be a great shame if it was the case, since Nick Clegg is most definitely the best person to be leading the Liberal Democrats. Like it or not he is the first Liberal leader since Archie Sinclair in 1945 to have achieved a role for his party in government. Furthermore in the party leaders’ polls Nick Clegg is often seen as a better leader by the public than the Labour leader, Ed Miliband.

Secondly, Liberal Left will likely be drawn into competition with the other centre-left pressure group in the party, the Social Liberal Forum (SLF). Liberal Left is avowedly anti-Coalition whereas the SLF while frequently criticising the Coalition remains cautiously pro-Coalition. Hence a clear division between the anti-Coalition centre-left and the pro-Coalition centre-left in the party. It is unclear which group will become the dominant voice of the Lib Dem centre-left. I hope that the two groups can cooperate together to advance the cause of centre-left Liberalism.

Thirdly, let’s hope that Liberal Left maintains to pursue its objectives within the Liberal Democrats and that it seeks to keep the party united. The last thing we want to see is the creation of a Liberal Left Party in a kind of SDP-style split from the Lib Dems.

Finally and most importantly, Liberal Left will hopefully become a venue for radical centre-left liberal politics that seeks to challenge the current authoritarian neo-liberal consensus that has dominated British Politics for over 30 years. Thus providing a centre-left liberal alternative based on the ideas of Keynes, Beveridge and Grimond.

Let it never be said that Liberal Politics is boring. Liberal Left displays a new radical venture within the Liberal Democrats. As to whether it is a short-lived phase or a long-term political movement, we’ll have to wait until the pressure group is officially launched in Gateshead on March 10th at the Lib Dem Spring Conference.   

Monday, 14 November 2011

Vince Cable sympathises with the 99%

A week ago I stated that I sympathise with the Occupy London protesters in the sense that they seek to protect the poorest 99% against the excesses and greed of the top 1%. Following endorsements from senior politicians from the Green Party and the Labour Party; I argued it was time for the Liberal Democrats to state their support for the 99%. Yesterday on the Politics Show, the Business Secretary Vince Cable announced that he sympathised with the cause of the Occupy London protesters. Occupy London which is primarily based outside St Paul's Cathedral is campaigning against gross inequalities of wealth, corporate corruption and basic unfairness in our society. The endorsement of such a senior Liberal Democrat and government figure will act as a political boost for the primary aim of the Occupy London movement which is to protect the poorest 99%. Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats have long been campaigning for a fairer more equitable capitalism, where the rich pay their fair share. It has been stated by the media (often mistakenly) that the camp at St Pauls is an anti-capitalist protest. Although much of Occupy London is emboldened by campaigners who are Marxists, Trotskyites, socialists and anarchists not all at the camp are anti-capitalist. Indeed, mine and I daresay Vince Cable’s support for the protesters outside St Paul's comes out of a belief that our current neoliberal capitalism is increasingly unfair and that we need to create a capitalism that is fairer, more progressive and that works for everyone not just the ultra-rich top 1% in our society.

To read an article from the Guardian concerning Vince Cable’s statement on the Politics Show please follow this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/nov/13/vince-cable-sympathise-occupy-london