Monday, January 23, 2006

Go away Polly, the leadership contest is members only.

A friend just pointed out this column by former Owenite, now Brownite, and general witch Polly Toynbee. Like most of the Guardian's columnists, Toynbee begins by assuming that the real story is entirely internal to the Labour party, and devotes more than half her space to discussing that. In the middle third of the column, she does deign to talk about the Liberal Democrats. Her advice is more than usually asinine.

This is now the question Lib Dem would-be leaders must answer. It may maximise their vote to dance about saying "neither right nor left", but what is the point of merely existing in nothingness? Labour die-hards call them no more than a franchise - a painfully accurate accusation. Collect up their literature and they face quite different ways according to their local opponent.

We don't dance about anything. "Neither right nor left" is not a piece of tactical postitioning, it is an indictment of the state of British politics. With both Thatcherism and Footism discredited, everyone sane agrees about the big economic issues. The big issues of 2006 are questions about national identity, the management of public services, and how to deal with what used to be called noisy neighbours and is now apparently "anti-social behaviour". On all these issues, the division is between right (i.e. Liberal) and wrong. And yet morons like Toynbee still insist on talking about right and left - no wonder the electorate get turned off.

But times have changed since the SDP. Where once there was a great savannah of available political space, now the air is too thin to breathe between New Labour and Cameron Tories. Both parties have stolen Lib Dem land: all now preach the new localism.

We don't have to be between New Labour and Cameron's Tories. We are liberal, they are illiberal. The Liberal Democrats don't just preach the new localism, we actually do it - try googling for "most improved Council". While the other parties (more specifically, the Monster Raving Loony Party) may have stolen David Owen's political turf, they is still plenty of space for a principled Liberal party.

But there is a need for a party more radical than Labour, a party that says no to war and no to wasting billions on new nuclear weapons or nuclear reactors, that dares to talk of the greed of the rich, of boardroom kleptocracy and the duty of top earners to shoulder a fairer share. Already the Lib Dems alone own civil liberties, and they are the pluralists who would rebuild council and Commons chambers in horseshoe shape under proportional representation, offering the one crucial "choice" that Labour and Tories refuse - the choice to vote for any party in a fair election.
Quite right too. Didn't you just say that we danced with nothingness, and were a franchise and not a party? The issues you just mentioned aren't perpheral. Civil liberties matter - right now people all over the world are being arrested, tortured, and shot for writing columns like yours.

They will never win; that's not their function.

Our function is what we say it is, not what a Labour-supporting Guardian columnist says it is. We say our function is to form a Liberal Democrat government, with Liberal policies and Chris Huhne as a Liberal Prime Minister. You want to see a Labour government, with socialist policies. So we really don't care what you think we should be doing.

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  • At 6:16 pm , Anonymous Paul Leake said...

    People who aren't members are entitled to a view, and those who as members are entitled to more than a view (ie. a vote) would do well to consider opinion outside the party, even if ultimately rejecting it - at least if you want the Lib Dems to be successful. Of course you can still disagree with her conclusions :)

  • At 1:35 am , Anonymous Gregg said...

    [Toynbee wants] to see a Labour government, with socialist policies.

    As you say above, she's an Owenite turned Brownite, so the last thing she's likely to want is socialist policies.

    And if Thatcherism is discredited, why is it still the central policy plank of both the government and the Opposition?

    And what the hell is "Footism"? The only policy ever ideologically associated with Michael Foot was unilateral nuclear disarmament. Do you mean Keynsianism? Ironically, whilst it remains discredited in the UK, it seems to be starting to make a come-back just about everywhere else in the world.

  • At 1:14 pm , Blogger Paul Leake said...

    F&M wrote:

    The big issues of 2006 are questions about national identity, the management of public services, and how to deal with what used to be called noisy neighbours and is now apparently "anti-social behaviour". On all these issues, the division is between right (i.e. Liberal) and wrong.

    I guess the difference is that (at least from what I've seen of her) that Toynbee appears to believe poverty is still an issue, even if ignored by much of the political scene. In this she is right. This leads her to support all of Gordon Brown's tortuously complicated poverty reduction measures.

    I think left-right does still matter (but is diminishing) and that libertarian-authoritarian is growing in importance in the UK but that ultimately they are debates within the political classes, with a great many people voting on how a party 'brand' fits in with their personal identity.

  • At 4:32 pm , Blogger LibertyCat said...

    The Tories aren't exactly Thatcherite any more having elected Cameron as leader on an explicitly non-Thatcherite platform. Anyone who thinks Labour is Thatcherite hasn't seen how much money they are spending on public services, not to mention the fact that they have launched the most ambitious redistributive project in British history (the Working Families Tax Credit and successors). A party which ran on an explicity Thatcherite platform of tax cuts for the rich and xenophobic tub-thumping would go down to a landslide defeat - as Hague, Duncan-Smith and Howard learned to their cost.

    I have posted a new main article in response to your comment.


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