Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A new liberal future

A liberal goes a long way posts about the new political division between cosmopolitans and chauvinists. And quotes a blog post by David Aaronvitch that makes a similar distinction but uses different terms (progressives -v- reactionaries). David's article echoes the text of a speech he made to the Oxford Alternative Careers Fair.

I've certainly thought about this sort of distinction but termed the groups 'liberals' and 'authoritarians'. And I disagree with David Aaronvitch over who falls into each category.

I could vote for David Cameron, but I couldn’t vote for David Davis or Ken Clarke. I could vote for Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, but I couldn’t vote for Frank Dobson or Clare Short. I could vote for Vincent Cable or David Laws, but I couldn’t vote for Jenny Tonge or Phil Willis.

I'd have Liberals: David Cameron (questionable - but his image is being spun in that direction and Steve Hilton wrote an eminently cool book), Ken Clarke, Vincent Cable, David Laws, Robin Cook (before his sad departure from this earthly plane)
Authoritarians: Frank Dobson, Clare Short, David Blunkett, David Davis, Paul Holmes, Phil Willis [insert any other MP who instinctively wants to *ban* something petty or random], Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (it doesn't matter how much they globe trot and talk about democracy in Iraq, they pushed the Legislative and Regulatory Reform bill and Blair employed David Blunkett, who is about as 'Cosmopolitan' as 'Horse and Hound').

These choices are 'gut' and I'm happy to be cited evidence to the contrary, but the crucial thing is that they cross party. Yet the current party system means I can't make choices that way. Perhaps why political parties don't have the visceral distinctions that they used to is that they are broad churches encompassing groups whose world view is different but who identify with the label and not the message. The Lib Dems possibly less so - going on about liberalism means that even the most authoritarian Lib Dems tend to be 'soft' authoritarian, and choosing to support a third party requires a bit more thought about ideas... rather like buying a slightly unusual make of car. But generally, politics for political anoraks is sometimes a bit like a football match - about a sense of belonging and group identity as much as what's happening (read Fever Pitch). Being an Arsenal fan isn't about what Arsenal is doing as opposed to Chelsea; they're both playing football. Football supporting is about having something in common with other people, and the pleasure of cheering on your team. But this isn't necessarily the most conducive atmosphere for sharing and generating ideas, or reacting to changing circumstances.

I don't mean that all political parties *are* the same or are pushing an identical agenda. But if political parties are 'containers' of members then the contemporary divisions in politics could be used to create more sensibly delineated ones. Or rather, if we'd gone from zero to democracy at the beginning of the 21st century then we wouldn't have a 'Labour', a 'Conservative' and a 'Liberal Democrat' party... These are historical labels. The over-arching political debate used to be about public services and heavy industry (like mining). The party configurations were set up for that debate, but now the political mainstream agrees some things can be outsourced, that communism wasn't a good idea and that the 'winter of discontent' was just that. The current debate is all about our increasingly interlinked world - do we try to pull up the drawbridge to immigrants, the internet, McDonalds, global warming, international crime and terrorism at the expense of individual freedom? Or do we embrace the possibilities and swim with the flow?

If we put David Blunkett and David Davis together I'm sure they could find a common answer to that question that they could take to the British public. But it's a policy platform which the people who David Cameron is courting would find repellent. Somewhat radical but perhaps this is a way to get people back to the polling booths...

20 Comments:

  • At 7:18 pm , Blogger Chris Palmer said...

    The majority of Lib Dem MPs voted to BAN (as they saw it) foxhunting. Does this make them all authoritarian - and consequently, will you still be voting for them?

     
  • At 6:37 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Fox-hunting is one of those peculiar issues which, once you've excluded that body of people who think it's all about 'toffs' (usually 'Old' Labour backbenchers) then it ends up being a discussion of the technical details of animal welfare, animal rights and pest control policy.

    It's either liberal to ban it because animals should be accorded some basic freedom from unnecessary harm through the actions of others, foxes are a pest and it's not the most humane way to control them.

    OR it's liberal not to ban it because it is the most humane way to control foxes and given foxes must be controlled and this is a good way of doing it, then to stop people pursuing their hobby is illiberal.

    So it comes down to what is the best way of controlling foxes, do foxes feel pain, how traumatised are they by being chased across the country as opposed to being shot, should Mill's harm principle apply in any way to animals given that we eat animals and use them for shoes and other animals pursue and eat animals...

    It is a somewhat 'random' issue but it was being discussed in the House of Commons, and it is more difficult than it sounds. I was thinking of the various announcements/early day motions tabled by MPs of various parties trying to ban certain foodstuffs/people/pop groups/popular culture activities (e.g. Jodie Marsh), etc. David Cameron isn't exactly immuned from this phenomenon either (and I put him in the 'non-authoritarians' category), although to be fair to him he was just having a moan about chocolate oranges and baby bras.

    It's also worth mentioning that the metropolitan types who don't care whether it's banned or not tend to be the 'cosmopolitans' in the 'A Liberal Goes a Long Way' post.

     
  • At 11:44 pm , Blogger Chris Palmer said...

    To be honest, I find it extremely wierd that some people seemingly put the rights of animals such as foxes above those of humans. Certainly when there is so much human suffering in this world, even on the streets of our own country, why are people out their campaigning for the nonexistent rights of a pest rather than that of our fellow man (or woman?)

    What interests me most of all is the way anti-hunt protestors claim that hunters are peverts by hunting foxes? How is that perverted exactly? Perhaps you could take this up with them. What IS perverted however, is the video-camera wielding lot that spy on hunters and record their work, only to vocally masturbate over it in darkened rooms.

    Further, how many of those video camera wielding types are the first to claim about speed cameras? Hypocrites.

    The problem with fox hunting is that there has been an enormous amount of banwagon jumping. The class warfare types (and they are not just confined to the Labour party) have in many cases overrun anti-hunting organisations.

     
  • At 9:09 pm , Blogger Bishop Hill said...

    There was a suggestion in a Guardian article during the Tory leadership campaign that David Davis was in fact a libertarian as he'd been spotted hanging out with Randy Barnett. There was also a comments thread on Samizdata at the time which suggested the same thing.

    IIRC he also fell out with Michael Howard over ID cards.

    What makes you think him an authoritarian?

     
  • At 6:11 am , Blogger Femme de Resistance said...

    Some of his crime speeches, his desire to bring back the death penalty...maybe personal prejudice.

    A hang 'em and flog 'em mentality defines the authoritarian because it is based on a world view that people require punishment and retribution. They are 'red in tooth and claw' and need to be firmly taken in hand by the state to prevent anarchy. It is more complex than that, but his choice of drinking partners and a dislike of ID cards can't rehabilitate him :)

     
  • At 2:34 pm , Blogger Bishop Hill said...

    Support for capital punishment is completely different to authoritarianism though.

    Wikipedia (I know it's not an authority but it's easy to get to;-))defines authoritarianism as:

    "... a form of government characterized by strict obedience to the authority of the state, which often maintains and enforces social control through the use of oppressive measures."

    Which is different to supporting capital punishment. All punishment involves removal of liberties and rights.

     
  • At 8:19 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Forget about the fox hunting. It was the Tories who surrended to Blair regarding the obligatory ID:s.

     
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