Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Election special: Liberal Democrats

In part 8 of our Pre-Election guide, Andrew Hickey explains the philosophy behind Britain's third largest party: the Lib Dems.

A lot of people don't get the Liberal Democrats.

I think this is to do with the fact that we're portrayed in the media (and, indeed, used to portray ourselves) as centrists, which given that the parties of the 'left' and 'right' in the UK are both right-wing authoritarian corporatist parties with little but brand names to distinguish them, leads people to dismiss us without really bothering to investigate what we stand for.

The fact is, the Liberal Democrats are a fundamentally different kind of party to Labour and the Conservatives. Not because of our policies - though these do differ substantially from those parties - but because of our philosophy. I don't have much space, so I'll give two examples.

The first is this, from our constitution, printed on the membership card of every member:

"the Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity".

Is this something you can really imagine 'New' Labour or the Tories saying? In particular, note the bit about conformity. Other ideologies may well accept, say, bisexual or trans people, because they believe in fairness - and I do not want, at all, to slight the very real commitments to equality that have been made by member of other parties. But only liberalism as an ideology sees non-conformity as an actual good, as something to be celebrated (and not in a 'celebrating diversity' way, but as the core of our beliefs) rather than tolerated.

Alex Wilcock once spent some time coming up with alternative slogans for the Lib Dems. My favourite was "If you want to tell the Daily Mail to fuck off, vote Lib Dem".

We believe in freedom, not just the 'freedom of choice' the major parties talk about, but real freedom - including the freedom to do things we may personally find distasteful. We fought against the recent criminalisation of 'extreme pornography', for example, not because we as a party find that sort of thing of interest, but because finding something a bit icky is not actually a good reason to criminalise it.

Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power.

That may sound like an odd claim, but it's literally true. The Liberal Democrats support a form of proportional representation called 'multi-member STV'. I don't have space for the details, but if it was brought in in Westminster it would lead to power being shared between a lot of smaller parties co-operating, rather than alternating between two big near-identical parties as today.

The Tories and Labour talk about change and reform, but will never reform the system that keeps them in power. Were the Lib Dems to get into power, we would make sure it never happens again. That's why you should vote for us.

Andrew Hickey is a member of the Liberal Democrats. He blogs here.

[Tomorrow: The Green Party, by Peter Tatchell]


Stan Moss said...

I'm itching to know why the LibDems decided to shelve their commitment to scrap tuition fees in England & Wales. Millions of voters are against the idea and now we have none of the 3 major parties channelling the popular view.

Andrew Hickey said...

Stan, the simple answer is that we haven't. It's still policy, and it will be in the manifesto.

Bob Piper said...

Andrew, leaving aside the hypothetical issue of what might happen if the Lib Dems were elected, and if they changed the voting system, and if that led to a situation where minor parties were involved in government... could you point to any actual examples where Liberal Democrats are in clear overall control of a local authority and yet still choose/chose to share power with the other parties?

Because if you don't want power there must be numerous examples you can point to.

Stan Moss said...

re: tuition fees.
What's this then?
In January, the BBC reported Nick Clegg saying that Extending free childcare, free personal care for the elderly and a "citizen's pension" would have to be "put on hold" and tuition fees ended over six years.

Andrew Hickey said...

In the Lib Dems the leader doesn't make policy or decide the manifesto. Political journalists tend to take anything that party leaders say as being announcements of policy when they're nothing of the sort. Read the manifesto when it comes out - it'll be in there.

Bob - Frankly, I know very little about any council other than Manchester City Council, because that's the one where I live, so I'm not best placed to answer your question. I'm talking here about the effects that the party's national policies would have were they put into practice, and that *is* the effect that multi-member STV would have, and bringing in multi-member STV has been policy of the Lib Dems and their predecessor parties for decades, and is something they'd have to do if they got anywhere near power on a national scale if they didn't want to lose the entire activist base en masse...

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

The Lib Dems have had my vote the last election and they'll have it this election, whatever it is worth.

Anita said...

My vote too is going to go to the Lib Dems this year again.
Stan, don't forget that they were the only main party to vote against the Iraq war right from the word go. In the US integrity on that matter is something that was rewarded with the presidency.

asquith said...

Yes, I can reveal that I'll probably be voting for them. I don't endorse all their stances, in particular I am more Eurosceptic because I just don't see a way around it, but I hail the likes of David Howarth, Phil Willis, Evan Harris etc.

As a resident of a safe Labour seat, I want to be the person who says no to them & expresses his scepticism (not outright pessimism- I'll give them a chance to surprise me) about the shadow cabinet.

I am probably one of the less socialist people who frequent this site as I consider myself more of a European liberal. I would say that my suite of views are more "left-wing" than "right-wing" but on issues like civil liberties, opposition to the hyperactive authoritarian New Labour state, secularism, etc. those terms are of limited use.

I do not really view myself as a natural party identifier & I won't always vote for a Lib Dem, but I will this time.

the patriot said...

Not at all surprised that Hoffmann and many of his mates here are all Liberal do-gooders.

The Liberal party fully supports a European strategy to migration, meaning open doors to all, exactly like we did in 2004 with the Romanians.

Except. Cleverly, the Germans and the French both said no to EU orders to take in eastern europeans and we said yes, so they flocked here in batches.

That was/is bad politics. The current open-door policy and unrestricted, uncontrolled immigration is leading to higher crime rates, demand for more housing. And what are the Liberals saying about it? More of the same, that's their answer. Over the next twenty five years, immigration will account for forty percent of all new households set up in this country. The Liberals obviously see no wrong there. Instead it is simply common sense to stop the parasites of the world landing on the doorstep the UK, and finally seriously consider our benefits not seen by being part of the EU, which the Liberals instead champion every single day.

Bob Piper said...

But surely, Andrew, if the Lib Dems actually "don't want power, they could prove it without having to win a General Election and change the voting system?

If they win an overall majority on first past the post they could immediately show their money was where their mouth was and offer to share out Cabinet portfolios based on the overall share of the vote.


But they don't. Take Liverpool (not that far from Manchester as I remember). The Lib Dems have 46 councillors, Labour have 38. So why doesn't Clegg instruct the Liverpool City Council Leader (Lib Dem) to offer 4 of the 10 positions in the City Council Cabinet (all Lib Dem) to Labour politicians?

Then we would know they were serious. But in the absence of that, I'm afraid I have no confidence whatsoever that if they won a majority they would give it away by changing the voting system. It is easy to make promises you know you won't have to fulfill.

Newmania said...

The idea the Liberals do not want power is really rather delicious its hard for me to see that they stand for anything but power. Take for example their proposals to correct he deficit by 100% cuts and no tax rises , sound Liberal stuff if your Liberal de jour is Hayek and not the pale pink Beveridge group of the last decade when it was fashionable .
Then look at their web site for details of where these “Hard choices” are going to be made , You will find sweet FA. Then snap on the telly and what do we hear but Beeb fave squeeze Cable telling us that the other Parties are not frank with us…permit me a derisive snort … Snooooooort
Confused ? You will be , when you recall that through the period in which Piper’s footpad gang were stealing our money to pay their clients the ever lovin’ Libs strayed left of New Labour and wanted a penny on income tax as well as more cash spent on tution fees et al. Bloody good job no-one was listening at the time or the catastrophic mess Brown got us in would be even worse .
What commendable principle was shown over Lisbon when these Party of openness abstained in the Commons on the basis that they wanted their own question,……( “ I refuse to tell you if I am screwing your wife until the whole question of monogomy is thrashed out once and for all….hey get back heeeeeeelp! “. Then they supprted New Labout in the Lords
The PR thing is a a blatant attempt open the system to bribes for the middles and remove all but the white middleclass Liberal from having a say

Now the bit in this essay I like the best is the suggestion that the Liberal Democrats are the Party of difference . What a joke there is no Party so prescriptive about what you should think. International , European Secular , Republican . the leading edge of health fascism political correctness . They will not be happy until are all pasty white public Sector Professionals mumbling progressive mantras like so many Stepford house-husbands and they have no the slightest problem with using the state so long as Conservative are the ones on the receiving end . Smoking , Hunting Europe all good examples of Liberal fascism at work and at play

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...


Fuck off, you monstrous twat.

MatGB said...

Stan, the part you quote states that the Lib Dems are committed to scrapping tuition fees.

If they formed the Govt, then students starting their final years this September won't pay fees, and fees will gradually then be phased out so that in 6 years time no one pays fees.

If the current Govt hadn't botched the public finances so badly by assuming that growth would continue uninterrupted, then it would be affordable to scrap them now. Unfortunately, the cupboards are bare and the deficit is massive, hence it needs to be phased in over time.

By starting with finalists, it really does help all substantially; if I hadn't had to worry about money all the way through my final years back in 2002 I'm pretty sure my final marks would've been a lot better.

The policies are "on hold", not abandoned; when it can be afforded, it'll happen, for all the others as well; I approve of this, making false unaffordable promises isn't good politics IMHO.

Bob, the point Andrew's making is that the Lib Dems don't approve of a minority of votes taking a majority of seats, thus would share power to ensure a consensus. The current electoral system creates a small number of very broad church parties, STV would change that.

But while I can't name specific LAs (and gods knows a lot of Cllrs from all parties are barely aware of the principles they're supposed to stand for), most try to devolve power to community groups, parish and town councils, etc.

But taking power under the current system doesn't mean you like the current system, which is the basic principle underpinning the party.

Simon said...

"Also, we're the only major party that doesn't want power."

Curious, then, that on May 10th as I write this, the Liberal Democrats are, arguably, the most powerful party in the country!