Dead Men Left

Monday, March 14, 2005

Lib Dems: once again, with bells on

I'm writing an article on the dearly beloved Liberal Democrats, and I reckon I've got the five major left-wing reasons for gracing them with a vote. (Further suggestions gratefully received.)

Reasons to vote Lib Dem #1: opposition to the invasion of Iraq

The Liberal Democrats made a great show of opposing the invasion of Iraq, right up until the point at which it actually began. At this point, they flipped instantly over to wholehearted support for the war. Charles Kennedy:

My party, along with people from all parties and from none, had strong reservations about this military action. But the House of Commons voted earlier this week and we have to accept that democratic verdict. There is nothing unpatriotic about having questioned the basis for this war but supporting our armed forces now battle is engaged.

Nothing unpatriotic, perhaps, but very little that is consistent or principled. Speaking of which...

Reasons to vote Lib Dem #2: progressive alternative to Labour

"We will ensure that our laws reflect... diversity, protecting minorities from discrimination, harrasment and violence." ...all good stuff, no? Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat councillors in Burnley, a town currently suffering with six BNP councillors, cunningly brought down a minority Labour local administration by relying on BNP votes. The Guardian reports on this "deeply shady alliance":

The Lib Dem leader, Gordon Birtwistle, angrily rejected all charges of deals.

"My involvement with the BNP was nil," he said. "I made one phone call to the leader of the BNP before the council meeting out of courtesy to tell him that we were putting a motion to the council.

"The BNP voted for a motion which defeated Labour. They are a totally independent party [whose councillors] vote whichever way they wish. I don't speak to any of them."

(Except when he courteously calls them before critical votes.) Shortly after Lib Dems in Lancashire were colluding with Tories and fascists to bring down the local council, Charles Kennedy loudly informed the national press that Liberal Democrats would never, never work with a future Labour administration. Draw your own conclusions.

Reasons to vote Lib Dem #3: supporting civil liberties

Charles Kennedy again:

We have to address the fundamental issues of the day that concern people, but underpinning all those fundamental issues is surely the most fundamental of all, which is that we can't take for granted in a liberal democracy our citizens' rights.

If we as a party are not out there, making that case, then our politics are poorer as a result.

So serious are these "fundamental issues" that the Lib Dems abstained on the ID card vote in Scotland, and Kennedy himself forgot to turn up to defeat the government's "anti-terror" laws. Meanwhile, that old civil liberty, the right to strike, would be torn up by our champions of freedom in the yellow corner. "...we can't take for granted in a liberal democracy our citizens' rights."

Reasons to vote Lib Dem #4: opposing neoliberal economic policy

...and how are the Lib Dems, and their Thatcherite finance spokesman, Vince Cable, justifying a higher income tax rate? It's what Mrs T would have wanted:

It speaks volumes for the priorities of the present Prime Minister that he denounces as dangerously radical the same 50% tax rate: a rate which Nigel Lawson in his memoirs tells us that even Margaret Thatcher was happy to live with.

More from Vince Cable here. Or have a look-see at the Orange Book, summarised neatly here:

If there's one common denominator in the different essays in the Orange Book, it's that all the authors struggle with the constant liberal dilemma of balancing state authority with individual liberty, the public and private realms, the power of central (or European) government and democratic accountability. My essay highlighted the need to test the European Union, if necessary critically, against the highest standards of accountable and effective government. Ed Davey unpicks the problem of excessive centralised state power in Britain. Steve Webb ventures into the tricky realm of the boundary between government action and family life. Vince Cable warns against the pitfalls of excessive political interference in the economy.

This, by the way, is the only group within the Liberal Democrats that seems close to producing a coherent strategy for the party; it is a break with the habitual opportunism we have come to know and cherish, but whether it can be marked as an improvement is frankly doubtful.