Much has been made this week of the decision by some members of the Liberal Democrats to form a pressure group within the party. I started by writing “another” but at the moment there is only really one formally established, the Social Liberal Forum. Liberal Left sees itself as representing the disenfranchised whose views are not being listened to by the leadership and those in Government. A counterweight to that amorphous and informal more classically liberal segment within the party described pejoratively as “Orange Bookers”.
Internal debate is very healthy, and it would be good if that was happening. Instead there is sniping from all sides of the debate. A rather unhealthy desire to hound them out, in much the same way that those of us in the more classical mould have been subject to at times ourselves. That’s not productive.
I see two aspects that concern me. The first is that the protagonists saw fit to establish a second identity to the economic left of the party, rather than seek to exploit the already established SLF. Might we conclude that they weren’t able to garner sufficient support from within that bloc? In which case can they truly be said to represent the majority of LDs, as they claim?
A more significant concern is the conflation of “ends” and “means”, with an effort to claim ownership of the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution because of a disagreement over the means by which that constitution is delivered.
The words are familiar, they’re printed on our membership card:
“…safeguard a fair, free and open society…liberty, equality and community…no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”
My objection is that the protagonists of Liberal Left are asserting that those they disagree with have abandoned those principles because we advocate a different route to achieving them. Some of the policies they advocate seem to me to be likely to deliver outcomes very different from those we seek.
They disagree with our coalition. That’s fine, I’m not too keen on our partners, but I’d have been less keen on the alternatives. For a party that advocates pluralism and has a history of coalition at the local level I find it disturbing that we can’t cope with the tensions that it presents magnified at the national level. Essentially coalition is only acceptable if it takes one form, disappointing.
It maybe that there is an unreconcilable difference of opinion that goes far beyond the desired ends, but I’ve yet to see a convincing argument that indicates that and has sufficient support from any area in the debate
That said I’m somewhat confused by how an enthusiasm to embrace the statist authoritarians of Labour, and the interventionist Socialists of the Green Party helps us deliver that liberty, equality or community and avoid enslavement by conformity.