Throwing down the gauntlet


8:15 am - November 8th 2007

by Sunny Hundal    


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The launch of Liberal Conspiracy has sparked an exciting debate in the British blogosphere this week. From philosophical questions over what it means to be liberal-left and confusing liberal with libertarian; an aversion to our comments policy; worrying we might not be left enough; tentative support; lots of outright support; and even wondering if this is a conspiracy against the Libdems!

I think while all these debates are interesting, they are not the real focus of why I’m here. In an article for the Guardian published today, I challenge the liberal-left:

There are new projects in the pipeline from the Tory party itself. CampaignTogether, billed as the Conservative volunteer task force, is being used to galvanise activists online during elections; Stand Up Speak Up seeks to encourage voters to feed into the party manifesto.

All this may so far have had little impact on the wider electorate, but it illustrates that the right is miles ahead in experimenting with the web to engage. And it is more than experimentation: the right is also marching together to shift the political agenda. Conservative bloggers constantly link to each other and promote editorials in publications such as the Spectator and the Telegraph. They are amplified by an online TV station – 18 Doughty Street – and fellow rightwing hacks; they disseminate online ads, videos and Tory views relentlessly. It is a formidable echo machine. And all this despite the enduring paranoia that the right is drowned out by a vast leftwing conspiracy on everything from abortion and climate change to immigration.

But this is about more than party politics. The liberal-left, broadly, risks making little headway on core issues because of a painful lack of coalition building. It is characterised by single-issue groups working in isolation, denouncing each other over spurious issues and with little cross-campaigning and exchange of ideas. They’ve become fixated with demanding more legislation rather than shifting minds and conversations. There are simple questions to be asked. What is the liberal-left agenda for tomorrow? How can we then push that forward and make politicians listen?

This is way more than simply party tribalism – this is about ideology. Are you on left or right? Are you liberal or conservative? If you’re the former on both then it’s time to get organised and work together to re-engage people and seize the political agenda. I’m sick of all the infighting, I want to challenge the conservative dominance on the web and the move away from an explicitly progressive agenda by a Labour government.

Are there wedge issues? Plenty. We need to challenge the Conservative assault on abortion rights, their continuing love for Enoch Powell, denial of global warming, paranoia over immigration and so on.

And here’s the annoying thing: this intellectual malaise affects not just the right but also the left, especially on immigration and race-politics.

Yes we want to have a robust intellectual debate within the liberal-left. But we also need to challenge the echo chamber of the Tories online. Not because they’re intellectual visionaries – Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes get media attention simply because they gossip about Westminster – but because they’re effective at packaging and echoing bad ideas.

The focus on campaigning will come soon enough. For now it’s important we nail our colours to the mast, get conversations going and talk about issues the MSM is ignoring. That liberal conspiracy they keep saying is all-powerful, we actually need to build one.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Now, the gist of that I do agree with.
Instead of infighting; attack the right.
Liberals need to strongly and explicitly express “why conservatives are wrong” on the big issues you mentioned.
Why are they wrong on immigration, on abortion… what’s flawed about their conception of society? Why is a liberal vision better?
I think these questions are not too hard to answer, but they are rarely answered clearly.
Can we do that?

2. AlisdairCameron

“The liberal-left, broadly, risks making little headway on core issues because of a painful lack of coalition building”.
And because it’s been comprehensively obstructed by those trading under names that would suggest a liberal-left outlook (that’s YOU, New Labour, and to a lesser degree the Orange Book LibDems), but who have done the most to impose illiberal legislation, undermine employment protection laws and have subscribed completely to the neo-liberal economic line that decrees private sector always=good and public sector always=bad, regardless of context, rigged markets, and sees citizens as economic units, or ‘happy’ consumers. Rhetoric on citizenship and empowerment means naught when a micr-managing top-down approach prevails, and citizenship in reality boils down to being an uncomplaining, compliant drone for UK plc, whose freedom amounts to blind consumerism.
I’m sorry Sunny, but the tone of this site so far has been far too accepting and uncritical of NuLabour, as if their assertions to being progressive were more than window-dressing.Digby Jones as a labour Govt minister? Hell’s teeth.
Yes, the right are scary with their mindset, but that shouldn’t blind you to the narrow authoritarianism espoused by some who label themselves as left-liberal/progressive. You’ll have to be more explicit about at least a few core values to define the ethos of this site, or else it’ll become the playground of NuLab apparatchiks, who bandy about liberal sounding terms, but pursue devil-take-the-hindmost, repressive legislation favouring cosy cliques.Just make it plain, and spell out, for instance that say, PFIs, ID cards, kow-towing to the whims of the City etc are NOT liberal-left poloicies, and apologists for them, while entitled to their misguided narrow views, should not hold sway on this site.

* points up *

What AlisdairCameron said.

PFI’s, the cow-towing to the City, yes.

ID cards in principle I don’t have problems with – but I would look towards seeing them in a broader European context.

5. Andrew Chamberlain

To my mind, a liberal is a market-oriented left winger. I think the definition problem that this site suffers from is that there’s a difference between being a left liberal and being on the liberal left. Someone who is a left wing liberal will see pluralistic competitive markets as key components in their vision for society, whilst recognising the need for wealth redistribution to give people access to these markets. The state, in terms of owning property and running services, will be small if liberals have their way, but taxes will be high to facilitate the necessary income transfers. Someone describing him/herself as on the liberal left could quite easily be a statist with more interest in promoting equality than freedom who justifies the ‘liberal’ tag by reference to the fact that they oppose ID cards.

If this site is to be the basis of a movement then a commitment to individual freedom above everything else is needed to discourage the more statist elements and allow a coherent leftwing liberal agenda to be constructed.

I’m struggling to see how global warming has got anything to do with “liberal” ideology. I’d ask how you’d balance the acceptance of global warming with actions needed to address it, and if those actions you deem as having to enforce lifestyle changes, then how is that “liberal”.

Global warming is a separate issue, it is not environmentalism, it is not recycling, it is not pollution, it is not anti-nuclear, it is not anti-America, it is not anti-capitalism or anti-globalisation, it has nothing to do with any of these political issues and it certainly has nothing to do with being liberal or not.

You’ve jumped rapidly from outlining a philosophical base to a specific policy agenda. You refer to “abortion rights” but this is a question of balancing rights – the liberal response to the issue is to discuss it properly and respect freedom of conscience, not to make it a policy mantra. I’m bothered about the social consequences of banning or restricting abortion but my own conscience tells me we should worry about killing babies in the womb – in what way does that make me illiberal or unprogressive?

I see that “liberal-left” has been reversed to “left-liberal” in your article!

Is that significant?

That sounds awfully like Life of Brian:

“are you the Judean people’s front” ?

“F*** off, we’re the people’s front of Judea”

I think these questions are not too hard to answer, but they are rarely answered clearly.
Can we do that?

That’s the plan Jonathan.

I’m sorry Sunny, but the tone of this site so far has been far too accepting and uncritical of NuLabour,

We’ve only been blogging for about 2 days! We want to challenge all parties when they put forward unprogressive ideas/policies. The Labour party will also come in for flak.

Jon
I’m bothered about the social consequences of banning or restricting abortion but my own conscience tells me we should worry about killing babies in the womb – in what way does that make me illiberal or unprogressive?

I didn’t say I wanted to see more abortions… but my point is that we should be defending abortion rights where possible.

I see you have “all rights reserved” at the bottom of the page and reiterate this pretty strongly in your terms and conditions of use. If you are want to spread the liberal-left message, wouldn’t it pay to be copyleft-liberal?

It’s certainly a fascinating idea Sunny. As you picked up already, I wonder if Liberal and Left are completely compatible. A mixture of the two would surely be some godawful coalition with Nick Clegg in the cabinet and the left of the Labour movement ever further isolated.

I’ll read the site with interest, and keep fighting my own little leftist corner.

Regards

John

13. Andrew Adams

“Global warming is a separate issue, it is not environmentalism, it is not recycling, it is not pollution, it is not anti-nuclear, it is not anti-America, it is not anti-capitalism or anti-globalisation, it has nothing to do with any of these political issues and it certainly has nothing to do with being liberal or not.”

You’re correct of course, it should be a matter of science not of politics. However, a large number of people on the Right seem to be in denial of the science and many of them want to paint the issue as a, er, Liberal Conspiracy. Therefore recognising and acting on the reality of AGW does seem to have become a de facto Liberal cause.

In response to AlisdairCameron’s comment’s I certainly hope that LC doesn’t go that way but it is a bit early to pass jusdgement yet – give the site a chance.

Finally I heartily agree with Jonathan Riggall –

“Instead of infighting; attack the right.”

Read most right-wing blogs and they devote most of their energy to attacking the left. Read many left-wing blogs and they devote most of their energy to, er, attacking the left.

conspiracy theories

I’m struggling to share the outrage expressed by many Liberal Democrats about the Liberal Conspiracy website…

Yes – you leaped at the phrase “Anti-war, anti-neo-conservative blogger” and thought “Ah! A lefty to congratulate!”

Sadly, a common mistake.

Surely global warming is a profoundly illiberal conspiracy, which seeks to control behavior through guilt and fear, a coercive technique it shares with most orthodox religions. I fail to see anything liberal about being told I’m a bad person for driving a car or getting on a plane.
And can we please get away from this idea that there is a “scientific consensus” on global warming. For a long time there was a scientific consensus (which in reality meant a political orthodoxy) that the earth was flat and the sun rotated around it .
A hypothesis is either supported or falsified, science and consensus cannot therefore go in the same sentence, as anyone who actually understands the empirical method will appreciate.

I find it extraordinary that you include among your liberal left ‘wedge’ issues denial of global warming.
This is as good as an admission that climate change alarmism is a movement which seeks to use the undoubted, but almost certainly not catastrophic warming of our planet to achieve political ends.

I used to consider myself a leftwing person. I am better now.


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