Can social liberals change this Coalition government?


11:38 am - July 9th 2010

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contribution by James Paul

Much of the debate on the deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition government has focused on how “strange” it was for the two parties to enter a partnership.

In The Liberal Democrat Journey, published by Compass, Dr Richard Grayson details the transformation of the Liberal Democrats over the past decade and shows why the coalition is not all that alien.

Parties are composed of coalitions of varied interests and Grayson identifies two central movements within the Liberal Democrats: one espousing the classical liberal idea of small state embodied in The Orange Book, written collaboratively by prominent Lib Dems including Nick Clegg and David Laws, and social liberals who believe that a reformed state can promote equality and build the good society.

The leadership in the party are proponents of The Orange Book ideology and the party in turn has moved towards the right on some issues in recent years including dropping a longstanding proposal of a 50p tax rate on incomes over £100,000.

Grayson also suggests part of the problems is that the Lib Dems are “under factionalised” and as a result the social liberal voice within the party sometimes goes unheard.

Nick Clegg in the leadership debates often appeared to seize the progressive mantle from Labour and in some ways it could be argued is promoting a progressive agenda now in government especially in the area of civil liberties. The budget, however, reveals that on critical social and economic policies the Liberal Democrats have shifted to the right.

With cuts that axe crucial social programs including ones to employ youth workers, cutting family benefits and increases in regressive taxes such as the 2.5% increase in VAT, the Lib Dems have turned their back on their election promises and are promoting a budget that according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies will hit the poorest hardest.

Grayson offers suggestions for how those on the left particularly those social liberals within the Lib Dems should respond to the coalition and challenge its direction including putting issues of power in the workplace and the ownership of assets on the agenda and to challenge the free market orthodoxies which led to the current crisis.

He says social liberals have an opportunity to lead debates on areas where the left has been too timid.

Social liberals should look to challenge the free market orthodoxies which led to the current crisis, and which leave people enslaved in an economy where materialism dictates ever longer hours worked so that people can acquire more ‘stuff ’ that does not really make them happy.

He also says:

…social liberals could be arguing for a new political economy, which puts issues of power in the workplace and the ownership of assets back on to the political agenda in the way that the Liberal Party once did.

Read the full briefing here.

Whether something will change within the Libdems remains to be seen.

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Reader comments


[moderated out]

2. paul barker

As an average sort of Libdem I have been completely unsurprised by Labours descent into self-serving fantasy. Just look at your laughable attempt to replace the word “united” with “under-factionalised” while simultaneously claiming we are split down the middle.
We accept that for now we have to be the junior partner in goverment & provide the opposition but we wish Labour would stop moaning & provide some sort of rational alternative.

The leadership in the party are proponents of The Orange Book ideology and the party in turn has moved towards the right on some issues

Please read this chapter-by-chapter breakdown of whether the Orange Book actually does constitute a “right-wing ideology” if you can’t be bothered to actually read the book: http://joeotten.blogspot.com/search/label/orange%20book

Liberalism isn’t confined to left and right. At the end of the day, no Liberal (left or right) wants the massive state Labour introduced.

Am I alone in not seeing the budget as evidence of the Lib Dems beliefs on anything? It’s a mostly Tory budget, which the Lib Dems agreed to back as part of an agreement that got them a vote on AV.

Calling them “social liberals” makes it seem as if they’re in favour of gay rights or a tolerant approach to adultery. Wouldn’t “social democrats” be nearer the mark?

@4

The LibDems did argue for the increased personal allowance for income tax; higher CGT and, let’s not forget, big cuts to lower the defecit. The only bitter pill they had to swallow was VAT. I think it’s fair to see it as a Coalition budget.

6. Shatterface

‘…social liberals could be arguing for a new political economy, which puts issues of power in the workplace and the ownership of assets back on to the political agenda in the way that the Liberal Party once did.’

I’d rather hear more about this than listen to throwbacks claiming socialism is the same as a big state – the bigger the better. It’s not, it’s about owning your own means of production not owning a miniscule portion of everybody else’s.

7. Gaf the Horse

@3: Do you know where I can acquire a copy of “The Orange Book”? I’ve asked several LD friends, searched Amazon and other book shops, looked in the libraries book list, and I can’t find a copy anywhere. I’d really like to read it to try and understand where the likes of Clegg and Laws are coming from.

Maybe the deal is that they’re quiet about the economy (by far the overriding priority for most people) so they get some good stuff on civil liberties?

They seem to have had very little effect on the cuts agenda indeed, in fact it’s being made to look like they are driving a lot of it.

Somewhere, in a grave, Keynes rotates.

Whatever it is, they have certainly got a pretty poor deal, and are polling badly consequently. They got thumped in a local by-election that they had a good chance of winning yesterday.

9. Sunder Katwala

paulbarker@2

You are mistaken with “As an average sort of Libdem I have been completely unsurprised by Labours descent into self-serving fantasy. Just look at your laughable attempt to replace the word “united” with “under-factionalised

Whatever the merits of that argument, it is being made by Dr Richard Grayson.

As the pamphlet says:

“Dr Richard Grayson is Head of Politics at Goldsmiths, University of London, and is one of three vice-chairs of the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee, but writes here in a personal capacity. He was the party’s Director of Policy in 1999-2004 and stood for Parliament for Hemel Hempstead in 2005 and 2010, adding over 10% to the party’s vote. He was one of the founders of the Social Liberal Forum and was the first chair of its Executive”.

You might well disagree with him about the benefits of more factional organisation for the future of the LibDems. Whether he is right or wrong, I can see no reason to believe Grayson is not sincere in what he says he thinks about his own party, in which he remains active. There is obviously no reason at all to attribute his views to Labour party, nor to use a pamphlet written by a senior LibDem activist as evidence of your claim that Labour people are inventing “self-serving fantasy”.

Grayson offers suggestions for how those on the left particularly those social liberals within the Lib Dems should respond to the coalition and challenge its direction

On the face of it, that seems about as likely as the BNP embracing multiculuralism, or Labour delegating all power to the Soviets.

A small, un-organised grouping of a handful of MPs within a minor coalition partner has pretty much zero chance of influencing the direction of a government in which everyone else agrees on how the world works. Divisions within the Lib Cons are pretty much solely based on how hard they should strive to be considered ‘nice’. This ranges from those who actively revel in being thought nasty, to Kenneth Clarke.

Thing is, the Lib Dem front bench is entirely contained within that range: there is no position a Lib Dem party spokesman would wish to say that the Lord Chancellor couldn’t.

Is there some reason, other than pure tribalism, that those Lib Dem MPs with social democratic , social justice or egalitarian liberal ideas are still in the party? Even if the electoral reform is seen as overwhelmingly important, what is the attraction of a political grouping almost all of whom will be campaigning against it?

. Just look at your laughable attempt to replace the word “united” with “under-factionalised” while simultaneously claiming we are split down the middle.

I think ‘united’ is a dangerous place to be in, because it not only assumes there aren’t differences of opinion, but those are then papered over to offer up a united front.

the Libdems *are* under factionalised in the sense that there aren’t competing visions jostling for direction. Partly perhaps because the party isn’t a big tent like the Tories and Labour parties are.

the Libdems *are* under factionalised in the sense that there aren’t competing visions jostling for direction. Partly perhaps because the party isn’t a big tent like the Tories and Labour parties are.

Eh? The Lib Dems have probably the clearest fault-line of any of the major parties. The old SDP/Liberal split has been resurrected as the Hughes-ite left and the Orange Book right. Interestingly, Hughes was a Liberal, but times change…

There’s far less diversity of opinion in the Labour leadership campaign than there is in the Liberal Democrats.

Erm, Labour have way more faultlines than that.

“people enslaved in an economy where materialism dictates ever longer hours worked so that people can acquire more ‘stuff’ that does not really make them happy”

Taking a slight devil’s advocate position here, but the VAT rise, which is the main component of the budget claimed to hit the poorest hardest, could be seen as a disincentive to acquiring unnecessary stuff to feed materialist desires could it not?

@7:
How were you spelling “Orange Book” in your Amazon search? It should come up as the top result if you spell it as above …

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Orange-Book-David-Laws/dp/1861977972

Erm, Labour have way more faultlines than that.

I’m sure they do, though they’re not really being exposed in the leadership campaign. I’m not sure that they are quite so clear-cut as they are in the Liberal Democrats though.

16. Winston Smith

“Just look at your laughable attempt to replace the word “united” with “under-factionalised” while simultaneously claiming we are split down the middle.”

Got to hand it to the comrades.

Orwell might not have meant1984 to be a blueprint, but by Oceania they’ve done everything in their power to turn it into one.

You’ll agree with me, brother, that their mastery of duckspeak is doubleplusgood.

17. Roberto C

Ive just read through the whole pamphlet. What strikes me is the desire of people like Richard Grayson to be eternally locked into a losing battle with “the leadership” of their own party. It is as if their raison d’etre is to fight internal wars, not to win elections and implement policy. It is very reminiscent of 80s Labour.


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