Recent Lib-left future Articles

Vince Cable: a populist, not a Marxist

by Dave Osler     September 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Political theory does have a name for ritual rhetorical denunciation of fats cats and the labour movement alike, in the name of standing up for the little guy. It’s called populism, it is generally considered an ideology of the right, and it was the only –ism that the business secretary was retailing in his speech to the Lib Dem conference today.

Not that you’d know it from the hysterical reaction to the advance text of Vince Cable’s oration, which has been denounced by several commentators as an attack on capitalism.

Cable himself was backfooted to the extent where he was forced to deny any Marxist intent. He was even at pains to insert an additional reference to Adam Smith in the speech as delivered.

Yet look at what Cable actually said.
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The Citizens’ Campaign: Time for Change

by Hobhouse     April 21, 2010 at 11:00 am

As the United Kingdom’s political laws dissolve into a volcanic sunrise, how do we start to make sense of this moment? Some may blame it on the ash-cloud, others on reality television. But the truth is that the history of the present is being written today: not by the politicians on our television screens, nor yet by shadowy forces, but by us, the British people. This chance doesn’t come along too often.

As Hobhouse for the next few weeks, I can call it as I see it. Anyone who swims around the delta of politics has loyalties; assumptions; even vows of omerta. This baggage has its place. But in moments of real change it can stop us from seeing or voting straight. So let’s ditch the baggage, and connect a few dots: from Cleggmania to the skin-shedders of the two-party system, from TV to a deeper electronic democracy — and the growing Citizens’ Campaign.

Conventional wisdom doesn’t take long to solidify. This is the TV election, it says. The leaders’ debates introduced Nick Clegg to the nation, and granted him the same podium as the big boys. 90 minutes of X-Factor reality TV changed everything and gave birth to Cleggmania.

I’m not so sure. Firstly, this election is about much more than the Liberal Democrats (of which more later.) And their big poll surge began before Nick Clegg won the first leaders’ debate on ITV (the ICM poll showing the Lib Dems on 27% was all but complete by then).

How do you make sense of that?

The only explanation I’ve come up with is this. We the people had been going through the motions, tuning out politics as usual for quite awhile – but early last week, the election broke through our jamming fields and got us thinking.

And many of us found that when we thought about it just a bit, we were far from thrilled by the choices on offer. A pair of parties who had both let us down before. Churning out hackneyed spin and untrustworthy homilies. Led, to be unkind, by an obsessive, violent hermit and an airbrushed Etonian car salesman.

Perhaps that’s when the buried dissatisfaction, from expenses to Iraq, started to rise. The finest blog comment of the election so far nails it (from Liberal Conspirator John Q Publican): this has been a long time coming. We started to cast around a little more, beyond our grudging habits of allegiance, abstention and see-saw swinging – and the Lib Dems jumped into contention before the debate.

Then the TV cameras came on in Manchester, where Nick’s low profile may ironically have proved an asset. Suddenly here was a new character on the stage – but more than that, the right new character, an X Factor that pre-dates Cowell. He robustly personified the longed-for change which felt out of reach, but at the same time his “transparency”, his negative capability, his intelligent and passionate ordinariness, opened up the space for people to follow their hearts and hopes for change.

The debate affected the 9.4 million who watched, of course. But its greatest effect was in the nationwide echo chamber of the media — and the millions of chance conversations this sparked, falling on fertile ears, just as the pre-debate ICM poll was released. This is when the Lib Dems started to go viral. There is something a little hysterical about it — the Princess Diana analogies are not all wrong. It’s the state we’re in. But the speed with which Nick Clegg’s win flipped the narrative of this election is testament to how weak and vulnerable the “Cameron coronation” story was. The real Great Ignored — the turbulent undercurrents of public dissatisfaction with politics as usual — proved stronger than anyone thought.

Now, turning to the skin-shedders of the two parties: Nick Clegg’s debate win was so clear partly because it was immediately recognised as such by the Labour spin operation – from Mandelson to Campbell and the rest.

That recognition was dramatic, however tactical it was. It might not have been offered so generously after the ICM results had been released. And it marked a wider trend. Some of the sharpest organisers, ideologues and innovators from Labour and the Conservatives alike have scented the winds of change blowing through the system, and they seem to like what they smell. This is true of the cunning and unscrupulous, but also of the principled (the line between the two is not always clear…).

It’s tragic watching Labour big beasts contort themselves into new shapes for a hung parliament and a progressive coalition while hacking away at the Lib Dems, stretching vainly for a Labour majority and sliding in the polls. Particularly so if you hold a membership card. Some of them have known they needed to make this shift for years, some have even chafed for it, but few seem to know how to do it. You can see how Ed Balls hates it.

Labour, Labour, Labour… they’re not finding the best notes to play so far, and they’re sliding painfully. The need for renewal has never looked clearer or more urgent. Whatever the final result, the Blair/Brown era is over.

By contrast, the Obama-inspired tribunes of the Labour blogosphere, Anthony Painter and Alex Smith of LabourList, have both written important, honest paeans of praise to Cleggmania. They like these winds of change: they’ve felt them before. This is particularly courageous from Alex, who’s up against Lib Dems in the Islington council elections. But Anthony asks the real question for Labour. “This is a change election. There doesn’t seem to be any way of re-framing that. So what’s the change narrative?” Even Alastair Campbell’s post-debate musings had a touch of this honesty, before he took fright at the polls and re-discovered his baying partisan.

On the other side of the aisle, it only took populist-libertarian Tory cheerleader Guido Fawkes a day or two longer to start publicly revelling in the rise of Clegg and fantasising about a Liberal-Tory coalition.

True, the party faithful of ConservativeHome take the opposite view, as do many party spokespeople; and the camp of the nasty hit-men seems to be strengthening.

But David Cameron’s hastily re-arranged party political broadcast on Monday sent another skin-shedding message. As he doubled down on his “Big Society” story and did his best to ape Clegg, it felt like he was struggling to ride the same transforming and clarifying wave the Lib Dems have caught. You glimpse what the Tory party might start to look like if they had to forge a broader coalition — as they will if the voting system changes. This isn’t an inept campaign. It’s an existential crisis.

Still, Cameron’s offer to “join the government of Britain” and his claim to “blow apart the old way of doing things” are mostly spin. His localism, direct democracy and enthusiasm for civic services are real; but at root he wants a loyal supporters’ club, and a band of volunteers to do everything from coaching the kids to cleaning the toilets.

The British people don’t want to join in politics as usual. We don’t aspire to be ants rebuilding our country in the Cameroonian vision.

We want to change the government of Britain to its core.

That’s why a third factor — the growing tide of non-party campaigns around this election — is so fascinating and extraordinary.

Relatively speaking, the remarkable Lib Dem surge (which may yet recede) and Labour-Conservative skin-shedding are familiar ground.

But there’s a new Citizens’ Campaign out there in the country, and it’s bigger than anyone. Day after day in the polls, more people want to elect a parliament with no overall majority than support solo government by either of the main parties. Part of this is a hanging instinct, part is more deliberate and positive. By my count, well over two-thirds of a million citizens will be directly connected to this election through non-party internet movements pressing for a balanced outcome and a reforming parliament, and casting their votes for that. Vote for a Change are 50,000-strong, POWER2010 around the same – and the Rage Against the Machine Facebook campaign to vote Lib Dem is passing 120,000 members. This is far from the X Factor’s manufactured pap.

Now the heavyweights are limbering up: according to my inbox this week, the MoveOn-inspired 38 Degrees (125,000-strong) and Avaaz (380,000!) are both polling their UK members on such a direction. More on all of these another day, as their strategies coalesce. The “Hang ’em” New Statesman article and subsequent campaign aggressively opened the space, with support from commentators like Timothy Garton-Ash (a centrist voice that swing seats will listen to, and no stranger to velvet revolutions).

Hundreds of thousands more are reading the progressive blogs, where this debate is taking off, and using Twitter — where instant reaction for everyone has broken some of the media’s lock on the narrative. This internet wave may feel chaotic, but in an election where 100,000 votes can determine the outcome, it could have a huge impact. Let’s see if the media start paying attention.

Arguably, the Lib Dem surge is part of the Citizens’ Campaign and not vice versa. This Campaign is only starting to go viral. But it taps the public energy perhaps more directly than any of the parties can. And all this provides a powerful counterforce to the tabloid barons who are pouring poison and fear in the ears of the electorate in an attempt to stop this wave. They know how much this transformation threatens the strange and deformed vision of Britain which they’ve been carving out for decades, and they’re playing dirty – but they don’t own this country, and it’s time they found that out.

It’s anyone’s guess where all this goes next. It depends on what we all do — from party campaigners to bloggers, from journalists to citizens. The second TV debate, on foreign policy, could break or re-energise the Clegg momentum. (His policies on Iraq, Afghanistan and yesterday, his frank talk on the end of the special relationship will resonate from the inner cities to the shires –the toxin of Europe runs deep, but is not yet impervious to refreshing common sense).

But just for a moment, let’s raise our sights and see what this election is really about: a cleansing surge of energy to change the way we run this country.

Let’s make sure we tell that story of hope positively, with passion and open hearts and ideas for what to change on the other side of this decisive vote.

And above all, let’s not bottle it. We won’t get a better chance to forge a twenty-first century democracy and a twenty-first century Britain — or to cast off the undead millstone of our imperial past.

Speak again soon.

Could Red Toryism deeply wound the left?

by Sunny Hundal     July 17, 2009 at 10:53 am

Red Toryism is perhaps the only intellectually interesting debate that has come from the right over the last, say, 20 years. In many ways it firms up the superficial ‘compassionate conservatism’ agenda that David Cameron had borrowed from Republicans in the US, while he avoided the nasty immigration rhetoric that habitually eminates from the Tories like a bad smell.

But what I like about Red Toryism, and the very reason it poses a great philosophical threat to the left and an electoral threat to Labour, is because it is a deeply emotional philosophy.
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Euroelections: 1994 and now

by Dave Osler     June 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Remember the factional disarray that beset Conservative governments in the early 1990s, as Labour supporters gleefully watched the Major administrations unravel before our very eyes?

I can’t help being struck by the parallels between the political climate then and now. Except that this time round, Labour is the butt of the joke and it is the Tories that require a continuous supply of dry underwear.

One obvious comparison is the state of the UK economy, which had undergone serious turbulence in the preceding two years, as a result of the unconstrained financial markets that Thatcherism deified and the Labourism of the period still half-heartedly contemplated reining in.

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Griffin is finally legitimised. Thanks New Labour!

by Aaron Murin-Heath     June 8, 2009 at 2:06 pm

And so finally, fascist flabby arse-wipe Nick Griffin has achieved national political legitimacy by winning a seat at the European Parliament.

And guess what?

We put him there. The progressives. Or so-called progressives, anyway.

The New Labour project, that brave centre-left experiment to bring Clintonian Third-Way politics to a post-Thatcherite Britain, is over.

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Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘’

by Paul Evans     May 20, 2009 at 9:01 am

Both Labour and the Conservatives have moved to take away the whip – and effectively deselect – MPs that have offended public morality with their expense claims.

But is this really enough? Are we simply to be satisfied that a few examples are made of the most egregious cases of an abuse of parliamentary expenses and leave it at that? Or is there a wider crisis the the quality of representation that needs addressing?

I think that this provides us with a fantastic opportunity to renew the entire political class in the UK. It is time for us to think about how we can reinvigorate widespread participation in political parties – old and new. For this reason, I’d like to propose that we – the voters – offer the political parties a new deal. It runs like this:

“We will double the membership of the local party that we support – but only if they will let us re-select our candidate.”
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Why I’ll be voting Green on June 4

by Alan Thomas     May 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm

It is widely held that Euro-elections are little more than an expensive white elephant, a charade conducted in order to put various failed and eccentric politicians on the gravy train to the continent. This year, however, they have taken on a new importance as there is a very real possibility that the fascist British National Party could gain representation for the first time at a European level. Voters are turning away from the established parties in droves, and I believe it is likely that the rise in support for the minor parties will prove to be understated on the day.

Tories have an easy if rather peculiar alternative in the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and that group’s support is rocketing predictably. For disaffected Labour voters however, the choice is not so easy. Those on the left who half-heartedly call upon people to vote for “the political expression of the working class” are wasting their time, and in any case are selling people a turkey. The idea of asking the working people of the UK to vote for a party that has overseen their houses being reposessed, their jobs being lost, their children being sent to war and their public services being privatised, has me reaching for the sick bucket. I cannot conceive of the thought process that allows people to continue reciting the same tired old doctrines about “historic ties to the labour movement” which lead them to call for a Labour vote. In any case, the electorate are not going to listen on June 4.
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Could a Labour / Libdem coalition happen?

by Sunny Hundal     January 29, 2009 at 10:30 am

It could, according to Sunder in this week’s edition of New Statesman.

But there must be changes to the New Labour agenda…
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Isn’t it time socialists abandoned Labour?

by David Semple     January 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

With the declaration of the government that there will simply be no vote on the proposed third runway at Heathrow, the shaky position of the socialist Left in Labour is thrown into stark relief.

If socialist MPs, councillors and activists can’t influence the policy of Labour, one wonders why we should continue to be part of Labour at all? Our situation very much seems to resemble the song by Stealers Wheel, “Clichés to the left of us, Lib-Dems to the right…”

What are the pros and cons of being a socialist and supporting the Labour Party?

On an electoral basis, the claim that it is the best of a bad selection is on very uncertain ground. Frankly I’d prefer to elect Evan Harris, of the Lib-Dems, over pretty much any member of the Labour Cabinet. I’ll certainly be choosing Caroline Flint Lucas of the Greens over Peter Skinner in the upcoming European elections. Yet this decision not to vote Labour cannot be translated into a rule-of-thumb. It is only in certain areas where I would choose to advocate that.

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Love-Bombing the Lib Dems

by Jennie Rigg     December 22, 2008 at 12:11 am

Something that my lovely fiancé has been predicting for a while has started to happen: Tory journalists are being worryingly nice to the Lib Dems. To some extent, this is function creep from Vince Cable’s elevation from third party economics spokesman to all-knowing prophet of everything. Only Robert Peston comes close to Vince’s level of respectedness on the economy now, and I don’t think that can be undervalued. But that isn’t a full explanation for what has been happening over the last few days. Tory journalists aren’t being grudgingly nice about Lib Dem politicians, they are actively lauding them. The Award-Winning Alix Mortimer spotted Quentin Tw… Quentin Letts doing it the other day, but what really brought it home to me was when we finally got around to watching the This Week Christmas Special tonight.

Take a look at the year in review segment. Try hard to weather Quentin discussing Gordon Brown’s buttocks (there has to be slash fiction in that) and wait for the final third, where they all discuss Clegg: both Letts and arch-Tory Nick Robinson are particularly nice – I nearly choked on my Blue Nun when Robinson (who was so horrendously misrepresentative of Clegg’s performance at conference) described him as Youthful, Charismatic, and looking increasingly likely to make a breakthrough. But that’s not as worrying for me as agreeing with both of Letts’ points.

So why is this happening now? continue reading… »

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