Tuesday, 15 March 2011

So what would a more Lib Dem influenced coalition look like?

I am always a bit wary when folk who aren't our friends start giving us advice. Jackie Ashley was at it in yesterday's Guardian.
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The Lib Dems are not a centre party. Their centre of gravity is a bit to the left. They are less statist, less pro-union and more civil libertarian than Labour, but their instincts fall on the same side of the divide. They want to change the world; and you can't do that by sitting in the centre. 

Like all Liberals of my generation I have always considered our party to be of the Left. Many of us were inspired by Jo Grimond's vision of realigning the Left and developing a radical party committed to social justice and freedom without signing up to an authoritarian and overbearing state to achieve it. And so it is that Liberals through out generation have looked at ways of redistributing wealth and power without first handing it to the government. 

We have noted before that 'advanced' Liberals in the Edwardian era were influenced by Kropotkin and the like-an influence that was rekindled in the 1960/70's. His communitarian  /decentralised / green vision of society interested many of us. Now we have emerged from a decade under New Labour with its authoritarian actions fresh in our minds it is nor surprising that we feel the need to stress our libertarian credentials. 

It is of course true that many Lib Dems feel the the talk of left and right is unhelpful. Donald Wade in his pamphlet 'Our Aim and Purpose' back in the late sixties was railing against this simplistic labelling. We find it difficult to describe John Reid or David Blunkett or Jack Straw with all their authoritarian instincts as 'left' as it is a term we associate with human rights and the expansion of popular sovereignty. Today folk like those over at Political Compass try to come up with more meaningful alternatives. Anyway back to yesterday's Guardian.

At one point in her article Ms Ashley presumed to be able to: ..... imagine what a coalition government with a stronger Lib Dem influence would look like. Now I share Roberts Burn's desire that :' O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us' so I read on with renewed interest. 

It would not have charged so hard towards free schools and against local councils; it would not have embarked on the NHS changes; it would have scrapped Trident; it would have been more pro-European. It would have castigated Labour, no doubt, over spending decisions, but it would have begun to reduce the deficit more through taxation than spending cuts. It would, we know, have been tougher on bankers' bonuses and more decisive in splitting the functions of the big banks

Well it could have been a lot wider of the mark and I am pleased that she feels that Trident would have been scrapped-let us hope Labour catches up with us on that issue. Nevertheless if her observations of what a more Liberal government would look like ring true for the population at large we clearly have some work to do!

Totally absent from her vision is the decentralised/ communitarian/green agenda so close to many Lib Dem hearts. Even Nick Clegg's excellent speech on multiculturalism which contrasted so markedly from Cameron's populist panderings does not seem to have registered.  Absent too is our disgust at the 'gross and shocking' maldistribution of wealth in our society and there is nothing of our alternative vision for businesses that are not  driven solely by the rampant free market desire to improve shareholder value. One of the most encouraging aspects of the recent gathering in Sheffield was the re-emergence of Industrial Democracy and employee ownership as a core part of the Lib Dem approach. 

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