To judge by the delegates I met at Confrence David Howarth's demolition of Richard Reeve's arguments at a fringe meeting was most welcome. Reeves-who it must be said wrote an excellent biography of J S Mill - has been peddling some odd ideas since he left Clegg employ. He has produced a pamphlet and that was the basis of the discussion at the fringe meeting. Howarth had the advantage that he had read the pamphlet in advance and so was able to un-pick the argument. to make sense of the rest of this posting you will need to watch the video of David
Reeves central position is that Clegg is transforming the party from an alliance of social liberals and social democrats to a more European Classical (Dutch VVD) Liberal Party. He insists on believing that this is a sensible strategy. It is scarcely necessary to remark that it is bunkum. He is the sort of person who rather thinks the party is available as a vehicle for his ideas, he fails to recognise that this party rebuilt itself after the last bunch of classical Liberal tried to take it over and those who have stuck to the project for some or all of the past 60 odd yrs are not about to roll over and give up just to suit him.
David Marquand made similar observations about the small clique of classical Liberals :
Why did they succumb so easily to the establishment embrace? … The terrible answer, I believe, is that their birthrights were no longer to their taste. The Liberal Democrat leaders still talked social liberalism, but as they had foreshadowed in the notorious Orange Book, they walked economic liberalism. The tradition of Beveridge, Keynes, Lloyd George and Asquith, and for that matter of David Steel, Paddy Ashdown and Menzies Campbell – the tradition that stood for a synthesis of freedom and solidarity, procured by a strong, but not oppressive state – no longer spoke to them. They were liberals in the continental mode, not in the British one.
The harsh truth was that many of us were just too nice and polite. We are liberals and share concerns about the oppressive nature of concentration of power-whether in public or private hands. David amply demonstrates that the prescriptions of Reeves do little to combat that concentration and may will make it worse transferring the power to unaccountable private institutions and bolstering the power of officialdom-and in the case of Education and Health the London based state. It is interesting that Reeves quotes Grimond. Most of these folks do but they only cherry pick their quotes. Grimond advocated a political strategy of re-aligning the Left. A Left Party with a Left programme. For him the Left in Britain under Labour leadership had taken the wrong turning and gone down the state collectivist route.
It is nonsense to say that those who left us after the coalition can't come back. The bulk of the party would identify themselves as Social Liberals. They were at home in a party led by Grimond, Steel, Campbell and Ashdown. We want to attract back those who were repelled by a Tory led government People who have dedicated their lives to relatively low paid public service, who believe in Community, in society, are part of our natural constituency. Listen carefully to Howarth's dissection of Reeve's attempt to split social justice from equality of opportunity.
Of course until you read the policy initiatives Reeves likes: Lansley's Health Bill. the unaccountable schools cock ups, elected Mayors and Police Commissioners etc you might believe that this approach is about dispersing power. In practice it is not. Inevitably after years of New Labour Government we all had a heightened awareness of our Liberal critique of state power as Reeves said in the New Statesman article :'the creeping paternalism and the insularity ... (e.g. Blair-style micro-management, fiddly proposals for minimum alcohol pricing and the Communications Data Bill checking individual email and web use) The bland generalities about being 'more liberal' are beguiling against that backdrop until you read the detail of his policy proposals for the future and realise that we have had a lucky escape thanks to Reeves leaving.