Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Do we need the "Liberal Left?"

There is much with which I agree in the "Founding Position Statement" of the Liberal Left.Our current leaders have indeed "taken the party's policy position to the right." We did claim before the election that plans to reduce the public deficit in a single parliament "would remove growth from the economy and their impact would fall disproportionately on those least able to afford them , increasing the gap between the rich and the poor and further dividing the country," and this is indeed "exactly what has happened." And much more.

However, I disagree with them on three important points.

First, they "oppose the party's membership of the coalition." We have to remember that the party overwhelmingly approved joining the coalition. Almost all of us agreed at the time that it was the most appropriate step to take. We have to live with the fact that the deal has turned out to be a bad one. (I argued at the time that there was no need to rush the thing through in a weekend. A ten day period of negotiation, consultation and reflection would have exposed the flaws, such as that an agreement to abstain on tuition fees was insufficient to honour the pledges we had made. The argument that a quick fix was necessary to placate the markets was false.) But that is what the party as a whole agreed to and we have to stick it out. There have been important gains, not least the fixed term parliament, the most important constitutional reform since 1911.

Secondly Liberal Left advocates a clear stance before the next, and presumably subsequent, elections, that in the event that no party has an overall majority we will form coalitions only with Labour, the Greens and other parties of the Left (if any.)This in my view is a nonsense, allowing Labour to argue that the electorate might just as well vote for "the real thing", them, rather than the monkey, us, and the Tories to claim that a Liberal Democrat vote is a vote for Labour. The stance taken at the last election, that the party with the majority of seats and votes should have first crack at forming a coalition, seems fair, right, proper and something the electorate can easily understand. It also guards against the very real possibility that the Labour party simply isn't interested in coalitions but, like spoilt kids in the playground, will take their bats home if the electorate doesn't give them the decision they want , as, if David Laws is to be believed, appears to have happened in 2010.

Finally Liberal Left appears to be set out to create a faction within the party to oppose the leadership. We have seen the damage that such factions have done to both Labour (Bevanites, Bennites, Militant) and the Tories (Eurosceptics). The Social Liberal Forum already exists to to work within the party's structures to steer us back into the paths of Keynesian and Beveridgian economic sense and social compassion. More power to the SLF elbow, rather than a factional grouping, is what is required.


  1. SLF have created the need for Liberal Left or something like it to exist. SLF have stated that they are intolerant of opposition to this particular coalition. A number of people actually read the coalition agreement and realised beforehand that it would be a bad idea. You yourself concede that the coalition was a bad deal not just for the party but more importantly, for the nation. Many would say that mistakes should be corrected rather than lived with. Those opposed to the coalition are not only abused for being in a party that is part of a coalition that is damaging the country but also persecuted within the party for pointing out the harm that it is doing or having the foresight to see the harm that it would do. Liberal Left could provide a support group to keep them within the party rather than running off to the Labour party as the founder of SLF, Matthew Sowemimo did. There will be a huge rebuilding task to do after the coalition ends and we will need to keep as many people in the party as possible to help with that.

    While I by no means agree with everything that Liberal Left say, unless SLF returns to being more inclusive and tolerant of those who consider the coalition to be a mistake, there is a clear need for Liberal Left or something similar to exist, at least for the next few years.

  2. Thanks for your comment. If, as you say, SLF is intolerant of opposition to the coalition, then there are some grounds for what you argue. However, I attended several of their (our) meetings at Birmingham and did not get that impression. Rather I was aware of strong arguments against some of the coalition's polices, especially economic policy. I think that is a legitimate and viable position to take. Attacking the whole existence of the coalition, however tempting, is not at this stage a sensible policy. Suppose we did break our word (again), sacrifice our major achievement of a fixed term parliament, and there were a general election, what do you think would be the result? I suspect a majority Troy government, without the benefit of significant positive Liberal Democrat contributions and without the Liberal Democrat brake, however ineffective the latter seems at present in the economic sphere.