Monday 10 March 2014
Liberal Democrat optimism unbounded
You have to hand it to us: given the state of the polls (down to 10% in one of them this weekend) and our already greatly reduced representation in local government, the enthusiasm of our Spring Conference in York this weekend surpassed all rationality. If politicians in general live in a "Westminster Bubble" we Liberal Democrats live in a special helium-filled hubble-bubble of our own.
In both the main conference and fringe meeting I sat through hours of constructive and humane discussion on crime and criminal justice, evidence based educational reform (the best education spokesman of all the parties in the last 30 years, Phill Willis, described Gove's antics as "educational homoeopathy"), constitutional reforms for the next government (STV for local government, naturally), the preservation of human rights through the ECHR: and of course we banged on and on about the glories of the European Union. We are the "Party of IN" and no messing.
It was all wondrously exhilarating and convinces me that, in spite of our determined identification with Osborne's misguided economic policy, I'm definitely in the right party.
No to Orange Book Liberalism.
In contrast to the above the most depressing meeting I've ever attended in my 50+ years as a Liberal was dominated by the exposition of neo-liberal economics expressed by Jeremy Browne MP.
"The right has won the economic debate over the last 30 years," he proclaimed. No mention that deregulated market forces crashed most of the developed economies, including ours, in 2008, and we have yet to recover.
"Free market forces are generating spectacular growth in the third world." When challenged that they are also generating increased inequality and that that the lack of regulation and protection led to disasters such as the collapse of the Ran Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh and the deaths of over 1000 people he gave the bizarre response that he'd rather live in South than North Korea.
The alleged virtues of the neo-liberal mantra of deregulation and the automatic superiority of the private over the public sector were reeled off by a Ryan Shorthouse of Bright Blue with no mention of the failures of G4S, Railtrack et al. Evidence based economics it was not..
Although one member of the audience did, rather rudely, describe this economic analysis as "bollocks" he did not, alas, receive a round of applause, or even a subdued murmur of assent, form the rest.
There are two dangers here. One is that we should be recognising the complementary natures of the private and public sectors rather than seeing them as black and white alternatives. The other is that proponents of an economic philosophy come to believe their own propaganda, regardless of the evidence.
Two caveats on Clegg.
Nick Clegg gave a class act in is concluding Leader's Speech, particularly the first half of it. Unfortunately he still persists in referring to Labour's having trashed the economy (the true cause is the irresponsibility of the financial sector made possible by the deregulation introduced and applauded by the Tories) and he concluded by calling for a huge Liberal Democrat vote to keep Britain great and punching above its weight.
I do wish all British politicians would stop this grandstanding. I'd settle for a fairer, moderately competent, tolerant, welcoming, friendly and caring country prepared to work with others to encourage these blessings in the rest of the world.