Wednesday 6 May 2015

We really need the Liberal Democrats

A recent Guardian leader cited a claim made by  Keynes in 1926 that: "The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty."

Such clarity is a far cry from the silly squabbling and petty bribery of this election campaign.

On Economic Efficiency: Thanks to an astonishingly successful PR campaign the media have accepted the Tories' bizarre claim to economic competence. In fact they have failed on both their stated main objectives (to retain our AAA rating and eliminate the internal deficit within the one parliament), and the economy has certainly not been "rebalanced."  In addition the external deficit (balance of payments) is a at a record high, productivity is alarmingly low,  the much vaunted  increase in employment is largely achieved through involuntary self-employment along with  low paid,  insecure, unskilled work, and the modest recovery after years of "flat lining" is already running out of steam. They can only be regarded as successful if their real aim is to roll back the welfare state (which I suspect it is.)

By contrast Labour's record in government, though by no means perfect (the inexplicable obsession with PFIs, for example) is almost a model of rectitude. (See previous post for more details)

Sadly the Liberal Democrats in government have, at least in public, betrayed our Keynesian heritage and gone along with the popular obsession with reducing the government deficit.  I suspect, however, there has been internal pressure for "pump priming" stimulation and the change of course and increased public investment  in 2012 is the result of Liberal Democrat pressure.

On Social Justice: Clearly the Conservative approach has been and will continue to be to demonise and punish the less fortunate in our society.  Even Labour are beginning to get cold feet on his issue. A Liberal Democrat party true to our  roots (Beverage) would have been more vocal in trying to protect the social security safety-net but at least we have been less savage than the Tories.

On Individual Liberty: In this I would include human and civil rights rights and in these areas the Liberal Democrats win hands down.  It is very easy to dismiss human rights as a fad because most people who are comfortably off  and secure in their status and circumstances  can easily dismiss the need for them, because they don't feel personally vulnerable.

 But it is at the margins that human and civil rights become important. Neither Labour nor Conservatives have good records nor, it appears, good instincts.  Labour notoriously and infamously tried to extend the period of possible detention without charge to 42 days (the original habeas corpus was 24 hours).  The Tories would withdraw from  the European Convention on Human rights, not wanting our own vulnerable to be subject to its protection. To our credit the Liberal Democrats have stuck firmly to our principles, in spite of the derision this engenders with the red tops and Daily Mail.

So we Liberal Democrats get some marks on Keynes's first two issues and most marks on the third.  I confidently expect our party will do much better tomorrow than the opinion polls predict.  I certainly hope so. It is clear that  to ensure a more civilised and decent society we need to retain and win as many seats as possible with the highest possible total vote.


  1. Stuart Archer7 May 2015 at 16:56

    A very fair and sensible summary Peter.
    However I still think, whatever the electoral arithmetic, Clegg was unwise to coalesce with a Tory party so hostile to the basic tenets of Liberalism. If politics is the art of the possible too much of what Cameron and Osborne stand for is impossible for a Lib/Dem to support. And what happened to Alexander and Cable during this election? And why don't the psephologists point out the unreliability of the polls?
    It seems that the speculation about a hung or balanced parliament has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. miliband might still surprise us.

  2. I hope that Miliband does surprise us, though not with an over-all majority. There was hope of a "re-alignment of the left", promoted by Ashdown and Blair in 1997, but as soon as Blair got an overwhelming majority "the project" went out of the window, along with expectations of sensible constitutional reform, including proportional representation. Sadly when one of the two biggest parties get their hands on power any hope of sensible co-operation goes out of the window. So my fingers are crossed for a "left of centre" coalition, of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Green(s) . And I can see no reason why it shouldn't include the SNP: they talk the most economic sense

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  4. In reality, Peter, aren't the Liberal Democrats a spent force after this morning's publication of the General Election results?

    1. When Churchill was defeated in 1945 Mrs C was said to have commented that it was maybe a blessing in disguise, to which WSC is alleged to have replied that, if it was, it was certainly very well disguised.

      I feel a bit like that at the moment but, as I hope the above (and today's) post demonstrates, if the Liberal Democrat party didn't exist, it would have to be invented.

      So when we regroup I hope it will be around genuinely Keynesian policies of a government responsibility to regulate the economy for the good of all rather than rely on unbridled market forces, a Beveridgean concern for the disadvantaged, and a robust defence of civil and human rights.

      No one else can be relied on for these.

  5. A bit enigmatic, Bernard. Can you elaborate, please?