A few days ago former Troy MP Matthew Parris wrote and article in The Times in which he argued that now there is a good opportunity for a Liberal Democrat revival because, whereas both Conservatives and Labour are weighed down by ideological baggage, we Liberal Democrats, along with the bulk of the electorate, aren't.
This provoked indignation from the faithful, best expressed by my friend Michael Meadowcroft, who wrote directly to Parris:
There was much to take note of and to act on in your Times article last Saturday, “This is the moment for a Lib Dem revival”, but there was one sentence in the penultimate paragraph that astonished me, given your broad political experience and awareness:
And the defining defect of the Lib Dems? That they have no bold and simple ideology, no defining philosophy; that they’re stuck in the middle; neither one thing nor the other.
I am conscious that you then go on to suggest that this may well be an electoral advantage but the alternative is a more powerful case: that to develop a political party, and to recruit committed activists who have a determination to go out and persuade others, one has to have a “defining philosophy”. Moreover, to create and promote policy a party has to have a “defining philosophy” on which to base it. For instance, the Liberal Democrats were the only party to have a 100% attendance of its MPs to vote against the Iraq invasion, not because of any pragmatic opinion on weapons of mass destruction but because the party rightly believed that it was against international law, and that was enough; we have been in favour of an united Europe since 1955 because the party is internationalist and sceptical about the relevance of borders; we are in favour of devolution because we are aware of the dangers of centralism and its predilection towards authoritarian government; we are in favour of land value taxation because we believe that it is immoral to exploit land ownership rather than looking towards the common good; and we favour co-operatives in industry because we believe that to set management against labour is counterproductive and deleterious to productivity and is unnecessarily divisive. One could go on but these will do for examples of issues on which the party has a distinctive position stemming from its philosophy.
As for being “stuck in the middle”, that is an entirely illusory geographical point! Left and Right come down to us from the French Revolution and are predicated on the level of economic determinism or laissez faire, whereas Liberals see the spectrum as being between diffusion and centralisation - on which we are extremists!
I am always delighted to have the philosophy analysed, criticised and even attacked but at note that it exists. In recent decades we have prepared and published:
“Our Aim and Purpose”, 1962
“Liberals look ahead”, 1971
“Liberal Values for a New Decade”, 1980
“2002 Agenda” published as “Freedom, Liberty and Fairness”, 2002 and 2011
“Agenda 2020" currently in preparation.
These are all philosophical statements rather than detailed policy. I enclose a copy of the most recent publication for your delectation!