What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

May 09, 2007

What is Simon Jenkins for?

Actually, I have a lot of time for him: an excellent and genuinely rounded polemicist, he writes like a dream, and has long championed decentralisation as vital to the restoration of civic life to our communities.

But he has, has always had, a blind spot when it comes to the Liberal Democrats and our predecessor parties - he just does not want us to exist, and today he takes great pleasure in elaborating on this aversion. Why he wants the Lib Dems, and our 26% of the vote, just to vanish is hard to say. After all, anyone who believes in the transformative value of competition should surely welcome a plurality of rival political parties. It’s unlikely any individual will agree wholly with what any one of them says - certainly I don’t agree with all Liberal Democrat policy.

But those of us who believe in the importance of political activism, and the need to engage with our governing institutions, choose a party closest to our views, and recognise we’ll be travelling in the same direction, even if it’s sometimes along parallel lines.

It’s a shame Simon Jenkins hasn’t used his scalpel-sharp intelligence to mount a more interesting critique of the Lib Dems - because there is one to be had, and many of us engage in it, usually behind closed doors, sometimes in public.

As someone on the socially and economically liberal wing of the party, I’d like to see the Lib Dems allow individuals the freedom to lead their own lives. This means putting more trust in the free market, which is usually better than government at reflecting the wishes and needs of individuals. And it means not legislating to outlaw behaviour which offends but does not harm others.

Many in the party will disagree with my prescription. I have no doubt that if we can avoid the temptation to mud-sling (tainting the other side as either ‘Thatcherite’ or ‘Socialist’, according to taste, is never constructive) we can reach an accommodation. That, after all, is the function and value of coming together as a political party.

If the Tories can contain both Edward Leigh and John Bercow, and the Labour Party both Dennis Skinner and David Miliband, I see no reason why the Lib Dems can’t benefit from the talents of both Simon Hughes and David Laws.

Mr Jenkins may feel this compromise results in “a susurration of platitudes”. Certainly that’s the risk, one which applies to all other parties. The alternative is to sit on the sidelines, safely pontificating from the berth of a well-upholstered desk in Faringdon Road or Wapping, and never troubling to get your hands dirty.

And of course it’s not only the Lib Dems who are quite capable of saying different things in different places - that pure-as-the-driven-snow ideologue Mr Jenkins has form.

9 comments:

Tim Worstall said...

"he just does not want us to exist"

Well, quite. While real liberals and the sandal wearers are in the same party it prevents a true liberal party from forming.

Which is what we need of course, The Liberal Party.

When it arrives, can we take back the National Liberal Club as well, the finest gents urinals in the world?

Anonymous said...

I dont see how anything that you have said above sets you apart from a Conservative or right wing Labour. I think Simon Jenkins has hit the nail on the head.

Stephen Tall said...

Anon - what you mean is there's nothing that sets me apart from a social or economic liberal who (for whatever reason) finds themself in the Tory or Labour parties.

I think there's a generally acknowledged liberal diaspora - which half-answers Tim's point. A liberal Liberal party is arguably more likely to happen under PR than in the current duopolistic arrangements. How is PR likely to happen? Through a strong Lib Dem showing.

Anonymous said...

An excellent synopsis by Simon Jenkins,he omitted the fact that in the past the Liberals / Lib Dems USP has been a virtual monopoly for the protest votes.
However with the increased choice of other smaller parties to deposit that vote(SNP,Plaid,Greens,BNP,Respect & UKIP)this USP has now been lost and was plain to see in both Scotland & Wales last week.
Traditionally the Liberals / Lib Dems have done well at Westminster elections when the Tories have been unpopular,with the Tories now moving onto the centre ground a return to two party politics is on the horizon,this combined with policy overlap amongst the Tories & Labour in reality is a further nail in the Lib Dem coffin.
There only realistic hope is a hung parliament in 2/3 years time,if this doesn't happen then I can see their Westmister support going back to 70's levels.

Julian H said...

Anon: "I dont see how anything that you have said above sets you apart from a Conservative or right wing Labour."

Stephen has not "set above" his entire political philosophy as it is not necessary to the point re: Simon Jenkins. Nonetheless, I would have thought it pretty obvious that a liberal such as Stephen has contrasting opinions to members of illiberal parties such as the Conservative Party and Labour Party.

A few examples off the top of my head: Liberals would not support 90 days detention without trial, or (like Michael Howard) ID cards, or Section 28.

Liberals also support freedom of choice within the political (as well as the commercial) arena and thus, unlike many Conservatives, do not abide by an obdurate loyalty to institutions such as the Monarchy.

Thus the existence of a Liberal party of some form or other. Just as the Conservatives are not as conservative as many of their ranks would like (and Labour not socialist), the current Liberal party is not as liberal as some of us would like. Certainly moving in the right (or maybe I should say "correct") direction though.

AlabasterCodify said...

It's interesting you should illustrate Jenkins' double-standards with one of his pieces on education.

I always find it amusing when I here or read his views on state education (anti-choice, anti-vouchers etc) to think that I was at public school with his son, who certainly benefited from his father's ability to choose one of the most expensive schools in Britain for his child.

Tom Papworth said...

"usually behind closed doors, sometimes in public"...

...occasionally on websites for all to see.

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