Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nice idea in theory...

Dave Osler thinks that there are a number of reasons why a Labour / Lib Dem merger is likely to happen in the medium term.

I'm not sure that some of the historic reasons why they should never have been the same party are as ahistoric as he thinks, indeed, my recollection of Paul Addison's very good 'Road to 1945' (now sadly out of print) is of a period in the middle of the century when there was almost a consensus between the non-Guilty Men tories (notably Macmillan) and plenty of Liberals in support of the defining contours of the post-1945 settlement.

I don't have the book to hand any more, so I may be corrected on a few details here, but Macmillan was advocating - in the late 1930s - policies somewhat more radical that those implemented after the war by Labour. Policies that were clearly in the 'state socialism' mould as well - not just the kind of stuff that you could have expected a bit of consensus on.

I mention this in order to make the point that ideological consensus and political alliance don't always go hand-in-hand.

The post-war Labour government can almost be seen as a spectacular triumph of political entryism of the kind revived in the 1980s by the Revolutionary Socialist League (AKA Militant Tendency) In this case, Labour was effectively hi-jacked by Liberals - Beveridge, Keynes, and even a young Harold Wilson.

On Dave's logic, surely the alliance that is the Labour Party (organised Labour, co-ops, the odd god-botherer and, notably, the Fabians) couldn't have happened. But it did. And it could easily have encompassed large slices of the Liberal Party at that time.

If it quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, it's probably a duck. On this logic, the Fabians were Liberals.

I have a theory on why it didn't happen formally then - and why it won't now. It's a reconfiguration of my 'why Fianna Fail won't succeed in Northern Ireland' post the other day.

One word; bureaucracy. As Parkinson's Law explains, bureaucrats recruit subordinates, not rivals.

Labour has a bureaucracy, so do the Lib Dems. MPs everywhere would have to reapply for their jobs. Researchers would be laid off, local organisers would have to compete for a single job, and animosities - often decades old - particularly in the north west, where the Liberals sometimes were surrogates for the Tories - would make the actual wedding a bloodbath.

There may be no reason for the two ideologies, as far as there are any these days, to merge. I don't have a strong view either way.

But the people? Never.


mikeovswinton, nowhere near Passfield said...

Paulie; I'm a bit late on this one, but I will comment on the politics here, after one more soul comment. I see from your profile that not only do you listen to Dexys (we established that one at Shuggy) but also Terry Callier. Spot on! I saw TC in Manchester last April, and he was on great form - again. A living legend, as the flyers said and for once they were not exagerating.

On the Politics;
1. The Fabians. The Fabians - notably the Webbs- were NOT liberals. They were serious about the kind of "socialism" they advocated. And they weren't statists as such. They argued for consumer co-operation with local authorities and the central state seen as compulsory consumer co-operation. I did my doctoral thesis on the Webbs, and in it you will find the precise split of ownership they advocated in a socialist society - x% consumer co-op, x% local authority ownership and x% state ownership. I can't remember the exact proportions, but the state ownership was surprisingly small. I gave up on the Webbs when I read their advocacy of the sterilization of epileptics in the same week I was diagnosed epileptic. Took it a bit personally I am afraid.

2. Forget the Labour/Lib Dem question. What happens to the Tories IF Brown calls the election and IF he wins? Two "ifs", but not beyond the realm of possibility.

Paulie said...


Callier is, indeed, marvellous. Try 'The Colour of Love' or 'Fire on Ice' from the 70s alongside his stuff from the last ten years if you get the chance.

On the politics, all fair points. And I'm going to slightly busk a reply on The Fabians, but they *were* objectively Liberals (or the liberals were objectively Fabians) insofar as a section of the Liberal Party moved towards the Fabians and vice versa. They were both a radical middle-class social caste that intermingled and became indistinguishable in some ways.

What you advocate, and what you achieve - particularly when it comes to speculating on how it would be really nice for common ownership to work - doesn't strike me as a real factor in public life.

I'm sure you're correct on the particulars, but for the purpose of this post, I'm saying that political intermingling isn't as new as Dave was implying in the post that I linked to.

mikeovswinton said...

Paulie; On Terry C - got em all down to my 12inch a vinyl of Sign of the Times.

On the Fabians again - bear in mind that at times the Fabians "permeated" the Conservative Party. At the time of -from memory- the 1902 Education Act they opposed the whole of the Liberal Party, which lined up with the Nonconformists against the act. Sid Webb aided Conservative ministers and actually participated in writing the Daily Mail's editorials on the issue. Mind you, the fact that his London County Council education fiefdom stood to get more cash as a result may have had something to do with it.

Whilst serious about what the thought of as socialism, they were basically -and this was a principle with them, not my derogatory comment - elitist and would "permeate" wherever they thought they could get somewhere. Arguably that is what they did in the Labour Party, which the leading Fabians like the Webbs only really committed to around 1912 or so. Actually all this tends to bear out the point that you are making, I think.