Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Lib-Dems and the Bloggertarians

I hope this doesn't sound too much like bandwagon-jumping, but I'd just like to say how disappointed I am with the Lib-Dems.

I posted a distillation of the core message from this blog (since 2005) and my more-serious Local Democracy site (more recent) yesterday on Slugger O'Toole. It was cross-posted on Liberal Conspiracy shortly afterwards where it attracted a few 'typical elitist fear of us pwoles' type comments from the bloggertarian trolls that lurk there. It's the bizarre defence of the most dysfunctional and ineffective way of getting more participation in popular decisionmaking that stands out when right-wing libertarians advocate these crude plebiscites. If you really want more participation, where is the advocacy of participatory budgeting? Citizens Juries? Co-design and co-creation?

Nowhere, because it doesn't land you in the gated communities of Switzerland or California.

How does this connect with the Lib-Dems, I hear you ask?

My disappointment with the Lib-Dems isn't quite the same as most of stuff I've read elsewhere. Sure, they've proved what we always suspected: that they fold very easily under questioning.

They're performing the traditional mudguard role of junior coalition partners and they don't have the ideological steel needed to resist what should be a fairly straightforward temptation: to not give a minority government the mandate to carry out the most extreme cure to the mess that wanking bankers have left us with.

I suppose it's quite easy to get concepts like socially liberal and economically liberal mixed up, isn't it?

That last para could run and run. But none of it is a huge surprise really, is it?

To my mind, the biggest disappointment is in their commitment to liberal democracy. Like a lot of Lib-Labbers, I always thought that their advocacy of PR went hand-in-hand with a wider pro-democracy approach to politics. Sure - they're not socialists, they don't quite grasp how this whole libertarian bandwagon was primarily put on the rails to help the Tories to play them like a cheap fiddle.

But at least they were in favour of electoral reform. It's a rationalist republican principle that makes them the objective allies of democratic socialists everywhere. The Lib-Dems believe, as many some of us in the Labour Party do, that a better quality of democracy is a political end in itself. Comrade Kautsky would be OK with Labour people making common cause with them on this measure alone.

Or so I thought.

But in selling almost everything for a referendum on AV - AV, ffs - while happily nodding through the coalition's greatest crimes against good democratic thinking - we can see that they don't really have that much of a grasp of what we all believed to be a stand-out cornerstone issue for them.

The Lib-Dems don't understand liberal democracy. They're not it's defenders or it's advocates. They will leave it in a significantly worse state than they found it. And like the bloggertarian trolls on the Liberal Conspiracy comments pages, they really can't grasp that democratic reform has any other purpose than being part of a game designed to get more of your own class-interests onto the statute book.

For years, I dismissed the view that the Lib-Dems only believed in PR because it would get them a few more seats. It turns that I was mistaken in doing so.

I'm genuinely disappointed.


Mil said...

You talk of the Lib Dems as if they were one whole. I don't think this is true. I think they are currently suffering from immense internal strains as Clegg does a Blair - but a hundred times over, and over a far shorter gestation period.

Yes - the Lib Dems have always been *opportunists*. But that's because they've had very few opportunities to define themselves on a public stage where this did not mean fighting two fronts. The two larger parties have always had the luxury of being able to pretend they didn't know the Lib Dems even existed - and concentrate their fire on one single opponent.

Which in itself showed a deliberately tremendous lack of respect on the part of the big boys.

Always much easier to define yourself cogently when you only have to look in one direction.

That doesn't make Labour and the Tories any less opportunist - or less deserving of the same criticism. It just makes them *apparently* more principled. But I'm not sure, in reality, they are.

You're disappointed in the Lib Dems because - like many people - their distance from real national power allowed you to put them on some imaginary pedestal. "If only," you said to yourself. And the "if onlys" of this world allow us all to ignore a multitude of concurrent and very real sins. The higher we place them, the further they have to fall. We assume, quite naturally, that the Tories and Labour will trash representative democracy every which way they can - we don't expect any more. But the Lib Dems were a finer lot, surely.

Well. I think quite a lot of them are - as I might say the same of many members of my own party; and, even, at this awful juncture, a number of the Tories. It's just that the internecine war in British politics that is now our daily bread doesn't allow for the conversational politics you would like to implement.

Civil war doesn't allow for the dynamic of approachability. Rather the opposite, in fact.

What am I trying to say then? Find it in yourself not to *blame* the Lib Dems. Their leaders do only what other leaders, when within sniffing distance of power, have done throughout political history. And a party is always far more complex, far more compelling and far more important than those leaders of today - who will soon become the weary and solitary has-beens of a yesterday consigned to painful history.

Anothertom said...

I wonder if you've ever compared LibDems' "greatest crimes" against democratic thinking with those of the preceding 13 years. I'm thinking of things like the mass centralisation of the state, the advocacy of off-balance-sheet policy implementation (PFI, vast IT projects and the growth of Capita etc), as well as the more obvious ones like the rush to war in the face of mass popular opposition.

But maybe you are right, and proposals over planning permission ARE the greater crimes ...

Paulie said...


'The rush to war in the face of mass popular opposition' - really?

IIRC, the polling evidence of for/against the war was very inconclusive.

On your 'centralisation' / PFI-Capita' point, the common liberal misdiagnosis is that this resulted from Labour's 'authoritarianism' in some way. It didn't. It was the result of the managerialism that captured Labour (and the Tories for the most part).