I know Lib-Dems have had their fill of ‘disappointment’ coming from lefties over the last year, but I was very surprised that they didn’t foresee this inevitable outcome and didn’t have a strong enough grasp of what democratic renewal meant in their back pockets.
I don’t believe it’s possible to have – within the same brain - a developed view of good democratic practice AND a view that voting reform in the UK can or should be delivered by a referendum.
I’ve outlined (elsewhere) what I believe to be the cornerstones of a ‘good democracy’ in this post, and I must admit I used to be more inclined to believe that Lib-Dems would recognise and agree with a lot of this than I am now.
I thought Lib-Dems cared about democratic renewal – evidenced by the long-term focus on electoral reform. The evidence of the last year has awakened a suspicion that their view on this (like the worst of the Tory and Labour arguments) has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with instrumental politics.
Firstly, if the LibDems do take this disaster as a catalyst to review their principled position on democratic reform, it would give them the tools to reject some Coalition policies that are – to my mind (more on that mind below) – the most regressive and nasty things in the pipeline: Local referendums and elected police chiefs.
Secondly, it could clear up a lot of misunderstandings on the left and put pressure on Labour to be a better party while appealing to sectons of the activist left who wouldn’t be averse to switching over (strengthening the Lib-Dem party).
Let me explain what I mean here: If pushed, I’d describe myself as a ‘Kautskyite’ social democrat. A socialist who believes that economic justice (however you define that – we KSDs don’t need to be too precise because democrats let others settle the details) is better delivered by aspirational democratic renewal than it is by other forms of class struggle.
I’d take a long-term move towards a better democracy over a short term redistributive measure every time. This (along with other idiosyncrasies) explains why I’ll never succeed in a political career.
So we would say: “Keep chipping away at bad democratic practices -the power of interest groups & the media, the shortcomings of deliberative models, the failure to offer better forms of participation etc, and other injustices and social failures would be overcome as part of this process."
This, by the way, is part of the dialogue of the deaf that goes on between socialists and liberals. We say “we should decide collectively what’s fair and all live by what we’ve decided on a wider range of things.” They say “No – keep it to the minimum. We don’t trust the state – it will make bad decisions and impose them on us”
Democratic renewal can bring the two sides together. If the decisions are better and more inclusive, liberal suspicion of those decisions could be lower. And because many of the Lib-Dems that I know don’t have too many arguments with our notion of what economic justice is (something we both wildly disagree with the Tories on), a shared notion of what democratic renewal is could build all sorts of bridges.
Footnote: I posted a lot of this in Mark Reckons' comments but wanted to expand on it so I've reposted it here with extra bits and a few edits.