Last week I noticed that Jeremy Browne had said something that seemed to piss off some folk. That is all I noticed as I didn’t investigate further as it just passed me by. Well last night whilst sitting in the Chinese waiting for my beef with fried rice and slightly too overdone Chicken Balls (chicken balls need to have very soft batter, crispy batter is a no-no in the Neil Chinese takeaway world) I was reading the newspaper and the paper laying there was Friday’s edition of the i and in it was an article about Jeremy Browne’s ‘controversial’ interview and I read the story. I didn’t find it as dramatic or insulting as I had been led to believe by the comments I glanced at on Facebook last week.
Speaking in said publication, the outgoing MP said:
We are defining liberalism as the precise mid‑point between conservatism and socialism. Whatever liberalism is, it is not defined by where the other parties choose to pitch themselves or by measuring the distance between them and splitting it in half.
All we offer is a desire to water down their strong views. We offer an insipid moderation. Whichever party is the biggest one, we will stop them implementing a large number of their ideas. It is entirely negative. It is a deeply conservative position. We have become the most small-‘c’ conservative party.
Ding. Ding. Ding.
Liberalism should never be defined by offering a watered down version of other ideologies. Liberalism is a fully fledged ideology of its own. Whilst the electorate may well actually like the idea of a ‘Labour Lite’ or a ‘Conservative Lite’ party, that shouldn’t be how the Lib Dems are defined. That may well be how many have seen the party in recent years and in part why many voters are currently switched off from the party. They voted for the Lib Dems not because they felt that they were the party for them because they felt that they were the best compromise of what they really wanted – or in many instances – flat out the best choice to stop the people they didn’t want.
It is no secret that the Lib Dems have been the greatest beneficiaries of tactical voting in the UK for a long time. The party was seen as generally good eggs who weren’t tainted by having to actually make decisions. People remembered the bad times with the Tories and with Labour and went to the party that were different. The problem is of course in coalition (with Lab or Con) then suddenly that taint befalls the party. They are not simply the party of protest any more and you know what – they can’t be for a generation. The party of protest is now either UKIP or Green depending on where your protests lie and north of the border the SNP are hoovering up all that protest with a vacuum cleaner that is on full to keep up with the demand.
Going into coalition was the first step to pissing off a significant portion of the electorate who are just ‘Anti-Tory’ and when the tuition fees issue came then the party had to make a decision. Either walk away then and show the electorate that the party was principled but were unwilling to make compromises in government or decide to show that the party was grown up and not a party of protest but indeed a party of government.
The second avenue was of course harder because many activists actually came in because they were ‘Anti-Tory’ and therefore the activist base faced issues and secondly poll numbers went downhill faster than my chances with a woman once they find out that I own care bears. Having bottle when the ship is careering towards the rocks isn’t easy so what actually happened was a mish-mash that has not sat well with most.
For those who want to be a distinctive voice, the party are still in coalition and being a junior partner in a coalition is not the best way to be that distinctive voice. For those who want to embrace government and being grown up and a natural party of government, they are unhappy that publicly all the Lib Dems seem to hang their hat on is blocking bad policies. It is a no-man’s land that is a turn off to many members let alone the electorate at large. Where the Lib Dems will do well in May are areas where the activists have either bought into government and haven’t been disheartened by national politics or areas where the top dog is an extremely distinctive voice (see Russell, Bob, in Colchester).
Browne’s basics points aren’t inaccurate. The 2011 local election results was the point where the party lost their nerve. They decided at that point (whether it was member led or not) that the primary role of the Lib Dems in government was to water down the Tories. This has been a success to a significant degree but that type of government doesn’t lead to the vast majority people being passionate about the Lib Dems let alone vote for them.
Being a liberal isn’t something anyone should be ‘ashamed’ of and instead it should be shouted from the rooftops. The Lib Dems don’t care what your background is and want a fairer society for all. A child’s education shouldn’t be adversely effected by the income their parents have. Equal opportunity for all is where the party stands and that is great position to be in. It isn’t just about pulling up those from poorer backgrounds, it is about creating better education for all whatever school they go to.
The party have done some very good things in government but endlessly picking fights isn’t the way forward. Pick your fights and your ‘differention’ strategy wisely. The Tories are all in a muddle on Europe, the cabinet mostly know that being part of the EU is vital to the UK economy but the backbenches are thinking of their seats and the little England mentality that a significant proportion of the population has. This is something where the Tories and Lib Dems have distinct differences and these should be screamed from the roof-tops.
I don’t care if MPs or councillors are uneasy about the fact immigration is a buzz topic. Be loud and proud that we believe is the EU and its importance in society and the economy. Be loud and proud that we believe in immigration for people as there is a bigger world than just these shores. The economy is doing well, unemployment is going down, more people are in work, job creation and confidence in the economy is high and we should be able to take a lot of the credit for that. Instead many will see the Tories as the reason and will only associate the Lib Dems with the issues that they don’t like. Differentiating is important yes, but where it is needed. The Tories and the Lib Dems together have turned around the economy and should take a significant proportion of the credit each for this, this though will not be reflected at the ballot box.
Should the party not enter another coalition then Browne believes that Nick Clegg will resign as leader and Tim Farron will be the takeover and we’ll return to opposition. I think this is exactly what will happen. The appetite for coalition politics isn’t strong within the party and unless the numbers were such that no other form of stable government could be formed, then opposition is where the party will be watching a Tory minority or a Labour/SNP pact that will just be surreal.
Jeremy Browne’s voice will be a loss in Westminster. Any distinctive voice worth listening to will be a loss. Whether you agree or disagree with him, he stands up and says what he truly believes that that is something I admire not only in a politician, but also in a human being. I’d prefer to disagree with someone knowing what they stood for than not know what they stand for in a luke-warm attempt to get re-elected. So many candidates say what they think people want to hear and not what they truly believe. This is doing the country a disservice. If only everyone said what they truly thought then the electorate would have a clear idea of all the candidates and would be able to make a better informed opinion.
To wrap this up as I have a Chinese to work-off on the exercise bike, I saw someone link Jeremy to Lembit Opik. Oh boy. Yes they both might like the sound of their own voice but there is one distinct difference, one is worth listening to and the other really is not and I’ll give you a clue as to which is which, the one who isn’t worth listening to I can name some of his previous sexual partners. The one who is I have no idea as to his sexual history. None whatsoever.
I promise I’ll write something non-political soon. I promise…
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