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Saturday January 06 2007

A few weeks back I wrote about my prejudice against the Lib Dems, and then how, in response to prodding from Bishop Hill, they had been slightly modified by meeting a quite sensible sounding Lib Dem on 18 Doughty Street.  As I commented:

The gist of it was, I liked the guy, and he convinced me that the Lib Dems may indeed be moving towards a more principle classical liberalism than was the case in former years.

Certainly enough to make me want to read some more Lib Dem blogs, and see what more I can find on this front.

But now hear this, from Nick M, commenting at Samizdata:

And then there are the Mingers . . .

That’s the Lib Dems, whose leader is Menzies Campbell, with Menzies pronounced “Ming-es”, or “Ming” for short.

. . . who have elevated lack of principle to the status of a principle. I see the stuff they shove through the door here in Manchester and the stuff they shove through my mother’s door in Gateshead and you’d think it came from diametrically opposite parties. In prosperous, white, quasi-rural/suburban/commuter-belt (high-density but cows in the fields - at least until set-aside) West Gateshead the lib-dems play a tune close to classical liberalism/orthodox (Scandi-style) social democracy. In multi-cultural South Manchester they sound more like a front organisation for RESPECT.

Which is exactly what my original prejudice consisted of.  They seem to me like a combination of the duplicitous and the deluded.  Deluded for imagining, insofar as they do, that in one another’s contradictory and chaotic company they will ever be able to accomplish anything.  I can quite believe that the semi-classical liberal chap whom I encountered is sincere in his semi-classical-liberalism.  What I cannot see is him getting anywhere within the Lib Dems, or the Lib Dems themselves getting anywhere, what with them all being so diverse.  They will be a sack of cats for the foreseeable future, even if each cat is sincerely trying to win all the other cats over.  People will vote for them as a protest, but not as a real party with pretensions to forming a real government.

I find myself agreeing with a wince of pain, Brian.  If you’ve read any of my political pieces on LMWN you might note I am the least rightwing of us, but even I am having trouble with the party.

A party who are highly likely to play a role in government after the next election should be debating policy, and ironing out the fudges.  Instead the last year has been a total disaster.

In my life I have voted Lib Dem almost every time i’ve put pen to ballott paper, but this is not classical liberalism… This is stupidity.

Posted by Edwin Hesselthwite on 08 January 2007

Well, I’m a LibDem who would describe himself as a Libertarian (I also seem to be becoming more libertarian recently- I’m even thinking of subscribing to the LA).

I agree there are some horrendous ‘wets’. There are those who think Thatcher embodied economic liberalism and the end of the world will come if we adopt economic liberal policies. Then there’s the social democrats and even worse ‘democratic socialists’ (I do not believe such a thing can exist).

In my conversations with younger LibDems, we seem to be gaining more classically liberal members. There may even be more of us claiming Cobden as a great liberal rather than Lloyd George (who leaves a nasty taste in my mouth).

I remember one person at Liberal Drinks (come along to the Westminster one sometime, it’d be fun :D) lamenting the party’s lack of sound liberal economics and wishing for a social and economically liberal party which truly represents individual freedom.

All political parties are coalitions. I think the LibDems are the best bet for liberalism or libertarianism. They will never be a libertarian party, but as the Tories in the late 70s and 80s were influenced, I think the LibDems can be influenced.

Posted by Tristan Mills on 09 January 2007

I can’t see the stuff that Nick M posted, but I don’t defend it. Not sure why the Lib Dems deserve your particular ire though: Labour elevate hypocracy to the cabinet, while the Tories too seem set on foisting an unprincipled con-trick on the rest of us. I fear that your righeous indignation is simply about politics.

Meanwhile, as you will have seen there is actually a large and growing group of Libertarian minded Lib Dems, and frankly our policy debates are a damn sight more open and honest thaan I have ever seen or heard of from the Tories.

Happy to catch up over that beer, and we can talk further!

Posted by Cicero on 10 January 2007

In we all pile, fists flailing!

I think your suggestion that the Liberal Democrats are somehow more diverse and less disciplined or harmonious than the other parties is ludicrous, as is the belief (which I infer) that the Tories somehow embody (at least economic) liberalism.

All parties are coalitions - John Major described his Government as “a coalition of one”, and Gordon Tullock’s theory of logrolling demonstrates that all politics is compromise (he might also have something to say about your suggestion that only Lib Dems are interested primarily in re-election!).

Labour is torn between New Labour and old socialists, the Conservatives between Thatcherites and new-Butskellites, and the Lib Dems have their Social Democratic and their Liberal wings. I cannot believe that you can claim with a straight face that David Cameron’s acceptance of Labour’s tax-and-spend rate or newfound fondness for the prattlings of Polly Toynbee are consistent with the work of Lord’s Tebbit and Howe.

In fact, which party is now closer to a libertarian ideal? Which is the party that believes in open borders for economic migrants? Which would devolve power to local authorities? Which is the most likely to remove the last vestiges of legal discrimination against homosexuals? Which mooted reconsidering prohibition of cannabis for consenting adults? Which has just announced a raft of income tax cuts? Which is closest to land value taxation, beloved of classical economists? I could go on (you might think I already have ;o)

You are right that the Lib Dems need to be more careful to ensure that their message is more consistent. The easiest way of achieving that without a command-and-control style central office (such as the one that sacked Howard Flyte for going off message) is a strong philosophical basis. I hope that that philosophy will be liberalism in its most classic form.

If you want to discuss this further, perhaps we can have a chat over some of John Blundell’s free wine.

Posted by Tom Papworth on 10 January 2007

All parties are coalitions, but some more than others.

I stand by my prejudice about the Lib Dems being more coalition and less coherence than the other two.  If all we knew about someone was that he was Labour, or Conservative, or Lib Dem, and nothing else, we all make better guesses about what the Conservative or the Labourite thinks than the Lib Dem, and that includes if a Lib Dem is doing the guessing.  Of course we’d often be wrong about the Conservatives and Labourites, and perhaps more wrong in recent years, but Conservative and Labour opinions do have a vague pattern to them.  We’d only randomly be right about the Lib Dems.

What do I base this on? Well, a lot of talking and a lot of listening, in the flesh and on the telly and in the newspapers, and now the blogs.  Is there any actual survery evidence on this?  Maybe.  My prejudice, of course, is that it would support me, and not Tom Papworth.

As for those libertarian noises emerging from the Lib Dems, that’s entirely consistent with the above.  They echo everyone’s opinions, including mine.  That’s why they arouse my “particular ire”, when I’m in the mood to be irate about politicians that is, which is not always.

I just have the strong sense that similar arguments to this one are happening all over the political spectrum, on diametrically opposed blogs and chat rooms to this one, all about how the Lib Dems are the “best bet” for . . . whatever it is, regardless of what it is.  Which party is closer to the [fill in the blank] ideal?  Always: the Lib Dems, but only in the sense that there’ll always be a Lib Dem making those noises.  There’ll be a Lib Dem making any noise you care to imagine.

Nick M’s original Samizdata comment confirms this prejudice, which is why I copied and pasted it.  Is he wrong?  Was he imagining it?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 10 January 2007

Well, you admit it’s a prejudice, which is a start!

I maintain that it isn’t so easy to predict who stands where based on party. In mid-2003, were you - unencumbered with prior knowledge – to have met Labour Party MPs Anne Clewyd and George Galloway, you would be forgiven for having found their positions somewhat diverse. Both New Labour and Cameron’s Conservatives bear little resemblance to their forebears. One might argue that the Liberal Democrats are neither the party of Gladstone nor of Jenkins, but that only proves that all parties are unpredictable.

I have met Tory libertarians, imperialists and isolationists. US Republicans have neo-cons, paleo-cons and religio-cons. Democrats include hawks, doves, free-traders and isolationists. New Labour is devoid of any recognisable ideology.

Perhaps some real survey evidence would be useful; I’m sure there are research companies capable of carrying out the necessary quantitative and qualitative analysis, if only somebody has the cash with which to finance such a project. I suspect - regrettably - that the desire to be elected would be the strongest force in all politicians.

In the end, just as Hayek dedicated The Road to Serfdom “to the socialists in all parties”, perhaps you should welcome the libertarians in all parties, no matter how much they differ from their colleagues. It is through them that a libertarian consensus will arise.

Posted by Tom Papworth on 10 January 2007
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