Fancy starting a new left-leaning party?

I first joined the Liberal Democrats as a fresh-faced 16-year-old in 2002, inspired by the leadership of Charles Kennedy and repelled by the leadership of Tony Blair in equal measure. I thought that the Liberal Democrats were the party of the future on the left; Charles Kennedy said they were, and New Labour were careering into a jargon-jingo land of nonsense, completely removed from their “democratic socialist” constitution. I may have been naïve, or even wrong to do so, but I joined the Liberal Democrats because I believed in democratic socialism. Like nearly everyone else growing up in the UK in the naughties, I thought that liberalism was a matter of course.

The late 2000s brought about a shift in Labour with a more principled leader fighting against the election-winning, but increasingly un-democratic, un-socialist, and un-liberal machine that Labour now was, and that Gordon Brown had been integral in creating. I haven’t read Frankenstein, but what I know of it suggests that the parallel of Gordon Brown as Dr Frankenstein, and the Labour party as the monster would not be wholly inaccurate. With this reality dawning on the electorate, the Liberal Democrat MP numbers reached a zenith in 2005, before Charles Kennedy was unceremoniously dumped. I don’t care what it seemed like from inside the party, I was an outsider at this point who supported the Liberal Democrats because of Charles Kennedy, and his sacking upset me enormously. However, I remained a Liberal Democrat supporter, and like many other peripheral supporters I suspect, I was unaware of the magnitude of the shift in direction of the parliamentary party under Clegg.

By 2010, although I followed politics closely, even having studied it for A-level, I still wasn’t aware of the Orange Book, just that Nick Clegg was more right-wing than me. Nevertheless, Clegg provided a great account of himself in the run up to the 2010 election where the Liberal democrats got the largest number of votes, and biggest vote share since 1983. However, with the luxury of hindsight, perhaps the result should have been scrutinised a bit more closely, and a bit more criticism levelled for the fact that despite all Cleggs’ apparent popularity, and the appetite for “new politics”, the vote share only increased by 1% point on 2005, and MP numbers fell by nearly 10%.

Even just forming a coalition with the Conservatives was offensive to me at first, but I accepted it as I thought that the Liberal Democrats would have some clearly defined red-lines which they would not cross, particularly tuition fees (but I also thought electoral reform might be for some reason), and felt enormously let down when these lines that I had invented were crossed. My view is just my view, but I’m starting to think that it may be more common than I originally thought. The election of Corbyn as Labour leader is bad for the Liberal Democrats because it had a chance to be the main party of the left, and wasted that opportunity under Nick Clegg. The British electorate does not want many parties all saying the same thing, they simply want a clear choice, and Jeremy Corbyn’s election will start Labour on the way to providing some very clear policy differences between Labour and the Conservatives.

From a personal perspective, a Corbyn Labour will be very tempting. I re-joined the Liberal Democrats on 8th May choosing to have Charles Kennedy on my membership card because he represented what I want from politics. A thoughtful, common-sense approach to liberal democracy with a caring socialist bent. I realise that the Liberal Democrat’s want to be a broad church, but I fear that by accommodating the small-state liberals and classical liberals/libertarians under the same banner the party missed a prime opportunity post-Kennedy. Despite this, I think that a “turn to the left” under Tim Farron, with his focus on his key campaign issues is the best way forward. But I would say that, joining as a Social Democrat!

Until Charles Kennedy’s death it appeared that he had been side-lined, not just in terms of actual function, but also in terms of his views. As Alastair Campbell disclosed in his tribute to Charles Kennedy, Charles Kennedy texted:

fancy starting a new Scottish left-leaning party? I joke not

As the tributes to Charles Kennedy showed, he was probably the most liked Liberal Democrat politician of the recent era, and perhaps the Liberal Democrat party should think seriously about re-appropriating some of his more common-sense left-wing views and rhetoric. Perhaps it could even become that that new left-leaning party?! The Lib Dems may have missed that earlier opportunity to become the nations’ second party, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be more opportunities to re-grow. Corbyn’s popularity is bound to have changed the political landscape whatever the result of the Labour leadership election.

Are ID cards really illiberal?

Before beginning, I have to emphasise my lack of experience in matters of ID cards, and government surveillance, my only qualification being a healthy interest in civil liberties.

I am going to start this post with perhaps a controversial statement from a liberal – the furore over ID cards confused me. Again, I have to admit I didn’t follow it closely enough to pick up all the arguments against it, except the biggest argument being that it was unnecessary. A brief glance at Wikipedia confirms that proposals for ID cards in the UK predate a lot of the terrorism fears stoked by 9/11. That fact backs up a thought I’ve had since living in Switzerland for 3 years – that ID cards and local registration for a national register are necessary in today’s mobile world. ID cards should not increase the very real risk of increased surveillance powers and privacy intrusion.

I don’t think that keeping track of where people live should be a controversial idea for liberals, and it would certainly help with identifying employers illegally employing foreign nationals and processing asylum applications. Maybe Yarls Wood could be closed?! Or at least only used as a genuinely temporary measure as the status of people was preliminary analysed. And, I hate to say it, it would make a lot of sense to those who genuinely want to limit immigrant numbers, as illegal immigrants could be genuinely identified. Although I don’t think immigrant numbers should be arbitrarily defined, I do think that some foreign nationals should be deported, particularly if they are convicted of crimes, and as a realist I realise that the majority of people probably want tighter restrictions than me. If this is happening, I believe that a system of tracking individuals in the country is clearly advantageous.

According to the 2011 census, only 9.5 million people stated they didn’t have a passport, versus 42.5 million who said they had UK passports. Assuming all those without passports are UK citizens, it shows that clearly only a minority (<20%) of UK citizens would be affected by ID cards.

So, I think that ID cards and a national system of tracking residence makes sense. So what? Well, I also think that the Conservatives (And Labour before them when John Major first proposed ID cards) have unfairly framed the argument wrongly. They have also been supported, unhelpfully in my opinion, by the pressure group “Liberty”:

Interestingly, Liberty include probably the most often cited argument at the bottom of their list:

Intrusive and unsafe

Large amounts of information (including former addresses and immigration status) would have been held about individuals on the NIR, with the likelihood of more being held in the future.

This information would have been shared with many agencies within the government and also sub-contractors with scope for extension into the private sector.

The government’s record of losing sensitive information raised doubts about its ability to manage this much new information securely. In 2007, for example, Her Majesty’s Revenues & Customs mislaid millions of people’s personal financial details.

This is enormously vague, and, in the case of most UK citizens certainly, exactly what is currently the case. Government has too much data on us already, but an ID card system would not increase this, except, probably, for people who they do need more information on.

The real enemy to civil liberties is a difficult one – too much surveillance from a government terrified of terrorism. Whether the governments fear is real or masking even more sinister motives is irrelevant, too much surveillance leaves society open to state abuse, and we need to reduce that before 1984 arrives, just ask Julian Huppert. We need a national register aside from the NHS, which may include ID cards for those that don’t hold passports, but we also need to curb government surveillance into our private lives.

Jeremy Corbyn (and EU)

I need to add a brief confirmation that I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his “radical socialist views”. I think him and Tim Farron can provide a unifying force for mainstream liberal socialist  views which I suspect are more prevalent than the media makes out. I don’t know what the political landscape will look like if Corbyn becomes leader, but I can only imagine it will be more open to radical ideas in the mainstream, and that can only be a good thing.

I also hope that they both campaign to stay in Europe (I know Farron will), but that they push for Cameron to negotiate serious improvements in democracy in the EU, starting with making the European Commission elected in some way.