I’m a liberal democrat, but as much as I don’t think that politics is that simple, I have to admit that I come from the left wing of the liberal democrat spectrum. I could be terms a social liberal, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.
I have been considering this position because of two recent events, firstly, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn who, despite be labelled as hard-left, I can’t help but agree with on a lot of his core issues, and for whom my solidarity makes me realise quite how out of sync my views appear to be with the left-wing establishment (i.e. the Guardian). The second is the Lord Sewel sex scandal where liberal position feels hyper-liberal to me. Spying on people is wrong, but journalists stretch the laws to the limit for stories, particularly public-interest stories, and if they knew that Lord Sewel had a penchant for hired sex, fraud and racist/sexist banter they made a good call.
When it comes to prostitution, I consider myself liberal – I realise that the status quo is unacceptable, and that keeping it an illegal activity is wrong. I think it is wrong to make the prostitutes the criminals and the clients not, especially when the power balance is typically tilted towards the clients. With the Lord Sewel case in mind, prostitution is still illegal in the UK whether I want it to be or not (I don’t want it to be), but another issue on the sexual side is the adultery. Now this is a contentious issue, and calls into question the notion of marriage. This is also a personal issue which we, the public, really have no right to judge him on unless his wife and children feel betrayed enough by him to want the public to know.
In reality, my liberal sensibilities make Lord Sewel’s use of prostitutes less of a real issue than I would personally have from a moral perspective. It is controversial in some liberal circles to give a moral opinion alongside the more liberal perspective, but I do have a moral compass which I happily realise not everyone agrees with – and in some ways I am happy that we all have different moral compasses. For this reason, I really don’t have a problem with Lord Sewel’s use of prostitutes. I do, however have a problem with the legal aspect of him using prostitutes (partly), and more pertinently, his comments that his allowance was for funding that sort of lifestyle. That is fraud in my book, and a much more serious crime than it currently is recognised as by the courts. For that reason, and that reason alone, he should no longer be a Lord. I realise that this £200 allowance is complicated, and whether he actually technically committed fraud is debatable, but being a Lord is a special privilege – this is why the whole standards thing that he was in charge of had been set up, and given that they are unelected, that £200 should be thought of as an expense-covering allowance, rather than a salary.
My narcissistic tendencies (I’m a pretty extreme narcissist by the Sunday Times’ rating), combined with a recent reading of War and Peace (it has been more a “period of my life” than a book), lead me to have a fairly cynical view of the supposed merits of leaders over the unwashed, and the amount in which they deserve special treatment. For the same reason that I seriously think that CEOs barely deserve more than their lowest-paid employees, and the same reason that I am essentially a socialist, I feel strongly that Lords require much higher scrutiny and, as they currently are, do not deserve £200 a day. A much smaller elected chamber with professional politicians is needed, and yes I did say professional politicians, because I think politicians should be paid, but I also think they should work in other jobs, ideally coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. I hope that public attitudes are moving that way too, and the era of wet-around-the-ears spads becoming MPs will be drawing to a close.
I started this post by talking about my liberal tendancies; I am a liberal, but a modern liberal in the sense that the UK mainstream has become tolerant or even accepting of many things beyond the majorities’ personal moral compass (or at least beyond their public morality). I am not a libertarian (I used to think I was) or a classic liberal, and definitely incline more to the left away from typical conservatives (but I must admit a certain degree of sympathy for some “one-nation conservatism”), but like to keep an open mind from issue to issue.
One thing that does worry me, however, is how much I agree with Jeremy Corbyn on a lot of his apparently “hard-left, unelectable” policies. They are not hard-left, nor unelectable, and I hope that Tim Farron, who certainly appears to share plenty of them, will not run away from Corbyn, but seek to build a credible opposition to the Conservatives together, not agreeing on everything, or disagreeing with the government on everything, but standing firm on issues that they care about and know are right, even if they are unpopular or appear too non-mainstream now.