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.

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.

Liberal or a socialist?

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.