Thursday, 18 September 2008

Bournemouth: Why Even As A Pacifist I'd Like to Congratulate Adrian Sanders.

I'm back from Bournemouth, a little the worse for wear, and five days behind with my messages and the rest of my life. It is all coming back to me so slowly, and I've had so little sleep since last week... perhaps it's best if I just make another cup of tea, start from what I remember best and work from there. Mmm, tea.

So, I suppose the most attention-grabbing thing for non Lib-Dems out of conference news coverage was that fight. Mild-mannered touchy-feely 'limp demics' as my dear rabidly tory cousin calls them, getting in *fights*? Can't be right!

So, what is one of our MPs doing getting so angry with a former head of press? Well, I can't say exactly what the argument was, I'm not Adrian Sanders. But it might help to know, if you didn't already, that Mark Littlewood is considered by most people in the party who mention him to be a swivel-eyed lunatic who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Liberal Democrats. Having been to the fringe event they ran after the one where the controversial document was launched, I can understand that point of view entirely.

Mark Littlewood's Liberal Vision pressure group take the definition of liberalism and stretch it out to some pretty damn extreme conclusions for their own ends.

I have to admit, I grin with recognition at the attitude that "liberalism means allowing everyone to go to hell in their own sweet way". I believe that it is part of the task of any liberal party to attack the nanny state where it interferes with people's lifestyle choices. Bansturbation by the other two parties seems to increase all the time and I can only imagine the climax they're aiming for is some kind of classical dystopia, where any hope of a happy society and any sense of empowerment of people is crushed by illiberal law after illiberal law, and increase after increase in police power, until we all live in enough fear to behave ourselves exactly as our government wants us to. You can hear echoes of this feeling in Nick Clegg's speech (on which more later) - we despair of the pessimism rife in politics these days and instead present the alternative of a trusting, optimistic party that believes that given the choice, most people will do the right thing.

HOWEVER. The dangerous extrapolation of this theory into ultra-small-state lunacy by Liberal Vision, and the way that this faction like to ally themselves with the party as if we are naturally going to agree with their every word is, well, probably enough to make you want to shove someone rather hard over a wall on its own, even before they have personally offended you. On further questioning at their meeting on Tuesday lunchtime, members of the panel said among other things (I précis and paraphrase as it was far too busy to take notes) that we should allow people to drink and drive should they wish (yes, that was Gavin Webb, I don't think we have anyone else that crashingly extreme in their libertarianism around); that we shouldn't balance freedom of choice with the state provision of help to level the playing field for people who were born at a disadvantage, because freedom should engender greater individual responsibility; that while freedom of choice over what to do on your own property naturally meant that people who own houses and other presmises have a wider range of choices, those who don't still have the choice to say, sell their organs as their body is their property so that's ok. Gah!

I picked up a copy of the 'Cameron Effect' report that had allegedly caused all the trouble. It doesn't make pretty reading. In fact, it amounts to forty pages of "ooh, you'd better be scared, the tories are coming", followed up with a rallying cry from Liberal Vision and the Taxpayers' Alliance (more swivel-eyed lunatics then) to the Lib Dems to not stop at tax cuts for those who need them, but give tax cuts to everyone. Yay! No taxes!

*head -> desk*

Here's the thing: we are not announcing a package of tax cuts for those who need them most because we're quaking in our boots about the hollow threat of the tories (or 'Blue Labour' as Clegg aptly named them yesterday). We are merely applying the values we have always had to the conditions we face. Recognising that in the face of massive inflation and/or interest rate increases, a fairer distribution of the tax burden is absolutely crucial to the retention of a reasonable quality of life for anyone earning anything up to a middle income. I'd love to know how people can look at us as we propose a new tax rate of 50p in the pound for anyone earning over £100k and still say we're moving to the right, I really don't get it. We are NOT becoming a right wing party, we don't even WANT to become a right-wing party, and we WILL NOT bow to pressure from people Mark Littlewood and his little uber-libertarian group to become a more right wing party.

For those who weren't at the 'How Liberal Are the Liberal Democrats?' event on Tuesday, you also missed two other things:

First, Lembit won something! He came top of Liberal Vision's dubious list where they ranked all our MPs from most to least Liberal, by some very narrow criteria. I have trouble commending their methodology or the document. It looks like something that was put together in three hours by a sixth-form student, and how anyone can end up with Tom Brake (yes, the MP who used a precious ten minute rule bill to call for a ban on the sale of cannabis seeds, causing a reaction like this among the estimated two million cannabis smokers in the UK - cheers Tom!) as tenth most liberal MP in our party is definitely doing it wrong. Seems to me to be a document that was hastily slapped together in order to give an enticing title and description to a fringe meeting at conference to ensure extremely high attendance. Could that be because they had some ulterior motive for getting lots of conference reps in a room to attempt to pour honey in their ears? Let's think...

Second, a really hilarious attempt at creating drama, and thereby a story and a credible campaign for presidency of the federal party by Chandiler Fernando. Now, much as I think for the sake of democracy and a more engaging contest, I would love to see more than two entrants into this competition, I couldn't bring myself to sign a nomination paper for a) a defected tory who is no less than the director of the organisation I've spent most of this post denigrating; or b) a campaign this ludicrously launched and staged. Imagine if you will the atmosphere in the extremely packed room where the meeting I described above had taken place, some heated questions had been asked, and the clipboard with a sheet asking people to sign up for more information from the hosts was languishing at the back of the room, having picked up about five names in total from the people who had come along mostly to argue with Gavin Webb and see if they could see any bruises on Mark Littlewood. Now imagine an elderly gentleman who had been planted in the crowd standing up and shouting enthusiastically about how we were about to witness the latest entrant into the race to become party president, waving papers in the air like he thought he was Neville Chamberlain. And imagine the exchanged smirks across the room as Fernando stepped up to the front of the room and looked slightly gormless while his plant continued to rant and exhort people to sign his nomination papers. Oh boy. Good luck with that one, Chandiler. I can't see you getting very far.


jamesshaddock said...

The Liberal Vision reports elicit the same feelings in me as The Bones Report: Asking the right questions, but drawing the wrong conclusions and publicising it rather badly.

Example A: It's not rocket science that quite a few Lib Dem seats in the south are under threat from the resurgent Tories, but going to a conference and rubbing it in those MPs faces is rather rude and stupid. Adrian Sander's reaction just proves my point that MPs should be issued with tasers ;)

Example B: Of course their are MPs who aren't as liberal as others. This is down to our party not whipping them as vigorously as the Tories and Labour. We value the varied views in our party. As I said on the LDV forums, a survey of our councillors would have been more interesting as they reflect their wards views and opinions more than MPs do with their constituencies.

asquith said...

This libertarianism is really going too far now. I've quite consistently argued for a liberal economic policy, pointing to the idiocy of the tax credit fiasco, expressing the views that schools would be better if not managed by the state, & generally opposing Geoffrey Payne etc.

I also have views on drugs & consensual sex that even the majority of Liberal Democrats would baulk from.

But really, a similar demographic to the Ron Paul fans in America, fresh from watching one too many episodes of Top Gear, is not one I feel comfortable with. There are limits to the market. For example, it isn't going to magically solve environmental problems: yes, state socialism is bad, but so is a total absence of any regulations. Extreme libertarianism spits in the face of environmental protection, which is why Susan Kramer's chapter in the Orange Book was offensive in the extreme (I liked most of the rest btw).

There is a need for some state involvement: less than there is now, & better directed, but blindly following libertarian (or any other) ideology will do more harm than good.

I don't understand. I was always against the socialists, & still am, but I'm feeling uncomfortable around these types. I seriously am considering the Green Party.

Fire away.

Joe Otten said...

Asquith, I very much doubt the IEA guy was a member, Webb was expelled, even if he has been readmitted, and Littlewood is clearly trying to destroy us.

Why would being uncomfortable with these people make you reconsider your membership?

Oranjepan said...

I hope to disappoint you by taking the contrarian view.

Even though I disagree with the ultras on either side and the vacuuous moderatism of the centrists I think it is important to be able to include and integrate different perspectives for us to remain relevant to the public.

In the past we have suffered miserably from outside organisations using entryist tactics to divide our activist base among ourselves and create splits, so it is a vast improvement for us to have internal organisations which can act as an entry point for outsiders to join in and help build the party.

While I enjoy disagreeing I am happy to have to opportunity to reconcile my differences in the interests of the party. So because I dislike the specific perspective offered by Liberal Vision I think it is a good thing to have greater diversity and balance of views among our members and supporters.

Decentralism, see. Not right-wing, not left-wing, not centrist, but liberal and democratic!

Steph Ashley said...

James: yep, good, concise summary of things. Thanks.

Asquith: what Joe said. Also, your second paragraph? Probably right there with you ;)

Oranjepan: I don't actually think you disagree with me there. I don't and won't hesitate to take on anyone within the party who expresses something that doesn't chime with my own instinctive gut liberalism and passion for democracy and social justice. But differing opinions are necesssary within the party to engender discussion: without anyone to disagree and debate with I'd be nothing short of bored!

jamesshaddock said...

asquith, I wouldn't worry too much Liberal Vision are a flash in the pan, and if anything will have put the wind up the other, more established and better funded think tanks to actually do something and counter act them. If anything decent comes of Liberal Vision, it'll be that they actually made it possible for a think tank to stir debate in this party, seeing as (in my experience) a lot of members fear think tanks.

If anything the libertarian nutjobs will now be able to cancel out the authoritarin nutjobs who have been around for a while, and mean that the sane amongst us can actually achive something. They are in no way powerful enough to influence anything, and I don't see how they can make you feel uncomfortable to the point you'd jump ship to the Greens.

There are plenty of people in this party I disagree with and feel shouldn't be Lib Dems, but I accept their right to chose to be in the party and certainly wouldn't let them influence my choice to be in the party.

Would be interesting to hear your views on drugs and consensual sex, to see if most Lib Dems would baulk from them. Though with the amount on banners in this party, I understand why you think that.

asquith said...

My views tend towards legalising drugs as prohibition doesn't work, & the Daily Mail's concept of liberalisation being followed by raging crackheads committing murder in the streets is about the exact opposite of the truth, as in fact prohibition fuels crime.

But I was mightly pissed off when, for example, the sensible actions of Newcastle city council were slated on ideological grounds.

I am not in fact a LD member, & never have been, partly because I'm not a joiner, partly because I'm probably a lot more EU-sceptic than some. But you probably get my x... I wouldn't make a big song & dance about "jumping ship" anyway, since I've never closely identified with the LDs or anyone else, it's just that you seem to have more in common with me than anyone else.

I would like to see the LDs become more a coalition, like the Tory party perhaps, with some having more of an emphasis on social democracy, some being economically liberal, & others focusing on personal freedom, with all of them at all times having strong reasons for being in the same party.

Which is why I don't like the really out-there ones, that goes for the far left who have found their way into the party as well. But you're right, it's probably wrong to let the ones who shout the loudest sway me, & Clegg, Cable & Huhne are all highly impressive people when set against the midgets in other parties.

I don't know whether I'm considerd part of the core vote? :D

asquith said...

By "like the Tory party" I obviously don't mean with similar policies, I mean holding different factions together effectively. Alan Duncan is very different to Michael Howard, who has little in common with Edward Leigh, but they have far less difficulty than you might have thought. That is a coalition, & they manage to hammer out some common platform they can all stand on.

By Newcastle City Council I meant their creation of more social housing, a belief I've long held, as regrettably home ownership is not achievable for some, a fact which we've found out to our cost with this subprime business. It could be done, learning from the mistakes of the past.

Thanks for answering back, folks! My vote isn't owned by anyone, but it's still much more likely to be you...

Tristan said...

Whilst I disagree with the way Mark has presented his arguments, we should be cutting taxes for everyone.

If that makes me a lunatic then I'm proud to be one.

Actually, I will proudly stand up and say that I believe that we should pay no taxes. Tax is theft, it is taken on threat of violence. That is immoral no matter who does it.

Unfortunately I don't fit your straw man who doesn't care for others.
I believe that the state has deliberately made people dependent upon it and driven out other service providers to garner more power to itself (I have directly seen this happening even today).

The problem us libertarians have is how to move so-called public services back in to the private realm without hurting people or simply giving power to the corporations which encourage the state for their own gains.

Quite frankly I am disgusted that anyone, no matter how much they disagree with anyone who thinks that Adrian Sanders was remotely justified in attacking Mark Littlewood.

As for Mark trying to destroy the party. He's aggressively promoting his liberal views against those of the statist socialists in the party. That is trying to help the party as far as he's concerned.

Anonymous said...

The problem with a broad church party that includes social democrats (well-funded state education/healthcare/pensions/social protection/transport) and libertarian individualists (bugger Hobhouse, Keynes and Beveridge) is that they would start punching each other on the nose - the two world views are incompatible - that's why we have political parties!

Charlotte Gore said...

Glad you're back posting again Steph :)

I too hope to see the end of Lib Dem bansturbation. I was quite impressed with the way Nick seemed to move in that direction. In fact, the 'direction of travel' is very positive. Feeling less and less reluctantly lib dem these days.

anotherplanet said...


If you don't believe in taxation how would individuals on low incomes:
Provide security for their security(army/police/fire)?
Pay for the cancer treatment of a child?
Pay for the care of a disabled person?
Pay for their old age?
Educate their children?

jamesshaddock said...

Tristan - TAs a verhment supporter of Make it Happen, this may sound to crazy, but I see paying tax as my duty. While, obviously I'd prefer there wasn't tax, as long as it is needed to pay for things like the free healthcare I've used, the university education I received, I have no qualms about it. At the moment, I'm unemployed and on the dole. When I get a job, I'll be glad to be taxed as I'm just paying that back. It's all about civic duty. Something I feel we need more of in UK.

asquith - I think you'll find your views on drugs are quite common in the party, especially amongst Liberal Youth. The problem is that those in elected positions put have to consider the views of their constituents (a broad church)in such matters. As I said before, the party contains people with conflicting views, but we somehow learn to work with our common views than bicker over our differences.

For example, I believe in nuclear energy and I'm a strong proponent of selective education. Those to issues alone are likely to get me lynched by some party members and yet because we focus on what we agree on, everything works out in the end (and I get to keep my kneecaps)

disestablishingpuritanism said...

The distinction between Liberal, Conservative, and Libertarian are quite simple. Liberal = Good (root meaning liberty); Conservative = Bad (defined as status quo); Libertarian = Anarchist (Let those who can't govern themselves make the decisions).

I despise these so-called polls and rating systems for individuals. When delving deeper into them, they are highly subjective and extremely open-ended. I would've felt the same way after reading those rated in your Party.

The U.K. and U.S. are confronted with dour economic conditions. It won't break the top income earners' wallets to impose a tax increase on them. Besides, I consider paying taxes one of the most patriotic acts one does. It boils down to where your tax dollars are going. If they are going to bailing out reckless, irresponsible corporations and petty projects like monuments, people should collectively rebel.

Anonymous said...

"The problem us libertarians have is how to move so-called public services back in to the private realm without hurting people or simply giving power to the corporations which encourage the state for their own gains."

If you stopped being a libertarian, you might find it easier to come up with pracical solutions...

Alix said...

The 50p tax rate on earners over £100k (unless it's back and I haven't noticed) is long gone. The corresponding bits of the current tax package (less easy to explain unfortunately) are the bits where we stop higher rate taxpayers getting extra tax relief on their pension contributions (i.e. more than the 20% everyone gets). It does mean the higher rate taxpayers are paying for part of the basic rate cut, just not in so clumsy a way, and not in a way that penalises work.

As a measure on its own, the 50p was a bit too "we hate the rich" gesture-y for credibility. But ironically, I'd now advocate slotting it back in again. Alongside flattening out tax at the bottom (lowering the basic rate etc and raising the 40% threshold, as we are doing), it would make quite a lot of sense as a liberal measure - making the tax system more of a genuine sliding scale rather than just three rather huge steps.

Just to stir like a frenzied Kitchenaid, I did overhear a staffer at conference comment on the Littlewood-Sanders fight that that wall wasn't high enough. Or near enough to the cliff...

Ed Joyce said...

Dib Lemming states that Liberal Vision is to be a flash in the pan and gives the impression that the Libertarians in the party do not have the parties interest at heart - also throwing personal insults at LV folk.

"But it might help to know, if you didn't already, that Mark Littlewood is considered by most people in the party who mention him to be a swivel-eyed lunatic who is hell-bent on the destruction of the Liberal Democrats. "

If Lib Demming believes that the libertarians in the party will not be around long term this is seriously mistaken. We made a noise at this conference and plan to continue promoting our views at future conferences.

I know that Gavin, myself and many other Lib Dem libertarians have been members of the Lib Dems for a long time - since its formation and before in the case of Gavin and myself. We have many partners, relatives and friends in the party and have fought, with some success, the expulsion of Gavin Webb. We have fought and won elections for the Lib Dems. We have delivered tens of thousands of leaflets for the party in the last year and committed serious time and energy to the party. There is no likelihood of us disappearing when what is happening is that there is a philosphical shift back towards the true classical Liberal roots of the party and the recognition of the views of one of our founding fathers JS Mill. Lib Demming is kicking back against the move that is taking place in the party towards a smaller state perspective. Why would we suddenly end the battle for freedom when the party is moving absolutely in the right direction ?

I can't speak for everyone involved but a key driver for this philosophical view is simply a love of freedom. There is a high level of tolerance for anti social behaviour and poverty amongst libertarians in return for freedom for ourselves. The associates of Liberal Vision are not big property owners but they are massive and implaccable lovers of freedom. They are individually lovers of at least some of the following - drinking, smoking, sexual freedom, banned films and literature, gambling and guns.

Mark Littlewood simply made the point that we could not possibly win 50 seats off Labour because we were in second place to the Conservatives in many and would have to come near to drawing level with Labour to win most of the remainder. This argument was won with not a single serious commentator coming out against this analysis and the 'target 50 Labour seats' strategy seems to have been abandoned. I do not see how putting forward an idea which is subsequently accepted by the majority of activists as sensible is against the interest of the party. We put these views forward both because it is critical that we do not waste resources and get wiped out at the general election and because we fear that illiberal policies that will be the result of targeting Labour seats.

Re the following

"We are NOT becoming a right wing party, we don't even WANT to become a right-wing party, and we WILL NOT bow to pressure from people Mark Littlewood and his little uber-libertarian group to become a more right wing party."

I am not a big fan of Ron Paul who is very socially Conservative. Libertarianism covers many views and there is a major split between constitutionalist and geolibertarians. Geolibs are in favour of a massive increase in property tax and an elimination of income tax at least at lower levels - also in worker owned enterprise - how is that is 'right wing'.

I know for myself I seek rapprochment not conflict with social liberals in the party. I would seek to trade the critical freedoms that we seek - an end to all censorship, blasphemy laws, control of drinking, smoking, gambling etc in return for whatever authoritarian control you wish to impose - I don't know what it would be but I guess you are supporting the minimum wage for example. If you are hell bent on telling us what we can and can't do there will I am afraid be a lot of friction. What I do know is that that view is held far more widely in the 'illiberal parties' and having massive internal division - which was avoided at this conference - will only help them. We need to make it clear that where anyone seeks control of those doing no harm it creates an implaccable alliance of opponents who will be a thorn in the side of authoritarianism wherever it exists.

The real danger to the party is from those like Lib Demming who makes really rather foolish statements congratulating Adrian Saunders. It is a sign that the message did hit home but we should seek a reasoned debate and an apology from Saunders and not make out that he is to be congratulated.

I have joined Liberal Vision because I believe that we need a strong libertarian view in the party and I see LV as a good vehicle for that.

Ed Joyce