Is our problem that Britain is illiberal?
“Europe, ID cards, Iraq and localism. On all of them, as he says, the Lib Dems have been consistently right. One can add others to the list that Meadowcroft omitted: climate change, police powers, tax, electoral reform. All big subjects on which the Lib Dems have been right most of the time in ways that put the other parties to shame.”
However, says Kettle, the problem is that while many will agree with us on these things not enough do. One could also add, that on an issue like Afghanistan where public opinion seems to be shifting decisively in favour of radical opposition and against the cosy Westminster consensus our radical spirit is found lacking. On these issues the leadership says what it thinks people want to hear; not what it should be saying nor what is consistent with the parties principles if we are totally honest.
This links to a very pertinent point Kettle makes;
“the Lib Dems have become part of the establishment. For decades they have prospered as the anti-politics party, running against the system, apostles of new politics. Now, particularly after the expenses scandal, they have woken up to discover that they are seen as part of the problem.”
His broad analysis of our electoral performance is correct; its dismal by and large and a squeeze looms. It is Kettle’s thrid reason which potentially damages us the most but actually points to a need for radicalism;
“A liberal puts freedom first, is optimistic about human nature but sceptical about power. Ignatieff’s definitions seem about right to me. But I do not think a majority of people share them, and certainly not in either the Tory or the Labour party.”
Maybe we should stop working from the assumption that if only the people knew who we were we would be swept to power and actually start from the assumption that we are a thrid party for a reason. In that context Nick Clegg’s disgraceful descent into ‘dole bashing’ shows how ill-equipped the current leadership is for the task ahead; he tries to articulate a social vision and actually ends up sounding like a Thatcherite Conservative. It shows that rather than winning the argument for what we believe we would much rather steal other peoples lines and that will not advance us hardly one step.