Who do the Liberal Democrats represent?
Max Atkinson poses this question on his blog. It is an interesting one because it relates to comments I have made previously that the party lacks a social base. He blogs the comments of Liberal leader of 1959; Jo Grimond who insisted that we represent a ‘new class’ ; somewhere between workers and employers. To answer Atkinson’s questions briefly:
1. We have grown as party of protest and arguably are reaching the limitations of that growth. This is the challenge that transcends the electoral system which in some instances does entrench class interests and the representation of these interests. Grimond obviously envisaged growth on the basis of representing this new class oblivious to the fact that he described people who obviously to my mind would go onto cleave into a class based dynamic.
2. I don’t think such a simplistic classification ever applied; it doesn’t take account of the stratification of classes. It also treats class as a monolith not a complex and eve-changing phenomena. I would say that Labour under Tony Blair re-captured the aspirational working classes and lower middle along with a section of the higher classes. The social coalition that this represented has collapsed but all the signs that the Conservatives under Cameron are *not *poised to rebuild it in any lasting form.
3. As above, I think we have grown as a party of protest not one that has built an established social base. I think our support reflects that and is reasonably socially diffuse as opposed to being concentrated. This is both a strength and a weakness, a strong social coalition needs a core (it needs more than that but without a core its as substantial as a will o the wisp) but also obviously it means we can draw support from a wider range of sources. Battles over our policies and narrative are also about who we represent or aspire too; I think we should seek to represent Labour’s core constituency and reverse the process that historically led to Labour’s formation. Once we do that (and not before) we can think about reaching out to build a broad coalition however if we continue trying to be ‘everything to everybody’ we will be squeezed and be not alot more than a large party of protest.