Lib Dem and Labour left; a comparison…..

It is the humble opinion of this author that in their different ways both these forces are the standard bearers of progressive politics in British politics. So, how do they compare and contrast?

Looking at the Liberal Democrats first it has to be said that the left is disappointing. The Social Liberal Forum was a promising development on this score when it was launched but subsequently it has lost momentum. It has also, in David Laws, lost one of its leading lights. Why has it lost momentum because on issues like tuition fees it represented the mainstream of party feeling and it was part of successful effort to defend this policy?

For the answer to this we have to say almost because its perspective is to be too nice. To illustrate this I would like to quote a comment left on a recent article I posted on Liberal Conspiracy by John;

I think there are two options for the Lib Dems going into the next election cycle:

1) Have its social liberal wing produce a political pamphlet clearly demarcating social liberal politics from both the economic liberal wing and Labour social democracy, using policy examples; and then build support within the party through a left-wing Party President candidate and leadership candidate (whenever the latter happens…) for social liberal politics, with the stated aim of moving the party thoroughly to the left of where Labour is.

The SLF does none of these things and this is something I initially agreed with, seeing the position of critical friend as being the best one, however now I admit my vision was limited and the preservation of the status of ‘critical friend of the leadership’ hampers the SLF and restricts what it can be. If it wants to be a serious force then it should do all the things John suggests.

By contrast, the Labour Left is teeming with groups all jostling for position and privilege for its own cause celebs. This is its problem, and the cause of its weakness. At various times the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance has held significant power on Labour’s NEC but not marshalled that power to any degree of effectiveness. This is partially due to fact that it has been emasculated by Labour’s structure (something it has not prioritised changing enough) and partially due to the fact its support is programatically diffuse.

Groups like Compass and The Fabians wander through the Labour jungle subtly distinct enough to ensure that the notion of common goals and programatic aim is distant enough to ensure mutual weakness. They are supported by a cast of individuals who share the same grievance but dont want to be tied to any organisation. Similarly, the unions are divided by sectional purpose; sometimes they act purely in the interests of their economic interests or else, under the influence of the far-left, hostile to the Labour Party in general.

Somewhere along the lines the interests of the two merge into one coherent whole. The Social Liberal Forum rightly recognised this in embryonic form with their efforts of co-operation with Compass. If the next election is as close as some predict then this issue may move well beyond the realm of theoretical consideration and have far-reaching implications within Britain’s political reality.


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8 responses to “Lib Dem and Labour left; a comparison…..”

  1. Oranjepan says :

    I think it is an insult to intelligent thought to divide progress into partisan banners or claim ownership for one particular interpretation of it.

    SLF lost momentum because it began to be used as a tool to do exaclty this and, like you describe, represent mainstream thought within the party. It thereby began to reflect the centralising tendency of the more statist liberals when it should have tried to stengthen it’s base as a faction by sticking to the deeper principles of liberalism.

    As a leading light of the party Laws could not associate with the SLF’s ideological or strategical turn as it created a destabilising force and potential challenge to both the leadership and party unity: SLF was not and could not be the party in microcosm.

    Political debate is by definition progressive (in contrast to lack of debate), so to set boundaries demarkating a prescriptive definition and implying ownership of the issues is contrary to any general understanding of either liberalism or progress.

    It is precisely the freedom to cross predefined boundaries which has been the hallmark of the success of liberalism in forcing all sides of the political spectrum to move away from doctrinaire stances throughout history and find workable solutions with free and open exchange of ideas.

    I’ve been following your writing with increasing frustration recently and while I can see your enthusiasm for theoretical clarity and ideological purity I’d encourage you to look at historical reality to understand how brittle concepts of ‘truth’ and ‘necessity’ are.

    I don’t think it is all that helpful to overly obsess about words when what really matters is action – particularly with a general election on the horizon.

    For these reasons I could care a lot more about being of the left or of the right or whatever. All I know is that more LibDems in the next parliament is a good thing.

    I’d hope you’d agree without qualification at this time – the time for internal arguments is over, we must now start setting our own path towards gains.

    We have a secure leader, a front bench unrivalled for talent and a more diverse, representative, vibrant and personable membership; we are on the right side of all the major issues and we have a track record of being right when it matters.

    So you want to talk about progress? OK, well concentrate on the issues and how we have made a positive difference.

    We need to be more resolute, we need to be more determined and we need to show we have made practical gains.

    That means you and it means me. And it means now.


  2. Letters From A Tory says :

    There is currently plenty of space to the Left of Labour, but once Harman is in charge then the window of opportunity will slam shut.

    It’s now or never but, as we all know, Clegg wants to pull the party to the Right – and for that reason alone, the Lib Dems will be condemned to irrelevance yet again.


  3. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Well that is politics to a large degree and to be honest if your saying there might be progressive content in the rag-tag ‘Red Toryism’ I totally disagree.

    To a large degree I reject the prejorative use of the term ‘statism’. Also, as I have noted elsewhere the liberal conception of the state was outmoded in 1914. Obviously, we disagree on the causes of the SLF’s decline. However, it is worth noting that had it not at least tried to act a little in this way the outcome of the tuition fees debate may well have been different and alot more divisive.

    So? There is nothing wrong with robust debate and I reject the false, tribalist conception of a false unity you want to impose in the name of ‘party unity’. Hence I do not agree that without qualification. Your approach may win the day now but it wont survive long after the election.

    Again, no I am not a spin-operation for the Liberal Democrats. When I think things are right I will say so; like I did on the Gurkhas and Clegg’s stance on Israel (incidentally, he had a praiseworthy peace in The Guardian yesterday). When I think they are wrong I will say so.


  4. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Thanks for the comment. I agree that it will be hoovered up by Labour after poor election results. Interesting that a Conservative can see that where alot of others within this party cant.


  5. Oranjepan says :

    Darrell, this is where I think you have a lot in common with Charlotte – you seem to want to promote a particular agenda through the party sytem without accepting the restraints of it.

    This, I think, is one of the strengths of our party, but also one of the most deadly weaknesses.

    To a certain extent it hinders both of your ability to help further either the party or your particular agenda because it makes you sound like you are playing to a pre-existing gallery without making any substantial points. At the same time it softens prejudices towards us and gives an entry point for many.

    I agree with Letters that there is plenty of space to the left of Labour, just as I would say to him that there is a growing gap to the right of the Conservatives, which explains the gradual rise of the Greens and Ukippers as electoral forces, as well as why the Tories are failing to move markedly above 40%. I think any strategy which is designed to make fresh appeals to these segments from existing bases is doomed to alienate those bases or be met with howling scepticism from the prospective audience.

    So in fact I’d argue Letters is being devious in giving you encouragement which would either result in splitting you from the LibDems or by undermining the existing base of the party (or preferably for him both simultaneously). Because while your focus is on targetting Labour voters, you are clearly forgetting his is on targetting what he sees as LibDem voters by pushing the party in a direction which is advantageous for him. It’s the old story of divide and conquer.

    It is a overtly partisan tactic to accuse Clegg of ‘moving to the right’ when in everything he has said or done is build on the foundations of previous leaders and expand in ALL directions, so I’m actually a bit shocked at your willingness to be deceived by his flattery and listen to his petty accusations when there is so much evidence to the contrary.

    So Clegg is a bit posh and habitually wears better tailored and more sober suits in comparison to Charlie’s intellectual roll-necks and Ming’s flamboyant pinks, so what? I think that makes him no less of a liberal, but more statesmanlike and therefore better Prime Ministerial material – for you to be so easily susceptible to the claims of your ideological and partisan opponents suggests you are ripe like a turkey for the plucking.

    I’m not offering my criticism to get you to be more of a propagandist, but to be more aware of the cynicism which surrounds you so that you don’t start being used as an unwitting tool for their purposes at a time when it can make a major difference. So if you feel I’m being harsh I hope you’ll also accept I’ve been effective in making my point.


  6. darrellgoodliffe says :


    I am not in poltiics to win wars for a particular tribe. To me the agenda matters more than the party and I would gladly link hands with Labourites to advance it. If I didnt think this party was advancing the right agenda then I wont support it and will say so.

    Well that is often the case with weaknesses and strengths. I take your cynicism on board and it reflects a truth but nonetheless nothing you say will stop me advocating my own point of view? Why should it? If it does then that is not a democracy and this party isnt democratic (something I have my doubts about in any case, one wonders how many more people get silenced on a local level that we dont hear about).

    Ironic choice of words because why is slavish adherence seen as partisanship? I think broadly speaking Clegg has moved the party in that direction, if you compare our manifesto to one in the early 90s alot of the radicalism is gone. Sure, there is still some there but it’s noticeably less to my mind.

    It may not make less of a liberal but it does make him a tad more distant from the people he wants to represent. Again, none of this bothers me. Others agendas doesnt bother me; what does is the broader issues. You havent been harsh at all; you have been effective, I simply dont agree 🙂


  7. Oranjepan says :

    Well I’m in politics precisely to oppose tribalism, so I can fully respect your position there, but while I do agree radicalism is a good thing I only agree that it will ever be brought into force if it is tempered with realism.

    So generally speaking I tend to support a strongly critical stance towards parties, but when it comes to the period around elections I feel it is important to coalesce our views and stand together to push forward on those specific areas where gains can be made otherwise the electorate will see through our manifesto platform as dismiss it as gesture politics.

    As such I believe there is a time and a place and a manner and means of disagreeing constructively in order to ensure the broader issues you speak of can be addressed positively. To this end I think it is important that we don’t get blown off course by those who have different aims.


  8. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Well I agree there has to be a balance. I can see your position but this blog never has been nor ever will be a place for pro-Party propaganda. Frankly, having had my democratic rights rolled over in the best and brightest Stalinist fashion locally I am even more less favourably disposed to make this the case than I would be naturally in any case.

    Disagreement will always imply a degree of construction because in opposing something this will always be the case. There will always be that mix of the positive, its the way of these things. I am not getting blown off course; and besides thing we are on the wrong course.


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