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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