Saturday, January 07, 2006

A rebuttal of Ken

While part of Ken's attack on my previous post was concerned with Charles's leadership, large sections of it, and his subsequent speculation, were not. To be brief, I think he completely misunderstands the nature of the party. There are a number of people arguing that we need to put more emphasis on liberalism in economic fields, and remembering that often economic liberalism means acting in the interests of consumers rather than producers-- all good lessons to take on board. But fundamentally, there is a cohesion between all members of the party, centred on the principles of freedom and the goal of maximising individual choice. Anybody who wishes to hold an informed view on the Lib Dems' philosophy should read It's About Freedom, where the party sets out its stall. There will always be areas where members debate what the best way to maximise individual freedom is. All parties have such debates. But, actually, Lib Dems are far more divided than a Labour party split between Christian Democrats and Socialists, or a Tory party divided between Social Democrats and xenophobic bigots. The fundamental flaw in analyses which see a debate between "left and right" or "modernisers and traditionalists" or "SDP and Whig", is that there are no clearly-defined battlelines. Individual members do not exist in thise blocs, and neither do the MPs.

The exception to this is the crowd of Orange Book authors, who seem to be defined by their own self-definition more than anything else. As long as they seek to make themselves out to be alien to the party, they will not influence it. They actually have done themselves and the party great disservice by hitherto trying to emphasise their differences, when there are some very sound, proper liberal arguments at the heart of most of their ideas. Indeed, Mark Oaten's chapter of the Orange Book reflects current policy, almost exclusively, and is far more innovative in the way it tries to sell the policies than anything else.

Where I do agree with Ken, though, is that the party needs to give up its addiction to vagueness in some areas. Unlike Ken, I have no concerns that doing so would actually precipitate a split. On the contrary, I think it's important that we begin to get more and more focused on a wide range of issues and begin talking about liberalism more.