Monday, 10 December 2007

What is ‘the liberal tradition’?

Martin Kettle (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2224278,00.html ) thinks the next decade might belong to the LibDems. He admits his evidence is fairly thin: It consists mainly of the fact that Labour has allegedly abandoned the ‘liberal tradition’ in British politics, thus opening up room for the LibDems.
But, as several commenters here have pointed out, he does not define ‘the liberal tradition’. It seems to me that the liberal tradition consists of three components. One, political and juridical liberty, has indeed been massively eroded by Labour. A second, economic liberalism, has been massively embraced by New Labour. A third, the maintenance of other liberties of the person, has been eroded in some instances – e.g. via the ban on smoking in enclosed public places –, but it is only a dogmatic liberalism that would insist that economic liberalism and general liberties of the person must be maintained, no matter what the public good that they undercut. If the ban on smoking in enclosed public places is anti-liberal, then so much the worse for ‘the liberal tradition’.
If the LibDem Party has anything at all that makes it ideologically distinctive, it is ‘the liberal tradition’. Most notably, the LibDem Party has (like Labour) embraced economic neo-liberalism, over the last decade, while (unlike Labour) generally defending political liberty too. It is indeed closer to ‘dogmatic liberalism’ – to sticking fairly closely to all three components of the liberal tradition – than either of the other two main Parties. (Though it would of course be inaccurate to say that the LibDems ARE dogmatic liberals – for instance, they supported the smoking ban.)
But an era in which the overriding political issue is the human race’s bursting through the ecological limits of the planet that sustains us is hardly an era well-suited to a liberal approach to anything -- except the maintenance of political liberty in the face of state or corporate repression. The conclusion is unavoidable: The LibDems’ staunch liberalism will stand directly in the way of their alleged commitment to taking green issues seriously. Liberalism, in the form of unbridled consumer choice, has already become a key cause of the climate crisis.
The other piece of evidence cited by Kettle – in favour of his proposition that the next decade might belong to the LibDems -- is that the LibDem Leadership contest is coming to an end, and that their new Leader may energise them. But, as reported in the _Guardian_ a week ago, there will be a leadership contest for the first time ever in Britain’s 4th political Party, the Green Party, next year, now that the Party’s membership have decided by a huge margin to adopt a formal Leadership structure for the first time, so as to be able to compete on a more even keel with the ‘main three’ British political Parties. The Green Party stands strongly for political liberty, but strongly against economic neo-liberalism. It is well-suited to be the growing Party in a decade which will see the growing climate crisis rightly trump many reactionary calls for individual liberty.
In short: Kettle would have been on safer ground, if he had predicted that the next decade just might belong to the Green Party. Because, in one totemic nutshell, as already intimated in my post below: There is no right to buy or use incandescent lightbulbs. They should simply be banned.
[p.s. For the story of how I came to leave the LibDems, see the relevant link in 'Other Links', below.]

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1. 2. 3. Rupert's Read: What is ‘the liberal tradition’? 4. 12. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 23. 24.

25. 26. What is ‘the liberal tradition’? 27. 28.

29.
Martin Kettle (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2224278,00.html ) thinks the next decade might belong to the LibDems. He admits his evidence is fairly thin: It consists mainly of the fact that Labour has allegedly abandoned the ‘liberal tradition’ in British politics, thus opening up room for the LibDems.
But, as several commenters here have pointed out, he does not define ‘the liberal tradition’. It seems to me that the liberal tradition consists of three components. One, political and juridical liberty, has indeed been massively eroded by Labour. A second, economic liberalism, has been massively embraced by New Labour. A third, the maintenance of other liberties of the person, has been eroded in some instances – e.g. via the ban on smoking in enclosed public places –, but it is only a dogmatic liberalism that would insist that economic liberalism and general liberties of the person must be maintained, no matter what the public good that they undercut. If the ban on smoking in enclosed public places is anti-liberal, then so much the worse for ‘the liberal tradition’.
If the LibDem Party has anything at all that makes it ideologically distinctive, it is ‘the liberal tradition’. Most notably, the LibDem Party has (like Labour) embraced economic neo-liberalism, over the last decade, while (unlike Labour) generally defending political liberty too. It is indeed closer to ‘dogmatic liberalism’ – to sticking fairly closely to all three components of the liberal tradition – than either of the other two main Parties. (Though it would of course be inaccurate to say that the LibDems ARE dogmatic liberals – for instance, they supported the smoking ban.)
But an era in which the overriding political issue is the human race’s bursting through the ecological limits of the planet that sustains us is hardly an era well-suited to a liberal approach to anything -- except the maintenance of political liberty in the face of state or corporate repression. The conclusion is unavoidable: The LibDems’ staunch liberalism will stand directly in the way of their alleged commitment to taking green issues seriously. Liberalism, in the form of unbridled consumer choice, has already become a key cause of the climate crisis.
The other piece of evidence cited by Kettle – in favour of his proposition that the next decade might belong to the LibDems -- is that the LibDem Leadership contest is coming to an end, and that their new Leader may energise them. But, as reported in the _Guardian_ a week ago, there will be a leadership contest for the first time ever in Britain’s 4th political Party, the Green Party, next year, now that the Party’s membership have decided by a huge margin to adopt a formal Leadership structure for the first time, so as to be able to compete on a more even keel with the ‘main three’ British political Parties. The Green Party stands strongly for political liberty, but strongly against economic neo-liberalism. It is well-suited to be the growing Party in a decade which will see the growing climate crisis rightly trump many reactionary calls for individual liberty.
In short: Kettle would have been on safer ground, if he had predicted that the next decade just might belong to the Green Party. Because, in one totemic nutshell, as already intimated in my post below: There is no right to buy or use incandescent lightbulbs. They should simply be banned.
[p.s. For the story of how I came to leave the LibDems, see the relevant link in 'Other Links', below.]
30. 31. 32.