Sunday, 13 March 2011

Was very inspired by the Nick Clegg quote in this @frasernels article and immediately hugely infuriated by what followed.

Cleggs assertion that we must redefine liberty for contemporary British politics is something I passionately believe. My generation is not interested in left/right divisions we are more focused upon results. Tribalism is dying a slow death, politics is moving closer and closer to the centre.

In these circumstances a redefinition of what it is to be liberal is entirely appropriate. But what @frasernels goes on to contend is a prime example of the problematic misuse of this redefinition. Specifically, using it to justify the very ideological obsessions that centrism sought to get beyond. Nelson lays claim to being a liberal and then immediately suggests that "No other device so effectively empowers the masses, or communicates their priorities." as the market.

This classic liberalism led to the free market ideology that I grew up with twenty years ago, it has been a driving force in British politics for two decades and the banking crisis has exposed it as a dangerous fallacy and in no way liberal. The "masses" are in not empowered by the markets. Indeed my generation has been enslaved by the markets - we have paid (with our taxes which the banks traded against, and with our jobs when the markets crashed) for the banking community to get rich and now, when public opinion demands that the markets make recompense, we are ignored.

@frasernels, @asi and all the other free marketeers misunderstand the attempts to redefine liberty and fundamentally misunderstand the electorate. Our generation has been empowered and educated by the internet. We consume a divergence of news sources from across the political spectrum - left and right divisions are increasingly unimportant - what matters is utility and equality. Under these circumstances to be liberal is to endorse a capitalist system but to demand that it works for all. It is to deplore the inefficiency and wastage of local government but demand increased funding for the community groups and artistic centres that fuel progress in society. It is to judge free of ideology, to not see the world as a battle between state and market but to understand and respect both and try and marry the two. Or as Clegg better puts it:

'For the left, an obsession with the state. For the right, a worship of the market. But as liberals, we place our faith in people. People with power and opportunity in their hands. Our opponents try to divide us with their outdated labels of left and right. But we are not on the left and we are not on the right. We have our own label: Liberal. We are liberals and we own the freehold to the centre ground of British politics. Our politics is the politics of the radical centre. We are governing from the middle, for the middle. In government. On your side.'

@frasernel's misreading is not limited to think tanks or excellent (if right-wing) blogs such as coffee house. The attempt to sell-off our national forests that was hailed by so many free-marketers as a reasonable policy was a prime example of the way this misguided thinking has permeated through the coalition. Cameron may be broadly centrist and to his mind liberal but his government are not so. The longer the coalition governs the more this separation will become apparent. It is already causing both parties pain, by the time the NHS and welfare state have been reformed along free market lines it may very well destroy the coalition.

Nick Clegg is right to try and redefine liberalism, and he is also right about what it should become. If he is to succeed he must engage immediately and aggressively with those who mistakenly see the free-market politics of the 1980's as liberal. Time has proved this to be thoroughly false and pernicious.

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