Friday, February 10, 2012

Left Liberalism's intellectual cringe towards Labour

It always irritates me when fellow Lib Dems bang on about conspiracies by 'the right' of the party, or accuse colleagues of being crpyto-Tories. To be consistent I should apply similar standards when uncomradely sentiments are expressed by those I agree with. So it is a rather over the top, if typically er... forthright for Dan Falchikov to accuse the members of ginger group Liberal Left of 'seeking to work their passage into the Labour party'.

Yet on the substance of the issue, Dan is surely right (and Jonathan Calder makes a similar critique of Liberal Left here). What frustrates me about the Lib Dem left is that it seems to me guilty of an intellecual cringe towards socialism/the Labour party and their unquestioning belief in the benificence of state action. Rather than define a clear Liberal worldview, it effectively allows Labour to define our attitude to public spending - we have to support (or promise to exceed) Labour's spending commitments unless we want to be thought right-wing. We may disagree with Labour about constitutional reform, civil liberties or overseas wars, but apparently not on the core of government business.

Back in my dim distant youth, I joined the Lib Dems precisely because I held caring/compassionate/centre-left/Guardian reading Liberal values but doubted whether greater state intervention was always the best means of putting such beliefs into practice. In my years of party activism one of the things I have found most frustrating is that way that whenever anyone seeks to explore and define the differences between Labour/socialist and Liberal values and policies, there will always be someone on the left of the party ready to label this right-wing.

I'm in print again

My research article 'The myth of New Liberalism: continuity and change in Liberal politics 1889-1914' appears in the latest volume of the Revue Francaise de Civilisation Britannique (my article is in English). It is part of a special edition of the journal on the British Liberal party 1906-1924. It includes contributions by Kenneth O. Morgan (on Asquith and Lloyd George), Paul Addison (on Churchill as a Liberal) and Martin Pugh (on Liberals and the role of women in politics).

As the title suggests, in my article I argue that the Asquith government's welfare reforms were less a product of a 'New Liberal' ideology and more a sign of the resilience and adaptability of 'Old' Liberalism. However, as the party supported, but was not defined by its commitment to welfare reforms, it was not well-prepared to fight the rise of the Labour party in the changed political circumstances after the first world war.

The key point I want to get across here is that you should

order a copy online and read the essays, including my own (you can do so using the link above). At 160-odd pages it is more like buying a book than a magazine; two-thirds of articles are in English, so it doesn't matter if you don't read French, although if you do and are interested in Liberal history it will be a real treat.

At 20 Euros (including postage) for the volume its value for money compares very well with buying historical monographs in English on Liberal history, which are often priced at over £50 for little more than 200 pages. And also in a small way it encourages study of Liberal history beyond the Anglophone world. So hurry, hurry while stocks last!

Return of Psychic Psmith

Until a few years ago the Sunday Telegraph was my preferred weekend reading. Among the reasons I stopped getting it was that a new editor ditched the Psychic Psmith spoof horoscope column, which was among the best thing in the newspaper.

I now find that Psychic can now be read online, although it appears I have missed several months of his predictions. I particularly liked his entry for 18 January

...your very own Psychic Psmith was the only astrologer working in the British media who predicted the upcoming Little Chef restaurant closures... other leading media star-gazers, such as Polly Toynbee at the Guardian, were nowhere near this story. Chalk another one up to the Psychster