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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Liberal Party - In Memorium

   Dan Hannan reads the obituary for the Liberals on his blog today (though he uses it to punt the Tories, not UKIP, as its heir:

"The Lib Dems are finished – a squalid end for the heirs of the greatest party in history

What a miserable, tawdry end for a party with such noble antecedents. The Whig-Liberal movement was responsible for the finest developments in our history. It gave us parliamentary supremacy and religious toleration, meritocracy and a wider franchise, the equality of all citizens before the law and the supremacy of that law over monarch or minister. Not only did Whig principles elevate Britain above the run of nations; they created the United States of America.

Has this sublime tradition, the tradition of Edward Coke and John Hampden, of James Harrington and Algernon Sidney, of John Milton and John Locke, of Pitt the Elder and Edmund Burke, of Earl Grey and Viscount Palmerston, of Richard Cobden and John Bright – and, yes, of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson – truly found its quietus in the person of Nick Clegg? The thought is almost unbearable.

But the truth is that the Lib Dems had long since abandoned classical liberalism. Though the Homeric figures I have just cited would be astonished to see it, Whig-Liberal principles survive best in a goodly part of the Conservative Party.

The takeover happened slowly, through successive transfusions. The first occurred in the late nineteenth century, when traditional Palmerstonian Whigs, alarmed by the Liberal Party’s drift towards social democracy, sidled up to the Conservatives, formally amalgamating in 1912 (the “and Unionist” bit of my party’s official name dates from that merger). There was a second transfusion with the assimilation of some of the “coupon” Liberals following the First World War, and then a third with the absorption of the National Liberals during the 1950s and 1960s.

These transfusions left the surviving Liberals weak and anaemic, but still recognisably the heirs to Gladstone. Indeed, as their electoral prospects became poorer, they attracted unusually high-minded supporters: men and women who cared more about principle than office.

When did things go wrong? In 1988, when the Liberals merged with the Social Democratic Party. People sometimes think that the SDP was founded on some issue of principle: opposition to nationalisation, or to unilateral nuclear disarmament or some such. In fact, it was created because the Labour Party wanted to make incumbent MPs subject to reselection by party members. To be sure, there were some honourable Labour moderates, including David Owen himself, who had long agonised about his support for his party. But the mass of his followers were actuated by grubbier considerations: they didn’t want to lose their seats.

Suddenly, the high-minded Liberals were overwhelmed by a horde of petty, calculating careerists....

Pure liberalism will always struggle to secure an electoral majority. While some of its positions are popular – tax-cuts, welfare reform, Euroscepticism – others are not. I always tell libertarian students to focus on the big issues, such as the economy and education, rather than fighting losing battles on relatively minor questions such as drugs and pornography. As part of a wider conservative alliance, as under Thatcher or Reagan, classical liberalism can enjoy meaningful triumphs. On its own, it will only ever be a fringe movement.

As for the Lib Dems, they have long since ceased to be liberal in any meaningful sense. In recent years, they weren’t really anything at all. And, as King Lear observes, nothing will come of nothing. Thursday was the beginning of the end. Nothingness – annihilation – is coming."

   I put this comment:

I used to be a LibDem. Some years ago I was told that the party Executive had voted, unanimously, to expel me. That I was to be allowed to make a written defence (not a verbal one) to the charges but not to know what they were beyond having written things that were "illiberal and incompatible with party membership".

After a vigorous public campaign I was allowed to know that it was about having had letters published in newspapers supporting classic free market economic liberalism and saying we needed nuclear power. Years later I was told that a hidden reason was that I opposed the criminal war to put the obscene genocidal organlegging drug lords and sex slavers of the KLA in charge of Kosovo.
It would be wrong & presumptious to say my expulsion was when the LibDems abandoned the founding principles of liberalism, but certainly, that did make it formally undeniable that being liberal was officially "incompatible with party membership".

My defence ended:

"To accuse me of being "illiberal" is totally untruthful. I dispute that supporting freedom, seeking to end poverty, seeking to prevent the unnecessary killing of 24,000 pensioners a year from fuel poverty or opposing genocide can be described as "illiberal" by anybody with a trace of honesty. I believe that it would be in the interests of the party, as well as the country, to commit itself to traditional liberal policies & particularly to achieving economic success - time after time it is shown that the electorate want wealth, whereas Ludditism, bicycling, windmills & banning things are not popular Even if it is decided that such matters are "incompatible with membership of the party" this would only prove that liberalism & membership of the Lib Dems are incompatible. I must leave that decision in your hands & those of the Appeals Tribunal.

I have said that nuclear power is more cost effective & reliable than windmills, that strong economic growth is preferable to the UK's current comparative decline & Scotland's steep decline & that illegal war, ethnic cleansing, genocide & child sex slavery are wrong. If the "Lib Dems" decide that these opinions are "incompatible with party membership" then you are neither honest, competent or liberal.

Neil Craig"

I am proud to say I am now a UKIP candidate - that party being the true heirs of the original Liberal party.

It is possible that, if the party had kept Kennedy as leader, whose position on war was at least classically liberal, he would have prevented Cameron's bombing of Libya and he, rather than Tory backbenchers, led the fight against war on Syria. As such the party would have retained at least a fig leaf of principle, without which no party can long survive.

Dan, in your list of dates when the party lost its soul I would include when it first decided to support EEC membership. At the time it looked like and possibly was a progressive movement for free trade, so the decision was reasonable. However over time it became a party shibboleth, even as the EEC/EU become less of a trade area and more of a rickety Empire. This attracted illiberals into the party and drove out liberals, which is why, under Ashdown, the party was the most enthusiastic supporter of war & genocide in Kosovo and elsewhere."

Anybody not sufficiently bored with my history here can see my full defence here - My Expulsion - Defence statement I, II, III, IV

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