...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, September 07, 2018

Day 6459: Movement Pie


Once Upon a Time, the people of the United Kingdom of England and Scotland decided that their king had got too uppity and chopped his head off.

And then, being very British about it, decided that what they really wanted was another king again, thank you very much.

And some MPs thought that things should go back to just how they were, with the King having absolute power over everything.

But some other MPs said, isn’t that what caused all the bother in the first place, and maybe unfair power is something we should do something about.

And so, in the end, Liberalism was born.

Mr Dr Vince “the Power” Cable, isn’t king of the Lib Dems. But he might want to be a bit more cautious about sticking his neck out…

Today he is making a few suggestions about how to turn the Party into a Movement. And, like the “Movement Pie” in TV’s “The Preventers” it is… “strangely unappetising”.

Captain Paddy used to have what was called the “Bungee Squad”, so that when he leapt off a cliff with a new notion, they could reel him back in. This press launch of a proposal to bounce the Party into following is more Lemming Squad – take the leap and expect all the rest of us to follow.

What is behind this is Brexit – obviously – and the cowardice of MPs in government and opposition. The Tory Rebels don’t want to split the Tory Party. The Labour moderates don’t want to split the Labour Party. Their tribalism is what is preventing Parliament coming together to stop Brexit. But that is on THEM not on US.

But creating a “safe space” for disenfranchised members of OTHER PARTIES – at the further expense of our own identity – doesn’t do us any good. Or in the long run the country any good. Last time we behaved like the only adults in the room, we agreed to a coalition and were annihilated for our pains. We no longer have the political capital to do that again! And look what has happened without Liberal voices being heard in Parliament?

I WANT more Liberal voices. So I WANT people to be Liberals, to support and join the Liberal Democrats.

But I’m actually pretty AMBIVALENT about a “supporters scheme”.

On the one fluffy foot, the more the merrier. On the other fluffy foot, this is wasting a lot of time and potentially money (especially if the Leader want’s his own Special Conference to make the changes) on PROCESS when we could be spending that time and money on telling people how GREAT Liberalism is. It looks an awful lot like the Politician’s Syllogism (“Yes, Minister”): we must do SOMETHING – THIS is something – we must do THIS!

(And didn’t we say One Member One Vote would get the members more involved? Now that that’s not worked we want to get the not-even-members more involved?)

We’re not in politics just to be a bigger club for people who like being in The Politics Club. Liberals are in politics to do something DIFFERENT, or we’d just have done the easy thing and joined one of the bigger clubs in the first place.

And that’s why this Movement Pie is the wrong way round. It starts from the idea of being welcoming – which is GOOD – but offers nothing different once everybody gets there. Worse it’s more “None of the Above”

For better or worse – usually worse – that’s why the likes of Brexit or Corbyn are brilliant recruiters: because they have something exciting that appeals to converts.

Liberal Democrats need to be bolder in offering something different, something that ENTHUSES people into signing up. Liberal ideas are a beacon that inspire people, and Liberals should always welcome aboard all the new people inspired by Liberalism.

If your only big idea is to say you’ll welcome as many people as you can find but only for more of the same (but not EVIL!), you may well find that not many people will be very interested in tucking into your biggest pie ever…!

Because it’s a Pie with no FILLING.

Oh it may be EYE-CATCHING. So is any SPECTACULAR BELLY-FLOP. But is it the right answer? Is it even answering the right question?

Because the Liberal Democrats have had, let’s be honest, bit of a problem for a bit of a while now: post-joining the Coalition, no one knows what the Party stands for.

To most people The Tories stood for the people with money, Labour stood for the people without and the Lib Dems USED to stand for “the None of the Above” Party. And then we were in government and we weren’t none of the above any more.

To possibly too many of our MPs and members, we were the “Nice Moderate in the Middle Party”, not to profligate not too evil, just right. The kind of people who thought John Major was too exciting a shade of grey. And while, in the current political climate, you can see the attraction of being the “we’re not nutters” Party, it’s also heavily contributing to the belief that we are the “We stand in the middle, we’ll stand with anyone, not for anything” Party.

Saying we will welcome all and sundry, no need to sign up to our values, and we will have any leader you like so long as you like them… if ANYTHING that is MORE OF THE SAME PROBLEM.

And THIS fluffy elephant says FLUFF OFF to that!

I am a LIBERAL and I want to see my Party doing LIBERAL THINGS – taking part in Europe, cleaning up our air, standing up for people who are a bit different, challenging the RIGHT-WING consensus of Labour and Tory Parties that immigrants are bad and big government is good.

Liberalism started off by being about taking power away from central control and giving it away. It started with the biggest centre of power of them all, the divinely appointed King. But it also became about taking away the power of other bullies over people.

We talk about Human Rights, which are to protect you from a bullying government, and about workers rights which are to protect you from a bullying employer, or about protection for minorities which are to protect you from a bullying mob.

Socialists might talk about seizing power from the capitalists; conservatives might talk about protecting the status quo. But they are just arguing about who has the power. Only Liberalism wants to abolish the idea of there being someone in power.

How we give power and freedom to people are big big questions: how do we – for example – free people from poverty? Lloyd George answered that with a People’s Budget and pensions; Beverage answered it with the Welfare State; today maybe a British dividend or universal basic income might be the answer.

But the question is still relevant.

Which means Liberalism is still relevant.

Which means WE need to have an answer to prove that WE are relevant!