The Agenda 2020 essays that I have read through on Lib Dem Voice have really been superb and it’s great to see ideas about our principles and philosophy articulated in such a concise way. If we are going to rebuild our party and move forward to become stronger than we have been in a century then we need to have open, frank, even explosive, debates on what we must do to become one of leading political parties in the country again. Armed with the drive and enthusiasm of old and new members alike we can really do something amazing, hence my bold – but not unrealistic – title, using the goals below.
Goal One: To become a true opposition to conservatism
Since the General Election in 2015 we have seen the full force of Tory aggression against the welfare state, and Labour’s complete lack of will to defend it. While the strategist in me wants to believe that this is a deliberate ploy by a Corbynite Labour hierarchy to destroy the socio-liberal welfare system in order to allow for them to sweep to power and rebuild it along purely socialists principles; the realist in me recognises that Labour’s failure is more likely due to a complete lack of direction from the centre. Whatever the reason, the lack of a counter-weight to the Tory obsession with the purity of neo-liberalist capitalism means that once they have stripped the state to the bone they will crack it open to get to the marrow. While Labour will inevitably regroup from their electoral defeat it will be difficult to see how a Corbyn Labour Party will attract the support of Middle Englanders – a seemingly key swing group in British politics. The longer Corbyn remains in power the more solidified the party’s base will become on the left and away from the relative-right of the party (otherwise known as Blairite Labour) that had previously won them elections.
What does this mean for the Liberal Democrats? Ultimately that our opposition needs to be against conservatism with a lower case ‘c’ rather than purely anti-upper case ‘C’. The truth of the matter is that the Labour Party has retreated from taking-on the Tories to a space of relative safety; the left wing of politics. The return to an Old Labour stance at just riling at Tory abuses but then doing nothing about them is reactionary, not progressive. By being a consistent opponent to all forms of reaction and conservatism we can be a true alternative for the electorate.
Goal Two: Be consistent, not revolutionary, about the economy and taxation
Economic policies should not be showpieces to dangle in front of the electorate weeks before a general election but should be the very foundations on which every other policy we have is based on. While this may sound rather dull (and it is), economic credibility will make or break any future recovery of the party and its fortunes – shown so dramatically by Ed Miliband’s claim during the 2015 General Election, against popularly held belief, that Labour hadn’t over-borrowed while last in government.
Our economic policies need to be based on not only what is best for the ‘mainstream’ voter but for what is best for all. While policies such as closing tax loopholes/making sure wealthy individuals and corporations pay the tax they are meant to may be simple they not only help us push towards making our society fairer they are popular amongst voters.
That being said, when it comes to taxation we must try and resist the urge of jumping on bandwagons by supporting purely populist policies. The socialist economic mantra of blaming ‘the rich’ and letting the economics of envy drive taxation policy is just as conservative and reactionary as providing tax breaks for the wealthy. While the ‘super-rich’ should contribute more to taxation to help reinvest back into the nation (and help create a fairer society) tax breaks, or a reduced taxation burden for the middle-income earners (who are the working-donkeys of the tax system) will not only stimulate economic growth but also stimulate political support.
Goal Three: To set the Agenda
The Liberal Democrat position on the refugee crisis, Britain’s position in Europe, wanting to create a fairer society and in protecting our civil liberties are helping to set the party apart from the pack. The increasingly generic, opportunistic and populist-based NIMBY policies of the other Westminster parties are becoming increasingly stale and the process of distancing ourselves from them needs to continue. The Liberal Democrat’s time in the Coalition diluted the party’s identity and having clear and consistent policies will help us become identifiable once again. It is absolutely vital that the Liberal Democrats resist the urge to fall back into the safety-net of becoming a protest vote – rather than just opposing the policies of the Conservative and (in time) Labour government we need to keep our strong, distinctive, Liberal, voice.
That being said we must not purely react to the issues, agendas and policies that are presented to us but work to shape the agenda of British politics; we need to set the questions rather than just having all of the answers. To use an example, the nation’s additional debts incurred from bailing out the financial institutions responsible (in varying degrees) for the financial crash of 2008 but they were portrayed by the Coalition solely due to the irresponsibility of the Labour government. Austerity measures were held up as the only way to save the country’s finances from the ‘extravagance’ of Labour’s welfare spending. As such, the debate has now shifted to deciding to what speed and extent the austerity measures should be carried out and away from the financial institutions that caused the situation in the first place.
I would be interested to hear what others think about the above as it is in no way meant to be a definitive list. I truly believe that we, the Liberal Democrats, can become the true opposition not only that this country deserves, but what it needs.