The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Is Martin Kettle Right?

Posted by The Futility Monster on September 11, 2009 @ 06:37

Maybe we need one of these right next to Parliament...

Maybe we need one of these right next to Parliament...

The internet is filled with comment these days. but one of my favourite columnists is still Martin Kettle of the Guardian. And today, he wonders whether the Lib Dems should be doing better

His point is simple. We have been right on a range of issues: “the economy, Europe, ID cards, Iraq and localism… climate change, police powers, tax [and] electoral reform”.

Very nice of him to say so. Yes, we do indeed have some good policies in these areas. So why aren’t we doing better? Kettle’s diagnosis is three-pronged:

  1. The David Cameron effect
  2. The senior party has been institutionalised
  3. Britain just ain’t that liberal after all

It’s a tempting argument. For sure, the David Cameron effect is very powerful. Polls are now showing that a plurality of Lib Dem voters, when forced to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, will opt for Cameron’s party. If even our own party backers are being lured by the love-bombing, what does it say for everyone else?

David Cameron’s strength has been his ability to solidify the hardcore Tory vote – many of whom, out of pure fatalism, sat on their hands in 1997 and 2001 – and, meanwhile, pull in all the waverers, floating voters from all parties and even some of the non-voters. That’s why they consistently poll in the 40% region now, and have done so for a good while.

For Kettle’s second point, it also has the ring of truth to it. There are now a wide range of other third-parties that the electorate can choose from if they want to give the establishment a kicking. UKIP, Greens and now the continual assaults on the BNP have reduced them to martyr status. Anyone who really wants to piss off a politician only has to even contemplate voting BNP to be doing the system a disservice. It has been a mistake to treat the BNP in this way; personally I think it’s given them a lot more support than they would have had otherwise.

Kettle points to our failure in parliamentary by-elections too. In our defence, they haven’t exactly been winnable, though in times gone by I think we would have won a seat like Henley. The real problem here is related to his first point: in the past the Tories and Labour have always been ripe for a kicking (depending on who had the seat in question), and the way to do that was to vote Lib Dem. Nowadays, the Tories have been out of power for so long, and are now perceived as the government-in-waiting, that they have broken their by-election curse.

His final point is the most difficult for our party. Are we not a liberal nation after all? Kettle doesn’t offer any evidence, but perhaps I’ll take up the mantle…

We may well be right on ID cards, but they’re still popular. We may well be right on CCTV, but everyone still wants the whole nation camera’d up. We may well be right on detention without charge, but it remains a popular policy to extend it.

This is the battle we’re in, and why the party leadership will avoid all those issues in a General Election. Of course, those smart media guys and our opposition will still bring them up anyway to try to embarrass us.

I genuinely believe that we do not value our liberty as much as we used to. In the post 9/11 age, we are prepared to give away huge amounts of our freedoms in the name of security. But meanwhile, our lives go on in the same way as they always have done. It’s been so long since the last serious threat to our existence in World War II that we’re forgetting the conception of liberty we’re supposed to be defending.

Because we no longer appreciate that these liberties we have, and once had, took generations to secure, wrestled from the grip of tyrannical dictators and “our betters”, we are more prepared to sell our ancestors short. Trial by jury? Well, maybe a judge sitting on his own is better. Secret evidence? Well, we wouldn’t want to reveal our sources, would we? Refugees and asylum seekers? Sorry, Britain’s full.

No. The British just aren’t that liberal any more. Maybe we never were. Maybe all of our liberal heritage sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the 18th century…


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