Monday, January 01, 2007

The defect in defecting

So, while I was chumping away on the mince pies, a frisson has tango'ed through Tory spines, I hear. It might not have made any Christmas headlines but, apparently, in Smith Square (or is it 18, Doughty Street?) they can hardly keep their excitement under seemly wraps. Whisper it, if you dare: not one, not two but three former LibDems have, as they imagine it, swum with the tide and been marooned with the Cameroons.

Bless them. All political hacks, let's face it, muster some semblance of delight at a defection to their ranks. Every week there's some sort of Brownian motion of little political molecules moving in all directions to create something akin to equilibrium. They even happen here in Oxford -- not to the Tories, of course, since garlic and a sharpened stake has paid put to them. We LibDems have on occasion been the benificiaries. More recently, our council group saw two defections -- one to become a lone independent (which is rather like owning up to being billy-no-mates) and one to Labour. Their departures could provide the script for an episode of Twin Pique.

If we were honest, though, we'd admit that most defections make very little difference. Few people outside the oxygen-starved blogosphere take notice and they usually say more about an individual's changing outlook on life than any real shift between the parties.

So, certain bloggers of other persuasions, as reported by a worthy wordsmith, have crowed that the act of the Christmas trio of not-so-wise men is come-uppance for the LibDems, the truly nasty party, and heralds a revival of two-party politics. Their typing fingers clearly work quicker than their gray cells: on the one hand, they want the LibDems to be recognised as just as bad as the rest of the political world and, on the other, they want to deny the LibDems are part of that world as, they insist, there is only room for two to compare the size of their polls.

Some people can only think in binary. Anything more than a two-party state confuses them inordinately. And, it's true, the road to mature democracy with multiple parties is taking decades -- look how long it took for tactical voting to be recognised as an essential tool for voters in our cock-eyed electoral system. For those who can count only from 0 to 1, they must feel that they have found kindred spirits in their new converts. And here's the defect in their rhetoric: if politics were, by nature, two-party, defections into Labour or the Tories would be nothing more than the usual run of affairs. In a bipolar world, the only remarkable event would be the decision, week on week, for members of either of those parties to make the opposite decision, to move on and find their natural home in the Liberal Democrats.

I can't stop, however, without some comment on this idea of 'two parties.' If Britain was to be served by the two centre-right cohorts of New Labour and their imitators in the Witney wonder's Tories, God pray for democracy. In the LibDems, we pride ourselves on not being either 'right' not 'left' but there now is surely an urgency in trying to keep alive some remnants of the post-war consensus around the Welfare State which the 'big two' are bent on burying. That's a large topic for another time. I realise I might not win universal support for what I say within my own party: we hear there may be a few in our midst who imagine being economic liberal can come before being social liberal, and that they might fail to recognise that social liberalism puts brakes on economic liberalism. But, by the sounds of it, that minority has just got smaller. A good start to a good year.


Aaron said...
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Sean said...

Have you read

Tristan said...

On this economic/social liberalism divide nonsense:

Economic liberalism is /necessary/ for social liberalism, and I believe vice-versa. They are two parts of the whole.

Thatcher never implemented a full economically liberal program because she refused to sanction social and political liberalism.

Unless of course by social liberalism you mean state intervention in people's lives, a 'we know best' attitude, spending other people's money rather than letting people spend their own money, and state monopolies in the non-natural monopolies of welfare... But that's more akin to socialism than liberalism.

Liberalism is about freedom, you need economic freedom as much as you need social freedom to be able to pursue your own life and pursue your own happiness.
(and not the socialist myth of freedom from economic life which simply leads to servitude).

David Rundle said...

Happy New Year to you, Tristan! And, of course, we don't have blind trust in the state -- just as we don't in the free market.