Tuesday, October 27, 2009
  Why I am not a Libertarian
This post was inspired by a discussion thread on Lib Dem Voice about self-styled libertarian Mark Littlewood resigning from the Lib Dems to take up the post of Director General of the IEA. The thread has attracted a lot of comments from sympathisers with Mr Littlewood, others who regard him as some kind of Satanic Thatcherite infiltrator and a couple from people like me who just see him as a mildly irritating media tart. The interesting part of the discussion was concerned with whether or not libertarians have a place in the Liberal Democrats.

I'd like to say first of all that, in spite of the title of this post, I am a libertarian in the general sense because I seek to promote liberty. For the same reason I would also call myself a liberal, which is the term that has been used for a promoter of liberty in this country for the last 200 years. The reason why people are now choosing to call themselves libertarians in preference to calling themselves liberals is that they want to identify themselves as being in favour of liberal economics (in some sense). A great many people who currently claim the title liberal would reject economic liberalism as being authoritarian in practice. I'm not one of them, but I'm still not comfortable calling myself a libertarian when describing my politics.

The reason for this is that there is already a party in the US called the Libertarian Party (it now has an imitator in the UK). The LP occupies positions on property rights and other human rights that would lead it to reject all forms of redistribution. As a result it is against antitrust, would not promote employee share ownership and would eliminate the welfare state without challenging vested interests in our society. The LP does not have ownership of the term "libertarian" and there are many different thinkers who accept that label for themselves who wouldn't accept the tenets of the LP's constitution. However, it is the LP that has supplied the popular meaning of the political term "libertarian" for a great many people. When people describe themselves as libertarians they are therefore associating themselves with positions that in a lot of Lib Dem cases I suspect they don't really support. It is for this reason that I avoid the term like the plague.

Instead I have tended to call myself a liberal, or, if more definition is needed, a social and economic liberal. The thought that occurs to me after reading the thread that sparked this off is that perhaps a new term is needed for people on my wing of the party. Too many people seem to associate economic liberalism with warmed over Thatcherism. The position that I occupy, and I'm not alone in this, could be called distributivist or mutualist in that I want to see workers and service users take ownership and control over more of the public and private sectors. Simply cutting back the state and letting the corporations rule isn't what I'm aiming at at all. However, distributivism and mutualism only describe part of an agenda and as words they probably don't mean much to most of the general public.

The term I'd pick out for myself is radical liberal. I don't think there is another thoroughgoing radical agenda on the table aside from one incorporating distributivism. If the term doesn't mean much in itself I think it is at least suggestive in practice. Also, "radical liberal" feels right. It sounds like someone who is on the side of the dispossessed and not at all like a Tory or a right winger. Anybody else who wants to be a radical liberal too is more than welcome to borrow the term.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
  Means test the MPs!
The reaction of some MPs to the expenses scandal seems quite bizarre to me. Wages are set by markets. If lots of well qualified people are prepared to do a job for free then the wage for that job should be zero. Obviously, if the wage for an MP was zero, as it was until the early years of the twentieth century, then people on lower incomes would be prevented from entering Parliament. As a taxpayer I'm prepared to accept that we should pay a wage to MPs, but it should be means-tested and it should be modest.

The MPs that are being asked to pay back expenses should do so cheerfully with a sense of contrition. They should be ashamed that they are paid as much as they are. The defence that they were only following the rules that existed at the time doesn't wash at all. The rules were set by the MPs themselves!

To my mind this has been a creeping abuse of power that the electorate should be given an opportunity to put a stop to. At least one of the big three parties should propose to put MPs' (and Councillors' and MSPs' etc.) salaries on a principled basis.

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Monday, October 12, 2009
  The Folly of Nationalism
The problem I have with nationalism, no matter how mild it's form, is that it tries to make the personal political. I was born in England to Scottish parents and moved to Scotland when I was five. I don't really consider myself either English or Scottish. I think having a clear idea of where you're from and of the society that you form a part of is a fine thing. I also think it can be limiting. There is a freedom in just being a random British person.

I think that national identity is something that people choose for themselves. Binding it up with the state just renders nationalism artificial and ridiculous. The beauty of Britain is that it is not a nation state. The SNP want a state that limits the horizons of Scots, tying them up in tartan and stuffing their mouths with shortbread. As a unionist I see Britain as a first step towards a more open world where we can choose identities for ourselves.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009
  Nick Clegg's Liberal Moment
Just prior to the Lib Dem conference, Nick Clegg published a pamphlet called "The Liberal Moment". The most reported part of this document was the section that argued that the Liberal Democrats should be seeking to replace Labour as the main "progressive" party in British politics. I think this is exactly the right attitude to take, we have a surfeit of small-c conservatism between the main parties in this country. The principles that were set out in the rest of the pamphlet as being the basis for a liberal agenda were exactly right as well. The problem is that we have become used to politicians making overblown rhetorical statements about fairly inconsequential changes in policy. Rhetoric alone is massively devalued because there is no expectation that action will follow. If The Liberal Moment is to be taken seriously in years to come then it needs to be backed up with hard policy.

The single most exciting section in the document is the one where Clegg anounces his intention to give workers a right to a stake and a say in the running of their companies. This was a key plank of the Liberal program from th '30s until the '60s. It was radical then, it's never been implemented and so it's still radical now. Transferring ownership of schools and other parts of the public services to the service users would be a logical way to extend the approach and start delivering "Ownership for All", as this agenda was originally styled.

My hope is that the party leadership go for this and the membership back them. Ashdown made noises in this sort of direction, but never followed up with policy. Clegg must go further, or the Lib Dems will stagnate.

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  Sunday Papers
Having flicked through the political stories on the excellent PoliticsHome site, commentators in today's papers seem to be dividing between those willing to suspend disbelief and view David Cameron as having an agenda behind his rhetoric and those who still see him as a vacuous PR man. Personally, I think he has no more vision for the country than Tony Blair did in 1997. He'll make cuts a little more quickly than Brown would, but the rest is hot air. A fresh start under the Tories doesn't fill me with horror, it just leaves me a little depressed. It feels like groundhog day.

There is an unreality to the people who are trying to cheerlead for either Brown or Cameron. Their articles read like they are desperately clutching for something to get enthused about ahead of the election campaign. It's all nonsense - there is nothing there of any substance. Surely there is space here for a party to present a radical alternative agenda?

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Location: Kilwinning, Ayrshire, United Kingdom

I'm currently the Liberal Democrat Councillor for Kilwinning in North Ayrshire. I like music, cars and writing.

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