Sunday, 10 April 2011

‘Should the LibDems change their name to the Bipolar Conliberals?’

This question was asked in yesterday's Sunday Herald.

Or, more accurately, was asked by Mr Leslie Strathearn of Glasgow and reported by The Sunday Herald. However, the paper obviously found his question to be of such monumental importance that it actually used it as a headline - in spite of the fact that it seems most readers' questions were concerned with more serious matters than making puerile jokes at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.

Obviously The Herald is no longer synonymous with responsible journalism, but it is a shame it plumbs to these depths and treats its readers with such disrespect: does it not feel that the average Herald reader's interest in political issues runs a little deeper?

The Herald stated that Mr Strathearn's question was one "to which there is not a lot the party in question could say in reply". I disagree and I'm going to reply to it.

Mr Strathearn asks: “Should the Liberal Democrats change their name to something more reflective of their current approach to politics? The LibDems would not consider a Holyrood coalition in 2007 because the SNP proposal of a referendum was a deal breaker. So much for Liberal, as in broad-minded and favouring reform.

“They have now thrown away their own UK manifesto, in a coalition helping Conservatives implement ideological cuts in the public sector.

“Bang goes the Democrat bit. At the moment their name is a misnomer akin to George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. How about the Bipolar Conliberals?”

I'm sure there were better questions submitted for the Lib Dems to respond to, but as The Herald saw fit to publish this one, it's got my full attention.

Now, Mr Strathearn, a "name change". Hmmm. This has been suggested several times in recent weeks. One group argued that our name should include the word "social"; this was countered by Lib Dems, harking back to 1988-9, who argued that the name Social and Liberal Democrats (or the abbreviation SLD) would lead to us being referred to as "the Salads", and LSD would be a non-starter for obvious reasons. To which I would respond that we're being called a great deal of things at the moment, most of which are less palatable than salad. Also, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been referring to themselves as SLD for many years, without any unwanted reference to vegetables.

However, while most Lib Dems do have strong social consciences (the growing influence of the Social Liberal Forum makes this quite clear), I don't see the need for either a change in the party's name to reflect this or to go back to a difficult time in the party's past for inspiration.

What about "The Liberal Party"? someone else asked. Well, that might offend the small band that is the Liberal Party. "Democrats"? Do we really have to revisit 1988 so completely?

The Liberal Democrats is fine. It defines who we are and what we believe perfectly adequately - far more than "Labour" actually suits a party whose 13 years in power saw it move so far away from promoting the interests of ordinary working people.

But Mr Strathearn objects to our being "liberal" on the basis that "the LibDems would not consider a Holyrood coalition in 2007 because the SNP proposal of a referendum was a deal breaker". It's true that the referendum proposal was something many Lib Dems did not feel comfortable with, although I personally preferred Wendy Alexander's approach - an inevitable defeat for Salmond in his own referendum would have put the independence question to sleep for a few years. But it simply isn't true to state that was the sole reason the Lib Dems did not enter a coalition with the SNP.

As part of research for my writing, I met both Tavish Scott and Nicol Stephen to discuss the 2007 election and the potential for coalition. Interestingly, while the SNP's referendum proposals did feature in our conversations, two other things became clear. Firstly, the electoral arithmetic simply did not add up and the combined number of SNP and Lib Dem seats did not provide an overall majority. Secondly, there appeared to be a feeling that after eight years of government, it might be an opportune time for a spell in opposition. In any case, the fact that Scott has indicated he would be willing to work with the SNP means that such a charge of "illiberalism" can hardly apply to him on this basis.

What about the claim that the Liberal Democrats have "thrown away their UK manifesto". Really? I still have mine! And I've actually read it, which is more than most critics have. And I see so much of that manifesto being translated into policy, in spite of the fact that we're working in government with a party I personally have never taken to. I'm sure Mr Strathearn's a realist and if we had gone into coalition with the SNP, as surely he would have wanted us to, presumably he'd recognise that the manifestos of the respective parties would become a starting point for negotiations leading to a coalition government. Compromise would obviously have been as necessary in 2007 as it was in both 1999 and 2010. It's the nature of co-operative politics - to see compromise painted in such juvenile terms really is an insult to those of us who naturally prefer the more collaborative approaches to politics.

"At the moment their name is a misnomer akin to George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. How about the Bipolar Conliberals?" I think that firstly Mr Strathearn should cease using mental health related puns as a term of abuse. Secondly, if he really is so keen to combat Orwellian-style misinformation, perhaps he should direct his ire at The Herald's claim to be an unbiased and responsible reporter of Scotland's news?

Conliberals? Pleeeeaaaassseee. This is all getting a bit tiresome. Entering a coalition with the Conservatives (on the basis that it was the only realistic option the electorate left open to us) no more defines us as Conservatives than a deal with the SNP would have rendered us Nationalists. The charge that Tavish Scott is a Tory really does not stand up. The charge that I am a Tory is completely laughable.

I am proud to call myself a Liberal Democrat, because I believe in the importance of creating a more liberal Scotland while valuing the democratic process. If Mr Strathearn would delve a little deeper than his evident prejudices, he might even recognise the liberal values within our 2011 Scottish manifesto or the esteem in which we hold democracy.

Democracy underpins who we are. For Liberal Democrats the democratic process is important. Not for us the socialist way of riding roughshod over democratic principles in the misguided belief that the end justifies the means. This is why Nick Clegg negotiated with the Conservatives as the party with by far the largest number of seats: it was what democracy demanded. Those who now complain that the Lib Dems did not prop up an unpopular and largely discredited Labour administration are not only being unrealistic, they're not democrats. Many of us would naturally have preferred not working with the Conservatives, but it's what the outcome of the election demanded. Those who have such contempt for democracy that the only thing that matters in politics is keeping the Tories out of power are entitled to their negativity, but arguments that a willingness to work with whichever party wins the most public support is tantamount to "illiberalism" and disrespect for democracy are well short of the mark. As any Herald reader should know.


coldcomfort said...

We really should understand that there is a second coalition at work in UK politics. It consists of the Labour Party, most of the media & the right wing of the Tory Party [& a few hangers on like UKIP & the SNP] whose sole agenda is the obliteration of the Liberal Democrats.We just have to make sure they don't succeed.

Andrew said...

I totally agree. This "second coalition" might claim to believe in democratic values but is in fact motivated by petty prejudice and negativity.

Anonymous said...

No-one cares that much about the Fib Dems, don't flatter yourselves.

The Fiberals have successfully sold-out on all their claim 'principles' in a fraction of the time it took the Labour Party to do the same.

Andrew said...

"No-one cares"? That's simply not true is it. You cared enough to come on here and say your piece!

I presume you're a Labour sympathiser, in which case I would ask you to be more specific about what we've supposedly "sold out" on. Vague charges are a bit difficult to respond to. But if it's tuition fees you're talking about, maybe you'd like to tell us what Labour would have done in response to the Browne Review it instigated?