I think I can be excused for (mistakenly?) describing blogger Nick Barlow as a ‘leftie’ when he is in fact a Liberal Democrat can’t I?
After all did his party leader not share a platform with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party on the Feb 15 demo? Did Lib Dem MP’s not support Jeremy Corbyn and co in parliament when it came to the vote over Iraq on Tuesday?
Blair has consistently simply laughed at the Lib Dems but the Tories are worried about their growing popularity and so they really went for Charles Kennedy in Tuesday’s debate in the house, heckling and disrupting his speech throughout.
This approach has been replicated in Blogland by Peter Cuthbertson, who gets all worked up and accuses the Lib Dems of “hating Britain” and in doing so uses one of the oldest political tricks in the book : “I don’t use the word “traitor” lightly, and I will not use it here,” he says. You just did Peter.
Not surprisingly Nick is not impressed. “In the same spirit I would like to state that I don’t use the words ‘Peter Cuthbertson is a drug-dealing Nazi who regularly pimps member of his immediate family to pay for his crack habit’ lightly, and I won’t use them here.”
Good stuff and glad to see the spirit of student politics has finally reached the far too polite world of blog debate.
But what is going on with the Lib Dems? Are they strategically re-positioning themselves as a new, radical voice in left opposition to Labour? Or are they opportunistically trying to ride the wave of discontent about war? Or, heaven forbid, are they actually taking a principled position?
“My point is this. The Iraq war, like all the major international conflicts since Yugoslavia, has divided not left from right but rather has caused divisions right along the traditional spectrum. People on the left, like Nick Cohen, have supported war and some Conservatives have opposed it. There’s a complex issue of great moral significance and people in both of the main political parties have examined their consciences and have decided that they must disagree with one another.
The Lib Dems have 50-odd MPs. It may be that they have all considered the issue and come to the same conclusion as one another; alternatively, some of them have disagreed but have given greater weight to the need for party unity and advantage and so have suppressed the fact of their disagreement. Which explanation of LibDem unanimity do you find more compelling? “
Well, having had some experience of Lib Dem ‘community politics’ over the years I have never for one moment doubted their opportunism.
British Spin understands the realpolitik of what Kennedy is up to, even if of course he doesn’t agree with their position. He also makes another appeal for a job from Alistair Campbell: “Where is the file contrasting (Paddy) Ashdown on Kosovo with Kennedy on Iraq? That’s what we need. Go on, Spin write him one, you never know!
My view is that while probably some LibDem MP’s have consciously taken an opportunist position (for the reasons Chris Bertram outlined) their position is entirely in keeping with their role in British politics. In short they represent the same constituency as the Trotty left.
The Lib Dems have always appealed to and drawn their members from the left-leaning public-sector middle-class, in particular those elements of it who who couldn’t face the straight talking working class members and the ‘beer and sandwiches’ atmosphere in the Labour Party and who feel that the problem with the ultra-left is that “their hearts are in the right place but they are a bit loud”.
It is surely no coincidence that the most irritating elements of the far left are drawn from the public sector middle class and share the same social background as most Lib Dems. They are the people who I suspect despise John Prescott and David Blunkett as much for their ‘awful’ working class accents as their supposedly ‘social authoritarianism’.
So we really shouldn’t be surprised at this sudden alliance of the Lib Dems with the far left. The truth is that the anti-war movement is a largely southern middle class movement – it is the natural home for both Trots and Lib Dems.
Both factions contain people unable to take tough, difficult discussions, people who are never able to translate their much vaunted ‘internationalism’ into any form of concrete action, people who never actually have to take responsibility for anything other than trying to block any meaningful reform of the public services they are paid by the working people of this country to deliver.
I don’t use the phrase ‘Guardian-readers’ lightly and I shall not do so here.
Update: Views of Liberal Democrat dissident Richard Moore in the Spectator