A wet centrist, me?

by Stephen Tall on December 1, 2005

Thank you The Apollo Project for featuring my most recent post – about internal Lib Dem left/right name-calling – on your latest Top 10 Lib Dem blog posts. It appears to have attracted the ire of one of my readers. I don’t normally respond to comments through a separate posting, but decided to make an exception this time:

Anonymous said…

Stephen this is a pathetic letter. The debate between the left and right of the party matters quite a great deal in respect of which future liberal voters or otherwise we will be able to attact.

The right of the party believe that the best coalition is of social and economic liberals, that tends to include a lot of left-wing Tories and disgruntled centrists who currently vote for Labour. The left of the party belivee the best is one of social liberals, social democrats and liberal socialists, broadly a coalition of the left or charitably a progressive coalition. What you can’t have though is a sort of catch-all spanning the lot. socialists and eocnomic liberals are opponents on most tax and spend matters.

They can agree tactically on civil liberties, but that’s rather small beer in the policy portfolio of a future government compared to doing a budget.

In fact it’s wet centrists like you sitting there whining passively about why we can’t just all get along, rather than taking difficult decisions is precisely why we are in this situation today. The leader being the worst offender.

Oxford Liberal (aka Stephen Tall) says…

Good lord, it’s a long time since I’ve been called a wet centrist! I’ll remember that next time someone takes me to task for supporting the
legalisation of drugs or the necessity of university top-up fees.

Your comment makes my point for me. No-where have I said, or would I say, that we should avoid a debate which requires difficult decisions (tip: read my article).

What I do want is a debate on our own liberal terms. By unwrapping the useless and unhelpful terms, ‘left’ and ‘right’, you’ve indicated the kind of debate we should be having. (Though I’d suggest ditching the word ‘pathetic’ and not posting anonymously might be a yet more grown-up approach.)

But that is not the debate which is raging on the letters page of Lib Dem News right now. There the argument is (I paraphrase only slightly): we need to be more left/right-wing to win over Labour/Tory voters. That kind of simplistic logic is what made me despair, and prompted my letter.

Finally… to imagine, as you appear to, that there is no common ground between ‘economic liberals’ and ‘ socialist liberals’ – other than civil liberties – is a mistake. Opening up markets to competition, and enabling the poorest to take advantage of those markets, are two concepts which can co-exist happily. There are many instances of co-operative societies and not-for-profit trusts where these find practical expression, and unite those with differing ideologies.

You don’t always need to pick a fight to win an argument.