Nick pledges to seize the Liberal Moment

by Stephen Tall on September 17, 2009

You can tell it’s a pre-conference week… on Monday, the Lib Dems’ deputy leader Vince Cable launched the party’s response to the fiscal crisis, while today Nick Clegg has published a major pamphlet with think-tank Demos outlining his thoughts on progressive politics. Titled The Liberal Moment it’s available for download as a PDF dcument here.

Nick also has an article in today’s Times setting out his ambiton for the Lib Dems to replace Labour as the progressive party at a national level. Here’s an excerpt:

Today I am publishing a pamphlet, The Liberal Moment, in which I make a simple argument: in the same way that Labour eclipsed a tired Liberal Party almost a century ago, the Liberal Democrats now offer a new rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain, replacing Labour as the dominant force of progressive politics.

This may sound a little self-serving from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But history teaches us that when the ideological reflexes of a political party are out of step with the times, it will be overtaken by parties that understand the world better. In the early part of the 20th century, the Liberal Party was unable to respond coherently to great social change and the challenges of war, and lost its place to a Labour Party that, with its collectivist instincts and focus on the emancipation of working people, had far better answers.

Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour’s basic reflexes — central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government — are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.

You can read the article in full here.

His views have even earned the praise of The Times’s leader writers:

Mr Clegg is entirely correct to seize the moment. It may seem, and indeed it is, presumptuous for a party scoring only 18 per cent in the latest poll to claim that it can overhaul Labour and become the main party of the Left. Yet Labour has rarely been weaker, rarely more vulnerable. So this is certainly the time to outline the Liberal case for, as Mr Clegg puts it, “a new alignment of progressive politics”.

Mr Clegg’s initiative may end in failure beyond, perhaps, taking a few Labour seats to compensate for ones lost to the Tories. But there are two ways that it can be crowned with success.

The first is through a sort of soft merger. By identifying his party as part of the Left, the Liberal Democrats can build alliances that will come in handy later. If the Conservatives win the next election, Labour and the Lib Dems may make common cause, a tactical alliance with strengths in different parts of the country. Out of this might emerge a new, more liberal, Left.

The second route to success seems, at the moment, more unlikely. If Labour reacts to its political problems by retreating to old ideas and its base, the Lib Dems could overhaul them.

In either case the correct strategy now for Mr Clegg is to stake his and his party’s claim to leadership. He has done so with élan.

You can read more about The Liberal Moment on the Lib Dem website here, and at Nick’s leader’s website here.