by Stephen Tall on March 13, 2010
I’ve an article published on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free website to mark the launch of Lib Dem Voice’s ‘How Liberal / Authoritarian is your MP?’ website. As the website’s sub-heading notes: “A new website ranking MPs’ anti-authoritarian credentials reveals that the Liberal Democrats are the party of freedom.” No surprise to us Liberals, of course; but it may sometimes comes as a pleasant surprise to liberals thinking of voting Labour/Tory.
Anyway, here’s the article – there seems to be some, erm, vigorous discussion over at the CiF website, so feel free to join in there.
One sure-fire way to bring most Lib Dems out in hives is to ask them the question, “Do you think of yourself as rightwing or leftwing?” This right/left dichotomy – an archaic hangover from the French revolutionary period – is a nonsense in today’s political situation, in which all three major parties broadly subscribe to the principles of market economics and parliamentary democracy. Left and right are terms beloved by those parts of the media too lazy to engage in nuance; for most of the rest of us they belong in the lexicographical dustbin of history.
When most of us set up our Facebook profiles, we were not asked to define our political views according to an outmoded left/right axis. No, the dividing lines they set up were liberal versus conservative, terms which identify an individual’s general social and political outlook. The late Robin Cook preferred the more loaded terms “cosmopolitan” (outward-looking, internationalist, pro-choice, tolerant, progressive, forward-thinking) and “chauvinist” (reactionary, isolationist, narrow-minded, centralising, nostalgic). As a liberal, I say take your pick.
When looking at political labels, left/right is – figuratively and actually – so last millennium. That’s the serious point underpinning a new website launched today by Liberal Democrat Voice, the leading independent website for those interested in the party. Code-named by us “Project Rank”, it has a very simple aim: to provide an easy way for the public to find out how liberal or authoritarian are the views of their MP according to his or her voting record in parliament.
We have identified ten crunch votes from the last five years – ranging from ID cards and freedom of speech to freedom of information and trial without jury – in order to score all current MPs out of 100: the lower their score the more liberal they are; the higher their score the more authoritarian they are.
The results are revealing. Of the 340 most authoritarian MPs in the House of Commons, 339 are Labour MPs: all score more than 35 out of 100, with 39 Labour MPs ranked as 100% authoritarian. (Lady Hermon, the Ulster Unionist MP for North Down, earns the dubious privilege of being the most authoritarian non-Labour MP). The most authoritarian Conservative MP – perhaps unsurprisingly – is Ann Widdecombe, with a score of 28 out of a possible 100. David Cameron might term himself a “liberal Conservative”, but in reality the honour belongs to Tory MP Richard Shepherd, the only Conservative to score an impeccably liberal score of zero. All Liberal Democrat MPs score lower than 12 out of a possible 100: 22 achieved the perfect zero.
What does such number-crunching mean for the forthcoming election? Well, for a start we hope the site will draw the public’s attention to how their MPs have voted over the past five years. If you hold liberal views look at how your MP has voted, and ask yourself if his or her record justifies your vote.
Does the fact that Labour is, according to their voting record, by far the most authoritarian party represented in the House of Commons mean that the Lib Dems must automatically favour the Tories if the election result is close? No, not necessarily. Commitment to the civil liberties of the British people is enormously important to the Lib Dems, that is true: but freedom is only half of the liberal equation. The other half is fairness, the key tenet Nick Clegg is stressing as the Lib Dem message in the coming campaign.
That is why I view a vote for the Lib Dems as an important one. Labour cannot be trusted with our freedoms; the Tories cannot be trusted to build a fairer Britain. Only the Lib Dems recognise the fundamental importance of a free and fair Britain, and can act as guarantors for those cosmopolitans who want to vote for a party which shares their values.