Two must-read articles for Lib Dems (and three you can happily ignore)

by Stephen Tall on September 17, 2012

In pre-Coalition days, party conference time was pretty much the only time of year the Lib Dems were ever talked about in the media. These annual op-eds usually revealed a complete lack of understanding of the party, its membership, their combined resilience, or the challenges (never opportunities) facing the Lib Dems.

Today there’s acres of coverage. But still remarkably little of it is particularly informed, as tired articles this weekend by Matthew d’Ancona in the Torygraph and John Rentoul in the Indy proved once again. Oh, and let’s not forget the Telegraph’s Iain Martin, insightful about the Tories yet incoherently rabid when writing about the Lib Dems: Is Nick Clegg a bit stupid? is pretty representative of the quality of his analysis.

So I want to salute give kudos to two articles which have been both challenging and perceptive about the opportunities for the Lib Dems as a party of government.

First, the excellent John Kampfner in The Guardian:

With the coalition entering the second half of its projected five-year lifespan, the Lib Dem leader needs each and every day to tell the public what his party is seeking to do, what it will put up with, and what it won’t. This can be done without petulance – at least on the Lib Dem side. If Tory backbenchers, in denial over their failure to win in 2010, wish to force an early election or go into minority administration, let them. … With such things as a wealth tax and moves towards social mobility, Clegg has adopted a Blairite tendency of picking up an idea, giving it an outing, but then failing to pursue it. He needs to be able to show by 2015 that he has delivered a distinctive record of achievements, alongside the beginnings of an economic recovery.

And secondly, Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times proposes the adoption of ‘left libertarianism’ (which I don’t wholly buy, by the way, but deserves a proper airing):

Many commentators and some Lib Dems themselves treat the party as if it were a Labour enclave inside a Conservative-led coalition. Hence the joy at anything that can be regarded as a soak-the-rich measure. Yet it should be possible to do better. There is a worthwhile stream of ideas, which is not just the Labour party in disguise nor an opportunist search for a few gimmicks. Raising the income tax threshold and introducing some kind of mansion tax may have merits but they do not constitute a coherent outlook. …

[There are] four broad policy tendencies that characterise left libertarianism … first, extensive privatisation and deregulation in the economy and social rules; second, an increasing proportion of state revenue derived from land tax and inheritance tax; third, a shift from conditional welfare benefits towards unconditional basic income or basic capital state entitlement; and fourth, free trade, free immigration and (hopefully) international pooling of land tax revenues. … if the Lib Dems want to move beyond pavement politics and opportunist gestures, left libertarianism seems to me the right way to go. It is better than acting like a Labour colony in a Conservative administration.