by Stephen Tall on October 24, 2014
Conservative MP for South Thanet
Reason: for being “a proud extreme moderate”
Let me be clear in my nomination. Saying you’re a moderate, a centrist, is not the same as being a liberal.
But it’s a start.
Why do I say that? Let me pray in aid a quote from Edmund Fawcett’s brilliant new book, Liberalism: The Life of an Idea:
‘Liberal politics aspires to openness and toleration, to settling matters by argument and compromise, to building coalitions rather than creating sects, and to recognizing the inevitable existence of factions and interests without turning them into irreconcilable foes.’
Compare that aspiration with Laura Sandys’ words in The Independent:
Being a moderate is not a value-free zone; neither does it mean that I lack commitment, or ambition for radical change. I am passionate about placing tolerance, even-handedness, evidence-based policy at the centre of my politics, with beliefs that are committed to a One Nation vision. We moderates have one very important task. What was the settled political contract in Britain, balancing liberal capitalism on one hand and social democracy on the other, is failing. We need to renew these values through root and branch reform. As it stands, liberal capitalism had been replaced by crony capitalism, with corporations protecting their own rather than innovating. … Being a passionate moderate with a commitment to bringing people together, rather than gaining from division, takes a lot more guts than always playing the easy polemic political card.
At one time, such a statement might have seemed too obvious to merit further comment; indeed, her article probably wouldn’t have been commissioned or published. But our politics now is more fissiparous. That offers an opportunity to parties which once were on the fringes.
And those who successfully exploit the opportunity, such as Ukip’s Nigel Farage, do so by dividing rather than uniting: immigrants, Europe, other politicians — these others, they are all villains. That allows the party to recruit a small-ish core of resentful voters as passionate zealots. It fails utterly though in “bringing people together”, in “building coalitions”. Unsurprisingly, a YouGov poll for the Economist this week showed a majority of the British public views Ukip as “full of oddballs and extremists”.
Yet the temptation for politicians is to prefer the easy, short-termism of pointing the finger of blame at others to the harder, longer-term solutions that come from openness and toleration, argument and compromise.
For sticking up, passionately, for moderation, Laura Sandys deserves our thanks. Especially as she’s standing down from Parliament in six months’ time — to be replaced by Nigel Farage if the people of South Thanet will it.
* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.