Several important Liberal Democrats have published a book of excellent policies. Unlike some of their fellow party members, they’re in favour of sensibile things such as free markets, tackling EU corruption and UN paralysis, and reforming pensions and healthcare.
Its editor, David Laws, makes the point that the Lib Dems have long fought against “a succession of illiberal home secretaries”, but not enough “against the nanny state” – and that this needs to change. Anti-hanging-‘n’-flogging; anti-banning-‘bad’-things: now there’s an agenda I can get behind.
There are slight problems: one is that they believe high crime levels are even worse than illiberal home secretaries. This is certainly true with regard to Mogadishu, but since crime is not high in the UK, it’s not very relevant here; the implication is that they erroneously believe that it is. Oh well, at least they understand there’s a balance between the two.
The more significant problem is that much of the party is too sandal-wearing and pro-nanny to accept this platform. According to party environment spokesman Lord Greaves, Mr Laws and his co-authors are “pseudo-Blairites with little following in the wider party”. If the party were to win power by some excellent miracle, then the resulting rows would dwarf anything seen within Labour.
Is there another way? The Conservatives are drifting from irrelevance and failure toward more irrelevance and failure. UKIP are taking away the ‘retired colonel who doesn’t like frogs or wogs’ vote, while the Lib Dems and Labour continue to share votes from moderate ex-Tories. There’s a great deal of pressure to drag the party to the left, and also a great deal of pressure to drag the party to the right.
I don’t see the market-liberals/socially-fairly-liberals like Oliver Letwin (or most of the Conservative Future types I know) putting up with a move towards Fortress Britain, “kick out the darkies and bring back the birch” policies. But we’ve already established that the constituency party goes bats if the leadership tries to do anything liberal – so the only viable options are the status quo or a split.
This would also allow the likes of Mr Laws, Vincent Cable and Mark Oaten to abandon the illiberal nannying zealots; together with the sane Tories, they could create the most sensible political platform since 1945. Perhaps they could call it the Liberal Party.
And yes, I know they’d lose, caught between ‘you’d leave the pensioners to starve’ demagoguery from the left and ‘you’d fill the country with Muslims and they’d blow us all up before cutting our hands off’ demagoguery from the right. But at least I’d have someone to vote for without feeling dirty…