Thursday, September 17, 2009

92 pages, you say? Sure, I'll read it this morning

I'm always pretty dubious of political histories written by one side or another - just one reason why I wouldn't attempt to write one myself.

Nick Clegg's new pamphlet, The Liberal Moment, certainly suffers on this score. It pushes a certain view of the Labour and Conservative philosophies and histories which, whilst not wrong, is clearly biased.

To be fair to Nick (and I must be that), he does make clear that he accepts the broad church nature of the main British political parties, and that the boundaries between parties, not to mention competing philosophies, are far from being distinct.

But I can certainly imagine many a Labour and Conservative supporter reading Nick's words and thinking "yes, but that's not how I think, nor how most people I know in my party do".

So as Nick takes us through political change from the 19th century from today, pointing to parallels between the Liberal Party's implosion in the 1920s and Labour today, we have to read it with that in mind. This is political history with a clear, if understandable, bias.

Who are the outsiders?

Clegg refers to the increase in support for parties other than the big two, rightly pointing out that in 1951 98% of of votes went to the big two, compared to just over 60% at the 2009 local elections. He rightly identifies the increased willingness of voters to support minor parties as a big shift in British politics.

But Clegg ducks a big question when he refers to
"Outsider parties like the Liberal Democrats".
One of the challenges facing the Lib Dems is the party's loss of outsider status. No longer can the party rely on being a repository for protest votes. It runs councils up and down the country, has been in government in both Scotland and Wales and holds more than one in ten parliamentary seats.

Look at the size of my policies

A big chunk of the pamphlet is set aside for a welcome restatement of the Lib Dem approach on the environment, economy, social issues, reform of the system and crime. I don't think there's anything especially new, but it's always good to have these things updated and put into context.

Slightly confusingly, the pamphlet is labelled as not being party policy, even though a lot of content in these sections clearly are party policy. I guess the interested reader just has to take a punt on which bits are policy and which aren't (or spend a lot of time with dusty old conference motions to figure it out).

Vote for us 'cos we're fab and groovy

The final result is a political pamphlet few Lib Dem activists should have issue with. A trip down memory lane (for those with very long memories), a re-statement and updating of the party's approach on the big issues of the day and a final plea for progressives everywhere to flock to the Lib Dem banner.

I'm impressed that 54 supporting notes have been included. Even if it makes the work appear slightly more academic than it probably deserves, it's a welcome addition.

Now I ought to read what everyone else has written about the paper and find out just how daft my comments sound in comparison.


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