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Commentary 301 – March 2005
23 February 2005 (22:23:42)

WHICH TWIN IS THE TORY?

That was a Liberal slogan in 1966. It could apply again now.

Labour’s plan for compulsory national identity cards ought alone to be enough for anyone who prizes liberty to strive to ensure its candidates’ defeat at the expected general election. This vile assault on the country’s fundamental freedoms is all of a piece with the Blairites’ determination to turn Britain into a police state.

Only Labour candidates who have specifically repudiated both identity cards and the Iraq war should benefit from Liberal Democrat tactical voting.

Labour authoritarianism comes from two sources – one is the party’s historic conviction that the state knows best, a stance which, however objectionable, is at least intellectually arguable.

The other is not. It comes from the spinelessness that defines the ‘new’ variant of Labour. Faced with a populist clamour from right-wing tabloids for simplistic ‘action’, Labour is ready to destroy the country’s historic rights and liberties rather than face down this bullying.

Identity cards (under which citizens will have to account to the police for their lawful presence in a public place) and house arrest (for those of whom Charles Clarke disapproves) are the worst examples.

But the list goes on, ranging from a treaty that allows British citizens to be extradited on demand to America, through making criticism of religions illegal, to abolition of the secret ballot in some elections.

Blair has presided over an onslaught against liberty on a scale undreamed of even by the preceding Conservative government.

While he is quite willing to repulse any attack from the ‘left’, however widely defined, Blair has never in his wretched career stood up to the right.

Whether it is the Conservative Party itself, the newspapers that support it, or merely a transient opinion poll, he accommodates, rather than confronts, any attack from the right. The result is a ratchet effect that pulls the whole of political discourse inexorably to the authoritarian right.

The forces of conservatism that Blair once affected to oppose, but which in fact he embraces warmly, thus only have to keep demanding more in order to secure their goals. Since each time they demand something they are appeased by the government, they naturally come back for more. Indeed, it is scarcely worth exerting themselves to elect Tories when they can get what they want anyway from Labour.

Thus the coming general election will see a right-wing Labour Party fighting an extreme right-wing Conservative one.

It is vital that the Liberal Democrats stand outside this. This is not just an issue of principle, important as that is, but one of good politics.

Right-wing authoritarians have two parties from which to choose, and would therefore have no reason to give their support to a third one.

But that part of the electorate that is neither conservative nor authoritarian, and it is a large part, has nowhere to go but the Liberal Democrats.

Having for decades struggled to define itself clearly, the party now faces an election in which its position is not only clear but is one that gives it sole claim to the huge swathe of the progressively-minded electorate.

The Liberal Democrat position is about as distinctive as it could be: civil liberty, good public services paid for by fair taxation, a justice system that both punishes and rehabilitates, long-term environmental gains even though they may require short-term inconvenience, a full role in a democratic European Union, and a foreign policy independent of Washington.

With the possible exception of the latter, these are not positions that command easy headlines or sound bites, or that fit into posturing about who is ‘toughest’.

But they do appeal to voters who think beyond simplistic slogans; who value their services, freedom and environment; who hate this government’s interference with liberty at home and craven behaviour abroad; and who know the Tories offer no alternative.

On that base, the party can build the solid foundation of committed support - rather than floating protest votes – that has so long eluded it. Solidify that, and who knows what a future general election may hold.

Throw it away by trying to outbid the populism of the other two parties, and it will be painfully obvious what future elections will hold.

The Liberal Democrats are in contention for the whole progressive vote, and the party is largely united about its positions.

If it holds its nerve and resists siren calls from the right, it will enter the expected general election in the best shape, and with the best prospects, it has had in the lifetimes of most members.

YOUR NEXT LIBERATOR

Tony Blair has inexplicably failed to advise the Liberator Collective of the date of the next general election.

If, as everyone at present expects, it falls on 5 May, we intend to produce an issue in mid-April depending on how many people are available to contribute. That may prove impossible, in which case Liberator 302 would appear after the election.

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