The 'Modernisation' of the Lib Dems: Corporatism with a Human Face and Blarism Redux
The recent attempted knife welding by ambitious young blades in the Lib Dems is I think an interesting illustration of all that is wrong with British politics and politicians. The lib dems have broadly two wings the so-called economic liberal ‘free’ marketeers producers of the ‘Orange Book’ and the welfare statist Beveridge types. The debate between the two wings of this party is a profoundly depressing illustration of how sterile British political debate has become. The ideological spectrum ranges from authoritarian neo-liberal corporatist (‘new’ Labour) to socially liberal neo-liberal corporatist (Cameron’s Conservatives) with the marginalised warriors of the old post-war consensus sitting on the sidelines (old labour).
Like the Thatcherites before them the Lib Dem ‘free’ marketeers and self styled ‘modernisers’ wish to see ‘competition’ introduced to public services, private public partnerships with the full panoply of the reformed corporate state being brought to bear on the problems of British society. People are to be given the choice of services they use, but as per ‘new’ Labour this choice is to be managed, kept within strict boundaries with the old consumer/producer dichotomy maintained and Croslandite ‘new’ class assumptions left unexamined. While portraying themselves as sceptical of the state, it seems the Lib Dem modernisers like ‘new’ Labour seek merely to promote corporatism with a human face. They seek to promote this corporatism in the name of liberty while ignoring or forgetting the great liberal themes of industrial democracy, the co-operative movement and the libertarian socialist currents that have always been present in their tradition.
All of this ideological jockeying is of course motivated by a desire to occupy the centre ground. The ‘free’ marketeers by desiring to occupy this centre ground are implicitly accepting the Blairite consensus and portray any attempt to provide an alternative to this consensus as being unrealistic and out-of-touch. This drive for the centre ground unites both their pragmatic desire for power and their ideological biases providing them with a sense of purpose that their welfare statist opponents lack. Also while being correct in calling the welfare statists out as having some implicitly illiberal and paternalist policies their alternative as detailed above isn’t much better. Indeed the left wing of the Lib Dems has not really articulated any coherent alternative vision with them fighting a rearguard action, hoping to restore the old post war consensus. Ultimately both wings of the party seem to be missing a historical opportunity to present a real libertarian socialist alternative to the mainstream Blairite corporatist consensus. It is frustrating to see a party with the potential to articulate these views being pushed towards being merely another centrist placeholder, the Lib Dems need a transplant of ideological backbone but not the kind that ‘free’ marketeers are proposing!