Saturday 9 May 2015

I am a cockroach

Tim Farron famously said a little while ago something along the lines of after the apocalpyse has happened, there will still be cockroaches and Liberal Democrats delivering leaflets. Well, the apocalypse happened on Thursday. A grim night. Lewes lost, in Norman Baker, the best MP it has ever had, or likely ever will. I doubt that his successor, for all her fine words, will measure up. (Irony: some circles in Lewes have just noticed that she is pro fracking: a bit late.)

We have been well and truly punished in the only poll that counts. We can now look back on some fine achievements, and some apologies that need to be made, and we can look forward to more pain for the many, and comfort for the few.

It looks to me as if the electorate has said, well, if we have to have Tory policies, we may as well have proper Tories making them. I know it's more complicated than that. But there are things which we have participated in, and enabled, and we no longer have to support - the ideological insistence on privatisation of everything possible, Iain Duncan Smith's heartless war on unemployed, sick and disabled people. Of course, now we're out of power, we have lost any ability we had to mitigate those efforts.

In my view, as many have already said, we became too economically liberal and were not socially liberal enough in government. Our achievements were mainly on the socially liberal side of the agenda - equal marriage, pupil premium, raising tax allowance for *everyone*, resistance to the snoopers' charter. But the main thrust of being in government was economic liberalism. I was struck by a piece from Mark Littlewood quoted in Liberal Vision. He says we may have the opportunity to redefine ourselves “as a genuinely classical liberal party, seeking to shift power in every area of life away from the state and towards individual men and women.”  The trouble is that nowadays that doesn't work. Globalisation and post industrial capitalism have taken us to the point where removing power from the state means that it accrues not to ordinary people but to corporations, and what we need is a form of liberalism that finds tools to empower citizens in the face of both the state and corporations. That tends away from the classical tools of economic liberalism, such as simple versions of free trade, which work to accumulate more power in the hands of unaccountable corporations. (Hence my opposition to TTIP; its headline is free trade, its effect is corporate dominance.)

I wrote my wishlist before the election. It still stands:
- a welfare policy that affords a decent minimum without harrassment to everybody who is not working because they cannot or because there is no work
- major increase in the capacity of the civil service to frame and monitor contracts given to the private sector (where increasing the power of the state works to the benefit of the individual citizen)
- FOI for all contracts issued by government. Corporate confidentiality should not be a figleaf. Transparency is all - when we can see what private companies are doing with our money, it is so much less easy for them to get away with it.
- properly funded units to chase tax avoiders
- MPs can have as many jobs as they want, but they cannot speak or vote on anything in which they have a financial interest. (It works for councillors, it can work for MPs.)

It is an incomplete list, but it's a start. It is by and large a socially liberal list. We still need to be economically liberal, but we need to get that right, so that it actually works on behalf of the citizens, not on behalf of the powers that be. I am no longer “for” minimal government. I am “for” the level of government that works for everybody, not just the few, that enables all of us to stand up best to the power of corporations, as well as the power of the state. I am "for" Conrad Russell's definition of liberalism: we stand up to bullies - everywhere.

That is my “air war”. As for the "ground war", I will be delivering leaflets, and preparing the ground for a battle about fracking. It will be a big one.

I am a cockroach.