Five things that irritate me about the Lib Dems

SANDALIAS de esparto y cuerda cosida, en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional de España, en Madrid. Halladas en la Cueva de Los Murciélagos de Albuñol (Provincia de Granada, Andalucía, España), y fechadas hacia fines del sexto o principios del quinto milenio a.C. (Neolítico Medio). Dimensiones de la izquierda (imagen): longitud: 20 cm; anchura: 10,8 cm; grosor: 4,1 cm. Derecha: longitud: 19,4 cm; anchura: 11,2 cm; grosor: 2 cm.
SANDALS of esparto grass and sewn rope, at the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, in Madrid. Found at the Cueva de Los Murciélagos (a cave) in Albuñol (Province of Granada, Andalusia, Spain), and dated towards the end of the 6th or the beginning of the 5th millennium BC (Middle Neolithic). Dimensions of the left one (at the image): length: 20 cm; width: 10.8 cm; thickness: 4.1 cm. Right one: length: 19.4 cm; width: 11.2 cm; thickness: 2 cm.

Radix is an all-party affair; just take a look at our board if you don’t believe me.

But it is no secret that many of those involved have centrist links, often with the Lib Dems. Perhaps that should come as no surprise given that Radix was set up with the objective of becoming the intellectual home of the radical centre.

I have been a member of the Lib Dems myself since the middle of the 1979 general election, when I was a student – practically before the dawn of recorded history. Whatever party I happen to belong to, I will remain a Liberal.

But I am a Liberal of a certain kind, one that seemed to form the backbone of the party in the late 1970s, but which are now rather few and far between.

If you listen to the media, you might believe the party is divided between the orange book ‘free market’ liberals and the social liberals. Don’t believe a word of it. In most respects that matter, both sides of this so-called divide have exactly the same attitudes – to scale, to institutions, to community and neighbourhood power.

Neither side are very interested in any of them, though they make the right noises.

No, the real divisions inside the Lib Dems are much more ancient and go back a century or more, between what the academics call the Whig side and the radical Distributist side, on which I definitely place myself.

Both are labels, references to long defunct political tendencies rather than real descriptions. The term ‘distributist’ refers narrowly to the group of followers of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton who revived the old Liberal slogan ‘three acres and a cow’, and split with the party in 1912.

More broadly, it refers to a bundle of ideas around radical independence, radical devolution of power. It provided the beards and sandals that used to be de rigeur at Liberal assemblies but now feel so absent at Lib Dem conferences.

So, I am delighted that Vince Cable is the new leader, but I find myself with a frustrated sense of irritation with the party I have belonged to now for 38 years. So I thought I would list the top five reasons for this, in the hope that – forlorn hope perhaps – somebody will do something about it:

  1. Their infuriating failure to think radically about economics (there are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, the Whigs have control).
  2. Their obsession with the privatisation or otherwise of public services, rather than more urgent matters about whether or not the services work effectively for the people they serve.
  3. Their abject failure to update their own campaigning techniques, clinging to the old slogans, now shorn of meaning and purpose.
  4. Their failure to inject any positive sense of hope into their leaflets (all the ones that came through my door in May and June were about ‘defending’ things or attacking things).
  5. Their failure to criticise the state and supra-state institutions which dominate people’s lives, and which so miserably fail to do their jobs effectively, for fear that it will encourage the other side.

This last has led to a new division amongst the party faithful, between the My-EU-Right-Or-Wrong brigade on one side, and the Liberal Brexiteers in the West Country and other former strongholds – a division those who run the party appear to be completely blind to.

This may, on the face of it, seem to be an attack on my own party. It isn’t really. It is a plea for relationship counselling between us.

I realise, of course, that is unlikely to be forthcoming – though it would help if people happened to say if they agree with me. In the meantime, I am hoping that my party can play a leading role in the new radical political force that I believe we will soon see, the intellectual foundations of which Radix is now beginning to build.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


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