Thursday, 2 October 2014

Why this ex-Tory Boy is voting Liberal Democrat

(Republished from march 2010. I no longer support the Liberal Democrats - for historical interest.)

Many of those publicly agonizing over whether to vote Liberal Democrat in this General Election do so because they cannot bring themselves to vote Labour.

However, I am different.

Until this election I have always voted Conservative.

And so the anguish of Petra Boynton, Martin Bright, Sunny Hundal and others, and the countering good old blow of the Labour trumpet by Nick Cohen (all friends of this blog), is quite alien to me.

Having come recently to the left from the right of centre, I am thankfully free from all the intense emotional and ideological tensions that seem to be a feature of life on the left.

But perhaps I have an opposite but similar problem.

By background I am a tribal Tory, from generations of Birmingham working class Tories and Tory-Unionists dating back to when the various Chamberlains proudly sat as Birmingham MPs.

(Indeed, before 1945 so strong was the voting block of working class Tory voters that I understand Labour politicians complained of the "Birmingham problem" of how the then most industrialised city in Britain did not have a single Labour MP.)

And so of course it pains me that I cannot follow my tribal instinct.

It is like suddenly supporting Birmingham City in the local derby, and not the 1982 European Cup winners.

I have detailed previously how I moved to the liberal left.

But here I want to explain why I think others who have hitherto voted Conservative should also vote Liberal Democrat in the General Election.

I think there are three reasons.

First of all, civil liberties are in a genuine crisis, and something needs to be done.

From a Tory perspective, the current abuses of police power and state power - now laws unto themselves - are analogous to the abuses of trade union power in the 1970s.

A profound break in policy is needed, such as a Peel or a Thatcher would not flinch from.

This crisis was recognised by the then Shadow Home Secretary David Davis; but the solutions offered by him and other Tories - a by-election that turned out to be pointless and then the misinformed, even dotty nostalgia for Magna Carta - is not really the basis of practical politics.

And all one needs to know about how importantly the Conservatives currently take civil liberties can be summed up in one name: Chris Grayling.

Significantly Mr Grayling is not some obscure backbencher or unknown candidate being done over by the left wing press; instead, he is the very person David Cameron astonishingly chose to replace Mr Davis as Shadow Home Secretary.

Furthermore, the basis for reforming and improving civil liberties in this country has to be the (albeit imperfect) Human Rights Act, rather than some vague "Bill of Rights".

And it seems to me that only the Liberal Democrats take the Human Rights Act seriously.

The second reason is that there needs to be a shift back to evidence based policy.

Here the Tories should sympathise: after all, it was Rab Butler who described politics as the art of the possible, which was in turn the title of Francis Pym's memoirs.

Conservatives affect to be free of ideology; they certainly have little truck with the illusions of state intervention.

But it is the Liberal Democrats whose response to the Nutt affair showed that they were interested in practical policy making: that is having policy that works. Here Evan Harris and Belinda Brooks-Gordon (again both friends of this blog) have been - for me - the most impressive.

Any Tory who is sincere is supporting practical policy making should really consider voting for candidates such as Evan and Belinda and for the party that emphasises their approach.

Third, there is libel reform.

It was the Liberal Democrats who realised that this was a crucially important issue and raced to put it into their manifesto.

Although there are Conservatives such as the brilliant Joanne Cash (the only Tory candidate I would vote for in this General Election), who "get it", most simply do not.

It was a real struggle to get the Conservatives to commit to libel reform; there is no reason why they will be particularly enthusiastic to enact legislation.

Anyone who cares about libel reform, and so preventing the daily libel abuse which prevents the public from having access to information on public health and public safety, on the conduct of powerful corporations and police officers, and on other matters of the public interest, should want as strong a Liberal Democrat presence in the new House of Commons as possible.

However, I am not a full convert to the Liberal Democrats.

I happen to like single-member constituencies covering geographically-meaningful areas.

I think Liberal Democrats have a blind eye to the illiberal and undemocratic approach of the European Union to policy and rule making.

But all that said: on the crisis in civil liberties, on promoting practical domestic policy making, and on libel reform, there are good reasons for traditional Conservative voters to vote Liberal Democrat.


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Thursday, 1 March 2012

I have moved!

My new website is at

Come and join me at the new site, and see my first post there for more news on the move.