Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Why this ex-Tory Boy is voting Liberal Democrat

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.


No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters.


Dominic said...

As much as I'm disgusted by many of the actions of the current government, my MP is thankfully Jeremy Corbyn with whom I find very little to disagree on and has always replied to enquiries about votes.

His seat is rather secure and I would hate to see it lost in order to punish the leaders he has disagreed with on many issues.

notsofriendlyhumanist said...

Nice post. Could you (not right now, I suspect it'll take more than a comment) elaborate on why you like single-member constituencies?


noodle said...

i like single-member constituencies too. but, alas, i also like the idea that the vote i cast (in my ultra-safe constituency) might, in some small way, make a difference.

whether your vote is more or less significant than mine... the fact is that for this to be a democracy then they should carry equal weight. that is why the benefits of single-member constituences are an acceptable casualty of electoral reform.

trickygirl said...

It is indeed a very difficult choice this time round, and I'm one of the many who have a major dilemma over who to vote for.

My current MP is a real New Labour diehard who is disliked by a lot of people and is likely to lose her seat, most probably to the Lib Dem candidate. Problem is, I, like many people locally, wouldn't trust said Lib Dem as far as we could collectively throw him...

It's turning into a case of 'who do I dislike for the job the least'- Thursday is going to be very interesting here!

Tony Lloyd said...

(Let's leave multi-member STV and Europe until after the election. We have to suck you in little by little and don't want to risk this hard won vote.)

I've always thought that the key difference between the parties is what they are deep, deep down. What they would like to do but common sense and basic decency stops them going that far.

Deep, deep, really deep down, I think both Labour and Tories are totalitarians. Labour would, if given a free reign, dictate ideologically. Orthodoxy in thought is what they are after. The Tories would dictate socially. Orthodoxy in behaviour is what they are after: think "marriage", sexual politics, even race and the Tories have an idealised ordered society with everyone basically doing what fits their position.

Deep, deep, really deep down Liberals are anarchists.

We know anarchy would be a total disaster. We have enough common sense to draw that urge in. But in the darkest, hidden, regions of our souls there is a little black flag flying.

If you ever want to raise that black flag. If you ever wanted to cause trouble for a government agency just because it is a government agency. If you ever made the slightest link between Westminster Skeptics and the Jacobin Club then you are a Liberal.

Viva POUM!
I agree with Nick!

Harry said...

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

I can see the argument for single-member constituencies,but there's nothing particularly geographically meaningful about my current constituency: it was only created in 1997 from parts of two previous seats. And it has been modified again for this election, so what used to be one arbitrary chunk of south London is now a different arbitrary chunk. It's not even all in the same borough.

itinerantlondoner said...

It's worth noting that the electoral system used in Scotland, New Zealand, Germany, and for the Greater London Assembly also has single member constituencies representing meaningful geographic areas (just slightly larger ones). It just adds in an extra set of top-up MPs to make it more proportionate. It may not be the system the LibDems support, but if there is any referendum, one would hope it may end up as an option (especially considering it was the system Labour introduced in London & Scotland)

AndyP said...

Perhaps your satisfaction with the present electoral system stems from the fact that you've actually been on the winning side - especially if you were a Tory boy in a Tory stronghold.

My story is rather different...

In the 5 general elections I've been able to participate in, my vote has always counted for nothing. Why? Because of our corrupt first-past-the-post voting system.

Corrupt because it distorts the balance of views in parliament.

Corrupt because it forces people to vote tactically and not for what they truly believe....

Whatever else happens after this election - we desperately need to instigate some form of PR.

Anyway - well written as ever, and I'm so glad to see you've come over from the dark side. ;-)

James Mackenzie said...

Hi Jack/Allen,
Are you aware that in the last session of the Scottish Parliament the Lib Dems abstained on ID cards? They seriously cannot be trusted on point one of your three.

Also, I think specific rejection of their candidate David Ord is surely in order.

williamsjk said...

It's a problem I'm suffering from, however at this particular point in time I'm more concerned with which party would deal with the economic disaster that Labour have created - and sadly the Lib Dems would make that situation worse.

As for Tony's point. I feel that maybe the Liberal wing of the party are deep down libertarians/anarchists. But based on their economic, smoking, green policies and support for the fox hunting ban the party standing at this election are far closer to authoritarian than I am willing to vote for.

Mojo said...

"...dotty nostalgia for Magna Carta..."

That was, according to the history reference book I have here (1066 And All That), a document that stated that "the Barons should not be tried except by a special jury of other Barons who would understand."

This nostalgia for Magna Carta might extend further than you think: someone has recently suggested introducing a similar scheme, and requested that a case involving a religious claimant be heard by "a specially constituted Court of Appeal of five Lord Justices who have a proven sensitivity to religious issues."

Clearly "a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People)".

HDB said...

Tony Lloyd: Interesting that you should talk about deep-down black flags. I'm a lifelong Lib Dem voter and a not-so-secret anarcho-transhumanist by inclination - indeed, my views are nicely summed up in the Culture (sci-fi) novels by Iain M Banks.

I wasn't aware that it was plausible to claim all Liberals lean quite this far left, but it's definitely made me thoughtful. And I agree that the current Labour lot are dismayingly authoritarian.

Si_B said...

Good post. Living in Cheltenham my vote actually counts for something as the LibDem and Tory are pretty much neck and neck. It has certainly made me think a lot more about the issues.

However, with my pedant hat on, the phrase "politics is the art of the possible" is generally attributed to Otto van Bismarck who allegedly said "Die Politik ist die Kunst des Möglichen" back in 1867.

Dennis said...

I used to think of myself as a socialist with a little 's'. There should be a safety net for people. The trouble is Labour don't want a safety net, they seem to want to tax us into equality. Money just grows on trees so spend it on whatever you like!

I would like there to be a conversation on Europe but UKIP deny climate change and like homeopathy!

Very surprisingly the Greens aren't much better on science.

The Lib Dems do tick most of the boxes but I do worry about the Lib Dem's idea about taxing people because they own a big house. My Dad lives in a big house, (not a £2M house) which he paid for. He paid tax on the money that he used to pay for it. Why should he now pay tax on something that he has saved all his life to pay for? Surely the government has already has it's pound of flesh? The message that it sends out is don't save your money, spend it before the government find a use for it.

And before anyone says "it doesn't apply to him, his house isn't big enough", do I really need to remind anyone how politicians will make it apply to him. Either by lowering the threshold or not raising it with inflation.

I know someone has to cover the debt but why only people who have saved their money to buy something?

As they said in an episode of Southpark. The choice is betweens a douch and a turd sandwich. It's not necessarily important who wins. only that you do make a choice!

James Cranch said...

One can keep the present constituency system, and keep having local representatives, and have proportional representation.

It grieves me that nobody seems to realise this: it causes much rubbish to be talked about electoral reform.

For example, here's a system.

Everybody votes in their constituency for a party just like now. The votes are then added up nationally and you work out how many seats each party should have (its "quota").

Then you find the person with the largest constituency majority in the whole election, nationwide, and make him MP of his constituency.

Then you find the person with the second largest majority, and make him MP of his constituency.

Then you keep going. Every time you get to someone, you make them MP unless:
- their constituency already has an MP
- their party has already reached its quota.

In the end you'll find yourself electing people with small (but not very small) "negative minorities". But those'll be in minority constituencies, and that's OK.

So the system blends local considerations (vote strongly for someone and you'll get her) and national considerations (the final proportions reflect the national votes).

I'm not saying this is a perfect system as it stands (I introduced it mostly for explanatory purposes) but something very closely based on it might be very very good indeed.

Dr. Brian Blood said...

a small correction:

"Politics is the art of the possible."

Otto Von Bismarck, remark made on Aug. 11, 1867

Red Maria said...

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.


It's the red flag for me.

Steve Jones said...

I too don't like the Liberal Party's approach to what I think is an overly centralist and undemocratic EU. They have also wisely backed down from the Euro debate - it's a massive, centralist grand scheme agenda which is now in grave danger of unravelling. It allows for no relatively easy adaption to built in economic distortions as they are finding out in Greece.

As far as science goes, then I still think their green agenda stuff still has rather more in the way of wishful thinking that real evidence. The position over nuclear power being a case in point.

As bad as Chernobyl was, then the deaths caused are a tiny fraction of those that have come from coal mining and might yet emerge through global warming.

ALso their immigration policy as an unworkable thing. Whatever one feels about the merits or ethics of caps and the like, the regional scheme is a nightmare. What were they thinking of?

It's a long way from what they were like back in the 1990s and it appears that a certain amount of fiscal rectitude has appeared.

I'm a post-war grammar school working class kid, and to this day, and I really don't know which way my parents voted. I don't like tribal - I used to hie in a cupboard during the class warfare debates of my youth when many of the current Labour cabinet were manning the student barricades.

The Liberals are a bit more fond of personal liberty than most Conservatives (although I think there is a portion of the Conservative party that is dismayed by the current direction). In contrast, Labour have generally been dire on this matter. I know there is the human rights act, but for the vast majority this has little effect. What we have had is vast numbers of petty and intrusive rules which are finding their way into everybody's lives. We are banned from electric work in our own kitchens, we have home information packs - the lists are endless. It's these minor insults to out every day liberties that are so depressing. Whatever one feels about Thatcher, I rather suspect she would not like such intrusion into personal lives.

Lloyd Jones said...

"Why should he now pay tax on something that he has saved all his life to pay for? Surely the government has already has it's pound of flesh?"

The question seems to rely on a belief in a wealthy person deserving her* higher level of wealth than other people. That strikes me a half-truth because:
1)Other people have worked just as hard and don't have an expensive house.
2) The success of the wealthy is based on those people earning low wages.
3)The difference between wealth and poverty is as much an accident of birth and genetics as it is the product of diligence and dedication.

This of course has to be qualified by the undeniable moral claim of those who do add to society for proportionate reimbursement, but

As for those who've squandered their wealth: they've gained a different benefit from their money (fun, booze as compared to the financial and emotional security of a house), but they've certainly paid tax on it. Why shouldn't people who leave value to stagnate in savings/houses?

Hope that made some sense...

*I obviously don't know your father's situation.

BritSwedeGuy said...

Wow - that is a really shocker - but well done! It's re-assuring to see that it is not just those "on the Left" that are seriously considering their votes this time.

Dennis said...

Hi Lloyd,

"The question seems to rely on a belief in a wealthy person deserving her* higher level of wealth than other people. That strikes me a half-truth because:
1)Other people have worked just as hard and don't have an expensive house."

Yes but he was never wealthy in terms of income. He saved his money up. Other people earning the same, who have spent their money, don't have to pay tax. Is that really fair? When my friends were away on exotic holidays, we went in the caravan to Wales! Cornwall was too expensive!

"2) The success of the wealthy is based on those people earning low wages."

True, if you own something that routes that income to you. I think you are grouping all "wealthy" people together. It is possible to save up on a modest income and become "wealthy". The people who should be taxed are the people who are wealthy in terms of income.

"3)The difference between wealth and poverty is as much an accident of birth and genetics as it is the product of diligence and dedication."

True, but why should he pay more tax than people who have spent their money on women and wine? Is it just because he's an easy target as he owns something that people can be jealous of? He grew up working class btw on Bransholme in Hull which was (and still is) one of the most deprived estates in the country. Growing up poor is what made him save his money.

"This of course has to be qualified by the undeniable moral claim of those who do add to society for proportionate reimbursement, but

As for those who've squandered their wealth: they've gained a different benefit from their money (fun, booze as compared to the financial and emotional security of a house), but they've certainly paid tax on it. Why shouldn't people who leave value to stagnate in savings/houses?"

And he didn't pay tax when he bought it? He will certainly pay tax on it when he dies!

"Hope that made some sense...

*I obviously don't know your father's situation."

It does but I think it is wrong thinking which the politicians are playing on. They point at someone who earns lots of money like a banker and say lets tax them! Which seems fair when they are earning what are obscene amounts of money from normal mortal's points of view. The next step seems to be to point at someone who owns something of value and try to apply the same logic to it. Some people own nice stuff because they were born with a silver spoon. Some people own nice stuff because they get paid silly money. Some people own nice stuff because they don't spend money on anything else. It doesn't seem fair to me and I think it is a slippery slope. I can see the day when we all end up paying it. Then the Wealhty people will own the houses that we rent and can't afford to buy because our incomes will not be big enough to cover the yearly tax. And no amount of saving will give anyone of modest means a route in.

I hope that doesn't sound too ranty. it's difficult to put together a long post in such a small box!

Lloyd Jenkins said...

Hey Dennis:

Thanks for the (not at all “ranty”) reply: the beauty of the JoK blog is the ability to have rational debate rather than trading insults ending inevitably in Godwin's law.

I think you were right about my grouping all 'wealthy' people as one: it doesn't do justice to the real situation where the sources of wealth can justify different treatment. And I think you're right about the dangerous logic being used (she's rich! Let's take her money! Etc) which seems to be pretty irrational. The answer does seem to be to deal with the fairness of taxation at income/purchase and sale/inheritance rather than levying taxes on a diverse group.

But my only point on the homeowner v. wine-and-women might be on the level of tax. Stamp duty is at most 5%, as compared to alcohol*, gambling** and tobacco*** which (I think) tend to be higher. Your defence of 'he paid tax when he bought it!' seems pretty compromised by this. I'm not sure how to meaningfully deal with that: your point about affordability seems to hint that higher stamp duty is undesired, so I'm not really sure...