This blog collects perspectives on the election you won't find anywhere else, by political experts, based in the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The Nice Party Turns Nasty?

In her foreword to the Green Party manifesto, Caroline Lucas suggests that the Liberal Democrats have dumped their positive attitude towards government intervention, in favour of the view that ‘the state is a problem’. The ‘nice party’, she writes, ‘have just got nastier’.

The implication that the party has abandoned its cuddly social liberalism in favour of a mean-minded economic liberalism is intended as a slight, but will be music to the ears of many Lib Dems.

Not least among these will be David Laws, who has been arguing for some time that his party’s economic liberal tradition has been suffering from benign neglect. In the opening chapter of The Orange Book, published in 2004, Laws wrote that between the 1930s and the 1980s the old Liberal Party had embraced ‘forms of soggy socialism’ at the expense of a commitment to ‘free market principles’. The Liberal Democrats now had to reclaim those principles.

If the Lib Dems of 2010 seem ‘nastier’ than their predecessors, one might think, it can only be because Laws’ project to restore economic liberal values to their rightful place has succeeded.

One might think that – but one shouldn’t, for two reasons. First, because you cannot reclaim something that you never lost. Although the party certainly did experiment with ‘soggy socialism’, the Liberals never dispensed with economic liberalism in the way that Laws suggests.

Through the 1950s and beyond the party provided a political home for numerous economic liberals – not just sometime leader Jo Grimond, but also figures like Arthur Seldon and Alan Peacock – many of whom played a significant role in shaping Liberal thought.

Publications like The Unservile State and Radical Alternative, although now long forgotten, show the clear imprimatur of these economic liberals.

Second, because any reassertion of ‘nasty’ economic liberalism that has taken place has not obviously dampened the party’s commitment to ‘nice’ social liberalism. The Liberal Democrat manifesto is more explicitly redistributive than its Labour or Conservative counterparts, and reveals an obsession with fairness which borders on the pathological.

Although the party may no longer have the headline-grabbing tax policies of 1997 or 2005 – no penny for education, no fifty pence rate for the highest earners – it is no less socially liberal for their absence. A pledge to cut tax for the poorest is arguably more progressive than a pledge to raise tax for the richest – though, as it happens, present Lib Dem policies would do both of those things.

None of which is to say that a Liberal Democrat government would be ‘nice’. Whichever party is in government after May 6th is going to be forced to make cuts, and Nick Clegg has already signalled his intent to be as ‘savage’ as the situation demands. But there is no reason to believe that the Lib Dems are any ‘nastier’ than they ever were.

Matthew Francis

1 comment:

  1. The most widely used and industry accepted means of analysing website popularity in terms of ranking based on internet traffic, is using the website

    It could be viewed as the largest internet based poll, as it simply refers to website hits. Alexa is owned by Amazon and collects "cookies" from millions of websurfers from around the world.

    It is able to categorise these visitors by country as it recognises the physical location of IP addresses.

    In my own business, we have been using Alexa for more than 5 years as a means of judging the internet presence of competitors.

    I have just analysed the rankings of the 5 main political parties in the UK and was completely amazed by the results.

    Here is the ranking from page 1 for all UK websites

    To be clear, in the UK, ranks as number 1, and ranks as number 2 etc etc.

    The site with the highest combination of visitors and pageviews is ranked #1 in each country.

    The following figures are for each of the political parties (as of today) and reflect the ranking, from UK surfers, based on visitors and pageviews over the last 3 months.

    1) BNP 761

    2) Lib Dems 807

    3) Conservatves 896

    4) Labour 1066

    5) UKIP 2956

    One might have expected the traffic of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat websites to be broadly similar to each other.
    Even the UKIP ranking is not particularly surprising.

    However, the ranking of the BNP website as the most highly trafficked UK party political website is just incredible.

    None of the pollsters or political journalists in the UK have even started to understand that the BNP is attracting so much interest from British surfers ( in the comfort of their own homes.)

    It seems very likely to me that there are large numbers of Conservative voters who are so fed-up with the Labour Party's record of unrestrained immigration and all of its effects on UK society, that they want to hear something much more convincing that the Conservative policy to-date. It is clear from the disproportionate interest in the BNP website that the "Political correctness" of the Conservative Party is potentially losing a large number of votes.

    David Cameron has a huge opportunity in the next 8 days, unbeknown to the other parties, to try to woo and win back to the Conservative Party, this tacit and flirting interest in the BNP from British web-surfers/voters who would have voted Conservative in the past. This obviously has to be done with great sensitivity so as not to alienate voters in the centre of the political spectrum.

    I believe that this will put a clearer marker in the sand for the Conservative Party and will put the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties on the backfoot and may attract 2-3% more support for the Conservative Party.


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