Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Liberal legacy: a definition of the politics of hope

In the light of the recent reversals of political fortune, consolation comes in the form of the philosophical underpinnings of public life, or alcohol.  Having exhausted the latter, I was idly trawling the net for inspiration - and unearthed the principles that inspired me to join the Liberal Party thirty years ago.  I am indebted to the following link for reminding me as to why they stand the test of time: https://liberalconstitution.wordpress.com/2-2/.

For a document that is thirty-five years old, it sets out very rigorously what politics should be about, with a heady dash of utopianism in the internationalism that was courageous in the context of the Cold War and which should, despite the xenophobia and narrow-mindedness that we appear to be returning to, inform the dialogue of current politicians and opinion-formers.  In claiming to lead, we should expect government to demonstrate not merely responsiveness to the nebulosity of "public opinion" but also to the moral and positional superiority that they claim.

It would be naive to expect that there will be any serious attention given to political principles in the inquests that will follow the Liberal and Labour implosions, but without defining what progressive politics is supposed to be about it will be yet another missed opportunity based around electoral calculation rather than creating a force that can root itself in the optimistic camp, rather than leaving the coherence and clarity to a Tory force that defines itself through fear, loathing and a narrow focus on economic and societal conformity.

In some ways, the challenge is going to be greatest for the Labour party in the months to come.  It should have succeeded in advancing in England, but its manifest failure comes as a function of arrogance that there is an axiomatic return to the pendulum of politics - a myth and one which should have been laid to rest in the 1990s and 2000s.  Labour is not a party that currently has any coherence or collective passion, mirroring the Tories in a cynical but ultimately parodic pursuit of power, and unless there is an injection of vision and values, this will condemn them to further marginalisation.

In a post-industrial world, and a world defined as much by communities (local, virtual and wider) and technology, a politics based on using and celebrating this diversity is probably the only way forward for those of us who are still looking for a balanced, sustainable society.  It may not be any of the conventional parties who offer this vision, but as a starting point for community politics, seizing the initiative and the political space for a post-austerity vision, the "left" should not be too proud about remembering that the progressive dilemma is decades-old, and that there have been fewer concise expressions of radicalism and humanity than the old Liberal constitution.

Delete the party references, and there is a basis for, with suitable updating, the formation of a radical politics for the next thirty years:

Preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Party (1980 edition)

1. The Liberal Party exists to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property, and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its chief care is for the rights and opportunities of the individual, and in all spheres it sets freedom first.
2. It looks forward to a world in which all people live together in peace under an effective and democratically constituted World Authority; in which all people enjoy access to the earth’s abundance; in which the various cultures of mankind can develop freely without being warped by nationalist, racial or religious antagonism; and in which the free movement of ideas, of people and of goods is guaranteed to the benefit of all. To these ends it sees this country as committed to supporting and strengthening the United Nations, to working steadfastly for the eventual abolition of national armies and armaments, to co-operating with other countries to build a United Europe, and to making a special effort together with other richer nations towards assisting that part of mankind whose essential freedoms are denied by poverty and hunger. It welcomes the establishment of links with other countries insofar as such groupings advance these Liberal aims.
3. At home its goal is a country in which the powers of the State will be used to establish social justice, to wage war against poverty, to spread wealth and power, to ensure that the country’s resources are wisely and fully developed for the benefit of the whole community, and to create the positive conditions which will make a full and free life possible for all regardless of colour, creed, race or sex; a country in which, under the protection of law, all citizens shall have the right to think freely, to speak freely, to write freely, and to vote freely; power through a just electoral system to shape the laws which they are called upon to obey; autonomous institutions ensuring genuine self-government; an effective voice in deciding conditions in which they live and work; liberty to buy, sell, and produce in circumstances which secure for the consumer real freedom of choice; guarantees against the abuse of monopoly, whether private or public; opportunity to work at a fair wage; decent homes in a varied and attractive environment; good education and facilities for the full cultivation of the human personality; an assurance that the community shall enjoy the full benefits of publicly created land values; and, as a safeguard of independence, the personal ownership of property by all citizens. These are the conditions of liberty, which it is the function of the State to protect and enlarge.
4. The Liberal Party consists of men and women working together for the achievement of these aims.

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