Conspiring with lefties

This evening I attended the launch party of the Liberal Conspiracy, the latest brainchild of Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics fame. Sadly, they didn’t supply us with sparklers or have any of those rubbishy indoor fireworks you used to be inflicted with at children’s parties, but a fun time seemed to be had by all.

As far as I can tell, I was the only Lib Dem there; to what degree I was the only Lib Dem who attended or the only Lib Dem who was invited was not clear, although I understand that a lot of people were at the Hackney Empire.

Sunny’s ambition is to produce nothing less than the hub of the liberal-left. First impression? It includes a lot of people I like and respect, but seems to lean more towards the left than the liberal, and that this is reflected by their ideals as well.

For example, the FAQ states:

You can join in as long as you somewhat share our broad goals and aims (social justice, equality, eradicating poverty etc.)

Where’s the emphasis on liberty? And:

The Labour party may represent the best vehicle for our political goals as they are in power, but our allegiance is towards liberal-left policies and ideas than specific parties.

Sure it may, but it may not. The inference I read in that statement is that the Labour party does represent the best vehicle for the liberal-left. From what I’ve seen so far, the left tail is very much wagging the liberal dog; indeed, their definition of liberalism doesn’t appear to get much more sophisticated that the Nick Cohen-esque critique of it meaning little more than moderate and middle class. Not so much a political philosophy as a belief in the importance of being nice.

The thing is, that’s almost the same definition of liberalism that I’m pretty certain David Cameron is thinking of when he calls himself a liberal conservative.

As for me, I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and am reconciled to the fact that I am leftwing. I’ve been resistant to this, partly because it gets ingrained into you during your Liberal Democrat indoctrination that the party defies such lazy characterisation. At my first LDYS conference, Simon Hughes went on about how the party was “not left, not right, but forward!” I think I’ve heard him make the same speech at least once a year ever since.

Ultimately, equality is a leftwing concept and I believe in equality. As we’ve seen on this blog, it isn’t a concept that is without controversy within the Lib Dems. I plan to be returning to it soon following Andy Mayor’s laying down of the gauntlet this weekend (I have to say that I find it ironic being accused of being a paid up member of the “Church” of Leftology from someone who is demonstrably a member of the long dead cult of Manichaeism*, but that’s par for the course I suppose).

But even someone who is as unforgiveably leftwing in Andy’s eyes as myself believes that in the final analysis equality must always be subordinate to liberty. I wonder if the Liberal Conspirators feel the same way? Is it, in short, really liberalism – left or otherwise – that they really want?

I’m hopeful that they do. Sunny has showed himself to be on the side of liberalism time and again in recent years. If they plan to make progress, the robustness of liberalism will beat the mushiness of moderatism hands down, and we shouldn’t read too much into an FAQ on day one of a project. Lib Dems (of a liberal-left persuasion of course) could do worse than to help them hone themselves, and we know a thing or two about campaigning as well.

* I’m in despair at Lib Dems at the moment who seem determined to dumb down. The response on Lib Dem Voice to Chris Huhne’s interview on GMtv was to crow about his use of the word Gadarene. Many of his sternest detractors were Oxbridge graduate public schoolboys for fuck’s sake.

If you watched that interview unsuspectingly on the telly, I doubt you would even be aware of Huhne making a Biblical reference. I may have my criticisms of Huhne’s campaign and ability to communicate, and I know that to an extent this is Clegg-heads playing games but is it really so outrageous for party leaders to occasionally let it slip that they are rather more widely read than Janet and John?

Plus, nobody laughed at my bacon joke which was frankly fantastic. Philistines**.

** Presumably in Clegg-head Wonderland, that is too elitist a reference as well.


  1. Yeah, meeehhh, I saw this too. For some, clearly, the word liberal just means moderate. I wouldn’t include Sunny in that – and I hope he puts some backs up by not standing for the lefty group identity co-option racket strategy thing, yer know whadda mean.

    Anyway, James, I hate to break it to you. If one “Clegghead” suggesting Gadarene is not TVAM language is enough to send you into despair, you should be warned that there is probably a second one somewhere thinking much the same.

  2. To be honest I worry this ‘liberal conspiracy’ seems to be part of a wider attempt within the Labour movement to try getting liberal voters back or keep them on board after the leadership issue is decided, what with the Fabians telling Brown much the same thing and various other pro-liberal noises they’ve been making lately.

    It’s odd, both the Tories and Labour are fighting for the hearts and minds of liberals and yet ask us what’s we’re for. Surely if we can’t get and keep these voters ourselves then I might ask us the same question.

    I don’t know whether Lib Dems should boycott this site, attempt to take it over. or ignore it until it goes away.

  3. Sunny’s ambition is to produce nothing less than the hub of the liberal-left.

    Give it six months or so, and Sunny will have moved on to some other wheeze. Does he actually have a proper job?

    The Labour party may represent the best vehicle for our political goals . . .

    Then count me out sarge.

    I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and am reconciled to the fact that I am left-wing.

    Eh? Why?

    Ultimately, equality is a left-wing concept and I believe in equality.

    It depends what sort of equality. Equality of outcome is a left-wing (and in my view pernicious) concept. Equality of opportunity is surely the way to go.

    Plus, nobody laughed at my bacon joke which was frankly fantastic.

    I laughed. I just did it in the privacy of my living room.

  4. Good to see you today James. Well, there are a lot of issues to mull over here, but I will clarify (as I did on Iain Dale blogger TV) that I believe more in equality of opportunity than outcome. But Chris Dillow explains on his blog, which I’ve linked, on why liberalism and leftism go together. I don’t want a bloated state either. But I’m not persuaded that classic liberals have all the answers.

  5. I have no problem with someone demonstrating that they are well-educated, and I have no idea where my educational background comes into anything (does ‘Ivy League grad’ get me another rhetorical kicking?), but using an interview on GMTV to make obscure references is not exactly how we should be communicating with the public. If we want to reach out beyond the middle-class iconoclast vote then we will have to speak in language that everyone understands, showing that there are real faces behind these statistics, and demonstrating real empathy. ‘Clegg-head’ or no, Clegg is much, much better at communicating simply. Both struggle to ‘feel your pain’ when meeting voters, from what I can see though.

  6. Stumbling and Mumbling is involved and he’s definitely a liberal in my book.

    This is just the continuation of the perversion of the meaning of liberal though, its coming to mean moderate and wanting to be nice to homosexuals and ethnic minorities.

    BTW I do consider myself to be broadly on the left (stop laughing) – most of my thinking started from concern for the poor and equality of opportunity and a sense of injustice in the world. I just see the state as the main enemy not business.

  7. As far as this ‘Gadarene’ thing is concerned – surely it doesn’t matterwhether the viewere understands the reference to the Gadarene, but whether they undertsood the point Huhne was making.

    Many people haven’t the first clue about what a petard actually is, but they understand what being hoist on your own one means.

  8. Indeed, Sam, and Huhne’s context is clear. It took Chris Huhne less than a second to utter the word, yet people like Simon have now been obsessing about it for hours – assuming that the hoi polloi will be avidly reading transcripts of political programmes in the same way he does. Which of the two do you think has the worse understanding of basic human communication?

  9. RFK didn’t just reference the poem and assumed that everyone would know what he meant, he read it out. Indeed that speech is one of my favourites of all-time- the video is on YouTube by the way and is well worth watching.

    And I have not spent ‘hours’ obsessing over Huhne’s obscure use of language. If anything, I found it pretty amusing actually, but my first reaction was ‘What??!’ and I imagine that many people felt the same way. Apparently you are ‘in despair’, so perhaps you are the one obsessing too much?

    As for ‘hoisting by your own petard’, this is fine, but is hardly best practice anyway. If you won’t take my communications skills as worth anything, perhaps you’ll take one of the finest writers in English’s? George Orwell criticised journalists’ lazy use of cliche that no one understands and uses it as an example of something to avoid:

    One of my classes at grad school was taught by one of the communications directors who worked for Hillary in the White House, and her pet obsession was ‘Senator-ese’ and the way that it alienates people from the political process. I am sure she would have had a hernia if Joe Biden started talking about a ‘Gadarene rush to neo-endogenous growth theory’!

    But then Orwell was a ‘public schoolboy’ so I guess we can dismiss him with the ad hominem inverted snobbery card!

  10. I think you misunderstood (or are choosing to misunderstand) my public schoolboy jibe. It isn’t your critics who are guilty of inverted snobbery, it’s you.

  11. At Conference in the Governance debate I quoted Pericles, which seemed to go down quite well from where I was standing (at the podium).

    Simon- it doesn’t matter if you use the odd term that isn’t understood by everyone. It’s better than dumbing down to the lowest common denominator, which people see as patronising. People will respect the speaker as educated more than they will be object to him.

    I must say, having seen both candidates speak about 3 times in the last few weeks I noticed more “educated” words from Nick than from Chris.

    I agree what you say about Senator-ese, by which I take it you mean those stock, often jargonistic, phrases politicians use to fill the void of their ignorance. But I don’t think either leadership candidate is guilty of that.

    As for snobbery, a leadership race between John Cleese, Ronnie Barker, and Ronnie Corbett would be quite entertaining. If that needs explaining there is no hope at all…

  12. In the 1980s there was a libertarian left, which on top of believing in greater equality also believed in civil liberties, feminism, ecology, gay rights, and multiculturalism.
    They have been made homeless by New Labour, and have been lost ever since. However these opinions also were widely held in the Liberal party back then, who hated Thatcherism and would have really preferred a left of centre coalition to a right of centre one.
    Personally I thought that a left of centre coalition with Robin Cook at the forefront would be a very attractive option. Now he is dead, there seems little scope for that now. I do not relish a coalition with either party, but it is urgent that the Lib Dems get their policy through government somehow.

  13. One last comment and then I think I’ll leave this topic alone for a while.
    James- thank you. I have never been called an inverted snob before. I will now attempt to squeeze those inside the NLC until the pips squeak!

    Anthony- thanks for your thoughtful comments. I don’t think that there is any problem with quoting anyone, even scripture. The test of good English as identified by Orwell, and endorsed by no less than me!, is whether it is understandable by those who it is aimed at, and whether it is precise. You can quote from Pericles, Upton Sinclair or Trevor Kavanagh for all I care, as long as it conveys what you are trying to convey. The problem with ‘Gadarene’ was not that it was obscure, but that it obscured. The best answer to me so far was that the context meant that most people probably understood what he was saying anyway. Fine. But it seems that some people were left slightly puzzled and that his use of the word wasn’t ideal. If he said that political parties were like ‘the pigs possessed by demons running off the end of the cliff in the Bible story’ then he would be making the same reference but people would know what he was talking about. That’s the key difference between your quoting of Pericles, and RFK’s recital of Aeschylus, and this.
    Anyhow, you post something as an amusing aside and you get a broadside from James Graham, next thing you know…etc etc.
    Anyway, now I am going to lead a Gadamene rush to never hear or use the term again….

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