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Sunday, June 12, 2005


English, British and European

I never thought I'd be endorsing Geoff Hoon. But in an interview in today's Observer, he had this to say on the subject of our identity:

Despite more people travelling and working across the Channel, the argument had 'gone in the wrong direction' since 1975, with scepticism hardening. Yet it should be possible for Britons to feel European too: 'I can support England if they are playing Scotland at football, I will support the British Lions in New Zealand, I will support Europe in the Ryder Cup. The idea that you have got to choose one identity from another is outrageous.'

A basic question from an observer from the states. If Labour is no longer an explicitly socialist party, then what exactly is the ideological distinction between thier party and yours? I'm serious. We on this side of the pond don't have a clue. I know you probably have better things to do, but American political junkies like me are curious.
In reply to Jim O'Sullivan -

There's a simple answer and a complicated one.

The simple answer is that the Liberal Democrats' starting point is the individual and the Labour Party's remains the state.

The traditional linear left-right model doesn't do this topic justice, so, before discussing this any further, please go to the Political Compass website and take the test.

When you've completed the test, look at the grid. Liberal Democrats would be found in the bottom two ("libertarian") quadrants and Labour supporters in the top two ("authoritarian") quadrants. In both cases, they would straddle the left-right divide, being broadly "centrist" in conventional economic terms.

Labour is no longer "socialist" in the sense of wanting state control of industry, but it remains a centralising and statist party, with a poor record on civil liberties. While it has given up wanting to nationalise industry, it is becoming more intrusive in other areas, such as personal health and lifestyle, and in its determination to introduce ID cards.

The Liberal Democrats are stronger on civil liberties, devolution of power and environmental issues, and have a more internationalist outlook. They are not libertarian in the right-wing sense of believing in pure laissez-faire economics, because they are also concerned with achieving social justice. But they would (or should) tend to support solutions that trust people to make political decisions locally, rather than assuming that the central state knows best.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrats' party constitution sums it up:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives."

Of course, there remains the question of whether the Liberal Democrats are true to their ideals. I don't always agree with my own party (the Liberal Democrats), hence the title of this blog and the robust criticisms I've often posted here.

If you are following British politics, you will know that all the main parties' respective positions remain in a state of flux, with a lot of post-election soul-searching going on.

Despite this, I hope this summary answers your question.
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