Tuesday, 5 March 2013

What are the Liberal Democrats for?

Some commentators, mostly Labour supporters it has to be said, have taken to asking this question. The fact that it is easier to find out what the Liberal Democrats are for than it is to discern a purpose in the other two national parties is touched on by Peter Black but even more comprehensively answered by Julian Huppert I trust he will not object to my reproducing most of his article:

25 years ago, our party agreed its new constitution – and the preamble to that constitution, setting out our core values and vision.


What struck me when I read it, was both how much I agreed with it, and also how much it is still relevant. Sure, a couple of phrases are a bit clunky, and we’d probably say a bit more about climate change – but the importance of the environment is still mentioned. We talked about well-being before it was fashionable, and kept talking about workplace democracy when no one else did.

25 years on, it is still a well-written, clear, positive vision of what we stand for. A great tribute to the writers of the time!

It also sets us apart from the other parties, who quite pointedly don’t start with a statement of values, but of power and existence.

Let’s take Labour – there was much debate around clause 4 and Blairism – but I think the key to understanding the Labour Party is seen in Clause 1, the very beginning of their constitution. Here it is:

— Clause1 – Name and Objects 1 This organisation shall be known as ‘The Labour Party’ (hereinafter referred to as ‘the party’). Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party.

2 The party shall give effect, as far as may be practicable, to the principles from time to time approved by party conference. —

The purpose of the Labour party is … wait for it … for there to be a Labour party! Clause 1.2 then admits it should try at least a bit to have some principles, but that is clearly secondary to the main purposes of existence and power. I think this says quite a lot about New Labour and Blairism.

The Tory constitution is rather hard to find, and is also rather self-referential. It starts:

Part 1 – Name, Purpose, Objects and Values

1 This is the constitution of a political party which shall be known as ‘The Conservative and Unionist Party’ (referred to in this Constitution as ‘The Party’)

2 Its purpose is to sustain and promote within the Nation the objects and values of the Conservative Party.

I’m proud that we start with a statement of values, rather than a statement of existence. We went into politics to achieve things, to make things better, to help people – not for power or political might.

But to build the free, fair and open society of our ambitions, to safeguard it, and to free people from their tripartite enslavements, we have to be able to actually do something about it. Our preamble quite rightly doesn’t encourage us merely to argue our values – but to try to deliver them as best we can. Let’s hope we are in a position to do so more often in the next 25 years.

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