Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Liberalism and the individual

Two thoughts occurred to me after reading Gordon Lishman's article on Liberal Democrat Voice, both relevant to the last election.

First, because we know what we stand for (rather more than the other parties' followers seem to do), we tend to believe that the general public does too. It's what could be thought of as the Rolls-Royce mindset; we don't need to advertise our virtues because everybody knows what liberalism entails. It is clearly not true, and it should be recalled that Marks & Spencer used to think the company was above advertising until a succession of poor financial results caused the stock market to force a change of management and a change of direction.

Then, as Gordon points out in his conclusion

Liberals have written about the politics of identity. A person’s identity can be shaped by race, sex, sexual orientation or disability, and as we go through life by age, religion or the lack of it, community and work. Despite that, they are not defined by those things; they are people first and disabled or gay or young or anything else second. It’s why some of us have campaigned for years against defining people by adjectives: the young, the old, the mentally, the disabled……. Basically, we are all individuals, not part of a class or nation or group.
As with class or national characteristics, liberals occasionally slip into sloppy thinking about groups rather than individuals. After weeks of hearing “I vote Labour because I’m working class” or “I vote Conservative because I don’t like Scots”, it’s difficult not to dismiss some groups as beyond salvation. But for a liberal, no-one is beyond the hope that they can see themselves as a strong, independent person in their own right.
We have no core of class or other group identity to all back on. Our vote has always depended on rational decisions rather than emotion. Our new leader is going to have to keep that rationale before the public or the Liberal Democrats will not recover from this year's setback as we did in 1997.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

See also a sobering thought from that old cynic HL Mencken embedded in this blog entry.