Sunday, September 24, 2006

The CSI Edition (aka Who Are You?)

Oh, another political blog, quoth you, and with good reason; political blogging is now perhaps the ultimate example of the internet’s greatest flaw, namely that it doesn’t distinguish between the ability to publish something and the merit of publishing it.

So why should you care about the blog of someone whose only claim to political significance is as Chair of Manchester Universities Liberal Democrats? It’s all a matter of membership.

Specifically, Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, like any segment of any political party, is made up of four groups of people.

  1. The Socialites – Those who see political parties, much like the Church of England, more as a social organisation than a religion.
  2. The Careerists – Those who believe a political career is their destiny and whose every action is to that goal.
  3. The Nutters – Those who can’t quite bring themselves to actually be communists and/or fascists.
  4. The True Believers – Those who actually buy the hype and believe their particular party has struck on some deep philosophical truth.

From a policy perspective, the first three groups don’t really matter; the socialites will just drift through life occasionally being helpful, the careerists will assiduously avoid dirtying their hands and the nutters will be usefully active without ever achieving real influence (I mean, it’s not like the Parliamentary Labour Party is chock-full of screaming revolutionaries who think that just because they do a day’s work that somehow means they should get paid, or equally that the 1922 Committee is dominated by Oxbridge-educated Old Etonians who believe in shooting poor people and the extension of slavery to anyone who hasn’t got a knighthood… erm…)

The true believers matter though, particularly in the youth organisation; like it or not, they probably constitute half the people who in twenty years will be leading your party. In the Liberal Democrats it matters rather more, because the party still hasn’t identified what its ideology is; Labour and the Tories have been around so long they figure it doesn’t matter that they’ve ceased to have one.

The reason this blog exists, then, is that most of the current batch of true believers (and certainly the vast majority of those who are sufficiently erudite to matter) in LDYS are, for want of a better word, pure liberals; an eclectic mix of influenced europhiles, barrack-room economists and post-Gulf War II rights of man types. The Liberal Democrats have only ever had one clear ideological identity, so the argument goes, hence the only way to get one back is to reclaim that one.

If I were a cynic (oh wait, I am) I would undoubtedly point out that Labour and the Conservatives don’t have identities either, instead relying on a perverse combination of race memory and collective psychosis (for example, Labour are still left-wing really) and that we can’t escape from that process any more than the egos of Messrs Blair and Cameron can make it so.

Beyond the glibness, however, I would simply declare myself unconvinced by the certainty of chance. I certainly do not believe that the only possible Lib Dem identity is a combination of academic economics, nostalgia for the Liberal Party and the seduction of European Liberalism. On the other hand, while I am in that class of people who would have been members of the SDP back in the day, I’m certainly not looking for another burst of social democracy; if I were I would have joined the party that at least thinks it is social democrat.

Either way, as a youth wing (and indeed as a party generally) the debate has to be real. If nothing else, the purists need to win the argument properly, having explained what they want to do and, more importantly, why it makes the world better. Equally, if any of us want a more pragmatic, less narrow-mindedly liberal solution, we have to fight for it on level terms.

So to start off, this blog; no gossip, no minutiae of life, just some perspectives on issues topical and not. To paraphrase Mr. Spock, “Liberalism is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”


GoodLiberal said...

Nice first post! Look forward to reading more...

Tristan said...

I think we need to be more liberal as a party. There's too much 'woolly thinking' and populism around.

Part of that liberalism however is pragmatism. We don't believe in our own ability to do everything right either, but in letting people govern their own lives and make their own mistakes.

Gavin Whenman said...

A nice Blackadder quote to start off.
Happy blogging Gareth!