About this continual series of statements that the Lib Dems are a party of the left. That the great tragedy of British politics has been the splitting of the left in this manner leaving the Tories to win power with a minority so often.
I really get rather confused when people tell me that Orange Book Lib Dems like Clegg are on the left. It\’s true in one way and simply not so in another very important manner.
The OB crowd are possibly the closest to classical liberals we have in British politics today. Now as a classical liberal myself I agree that historically we\’ve been on the left of British politics. We want the poor to be richer, we can see that Government can indeed aid in making things better, we really are liberal, progressive and radical.
But there\’s another meaning of \”left\” in Britain. A meaning that almost doesn\’t exist in such countries as the Nordics which are, to some extent, leftier than us and also as or even more successful (depending upon how you view \”success\”).
This secondary meaning of \”left\” relies not upon desired outcomes, that poor getting richer, fluffy kittens and baa lambs for all. But upon the processes by which society should run. A very deep suspicion of markets (vide, Neal Lawson\’s continual and extraordinarily stupid comment that \”markets create winners and losers\”), a similar deep suspicion of business, of capitalism, of individualism. Added to a near perfect ignorance of really rather important points like tax incidence (\”Companies must pay their fair share\” in just about any Guardian piece you care to mention, entirely ignorant of the way in which companies don\’t actually pay taxes.) For this left a good outcome (say, a growing economy leading to the poor getting absolutely richer) is less important than the structure of the tax system so that companies are highly taxed (nominally, see incidence) while consumption is lowly taxed. Something which leads to a not growing economy. Which is why the Nordics, who largely follow the classical strictures of economics about taxation, low capital and corporate taxes and high consumption taxes, are able to have growing economies and also large amounts of redistribution.
We can\’t do that because that certain part of the left insists that we should have high capital and corporate taxation…regardless of whether this allows growth to continue so as to continue to make things better for all.
In this second sense of \”left\” the OB Lib Dems are most certainly not of the left. They\’re of the right: do what is necessary to get the economy right, use markets wherever possible, get the economics of taxation correct and then, if desired, start redistributing. As opposed to this \”left\” desire to not use markets, ignore the economics of taxation and use the structure and restrictions on the economy to get to the desired economy.
This isn\’t, I agree, how left and right is usually seen. But it is a very strong distinction in British politics. Those who are left by results (including me) and those who are left by processes. And the OB\’s are simply not left in that second sense.
All of which means there\’s a possible surprise in the future. Assume that the election does play out as currently the polls say it might. We\’ll get PR. And parties will split at that point. And I have a very strong feeling that we\’ll end up with not, as some seem to think, a permanent centre left majority ruling us. What currently calls itself the left, those left by process, will find themselves entirely marginalised as a rump on the left of the political spectrum. The centre, the ruling heft, will be those who may or may not be left by result but who are at least result orientated. Leading to a lot more of what is currently considered \”right\”…markets, consumption not capital or corporate taxation and so on.
Something which, if I\’m honest, is to be greatly desired. Now all we\’ve got to do is wean the Lib Dems off their insane infatuation with the EU and we\’re home and dry.