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Liberal Democracy

by Iain Donaldson on 25 July, 2019


Yesterday’s appointment of Prime Minister Johnson, and the cabinet he has chosen, marks a significant shift in the axis of British Politics from the left-right of the past 70 years to a liberal-authoritarian agenda.

For over seventy years British Politics operated on a left-right axis between the democratic socialism of the Labour Party and the one-nation liberal wing of the Conservative Party. Both Parties had their authoritarian wings, but they were not the dominant force in either party and so liberal values remained at the heart of British politics.

That balance began to change with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. The party shifted from the broad Labour movement of the past 70 years to a narrow socialist ideology with which even many of its own MP’s find themselves unable to agree. The inherrent difficulty with that comes when people who agree with 80% of what the Labour party stands for find themselves ostracised because of the 20% of their views where they disagree. Those people find themselves politically homeless.

Yesterday the Conservative party moved into the same space at the other extreme of the political spectrum with Boris Johnson’s election as it’s leader. If you heard Prime Minister Johnson’s acceptance speech yesterday then what was noticable was that whilst the headlining speech patterns of the tabloids remained, there was no bluster or bravado. This was not the persona of Boris the clown but rather a man who, possibly for the first time, was able to speak his own mind.

The Conservative tradition in Government has historically been to harness the best talents from across the party around the cabinet table, yesterday that changed as Prime Minister Johnson surrounded himself with people who owe their position entirely to him. This is not a Government of all the talents but rather a narrow group of sychophants with no capacity to disagree with their Leader.

Both the former parties of Government which had for 70 years managed to maintain a broadly liberal consensus in the country are now led by a narrow clique of authoritarians who are excluding the more liberal minded in their parties. What had been a broadening gap on the Left of British politics is now a gaping cavity at the heart of our political system.

The rise in support for the Liberal Democrats in the past few months has been about much more than Remain versus Leave, it is has been about people moving their political allegiance in significant numbers as a result of the visible shift of the Labour and Conservative parties towards narrow authoritarianism on both the left and right of British Politics, excluding the more liberal in our society.

The broad Liberal movement first championed by Joe Grimmond is now amassing around a different Jo, a new Liberal Democrat leader for a new Liberal revival. Over a hundred and fifty years ago the Peelite Tories, the Radicals, the Chartists and some Whigs united to form the Liberal Party. Its aims were to challenge ignorance, poverty and conformity and to champion liberty, justice and democracy. Today that Liberal movement is needed now more than ever.