Movement of Moderates?

7 September 2018


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Cable's Reforms of LibDems are Risky


Sir Vince Cable, leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats, has said he will stand aside after the Brexit debacle is stopped or otherwise resolved. In a speech earlier today, he outlined three reforms of the LibDems he would like to see in place before he departs for a well-deserved retirement. They have a certain liberal appeal and make some political sense a first blush, but serious thinking on these matters suggests that these reforms are not risk-free. Indeed, the risks may overwhelm the potential benefits.

The first change Sir Vince wants is to open up the party to new members. No politician in the world wants fewer supporters, so the question at hand is what one does to achieve it. He wants a new class of LibDem supporter who is free to vote in the leadership contests and "shape the party's campaigning online." In his speech, he recognized the dangers of other groups infiltrating the party for its own ends. Sir Vince said, "We have to be careful but we cannot be afraid of opening windows lest a few flies get in. In any case, the Liberal Democrats are different." The American Democrats and Republicans tend operate in most states along these lines. One is a member of either party just by saying so. The result is actually a weaker party structure, and the party brand tends to be auctioned off to the most effective outsider who takes over the apparatus. Donald Trump won the White House with this kind of arrangement.

Since the LibDems are down to 12 MPs from 57 after the 2010 election, the idea of letting non-MPs lead the party has some appeal. Eventually, the leader would have to win a seat in order to function as a true party leader in a parliamentary system. He said, "Certainly if the person is to become prime minister that has to happen, and one of things that is part of our consultation is how we manage that process." This journal sees no harm in choosing a leader from a broader membership and then putting that person into the House. In fact, it might lead to better leaders given the broader talent pool available this way. Of course, entryism remains the risk.

Third, Sir Vince suggested that new members could stand in elections as LibDems immediately rather than going through the current 12-month probationary period. Again, this seems wise on the surface, but image 20 pro-Europe Tories deciding to leave the Conservative Party and taking the LibDem whip. Would it still even be the Liberal Democratic Party at that point?

The Liberal Democrats are still trying to detoxify their brand after going into the 2010 coalition with the Tories. They have much work to do yet. They could form a major bulwark against the national-fascists who are on the march across the US and Europe.

Sir Vince said, "Liberal democracy itself is under threat notably in the USA, in eastern Europe and perhaps here. Authoritarians and extremists of both right and left are on the march and are coordinating their tactics and propaganda: an illiberal international."

He added, "The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party concerned with extreme-left entryism or a right-wing party trying to keep out extreme right-wingers. We are a centre ground, pro-European, liberal and social democratic party, welcoming like-minded supporters. This will be a movement for moderates."

The idea is right. The slogan is awful. Who wants to die on the barricades for moderation? The LibDems are good at radical ideas (the radical center), and the coming campaign needs to reflect just how dire things are. Barry Goldwater is not the kind of person usually quoted in an effort to advise the Liberal Democrats but one thing he said is apt, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue." Sir Vince needs to translate that into British political terms if he wants to restore the party and the movement's fortunes.

© Copyright 2018 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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