Saturday, April 17, 2010

Lib Dems: who's the greatest?

I've been meaning to do a post on party politics for a while now about how parties are generally a utilitarian method for promoting politics you agree with rather than ends in themselves, which are deserving of tribal loyalty - but frankly I've not had the time to think about it properly.

So instead I thought I'd do a short series of posts about people in other parties who I rather admire, despite our differing allegiances. It's a bit of a risk but I do think politics needs to grow up a bit, and not just between election campaigns. I don't think I could trust anyone who cannot admire those that they disagree with. Episode One: the Lib Dems.

David Howarth is the sitting MP for Cambridge and I was genuinely saddened when I heard he was going to step down from Parliament at this election, a decision I still don't understand. Perhaps he just didn't enjoy being an MP?

Regardless of this David had a very good personal reputation in Cambridge and is well liked. He's also been an outspoken advocate of civil liberties. He attended the G20 protests and other events and has been extremely outspoken about the behaviour of the police at these demonstrations.

He was also rather good as Lib Dem energy spokesman where he pushed the party towards an anti-nuclear stance and, every time I lobbied him always left frustrated due to his irritating habit of being in total agreement with greens on environmental issues, even when this put him out of step with the rest of his party.

Always very affable and open minded David Howarth has been a real feather in the collective Lib Dem cap and I really do hope that his decision to step down does not signal his retirement from politics altogether.

My next pick, coincidentally, stood unsuccessfully for the Cambridge seat in 1987 (coming second), she's also a surprising choice in many ways given my view that the formation of the SDP was criminal irresponsibility that condemned us to many dark years of Thatcher.

However, the irony is that although she left Labour because she thought it was too left-wing (yes kids, there was a time when it was possible to think of Labour as a left-wing party) they are now a long way to her right simply because, politically, she has stood firm by what she always believed as they slithered their way into Thatcherism.

One of the characteristics about her that I really admire is her willingness to tell ordinary voters that they are wrong. There's no PR in her politics, just passion. Even when I disagree with her I happen to think it's extremely admirable when politicians are willing to look a voter in the eye and remark "What a stupid thing to say."

These days that kind of honesty, which has no truck with "narrative" or "framing", is in short supply. All power to her elbow.

My last choice continues the Cambridge connection in that he was a member of the Liberal Society at Cambridge University.

More importantly he is someone who is actually on the left of the Lib Dems. Simon Hughes' journey has probably been as personally bruising as it has been politically frustrated.

Intellectually capable and level headed I was reminded of Hughes' talents a little while ago when he was on Newsnight debating how we deal with the BNP with UAF activist Martin Smith. Despite the fact that Smith was attempting to articulate my own position on combating fascism it was impossible to deny that Hughes wiped the floor with him leaving Smith utterly outclassed and floundering.

It says something of the man that Peter Tatchell, who was grievously wronged by Hughes in the 1983 Bermondsey by-election, endorsed his Lib Dem leadership bid, saying "Simon Hughes is the best of the Lib Dem leadership candidates. If I was a party member, he'd get my vote. I want to see a stronger lead on social justice and green issues. Despite his recent drift to the centre, Simon is the contender most likely to move the Liberal Democrats in a progressive direction."

The Lib Dems would be a far more robust and interesting party today had Hughes won that election, but alas, it was not to be.

P.S. obviously you should still vote for Tom Chance in Bermondsey and Old Southwark though.


Adrian Windisch said...

Excellent post. I am surprised at how varied politicians from the same party are.

I hope the LD reciprocate and discuss some top Greens.

David Cox said...

Adrian, Lib Dem Voice did vote Peter Tatchell (non Lib Dem member) ‘Liberal Voice’ of the year, for his fearless defence of human rights -rightly so.

I think Sian Berry (along with Garry Dunion) has been credited by Lib Dems (perhaps not loudly enough) for her leadership on the Boiler Srappage scheme – where she worked with Lib Dem MP Richard Younger-Ross. An extraordinary achievement to get the government to commit to the idea, in a relatively short time; the third occasion the GPEW has got its policy enacted via Lib Dem MPs BTW(sorry had to add that bit).

Jonathon Porritt has addressed Lib Dem conference a few times at Paddy and Norman’s invitation, but I’ve never warmed to him, his membership of OPT troubles me too.

So the truth is we really do like you Greens, but only when you don’t stand against us. However there is an election on so we must say rude things about each other.

Adrian Windisch said...

David, good points about Sian and Peter. Will we see a LD blog about some good Greens, in an election?

If Jim can do it, so can LDs. Defy convention.

IJ said...

No Evan Harris?

Jim Jepps said...

- I don't mind if no one reciprocates, it's not a blog challenge!

- I know people say nice things about Evan Harris, I'm sure he's lovely, but he'd have to be bloody marvelous to beat the three I picked.

David Cox said...

Adrian, I’m quite happy to blog about Greens I admire; however as only my mum reads my blog it would be a fruitless exercise. Nevertheless it might be a good idea if Jim could team up with Lib Dem voice to do something.

Jim Jepps said...

I should point out I'm a unilateralist when it comes to saying nice things and no one should feel under any obligation to reciprocate - after all I didn't write this in response to any LD love bombing or whatever we call it these days...

If LD voice has a proposal I'd consider it - but isn't that the official organ? Surely that would be a step too far for them.

Andrew Hickey said...

Lib Dem Voice are an unofficial thing, and they often have non-party members doing guest posts.