First off, as one of the Labour contingent in this I should address the raising of the ‘Old Labour’ appelation. The one thing this is not about is ‘Old Labour’.
What you see in the Parliamentary Party in the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Peter Kilfoyle, Bob Marshall-Andrews and others, is not necessarily reflected in the Labour members who will be working in this coalition.
There is certainly common ground between people like myself and the current Labour ‘rebels’ on civil liberties. It’s easily forgotten, but it has traditionally been the left of the party that has taken the strongest libertarian line in the past – read any of Tony Benn’s work on constitutional matters and you’ll see exactly what I mean – but make no mistake here, this a new generation on the Labour left that’s starting to emerge, one not caught up in mistakes of the past, the biggest of which being the unquestioning acceptance of the Soviet system as ‘socialism’ when it bore little or no relationship to what we understood to be socialism in Britain.
I really don’t want to go too far into matters of ideology – part of what we’re trying to achieve, after all, is to step outside the old economic left-right divide and move the debate to a new axis, that between authoritarian and libertarian – but I suspect this cannot go entirely unaddressed.
So, for the record, what you will see from those amongst Labour ranks who work with this coalition is the emergence of a nascent ‘Rational Left’, the roots of which lie very much in the individualism and libertarian values expressed by George Orwell in his political essays, especially in ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ – oh, and before Conservatives head off, read it and have an attack of the vapours in relation to his comments on economic matters and nationalisation, those views were very much of his time and are, shall we say, noticably dated and of little relevance.
Socialism as was, was the product of the industrial age of the 19th Century and the utopian ideals of those who never really expected to gain power and have their ideas and values put to the test. The task facing the Labour left in the post-Blair era will be to do what he couldn’t, and wouldn’t, and bring the core values of the party into the 21st Century and the realities of a modern post-industrial society – and that’s our task and one that has little or no bearing on this coalition other than to note that that we will benefit the same as everyone else from a new and genuinely democratic constitutional settlement.
Joe asks the question ‘But what are you [the coalition] for?’.
As I’ve said, a new constitutional settlement for the British people, one which, over time, the coalition will work together to define in detail.
Remember this is very early days as yet, and we’re talking principles and identifying key influences, although the combination of Locke, Mill and Paine is a pretty good staring point to which I would add Isaiah Berlin’s work on liberty and pluralism and Montesquieu on the separation of powers.
This is, it has to be remembered, very new – a broad consensus between libertarians on the left and right has emerged and been apparent in the blogosphere for some time but only in the last week have people been saying ‘Hey, maybe we can work together!”.
It will take a while to scope out the boundaries of this new working arrangement, so at this stage it is entirely valid for people on all side of the old political divide to make it clear where their personal boundaries lie – if we all know where we stand from the outset then we should be able to work more effectively together simply because we know clearly what we can work together on.
The overall aim here is to build consensus around a clear package of constitutonal reform and then to push that up the political agenda with the aim of having a Great Reforming Parliament.
Now as I see it, there are two approaches we can take, the route America’s founding fathers, that of careful negotiations leading to measures that are clear, simple and have widespread support, or that taken by the EU which loaded its constitutional treaty with all manner of unconstitutional buy-offs, lock-ins and concessions in an effort to articifically generate support. Look, it’s Jefferson and Franklin or Giscard D’Estang – I know which approach I prefer and which one will deliver what’s needed and it sure as hell didn’t originate in amongst the technocrats in Brussels.
So right now, I have absolutely no problem with the various groupings which make up this coalition stating right out where their boundaries are – this is about liberty not artifically embedding social democracy or free-market capitalism into a constitution; democratic elections will determine which economic route the country takes in future and respective governments will then legislate accordingly, for example a Bill of Rights might well set out a belief in the right of everyone to education from 5 to 16 – that’s fine, but what it shouldn’t and won’t do is set out how that should be delivered. That’s a matter of policy and one on which democratically elected governments should decide according to their mandate.
This isn’t about boosting support for any one party, it’s about setting a clear agenda for constitutional reform which individual parties, MPs and candidates will respond to according to their views and beliefs.
Which rather bring me on to the subject of tactical voting – in and around this there will be some who look, over the next three years, to organise tactical voting against Labour, which is my own party. That’s their choice – this is about liberty after all, so we should practice what we preach – but its not what this coalition is necessarily about.
If we are to look at tactical voting – and I suspect we will – then it will be in a rather more sophisticated way than simply ‘let’s get rid of New Labour’. We need to do the numbers, look at voting records on key liberty issues and see how people respond to the agenda we’re putting forward.
Liberty Central will be about supporting the long game, picking off the authoritarians and supporting the libertarians no matter what party the come from. My own personal view, and this has to be debated by everyone, is that we should consciously stay out constitutencies where the battle, come the next election, is between candidates who support what we’re trying to achieve and let the electorate take its natural course. Where the choice is between a libertarian and an authoritarian then yes, we look at how best to intervene and who we should be advocating that voters support on a case by case basis, but this has to be backed up by research and analysis – there is no point putting our efforts into unwinnable situations nor should we allow ourselved to be conned by candidates who suddenly discover the cause of liberty just in time for the general election. Our aim should be to profile constituencies and individual candidates and decide how we go on the evidence – to make unbiased recommendations based on what we know, not guesswork or rhetoric from party leaders.
It’s a two-pronged strategy. Within individual parties those party members who work with us would, I hope, actively support libertarian candidates and push to get our agenda accepted and supported by those candidates – we have three years to work on this, lets not forget. Come election time, whenever that is, we look at the hand that each party has dealt us in each constituency and make an informed choice as to what line we should take, if we take a specific line at all.
If that leads to organised tactical voting, then that’s where it leads – but that has to come from with the members and supporters of individual parties. I’m a member of the Labour Party, so what business is it of mine to tell Lib Dem or Conservative party members how they should be voting in a general election. As a campaign we will certainly highlight candidates who are notably supportive of our values and those who are clearly against our objectives, but if people want to cut deals on a local level to achieve a specific outcome then that’s up to them to organise and put together in detail.
Let’s put it this way, the last thing a libertarian project is or should be doing is coming over all authoritarian with its supporters.
To those like James and Joe who are suspicious of what we’re doing and where we’re going, what I will say at this stage is, please keep an open mind and give things time to develop. If you’re still not happy with the direction this is taking further down the road, then fine, that’s your choice. If, on the other hand, you change your mind, the door’s open.
This is about liberty, after all, so what else would we be saying but ‘it’s your choice’.