Too rarely these days does anything come along in politics and make me laugh. The Economist did recently, in an almost friendly piece about the LibDems.
‘Cockroaches’, with their knack of survival, was how Tim Farron described his party after their success (to which it’s grown thoroughly unaccustomed in recent years) in the local elections earlier this month.
The Economist commented:
‘The wide ideological vote that has opened up between Labour and the Conservatives may make a vote for the LIbDems seem risky at the next election. …This leaves the LibDems with a dilemma. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Douglas Adams described a planet on which lizards ruled over people, even though it was a democracy. People repeatedly voted for lizards because otherwise “the wrong lizard might get in”. The LibDems offer another way: forget the lizards, vote for cockroaches instead.’
Douglas Adams rules.
At least that new ‘cockroach’ identity hides the word ’liberal’, which has been pilloried of late. Establishment liberals, free-market liberals, neo-liberals… any kinds of liberal. All pilloried. Let’s instead have state capitalism, Hungary-style, or China, for that matter – a strong leader trumps all. Or a populist leader, which is pretty much the same thing.
On the other hand … liberalism, in this country at least, has by tradition been associated with enterprise and social justice, working together. It had, and I believe still has, a clear focus. Think back to the great Liberal reforming administration which took office in 1906. There’s every benefit in re-establishing ourselves firmly in that tradition – 110 years on. Re-inventing, re-asserting the old label.
The Economist in the same issue has a review of an ‘arresting manifesto’ which it suggests might ‘help jolt liberals out of their hand-wringing, and shape a new line of market-oriented thinking’. There’s a wealth tax at its heart, with each individual declaring his or her own wealth, and being taxed on what they declare.
I for one am not wringing my hands. But I am looking for new ways of holding money to account. Wealth and/or property taxes might be part of that. So too can be making a clear distinction between wealth creators and wealth extractors – the massed array of middle men extracting value up the chain.
The rise of populism, Trumpism, the spectre of Brexit have focused our minds. But could this be no more than one of those jolts to the system – shocks if you will – by which capitalism moves ever onward? Capitalism with, more than ever, the social dimension uppermost. We have no choice but to make it work, and make it work for everyone.
So let’s put aside the hand-wringing. Recruiting a few new cockroaches would help. The headbangers to our left and right may yet drive the more reticent in our midst out into the open.
We can be old-style liberals, or new-style liberals (never neo-liberals). Pursuing as ever the hard work of making politics work for everyone, bringing together enterprise and social justice, opportunity and compassion. Yes, we need to hang on to the name, no guilt, no hand-wringing, no apologies – for what else can we call ourselves?