Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Liberal future

You spy the swallow but it may not yet be summer. The appearance of the swallow offers me a pretext to lay out a grand narrative; even if it provides inadequate support for such a narrative.

I have been wondering for some time if the British people will ever put right the mistakes made a century ago, when the great Liberal Party appeared consigned to oblivion. Tomorrow it seems an opinion poll of the public will suggest that the Liberal Democrat party is now the second party of British politics. The margin is small and the possibility of error large; but it is significant that the third party has overtaken the party of government; and in the present febrile atmosphere of British politics it may be reinforced in the few short days before voting takes place on Thursday.

The Conservative Party intends to gain from the weakness of the socialists; in the immediate future they may well be beneficiaries. But a short period of government will expose their contradictions; even before that happens the public may become heartily fed up of a party whose true soul, whose arrogance towards government is exposed daily.

So I do not say the pendulum will cease to swing. Yet a pendulum that is left alone will swing ever slower and its span will diminish with each cycle.

For while the 20th century played out the last epic struggles between capital and labour, these are not the battles of this century. The British people may still pretend they hate foreigners but their real spirit is liberal; it is liberal to an extent to which I find astonishing and hard to countenance. No matter. The essence of liberalism is that the people can be trusted; for when they are not oppressed, when the constitution is sound, they will live in peace each with the other.

Neither the party of labour, nor the party of the ruling classes has a place in this future. They may to some extent bear the aspirations of sections of the population. Labour lays claim to what is known as "social justice". It claims it helps the poor and even that it, and it alone, can aid the poor to escape from poverty and even from the class to which they were once assigned by birth; the Conservatives will deny this. They will seek to articulate the aspirations of the British people for order, for moral standards.

Yet neither party is fit to undertake these tasks. For each, the true purpose has long been to govern, to be in power and to struggle with each other and within their own ranks for highest office. Their constitutions do not allow people of true worth to flourish within the political realm.

It may be the purpose of a Liberal government, yet again, to dissolve itself and disperse its power, as once the party did by supporting the aspirations of the workers. For too long the British people have clung to two large parties as if to their childhood nanny's skirts. There is a new generation of Britons, sprung from many races, tutored in many schools and universities and articulate in discussion and impatient of those who would patronise them. Having exercised choice in elections, as they will on Thursday, they will wonder why they are denied choice in the greatest election of all, the election for Parliament; they will wonder even more how a collection of scoundrels, toadies, cronies and discredited politicians can now sit in the hallowed chambers of the one-time so glorious House of Lords.

This is both the spirit of liberalism and the essence of reformist liberal politics. Almost daily it seems people seek to form new parties, frequently funded by the very wealthy. These are a conceit and the British public recognise this. Where is the Jury Party or Libertas, even now, where are they?

I will not seek to set out how this great change will be achieved; one would wish those with true care for the future of this great country to support Mr Nick Clegg. For it was the quality of our governments, the virtue and intelligence of our leaders across the country, that made them great, and gave me the privilege of leading a great force for reform.



Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

My Dear Gladstone -

First, may I say I devoutly wish for your prophecy to be fulfilled. Your Kingdom is in dire need of wisdom, competence, and balance. I, like you, see none of those qualities in either Labor or the Tories. My best wishes to the Liberal Democrats in your upcoming elections. This being said, by the way, from someone who would wish for a more vibrant, socially-conscience party of the Left in the United States.

I link to another British blogger who invokes a rich heritage, naming himself after Archbishop Cramner. What I get from reading his blog - and he is full-throated in his support of a Tory victory, with a string of quotes down his sidebar from PMs ranging from Margaret Thatcher to the Younger Pitt and including that arch-failure Stanley Baldwin - is there is a sense of victimization on the Right in Britain equal to if not greater than that same emotion on the American Right. The difference, however, is that liberalism in America is only now beginning to stand on its two feet again after a generation prostrate before conservative politicians. No longer cowering in fear (for the most part), American liberals are both vocal and muscular again, and the right is increasingly unhinged as it flails about in the political and social wilderness. In Britain, however, Conservatives do not have to contend with Labor triumphant, but rather Labor bereft of ideas or political capital, a PM devoid of support even within his cabinet, and no serious legislative agenda other than survival. Poised as it would be between the Scylla of political failure on the one hand, and the Charybdis of institutionalized resentment - religious, class, ethnic - it seems to me that your Liberal Democratic successors have an opportunity. Let us hope the wisdom of the British people, evident most often in times of crisis, rises to the occasion.

Let us also hope a respite from those two spent behemoths of the 20th century, Labor and Tory, allows both to regroup, rethink, and offer at some point in the future new and better ways of governing. For now, I hope as you do that a Liberal Democratic government will be seated in Whitehall.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

Well, it seems that Brown will hang on, even as the Conservatives gain at Labour's expense. I was very sad the chart here that showed the Liberal Democrats actually lost seats and one whole Council.

My question, in light of Labour's loss and my own (admittedly biased) perception of the Tories as a wrung-out rag, is why the Liberal Democrats cannot seem to get a toe-hold. Their via media approach, it seems to me, fits not only the temper of the times; it also navigates between Labour's scandals and the Tory's tendency toward class, and now ethnic and religious, division.

I have also read that Brown will probably last until the next scheduled general election, yet I wonder how that's possible; it might be in the interest of Labour for him to step down and offer the Conservatives an opportunity to form a minority government, then take that to the polls next year. What say you, sir?

WEG said...

My dear sir, I have been studying these matters with some interest tonight. There are some clever professors skilled in modern mathematics who can tell us the true picture. It appears the Conservatives have cleverly manipulated the story by concentrating forces on the remote and beautiful county of Devon, removing some 19 Liberal councillors.

We are told that in total the Liberal vote across England has increased by some three points of the percentage scale, placing the party well ahead of Labour and a mere ten percentage points short of the Conservatives, who have fallen well short of their aspirations and indeed would fail to gain even two fifths of the votes cast, if these professors are to be trusted.

As was stated in my earlier exposition, the pendulum will continue to swing for a little while. I am sure the votes cast for the parliament of Europe will prove equally perplexing when they are counted on Sunday.