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.
Steam on the Isle of Wight in 1963
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