Saturday, 28 May 2011

After a couple of decades of the 'New Right' are Cameron's Conservative party actually philosophical conservatives?

Let it first be made clear that this blog defines philosophical conservatives as those who follow the Burke-Oakeshott line of thinking and is specifically not those members of the new right who are vehemently ideological.

The question of what is Cameron's philosophy seemed to rise a lot in the early days after his leadership election victory, Cameron spoke of compassionate and civic conservatism and people analysed it; like in this interesting Prospect article:

For this blog that excited philosophical analysis has not stopped, the notion of the 'Big Society' being the new plaything. To have a Conservative party leader extolling something that could be taken to mean support for mutuals and co-operatives is a good thing for this blog's own political stance. Furthermore the compassionate conservatism and 'Big Society' theme of this government are a welcome reprieve from the Thatcher and Reagan school.

This blog does not think that the new Conservative party way of thinking is based on the intrinsic value of mutuals, it is might actually be a rather clever return to the roots of traditional philosophical conservative thinking. Traditionally post-Burkean conservative theorists only adopted support for capitalism because it fitted in with their Burkean view that institutions and the economy do better when allowed to naturally evolve because no man or group of men can design something as well as thousands of years of organic development.

The 'founder' of modern conservatism, Michael Oakeshott, then married Burke and these 19th century ideological tendencies into one theory. This is that conservatives are rationalists, pruning institutions and governments of their bad parts and letting the other parts evolve organically. This organic evolution explains conservatives support for laissez-faire capitalism, non-codified laws (Von Savigny originally) and their opposition to revolutions based on abstract concepts of justice and equality.

This blog believes that the 'Big Society' fits in coherently with this type of conservatism, the 'Big Society' would mean letting public services evolve naturally in society. They would be separated from top-down intervention based on abstract ideals and the belief in mans ability to instantly construct something complex well.

This blog does not support Burkean conservatism because this blog is ideological and does believe in abstract ideals, primarily freedom. However, this blog does much prefer this philosophical conservatism to Thatcherism, the New Right and class based conservatism. That is not to say that this blog believes these types of conservatism are not alive and kicking within the Conservative party and its policies.

A Radical Liberal's Perspective concludes by applauding Oliver Letwin and David Willetts specifically. for raising the standard of political debate in this country slightly with the reintroduction of philosophically conservative concepts.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Long live Committees! Why Clegg's NHS intervention is good for democracy.

A Radical Liberal's Perspective is going to issue a vague general rule here, something this blog will avoid doing too often, it is that: the longer a bill is debated and evidence from experts is brought in, the better the bill will become. This might seem like nonsense, either you agree with a bill or you don't; there can't be a 'good' bill. Well obviously there can, this blog disagrees strongly with Blair's Terrorism Act but it also resents the poor quality of the bill. The bill has allowed councils to use it to snoop on their residents for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with terrorism, this was never the intention of the bill and so it must be concluded that it is a poor bill.

There was one small constitutional reform that Blair's government did that amazingly actually did strengthen the Commons. They reformed the committee reading stage, changing the stage from 'standing committees' to 'public bill committees'. The change was not just cosmetic though, MP's in these committees are now allowed to take evidence from experts on the bills they are discussing, a fairly obvious and simple change.

A Radical Liberal's Perspective believes that strong parliamentary committees are a good thing. The committee stage of a bill is a very important point where serious discussion and reform of a badly written bill can take place. Clegg referring the NHS bill back to the committee stage is a good example of sensible democracy. The bill clearly has not got a mandate from the floor of the house to go to a vote yet, there is no where near a consensus on what should be in it from either side. Under this countries last government this blog is fairly sure that the idea of sending a bill through any part of parliament twice would be seen as heresy.

A Radical Liberal's Perspective concludes that respecting parliament and respecting the stages of consideration a bill goes through is ultimately very good for democracy in this country and is a step on the long road to a parliament that can hold our executive to account properly, so for this tiny constitutional symbolic gesture; we applaud Clegg.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The AV referendum shows we have two conservative parties in the UK

That long fabled phrase 'the progressive majority' is used often to justify three things (implicitly and explicitly):

1) The Lib Dems/Greens/Plaid Cymru are just offshoots of Labour and someday will join back to create an unassailable party of the left.

2) People in the UK are instinctively left wing and therefore the 'Welfare State' can never be challenged.

3) The Conservative party is in the process of a very long period of decline, leading from the 18th century into the modern period.

The 1st is a peculiarly British trait because of FPTP of only seeing two sides to any argument. In our universities liberalism is recognised as a distinct ideology but on the national political scene there is only left or right. In fact, most Western European countries manage space in their political sphere to fit two Liberal parties in (e.g. The Netherlands: VVD and D66) and successful Green parties!

The 2nd is based on the assumption that the public's voting in of Labour in 1945 and the subsequent creation of the 'Welfare State' can never be challenged and has a mandate to exist until the end of time.

The 3rd is just patently not true, the 20th century was the century of the Conservative party (in statistical terms) and the 21st has started off with a big band for the right again. This kind of leftish thinking has been around for eternity, the Jacobins found that even beheading all of the monarchist conservatives just led to finding new conservatives within their own faction.

So what role does the AV referendum play in this? Well I was an activist on that campaign from early on, we pretty much thought it was a shoe-in. The left would support us, the centre would support us and we would only be opposed by that conservative minority on the right. Of course we expected conservatives within the Labour party (John Reid, David Blunkett, etc) to team up with the Conservative party itself but fundamentally we viewed the Labour party as an anti-conservative party.

This was clearly not the case, Labour voters either voted to punish Clegg or to just keep the status-quo for status-quo's sake. Which ever of these reasons, neither are derived from anti-conservative thinking. In fact what we found was that the only 'constitutional progressives' were those on the fringes of the Labour party (think social democrats and socialists) and those liberals who could get off their high horses about STV.

So why do I think we might have two conservative parties not just the Conservative's. Well, look at the formation of the Labour party. Whereas in most of Europe the main party of the left was formed by Fabianesque intellectuals, our left wing party was formed by a conglomeration of trade unions broadly supported by intellectuals. The very name 'Labour party' is a hint, its a party purely concerned with representing a certain classes interests. Just as the Conservative party protects the middle classes and above, the Labour party formed directly as a delegation of the working class.

Subsequently, we find ourselves one hundred years later with two main parties who fight for their supporters economic interests, they don't adopt a clear ideology or 'fair' way of thinking and seek to apply it to everyone, they just punch very hard for their corner.

So A Radical Liberal's Perspective concludes that the AV Referendum was just a very clear pointer to the awful reality in the UK for Liberals AND Progressives; we have two institutionalised parties who control power, access to power and the mechanisms by which we might go about changing this. Rather than shy away from the fight after the bruising AV gave Liberals, we must realise that we were naive to think that it would be that easy.

The fight to bring British political culture into the modern era should be the primary purpose of all radicals, liberals and progressives in this country, the AV referendum should just be the beginning.

Monday, 23 May 2011

And so it begins...Should we be proud of Mr Hemming MP?

Whether anyone will ever read this blog I don't know but I might as well start it as I mean to go on:

The first online page of the Guardian, Sun and even Daily Mail today are adorned with headlines of a Liberal Democrat MP unmasking a certain footballer as the source of the recent super-injunction scandal.

Great! What more do Liberals want than our parliamentarians standing up for the right to freedom of expression. Whether it be Trafigura covering up an illegal toxic waste dump in a third world nation or a footballer sleeping around, liberalism surely wins when we can rely on our MP's to reveal such miscarriages of justice in the Commons.

Except...I'm not quite sure liberalism has won out here. Our guiding principle must be that everyone must be free to do what they want as long as it does not unfairly infringe on others rights to do the same. And I'm not really sure how Mr Giggs protecting his private life from universal publication and speculation infringes on anybody else's freedoms unfairly.

Do we have a right to know about Ryan Gigg's private life? I don't think we do, however I don't think this is a blanket rule for all celebrities. Take a certain well known ex-bank chief executive, his alleged affair with a member of his corporate staff could be said to be very important information for a public who had to bail out his bank after a colossally bad takeover of a major Dutch bank.

Similarly, if Mr Beckham had an affair (not that such a thing has ever been suggested in the red tops...) then I think his right to privacy might be less than Giggs. Simply because Beckham has profited massively off his own personal image. His contract at LA Galaxy gives him a significantly higher salary for his image rights than for kicking the round ball about. So since Beckham profits from publicising his image and the public adoring it, anything amiss in his personal life should also be known to the public (a la Tiger Woods).

As far as I can ascertain, from anecdotal evidence of people who have met Giggs and also a bit of searching around Giggs has not really built much advertising income on a squeaky clean image of fidelity.

As liberals we should always remember that rarely will we find absolutes, so we should avoid statements like 'super-injunctions are always wrong', there will nearly always be a counter-example where one seems to be correct. The Giggs case might not be clear cut but I would argue that it was in no way one-sided enough to justify Mr Hemming's unilateral action in parliament today. I do not think there was a significant risk as of yet of legal action to Twitter users or journalists in order to justify it either.

So a Radical Liberal's Perspective concludes that the Ryan Giggs' super-injunction may or may not be justified but we are not at the point where liberals need to be making grand gestures to protect free speech over it.