If you read some commentators, you’d think that in less than a week of leadership, Tim Farron had virtually turned us all into revolutionary socialists.
Matt Dahan wrote a story for the Independent which suggested that Nick Clegg would be “shaking his head” in “uncomfortable dismay” at Tim Farron’s bid to “form a Lib/Lab pact” to oppose welfare cuts.
The former deputy prime minister has been left sitting on the backbenches in the House of Commons, where he is forced to choose between toeing the party line or causing what would be a major rebellion in a party of just eight MPs.
It seems Mr Farron is leading the Lib Dems further to the left than Labour, even sending a letter to interim Labour leader Harriet Harman telling her to form a Lib-Lab alliance to fight the Government’s spending cuts.
Except Tim’s stance on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is entirely consistent with the stance Nick Clegg took in Government. He stopped all this nonsense about taking Housing Benefit off young people and limiting tax credits to two children and further reducing the benefits cap. If Tim had supported them, it would have been a massive story.
And the reason we really know that this isn’t a massive left wing lurch is that Simon McGrath, of Liberal Reform, is backing Tim’s stance enthusiastically, creating a petition asking Labour to oppose the Bill.
The only hope that the opposition in Parliament will ever have of defeating the Government is to all work together. That’s what happened when Labour were in power and David Cameron followed Nick Clegg’s lead over the Ghurkas and inflicted a defeat on then Home Office Minister Phil Woolas. The idea of working together with other parties is hardly a radical notion. We’re doing it in the Lords all the time and have already joined with Labour to inflict 10 defeats on the Government in 2 months. Paddy Ashdown is one of Nick Clegg’s closest allies and was enthusiastically saying on his Reddit Q and A the other day that:
I don’t believe in electoral pacts – they deny voters choice. But I do believe that we on the progressive wing of British politics (and those outside politics) now need to get together in a series of conversations about the things we agree on. I can see what they re. Internationalism, the Green agenda, Civil liberties and Human Rights, how to build a strong economy AND a fair society, Europe, the need to create a state based on the powerful citizen not the strong state. All those things that are now being threatened by what is beginning to look to me like the most dangerous and damaging Government of our time.
If we start quietly with conversations who knows where it will lead.
This sort of talk certainly isn’t new from Paddy as anyone who lived through the time of his Joint Statement with Blair in 1998 will remember. The phrase “astonished their parties” is a mighty fine example of the art of the understatement.
At the weekend, Jane Merrick wrote in the Independent that:
But now that Tim Farron has defeated Norman Lamb, the candidate who came closest to The Orange Book mission, is it all over for this classical liberal wing of the Lib Dems? In his victory speech, Farron said he wanted to bring the “millions” of liberals in Britain into the Lib Dems but his politics are closer to the old SDP element of the party. To put Farron’s victory into some context: this is the first time the centre-right, establishment-backed candidate (Lamb was supported by Paddy Ashdown and Menzies Campbell) has lost a leadership election in the Lib Dems, or the former Liberal and SDP parties.
This is not the SDP/Liberal dynamic I remember, for a start. To me the pro NATO, pro nuclear power SDP was by far the right of the Liberals who angered David Steel so much by voting against a nuclear deterrent in 1986. The Liberals were definitely the lefties. I was a member of the SDP, but that was mostly because the average age of the SDP in Caithness was around 50, the Liberals a good bit more. My heart was definitely Liberal. The dynamics within this party are too complex to distil down into an SDP/Liberal binary though. It’s also worth pointing out that although Charles Kennedy may well have been the establishment’s pick in 1999, he could never have been described as “centre right.”
I suspect that there will be an emphasis on using the power of the state to reduce inequality. That is not an idea that the classical liberals within our party are averse to – remember Nick Clegg investing billions to help disadvantaged kids in school, anyone?
The left/right discussion is tiresome and inaccurate and one of our jobs over the next wee while is to wow people with the pure radicalism and boldness of our ideas to get this country back on track. We’ve done it before and must do so again.