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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

We're not all social democrats now

There is a striking comment by Max Hastings, writing in the Guardian:
"Underpinning everything David Cameron does is awareness that Britain is now a social democratic country. If he wins an election, it will be in spite of being called a Tory."
It used to be said that Britain was a conservative country, yet it is undoubtedly true that the establishment, at least, is now thoroughly social-democratic in orientation. All three main political parties are now fighting over a very small area of political terrain: we have not one, but three Social Democratic Parties in this country.

New Labour and the Liberal Democrats are, in their own ways, the heirs of the original SDP of the 1980s. Blair's transformation of the Labour Party had not only the blessing but also the participation of many former SDP-ers, and the Liberal Democrats are of course the product of a merger between the old Liberal Party and the SDP itself. Several leading members of the Liberal Democrats today are old Social Democrats. So there is an organic link, but also a much older philosophical link. It is a very long time since even the Liberal Party itself was recognisably liberal. By the beginning of the twentieth century social-democratic ideals had begun to infect the Liberal Party and this situation has persisted ever since that time. Old-style liberals in Britain have since then often found a home within the Conservative Party, although some have also remained within the other main parties.

It was Margaret Thatcher who did much to release this repressed strain of Liberalism in the 1970s and 1980s, and the resultant transformation, though traumatic at the time for some, did much to increase the freedom and prosperity of the nation by releasing it from an increasingly Sovietised economy. The power of the state was rolled back and the power of the people to control their own lives through their own efforts was increased. In retrospect many in the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats have paid tribute to this achievement either in open praise or implicitly by neglecting to repeal the reforms of the Thatcher years.

Nevertheless, Thatcherism was not perfect and neither was its author: we all know what happened to the Conservative Party in the aftermath, and now after a lengthy interlude the Conservative Party is seeking to overturn the Thatcher revolution and join the cosy social-democratic consensus with not-so-new Labour and the not-so-Liberal Democrats. After ten years of Labour rule the state is marching ever more boldly into every area of private life - through sequestering an ever larger proportion of our earnings through punitive taxation, through ever more circumscribed civil liberties, through intrusive nannying of many kinds.

With all three parties holding to the same underlying social-democratic set of assumptions about society, where is the democratic opposition to come from? Conservatives have a choice, either to follow David Cameron in the hope that his pretensions to a new centre-left Conservatism will at least deliver the trappings of power as a consolation prize for the betrayal of political principle, or else to pursue their political objectives elsewhere. Many Conservative Party members are now taking the latter option. The Liberal Democrats have never been anything other than a leftist sect with an occasional interest in civil liberties, to which any meaningful interpretation of Liberalism is entirely alien. As a result of all this British politics is virtually dead, suffocated under a blanket of leftist platitudes and political correctness, leaving the cause of freedom orphaned.

There are genuine liberals in each of the mainstream parties, but in all cases they are a minority. In the Labour Party, they are those who enthusiastically backed the young Mr. Blair's call for public service and welfare reform, only to be disappointed by the regime of centralised targets and high taxation that followed (all promoted particularly by Gordon Brown). In the Conservative Party they are those who uphold the free market ideals of Thatcherism, ideals that are increasingly squeezed between an authoritarian "right" and Cameron's high tax pro-welfare "left". And in the Liberal Democrats, they are the "Orange Book" liberals who recognise the need for liberalising markets and instituting serious public service reform.

We believe that the New Party gives hope to those alienated from the social democratic stranglehold on British politics. The New Party exists to uphold the freedom, dignity and prosperity of the individual in preference to the tyranny of state control. The New Party exists to restrict the power of the state by ensuring that laws and taxes remain minimal, simple and fair. The New Party exists to deliver a society which is cohesive and harmonious, with a strong civic and national identity. And above all, the New Party exists to promote freedom and democracy at home and abroad.

The New Party programme is an agenda for advancing the cause of freedom in the twenty-first century. We reject the sterile social democratic consensus and stand for the resurgence of a new liberalism.