The Sad End of British Liberalism 213

Tim Farron’s paean of praise for Tony Blair yesterday marks the disgraceful end of the political embodiment of a great tradition of thought. In truth there is no ideological reason why the Blairites should not join today’s Lib Dems after their imminent humiliation in the leadership election. What they do next will be entirely down to their calculation of career advantage. There is no ideological reason both Lib Dems and Blairities should not fold into the Tories. However that would destroy the chances of giving the electorate the mere illusion of free choice, when they have still not given up the idea of removing Corbyn and destroying the chance of actual meaningful choice.

Because the Lib Dems, Blairites and Tories all subscribe to a single ideology of neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad. Under Kinnock then Blair, the opposing ideology of organised labour was expunged from the Labour Party, and even such obviously popular and necessary objectives as re-nationalising the railways were foresworn. Under Clegg, the Lib Dems abandoned their own, even older, radical tradition and signed up to the twin gods of finance sector led economies and neo-imperialism.

My own political thought springs entirely from the Liberal tradition. I am a Radical, not a socialist. If asked to name the single book which had most influenced my political beliefs, would unhesitatingly name Imperialism by J A Hobson – a great and truly ground-breaking work, now almost completely neglected. But beyond that my influences include Paine, Hazlitt, John Stuart Mill, Keynes, Beveridge and Grimond. I am not a utopian but a much better society is possible. In the 1970s we enjoyed state ownership of utilities and natural monopolies, free university tuition and student maintenance, and a more humane benefits system and powerful trade unions. Those things would be a good start towards ending the runaway inequality which replaced them.

The intrinsic link between neo-liberalism at home and neo-conservatism abroad was demonstrated by Thatcher. In her first term as Prime Minister she was massively unpopular and well behind Michael Foot’s Labour Party in the opinion polls. What turned it round and saved the neo-liberal project was not an economic upturn – unemployment remained over 3 million – but the colossal wave of jingoism unleashed by the Falklands War. It is precisely the phenomenon analysed by J A Hobson in Imperialism, the use of wars abroad to gain cheap popularity at home while boosting the sectional financial interests of the arms manufacturers, and political, military and security classes.

As I am next week at the Sam Adams award presentation to John Kiriakou, I commend to you this speech at a previous presentation by Col. Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, which addressed this exact subject. It is well worth hearing.

Now Tim Farron has appealed to the Blairites to join (and the Guardian has followed it up with a second article today) I do hope that some of the genuinely radical loyalists who remain in the party realise they either have to make one last organised and determined fight to regain control, or give up. After thirty years of membership, I left the Lib Dems over two things – the declaration they were unequivocally a “Unionist party”, and their failure to stop – or even attempt to stop – Tory continuation of New Labour’s privatisation and “marketization” within the NHS. I saw genuine liberals like Charie Kennedy sidelined, ignored and sometimes ridiculed.

I am as nostalgic as the next man, but now it has completely abandoned any pretence at ideological connection to its origins, I can see no possible purpose in the continued existence of the Liberal Democrats.

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213 thoughts on “The Sad End of British Liberalism

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    • michael norton

      The Lib Democrate people wanted free university, while they were in the wilderness, then as if by magic they found themselves in a co-alition, suddenly they dropped that pledge, next they demanded a referendum on P.r. voting, Cameron gave them their wish, the British people said if Nick Clegg wants it we do not.
      Next off they are back in the wilderness with a twat as a leader – no change.

      • michael norton

        The LibDem people were very much against letting the British have a say on getting out of the E.U.
        Cameron made a pledge to the people.
        After the LibDem people had been wiped off the face of British politics, Dave Cameron kept his promise to the people of the United Kingdom.
        The people voted to leave the E.U.

        BUT STILL THE LIBDEM people cannot accept the will of the people.

        So, in what sense are they democratic?

      • Anon1

        “Free tuition” seems to be another shibboleth of the left. Seldom is it questioned whether so many young people need to go to university, or whether their degrees are of any value. Ironically , it was a Blair decree that half the population should be university educated. Quite right they should pay for it.

        • Anon1

          A deranged policy, I might add. We now have millions of young people who think they are too qualified for ordinary work, and that the rest of society owes them a living.

          • Paul

            That’s really not my own experience, Anon1. I work mainly with people in their late teens and early twenties, from all sorts of economic background. Many of them either go to, or went to, university. Almost always, they’re also holding down temporary and part time jobs. Sometimes weekends, or evenings, and certainly during holidays, slinging burgers or stacking shelves, on minimum wage and zero hours contracts to avoid falling any further into debt than they have to.

            Ultimately, aiming to have a well educated populace is a positive thing for The State to do.

        • RobG

          We now have millions of people, in the corporate world, in the military industrial complex, in Parliament, who think they are too qualified for ordinary work, and that the rest of society owes them a living.

        • Bayard

          On the other hand it could have been a deliberate attempt to stop students from a poor background being able to afford to go to university. It’s blatantly obvious that the country doesn’t need 50% of its students doing higher education, so there must have been other, political, reasons for this change. It is at least likely that the idea was to make the youth unemployment figures look better and get more of the population “educated” into being comfortable with living in debt. It was only two generations ago that living in debt was seen as a bad thing. Now it’s promoted by government and media, to the great benefit of the moneylenders.

        • Laguerre

          ““Free tuition” seems to be another shibboleth of the left. ”

          I am entirely against the young being put into deep debt at the beginning of their lives. It prevents anyone but the rich from doing anything original or creative, which will inevitably be somewhat risky economically. You can’t even be a nurse these days without a degree.

          University or not, the costs of professional training have now been shifted onto the backs of the young trainee, rather than the employer or the state, which is what it used to be. Airline pilots, for example. All it means is more in the management’s bonus packet (just now exceeding pre-crash levels according to the Graun), or the State spending on the profitable contracts that the Tories hand out to their chums.

          One nation Tories used to be in favour of skilling the British population for the future. The present lot are just out to make a short-term profit from them.

          • exiled off mainstreet

            I agree. Free tuition worked for me in the 70s. It’s elimination puts present-day youth in a permanent debt box. Historically, of course, it is dangerous for any regime to make the intelligencia permanently dissatisfied. The only question is will the collapse be accompanied by nuclear armageddon. As for Mr. Murray’s view that Clegg, by selling out totally, jumped the shark and eliminated the present day and historical relevancy of the Liberal party, I fully concur. People voted Liberal in 2010 in significant numbers because “new” Labour had totally sold out to Toryism. When Clegg hitched his horse to Toryism and followed the same policy merely to get the illusion of power as “house” liberals for a few years, he put paid to them.

      • Bayard

        “next they demanded a referendum on P.r. voting, Cameron gave them their wish”

        No he didn’t, he gave a referendum on the alternative vote, not the single transferable vote. The AV would have made little difference, that’s why the government allowed a vote on it.

  • Trowbridge H. Ford

    See I got a new logo in a different color.

    Is it all part of liberalism;’s belated death, and we are starting out on our own now?

    Or something else or what?

    Does anyone have an explanation for this continuing monkey business?

  • Mark Golding

    The Sad End:

    We recall – lest the British press undertake a move to independent veracity in it’s treatment of information sensitive to so called ‘national security’ the British Establishment or Privy Council compromised on the Leveson Report by conjuring a likely martial law style enforcement to constrain the press by Royal Charter obfuscated with the title ‘Royal Charter on Self-regulation of the Press’ written with the intendion to channel things through the back door of Buckingham Palace rather than the front door of Westminster.

    Let me put this paucity of British Liberalism in front of your face.

    Rewinding a tad we recall the Guardian newspaper was accused of ‘aiding Britain’s enemies’ by revealing information disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and became the victim of a severe political backlash that deeply shocked international observers and press freedom advocates. The Guardian was pressured to hand over the Snowden data in the interests of national security, was threatened with legal action and cautioned with the prospect of having its reporting shut down. Too boot the Guardian underwent the bizarre spectacle of government security officials overseeing the destruction of computer equipment in the newspaper’s basement.

    The overall message of silencing the press in the name of national security when faced with public scrutiny is to me extremely worrisome albeit the closed-mouthed, ceremonious and judicious amongst us will once again play this type of abuse down despite the fact similar action by the British Establishment may well HAVE SMOTHERED and SACRIFICED our host, Craig Murray and may I add without causing concern, according to good advice, still lay in wait.

  • fwl

    A party is a vessel and an opportunity. They need life. Those who consider themselves liberal rather than socialist or conservatives need to breath some life into it and animate it. Otherwise its gone. For me the turning point was the acquiescence over Libya. Still all it takes is imagination, belief, enthusiasm and a certain ability to recognize and not leak good luck.

  • Republicofscotland

    This is a interesting look at the White Helmets.

    “Funded to the tune of over $60 million by the US, UK and EU member states, these mercenaries in beige clothing have a base of operations in Turkey, but appear to operate exclusively in terrorist-held zones in Syria, and can also be seen running “mop-up” operations for Al Nusra Front and other terrorist fighting groups.”

    • Mark Golding

      I am so incensed and roused by the American military murdering at least 60 soldiers of the Syrian army engaged with terrorists, I have sent a tweet to Centcom condemning this heinous and shameful action. It is clear to me information of this strike was conveyed to the proxy war terrorists enabling them to profit from the kill.

      I will undertake an analysis of NSA cypher codes secretly placed in terror commander bunkers and turn over any valuable KG koken loop insight to the Russians.

      • Republicofscotland


        I concur, if Russian/Assad/Iranian, forces had done this there would be an almighty outcry and severe condemnation, in the Western press.

        The Great Satan, (consecutive US governments) won’t be held to task in any way over the supposedly “accidental” killings.

  • Republicofscotland

    I find this rather disturbing, the thought of cabbies, virtually spying for the state, hoping to out a potential Emmanuel Goldstein, under the guise of preventing extremism or terrorism. In my opinion it will lead to a sense of fear and distrust, as the cabbies eyeball you in the back, whilst you daren’t say anything incase you portray yourself as a non-state puppet.

    I have visions of passengers paying the cabbie, then entering their abode only to receive a knock on the door from the Stasi, due to the cabbies false suspicions.

    More worringly, they (security services I believe) intend to extend the programme to restaurants and fast food takeaways. So it would appear one wrong word, and you could find yourself in room 101, at the Ministry of Love.

  • Republicofscotland

    “Israel has 200 nuclear weapons and apparently all of them have been aimed at Tehran, according to former US secretary of state Colin Powell’s leaked emails from March 2015.”

    Well, those of us living in the real world (Habb is the exception) already knew this. Habb, however went down the rather preposterous route of “neither confirm nor deny” of course I’m sure he was only repeating his spoon fed speel handed down to him, by his betters, if we can call them that.

  • RobG

    The utter charade that is American ‘democracy’…

    If a five-year-old child can discover how totally corrupt Hillary Clinton is, it seems a tad strange that Bernie Sanders and those good folk at MSNBC are unable to, and are endorsing her.

    Sanders could have thrown in his weight with Jill Stein, and that would have allowed a good chance of beating psycho Hillary and psycho Trump.

    I’m not saying that Sanders is a bad guy. More, I think they’ve got some kind of hold on him. This was particularly apparent at the DNC.

    The way things are with American politics at the moment, I would advise people to heed George Galloway’s advice: move to the southern tip of the south island of New Zealand, which might be one of the places that survives WW3.

  • Alcyone

    Corbyn has his work cut out for him, but he doesn’t seem to be short of people to support him at every level, except the exceptional 80% of Labour MP’s who want precisely what? If all they want is Owen Smith, well they are exceptionally stupid.

    “Paul Mason, Fleet Street’s Rebel With A Cause, On BBC Anti-Corbyn Bias, Brexit And The Media”

    And then there’s this very slick blog that i came across:

  • Republicofscotland

    “Despite the fact that the Swedish government earlier this year decided to sign the Host Nation Support Agreement with NATO, they have come out and made it clear that NATO membership will not be pursued.”

    So it looks like Sweden, won’t be joining the self appointed world police (Nato) anytime soon. This had me thinking, in a recent political programme, Tory politicians were agast that the EU were (now that Britain was out of the picture) probably going to push through the idea of a EU army.

    The primary concern for the Tories, one Tory MP said was a EU army would weaken Nato’s hand, is that such a bad thing? A EU army would of course allow troops to be deployed much quicker throughout Europe, as forces are often held up at national borders, which in a crisis, could prove crucial.

    One could also say that a EU army, could draw, strength away from the American voice within Nato, which is in my opinion is vastly overbearing and prone to kneejerk decisions, leading to wars and regime changes, most are unjust, in my opinion.

    One could also, if they were inclined to, think, that by pursuing a EU army that EU chiefs, could be attempting to move away from American influence, (Nato) which could if true, only be a good thing, it’s in my opinion something that is long overdue.

    The major fly in the ointment of a EU army, is again in my opinion, the lack of hardware, that EU nations possess, France, would need to be the major contributor, for the time being, as they posses the most equipment. However with cooperation, and funding that particular hurdle could be addressed.

  • michael norton

    I agree with this notion
    Mr Batten described the need to agree an exit deal with the remaining EU member states as a “complete red herring”.

    He said: “If the European Council or Parliament rejects the final agreement we’re back to square one.”

    He added: “After two years of protracted and painful negotiations we could find ourselves in exactly the same position we started out from. Wanting to leave but with no agreement with the EU.”

    Mr Batten suggested Article 50 was “created deliberately and precisely in order to delay and prevent any country actually leaving”, adding: “Article 50 is a trap”.

    • michael norton

      I believe we should just tell them
      “We have left”

      I could add “Go boil your heads”

  • Republicofscotland

    “A top-ranking university in the United States has suspended an academic course on Palestinian history midway through the semester, following accusations that it propagated anti-Semitic viewpoints and indoctrinated students against Israel.”

    I can see why the “other side” would protest and want the course cancelled, for once a student had learned the “true” knowledge of how Palestine had been stolen in a blood filled coup, they might not think so highly of those who participated in it, and of those who helped cover it it, ever since.

      • michael norton

        Rob how long has The State of Emergency
        been going on for in FRANCE

        How many have been murdered by Islamists in that period?

        • RobG

          Michael, the state of emergency in France was introduced after the Paris attacks on Friday 13th November 2015. The state of emergency was supposedly to last for 3 months.

          In February of this year, and for no apparent reason, the state of emergency was extended by another 3 months. If interested, you can find an opinion piece about it here (which explains the loss of civil liberties)…

          Then, just as six months of a state of emergency was about to end, we had the Bastille Day attack, July 14th, in Nice (ah, that big white lorry without a drop of blood on it, even though we are told that it ploughed through hundreds of people, killing 85 of them). In the aftermath of the Nice attack the state of emergency has been extended by another six months, and the French government want to make it permanent.

          Do you see where this is going?

          As to how many people have been murdered during the state of emergency, it’s really impossible to say, because there’s no hard evidence to show that any of these attacks were real.

          • michael norton

            Thanks Rob,
            could I ask ( as you live in France)
            how many people do the French Authorities “claim” have been killed by terror since
            November, Charlie Hebdo events took off?
            Do you think any of these events were real?

            Can I also ask do you think any of the “gas” explosions in France of Belgium are real?

          • michael norton

            Rob, after one of these explosions,
            there seems to be an immediate claim that it was just a gas explosion.
            Then a few hours later, a fire chief says the building was not connected to the gas mains.
            Then a couple of days later, some official claims it might have been suicide, then you never hear any more.

            But nobody has mentioned a suicide bomber
            in any of these gas events.
            So to me this smacks of the Establishment desperate for the public not to get it into their heads that any of these gas explosions have been caused by Islamists.

            I tend to think they have mostly been caused bu Islamists.

            Normal Modern Northern European Countries do not keep having gas explosions, again and again.

        • Laguerre

          The state of emergency has nothing to do with the economic demos over the labour law, as described by RobG. France has chosen its path over Islamism, much as Britain and the US have done. Only France is much more exposed to Islamist reprisals. It’s as simple as that.

        • Laguerre

          That’s the continuing demonstrations against the labour law, which shows that the resistance is serious. The “riots” are just par for the course. It’s no fun if there are no water-cannons, stoning the police, and the occasional molotov cocktail. The French don’t submit passively, as Brits do. Not yet 1789, though. I notice that they took time off for the holidays in July-August.

          What I don’t understand is why French politicians are unable to come up with an economic principle more suited to the French, but continue to try to bludgeon them into neo-liberalism (not a matter of a socialist government). After all, France has brilliant economists, like Piketty.

          • RobG

            Laguerre, I also chuckled at the fact that the protestors took a month or so off for their annual holiday. Mind you, so did the terrorists!

            With regard to your second point, I’m of the opinion that just about all the political establishment in France are now in the pocket of Washington, and are even worse than politicos in Britain.

            France refused to take part in the 2003 Iraq war, and has a long history of independent foreign policy. As a result, Washington has done a ‘Guardian job’ on France.

          • Laguerre

            re RobG

            “With regard to your second point, I’m of the opinion that just about all the political establishment in France are now in the pocket of Washington, and are even worse than politicos in Britain.”

            Of course. It was only four or five months after Chirac’s refusal in 2003, during a rare visit to the Affaires Etrangères in the Boulevard St Germain, that it was explained to me that, well, no, French policy was no longer quite like that.

            The French, for the moment, are subordinated to US policy. They should take an independent line, but who knows whether they will. The coming US and French elections may play a role.

    • Laguerre

      Old news, some days ago. Only the car-bomb was not ready to be be blown, as there was no detonation mechanism. It was supposed to be a practice run, though why one would do that, I can’t imagine. A practice run would use an empty car. There’s something funny about the story. It was either a genuine transport of gas bottles (which I could imagine with the Maghrebis; they are like that.), or a trick thought up by the Renseignements.

        • Laguerre

          I don’t think anyone would deny that there are Islamist attacks in France, though I wouldn’t see a difference before/after the state of emergency. There’s a limit to what the state can do, different from UK. The French would do better to tackle Islamic extremism at its root. Stop the Saudi funding of mosques, and stop the military attacks on Islamic countries. The latter don’t have that much effect anyway.

  • Dave

    The dilemma facing all parties is how do you increase in size without compromising the message, because those who join from other ‘traditions’ will try to steer the party in different directions and there will need to be compromise to keep it all together and be particularly demoralising for some unless the aim is just to secure office.

    Embracing the Blairites would be a mistake, born of a pro-EU outlook, but it is the failure to embrace Brexit that will see the death of British Liberalism, because there is an immense task ahead just to reform a Britain and Ireland Union without worrying about being part of the EU super-state.

  • michael norton

    Leave Means Leave campaign demands exit from the European Union’s single market and end to free movement
    Leading Conservative Eurosceptics have formed a new lobby group to push for a hard Brexit, including leaving the European single market and ending free movement.
    The campaign, Leave Means Leave, could provoke fresh unrest on the Tory backbenches for Theresa May, pushing her government to take a no compromise approach to negotiations with the EU.

    Quite right too.

  • Dude Swheatie of the Kilburn Unemployed writing in a personal capacity

    Thanks for this, especially the Tom Payne-rich video. The references to patriotism on the video remind me of Orwell’s observation that ‘patriotism’ differed from ‘nationalism’, and apparently dictionary founder Johnson described ‘patriotism’ as the last resort of scoundrels.

    The Payne observation that patriots have a duty to protect their country from its government emphasises the for me the importance of citizens engaging in ‘public consultations’. I was a contributor to the Green Party of England & Wales response to Labour’s 2008 welfare reform green paper. Especially as a veteran of decades of ‘benefit claimant’ status while a disabled jobseeker, I reckoned that my ‘expert witness’ status by default required me to help point out the dangers of misjudging and being nasty to vulnerable people. Sadly, UK mass media wanted to pigeon-hole the Green Party as purely about protecting the geographical environment; thus mass media sat on a report that would have given greater enlightenment than was available from Blairites and Thatcherites, etc. ‘Writing off Workfare: for a Green New Deal, not the flexible New Deal’ is still available online however. An outline press statement of that report can also be found at “Workfare is not the answer”. Sadly these days, many vulnerable citizens fear that they will be victimised if they stand out for their lives by demonstrating. DWP launched an investigation of ‘benefit fraud’ against someone they predicted would not be disabled enough to qualify for the disability benefits he was claiming; they said his Facebook output was too plentiful for such a disabled person.

    A current public consultation that people need to use to help protect England from its government is that of constituency boundary changes. Parliamentary Boundary Changes could lead to a Permanent Tory Government in the UK.

    Meanwhile, some Labour Party grandees such as now Lord Kinnock proclaim Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership a disaster for the Labour Party. BBC website reports: Former Labour leader Lord Kinnock tells BBC Panorama he is doubtful there will be another Labour government in his lifetime if Jeremy Corbyn remains at the helm..

    Might not such procamations be described as ‘prediction terrorism’? If such ‘party patriots’ really cared for democracy and their party, should they not devote more energy to getting the public to protect England from the ravages of a dysfunctional ‘boundaries commission’? Were Labour to become ‘unelectable’, I believe that such pontificatingly out-of-touch Labour ‘grandees’ are largely responsible for pissing off the economically vulnerable and for pointing fingers at Corbyn rather than at the prospect of parliamentary constituency boundary changes.

      • michael norton

        Little Tim and Little Nick
        dream of being important, they do not believe in Democracy, they believe the voting British public are loonies.
        Actually the voting British public think the Liberals are loonies.

  • michael norton

    And over the Channel

    Anti-migrant AfD makes Berlin breakthrough, as Frau Merkel’s CDU slumps
    ” Germany’s anti-Islamization and Eurosceptic AfD entered its tenth state assembly, as voters deserted the mainstream parties in the nation’s capital. But a left-leaning coalition is likely to take control of the city.

    With all votes counted, Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only three years ago, captured 14.1 percent of the vote, putting it in fifth place, but within range of the four leading parties.”

    The Times they are a changing.

    • michael norton

      I’ve just found i have common cause with the LibDem’s

      Liberal Democrat activists have backed calls for the proposed new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point to be stopped.

      Members approved a motion at the party conference urging the £18bn scheme, the first in a generation, to be scrapped.

      Duncan Brack told members Hinkley was “spectacularly poor value for money” and breached party policy on subsidies.

  • Richard Swain

    Join Labour Craig, Liberalism is alive and well here. But we need good people like you to fight the neoliberals and bring back some of those good things we had in the 70s.

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