Sunday 3 November 2019

A Sociology of Liberal Democrat Snakery

Look at the photo. Just look at the absolute state of the photo. Greeting news that ITV will be hosting the first head-to-head debate of this election campaign between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson went with cringe Hillary Clinton-style branding and the usual dishonesty for which the Liberal Democrats are known. Yes, her exclusion from the debate had nothing to do with the Tories or Labour being the two parties who will either form the next government by themselves or comprise the largest component of an ensuing coalition, and everything to do with sexism. Utter piffle. And then we have the curious case of Best for Britain, the "cross party" tactical voting site dispensing advice for the remain-minded voter. When it started churning out bogus recommendations, such as advising voting for the LibDems in Hendon - a place they got four per cent in 2017 versus Labour's 46% - some comrades smelled a rat. And what do you know, it turned out to be run by a LibDem and assorted grifting dilettantes with a past record of, you guessed it, not being hot on Labour.

Rather than dissociating herself from this transparently fake enterprise, Swinson has defended Best for Britain's poll-mangling shenanigans. In an awful outing on Sunday morning's Sophy Ridge, she argued the recommendations made by BfB reflected current political realities. The LibDems beat Labour and the Tories in this year's EU elections don't you know, so it's entirely right it should recommend a LibDem vote in Jacob Rees-Mogg's seat, despite coming a distant third in 2017. Very well, if Swinson wants to acquaint herself with the real world she might want to look at the weekend's polls. Already there is movement away from her party and should these trends continue we could see a polarised election result just like last time.

What's the point in complaining about LibDem behaviour? Snakes are gonna slither, after all. Her dishonesty has a fine pedigree, following the records of Vince Cable, Tim Farron, and Nick Clegg, and our dearly departed Saints Charlie and Paddy. And from these Swinson has inherited the tic to instinctively, impulsively punch to the left. They criticise the Tories because it's good for form, and her few exchanges with Johnson in the Commons have the quality of dialling it in. The glint in her eye only shines when she has the Labour bit between her teeth. That's fine, we all have passions and on the left we too like to indulge centrist baiting now and again. Yet for Swinson to give in to her pash during the general election campaign is a pretty stupid move from the narrow horizon of LibDem party building. While there are plenty of problems with going hard remain, a right turn is sensible seeing how Boris Johnson has completely abandoned liberal capital, his more EU-oriented MPs, and the Cameroony/Remainy layer of centre right Tory voters. By trying to make this the Brexit election and going all about leave, these are up for grabs. So, at best, banging on about Corbyn is wasting time when the road is open for a wholesale annexation of elite opinion and a relatively sizeable slice of voters to the LibDems, and with it the possibility of a few dozen seats.

Making sense of LibDem behaviour means understanding their place in the world. And this comes down to a question of class. Despite their lurches to the left in the Tony Blair years, and their diminutive size the LibDems are fundamentally s bourgeois party no different in kind to the Tories. Liberalism as a dominated/dominant movement has, since the party's eclipse in the early 20th century, been sprinkled variously across its continuity party, Labour, and to a lesser extent the Tories. To cut a long story short, the left's capture of the Labour leadership and its advance through the party since has routed them. Likewise the double whammy of Theresa May and Boris Johnson have done the same to the softer Tory wing, if that's how you can describe people like Jo Johnson and Nicky Morgan, and newly minted centrist heroes such as Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine. Much diminished in the two main parties, all liberalism has is its over-representation in the media, and ... the Liberal Democrats.

This means Jo Swinson is less the consolidation of liberalism and more the next cycle of its long decay. On the face of it, things look good. Very respectable by-election showings, a parade of (relatively) high profile defectors, loads of rich donors, and a large membership with plenty of activists to pound the pavements. Yet the LibDems look good because liberalism has withered elsewhere, and thanks to this crisis we see in its politics further symptoms of the movement's demise - their genetic Corbynphobia being one, and desperate embrace of hard remain being another. We see similar in the Tories too, but their analogues are obsessions with phantoms and the mercurial fantasy of Brexit. The key difference is liberalism's decomposition is much more advanced than that of conservatism.

This is the driver of LibDem twists and turns, of the naked opportunism, the lies, and those oh so pitiful bar charts. With a narrow base to start with and the movement's contraction during the last decade, they have to compensate by jumping on every passing bandwagon and stooping low to grab each and every vote. Still, things can be much worse than being on the receiving end of their braying Twitter following or a yellow stained local leaflet. You could be wallowing in the gutter as a LibDem yourself.


Speedy said...

The Conservative Party is in long term decline.

The Lib Dems are decaying.

And the revolution is just around the corner.

It all seems very convenient, a bit like an article in Pravda circa 1988.

Phil said...

It must be miserable living in a world you can't be bothered to analyse. The truth of the matter is liberalism has been in decline for well over a century. The Tories in decline since the 1950s. And Labour is in a process of recomposition. These result in junctures full of opportunities - and threats. Try dealing with them. Bemoaning the state of things helps no one, least of all yourself.

Speedy said...

As one of your longest-standing readers, which suggests an implicit interest in analysis, I'm not sure what that says about your persuasive powers...

I am aware of your proposition that, among other things, declining home ownership mitigates against Conservatism, along with the ageing demographic, etc. I know about your book.

I am also aware about the relative decline of the Liberal movement, obviously!

And yet... only a decade ago we had LD coalition government, and face the likelihood of a further resurgence, even under an outdated voting system which does not reflect how the nation really thinks.

How the Labour movement is any LESS negatively affected by societal changes, despite the evaporation of its industrial base, is another thing, it's all about the Tories and Lib Dems here these days - but the reality is that it was equally affected and has to wrestle with the self-definition of 'immaterial labour' (or not, as Boffy might observe) which may choose to align itself with the right, albeit against its interests.

Some time ago you announced your intention to focus a lot more on politics, and many of your posts consist of a sort of apologia for Corbynism. Fair enough, as you say, it is your blog. But moving from analysis to party politics invites criticism.

79 to 97 and 2010 at least to 2019 does not seem like a decline of THE RIGHT, the Lib Dems looking at a significantly increased vote does not look like an increased decay of the Lib Dems. Or if it does what does that say for Labour?! The right and centre are declining, but Labour IS DECLINING MORE QUICKLY. The 'people's party' should have dominated over the last 50 years given it is clearly in the majority interest, but the Tories have. Sure in the long-term, maybe, the scales will fall from their eyes... but in the long-term we're all dead.

Power is the only reality and how to get it is the challenge. Clinton won the US elections but Trump got in. The right continue to prove to be much more effective - from Essex man in the 80s to Worthington man now - whereas Labour's inward-looking 'recomposition' may find comfort in sociological truths, outside of the 'real world' context it is for nout when the Tories keep winning.

On a personal basis, I feel reasonably cheerful, thanks - you might say ignorance is bliss, but I would say a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I don't claim to have a monopoly on the truth, but drawing upon resources like your own, yet not accepting the oft incomplete picture you present, I do believe I have a reasonably full picture of how things actually work and do not delude myself that, as I said, the revolution is just around the corner.

I'm always happy to be challenged by the facts because I'm always keen to learn - that's why I come here. I look forward to you or anyone else challenging what I have to say with information rather than opinion. I don't care about thinking I'm right, just being right, a rather unfashionable position these days.

Lost Tango said...

The unfortunate thing is that on the major issue of the day (Brexit), Labour has allowed the Lib Dems to occupy ground to Labour's LEFT, for the first time since Iraq. Had Corbyn shot their only fox by leading the campaign against Brexit rather than being dragged along behind it, we would likely havew the Euro elections and maintained our approximate 40% vote share. As it is, we are having to struggle to win back our voters from Swinson. A ridiculous situation to have got ourselves into.

Anonymous said...

You are quite right to identify that the Liberal Democrats (most of them, anyway) see Corbyn and the Left as the main target. I suspect many would prefer a full-blown Johnson government than a government over which Corbynism has any influence.

I suppose they have one justification - their target is the "soft" Tory-remain voter. And they have now a number of MPs elected as Tories, or very right-wing Labour - those people would not relish any sort of involvement with Corbynism. Their preference, I suspect, would/will be for a more moderate Tory government, socially liberal, economically liberal with a dash of One Nation social democracy, and Remain above all. Hardly surprising they put massive distance between themselves and any question of a Corbyn government.

I think we are in a position analogous to that before Hitler came to power - a far-Right populist minority about to win, and wreak havoc, while those who should oppose the far Right argue amongst themselves. What will Ms Swinson do when a Faragist Johnson government gets its minority?

Boffy said...


I agree with most of your analysis here, other than the differentiation of the Liberals from Labour on the basis of the former being bourgeois and the other presumably not, though you fail to specify your class analysis of Labour.

The trouble is that all of this could be said about France. It didn't stop the post Hollande Socialist Party getting crushed, and the Corbynite/Stalinoid economic nationalist Melonchon simply splitting the Left vote, and allowing Le Pen into the final round against Macron. It didn't stop Macron winning a sizeable victory, and on the basis of his Blair-right policies creating a new party that also won the parliamentary elections.

1983 showed that an SDP type party can take lots of votes from Labour in certain conditions, and now with the Liberals positioned to the left of Labour on Brexit, the potential for that is even greater.

You can't simply write off the previous 2019 election results or the fact that lots of survey data shows the Liberals having the potential to pick up lots of second preference votes, where tactical voting occurs, and in those conditions the FPTP system can bring a rapid transformation of fortunes, which itself is self-reinforcing. After all other than Britain's undemocratic electoral system, the Liberals and Greens already would have far more seats to begin with.

Labour's standing in polls, as with the Tories has not at all been down to their success in winning voters over to their ideas, but has been the result of an undemocratic voting system that entrenches power by inertia into whichever two parties have the best chance of winning an election, which for socialists is itself a limiting factor, because it encourages parliamentarism rather than an active mobilisation of the working-class.

Boffy said...

Incidentally, backing up what I said the other day about not betting the farm on Johnson pushing right-wing/Austrian School, free market economics and austerity, I'd recommend watching the last Fareed Zacharia on CNN, which had a section on the "left" policies being implemented by the law and Justice Party in Poland, and by Orban in Hungary.

Both, as Johnson is promoting now, have swung to large scale splurges of state spending, increasing welfare benefits, raising minimum wages, spending money on infrastructure and so on. Its also included bailing out home buyers, by hitting the banks.

No one who has studied history should be surprised by such a turn. It is precisely the kind of policy that National Socialists adopted in the 1930's. The Mosely Memorandum proposed by Oswald Mosely, just after he left the Tories and joined Labour, was written as a Fabian tract, and supported by people like Nye Bevan. It formed the basis of Mosely programme for the New Party as he left Labour, and for the British Union of Fascists. It was a similar policy of economic nationalism, based upon Keynesian state intervention, and spending.

It shows just how this kind of National "Socialism" whether implemented by fascists or Stalinsts actually has nothing to do with Socialism, and invariably results in a hell-hole for workers, and ultimate economic collapse.

Martin said...

I'm sympathetic with Speedy on this. It's ok excoriating the LDs for trying to reassemble a franchise after the crash burn of the Coalition government. But, in tandem with endlessly predicting the Cons decline, it obscures the ongoing recomposition of electoral politics here in the UK (England?). I'm really not sure the Humpty Dumpty of Lab versus Cons can be resuscitated, except with a similar recomposition of what the political leadership on either side represent. Unless, that is, you see the current polarisation simply as a passing issue (Brexit), with normal service being resumed, after a short(ish) break. Meanwhile, our now even less representative FPTP political process remains intact. Demolishing that was the single useful thing that the LDs could have done for us.

Bill Posters said...

One difference between the 2017 GE and 12th December 2019 is the LibDems are much stronger. The question is who will they hurt most Labour or the Tories? This is not 1983 and the LibDems are not the SDP Liberal alliance. There is a good chance that the Tories will be damaged more.

Consider the Beconsfield Constituency. Dominic Grieve will be standing as an independent with the LibDems standing down in his favour. The massive Tory majority at the 2017 election will split between Grieve and the official Tory candidate. If you don't want a Tory in Beconsfield Labour is the only mainstream choice. There is a good chance Grieve gets back as an independent and an outside chance Labour can come through the middle.

Consider the Cambrige Consituency currently held by Labour. The Cambridge University term ends earlier than most on 6th December. There is a good chance thousands of students won't be voting there and many may be less inclined to vote Labour than in 2017. This could make this a very tight Labour LibDem contest where boots on the ground and effort may tell.

There are going to be scores of contests like the two above which will make the election very hard to call. The best news so far is the Brexit party putting up lots of candidates. There is little doubt the Brexit party hurts the Tories more than Labour.

Socialism in One Bedroom said...

Once more for luck, Stalin was never ever about Socialism in One Country but was about a collection of nations. Stalin wanted more nations to become 'communist' and join the 'Communist' block, i.e. Stalin wanted to expand economic cooperation among 'socialist' nations. For example Cuba had an alignment with the 'communist' block that Stalin created, particularly on the economic level.

Stalin DID NOT BELIEVE IN SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY, he would have sent tanks into any nation trying to go it alone. He was a fanatical Unionist! The last thing he believed in was 'National Socialism', even if he did prattle on about it endlessly. The reason Stalin tried to foster a 'nationalist' spirit is because he knew that trying to keep the very disparate Soviet block together was going to require propaganda on stilts, as the Soviet Union was a huge collection of nations, all with different cultures, races, religions and ethnicity.

It is funny how Boffy describes the attempts of the Bourgeoisie to create a united block as being oh so progressive and an indispensable step on the road to workers unity (no really) but describes the Soviets attempts to do the same as Nationalistic.

This guy is so full of dogma the Oxford Dictionary has officially claimed Dogma is brown in colour, and slightly runny in texture.

I don't know how Boffy thinks he can get away with his claptrap, he makes you think twice about spending too much time reading leftists!

I think it is a disgrace that none of the leaders of the major political parties are transgender. Though thinking about it I have never seen Nicola Sturgeon and Steven Hendry in the same room.

Anonymous said...

Re "Tory decline" - are those who think they are just "recompositing" themselves unaware of the extremely skewed *age* profile of their voters?

It might - might - be enough to get them over the line this time, but as all the angry pensioners who are "radicalised" by the newspapers they (and almost nobody else) read start dying off - what then?

And don't just say that "other voters will get older and replace them" - it isn't *that* simple, at least. There are things that make the present boomer generation particularly prone to "capture" by the right.

Speedy said...


but as all the angry pensioners who are "radicalised" by the newspapers they (and almost nobody else) read start dying off - what then?

FYI July 2019 circulation

Interesting fact - three times as many people read the Daily Express as the Guardian.

The Sun 1,265,990
Daily Mail 1,164,319
The Sun on Sunday
The Mail on Sunday 978,062
The Sunday Times 649,908
Daily Mirror 483,120
Sunday Mirror 399,042
The Times 376,975
The Daily Telegraph 327,879
Daily Express 306,119
Daily Star 305,069
Sunday Express 267,268
The Sunday Telegraph 257,034
i 229,074
Daily Star – Sunday 183,127
Financial Times 166,663
The Observer 157,553
Sunday People 150,661
The Guardian 130,484
Sunday Mail 111,909
Daily Record 110,415

Boffy said...


"The question is who will they hurt most Labour or the Tories? This is not 1983 and the LibDems are not the SDP Liberal alliance. There is a good chance that the Tories will be damaged more."

The Liberals undoubtedly will hurt the Tories in Tory-Liberal marginals that voted Remain. But, that is not the point. The Liberals do not have to take seats from Labour to hurt them. They only need to take enough votes, so that in Labour Tory marginals, the Labour vote falls, allowing the Tories to win. There are more than enough of those seats to compensate for Tory losses to the Liberals.

Anonymous said...

The point is Speedy, ALL papers sell far fewer copies than just ten years ago - their readership IS *literally* dying off.

There is absolutely no reason not to expect this to continue.

And the dear old Graun has always been near the bottom of the table.

(just in case you really didn't know that)

Speedy said...

Anon - fair enough, see you in 50 years. But in the meantime, where do you think these readers are going - yes, some to the grave, but many more online.

The Sun overtakes Mail Online to become UK’s biggest online newsbrand, latest Comscore data shows

The figures give the Sun and its extended brands a total digital audience of 30.2m unique UK visitors across April 2018 after a 2.7 per cent month-on-month rise – the biggest growth among the UK’s nine national daily titles.

This would put The Sun just ahead of the Mail Online with its monthly reach in the UK of 29.6m people in April, after the title saw a 0.7 per cent month-on-month drop.

You're welcome.

Anonymous said...

Online isn't the same for newspapers, they rely on their print editions.

Which *are* dying, and given that circulations have roughly halved in ten years, we are maybe talking another ten years here - not 50. They aren't far off losing their "critical mass" to stay relevant. And their desperation to do so results in idiocies like this mornings Borisgraph front page.