Heather Kidd Welcomes The New Era Of Liberal Politics

Are you one of the millions who turned to new Labour in 1997? Were you excited by the progressive promise? Did you believe that the ideals of fairness, social mobility, sustainability, civil rights and internationalism would finally have their day? If so, you face a real dilemma. The choice between a fading, exhausted Labour Government and the ideologically barren Conservatives, bereft of any discernible convictions other than a sense of entitlement that it is now their turn to govern, is not a good one.
Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats says:
“I want to offer you an alternative. Today I am publishing a pamphlet, The Liberal Moment, in which I make a simple argument: in the same way that Labour eclipsed a tired Liberal Party almost a century ago, the Liberal Democrats now offer a new rallying point for a resurgent progressive movement in Britain, replacing Labour as the dominant force of progressive politics.
This may sound a little self-serving from the leader of the Liberal Democrats. But history teaches us that when the ideological reflexes of a political party are out of step with the times, it will be overtaken by parties that understand the world better. In the early part of the 20th century, the Liberal Party was unable to respond coherently to great social change and the challenges of war, and lost its place to a Labour Party that, with its collectivist instincts and focus on the emancipation of working people, had far better answers.
Labour deserved to win against the Liberals then. I believe Liberals deserve to win against Labour now. Because Labour’s basic reflexes – central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government – are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy.
Globalisation has diluted the powers of the nation state. Air travel and the internet have stretched people’s physical and conceptual horizons. New forms of religious and ethnic identity have dissolved the glue that held nations together. In short, we live in a more fluid, less deferential world where opportunities and threats can no longer be exploited or defeated by national governments alone.
Labour has never fully reconciled itself to how power now flows down to individuals and communities that no longer accept a relationship of obeisance to central government. From frenzied target-setting in public services to the demolition of civil liberties, Labour has misread the demand for individual and grassroots empowerment in contemporary Britain.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party has not reconciled itself to how power also flows up to international institutions that are indispensable if we are to meet global threats such as climate change, cross-border crime and international financial instability. Despite all the rebranding, David Cameron’s Conservatives remain steeped in the misplaced view that the 19th-century nation state still makes sense in a 21st-century world.
Liberalism is the ideology most suited to this age. Only liberalism possesses a clear understanding of how power has flowed up and down from the central state. Only liberalism marries a passion for devolution in Britain with a commitment to international institutions and the international rule of law. From fairer taxes to protecting civil liberties, from the reform of our clapped-out politics to the break-up of monopolistic banks, from devolved public services to a new concept of green citizenship, from social radicalism in education to a more effective and accountable European Union. Dispersing power more fairly and holding the powerful to account runs as a thread through all my liberal beliefs.
And, just as Labour made rapid inroads into areas dominated by the Liberals 90 years ago, a radical shift in the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats is now taking place in areas dominated by Labour. We run the majority of big cities outside London, from Sheffield to Newcastle, Bristol to Hull, Liverpool to Edinburgh, and aim to translate that support into seats won from Labour at the next election. Despite being the smallest of the three main Westminster parties, we have a more consistent geographic spread: north and south, rural and urban.
Our determination to replace Labour will not, as some predict, damage us in the South, where we have won seats from the Conservatives. It makes it clear that a Liberal Democrat vote, rather than a Conservative one, is the route to real change. We are confident that seats we hold in the South West will be resistant to the synthetic charms of Mr Cameron’s Conservatives, even while we target more constituencies elsewhere than ever before.
So the real choice at the next election is not the old red-blue/ blue-red pendulum of British politics. It is between yellow and blue. A choice between a liberal movement – led by the Liberal Democrats – that is attracting disaffected progressive voters from a Labour Party which will take years to recover, if at all; and a Conservative Party that parrots the language of change to maintain the status quo. In short, an opportunity for progressives to do something different, and finally change things for good.”