I’ve just listened to Chris Huhne’s slightly intemperate demolition of Chris Grayling on Any Questions. It was good to listen to, and I hope the Lib Dems have grasped that the Conservative vulnerability on the issue of the global financial meltdown is something that needs to be exploited.
But not just exploited. We need to build a philosophy on it which embraces the other issues as well. That’s what you might call a narrative.
David Cameron’s embrace of the hedge funds is a major Achilles Heel. Not just because they have been his funders but because, overwhelmingly, they are his friends. That’s what the Notting Hill Set is all about.
But Liberals are still some way from forging this into the political weapon we need. We have yet to go beyond the ‘bright ideas’ stage of critique of the abuse of the financial markets. Wouldn’t it be good if there was help to prevent home repossessions, or regulations about mortgage lending. Well, yes, it would – but we need a good deal more than that, and we need it quickly. To be absolutely precise, we need three things:
1. A philosophical underpinning which distinguishes between the free market of productive finance and small business, and the greed and abuse of global finance which has ended up threatening and corroding both.
2. A clear set of proposals that goes beyond the dismal, deeply old-fashioned and disabling idea of ‘sound money’ which has deadened Liberal thinking in this country since Keynes. Global finance has become the tail wagging the real economy: it is the precise opposite of sound money.
3. A New Deal that is capable of rescuing us from financial meltdown, but which can make a parallel contribution to tackling the climate and food crunches too, aware that major investment in the green collar economy will also keep its wheels in motion, just as a commitment to tackling monopoly power and rebuilding local economies will keep us all alive.
The key political debate of the 20th century is over. It isn’t public versus private any more, free market versus state control. It is big versus small, and Liberals need to be clear which side they are on – centralisation or life.