Friday 16 April 2010

Shields and swords

I’ve been a member of the Lib Dems since 1979, a terrifying thought. I hadn’t realised I was so old (though I was terribly young when I joined). For the past 31 years, I have been waiting for the moment when the Liberal case could be put with the combination of sanity and passion that Nick Clegg generated last night.

I went to sleep afterwards with an amazing sense of peace. It was everything I hoped (though kind of typical of ITV that there was no green question) since I first imagined Nick as leader of the party.

Of course, we are now going to have to be like a submarine after a successful attack on a convoy. We will have to endure the coming depth charge attack from the Conservatives, but it is worth it for the opportunities created.

I also learned a huge amount last night, about what is possible and what is not when it comes to policy that can be communicated. I am only too aware of what I have failed to understand, and got wrong, in the past.

But one thing I felt I got right, and I’m now sure about. This division between ‘shield’ issues and ‘sword’ issues – the distinction between those issues we can use to gain votes and those where we just have to protect ourselves – is nonsense.

The best form of defence is attack, and there is no area where we can’t formulate policies based on clear Liberal thinking which can be used to press forward the cause. Anything else is a kind of pathetic sense that what we believe is somehow bound always to be unpopular.

Having just spent two months in the USA, and talked to endless miserable and depressed people on the left – convinced that there is nothing they can do to tackle the tide from the right – I feel this is a lesson we urgently need to learn, before we end up like them.

So many on the left, including some Lib Dems I serve with, seem to have an inner assumption that our policies are deeply unpopular and must at all costs be hidden behind a ‘shield’. All else is populism.

Well, it’s nonsense. In fact, an articulate, aggressive liberalism, of the kind we saw from Nick Clegg last night, is the only way of countering the slow spread of lazy Fox News-style intolerance.

Right, now – close watertight doors and prepare for the depth-charges!


ian said...

How well the Lib Dems do will depend I think on whether the Liberal or SDP tendency comes to the fore. The SDP were trying to create a party not dissimilar to what Labour has become. I think if the Lib Dens can recapture some old style Liberal radicalism, they have the best chance for perhaps 80 years to change the political landscape of the UK.

David Boyle said...

I very much agree, and this is a long-term project.

tracey said...

I feel incredibly enthusiastic about having Nick Clegg as PM. When the reality sinks in that we'll be stuck with one of the other two it will be terribly depressing. Do you think PR will come in and hopefully shaft the other two parties forever? The worry is that the lib dems will become as corrupt and establishment as the other two parties.