Thursday 24 September 2015

Why should the Tories have all the best tunes?

There was a time when evangelists disapproved of singing. The along came William Booth of Salvation Army fame - or so it is said - and famously asked why the Devil should have all the best tunes.

I thought of that yesterday afternoon, as I listened to the new Lib Dem leader's first big speech.

I may have mentioned this before, but I find the Left deeply irritating these days. I don't say this because I am somehow part of the Right. But the rage, the conservatism, the symbolic language derived from the 1917 October revolution - slogans, banners, barricades - is all ferociously off-putting.

It is off-putting in other ways too, which kind of explain why the Left is on the back foot across Europe. They have nothing to say about economics, leaving the field clear for the forces of Conservatism.  They are always urging us to 'defend' institutions I know are flawed, sometimes hopelessly so - but so rarely urge us to build new ones.

And heavens, the disapproval. Don't get me started.

It is stultifying, controlling and inflexible. It disapproves of patriotism, so it never appeals to pride in the nation. It disapproves of economics, so it never appeals to the demand for prosperity.  Of course it loses and, the angrier it gets, the more it is going to lose.

So I have to say that, in these two respects, I thought Tim Farron's first conference speech as Liberal Democrat leader was not just tremendously well delivered, it was also ambitious. It was ambitious enough to demand to be heard. It was exciting because of that.

Because in both these areas, he broke the barely spoken, rather puritanical, rules of the Left. He accused David Cameron of failing to live up to the tolerant traditions of the nation. He accused the other parties of being unpatriotic in their approach to Europe. "It's pitiful and embarrassing and makes me so angry," he said about the response to the refugee crisis, "because I am proud to be British and I am proud of Britain's values."

And at long last, he made economics - and the urgent need for a new Liberal economics - the centre of his policy pitch, alongside housing, promising "to develop a strong and clear Liberal vision of the British economy well into the future".

He took the fight to the Conservatives in this respect, so busily trashing a sector (renewables) which had been growing at seven per cent a year under Lib Dem rule.

Because I think he's right, and - listening to the speech - I could suddenly see that the battered Lib Dems could play a critical role, and sooner rather than later. If they can build up that vision of an economy that works, based on the power of entrepreneurs and challenging enterprise, rather than the desperate business of keeping a global basket case from teetering over into unrepayable debt every few years.

If they can demonstrate convincingly that the Conservatives are making us poorer - not because they are cutting welfare - but because their economic methods are seriously out-of-date. They are avoiding prosperity because, as Keynes put it, they are "the slaves of some defunct economist".

This new role requires the party to appeal to the enlightened patriotism of the voters.  It requires the Lib Dems to become the party - not just of economic competence (not such a good way of phrasing it) - but economic prosperity, rather than rising debt for most of us.

But, yes, it could be done. In fact, I'm not sure there is any other credible challenge coming from anywhere else any time soon. But I also agreed with Tony Greaves, interviewed all too briefly on the BBC PM programme - the Lib Dems can't wait around to get power before we make things happen.

I hope they break the other rule of the Left - don't just sloganise, don't just ask for votes, don't just demand change.  Do it, and do it with anyone prepared to help.

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Anonymous said...

"If they can build up that vision of an economy that works, based on the power of entrepreneurs and challenging enterprise..." can't think of anyone better to kick this off than you David. We should follow Tony Greaves' advice and build Liberalism from the grassroots.

David Boyle said...

Thank you for saying that! You've cheered me up!

Unknown said...

Intriguing article, but I worry that Tim is neglecting foreign affairs. People want credible solutions to the migrant crisis and I think the call to simply let more refugees in will be unpopular as a whole.

He's sounding better than I thought on business and economics, but he seems to have no policy whatsoever on the Middle East besides not getting involved.

People are connecting the migrant crisis to turmoil in the Middle East. I don't think foreign policy is a side issue for the electorate at this moment in time.

Best regards