It’s time for a realignment of the Left
One of my enduring memories of the frantic days of Coalition negotiation in 2010 was the sight of William Hague declaring the eventual agreement a “realignment of the right”. As a Liberal Democrat activist, the purloining of the language of the Left was galling – as I guess it was meant to be!
I am a member of the newly formed Liberal Left which espouses two central messages within the Lib Dems and beyond – a clear opposition to the current coalition and a strong belief in that old desire to see a realignment of the Left. Let me be clear on the first count. Liberal Left disagrees fundamentally with the coalition government and especially those economic policies which are focused on deficit reduction as opposed to finding ways to regenerate our economy and communities. We believe that the central thrust of the government’s economic and fiscal policies are wrong in both principle and practice.
The coalition has led a serious assault on living standards and welfare entitlements with the result that the legacy of this government will be increased social disruption, greater inequality, even less social mobility and growing poverty. For the Liberal Democrat leadership to accept and promote these outcomes is nothing short of a betrayal of our own principles and values as a party.
It is, therefore, imperative that an alternative declaration of principles is developed followed by a practical programme of political action which could form the basis of a different alliance before the next election – hence the importance of the second Liberal Left objective to contribute to a new movement across the centre left of British politics. We must be in a position to put forward a coherent political and economic programme which encompasses a revived Liberal Democrat party, the Greens and a transformed Labour Party. In addition, strong links need to be established with a range of campaigning movements and organisations which have emerged over the last few years so that the new political programme can be grounded in the experiences of such movements and community-based action.
So, Liberal Left believes that a solid, practical piece of work needs to be done over the next 12 months designed to see whether such a new alliance can come together to oppose the sirens of the right in the current government. Take just one central example. An alternative economic programme has to be developed to contest the coalition policies. If you assume that the government is pursuing Plan A then Compass, a left campaigning organisation, produced a Plan B some time ago setting out an alternative vision. The Social Liberal Forum, working within the Lib Dems, produced another variant which inevitably labelled itself Plan C! To Liberal Left the essential job now is to see whether the perspectives of both Plans B and C can be brought together into a coherent, credible economic programme which unites Labour and the centre left of the Lib Dems. If so, this achievement could become the basis of the creation of a widespread policy review which could cover a wide range of policies – including the reinvention of the role of the state in society.
In the same way, we could explore future energy policies and the concept of sustainable growth alongside climate change and environmental protection with the Greens, to see if there is a meeting of minds between all three political parties on these issues. I don’t mean to suggest that there are topics which are of more interest to particular parties within this new bloc; conversely we need to explore all topics with all those who might make up the new alliance. The two examples above are starting points rather than anything else.
The Liberal Democrats will have major choices to make over the next eighteen months. Not much attention has so far been given to the next Comprehensive Spending Review which is meant to cover a three year period from 2014 to 2017. This will be the mechanism which will set out the spending programmes and public expenditure cuts to cover the period over the next general election. In other words, the current coalition partners will be devising an economic and spending programme spanning either side of the election. Liberal Democrats voted to accept a coalition agreement for “this Parliament”. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary at the Treasury, let the cat out of the proverbial bag some time ago when he admitted on Newsnight that the Coalition would have to agree a public spending programme before the election which would cover the period up to March 2017!
This will undoubtedly be a precursor to an electoral pact of some kind in 2015. We must ensure that does not happen.