November 24, 2005

EVERYBODY WANTS TO COME IN THIRD:

The Tories and Lib Dems have become natural allies (Ferdinand Mount, 25/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)

[A]lmost unnoticed, a fresh axis is establishing itself. On issue after issue, the old abysses separating the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats have narrowed or virtually disappeared. This week the two parties have joined in vigorously opposing the shameful let-off for IRA terrorists on the run. A couple of weeks ago, they made common cause to destroy the Government's attempt to introduce 90-day detention without charge for terrorist suspects.

As shadow home secretary, David Davis has revealed a libertarian streak which has surprised many people. And David Cameron is not ashamed to say that "I have always thought I was a liberal Conservative" - words that I cannot imagine tripping from the lips of any other Tory leader in the past 30 years.

Perhaps the most striking evidence of the new Con-Lib axis is their emphatic agreement on the importance of genuine localism, not the phoney "earned autonomy" for local government which is all that Labour is willing to concede.

Conservatives and Lib Dems unite in opposing Charles Clarke's plans to sweep away what remains of the old shire police forces and amalgamate them into a dozen huge and remote regional forces, which can easily be controlled by Whitehall.

They will join forces in blocking any proposals to "simplify" - i.e. centralise and castrate - local government along the lines set out in a leaked memo from David Miliband, the local government minister. For the Conservatives, who have a record of centralisation as long as your arm, the conversion to small-is-beautiful is fairly recent. For the old Liberals, this is mother's milk.

But the Lib Dems are going through an uncomfortable conversion, too. The thunderous Noes to the EU constitution from voters in France and the Netherlands were delicious news for the Tories and a huge relief for Tony Blair, who was otherwise cruising for a bruising in our own referendum.

For the Lib Dems, though, those votes spelled out a painful end to their dreams of a federal Europe with a single currency. For the foreseeable future, they had instead to apply themselves to the mundane slog of winning better deals for the fisherfolk and hill farmers who loom so large in their constituencies. And on this front again they found themselves in the same trenches as the Tories.

Last weekend there was another conversion announced. Charles Kennedy - remember him? - proclaimed that his party now believed in "fair tax, not higher tax". The overall effect of any tax pledges in their next manifesto would have to be revenue-neutral. He cutely promised "to seek to reposition the Lib Dems as one-size bears" - not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Speaking as a rather sceptical Goldilocks, I diagnose this as a hurried retreat from the strategy of outflanking Labour on the Left to a position much closer to the Tories. [...]

Cameron himself now offers a more beguiling melody than the austere plainchant we have come to expect of recent Tory leaders. There was more to life, he told party members at the candidates' London hustings, than money and manic shopping. The quality of our relationships and the beauty of our surroundings mattered too.

This is an updated version of Quintin Hailsham's philosophy that Toryism is also about the enjoyment of life - and again it is calculated to appeal to liberals and Liberals alike.

Which brings us to the nitty-gritty. This convergence is all about who is to win the dozens of marginal seats in which Tories and Liberals ran each other so close in May.


Note that the convergence involves both parties moving Right to try to outflank what was supposed to be the party of the Left.

MORE:
Tory revival gathers pace as Blair loses magic touch (Ferdinand Mount, 25/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)
Voters lose faith in Blair as Tories rise again (George Jones, 25/11/2005, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 24, 2005 9:11 PM
Comments

What is a Liberal Democrat? Is there an analog in US politics?

Posted by: Pepys at November 24, 2005 11:51 PM

Pepys:

The Lib Dems were formed in the late 80s out of the remnants of the Social Democrat Party - which was made up of defecting members of the right wing of Labour.

They were opposed the militant side of Labour, and so I suppose they were the original party to set themselves up as a 'third way' - supposedly combining social justice and the welfare state with economic freedom. The Lib Dems have also attracted defectors from the Tory left.

That was pre-Blair of course. Post-Blair and the invention of 'New Labour', they have found themselves as the most left wing of the 3 parties on most issues: most notably pledging to increase income tax to fund education. They were also the only party to oppose the Iraq invasion.

As for what they really 'stand for' - who knows? They get accused of trying to be all things to all people - as does Blair. Cameron will be the same. But that's British politics today: ideology has been dead for a while.

Posted by: Brit at November 25, 2005 4:43 AM

Brit, in saying the Liberal Democrats were formed from the remnants of the Social Democrats, you neglect the once great Liberal party, last in office during the first world war. Charles Kennedy was from that side of the party, if I'm not mistaken. They had a reputation for unrealistice idealism - beards and sandals.

Posted by: H at November 25, 2005 6:54 AM

H: true - and there is still a beard-and-sandals element in the national party that pops up at the annual conference.

I suppose they're the faction that keeps voting for the Lib Dems to run on legalising cannabis - much to the chagrin of the leaders, who haven't twigged what Blair has: you can't run a political party as a democracy.

Posted by: Brit at November 25, 2005 7:21 AM

Brit:

But they couldn't because Thatcher had already seized that turf and an opposition party had to be set up in opposition to the Third Way.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2005 9:12 AM

If your definition of 'third way' means Thatcherism, then I think it is different to the one commonly used in Britain, which essentially refers to Blairism or New Labour-ism.

But it is true that the centre ground has shifted so far right since the late 70s that the differences between Blairism and Thatcherism (with a few notable exceptions like the National Minimum Wage) are principally in presentation rather than substance.

Posted by: Brit at November 25, 2005 10:20 AM
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