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Friday, January 06, 2006


Is this a pigeon?

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Because it certainly is a right-wing coup.

Charles Kennedy seems to have found himself in an untenable position. He has lost the support of the majority of senior Liberal Democrat MPs. It seems reasonable to suggest that a leader cannot continue when the Parliamentary party is openly against him. However, it is strongly suggested, and little disputed, that Charles Kennedy retains the support of the majority of the Liberal Democrat party as a whole. But Kennedy cannot rely on this to keep him leader. As long as his MPs are in open revolt, he credibility is destroyed, regardless of his support from the largely voiceless membership.

So, we have a situation where the left-leaning liberals – the beard and sandals brigade – who make up the body of the Liberal Democrats are having their chosen leader ousted by a handful of ambitious professional politicians – the Orange Book neo-liberals. Using the party as a vehicle for their ambitions, these plotters of a coup d’partie reduce politics to a game played only by a professionalised political class. The membership is a mere resource to be exploited to boost the career progression of uniformly neo-liberal politicians. This is a distinctly anti-democratic trend in British politics, but, like the Liberal Democrat membership, ‘whatchagonnado?’ They cannot back Charlie Kennedy, not with so many knives still protruding from his spine. They cannot dismiss their MPs, en masse, without killing the Liberal Democrat party. So the party is in their hands. Coup.

This seems to be a familiar pattern, seen before in British politics; the seizure of a party and its infrastructure by a handful of unrepresentative neo-liberal professional politicians. I do not doubt their consummate political skill, I merely point out the democratic deficit that accompanies their rise. Witness New Labour, and the relationship between Parliamentary party and conference, and NEC*. The membership is presented with a simple choice; shut up or ship out. And, like the Labour membership, ship out they will, I predict.

*The relationship between New Labour and their heartland voters is similarly cynical. At the last General Election the New Labour line was that, regardless of voters’ positions on the Iraq War, on PFI or on the erosion of civil liberties, votes had to be cast for New Labour or else the Tories would sneak back into power. Mere days after the election, the [minority of] voters that voted New Labour back into government were being used as an argument that there was a democratic imperative for the Iraq War, for PFI and for the erosion of civil liberties.

Oh Mr Bartlett! With these puns you are really spoiling us!
Interesting assessment. You probably don't know it, but this has some fairly strong parallels with what the Australian Democrats have gone through in the last few years.

The Democrats are reasonably similar to the Lib Dems (although much much smaller), particularly with the member participation ethos.

I've done a piece on some of the Australian parallels (and some of my other thoughts about the Lib Dems) which some people may find of interest. See
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