A tale of two liberal parties…and an important question for the Lib Dems!

January 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, dear reader, for this is a tale which has needed to be told for quite a while…a message that needs to be heeded by the British Liberal Democrats; a warning from history, if you will.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I support this Coalition Government and a overwheling majority of its polices; I’m glad that Liberal Democrats are a full part of this Government, serving in the National Interest.

But, our party leadership must be careful in how they plan our strategy beyond the likely next election in 2015.

Warnings come to us from another liberal policy in our own continent and from another down under.

Let’s start with the Australian Democrats; the Aussie’s own version of the Liberal Democrats.

Formed in 1977 as a centrist, socially liberal political party it found quite a bit of success, indeed during two successive Labor administrations the Democrats held the balance of power; helping legislation pass when they thought it was good the country, stopping it when they believed it was bad for the country.

However, by 2008, the party had lost all of its representatives in the country’s Parliament.

It is now a shadow of its former self, albeit a principled one, having to try to re-build itself…and, of course, we wish our Australian sister party well in that.

There are lessons for us to learn however from the Democrats fall from favour; they came under increasing attack for seeming to be-at one and same time-a party of the Right and of the Left and, though, we might see that as sensible (after all we Lib Dems accept the need for markets, in helping to create growth whilst also having very strong principles in terms of the need for a fair, green and decent society) but many Australians clearly wanted a more obvious store about what they were all about.

Of course, there were many other factors’ in the party’s downfall, but that was clearly a primary reason.

Now, let’s take a look at the fortunes of a liberal party a little closer to home.

The FDP in Germany is a party which supports human rights, civil liberties and internationalism but, over the years, has markedly become a centre-right political party.

It has been the junior partner in formal Coalition Governments for most of the past fifty plus years, on one occasion joining with the country’s main left-wing party, the SDP (1969-1982) but, mainly, with the country’s centre-right coalition, the CDU/CSU (1949–56, 1961–66, 1982–98, and since 2009.)

It surely must be seen as one of the most successful liberal parties in the World.

Now, of course, the peculiarities of each country means that direct comparisons are hard to make but we, as British Lib Dems, do need to be asking ourselves how we build on being in Government to ensure that we can deliver liberal policies for the people of Britain not just until 2015, but beyond.

Do we need to signify on which part of the political spectrum we fall (whilst being prepared to be in Coalition with either the main left-wing or right-wing parties), for example do we need to be more explicit in saying-for example-that we are on the centre-left in terms of social policy but on the centre-right in terms of economic policy?

Are we going to be like the Australian Democrats or the German FDP…or can we find our own third way?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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§ 4 Responses to A tale of two liberal parties…and an important question for the Lib Dems!

  • John says:

    I think we need to carve out a pragmatic niche that reflects where the majority of British people are – conservative on fiscal policy and liberal on social policy.

    I disagree in some sense your assertions – my own belief is that there are only two main successful political economic models in Europe – Scandinavian Social Democracy and Germanic liberal conservatism. There are societal upsides and downsides to both – based on culture and behaviour. The first defaults to the state as an instinct the latter to the individual.

    Of course, all of this is futile when you can’t pay the bills.

  • burkesworks says:

    There is already a better “third way” (lower case letters please) to emulate than either the total electoral failure that is the Australian Democrats or, heaven forbid, the ultra free-marketeers of the German FDP. Look no further than D66 from the Netherlands; principled and relatively successful at the polls.

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  • Chris Mills says:

    I think we’ll find our own third way.

    Our main issue is one of communication right now, particularly to activists. I think that this is going to improve now we have Helen Duffett in place as internal communications manager. We have a growing membership and are doing some good things in government (as well as making some decisions that are very difficult). By getting the message out about these good things (BTW did you know the 28 day detention without charge for terrorist suspects expires on Monday and reverts to 14 days) that we are doing then we can continue to grow as a party.

    It will hurt in the short term as cuts bite, but long term I think this coalition will be very positive for us.

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