Nick Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam and leading Liberal Democrat strategistby David Goodhart / June 19, 2005 / Leave a comment
It is hard for third parties under first past the post. But this time you had uniquely favourable circumstances. Considering that, your result was disappointing. Does this show the limits of a “left” strategy for the Liberal Democrats?
I’m not convinced that the opportunities at this election were unrepeatable for the Lib Dems. If you look at the steady increase in Lib Dem representation in the House of Commons during the last few elections, it might be more accurate to say that this election represented a significant leap forwards in a long-term advance. A once-in-a-generation breakthrough, in which the third party might suddenly overtake one of the other larger parties, is an ambition which never takes sufficient account of the punitive effect of the first past the post system on Lib Dem fortunes. The 2005 general election should be seen as an important staging post in the creation of a new three-party political landscape, not a make or break throw of the dice.
As for the virtues of a so called “left” strategy, I bridle at the notion that we fought a leftist election campaign. Yet inasmuch as the “left” label is being hung round our necks by others, it’s clearly unhelpful. The party must continue to fight on the progressive centre ground of British politics, where we have always belonged. That is one reason why Charles Kennedy has called for a total review of party policy. It will give us a chance to restate our progressive, liberal views free of some narrow “left wing” tag. The centre ground is always the most crowded territory in contemporary politics. But just because it’s a congested place does not mean we should not have the confidence to stand out from the crowd.
What do “Orange Book” liberals propose? Is there a case for being more economically liberal (less statist, less “free everything for everyone”) but also politically liberal, for wholesale reform of our institutions and with a workable plan for real localism? I chuckle at the idea that there is now an identifiable school of “Orange Book liberalism”—when the book was and remains a collection of essays. Still, the question raises important issues about the meaning of modern economic and political liberalism. There’s no political appetite for a third party simply rehashing Thatcherite dogmas from the 1980s. In any event, many of the great economic debates of the 1980s have…