Liberalism is a philosophy claimed by members of all three major parties in Britain, but sadly no party truly lives up to the claim. However, it is the Liberal Democrats who most loudly trumped their belief in liberalism – not least in their name (please never refer to them as the liberals or the liberal party as it abuses the term). The Lib Dems are often mocked by true liberals as they seldom measure up to their branding, but amusingly this weekend Lib Dem Voice has boldly claimed that Liberal Democrat MPs are the most liberal MPs in Parliament, scoring them on key votes in the current Parliament.
The votes they picked are admirable and it’s pleasing that even in this biased ranking Conservative Party MPs fare well. Issues such as ID Cards, DNA database and 90 day detention are all examples of the authoritarian Labour Party’s assault on British liberties. However the compilers of this poll (always reluctant to give honest criticism to their own party) failed to mention several important votes, which I’m sure they will be aware will ruin this airbrushed ranking.
The first and most obvious is the Liberal Democrats voting on the smoking ban and other liberal measures to restrict the rights of smokers on private property. The vast majority of Lib Dem MPs voted both for the substantial ban and also against any provision to allow exemptions for private clubs. They have also voted for display bans and to ban vending machines. I ask Lib Dems how they justify calling themselves liberal while voting for such illiberal measures? No doubt they will cry that they are attempting to protect workers – because the authoritarian streak in this party thinks that pub workers were too stupid to make these decisions for themselves. Labour is clearly the most authoritarian major party in Britain, but at least they don’t put the word liberal in their name!
By focusing on votes in parliament they also neglect to take into account authoritarian action by local councils or calls by MPs without any vote taking place. How do they rank Jo Swinson MP as being liberal despite wanting to censor advertisements? Of course Ms Swinson justifies this policy as being for the children – they cry of authoritarians everywhere. They conveniently ignore Lib Dem councils like Liverpool who have called for banning under 18s from seeing films containing smoking. It is also a convenient fudge to ignore the last Parliament’s vote against fox hunting – one in which a majority of Lib Dem MPs took an illiberal stance.
Why did they also ignore the Liberal Democrats' stance on the Equalities Bill? I want equality for homosexuals, women and ethnic minorities – it’s the liberal thing to do. However, it is highly illiberal to force private organisations to comply with our liberal philosophy. The Lib Dems clearly don’t believe that we will defeat terrorists by using terrorist tactics like torture. Why do they think liberalism will be achieved through authoritarianism?
How is breaking an election promise to allow a vote of the EU Constitution considered liberal (it’s certainly not democratic – also not good considering their branding!)? Liberals value honesty and keeping one’s word. The decision of Liberal Democrats to deny Britons of a say on a fundamental constitutional change, is highly illiberal. I know they will argue that the Lisbon Treaty is not the same as the EU Constitution. However, true liberals wouldn’t fudge such a semantic distinction – it looks like the Constitution, it smells like the Constitution – it is substantially the EU Constitution (a highly illiberal one at that).
I’m delighted Lib Dem Voice is discussing liberalism. It’s an important first step. Along with Syed Kamall MEP, Peter Lilley MP, Douglas Carswell MP and hundreds of other Conservative Party members we have established Progressive Conservatives, a group dedicated to promoting liberalism within the Conservative Party. How successful would we be if we parroted a party line and denied that there is much work to do?
If Lib Dem Voice wanted to promote liberalism within the Liberal Democrats, they would be better to acknowledge failings as well as successes. We know that the Conservative Party’s past stances on social issues have been illiberal – something David Cameron has done much to reverse. We know that some policies such as my friend Nick Herbert ‘s wish to create a supermarket quango is illiberal and we say so. When will Lib Dem Voice show such frankness and honesty?