The Liberal What?

I’ve never been able to get my head around the Liberal Democrats. To me they often seem like the Partick Thistle of politics with Labour and the Tories as the Auld Firm. They’re the team you support when some scar faced young team refugee gets in your face wanting to know which team you support.

Naw. What team do you really support?

Perhaps my uncertainty lies party within knowing a bit about their origins and their predecessors.The party was formed as the result of a merger between the much older Liberal Party and a Labour splinter party called the Socialist Democratic Party. These parties were similar in ideology, but different in their proposed methodology.

The Liberals as a centre party wanted a freer and fairer society for all with minimal government interference in day to day life. They believed in the free market system and lassaiz-fair economics. Most importantly of all the originally espoused a belief in freedom of choice and self help for all but the most vulnerable members of society. In fact they more or less invented the UK welfare state at the beginning on the Twentieth Century.

The SDP were a short lived rebel group of prominent members of the Labour party who had grown disaffected by the increasing power of trade unions within the party and the way in which the party as a whole was “drifting out of touch with the people”.  Politically they took a mixed view. On the one hand they applauded the rampant free market policies of the Thatcher Government, but on the other they argued for a more comprehensive and robust welfare state. In effect I suppose they were at odds with every other party in the country at the time.

Even today the Liberal Democrats remain divided. Internally they can be split into two wings that at times can be politically antagonistic.

The first faction, the Social Liberals, advocate higher taxes, increased public spending and government regulation to protect consumers, employees and the environment. They also support an increase to the scope and value of the welfare state over and above the current system.

The second faction, the Market Liberals, hold the same beliefs of personal and social freedom as their fellows, but they also advocate a much freer economic system and smaller government. This puts them at odds with the Social Liberals as it’s difficult to have both a larger welfare state and a smaller government. Equally it’s hard to have a government regulated market, and encourage personal entrepreneurship and investment.  They’re not mutually exclusive ideals, but I think historical attempts have proven the you either end up with one, or the other sooner or later. No matter how good your intentions.

In essence they’ve inherited a political outlook that’s a child of two worlds.On the one hand they want soceity to be free of regulation by central government, to be morally, culturally, financially and legally liberal, but on the other hand they want all the government to lead from the front and pro-actively deal with issues concerning Britain through regulation and consumer protection.

You could do much worse than to vote for the Liberal Democrats. They float around the middle of the political spectrum, a place that Labour and the Conservatives have been trying to muscle into lately. If you think of the UK election as a thin bridge. On the right hand side you’ve got a deep pit full of suffocating baby-oil and cotton wool where the Labour nanny state is running rampant, and on the other side you’ve got a pit of snakes wearing human skin salivating at the prospect of burning the entire UK public sector at the stake. Somewhere in the middle of that bridge, glancing nervously back and forth, you’ll find the Liberal Democrats. As I said at the beginning: They provide a good “Partick Thistle” option and I’d rather you voted for them than not vote at all. Of the three main UK wide parties I think they’re the least likely to utterly ruin what’s left of “Great” Britain.

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