Posts Tagged 'Liberal Democrats'

Liberalism after the Death of Politics

Liberalism after the Death of Politics

                                                                            – by Seth Thévoz

 

For much of the last century, British Liberals have been met with derision. Whilst liberalism has flourished at the heart of government in countries such as Canada, in Britain it has been accused of being abstract, vague, and unconnected to the day-to-day rough-and-tumble of politics. Indeed, the remaining proponents of liberalism in the UK are something of an oddity: They believe in something. Amidst the professinalisation of politics, and its subjection to the process of advertising, the British political spectrum does not have much to offer by way of ideology. In surveying the landscape around us, we shall see that British politics is both very hostile to ideologies, and yet has never been in more need of an ideology, especially liberalism.

 

Socialism is dead. That much is certain. What allegedly left-wing politicians now call ‘socialism’ or ‘social democracy’ or even its loosest ‘New Labour’ permutations are so far removed from the ideological roots of socialism, or indeed ideological roots of any kind, that it is more a combination of pragmatism, and a desire to capture the electoral inheritence of the traditional Labour coalition; a vast alliance of inner cities, progressive suburbs, declining industry, and a unionised workforce. The Labour Party in its present ‘New’ form is a deeply cynical exercise in power politics that seeks to dominate elections by occupying ‘the middle ground’; the problem with New Labour permanently seeking to occupy ‘the middle ground’, is that it is not a fixed point. There is no principle involved in ‘The Third Way’, indeed, as political issues and debates vary every year, so the middle ground oscillates wildly between the left and the right, the liberal and the authoritarian. To quote Tony Blair himself, “I have taken from my party everything they thought they believed in. I have stripped them of their core beliefs. What keeps it together is power.” That holds true of the New Labour coalition.

 

Turning to the more traditionally socialist elements of the Labour Party, they are doomed to pursue small-C conservatism. Not the conservatism of the economic right, but the moderate conservatism which comes from a lack of imagination; an overdependence on tried and trusted methods; a distrust of innovation. It is the conservatism that does not question the old wisdom that the Trade Unions know best, collective wisdom is always superior to that of the individual, and so the mantra of ‘might is right’ survives through the majority always suppressing the minority, whether it be through the electoral college of Trade Union bloc votes, or the flagrant disregard for ‘outsiders’ who are not part of the Labour movement – consider, for example, the unabashedly exclusionist immigration policies of the Wilson and Callaghan governments in the late 1960s and 1970s which bordered on racism. It is thus perhaps unsurprising that traditional socialism, with its tribalism and chauvinism, has few adherents today even in the Labour Party.

 

On the other side of the spectrum, traditional, paternalistic conservatism is dead also; at least, within the Conservative party. If paternalistic conservatives can bear to wear jeans, they might find a reasonable imitation of their creed amidst the bland centrism of New Labour, but certainly not within the Conservative Party. Despite the attempts of Major and even Cameron to lay claim to the old ‘One Nation’ mantle, the Conservative Party today seems suspiciously far from the ideas of Disraeli and Macmillan that resolved to unite the ‘two nations; the rich and the poor.’ Even with their new ‘cuddly’ image, the Conservatives have not recently been able to lay claim to the title of ‘unifier’. What Alan Duncan referred to as The Tory Taleban still carry enough weight to have made the party divisive, and abrasive to many on issues such as the repeal of Section 28, William Hague’s populist U-turning in opposing lower fuel taxes one week, and proposing the lowest of all the next. This Tory Taleban does still wield a strong streak of Thatcherite dogma – a good counter, it could be argued, to the idea that politics is devoid of ideology. But they are ever increasingly being marginalised by the slick, professional, insincere image being projected – in the case of Margaret Thatcher during the last election, quite literally the embarrassing relative being kept locked up in the attic. We live in a political culture where one is penalised for sincerity, and rewarded for blandness and a lack of any views whatsoever.

 

The Liberal Democrats do not claim to be a home for all the vanquished and sidelined ideologies – though it is certainly worth mourning the passing away of a politics based on the engagement of ideas. What they do represent is a vehicle for Liberal ideas amidst a political process which no longer places great emphasis on ideas of any kind. Perhaps the massively prescriptive ideologies of past centuries have had their day – but if so, there is no satisfactory successor to them.

 

If ideology is to be reinvigorated within politics, surely liberalism is the framework for it. One of liberalism’s many strengths is that it is a means, rather than an end – a system of governing through due process, safeguarding against abuses of power. Liberal systems can end up paving the way for governments of the left, or the right – or they can remain Liberal. Witness, for example, how the United States was founded upon one of the most liberal constitutions, but how it has grown profoundly conservative over the years in its defence of that original constitution. Contrast this with the gradual reshaping of Canada over the years, how the increasing progressive liberalism of the Trudeau years culminated in the constitution of 1982, and how successive Conservative governments since then have still not succeeded in removing the underlying liberal consensus in everyday attitudes forged over the past few decades.

 

No liberal could ever dispute the central message of Voltaire’s argument, “I may vehemently disagree with what you say, but I would die for your right to say it.” What a vibrant, liberal democracy needs is a meaningful dialogue of opposing views to be considered by actively participating citizens. Ever lazy parties with ever lazier, simplified slogans, asking less and less of the people is not the way to engage people. What is needed is a Liberal approach based on devolving power to the people; taking power out of the hands of Whitehall, and giving it to local councils. If local elections were meaningful, and had real power over local schools and hospitals, they would actually be worth turning up for, instead of generating dismal 40% turnouts, and votes based on vague impressions rather than real interest. If local and national issues were separated, then elections could actually be about specific issues, instead of once every five years being a maelstrom of parochial referenda irrelevant to the elections at hand. What is needed is nothing less than a Liberal reshaping of the constitution of this country, to restore a sense of ownership in our politics and our politicians. Only with this level of attention to detail can we get out of the rut of advertising agency politics.

 

The writer has graduated from Cambridge in History and Politics, and was the CSLD chair in the year 2005.

Free Education … still worth fighting for

Free Education

               …is still worth fighting for

                                                                      by Elaine Bagshaw

             

The Bill which saw the introduction of tuition fees in England was won in Parliament by only 5 votes. Nearly a million students marched in London against this tax on education. The NUS lobbied against it, it was denounced as unfair, and our own party promised to abolish it. The policy was seen as an unforgivable assault on free education that, to begin with, was questioned at every opportunity.

 

Fast forward ten years, and the landscape of the debate is much changed. NUS has dropped its commitment to free education (an indication of how close the union has become to the Labour leadership), campaigning from students is almost silent, report after report claims fees have had no effect on accessibility and at Harrogate this Spring, our party will debate Higher Education policy, and its commitment to the abolition of fees.

 

When everyone runs onto the same ground, it’s easy to think you should follow. The voices in favour of free education have dwindled, and we are often referred to as “loony lefties” who back a regressive policy which is only a middle class subsidy from the taxpayer. The majority of those involved in this debate seem to have accepted that fees are here to stay, and that if you want to enter Higher Education you better be prepared to take on the minimum £9,000 debt that comes with it.

 

The idea that crippling young people with huge debts is acceptable and something we should see as an investment, especially in the current economic climate, is an absurdity. Graduate debt is the first and last solution of other parties’ Higher Education funding schemes. This way of thinking is not fair and it is not progressive. As the recession takes hold, it is people in the under 25 age bracket that are making up the lion’s share of redundancies.

 

People will argue that it is a debt that no-one chases you for, and you only pay it back once you’re working, but it is still a debt and it still accrues interest. I myself have £14,500 of student debt to repay. This is accruing £60 of interest every month. If I were made redundant tomorrow, this interest would still be added onto the overall debt. And if the economy doesn’t recover for two years (the minimum that’s expected), that’s another £1440 added on.

 

But there’s more to it than just student debt: Since the introduction of tuition fees, we’ve seen a market creep into Higher Education which is damaging the sector. We are being forced to think about only how to get a job after University – one which will earn us enough to repay our massive student debts. Lecturers are being forced to teach to the mark-sheet and find it harder and harder to explore, with students, their knowledge or their potential – this has even begun to hit the age-old institution that is the University of Cambridge. This isn’t the fault of students or lecturers, but of yet another failed ‘Labour’ policy.

 

Research clearly demonstrates that poorer students are more likely to choose a University that is close to home, meaning that these students miss out on all the extra skills and experiences the rest of us get from University. Social skills, independence, involvement in student activities and much more: all missed out on not because you don’t have the talent to go to a better University, but simply because the structure of the system means you just can’t afford it. Higher Education in this country remains inaccessible to poorer students and the best Universities continues to be implicitly reserved for the most privileged, rather than the most capable.

 

Dropping an illiberal and artificial 50% target (proportion of people going to University) – seemingly plucked out of thin air – coupled with a system of progressive taxation and sensible budgeting from a Government would provide well-funded, accessible Higher Education. The benefits for every student in Cambridge would be immense. It would develop all forms of diversity, free up access teams to do their job, and push the reputation of Cambridge even higher.

 

Free education is not regressive. Means-tested grants, loans and fees are regressive because it means that at the age of 18 (or older if you take a gap year) you are still tied to your parents. Every other section of the law views you as an independent adult – free to vote, get married without your parents’ permission and take on commercial credit and yet the current tuition fees system ties a financial commitment to you that your parents are expected to keep, yet on the Government’s terms.

 

The fight for free education is still worth it because free education is something that should not be compromised on. Education is a liberating, developing force and can free us from any background we are born into. What matters is that the principle of free education is still strong and its benefits worthwhile. This is something the Liberal Democrats have always stood for, and I hope always will.

 

Liberal Youth will be leading the fight for free education and the abolition of tuition fees at Harrogate conference. If you want to get involved, email elaine.bagshaw@liberalyouth.org and help with anything from lobbying to literature.

 

 

 

The writer is currently the Liberal Youth Chairperson.

 

 

 

 

Mixed Year to be a Liberal

It has been a mixed year to be a liberal. The Government has pushed ahead with schemes to introduce compulsory ID cards, yet the House of Lords crippled the plans for 42 day detention without trial. We have seen little progress in tackling ongoing international problems yet have celebrated the election of Barack Obama with his message of hope and change. As always with politics, much is decided by the underlying economic conditions. McCain’s economic policy weaknesses helped Obama get elected, and the shear cost of the government’s ID card plans may yet see them defeated. The current recession continues to affect and shape government policy.

 

As Liberal Democrats, we are incredibly lucky, for we have the MP for Twickenham, Dr Vince Cable, on our side. Vince has been consistently right about the economy. He has warned about the US housing bubble and rising levels of debt in this country for years. Contrasting this with the Prime Minister and the Tories we are left with a pretty clear picture. Gordon Brown believed that he had eliminated the boom and bust cycle forever, and George Osborne appears to be spending more time on yachts than he is formulating a policy for economic recovery. Certainly, he is all at sea. Vince, on the other hand, called for the nationalisation of Northern Rock the moment that the crisis it was in became clear; Labour and the Tories dallied, with the Prime Minister finally making the decision months later, having caused needless insecurity. When Vince was acting leader, he dazzled the commons with his skill. He now continues to impress the public with his abilities as an economic spokesman. He certainly has many disciples in Cambridge, and those of us who heard him speak this term came away with one thought. His economic foresight coupled with his clarity, left us in no doubt – this is the man who should be leading our country out of the recession.

 

Yet it is here, in the drive to end the economic downturn, that we must be careful. The recession will surely be the driving force behind politics for much of the next decade. But there are other crises which must also be addressed. Global warming and the imminent threat of climate change must not be forgotten. As Liberal Democrats, we were the first major political party to address these concerns, and, even as Labour and the Tories are prepared to jettison their environmental policies in these difficult times, we must stand firm. Principles must not be principles only in times of fiscal health, like the Prime Minister’s Economic Golden Rules. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a real threat and the most pressing danger we will face in the 21st century. We must not jeopardise our future for a little more economic security in the present; we must not jump out of the frying pan into the fire. Nick Clegg seems to understand this, and has called for a “green road out of the recession, creating jobs and leaving a legacy that will save energy, put[ting] money back into people’s pockets and fight[ing] climate change.” Nick correctly calls for the scrapping of the meaningless VAT cut, which will not encourage people to start spending, instead proposing that the money saved should be used to insulate schools, hospitals and the houses of those in fuel poverty. Other plans include building 40,000 extra zero-carbon social houses and increasing energy efficiency, both in the home and in public services. The plans aim to make a “real difference to people’s lives now, create new jobs today, and leave us with the infrastructure for a long-term, green economic recovery.”

These plans have my total support; they are formed in today’s harsh economic reality but do not forget the universal call to the fight for social justice and environmental protection. But to my mind, we, as a party and a country, should still be doing more to fight climate change. Nick Clegg is right in ensuring that we do not throw away environmental concerns in our battle against the recession, but we must go further. We do not just need a green path out of the recession. We must also have detailed plans to tackle the climate crisis in its own right. We have Vince Cable masterminding our plans to fight the recession. Who will take the lead on climate change? At the moment, we seem to sit on the fence on this issue. We call for greater measures to safeguard the environment, but also reject the use of nuclear power. Nick Clegg recently spoke in Cambridge, claiming that nuclear power was too expensive and is an ineffective use of public money. I do not buy this argument. It is a difficult choice, for he is right that nuclear power is expensive, but I do not see an alternative. Recent studies show that other forms of renewable energy cannot alone replace our current power stations. Nuclear power would not contribute to global warming and any potentially dangerous waste products can be safely managed. Indeed, nuclear power is used to great success on the continent – nearly eighty percent of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power stations. We must therefore reaffirm our commitment to fighting climate change, and lend our voices to the call for experienced engineers to start developing a new generation of nuclear power stations for Britain’s future.

 

As a party, we are often accused of only saying what people want to hear and not making the hard decisions since we have little prospect of forming a government. I do not believe this – indeed, I believe that our policies are strong, thought through, and have a consistent message born from the belief that government has an obligation to help, but not to impose upon the individual. However, I do believe that there is some truth in the charge when it comes to the issue of nuclear power and climate change. We must change this. Even whilst we face the recession, we must not forget the battle against climate change. We must take the bitter pill, and accept the necessity of nuclear power.

 

 

 

The writer – William Barter – is a student of Natural Sciences at Cambridge. He currently serves as the Treasurer for CSLD.

 

 

Privatisation of Security

Privatisation of Security

                                         – by Saumitra Pant

                                                              

One of the most conspicuous fallouts of the Mumbai terror attacks is this new phenomenon of Privatization of Security. But before we get down to discussing the concept, let’s understand the background from which it arose in the first place. Our security personnel can best be described as ‘Fat, unfit and lacking in teeth’. It’s deplorable, but true. Mr. Hemant Karkare, head of the anti-terror squad succumbed to the bullets of the perpetrators, because his bullet proof jacket, among other things, was as porous as plaster, and allowed bullets in like they were esteemed guests of the state. His death stands as a glaring reminder of the failure of our system, and of us as a nation.

 

The security personnel in the Chatrappatti Shivaji Terminal were equipped with rifles from the First World War. They had their .303 rifles to combat the terrorists with sophisticated weapons like AK-47’s. It was like watching Harry Potter trying to fight a Basilisk with Mrs. Weasley’s hair dryer. Amusing as it may sound, it is both grotesque and horrifying, and serves as a very real eye opener to us.

 

Now, keeping these facts under consideration, the rich and super rich do not like to depend on our police forces to defend us, and I don’t blame these people. I mean, what good is a policeman with a weapon, which was made when my great grandfather was conceived, against these Jehadi forces who don’t hesitate even for an instant before blowing up buildings, cars and even themselves. Privatization of security is a very real concern and it could have very serious implications if not redressed effectively through appropriate action. Try picturing people carrying live and loaded firearms with them for protection. The very thought of having millions of people with loaded weapons reminds me of the worst excesses of the Fascist era. Tempers are running short, and tolerance lower, which could precipitate into an extremely volatile situation on the ground.

 

Privatization of security is scary because of the scale at which it is being considered. The average citizen in the metros, who does not take any more than a passing interest in politics and elections, has realized that things cannot be allowed to carry on as they are, and (s)he must do something about it. But is this how we ensure our safety? Aren’t there better ways of ensuring that we have efficient law enforcement agencies that can restore some of our lost confidence in the system? Public anger has degenerated to a point where words have become devoid of meaning, and government assurances pass the people as the idle wind. Perhaps its time that our system was made more responsible to the people, and the corruption and rot was dealt with effectively by independent bodies which are both unbiased and non partisan.

 

People are thinking in micro terms, and the common fallacy of ideas is that it doesn’t have the same effect in macro terms. Common citizens with firearms pose a threat to our law and order situation. We need leaders like Barack Obama who are such fountainheads of progress that they are able to make people see the light, even when none exists. Public opinion needs to be moulded, and moulded fast. The pace at which the situation is decaying from bad to worse is alarming, and the Government itself finds itself confounded as to how to deal with the scourge of terrorism and eradicate it from its roots. Blame games among political parties aren’t helping either, in fact they are adding fuel to the whole concept of Privatization of Security. People are tired of the same old people doing the same old things over and over again. There seems to be no direct or transparent action on the ground.

 

Privatization of security has another great fallout. The whole concept would be playing into the hands of the terrorists who want to disrupt normal life and create terror and panic among the masses. And we are helping them in their cause without even realizing that what we think is meant to serve as protection, is just serving as a greater motivation to the terrorists who have wanted this in the first place. I, as a citizen of my country would like to implore the people to bury their weapons, and take steps to ensure that our security personnel do their jobs, and we should not do their job for them. We need to get involved in public life and administration to bring about a change. The system will change only when we get involved in it, and the time has come to get involved. Weapons are not the solution, but action is. We need to act fast, and in the right way to combat these forces. We need to think micro, and act macro, if we want a lasting change for the better. I hope people realize this before they take any steps which will jeopardize them as individuals and us as a nation.  

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Business Administration at Amity University, New Delhi, India.

 

 

We can defeat I.D. Cards

We can defeat I.D. Cards

                                  – by Joe Rinaldi Johnson

 

From 25th November 2008, any student or foreigner requiring a grant of leave to remain in the UK has been required to attend a government centre (the nearest to Cambridge being Croydon) to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of their visa application. This is Phase One of the Labour government’s ID Card and National Identity Register scheme.

 

Choosing ‘foreigners’ as guinea pigs is not accidental – the Labour government is invoking, and encouraging, fears and stereotypes in order to gain public support. Contrary to the narrative of the popular press, very few migrants to this country are ‘illegal’ and those that are would have no incentive to register for an ID Card anyway. At Cambridge we recognise the immensely valuable cultural, intellectual and economic contributions throughout history that foreign nationals have made to our country. We should not be treating them as criminals or as pawns in political games. The world’s best and brightest can easily choose, to our detriment, to go elsewhere.

 

The government’s other potential first targets have vocally rejected their plans. They are worried that this scheme gives the government too much power to intrude in their daily lives. The National Identity Register will amount to a huge government database linking up and cross-referencing all pieces of government data (medical, educational, tax, etc.) to a single source – providing them with an easily-accessible total life fact-file. This will amount to constant central government surveillance from the cradle to the grave. Once you are on the register you will not be able to get off it. Soon you will not even have a choice as to whether you register – you will be forced to do so. And when you are, if you so much as forget to keep their database updated – such as when you move address – you will be liable for a £1,000 fine. The Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, and I, believe that this is an attack on our supposedly liberal democracy.

 

Some people say that they have nothing to hide. They would give up their right to privacy in order to gain security. But these people will not get what they pay for. As the government cannot stop issuing thousands of genuine passports each year to false applicants today, they will not be able to stop criminals and terrorists obtaining ID Cards tomorrow. And as the government is able to lose millions of people’s personal data today, they will not be able to keep our data safe from criminals and the eyes of nosy government officials tomorrow. Even in the unlikely scenario that they did manage to protect us from these failings, they ignore the fact that tackling criminals and terrorists has never been a problem of failing to identify people. The 7/7 and 9/11 bombers all had valid forms of government identification and would not have been stopped by this scheme. Registering for an ID Card will not reveal any criminal motivations. The problem we should be trying to solve is catching them in the first place. To do that, we need police officers, not plastic. This scheme will give us neither liberty nor security and will cost us a colossal amount in the process.

 

In the midst of a potentially lengthy recession, now is not the time to force people to pay between £93 and £300 to obtain a worthless ID Card. This is not the time to drive away the foreign nationals that so enrich our nation. The Labour party are intimately complicit in this scheme and the Conservatives have only recently pulled on a cloak of principled opposition – they wanted ID cards long before Labour did. The two main parties have lurched about so violently on this and many other issues it is no wonder they both suffer from ideological motion-sickness. Consider this quote from Tony Blair in 1995: “Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand, let that money provide thousands of extra police officers on the beat in our local communities.” We totally agree. We should scrap this scheme and spend the savings to bolster our police force. ID Cards and the National Identity Register are expensive, intrusive, ineffective, and risk alienating those foreign nationals upon whom our society depends. A liberal activist (and dry cleaner) brought down the last British ID card scheme in 1952 by refusing to produce his card, announcing “I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing.” If you join CSLD in refusing to register for an ID Card today, we can do it again.

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, and the current CSLD Chair.

 

 

Behind the Aluminium Curtain

Behind the Aluminium Curtain

(Castro’s Changing Cuba)

                                          – by Joshua Blanchard Lewis

 

“Corruption is a part of the system. We all have to participate, even if we would prefer to be honest; otherwise we don’t eat”, Daniel tells me, his hand on my arm as his big eyes stare earnestly into mine. “In Cuba money does not talk; it shouts.”

 

Daniel is a local garbage collection supervisor, and a reluctant member of the CDR, the local branches of the Party which maintain a permanent vigil on their neighbours. I am conscious that he is attempting to engage me so that he can persuade me to give him some money. He is not unique: every Cuban knows that one chance encounter with a generous, wealthy European could obtain them money for months.

 

This is however but one of the unfortunate side consequences of Fidel Castro’s decisions during the time known as the Special Period which immediately followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. was for many years Cuba’s main trading ally and partner in maintaining authoritarian Socialism, and when its regime fell apart so did their favourable deals with the Caribbean island state. The years that followed are well-documented and are a testament to the strength of the Cuban people. Everything and anything at their disposal was used and reused to shore up their dearth of equipment and fragile agricultural infrastructure.

 

It soon became apparent to Castro and his close advisors that this position was unsustainable, so the decision was taken to open up the country to tourists and other foreigners; in turn providing a new source of income to supplement sales of rum, cigars and money sent back from Cubans abroad (the third largest source of national income). A dual economy was established with convertible pesos (CUC) making the exchange rate far more favourable to the local economy, and a new branch of police was created to watch over the new visitors. Apart from a few minor problems, most notably the tourist-targeting conmen whose rise was so swift and prominent that they even carry a specific name – jineteros – it was possible that this could have worked.

 

However, Castro at this point made a huge mistake. Although he had allowed for the construction of hotels, part-owned by foreign agencies (but by law at least 51% Cuban ownership), this did not cover the demand that soon followed as foreigners flocked in. As a result, new legislation had to be introduced which allowed Cubans to host tourists in their houses. Even with limitations in place, such as an upper limit of two rooms used for the purpose, and frequent and strict checks by authorities, the income generated by these rooms proved to be dramatically more than a typical wage. For comparison, a typical room costs a tourist around 25 CUC per night, while a standard wage for a professional falls in the range of 20-22 CUC per month. Even with a 100 CUC tax per room per month, it rapidly becomes obvious that renting out rooms can be disproportionately more lucrative.

 

The consequences of this disparity among fellow socialists is clear: all officials can be bribed, particularly because of their own lack of pecuniary strength, from medical personnel to police, and more food supplies can be bought by offering shopkeepers enough cash in stead of ration booklets. As the money piles in, the budding entrepreneur can even persuade others to exchange houses in their favour (permissible) but with a financial incentive (technically illegal). A better house, perhaps a more central one or with better facilities, draws more tourists and the cycle cements.

 

Ultimately what Cuba has been experiencing in the last decade is a rapidly expanding divide in personal finance and an effective creation of a nouveau riche bourgeoisie. This situation has only been aggravated by new commander–in–chief Raul Castro’s decision to allow Cubans to use formerly tourist–exclusive hotels and own mobile phones, since for obvious reasons only the very wealthy can afford these.

 

The ordinary Cuban on the street is not stupid, however; disgruntled comments and more and more outspokenness are frequent, in a country traditionally shackled by the watchfulness of a notorious secret police. The party continues to pass votes of confidence, but these are not by secret ballot and any dissenters mysteriously find themselves arbitrarily losing their licenses and jobs – which is hardly surprising. Following the recent spate of hurricanes, which have destroyed most of the country’s cigar crop for the year and which have driven food prices up to triple and even quadruple than what they were before the summer, tensions are high. Although the slogans of the revolution are ubiquitous in proclaiming their Socialist principles, one cannot help but wonder whether Cuba is really seeking a new Revolution, one brought about not by bloodshed or military intelligence, but rather one which is internationally driven.

 

With an increasingly capitalist awareness and hints of a freer society exuding from the fact that foreign Cubans are writing home with money packets, it would be extremely interesting to observe the ramifications of, say, a change in the U.S. policy on Cuba, in particular the trade embargo which has stood since the 1960’s. It may be that following the recent elections such a move may take place, and an influx of merchandise undoubtedly would send shock waves through the fabric of this supposedly Socialist society.

 

 

 

The writer is a student of Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge.

 

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

 

Why I am a Liberal Democrat

                                                           by David Howarth

No-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity

A phrase from the preamble to the old Liberal Party’s constitution, now happily transferred to the Liberal Democrats’, says best what the Liberal Democrats stand for. Liberals, it declares, work to build a society in which ‘No–one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity.’

 

Not even the opening page of Mill’s On Liberty, with its assertion that no-one should be coerced, except to prevent harm to others, expresses so accurately the essence of Liberal politics. Liberalism is not just a shield to ward off an over–mighty state. It is a sword, a weapon for change towards a distinctive, and distinctly better, society.

 

Poverty

 

Plainly, economic improvement is not a distinctively liberal aim. But ensuring that none shall be enslaved by poverty is. It focuses not on increasing material wealth for its own sake, but on eliminating the repression poverty causes. Poverty prevents people from being free – free to make choices and even, when the struggle to survive is paramount, to think their own thoughts.

 

This focus on the political effects of poverty, rather than just on inequality, allows Liberal Democrats to hold wide, non–materialistic views of economic questions. It allows, for example, advanced views on environmental protection. Conventional measures of prosperity notwithstanding, where the environment has been destroyed, vast numbers of people experience political conditions equivalent to absolute poverty. Where the struggle to ward off ill–health and find physical safety become all-important, freedom, autonomy and dignity disappear. But the same non-materialistic view inoculates Liberal Democrats against claims that any sacrifice of liberty is worthwhile if it increases material well–being. Material welfare, including health, is a means to an end, not the end itself.

 

Ignorance

 

Creating a society free of ignorance dominates Liberal Democrat thinking to an extraordinary degree, from the Party’s central 1990s sound-bite – ‘a penny on income tax for education’ – to opposition to censorship and support for open government and freedom of information.

 

Liberals still believe in what is fashionably called the ‘Enlightenment Project’. Not only should everyone be capable of participating in political discussion, but also, reason and knowledge, especially scientific knowledge, should form the basis of that discussion. Liberals instinctively reject the reliance on traditional authority and the cynical manipulation of myth and superstition which are fundamental to conservatism, including its modern ‘communitarian’ forms. Critics say that the Enlightenment Project has led to arrogant and ultimately disastrous attempts, such as Marxism, to claim to apply scientific methods to politics. But Liberals have never claimed, as socialists did, that they possess knowledge that authorises them to reconstruct society. They claim instead only that a society is rational to the extent that its members debate the future in a rational way.

 

Critics also say that the Enlightenment Project leads all values to dissolve into relativism. But there is a big difference between saying that there is no moral and political truth, as relativists claim, and saying that although objective truth exists, we cannot be certain what it is, and so the state should not impose all-embracing moral, religious or political views. Indeed, relativism underpins not liberalism but its enemies, the power-worshipping doctrines of Leninism and fascism and the reactionary inertia of ‘post-modernism.’

 

Conformity

 

Creating a society in which no-one is enslaved by conformity is perhaps the most distinctive liberal aim of all. It expresses a fundamental commitment to protecting individuality. Human creativity is the ultimate resource, and its shackling by convention and prejudice the ultimate extravagance. Moreover, this same aim is central to the Liberal Democrat conception of human rights. Freedom of speech and religion are forms of the freedom to be different.

 

But freedom from ignorance and freedom from conformity counterbalance each other. Traditional authority is subject to rational criticism, not to romantic but irrational revolt. Freedom from enslavement by conformity means not that it is wrong to criticise others, only that it is wrong to criticise others because they are acting unconventionally. Ignorance of the consequences of one’s actions for others is one of the most serious forms of ignorance. Liberalism is for individuality, not individualism – at least if individualism means that existential individualism in which no-one is accountable to anyone else.

 

Ultimately, one can divide political ideologies into those that appeal to fantasies of control and those that appeal to fantasies of liberation. Socialism appeals to people offended by the disorganisation of markets and by apparently never-ending political debate. Liberalism, by contrast, appeals to those who wish for themselves and others to be free.

 

 

 

The writer is MP, Cambridge.