Sunday, 12 August 2012

Lib Dem Factions: Liberal Left

This is the second in my series looking at the various factions within the Lib Dems. Yesterday I looked at the Orange Bookers. As then, the same provisos apply with regards to this post: the term "factions" is somewhat misleading as the actual factions are more like overlapping schools of thought, and the Lib Dems have far greater party unity than Labour or the Tories to boot, and lots of people within the party don't consider themselves part of any faction at all.

Nevertheless, I think that the different views within the party can broadly speaking be grouped into various "factions" and that's what this series of posts is looking at. Today I will be looking at 'Liberal Left'.

Liberal Left/Old School Social Democrats

I should say right off the bat that this is a very misleading name. The shot-hand name I'm using for this faction is that of a recently founded internal party group, Liberal Left, which is dedicated to opposing the Lib Dems being in coalition with the tories and to promoting working with left wing parties such as the Greens and Labour as they consider the Lib Dems to be a fundamentally left wing party as well.

However, Liberal Left as a group itself is fairly small but I'm appropriating the name, for a lack of a better term, to describe a larger group within the party who share many views with Liberal Left. Another way of labelling them would be as old school social democrats.

So, as above, what I would call the Liberal Left 'faction' consists of those who think that the Lib Dems should pull out of the coalition as they feel it is doing more harm than good, both for the party and for the country, and because they are deeply unhappy with the policies that the government is implementing. They are also, for obvious reasons, opposed to Nick Clegg remaining leader of the Lib Dems and think he should either step down immediately or be ousted by party members through a previously never used clause of the party constitution.

Politically, these are the people who, broadly speaking, probably identify themselves most strongly with the social liberal traditions of the old Liberal party and with the what-it-says-on-the-tin school of social democrats. Their vision of the Liberal Democrats is as a party is probably as one which is both to the left of, and more liberal than, (New) Labour.

As such, they are also the ones who are most likely to disagree with the fundamentals of the government's economic strategy and are likely to advocate borrowing more to boost the economy into growth now even if it means a much slower process of deficit reduction. However, because the defining feature of this group is their opposition to remaining in the coalition, it probably contains quite a wide spread of economic views.

That being said, on things like tuition fees and the NHS reforms and free schools these are the people most likely to disagree strongly with the government's record of action and view the legislation on these issues as being dangerous steps on the road to privatising vital public services.

As for their size within the party, in the most recent Lib Dem Voice survey on economic issues, 17% agreed with the statement:
The government’s spending cuts and tax rises are hurting the economy. It should cut public spending less severely and less fast because trying to stimulate growth now is essential, even if that means we go on borrowing more for longer and adding to our national debt.
Additionally, in the previous survey, 15% of members said that they were "very dissatisfied" with how Nick Clegg was performing as leader..

Now, as I said earlier, Liberal Left is a fairly fluid and ill-defined group but I'm relatively confident in saying that the majority of people who in the party who completely reject the governments's economic strategy and are very unhappy with Nick Clegg are the ones who broadly fit the Liberal Left label - even though relatively few of them might associate themselves with that name. So, my guess would be that somewhere between 15 and 20% of the party match this description even though this group has quite a wide range of views and overlaps significantly with the faction I'll look at tomorrow, the Social Liberals.

In terms of influence, this probably isn't a very influential faction for two reasons. The first is that their size limits their ability to change the party's direction to little more than vocally disagreeing with the leadership - their numbers prevent them from having much more impact than that. They are also somewhat hamstrung by the fact that the more likely someone is to be in this group the more likely they are to give up on the party entirely and fail to renew their membership. Additionally, I would hazard that, while one or two MPs might sympathise with them, their positions prevent them from being able to openly express their views without causing considerable damage to the party (unlike the constant spouting off of tory backbenchers, Lib Dem MPs tend to be fairly careful about trying not to actively undermine the leadership) and, as such, the most prominent Liberal Left member is probably the peer Jenny Tonge who, due to her fairly strident views on things like Palestine, isn't necessarily viewed with a great deal of affection by the leadership or by the majority of party members. The main voice of this faction, in so much as there is one, is probably Linda Jack.

So, that's Liberal Left covered and in tomorrow's post I'll be looking at the Social Liberals.

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