The modern Liberal Democrats are a fairly odd fusion of quite a few variants of the liberal tradition and two brands of social democracy. Couple this with a democratic party structure where anyone and everyone has an equal ability to speak, make policy and vote for the leader and what you end up with is quite a few factions within the party. So I've decided to do a series of posts looking at the various factions in order to do an overview of each of them and their influence within the party.
However, I should preface this by saying that, despite my talk of factions, the party as a whole is remarkable well united - especially compared to the stark divides in the Conservatives between Cameron 'modernisers' and traditional Thatcherites and in Labour between the socialists and the successors of the Blairites. In fact, the factions within the Lib Dems are probably more accurately described as overlapping but different schools of thought but, despite that, I'm going to continue to use the word factions for the sake of convenience.
In estimating the size of the factions I'm going to look at Lib Dem Voice surveys of party members - which tend to be broadly accurate as a reflection of the mood of the party and what the members are thinking. In particular I'm going to look at questions on economic issues as it's economics which tends to be the most divisive issue in the party - pretty much everyone is broadly unanimous when it comes to things like personal freedoms and civil liberties.
This post will look at the "Orange Booker" faction.
The Orange Bookers
Now, the name of this group is definitely something of a misnomer. The Orange Book itself, a book co-written by several people and dedicated to 'reclaiming liberalism', is fairly divorced from the faction as a whole. For one thing, most people who use the term Orange Booker have never actually read the book. For another, at least one of the contributors to the Orange Book (Vince Cable) considers himself a social democrat and therefore, despite supporting restrictions on the size of the state, by most definitions doesn't really fit into the concept of the Orange Bookers.
With that caveat about the name in place, the Orange Bookers are essentially a mix of libertarians and Gladstonian liberals - people who are very fond of the free market, competition, scaling back the state, free enterprise, lower taxes, etc. They essentially take the view that their should be high amounts of economic freedom and that people are best served by removing the burdens of taxes and the influence of the state over their lives. The exact size of the state and the limits placed on its power and responsibilities is, however, very much up for debate within this faction. It's probably fair to say though that they all want it significantly smaller than it currently is.
Politically, these are the people who are highly supportive of the Clegg leadership, of the Lib Dem role and record in the government and, to take two particularly divisive issues within the party, happy with the decision to back the NHS reforms and with the decision not to vote against higher tuition fees - on the latter because many of them think that the policy of scrapping tuition fees was unrealistic in the first place and that the system brought in by the coalition is much better. They are also highly supportive of the governemnt's current economic strategy and are, if anything, likely to argue that greater steps (such as additional cuts) need to be taken to reduce the deficit as quickly as possible.
EDIT: it's been pointed out to me that a lot of Orange Bookers opposed the NHS reforms and said they should be dropped because they didn't bring enough competition into the health service - though in my experience Orange Bookers were more likely to tolerate the reforms for the sake of government unity even if they weren't particularly happy with them.
Now, the size of this faction is hard to estimate but I'm going to have a stab at it using the most recent question on economic strategy from the latest Lib Dem Voice survey. In it 23% agreed with the statement:
Borrowing more at a time when we already owe so much will simply make matters worse, as the country will have to pay back even more money in the longer term. We have to bring the debt and the deficit under control even if it has some painful effects for the economy in the short term.
This was a change of -4 points from the last survey. So, as a very rough estimate, I'd guess that approximately a quarter to a third of the party can broadly be described as being Orange Bookers.
However, this isn't the whole picture as one leading Orange Booker, Danny Alexander, wrote the last Lib Dem manifesto and is a quarter of the influential 'Quad' which is the ultimate maker of policy decisions in the coalition government. Additionally, there has been a recent and noticeable influx of young and vocal Orange Bookers, many of whom tend to be much more stricter Gladstonian liberals/libertarians than the rest of the faction as a whole - recently founding the Liberal Reform group within the party to promote 'four cornered liberalism'.
Additionally, one of the oldest liberal think tanks, Centre Forum, tends to be broadly aligned with mainstream Orange Booker views, and Nick Clegg, though probably not really part of any faction, is probably closer to the Orange Bookers than he is to any other faction.
As such, this is a faction which can be deemed to be punching well above its weight within the party in terms of its influence on policy and its media profile.