The word’s spreading nicely and, as I expected, throwing up a few anxieties and misconceptions along the way that require a little clarification.
The first thing to be clearly understood by everyone is that what we have here in terms of looking at the possibilities of a cross-party coalition is very new and, at this stage, very loose and unformed even down to our conceptions of the nature of liberty itself to some small extent.
What we are trying to capture here is a mood that’s been growing amongst bloggers in the UK over the last year, one that recognises certain common interests and values which cut across traditional party lines and the old left-right divide.
There are limits and boundaries, however, to the extent of that common ground - in any project which seeks to bring left and right together in a common cause there will be differences of opinion, some of which are going to be very deep seated and intractable.
Which is absolutely fine as what we’re about is a coalition with a specific purpose not the creation of a new libertarian political party - our aim is not to take power and become a government, merely to reconfigure the parameters of power, the social contract and the relationship between the citizen and the state in such a way as to secure our essential liberties.
To do this, at this early stage, we must be as open as possible and exclude nothing from consideration at the outset.
Ideas on the Bill of Rights are already emerging that will certainly gain support across the whole coalition - who could argue with the aim of securing the constitutional entrenchment of habeas corpus.
Other ideas will emerge that are less likely to garner such wide support, ones which some will see as going too far down a particular political route.
At this early stage we should not exclude anything from inclusion in the initial debate, even if our instincts are against it from the outset.
We are not going to agree on everything, but that does not mean that we should be excluding things from discussion at the outset or drawing hard and fast lines in the sand straight away. We need to collect and collate all the various ideas, views and opinions from all sides of the debate to begin with. Once we have that then the debate starts in earnest and we begin to winnow out ideas on which we cannot form a concensus, leaving us with a core package of proposals on which we can agree.
No one is being asked to compromise here, merely to be a little bit patient until we have everything on the table to sift through.
The social contract, which lies at the heart of what we’re doing here, functions at many different levels and in many different contexts. Ideas that may not work as global provisions and provoke an instinctive dislike in some quarters may look very different which applied in a limited form and a specific context. For example, it has been suggested that we look at Colorado’s TABOR provisions, which, having looked them up as this was a new one on me, are a ‘Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’, which is defined as follows:
TABOR is a set of constitutional provisions Colorado voters adopted in 1992 to limit revenue growth for state and local governments in Colorado and to require that any tax increase in any state or local government (counties, cities, towns, school districts and special districts) must be approved by the voters of the affected government.
My instinctive reaction to this is that it looks a little too severe and constraining a regime to be workable at national level, at least for the time being, given the complexity of the national finances, but that it may well have merits when it comes to looking at local government. To be honest I’m not economically literate enough to judge such an idea at the moment but pretty sanguine about throwing the idea into the pot for discussion - for one thing its not so very far removed from provisions put in place by the democratic socialist Worker’s Party-led civic government of Puerto Allegre (Brazil) in which city budgets, revenue and expenditure have to be approved annually by its citizens and is, therefore, another example of the left and right can arrive at similar ideas by very different routes.
The fact that I have doubts about TABOR at this stage does not mean I want to exclude it from consideration - it’s there to be looked at and debated as far as I’m concerned and there are bloggers out there on the left and right, like Chris Dillow, Wat Tyler and Tim Worstall who’re far better placed than I am to look over something like TABOR and clarify what it would mean in practical economic terms and give a view on whether they see scope for its inclusion in the final package - if it can be agreed on by all sides.
TABOR, and many other ideas beside, may not ultimately gather the consensual support necessary for them to be included as a ‘definite’ in the reform package but can could certainly be highlighted as options for further debate - that’s the beauty of democracy, we can put different options on the table for consideration without compromising core values and the common ground we discover as we work on this.
By the same token I don’t expect that everyone who is interested in what we’re trying to do will necesssarily be interested in every aspect of the debate - there will be generalists who look at the big picture and specialists whose interests run more towards specific issues and (hopefully) some will bring specialist knowledge to the table with them as well as their opinions and views.
By definition, this project will have a somewhat anarchic streak running through it, in the philosophical sense. This is not about leaders and followers it about common ground and consensus amongst equals. No one is, or will be asked to sign up to something they feel they cannot support nor are they to be asked to give up their core political beliefs and loyalities in order work on this. Dissent is very much part of the overall process, part of process of winnowing out of ideas from all strands of political thought until we reach core consensus positions that we can all support - by its very nature such a process sets boundaries for the project which will limit how far it can go in any one political direction and will keep us focussed on the core issues.
This isn’t going to be like a political party, with an official party line and a manifesto and an expectation that everyone toes the line irrespective of thir personal beliefs and values. Its a debate with points of consensus and points of disagreement expressed openly, honestly and, I hope, rationally.
Call me optomistic and idealistic if you will but after a year of blogging and interacting with people from across all traditional political camps, I happen to believe that, whatever our differences, we can have this debate and arrive at a core agenda for consititutional reform with broad cross-party support.
We can do this for two main reasons - first, because at the heart of this are issues we care about deeply and on which there is common ground but also because we’re British and one of the defining characteristics of the British blogosphere - and one which separates us from many of our cousins over the pond - is our ability to be reasonably civilised about our disagreements and not automatically adopt a contrary position simply because some belongs to an different political ‘power-unit’ to our own.
That brings me to the one big misconception that is emerging, in relation to the ‘Anyone But Labour’ tactical voting campaign.
This is NOT the first stage of Liberty Central, it is a parallel development that has emerged out of the same ‘mood’ of opposition to the present govenment’s authoritarian legislative programme that also gives impetus to the Liberty Central project.
Some of those who are working on this project are working on that campaign, some aren’t - its not an ‘official sanctioned’ offshoot of Liberty Central mainly because we’re not in business of officially sanctioning anything or sanctioning/constraining anyone in their actions.
It’s worth noting that we’ll be supporting other existing projects with aims that coincide with our own; whether that’s Charter 88, Liberty, Make My Vote Count, Elect the Lords or NO2ID. We’ll also welcome input from those campaigns and others like the Campaign for an English Parliament, for example, and any support they may feel they can offer.
Liberty Central is, quite deliberately, a pluralist project which will reflect a wide range of differing views and opinions - much of the heart of the project lies in ‘having the debate’, especially those debates that the political elite would much rather we didn’t have.
There is no controlling mechanism here and if people want to work together in their own campaigns that’s up to them. That’s, as I see it, entirely consistant with a libertarian philosophical outlook as well as a recognition of the fact that trying to curb such things would not only be beyond our core principles but rather like trying to herd cats - it’s a non-starter however you look at it.
Liberty Central’s main electoral focus is on the next general election, which is at least three and maybe four years away short of unforseen and dramatic circumstances. What we’re trying to put together can only be enacted, to begin with, at Westminster and its there that Liberty Central must focus its efforts and attention - if people want to organise and take action in the meantime in local or European elections that’s their choice and they’re free to make it. Liberty Central will certainly report on and highlight such activities and offer a platform to those engaging in them to make their case for what they’re doing, but such things remain separate and distinct from the portal itself and from the core project of pulling together a new constitutional settlement.
In terms of our relationship with political parties and individual MPs, the way I personally see it is that we will be putting forward an agenda for change and it is for each party, each MP and each Parliamentary Candidate, when the time comes, to decide how to respond to that agenda.
However, we should take nothing on blind trust. The view we may take of those seeking office at that time will look not just at what they say in their election briefings and manifestos but at the evidence of their track record - whether they have practiced what they preach.
Liberty Central will certainly work to collate such information and make it available to people visiting the site. We may even go further is some instances and make voting recommendations based on the information to hand, on a seat by seat basis, but we have no control over how people choose to vote, nor indeed control over how the main political parties choose to campaign or whether they, either nationally or locally, engage in coalition-based activities.
Like it or not, under the present electoral system, tactical voting is a legimitate ‘weapon’ and people will use it, whether they do so or in an organised way or merely individually and based on their own judgment of the situation as they sit it when the time comes. Liberty Central is not about tactical voting but neither will ignore it as a option for future action - it all depends on how things develop over the next three years.
As a purely personal view, I think the best outcome for what we are seeking to achieve would not necessarily be a hung parliament with no overall control but one in which the number of votes cast at the general election is so low as to challenge the idea that any party - or coalition of parties - has a mandate to govern. Of course, delivering that would be no mean feat and realisitically is problably unachievable as to really make it stick it needs more than just people not voting, which can be written off to apathy, but a large body of people deliberately entering spoiled ballot papers, which would be difficult to organise and execute.
All that is, however by the by. For now what’s needs to be understood is that Liberty Central’s focus is on constitutional change and not tactical voting, at least for the time being - what people working in the coalition do on their own time and under their own steam is their business and others working on this project are free to support other campaigns - or not - as they wish.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 England & Wales License.
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