Liberalism is in crisis. Here’s how it can be saved

Tim Farron and Vince Cable.

The challenge to the liberal order is both local and global, warns Ed Davey.

The battle over Brexit is so much bigger than the question of Britain’s membership of the European Union. And it’s certainly become bigger than the 40 year long internal battle within the Conservative Party.

What’s become painfully obvious since the referendum, if not before, is that this is a battle over what sort of country we want to be – and arguably what sort of world we want to shape.

It’s partly an old battle over the economic model: real-life concerns over income and wealth distribution interspersed with increasing distrust of big money and corporates.

But it’s much more. It is about identity and culture. Polls now show many people willing to make economic sacrifices, if they can find a greater sense of control of their lives and communities.

Alarmingly, this national populism has gone global – as these trends infecting the UK are felt far and wide, from Trump to Brazil’s Bolsonaro, from Hungary’s Orban to Italy’s Salvini. Such political shifts can’t be dismissed as temporary blips.

For liberals – whether you’re a Liberal Democrat or just liberally-minded – this battle is particularly challenging. It could easily turn out to be an existential threat to the world we had thought was being painstakingly built. And pointing to offsetting liberal victories – like the electoral success of President Macron or Justin Trudeau – no longer feels so comforting.

The question is – how to respon?

The right have predictably responded by embracing the shift – whether it’s Brexit, anti-immigration or the pretence that the UK can return to some glorious past. While the liberal and commercial traditions in modern Conservatism are increasingly uncomfortable, few have had the self-confidence to resist their party’s new populist nationalism.

The left’s answer is equally confused and unconvincing. Options range from a full-throated embrace of state socialism to a re-heating of a social democracy that’s failed to work in the rest of Europe against this populist onslaught. Perhaps a Tom Watson-led breakaway may turn out more convincing than the Independent Group have to date, but so far the Labour Party has struggled even more than the Tories to respond.

Not that Liberals have fared any better. While the Liberal Democrats have called the “big issues” of the last 15 years right – from Iraq to Brexit – we’ve gone backwards in popular support. Weakened electorally, Liberal Democrats and liberals internationally have yet to develop a convincing strategy.

But one is surely possible. Liberalism has been the most enduring political philosophy of the modern era, and it ain’t going away.

To get back in the game, we’ve got to recognise that the divisions exposed by Brexit and the rise of national populism have been there for decades. Education divisions, where far too many children don’t get an equal chance in life. Economic divisions, where grinding poverty leaves families feeling forgotten and left behind. Political divisions, where the London powerful don’t seem to care about the rest of …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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