Since their political evisceration in the 2015 general election, it can be easy to forget what Britain learned about the Liberal Democrats while they were in a Coalition government for the previous five years. Namely, that what Liberal Democrats propose while out of power and what they do when in power are almost polar opposites. And on 6 February, party leader Tim Farron gave us a reminder that, while the leadership of the party has changed, the basic issue of words versus actions remains.
Tim Farron vs reality
— HuffPost UK Politics (@HuffPostUKPol) February 6, 2017
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Farron has launched a scathing attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, telling voters in Stoke:
How can you have a progressive alliance with somebody who’s not progressive?
Whatever your views on Jeremy Corbyn, he certainly has more claim to be progressive than the leader of the Liberal Democrats – a man who refused to vote in favour of equal marriage. Farron also avoided answering the question: do you think gay sex is a sin? That should be a very simple one to answer for a real progressive. And there was also that time when his official Twitter account promoted gay conversion therapy.
Farron later claimed his account had been ‘hacked’.
I am investigating after a fake and malicious tweet appeared to be posted from my account this evening. I apologise for any offence caused.
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) July 23, 2015
Views on Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit are mixed, and we’ve charted the positive and negative interpretations here at The Canary. But it is beyond farce for a man who doubts the right of gay people to marry, and questions whether gay sex is sinful, to dress himself up as a pioneering progressive. There is nothing liberal about homophobia.
Farron reminds us once again of the perils of throwing in our lot with the Liberal Democrats. They are keen virtue-signallers, paying lip service to progressive values with a passion that inspires confidence. But they are ultimately confidence tricksters. They preach in word, and betray in deed. And that list of deeds is long. It includes the decision to join the Conservative Party in a coalition government in 2010 rather than form a progressive alliance with the other parties. Not to mention the promise to scrap tuition fees, only to come into power and vote to treble them.
There is a reason the Liberal Democrats were obliterated in the 2015 general election. It was because when they were called to put their liberal words into action, and they reneged on the deal. Instead, they propped up the Conservative government and advanced its nakedly illiberal agenda.
Feedback to the Liberal Democrats
It appears that many voters have not, as Farron suspects, simply forgotten all of this. They were quick to point out the inherent hypocrisy of Farron’s stance.
Whats progressive about joining with Tories & supporting regressive right wing damaging policies?
— Tony (@Tonester_7) February 6, 2017
They are right.
Farron and his party are not progressives. They are centrists.
Liberalism, if it is to mean anything, is radical. It seeks constantly to defy and dismantle unjust attitudes, policies and practices which restrict freedoms vital to full participation in private and public life.
Centrism is a politics of relativism. It looks to its left and its right, considers both sides equivalent and extreme, and pitches its tent betwixt the two.
When the Westminster centre ground is as far to the right as it is today, it leads self-described liberals to advocate policies and practices that are profoundly illiberal.
Turn the other cheek
UK liberals have hitched themselves to the socio-economic ideas of neoliberalism. This ideology has served to increase inequality of wealth, justice and the most basic of human rights. It has delivered us a world where eight billionaires hold between them the equivalent wealth of 3.5 billion people. It has delivered us a nation where, between now and 2021, our poorest citizens will see their incomes shrink by more than 10%, while the wealthiest will see theirs grow by 5%.
We have also seen the rise of a surveillance state, and an all-out assault on civil liberties. All this was delivered and cheered by centrists parading as liberals, from New Labour to the Liberal Democrats.
This dilution of liberal values was committed by centrists who neither depend on them nor advocate for them when the going gets tough. And it has paved the way for illiberal groups and parties to leech off the justified anger of those left behind. Parasites like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are feasting on that discontent right now. And all the while, those same ‘liberals’ seem more enraged at Jeremy Corbyn or Momentum than they are at UKIP and the EDL. They argue, with a straight face, that people in favour of sharing more are the equivalent of Nazis.
That shouldn’t wash with anyone who values justice, equality and empathy. It shouldn’t wash with any genuinely progressive human being. So little surprise that it holds our out-of-touch, illiberal media and political class in rapturous agreement.
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