The Lib Dems - What's Wrong With Them! (2)

David Marquand
17 September 2009

I both agree and disagree with Anthony Barnett (see below). He is absolutely right that the Lib Dems are far too respectable. A party which has more unelected legislators than elected ones can’t be taken seriously as an agent of democratic change. I don’t see why they can’t be much more radical about this. Given that we live in the system we have and not in the system we’d like to see, they have to have representatives in the Lords (and to be fair, Lib Dem Lords have played noble parts in resisting the authoritarian centralism, first of Thatcher and then of New Labour). But surely it would be possible for the Lib Dem leader to announce that he will hold party elections – including Lib Dem voters, not just members – to decide which people will be nominated to serve in the Lords. That would punch a huge hole in the present system, shame the other parties, and infuriate the Whitehall mandarinate. But it seems to me that it would be perfectly legal. If there are any compelling legal objections, I’d like to hear them. So far I haven’t.

However, the real problem goes much deeper. What we are now seeing is a crisis of capitalism, on the scale of the Great Depression. At the moment, a weak recovery is in progress, but even if it continues it won’t resolve the crisis. Essentially, there are three choices. One is to return to the market fundamentalism that led to the crisis. The baying voices shouting ‘cuts’, ‘cuts’, ‘cuts’ are arguing for that, even if they don’t realise it. Choice number two – the choice of Paul Krugman and as far as I can see Vince Cable – is to install a greatly cleaned-up version of capitalist business as usual. That’s much better than option one, but in the long run it won’t get the world out of the mess it’s in. Choice number three would be to transcend capitalism altogether. That, I think, is what the Greens are groping for. The Lib Dems are basically Option Two people, though they sometimes sound a bit Option One-ish to me. The real challenge for opponents of the system is to work out a viable and realistic Option Three. I don’t begin to know how to do this, but I do know (or at least sense) that, as the crisis continues, this is where the real action will be. We should be re-reading our Marx (and oddly enough, our John Stuart Mill) not our Keynes. Even if Option Three were worked out, it wouldn’t be practical politics in the short term. But it will have to be in the medium term. Otherwise, we are all dead. And the medium term may come sooner than you think.

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