So the orgy of voting violence has subsided, the army of apparatchiks (including some conscripts it would appear) has worked through the night to ensure your choice of which gang should impose your will on the rest of us is slowly, tantalisingly, revealed and the peaceful transition of control of the monopoly of force can take place.
The speeches are fading away taking many of their orators with them. And no doubt, in a day of comment and hopefully not too much recrimination just yet, this post will just be one of many other amateur musings quietly ignored. And what an extraordinary result it is. The UK can never really be the same again I suspect. The last time we faced this we chose civil war rather than a civil divorce. But I want to focus on the Lib Dems in particular rather than these big constitutional issues.
What a drubbing – 56 down to 8 seats. Did anyone actually foresee quite such a rout, even amongst the doom-merchants that have been predicting near-destruction since first mention of a coalition arose in 2010? Some people think I am bonkers to have remained in the party for so long, having lost all my faith in electoral democracy and found voluntaryism and spontaneous order to be the more attractive environment for social co-operation. But the fact is that whilst we retain a system based on robbery and violence and winner-takes-all elections, we need a strong voice for liberalism that really isn’t in the philosophy or history of other parties. And it needs liberal ideas!
And so, what we need, under any leader, is a big idea. Not the so much tinkering that has marked our lacklustre manifesto (not just in 2015 but for as long as I can really remember). If we return to being a party of protest, but without an identifiably liberal unique selling point, we’ll only ever be an occasional temporary harbour for refugees when other parties get too extreme for some of their supporters one way or another. We need to build support for and be the face of a big systemic change with which the public can engage. A bigger economic revolution than, say, the monetarism of Thatcher (which was already well embedded of course in both the main parties between the sixties and late seventies). We need to define ourselves by what we stand for, not just by not being the others – that fleeting/floating support has gone for a generation I suspect.
We should be promoting a tax free, mutualist society.
The tax free bit is a new spin on an old, familiar to many of us, idea – instead of arbitrarily taking the product of people’s labour and healthy, productive, investment in wealth generating business, we switch to collecting the rental value of land, which is entirely a product of the social, community, political and economic relationships between one location and its neighbours, not of the productivity of the owner, and which, inspite of the Daily Express’s fixation on house prices, actually benefits few of us very much, and landlords and bankers a great deal. But even those of us who somehow feel rent collection is a superior way of financing public needs often do not understand the real economic importance of the phenomenon of scarcity rents.
There is a job of education to be done within the party if it is to most fully adopt economic rents as the primary, and preferably sole, source of publicly collectable revenue, and why that would be superior. A job to explain how the role of rent in the economy explains so much about issues from housing, through poverty in general, the concentration of apparently increasing wealth in fewer hands, to transport, immigration, productivity increases, tax avoidance, a better balance of economic activity around the country (and the world), and a check on the exuberance of fiat system credit creating banksters.
But in 1906, 400 Liberal MPs petitioned for land taxes. 50,000 leaflets were given out at street stalls in places like Glasgow in one day I’m told. If we truly understand it again, and become identified with rent-revenue instead of taxation, I have no doubt it would be attractive to an increasing number of people looking for real systemic change, not just tribal politicing.
Second we need to look at what the Radicals, like Cobden and Bright, brought to Liberalism when they pooled their efforts with the Whigs. Absolutely convinced that free trade and small government was the way to support the poor against exploitation, when they came up against problems they worked their way around them with “civil society entrepreneurship”. For instance, in order to facilitate housing and extend the franchise they didn’t just wait to control government – they organised things like the Naitonal Liberal Land Society, raising money by subscription to purchase land so it could be parcelled out through mutual savings schemes and the like to those who would otherwise never be able to afford it. Giving many both a home and a vote (even 19th century Tories emulated the idea to stop these new votes haemorraging to the Liberals) and in the process changing much of the urban fabric of the country.
We want to be in government (if we do – I don’t but I don’t want anyone else in government either!) because we perceive there are issues that can only be solved by forcing people to participate. Let’s face it, even those of you who hold that the state has a “positive role” must acknowledge it gets that role from its power to enforce its decisions against the will of some people. And if we have few representatives, as now, we have little influence in whether these issues are dealt with at all anyway. But the alternative is the market. The voluntary, mutual, reciprocal, free market. If you can’t persuade people to assist without force, it’s not a very persuasive argument. But if you can persuade people to support things voluntarily, you not reliant on “evil Tories” or “statist lefites” to deliver them.
Whilst it was almost immediately a toxic brand associated with cobbling together replacements for peremtorily slashed council services, 2010’s “Big Society” could be a bloody good idea. The vision then, led by government, was of 5,000 community champions revolutionaising local, voluntary, civil society engagement across the country. We’ve just been through weeks when maybe twenty times that number of people have been actively engaged in trying to get their gang past the winning post. And there are even more get more personally involved through local governance. Three quarters of these people awake today to find their efforts give them no voice, no influence still. It’s not enough to refocus on local government – that still places our ideas at the mercy of electoral tribalism. If they’re good ideas, and we can work out the sort of voluntary institutions that could deliver them just as well, or most often better, than the state, especially one run by people inimical to many of our ideals, we don’t need government, of the central or local variety, to achieve our ends.
Let’s reurrect the National Liberal Land Society for instance. We retain enough wealthy support, I imagine, to have a network that could support pilot projects as a community land fund. Look at my Community Land Trust – with an active totally voluntary force of nine and no money of our own, we are on the cusp (were it not for government interference in the form of charity law interfering with our land transfer) of building more “affordable” housing than Oxford City Council managed to do last year in total (and we’re only building six!). With the sort of committed army of volunteers which the three main losing parties in each Oxford seat have mustered in the past few weeks imagine what we could achieve!
Liberal priorities, delivered liberally, mutually, with an economically just underpinning that will itself eradicate many of the fundamental issues parties currently tinker about trying to apply plasters to fix. It’s hard to underestimate, in my mind, how much of a “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” that could help produce. It pits us not against other parties so much as the system itself. It respects both the economic liberal and mutualist welfare society liberal traditions, true to the very origins of the party’s forebears. There is support for such radical changes on all sides of the political spectrum. Let’s bet the farm on hanging the Lib Dem’s future on them, rather than the past. Build institutions not just fight over them. Then break open the old institutions and put them to the fire!