Coffee House

In a saturated political market, the Lib Dems must define themselves by their liberalism

6 June 2014

5:18 PM

6 June 2014

5:18 PM

The British political marketplace increasingly represents a busy bazaar. It is chaotic and unpredictable. The old assumptions about fixed allegiances are crumbling. Customers shop around. They feel little obligation to be loyal. Their attention can be attracted by innovative new propositions.

To succeed in this furtive and fluid environment every political party needs to have a distinctive core proposition. The politicians who capture the public imagination have a clearly defined sales pitch. They stand for something unambiguous and argue for it with conviction. Their positions are black-and-white and their style is colourful. In this new era the absence of a unique selling point is a big problem. There is little public appetite for fifty shades of political grey.

The Liberal Democrats will struggle to command support in this marketplace without having a sharp definition. The appeal of cautious centrism is limited.

I call this ‘The Fresher’s Fair Test’: ‘Roll up, roll up, pay £10 here – help us dilute Ed Miliband’s ideas!’ How long is the queue at that stand?


If people want to protest they have protest parties. They have parties for Scottish Nationalism, British Nationalism and environmentalism. They have left-wing parties, right-wing parties. If they like Ed Miliband they can vote for his party; if they dislike him they can vote for a party that can defeat his.

Where is the demand for a tepid Milibandism or a watered-down Cameronism? Why buy the low calorie version when the full-flavour option is also in the marketplace?

But the big advantage the Liberal Democrats possess is that the party has the strongest claim to the greatest pitch in the marketplace – liberalism.

An unambiguous liberalism best captures the spirit of our era – freedom and opportunity. Free people, free speech, free markets, free thinking. It is egalitarian, internationalist and healthily subversive. A new generation – both economically and socially liberal – is looking for inspiration.

Liberals of all strands of opinion within the Liberal Democrats have exciting ideas that can capture the national mood. We need a standard that people can rally around.

A clearly-defined and self-confident authentic liberalism is that standard; moderating the ideas of others to make them marginally less bad is not.

Jeremy Browne is the Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane

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Show comments
  • whs1954

    Basically, Mr Browne, a clarion call for much the same as the FDP (“Die Liberalen”) offer in Germany. How well has their liberal thinking done for them?

  • My_old_mans_a_dustman

    The LibDems certainly are not Liberal: try doing something contrary to their policy and see how liberal they really are.

  • Fred Smith

    So you see them as a business peddling a product and the purpose is to get a few of their members elected as MPs.

    The don’t believe any of this crap, they just sell it.

    The split the difference social democratic waffle isn’t shifting, so give see if liberalism sells. If they thought it would sell, they could give anarcho-capitalism a whirl.

    Inspiring what?

    Why don’t they just wind it up?

  • foxoles

    ‘The Liberal Democrats will struggle to command support in this marketplace without having a sharp definition.’

    I think ‘Losers” would probably cover it.

  • Benedict

    The LibDems are a coalition of Liberals and Social Democrats
    The Labour party is a coalition of Socialists and Blairites
    Cameron’s party is a coalition of Cameron Whigs and traditional Tories.

    Cameron has effectively alienated traditional Tories and has created a
    big-business EU-friendly central party. It has replaced the Liberals and Blairites.

    Miliband is dithering between socialism and Blairism. He would probably do better to go back to traditional moderate Labour roots.

    Comments – criticism welcomed!

  • Kaine

    Mr Browne laying out his stall for the coming leadership contest against Mr Farron.

    • Kitty MLB

      They really should not bother. The yoghurt knitting,
      tree hugging bunnies will soon by burrowing underground
      with nothing but worms for company…And Tim Farron,
      wretched smiling faced leftie buffoon.
      Jeremy Browne though, very Much to the right, very
      strong character and yet they kept him in the background
      for fear of upsetting the leftie dinosaurs in their party.

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    They need to have their pants down…

  • Bluesman_1

    Liberalism? Is this man drunk?

  • serialluncher

    Basically they need to go back to their Gladstonian roots and start again. It’s a travesty that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable spring from the same fountain as the people who invented America.

  • Alex

    Indeed; in fact, Mr Browne, I promise that I will vote for the Lib Dems as soon as they are a truly liberal (as in a classical liberal sense) party.
    But sadly the sun reaches the end of it’s main sequence phase in about 5 billion years, which will wipe out all life on earth, and I’m pretty sure that’ll happen first.
    So, as Labour are illiberal (pretty much by definition) and the Tories are now illiberal, I’ll stick with UKIP for now, thanks.

  • The Masked Marvel

    “An unambiguous liberalism best captures the spirit of our era – freedom
    and opportunity. Free people, free speech, free markets, free thinking.
    It is egalitarian, internationalist and healthily subversive.”

    What does any of this have to do with the ideology of most people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2010? Or for most of their MPs and party members, for that matter?

  • Bonkim

    Lib-Dems should revert to their Liberal ideals –

  • Hello

    Unfettered liberalism has a tendency to destroy institutions. As an ideology, the question is always “what can we liberate next”, “liberate” becomes “change” and “what” becomes whatever has remained unchanged for “too long”. It needs a good dose of conservatism to temper it’s extremes. You should join the Conservative party, Mr. Browne.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      You and the “Conservative” party could use a good dose of conservatism, lad.

  • Peter Stroud

    To say that the equalisation of boundaries bill is democratic, then refusing to support it, is neither liberal or democratic. Given the chance to write a Lords reform bill, then constructing, effectively, a Lords abolition bill, is again neither liberal or democratic. Yet the LibDems under Clegg were responsible for both of these travesties.

  • shaft120

    Jeremy. Come back when your party has split from the SDP and we’ll talk.

    The sad thing is you are right. There is huge call for a libertatrian, classic liberal party. Unfortunately, the liberal party stopped being liberal the moment they joined with people who believed in a state organised society. The tories are the closest of sucessors to the whigs, as odd and depressing as that is. We need a party formed in the image of Smith, Burke, Locke, and Friedman.

  • Fergus Pickering

    What do you mean Liberalism you funny man. You mean signing up to Europe don’t you? And what is more illiberal than that?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    After trying to make a career of being all things to all men, a party so desperate to get into government they would countenance a deal with anyone, then actually getting into government and proving totally unable to handle real-life responsibility, some might think that they HAVE defined themselves and that the decline in their fortunes has been because people don’t like the definition.

  • swatnan

    Its true that old allegiances are breaking down. As ‘Compass’ has been saying for a long time Tribal Politics is coming to an end. People are smart enoiugh these days to think for themselves. It means that all Parties cannot take the electorate for granted. And that must surely be a good thing.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Au contraire, 60-80% of the electorate is tribalist. That’s LibLabCon’s base, the tribalists. They’ll vote their tribe, or they’ll stay home in protest, but that’s the extent of their electoral range.

      Of course, UKIP is seeking to challenge that. We’ll how they advance. Looks good so far though.

  • Kitty MLB

    The issue is that since being in government the Lib Dems
    have not been that Liberal. Nick Clegg and Mr Browne may not
    Be lefties but their party profoundly is.And have not been
    comfortable with responsibility. And the Lib Dems just do not
    understand peoples feelings concerning the EU and lest we
    forget making politics more fair regarding labours advantage.

    • Wessex Man

      Do you not see that David Cameron is cut from the exact same cloth and that’s why literally thousands of us have left to Tory party

  • the viceroy’s gin

    Heh. That’s funny. So the LibDumbs are “liberal”, are they? I take it Leveson fascism and censorship and spying are considered “liberal” these days, by you Speccie kids?

    The LibDumbs problem isn’t that they aren’t properly “defined”. It’s that they are well defined, like all of LibLabCon.

  • DaveTheRave

    A saturated political market? Such a statement sums up the general attitude about politics these days, parties are supermarkets selling the same stuff but with different branding and colours. Vote blue go green has to be the craziest, though.

  • roger

    John Locke would laugh in Clegg’s face for the hubris of thinking the LDs are liberal.

  • Andy

    For God sake Browne, what is LIBERAL about the LibDems ? Nothing. Frankly you LibDems are ILLIBERAL and seem to many of us enemies of LIBERTY. You are a bunch of crypto bloody Socialists. On virtually every issue you care to name you lot want to be left of the Labour Party for some unknown reason.

  • anyfool

    Get rid of all laws which curtail peoples freedom to say what they want, get rid of most government departments, make Westminster the sole arbiter of all laws and regulations in this country.

    Then never ever speak the words, its not fair.
    Throw that dreadful hag Shirley Williams under a bus

    You would then be taking your first steps to reclaim your heritage,

    • Wessex Man

      Their heritage isn’t worth reclaiming!

      • anyfool

        Yes, but navel gazing is the least dangerous thing a politician can do.
        These creatures have done enough damage this time, another hundred years on the sidelines would not come amiss.

      • Count Dooku

        That’s not true, the Liberal party is what made us great, and their ideas on free trade and freedom coupled with Tory militarism built the greatest empire the world had ever seen.

        Hannan has a good write up on this:

        • Wessex Man

          Their heritage isn’t worth reclaiming! no amount of Liberal propaganda will change that.

  • global city

    There’s a writer who knows nothing of his subject.

    The Lib dems gave up their Liberal anchor when they joined up with the SDP. Since then it has been a seedy mix of cultural Marxism and wishy washy nothing ideas.

    Their fetishisation of the EU is a case in point. The whole project goes against every liberal thread possible, but they landed on the idea of being the uber EU federalists when working out how to pull in all of the possible minority gripes and nuts out there in order to amass enough votes to gain seats.

    I do agree that the Liberal party should take the place of the Frankenstein’s monster that is the Lib Dems…. it still exists, they have a councillor on Liverpool city council!

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      Did the rot set in with the merger? I was quite young at the time but I seem to remember the Liberals being a bit odd – yoghurt knitters, hemp weavers etc.

      • global city

        Perhaps Chris (above) is right and the decay goes all the way back to lLoyd George. What ever, when the two parties merged in the late 80s’ the statist and cultural Marxism was encouraged to swamp the liberal elements of the joint venture.

    • Chris Morriss

      No, it was Lloyd George who killed off the real Liberal party and moved it inexorably to the left.

    • Wessex Man

      ‘Gave up their liberal anchor when they joined the SDP.’

      No they were never Liberal and never will be, they were up to the dirty tricks in the 1960s and still are. They’ve always been perfect commies as in the sense of Uncle Joe, always lived lives of luxury and died with vast wealth, whilst telling the peasants how to live their lives!

      Let’s not forget Cyril Smith and jeremy Thorpe either.

      • global city

        Yes, yes. That is why I said ‘anchor’. If you check their policies and manifestos, post war, you can still identify a clearly Liberal grounding in the ideas…. now there is no clue as to what inspires their intellectual base.

        On that issue of ‘inspiration or adherence to purity’, there is nothing wrong with inspation. I suggested the other day that UKIP would make a great mistake if, instead of taking inspiration from the Libertarian ideal they became stuck in what ever ideologically pure notion of what ‘Libertarianism’ is today.

        Ideologically hidebound parties are always only a step or two away from authoritarianism, and tyranny if actually in government.

        ‘Ideological coherence’ is not a sound basis for governance and as such they are useless.

  • pinkgunnergirl

    Jeremy Browne wants to ban the Niqab, how in the world is that Liberal?

    • Grey Wolf

      The Niqab itself is illiberal. Banning it is the supremely liberal act. It should be banned. Forthwith.

      • Fergus Pickering

        No it isn’t. I’m all or bnnin the thing but that is not liberal. But I am not liberal. and nor are most people here.

        • Kennybhoy

          I am… 🙂

  • pinkgunnergirl

    yada yada yada. Show me an example where the Lib Dems have supported free speech? Lib Dems are in Government yet for first time in our history, we have the most illiberal “secret courts”.

    Actions speak louder than words.

  • HookesLaw

    I’m guessing that the spectator has put this thread up because they have decided that there is not enough abuse around at the moment and that following Newark they need something to encourage their kipper regulars.

    • Kitty MLB

      Maybe Hooky they have moved on to the wretched
      Lib Dems.One must be fair inma democracy despite
      the not very Liberals wishing us to be tied forever
      with the bloated dying elephant the EU.

      • HookesLaw

        Yawn, you and everyone on this pathetic miserable thread proves my point.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Oh cheer up, Hookey. Your man won. A pathetic fellow and a pathetic win, but a win is a win. I should tell you that I intend to vote UKIP and thus deprive the tories of a win and put the dreadful Millibum at number ten purely so that Cameron and the Cameron tendency will be booted out and a more amenable and right wing person be installed. I hope others here will do likewise.. And let us pray that the Euro fails and southern Europe rises in insurrection. Cheers everybody!

          • Kitty MLB

            You leave Hooky alone.At least he’s not solelessly swimming in a purple sea of treachery.
            I must tell you and others that I who have never
            been a supporter of he I used to call a Cameron
            The Octopus, I said he was of no substance,
            slimy, without back bone and tentacles reaching
            out to the EU.
            But now the sea of Kippers here, you lot. Have not manage to engulf me in the tidal wave of
            miasmic purple waters, some us have been
            encouraged back to the Conservatives.
            And regardless of what you do, Hooky’s party,
            and mine will prevail and we shall win.
            I’d place yourself back in the fridge if I were
            you, not only do we have a new filliting
            knife…but the smell of fish going off is not
            very nice…dear political traitor.

            • Fergus Pickering

              No. Cameron is the traitor. He has stolen the Tory party from me. The tories will lose the next election. Even they know this. They are pretending they can win but they can’t if we Kippers just keep our nerve. A new Tory party will rise from the ashes. The Labour administration will be bad, bu not as bad as all that. They have no ideas at all, though the will probably wreck IDS’s good work and we will go on paying the incorrigibly idle and migrant gypsies. And of course we will remain in the EU. Though great chunks of it may well break up before that. We can always hope.

              • Wessex Man

                we’ll never taint ourselves with the title ‘New Tory’ we are Ukip! If as the Lib/dums are said to have voted tactically to deny the seat to Ukip it points a very very pathetic picture of them both, a safe seat having it’s majority slashed by half and only saved by the brave Lib/dums sacrificing their own party!

                • Fergus Pickering

                  New Tory? Naw! Old Tory perhaps. Back to the future!

                • Wessex Man

                  No Old or New, just UKip, untainted by the lies and corruption of the Lib/dum/Lab/Con shysters that currently occupy Westminster.

              • Kitty MLB

                So you and Cameron have had a parting of the
                waves.Not a traitor but a phoenix who led
                the Tory party out of the ashes of opposition.
                And nothing can stop them winning, the
                winds of change will blow across this great
                land and they will be without a fishy whiff.
                Also without the red leftie whiff of apocalyptic
                gloom. Nice of you to remind me of the
                terrible consequences of Labour. You
                forgot the children with no hope after being
                benighted with Labours education policy
                under Tristram Hunt instead of the brilliant
                Michael Gove. Everyone forgets the children.
                The electoral map next May will be of the
                clearest blue.

        • Wessex Man

          you really are vying with the lying tele are really really racing each other to the bottom arn’t you Hooky babe?

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    Well they certainly gave up on democracy…

    • global city

      Exactly… loosely one could suggest that pre merge the Liberal party could best be seen in the US constitution and post merge the Lib Dems personify the EU one.

  • Tony_E

    The problem is Mr Browne, that the party is neither particularly ‘Liberal’ in the true sense. A truly liberal government could not support more EU integration, bigger government and the continuance of speech/hate laws. Not could it really support such policies as quantitative easing, stealing from tomorrow to fund today.

    And you’re not particularly Democratic either – in support of the continuance of the EU which is the least truly democratic institution in the Western World. Add to that Nick Clegg’s comments on recall show that he is willing to lie through his teeth to try and gain some traction – he resisted a proper recall bill, not backbenchers. And boundaries – how is it democratic to support uneven numbers of constituents electing each MP – why should one man’s vote be worth more than another’s?

    Having read some of your essays before, I realise that you are no always in agreement with your party’s direction of travel, but you have to recognise the problem to find the solution. You need the party to define itself as both Liberal (economically and not just socially), and truly in favour of open and even democracy..

    • DaveTheRave

      Yes, how can a true Liberal support a pan-European dictatorship? They are neither liberal nor democratic. Neo-Marxist might fit better.

      • telemachus

        The European project is designed to prevent the conflagration of the 1914 and 1939 variety triggered by teutonic dictatorial ambitions
        It has been extraordinarily successful
        Recent failure to tie Kiev in has led to what might have happened to others if they were not tied in
        The Liberals as a major force restraining the Tory right are the single most democratic force then in UK politics
        For a while the fruitcake/loony element has joined the racists
        They will be back

        • Wessex Man

          Your disgusting comments on another thread should deny you the right to try and use our war dead to justify ever eastward expansion of the EU.

          It was NATO that kept the peace not your blessed EU and it will be the EU which will start another European War.

          You are definately the sick fruitcake loony element!

          • telemachus

            Do not lecture telemachus, Wessex

            “European integration since the early 1950s was conceived as a means of committing WestGermany not to use its future power to pursue military ends in Europe,thereby obviating a preventive war against it. The various institutions that form part of the European Communities, now the EuropeanUnion, still bear the mark of this goal.”


            • Colonel Mustard

              No surprise that someone who advocates the state theft of private property should link to a website of dubious integrity. Indicative perhaps of your Gordon Brown school of “moral dimension” (e.g. to claim it loudly rather than demonstrate it quietly).

              “Scribd has often been accused of copyright infringement. In March 2009, Scribd launched a “copyright management system” and has made upgrades to its system including the reported addition of OCR. The New York Times reported in May 2009 that Scribd was hosting pirated works by authors such as Ursula K. Le Guin, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King.

              “In September 2009, American author Elaine Scott alleged that Scribd “shamelessly profits from the stolen copyrighted works of innumerable authors.” Her attorneys Joe Sibley and Kiwi Camara sought class action status in their efforts to win damages from Scribd for allegedly “egregious copyright infringement.” On May 11, 2009, Motoko Rich, writing in the New York Times, reported on Scribd’s hosting of pirated works. Sibley Camara filed a class action lawsuit against Scribd, accusing it of calculated copyright infringement for profit.The suit was dropped in July 2010.

              “In 2007, one year after its inception, Scribd was served with 25 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices. The total number of DMCA notices that have been served to the company is unknown, but, on 8 January 2013, a single author Steven Saylor notified Scribd of 17 unauthorized uploads of his copyrighted work.”

              And that is before we even get to the political imperative of the writers you quote.

            • girondas

              “European integration since the early 1950s was conceived as a means of
              committing WestGermany not to use its future power to pursue military
              ends in Europe.

              It may has been conceived as such. but the reality is that peace was maintained by the US an Russain army

              • telemachus

                Not enough
                As we see in Ukraine
                Had we tied them in sooner, today would not be occurring

                • girondas

                  “Had we tied them in sooner,”

                  Imperialist fantasy.

                • Wessex Man

                  You sick scumbag! all the deaths that have occured in the Ukraine have been because of the EU Empire builders! Every family deprived of a loved one will br greatly strengthened by your childish propaganda.

                  If you are the best that Labour has to offer then heaven help Labour!

              • Andy

                And the British Army on the Rhine.

        • girondas

          “The European project is designed to prevent the conflagration of the
          1914 and 1939 variety triggered by teutonic dictatorial ambitions. It has been extraordinarily successful”

          No it hasn’t been an extraordinary success Telemachus, it is what it always has been – a democratic disaster, that is now unraveling.
          When are you going to see what is staring you in the face Telemachus and when are you going to understand that running around chanting fruitcake/loony like a twelve year old doesn’t constitute an argument?

          • telemachus

            In our society there are many disengaged with a responsible political process
            It does not matter what you call them (telemachus is attracted to tabloid epithets), the actual point is that these disillusioned souls have migrated from the Liberals to UKIP
            But they will be back

            • girondas

              “In our society there are many disengaged with a responsible political process”

              Is this a quote from Ed Miliband’s book of meaningless political cliches, or did you think of it all by yourself?

              • telemachus

                You should not be surprised that reasonable voters and political observers come to similar reasonable conclusions
                I further draw your attention to the disengaged who filled the Green Party voting coffers in 1989
                These are the same misguided souls who made us suffer the coalition thru the LibDems and who gave us all a scare on May 22
                These are the disengaged who will return to the LibDem fold

                • girondas

                  You sound like my bl**dy vicar

                • telemachus

                  I feel this country needs a vicar
                  Particularly these last few months when we have seen moral decline in the political firmament
                  And the reprehensible re emergence of racism

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  I feel the country needs a hangman.

                • girondas

                  “And the reprehensible re emergence of racism”

                  You hypocritical old man.
                  Your party is directly responsible for any re-emergence of racism that may occur in this country

                • girondas

                  “I feel this country needs a vicar”

                  Not the Vicar of Bray

            • Colonel Mustard

              Well, you are one of those disengaged. If you truly believed in “responsible political process” you would not spam this website with interminably puerile socialist boasting and dogma. You are simply a propagandist and not a very good one. I suspect many have been repulsed from Labour thanks to the verbal diarrhoea you post here. Rather than being attracted to tabloid epithets I expect you attract them.

          • Inverted Meniscus

            You have made the mistake, as we all have, of engaging with Telemachus. He is a Labour Troll impervious to logic or honesty and his comments are designed simply to infuriate non-Labour participants and to destroy any sensible debate as each thread becomes consumed and distorted by increasingly infuriated attempts to counter his rubbish. He is the Labour party in microcosm a kind of socio-political syphilis and cancer both infecting and eating away at society by distorting debate and stamping on ‘incorrect’ opinions and all in the name of ‘reasonableness’. Reasonableness is of course the Labour party manifesto and is defined as follows: ‘We know how to spend your money and order your lives far batter than you do so shut up and be grateful or else’.

            • telemachus

              We hear your vitriol
              But you should get used to the microcosm
              There will be no deviation from the pursuit of this after next May

              • Inverted Meniscus

                Typical threat from leftist scum.

        • Colonel Mustard

          The very fact that you refer to it as a “project” undermines your impoverished “argument” even were it not risible to attribute to it peace in Europe since 1945. That thin justification has been assumed in hindsight by arrogance and far extends its legitimate and historically verifiable boundaries. Like so many authoritarian projects of the new corporate left the EU and its advocates presume too much upon us.

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      I enjoyed reading this Tony. Important ponts , well expressed and food for thought.

    • telemachus

      The Liberals are what they always have been
      A safety valve for the fruitcakes and loonies
      Now that function has been taken on by another party
      But as last night has shown that party is past it’s peak
      Just as the Liberals have reached their nadir
      The Liberals I perceive are on their way back

  • fundamentallyflawed

    Unfortunately they don’t have the courage of their convictions to be truly liberal. The only liberal act I can think they have done was for Clegg to half-heartedly oppose the proposed cigarette ban in cars around children

    • Wessex Man

      only because he smokes like a train!