Wednesday, August 04, 2004

LibDems Go Libertarian

There's an interesting story in the Guardian today, to the effect that Britain's third party, the Liberal Democrats, who have been making steady gains of late (largely on the back of their opposition to the Iraq war, which both Labour government and the Tories supported), are moving in a substantially more libertarian direction--scaling back regulation, introducing more competition into the welfare state, coming out firmly against the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. From a strategic point of view, this is interesting--basically a signal that the party thinks it has milked all the available support from Labour-leaning voters, and focusing their fire on the Tories. This at the same time that the Conservatives seem to be increasing their support, vis a vis Labour. While this might make sense, it is risky--I doubt that much of this appeals strongly to the party's base, who are as likely to be to the left of Labour as to its right. Presumably the party has decided that a more clearly "liberal" (libertarian) message--more pacific on foreign policy, tolerant on social issues, anti-public-service-monopoly on domestic policy--will give voters a clear sense of what they're for, as opposed to the votes they've collected up until now on the basis of what they're not (Labour or Conservative, and against the war). In a way, this is simply taking the LibDems back to where they started--the old Liberal party positions of the early 20th century combined with the reformist liberalism of the Social Democratic Party of the mid-80s. This could promise an interesting shake-up in the next British general election, where Tony Blair will almost certainly not be leading the Labour party, and where Gordon Brown will.

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