Under-factionalisation and higher than normal levels of leader loyalty are in fact two of the reasons Grayson identifies as resulting in the coalition.
It may come as a surprise to many within the Labour Party that a political organisation could suffer from having too few factions. But apparently it’s true and as Richard Grayson, author of the Compass publication the ‘Liberal Democrat Journey’, puts it, the Lib-Dems are “under factionalised”.
The consequence of this “under factionalisation”? Well it is part of the story that resulted in the Con-Lib coalition we are witnessing now.
Under-factionalisation and higher than normal levels of leader loyalty are in fact two of the reasons Grayson identifies as resulting in the coalition which so upsets the so-called “political compass” particularly for those of us who saw a Lab-Lib coalition as the far more natural partnership.
Grayson goes on to discuss why this came about. Drawing on the political traditions starting with William Gladstone and Neville Chamberlain, that got us to this place; where the natural ties between small state Liberals and smaller state Conservatives found common ground and why this small cadre within the Lib Dems took the rest of their party with them.
Grayson argues that the coalition agreement has allowed the leadership of both parties to pursue its zeal for cutting public spending. It does this having explicitly ruled out major cuts in 2010/11 in the election campaign, and having opposed the scale and timing of the cuts now introduced by the government.He argues that the decisions made by this government on Treasury matters “illustrate its overwhelmingly small state centre-right ideology”.
Importantly, Grayson goes on to discuss what this means for us now and how the left, and particularly social liberals should respond to the coalition. Grayson suggests that there are clear signs of concern within the Liberal Democrats.
He states that some activists say that they are now ashamed to face many of those they met in the election campaign who backed the party. In particular he makes reference to the voters who deserted Labour for the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010 and say they will never support the party again and feel badly let down by the fact the coalition was formed.
However, Grayson argues that while some people may drift away from the Lib Dems this is unlikely to result in a significant realignment of the centre left – particularly while the ideological barriers to Lib Dems joining Labour, on issues such as civil liberties – continue to persist.
Grayson instead argues that now is the time for the Social Liberal Forum and other social liberal elements within the Lib Dems to be more radical and look to challenge the free market orthodoxies which led to the current crisis.
He suggests that if they fail to do this
“The party can be happy with morsels from the Conservative table, enthusiastic, surprised and occasionally ecstatic to see little bits of Liberal Democrat policy implemented. If they take that approach, then the party will become as hollowed out as Labour under New Labour.”
This analysis is a long overdue discussion on the state of play in the Lib-dems and well worth a read; download it here.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.