This Is a Progressive Moment: We Mustn't Squander It

New Statesman (1996), April 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

This Is a Progressive Moment: We Mustn't Squander It


There is only one iron-clad law of political history--the law of unintended consequences. When, in 2009, David Cameron urged Gordon Brown to sign up to a televised leaders' debate, he no doubt envisaged that such a broadcast would serve to draw voters' attention to the contrast between himself, the "heir to Blair", and an exhausted Prime Minister. As it turns out, he has succeeded merely in handing a historic opportunity to the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg is important not for what he says but for what he represents. As the former Sun editor David Yelland has pointed out, suddenly, "the powerless have a voice" (one that had previously been silenced by the might of the two main party machines, in collusion with Rupert Murdoch's media empire). We welcome this development. For some time now, we have been arguing in our leaders that a hung parliament offers the prospect of a realignment of progressive politics in this country on the basis of a common programme of fundamental constitutional and economic reform, stronger civil liberties and an enhanced Freedom of Information Act.

A month ago, before the campaign began, we wrote that it "may fall to Mr Clegg to resolve the historic 'progressive dilemma' in British politics". This is no longer merely wishful thinking--but only if Labour and the Lib Dems are prepared to form a partnership of principle, as they should have done after the 1997 landslide election victory, a partnership founded on a desire to clean up and repair our broken political system.

On page 22, in their contribution to our ongoing series of essays on the future of progressive politics, Richard Reeves and Dan Leighton argue that it is the Lib Dems' attacks on "vested interests in Westminster and the City" that have caught the imagination of voters. They are right: this is not anti-politics but possibly the beginning of a new politics--a vision of the wholesale transformation of our decrepit and dysfunctional late-Victorian and Edwardian institutions. Electoral reform, the introduction of a written constitution, a recall system for MPs found guilty of serious wrongdoing--these are all policies in the Liberal Democrat manifesto that speak to what can be called a "republican moment".

Mr Cameron has promised to introduce a "big society" that would empower individual citizens, though his enthusiasm for devolving power didn't extend to the City of London, the other centre of untramelled and unaccountable power in this country. …

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