The key question facing the online party today…

Having had my tuppence worth as much as anyone, I’m starting to find this libertarians v social democrats blogging “debate”, seen in its latest incarnation here, just a little bit crushingly depressing.

I try not to write about meta-blogging matters, but this is all getting a bit daft, isn’t it? Not a week seems to go by in the Lib Dem blogosphere without someone getting up on their hindlegs and starting a very long sentence beginning with “I BELIEVE…” and ending with “…SO IT MUST BE TRUE. SO THERE.” And I thought I was inflexible and opinionated. You can blame me for all this, actually – I went and wrote a long post a while back on how wonderful it was that our party is informed by two parent ideologies and what a marvellous thing was the dialogue between the two strands. So it is, but there’s such a thing as a surfeit you know, chaps.

My real problem, I suppose, is that this is no longer a dialogue – if it ever was. A dialogue has to be about something – a tax policy, say, or an educational model. To be fair, some discussions still get down to these sorts of brass tacks eventually. But mostly, the libertarians v social democrats blog war is about everything, and therefore nothing. It’s tribal, not conciliatory. Same old emotion-based dog whistle language. Same old implication that “libertarians” or “socialists” as the case may be are “the enemy”. The instant recourse to emotive buzzwords – Thatcherite this and stasi that, market worshipping, nanny state, and a host of other perjorative adjectives damagingly attached to perfectly innocent nouns to suit the purpose of the writer, not to mention the freewheeling redefinition of that dread word “libertarian” – just destroys any intellectual value the exercise might have had.

Few people ever seem to actually learn anything, or advance their thinking. Any point, once successfully made, seems to be forgotten after the thread has ended. It’s true, ladies and gentlemen, we are now officially debating at an intellectual level below that of the common goldfish. In terms of the open-mindedness of its participants, it’s akin to standing in a North London pub and listening to a debate on the relative merits of Spurs and the Arsenal. Basically, we’re all just standing up in turn and telling everybody else which emotive socio-political words we weally, weally wuv, and which ones make us go icky-poo-yuk. Well, someone hand round the Nobel prizes.

I’m sure we used to debate Stuff and Things in the blogosphere. How much real-world good that ever did I’ve no idea, but it at least promoted constructive thinking activity and let people work out their positions in a relatively dogma-free atmosphere. The key question facing the online party today is not which “direction” we should take (whose “we” is this, anyway? Because I am tolerably sure that the leadership is not watching the blogosphere agog in anticipation of acting on our verdict, even supposing we could reach one). It’s whether the online party can remain relevant to a wider audience and avoid disappearing excitably up its own arse. Because frankly, if I’m bored of this, some poor sod of a supporter who just looks in on the offchance that we might be saying something interesting and of relevance to them will never darken our virtual doors again.

It does of course occur to me that I could, in fact, do something to counterbalance the madness by blogging about Stuff and Things myself, as opposed to having spent an hour I’ll never get back composing the above. Damn.


  1. (this may be a peculiarly Yorksher perspective on things, possibly, and I am feeling very warm and Yorksher tonight).

    * snuggles *

    If it helps at all, I tend to think of family meals in this situation. The social democrats are my mum, in this. The libertarians are my auntie Susan. They can’t be in the same room for more than a couple of minutes without one or other of them starts an argument and the other can’t help but rise to the bait. You? You’re stepping into the role of my dad with this post – the calm, sane, rational voice of reason, who is destined to be ignored, mainly because everyone else is actually enjoying having a bloody good row.

    I’d remind you of what Pratchett says about the internecine strife of the Ogg family, also.

    We Lib Dems are a vast, sprawling and diverse family, and yes, we have our squabbles. But that’s what makes us family!

  2. I’m not sure it’s the whole Lib Dem blogosphere having this debate – it seems to be mainly Charlotte Gore and Darrell Goodliffe having a public debate, although I agree that neither of them seems to be having much impact on the other. And people like me have been too busy obsessing about the latest minutiae of the US elections to pay much attention.

  3. Don’t worry, Charlotte, I was being grumpy. I know Jennie’s right. Plus I’ve only myself to blame for being insufficiently interested in the minutiae of the US election (why has this anorak opportunity passed me by? I truly don’t know.)

  4. I’m not really interested in the US election minutiae either; I just wish it would all be over already. It’s the best argument possible against fixed term elections – year long electoral campaigns…

  5. It’s about principles from my point of view so by it’s very nature is bound to be a bit bitter and heated. I think its worth pointing out at this point that individual debate has been between me and Charlotte but Liberal Vision have also been involved along the way and it’s worth noting they are an organised presence within this party so constitute something a little more substantial than individuals debating…

    Also, Alix I feel it is a natural consequence of the events of the past few months. Anybody who thinks similar such intensive debates will not be pressing forward in the other parties is just plain wrong I think.

  6. It’s true: engaging on some relatively pointless internal debate is a far better way to get the hits up than blogging about things real people might possible care about. As long as we’re all having fun, though.

  7. All of which helps to explain why party conferences are still relevant in resolving differences. You only get to speak once in a debate! Online debates are often like the very worst public meetings: a handful shout loudly and put off the rest.

    But at least a public meeting (usually) has a chairman who can ask people to be quiet and, in extremis, ask stewards to remove them.

    Moderated discussion is always going to be the most inclusive (which is, of course, what dear old CIX has been about for nearly 20 years:, and which the party used to support).

  8. The point I’m about to make can be seen as tribal in itself, but as someone who happily shouts off about the superiority of the Arsenal in north London pubs, what else can be expected?:

    I’ve seen very few (if any) ad hominem attacks or labeling of the more left-leaning contributors as “socialists” “Marxists” “Maoists” et cetera on LDV (or related blogs).

    On the contrary, every thread these days seems to include immediate baiting of “loony libertarians”, and many personal attacks on the likes of Charlotte and Jock Coats (in spite of the fact that the latter is one of the few people to back up his claims with actual evidence).

    Many such attacks are, furthermore, made under anonymous names and attacking people who are being quite honest and open about who they are.

    Rather unpleasant, methinks. But then having experienced away trips to White Hart Lane, I’d like to think I’ll be able to cope when someone tries to push me over a wall at conference.

  9. “…Charlotte and Jock Coats (in spite of the fact that the latter is one of the few people to back up his claims with actual evidence)”

    Hmm, in this part I seem to have suggested that:

    a) Charlotte is married to Jock
    b) Charlotte doesn’t back up her claims with actual evidence.

    Of course, from what I know, neither are true.

  10. We could do many things, Charlotte, but ignore you? Never!

    Part of the reason the liberatarian vs. social liberal debates have such life to them is that they go to the core of what politics should be about, for Lib Dems anyway.

    It’s not surprising we spend more time discussing this stuff, though. You’ve got a bunch of bloggers with their support for the Lib Dems in common. If you look at any one issue, a few of us will be interested. If you take the Lib Dems themselves, we’re all interested.

    I guess Arsenal FC bloggers get a lot more interest when they post about some AFC management issue than, say racism in football.

  11. Actually Alix, you have created some unity because I feel tonnes more sympathy for Charlotte’s position than yours in this question….i’ve just read her blog and see no reason why she should feel guilty…this doesnt mean I intend to fold and agree with her politics but it does mean I think there is value to these debates…if a party cannot contain within it’s walls strong exchanges of opinons then what good is it…

  12. I love a good internal debate meself – it really fires me up to want to trudge around in the rain to reduce that pile of focusses I’ve got waiting in the hallway.

    I remember the occasion a couple of years ago I showed one latest focus to a friend who I have discussions with in a target ward.

    She complained the quotes were from recent newpapers not from any great philosophical figures, that we included photos of the local candidate on the street we were delivering to rather than our leader and that the issues we were addressing were pavement politics (collected from neighbourhood surveys) rather than any grand themes (which fill newspaper headlines).

    She asked what was the point of the results barchart…

    She said she will never join a party like ours because we’ll never get into power.

    We’ve since converted two of the ward seats at council level and she still doesn’t believe this works.

  13. I offer to moderate a discussion between Charlotte and Darrell on my blog.

    If you both agree, send me (by facebook) your position on the social democrat/libertarian conflict in around 250 words, for the first round. Don’t attack the other’s position until round 2, by which time you will have read it.

    I will post both in full and editorialise.

  14. Joe,

    I am happy to take part (toward the end of the week) but I would like a recognition from Alix here that she has totally misrepresented this debate in this post. From what you read here you get no ackowledgement that libertarians organise as an independant presence within this party (Liberal Vision, Libetarian Alliance etc) where as to the best of my knowledge social democrats/social liberals really dont at the present time.

    And also just to note i would be appalled if this did effect her judgement for Lib Dem Blog of the Year…

  15. As a supplementray point Alix the comparison you draw with Spurs and Arsenal fans actually holds true in one sense; in that both sides self-identify as what they are as the libertarians do in this instance (as I have proved above) as do social democrats, call them what you will..the difference being the latter dont seem to organise to my knowledge on the basis of that lable…

    Why are you complaining about ‘scattergun’ chracterisations of libertarians when they so obviously self-identify to the point of self-organisation that way…being clear I have no problems with libertarians organising that way (or as individual bloggers) but it is a total misrepresentation on your point to bandy the notion that they are chracterised by a ‘scattergun’ about when in the link you gave one thing I do do is cite a concrete policy commitment of the Libertarian Alliance (to remove restrictions on the sale of firearms)… there is no need for a ‘scattergun’ characterisation when the concrete is there for everybody to see from the comfort of their own PC🙂

    And before we get onto saying these organisations are irrelevant we do need to consider that one of the major driving forces for the campaign for us to put forward a tax cutting agenda was Liberal Vision who also have a prominant member running for Party president….

  16. Darrell, you probably don’t mean to be, but you’re coming across as a bit high-handed here.

    I’ve written a post about the debate in the terms I see it. I haven’t “misrepresented” anything. This *is* how I see it. I really don’t see why I should be obliged to mention libertarian fringe organisations just because that’s how you would have wanted it written. What difference would it make to any of the post if I had? That’s your obsession, not mine – if you want to talk about it, you’ve got your own blog. Your closing implied suggestion is moreover rather insulting and I don’t think it really deserves an answer.

    You are, however, quite right to point out that similar soul-searching is going on in the other parties.

    A Joe-moderated debate is an excellent idea. I look forward to it. I did start out (as I said at the beginning of the post) as an enthusiast for this debate, and was for long a happy participant, so I don’t think anyone can accuse me of not seeing the innate value in it. It’s at the point where it comes to be based solely on emotional reactions that I think it loses that value.

  17. Alix,

    No that is not it at all. I think you give an unfair impression of the debate as essentially being between ‘scrapping bloggers’ because you do not mention them. As to describing them as ‘fringe’; maybe they are and maybe they are not but I have already justified a view of their relevance both to this post and the wider debate above.

    Now you may mention that my use of the phrase ‘lib dem blogsphere’ leaves me open to the same charge but i used that phrase because it incorporates *all* the individual bloggers who defend this trend (and in all fairness there is more than one) and the debate on LDV in which Mark Littlewood has waded in on behalf of Liberal Vision for (you could also include Dave Allen’s post as being part of this debate too). However, if my post makes that unclear then fair cop.

    Emotional reactions are fine as long as they can be concretly justified. I feel that personally I have done that (occasionally on Charlottes blog i have made a conscious effort to make it clear I am ‘playing the ball’ as it were ie, her politics). When people of all shades (myself and libertarians included) are defending deep and sincerely held belife’s (and I do believe in their sincerity though I question it in LV’s organisational methods) emotions are bound to run high. Maybe things do get a little out of hand and the language angular sometimes but hey that comes with the turf…

  18. “Emotional reactions are fine as long as they can be concretly justified.”


    Emotions are by definition inconcrete.

    Reaction is opposed to justifiable reason, surely?

  19. Oranjepan,

    I dont think so not always. There is such a thing as understandable (though not always justifiable)reaction. I dont think that is really the point in any case…

    To recap the debate on my blog, I now feel slightly hard done by with regard to the tax cut issue (something that I have not automatically dismissed as ‘right-wing’ and even now actually support as a redistributive measure, along with others i feel should be looked at)….i just feel a little ill-temperance can be forgiven on these occasions and is quickly remedyed when it goes too far (the example of me being slightly defensive about your remarks springs to mind..)

    In other words; at no time have I got the feeling that this debate is ‘out of hand’ which Alix seems to feel it is…

  20. I’m pretty sure that the Libertarian Alliance would have a good long chortle at the suggestion that they are organizing a presence within the Lib Dems!

  21. These labels are a veritible political football, so unless you are the one person in a, er, an eleven, then they will have a tendency to get ‘out of hand’ and kicked around instead.

    The idea of the game is to make sure that when you play the ball it remains on the pitch – (to extend the metaphor too far) one of the most effective tactical method of confusing and confounding your opponents is to ensure your wingers are interchangable between left and right…

  22. Darrell you do realise I’m joking about the blogger of the year thing don’t you?


    It’s a nice idea. I’ll have to think about it though. Hasn’t the Charrell Saga gone on long enough?

  23. Jock,

    Well you are a member of them are you not…regardless, Progressive Vision via Liberal Vision definatly are….


    Totally lost me to be honest…what I think you are saying (correct me if i am wrong) is that you reject the right/left divide…


    Oh okies. However the point still rather stands I feel…

  24. Idon’t know if LA has an official membersip. I donate though. But I was a libertarian and voicing these things before I found common ground with the Libertarian Alliance. Ditto Liberal Vision. I don’t believe the latter are truly libertarian, at least not the issues they seem to be highlighting – I paid something to them to support their work, but to infer from my presence anywhere that they are “organizing” is frankly a bit of an insult to me. I exist on my own and have been talking about these issues for some time now. Perhaps we should say that Oxfordshire Community Land Trusts is organizing a presence in the party since I am a member of both.

  25. Charlotte, I am incurably naive in thinking that this disagreement can all be cleared up if only we talk to each other in the right way, if the rhetorical fig leaves can be brushed aside, if you both ended up agreeing with me, etc.

    On the other point, why do people talk about “organising” as if it is a bad thing? I thought it was a parody of the anarchist/libertarian that they believed in being disorganised.

  26. It’s not a bad thing. But it is slightly disconcerting that people think that outside organizations are behind this when they are only here because the internal voices of libertarianism et al have been making themselves more heard on our own thnnk you very much!

  27. Hmm.

    I think the reason why it makes me feel uncomfortable is that it’s crossing a fine line between blogging and being a politician. Do I expect to be able to change Darrell’s mind at all? No, I don’t. Do I believe he can change mine? Not a chance.

    There’s things being said across the blogosphere as a result of this ‘Charlotte versus Darrell’ thing that are making me feel very uncomfortable and I want it to stop, not make it worse.

    Why don’t you open it out and see if anyone else might be interested in doing it.

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