"Nick Clegg’s suggesting that his party can lead the Left seems presumptuous. Yet his is right to make it and has made it in the right way."
So says the lead editorial comment in this morning’s Times. It comes on the day that Nick launches his pamphlet The Liberal Moment with Demos as well as writing an article in the Times outlying his themes.
It opens with the questions:
"Are you one of the millions who turned to new Labour in 1997? Were you excited by the progressive promise? Did you believe that the ideals of fairness, social mobility, sustainability, civil rights and internationalism would finally have their day?"
Going on to say then:
"If so, you face a real dilemma. The choice between a fading exhausted Labour Government and the ideologically barred Conservatives."
The pamphlet and the article both look at the shifting sands of progressive politics. It was about a century ago that the Liberal party started to lose that all out progressive nature of British politics. The outcome was the emergence of the current Labour vs. Conservative struggle in the intervening years. Nick acknowledges that our predecessors then deserved to lose but then looks at the current situation.
The progressive party of the last 100 years, because no matter what the Tories try to paint over their past , progressive and conservative do not sit side by side in the same phrase, have been Labour. Yet look at them now.
"Labour's basic reflexes — central state activism, hoarding power at the centre, top-down government — are the wrong tools to meet the challenges of the modern world. We live in a society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place, no longer trapped by a culture of hierarchy….
"Labour have never fully reconciled itself to how power now flows down to individuals and communities that no longer accept a relationship of obeisance to central government. From frenzied target-setting in public service to the demolition of civil liberties, Labour has misread the demand for individual and grassroots empowerment in contemporary Britain."
Just as in the later part of the 19th and early 20th century the ideology battles for progressivism were battles being fought by Labour, long before they won the political battle, so now Nick thinks the battle to be the progressive party in thinking is ours. The battles on thinking are being won on the economy, environment, civil liberties, Iraq, Ghurkhas, and other issues we led the ideological crusade and others are latching on. The war to become the progressive force in politics in the country may take longer, but its day too may be coming.
"So the real choice at the next election is not the old red-blue/ blue-red pendulum of British politics. It is between yellow and blue. A choice between a liberal movement — led by the Liberal Democrats — that is attracting disaffected progressive voters from a Labour Party which will take years to recover, if at all; and a Conservative Party that parrots the language of change to maintain the status quo. In short, an opportunity for progressives to do something different, and finally change things for good."
So with that message ringing in my ears and Nicks vision set out before me, I'm really excited about heading off to Bournemouth for conference. Maybe the old adage is true. Maybe life truly does begin at 101000*.
*As Mark so kindly suggested this blog is now looking at using binary in light of my Total Politics rankings.