Chris Dillow on the false dichotomy Liberal Democrats employed as their only selling point during the U.K. election campaign:
"A leaflet from the Lib Dems sullies my doormat decrying 'heartless Tories' and 'clueless Labour', echoing Clegg's claim that the Lib Dems would 'add a heart to a Conservative government and add a brain to a Labour one'. This seems to me to be doubly wrong."Dillow traces this practice back in time:
"However, the Lib Dems aren't proposing this false dichotomy merely because they are a party without principle who can only define themselves by what they are not. The 'cruel right' and 'silly left' are old prejudices. In 1988 Alan Blinder wrote a book Hard Heads, Soft Hearts in which he tried to combat that distinction. And in 1996 Tony Blair complained of the longstanding but 'foolish' tendency to regard Tories as 'cruel but efficient' and Labour as 'caring but incompetent'."
Dillow may feel some satisfaction with the results the Lib Dems achieved:
Party Seats Change
Conservative 331 24
Labour 232 -26
Lib Dem 8 -49
SNP 56 50
UKIP 1 1
Other 22 0
What I find interesting, though, is that British politics, it seems, haven't changed that much.
Take for instance, this old address delivered at the Liberal Summer School at Cambridge.
Speaking on his personal name, the speaker declares that no British party of his time satisfies a positive test, based on the parties' "attractiveness" to the speaker:
"[W]hen we come to consider the problem of party positively -- by reference to what attracts rather than to what repels -- the aspect is dismal in every party alike."But there is another test, a negative test: what party least repels the speaker?
In this test, the Liberals come on top. Its virtue: being less repellent than Labour and Tories. Liberals are better than them, in other words, because it is neither Labour nor Tories:
"On the negative test, I incline to believe that the Liberal Party is still the best instrument of future progress -- if only it had strong leadership and the right programme".So, what makes the Tories and Labour more repellent than the Liberals?
The Tories are repellent because the speaker doesn't like them. Why not? He doesn't quite say. It doesn't seem to be because they are "cruel" (or related to their economic policies). Beyond:
"They offer me neither food nor drink -- neither intellectual nor spiritual consolation. I should not be amused or excited or edified."There is little indication about what specific things the speaker finds repellent in the Tories.
He finds Labour repellent, too. But here he is more specific:
"Ought I, then, to join the Labour Party? Superficially that is more attractive. But looked at closer, there are great difficulties. To begin with, it is a class party, and the class is not my class. If I am going to pursue sectional interests at all, I shall pursue my own. When it comes to the class struggle as such, my local and personal patriotisms, like those of every one else, except certain unpleasant zealous ones, are attached to my own surroundings. I can be influenced by what seems to me to be Justice and good sense; but the Class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie."There is more:
"But, above all, I do not believe that the intellectual elements in the Labour Party will ever exercise adequate control; too much will always be decided by those who do not know at all what they are talking about."It's not quite to say that Labour are "clueless", but it's not far: they are stupid and working class.
Considering said address was delivered 90 years ago, by none less than Lord Keynes himself, I'd say that Nick Clegg was following a venerable tradition, even if for some reason this time the British voter was not charmed.