Tuesday 19 January 2010

Liberty, equality and Next Left: a quick reply to Tony Curzon Price

There is an interesting post at OpenDemocracy from Tony Curzon Price in which he explores the idea that political ideology can be explored along distinct 'liberty' and 'equality' axes.

Tony claims that the egalitarian-authoritarian space (strong on equality, weak on liberty) is occupied by something like the Fabian Society, and his post has an icon of Next Left in the relevant part of the accompanying diagram.


Has Tony actually been reading Next Left? Has he followed our coverage of issues like the policing of the G20 protests, our discussions of the relationship between liberalism and socialism, the philosophy of democratic republicanism, and so on?

I suspect not. Otherwise, he might have the beginnings of an answer to the question he poses: Where are the libertarian progressives?


Sunder Katwala said...

Stuart, Thank you for this. I have posted a reply on the thread (as below). Let us see what Tony has to say about it; though he may want note yr earlier challenge to the Lab blogosphere as authoritarian!

Dear Tony,

Stuart White has posted a quick response on Next Left.

I would echo the challenge: on what basis do you characterise the Fabian Society as authoritarian?

It just sounds to me like a historical stereotype - and a rather one dimensional view of the Fabian tradition too, given that there have often been significant voices (Oscar Wilde, GDH Cole, Tony Crosland among them) arguing for a pluralist and liberal Fabianism and social democracy.

You may change your mind about where you have put the Next Left logo if you were to read some of Next Left's recent coverage of civil liberties and of constitutional reform as well as our consistent focus on an effective politics of equality.

I have argued, in several places, including Open Democracy that "Labour must now define its own positive centre-left argument. It didn't do this in 1997 and the legacy is a growing weakness. This is not a matter of simply being more 'left-wing' in a shopping list of policies. Indeed, the temptation to become inward-looking is not a monopoly of the left. Some Blairites, perhaps drawing on their sectarian youth, are amongst the most oppressively factional in the Labour Party for all the proclaimed 'modernism' of their views. To succeed in becoming a part of the centre-left that can inspire its membership and gain public support Labour needs combine two things: being more ideologically rooted in clear values and principles with being decisively more pluralist and open in the way it does politics. That is how to sow the seeds for Labour forming part of a broader progressive ‘movement politics’, as David Lammy has advocated".

This has been reflected in our consistently providing platforms for Labour-LibDem dialogue, seeking to foster engagement between party politics and civic pressure, and in co-hosting the left and liberty session at the Convention for Modern Liberty, and in being significantly engaged in debates about the pluralist reform of party politics, the broader political settlement and the new 'movement politics' of a pluralist left.

Stuart White said...

Thanks, Sunder. I think my characterisation of (many) other parts of the Labour blogosphere as weak on liberty might be fair, but its not accurate about Next Left (he says, self-righteously!).

Unknown said...

Sturtt and Sunder,

Many thanks for your thoughtful replies to my post. I will reply fully at the week-end. _Very_ briefly before then, Maybe I am a bit guilty of using Fabian as a shorthand and Next Left as its voice. But I _think_ I will be able to point to the trust in the State _without_ a profound social, personal and institutional change for addressing issues like climate change and financial reform in your pages. Now that may make you more oligarchic than hieratic in my schema, but I think the question still holds of where are the libertarian progressives. Look forward to writing more fully on this soon.


Sunder Katwala said...


It will be interesting to see what your account is of the profound social, personal and institutional change.

I hope you will read a few of Stuart's many posts connecting personal responsibility on climate change with civil liberties challenges. His post reporting from the climate camp was (here and at Liberal Conspiracy) our most read and linked post last year, and both he and Guy Aitchison have written extensively on the legal fallout of that.

The "trust in the state without ..." sounds like a similar shorthand. The reason for our consistent focus on building a new movement politics is a deep scepticism as to how a top-down approach can succeed without a much broader civic mobilisation: I wrote about the missing civic politics that after one of several pre-G20 and pre-Copenhagen events, something developed by Paul Hilder of Avaaz who is among those trying to do this in practice.