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Liberal Left: I don’t think so

Next weekend’s Lib Dem Spring conference in Gateshead will see the official launch of a new group, Liberal Left, opposed to Lib Dem membership of the coalition, and, according to some commentators, “appeared avowedly pro-Labour“. But is it? Are all these people really friends of Labour? My eyes alighted on one name, Stephen Haseler, now Professor of Government at London Metropolitan University and Director of the Global Policy Institute, a member of Liberal Left’s Advisory Board who is due to speak at their launch meeting. A man with a pretty dodgy past in the Labour movement:

  • Although he describes himself as a founder member of the SDP, he was in fact a leader of the earlier breakaway, the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) which left Labour in January 1981 with former deputy Labour Leader and well known drunk, Lord George Brown, as its President (who didn’t even join the SDP for 4 years after that). It stood candidates against Labour in the GLC elections of 1981 (prior to the launch of the SDP) after which Ken Livingstone became leader of the new Labour GLC.
  • Shortly after the SDA was founded in 1975, Labour leader, Harold Wilson, condemned them as “an anti-party group”(quoted in Haseler’s book Tragedy of Labour, 1980, p112)
  • The SDA had specialised in publishing lists of alleged left-wing extremists who should be opposed in elections. These included Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock. In this, it was assisted by intelligence-service funded Common Cause, “a small, cheap CIA operation which paid off“. The SDA announced in August 1980 that it would stand against some of these at the following election.
  • The right-wing Labour pressure group founded in 1977, the Campaign for Labour Victory, whose leading lights included the Gang of Three (Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rogers) wanted nothing to do with the SDA according to Simon Hoggart (“Campaign aims to switch Labour’s image”, The Guardian, 21 February 1977) — it was too right wing.
  • The SDA, including Haseler, were leading backers of Reg Prentice in his campaign against deselection as a Labour MP in Newham North East (prior to his defecion to the Tories).

Now, not all of the Liberal Left conspirators have such a bad record. Simon Hebditch is also now a member of the Compass management committee which is perhaps why Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass, was effusive in his welcome of Liberal Left:

Anything that challenges the Centre-right voting block of the Coalition is clearly a good thing

Hebditch is a longstanding ‘left’ Liberal activist, was Peter Hain’s vice-chair when he was national chairman of the Young Liberals, and founding editor of Liberator, and has a long record of involvement in campaigning with the Left, much of it in Hain’s company.

When Hain chaired the “Stop the Tour” campaign against the South African cricket tour in 1969/70, Hebditch was London organiser. He joined Hain as a founder member of the Anti-Nazi League in 1977. He co-authored “Radicals and Socialism” with Hain at about the same time. According to Peter Hain’s recent book, Outside In (p128), he even accompanied Hain to discuss his defection to Labour with Neil Kinnock and Tony Benn — then being denounced by Haseler as extremists.

Peter Hain, interviewed last weekend by Decca Aitkenhead, predicts a hung parliament in 2015, a split in the Lib Dem party, and a government formed by Labour and half of Clegg’s old party:

“That’s what I think we’re fighting for. Yeah. And I think that’s a very realistic prospect.”

Peter Hain is not alone in the Labour Party looking forward to that prospect. But if you view the Liberal Left that remains within the Lib Dems as part of the left, think again. There may be a handful of radicals like Simon Hebditch left in the Lib Dems with whom we have some affinity. There are certainly others, who we wouldn’t regard as of the Left and who don’t sound like they’re about to split from the Lib Dems but we could work with on a number of issues, like Linda Jack who chairs Liberal Left:

We are and always have been a radical party. The party of great social reformers – Gladstone and Beveridge, Lloyd George and Keynes. Liberal Left provides a forum for those Liberal Democrats who want to stay and fight to return our party to its radical roots.

But the rest are a mixed bad of people desperately looking for a lifeline and, like Stephen Haseler, people we shouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

5 Comments

  1. I said that they “appeared avowedly pro-Labour”. The crucial word appeared seems to be missing from your quote, and therefore quite markedly changes the meaning…

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Fair enough, Mark. Given your headline “New pro-Labour, anti-coalition Lib Dem group launched“, I thought the shorter quote was fair but I am happy to insert the extra word. I wasn’t criticising you, by the way, merely urging caution.

  2. Stephen Haseler says:

    Sorry that Jon Lansman, in his fascinating piece, is worried about my left credentials. Yes, I was early as a Labour candidate in advocating SDP- followed later by Shirley Williams et al. And I have always been anti- authoritarian and did indeed attack the Stalinism of the Labour party of the 1970s.

    Such a background is no bar to advocating- as I have in my last two books- pro-Keynesian policies and real constitutional reform- including monarchy and Lords.

    I’d love to debate this with Mr. Lansman. If he agrees we can fix a time.

    Best, Stephen Haseler.

    1. Jon Lansman says:

      Stephen: “the Stalinism of the Labour party of the 1970s” was nothing compared with the Stalinism of Blair’s New Labour party in the nineties and noughties, or the devestation of Thatcherism which the SDP’s defection extended by a few years. However, I don’t see either as preventing you advocating pro-Keynesian policies or constitutional reform. I do nevertheless wonder why you waste time advocating these things in the Lib Dems after the experience of coalition and I do still doubt your left credentials. What exactly do you understand by the term left?

  3. stephen haseler says:

    By ‘left’ I mean those of us who seek a much fairer distribution of wealth and income than that which the ‘neo-liberal consensus’ has delivered over the last thirty years. It also must mean a democratic outlook on life, particularly today when the west seems to be becoming more like an oligarchy. In Britain’s case a more democratised polity and society and a rejection of our ‘ancien regime’ of a constitution- including monarchy, Lords, unwritten system and the like. In my view, it also means embracing Europe and the “European Social Model’ over the Finance=driven Anglo-Saxon model.

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