Thursday 20 May 2010

On Episcopal Café

A little bit of my creative writing on Episcopal Café: connecting the recent change of government with a broad sweep of liberal ideology. It is why I am not so critical of the Liberal Democrats as some on the collectivist left, and also why I think this is an interesting turn in the Conservative Party - that if Thatcher represented Economic Liberalism then Cameron, making a virtue out of a necessity, and following on from his half-hearted rhetoric of the past few years, is driving a more Social Liberalism. But the creative writing is to further link this political economy to religious history. Much of the Episcopal Café piece is to explain the inheritance of British politics to its American readers.

Simply put, the denominations in the UK were not formed in a political and social vacuum, but represented the rise of the urban middle class. Perhaps the most middle class was the Unitarian denomination, formed from the mercantilist English Presbyterians and some denominationalists, developing most of all a philosophy of civil and religious liberty as it pressed for political reform, as in 1832 and beyond. This ethos is visible in this government.

Some are criticising Nick Clegg for saying that "The Big Society" amounts to the same thing as what the Liberal Democrats argued for. Well, for me, "The Big Society" sounded like decentralising authority and responsibility, but probably amounted to a smaller State and cuts, with nothing for 'society' than to get on with it and tough it out. Now, hopefully, it might be what it sounded like. And to that extent, one title amounting to the same thing as the other's philosophy is so from the Jo Grimond liberal philosophy perspective.

But, whatever, Cameron is doing what Labour thought of doing in 1997, but did not, because the necessity was not present. Cameron is making a virtue out of a necessity.

Meanwhile, look at today's action regarding the 1922 Committee, that is supposed to be purely a Conservative Party backbenchers' meeting. The Conservative hierarchy has tried to ride roughshod over it, to push itself into it, and may come a cropper if the 1922 Committee constitution is asserted. In this coalition there are going to be two party disciplines, and we should expect better from the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps in not expecting power, the Liberal Democrat party made itself the most democratic (and decentralised) of the three; but it made the case and got the backing for the coalition, and that gives it a more solid foundation than it has in the Conservative Party. Perhaps Cameron needs some internal party reforms. It is for this reason that the Conservative Party cannot swallow up the Liberal Democrats; it could only happen if the Conservative Party's adoption of decentralising liberalism was to run thoroughly through its party, but its party is really a feudal affair where the leader and his team become its rulers.

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