Where have the left-wing Liberal Democrats gone?

New Lib Dem group decries the party's role in supporting this "heartless, right-wing Tory government

The last 22 months have been uncomfortable for many of us on the left of the Liberal Democrats. Many of us have had to think long and hard about whether to stay and fight, or throw in the towel. Some of us have decided to do the latter and are now seeking to fight back collectively through the establishment of Liberal Left.

We haven't been in hibernation since the establishment of the coalition. We have all, in our different ways, been active in challenging the party internally and externally and in doing our best to work towards the elusive "realignment of the left".

The current leadership narrative has been around taking the centre ground, "we're all centrists now" the mantra, equidistance the declared aim. But the truth is, we have never been equidistant. We have always been a party of the centre left and that self-evidently means we are always going to have more in common with the parties of the left than of the right. So as Liberal Left we have two clear aims, to provide a voice within the Liberal Democrats, opposing the party leadership on economic and fiscal policy, and advocating a positive alternative; and to seek every possible opportunity to build good relations across the left, between Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Greens, and the non-party liberal left, recognising that organisations such as Compass offer a thriving space for such dialogue around democracy and sustainability.

Now, of course our stance has earned us criticism from both left and right, but we take our lead from the declared aim of the party, namely "to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity". And it is clear that the grassroots of the party have not abandoned that aim. Particularly noteworthy has been the internal campaign against the Health and Social Care Bill.

This week we published our first pamphlet, Challenges for the Liberal Left, thoughtful essays laying out in more detail our ideological position. Exploring some of the most pressing issues, the economy, the role of the state, the impact of coalition policy on women, liberalism and the liberal left.

In exploring liberalism and the liberal left Richard Grayson, former Lib Dem Director of Policy, reminds us that "as a party we argued during the last election that eliminating the structural deficit in a single parliament, as the Tories proposed, would remove growth from the economy. We also said that the impact of such a plan would fall disproportionately on those least able to afford the cuts, increasing the gap between the rich and poor and further dividing the country. This is exactly what has happened and we must not as a party stay silent and accept it as the best deal possible."

Stephen Knight calls for radical thinking from the liberal left regarding how the state can best support a sustainable, stable, green economy with real distributive justice, while Simon Hebditch draws on his wide experience in the third sector to explore the contested role of the state. He critiques the contradictions in current policy and concludes that true localism must imply local sustainability if the theory of local power is to be realised.

Jo Ingold explores the disproportionate and adverse impact of current coalition policies on women, specifically in relation to tax, benefits and childcare policies; Ruth Bright strongly argues that the party is fooling itself if it does not understand that the need to appeal to women voters cannot be separated from the need to make the party itself look democratically representative of the country.

Ed Randall's historical analysis challenges us to consider seriously how as Liberal Democrats we should be responding to the current economic crisis and Stephen Haseler argues that the deficit reduction programme is not dealing with the underlying debt crisis but is in fact making it worse. He urges the party to ditch the Orange Book and Conservative neo-liberalism and return to our social liberal roots.

Our official launch will take place on Saturday evening -- 8pm in Hall 2 at the Sage Gateshead. We expect a lively debate, so if you are there, do come along. And if like us, you are a Liberal Democrat committed to Liberal Democrat values but dismayed at our party's role in supporting one of the most heartless, right wing Tory governments ever; do join us.

Linda Jack is the chair of Liberal Left.

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Owen Smith is naïve if he thinks misogynist abuse in Labour started with Jeremy Corbyn

“We didn’t have this sort of abuse before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Owen Smith, the MP challenging Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest, has told BBC News that the party’s nastier side is a result of its leader.

He said:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.

“It’s now become something that is being talked about on television, on radio, and in newspapers. And Angela is right, it has been effectively licenced within the last nine months.

“We’re the Labour party. We’ve got to be about fairness, and tolerance, and equality. It’s in our DNA. So for us to be reduced to this infighting is awful. Now, I understand why people feel passionately about the future of our party – I feel passionately about that. I feel we’re in danger of splitting and being destroyed.

“But we can’t tolerate it. And it isn’t good enough for Jeremy simply to say he has threats too. Well, I’ve had death threats, I’ve had threats too, but I’m telling him, it’s got to be stamped out. We’ve got to have zero tolerance of this in the Labour party.”

While Smith’s conclusion is correct, his analysis is worryingly wrong.

Whether it is out of incompetence or an unwillingness to see the extent of the situation, Corbyn has done very little to stamp out abuse in his party, which has thus been allowed to escalate. It is fair enough of Smith to criticise him for his failure to stem the flow and punish the perpetrators.

It is also reasonable to condemn Corbyn's inability to stop allies like Chancellor John McDonnell and Unite leader Len McCluskey using violent language (“lynch mob”, “fucking useless”, etc) about their opponents, which feeds into the aggressive atmosphere. Though, as I’ve written before, Labour politicians on all sides have a duty to watch their words.

But it’s when we see how Smith came to the point of urging Corbyn to take more responsibility that we should worry. Smith confidently argues that there wasn’t “this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism” in the party before Corbyn was voted in. (I assume when he says “this sort”, he means online, death threats, letters, and abuse at protests. The sort that has been high-profile recently).

This is naïve. Anyone involved in Labour politics – or anything close to it – for longer than Corbyn’s leadership could tell Smith that misogyny and antisemitism have been around for a pretty long time. Perhaps because Smith isn’t the prime target, he hasn’t been paying close enough attention. Sexism wasn’t just invented nine months ago, and we shouldn’t let the belief set in that it did – then it simply becomes a useful tool for Corbyn’s detractors to bash him with, rather than a longstanding, structural problem to solve.

Smith's lament that “it’s now become something that is being talked about” is also jarring. Isnt it a good thing that such abuse is now being called out so publicly, and closely scrutinised by the media?

In my eyes, this is a bit like the argument that Corbyn has lost Labour’s heartlands. No, he hasn’t. They have been slowly slipping away for years – and we all noticed when Labour took a beating in the last general election (way before Corbyn had anything to do with the Labour leadership). As with the abuse, Corbyn hasn’t done much to address this, and his inaction has therefore exacerbated it. But if we tell ourselves that it started with him, then we’re grasping for a very, very simple solution (remove Corbyn = automatic win in the North, and immediate erasure of misogyny and antisemitism) to a problem we have catastrophically failed to analyse.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.