Buff Liberalism

March 4, 2011

Nick Clegg’s speech on ‘muscular liberalism‘ has been described as foreshadowing an argument within the Coalition on anti-terrorism policy. Foreshadowed by Cameron’s speech earlier in February, it calls for liberals to argue, challenge, and ultimately defeat the specious arguments espoused by violent extremists – a stark contrast to Cameron’s determination to ‘No Platform’ extremist groups.

It is interesting inasmuch as it reveals a fault line within the coalition that’s largely been overshadowed by saturation coverage of the cuts. The Conservatives, like their counterparts in the US, do believe in utilising the power of the state to promote a particular moral line – in this case, Cameron seeks to exploit that State’s role as the begetter of much debate by removing certain positions from the contest. It is a subtler, and shallower, version of mad Tea Partiers demanding that the State ban gay marriage, but it follows the same principle – that there is a specified moral code that it is the duty of the State to promote. Clegg’s speech, by contrast, focuses on the duty of the individual to argue for the sort of morality that he or she desires – a debate only possible within a liberal and tolerant framework.

This fault-line, I presume, is an instance of Clegg’s new-found determination to say when he disagrees with the Prime Minister. As someone who loves philosophy, it’s fantastic to see the PM and the DPM discussing the deep philosophical issues that divide them in public. However, I can’t help feeling that something has been lost along the way, which is that you’re not in fucking ancient Athens now, Clegg.

You can’t just give long meandering philosophical speeches about buffing up your liberalism. You’ve got to translate those into messages that will resonate with the electorate. Where is this happening? Where’s the killer line from that speech? Even the quoted expression comes from Cameron, not Clegg.

I’ve said this a lot in private conversations, but I think it’s time to start saying it in public. Can the party start firing people now, please?*

*Also, see Barnsley. Nice that the Campaigns Department decided to not waste money not fighting an unwinnable seat, but I’d have hoped they’d at least tried to prevent us from being humiliated.

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