Why I am a Liberal Democrat - Ed. Duncan Brack

I came late to liberal politics. Watching the Convservatives and Labour, it took me a long time to realise that politics doesn't have to be defined by class. It seems like "the opposite of fascism and authoritarianism" should be the baseline for any modern party, but apparently not. Then you chuck out the ones not rooted in reality or kindness (there go libertarianism and neoliberalism), and it's pretty much the liberals, and specifically the Lib Dems in the UK...

So when I came across a book about why various high-profile LDs are in the party in a second-hand book-shop, I thought "This looks fun/interesting". It wasn't. It's been head-of-line blocking my book reading for most of a year, as it's dull but I'm a completionist.

The idea is to follow up an 1885 pamphlet Why I am a Liberal with a modern equivalent. 120 of the great and the good from 1995 saying why they believe in the party. And, of course, being free-thinking liberals, there are plenty explaining why they don't really believe in the party, but it's the best thing they can find right now. Some believe more in Liberalism, some in the Liberal Democrats, with a careful distinction between the two. The wounds of Liberals/SDP are still visible.

With 120 entries, it's boring, but not hugely repetitive, since different people have their different hobby-horses, different things they believe most important and find in the party. Amusingly, some of them seem to be incompatible, as if the party is a Rorschach blob.

Some themes do come up with regular persistence. Jo Grimond is mentioned an awful lot - someone I knew nothing of before, but apparently hugely influential to a whole generation. I'm probably just badly educated. Around the same time there's much reference to the Liberals being the only party to take a principled stand on Suez, so there are some very clear formative events.

It's mostly political types, with a few successful business people. It was fun to see Barry Norman and Nicholas Parsons on the list. That doesn't seem like bad company.

The tail of the book republishes some of the original 1885 pamphlet. It's a strange contrast. There was a much bigger sense of a need for change, of urgency, in 1885. It's largely gone, but on the other hand, most of the aims have been fulfilled: We do live in a much more liberal society than 150-odd years ago. That's got to be progress, even if it took a couple of World Wars to get on the way.

It's also interesting to see which bits have stood the test of time. Several writers come across well, but Andrew Reid's entry pretty much looks like libertarianism now. It's always intruiging to think how history will judge your views. What is it that seems reasonable now that one day will seem ill-conceived? I wish I knew.

Posted 2023-03-04.