Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Orange Booker Slur, part 1

From time to time I hear the term Orange Booker used, disparagingly, to suggest that some Liberal Democrats are right-wing, Thatcherite or somehow outside the social liberal tradition. With an Orange Booker standing for the leadership, I thought I would go back to the Orange Book to see if the slur fits.

In Part 1, I deal with Chapter 2: Liberalism and Localism by Edward Davey.

Off the page leaps the following: "... To win the case for Liberal localism, we must, for example, show that social justice will not be harmed, but actually enhanced." And nowhere in the chapter is the opposite sentiment expressed. Perhaps I missed it.

What we do find is an analysis of the centralising tendency of the desire for equal provision of public services. "The progressive centralists fear the re-emergence of significant inequity if Whitehall hands over power to local councils, and they believe the battle to end remaining inequality would effectively be lost. ... Misguided fears of 'two tier' services and of 'postcode lotteries' drives much of this critique."

Do we accept the centralising tendency as the price of social justice? Or is there more social justice in the better outcomes all round that local control will lead to, even if they are not exactly equal from one neighbourhood to the next?

It seems to me that public services, while valuable to everybody, particularly serve to elevate the have-nots. Better services will elevate them more, and will therefore better close the gap between have-nots and haves. A socialist good if any. Perhaps the Orange Bookers are in fact dangerously left-wing? Or perhaps we can agree with the thrust of chapter 2 that better public services is more important than more equal public services.

So, in short, no justification in chapter 2 for the right-wing slur. Coming up next, chapter 3: Europe: A Liberal Future by Nick Clegg.


Liberal Neil said...

Quite right. The 'Orange Booker' tag is an unfair generalisation. Some of the contributors can certainly be seen as being on the right - in so far as it means anything - but most of the chapters in the book would not raise a liberal eyebrow. Ed Davey, Chris Huhne and Steve Webb, to name a few, are all ardently socially liberal.

Paul Evans said...

Indeed, 'Orange Booker' Steve Webb seems to have pretty much come out for Simon Hughes...

Apollo Project said...

Are you one of Cleggy's army?

Joe Otten said...

Cleggy's army? Where do I sign up?

But seriously, Nick is great, but I'm not that partisan.

Tristan said...

Thankyou for this. It is something which has started getting to me.

I read the Orange Book and got the impression of policies which sought to free people up from state interference whilst providing support for those who need it.

I don't understand the slur which is now placed on it, except possibly as conservatism (not wanting change).

Richard H said...

A very cogent argument. I know I myself have been guilty of talking about "Orange Bookistas" to describe the David Laws tendency, when actually most of the contributors do not deserve that tag.