Political Promise

Being Called a “Liberal” Used to be an Accusation; now it’s the Norm

In Conor Campbell on November 11, 2010 at 10:23 am

Conor Campbell believes it is harder to distinguish ideologies: it seems we are now all liberal in some form or another.

It seems to be getting harder and harder to distinguish yourself as a liberal nowadays. Years ago it was fairly easy to appear open minded as you just had to be one step to the left of the Conservative party, at least on social issues anyway. However as we all progress, the Tories seem less and less conservative on social issues.

Over the centuries you could be liberal by fighting for women’s rights, against discrimination based upon race and creed, demand that gays be allowed to marry and adopt and insisting that religion was kept out of the schools and government. In the most recent elections all three of the main parties committed to equality for all, and although some doubt the sincerity of these statements, it is a line they are sticking to. In the past some parties have been openly against the equality of certain groups, so at least now they realise the need to keep their feelings secret.

So with all of the main parties’ seemingly adapting the once exclusive polices of liberals how does a liberal differentiate themselves from social conservatives? Someone in Europe seems to have found the answer and it has allowed those liberals in Britain, facing years of lost identity, to once again attempt to cling to a moral high ground. The calls for prisoners to have their right to vote reinstated are too farfetched for me to back completely. I will say that if someone is on a short term sentence, a year or less, then an argument for them to receive the vote seems fair. However people serving long sentences for violent crimes or large thefts should not have their say on the way the country is run. They have been judged by a group of their peers to have broken the laws of the land, to be a threat to the well being of the society and they should have their freedom revoked. These individuals often cared little for the human and civil rights of those they wronged, so now why should the rest of us spend extra to ensure they have a say on the running of the country? With the rest of the country tightening their belts should we really spend additional funds on ballot papers and safety procedures?

To be eligible to vote you have to be over the age of 18 because only at that age are you believed to have received an adequate amount of education and matured to a significant level, to be able to make a reasonable and balanced judgement about who we wish to govern the land. Now granted there are exceptions to that rule. At least 563,743 British residents proved they are still unable to make a sensible decision in the 2010 Westminster elections, regardless of age, and as last week proved a worrying amount of Tea Party voters emerged in America. However the point is that we have limited the right to vote to those over that age of 18 due to them having a perceived lack of knowledge, so why should individuals who have supposedly gained enough experience, yet still can’t decipher between right and wrong, be trusted to make a sound judgement on government?

People have fought wars and died over the right to vote and it is not something to be taken lightly. Although it is a right which all of us should be able to exercise, it comes with conditions, and it is something which you should be able lose if you prove yourself unworthy of it. Many criminals have taken the decision to live beyond the rules society, so in turn the decisions of how society is governed should be beyond them.

  1. Dear Conner,
    I found your commentary on contemporary liberalism interesting if a little confused and I just wanted to write a short response.
    The first thing that strikes me is your conflation of the terms ‘liberal’ and ‘liberalism’. You seem to be suffering from that most modern affliction of importing the American usage of ‘social liberalism’ when the more accurate term in UK politics would be ‘radical’ or ‘progressive’ (if you wanted to be even more gauche you might go so far as to say ‘socialist’ but that’s a bit passé these days). Such issues of contemporary definition may be, to an extent, semantic but when you bring in the historical perspective, “over the centuries”, there are some serious flaws.
    It seems to me a confusing position to put historical ideals, women’s rights, secularization of schools, etc. in the same basket as historically these issues were very distinct. Often those fighting for one set of rights (e.g. giving women the vote) would’ve been horrified by the thoughts of other rights being conferred (e.g. working class votes). You cannot attribute the modern liturgy of social liberal ideals to our ancestors and I doubt many of those who historically fought for those rights would’ve identified themselves as Liberals in their own vernacular. Classical British liberalism was highly influenced by non-conformists who were often extremely socially illiberal.
    Your commentary doesn’t make it completely clear whether or not you self identify as a liberal but if you do then you are at least historically consistent in your inconsistency on social liberalism. Your argument regarding giving prisoners the vote is not entirely convincing, creating an arbitrary sentence length determiner is quite misguided considering the vagaries of modern sentencing. I don’t think it’s ‘clinging to the moral highground’ to believe in universal human rights, one of which is participation in democracy. The argument that prisoners have forfeited their rights does not hold water if we ever hope to rehabilitate them. Part of the rehabilitation process must be feeling a part of, and playing a role in, society. Too many prisoners are already socially marginalized and this policy emphasizes the fact. Any democracy should be judged on how it treats its less fortunate.
    I assume your complaint against the ‘563,743 British residents who proved they are still unable to make a sensible decision in the 2010 Westminster elections’, does little for your argument and emphasizes your own illiberal streak. I would never be able to vote for the BNP but to belittle their supporters rather than engaging in debate reinforces their position as political martyrs. Unless you suggest that the BNP should be banned then they will have to be countered in democratic terms.
    Equally your suggestion that prisoners don’t know the difference between right or wrong screams of smugness, along those lines where do we draw the line on those who can be trusted to make sound judgement on government? I like to believe in redemption and forgiveness, it might be good for the state to demonstrate this too.
    Your final paragraph begins correctly, people have fought and died for the right to vote and it should not be taken away easily or arbitrarily. I’m not sure where this all leaves us regarding modern social liberalism but it seems ironic that since 2001 we’ve had Elizabeth Fry on the £5 note because it just serves as a reminder of how far we have to go.

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