When I was a teenager first interested in politics and determined to choose the odd party out, I put aside my childish idea that the Conservatives were the odd one out because they did not start with L. I began to suspect that the Liberals might be just peculiar enough for me – but what did they stand for?
I used to ask all my older relatives likely to know – I come from a long line of Liberal voters after all – and surprisingly few could answer. But there was one exception: “Don’t they stand for ‘three acres and a cow’ or something?” she said.
I can’t emphasise how peculiar this is. That a century or so after the slogan was coined, by Joseph Chamberlain’s sidekick Jesse Collings, back in the 1870s, it should be all that they remembered from all the Liberal policies and slogans in a century of elections.
It was certainly a successful slogan, formulated to explain how much land a family would need to support itself – implying a call for land redistribution and new allotments. It did more than imply a commitment to self-determination, which was why it was borrowed by the Americans (they called it forty acres and a mule). It was then appropriated in the UK by a breakaway group from the UK Liberals called the Distributists, led by Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton.
I pay tribute to it here because I am reminded how divided the Liberal Democrats are today – despite appearances – and how unlikely we are to remember any of their current slogans and policies in a century’s time, when my own great grandchildren are searching as I did in the 1970s.
Why do I fear they are divided, when you get no clauses about this from the party’s communications? Partly because feel so divided myself, and partly because of the very obvious divisions between the party’s whig or social democrat wing and its distributist one (I am here using the nomenclature used by academic community who studies such things).
I am divided myself because I am firmly embedded in what remains of this distributist wing, the elements of the party responsible for driving forward the demand for localism and self-determination. Whereas all I see is the social democrat wing clinging to our membership of the European Union, which represents neither localism nor self-determination, and in fact seems to represent clinging onto the outward firms of institutions which badly need reform.
You see my problem? Nor is it just my problem or the Lib Dems’ one, I have been wondering about some of my non-Radix friends, after the announcement by Nissan that they will not be building their new model in Sunderland after all – presumably because of Brexit.
I can hear my friend tut-tutting about it even without tuning into Twitter to watch them doing so. I know they are, as I am, suspicious of the influence of big corporations in the UK economy. I know they dream of a far more diverse economy that is a good deal less dependent on trade.
Yes, I don’t think anyone would want to make this shift overnight at the end of March – as we seem to be about to do. But I do want to hear some recognition from the Remain side that this is something they had also been hoping for before now.
I mean this honesty simply as a way to tackle some of the bonehanded divisions in UK , whichpolitics are now as intense as they have been at any time since anyone last used the slogan Three Acres and a Cow in anger.
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