Borgen is the hit Danish tv show, about Birgitte Nyborg, the fictional first female Prime Minister of Denmark, and leader of the centrist Moderate party. After huge gains in the recent election due to their principled stand in the leaders’ debate, they start a coalition of the progressive left.
Considering this is a situation Liberal Left would most definitely approve of… why haven’t they bothered actually watching the show?
The new Liberal Democrat pressure group, Liberal Left have come in for a lot of criticism this week. Stephen Glenn critiques their founding statement and compares it to our Constitution, claiming that we are neither Left Liberal nor Right Liberal but Liberal, and Andrew Emmerson questions their, frankly, bizarre appropriation of Gladstone’s name. Both good articles.
Personally, I consider myself of the left of the Liberal Democrats. I am a member of the Social Liberal Forum, indeed, I’m on the East Midlands Steering Committee as Nottinghamshire representative. I am opposed to some coalition policies – the Welfare Reform and NHS bills are of great concern to me, and tuition fees was a PR nightmare. Honestly, I’d rather work with Labour than the Tories – I’m Welsh and still shudder unintentionally whenever Thatcher’s name is mentioned. I should be an ideal Liberal Left member.
So why aren’t I willing to join Liberal Left?
The answer goes back to Borgen.
(Yes, I am slightly obsessed with the show. I am seriously considering calling the BBC every day until they show Season 2.)
The show’s second episode, Count to 90, was all about Nyborg’s quest to find 90 parliamentarians to join a Moderate-led coalition. It’s the way she went about this that interests me.
Various factions of the party drag Nyborg around – Bent Serjrø, her experienced Deputy, calls the Conservatives a natural match, and tries to shut out Labour, whereas we can perhaps assume Nyborg herself is on the left of the party, due to her close friendship in her youth with the leader of the extreme-left Solidarity Party, Anne Sophie. So, does she immediately tell Labour she’s only willing to work with them?
The first party she talks to, after Labour stands her up, is the Freedom Party – the fictionalised Danish version of, essentially, the BNP. What possible set of circumstances could lead to centrist, liberal Moderates and neo-Nazi Freedom going into coalition together? Surely these discussions are doomed to fail?
Nyborg doesn’t care. She has drawn up a plan for cooperation for every party in the Folketing (Parliament).
“This is a new government. Everyone gets a chance.”
It doesn’t matter what your personal preferences might be. It doesn’t matter which wing of the party may be stronger, or more influential. Every party should have a chance in a new government.
I was particularly proud of the Liberal Democrats in 2010, dispatching envoys to both Labour and the Conservatives – willing to work with either party, in order to create a coalition government. We placed Britain’s need for a strong government in difficult times ahead of preference between them. Perhaps some were more naturally inclined towards the centre-Right, but, I don’t believe, fundamentally altered our position.
Liberal Left would prevent this. By trying to drag us only in one direction, it denies the nature of Coalition politics. Sometimes unhappy marriages are made, in order to preserve national unity and strength. But these marriages must be made.
We must be prepared to work across the political spectrum – with left and right – in future governments. It’s why I’m glad the Social Liberal Forum “rejects any electoral pacts with any party and any pre-election preference for future working with any other party“. By limiting us to work with Labour and the Greens, the Liberal Left deny the nature of the coalition politics to which Liberal Democrats should find themselves naturally accustomed, and the group claim to want to work within.
Working only with the “left” will also limit our chances at getting into government again, in order to press forward with social liberal policies – can we imagine a Tory-majority government legalising equal/gay marriage? Or pushing forward the Pupil Premium?
It will also be divisive and counter-productive. I am fully expecting to see on Twitter that the so-called “Orange-Bookers” will coalesce into a coherent and organised group, even forming a pressure group, in order to work more with the Conservatives and Classical Liberals, than the democratic socialist/social democratic liberals in Labour and the Greens.
This is also fine. While I’m not fond of the Tories, if the party finds it better to work on that side, then so be it. If groups are formed in reaction to Liberal Left, so be it – but I prefer if neither were But I retain my right to push forward a social liberal agenda in that coalition.
The SLF is better understood, not in the context of the Liberal Democrats, but in terms of the coalition – we are not there, in my mind, to balance out the Orange Bookers or Cleggites. We’re there to balance out that fringe of the Conservatives who want to vote down gay marriage, who write letters attacking wind farms, who value growth at the cost of irreparable environmental damage.
After all this, don’t think that my views on Liberal Left are entirely negative – personally, I would rather have seen a rainbow coalition after the 2010 General Election, from the Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens, Alliance, independents, and the Left Nationalists of the Celtic fringe (Plaid and the SNP). But the numbers of this, to be fair, losers coalition didn’t work – besides, the Moderates of Borgen weren’t the largest party but the party with the greatest increase in seats. They had the people’s will behind them, and thus the Queen gave them powers to investigate a coalition. In 2010, this was clearly the Tories, with both us and Labour losing seats. The Tories were the people’s chosen party, not quite chosen enough, but chosen. To join with them, to moderate them, was the right, and only, thing to do.
I am content to have this pressure group exist and I hope it will provide a draw to certain members who defected to Labour, and particularly the Greens, after we went into Coalition with Cameron’s Conservatives.
But frankly, the Social Liberal Forum could easily have fulfilled such a role, critiquing the necessary coalition from a socially liberal standpoint, forged links across the broad socially liberal spectrum (including liberals among Rightist parties), and not been nearly – despite the near constant accusations – as divisive as a group which specifically aims to drag us inexorably into Coalition with Labour.
Liberal Left deny the nature of coalition politics, reality, and our own nature as a party.
Social Liberal Forum offer the same critique, while acknowledging the reality of 2010, builds bridges across the political spectrum and pushes for socially liberal policies in government.
And, we actually watched Borgen.
- Lib Dem splinter group launches in protest against Tory-led coalition (guardian.co.uk)
- The Liberal Left – less Cameron and Clegg, more Gladstone and Beveridge | Linda Jack (guardian.co.uk)
- Liberal Democrats can again enjoy the reflection in the mirror | Martin Kettle (guardian.co.uk)