10 OCTOBER 1970, Page 19

Liberal compensation

Sir: Though rather illiberal in some, ways (I support birching, hanging and National Service), I think I can answer Peter Paterson and indeed yourself. The Liberal party is a useful body to have around, because it provides some sort of an alternative, and keeps the bigger parties on their toes. If itslid not exist it would have to be invented; if it disappears it will have to be revived, or something else found to replace it.

Most of the people who vote Labour do not want an omnipotent state; most of those who vote Tory do not want Big Business to rule the roost unchallenged. By its presence the Liberal party encourages the moderate element in both the other parties and gives their leaders some helpful leverage against their more militpt supporters, bearing in mind. that a considerable number of Labour voters would never put their X against a Tory but might conceivably put it against a Liberal, and that an even larger number of Tories might vote Liberal, if Mr Powell gained control of their party, but would in no foreseeable circumstances turn to Labour.

Basically, the sort of people who activate the Tory and Labour parties, or a great many of them, want to exercise power, though not for the same ends. The sort of people who keep the Liberal party going are mainly anxious not to have power exercised over them; whether that power is used for good or evil is not strictly relevant; it is evil simply because it is there. and ought therefore to be re- strained and kept to the necessary minimum without which society becomes chaotic, and civilised liv- ing impossible.

If you scratch a Socialist you will eventually find a Communist: if you scratch a Tory you may find a Fascist. a military dictator or a nostalgic feudal baron (I like this kind best). but the lurking beast is more urbane and better camou- flaged. If you scratch a Liberal deep enough you should find an Anarchist, and if you don't he probably wasn't a Liberal in the first place. Perhaps this is enough to show that the Liberal party is genuinely different and therefore legitimate. But the main argument is simply that people expect it. or some other third force. to be present and ac- tive in the field. If it has not done as well as it should, this is not because it has ceased to be neces- sary, but because the leadership, candidates, policy and methods all fail to match present requirements.

What the Liberal party must do is to identify the people and groups of people who do not like to be pushed around, and having found them, to devise policies and methods and evolve candidates who are acceptable to them, per-

haps by using a procedure similar to the us primary, or the economy version of it which has been pion- eered by the Political Freedom Movement at Marylebone. It should also consider local pacts with Scottish or Welsh Nationalists who are liberal enough in their iews (a number are not) and, in England, with middle-of-the-road Independents enjoying strong local support. Somebody in each consti- tuency must stand for the things that Liberals stand for, but it is not necessary that he should be a card-carrying and officially spon- sored Liberal in every case though. unlike Mr Steel, I think it essen- tial that he should owe allegiance neither to the Tories nor to Labour. If he does, this allegiance may come first in a crisis, and in any event the people are entitled to their Third Force.

Anthony J. C. Kerr 52 Castlegate, Jedburgh, Scotland