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A review: ‘Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the Left’

Back in 2012, my undergraduate dissertation* questioned the contribution of the concept of the ‘spontaneous order’ to Friedrich Hayek’s liberalism. I’ve not dipped much into Hayek’s catalogue or anything related to it since then, so it made a nice change to pick up Simon Griffiths’ book Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the Left recently.

There is a great deal that we know about Friedrich Hayek already. A vehement opponent of socialism and a neo-liberal thinker, Hayek greatly influenced Conservatives and conservatives in Britain and America. As somebody who writes about coalitions, I occasionally grow weary of hearing Disraeli’s old dictum about England and its lack of love of them. Avid readers of Hayek literature will no doubt tire of hearing the similarly overused story about Thatcher slamming The Constitution of Liberty (Hayek 1960) down on the table, stating ‘this is what we believe’, but we hear it again and again because the broader point remains: Hayek influenced neo-liberals and conservatives.

However, the argument that Hayek’s influence might stretch to the other end of the political spectrum remains an idea with little voice. Andrew Gamble’s (1996) account of Hayek’s political thought gave us a fascinating glimpse into this idea. In particular his analysis of Hayek’s idea of knowledge, and subsequently the concept of the ‘spontaneous order’, show that the left can still appreciate the limits of centralised planning, due to imperfect nature of knowledge in society.

It is from this point that I introduce Simon Griffiths’ (2014) book. Griffiths shows the engagement of four key thinkers of the left with Hayek’s work: David Miller, Raymond Plant, Hilary Wainwright and Andrew Gamble. Miller’s market socialism, Plant’s revisionist socialism, Wainwright’s arguments of twentieth century pluralism and Gamble’s engagement with Hayek (noted above) are all analysed and brought together to give an informative account of the evolution of socialism, and what can be taken from engagement with Hayek for the future.

Griffiths argues that Hayek can provide insights into the evolution of socialist thought in the 20th century. The socialists’ rejection of an omniscient state and an openness to individual liberty and devolution of knowledge from centrist organisation suggests that Hayek should not be viewed solely as an influence to the right.

Alongside the analysis of Hayek’s influence on socialist thinkers of the twentieth century (largely in Britain) are some real gems that I’d never come across before. Take George Orwell’s review (see here) of Hayek’s (1944) Road to Serfdom:

Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.

Griffiths manages to mix detailed analysis of sometimes complex ideas and discussions with a comfortable style that makes this one to read over a weekend (I personally read it a café in Waterloo over tea and cake. The café had a cat). In particular, his comments on the relationship between ideology and ‘real life’ politics were helpful to my own work.

I’ve enjoyed Griffiths’ writing ever since reading his review of George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier. In the review, he highlights the following questions as guiding principles:

Why do we write? How should we talk about politics? What problems do people face and what solutions are available?

Answers to these questions shine through in Griffiths’ book. It’s a pleasure to read whether you’ve never read Hayek or whether his concepts of taxis and kosmos roll of the tongue with ease. It is very much recommended.

*For those interested, I’ve uploaded my undergraduate dissertation here.



Gamble, Andrew (1996). Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty. Oxford: Blackwell;

Griffiths, Simon (2014). Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the Left. Rowman and Littlefield.

Hayek, Friedrich A. (1944). The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge;

Hayek, Friedrich A. (1960). The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press;

A strange death of Liberal England?

Stephen Fisher from Oxford University has written an excellent blog this morning using British Election Study data, in which he outlines what it suggests about constituency variation in party performance. You can read it here.

In it, he discusses the declining vote share of the Liberal Democrats, stating that they ‘are clearly losing most in the seats where they started strongest and losing least where they started weakest’. As he rightly outlines, this is, in part, inevitable. The Liberal Democrats’ current polling share is down about 15 or 16 points compared with where it was in May 2010. In over 100 seats, the Lib Dems got less than 16% of the vote, meaning that they have to lose a greater percentage of vote share in other seats.

This leads Fisher to the following conclusion:

The implications for Liberal Democrat seats are straightforward. If they are indeed losing most heavily in the seats they are defending they are set to lose several more seats than national polls with uniform swing would predict.

A few thoughts in response to it.

  1. The data in the BES suggests, as have other polling companies, that Labour are set to be the biggest beneficiaries. They can only have so much of an impact on Lib Dem seats, given that it is the Conservatives who are in second place in 37 of the Lib Dems’ incumbent seats.
  2. Following on from above, there are a great many seats where the Lib Dems came second with a large share of the vote. In many of these seats, Lib Dem support in local elections has completely dropped off, whilst it has remained somewhat stronger in areas where they have MPs. It is perfectly possible that Lib Dems will lose a great share of the vote in 150-250 seats, but manage to hold on in a number of seats where they have MPs already.
  3. Fisher rightly recognises the importance of incumbency and local variation for the Lib Dems, but it is worth stating again. People’s responses, as outlined in polling by Michael Ashcroft, are much more positive for the Lib Dems when asked about constituency voting intention rather than national voting intention.
  4. Local variation might well damage the Conservatives too. In many of the seats that the Conservatives might hope to take from the Lib Dems, they might find UKIP splitting their vote enough that the Lib Dems can cling on. Again, polling by Ashcroft would suggest this is currently the case.

Fisher’s analysis is excellent, and will make uncomfortable reading for Lib Dem supporters. However, the points that have been made time and time again by various commentators about local variation remain, and the Lib Dems’ ability to make the most of it in 2015 will determine how many seats they have.

Lib Dem local parties – 2013

Any local branch of a political party that earns or spends £25,000 in any given year has to report their financial data to the Electoral Commission for public view. Here are the top earners for the Liberal Democrats.

  1. Bermondsey & Old Southwark (£178k)
  2. Sheffield (£163k)
  3. Westmoreland & Lonsdale (£156k)
  4. Twickenham (£137k)
  5. Kingston & Surbiton (£107k)

For more details on previous years, see here. 

Academic posts on the Liberal Democrats this week

The Liberal Democrats held their annual conference this week. There has been a lot of media focus, of course, but also some academic coverage. Most of the main academic blogs have provided insightful articles on the party’s prospects at the next general election beyond. Here are all the ones I’ve come across:

Why so chipper, Lib Dems? Party gears to bounce back. By Emma Sanderson-Nash for The Conversation.

Lib Dems still eyeing the coalition prize. By Andrew Russell for Manchester University Blogs.

Little sign of life, but look closely and the Lib Dems can cling on. By Mark Bennister for The Conversation.

Clegg’s speech a hit with Lib Dem faithful – but will it be enough for voters? By Wyn Grant for The Conversation.

The Lib Dems – Surviving rather than thriving, but surviving all the same. By Craig Johnson (me…) for The Crick Centre.

Prior Liberal Democrat voters who are now undecided will be crucial for the party in the 2015 general election. By Kathryn Simpson for LSE Politics & Policy.

‘Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling’ – Nick Clegg’s Conference Speech. By Andrew Scott Crines.

PMQs for the people: still happening?

At last week’s Labour Party Conference, much was made of Ed Miliband forgetting to directly discuss the deficit and immigration in his main leader’s speech. However, one thing I don’t recall hearing at all from anybody last week in Manchester was the idea for a public Prime Minister’s Questions.

The idea was first raised in July by Ed Miliband, when he said the following:

I think what we need is a public question time where regularly the prime minister submits himself or herself to questioning from members of the public in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesdays.

It received a mixed response at the time. Patrick Wintour from the Guardian labelled it a ‘cracking idea‘, whilst Steven Fielding from Nottingham University called it a ‘PR response to a profound problem‘.

Since then, little has been said on the plan, and there’s no news of the speaker receiving more details from the Leader of the Opposition.

A search for ‘Public PMQs’ takes you to all of the media announcements from July. A search for ‘People’s PMQs’ takes you to the Labour Party’s website, where it says that you can ask the Labour leader Gordon Brown a question about the upcoming 2010 general election

Michael Ashcroft Polling on Liberal Democrat marginals

This afternoon, Michael Ashcroft addressed the Conservative Party Conference, providing a host of individual seat polls of interest to them. Of course, many of these will also be of interest to the Liberal Democrats. The polls were each of 1000 people during the July-September period. They should be noted as a snapshot of the time, and not a snapshot of next May.

Continue reading Michael Ashcroft Polling on Liberal Democrat marginals

Labour Party Conference: The Scottish problem

I was at Labour Party Conference this week. Many journalists and commentators have noted how flat the conference felt, particularly for a party that will hope to be in government in just a few months time. I didn’t think it was that bad, and people did brighten up after Ed Miliband’s speech on Tuesday, but you certainly did not feel comparisons with 1996 would have been accurate.

A big reason for any flatness that was around was Labour’s Scottish problem. Whilst almost everybody there was delighted that Scotland had voted no to independence, the feeling was coupled with one of fear about the outcome of next year’s general election, and in particular the effect of the Scottish National Party on their vote and seat share.

Two leading members of the ‘no’ campaign highlighted this feeling strongly. Jim Murphy MP noted that Labour had ‘allowed Scottish nationalism to grow over 25 years, comfortable in the feeling that they could “borrow their vote” in UK general elections’. Johann Lamont echoed those thoughts, saying that Scottish Labour had ignored Scottish voters in the past, and Labour leader Ed Miliband has noted that the party has ‘more to do‘.

The SNP’s surge in membership in recent days suggest that the party will fight the next general election with good resources and a mobilised activist base. Given the closeness of the next election, any seats that the SNP manage to gain from Labour could prove costly for Ed Miliband’s team.