Having scored a miserable 67 points on the libertarian purity test, perhaps I am not the best man to fight the redoubtable Brian Micklethwait over whether the Liberal Democrats have it in them to be a libertarian party or not.
However, Tristan has been highlighting Brian Micklethwait's constant attacks on the Liberal Democrats for some time, and I felt the need to reply to Mr. Micklethwait's most recent criticism; I couldn't resist! My reply is reproduced below (now, with hotlinks!):
In we all pile, fists flailing!
I think your suggestion that the Liberal Democrats are somehow more diverse and less disciplined or harmonious than the other parties is ludicrous, as is the belief (which I infer) that the Tories somehow embody (at least economic) liberalism.
All parties are coalitions - John Major described his Government as "a coalition of one", and Gordon Tullock's theory of logrolling demonstrates that all politics is compromise (he might also have something to say about your suggestion that only Lib Dems are interested primarily in re-election!).
Labour is torn between New Labour and old socialists, the Conservatives between Thatcherites and new-Butskellites, and the Lib Dems have their Social Democratic and their Liberal wings. I cannot believe that you can claim with a straight face that David Cameron's acceptance of Labour's tax-and-spend rate or newfound fondness for the prattlings of Polly Toynbee are consistent with the work of Lord's Tebbit and Howe.
In fact, which party is now closer to a libertarian ideal? Which is the party that believes in open borders for economic migrants? Which would devolve power to local authorities? Which is the most likely to remove the last vestiges of legal discrimination against homosexuals? Which mooted reconsidering prohibition of cannabis for consenting adults? Which has just announced a raft of income tax cuts? Which is closest to land value taxation, beloved of classical economists? I could go on (you might think I already have ;o)
You are right that the Lib Dems need to be more careful to ensure that their message is more consistent. The easiest way of achieving that without a command-and-control style central office (such as the one that sacked Howard Flyte for going off message) is a strong philosophical basis. I hope that that philosophy will be liberalism in its most classic form.
If you want to discuss this further, perhaps we can have a chat over some of John Blundell's free wine.