He actually sent it on 14 May 2007, but as my spam filter is not as discerning as the readers of the Guardian; it junked him, and I have only just come across the replay in my bulk mail.
His response is frankly shocking:
I have a suspicion that this is a standard reply, as it shows little evidence that he has read my letter. As I explained to him, the antithesis between left and right (Labour and Conservative wings , as he calls them) is archaic and does not represent the three competing philosophies that have shaped political discourse in Britain for two centuries: conservatism, liberalism and more lately socialism.
Dear Tom Papworth
Thank you for your most interesting email. I have almost no quarrel with anything the Liberals have ever said. But if they disbanded and split into their more Labour and more Tory wings, think how clear-cut each general election might be.
With best wishes
To say that he has almost no quarrel with anything that the Liberals have ever said, but nonetheless propose their disbandment, seems positively bizarre to me. It is usual in politics to support a party with which one almost always agrees.
As for how clear cut a general election could be, he has missed an obvious solution. Why not disband both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, along with all the minor parties. Then general elections would be very clear cut indeed, with the Conservatives winning 646 seats and nobody else holding any. This is the sort of clear cut result one gets in places such as Cuba and North Korea, and leads to executive power that is in no way “diluted [and] unstable”, though one might wonder how it is to be held accountable.
Sir Simon clearly places the clarity of the outcome above the contestability of the result. I disagree. The fact that individuals may choose to demur from the cosy consensus of two-party politics (those rare “Sincere friends of freedom” to whom I referred in my letter, in homage to Lord Acton) is healthy and valuable and should be encouraged.
That a plethora of political parties should compete with one another is essential if politics is not to result in the inevitable failure of that always accompanies duopoly. Duopolies always result in the provision of identical products by identical firms: on the rare occasions when different firms ran trains between the same cities, they ran them at the same times and charged the same ticket price, leading to no discernable difference for the customer and so no real competition. As Gordon Tullock explained in The Vote Motive, political parties in duopoly act in a similar way, gravitating towards the “centre” as they seek to capture the votes of the median voter. This results in stultifying consensus of the type we saw between Conservatives and Labour in the third quarter of the last century, and (as Sir Simon himself showed) between the Thatcherites and New Labour.
Yet while Sir Simon is clearly unhappy with the Thatcherite consensus, he actively decries the one major party that would seek to undermine that consensus and return power to local authorities (a big theme of at least two of his recent books). I can only believe that this is a result of cognitive dissonance: though the evidence is before his eyes, he cannot (or does not wish to) overcome the established thought-patterns that fused in his mind in an earlier era.