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Liberal Democrats need a forum for economic liberals

October 16th, 2011 Posted in Uncategorized by

At conference, I had the pleasure of meeting many members of the party who, to my surprise, reacted positively and largely in agreement when I described myself as a classical liberal and sympathetic to free market economics.

A few weeks before conference, I had heard that some party members were considering forming a grass roots organisation that aims to bring together and facilitate discussion and policy development amongst those in the Liberal Democrats who are sympathetic to economic liberalism, i.e. the ‘Orange Bookers’.

I believe that there is definitely a demand for such an organisation, and a large number of people, myself included, have already put themselves forward saying that they are ready to get involved and help out in any way they can. Things are very much still in the planning stages at the moment, but that is why any support would be all the more welcome.

I asked Mike Bird, who first proposed the idea, to send me a few paragraphs outlining what he hopes to achieve. Here is his response:

The aim of this organisation is provisionally to promote economic liberalism within the Liberal Democrats. We hope to be a ‘big tent’ of opinion, and will welcome anyone who feels that there are areas in which the party could be more open to promoting a free market. We seek to co-operate with other groups within the party, and would like to integrate ourselves as part of the liberal mainstream in this country.

Our outlook is not solely economic: we wish to see our party advocating four-cornered liberalism – liberal economics, in a framework of personal, political and social liberalism.

This is an unploughed field in British politics: other parties have appropriated the language of economic freedom (while often lacking it in practice), but it is in our heritage. We shouldn’t let anyone else monopolise that. Capitalism is about much more than big business, and it can’t be left to social conservatives to represent the dominant economic system of the United Kingdom.

We hope you’ll be hearing much more from and about us in the near future. Contact me if you’re interested!

Mike Bird (

All of us at Liberal Vision wish them the very best.

25 Responses to “Liberal Democrats need a forum for economic liberals”

  1. Steve Haynes Says:

    Are you going to be keeping us updated with info on this, cause this could be a very interesting development.

    Tempted to drop Mr Bird an email and offer my services (limited though they may be) as well if time allows me.

  2. Mike Bird Says:

    Please do!

  3. Angela Says:

    Thanks for putting this post up Simon – it is a great idea and long overdue. Good luck Mike.

  4. Graeme Hurst Says:

    I’ve linked to the group on my Twitter. Hopefully we’ll gain one or two more members! It would be fantastic if we could get big names like Laws and Browne on board.

  5. Rachel Says:

    This is a great idea – I’d be interested in seeing how this plans out.

  6. Simon McGrath Says:

    Excellent idea

  7. Christopher Says:

    Haven’t these ideas been spent out for the better part of a century?

  8. Stephen Says:

    Great idea. These century-old principles must be restated as positively and effectively as possible both inside and outside the party.

  9. david thorpe Says:

    I am very interested in this propsed group and will help in any way I I can.
    I would just say, its not wise to associated economic liberals and ornage bookers as if those phrases are a synonym, .
    Most of the organe book is not about economics, and Steve Webb is a man who contributed to the Orange Book but is part of the Social Liberal Forum

  10. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    To paraphrase Victor Hugo, the creation of a forum for economic liberals is “an idea whose time has come.”

    I particularly welcome the ‘big tent’ approach and the fact that it wants our party to have a four-pronged approach to liberalism – political, social, personal and economic. None of these ‘liberalisms’ are inimical to one another.

    Good luck Mike!

  11. jamess Says:

    There’s an appropriate forum for this already – it’s called the Tory Party…

  12. Graeme Hurst Says:

    Jamess, it would be just as valid to say the SLF should join Labour using your viewpoint. Thankfully you’re using awful logic. The Conservative do not believe in four-pronged liberalism and neither do Labour.

    Both free market and social liberal Lib Dem’s believe in full personal and political liberty, unlike the other two main parties; therefore it is entirely acceptable that the free marketeers in the LD’s should wish to form their own grouping just like the SLF. We’re all fighting for the same team anyway.

  13. Leslie K. Clark Says:

    “There’s an appropriate forum for this already – it’s called the Tory Party…”


  14. Ed Joyce Says:

    As a libertarian I have many concerns about the Orange Book caucus particularly following the departure of Laws from the cabinet. I would be very reticent to be involved in a group that Steve Webb was connected to. Within the Lib Dem spectrum he represents a very different type of liberalism than I would associate with. Also I am not keen on the advocacy of muscular liberalism. There are problems with limitations of freedom of expression which are implicit in that move. I believe that LV bloggers and commentators expressed reservations about the Luton speech at the time. My view is that libertarians should stick with economic liberalism and not tie themselves to the Orange Book caucus. I do understand that many associated with LV are not libertarians but I would not see the ELF as a natural home for libertarians in the party if the ELF is to advocate supporting the Orange Book. I welcome the big tent approach for the party but do not wish to be on the Orange Book table.

  15. Simon Rigelsford Says:

    “Orange Booker” is basically used as a short hand term to mean “those in the Liberal Democrats who are more sympathetic to free market solutions to political problems” – this is how I was using it. I wasn’t using it to mean “those in the party who agree with everything the Orange Book says and also agree with all of each of its individual contributors’ opinions.” Obviously.

    From what I’ve gathered, “the ELF” (it doesn’t actually have a name yet) will not advocate supporting the Orange Book, but will obviously welcome those who do support it.

  16. Ed Joyce Says:

    Well its good to hear that the ELF does not look as though it will support the Orange Book. I believe that it is very clumsy to state that “those in the Liberal Democrats who are more sympathetic to free market solutions to political problems” can be termed ‘Orange Bookers’. The problem is that the Orange Book caucus changes over time.

    Oaten had libertarian tendencies

    but was marginalised. The same was true for Laws. Although he is still involved his influence has been nutered. When the Luton speech was made it represented a fundamental breach with libertarian values.

    If you look at the article you can see the support for muscular liberalism

    This is what muscular liberalism is

    This would probably have led to the banning of Malcolm X from the UK.

    Libertarians (who supported free maket economic solutions) became hostile to the Orange Book caucus where it sought to restrict freedom of speech.

    This was part of a wider concern that the closeness of Cameron and Clegg following the coalition was leading to a more authoritarian approach. This was reflected by leading Orange Booker Cleggs comment that there would be nothing for him to disagree with Cameron on.

    I am in favour of economic liberalism and the free market but if this is combined with social conservatism it leads to the following

    This business which was a significant competitor to state owned universities has been severely damaged by government action driven by the Conseratives. I hope that the ELF would pick this up as an issue. The Conservative party’s idea of the free market does not represent a true free market. Many elements of the Conservative party argue for subsidies and corporate welfare of various kinds. It looks like the ELF will come to pass. I hope that it supports a true free market and look for differences between the Liberal view of a free market and the Conservative one. If we do not find clear water between ourselves and the Conservatives we will continue to hemmorage council seats and ultimately MPs.

  17. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Dear oh dear I think we are in danger of looking like “the peoples front of Judea” vs “the Judean Peoples Front”

    Get a grip guys….! No wonder we cant persuade people to take us seriously if we are worrying about factions within factions…

    Simon is bang on – the Orange Book is a short hand term… nothing more…. let’s not get hung up on it… give Mike Bird your support – he at least seems to get that this is about a broad thrust rather than a specific label or catchphrase.

  18. Jock Says:

    Pah! Just as I get up the energy to cut up my membership card, something like this comes along to give me pause :)

    Count me in, for now at least, though I can’t help feeling that in reality my anarchist tendencies make even this “too little, too late” for me :)

  19. chessnuts Says:

    The barrier to get economic liberals together is that free-markets itself has different schools of thought itself, ranging from the macroeconomics such as Keynesianism and Chicago school (Milton Friedman), to the Austrian school (which critiques dividing economics into macro and micro worlds), all of which are very different and you can get free-market thinkers to disagree just as much as they do with people who don’t understand free market economics/economic liberalism.

  20. chessnuts Says:

    I would also add that Vince Cable is not a Keynesian economist as he is a strong advocate of employment and labour laws and other government regulation. And isn’t in favour of a state that’s only 25% of GDP unlike John Maynard Keynes who was.

  21. Duncan Stott Says:

    How would this new group be any different to Liberal Vision? It sounds like it will have pretty much the same raison d’etre as you.

  22. Tabman Says:

    Count me in. Mail despatched to Mr Bird.

  23. Tabman Says:

    James S – the Tory Party is for the preservation of priveleged positions, and that’s also in the economic sphere. They support the protection of pre-exisiting big business and that is inimmical to the proper operation of a free market. Besides, such a market is not solely the preserve of shareholder capitalism – there are other models of profit sharing that are available and should be used in the spirit of competition.

  24. Tom Papworth Says:

    @Duncan Stott

    I expected somebody to ask that sooner or later, and it might have been worth Simon or Mike setting that out a bit, as this post is being hosted here.

    Liberal Vision is a defined group of people advocating change in the Liberal Democrats and the wider world. It doesn’t seek to represent the wider membership, but to speak to them; it isn’t democratic, but rather is a group of individual voices.

    By comparrison (and, I guess, in a similar vain to SFL) Mike’s proposed forum would deliberately seek to gather together a broad membership and to operate along democratic lines to create a concensus among its members.

    One way of thinking of the two would be to view Liberal Vision as more akin to Liberal Conpiracy, whereas this forum is a parallel to the Social Liberal Forum.

  25. Tom Papworth Says:

    @chessnuts: I agree that “free-markets itself has different schools of thought itself” but I’m not sure that this constitutes a “barrier to get economic liberals together”.

    Liberal Socialism is also a broad church, but it doesn’t stop the SLF acting as an umbrella for social democrats, liberal greens, liberal socialists and various other market-skeptical elements within the party.

    BTW: Where did you get the impression that Keynes was happy with the state only dominating 25% of the economy? I’ve long thought that Keynes, Beveridge and the New Liberals like Hobhouse would have been horrified at the state controlling more of the economy than all private citizens combined, but I’ve never seen any evidence to prove it.