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Nick Clegg sets out his vision

December 20th, 2011 Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Policy by

This Monday, Nick Clegg set out his vision for British society. As someone who has argued that Clegg has been weaving a liberal narrative from liberalism’s rich tradition, it is interesting to see Clegg draw these strands together.

Clegg distinguishes the socialist, conservative and liberal views of society. He argues that socialists, or social democrats, believe in a ‘good society’. Conservatives want a ‘big society’ and liberals promote an ‘open society’.

He makes it clear that there is some overlap for liberals with a ‘big society’ as both conservatives and liberals are sceptical of State power. There are also differences, which is why Clegg is a member of the Liberal Democrats and not a Conservative.

There is very little in the speech that nods to any overlap with Labour’s ‘good society’ bar that both parties see themselves as progressives. On this point, he makes it clear that Labour’s progressive agenda is based on a fixed blueprint. Having a set view is not, according to Clegg, compatible with an ‘open society’.

Clegg makes it clear that his liberalism is about people. As far as he is concerned the other two competing traditions put their faith in the State or non-State institutions.

The speech also covers some policy. Clegg’s interest in taxing unearned wealth fits with a party that has long had a fan base for land value taxation.

He ends the speech quoting Karl Popper.

The party now has to flesh out these ideas on social mobility, dispersed political power, transparency, a fair distribution of wealth and property and an internationalist outlook.

The challenge after that is to build an electoral base who support an ‘open society.’

5 Responses to “Nick Clegg sets out his vision”

  1. Dave Page Says:

    Much as I’d like to see the Lib Dems flesh out ideas based on Nick’s speech, as a democratic party we’re under no obligation to do so.

    Federal Conference is the sovereign policy-making body of the Liberal Democrats, not Nick Clegg. We’re an “open party” after all :)

  2. Simon Goldie Says:


    Good point.

    The party may adopt his vision. If the party doesn’t it will be interesting to see the debate around the issues and how the party, at conference, defines itself.


  3. Daniel Henry Says:

    I thought the fairer distribution of property and wealth and internationalism saw some overlap with the ‘good society’.

  4. Simon Goldie Says:


    While that may sound like the ‘good society’ if you look at how Clegg explains what he means it is more about creating a framework for an open society. He argues that the ‘good society’ is about more equal income as opposed to social mobility. In a way he is redefining distribution of wealth to be circulation of wealth.


  5. Barry Stocker Says:

    Great stuff Simon and great speech by Clegg.

    I’m going to nit pick in a pompous way about a politician’s speech, again.

    No criticism, just want to point out for those unfamiliar with current academic political theory, that rightly or wrongly, Popper is almost dead as a presence. So though he continues to be quoted and promoted by politicians and civil society actors, amongst whom George Soros is a very notable Popper fan, there is a good deal less theoretical and philosophical interest. Popper was a clear writer who unlike most philosophers could produce snappy one liners suitable for journalists and political speeches, which partly explains that.

    Nothing wrong with Nick (or Soros or anyone else) referring to Popper, and maybe the academics are wrong. Personally I’m inclined to think the general academic view is correct (though not because it is the general view). Certainly some of what Popper says about politics comes from Hayek, though Popper was less of a clear advocate of classical liberalism. So a good follow up to Popper is to read Hayek, those who influenced Hayek, like Mill and Smith; and those influenced by Hayek like Chandran Kukathas and Jerry Gaus.