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.’