We had a full, and as to be expected, quite lively time of it at our fringe event “Orange Bookers vs Social Democrats: What does the future hold for Lib Dems” last night. If you were there, thanks for coming along.
For those unable to make it, we’ve already been asked by a lot of folks if we recorded the session and when they can get to see it.The answer is yes, the session was videoed (thanks to the IEA, our co-hosts, for that) and will be posted up as soon as available. In the meantime, here is a taster of what each of the speakers had to say. It’s not complete by any means, and few jokes etc missed out plus the questions/contributions from the audience not listed here. We hope it will give you a flavour of the session – and encourage you to come back and see the video as soon as it’s up.
Jeremy confirmed that he did regard himself as an Orange Book liberal – and to be an Orange Booker was not to be a Tory as some people suggest but to be a liberal. He reminded us of the four strands of liberalism: political, personal, social and economic, and said that it was important that the weight given to each of these was equitably loaded. He stated that the Lib Dems had a way to go on personal liberalism – and that the party was in danger of proposing that “people do have the right to do what they want, as long as it conforms to Lib Dem policy”. He would not want to tell people not to drink fizzy drinks.
Most of his speech addressed economic liberalism. He said that Orange Bookers were not arguing that in all circumstances the private sector is good and the state, bad, but that they seek to avoid “excessive faith in the state”. He said he was suspicious of monopolies – private as well as state. He acknowledged that the private sector is not always perfect, but as a rule the private sector is preferable, because in markets poor performing companies go to the wall. He said that he believed in choice for the individual – e.g. there used to be only choice in education for the rich (sending children to a private school or moving house to a catchment area with a better state school) and that Orange Bookers wanted choice in education for every parent.
As has already been noted by several others elsewhere, parts of Evan’s speech were attacks/assertions about other members of the panel and/or their organisations. Possibly cowardly, but we have left those bits out from our summary for fear of misrepresentation (perhaps he was being ironic?). So you’ll have to wait for the video where you can see exactly what he said in his own words.
The substance of Evan’s speech was that we cannot go into the next election after having attacked one party for five years and one party for one month. He said that would not make the Lib Dems credible as an independent party. He stated that he thought that differentiation was now coming through and that he wished it had happened sooner.
Referring to Jeremy Browne’s point on choice, he said that you can’t compare an informed consumer choosing their bread and margarine with a patient, who knows next to nothing about what medical treatment they should be given. He said that we should not let markets rip in areas such as healthcare or education . He believed that academies and free schools create two-tierism, and that the mantra of choice goes against creating effective public services.
Paul was co-editor of the Orange Book eight years ago and kicked off with an apology for only printing 3,200 copies of the book. He said that the limited print run meant the book was much more talked about than read. He said the Orange Book was not new – but was rather an attempt to reclaim liberalism. He said that the party had been neglecting one of the four pillars of liberalism (specifically economic liberalism) and that neglect of it had made the party unbalanced and irrelevant.
Specifically he listed that the lack of this pillar back in 2004/5 – he cited the extraordinary list of pledges made before the election (21,000 extra teachers, 10,000 more police officers and an extra £100 a month pension for the over 75s etc) – a combination, he said of unrealistically high spending commitments and “bribes” to constituencies (eg pensioners, students etc).
He argued that the Orange Book had made it possible for Lib Dems to get into power. At the 2010 election the Lib Dems had abandoned this kind of “oppositionitis”, he said, with one exception: the promise not to raise tuition fees. He noted that we have since discovered that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and Danny Alexander all believed the policy unaffordable.
Nick from the Guardian was absent from the start of the fringe filing his copy for the paper. He apologised and kept his remarks brief. His key point was that the Orange Book vs Social Democrat division was a false one.
He pointed out that both some of those described as the Continuity SDP were actually contributors to the Orange Book. Vince Cable and Chris Huhne both had essays in the Orange Book and that Vince led on the tuition fees U-turn and that Chris Huhne pushed the party to back an extreme deficit reduction strategy. (He revealed he was, in fact Chris Huhne’s step brother).
That’s it for now. Our thanks to all the panelists (and Mark for chairing) and the IEA. We’ll post the video as soon as possible.