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The Strange Rebirth of Classical Liberalism

By Simon Goldie
November 24th, 2011 at 11:00 am | 19 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians, Liberty League

When George Dangerfield wrote The Strange Death of Liberal England it looked as though liberalism was no longer relevant to the body politic. The Liberal party had been overtaken by its rivals: the Conservatives and the newly-created Labour party. Many liberal ideas had become part and parcel of the political landscape, which might have explained the demise of the party.

In 2003, David Walter wrote The Strange Rebirth of Liberal England. The author argued that liberalism was back. But that liberalism was very different to the one that was withering away decades before.

It is no surprise that a political philosophy will adapt to changing times. Recently, though it would appear that the advocates of classical liberalism have re-entered the mainstream political debate.

One could argue that the Whigs who entered the Conservative party in the 19th century carried on that classical liberal tradition. The problem is that a political tradition co-habiting with another that pulls in a very different direction inevitably compromises and has its voice dulls.

There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that classical liberalism has rediscovered its voice.

In the last few years, we have seen the creation of the Cobden Centre, Learn Liberty, a reinvigorated Institute of Economic Affairs, Liberty League, a plethora of classical liberal blogs, the creation of the Libertarian party and lastly, but no means least, Liberal Vision.

This doesn’t mean that all these groups agree with each other. There are differences over tax, the Europe Union, constitutional reform and human rights legislation. It does mean that the case for classical liberalism is being made: arguments for sound money, plurality, tolerance and individual freedom.

How much impact these disparate groups will have is an open question. What we can say for certain is that this reinvigorated classical liberal movement is, once again, having an impact on the public policy conversation.


A liberal narrative: small and local

By Simon Goldie
November 14th, 2011 at 11:00 am | Comments Off on A liberal narrative: small and local | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Angela Harbutt’s recent post on the direction of the Lib Dems suggested that the party should focus on the small and local.

Before the merger of the Liberal party and the SDP, the former was very much about local decision-making and championed ‘small is beautiful’. As other parties adopted the language, and policies, of decentralisation the Liberal Democrats searched for other ways to differentiate the party.

But there is no reason why the party cannot take these two areas and turn them into a compelling narrative. To do this it would need to review its policies. What was suitable for the 1970s may no longer be appropriate. If liberalism is about people controlling their lives, and if the party is liberal, then it needs policies that make it more likely that people have a say over what happens to them. How this happens may vary depending on the circumstances. It would mean the party would have to commit unequivocally to plurality and diversity. Different areas of the country will want different things. If people are able to ensure services and policies that they want in their area then this is less a postcode lottery and more about reflecting the fact that people are different and depending on their situation make different choices.

Once these policy details are worked out, the party would have a clear and consistent story to tell. Told properly it could have significant electoral appeal. After all, whatever side of the political divide you are on, everyone wants to be in charge of their own destiny.


A liberal manifesto for 2015

By Simon Goldie
November 3rd, 2011 at 11:00 am | Comments Off on A liberal manifesto for 2015 | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Policy

As Liberal Vision has of late focused on the here and now, perhaps it is time to turn to the vision.

The Liberal Democrats have much to think about between now and the general election. One important element, that can easily get subsumed by being in government, is to develop a manifesto that tells voters what liberalism looks like in the 21st century. Of course, one can argue about what liberalism means. Assuming that the reader broadly accepts the aims of this site, (individual liberty, limited government and a free market) what sort of policies would maximise these?

The party has talked a lot about deregulation. Vince Cable, Secretary of State at BIS, has argued for the abolition of what was the DTI and committed the coalition government to a one in, one out rule for regulation. Deregulation is only part of the story. The party needs to think about lowering barriers to entry for new businesses and ensuring markets are as open as possible.

On limiting government it has policies in place that would bring in checks and balances through constitutional reform. It might want to review these policies given that some have already been introduced. Does it need to make revisions to what has been done or develop a new approach?

Finally, but by no means least, we come to Individual liberty. Policies that put the individual in control of the public services they receive, policies that remove obstacles to plurality in public services and generally increase diversity in how we run things can only add to individual liberty.

No doubt there will be a lot of debate about how you achieve all this but the first step towards producing a liberal manifesto in 2015 is to make clear that it is liberalism that is the lode star.


Talking about Europe

By Simon Goldie
September 28th, 2011 at 9:20 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in EU Politics, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Everyone knows that members of the Liberal Democrats are pro-Europe. There are many reasons why this is the case. The party has a long-standing international tradition. It supports free trade and the removal of protectionist barriers. The party is a product of a merger between the Liberal party and the SDP. The SDP founders left Labour because of that party’s anti-European position. And finally, there is a practical side that says it is better to be part of an organisation that impacts on how the UK operates than trying to influence that entity from the outside.

The recent Euro zone crisis has led many Euro-sceptics to argue that the Euro will be dead soon and that possibly the whole European project is coming to an end.

Nick Clegg has said made the case that the rules that were meant to apply to countries joining the Euro were not implemented. If they had been, he believes, the problems we are facing may have been avoided.

It is doubtful that this technical point will be enough to win over those voters who are beginning to question how things are being run in the EU.

Clegg has talked in the past of making the EU more liberal. Now would be a good time to set out what that means and what the party is going to do to try and influence European policymakers so that the EU pursues a more liberal policy agenda.

Offering voters a reforming liberal agenda for Europe would help differentiate the party and develop Clegg’s liberal narrative.



Select Committee recommends Whitehall reform

By Simon Goldie
September 24th, 2011 at 10:31 am | Comments Off on Select Committee recommends Whitehall reform | Posted in Conservatives, Liberal Democrats

The Commons Public Administration Select Committee has produced a report arguing for major changes to the way Whitehall is structured. It says that if the coalition wishes to ensure the success of the ‘Big Society’, reform of the civil service is vital.

While the ‘Big Society’ originates from the Conservative side of the coalition, there is no reason why the Liberal Democrats can’t seize this policy opportunity. Decentralisation has been part and parcel of the liberal world view for many years. For a time, the party was committed to abolishing the DTI. When the department became BERR, then BIS, and the financial crisis hit, this policy was quietly dropped.

A liberal policy to reform Whitehall, moving power away from the centre and potentially reducing the cost of running government has various advantages. Not only would this fit with Lib Dem policies but it would also be acceptable to the Conservative party. That would defuse some of the tensions between the two parties and build political capital for the Lib Dems in order to win other arguments with the Conservatives. It could also help move Britain towards a more liberal society.