Browse > Home / Posts by Simon Goldie

| Subcribe via RSS

Nick Clegg’s social mobility

By Simon Goldie
September 22nd, 2011 at 8:57 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Nannying, Social Liberal Forum

Nick Clegg has made it clear that social mobility is a key part of his political agenda.

He returned to this theme again in his closing speech at the Liberal Democrat conference.

Clegg has also been weaving a modern liberal narrative for sometime. Early on in the conference week, he talked about the rich liberal heritage of the party.

For now, he is arguing that the pupil premium will unblock the barriers to achievement for poor children.

Social mobility could be his modern liberal narrative in action. Mill, a classical liberal, was keen on education for all. He wanted everyone to have the opportunity to reach their potential. And once they had reached it, they would be active citizens in a liberal society. For me that meant individuals running their lives and living as they wish as long as they did no harm to others.

The social liberal wing of the party must surely welcome this government intervention while the classical liberal side can look forward to the children who benefit becoming adults who no longer need the ‘Nanny State’.

If Clegg can establish this modern liberal narrative: a combination of different strands of liberalism and then implement a policy that represents it, he may be able to rebuild the party’s electoral base in time for the next general election.


Individualism in the 21st century

By Simon Goldie
September 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Comments Off on Individualism in the 21st century | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

As the Liberal Democrat conference begins this weekend, a lot of thinking, and talking, will be happening about what direction the party should take while in government.

Nick Clegg has been working at developing a modern liberal narrative and more needs to be done in this area. If the party is going to rebuild its electoral base it needs to be clear about what it stands for, what policies are needed to implement what it stands for and how it communicates those policies.

One way to start could be with the individual. There is a commonly held view that rampant individualism has been the downfall of modern societies. Many lay the blame at the feet of Mrs Thatcher, some go further back to the Sixties when consumerism met the sexual revolution.

One could argue these things back and forth. So much depends on one’s political perspective. Of course, liberals rather like the idea that individuals are as free as possible to live their lives as they wish, be creative, spontaneous and free. But it is important to understand the context that this ‘rampant individualism’ has been operating against.

What we do know is that modern theories tend to see people as groups and not individuals. Sociologists put people in a class or ethnic grouping, management theory addresses employee behaviour as though all employees are the same and educational theorist don;t account for individual differences when planning how best to educate children.  All of these approaches measure things on the basis of the impact they have on a group not an individual.

This trend probably began during the Industrial Revolution and has become the accepted way of doing things. While the individual has a role in all of this, most of the time we think in groups.

James C Scott explains in Seeing like a State, the State needs to categorise, measure and differentiate people in particular ways in order for it to function. Once it has done this it can tax people, educate them and send them off to war.  We may approve or disapprove of these things but this is how the State operates.

All of this erodes the individual. As No. 6 says in The Prisoner, “I am not a number.” Ironically, we never find out what his name was.

If you believe that individuals should be able to live as they wish, voluntarily associate with whoever they like, flourish and achieve their potential (if they want to) then perhaps we need to change the way we approach all of this. Instead of assuming people are likely to be the same because of the group they are in, perhaps it is time to think about people as individuals who defy generalities.

That presumption of the individual may lead to different policies to the ones that are currently pursued. And what better party to champion those policies than a liberal one?


What are the Liberal Democrats for?

By Simon Goldie
September 11th, 2011 at 6:27 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Civil Liberties, Liberal Democrats, Uncategorized

Graeme Archer’s piece in the Telegraph on the Liberal Democrats is not exactly flattering to say the least. He clearly doesn’t have much time for the party and believes that if it didn’t exist no one would invent it.

Angela Harbutt commented that while not agreeing with everything, Archer has a point. Others have responded and can be read below the link Angela posted.

I suspect third parties, whatever they stand for, will always have trouble justifying their existence. After all, you can join a main party that you feel some affinity towards and then hope to persuade party members to support your views.

But what about what the Lib Dem MPs do in the Commons. Assuming that some would never join another party, because for whatever reason they feel that the Lib Dems is the only place for them, would Britain be better or worse off without them?

There is one particularly example that I think answers Graeme Archer’s question. John Hemming MP recently wrote a blog post for Halsbury’s Law Exchange. HLE is a virtual think tank that is supported by the company I work for.

It details his campaign for families who have their children taken away by local authorities. You can read the post here. As far as I know, Hemming is the only MP to take up this issue. It touches upon liberty, the law and the State.

If nothing else, taking on such a cause might be a good enough reason to invent such a party if it didn’t exist.


‘Muscular liberalism’: how to make it work

By Simon Goldie
July 29th, 2011 at 11:18 am | Comments Off on ‘Muscular liberalism’: how to make it work | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Uncategorized

If Nick Clegg is to continue his pursuit of ‘muscular liberalism’ at the Lib Dem party conference there are two ways he can make it work.

While the term ‘muscular liberalism’ was used by the deputy prime minister to describe how the party would differentiate itself to its coalition partners, it is how that is done that will lay the ground for the party’s electoral proposition in 2015.

It is commonly accepted that there is a rough divide in the party between social and economic liberals. This is crudely seen as a difference of opinion between liberals who favour social justice over liberty and liberals who favour letting the free market work so that liberty and fairness are achieved spontaneously. Yet, both groups agree on some fundamentals about the concentration of power and the freedom of the individual.

Perhaps what really separates the two is how to tackle the problems of a modern society. For instance, the financial crisis has led to calls for greater regulation in order to ensure that the taxpayer doesn’t have to bail out a bank ever again. Government’s supporting banks, or any other business, goes against the liberal grain.  With an already complex, regulated system that gets price signals from a central bank the idea of putting in more regulation to deal with the problem seems very logical. This policy answer could well be part of Clegg’s ‘muscular liberalism’. This response is certainly part of a social liberal agenda.

But as the joke goes about asking directions, would you start from here? A liberal might prefer to be in a different situation in the first place. If there was a way of tearing down the barriers to entry for new financial organisations, freeing up the market so that when a bank failed it could fail and removing perverse incentives to borrow money when one shouldn’t be borrowing money, economic liberals would raise their hand and say yes to that. In fact, if such a system satisfied the policy objectives of the ‘social’ wing of the party, it is hard to see why they would object either.

Could this type of ‘muscular liberalism’ work? If Clegg and others decided that this was the liberal direction of travel they wanted to follow, they may still have to temporarily accept some form of regulation of the banks to deal with the current situation while working towards a liberal approach that John Stuart Mill would be comfortable with.

This approach could use Jock Coats’s ‘rigorous liberalism’ as its template.

What all of this comes down is making a choice between trying to make the economy and society more liberal by using policy tools that led to the current status quo or by using liberal mechanisms to achieve liberalism.


Reflecting on liberalism

By Simon Goldie
July 26th, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Comments Off on Reflecting on liberalism | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

The summer months are always good for reflection.

Parliament is in recess, the party conference season has yet to start which means that politicians and commentators get the chance to take a holiday and think.

A bit of thinking time is important for politicians. In the 24/7 news cycle and the push to make their arguments and counter the arguments of opponents, the Westminster village is an unforgiving place.

Nick Clegg, and Liberal Democrat MPs, have a lot to reflect on. The party has been in government for over a year now. In a bold move it went into coalition with a party that it did not feel a natural affinity with. There have been tensions but despite that the coalition is getting on with an agenda that both sides, more or less, agreed.

Nick Clegg has talked of ‘muscular liberalism’. Perhaps as he takes a break he should begin to think hard about what liberalism means in the 21st century. He has made many speeches on the topic but his vision, understandably, is a mix of different strands of liberal thought. Perhaps it is time to be bold. At its core liberalism is about people running their lives: this is seen by liberals as a good in itself and as the best way to organise society. That view is shared by social and economic liberals. Both strands believe that you can achieve that by different policy routes.

The Liberal Democrats are not about to return to being the party of classical liberalisms. But Clegg can take that political tradition, the tradition of Locke, Adam Smith, Mill and others, and weave it into a liberal philosophy that recognises that technology like the web allows for greater voluntary co-operation than ever before. He can return to the ideas of radical community politics of the 1960s an 1970s and argue for power to be taken from the centre while limiting government through constitutional checks and balances.

If his party members are wary of the free market, he can argue that public services can be delivered politically but by the people who use them and they should have the right to organise themselves as they wish. And if they happen to want to use free market mechanisms that should be up to them.

At the Lib Dem party conference, Clegg has the opportunity to set out what liberalism means to him and how it can be delivered in coalition with the Conservatives and in the future.