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Clegg’s Anniversary Speech – We need a Liberal Majority

By Andy Mayer
May 11th, 2011 at 11:14 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Leadership, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg gave an speech today at the Liberal Club celebrating the first anniversary of the coalition government. It’s a reminder of why he’s Leader. This analysis in particular is absolutely spot on.  

“In terms of our own identity, I have always thought it a mistake to allow ourselves to be defined in relation to the other parties, or to use and adapt their labels.

We are not an anti-Conservative party or an anti-Labour party. Or at least only to the extent that we are different to them both. We are a liberal, democratic party – and we judge the other parties by their liberalism, rather than judging ourselves according to their ideological fixings.

Nor do I like Westminster village discussions of ‘realignment’ on either the ‘centre-left’ or the ‘centre-right’. There was a lot of ‘realignment’ talk by Labour in the run up to the 1997 election, when Tony Blair was afraid he might fall short of an overall majority. There are still those who dream of a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, forgetting that Labour had 13 years to make some moves in that direction and never quite seemed to get around to it until, in desperation, they tried to cling to power last year.

There has also been some talk of a so-called ‘centre-right realignment’ since the formation of the current coalition. This is just nonsensical and naive. As I said earlier, this is a coalition of necessity, not of conviction.

Realignment is a polite euphemism used by one party that wants to gang up on the other gang – with us as a temporary recruit.

I didn’t come into politics to simply replicate the two-party system under the guise of realignment. That’s not my definition of pluralism.

We must not define ourselves in relation to the other parties. We are defined by a century and a half of liberal politics. It is not left. It is not right. It is liberal.

If it requires a position on a spectrum, it is the radical centre. We are camped on the liberal centre-ground of British politics. And we’re not moving.”

It’s that vision, of a centre-ground liberal alliance, represented by the Liberal Democrat Party, that is currently under attack, not just the person of the Deputy Prime Minister.

“We will stand our ground in the liberal centre of British politics. Not the anti-Tory party, or the anti-Labour party, or the anti-politics party. A party of enterprise and fairness.”

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Liberal elevator pitch challenge

By Simon Goldie
April 20th, 2011 at 2:34 pm | 22 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

In a recent post, I suggested that liberals need an elevator pitch. A Twitter conversation with Sam Bowman reinforced my view, as did the comments at the end of the post.

Below is my elevator pitch. I do not claim it to be the definitive answer. It would be great to have other liberals, whether classical, libertarian or even social, to suggest what they see as essential in explaining what liberalism is all about.

For anyone who decides to post a pitch under this post, please keep it to around 100 words.

My elevator pitch: Liberals believe that people should be in control of their lives. A liberal government’s job is to remove obstacles that prevent that. In the set up that we have in the UK, a liberal government should also ensure that each person has as much control as possible over the public services they receive. We don’t have a prescription for the future or for all the problems people face. Rather we trust people to solve problems themselves and believe voluntary co-operation is far better than a central planner deciding everything.

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Liberalism: what is in a name?

By Simon Goldie
April 19th, 2011 at 7:31 pm | 12 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Over at the Adam Smith Institute blog, Sam Bowman has launched a competition to find an alternative name for libertarianism. I have to confess that I played a small role in this re-branding exercise. Sam tweeted that he was looking for a new way to describe classical liberalism and I replied by suggesting he holds a competition.

There have been many responses and I believe Sam may announce a winner soon.

One of the challenges that liberals face in making their case is that people have different views on what liberal, liberalism and libertarianism mean. I suspect that whatever word you choose to describe a set of beliefs you will always find that someone endows the word with another meaning. Then there is the problem that the meaning of words change over time. This is partly due to the policies pursued by those claiming to be liberal/socialist/conservative differing from the policies of their predecessors.

For instance, was the party that Lloyd George led the same as the party Gladstone inspired in the nineteenth century? Many believe that Lloyd George took the Liberal party down a social democratic road by introducing national insurance regardless of whether it was the intention at the time. So if one now says one is a liberal, are you a Gladstonian night watchman State liberal, a Lloyd George furniture mover State liberal or a Liberal Democrat?

I should explain that I have invented the furniture mover concept and as far as I know no one else has every used that expression before. I was looking for something to contrast with the night watchman and for now it will do.

The only way round this problem is to always make an ‘elevator pitch’ when you explain where you are on the political spectrum. For those unfamiliar with the term, the ‘elevator pitch’ is a short snappy way to make your case to a stranger in a confined space. Although I am not sure if the confined space is a prerequisite for stating what you think.

Perhaps we should take comfort in the words of the Bard: a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. It doesn’t so much matter what the word you use is as long as people understand the meaning you have for it.

For liberalism of all varieties that is the real challenge.

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Classical liberalism in the 21st century

By Simon Goldie
April 5th, 2011 at 6:28 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Classical liberalism is often associated with the ‘night watchman State’: the government of the day defends the liberty of the people by ensuring defences are effective and crime is kept under control. Giving the way our society is structured with strong public welfare provisions and active government many wonder if it is at all possible, or desirable, to return to the night watch.

The attempt to go back to such a situation would lead to a cruel paradox. The State would have to be active in the extreme to change things. Given the classical liberal view that one individual cannot make decisions for many because they do not have enough information, how could such a step change work in practice without unintended consequences?

Perhaps the best way to start is to look at the distortions that have emerged from such unintended consequences. Jock Coats has discussed at length his idea of ‘rigorous liberalism‘. In brief, Jock argues that when government wants to tackle a problem it should not immediately legislate but look at what has caused the problem and remove the legislative obstacle. While the government is active it is active in freeing people from legislative restrictions.

The next step would be to create enough space for liberalism to flourish. This means making sure that policies enable people to control their own lives and make decisions for themselves. This is perhaps the trickiest area for modern liberals as they deal with the dilemma of level-playing fields and so on. Some believe the State has to intervene to ensure equal of opportunity either because that is a good in itself or because the State has previously caused unequal opportunity.

Then there is the question of poverty that I recently wrote about.

There are no easy answers to these issues.

It is highly unlikely though that one could ever return to a ‘night watchman State’. Instead a classical liberal needs to encourage a State that lays out the framework for voluntary engagement and then stands back. While doing that it also needs to remove distortions and perverse incentives that stops people from running their lives.

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Looking forward to freedom

By Simon Goldie
April 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

Liberal Vision’s tagline is ‘looking forward to freedom’. That assumes we aren’t as free as we might be.

I have often written about moving towards a more liberal society.

Here is a possible roadmap to how we might get there.

Having a liberal party making the case for liberalism, and fighting poverty, is a start. Nick Clegg recently positioned the Liberal Democrats in the radical centre and made it clear he sees the party’s core as being liberal. Of course, one can argue over what that means but let’s presume this will lead policies that give people more control over their lives.

The next step is the emergence of alternative ways of dealing with social problems. The more control people have over their lives the more this is likely to happen. And those people who rather like liberalism can make choices that help that along: doing things that illustrate how a liberal society can work for the better of everyone.  For example, joining a co-operative.

The more liberal ‘space’ there is the more likely people will want more. And that, over time, should lead to a more liberal, and free, society.

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