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Homeless liberals

By Alex Chatham
June 19th, 2017 at 1:10 pm | No Comments | Posted in Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Libertarians

For some, Tim Farron’s resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats demostrated the failure of the party to live up to the first part of its name. It is more likely that the equivalnt of Lib Dem ‘men in gray suits’ wanted Farron out because he failed to secure many more MPs at the General Election. Of course, the party has long been associated with nannyism and a desire to interfere in people’s lives: none of which is very liberal. It is certainly nothing like its previous incarnation. The old Liberal Party might have had its quirks but the liberal tradition of John Locke, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill coursed through its DNA.

If the Lib Dems are’t liberal, who is? Conservatives for Liberty are doing their best to stake out liberal ground within the Tory party. The problem is that Conservatism is a broad church and some of that church, as we have seen recently, doesn’t much like liberalism. Even the Tories who argue for low taxes and a small state don’t talk about limiting government, a key component of classical liberalism. Of course, you can keep making the case and right now the Conservatives are about the best you will get if you want economic liberalism.

The other options are to support a liberally-inclinded think tank or individual electoral candidates. At some point, we might get a liberal party committed to the rule of law, limited government, tolerance, liberty, plurality, peace  and free markets. In the meantime, homeless liberals have to work out how best to maximise freedom in a climate rather unsympathetic to the liberal creed.

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Is classical liberalism the best hope for Lib Dems?

By Editor
May 16th, 2015 at 3:01 pm | Comments Off on Is classical liberalism the best hope for Lib Dems? | Posted in Liberal Democrats

David Herdson on politicalbetting.com seems to think so…

“… if being the reasonable voice of the centre won’t cut it for the Lib Dems, what will? There is of course always the well-trodden path of local activism and that no doubt has its part to play but only where the party already has an established base and that has its limits, particularly with the boundary review likely to shake up the map.

To my mind, the Lib Dems have, or could have, two genuinely distinctive messages that no other party is selling. One is being unashamedly pro-EU. That will matter in the next three years and could be the ticket back into the heart of the action. It’s true that they did play that card in 2014 and it flopped badly but a referendum may be a different matter.

The second, however, is the stronger, and is to return to a more classical liberalism: for individual freedom and against state encroachment, whether economic, social or in excessive policing powers. Some would argue that no other party is selling either message because neither is popular and there’s something in that – but unpopular doesn’t mean there’s no support and the alternative is to contest other policy ground where other stronger parties are already encamped.”

The article is worth reading in full and can be found here.

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Liberalism: Is the tide turning?

By Editor
June 1st, 2013 at 1:28 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Libertarians

An exciting couple days for all us liberals out there. Not one, but two hat tips:

First, the good news that “we are not alone”. Liberalism is not just alive in the UK, it is positively thriving. A major feature in the Economist, of all places, states “Britain’s youth are not just more liberal than their elders. They are also more liberal than any previous generation“.

Young Britons, it turns out, are classical liberals. The Economist reports:

“…as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.”

This totally uplifting piece goes on to say

““Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last,” says Ben Page of Ipsos MORI, a pollster. All age groups

Graph courtesy of YouGov/Economist

Graph courtesy of YouGov / Economist

are becoming more socially and economically liberal. But the young are ahead of the general trend. They have a more sceptical view of state transfers, even allowing for the general shift in attitudes”

And it isn’t just IPSOS MORI saying this. The same article reports

“Polling by YouGov shows that those aged 18 to 24 are also more likely than older people to consider social problems the responsibility of individuals rather than government. They are deficit hawks.  They care about the environment, but are also keen on commerce: more supportive of the privatisation of utilities, more likely to reject government attempts to ban branding on cigarette packets and more likely to agree that Tesco, Britain’s supermarket giant, “has only become so large by offering customers what they want”.”

Do go read the article in full to get a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

But what to do about this?

Second: Mark Littlewood (who get’s a mention in the above Economist item as will be noted by conspiracy theorists everywhere) seems to have the answer. Writing in the Times [paywall] on Friday he suggests “The Lib Dems should try being real liberals“. In his hard hitting comment piece Littlewood (former spin doctor of the party and LV founder and blogger) points out the all-too-obvious malaise within the party:

“There is no acute leadership crisis, just a general sense that they are sinking. It is near impossible to discern what their recovery strategy is. Mr Clegg and his close advisers encourage the party faithful to “hold your nerve”…. But that sounds more like psychotherapy than a plan.”

Front Cover of the Economist : June 1st 2013

Front Cover of The Economist : June 1st 2013

Well said. But, this isn’t just a piece pointing out the parlous state of the party right now, he has a sensible, practical solution. Here are the key bits:

“First, they (Lib Dems) need to stop doing and saying things that have little resonance outside their declining base of party activists.”

“Second, the Lib Dems need to take a leaf out the books of many of their sister parties on the Continent. Many European politicians rightly view them as rather an odd, mixed bag with a left-leaning social democratic agenda. Not very liberal at all, in other words.”

“…the Lib Dems often come across as no more coherent than a confederation of residents’ associations. Few voters understand any driving philosophy behind their policy, merely that it is “middle of the road”.

“The party does have a strong commitment to civil liberties hardwired into its DNA, but on lifestyle issues, such as smoking, drinking or reading magazines with airbrushed photos of female models, it can’t resist the urge to agitate for greater state intrusion and control.” [see a previous post on LV “Norman Lamb: Doh!” for more on that one].

“…this actually makes a strategy of being a small state, pro-business party even more attractive — mainly because most Lib Dem MPs find themselves in close fights with the Tories”.

“A consistent, clear, genuinely liberal narrative, in which the State plays less of a role in our lives, and individuals have greater freedom to keep their own money, run their own affairs and make their own choices does not guarantee electoral success. But it surely offers a much better prospect for the Lib Dems than anchoring their ship somewhere in the centre of the ocean, as they slowly slip beneath the waves.”

Whether the appearance of his comment piece in the Times on Friday is coincidence, or deliberately timed to coincide with the Economist report, only Littlewood will know. But taking those two articles together we see not only that there is a real, and growing appetite, for classical liberalism in the UK, but there is a compelling case that Lib Dems should not just be spectators to this upswing, but capitalise on it. Britain looks ready to embrace a real liberal party – but is the party ready to be it?  Here’s hoping so.

(PS Young liberals out there might like to find out more about Liberty League and Freedom Week by clicking on the links.)

 

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Graham Watson and a liberal narrative

By Simon Goldie
December 1st, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Comments Off on Graham Watson and a liberal narrative | Posted in EU Politics, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

In a recent post, I argued that the Lib Dems need to ensure that they have a clear identity.

In his piece congratulating Sir Graham Watson, Barry Stocker has drawn attention to a speech that Graham has given on liberalism.

The speech frames liberalism within a rich political tradition and shows why it is relevant today.

This is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion about where the party is going and where it should be going.

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The broad church that is the Liberal Democrats

By Simon Goldie
November 28th, 2011 at 10:37 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Social Liberal Forum, Uncategorized

In a series of comments under the post, The Strange Rebirth of Classical Liberalism, the question of what the Liberal Democrats are all about came up several times. One comment by Dan asked about the party’s view of limited government and the free market. Instead of responding directly by discussing my own experiences, I thought it might be more illuminating to look at what different strands make up the Liberal Democrats. This is partly because I see myself as a commentator on the party and how liberalism has developed.

It is a cliche to say that the party is a broad church. All political parties are.

In one sense, the Liberal Democrats are a new party. Formed after a merger, the party combines at least two political traditions. The SDP rejected a Labour party that was adopting policies like unilateral nuclear disarmament and withdrawal from the European Community. The party placed itself deliberately in the centre ground and shared some headline policies with the Liberal party.

The Liberal party was born out of a merger a century before between the Whigs and the Radicals. This tradition was influenced by the ideas of Adam Smith, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. It was shaped by a reforming impulse that manifested itself with repeal of the Corn Laws, pushing for free trade and the establishment of the rule of law. Its non-conformist radicalism made common cause with the co-operative, and mutual, movement and a concern for the poor.

Over time these strands have evolved, but they can still be identified in the party.

Simon Hughes, a member of the Liberal party, clearly comes from that non-conformist radical tradition. He has a deep concern for people in society who through no fault of their own struggle to get by. His instincts are liberal but mixes this with a desire for equality of opportunity.

The ex SDP side of the Liberal Democrats are more like Scandinavian social democrats. They are for a free market and strong public services.

The ‘Orange Book’ liberals, some of which are ex SDP, want to see government helping the most vulnerable in society and believe the freerer the market the more likely that is to happen. Some, like Chris Huhne, believe that regulatory frameworks can help develop markets that would not otherwise come into fruition.

The social liberals also support a free market, albeit one that is more heavily regulated. They tend to be sceptical about using market mechanics to help provide public services while the ‘Orange Bookers’ are more comfortable with this.

Since its inception, the party has supported constitutional reform which in their view would limit, and check, executive power. Traditionally, the classical liberals within the Conservative party have opposed these reforms. Some reject change because they believe tinkering with the constitution is dangerous, some dislike the idea of the executive being constrained while others take the view that constitutional change won’t actually limit government. Whether the changes that the Lib Dems argue for will work is open to debate. The point though is that the commitment to limiting government has always been there.

Clearly, the Liberal Democrats are not a classical liberal party. But there are members who are classical liberals and even social liberals are influenced by the ideas of liberty, tolerance, limited government, sound money and the distribution of power.

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