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Has Cameron made his last “liberal Conservative” speech?

By Angela Harbutt
October 9th, 2011 at 7:40 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in Nudge Dredd

Am I the only one who is getting increasingly annoyed at the two-faced Cameron that seems to be emerging ?

On the one hand he urges us all to engage with his Big Society project – insisting that this is about “treating adults like adults” and asking people to “take responsibility for their lives” – but falls back on nannying and legislation at the first sign that society isn’t marching to his new tune quite as quickly as he would like.

Back in 2009 – before he was elected he was very clear that society was broken because big government interfered too much:

Why is our society broken? Because government got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility”…. “But this idea, this approach, that for every problem there is a government solution, for every issue and initiative, for every situation a tzar….”….”you know the biggest problem with this big government, it’s not the cost, though that’s bad enough, it’s the steady erosion of responsibility and it is our task to lead Britain in a completely different direction”

Even in February 2011 his mantra was still along the lines of personal responsibility:

“The big society is about changing the way our country is run. No more of a government treating everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions. Instead, let’s treat adults like adults and give them more responsibility over their lives.”

“And the big question we have to ask ourselves is this: do we want a country where politicians, bureaucrats and the powers-that-be treat everyone like children who are incapable of taking their own decisions and taking responsibility for their lives? Or do we want a country where we treat adults like adults, and give them more power and more responsibility over their lives?”

Now it all seems to be about government getting involved in the way people bring up their children, introducing another consultation into tobacco (plain packaging), stopping all “explicit” advertising on hoardings and even considering a FAT tax for everyone (despite the fact that back in 2008, when on the hunt for votes, Andrew Lansley said “..Providing information is empowering, lecturing people is not. So, no excuses, no nannying..”).

Now Cameron tells us…. “…we’ve got to be less sensitive to the charge that this is about interfering or nannying”.

So what on earth is going on?

Do we simply accept that Cameron is a just another two-faced politician who says what ever suits? He may have felt the need to appear “liberal” pre-election but is, at heart, an old fashioned Tory that can’t help but look down his sneery nose at those who are too fat, too chavvy or too stupid to help themselves and knows in his heart that Nanny knows best?

Possibly. He has an interfering gene in him that’s for sure – having a go at WHSmith for putting chocolate oranges at the check out, BHS for its sale of tiny tots padded bras, Lily Allen for her song lyrics etc.

But if we do believe his stated desire to be a “liberal Conservative”  why is he seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but?

I really don’t know. Perhaps he has given up on the fight with the Tory right. Perhaps he doesn’t have sufficient control over his Ministers to ensure that departments stick to the plan. Or perhaps his Ministers don’t have enough control over the Whitehall bureaucrats that ultimately formulate policy. It’s possible Cameron’s reliance on polls and focus groups have driven him into the arms of Mumsnet/Mothers Unions/ASH/BMA.

Whatever the reason, it looks right now as though Cameron has decided to leave liberalism to the Liberals.

He is seemingly being tossed from pillar to post, wanting to be liberal, but overseeing an increasing number of policies that are anything but.
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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.



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?


Liberal Democrats “aren’t especially liberal – or even democratic”

By Angela Harbutt
September 9th, 2011 at 9:58 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

So says Graeme Archer at the Telegraph..

“If the Liberal Democrats didn’t exist, under what circumstances would you choose to create them? I’ll assume that it’s the “Liberal” bit of their historical accident of a name that matters (not many anti-democrats run for election these days). If we did feel the need for a Liberal Party, I guess it would be because neither the Labour nor Tory organisations were being sufficiently, well, liberal in their policy-making….”

I recommend you go read it. I don’t agree with everything he says… you probably won’t either. But my god he has a point……

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A voluntary support system vs the Welfare State

By Simon Goldie
January 30th, 2011 at 10:37 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in UK Politics, Welfare State

Over at Lib Dem Voice, Mark Pack poses the question: Was Beveridge right to oppose the Welfare State?

This may seem an odd debating point as everyone credits William Beveridge with laying the foundation of the welfare system we currently have.

In fact, Beveridge laid out a liberal blueprint to tackle want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

The Labour Government under Clement Attlee took the report and responded by creating a centralised structure that became known as the Welfare State. The NHS, education system and social security system that many now see as representing all that is good about Britain was inspired by liberalism but built by Fabian social democracy.

It is impossible to know what would have happened if a Liberal Government had come to power in 1945 but it is likely that a support system would have been established that emphasised voluntary engagement and the decentralisation of decision-making.