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The future of Liberal Democrat thinking

By Timothy Cox
October 28th, 2010 at 4:04 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in UK Politics

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Institute for Government, on behalf of Liberal Vision, on “The future of Liberal Democrat thinking.” Chaired by Lord Adonis (boo… hiss!), the other panellists included Lord Clement-Jones, Neil Sherlock and Julian Astle from Centre Forum.

The IfG have provided a comprehensive summary of the discussion here (and, for those of you who are really bored, a full podcast here!) but I thought I’d briefly add my thoughts on some of the issues raised:

Lord Clement-Jones lauded our exulted one, rightly describing Clegg’s decision to join the coalition as “bold” and referring back to the writings of Jo Grimond to demonstrate that he is “entirely in line with the antecedents in the party”. I was less convinced by his referral to The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett) when summarising key liberal texts from which to set the agenda for future liberal thinking. Really?!

Neil Sherlock, spoke well on the forthcoming priorities for the LDs: ensuring that the government is successful, delivering LD policies and demonstrating that coalition politics worked. All valid points, from a man who certainly knows a thing or two about the higher echelons of the party.

Julian Astle, Exec Director at the liberal (with a small “l”) think tank Centre Forum, was excellent in his defence of liberal values and in addressing the issues at the core of modern liberal thinking. His description of the “big society” as having a liberal core was particularly refreshing: it’s good to see a liberal sticking up for a liberal thesis irrespective of which party it emanated from.


Which brings us on to my point, which was that the LDs must be careful not to warp their agenda in order to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives. Liberal (small l) and conservative ideology is as distinct today as it was at the turn of the 20th century- when the Labour Representation Committee only held 2 seats (arh… for the good ole days!). Attempting to force the distinction, by compromising our core agenda for the benefit of the hard left, risks playing into the hands of our opponents at the ballot box- be they red, blue, green or simply nuts.

Let’s get on with bringing a truly liberal agenda to this government, show that coalition governance works for the people and stop worrying about what disaffected Labour voters think of the LDs in government.

NOTE: Some excellent questions from the floor followed; my favourite of which can be summarised as “what would the LD’s have done differently had they been in power in 1997”. Well not THIS for a starters. Thanks very much for your thirteen year flirtation with “social-democracy”, but I think we’ve all had quite enough now!

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