If you are attending the SLF conference you may have read an e-mail discussion about re-booting Liberalism and seen a lot of interesting ideas put into the ring. I am a member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists (ALDES) and a week or so earlier we had a similar discussion, so I am in a position to compare and contrast the two.
From SLF we had contributions that I have roughly put into four categories: 1) Ideas about party strategy and positioning 2) Ideas about the party's philosophy 3) Constitutional 4) Specifics.
Ideas about party strategy and positioning:
“Going radical, left, right or centre, Paddy's progressive alliance, etc”,
Re-writing the preamble to the constitution, “I would argue it should be to replace ever-weaker Labour as the main party of the progressive, radical, non-socialist Left in British politics” and “If we have a chance to support another party in government should we enter a coalition or enter less a formal agreement possibly 'confidence and supply' or keep out of any agreement ?”
Electoral reform “should we, in the interests of liberty, equality and community, be reconsidering our relationship to Greens, Labour and Plaid Cymru?”
How to mobilise a cross-party majority to defeat the Tories in 2020?
And “I think we Liberal Democrats have an obsession with defining ourselves compared to other parties. I rarely see or hear Labour or Green party members define themselves in comparison to Liberal Democrats".
Ideas about the party’s philosophy:
“Liberalism at its heart has to be about individual freedoms but within a strong social fabric and a Government that actually cares about and is accountable to its electors.”
“How can we inject concepts such as compassion, non-conformism and creativity back into politics?” and we should be “a party of Choice!”
“What is the role of women in re-booting Liberalism? How can we empower and engage women, promoting equality not only within the party but in society?”
How Britain should be governed: “I'd like to see a discussion on competent democratic government.” HS2 was cited as an example of bad government, “Where now with devolution and localism?” and Federalism was also mentioned.
Housing, “developments in digital technology, artificial intelligence and new manufacturing techniques deeply affecting our society and economy”.
Funding of post 16 education and training, climate change and “the way in which the welfare safety net is being eroded” and finally failure to arrest global warming and the consequences that will and may flow from that.
How this compares to ALDES
The Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists have been having a similar discussion about the future. It is interesting to compare and contrast the issues brought up. ALDES’s list includes:
“No party can aspire to government without a clear proposal for creating prosperity (not just redistributing prosperity), and the political left has been missing one of these for nearly four decades. It is the historic destiny of the Lib Dems to provide this, if we survive, but no amount of campaigning on empty will magic it into existence.” (It was this that kicked off ALDES’s on-line debate)
“We have, as a party, deserted long terms values (that we communicate to the public rather than just holding them internally) and often long term ideas, in favour of short term positioning.”
“The UK is lacking in productivity. France is 30% more efficient, making French 35 hour week the equivalent of 45,5 working hours in the UK. The UK manufacturing is suffering from under-investment. How will LD formulate a manufacturing strategy?”
“We are under-investing in R&D compared to other countries, 1.7% of GDP compared to European target of 3%. Surely in a modern knowledge economy we are hindering wealth creation by not supporting scientific research. I think the only party to have a solid commitment in the last election were the Greens. Ours was to ring-fence the science budget and to vaguely aim to double innovation spending across the economy. Not enough.”
“The UK has run a balance of payments deficit every year since 1983. We need a strategy to turn this around. This needs a) expansion of high tech manufacturing which, in turn, means more research and liaison with universities; government support to get promising products to market both in the UK and overseas; more STEM apprenticeships and graduates and b) an intensive look at import substitution (i.e. making/doing ourselves what currently we import). This will cost the government/taxpayer money for investment.”
“Government has always lacked an evidence based approach that is transparent…….topics like healthcare, global warming, and even sociological agendas like immigration need a long term plan that are directed by evidence and experience not rhetoric.”
“Too few politicians thinking strategically and analytically”
This list of points is quite different to that drawn up by SLF and highlights the point that SLF represents an important segment of Lib Dem thinking but by no means the totality of it. If the Green Lib Dems had a similar discussion they would probably come up with yet another, different, shopping list.
SLF suggestions included democracy and competence. I certainly agree these are things the people will vote for. During the election the biggest applause I got at a hustings was for mentioning that our party was the only one of five that had the D-word in its name. But we have to be properly democratic ourselves before we can champion democracy. Our conference is now an unelected, unrepresentative minority that should not be allowed to decide policy. Likewise competence. A party that can blindly support HS2 and ignore any alternatives needs to take a long hard look at its own decision-making processes.
For me, SLF, ALDES and GLD cover most, but not quite all of the bases. The missing element is that we have no AO/SAO devoted to Foreign Policy / Defence / Overseas aid and Development – a big omission for a Party that thinks itself internationalist. Such a hypothetical organisation would come up with yet another list of priorities and ideas.
No one group within the Party has all the answers, but we each of us contribute something and between us we can and must come up with a comprehensive and convincing set of philosophies and policies.
(Steve Coltman is an ordinary SLF and GLD member, also on the exec of ALDES and was candidate for Loughborough)