The North- South divide: a Liberal Democrat cause

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

An article by Neil Hughes

If it were only Britain wanting to depart from Europe, or Scotland’s own discrete independence-seeking one could – as a faint consolation – look to an England which is at least notionally united.

However even this is no longer the case with the principal next-tier locus of disconnection lying between North and South.  Here something that has always existed has opened up insidiously into a major rift, highlighted in the June Brexit referendum.  Inevitably a major capital city like London, lying closer to the rest of Europe than other parts of the UK, will possess pre-empting advantages; should this automatically and necessarily infer, however, that half or more of the UK’s trade and wealth-accrual needs to be based in and around it?

In time, a formal ‘Brexit’ may of course set back SE England as much as its other regions, not a levelling-down of the kind Lib Dems (or anyone) would especially desire!  Of as much concern is the billowing social separation which means that the majority of major conferences, nationally significant public meetings, business and charity AGMs, political executive committee meetings (all parties except self-evidently Celtic nationalist & Ulster-based ones) and most strategic thinking either happen or begin to happen in London.  Despite (equivocal) city deals this leaves the north, west, east and Midlands of England – as well as the devolved nations – poorer not only financially but socially, academically and culturally too.  For example, it has always been a ‘given’ that London’s West End gets the best shows – but should it automatically?

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There’s Never Been a More Important Time for Social Liberalism

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The SLF came about largely in response to the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Conservatives and also to act as a counterweight to a section of the party, often termed the "Orange Bookers”, who many grass roots members regarded as taking the party down a more right-wing path.

That was why I stood as a council member back in 2012.  I was keen to keep the party on track to deliver on the social aspect of liberalism, as well as on all the other facets that come from the philosophy and values behind liberalism, such as personal liberty, internationalism and the environment.  

Much of the work that the SLF has done in the intervening years has been inward-facing - of a necessity - to hold our MPs to account for the work they were doing in Government and to ensure that these social aspects of liberalism were being considered as Lib Dem ministers were formulating new policy and MPs were deciding which way to vote on significant, new Bills in parliamentary debates.

So why do we need the SLF now?  

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Consensus is not Liberalism

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

During the welcome debate on the Party’s principles and identity that followed May 2015, I’ve been surprised by one or two ideas people felt were essential to Liberalism or at least to Liberal Democrat identity.

I was ready for people stressing how the state disempowers people while ignoring how it empowers them. I was ready for people claiming that equality of opportunity was a Liberal concept but aiming at equality of outcomes was anathema. I’ve heard very little of either. 

I was a bit taken by surprise by the claim that optimism and a positive view of human nature were essential to Liberalism. I could see that we believed in human potential, but wondered how the optimism about human nature could be squared with the holocaust, the slave trade or a human-induced mass extinction event. I might discuss that one soon.

What I want to discuss now is the idea that consensus is a key Liberal value. This too surprised me, but when I queried it, the hurt and shock on the fellow-Liberal’s face was obvious. 

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Social Liberal response to the EU Referendum

Sunday, 26 June 2016

UK Liberal Democrats have suffered a second devastating blow just over a year after the 2015 near-wipe-out.  Early on Friday afternoon, I listened to Tim Farron giving his reaction and setting some of his thoughts about where our Party is and what we should do next.  It was a good speech containing some analysis of underlying changes and some ideas about next steps for LibDems. 

It wasn’t a thorough analysis and it didn’t amount to a strategy, but that wasn’t Friday’s job.  The challenge now is to understand what happened and to set out a clear strategy for what we do next. 

This short essay offers a starting point from a social liberal perspective. 

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We must stand together with our fellow Europeans

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Britain is in the middle of the most important referendum campaign in decades and the outcome will have profound implications for the future of our country. Britain is a leading nation in Europe and it is essential that we do not walk away from the European Union. The viability of our economy, our society and our power in the world depends on us voting to Remain. But more than just the fate of this country, the outcome of the EU Referendum could have ramifications across our continent. There is so much at stake we cannot afford to gamble with the future of Britain or Europe.

In this campaign, two visions of Britain are being fought over. One is of a liberal progressive Britain, which embodies fairness, tolerance and internationalism. The other is a Britain of nostalgic nationalism built on fear, division and isolationism. A vote to Remain in the EU is a vote for hope over fear and for unity over division. A vote to Leave is a vote to reduce Britain's influence in the world and to turn our backs on our nearest friends and allies.

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Now is not the time for a progressive alliance with Labour

Wednesday, 08 June 2016

by Energlyn Churchill

Who are the Liberal Democrats and what are they for? It's a question that the electorate has struggled with, not least because different party members are likely to give differing answers. If all political parties are broad churches, then ours is broader than most. Classic Liberalism, Social Liberalism, Economic Liberalism, Social Democracy; you name it and I've probably encountered it during my 22 year association with the Party. It goes some way towards explaining why we have often been accused of trying to be all things to all people.

The historic failure of Liberal leaders to nail any definitive colours to the mast has not helped the situation. Instead, we have relied on the 'cult' of well known local candidates who 'get things done'; on being the party of protest; on being the party that does a good job locally. Other than perhaps having the vague sense that we are a 'progressive' party, very few vote Liberal Democrat because they have a clue what Liberalism is. Frankly, we've never really told them.

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Our diversity is our greatest strength - don't let the 'leavers' divide us on this issue

Monday, 06 June 2016

"Immigration has been a blessing for our country". 

"This country was built on the back of hard work by migrants".

I wish that during the course of this referendum campaign we would hear more statements like these from our leading politicians and thinkers - because it's the truth.

Like me, I'm sure many of you are thoroughly depressed by what at times seems like constant immigrant bashing on our televisions sets and in our newspapers. Those who want us to leave the EU on 23rd June, are resorting to the 'immigration' card because they have lost all credibility on the economics of Brexit, which would be disastrous. I'm sad to say that the Remain side have not pushed back hard enough on all the false claims that the 'leavers' are making. If they want to make immigration an issue in this debate, let them. It'll give our side the opportunity to present the facts about how good immigration has been for the UK.

As the grandson of refugees from Cyprus, I know how much migrants to the UK from all around the world have contributed to our society. I know because my family have given back to our economy and our local community. Because my neighbours’ families have, my friends’ families have. I come from one of the most diverse parts of the country, the London Borough of Brent. Here, people from all around the world live and work side by side. It works in Brent and in communities up and down the country because we view our diversity as our greatest strength. 

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The tenant as customer

Saturday, 04 June 2016

by Andrew Toye

It has been the mantra of modern times: an unquestionable article of faith – “The customer is always right”.  We are all supposed to be “on the side of the consumer”, against big and powerful vested interests that would rip us off given half a chance.

Given that the Customer is King, I wondered why, in His realm, that there is one huge gaping hole that the free market is failing to fill?  By this I mean housing.

Despite all the rhetoric, the consumer of private rented accommodation is being ripped off mercilessly.  Rents are going up well above inflation, but the quality of the product that they pay for stays the same (and in some cases deteriorates).  Powerful vested interests (landlords) even have the law on their side.  You want to double your money?  No problem; as long as there are people who are rich enough (and stupid enough) to pay the rents, you can.  Some local authorities have a landlords’ licensing scheme, and often serve correction notices on those whose property is sub-standard, but there is no consumer watchdog as in other markets - the customer is always wrong.  It all goes back to Magna Carta: wealthy barons protecting their property interests from bad King John.  (Democracy came later).

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Why centrism doesn't work for minor parties Part 2

Friday, 29 April 2016

Part one of this two-part series can be read here.

Why the party has to work within the left rather right

If the Party’s much heralded ‘fight back’ slogan is to avoid fighting back against its former voters, working against the logic of the electoral system, or to not act as a mere rallying call aiming to distract the public from our recent mistakes, then the Party must accept the key dilemma of having to ‘pick a side’. Only then will it be a meaningful return that will lead to us getting more MPs elected. I believe that for strategic reasons alone the Party must choose the left. While special accommodation should be made for right-leaning Liberal Democrats, the case that the Party should again be allowed to operate on the left is so overwhelming that doing so is in the common interest.

In July 2015, Pack and Howarth set out their ‘How to rebuild a core vote’ strategy and argued that, as a values based Party, the Liberal Democrats should seek to build a core vote of people who hold a basic liberal outlook, e.g. tolerance and openness to others. They calculated this to comprise about 38% of the electorate. They similarly recognised that the major dynamic of British politics is however not liberal/ illiberal, but left/ right, observing that ‘… contrary to the repeated hopes of Liberal (and Liberal Democrat) politicians, much of politics has been fought out for many decades not in the field of openness, tolerance and internationalism but in the field of economics’. When they then looked at the economic views of these voters with a broadly liberal outlook, they found that the group was skewed towards the left, observing: 

‘… about a fifth put themselves right of centre on whether the government should redistribute incomes, about a fifth are centrists and three fifths are left of centre, of whom one in three are very strongly in favour of redistribution and two out of three somewhat in favour. Similarly on questions about privatisation, nationalisation and tax and spend, the median tolerant and open voter is on the centre-left. YouGov’s profile of Liberal Democrat voters produces a similar result and what we know of the post-May 2015 new members is that many were motivated by left-of-centre issues such as proposed cuts in social security benefits and threats to employment protection.’ (p5)

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Why centrism doesn't work for minor parties Part 1

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

It is often observed in British politics that to succeed electorally, political parties should stick to the centre ground. Under Nick Clegg’s leadership, centrism was placed at the forefront of how the Liberal Democrat party positioned itself to the public. While he was correct to recognise that the main dynamic in British politics is (sadly) not illiberal/ authoritarian versus liberal, but actually right versus left, he was wrong to conclude that the Party’s response should be centrism. The 2015 General Election showed us that pursuing a centrist strategy was a catastrophic error. As former Cambridge MP and City Council Leader Professor David Howarth told us on this website immediately after the General Election last year, it is something ‘we must never do again’. 

Liberal Democrats who still think centrism can take the Party to success hold a paradoxical stance where their preference over the Party's positioning is incompatible with it achieving a General Election breakthrough. More generally, many do not fully understand why centrism will not work, failing to realise its impact upon wider strategy and thinking. The electoral reality for most minor parties means that they need to pick a left/ right side and work within it - especially one whose support is geographically dissipated and which operates under a First Past The Post system. This article will argue that for simple, compelling and strategic reasons, the Party should not pick the Right, but the Left. This will be an unpalatable proposition for some, but it is vital that this dilemma be addressed so that any Liberal Democrat fight back is based on solid foundations.

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