The almost impossible has happened. The left wing rebel MP, Jeremy Corbyn, has been elected to lead the Labour Party. From being an absolute outsider, Corbyn has seen a huge surge in support over recent weeks that has been so great, that he won Labour’s leadership election in the first round. Labour now has its most left wing leader since Michael Foot. Despite Tony Blair’s ability to win elections, he failed to provide many people with hope or social justice. It’s this disillusionment and mistrust of Blairism that fuelled Corbyn’s victory. But how should the Liberal Democrats respond to the Corbyn victory?
If Corbyn is successful in moving Labour to the left, it’ll be the first time in a generation that the entire Liberal Democrats are less left wing than the Labour Party. The Liberal Democrats are not a socialist party, we are a liberal party. The distinctive philosophies of democratic socialism and social liberalism will naturally find areas of both agreement and conflict. Liberal Democrats must oppose some of Corbyn’s more left wing policies such as leaving NATO, re-nationalising the energy companies and re-opening the coal mines. In addition, there is some doubt as to whether Corbyn is a pro-European or whether he harbours some of the Euroscepticism of the traditional Old Labour Party.Read more
By Nigel Dower
The following essay forms part of the book “Unlocking Liberalism”, edited by Robert Brown, Gillian Gloyer and Nigel Lindsay. The author has kindly given permission for the Social Liberal Forum to reproduce it here.
In the chapter I defend a version of liberalism which is similar to the ‘new liberalism’ of the early twentieth century of T. H. Green and L. T. Hobhouse, sometimes called social liberalism, liberal socialism or welfare liberalism. It also owes a lot to the ideas of two more modern ‘liberal’ thinkers, namely John Rawls and Amartya Sen. As such it is in broad contrast to the old or classical liberalism of the 19th Century which stressed laissez faire and the minimal state, and also to a modern influential version of liberalism called libertarianism or neo-liberalism which in some respects harks back to the earlier classical liberalism. The guiding question for me is: what makes liberty valuable? The answer put simply is that whilst it is good to have liberty in the sense of not being prevented from doing certain things, what makes it really valuable is one being able to exercise one’s liberty or exercise it properly; that is, it is in large measure valuable if the conditions are in place for the effective exercise of liberty. For instance, it is one thing to have free speech (e.g. there is no law preventing one from speaking one’s mind), it is another to be able to exercise it articulately because one has had a reasonable education. It is one thing to be free to pursue whatever hobbies one wants to (e.g. public opinion or social conventions do not make it difficult), it is another to have sufficient resources to be able to pursue interesting hobbies. For these conditions to exist for everyone in society, many things need to be in place – certain political and legal institutions, the provision of education, access to health care and various forms of social protection. For these to be in place there needs to a general commitment to social justice. Furthermore, in the modern world, if this conception of liberalism is accepted, it has serious implications for any society in the rest of the world and also to future generations who will need the conditions of liberty in place for them too. The idea of liberalism as ‘social liberalism’ does not strictly entail it, but in fact, I shall argue later in the chapter, liberalism needs to be cosmopolitan and committed to sustainability.
What follows is largely a personal exploration of what liberalism means to me today: it does not pretend to be an authoritative analysis of what diffferent liberals today may say, let alone map onto actual Libdem policies.Read more
There is no inevitability that we’ll learn the right lesson from the Great Recession and its aftermath. “Sensible people” with a penchant for economic muddle do not like anything that smacks of being counterintuitive: despite the fact that households are nothing like government, that hoary old cliché that we must live within our means will echo until it possibly drives us to madness. Short-term political power grabs tends to find bad economics that gives people permission to do what they always personally wanted to do anyway, whether it be sit in ministerial limos or play Thatcher and decimate the British state. 8 MPs stands as the Lib Dem legacy of such an approach.Read more
In the second of this three part series, Simon Radford gives a brief history lesson in post war economic thinking. Part one can be read here.
Political scientists often refer to events called “critical junctures”: events that set in motion path dependencies that set limits to individual agency to change the rules that shape results. Think of ratification of constitutions, the selection of a voting system, or the instantiation of an independent central bank. Easy to do, much harder to reverse. Two landmark events seem to have defined post-war economics in a way that have shaped everything that has come afterwards, and one man serves a central role in both: Paul Samuelson.
In the first of this three part series, Simon Radford warns Liberals of their impending irrelevance, if they don't seize the opportunity now offered to them. Simon is a Provost Fellow at the University of Southern California
Liberalism has never been more relevant, but also in bigger danger of extinction. It is this essay’s argument that a defined liberal vision on economics is both well overdue and also never been more necessary: the opening up of economic debate post-2008 has given liberals an opportunity to unearth the liberal tradition in economics and assert its relevance, both for economics as a field, and for a voting public starving for a new progressive vision. It’s only by wholeheartedly embracing this vision that British liberalism can hope to survive in the long run. The good news? It was the people who carried on this buried liberal tradition who correctly identified the looming crash and have the most compelling analysis of its aftermath. The Liberal Democrats’ economic message lost its way in a Goldilocks approach of being a little less hot than the Tories and a little cooler than Labour; there has never been a more propitious time politically to solve the Liberal Democrats’ “economics problem”. And the answers are there if only the party is brave enough to look.
The Social Liberal Forum warmly welcomes the new Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron MP.
Throughout the leadership race, Tim showed his concern for social justice and for ours to be a campaigning Party. We are looking forward to working with him as the head of a progressive movement fighting for liberty, equality and community.
On Wednesday, George Osborne delivered the first Conservative only budget for almost two decades. The budget had many true blue Conservative policies in it on welfare and taxation; as well as a so-called "national living wage". Above all else this budget represented an attack on some of the most vulnerable in society. This budget will do much to undermine the welfare state of William Beveridge.
The £12 billion welfare cuts that Osborne is imposing will undermine social justice. They represent an ideological attack which will further divide the country between rich and poor. Two years ago, I wrote a blog for the SLF criticising the benefits increase cap of 1%, the Tories will now freeze most working age benefits preventing any rise from 2016 until 2020. This will result in a real terms cut as inflation increases.Read more
Annual Beveridge Lecture delivered by Claire Tyler at the Social Liberal Forum Conference - 4 July 2015
May I start by saying what a great honour it is to have been asked to deliver this year’s Beveridge Lecture. I’m conscious that I’m following in some rather illustrious footsteps – Nick, Steve and Tim have all stood here before me – Tim – you set the bar very high indeed in your excellent and wide ranging lecture last year.
I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it - we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.
Because, for me, one of the clear lessons from General Election is that, for the public to understand what we really stand for and what our purpose in politics is, we have to spell out much more clearly what being liberal means, both the sort of society we are seeking to create and the notion of individual empowerment – in short our values – and that’s where I am going to start today. We need to be braver in saying that a philosophical focus on the freedom of the individual isn’t the same as being pre-occupied with self or insularity. On the contrary it’s about enabling every single member of society to flourish and reach out to each other, strengthening social relationships and communities, demonstrating fairness and compassion towards others, rejoicing in difference and diversity and, at the same time, extending individual freedoms. In fact, I think we’ve already done a pretty good job of distilling our beliefs into three key words – liberty, equality and community – the very first line of the preamble to our constitution.Read more
By Lewis Baston and Seth Thévoz
The Local Election Dimension
As well as the general election, there were also local elections across much of England. While these were also a disaster for the Liberal Democrats, the contours of the disaster were somewhat different.
Local elections taking place on the same day as a general election allows a finer-grained analysis of the trends; the differences between local and parliamentary voting patterns throw up information about the strength of personal votes and incumbency and the number of voters who make different choices at each level. They also illuminate the distribution of votes for parties within parliamentary constituencies, although this paper concentrates on the overall differences between local and general voting in whole constituencies.
Of the 57 seats that elected Liberal Democrat MPs in 2010 and were being defended in 2015, there were comparable local elections in 29 of them (plus the target seat of Watford). The 11 Scottish seats, the seven in London, three in Wales and three in Cornwall are excluded because they had no local elections, and nor did Berwick-upon-Tweed, Cheltenham and Chippenham. Westmorland & Lonsdale did have partial local elections, but too much of the constituency (including the main town of Kendal) was not up for election this year, and it has therefore been excluded. Compiling local election results by constituency is a contentious exercise – the cautious reader is directed to the appendix to this section – and in making the comparison, it is also necessary to put figures in vote share terms, rather than in absolute number of votes.Read more
Following on from a previous look at Lib Dem runner-up places, we thought it might be revealing to look at what happened to votes cast in the 57 seats the Lib Dems were defending from the 2010 general election. Whilst it is widely recognised that the party lost 49 of those seats – a failure rate of 86% – there is still much denial and delusion as to what happened across those seats, or where those votes went, making such an analysis all the more overdue.Read more