The future of the Liberal Democrats

Monday, 29 June 2015

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.

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Equality - of Opportunity or of Outcome?

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The website of the centre-right-leaning Liberal think tank Liberal Reform used to say prominently, as though it was generally agreed, that Liberals believe in equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome. It’s still not unusual to meet people who suppose this is accepted Liberal Democrat doctrine. There is no such agreement – but first let’s try to unpick what these terms mean.

“Equality of opportunity” is a concept which is usefully applied in strictly defined situations. Take an example of alleged racial discrimination. Ms Shah and Mr Smith applied for the same job and both were shortlisted. Mr Smith got it. Ms Shah alleges illegal discrimination. Her advisors and the tribunal will look at the person specification and the job description, or if these do not exist, at whatever indications of the nature of the job and the requirements expected for it that they can find. They will look at the application forms (assuming there was a written application process) submitted by both applicants. They will look at all written records of the interviews and any other selection processes used such as tests and psychological profiling. They will then decide on the basis of the information before the appointment panel whether Mr Smith demonstrated he was the best candidate (irrespective of weaknesses he may not have shown or strengths Ms Shah may have had but failed to demonstrate) or whether, on the basis of the information available, Ms Shah was a stronger candidate than Mr Smith. If the latter is the case, they will make a presumption of discrimination.

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Liberal reform of capitalism

Monday, 22 June 2015

What is to be done about the corrosively increasing and much talked about inequality of wealth in our country?   Conservatives will and UKIP would make it even worse by increasing the exemptions from Inheritance Tax or by abolishing the tax altogether, while other parties, given half a chance, switch the conversation from inequality of capital ownership to inequality of income or otherwise call for the abolition of capitalism altogether.  

Capitalism needs reform, not abolition.  The far sighted traditional constitution of the Liberal Party, unlike the cobbled together Liberal Democratic Party, calls for ‘Liberty, property and security’ for all.  It is the only UK political party to adopt a proposal for the reform of capitalism to bring about genuinely greater equality of capital ownership and opportunity for all in each new generation in the UK. 

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The Liberal Case for Affirmative Action

Monday, 15 June 2015

I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2008 after being inspired by a Barack Obama speech on democratic engagement during his first campaign. At the time I was Editor of an African and Caribbean newspaper reporting on UK politics every day. The Lib Dems were not the obvious party to join for many reasons.
 
The party’s interaction with the black media was woeful. My black and Asian Lib Dem contacts were privately not wholly enthusiastic about progress on race equality in policy and representation. Many of my friends were in the Labour Party, which had a more impressive track record on both. ‘Have you gone completely mad?’ was not an uncommon reaction after I joined the Lib Dems.
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Hope begins with our 108

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The disappointment of the election of 2015 will fade in time and the reality of a lone Conservative leadership will reveal its true blue. The previous benefits of mixing yellow with blue allowed great green achievements, like raising environmental concerns up the political agenda - where policies about sustainable living became part of ‘everyday conversations’. In contrast, without ever knowing the Conservative’s policies in detail, they have received the majority of seats to fill the House of Commons. Thus, they form our government for the next five years. On top of our very personal defeats, this political landscape presents us with an enormous challenge.

As a first time PPC, engaged in intense Hustings in Bethnal Green and Bow, against the incredible backdrop of an accounting firm running the local council, residents where unashamed in their criticism of democracy. Furthermore, the national ‘ConLibDems’ relationship damaged the party’s values and over time many LibDem supporters in London headed over to the Green party - chasing‘hope’. At a time of political anger and hopelessness, with extreme gentrification pushing local people out of the London, hope is a safe place to run to.

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Tributes to Charles Kennedy

Sunday, 07 June 2015

Members of the SLF Council share their tributes to Charles Kennedy

Charles Kennedy was leader when I joined the Party as a student at Leeds University. David Hall-Matthews, a former Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, was the Leeds North West candidate in the 2001 General Election, and so I was fortunate to meet Charles when he came to a dinner in the constituency. He was very late - something about a delayed train - but all I really remember was his warmth and the ease with which he connected with everyone, from the new student members, to those who had been involved for decades. He made me want to campaign. 

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Charles Kennedy - thank you and may you rest in peace

Tuesday, 02 June 2015

It is with immense sadness that we awake today to the news that former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy has died. Tributes will follow, but for now, he will for many be best remembered for his work in trying to prevent the war in Iraq. We have reproduced below, his speech to the Anti-War Rally in Hyde Park in February 2003. He was a unity figure for those who opposed the war. He remained a fierce critic, and until very recently was still using his position to call for the immediate publication of the Chilcot Report. This must now happen. Our thoughts are with Charles and his family. May he rest in peace. 

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Lib Dem Runners-Up: Just How Bad Things Are

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Since the general election, I’ve been awaiting the inevitable analysis of Lib Dem second and third places. But as I haven’t seen one forthcoming, I thought I would compile my own. Liberal Democrats stood in 631 constituencies – every one of the UK’s 650 constituencies, except the 18 Northern Ireland seats, and the Speaker’s seat. The one figure I have seen bandied about was that there were 335 Lib Dem lost deposits; or 53.1% of candidates put up by the party.

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We must never spend another election campaign not talking about ourselves

Monday, 25 May 2015

In his latest article, Ryan Coetzee has said that, despite our humiliating losses, we made a coherent liberal case to voters - offering them a stronger economy and a fairer society. Did we? I missed it. What we did talk about, however, was the records and offers of the other main parties, rather than discussing our own. "The Tories will cut far too much" and "Labour will spend far too much". All true, yes - but where are we in that? I fear, when you look at the results of areas where our data was horribly wrong, our campaigning did something awful. We activated the other parties' voters.

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Thoughts about liberalism and elections

Friday, 22 May 2015

I have been trying to make my thoughts coherent, and they refuse to budge beyond a certain stage, so perhaps my readers can help me out.

For a long time I have been uncomfortable about the divide, constructed by people on both sides, between social and economic liberals. Two camps have emerged, not through the deliberate doing of any one person or group but through the manifold actions of many different people constructing barriers out of debating points. In my view there should be very little difference between social liberals and economic liberals. Both seek to maximise the good of ordinary people and to limit the power of the elite. Of all the simple statements about liberalism I have read in the last few days, and there have been many, I still find Conrad Russell's the most persuasive: standing up to bullies, of all kinds and everywhere.

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