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
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.Read more
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
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.
Nationally, the Lib Dem vote crumbled, with 4.4 million fewer votes in 2015 than 2010 – a loss of 64.7% of the party’s previous vote. In 626 out of 631 constituencies contested, the Lib Dem vote fell. This effect was replicated in most of the held seats –particularly Conservative-facing ones, which were supposed to be the ones where the Lib Dem vote was expected to hold, as per Ryan Coetzee’s strategy.
However, the underlying trends can be broken down into four broad groups: seats gained by the Conservatives, seats gained by Labour, seats gained by the SNP, and seats held by Liberal Democrats. Furthermore, such general election results should also be seen in the context of results from the local elections held on the same day.
Elsewhere, attention has focussed on changes in the Lib Dem vote share. We would like to do something slightly different, and to focus on the actual number of votes cast, to identify how the votes changed in the 57 seats previously held by the Lib Dems.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more