Guest article by Geoffrey G J Payne Soon after I joined the Liberal party in 1983 I discovered something that surprised me. Many of the best Liberals were not members of the party, and some were even members of other parties. This presented both a challenge and an opportunity. It was frustrating that these people were not in the party helping develop it's political position. Yet clearly the potential was there; a Liberal party that could reach out to people beyond it's current core supporters. And that is how it has remained ever since. Today when you go to Lib Dem conference, the event is dominated by "Think Tanks". The one that dominates is Centre Forum, of which I am a member. We should be grateful for the work Centre Forum does of course, and personally I would commend them for the work they did on the pupil premium (albeit I think they have more thinking to do on this policy, but that is another story). Generally however their pamphlets are either dull or on the odd occasion somewhat objectionable, at least from a Social Liberal perspective. On the other hand, Centre Forum are at their best at conference where they dominate the fringe meeting circuit. So is there a better alternative for Social Liberals? Already links are being made with Compass, and another Think Tank I would recommend we take notice of is the New Economics Foundation (NEF). Take a look at their website and ask why are Centre Forum not saying this? The difference of course is that Centre Forum are preoccupied with "free markets", whilst NEF is about (to quote Fritz Schumacher) "economics as if people matter". I would prefer to define "economic liberalism" more by the latter than the former. Schumacher himself inspired the Schumacher Society, which has close links with NEF. They are having their annual conference on the 17th October in Bristol, see http://www.schumacher.org.uk/. Then on the following Saturday in London NEF have organised this following conference: The Bigger Picture. If Social Liberal need more ideas to advance their cause, then this is the place to be this October.
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