As we draw closer to the general election it is important to remember the big ideas of social liberalism. Here are five big social liberal ideas to inspire Liberal Democrats and social liberals over the next few months.
1. Land Value Taxation
Social liberals have long championed the taxation of accumulated assets. We often talk about the mansion tax but it is important to remember that for 100 years British Liberals have advocated land value taxation (LVT). At the heart of LVT is the transition of taxation from income to land.
David Lloyd George originally proposed land taxation in his famous People’s Budget of 1909. Liberal Democrats recall the great campaign for land taxation by singing the party anthem "The Land" at Glee Club.
In an age of vast economic inequalities, land value taxation will ensure that wealthy landowners are properly taxed and that the great wealth accumulated in land is redistributed and used to fund welfare provision and public services.
2. Community Politics
Community politics is a year round model of campaigning that has been a feature of British liberalism since the 1970s. This helped the Liberal Party to win many seats in Parliament and local government. Community politics is about engaging with the electorate at the local community level and helping it to affect positive progressive change.
However, community politics is much more than just the humble Focus leaflet. It is about utilising democracy and empowering people to participate in the decisions that affect their communities. Liberal Democrats have always championed devolving power as much as possible and through community politics this happens through active participation. Far more than just winning elections; community politics should be seen as the building blocks for a nationwide Liberal Democrat movement from the grassroots up.
3. Full Employment
Full employment is the idea that government economic policy should be used to keep unemployment as low as possible. This is usually achieved by stimulating economic growth, redistributing wealth and having strong public services. It is a cornerstone of Keynesian economics.
William Beveridge defined full employment as the point when unemployment is no higher than 3% and the number of vacancies equals the number of people out of work. Liberals have supported moves towards full employment ever since the Yellow Book of 1928 and David Lloyd George's radical platform "We Can Conquer Unemployment" in 1929.
At a time when a large number of people are still out of work, especially young people, it is important to remember the radical idea of full employment.
4. Worker Co-operatives
Workplace participation has been a radical liberal idea for almost a century and a half. John Stuart Mill and Jo Grimond were strong advocates for worker co-operatives and economic democracy. The Conservatives have often been characterised as the party of management and Labour as the party of workers. Liberals have historically tried to bridge this divide by supporting co-operatives which are businesses owned and managed by their workers.
Co-operatives give their employees company voting rights, representation on company governing bodies and allow them to become stakeholders in their workplaces. Another feature of co-operatives is profit-sharing. The profits of co-operatives tend to be shared more equally with their workforce. This limits the vast economic inequalities seen within some private companies.
Unaccountable power has always been opposed by Liberals in politics and society, so why not extend that critique of unaccountable power to our economy?
5. Social Reform
Liberals of all kinds have always supported the reform of the political system, in order to make politics fairer. Social reform is the idea that we should make society fairer for the most disadvantaged people.
Social reform was the rallying cry behind the welfare reforms of Asquith and Lloyd George and it later formed the heart of Beveridge’s welfare state. Social reform emphasises the provision of welfare for unemployment, old age, homelessness, disability, and ill-health (to name just a few).
There are a million people using food banks, millions unemployed and thousands of people finding it difficult to pay the rent or to pay for their daily commute on the trains. Added to this: welfare benefits are being reduced. Social liberals in 2015 should remember the radical heritage of social reform and reject the social regression of welfare cuts, food poverty, unemployment, high rents, and high train fares.