Ian Kearns is the former Deputy Director of the IPPR thinktank and an author. He made a speech at this year's Lib Dem autumn conference which is well worth reading in which he talked about why he had left Labour for the Liberal Democrats.

He has also written in the Independent on the same topic and about how it was the importance of the social liberal tradition that drew him to the Liberal Democrats. We reproduce the article below with his kind permission:

There is nothing that this country needs today that cannot be drawn from a social liberal rather than a socialist tradition.

After many years in the Labour Party, and after many months of agonising, I left the party in June of this year to join the Liberal Democrats. This is why.

At home, the idea that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is radical is a myth. Its 2017 manifesto was a travesty of a document for a party that claims to believe in a more equal society.

The biggest single spending commitment in it was the £11.2bn set aside to abolish university tuition fees and reintroduce student grants. The majority of those who would benefit are from the wealthier end of the income distribution. They need help, for sure, and this could be achieved by switching to a graduate tax and some additional support from general taxation but, in the same manifesto, Labour failed to commit to reverse the closures of Sure Start centres and refused to reverse all the Tory government’s welfare cuts. They refused to do this, even though we know life chances are largely locked in by age three or four, the problem Sure Start was designed to address, and even though those on welfare are some of the most vulnerable in our society. 

Corbyn’s manifesto demonstrated that he is prepared to pour money into the middle class while screwing the poor, including the youngest of the poor, if that’s what it takes to get elected. And on top of that, his catastrophic position on Brexit would reduce tax receipts and lead to further cuts in the public services relied on most by the least well off. Labour can’t defend the poor while being complicit in making them poorer.

The Corbyn project is also a total vacuum on the big strategic challenges facing the country. Did the manifesto offer a solution to the social care crisis? It did not. Only some stop-gap money and a promise to consult. Did it promise a radical green transformation? No. Did it offer a strategy not to fear robots, but to turn the UK into a global centre for building and programming them? No. 

Neither was there an utterance in the last manifesto about using new technology to gain new efficiencies and to deliver better outcomes for people via reformed public services. The use of artificial intelligence to personalise services? Never heard of it. An answer to cyber-crime? An extra police officer to walk the streets in every neighbourhood. The answer to the skills and education revolution that we need? A National Education Service, but no idea what it should do or how it should do it. Radical devolution to the regions to bring power closer to people? Beyond transferring responsibility for skills, Labour was having none of it. Just a commitment to add new ministries to Whitehall amid the clapped-out notion that our problems can be addressed from the centre, using the same old methods, if only we would spend more money on them.

Elsewhere, it has become increasingly hard to tolerate the sight of a leader of the opposition portraying himself as a great peacemaker while failing to deal with a crisis of antisemitism in his own party, doubting the word of his own country’s intelligence services and touring meetings of the socialist fringe to declare NATO responsible for all evil. The real peacemakers of our history are the men and women who buried fascism on the battlefields of Europe, who came home to build a better Britain on the back of ideas from liberals like William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes, and who built Nato to ensure that they, and we, would never have to go through the same catastrophic experience of total war again. 

The truth is that the Corbyn project is backward-looking and timid at home and dangerous abroad. Labour is also so divided and preoccupied with itself that it is incapable of providing the answers to the challenges we face. It will be this way for the next decade at least while the country faces huge technological, demographic and fiscal challenges. Labour can no longer be the answer.

There is nothing that this country needs today that cannot be drawn from a social liberal rather than a socialist tradition. The chronic failure to deliver anything like equality of opportunity to the people, and the capacity to address both that and the growing levels of inequality in our society is as much within reach of the Liberal Party of Lloyd George, Beveridge and Keynes, as it is the party of Clement Attlee. 

The Liberal Democrats are the only ones committed to modernisation of the public services, the radical devolution of power across the country and the need for a People’s Vote on Brexit. 

The political extremes of both left and right are unified by intolerant attempts to bury liberal values and the Liberal Democrats offer the best platform from which to defend them. 

And liberals are also best positioned to replace the crony capitalism we have with the civic capitalism we need, by having the public and private sector work together in pursuit of ambitious public goals, unencumbered by far-left ideological hostility to anything to do with the private sector. 

There is a progressive alternative to the Tory far-right and to the Labour left. It isn’t moderate but radical in its own right. That alternative is the Liberal Democrats.  

Ian Kearns is former Deputy Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, and a member of the Liberal Democrats.


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