Sussex Liberal Democrat Chris Bowers teamed up with Caroline Lucas of the Greens and Labour’s Lisa Nandy to write 'The Alternative', a book exploring cooperation among progressive parties. They then took it ‘on tour’ to fringe meetings at the Green, Lib Dem and Labour party conferences. Here Chris assesses what the meetings say about the appetite for a progressive alliance.
So what is the appetite for a Progressive Alliance?
It’s not nice when 50-70 people who want to attend your meeting have to be turned away, but hey what a compliment! The SLF had given over one of its three meetings at our Brighton conference to progressive cooperation, under the clever banner ‘Hanging together or hanging separately’, and the place was packed. The room held 200 people (officially), and the reason the 50-70 were turned away is that they quite simply couldn’t get through the door, such was the demand for the standing area.
So, a massive appetite for a progressive alliance, yes? There’s certainly a massive appetite for exploring it. Our equivalent meeting at the Green Party conference packed out the 400-seat Great Hall at the University of Birmingham, and other meetings have also been attended to capacity. Caroline and Lisa appeared with Vince Cable at a Guardian Live event in Islington the week before our conference and sold it out. Caroline and I spoke at a meeting in Crowborough, a sleepy East Sussex town, where there’s a burgeoning Wealden Progressives movement, and somehow 250 squeezed into a 170-seat hall. And other meetings on the subject have been full. That may speak for Caroline’s impressive pulling power, but it also speaks for a subject people want to explore.
The one exception was the meeting at the Labour conference. This wasn’t badly attended, but only 100 chairs were put out and they were only just filled. There were mitigating circumstances – there were about six fringe meetings on at the same time, many of them featuring some big names of the Labour movement, and the fringe venue was quite a way from the main conference. But it begs the question about whether the appetite is very much from the smaller progressive parties, with Labour still to be convinced that its days of winning an overall majority really are gone.Read more
The 2016 Conference Paper The Opportunity to succeed, the Power to Change is in my eyes a great starting point for the types of policies and issues that we will set out as a party for the 2020 (or earlier!) General Election. Allowing empowerment and choice for individuals whether in the form of giving cities and regions more autonomy, making education more bespoke or championing the sharing economy, will truly make us the party offering opportunity for all.
Low productivity levels are identified as a barrier that needs to be overcome within the paper. It’s true that many experts have been debating the ‘productivity puzzle’ for quite some time. Government figures earlier this year showed that the productivity gap was the widest between the UK and other western economies than since the early 90’s. Of course looking at options such as dedicated industrial strategies and tax breaks are important, but what about concerted support of employee ownership? It’s an idea that both Vince Cable and Nick Clegg have recently championed and indeed the 2013 Budget announced a £50 million annual spend to support employee ownership models. It's surely time to make a firmer commitment to this that sits at the heart of our 2020 vision.
With Theresa May proposing putting workers on Boards as a way to curb excessive pay, we need to show that far-reaching reform can be achieved through encouraging more collective forms economic ownership.
I have written here before about the opportunity that now exists for the SLF to be a force in UK politics for putting forward radical policies. A yawning gap now exists in UK politics that is ripe for liberal ideas to be incubated and become part of a new national discourse. These ideas and proposals can then act as a vital counterpoint to both the right wing policies of Theresa May and the socialist leanings of Jeremy Corbyn.Read more
The SLF had tabled an amendment to the welfare motion, “Mending the Safety Net”, relating to sanctions for benefit claimants that I am very pleased to say was passed with a significant majority of members during debate in the conference hall on Monday 19th September.
Our amendment called for scrapping the current system of sanctions completely and replacing it with an incentivised system instead. The motion had put forward the idea of retaining some elements of the sanctions system and introducing some incentivised elements as well. The reason given for this in the debate was evidence that had been received from some consultees of the policy working group that the sanctions system was not wholly bad.
It made me think about the role of evidence in policy formation. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in evidence-based policy. But if policy and party direction is governed solely by evidence then there is no need for liberalism as a philosophy and an underpinning of a political system, because you will always follow the balance of evidence.Read more
An article by Neil Hughes
If it were only Britain wanting to depart from Europe, or Scotland’s own discrete independence-seeking one could – as a faint consolation – look to an England which is at least notionally united.
However even this is no longer the case with the principal next-tier locus of disconnection lying between North and South. Here something that has always existed has opened up insidiously into a major rift, highlighted in the June Brexit referendum. Inevitably a major capital city like London, lying closer to the rest of Europe than other parts of the UK, will possess pre-empting advantages; should this automatically and necessarily infer, however, that half or more of the UK’s trade and wealth-accrual needs to be based in and around it?
In time, a formal ‘Brexit’ may of course set back SE England as much as its other regions, not a levelling-down of the kind Lib Dems (or anyone) would especially desire! Of as much concern is the billowing social separation which means that the majority of major conferences, nationally significant public meetings, business and charity AGMs, political executive committee meetings (all parties except self-evidently Celtic nationalist & Ulster-based ones) and most strategic thinking either happen or begin to happen in London. Despite (equivocal) city deals this leaves the north, west, east and Midlands of England – as well as the devolved nations – poorer not only financially but socially, academically and culturally too. For example, it has always been a ‘given’ that London’s West End gets the best shows – but should it automatically?Read more
The SLF came about largely in response to the Liberal Democrats going into coalition with the Conservatives and also to act as a counterweight to a section of the party, often termed the "Orange Bookers”, who many grass roots members regarded as taking the party down a more right-wing path.
That was why I stood as a council member back in 2012. I was keen to keep the party on track to deliver on the social aspect of liberalism, as well as on all the other facets that come from the philosophy and values behind liberalism, such as personal liberty, internationalism and the environment.
Much of the work that the SLF has done in the intervening years has been inward-facing - of a necessity - to hold our MPs to account for the work they were doing in Government and to ensure that these social aspects of liberalism were being considered as Lib Dem ministers were formulating new policy and MPs were deciding which way to vote on significant, new Bills in parliamentary debates.
So why do we need the SLF now?Read more
During the welcome debate on the Party’s principles and identity that followed May 2015, I’ve been surprised by one or two ideas people felt were essential to Liberalism or at least to Liberal Democrat identity.
I was ready for people stressing how the state disempowers people while ignoring how it empowers them. I was ready for people claiming that equality of opportunity was a Liberal concept but aiming at equality of outcomes was anathema. I’ve heard very little of either.
I was a bit taken by surprise by the claim that optimism and a positive view of human nature were essential to Liberalism. I could see that we believed in human potential, but wondered how the optimism about human nature could be squared with the holocaust, the slave trade or a human-induced mass extinction event. I might discuss that one soon.
What I want to discuss now is the idea that consensus is a key Liberal value. This too surprised me, but when I queried it, the hurt and shock on the fellow-Liberal’s face was obvious.Read more
UK Liberal Democrats have suffered a second devastating blow just over a year after the 2015 near-wipe-out. Early on Friday afternoon, I listened to Tim Farron giving his reaction and setting some of his thoughts about where our Party is and what we should do next. It was a good speech containing some analysis of underlying changes and some ideas about next steps for LibDems.
It wasn’t a thorough analysis and it didn’t amount to a strategy, but that wasn’t Friday’s job. The challenge now is to understand what happened and to set out a clear strategy for what we do next.
This short essay offers a starting point from a social liberal perspective.Read more
Britain is in the middle of the most important referendum campaign in decades and the outcome will have profound implications for the future of our country. Britain is a leading nation in Europe and it is essential that we do not walk away from the European Union. The viability of our economy, our society and our power in the world depends on us voting to Remain. But more than just the fate of this country, the outcome of the EU Referendum could have ramifications across our continent. There is so much at stake we cannot afford to gamble with the future of Britain or Europe.
In this campaign, two visions of Britain are being fought over. One is of a liberal progressive Britain, which embodies fairness, tolerance and internationalism. The other is a Britain of nostalgic nationalism built on fear, division and isolationism. A vote to Remain in the EU is a vote for hope over fear and for unity over division. A vote to Leave is a vote to reduce Britain's influence in the world and to turn our backs on our nearest friends and allies.Read more
by Energlyn Churchill
Who are the Liberal Democrats and what are they for? It's a question that the electorate has struggled with, not least because different party members are likely to give differing answers. If all political parties are broad churches, then ours is broader than most. Classic Liberalism, Social Liberalism, Economic Liberalism, Social Democracy; you name it and I've probably encountered it during my 22 year association with the Party. It goes some way towards explaining why we have often been accused of trying to be all things to all people.
The historic failure of Liberal leaders to nail any definitive colours to the mast has not helped the situation. Instead, we have relied on the 'cult' of well known local candidates who 'get things done'; on being the party of protest; on being the party that does a good job locally. Other than perhaps having the vague sense that we are a 'progressive' party, very few vote Liberal Democrat because they have a clue what Liberalism is. Frankly, we've never really told them.Read more