Saying that 2016 has been a bad year for liberalism is a huge understatement. From Britain voting to leave the European Union to the election of Donald Trump; illiberal forces are rising around the world. Across continental Europe the populist right continues to gain support from France to Austria, from the Netherlands to Hungary. All of these examples have at their heart a wish to undermine liberal freedoms and equal rights, as well as a determination to oppose internationalism and immigration.
In Britain, Brexit triumphed on the back of dog whistle politics, fear, mistrust of political elites and communities who felt left behind. Theresa May appears to be sliding towards a hard Brexit, while at the same time indulging in a touch of populism that is only surpassed by the incoming President of the United States. Trump’s campaign was blatantly misogynistic, xenophobic and even disablist. Despite this, he still triumphed, primarily due to the quirks of the Electoral College system. The result was met with members of the so-called ‘alt-right’ hailing Trump’s victory with Nazi salutes. But the worst may not yet be over, as the French Front National seems likely to make it to the second round of next year’s Presidential Election.Read more
Richmond Park was the Progressive Alliance's first real test – and it passed with flying colours.Read more
Lester Holloway submitted the following article and SLF Vice-Chair, Gordon Lishman, responds
The latest Social Liberal Forum newsletter encouraged members to vote for SLF candidates who are standing for federal party committees. Nothing wrong with that. Apart from the fact that all eleven candidates are white.
I raised concerns only to be informed that the previous SLF newsletter had included a call out for any SLF members who were standing to respond, and the promoted candidates list had not excluded any responder. That missed the point entirely.
Promoting an all-white slate for internal elections is a problem. Not noticing it is a bigger problem. Having the problem pointed out and still not seeing the problem… an even bigger problem still.
Which begs the question: on the issue of lack of racial diversity in the party, is the Social Liberal Forum part of the problem?Read more
While some of the announcements in yesterday’s Autumn Statement were welcome, it also included much to be concerned about.
Extra money to encourage private house-building and the abolition of letting agent fees are welcome, but expecting the private sector alone to make up the shortfall in housing is completely unrealistic. With interest rates and gilt yields at historically low levels, the Government could, and should, borrow significantly more to invest in the social homes our country desperately needs.Read more
The few days since the election of Trump to the US Presidency have already produced a deluge of comment. In truth we are no nearer to understanding whether Trump is a cynical populist who will try to distance himself in office from the commitments he made to get there or someone who wants to use the Presidency to pursue the ugly prejudices which he articulated; whether he will listen to necessary but unwelcome advice or simply indulge his massive ego; whether he is primarily interested in making deals with potential adversaries or picking fights with overseas governments which cross him.Read more
Gary Lineker has been coming out with some pithy, relevant comments recently on Twitter, and much like an essential feature of the game he professionally played, the result of the US election reveals a country of two halves.
Much like Brexit, this result and the corresponding lurch to the right, stem from inequality. Unfortunately, and quite to the contrary of what these dispossessed people have voted for, the resulting administration now has the propensity to make their situation far worse.Read more
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