It is often observed in British politics that to succeed electorally, political parties should stick to the centre ground. Under Nick Clegg’s leadership, centrism was placed at the forefront of how the Liberal Democrat Party positioned itself to the public. While he was correct to recognise that the main dynamic in British politics is currently not illiberal/ authoritarian versus liberal, but right versus left, he was wrong to conclude that the Party’s response should be centrism. The 2015 General Election showed us that pursuing a centrist strategy was a catastrophic error. As Cambridge’s former MP and City Council Leader Professor David Howarth told us immediately after the General Election last year, it is something ‘we must never do again’.
Liberal Democrats who still think centrism can take the Party to success hold a paradoxical stance where their preference over the Party's positioning is incompatible with it achieving a General Election breakthrough. More generally, many do not fully understand why centrism will not work, failing to realise its impact upon wider strategy and thinking. The electoral reality for most minor parties means that they need to pick a left/ right side and work within it - especially one whose support is geographically dissipated and which operates under a First-Past-The-Post system. This pamphlet will argue that for simple, compelling and strategic reasons, the Party should not pick the Right, but the Left. This will be an unpalatable proposition for some, but it is vital that this dilemma be addressed so that any Liberal Democrat fight back is based on solid foundations.Read more
David Cameron has finally announced the long-awaited European Union Referendum for Thursday 23rd June. Much of the media coverage has focused on the divisions within the Conservative Party, especially between Cameron and Boris Johnson. This is an argument about the future of our country. The pro-European case must not be restricted to moderate Tories; there is a centre-left progressive case for Britain’s EU membership that needs hearing.
The arguments so far have focussed on the economic case for Britain’s membership of the EU. Britain does much of its trade with the EU. This is the economic life blood of our small and medium-sized businesses, and with it the thousands of jobs that depend on them. A threat to our free trade with Europe would increase the price of everyday goods, what the Liberals a century ago dubbed “stomach taxes”. However, there’s much more to our membership of the EU than just economics.Read more
This post details the criteria, judging panel and timeline for the inaugural Charles Kennedy Award for Social Justice.
The Social Liberal Forum launched the Charles Kennedy award for Social Justice at the SLF Conference held a few weeks after his untimely death in 2015. Nominations were officially opened at the subsequent Liberal Democrat Federal conference in Bournemouth in September 2015.
Nominations will remain open until Sunday 13th March 2016 - please contact us for a nomination form.
The award will go to an individual or group which has:
campaigned tirelessly to deliver social justice or to raise awareness of particular groups affected by it
devised innovative and creative approaches to tackle particular issues, overcoming barriers to support
built cross party or cross sector relationships in order to further social justice
challenged or investigated social injustices in a way that has made a difference
engaged in policy advocacy to protect and promote social justice for the most vulnerable
Naomi Smith steps down from Social Liberal Forum - New Interim Chair appointed
Naomi Smith is stepping down as Chair of the Social Liberal Forum as she is starting a new role that requires political neutrality.
At its Council Meeting on Saturday 9th January 2016, the SLF Council decided unanimously to appoint current Director, Gordon Lishman, as interim Chair, effective immediately, until the next set of SLF council elections take place in the Summer.Read more
SLF Executive Director, Gordon Lishman, writes about a new Economics motion the Social Liberal Forum will be submitting for Conference to debate.
For the past few weeks I have been working closely with colleagues - including Vince Cable - on an Economics motion to be submitted to Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in York.
Throughout the coalition years and despite efforts by some of our Ministers and spokespeople, Liberal Democrat economic policy was defined in the eyes of the electorate by George Osborne. This is our first opportunity to agree a new, distinctive policy on broad economic issues for an independent Party.
The motion re-states existing policy in important areas and puts it in the context of a new overall economic policy for the Liberal Democrats. It also puts the Party firmly in its traditional, social liberal approach to the economy as set out in the Preamble to our Constitution. That includes our commitment to social justice, the enabling State and to tackling growing inequalities.Read more
Dear fellow Social Liberal,
Instead of talking about securing Liberal Democrat electoral successes, I wanted to use this New Year’s message to talk about the importance of the task we face in securing the UK’s place in the European Union.
2016 could bring us an in-out referendum. The leave campaign is storming ahead. They are well funded, focused and are feeding the tabloids, The Telegraph and The Times, with daily EU scare stories.Read more
Last week I tried to focus three months' growing frustration at the lack of focus (or focus) from a Liberal Democrat party still shell-shocked from its May cataclysm. It ended up, half-jokingly, being a parody of a tired party campaign-by-numbers format: the 'Six to Fix'. As so often with such a device, I quickly realised, it missed the point. It doesn't matter if you fix the internals of the engine if the thing doesn't move.
The three months have coincided with a bigger challenge I had set myself. While I had just about held onto my party membership under Clegg, unlike many other social liberals, I had cancelled my direct debit. So any actual renewal involved positive physical effort. My membership was due in September. Three months on, and such is the chaos in the party HQ operation (one of the six) that it hasn't even emailed out a reminder. After Syria, I am a lot less likely to renew, although the Federal Policy Committee's deliberations and adoption of a motion I authored has tempered the position somewhat.
It is as much about the political as the moral judgment. The Syria vote was for Parliamentarians an exercise in voting for people to be killed - whichever way you voted. The most difficult choice of all. However, it is one of a set of recent decisions (I will not repeat what I've previously written) in which positioning appears to have triumphed over a Liberal analysis of the issues at hand. And in the politics of 2015, when trying not to upset anyone is neither realistic nor attainable as a political strategy, second-guessing your opponents is a strange response to an existential threat to your party caused by a failure to connect with the electorate.Read more
Parliament is set to debate and vote on whether to support airstrikes on Syria. On the 24th November, Tim Farron outlined the 5 tests that would need to be met before Liberal Democrat MP's would consider supporting airstrikes on Syria. Indeed, the media report that the Liberal Democrat MP's have yet to come to a position.
The central claim of the Chancellor’s much-anticipated spending review was that it would deliver economic security. Much of the debate since those opening remarks has focussed on his u-turn over tax credit changes, and on the dire response by John McDonnell that saw Mao's Little Red Book racing towards an increasingly amused George Osborne.
It is that central claim, though, which is of the greatest interest to liberals - that in Osborne's view, the key to achieving economic security for a country lies in having not even a balanced budget, but in fact a surplus; a rare event for the UK economy since the 1980s. That surplus, he argues, provides for a buffer against the inevitable day on which the UK economy enters recession once more. The problem with this argument is that there's increasing evidence that the resilience of an economy owes less to public debt than it does to private debt.
After George Osborne’s Autumn statement, Prateek Buch gives the Social Liberal Forum’s response.
The Chancellor’s Autumn statement made this Tory government’s priorities clear: achieving a budget surplus matters far more than avoiding a crisis in social care and further education. Osborne's obsession with rolling back the state is weakening the very foundations of the economy he is claiming he wants to fix.
The Social Liberal Forum welcomes the belated U-turn on tax credits, which Tim Farron and Liberal Democrats peers were right to call for. But, as is nearly always the case with this Chancellor, the devil is in the detail. Despite Osborne’s claim to have ‘listened', families on universal credit will still lose out. As such, millions more will lose out once Universal Credit is rolled out nationwide. This will cause unacceptable damage to the living standards of some of the most vulnerable people in our country.Read more