Author: Dr Julian Huppert
Liberalism is a powerful political philosophy. Liberals have been responsible for transforming society in the UK and around the world. However, liberal governments are few and far between, and there is no one alive in the UK who remembers a Liberal Government.
As a result, Liberals have often become tactical, rather than strategic. We still hold strongly liberal opinions, and will articulate them more or less boldly, but far too commonly they are expressed in opposition to illiberal ideas, or as small but important changes. Our manifestos are full of such sensible, liberal ideas, but how many people think they really set out to provide a powerful vision for what society would be if we really got to do everything we wanted?
The closest we have in many ways is the preamble to the Constitution, and it’s something we are right to be proud of:
‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.’
It’s a beautiful sentiment, and I can certainly wax lyrical about the difference between opposing poverty, and opposing enslavement due to poverty – the ingrained social and educational and housing and health inequalities that continue even if you fix the purely financial element of poverty. But is our preamble enough?
And of course, there are liberals across the parties – the Liberal Democrats certainly do not have a monopoly on people with liberal ideas, and frankly, given our current poll rating, that is a relief. What is the vision we can give them for a liberal society for which we could all strive?
During the first lockdown, a few of us decided that there was a need for something visionary. This would have to be produced outside of the normal Party processes, and would hope to get attention through force of words and quality, rather than through a majority of votes on FPC.
We took inspiration from many previous documents, that developed thinking and had a long-term influence. These include the Ventotene Manifesto of 1941, ‘For a Free and United Europe. A Draft Manifesto’, that did a huge amount to drive the formation of the EU. We also looked at ‘The unservile state’ (1957) by George Watson, Jo Grimond and others, which set a vision for Liberalism in a welfare state, and sustained and reinvigorated the party from the depths of the 50s. Looking elsewhere, our Danish sister party Radikale Venstre (the Danish Social Liberal Party) produced ‘Det Kreative Danmark’ (The Creative Denmark) setting out an exciting and transformational view of what Denmark could become.
We call our booklet ‘the Generous Society’. We set out how a free, liberal, and liberated Britain would enable people to be generous with themselves and with each other, with society transformed from one where for many much time has to be spent in the basics of survival to one where people are free to aspire and to develop as themselves. Society should be strong, with powerful support and community – but should also leave people free to be themselves.
We hope this booklet will be read by those who are liberals or even just are curious about liberalism, whatever party affiliation they have. We hope it will inspire their thinking, and embolden them to push liberal ideas with their friends and family as well as their political party, if any. There is no doubt that there is space for more liberalism in the Lib Dems as well as other parties!
Beautifully written by Tom King, and with wonderful images, the Generous Society considers what is most needed in four realms. In the personal realm, it calls for a society where no one needs to fight for extra support or protection just to be themselves. In the political realm, it argues for a society where everyone has a voice and a stake, with power flowing upwards only where this leads to more efficient and fairer outcomes.
In the social realm it demands the freedom for people to develop themselves in the manner they choose. We believe in a more equal society – both in terms of opportunity and outcome – but we also believe in the ingenuity of humans to define their own happiness and seek it, regardless of what that may look like to others. Lastly in the global realm, it makes the case that liberals are committed internationalists; believers in free movement of goods, services, and people.
Fundamental Freedoms to Liberate Britain
Liberated from... poverty
Freedom to create and earn
Freedom to shape your surroundings
Freedom to move, live and love
Freedom to be generous
Liberated from... ignorance
Freedom to learn and grow
Freedom to specialise and adapt
Freedom to access good information
Liberated from... conformity
Freedom from economic demands and anxiety
Freedom from state and private intrusion
Freedom to express yourself fully
The Generous Society is structured around ten fundamental freedoms, setting out for each of them what they would offer for individuals and society.
It is not a manifesto. It does not contain specific policy proposals, and there’s no complex and more or less believable costing. That’s not our purpose – and is not what’s missing.
Our aim is to excite and inspire liberals from all parties and none. We want to enthuse people to campaign, not just to stop society getting worse, or for incremental gains, but for something bigger and bolder.
As the great Liberal Beveridge noted as his first guiding principle behind the Beveridge Report ‘A revolutionary moment in the World’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching’.
Our vision is to see individual freedom, human diversity and ingenuity, and natural beauty ﬂourish and advance within a generous and free society.
The Generous Society is available for free at https://generoussociety.com.
Dr Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010 to 2015 and is currently the director of the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge.