Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”. He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:
Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.
It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference. In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”. This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.
At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010. We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been.
I have been known by my colleagues to have said on various occasions, since I became Chair of the SLF in 2016, that “there has never been a more important time for Liberalism than now”. I passionately believe this, so as my time as Chair draws to a close, and as nominations to the new SLF council are underway, I am re-affirming the vital importance of new, bold, radical ideas that will keep Liberalism as the relevant and necessary force in British politics that it needs to be.
The book that the SLF published earlier this year, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, was significant for several reasons: it showed that there are many progressive, liberal people out there thinking radically, coherently and sensibly about what we need to do next as a society; that we do not need to be tribal, but can work with others to generate progressive ideas; and that liberal and progressive thinkers are and always have been the people to move politics forward in this country.
Our conference next weekend will be bold and radical and will be about new Liberal, progressive ideas, and will be a fitting end, I hope, to my time as Chair. Layla Moran will deliver the Beveridge Memorial Lecture, and she has given us the marvellous title “A new Liberal approach to education- challenging the broken status quo”. Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level), will deliver a lecture, putting forward new, radical thinking on inequality, and will spend some of her time discussing regional inequality in the UK.
There is still time to book, and I hope to see as many radical, progressive thinkers there as possible, and also hope that some of you will consider standing for the SLF council. No political party should be an island, especially a party carrying the torch of Liberalism. The diversity of thought and different ways of reaching common, Liberal goals that the SLF represents is just as vital to the Lib Dems now as it was during the coalition.
My sincere hope is that the next SLF Chair will be radical, progressive and ensure that the strong tradition of social liberalism prospers and is heard–everywhere.
Helen Flynn is chair of the Social Liberal Forum and a member of the Federal Board of the Liberal Democrats.