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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Immigration has been a blessing for our country".
"This country was built on the back of hard work by migrants".
I wish that during the course of this referendum campaign we would hear more statements like these from our leading politicians and thinkers - because it's the truth.
Like me, I'm sure many of you are thoroughly depressed by what at times seems like constant immigrant bashing on our televisions sets and in our newspapers. Those who want us to leave the EU on 23rd June, are resorting to the 'immigration' card because they have lost all credibility on the economics of Brexit, which would be disastrous. I'm sad to say that the Remain side have not pushed back hard enough on all the false claims that the 'leavers' are making. If they want to make immigration an issue in this debate, let them. It'll give our side the opportunity to present the facts about how good immigration has been for the UK.
As the grandson of refugees from Cyprus, I know how much migrants to the UK from all around the world have contributed to our society. I know because my family have given back to our economy and our local community. Because my neighbours’ families have, my friends’ families have. I come from one of the most diverse parts of the country, the London Borough of Brent. Here, people from all around the world live and work side by side. It works in Brent and in communities up and down the country because we view our diversity as our greatest strength.
by Andrew Toye
It has been the mantra of modern times: an unquestionable article of faith – “The customer is always right”. We are all supposed to be “on the side of the consumer”, against big and powerful vested interests that would rip us off given half a chance.
Given that the Customer is King, I wondered why, in His realm, that there is one huge gaping hole that the free market is failing to fill? By this I mean housing.
Despite all the rhetoric, the consumer of private rented accommodation is being ripped off mercilessly. Rents are going up well above inflation, but the quality of the product that they pay for stays the same (and in some cases deteriorates). Powerful vested interests (landlords) even have the law on their side. You want to double your money? No problem; as long as there are people who are rich enough (and stupid enough) to pay the rents, you can. Some local authorities have a landlords’ licensing scheme, and often serve correction notices on those whose property is sub-standard, but there is no consumer watchdog as in other markets - the customer is always wrong. It all goes back to Magna Carta: wealthy barons protecting their property interests from bad King John. (Democracy came later).