On Wednesday, George Osborne delivered the first Conservative only budget for almost two decades. The budget had many true blue Conservative policies in it on welfare and taxation; as well as a so-called "national living wage". Above all else this budget represented an attack on some of the most vulnerable in society. This budget will do much to undermine the welfare state of William Beveridge.
The £12 billion welfare cuts that Osborne is imposing will undermine social justice. They represent an ideological attack which will further divide the country between rich and poor. Two years ago, I wrote a blog for the SLF criticising the benefits increase cap of 1%, the Tories will now freeze most working age benefits preventing any rise from 2016 until 2020. This will result in a real terms cut as inflation increases.
Annual Beveridge Lecture delivered by Claire Tyler at the Social Liberal Forum Conference - 4 July 2015
May I start by saying what a great honour it is to have been asked to deliver this year’s Beveridge Lecture. I’m conscious that I’m following in some rather illustrious footsteps – Nick, Steve and Tim have all stood here before me – Tim – you set the bar very high indeed in your excellent and wide ranging lecture last year.
I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it - we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.
Because, for me, one of the clear lessons from General Election is that, for the public to understand what we really stand for and what our purpose in politics is, we have to spell out much more clearly what being liberal means, both the sort of society we are seeking to create and the notion of individual empowerment – in short our values – and that’s where I am going to start today. We need to be braver in saying that a philosophical focus on the freedom of the individual isn’t the same as being pre-occupied with self or insularity. On the contrary it’s about enabling every single member of society to flourish and reach out to each other, strengthening social relationships and communities, demonstrating fairness and compassion towards others, rejoicing in difference and diversity and, at the same time, extending individual freedoms. In fact, I think we’ve already done a pretty good job of distilling our beliefs into three key words – liberty, equality and community – the very first line of the preamble to our constitution.
If you are attending the SLF conference you may have read an e-mail discussion about re-booting Liberalism and seen a lot of interesting ideas put into the ring. I am a member of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists (ALDES) and a week or so earlier we had a similar discussion, so I am in a position to compare and contrast the two.
From SLF we had contributions that I have roughly put into four categories: 1) Ideas about party strategy and positioning 2) Ideas about the party's philosophy 3) Constitutional 4) Specifics.
The website of the centre-right-leaning Liberal think tank Liberal Reform used to say prominently, as though it was generally agreed, that Liberals believe in equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome. It’s still not unusual to meet people who suppose this is accepted Liberal Democrat doctrine. There is no such agreement – but first let’s try to unpick what these terms mean.
“Equality of opportunity” is a concept which is usefully applied in strictly defined situations. Take an example of alleged racial discrimination. Ms Shah and Mr Smith applied for the same job and both were shortlisted. Mr Smith got it. Ms Shah alleges illegal discrimination. Her advisors and the tribunal will look at the person specification and the job description, or if these do not exist, at whatever indications of the nature of the job and the requirements expected for it that they can find. They will look at the application forms (assuming there was a written application process) submitted by both applicants. They will look at all written records of the interviews and any other selection processes used such as tests and psychological profiling. They will then decide on the basis of the information before the appointment panel whether Mr Smith demonstrated he was the best candidate (irrespective of weaknesses he may not have shown or strengths Ms Shah may have had but failed to demonstrate) or whether, on the basis of the information available, Ms Shah was a stronger candidate than Mr Smith. If the latter is the case, they will make a presumption of discrimination.
What is to be done about the corrosively increasing and much talked about inequality of wealth in our country? Conservatives will and UKIP would make it even worse by increasing the exemptions from Inheritance Tax or by abolishing the tax altogether, while other parties, given half a chance, switch the conversation from inequality of capital ownership to inequality of income or otherwise call for the abolition of capitalism altogether.
Capitalism needs reform, not abolition. The far sighted traditional constitution of the Liberal Party, unlike the cobbled together Liberal Democratic Party, calls for ‘Liberty, property and security’ for all. It is the only UK political party to adopt a proposal for the reform of capitalism to bring about genuinely greater equality of capital ownership and opportunity for all in each new generation in the UK.
I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2008 after being inspired by a Barack Obama speech on democratic engagement during his first campaign. At the time I was Editor of an African and Caribbean newspaper reporting on UK politics every day. The Lib Dems were not the obvious party to join for many reasons.
The party’s interaction with the black media was woeful. My black and Asian Lib Dem contacts were privately not wholly enthusiastic about progress on race equality in policy and representation. Many of my friends were in the Labour Party, which had a more impressive track record on both. ‘Have you gone completely mad?’ was not an uncommon reaction after I joined the Lib Dems.
The disappointment of the election of 2015 will fade in time and the reality of a lone Conservative leadership will reveal its true blue. The previous benefits of mixing yellow with blue allowed great green achievements, like raising environmental concerns up the political agenda - where policies about sustainable living became part of ‘everyday conversations’. In contrast, without ever knowing the Conservative’s policies in detail, they have received the majority of seats to fill the House of Commons. Thus, they form our government for the next five years. On top of our very personal defeats, this political landscape presents us with an enormous challenge.
As a first time PPC, engaged in intense Hustings in Bethnal Green and Bow, against the incredible backdrop of an accounting firm running the local council, residents where unashamed in their criticism of democracy. Furthermore, the national ‘ConLibDems’ relationship damaged the party’s values and over time many LibDem supporters in London headed over to the Green party - chasing‘hope’. At a time of political anger and hopelessness, with extreme gentrification pushing local people out of the London, hope is a safe place to run to.
Members of the SLF Council share their tributes to Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy was leader when I joined the Party as a student at Leeds University. David Hall-Matthews, a former Chair of the Social Liberal Forum, was the Leeds North West candidate in the 2001 General Election, and so I was fortunate to meet Charles when he came to a dinner in the constituency. He was very late - something about a delayed train - but all I really remember was his warmth and the ease with which he connected with everyone, from the new student members, to those who had been involved for decades. He made me want to campaign.
It is with immense sadness that we awake today to the news that former Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy has died. Tributes will follow, but for now, he will for many be best remembered for his work in trying to prevent the war in Iraq. We have reproduced below, his speech to the Anti-War Rally in Hyde Park in February 2003. He was a unity figure for those who opposed the war. He remained a fierce critic, and until very recently was still using his position to call for the immediate publication of the Chilcot Report. This must now happen. Our thoughts are with Charles and his family. May he rest in peace.