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.
Nominations are now open for the biennial election to the SLF Council. The Council is the governing body of the SLF and meets about 5 times a year, currently in Birmingham. SLF will pay travel expenses to meetings on application to the Treasurer.
Nominations can be made by any member of the SLF. Self-nomination is allowed. All nominators and nominees must be paid-up members of the SLF on 4 August 2018. You can join SLF as a full member by clicking on the “Join” tab at the top of the page.
Nominations should be sent to the Returning Officer, Roger Hayes, at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 9 Beaufort Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 2TH by 12pm on 4th August. All nominations will be acknowledged when received.
Nominations should be accompanied by an A5 manifesto (max: 2MB). Manifestos will be published on the SLF website prior to the opening of the ballot.
Two years on from the EU referendum and Walter Benjamin’s haunting observation that “the very past itself is at stake” seems appropriate.
What sort of future Britain will have depends, to a large extent, on how a working majority of voters and politicians understand her past. For, as the UK’s former judge on the European Court of Justice, Sir Konrad Schiemann, noted in a 2012 lecture on the EU as a Source of Inspiration, “what you find inspiring depends to a degree on where you come from and what you’re looking for”. Born in 1937, Schiemann was probably the last CJEU judge to have experienced the Second World War. Growing up in Berlin hiding from British bombs and then, via Poland and the Lancashire Fusiliers, landing up as a law student in Cambridge, Schiemann is clear where his generation were coming from and what they were looking for. His generation of Brits (and many of those that followed) understood the preamble to the European Coal and Steel Community as being part of their history too, despite Britain not having been a signatory to it.
Here is an extract of what the leaders of West Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries declared in 1951:
The Social Liberal Forum exists and campaigns to create a society where everyone has access to the wealth, power and opportunity to enable us all to lead full and rewarding lives, unfettered by social hardship. We speak for and promote a vision for social justice. So we are thrilled to announce that Kate Pickett, co author of The Spirit Level and the newly published book, The Inner Level, will be speaking at the annual SLF Conference on 28th July this year.
The Spirit Level, published in 2009, was a highly influential book, going on to sell 150,000 copies. It demonstrated conclusively the pernicious effects of economic inequality. In more unequal countries, outcomes are worse for almost everyone in areas such as public health, education, obesity and social mobility.
In the recent Social Liberal Forum book, David Boyle asserts that “free trade and anti-trust lay at the heart of Liberalism and Liberal economics from the start of the party”. His essay overlaps with David Howarth’s contribution in returning Liberal and Lib Dem economics to its roots, rejecting the false claim that “neo-liberalism” in any way represents the liberal tradition.
David writes that: “The original Liberal idea of free trade was not a simple license to do whatever you want, if you were rich and powerful enough. It was thoroughly aware of Adam Smith’s original warning that collusion between entrenched businesses can end in “a conspiracy against the public”. Liberal free trade “was designed as a means of liberation – so that the small could challenge the big, the poor could challenge the rich with the power of the new approach, the alternative provider, the imaginative, liberating shift”.
So, what went wrong?
You can tell things must be getting really bad when even the Conservatives are concerned about the shortfall of affordable houses. Survation recently polled 121 senior Conservative councillors, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ahead of the government’s publication of its social housing green paper, expected in the next few months. The poll found 71% were concerned that the £2bn Government set aside for affordable housing in the Autumn Budget will be insufficient to meet the needs of their constituents.
So what solutions do we need? Alex Marsh, a housing policy expert, has set out some truly radical proposals n the Social Liberal Forum’s new book, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas. After setting out the commonly accepted “truths” of our current housing crisis, he crucially asks, “Is it all about new supply?” He argues:
In the years before the 2008 crash, Vince Cable built a reputation for seeing further ahead than most in politics and economics. Vince’s essay in the new Social Liberal Forum book “Four Go in Search of Big Ideas” enhances this record.
Writing before recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica, he identified: “the heart of the worries growing deeper about the data giants: that by filtering the information we receive they can influence not just the goods and services we consume but how we vote and, indeed, what we think”.
Vince sets out the threat to democracy: “Even if the owners of the platforms are benign and well-intentioned, the systems they have created and now monopolise may threaten democracy as we know it”. “Their systems can be used for surveillance by building up a profile of targeted individuals. Elections in many countries often revolve around which candidate has the largest, engaged, Facebook following while the US President’s Twitter following has become a means of short-circuiting the checks and balances built into media coverage”.
Education has always been of special importance for liberals and Liberal Democrats throughout the ages. It has been one of the best vehicles for enabling individuals to obtain their full potential, develop their talents and make the most of the opportunities that they are presented with. It is with this in mind that Helen Flynn and John Howson’s chapter is so warmly received in the latest publication from the Social Liberal Forum, ‘Four Go In Search of Big Ideas’.
Flynn and Howson rightly place great emphasis on the need to improve early years education. They call for a highly funded early years sector that is equipped with the staff necessary to develop the learning of schoolchildren and identify any potential barriers that they may face in future learning. These teachers would need to be well educated and properly trained. The authors identify that educational inequalities emerge even before children start their formal education at the age of five. The socio-economic inequalities faced by children from the poorest backgrounds need to be tackled with extra funding from the very beginning.
Ed Davey’s contribution (on the next steps to decarbonize the UK) to a new collection of essays from the Social Liberal Forum is a tour de force in strategic thinking.
One of the great strengths of Liberal thought through the ages has been an ability to find practical, scientifically and economically-sound solutions to pressing social challenges. For an excellent example of this, from someone who has held high office, look no further than Sir Ed Davey’s essay in Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, which not only provides a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges of decarbonising the UK’s economy in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement but also presents up-to-date policy suggestions to support the deployment of cutting-edge green tech.