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.
Professor David Howarth, formerly LibDem MP for Cambridge, contributes to the new SLF book with a powerful, closely argued essay on Liberal economics. This an extract:
Here is a puzzle: if JS Mill, JM Keynes and James Meade were all Liberals and economists, what is a ‘neo-liberal’ economist? One might have thought that it would be someone who updated their thought to consider new facts and new problems.
In a highly successful example of propaganda and disinformation, ‘neoliberal’ has come to mean the doctrines of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman. But those doctrines are anything but ‘neo’. They hark back to the era before Mill. We need to rectify names. Instead of ‘neo-liberals’ the followers of Hayek and Friedman might be called ‘paleo-partial liberals’.
The next step is to reclaim the Liberal tradition. That was the avowed aim of the editors of the Orange Book, but what some of them seemed to mean was not updating Mill, Keynes and Meade but abandoning them in favour of paleo-partial liberalism. Admittedly the diagnosis was not entirely wrong. The Liberal Democrats, as a political party, had wandered a long way from the Liberal tradition and had succumbed to various forms of conventional wisdom.
The Social Liberal Forum is pleased to announce the publication of Four Go In Search of Big Ideas as an important contribution to a Progressive Alliance of Ideas, People and Campaigns. Contributors include leading Liberal Democrats and people from other political backgrounds and some from outside formal parties. But social liberalism provides the common thread which weaves its way through the entire book. In amongst strong analysis of what is wrong with the country now and why we need radical change, are bold and radical ideas for change that the SLF hopes will gain wide attention.
The book is edited by Chair of the SLF, Helen Flynn, the first time a liberal publishing venture of this type has been led by a woman. The eponymous ‘Four’ of the title are: Helen Flynn, Iain Brodie Browne, Gordon Lishman and Ekta Prakash. They believe that the revival of progressive politics in the UK must be based on winning the battle of ideas. All four come from the North of England and their approach reflects their anger about the state of UK politics and particularly its effect on our country outside the South East.
A new chapter of the continuing Brexit negotiations nightmare has kicked off, courtesy of Boris Johnson saying that the row over the border in Northern Ireland is being used to frustrate Brexit. It is therefore extremely timely that Nigel Lindsay, SLF Council member, has shared his insights and ideas on “The EU and the UK: The Liberal Case for Territorial Differentiation” in our most recent long-read publication.
Nigel spells out the issues surrounding the vexed Ireland-Northern Ireland border conundrum, and describes scenarios where a possible border between Northern Ireland and Scotland, and even a possible border between Scotland and England, could arise if voters’ wishes are actually to be taken into consideration.