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.
‘Take back control’ and the demand to transfer power back to the people were apparently central demands of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum in 2016. These aims were regularly put forward as the main reason for walking away from the European Union. Who can deny these aspirations? The need to share power and reduce the influence of the executive has been a long-standing challenge in British politics. In fact these aspirations have been at the heart of progressive thinking for a number of years, so how was this agenda taken over by groups on the right and how can these principles be re-energised by Liberal Democrats?
Britain is deeply divided. The harsh economic realities of Brexit are beginning to be known. Years of austerity have weakened the public sector. Personal debt levels are out of control, while the financial sector appears to have failed to learn the lessons of the 2008 crisis. Even workers at McDonald's are going on strike. There is growing inequality across the country.
Conventional wisdom tells us if we don't know our history we're doomed to repeat it. But in politics the risk of fighting yesterday's battles means we should treat historical lessons with caution - and remember that the “will of the people” can change quickly.