Keynes and Kearns: Am I a Liberal?
This new publication contains a timely republication of John Maynard Keynes’s Am I a Liberal?, alongside a new companion essay by Ian Kearns, a former director of the IPPR who recently joined the Lib Dems from Labour, asking that same question.
Keynes’s original essay prompted a serious assessment as to what liberalism means in the modern world – he argued that remaining Gladstonian shibboleths such as Free Trade and Temperance were not, in themselves, enough to sustain a mass ideology. Instead, he proposed five new dimensions that any Liberal should apply themselves to:
- Peace Questions
- Questions of Government
- Sex Questions
- Drug Questions
- Economic Questions
The essay remains ahead of its time in many of its conclusions, and its vindication can be found in the number of ardent Liberal converts over the years, recruited on these very issues. Despite some sections being somewhat dated, the essay is original, and buzzing with ideas; and it is well worth a read, 96 years on, for the sometimes-uncomfortable questions it raises.
Kearns’s essay is a more personal one, following on from some of Keynes’s themes – especially the passages excised from the original version of Keynes’s paper, as delivered at the 1925 Liberal Summer School. Kearns looks at much at other ideologies and, while he has nothing positive to say about conservatism, he focuses his real fire on the modern Labour party, and its shortcomings as a vehicle for radical thought or action.
More broadly, this is a revisiting of that great political tool, the pamphlet. Ideas matter in politics, and their importance should not purely be measured in policy terms. This publication marks a return to the medium of the short essay which is vital to hammering out, communicating and refining well-thought-out ideas.
A review of this publication by Dr Seth Thévoz, an academic historian, can be found on Lib Dem Voice.
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The General Election of 2017 had four different outcomes in each of the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom. In Wales, the Labour Party gained a majority of seats in the House of Commons. In Scotland, the SNP gained a majority. In Northern Ireland, the DUP gained a majority. And in England, the Conservative Party gained a majority. To that extent, the political homogeneity of the Union was fractured as never before.
Those (including Liberals) who argue for the maintenance of the UK Union are coming to realise that its best chance of survival will be as a sisterhood of equal but different countries, rather than as a monolithic whole. As the greatest of radical Liberal statesmen, Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman, wrote as long ago as 1889, “Scottish Home Rule involves English Home Rule, and … not one in a thousand Englishmen has ever grasped the idea of having a local (English) parliament, as apart from the common Imperial Parliament”. England’s electoral choices having diverged so much from those of the other countries in the UK, the time may now be right to grasp that idea firmly.
Similarly, the EU referendum of 2016 led to uneven outcomes. In Scotland, Northern Ireland (and Gibraltar) the popular vote was to remain part of the EU. In Wales and England, a majority voted to leave. If we are to respect the popular vote, as is so often urged on us, and much though we deplore the result, then it makes sense to examine whether there is a way for England and Wales to leave the EU, while providing a mechanism for Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Gibraltar to remain in membership, or at least for each to remain in the customs union or single market.Read more
FOUR GO IN SEARCH OF BIG IDEAS
Putting progressive ideas at the heart of UK politics
Go to the bottom of the page to buy your copy now
A new publishing project from the Social Liberal Forum, publication date: 9th March 2018
The ‘liberal consensus’ is broken. Populism and extremism are taking over political discourse. There has never been a more important time for progressive ideas to guide us and to transform UK politics.
- Inequalities of power, influence, health, wealth and income disfigure our society and are getting worse
- The world of work is rapidly changing: insecure, short-term employment; education and training that aren’t fit for purpose; AI and robotisation; regional disparities; and the failure to involve workers in sharing power, responsibility and profits, are creating an urgent challenge
- Our welfare state is creaking as it is starved of resources and ideas, and as the Tory narrative of ‘scroungers and shirkers’ takes over from reality in the minds of ordinary people
- Climate change threatens our way of life, and could even represent an existential crisis for mankind
Now, a group of four northern Liberals from the Social Liberal Forum have come together to produce a book that promotes progressive radical ideas that begin to address and propose responses to these challenges.
They have looked for analysis, ideas and answers from contributors who define themselves as progressives, regardless of party affiliation. Their ambition is to pave the way for the ‘progressive alliance of people, ideas and campaigns’ that the UK desperately needs.
Read the stimulating contributions that our authoritative and diverse array of authors have written in Four Go In Search Of Big Ideas, and then join us so that we can all:
‘Be the change we wish to see in the world’.*
*Quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
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What follows is a pamphlet I wrote in March this year in support of the Progressive Alliance campaign. It was originally published by Compass (the cross-party think tank that runs the Progressive Alliance), who are very happy for the Social Liberal Forum to republish it. It formed one of a series of papers from people in different political parties, about why their fellow party members should back the Progressive Alliance (PA).
The aim was to galvanise support from those who already backed — or were curious about — the PA concept, as part of wider efforts at the next general election. We were quickly overtaken by events when the snap general election was called in early April. Despite not having sufficient time to do much of the necessary groundwork, the PA still managed to play an active part in the election, and helped to prove the concept.
Universal basic income (UBI) is often presented as a way of supporting an increase in the fraction of population not in full time employment. Here, I wish to outline an alternative vision based upon using UBI to simplify the tax and benefit system and enhance work incentives. Rather than funding an increase in the number of people without jobs, my proposed system is designed to produce higher levels of employment. By replacing many existing benefits with a UBI, families will no longer need to worry about their benefits being withdrawn as they start earning more, giving them stronger incentives to work, and pulling thousands out of the poverty trap created by the existing benefits system. Furthermore, while the poorest will obtain the largest direct benefit from the proposed system, its wider benefits will be shared by people of all incomes due to reduced economic distortions.Read more
Having spent months out campaigning, first for the County Council elections, and then the general election, I took a break afterwards by examining the election results! It is clear the Liberal Democrats made good progress in terms of seats: a 50% increase from 8 to 12 MPs compared to 2015; and, agonisingly, fewer than 500 votes away from doubling our seats to 16. (1) This was achieved, however, against a slightly lower vote share of 7.4%, compared to the already-low point of 7.9% in 2015, and an accompanying further decline in our vote in many seats.Read more
In the course of writing various analytical pieces on Lib Dem electoral performance in recent years, I’ve become rather used to ending up as a voice of doom and gloom. “You’ve rather cornered the market in depressing Liberal Democrats”, observed one colleague. This is slightly different. It’s actually a welcome change of pace to be the bearer of good news. For the Liberal Democrats, the Richmond Park by-election was an unambiguously good result. In an age where expectations are constantly being managed up or down, this pamphlet seeks to put the by-election result in perspective.
Much of this was written in the immediate aftermath of the Richmond Park by-election of December 2016, but held over for release until after the Stoke-upon-Trent Central and Copeland by-elections of February 2017, for revision and reconsideration in light of subsequent developments. In the event, very little needed tweaking, though as I add the finishing touches to this with the next by-election having just been triggered in Manchester Gorton, I am more convinced than ever of the points made about the predominance of by-elections in Labour-held seatsRead more
Climate change remains one of the greatest threats to liberalism in our midst. Global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) continue to rise, albeit at a slowing rate, and their atmospheric concentration marches towards what the global scientific community considers a safe limit for human civilization. Alongside Trump and Brexit, 2016 may go down in history as the year atmospheric concentrations of CO2 breached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least 800,000 years. The absolute limit to have even a 50 per cent chance of keeping global average temperature rises below 2 degrees is 450 ppm although many scientists recommend 350 ppm.Read more
It is often observed in British politics that to succeed electorally, political parties should stick to the centre ground. Under Nick Clegg’s leadership, centrism was placed at the forefront of how the Liberal Democrat Party positioned itself to the public. While he was correct to recognise that the main dynamic in British politics is currently not illiberal/ authoritarian versus liberal, but right versus left, he was wrong to conclude that the Party’s response should be centrism. The 2015 General Election showed us that pursuing a centrist strategy was a catastrophic error. As Cambridge’s former MP and City Council Leader Professor David Howarth told us immediately after the General Election last year, it is something ‘we must never do again’.
Liberal Democrats who still think centrism can take the Party to success hold a paradoxical stance where their preference over the Party's positioning is incompatible with it achieving a General Election breakthrough. More generally, many do not fully understand why centrism will not work, failing to realise its impact upon wider strategy and thinking. The electoral reality for most minor parties means that they need to pick a left/ right side and work within it - especially one whose support is geographically dissipated and which operates under a First-Past-The-Post system. This pamphlet will argue that for simple, compelling and strategic reasons, the Party should not pick the Right, but the Left. This will be an unpalatable proposition for some, but it is vital that this dilemma be addressed so that any Liberal Democrat fight back is based on solid foundations.Read more
With a parliamentary party consisting of 112 peers and 8 MPs, the Liberal Democrats now have the largest ratio of peers-to-MPs at any time in the history of any major UK political party. The Lords look set to wield a strong influence on the party’s direction over the next parliament, with 14 of the party’s 22 current frontbench spokespersons already drawn from there.
Dr Seth Thévoz has conducted for the Social Liberal Forum a detailed study into the effectiveness of the Interim Peers Panel System for electing Liberal Democrat nominees to the House of Lords.
As Dr Seth Thévoz says:
"Given the extremely low awareness of these peers I felt it might be instructive to look at how the present batch of 112 peers came to be appointed, and how well the appointment process worked."
The full 28 page report can be viewed here