It has been 110 years since David Lloyd George delivered his radical liberal ‘People’s Budget’ speech. He described a time when ‘poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests’. The wolves of poverty, wretchedness, human degradation and inequality are still with us. Far from them being remote to modern Britain their infestation of society is becoming more widespread.
Equality forms one of liberalism’s holy trinity of liberty, equality and community. It is fundamental to liberalism but also troublesome. Liberals have disagreed about what equality applies to and what it means. They agree that it applies to political rights and that it implies a strong commitment to principles of non-discrimination on grounds of gender, ethnicity, social origins and sexuality, but beyond that disagreement breaks out. Do Liberals believe in equality of outcomes or of opportunities or of life chances? Do they believe in reducing economic equality or merely in increasing social mobility? Do they want equality in specific aspects of life, such as health or environment, or do they want equality in the most general terms, that is of ‘happiness’?
Mark Blackburn has worked in the retail and property industries for over thirty years, working on the shop floor and at board level. Among other positions he has been CEO of a Discount Retailer based in the North East and run his own chain of footwear stores. He now has his own property consultancy business. He has stood twice for the Liberal Democrats as a Parliamentary Candidate in Westminster North, London and Somerton & Frome in Somerset, where he now lives. He has served the Social Liberal Forum as Director, Treasurer and Council member.
Chris Bowers is a two-term Lib Dem district councillor and three-time Parliamentary Candidate. He was the founder of the Environmental Transport Association in 1990, works as a communications consultant to the European Federation for Transport and Environment, and led the transport chapter in the Liberal Democrats’ revised climate change policy due for publication in late summer 2019.
Robert Brown was Liberal Democrat MSP for Glasgow Region from 1999 to 2011, Education Committee Convener (2003-2005) and Deputy Minister for Education and Young People (2005-2007). In the Scottish Parliament, he was spokesperson on social justice and housing, and later justice and civil liberties. He is now a Councillor in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire. He was a longstanding Policy Convener of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, responsible for a number of Scottish Liberal Democrat manifestos, and served on the Steel and Campbell Commissions which set out the Liberal Democrat vision for Scottish Home Rule within a federal United Kingdom.
Lord Peter Hain is a Labour Peer and was MP for Neath (1991-2015); a Government and Cabinet Minister (1997-2010); and prior to joining Labour in 1977 a leading Young Liberal from 1969.
Paul Hindley is a member of the Social Liberal Forum Council and a PhD student at Lancaster University studying politics. His research is focused on the neoliberal political economy. Paul is currently the Chair of the SLF’s Northern Group and its Publishing and Editorial Board. He is a Liberal Democrat activist from Blackpool and has previously been the Chair of Blackpool and Cleveleys Liberal Democrats, as well as being an Election Agent in the 2015 and 2017 General Elections. He has a strong interest in political theory, social justice, political reform and economic democracy.
David Howarth is Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. He was MP for Cambridge (2005–10) and served the Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice. Before that he was Leader of Cambridge City Council and served for a decade on the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee.
Dr Kirsten Johnson is a pianist, composer and recording artist of international acclaim. She has recorded fourteen discs of solo piano music with Centaur, Nimbus, Delos and Guild. This includes the complete piano music of Arthur Foote and Amy Beach, and world premiere recordings of Albanian piano music and Dmitri Kabalevsky’s op. 1. Dr Johnson received her Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, conducting much of her research in Albania and in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University. She was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and has lived in England since 1994. Please see www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com for further information on her music career. Kirsten Johnson stood in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections for the Liberal Democrats. She is currently the Parliamentary Spokesperson for the North Devon Liberal Democrats. Her concern over inequality and lack of mental health provision, coupled with broader social justice issues, compelled her to become involved in politics.
Rabina Khan is one of the most influential politicians in the troubled East London borough of Tower Hamlets where she serves as a Liberal Democrat councillor and ran a close second in her bid to be Mayor. Born in Bangladesh, raised in Rochester, she is known for her passionate support of causes such as stopping youth knife crime and building more social housing. Khan was the first Muslim woman to hold the portfolio for Housing and Regeneration (2010 to 2015). Khan often speaks on current issues on radio and TV, and is published regularly in The Independent, also The Guardian, Huff Post, East London Advertiser and delivered lectures at Cambridge University, The Housing Federation and the Royal Society for Arts for BBC Radio 4.
Gordon Lishman CBE is Treasurer of the Social Liberal Forum and a former chief executive of Age Concern. With others, he developed the original ideas of community politics and was co-author with Bernard Greaves of “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics”. He is a Lib Dem councillor in Burnley. Gordon has been Chair of the Liberal International’s Human Rights Committee and, a very long time ago, worked for the Liberal Party Research Department on economic and industrial affairs.
Dr Steven McCabe has lectured at Birmingham City University since 1987 and has taught economics, management and strategy to a wide range of discipline at degree and postgraduate level as well as supervising PhD students. As well as teaching, Steven completed a PhD on a part-time basis at the University of Birmingham which explored the use of quality management techniques. He has written extensively on the subject of management and quality and has produced numerous papers, chapters for books and three textbooks. Steven is currently Associate Professor in IDEA (Institute of Design and Economic Acceleration) as well as Senior Fellow in the Centre for Brexit Studies at BCU. He is engaged in research and/or consultancy examining culture and pre-determinate conditions for success in sectors such as manufacturing, construction and creative arts as well as writing and commentating on politics and, most particularly, the potential impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.
Beverley Nielsen is Associate Professor and Director of the Institute for Design and Economic Acceleration at Birmingham City University where she is also Senior Fellow at the Centre for Brexit Studies and has worked in various roles including as Director Employer Engagement and lecturer in design management. Beverley served as a county councillor between 2009-13 and was elected as a District Councillor in May 2019 taking on the portfolio for economic development and tourism as part of a joint working partnership between the Liberal Democrats, Independents and Greens. She stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor in the first election in the West Midlands in 2017. She co-authored ‘Redesigning Manufacturing’ with Professor M.B. Beverland and economist Vicky Pryce (2015, Palgrave Macmillan) and co-edited ‘Brexit Negotiations After Article 50’ with Professor A. de Ruyter (2019, Emerald Publications).
James Sandbach is Co-Chair of Rights Liberties Justice (the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association) and a member of the SLF Council. He has worked in policy, advocacy and senior leadership roles for legal advice and disability charities, and is currently Director of Policy and External Affairs for LawWorks and trustee of other advice organisations. He has been a Parliamentary Candidate in four elections and is an elected Councillor.
Stuart White is Tutorial Fellow in Politics at Jesus College, Oxford. His research focuses on how to assert the priority of democratic citizenship within the economy. He is the author of THE CIVIC MINIMUM (2003) and EQUALITY (2006) and is currently working on a book on republican political economy.
Chris Willmore is Professor of Sustainability and Law at Bristol University. A Quaker, Chris qualified as a barrister and has been involved in overseas human rights work. She is a Lib Dem, and has been a councillor since 1983, serving at various times in the past as council leader, and on national party committees including policy committee.Donate
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