There has been a very welcome recent revival of policy thinking in the Liberal Democrats, despite the large cuts to the party’s official policy research staff. This has included a new think tank (Liberal Insight) and good work by Richard Kemp and the local government sector in encouraging imaginative plans for making use of the new legal powers going to local government.
Added to this is the Social Liberal Forum’s further foray into economic policy-making, following up on some of their successful events with their first policy pamphlet. Prateek Buch’s “Plan C – social liberal approaches to a fair, sustainable economy” tries to do just what it says in the title, and impressively includes a foreword by Will Hutton.
That foreword sets out a liberal challenge to improve capitalism – making it better by making it more liberal and, in particular, attacking concentrations of power. As with Jonathan Porritt from a green perspective, Hutton wants a better capitalism, not socialism or communism.
None of the individual policies listed are particularly new for Liberal Democrats – having not just a Green Investment Bank but a National Investment Bank, expanding the Youth Contract, increased workplace democracy and so on all have been the meat and drink (or lentils and fruit juice) of party conferences for years.
The pamphlet’s strength is not in producing reams of new policy, but in pulling together many different ideas into a few clear strands: job creation, a fair and efficient financial system and making workplaces more liberal through greater workplace democracy and fair conditions of work.
Plan C’s emphasis on creating jobs through investment and infrastructure fits well with Keynes’s own policy advice of the 1930s. Keynes then emphasised the need not for simply higher spending in times of recession but for extra spending specifically on investment (as he saw that as the great unstable, non-self-correcting factor in a recession). Investing in infrastructure is far more Keynesian than cutting VAT.
Although technical at times, the pamphlet is very readable and keeps jargon to a minimum. It also includes a round-up of further reading, particularly useful as the pamphlet is a little short at times of specific evidence as to why individual policies would be effective. The upside of that is that it is quicker and easier to read as a result, and so likely to reach a wider audience.
It is more an academic policy document than an attempt to form a coherent and effective political message. There is much merit in both approaches, so that is no criticism but Liberal Democrats should beware slipping into the “Plan C” terminology of its title. Plan A, B, C, D, E… has a logical abstract progression about it, but for political messaging it is flawed – C sounds instinctively worse than A or B. Prateek’s previous flirtation with A pluses and A stars would have been better to stick with.
That is however only worth worrying about if the ideas in the plan make an impact rather than disappearing quickly into the thick foliage of forgotten political writings. It is certainly good enough to deserve the former rather than the latter fate.