A letter originating from the Leader’s Office on Liberal Principles has provoked some much needed discussion on this subject. For example, this opinion piece from Paul Connolly received a warm welcome.
But it seems odd to discuss Liberalism without ever mentioning directly power.
There been a few mentions of that awful concept of ‘empowerment’ which is so deeply ‘illiberal’ and yet seen as a badge to be worn by post 1997 ‘liberals’.
To ‘empower’ is to allocate power. It is in the first instance the acceptance of the taking of power from people and to ‘reallocate it’. It is a fundamentally a patronising and paternalistic process.
Patronising to the recipient. “Look, Jane, you wouldn’t have this unless we gave it to you.” And therefore enslaving relationship to the people or organization who graciously bestow it to them – it creates dependency. The price of this great gift (of their own power restored to them) is also of course conformity.
Paternalistic to the re-allocator. “Look at me giving you this ‘fair’ share of power.” This actually enslaves the giver to a relationship that not only distorts the humanity of the receiver but also of the giver. The slave owner is not free either.
It – empowerment – is used by Paul to explain why Liberals believe in free markets. Actually the more perfect the market the less able anyone or any organized group of people are to be able to take power away from individuals. That is its attraction, its potential. A perfect market does not empower – look on the other side of the coin – it disempowers the swindler, the cheat, the abuser of monopoly, the purveyor of tat, the waterer-down of beer.
Monopoly always and everywhere is safeguarded by ignorance. “It’s cheaper down the road, it’s cheaper if you did it this way, it’s better for you if … but I’m not going to tell you this, or help you discover this.” Monopoly is located wherever someone is stealing your power.
Because we do not live in a perfect world it is hard work stopping people and groups taking power from you and aggregating to themselves and exploiting it. That is why Liberals organize and act together to ‘take it back’.
Liberal Action is the campaign to help people take and use power in their communities – be these communities be their neighbourhood, or their workplace, or co-operative, or the local school- in short, all the communities to which you belong. It has never better been explained than here.
This is why it does not take place in some mythical Centre Land where the noble ‘empowerers’ are lauded. It takes place right beside you NOW. It lives down in the street, outside your window. It is omnipresent. That is, wherever people combine (in movements) to take and use power for themselves. It is a perpetual process of campaigning because illiberal forces are always at work trying to take that power from you and your neighbours and your work colleagues and your fellow electors, which they crave.
It is through this beam of light that we can see the true worth of the ‘ideal’ that “none shall be enslaved by poverty ignorance or conformity.”
But (and this is where we part company with economic liberals) it is not just freedom from, it is freedom to,
This is why Liberals know that power is taken and kept from individuals and their communities by those Giants (Beveridge, for effect, called them Evils): Squalor, Ignorance, Want, Idleness, Disease,
Liberals therefore organise and work with others to fight against these Giants with the same vigour as we fight against those that swindle power from you.
* Bill le Breton is a former Chair and President of ALDC and a member of the 1997 and 2001 General Election teams