Social Liberal Forum Conference: The Retreat from Globalisation

Saturday’s Social Liberal Forum conference in London  provided much food for thought as speakers challenged Liberal Democrat orthodoxy in various ways.

Beveridge Lecture

William Wallace kicked off proceedings by giving the annual William Beveridge Lecture. His theme was: Is a Liberal and Democratic society compatible with globalisation. His answer? Well, it disproportionately benefits the super rich and authoritarian states, so we have to change things to ensure that nobody is left out.

He started off by quoting Emmanuel Macron, who’s said he supported a market economy but not a market society.  He said our society was divided between the poor, unskilled and the relatively affluent highly educated. The gulf between them is cemented in successive generations. Globalisation had meant a substantial number of left behind people whose grievances were entirely justified. Those grievances led to the Brexit vote.

Challenging the idea that higher taxes harm the economy is key.  We need investment in public services and to recognise that the social fabric is damaged if there is too big a gap between wealthy CEOs and their workers.

He looked at business ownership and how little multi-national takeovers do for regeneration and how important it was that our financial and corporate leaders  tackled this.

We need to throw the “Citizens of Nowhere” thing right back at Theresa May, he argued, pointing out the super rich from across the world who dominate our economy.

One idea he had to improve social solidarity was to have all adults undertaking a year of Citizen’s Service working on a community project, or care home.

Giving people some sense of ownership and control over their destiny was key, whether that was by closer, more responsive local government or an increase of mutual ownership of companies.

Basic Income

I am old enough to remember when it was our policy to have what we called a Citizens’ Income – where all would be paid a certain amount of money from the state that was theirs to do with as they needed. It would alleviate poverty and recognise unpaid work, most of which is done by women.

I would love to support the modern incarnation of that idea, the universal basic income. What stops me more than anything else is the reservations from people like Ruth Lister who used to run the Child Poverty Action Group about how it might not meet the needs of those who needed extra support,  like children and disabled people.

Helen Flynn led a session on this, highlighting the impact on tackling poverty.

Climate change

Ed Davey took part in the final session of the morning, on climate change. While Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative scared us all witless about the irreversible progress of global warming, Ed took us through the politics of the situation including some fascinating insights into his negotiations with the Obama Administration when he was in Climate Change Secretary.

He also raised the worrying prospect of Brexit hampering the EU efforts on climate change. Our votes swung in favour were instrumental in the EU taking such strong action.

He highlighted the positives in China and India now taking climate change seriously – helped by the reduction in costs of green tech.

Vince

Our almost-leader came along and took an hour of questions. I had assumed we wouldn’t be allowed to tweet what he was saying, but he had absolutely no problem with that.

He repeated all the stuff he’d said in the press – about starting to think that Brexit might not happen, about going from third to first. He offered a capacity to be heard above the noise and a credibility on economic matters.

He was very strong on tackling intergenerational unfairness – take the shackles off Councils and let them build houses, he said, looking back at his experience in Glasgow in the 70s when they built 5000-6000 Council houses every year.

He also talked about giving young people in further education  voice that they didn’t currently have.

I’ll do a separate, more detailed article on his appearance. He did well – but it was a very friendly audience who didn’t push him that hard, really.

Perspectives on the General Election

Our panel discussed various aspects of the election. Daisy Cooper talked about young people and how Labour made such a successful play for their votes and highlighted what we need to do in the future. Sarah Olney talked about the value of  Progressive Alliances. She benefitted in Richmond Park – but she said there was no point in doing them if there was not a clear benefit to us. Hammersmith candidate and Federal Board member Joyce Onstad talked about ethnic minorities. She attacked the party’s lack of diversity and said that in London we should have 40% ethnic minorities on shortlists. Some of the stuff that she says about the way she was treated as a candidate needs to be sorted out. I spoke about Scotland and how we won our 4 seats with copious literature and endlessly repeated messaging.

David Howarth then took us through the British Election Study’s December report which is the most up to date one available. He looked for clues about what people thought, primarily about us and Labour. His conclusion was that we are the only plausible party capable of governing the country sensibly, but people don’t love us. We have some stuff to work though – mainly the trust issue which just won’t go away.

Well-organised

As usual the event was particularly well organised by our Mary Reid. She has put so much work into it despite playing a massive role in Ed Davey’s campaign and celebrating her Golden Wedding next month. Thanks, Mary, and congratulations.

I am so glad I went. I’ll write some more later  about what I think the key challenges for SLF are over the next year.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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12 Comments

  • Unfortunately Wallace is applying the wrong analysis tool (what is it with LibDem names doing this these days). There is plenty ot be discussed about pay differentials etc (though mostly why are more businesses have consolidated enabling more pay inflation at the top, rather then that pay causing a particular problem). Much analysis of inequality focuses on Wealth inequality which is distorted by the world of ever falling interest rates we have seen for 30 years.

    The key beneficiaries of globalisation are actually those in the third world who have been raised out of poverty. The super rich are irrelevant to this, but the issue is how to spread of the work across the world then exposes how the economy is changing at an ever faster rate which is very difficult for many normal people to cope with. The great benefit at the bottom has come at a cost to those in the middle (globally, so many at the bottom here).

    I think there is a lot of analysis of these problems which is based upon assumptions from old ideas and I’m not sure they reflect the reality.

    I’m not sure that the new national service proposal is ideal to throw around until you have a much better idea how it will work. I for one would not like my parents or grandparents being looked after by someone who had not chosen to enter that role.

  • “Some of the stuff that she says about the way she was treated as a candidate needs to be sorted out”

    Are you able to say what she said? If people weren’t there and don’t know her how would they know what has to be sorted?

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '17 - 10:23am

    Ed Davey please update your answer on north African solar energy. You accepted that there was plenty of sunshine and plenty of land otherwise unused. I asked whether it would be viable to run an interconnector cable to Spain, Portugal or Gibraltar. You said that it would be necessary to overcome political objections from France, which has, since then, had elections.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '17 - 1:06pm

    This was at a fringe meeting at federal conference. Ed Davey was on a panel with a representative of Greenpeace, who presumably had not thought of this possibility. The meeting preceded a motion to full conference while we were in coalition on having some of nuclear energy in the mix of provision, which was approved.

  • Laurence Cox 17th Jul '17 - 1:57pm

    @Psi
    I was there and asked her afterwards about it. During the campaign she had to pay for leaflets using her own credit card because her Agent had failed to release the money for them, even though the money had already been raised to pay for them. She was eventually reimbursed. As the Candidate is supposed to appoint their own Agent, this points to a worrying breakdown in trust between Candidate and Agent (in which I suspect the Local Party was involved).

    The snap election meant that in many seats (essentially those below the top 50 targets) there were no candidates in place when it was called and these had to be put in place by the State Parties at short notice and without the normal competitive selection process. Some Local Parties did not approve of the candidates allocated to their constituencies (I know of another case that I also found out about at the Conference).

  • The rather illogical idea that people voted for leaving the EU “because they felt hurt by the effects of globalisation” – surely what we want is more democratic control internationally, capable of rectifying an globalisation which seems skewed in favour of the minority. The EU is one of the few international organisations with a democratically elected Parliaments, that actually has sufficient clout to influence the direction of globalisation hopefully in favour of “the many not the few”.

  • Laurence Cox
    Does that mean that the printer of these leaflets demanded money upfront from a candidate, rather than it being paid for (normally having to be invoiced) by the Agent – all bills are supposed to be paid by the Agent – I know quite often they are not, but reimbursed, as you say. To me, this demonstrates that they were a disorganised local party! I am the Chair of a LP in that position, and we wouldn’t have thought of putting our newly appointed candidate in that unenviable position! How dreadful!

  • Laurence Cox 17th Jul '17 - 5:25pm

    @Tim13
    I don’t know any more details, just what Joyce told me after the conference. However, in a local by-election earlier this year where I was Agent and we were using a (non-Party) printer we had not used before, they did insist on money upfront as did the company doing the paid delivery. I cannot comment on the local party (Hammersmith and Fulham Lib Dems), others here may know more about them.

  • Thanks v much for that info, Laurence. So, in those circumstances I would have expected the Agent to have been the upfront person with the money ready to pay.

    Another comment on this situation and similar ones – I had heard in our Region that not all appointed (at the last minute) candidates had gone down a storm with their constituencies. This is hardly surprising with very little choice of local members in the matter. We were very lucky, in that we had somebody from just a few miles out of the constituency, who was able to work positively and cooperatively with us to get as good a result as we were likely to from a difficult position. That was particularly commendable as she was a first time candidate.

  • suzanne Fletcher 18th Jul '17 - 11:01am

    On the issue of the candidate having to pay for the leaflets herself, I thought it was common to have to pay a local printer up front. However it is the constituency responsibility, morally if not legally. Here hubby who was agent had to pay out of our money as National Savings did not release the money to the account in time (he did negotiate a good compensation from them, the party benefitted from!), but if the agent couldn’t have done this, someone else in the constituency should have found the money somehow. There is likely to be no relationship with an imposed candidate and the constituency really, and the candidate not likely to know who to appoint as agent, so in reality if not legally the constituency sorts.
    what made me very cross was that the local party appeared to be not welcoming of her. they may not have been able to choose, but should have had the grace to work with her well, and be supportive if needed.

  • Absolutely agree, Suzanne. Not good.

  • There may well be another side to the story. Can anyone from H&F comment?

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