Who are the 100 most influential liberals in the UK?

All week the Torygraph has been running a series listing the top 100 people ‘on the right’ in British politics – it included two Lib Dem MPs as well as the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti.

The list’s publication prompts the question: who would feature among the 100 most influential liberals in the UK?

Clearly, the leading lights of the Liberal Democrats – spokespersons in the Parliamentary party – would feature prominently, together with Lib Dem leaders of some of our larger Councils.

But who else? Who in the world of politics, business, think tanks, trade unions, the media, pressure groups, writers, celebrities, and so on would feature on your list?

Over to you…

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51 Comments

  • Sam Brittan, Adair Turner, Henry Porter, Paul Marshall, Helen Wallace…

  • The most influential liberals in the country are probably those who are professionally impartial and whose politics are invisible to politicians.
    First suggestion: think practitioners, not preachers – artists, musicians, scientists, economists, academics, surgeons, judges and generals.
    For a more controversial second suggestion: think those who have survived at the top despite unceasing (and valid) criticism of their human flaws.

    Dare I exclaim our good Queen Bess as the ultimate defender of our liberty?

  • Rob Blackie 3rd Oct '07 - 6:17pm

    Amartya Sen – Nobel prize winning economist, liberal philosopher
    Robert Chambers – guru to half the world

    Within the party the obvious four are:
    Ming – having been consistently right on every major issue for years with an integrity that’s rare in current politics
    Nick Clegg for being both liberal and effective
    Chris Huhne – for doing a good job on linking business, environment & politics
    Vince Cable – more authoritative on the economy that Alastair Darling let alone Osborne.

  • Chris Keating 3rd Oct '07 - 6:49pm

    I’m definitely backing Amartya Sen.

    Not sure that anyone from the Adam Smith Institute has any influence these days, even if you do count them as liberals (which I don’t).

  • nigelashton 3rd Oct '07 - 7:23pm

    Shami Chakrabarti
    Michael Meadowcroft

  • Martin Land 3rd Oct '07 - 8:05pm

    Margaret Thatcher, who probably turned more people into Liberals than any one else!

  • Brian Paddick
    David Conway (philosopher)

  • Hywel Morgan 3rd Oct '07 - 8:24pm

    “Clearly, the leading lights of the Liberal Democrats – spokespersons in the Parliamentary party – would feature prominently, together with Lib Dem leaders of some of our larger Councils.”

    That is a very Westminster centri attitude!

    It is arguable that our Westminster MPs have little power to do much about making the Country a more liberal place – certainly compared the real things people running councils have done. Our Westminster MPs for example did a lot to oppose ID cards – but ultimately we’re still going to get them.

    From that point of view I’d nominate Keith House leader of Eastleigh Council since 1994 – a record of actually delivering change for people.

    I’m now going to contradict myself by naming Lord Lester as another. On the basis of his extensive campaigning for the introduction of codified rights into UK law which culminated in the introduction of the Human Rights Act (which whether you agree with it or not has undeniably had a profound effect).

    I’ll add Alec Carlile. Undoubtedly a liberal. Undoubtedly influential. However that may not be a good thing from a Liberal standpoint :-)

    Maggie was undoubtedly influential (and did do some liberal things as regards breaking the control Trade Unions had in some areas) but I think she fails the “liberal” test by a huge margin!

  • Nick Barlow 3rd Oct '07 - 9:26pm

    How about Richard Dawkins? While he may not identify as a liberal, I’d argue that he promotes a liberal philosophy.

  • Peter Welch 3rd Oct '07 - 10:29pm

    I agree on Martin Wolf. I would have put Sen in but I thought he fell foul of the “in the UK” rule.

  • Richard Church 3rd Oct '07 - 11:46pm

    Richard Dawkins voted Lib Dem at the last election, and I suspect will at the next. He has a huge influence on popular opinion.

    I would add:

    Gordon Lishman- director of Age Concern.
    Claire Raynor & Sandi Toksvig

  • Bernard Salmon 4th Oct '07 - 12:54pm

    David Boyle
    Chris Rennard
    Lord Bonkers/Jonathan Calder

  • Geoffrey Payne 5th Oct '07 - 11:07pm

    I am not allowed historical refernces, so I will not mention
    JK Galbriath,
    JM Keynes
    W Beverage,
    EF Schumaker,
    Jo Grimond
    However I will mention
    Shami Chakrabarti,
    Gordan Lishman and Bernard Greaves,
    Chris Huhne,
    William Wallace,
    Ralf Dahrendorf,
    Jonathan Porrit,
    Des Wilson (although I think he is in Labour these days)
    David Marquand (who is in Labour),
    Shirley Williams,
    John Gray (voted Lib Dem last time – maybe not next time, has a formidable mind joining politics, religion, history, and philosophy and was spot on about Iraq)
    Craig Murray, human rights campaigner,
    Lord Avebury.
    And although I do not agree with him, I admit that David Laws is pretty smart.

  • Geoffrey Payne 23rd Oct '07 - 6:01pm

    He has obviously moved as I remember him from Sheffield. He joined Labour – I am pretty sure about this, around 1997.
    Like many he was highly critical of Blair over Iraq and disappointed at the public service reforms.
    He remains critical of the Liberal Democrats, but given our electoral system he may yet vote for you.

  • E F Shumaker ????

    Bloody racing drivers being chosen now?

  • But seriously,

    No.1 – without any doubt.

    Tony “God lives in Colne and works in Hebden Bridge” Greaves

  • Why do we need to out these people? Some may enjoy exerting their influence in their relative obscurity and public ignorance of their politics. Having said that I hereby claim David Attenborough.

  • Bonkalot Jones 23rd Oct '07 - 7:44pm

    “How about Richard Dawkins? While he may not identify as a liberal, I’d argue that he promotes a liberal philosophy.”

    “Richard Dawkins voted Lib Dem at the last election, and I suspect will at the next. He has a huge influence on popular opinion.”

    Gosh, where to begin ! The thought that the average man or woman in the pub has :-
    1/ Read a Richard Dawkins book
    2/ Knows that he has voted Liberal Democrat
    3/ Will use that knowledge and say ‘Gosh, that Richard Dawkins chap voted Lib Dem, so I must’

    – makes me think we have to believe ‘three impossible things before breakfast’.

    The fact that another poster on Lib Dem Voice doesn’t even know how Dawkins voted shows for all to see that if this is the kind of wishful thinking upon which hopes for a third-party breakthrough are predicated, then someone really is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.

    I’m not trying to be nasty, but if you really are willing to have such debates, but without even countenancing a slightly less introverted approach that would allow you to [radical concept alert] connect with the ‘average voter’ then I’m afraid you are condemning yourselves to years more in the wilderness.

    But maybe that is what you want – it is so much cosier not to have to take the tough decisions, compromises and perfectionist tendencies which are your enemy in the search for power.

  • Bridget Fox 23rd Oct '07 - 8:17pm

    I’m not sure that Dawkins’ contempt for those who don’t share his analysis is typically liberal.

    Richard Layard is a small l liberal with quite a lot of influence on gov’t if not the general public, although he’s a Labour peer.

    In terms of Lib Dems with popular influence, then Clare Rayner, Sandi Toksvig and any other celebs we may have to our name.

    Shami Chakrabati is the highest profile defender of liberal values outside the party – and as high profile as anyone within it.

  • Alfred the Great

  • Didn’t Charlie Dimmock help out in Romsey? I reckon that must put her up there in the rankings!

  • Bridget Fox wrote: “I’m not sure that Dawkins’ contempt for those who don’t share his analysis is typically liberal.”

    Dawkins is an arrogant bully with a sneering, seething contempt for those he considers beneath him intellectually. Like Plato, he believes that power should be in the hands of a self-perpetuating “elite” of self-appointed experts, who will always know what is best for us. Fellow scientists live in terror of incurring his displeasure. Few academics dare to criticise him openly. And he wallows in it.

    Dawkins is a typical Stalinist. He would love to be tucked away in some Novosibirsk living off public money and lording it over the hated masses he never has to meet.

    A very dangerous man.

    (By the way, Dawkins is not against Bush because Bush is the front man for a criminal elite. No. He is anti-Bush because Bush is an ignorant twit and a Christian who believes in creationism.)

    One for the 100 list should be Norman Baker, who has the courage to confront authority and fight for the truth. Getting Mandelson out of British politics was a major contribution to public life, and his fearless investigation of the murder of Dr David Kelly deserves the highest commendation. Last Saturday, Norman got five pages in the “Daily Mail” , including the front one. Which is a good deal more than Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne put together.

  • Geoffrey Payne 24th Oct '07 - 8:37am

    As John Gray remarked about the attitude towards religion from the likes of Dworkins, Hitchens and others; “They attack something congenitally and categorically human as an intellectual error, yet call themselves humanists.”

  • Bridget said “Richard Layard is a small l liberal with quite a lot of influence on gov’t if not the general public, although he’s a Labour peer.”

    We disagree on this one, Bridget. I find it very hard to see the sense in which Layard is a liberal (centrist, yes).

  • Joe Otten wrote: “I haven’t noticed this “sneering, seething contempt” in any of the few things of his I have actually read.”

    Really? It oozes out of his every pore. Read what he writes and hear what he speaks. Those who do not share his opinions he dismisses as idiots. From George W Bush downwards.

    Dawkins’ conspicuous pose of intellectual superiority may have something to do with his upbringing in Kenya, where a small white elite dominated a black majority they considered inferior. Some academics have a habit of viewing the common folk from a similar perspective.

    Joe Otten further wrote: “As a matter of idle curiosity, what is your source for the Platonist-Stalinist charge?”

    Dawkins is Stalinist in his belief that ideology transcends truth. When he says “the paranormal is bunk” Dawkins is a liar, because he has seen the evidence which proves that much of the paranormal is real. One is reminded of Stalin’s rewriting of history. And what a comedown for an elite scientist to appear on a platform in Las Vegas (!!) with the failed kids entertainer turned celebrity “magician”, Mr Randall James Hamilton Zwinge!

    Dawkins is Platonist in his belief that the right to vote should depend on the capacity to make choices that Dawkins considers correct rather than abstract entitlement. So he says that 16 and 17 year-olds should not be allowed to vote because their brains are not fit for purpose. A democrat and a liberal would say that 16 and 17 year-olds should be allowed to vote because they are subject to what government does.

    Ironically, this is something of a sterile debate from Dawkins’ perspective, since, if the materialist theory of mind is true, there is no free will to make choices in the first place!

    By the way, a few weeks ago Dawkins used the words “Jewish lobby”. Yet, as far as I am aware, he has incurred no criticism for so doing. On the other hand, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu employed the very same phrase just days ago, he was smeared as “anti-Semitic” and banned from speaking at the University of Wisconcin. Why has Dawins been let off this particular rap?

    (I choose my words about Zwinge with care because I don’t want him to start trolling here.)

    Some useful information about Dawkins:
    http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Mediaskeptics/index.html

  • Bonkalot Jones 24th Oct '07 - 11:33am

    “On the other hand, when Archbishop Desmond Tutu employed the very same phrase just days ago, he was smeared as “anti-Semitic” and banned from speaking at the University of Wisconcin.”

    Er, why ? We all know there is a ‘Jewish Lobby’ – just look at bollox like the ADL and HonestReporting.com – why should we have to walk on eggshells and be denied free speech because there are some imbeciles who will use the facile response ‘anti-semitic’ when people are nothing of the sort, or simply demonstrat ing perfectly valid anti-zionist arguments ?

    If people can’t stand the heat, they should stay out of the kitchen.

  • Bonkalot, why not go into the kitchen and reveal to us your real name?

  • Joe Otten wrote: “I happen to think the paranormal is bunk too. Does this make me a liar and a Stalinist?”

    No. It makes you ignorant of the truth. In Dawkins’ case, it makes him a liar, because he happens to know what the truth is.

  • Bridget Fox 24th Oct '07 - 1:00pm

    Peter @32

    Layard’s idea that governments should seek to promote happiness sounds very illiberal on the surface. But he goes on to identify that the key factor in ‘happiness’ is less economic wealth and more about better quality relationships with people and the world about you. The government policies he advocates to that end: investment in cognitive therapy; relationship guidance including work on emotional intelligence; apprenticeships; engaging older people in volunteer & community work; etc are all eminently liberal in that they are about equipping individuals with skills and opportunities to live their own lives better.

  • 38 Bridget

    I read the book, and individually I would have little problem with most of the policy prescriptions (give ‘em a job, stop ‘em getting divorced, and offer cognitive therapy if they need it would be my summary).

    But if you understand liberalism (through the ages) as being about providing a framework in which people pursue their own source/concept of happiness then it is difficult to accept Layard as within the tradition (and he wouldn´t claim it). He is a long way from the liberal view of the individual as essentially autonomous.

  • Joe Otten wrote: “I am intrigued by this evidence for the paranormal you speak of. What is it?”

    Have I got all day, all week, all year?

    Probably not.

    So I suggest you go to the link I pasted into my earlier post. That should give you a taster.

    There is plenty of evidence out there, if you know where to look. Having cast the thought-spore that I am a peddler of diabolical conspiracies (how very unsubtle), perhaps you should consult the same link again to see how scientific and academic elites have very successfully prevented accurate information about the paranormal reaching the public and have stifled serious scientific research in the subject.

    Bridget Fox: “engaging older people in volunteer & community work”

    How about engaging older people in PAID work?

    One of the most iniquitous decisions of the Blair administration in domestic policy was to cave in to the CBI and remove people over the age of 65 from the protection of the Age Discrimination Directive. The ECJ may well reverse this, but why should we have to rely on the ECJ?

    And why are Liberal Democrats not up in arms about it? Oh, sorry. We’ve just got rid of a leader for being “too old”.

  • 41. You’re clearly unconcerned by the fact that any political opinions you have just might be devalued by the self-provided evidence of your fruitloop conspiracy theories & wackjob rejection of science & belief in ‘the paranormal’.

    You are either:

    A. A mediaeval peasant or
    B. A nu-age hippy

    In either case this nonsense has no place on a ‘serious’ site like this. Or, anywhere else, really, come to think of it.

    More seriously, this rejection of evidence-based scientific rationalism & embrace of superstition – evidenced by so many of our MPs signing the EDM backing homeopathy – is disturbing.

    It’s as if the enlightenment never happened.

  • Colin W, you are not only an obscurantist bigot, but an ILLIBERAL obscurantist bigot.

    The party is for people like me and and also for for people like you. And everyone in between and either side of us. Provided we all share basic liberal values.

    Something I thought all liberals shared was a belief in the value of free open debate without personal insults.

    The one thing you will NOT do is engage in a serious debate about the paranormal, because you know you will lose. Far better to hurl abuse and warn those thinking of speaking freely that they face more of the same.

    You should go and join the continuing Communist party or an organisation more in in tune with your bigoted, anti-scientific outlook.

  • Joe Otten, I don’t need lessons from you in how to be taken seriously, thank you very much.

    Colin W is an illiberal abusive bigot and a bully. If you condone his behaviour as you do, it speaks very poorly of your credentials as an upholder of liberal values and free debate.

  • Bonkalot Jones 24th Oct '07 - 5:00pm

    ‘Angus Huck’ – is that cockney rhyming slang?

  • I bet you’re a virgin really, Bonkalot.

  • http://www.newstatesman.com/200710250010

    A late entry for the novelist and New Puritan Nicholas Blincoe?

  • May I thank Peter for bringing us back on topic and away from the “Dawkins is a moron” – “Dawkins is a genius” – “you disagree with me so you are illiberal and an idiot” rant that this thread has decended into.

    For that reason he has to go onto my list of top liberals:

    “Peter”,
    Shami Chakrabarti,
    Craig Murray,
    Baroness Williams,
    Ros Scott

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