Yellow, orange, green… time for new book, and a different approach

Back in 1928, publication of The Yellow Book – the report of a party inquiry “Britain’s Industrial Future” – provided the basis for Lloyd George’s 1929 general election programme “We can conquer unemployment!”. It put the party firmly in the camp of an interventionist economic strategy, with John Maynard Keynes as its intellectual lodestar. With the Great Depression ranging, the party firmly rejected laisser-faire liberalism.

Come 2004 and the Orange Book -subtitled Reclaiming Liberalism and edited by David Laws and Paul Marshall – challenged what some were calling nanny-state liberalism. It promoted choice and competition and argued that the Liberal Democrats needed to return to an older heritage, to ‘reclaim’ economic liberalism.

Since then, the term ‘Orange Book liberals’ has come to denote those seen as on the right of party, comfortable in a coalition with Conservatives. That said, many of the actual contributors – including Vince Cable, Chris Huhne, Susan Kramer and Steve Webb – would no doubt contest that stereo-typing of their views.

Fast forward to today, and the condition of our country and the challenges we face are markedly different to a decade ago. Following the global economic slowdown – triggered by a financial crash due in part to light regulation – those arguing for less state oversight have gone strangely quiet. With the defining feature of public services now one of cuts and deficit reduction, few are still arguing that choice and competition are the most important political or economic priorities.

However this is not a call for a return to Yellow Book liberalism. The global economy today – and Britain’s role within it – is fundamentally different to 85 years ago. Population has risen from just 2 billion then to reach 7 billion today, and rising. Demand for raw materials, energy and food is pushing up prices. Indeed a barrel of crude oil is nearly $100 today, compared to $20 as recently as when the Orange Book was written.

In short, the finite limits of our planet are better understood – as are the threats to life as we know it from severe weather and rising sea levels. The question now is how Britain, a small economy dwarfed by the likes of Brazil, India and China, can prosper and share any fruits of economic growth fairly.

The party – and our country – needs a new approach: one based on building a sustainable economy and a fair society by placing respect for the natural world at the centre of our policy making. What that vision of green liberalism looks like is set out in The Green Book – published next week.

The Green Book: New Directions for Liberals in Government, edited by Duncan Brack, Paul Burrall, Neil Stockley and Mike Tuffrey, is published by Biteback.

* Mike Tuffrey is a former member of the London Assembly and founded Corporate Citizenship, a management consultancy for responsible and sustainable business

* Mike Tuffrey is chair of London Region, co-edited the Green Book and is a former London Assembly member.

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  • Geoffrey Payne 1st Mar '13 - 1:44pm

    Delighted to see this, just what we need. One alarming trend at the moment is that in this time of austerity the general public are becoming less interested in policies to protect the planet. This has to be challenged by the Liberal Democrats and that agree with us.

  • Sue Kendrick 1st Mar '13 - 9:02pm
  • I absolutely welcome this book and the ideas behind it, and look forward to reading it. Those posting here regularly will recognise that your thought that the current underlying crisis is better described as a resource crisis than any kind of financial issue. It may have expressed itself via debt and reduction of real incomes, but is a result of pressure on scarce resources – the combined effect of the rise in global population and the greedy expansion of demand by the rich of the world. This latter has been as a direct result of ThatcherReaganomics, and so a reversal of trends under that economic regime is urgently required, together with reduced material demand across the board.

  • David Allen 2nd Mar '13 - 12:05am

    @ Mike Tuffrey – Yes!

    Tory austerity – Pandering to the bankers and using the deficit as an excuse to clobber the poor – Austerity as camouflage for robbing the nation

    Lib Dem austerity – Switching spending from wasteful over-consumption to investment for the future, creating jobs and doing what is needed to rescue the planet – Austerity for a good purpose.

  • Eddie Sammon 2nd Mar '13 - 6:40pm

    The Green Dems would never win an overall majority.

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