2017: A year when Liberals across the world need to work like never before

It’s here. We’ve bid the often crushing 2016 farewell and now have to face up to its consequences.

In politics and world affairs, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have signified a terrifying and undoubtedly disastrous change in direction. The irony of powerful rich men railing against political elites has not yet been realised by the general population. As liberals we really have our work cut out for us to challenge a chilling new orthodoxy of national selfishness, of scapegoating, insularity and the unravelling of decades of international European and transatlantic co-operation.

The hideous and entirely preventable suffering we see in Syria, Yemen and in refugee camps across Europe is a powerful reminder of the need for countries to work together, not to retreat into isolation and enmity.

The Liberal Democrats have a lot to offer this uncertain world. We have always and will always be on the side of the powerless against those powerful elites. We have and always will call for people to have decent housing. We have and always will champion people being paid a decent wage and having decent employment rights. We are that radical, insurgent, planet saving, establishment busting, freedom loving force for good that this country needs and we need to get out there with absolute confidence in that. You don’t see the likes of Farage or Theresa May (and the two, sadly, are almost interchangeable these days) waver one bit in what they are saying. We can be too darned reasonable sometimes. We need  to counter the most serious threat to our way of life we have ever known  with passion. This is not going to be easy. We’ve already seen Tim Farron called all sorts  of names – and some Conservatives have called for him and anyone else who supports the EU to be charged with Treason.  It’s going to get a lot uglier. The treatment meted out to Charles Kennedy when he rightly opposed the Iraq War is going to seem like a teddy bear’s picnic but we all have to step up, face it and roll up our sleeves to fight for what we believe in.

In the UK, we have an awful lot to say to those who voted Leave as well as to those who voted Remain. We need to be the rallying point for all those who believe in our core values of  creating a fair, free and open society balancing those fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and ensuring that nobody is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Those powerful words from the Preamble to our Constitution are even more relevant today than they were when they were written.

The world is at a turning point and it’s up to every single one of us to show that there is a better way – not the old way where people are left struggling, not the empty alternative where they are told that everything would be fine if we could just get rid of these pesky foreigners. After all, when getting rid of those people doesn’t work, there is an inevitability that another scapegoat will be found and prejudice and hatred tightens its grip even further.

In 2017, we must find a way of reaching out to those who feel under pressure and are vulnerable to the populist rhetoric of the Tories, UKIP and, yes, on occasion, Labour.  The parties of Government and so-called official opposition have failed to use the significant power of the state to ensure that people have their basic needs met. Tim Farron has been calling for a new consensus to do these things for years. His Beveridge Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum Conference two and a half years ago seems very relevant today:

So we must win the consent of the voters for a government that is active, ambitious and liberal. And consent to the notion that taxation is the subscription charge we pay for living in this civilised society. That there is zero tolerance socially or legally for cheating the community by not paying your subscription charge in full.

Government is about leadership, making a difference, not abdication. I’m fed up of seeing us fail to meet our potential, to take the lead, to innovate, to be the best because governments continue to buy the lie that the job of government is to get out of the way.

Who gets involved in politics just to sit and watch the weather? Let’s make the weather.

The Social Liberal, Economic Liberal axis is flawed. We must be both. We must be comprehensive Liberals. Let’s say no to passive, neutral government that allows the evils of our day to grow unchecked; let’s say no to authoritarian, intrusive government that becomes an evil in itself by subjugating its citizens; instead let’s say a huge yes to active, ambitious, liberal government.

We are Beveridge Liberals, because like him we have the audacity to believe that government is for making things better not watching things fail.

In that lecture, which you can read in full here, he talks about the need for better housing and to pay a decent living wage. Those are the things that should have been done years ago. If they had been, we wouldn’t be in this mess today.

So, raise a glass just now, but tomorrow, we need to get to the business of winning hearts and minds away from the damaging populist rhetoric towards a much more positive vision. Blaming immigrants doesn’t get you a job, but training and investment will. Blaming immigrants doesn’t get you a house – building houses, strangely, does that well.

2017 must be the year when liberals start to win the arguments across the world. Let’s get to it.

Wishing you all a happy and liberal New Year.

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

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25 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 1st Jan '17 - 2:47am

    We don’t need a 3rd or 4th party constantly trimming its sails to appease the press or the rich. We need radical policies that tackle the divide in our society. That means redistribution of wealth, income and power and staying in the (reformed) EU. We must improve and fund education and health/social care and provide for a living income for all. Plus of course electoral and parliamentary reform. A Liberal society cannot be one in which wealth and privilege are more important than human rights.

  • Mick
    Liberal policies are already radical enough. The need to establish real democracy throughout the world where many live in absolute poverty.
    In Britain giving all young people a real chance and ending drug and alcohol abuse.

  • I’m not sure how mass migration at the unskilled level can create the society that you want as there is only so much work to go round.

    You are under the delusion that Brexit is opposite to all the things you want. It isn’t – it’s asking really tough questions to the EU, on migration, on productivity, on the British dream. It’s essentially saying `how do you lift everyone up particularly the `aspirational working class` in a globalised world so that they are not relying on the never-ending competition for agency and zero hours jobs.

    I’d love to write for LDV as someone who used to be in the Lib Dems with my own ideas however I’m not a member. Perhaps that’s one thing that LDV will change for the NY?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Jan '17 - 9:14am

    “We are that radical, insurgent, planet saving, establishment busting, freedom loving force for good that this country needs”. I agree absolutely that we must be all these things in 2017.
    Unfortunately, since June, the party has often not seemed particularly “radical” or “establishment busting”, but has seemed to be mainly or solely preoccupied with staying in the EU. We are in danger of looking like a party that believes everything will be wonderful if we just keep the status quo. Hardly “radical” or “establishment busting”.
    Imagine that you and your family are about to lose your home, or that you are forced to resort to a food bank to feed your children. Or you have cancer, but are told that the NHS is unable to fund treatment that might save or at least prologue your life. It is highly unlikely that your number one priority is whether or not Britain stays in the EU. But it will seem fairly clear to you that EU membership is not doing a great deal to help you.
    Or imagine that you are an asylum seeker, and you have just been told that your application for asylum has failed, and you are about to be deported back to a country where you know you have no chance of a decent future. You are taken to the airport, and as you are escorted to the plane, you watch Germans and Belgians arrive to settle in Britain, with an automatic right to do so. You are unlikely to conclude that the EU is doing much to protect your human rights.
    I am not trying to make an anti EU point here. But we do need to recognise that membership of the EU does not, in itself, make Britain “open, tolerant and united”. The party’s current obsession with the EU means that we are in danger of ignoring the real causes of injustice in Britain and in the world.

  • Mick Taylor 1st Jan '17 - 10:05am

    Sadly it is you Catherine who is obsessed with leaving the EU. Democracy is not and never has been with meekly accepting decisions you don’t agree with. If you believe that the government is doing things that will wreck our country, then regardless of any vote or referendum you continue to oppose it. All the things you rightly want tackle will not be possible outside th EU, so staying in has to be top priority. Lindens have never been a one trick pony and we must campaign as I suggested on my earlier pay. Giving in to the Farages and Trumps of this world will be disastrous and we must not do that

  • Mick Taylor 1st Jan '17 - 10:08am

    Auto correction is a pain. For lindens above read LibDems.

  • @ Mick Taylor. Bang on the nail, Mick. Absolutely right – and same with Caron.

    If we’ve nothing distinctive to say then we are nothing.

  • That is a fantastic, morale boosting post Caron – thanks for that! (And I say this as a part of the new intake).
    It seems to me the the main challenge for the Lib Dems for the coming year is to ensure that the party has a CENTRE-LEFT identity, and not get seduced – again – by the lure of a phony `centrism` which would have even less appeal now than it did ten or so years back. Centrists are, of course, welcome in our Broad Hhurch – just as leftists are – but together we combine as a Centre-Left force.

    Otherwise I am heartened by pretty much everything that you say, and also feel that Tim Farron is scarcely putting a foot wrong these days – with the proviso that I’d like us to take a firmer stance in opposing Trident, talk more and more about the reform of the EU, and make some progessive alliances where feasible.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Jan '17 - 10:28am

    Well said Mick Taylor and Catherine Jane Crosland!

    Many of those who voted leave did so not because they are illiberal but because the present system is patently not working for them and the people round them.

    The present system is clearly working for the better off; and the wealthier you are the better it works for you. Sadly in the referendum too many of those dispossessed of wealth, power and influence chose to align themselves with the very political forces who don’t give a damn for their situation. Labour has let them down and, particularly in coalition, we looked like a party of the status quo. We are yet to shake off that image.

    We must be a vocal radical reforming party challenging the status quo and at the same time presenting decent, shared, common ground values. Only when we add this to our 48% strategy will we be truly resurgent in the national polls.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 1st Jan '17 - 10:40am

    Mick, I think you misunderstood my comment a bit. I wasn’t discussing whether or not it was democratic to oppose Brexit, and I wasn’t really talking about the pros and cons of EU membership. Obviously EU membership has many advantages, but there are also many injustices that the EU does not do anything to alleviate.
    I’m not quite sure what you mean about the things I want to tackle not being possibly outside the EU. Britain could and should improve housing, take steps to eliminate poverty, improve the NHS and and be more welcoming to refugees and asylum seekers, whether or not we are in the EU.
    I was really just trying to say that the Lib Dems should not be a one issue party, and should beware of appearing to suggest that everything will be wonderful if we keep the status quo.
    Hope you are enjoying your travels 🙂

  • @catherine The whole point of my post is that we are not a one issue party – we do have things to say on these core issues. We have acres of policy that speaks directly to these horrendous situations you mention. We need to get out there and connect with these people. For me the EU stuff is also pretty fundamental to what we are about – we need to do both not one or the other.

  • Thank you, Caron, for this rallying cry. It is now impossible to take liberalism for granted. There has never been a time when it has been more necessary for liberal voices to be heard. It’s at exactly these moments when it seems that the easiest thing to do would be to keep one’s head down, stay out of trouble, and stay silent, that it becomes a moral imperative to speak up and engage in action.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Jan '17 - 5:54pm

    It’s a great debate you have started, here, Caron, thank you (and I hope your husband makes a full recovery this year, and you both have an excellent 2017). However, I have some doubts to express. For instance, you state that ‘We will always be on the side of the powerless against … powerful elites’, and that is a little incautious when we are seeking power – to do good, of course – and if and when we achieve it we shall again be part of a powerful elite. I was struck by realising when I read Tim’s 2014 lecture, seen for the first time, that he was speaking when Liberal Democrat ministers were part of the Coalition Government, but you would not have known it.
    I don’t want to dwell on those sad times, however, but when reading of your citing our wonderful Preamble ideals, I had the vision of a beautiful tree in winter, waiting for its branches to produce lovely leaves. Are we really ‘radical’, as Catherine rightly asked? What are the ‘radical reforms challenging the status quo’ that you are thinking of, Stephen? I want to see more flesh on the bones, or leaves on the tree, this New Year, spelling out what we want from the Brexit negotiations, what EU reforms we would like, and what policies we are proposing to help ordinary working people. I read Jeremy Corbyn making an excellent case for continued open EU immigration, and make this plea: let us not be outflanked in radicalism, because I love our party, and do believe we do have and will have the best answers for 2017 and the future.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd Jan '17 - 6:55am

    Mick Taylor, following your reply earlier – In my earlier comments, I deliberately avoided discussing the issue of whether or not it is democratic to try to prevent Brexit. I have said a lot about this issue in comments on other posts, as you know, but I hope you don’t mind if I respond with some thoughts about your comments?
    You say “giving in to the Farages and Trumps of this world will be disastrous and we must not do that”. I agree that we must always speak out against the ideas of Farage and Trump. But lets take the example of Trump first. What would you suggest that the people of America should do? Would you actually suggest that the electoral college delegates should have ignored the election result and voted for Hillary anyway? Or would you suggest that Hillary’s supporters should now stage some sort of coup and put her in the White House? Somehow I don’t think you are really suggesting either of these courses of action.
    To ignore a democratic result is a dangerous course of action, likely to have results much worse than the thing one was trying to avoid. Perhaps, better a dangerous President than a dangerous precedent?
    Although the two situations are very different, the same does apply to the EU referendum result. And respecting the referendum result does not necessarily mean “letting Farage win”. Nigel Farage represents only one of many different strands of opinion within the Leave campaign. Many of the leaders of the Leave campaign, and many Leave voters, did not share his anti immigration views. We should focus on ensuring that Britain outside the EU is a very different sort of Britain from the one envisaged by Farage. Theoretically, Britain could have a more liberal immigration policy outside the EU than in it. Britain could still have a very close relationship with the rest of Europe. “Europe” is more than just the EU. These are the things we should be campaigning for.

  • Simon Freeman 2nd Jan '17 - 9:57am

    We do get hung up on terminology. I call myself a centre left social democrat-and will happily vote Liberal Democrat in a possible general election. to win seats the party needs a broad church of voters -including 2010 Lib Dem voters, people like me who were SDP members who switched to voting Labour but don’t like Corbyn and his Momentum gang, pale blue Tories, more realistic Greens. The truth is many of our problems now are being exacerbated by the excessive level of spending cuts. I like Tim Farrons idea that paying tax is your membership fee for society. I’d pay an extra penny in the pound to go to Health. Something Really does need doing about Tax Avoidance and evasion. The Tories said lower taxes would mean less of this but that doesn’t happen. If our Corporation Tax rate of 17% is already the lowest in all major countries why does it need to be even lower? And we should bring back the 50p top rate of tax. i don’t see this as being anti-business as Tories and UKIP would say, more a case of business taking it’s fair place in a more equal society.

    Local authorities of all colours are being forced to do things they don’t like. Closing Libraries for one. For another I saw the other day that recycling rates have dropped. That must be partly due to cut backs. At the sheltered accomodation scheme where my Mum lives they’ve taken away the communal box for plastics. My sisters and I take her bottles on a rota basis to a more distant plastics bin. surely these things need to be easier not harder?

    We do need more and better and affordable public transport. Why can’t rail franchises default back to Network Rail when they expire? Can we oppose Fracking more strongly. We do support renewable energy and should push harder on that, but there does need to be something else-not Corbyns mad idea to reopen coal mines. The something else is I think nuclear.

  • @Antony Watts
    ” There must be LiberalDems orientated parties in the EU. We need to get very close to them and seek their help in our efforts to bring about change in the UK. External pressure could work as well as internal.”

    I find it incredible, that after the EU referendum result, where the clear majority rejected our continuation with the EU, some people just refuse to see.

    Instead of suggesting reaching out to other Libdem orientated parties within the EU to bring about changes the EU.
    You want to reach out to other European Parties in the EU to bring about changes in the UK.

    In my opinion, too many remainers are just not interested in reforming the EU, they do not see anything wrong with it. And that’s the reason why they failed to make the arguments for it and lost the referendum.

  • The following concerns some reasons why lib dems lost/fail to gain popularity during and after coalition years, based on Labour/small c conservatives voters.

    Take the bedroom tax
    Take the Tuition fee’s debacle
    Going through with the top rate of income being cut (I’m not necessarily against’ However that should have taken second priority when between 100k and 120k its in effect 60%!!.
    Take the IHT cut lib dems credit in blocking given how much prices have increased it was and still not much of a cut (official projects state 1/10 will be subject to it by 2020) Given it is 40% can hardly be dismissed. Given the Lib dems were the most pro eu party its ironic thet blocked the cut when across europe they have no form of that kind of tax at all (‘ie Sweden/Norway, Portugal, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, All the baltic states. Meanwhile Italy and greece its only 1-10%. Meanwhile the Duke Of Westminster heir need not worry but the middle class will be expected to do their bit.

    Stood up for individual landlords when the goverment exempted ltd companies from the interest relief deductability as an expense (it is in much of europe after all)

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Jan '17 - 12:55pm

    Antony Watts, welcome aboard, and don’t be discouraged by Matt who is a relentless fighter. Please check out the ALDE Group , which is the association which links our Liberal Democrats with similar parties in the rest of the EU. Catherine Bearder, our remaining MEP. is negotiator for them. In her report to the Brighton Conference, Catherine announced that Tim Farron had been ‘within days of the vote’ (Referendum vote) to Brussels to meet ‘the seven Prime Ministers from the European Liberal family and their lead MEPs’. I hope we shall hear more from Catherine and from ALDE about joint work with those European colleagues, as any proposed EU reform should surely be worked out with them.

  • @Katharine Pindar

    Happy New year Katharine

    “don’t be discouraged by Matt who is a relentless fighter.” I hope nobody would be discouraged by me, I am not a nasty confrontational person. Yes I am passionate and vocal about what I believe in, but I am not so head strong that I refuse listen or to be persuaded to change my mind by others arguments if I find them convincing.

    I am heartened to see you say “as any proposed EU reform should surely be worked out with them.” because that’s not something we hear enough off from Libdems.

  • In comparison to probably all the soi-disant “liberals” who post here about Brexit being a jolly good show or something, if the whole thing is mishandled there will be real consequences for me.

    I am a British (and Irish Citizen), living in County Donegal, keeping an eye on my elderly widowed mother and working, five miles down the road, in Northern Ireland.

    The potential for an almighty mess of a Brexit stares me in the face every day. But hey ho, Ireland is marginal to Brexiteers and ironically, the potential to cause massive disruption to both trade and everyday life in Northern Ireland is casually dismissed at best by the same Brexiteers. What is even more chilling is the implied demand for blind faith in the outcome. Liberals, real Liberals that is, need to be arguing long and hard for the right outcome that will not compromise our civil liberties in order to appease the unappeasable.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Jan '17 - 10:59pm

    Con Logue, thank you for telling us your sobering story. We should never forget the real difficulties and dilemmas that the looming shadow of Brexit causes to individuals, while talking of the enormous waste of time and resources of government that it would mean.

    Matt, I know you like the last word, so I was tempted to leave you to it, but that would be ungracious. I am glad you feel you can be persuaded, though we have not yet found arguments good enough to do it! Actually, my original words to Con were a useful reminder to myself to make those contacts. Now, though, I return the compliments of the season to you, and do genuinely hope that your health difficulties will not prevent you writing on this site as often as you wish in 2017.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 3rd Jan '17 - 8:18am

    Caron, thank you for your reply to my comments, and I’m sorry I’ve taken a long time to respond. Your article was great, showing all the things that liberalism should be. My comments were not in any way intended as a criticism of your article. I was just expressing some thoughts about how the party’s current position unfortunately may stand in the way of us being all the things you rightly say we must be.
    You very rightly say that we must “get out there and connect” with people in the sort of terrible situations I mention. But it is depressing to hear some Lib Dems suggest that we should focus on campaigning in areas that voted Remain – which, as a generalisation, tend to be prosperous areas, and implying that we should not “waste time” on areas that voted strongly to Leave – which tend, as a generalisation, to be poorer areas.

  • Neil Sandison 3rd Jan '17 - 12:26pm

    Good post Caron .The bird of liberty must soar high and sing out loudly against injustice ,conformity ,authoritarianism and not be silenced by isolationism ,protectionism and prejudice .But we must give a message of hope that our outdated economic systems need renewal ,our over inflated housing markets where land hoarding has greater value than home building is undermining our ability of offering people a decent and affordable place to live.and that the real wealth of the nation is in all parts of Great Britain and not only in the over heated south east where parliament sits .

  • John Littler 3rd Jan '17 - 5:27pm

    The LibDems have had a great year, but must not be seduced again to lose their radical edge or fall into the arms of the poisonous Tories.

    Under FPTP voting, the Tories, the most political dominant force, has to be such a huge broad church that it leaves no political space of support for centre right Orange bookery.

    The obvious International example of free trade right wing liberals was in Germany with the Free Democrats, whose support fell below the 5% threshold in the Bundestaag, 4 years ago ( 4.8%) , making that junior party of government, something of a Dodo after propping up a mainstream right wing party for the last time.

    I once asked a German Taxi driver to sum up German politics including what he thought of the Free Democrats. He just said “they are for the rich”.

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