What Liberals need to do for the ‘left behind’

‘Left behind’ is a relatively new term to describe communities in the UK who have, economically speaking, fallen behind the more prosperous parts of the country.  The reasons for this socio-economic phenomenon are varied, but amongst them are: de-industrialisation; the effects of globalisation; and power that is over-centralised to Westminster.

As Liberals, why should we care about the left behind?  Some may argue it is because there were large numbers of voters in these communities, generally speaking, who voted to leave the EU (though whether it was anything to do with the EU is arguable).  Therefore, getting them ‘on side’ would increase our chances of an ‘exit from Brexit’.

However, as Liberals who fundamentally care about social justice, we should now be responding urgently to these communities, as these are the very people who stand to gain the most from Liberal policies.  Liberal values are at the heart of progressive policies that respect and value the individual, regardless of background and personal characteristics, and seek to maximise opportunities for all, so that it is not only the individual who gains, but whole communities and ultimately the country.  By targeting the ‘left behind’ we can move society on more significantly than by targeting any other group.

Paul Hindley, in his chapter in the SLF’s most recent publication Four Go In Search Of Big Ideas, makes an eloquent case for a new system of social rights, that at this moment in time, would give the ‘left behind’ a stake in our society, some dignity, and hope. As he says:

The intractable problem of our political age is: how do liberals and progressives reach out to left behind communities? How do we defuse populism, tackle economic inequality and revive a positive sense of community in the age of Brexit and identity politics? If liberals cannot reach out to the most deprived and alienated communities, to the places that most need social justice, then there will be no meaningful future for progressive politics.

No one can continue to believe that trickle-down economics is effective at distributing wealth and that unfettered, poorly regulated markets mean anything other than repetitive economic cycles of boom and bust.  So it is now particularly urgent that progressive policies and new ideas are debated and taken seriously, starting with the Liberal Democrats as the most progressive force in UK politics.

Paul goes on to describe a possible new system of social rights for the UK that continues and develops the thoughts and actions of one particular progressive social liberal, William Beveridge, the author of the welfare state:

Britain needs to establish a new system of social rights. Social rights could include: the right to be paid a liveable wage, the right to free access to healthcare and education, the right to a suitable standard of housing, the right to access sufficient levels of social security, the right to an affordable rent for a suitable property, the right to an affordable energy supply and the right to secure terms of employment. At the heart of these social rights is a guaranteed social minimum that ensures that everyone has access to the essential goods and services needed to prosper.

It is vital, as times change, that we keep this debate going and develop new ideas to help everyone in our society, but above all, the ‘left behind’.

* Helen Flynn is an Executive Member of the LDEA. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Harrogate Borough Councillor and has served on the Federal Policy Committee and Federal Board. She has been a school governor in a variety of settings for 19 years and currently chairs a multi academy trust in the north of England.

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  • Untill the party can find a way to address it’s part in the cruel welfare cuts that smashed the poor and vulnerable then I fear good positive initiatives like this will fail…the Bedroom Tax is such an awful legacy for the Lib Dems I’m not sure what can be done.

  • Neil Sandison 24th Mar '18 - 10:45am

    Social rights to equality of oppertunity for the indevidual and social justice are a good starting points but we must not forget marginalised communities like those we continue to see at Grenfell. Localism is there in name only much undermined by Treasury led conformity and the whims of the day of who ever sits in the Chancellors office.
    Giving residents a real say in how their homes are managed or redeveloped through devolved empowerment .The right to engage,comment and challenge those decisions that affect your well being .The right to legal representation or advocacy so the your communities voice is heard .

  • Let me make a suggestion here – one I’ve continually ranted on about for a long time.

    When I was a young man my peers had a hierarchical choice of university, main local employer (steel, auto etc.) banks and shops, small enterprises, and for those that were left – council employment.
    Those that didn’t go into the private sector were trained by the councils to be carpenters, electricians, plumbers etc.

    With the advent of EU-wide systems of procurement and EU-wide contract tender the ‘local’ population has been excluded and left with no connection to their communities – economically or politically – other than living there.

    Dependent upon the state, people have no “rights”. As P.J.O’Rourke once remarked – “Those aren’t rights, those are the rations of slavery – hay and a barn for human cattle.”

    It is not just about material wealth – it is about culture, identity, belonging; we don’t wish to be patronised with “rights” handed down from above in return for being the inconvenient relative who has outstayed their welcome.

    The EU has nurtured a class who believe that they are in some way superior to their fellow countrymen/women: it’s all becoming rather insulting.

  • Yeovil Yokel 24th Mar '18 - 12:11pm

    wg – “Let me make a suggestion here…” So, what’s the suggestion?
    “With the advent of EU-wide systems of procurement and EU-wide contract tender the ‘local’ population has been excluded…” Between 1991 and 2015 I ran my own business contracting out my services to ‘local’ customers including councils, companies and schools, and I never encountered this. Is this assertion based upon your own experience, or did you read of this from somewhere else?

  • David Becket 24th Mar '18 - 1:33pm

    The bedroom tax can be solved at a stroke. Make it liberal by only charging it if the person/family have been given the opportunity to move. There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to downsize, as long as they are offered a reasonable alternative.

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Mar '18 - 3:04pm

    I welcome any thoughts about what we need to do about the increasing number of people who are struggling to make ends meet because, for me, it must happen alongside our fight to remain in the EU. However I do think wg is right about things being handed down to people. As far as I’m concerned we as a party should be asking and consulting and discussing with people the rights that would help them in their daily lives, rather than deciding what we think they need. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the EU though, it’s just that it’s much easier to impose these things on others rather than taking the time for more grassroots decision making.

  • Diane Reddell 24th Mar '18 - 3:45pm

    The bedroom tax should be abolished as it is not working and is just adding to the poverty of low waged people. I think that council tax should be reformed instead perhaps – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/time-council-tax-reformed-diane-reddell/. There is also an issue that whilst there is increased building of student accommodation – there is not enough building of one-bedroom properties and disabled accommodation countywide.

  • Peter Martin 24th Mar '18 - 4:03pm

    @ Helen Flynn

    You quote Paul Hindley as saying:

    “Britain needs to establish a new system of social rights. Social rights could include: the right to be paid a liveable wage, the right to free access to healthcare and education, the right to a suitable standard of housing, the right to access sufficient levels of social security, the right to an affordable rent for a suitable property”

    Presumably the ‘living-wage’ includes everyone? Even if they don’t have a job at the present? Or even if they were on a ZHC which means they aren’t counted as unemployed but effectively are highly underemployed. If everyone was working and we weren’t wasting anyone’s talents then we’d all be better off as consequence.

    But you’re always going to be asked the question of “how are you going to pay for it?” Nervous voters are going to be worried they’ll be worse off.

    Ip or 2p on income tax isn’t going to cut it. That’s obviously going to make us all worse off in any case. So how are you going to explain to everyone how we all really can be better off?

  • Steve Trevethan 24th Mar '18 - 5:34pm

    The use of massive use Quantitive Easing to rescue banks has not caused significant inflation.
    What is there against the use of QE to stop the increasing poverty and destitution?

  • I think a good start would be a to start admitting the economic model has been a failure that has driven up personal debt to dangerous levels, put housing out of reach, left services underfunded, and destroyed job security. The problem isn’t that a group of unfortunate people have failed to benefit from an otherwise glorious story of success, it’s that there really hasn’t been much success. The irony is the economic orthodoxy that says the baby boomers are the “left behinds” (an age group that could buy homes on semi-skilled wages and look increasingly like the last generation to be able to retire) is the same economic orthodoxy that has sold the young a pup by pretending things like ZHC temporary jobs are the cuddly sounding “flexible working practices”, that having your wages undercut by cheap labour is in fact a freedom and that the prospect of being forced to work into your dotage is the result of improved health rather than ruthless capitalism. Alternatively we could carry on pretending that like something out of a Nick Cage movie about the Rapture the main problem is that the unconvinced have been “Left Behind” by this neo-liberal economic nirvana.

  • Graham Evans 24th Mar '18 - 9:58pm

    While some rights involve little by way of financial costs most material rights have to be paid for by someone. Moreover in many cases the demand is inexhaustible. In practice therefore some form of explicit or implicit form of rationing is inevitable. Unless there is a willingness to acknowledge this and then decide how such rationing will operate in practice, talk of social rights will amount to nothing more than empty rhetoric.

  • Paul Hindley is only stating what Franklin Roosevelt set out in his proposal for a second bill of rights in 1944 – an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee :
    Employment (right to work), food, clothing and leisure with enough income to support them
    Farmers’ rights to a fair income
    Freedom from unfair competition and monopolies
    Medical care
    Social security
    Roosevelt stated that having such rights would guarantee American security and that the United States’ place in the world depended upon how far the rights had been carried into practice.

    The US has not got there yet, but that is no reason why the UK should not seek to lead the way on these fundamental economic rights.

  • Glenn is right. The Liberal Left and especially the Lib Dems are now the elitist establishment with no bravery, no new ideas and no understanding of what’s going on at the bottom end of society. It’s got so bad that not even Brexit has made you think outside the proverbial box. You’re becoming a pastiche of yourselves.

    People are turning to Corbyn and the `far right` as you call them because you have utterly failed to do the things needed to create a society fit to be a first world economy. Here are a few suggestions:

    Ban ZHCs except where people specifically ask them.

    Have a 2% national unemployment target and put resources into the councils to get their residents into training and jobs. Each jobseeker could have one to one mentoring with the opportunity of a `minimum wage apprenticeship`. The onus would be on the employer to say why the person shouldn’t be given a permanent contract at the correct money after say 3 months. The idea is to get unemployment down to as near enough zero as possible. If the government has to pay the NMW and employers NI so be it. It’s a long-term investment for the future.

    Give student loans for non-degree subjects such as word/excel or administration etc.

    Keep retail jobs by making Amazon and other warehouse retailers pay correct amount of tax and strictly reform their working practices. This is distorting the high street and costing retail jobs.

  • Without jobs and full employment having social rights means very little.

  • Brando, we need to stop beating ourselves up about bad things we’ve done in the past. That’s part of politics. Labour took us into the Iraq War, a human and environmental disaster that dwarfs anything that has been done in this country. People still vote for them. Labour and others will always criticise us for political advantage. We have to take it on the chin, or deflect it, and move on. That’s what political parties do.

  • WG, yes, we do have a patronising class who think they’re superior to everyone else. But the EU didn’t do that for us, we managed that all by ourselves. Stop blaming the EU for things that are our fault.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Mar '18 - 10:21am

    “WG, yes, we do have a patronising class who think they’re superior to everyone else. But the EU didn’t do that for us, we managed that all by ourselves. Stop blaming the EU for things that are our fault.”

    Seconded. It isn’t the EU’s fault that we don’t have anywhere near adequate vocational education and that all too many people seem to have been conned (Blair’s 50%) into the idea that a degree – any old degree – is a passport to everything.

  • Rob Parsons, Most senior Lib Dems have not beaten themselves up one bit about bad things they did in our name in the past (why not just cause it coalition?). Pretending we have to stop is just a way to avoid facing the truth.

  • Geoffrey Payne 25th Mar '18 - 11:16am

    Peter Martin makes a mistake in suggesting that the living wage is simply a cost that has to be paid for. If people on low incomes get an increase that means they can spend more money, and they are much more likely to spend it than save it or spend it abroad as those on higher incomes will do. This has a multiplier effect on the local economy benefiting local businesses and services – a very effective stimulus for the economy generating more overall wealth that can then be taxed.

  • Overall, what Lib Dems need to do for the ‘Left behind’ is to talk and care and campaign as much about the Left Behind and their issues as we do about those closer to ourselves personally (judging from the number of articles posted) including (in no particular order) – electoral reform and the House of Lords, articles focused mainly women and women’s issues, internal party matters, issues on sexuality and gender, and articles on ‘Why Brexit must be stopped’ rather than ‘This is what we are doing about it this week, and the next week, and the week after …’.

  • Gordon Lishman 25th Mar '18 - 12:42pm

    I understand that people want to agonise about the legacy of the coalition years and to make points about the EU. However, it doesn’t help to promote constructive debate about big ideas if those themes are the standard default option for every discussion.

    Social and economic rights as a basic political theme has a long history. JoeB above picks up on one example. Tom Paine is another. Debates in the UN and, for instance, in India about enshrining economic rights in law have been important in addressing the needs of the poorest people.

    Paul Hindley takes up these ideas writing from an area of the UK which could hardly be more distant from the South East of England in terms of economic success, social support, political influence and hope. It’s not hard to see why people there are alienated from political life. Their needs and the aspirations they might have will not be met and stimulated by small tweaks to policies or benefits. They need some big ideas to revive their hopes.

    Sue Sutherland is right of course about talking with, listening to people and responding to their needs. We need to go further by involving them in taking and using power in their own lives and contexts. That’s why it’s valuable to have thoughtful contributions to national debates from someone like Paul who has the daily experience of living in one of the communities he writes about. But it’s still necessary for a political party to have policies and it’s helpful to stimulate people’s thinking by proposing some of the ideas which can underpin new solutions. We need to change the debate from discussing details and tweaks to policies and move towards some of the big ideas which can transform lives.

    And finally, although I can understand the people I mention at the head of this comment, I really find it difficult to comprehend the agenda of people who think it’s helpful to preface specific ideas with a paragraph of aggressive contempt. That makes it less likely that people will read the rest of what you’ve got to say. Presumably that’s not the tone you adopt with family, friends and work colleagues, so why do it here?

  • John Roffey 25th Mar '18 - 1:00pm

    @Sue Sutherland “As far as I’m concerned we as a party should be asking and consulting and discussing with people the rights that would help them in their daily lives, rather than deciding what we think they need.”

    I do agree, at this stage, that the Party should be ‘asking’ rather than ‘telling’ voters what needs to be done to overcome the intractable problems [highlighted by Paul Hindley] faced by voters in communities generally.

    The Party is not very popular at the moment and L/D local representatives ‘listening’ to and collecting’ voters views initially – might go a long way to start repairing the damage that has been done.

    A simple check list could be designed, if one is not already available, recording voter’s top concerns at present that would provide a clear insight to the most important issues in each community. It is probably too late for the up and coming Council elections – but collecting this information would provide a basis for the necessary policies at the next and at the general election.

    I would suggest a systematic approach is required to ensure that [affordable] policies can be developed to improve the Party’s standing in the polls – and perhaps stave off extinction – which looks a real threat at present.

  • John Roffey 25th Mar '18 - 1:03pm

    @Gordon Lishman – good summary.

  • I didn’t mean my post to be aggressive.

    I mainly have trouble with the concept of “the left behind” because it really does derive from the language of the rapture (the first thing you hit when you type it into google) and it is partly used to imply that there has been a move forward that has left behind some stragglers. When really we’ve settled into a pattern of managed social decline, where we tell people they shouldn’t expect so much, should downsize, accept gradually devalued work, higher costs, later retirement and so on. I don’t think this is about the coalition years or alleged liberal elites (another concept I have a problem with). I think it’s about the failure to understand that capitalism is essentially amoral and that manufacturers would happily abandon the developing world if it was discovered that overheads could be reduced still further by relocating production to the moon. I think that globalism far from being empowering ultimately reduces the scope of people to effect change, because it become essentially a dialogue between technocrats and finance. I see it as corporate and political elitism. but not as liberal or left wing at all.

  • Peter Hirst 25th Mar '18 - 4:22pm

    I agree this is an urgent problem. A worthwhile job is key. We need a more structured and focused teaching and training system for those without any obvious niche. Most people can apply themselves to a trade or a role if they can see a credible route to a decent quality of life.

  • James Sandbach 25th Mar '18 - 4:27pm

    The UK is already signatory to the UN Convention on Social and Economic Rights (ICESCR) covering the Rights that Helen and Paul have discussed and the UK is obliged to report on these –
    we have seen UN investigations in recent years concerning UK breaches in relation to disabled people, welfare cuts, access to social housing etc with the UN’s Rapporteurs and Commissioners for Human Rights publishing highly critical reports of the UK and our Government’s welfare policies. Its important to understand that ICESCR is understood at UN level to be integral to civil and political rights, ie on a par with the UN Convention on Human Rights and linked to the UN Charter. If as a party we are serious about civil liberties and human rights, we also have to be serious about social and political rights (the analogy of negative and positive liberty comes to mind) as they are so closely connected.

  • James Sandbach 25th Mar '18 - 4:33pm

    For more info. on how the UK is in breach of ICESR see http://www.just-fair.co.uk/economic-and-social-rights

  • Dean Crofts 25th Mar '18 - 6:56pm

    This is not an EU issue and nor should we look to the EU and our EU policy to fix this!

    People are did-illusioned and used the EU as the scapegoat.

    The Liberal Democrat choice is how do we create industry – JOBS – that pay so one can afford a house and cost of living without claiming benefit. That is truly making an individual liberal from the state and will give confidence to people trust in government again if a government provides this support and opportunity.

    We are great at bringing ideas to the table, look at green investment bank, infrastructure bank, as two examples of what we could implement as liberal policies to get the homes built, roads built, new manufacturing attracted and built in areas that need jobs that do not just pay the living wage but a wage to pay rent/mortgages and the cost of living, so people do not have to run to the state to claim benefit.

    Labour cannot offer this as they do not understand liberal economics with the mix of social fairness. Tories will never offer this as they are in the hands of big business.

    It’s Localism, small businesses, make it local, create jobs, set up technical colleges for carpenters, builders, bricklayers, electricians, plumbers all the skills we need to start a Liberal New Deal…….

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Mar '18 - 8:28pm

    I am agreeing with James, we need to cut to the chase. Liberal Democrats have to demand jobs for all and sufficient pay for them, with sufficient benefits for those who can’t work. We should aim for unemployment being no more than 2.5 percent, which would give workers some heft in demanding better conditions and pay. Local councils should indeed be re-empowered, providing services and houses which will mean local jobs are created. Co-operative businesses should be fostered by our councillors. The Government should be the final guarantor of creating jobs for all. We should also demand a National Living Wage increased to 70% of average earnings, and working age benefits increased to 60%. We should become known as the party which fights for people’s right to work, to have decent jobs, and not to live in poverty.

  • Graham Evans 25th Mar '18 - 10:52pm

    @ Dean Crofs There are already technical colleges for carpenters, etc. They’re called General Further Education colleges and there are getting on for 200 spread across the country. In addition there is a new group of UTCs which take students at 14. Certainly more money and resources could be out into this sector which successive governments have underfunded compared to the schools and universities sectors, but there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

  • Graham Evans 25th Mar '18 - 11:06pm

    @Katherine Pindar. Why choose 2.5% as your target figure for unemployment? Most economists would suggest this is too low for a flexible economy in which people have an opportunity to move from one job to another. In fact, rather than giving workers more bargaining power the Government’s setting of such a low figure might actually encourage companies to invest more in automation and robotics. In the long run this might be good for the economy, but it might also exacerbate disparities of wealth and result in short to medium term rises in unemployment.

  • Graham Evans 25th Mar '18 - 11:12pm

    @ Katherine Pindar The only countries which in effect guaranteed jobs for all (provided you were not a political dissident) were the former communists states of Eastern Europe, and they were hardly shining examples of successful economies.

  • Beveridge’s welfare state depended on full employment – everyone who wanted work could find it. The reality is often quite different. Hyman Minsky’s theories of financial instability suggested that capitalist economies were prone to serious downturns in which large numbers of people would find themselves unemployed. What’s more, this would lead to large shortfalls in demand for goods and services which would further exacerbate such downturns. The result was a vicious circle that would become worse and worse as the financial system evolved into an increasingly fragile entity and households and businesses became increasingly mired in debt.
    The only way out of this was to build robust institutions that insulated working people from the excesses of the system. While progressive taxation and unemployment benefits goes some way toward both protecting workers and propping up demand during downturns, it does not protect many from long bouts of unemployment. It has become increasingly clear that Minsky was right about the nature of capitalist economies. They are highly unstable systems that are seriously prone to debt-fuelled collapse.
    There are a number of policy responses required to address these inherent weaknesses in our economic systems. First and foremost is the stability of household debt that is dominated by mortgage lending, Second is the concept of pre-distribution that aims to focus on market reforms that encourage a more equal distribution of economic power and rewards before government collects taxes or pays out benefits. Instead of equalising unfair market outcomes through tax-and-spend or tax-and-transfer, we instead engineer markets to create fairer outcomes from the beginning.
    Third is the concept of a job guarantee focused on developing the work skills of the long-term unemployed with a view to making them employable and providing a more efficient fiscal automatic stabiliser during downturns. The principal measures to implement these policies require a shift in the incidence of taxation from income to wealth.

  • @ Gordon Lishman

    If Parliament passed a bill of social rights which included the right for everyone who wanted paid employment to have such paid employment which is suitable to them and the right to have a home of their own, how would a homeless unemployed person make the state provide them with a suitable paid job and a home of their own?

    @ James Sandbach

    Thanks for the information and link.

    @ Katharine Pindar

    Great post, I agree with you.

    @ Graham Evans

    I think you should ask yourself the question why having 5% unemployment, which is the level most economists say we should have, is acceptable? This would mean 1.67 million people in the UK not having a job but wanting one. I don’t understand how this could be liberal. A job guarantee, as it is sometimes called today, is recognised as a feature of Keynesian economics. The Keynes who was once recognised as the saviour of capitalism not a communist. A job guarantee scheme would mean that everyone who was unemployed for a particular length of time would be found a job suitable for them and paid by the government to do it (if they wanted such a job). It is often suggested that the pay rate would be the legal minimum wage according to age. I would prefer that this would only apply to those who would earn more money than their benefits by being paid these rates and for the rest they would be paid their travel expenses and £30 a week on top of their benefits.

  • Graham Evans 26th Mar '18 - 8:25am

    @ Michael BG Could you name those countries which successfully operate a government job guarantee scheme on the model you propose. The only democracy of which I am aware which comes anywhere near to what you are proposing is Germany with their mini job scheme, but Germany doesn’t even have a minimum wage. Moreover, the sort of jobs which the Government might usefully offer are precisely the jobs that so many native Britons are unwilling to do. Indeed the trade union movement has been often opposed to this sort of job creation because it actually drives wages down.

  • Graham Evans 26th Mar '18 - 8:37am

    @ JoeB Since 1945 Germany has been pretty successful in avoiding the problems you ascribe to capitalism, its biggest problems arising from unification and the West taking on the inherited problems of the failed economic model East Germany. It is true that Britain’s problems are associated with personal debt, particularly mortgage debt, but Germans have avoided this trap by adopting a more responsible attitude to debt, arguably too conservative, in particular seeing housing as a place to live rather than an asset to be exploited in order to finance a “better” life style.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Mar '18 - 9:26am

    “The only countries which in effect guaranteed jobs for all (provided you were not a political dissident) were the former communists states of Eastern Europe, and they were hardly shining examples of successful economies.”

    Having seen some of them at the time – I agree

  • Peter Martin 26th Mar '18 - 12:09pm

    @ Geoffrey Payne,

    You might have misunderstood me slightly. I often argue along the same lines as yourself but it does take a degree of lateral thought to see that this is the correct way to look at the issue of wage levels. I was simply challenging Helen to apply that degree of lateral thought to the problem herself.

    However, she’s perhaps full of her own sense of superiority and doesn’t deign to offer us any answers to these kind of questions.

  • Graham,

    most large organisations use a mix of financial and non-financial measures to manage performance and align strategic objectives – the so called ‘balanced acorecard’ approach developed by Kaplan and Norton.
    In managing the economy. Governments need to take a somewahat similiar approach in applying the tools at their disposal.
    Monetary policy may be managed with the aim of achieving a pre-dtermined nominal GDP target, fiscal polcy in maintaining employment at or close to the NAIRU rate, bank regulation focused on adequacy of capital held by individual financial instutions to mitigate systematic risks in the finance sector.
    Job guarantees can be applied to address the persisent issue of long-term unemployment. That is not a guaranteed job for everyone during normal times, but does provide a minimum safety net (in place of unemployment benefit during economic slumps) that is consistent with managing the economy at a full employment level and optimising the resources of the country.

  • Peter Martin 26th Mar '18 - 4:55pm

    @ Graham,

    Germany has also nearly always adopted a policy of being a net exporter which means there is always more than enough money coming into the country to keep the economy moving and also enough to finance the savings of German people.

    So the culture of borrowing hasn’t taken hold in Germany as it has here. Neither has there been no need for the Govt to encourage it. Be it in housebuying or in the increase in general household debt to support overall aggregate demand.

    Germans take pride in all this and suggest the world would be a much better place if everyone was like them.

    The snag is that it’s arithmetically impossible. Some of us have to be net importers to balance things up!

  • @ Graham Evans

    Just because no country has such a scheme does not mean it wouldn’t work better than the current orthodoxy which no county practiced in the 1950’s. In Argentine where a non-universal scheme was successful (http://www.levyinstitute.org/pubs/wp_534.pdf) there seems just to have been benefits and wages increased and not fell as you predict. The list in section 6 seems impressive to me. I couldn’t discover when it ended.

  • Graham Evans 26th Mar '18 - 11:47pm

    @ Peter Martin While I disapprove of Germany’s mercantile economic policies, I think there is little connection with the attitude of Germans to personal debt. Moreover, rather than encouraging consumer spending through personal debt British governments could have used fiscal and monetary policies to promote investment and exports. Capitalism comes in many forms. It is countries and governments which dictate which particular route to take. However when the route proves to be misguided it is because of a failure by government, not by capitalism per se.

  • Graham Evans 27th Mar '18 - 12:02am

    While Keynes might have championed the theoretical benefits of governments at times paying people to dig holes in the ground and then pay others to fill them, in the real world voters will only support the provision of public sector jobs when there is a perceived real need. In practice therefore the concept of a government guarantee will only work on the basis of some sort of workfare scheme, which those on the left of politics tend to oppose.

  • Peter Martin 27th Mar '18 - 8:56am


    I’m not sure you’re right on the question of German people’s attitude to debt. Sure the Government can use fiscal policies to expand the economy but technically that’s debt. The difference is that no-one can compel the Govt to repay, and indeed it shouldn’t repay. Govt debt is money owed to the rest of us. The irony is that German people like to save but their savings translate to German Govt debt. It’s about 70% of GDP and really no problem at all but the feeling in Germany is that they should “pay it back”. 🙁

    This debt aversion isn’t peculiar to German people. I’m quite debt averse myself, on a personal level. But this doesn’t mean that the Government should be debt averse. Everything has to sum to zero. So, if I’m not in debt, and have positive numbers in my bank account that means someone has to hold the negative numbers. Ultimately that has to be Govt. All nationalities need some education on this very simple point. IMO.


  • Peter Martin 27th Mar '18 - 9:14am


    Keynes hole ‘digging and filling in again’ idea is somewhat misunderstood. This is what he actually said:

    “If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.”

    In his General Theory Keynes was discussing how a fiat currency to be made to work like Gold. We all know that gold coins are created by digging holes to get the gold out of the ground and presumably someone might then want to fill them in again. So if there’s no gold involved Keynes mused that the Government could follow a parallel procedure. There’s no need to do this of course as he correctly points out.

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Mar '18 - 9:48am

    “I think there is little connection with the attitude of Germans to personal debt. ”

    Presumably their attitude towards debt and inflation is still coloured by the history of the Weimar Republic inflation?

    Last time I went there (a few years ago) it still wasn’t possible to pay for pretty well everything using a credit card.

  • @Yeovil Yokel

    I have never understood how so many UK people are standing (sitting) idle when we are importing huge numbers of workers.

    I do not understand how we have arrived at a position where poorer EU countries can educate and train their young people better than the UK – all political parties, including the LibDems, are responsible for creating the social conditions that are present locally and nationally in the UK.

    That you employ locally is of credit to you, but I sincerely believe that companies and local authorities have ignored the people on their doorsteps in favour of cheaper labour from other EU countries.

    I bow to the argument that it is “isn’t all the EU’s fault” – but the EU’s corporate nature has contributed to the exploitation of EU-wide wage differences.
    And, when noting the decline in the social fabric around me I can do no other than note that it has occurred during our membership of the European Union.

    Correlation and causation arguments apart, I have seen no benefit of my demographic being in the EU.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Mar '18 - 11:06am

    wg 27th Mar ’18 – 10:25am: These problems are long term, some of them predate World War One. Try the converse question previously debated: How and why did West Germany recover economically so fast after World War Two heavy bombardment?
    (East Germany had to pay reparations to the USSR, strictly enforced).

  • Richard Underhill 27th Mar '18 - 11:24am
  • @Richard Underhill – David Penhaligon was a very amiable – and ‘Liberal’ politician, but I do not regard membership of the EU as liberal – that is in regards to personal liberty and integrity.

    It is not good enough to simply wave away the breaking down of communities as something that was about before World War One – we elect politicians to represent and provide answers to our people’s problems.

    How have we arrived at a position where a large section of society are poorly educated and with no chance to leave the environment in which they were born?
    Why is the UK unable to train the people that they have, instead of importing vast numbers of people from other countries?
    No, I’m not against immigration, and neither am I racist.

    What sort of economic system encourages a lack of ambition with bribes to stay in their hopelessness (an earlier LDV post encouraged the idea of a ‘Universal Benefit’) whilst bringing in people to do the work.

    There is a moral and aspirational emptiness to – and I hate to use the phrase – ‘liberal left’ thinking; and I honestly believe that the ‘working class’ (another unliked phrase) are looking for more than spurious “rights” that salve the consciences of those that proclaim representation of the people.

    At present, assisted by the coalition years, May’s government seems to be offering more hope than I have seen for a long time (Brexit is neither here nor there at my level of society)

    We need to leave the European Union to renew our democracy; the present system is failing so many of our people.

  • Peter Martin 27th Mar '18 - 12:14pm

    @ wg,

    I agree with you! I don’t believe the genuinely working class (sorry to use that term) want to sit at home watching a large screen TV paid for by some Universal Benefit.

    Most people do want to make a contribution to society and receive their fair share the rewards in return. So the challenge is to give everyone the chance to do that without insisting that their contribution is regarded as little more than workfare.

    This isn’t to say that everyone will be required to perform hard manual labour. However, as Stephen Hawking as shown, we should never easily write anyone off as being totally incapable. That’s not, of course, to say that every disabled person has to write cutting edge theories on the nature of the universe, but unless we give everyone an opportunity to do what they can we’ll never know.

  • Thank you to all for enduring my rants – although I regard the idea of ‘rights’ as a hierarchy where one right trumps another; the right of the adjudicator being top of the list.

    I, like Jordan Peterson, clinical physiologist and cultural critic, have come around to the idea that “social justice” is used as a front for advancing an authoritarian agenda.

    This “left behind” won’t be fooled again.

  • *psychologist – I’ll take more water with my gin in future.

  • Geoffrey Payne 27th Mar '18 - 8:48pm

    @Peter Martin – you make a thoughtful response to my comment, for which I thank you, and then you make a very unpleasant comment about Helen which I find hard to understand. Many of us are very busy with local elections is probably the virtuous reason that neither of us are saying much for now despite our passion for this topic.

  • Peter Martin 27th Mar '18 - 11:02pm

    @ Geoffrey Payne,

    I have looked through Helen’s previous posts and I can’t find any evidence that she ever answers questions or responds to what might be considered the more relevant points raised.

    She’s not the only one and it does irk me that people can find the time to write the posts then totally ignore any discussion and refuse to any questions. They are always too busy? I don’t think that’s the real explanation.

  • Neil Sandison 28th Mar '18 - 2:17pm

    Going back to Helens article and another article regarding ex service persons perhaps as Liberal Democrats what we need to do most is not see the “left behind” as a group but recognise them as individuals and communities perhaps we need to” count them in “on the decisions that affect their lives ,the places where they live and regenerating those run down communities . Globalisation and automation will have a tremendous impact upon these communities that already have little resilience but rather than patronise them and promise jam tomorrow we should be assisting them to release their own creative talents ,alternative employment opertunities place shape the community in which live ,enpower them to build a better future for their children and grand children .Lets make sure we do not leave a legacy like the one we saw in the 1980s where those communities and individuals never recovered from the Thatcher years.

  • Malcolm Todd 28th Mar '18 - 2:41pm

    I shall wearily take issue once again with the ridiculous characterisation of universal income (this time by wg 27th Mar ’18 – 11:57am) as a “bribe to stay in their hopelessness”.
    What you’re describing is unemployment benefit as it exists now and has done since the days of Queen Elizabeth’s Poor Law: a benefit which will pay you barely enough to stay alive provided you don’t go out and earn any money for yourself. The whole point of UBI (in any of its manifestations) is that whilst it doesn’t enable you to live a life any richer than existing benefits do, it isn’t withdrawn when you start to earn yourself – whether you’re scratching together a few pounds from menial labour or as a business start-up, or launching yourself on a successful career as a rock star or a genius astrophysicist. So the incentive to get on and make something of yourself is greater, not less. Is this really so difficult to understand?

  • Neil,

    I appreciate your sentiments, but I think it might be useful to recognise that many Libdem members and voters are among the so called ‘Left behind’. Instead of talking about ‘these communities’ and what we can do them, we need to start talking about us – our elderly parents and our children, our relatives and work colleagues, our friends and neighbours -and what we can do for ourselves and each other.
    Perhaps then we won’t be seen as patronising others and promising jam for a tomorrow that never comes.
    When Paul Hindley argues for the right to be paid a liveable wage, the right to free access to healthcare and education, the right to a suitable standard of housing, the right to access sufficient levels of social security, the right to an affordable rent for a suitable property, the right to an affordable energy supply and the right to secure terms of employment – surely he is arguing for basic economic rights for all.

  • Katharine Pindar 29th Mar '18 - 12:42am

    The trouble is, Joe, that every ‘right’ to be claimed by people implies a ‘duty’ by other people to provide it. And as Liberals we would be wary of rights in practice going to the more powerful in society and not ‘the left-behind’. It seems to me that to set out this list of ‘rights’ appears as sadly fanciful as Neil Sandison’s pleasant ideas of our assisting people to release their creative talents, create alternative employment opportunities and empower them to shape better futures for their children and grandchildren. Just how do we do those things, Neil? I’d rather stick with your predistribution ideas, Joe, as far as I understand them – give people sufficient training and education, perhaps Vince’s Learning Accounts plus retraining for the long-term unemployed, and provide t them with a little capital, maybe not a plot of land but a Citizen’s Basic Income as a floor from which they can more freely access worthwhile employment, provided there is low unemployment guaranteed by the government. We should offer attainable ends.

  • Katherine,

    pre-distribution is exactly how I think we should approach the issue. Setting out the moral case, however, can produce powerful results. We would not be the first to advocate the provision of a little capital to get started in life and a little help as people approach the later years of their working life.
    Gordon Lishman mentioned Tom Paine. His last pamphlet, ‘Agrarian Justice’, published in the winter of 1795, further developed his ideas in the ‘Rights of Man’ about how land ownership separated the majority of people from their rightful, natural inheritance and means of independent survival. The U.S. Social Security Administration recognizes Agrarian Justice as the first American proposal for an old-age pension and basic income or citizen’s dividend. Paine wrote:
    “In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity … [Government must] create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.”

  • Neil Sandison 29th Mar '18 - 11:43am

    JOE B . Perhaps i should declare an interest as some one who would be described as a blue collar worker living in an inner urban area representing on behalf of the Liberal Democrats a diverse inner urban ward in my town centre. The enthusiasm i see by residents to both contribute to and run their own local facilities is only matched by the dead hand of the state through the local council and the byzantine rules created by central government to inhibit that progress. The Localism Act was a good idea but stifled by the Treasury ,Local Neighbourhood plans are just as applicable for inner urban areas as they are for the suburbs and rural parishes the problem is one of capacity building to enable those communities to have a greater say in defining their own needs the support to enpower them to formulate such plans and should they just be limited to planning matters ? what about health and education ?.As liberals we have always believed in devolving power to the lowest viable entity to exercise that power why not communities and resident/tenant associations when looking at regeneration schemes.

  • Neil,

    you make good points about inner urban areas and capacity building. This is just as applicable to London and its conglomeration of towns and villages as it is to other areas. Trying to deal with local area planning without the ability to consider health and education infrastructure is a big problem for us all.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Mar '18 - 2:51pm

    Katherine Pindar .Very much support lifelong learning accounts but would probable add lifelong learning and skills development to the words account .it is almost inevitable in todays jobs market that without a degree or specialism you will move from career to career from job to job on a regular basis .it is likely that your skill or expertees may in fact become redundant as it is overtaken by new technology particularly if you are over 50 .That should not mean you cannot re-skill or find a new use in your community or put your organisational or leadership experience to a new use on behalf of your community. This is why capacity building ,learning new skills and enpowerment are all part of the same mix and should be promoted as a reply to the left behind agenda not just offering a short term gestures or unfunded promises we should leave to others .

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