Liberal Democrats should promote a better Advent

Has Britain ever had an Advent with less expectation of a happy arrival?

On December 11, general expectation is that Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Bill will be defeated. Nobody can tell what will happen next. All that seems certain is that no political grouping will be completely satisfied. There can be no fulfilment of much-touted aims, only grudging compromise.

Besides, for Christians, the joy this year surely should be qualified. To be shopping extravagantly now and feasting lavishly then, for those who can afford it, doesn’t feel right when there are 420 Trussell Trust food banks supplying more than a million people each year, and food parcels will shortly be packed for the children of the poorest families.

It doesn’t feel right to rejoice, when the recent report of the UN rapporteur Phliip Alston has shown the extent of suffering among the 14 million British people living in poverty, with so much of the decline in their fortunes set in train by our Government.

Liberal Democrats have to promote the vital measures we have agreed and put forward to tackle these towering problems, much discussed in recent articles on this site. But what our country is also surely waiting for is the restoration, the second coming, of its rightful values.

Values which have been ignored by the Government, says Philip Alston, in considering the likely impact of Brexit on people in poverty as ‘an afterthought’; and in meantime overturning ‘key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract’ by inflicting misery on the working poor, on single mothers, on people with disabilities, and on ‘millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.’

He writes, ‘British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited and often callous approach, apparently designed to instil discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world.’

How could this happen? If we get the governments we deserve, what does this say about our society today? And what can we do to help?

We see a hugely divided society, where the needs built up for the unfortunate and underprivileged (as described elsewhere by William Wallace) have been exploited by terrorists of ideas, aided by the ease of modern communications, to subvert British values such as tolerance, readiness to listen to each other without shouting, and sense of fair play. The vast mass of our fellow citizens still hold such values, but are not attended to. 

So we have an unhappy society, puzzled and anxious at best, despairing at worst, accepting that severance from our European partners, despite the economic hardships and years of uncertainty and insecurity that will follow, may now be inevitable. So we have a Government  prepared to see our own children deprived, our young people starved of hope, employment at whatever cost the only ideal and the social safety net in tatters.

Liberal Democrats, right about staying in Europe, right about restoring proper welfare benefits, believing in the restoration of community spirit and the renewal of local services, cannot accept such corruption of values. Our leaders must call for and promote a new advent, a national movement of renewal and revival, desperately needed now by our country. 

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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28 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Dec '18 - 1:46pm

    As with David, as ever, with Katharine, compassion and commitment .

    I do believe only Layla Moran amongst the members of Parliament, due to a likeability and no baggage , should be leader.

    But the party needs to realise it seems very out of touch.

    Inequality and poverty are awful, but so is lack of reality and democracy, we fail on these in the eyes of people. They are fed up with the out of touch politicians.

    It does not help when somebody like Ed Davey cannot countenance minimum sentences for acid carrying , guilty, facing sentence for a second offence. Absolutely nothing on the issues in the article, are as obvious in the media, as this constant lack f much to say that reflects the real attitudes of good, not prejudiced people.

    People like me.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Dec '18 - 2:49pm

    @ Katharine,

    ……….on people in poverty as ‘an afterthought’; and in meantime overturning ‘key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract’ by inflicting misery on the working poor, on single mothers, on people with disabilities, and on ‘millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.’

    Absolute right. I often think we should be in the same party. Maybe one day?

    However, you link all this to Brexit and our moving away from the EU, even though the problems you describe have been accumulating for years and while we’ve been in the EU.

    It’s nearly all down to neoliberalism and austerity economics IMO. There’s really no need for it.

    A quick glance across the Channel is enough to know that austerity economics is causing huge problems there too. It’s just about 18 months that Lib Dems had such high hopes in En Marche and Emmanuel Macron. There’s no mention of him now on LibDemVoice even though his name is very much in the news.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Dec '18 - 7:11pm

    It’s the attitudes that have shocked me, colleagues: the attitudes and the values behind them. The Government has been allowed to let the poorest and least capable of our fellow citizens be treated so very badly, without a public outcry. I don’t believe that the decline in standards has anything to do with neoliberalism, Peter, not do I believe that our party has no right to occupy the moral high ground on this, David. The Government’s moral turpitude is all too obvious, and the official Opposition has too long occupied the shifting sands of seeking political advantage regardless of what is right for the country.

    We are all sinners in some ways – you are right, John McHugo, to say that the suffering in Yemen and Syria and among the dispossessed of Palestine should never be ignored, in our quest for international co-operation – but, Lorenzo, I think in appealing for better standards we would in touch with many dispirited voters, fed up with current politicians.

    I believe a trio of our leaders, Vince of course, who has done many worthwhile things, Stephen as Welfare spokesperson, and Tim for his transparent goodness and passion, can if they work together inspire a new beginning for the nation. That would bring a truly great New Year, whatever happens over Brexit.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Dec '18 - 7:39pm

    @ Katharine,

    If the “decline in standards” hasn’t “anything to do with neoliberalism”, just what is it to do with? People are people, just the same as ever. Neither totally altruistic nor totally selfish. But, the clever manipulation of the the neoliberals pushes them towards the latter. Especially if everyone is always given a run-down of how much extra tax they’ll have to pay to fix up the problems people like yourself do well to highlight. There’s never that angle when we build a new jet fighter or a new aircraft carrier. Then we’re told how many jobs the program will create.

    I don’t always totally agree with George Monbiot but I’d say he’s on the right track with this article which it titled: Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Dec '18 - 10:17pm

    Not so, friends. The Government is treating the poor not as CONSUMERS but as COMMODITIES – valuable only as workers, discarded as far as possible when not working. This is a new and dangerous trend, it seems to me, and of course totally opposed to Liberal thinking. Thank you for the article, Peter, which reminded me of the other concept when I read that neo-liberalism treats people as consumers.

    Just acknowledgements so far from our leaders, David. Thanks to everyone for commenting.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Dec '18 - 2:31pm

    I think it is tragic, Jenny, if this view of how citizens should be treated has now become so prevalent that workers dealing with welfare claims are now expected to treat other workers asking for their rights with harshness, as Philip Alston has found to be the case. The commodification of people, if I remember what Yanis Varoufakis has shown, should not be accepted. And it is surely no part of the neo-liberalism we are unfortunately used to?

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd Dec '18 - 2:48pm

    Peter Martin, thank you for the link to the George Monbiot article which I found very interesting and persuasive. It seems to have been written just before the EU referendum although it doesn’t deal with this. For me it underlines the idea that the rich and powerful object to the EU because it has supported and introduced workers rights and environmental protection and, of course, the new measures against tax avoidance though off shore companies. What the EU hasn’t done is to challenge austerity.
    Unfortunately the term neoliberalism brings liberalism itself into disrepute, just because of the name. I think of it as false liberalism. It has been a very successful ideology especially because it involves so much secrecy and hidden wealth, so there is no real target for people’s anger at the limited lives they lead with no hope for the future. The false liberals have been very clever in providing an unreal target in the shape of the EU. That is why Brexit is important.
    What should real liberals do when faced with this shape changing many headed monster? Obviously, it represents the rich and powerful, so surely we should be challenging the doctrine. Sadly it wrapped its slimy coils around our leaders during Coalition but that shouldn’t stop us from challenging it now. Katharine presents a just picture of what our society has become and it is almost as far away from a Lib Dem society as you can get. Like the country, our party has become divided. Apparently we have economic liberals and social liberals and unfortunately economic liberalism hasn’t produced the society social liberals, and, I believe economic liberals actually want.
    Perhaps the time has come for synthesis and we should be asking both sides of our party to come together and build on the grounds that are common between them to produce an economy and a society which regulates the power of the wealthy and ensures a better life for the rest of us.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Dec '18 - 6:06pm

    Sue, thank you for your wise comment. I am afraid that now our MPs are entirely caught up with the excitement of the debates in Parliament, I shall get no further in asking them to take up the cause of the treatment of the poor and disadvantaged in our society, so well highlighted by Professor Alston. And any sort of grassroots action is likely to be deferred too. After the current battles, I hope to be fighting again for our party to lead a moral revolution against the attitudes which have entrenched austerity, and I know you will be engaged in a similar struggle. Perhaps we will need a new ginger group in our party.

  • Jayne Mansfield 4th Dec '18 - 8:00pm

    @ Katharine Pindar,

    Katharine, do you think that those who are hungry are moved by politicians who are currently preoccupied and excited by other debates? Or indeed grateful that their predicament will or might be ameliorated at some future point when these excitable MPs no longer have more important issues to deal with?

    As someone who has worked in a dispensary at Howrah Station Kolkata, I saw at first hand that hunger is an imperative, especially when there are hungry children. So much so that necessary drugs dispensed were sold on the black market in exchange for food , which is why only one days supply was prescribed and they, often mothers and their sick child, had to return to the dispensary the next day for another day’s supply.

    In truth, your MPs and those MPs of other parties who have caused this humiliation of people having to visit food banks sickens me. If that makes me an extremist as opposed to a nicey, nicey, moderate, centre ground, Liberal Democrat, may I say I wear the label with pride.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Dec '18 - 12:53am

    There are plenty of us who might be called extremist moderates, Jayne (see my reference in a comment on Edwin Black’s current article on moderation), and we reject your characterisation as at all applicable to our current party. Ask David Raw or Tim Farron or Sue Sutherland or Michael BG if they don’t feel a surge of anger as I do at the idea of being called ‘nicey nicey’ – you are not the only one around to care passionately about the plight of the poor here and desperate people abroad, and we seek allies to be effective for them.

    Labour MPs have had a talk in Parliament about the Philip Alston report, but what are they going to do about it? Where were they when the Chancellor brought in his Budget which made the better-off still more so? I have faith in our MPs as I have in our grassroots to serve and to care and to act for suffering people. But there is much to do. I would like us for example to pledge to work for the abolition of food banks within a very few years, by ensuring that everyone in Britain can have a sufficient income and a decent job, and individual people are treated with dignity again.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Dec '18 - 7:09am

    Jayne, I believe most of us activists are not ‘nicey nicey’ liberals at all, but ‘extremist moderates’, as I have written before and reference in Edwin Black’s current piece. We have not caused, but try to improve, hardships in this country, as David Raw does for example with his food bank. We care passionately about serving people who need help, both in this country and abroad, and we work towards a society here where food banks are abolished, where everyone is able to have a decent job if they want one, has sufficient income to manage without having to struggle, and is treated again with dignity. We need allies – please join with us in fighting for these things.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 5th Dec '18 - 7:43am

    Katharine, I would agree with Jayne that it is not acceptable if, as you suggest, our MPs are too preoccupied with the brexit debate to give any thought to the plight of the poor and disadvantaged.
    Do I gather that you have still not received responses from the letters that you wrote to Vince Cable, Tim Farron, and Stephen Lloyd? This does seem disappointing. I think Tim certainly does feel strongly about the issues you raise, and Vince did speak last Christmas about how Lib Dems were a party that stands up for the underdog. But unfortunately for the last two and a half years the party has seemed far more interested in standing up for the EU than in standing up for the poor and disadvantaged.

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Dec '18 - 9:46am

    @ Katharine Pindar,
    My use of the term ‘nicey, nicey’ liberals was not meant as a personal attack on you. I find it hard to criticise your human decency, but I must admit that when it comes to seeing the best in people , particular your politicians who in my opinion, by accident or design , have been instrumental in causing the rise in food banks, and the hardening of attitudes to those in need, I have to disagree with you.

    I know that people like David Raw and Expats, like many caring people work in a voluntary capacity to help those in desperate need, but in a civilised society this should not be necessary. Voluntary action is a wonderful expression of how we as a society still have individuals who care, but it should not become a substitute for the basic responsibilities of the state to its people.

    I am afraid that my response to your Liberal Democrat politicians would be. ‘Warm words butter no parsnips’.

    I have seen no evidence that those in power during the coalition have accepted the damage that I believe they have caused. Neither them nor their supporters in the party.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Dec '18 - 12:44pm

    Jayne, David

    I really do fail to understand what is to be the purpose of the regular negativity here about the past, we cannot revisit it and are no longer involved with it, as not in coalition with the Conservatives.

    I would happily be in, or in alliance with, a reformed Labour party. In New Labour I was too liberal left, for now Labour, I am too social democrat right, of the leaderships, past or at present, we can judge or join them. Yet what is the point of preferring them to this party and frequenting this site not Labourlist.

    Do you want to be the ghost of Marley?

  • Mick Taylor 5th Dec '18 - 3:29pm

    Catherine, your statement is quite outrageous. No-one in the party is standing up for the EU as an institution. Those of us who actually look at the facts know that the UK will be significantly worse off outside the EU than in it. That’s standing up for the UK and trying to persuade people that the 2016 decision to leave was at best foolish and at worst suicidal. You may wish to see the 2016 referendum as set in stone (in fact I know you do) but that’s not democracy. Democracy includes the right to change your mind. As John Maynard Keynes once famously remarked ‘ When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?’ The relatively few people in our party who are Brexiteers, including yourself, surely cannot believe that this dog’s breakfast of an agreement is remotely in keeping with the extravagant promises of the Leave Campaign for which people voted.
    I know the EU needs changes. What institution does not? That doesn’t mean that people like me are standing up for the EU, when we seek to keep the UK in it. We are trying to do the best for our country, which will be – by the chancellors own admission – far worse off out of the EU that in it.
    I am not a fan of referenda. I think they are poor tools for making decisions. I am however persuaded that without a 3rd EU referendum – a referendum on the now known facts about the consequences of leaving the EU, rather than the fantasy – is sadly the only way to give any legitimacy to a decision either to stay or leave on the highly disadvantageous terms that our appalling Tory government has negotiated.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 5th Dec '18 - 4:04pm

    Mick, “standing up for the EU” may have been a poor choice of phrase. Perhaps I should have just said the party have spent more time talking about the EU than standing up for the poor and disadvantaged.
    Its not quite fair to say that I see the 2016 referendum result as “set in stone”. Nothing is ever “set in stone” in a democracy. I would be quite open to the idea of a referendum in a few years on whether to rejoin the EU. But I do feel that it would be an extremely dangerous precedent to overturn a democratic decision before it was even implemented.
    Its not fair to describe me as a brexiter. I can see the point of view of people who voted Leave for liberal reasons, but I would never have considered voting Leave myself. I don’t actually know what I would do if there was a second referendum now. I still wouldn’t want to vote Leave. Perhaps I would abstain, although I have never not voted in any election I was eligible to take part in.

  • Peter Martin 5th Dec '18 - 4:28pm

    @ Catherine,

    ‘ “standing up for the EU” may have been a poor choice of phrase. ‘

    Oh, I don’t know. It seems fair comment to me !

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Dec '18 - 7:03pm

    @ Catherine Jane Crosland,

    No it is not fair. You have every right to your opinion.

    Also, like you, I find the idea of overturning a democratic vote problematic. I do not know what forces will be unleashed, I certainly don’t think that it will lead to healing of divisions in our society. Rather, I suspect that those who felt politicians never listen to them or cared about their concerns, will have their beliefs confirmed.

    I voted remain, and I could have done without the dishonesty about ‘respecting leave voters’ , when so many did not. Or the dishonesty that so soon after the last referendum, the party were arguing for a ‘peoples vote when the truth was that the motivation was to overturn the decision made at the last referendum.

    If the Liberal Democrats wanted to argue that leave would be a disaster, fine, I agree with them, but this ‘peoples vote’ has just played into the view of some leavers that one can’t trust a politician to tell the truth.

    Finally, we have what some of us were waiting for, Mrs May’s deal, and what we expected would offer proof ,where proof was needed, at least in my opinion, that this one would be disastrous for the country. I genuinely trust the people. and I hope the events of the past few days will encourage ‘the people’ to re-evaluate whether they were correct to vote as they did in the last referendum. If there is a bottom up groundswell for another vote by people who voted leave but now feel that they were wrong to do so, I would , on balance, be in favour of another referendum.

    If there is another vote, I hope that you don’t choose to abstain. If there is evidence that people are genuinely wanting to change their mind now , from the information we now have, I, myself would feel able to vote remain with more certainty than I did at the last referendum.

    I fully understand your position, and the balances that you must juggle to feel comfortable, but if there is a vote by popular demand, I truly believe that it would be futile, and even damaging to abstain.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Dec '18 - 9:25am

    Jayne Mansfield, thank you so much for your supportive comments.
    Perhaps there might have been a case for a second referendum if there really had been large numbers of people who voted Leave demanding a chance to change their mind. But the reality is that virtually all those demanding “the right to change our mind”, have not changed their mind at all, and have no intention of doing so. They voted Remain in 2016, and would do so again in a second referendum. They are demanding that others should change their minds.
    It should be remembered that many Leave voters had voted, in 1975, to stay in the Common Market. They then had to wait more than forty years before they had a chance to exercise the “right to change their minds”. Now they are being told that they should change their minds again, after only two years, and before their vote has even been implemented!
    It seems to have become a Remainer cliche that “democracy didn’t end on June 23rd”. My response to this is always to want to say “no of course it didn’t, and that is why the result should be implemented”. But sadly, it often seems as if the party’s respect for democracy ended on June 24th.
    You say that you hope I don’t abstain if there is a second referendum. Actually I probably couldn’t quite bring myself to do so. I have always believed strongly that we have a duty and responsibility to vote. Not to use one’s vote seems like a betrayal of the Chartists and the suffragettes, and all the others who fought for the right to vote. But a second referendum seems so wrong that I could only take part in it with a heavy heart.
    But I probably don’t need to worry too much, as it seems pretty clear there will not be a majority in Parliament for a second referendum, so it is virtually certain that it will not happen.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland, in our democracy there is no time limit for when the voters can be asked to vote again at the national level. We had a general election in 2015 and another in 2017 and I don’t recall anyone saying that was against their understanding of democracy. In the past there have often been short periods of time between general elections – February and October 1974; 1964 and 1966; 1950 and 1951; 1929 and 1931, November 1922, December 1923 and October 1924; January and December 1910; 1892 and 1895, 1885 and 1886; 1857 and 1859; and 1830, 1831 and 1832.

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