A defence of liberalism

“Socialism is the only ideology fit for the working class”

These were the words I was told the day after the 2017 General Election- and to an extent, they were true. For as far as the eye could see across South and West Yorkshire, the only real option voters had was to vote for Labour. ‘My patch’ was nothing more than a patchwork quilt of safe red seats, Trotskyist CLPs, and statist, unambitious, complacent Labour-run councils. As you may have imagined, I rejected this dogma. I saw nothing optimistic about Corbyn’s left-populism and his commitment to the growth of the state, whilst the arrogance of which my local Labour Party machinery had governed these one-party states had instilled in me a great suspicion of their supposed attachment to progressive politics.

Instead, I turned to liberalism. Ambitious, confident liberalism- an ideology that can enrich and empower the lives of all citizens. I’d be lying if I said I could remember the single event that tipped me into this decision, but the quiet dignity and humility of Nick Clegg’s concession speech ensured that days later, I was a signed-up member of the Liberal Democrats. By rejecting Labour’s state-socialism, I was committing myself to the fundamental values of freedom, liberty and democracy which can only ever be found in the Liberal Democrats. I was supporting a party that would stand up for individual rights and freedoms; that would radically transform our unfair, broken politics; that believed in free markets and free trade as a force for good; and that recognised the state can be used as a tool to ensure opportunity for all. Instinctively internationalist and green to its roots, the Liberal Democrats remain the true radicals of British politics, and the only credible alternative to the statism and small ‘c’ conservatism of Labour and the Tories.

All this amounts to the real need to reject both Labour and the Conservatives in the upcoming election. Many of our candidates have been encouraged to step down in order to give the Labour candidate a clear run at unseating the incumbent Tory. This is wrong and should not be tolerated. Whilst I accept that as a democratic party, the final decision rests with the local associations, we must consider how every vote for Labour weakens and undermines, not strengthens, liberalism. A Labour government will create more state monopolies, will neglect the reforms our democracy desperately needs, and cannot be trusted to defend our freedoms and our civil liberties. Likewise, the Tories’ support of Johnson’s hard-Brexit deal is completely incompatible with our internationalism, whilst their opposition to HS2 will deprive the North of the infrastructure, innovation and opportunity that is needed.

In response to this, we need to be clear about our case for an alternative: for a party that is optimistic, outward-looking, and green. We need to be uncompromising in our support of liberalism, and throw our full backing behind a party that will always champion the rights of the individual, that will fight to rid all forms of discrimination from our society, and will always strive to give power, information and choice back to the people. That party is the Liberal Democrats, and it is our responsibility, in the face of the two tired old parties, to continue to make that liberal voice heard.

* Chris Howden is an activist for Wakefield & District Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '19 - 9:46am

    Nearly all countries, including the USA, but possibly excluding North Korea, are a mixture of socialism and capitalism.

    At present our road system is largely ‘socialist’. The costs of building and maintaining roads comes mainly from Govt spending. Even many hardened Tories would recoil in horror at the thought that it could all be sold off to the private sector. We’d all have sensors fitted to our cars, which would contain GPS chips and our accounts with the privatised road companies would be linked to our credit cards. If we exceeded the speed limit our fines would be automatically included too. It’s all quite possible with current technology.

    So where do we draw the line? Should the water supply be publicly or privately owned? Ditto the railways, gas, electricity, the police, …. It’s all a matter of opinion. I personally would prefer the monoplolies to be state owned. Does this make me a hardened lefty? Is this incompatible with Lib Dem philosophy?

    Nationalisation doesn’t necessarily make everyone more equal. I’d like more equality though which has to be achieved through a combination of Govt spending on the right things and the taxation system. Does this make me a hardened lefty? A Trotskyist even? Is this incompatible with Lib Dem philosophy? If so, why?

  • “the fundamental values of freedom, liberty and democracy which can only ever be found in the Liberal Democrats”

    In fairness I think these can be found elsewhere in politics too. One thinks of Roy Jenkins in his Cabinet days. But the Liberals/Lib Dems are probably the only GB party where they have been the majority view rather than a strand of thought within a wider party that does not share them (the 1989 sect is an interesting side-case for another day!)

  • Katharine Pindar 20th Nov '19 - 10:20am

    Splendid stuff, Chris. It’s heartening to see a member of a younger generation than mine speaking out so vigorously for our beliefs and values.

    With regard to Labour, your statement that ‘they will reject the reforms our democracy desperately needs’ is a reminder that in the confusion of parties and policies to come after the Election, our party needs to seek Labour’s and other parties’ agreement on the desperate need for reform of the voting system. Whether this will require a Citizens’ Assembly to agree on it I am not sure, and the needed Referendum on remaining in the EU should precede any such initiative, but our party should surely be leading a new alliance among parliamentarians to achieve proportional representation before another General Election is held.

    Co-operation between those elected on agreeing other essential reforms will be needed, and I am sure our leader will be prepared for that. I hope our party will support progressive proposals of the Labour party, of which those seeking to end austerity, relieve poverty and tackle inequality in our country are in my view the most important.

  • John Marriott 20th Nov '19 - 11:23am

    As I have now well passed four score years and ten it amuses me to see how many people come along and reckon they have invented the wheel. Capitalism? Of course it can work to make money, but for whom and at what cost? Socialism? It’s been tried before and found wanting. Communism? Ditto. So what about Liberalism? Now I’m still not sure what that is. In the USA it’s generally a term of abuse, on a par with socialism. Over here, Arthur Scargill reckoned it was all about “brown bread and sandals”, while, according to the late social historian, George Dangerfield, it died before WW1, at least as far as England was concerned.

    I have always felt that Liberalism is partly a state of mind and partly, as practised by Extremely committed and focused individuals like Katharine Pindar, a way of life. As a political philosophy it would appear to mean different things to different people. For me it’s about getting things done. As the late Robert Kennedy famously said; “I dream of things that never were and say; ‘Why not?’”.

    Last night’s so called Prime Ministers’ debate showed us just what a state our so called democracy is in. What a pair! No wonder some of the audience laughed at them. There is more to life than getting Brexit “done”, for me at least, and, please forgive me, sorting out ‘our NHS’, although I’ll grant you that both deserve our attention.

    What about a proper federal UK to replace our clapped out excuse for a democratic system, grasping the nettle of adult social care, Creating a fair tax system both locally and nationally and sorting out the mess that state education is in? There’s four for starters. At least three of these ought not to be party political issues. And finally, it’s about time that each political party accepted the fact that it doesn’t have all the answers!

  • Graham Jeffs 20th Nov '19 - 12:18pm

    “…..fit for the working class”

    Isn’t it pathetic that some people are still pre-occupied with “class” in this day and age. Apart from everything else, it’s this attitude that ensures that I could not possibly ever vote for Labour or the Conservatives.

  • When the energy co’s were privatized there was recognition that there was not a competitive market and a formula for prices was applied that forced prices down over five or ten years, so now keeping them private but limiting prices using a ratio between energy cost and the final price would be the Liberal compromise, this ratio designed to decrease over time. Having no standing charges and a lower rate for low energy users would also be a very Green thing to do, encouraging miserly use of gas, electric and water.

  • This is a lovely article to read. I really hope you keep that optimism, Chris. Battling against the forces of managerial centrism is a tough and constant gig in the LDs for an actual liberal…

  • “throw our full backing behind a party that will always champion the rights of the individual”.

    Interesting stuff, Chris, and as someone who was brought up ten miles from Wakefield I admire your idealism.

    I hope you can apply this idealism into pressing the case for the party to accept and commit to doing something about Professor Alston’s UN Report into Poverty in the UK.

    Recipients of Universal Credit need a party to ‘champion their human rights’ too. Here’s some local info for you :

    Child Poverty – the Wakefield JSNA
    http://www.wakefieldjsna.co.uk › wider-determinants › poverty › child-poverty
    Child Poverty. Across the district in May 2017 there were 10,730 children aged under-16 (17% of this age group) living in households where at least one parent …
    Poverty – the Wakefield JSNA

    http://www.wakefieldjsna.co.uk › wider-determinants › poverty
    4,865 children aged 0-15 years in Wakefield are estimated as living in … if spent, would leave the household with an income below the official poverty line.

    According to the Wakefdield Express last year, “Large parts of Wakefield are among the most deprived areas for education and skilled jobs anywhere in the UK, a new study has revealed. Around 28 per cent of neighbourhoods in the city were classed as being among the country’s poorest for schooling, training and skills.”

    Good luck….. speak up and try to do something about it.

  • Peter Martin 20th Nov '19 - 1:20pm

    @ Graham Jeffs,

    I quite like this quotation.

    “Class distinctions do not die; they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves. Each decade we shiftily declare we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty.”

    You’ve only got to watch the excellent 7 Up TV series to understand how all our lives are shaped by our own class origins. The Labour Party themselves used to understand this better than most but, sadly, their Parliamentary representation is now less from the working classes than it has ever been previously.


  • Bill le Breton 20th Nov '19 - 2:34pm

    In the last week the best piece on Liberalism was published in Liberator Magazine edition 398. Written by Bernard Greaves. Liberator are offering the two page essay free to download on their site:

    https://liberatormagazine.org.uk/en/ Just scan down the page until to see the word “Latest” and down load it.

    I cannot recommend it highly enough. And would also like to read what Chris (and anyone else for that matter) thinks of it.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 20th Nov '19 - 4:37pm

    Thanks, Chris, for an encouraging and inspiring article!

  • Richard Underhill. 20th Nov '19 - 6:26pm

    Jo Grimond said that Roy Jenkins was “an Asquithian Liberal” which Roy Jenkins, the first leader of the SDP, happily repeated at a Liberal International Congress in Paris.
    ‘If you are Liberal you are international. You cannot be one without the other.’

  • Richard Underhill. 20th Nov '19 - 6:30pm

    Katharine Pindar:
    David Steel called it “a fair voting system” “party policy is the Single Transferable Vote”
    which we have for local government in Scotland, familiar to our Scottish leader.

  • Michael Sammon 20th Nov '19 - 9:47pm

    Thanks for saying this Chris. I hope the British public realise that a liberal democracy can’t be taken for granted and we’ll all be sorry if we allow Conservatives or Labour to take this away from us.

  • Bravo! Its great to see the future of this party in such safe hands, rejecting all the trappings of statism and socialism by the back door that has bedevilled recent generations. Wonderful stuff Chris!

  • Chris Keelty 28th Mar '20 - 4:20pm

    On defence of Liberalism – I would like to add (for the benefit of Chris Howden) those of us who have really read, On Liberty, we would never ask others to wear a Tin Hat. Would any decent person do that.

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