A new direction for the Social Liberal Forum – A Liberal “Think and Do” tank

When Ian Kearns joined us from Labour in 2018, he gave a barnstormer of a speech at the Brighton conference that year explaining why. Here’s a reminder:

Now Ian has taken up the post of Director of the Social Liberal Forum.

In a post on their website, he sets out his vision for the role of the SLF website:

Over coming months and years we will set out and campaign for a vision of a Citizen’s Britain where what matters is not a person’s race, religion, gender or sexuality but the content of their character. A country where every human life has equal worth and where all are equal before the law. We will campaign to create a country where individuals take power at every level and use it to shape a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. We will challenge the remote, over-centralised, and unresponsive British state and the massive accumulations of unaccountable private wealth and power that sustain an unjust status quo. We will chart a course to the next renaissance and to a society and government not only of the people and for the people but by the people.

It is our belief that only such an approach can restore trust in our institutions, create the conditions for much needed fundamental reform, build resilience in our communities and provide the opportunity for mass flourishing that our citizens deserve and our planet so badly needs.

And these are just some of the things he has in mind:

We will build and host a set of liberal networks across science, technology, business, academia, the media, law, engineering, the arts and politics. By drawing on their expertise and via a series of events, publications, consultations with members and exercises in participatory democracy, we will analyse, host virtual and physical debates on, and develop liberal solutions to the biggest questions of our time.

We will pursue an era of great reform so as to decentralise the British state and usher in an era of community power. We will campaign for fair votes. We will campaign to re-engineer our cities and towns so they become the sustainable urban centres upon which our survival is going to depend. And we will campaign to replace our crony and oligopolistic economy with a new economy of the common good, where everyone has a stake and where we ask not what we can do for capitalism but what capitalism can do for us.

We will go wherever the debate takes us, and not shirk big or uncomfortable questions or talk only to ourselves. To build a liberalism that is future ready, we will think through and articulate an electorally viable ‘build back better’ strategy in the era of COVID-19; study and learn how to beat the populists; work to extend the social reach of truth and to tackle fake news; build and promote liberal technologies in the age of AI; grapple with the profound challenges of a shifting geopolitical landscape; and combine the articulation of a liberal form of patriotism with a passionate defence of the very idea of international community.

And a resounding call to action – we are the people we’ve been waiting for:

The struggle for change takes place on the ground and not only in the air. We will turn the SLF into an activist hub and network for knowledge sharing so activists can learn and share experiences on how best to take and use power in their own communities. And we will target constituencies where we can help make a difference to electoral outcomes.

Running through everything we do will be a commitment to social justice. A Citizen’s Britain will require redistribution of wealth as well as re-distribution of power and it will require more than lip service to equality of opportunity. That much talked about idea must become a lived reality transforming the lives of millions of people in our society who now, today, are disinherited from its promise.

I have no illusions as to the amount of work that must be done if we are to achieve even modest progress against these objectives. And we will get nowhere at all if we do not work together with others who share our values and find better ways to draw upon the energy and expertise of our own members and supporters. But we can do this. And in the end comes the realisation that if we do not, we cannot expect others to do it either. We are the people we’ve been waiting for.

You can read the whole thing here.

I’ve been a member of the Social Liberal Forum since it was set up and I’ve been to several of their brilliant, thought-provoking conferences. They’ve provided a great deal of useful policy and did a lot of necessary agitating during the coalition years.

I hope that we all want to see a society where a person’s gender, or gender identity or race or sexuality doesn’t put them at a disadvantage. I want to be sure that SLF understands the structural inequalities in our society and has ideas about how to remove those barriers. We’ve heard about the racial discrimination that every black person has to deal with on a daily basis. I read something on Twitter last week about how a man sold his car to his daughter’s boyfriend. He had not been stopped by the Police once in the many years he’d had it. The younger man was stopped every few weeks. And there is the huge economic inequality faced by black people who are more likely to be struggling financially in poor housing and being let down  by the education system.

We know that the forthcoming economic storm will disadvantage women who will undoubtedly end up doing more of the childcare while schools aren’t operating at full capacity and may well end up losing their jobs.  Fifty years after the passing of the Equal Pay Act, we aren’t even close to achieving equal pay for men and women.

We have always been drivers of social as well as political change and, as the government looks like it’s about to take a wrecking ball to human rights, we need to offer an inclusive vision for achieving social justice which is going to require some radical ideas.

Good luck to the SLF as it revitalises its operations.


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

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  • Nigel Jones 14th Jun '20 - 9:44pm

    Huge thanks to Caron for showing us Ian Kearn’s forward-looking progressive thoughts. I must add to your point about the Education system, which does not serve working class people (especially boys) well, white as much as black and we forget that at our peril in current circumstances, the communities left behind and all that, who can so easily be misled by right-wingers, as we know already.
    I must also say that dealing with inequality requires more than just improved Education, because there is now clear indication that the demise of other local and national public services greatly limit what our schools can achieve. There is evidence supporting what should have been obvious anyway, that teachers alone cannot make up for the ills of society.

  • Michael Sammon 14th Jun '20 - 9:50pm

    My problem with this is that it talks up other parties opposing the Tories in the same light as us as “progressive” and I say that simply isn’t true. We have build on our unique liberal identity.

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jun '20 - 11:46am

    Much inspiration here, and a good focus for it will be the idea of a new Beveridge-type Social Contract between government and people being necessary now in this challenging time, There has been thinking on this from both Welsh and Scottish party activists in the past few months, and I hope that a motion for autumn Conference currently in preparation from English members can sweep the idea forward for all of us.

  • ‘We will challenge the remote, over-centralised, and unresponsive British state’

    But of course the EU wasn’t any of those things!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jun '20 - 2:17pm

    Good piece from Caron.

    I have already been aware of the excellent new choice of Ian Kearns. His piece on the website which I read there is music to my ears as is his having come from Labour yet as clear as am I, years ago there, in loathing of extremism.

    The irony is he is similar to Starmer in his being an impressive but mainstream guy next door type.
    I do not though here, see what Michael refers to, as Ian is not speaking for Labour but for the Liberal Democrats.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Jun '20 - 10:19pm

    This is perhaps the first hopeful move in and around the party for some time. But if Caron is worried that SLF might shift the emphasis away from identity politics just a little, that might in my view be a good thing. Liberalism is surely about communities of people who are as índividuals widely different, on a basis of equal respect and status, and a sufficient degree of economic equality, and not dividing people up into groups who spend their energies arguing with each other.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Jun '20 - 10:20pm

    And why on earth is this article illustrated with a picture of Vince Cable?

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