A new framework: Ideology and Values

A leading Lib Dem politician was kind enough to embrace ideas l advocate to use the existing housing stock to create affordable, social, market tenancies. As for societising the economy using new corporate form, quite correctly he pointed out that social enterprise exists already. Result, disappear into a cosy bunker and write about the politics of society and develop a coherent narrative of market societism, a free-market economy which operates for the common good. As l approach my final chapter l determined to keep my own counsel, until yesterday when l read an article by Daniel Finkelstein questioning the point of our party.

In his article, using at times inflammatory language, he accuses us of being an obstacle to the creation of a coherent alternative to the Conservative Party. I disagree profoundly with this assertion but he identifies a foundational issue, that to be successful a party has to “represent either a distinct ideology or a significant demographic group”.

We are a party of values but eschew ideology, understandably so and for good reasons; as the historian Thomas Bartlett wrote, our forbear party, the Liberal party was conceived in “gentler times”. Our ’gentle’, humane and considerate view of a fair and just society chimes with modern notions of well-being and an instinctive understanding of need and the common good.

The politics of society are those of collective well-being without sacrificing the significance of the individual. This is the ideology suited to our modernity, not driven by power and control.

As individuals, we may not be shareholders, we may not believe the state has all the answers but we are all members of society. This is our demographic, what is called the Centre ground of British politics. Our demographic is identifiable, everyone who values mutual interdependence and asserts collective rights,

In itself this is not enough. We, Lib Dems, have an ideology, whether we recognise it or not, we are societists. In our hearts we know we speak to a powerful constituency; society is our demographic group. However we need a unique and ubiquitous economic system that attaches to that ideology and demographic. We do not all own businesses nor are we all employed by government but we are all collectively the building blocks on which our economy and society is built: consumers, employees, members of families and individuals living as a community.

Conservatism attaches to capitalism through the joint venture, shareholder owned company. What is our triptych? We, as Lib Dems, can attach to society through market societism; an extension of for-profit competition in the free market through companies using the profit they generate for societal purposes rather than returning it to shareholders. In this way we can realistically aim to end food poverty, provide affordable housing or to give one example, encourage enterprise providing consumers with inexpensive insurance against pooled risk. It also enables direct, strategic investment in the economy for our collective benefit through independent trust companies sponsored by government. It touches every aspect of policy, far beyond economics.

This, to answer Danny Finkelstein, is our point! If we do not assert societal rights, of the collective values that unify us as a society and of the individual within it, who will in a way that compels electoral engagement?

* Peter Ellis is a new member and the founder of a not-for-profit organisation, homeswithinhomes.org, proposing the use of existing housing stock to create affordable tenancies.

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6 Comments

  • Nigel Hunter 24th Jun '21 - 8:08pm

    Finkelstein is a Conservative peer As a result he is not one of our best friends.Opposition parties always ask the question why we exist for we disturb their cosy world.For them to have lost C&A was a wake up call for them to remove us as a threat to that cosy world.They will do whatever they can to undermine us

  • Simon Foster 24th Jun '21 - 9:43pm

    Finkelstein is ex-SDP turned Conservative, knows exactly how we operate and sees us as a danger, hence giving us attention.

    However, he clearly hasn’t studied the first year of the new A level politics syllabus. There are three ideologies all students have to study – liberalism, conservatism, and socialism.

    To say the Liberal Democrats have no ideological position is to ignore the rich history of Locke, Mill, Green, Beveridge, Berlin and Rawls. Yes, the party has different wings who emphasise different sub-ideologies. However, I think this is a good thing. I like the fact that Liberal Reform embrace market based solutions and are all too willing to point out when a law is pointless and restricts freedom of the individual. I also like the modern Liberalism of the Social Liberal Forum and their ideas to enhance positive freedom to help individuals self actualise and gain greater control over their lives.

    If Finklestein doesn’t like argument and contradiction, I wish him luck when it comes to issues such as pornography, divorce and homosexuality just within the New Right, which neo-liberals embrace within the free market and have no problem with and Neo-Conservatives regard as the end of western civilisation as we know it in their reactionary, discriminatory world view. I haven’t even got to the One Nation Conservatives – increasingly an endangered species in today’s Conservative Party, no matter how much Boris protests this is not so.

  • Peter Davies 25th Jun '21 - 8:00am

    I would phrase Danny Finkelstein’s premise differently. A successful party needs believers and beneficiaries. It works best when the two groups coincide. The Conservative party has always had a core vote of people who believe in capitalism and benefit from it. Their unreliable vote comes from their secondary position as an English nationalist party. That has believers but no beneficiaries.

    Labour at its strongest had a core of Labourist believers who also benefitted from strong trade unions. They also had a significant number of socialist believers who were mostly middle class and did not expect to benefit directly from their own policies. Their problem is that is that it’s the former group that has dramatically declined both in numbers and in ideological commitment.

    Our problem is we have always been in the position where Labour now finds itself. Our believers and our beneficiaries don’t overlap much. Most of our members are comfortably off, middle class and white. We are the people who benefit from the unfairness that our policies seek to address.

  • There was a Guardian opinion piece a few days ago, saying we should disband (and support Labour). The usual shrill ‘Con Dem coalition’ comments underneath were far fewer than those standing up for our right to exist. And some were saying maybe Labour should disband, as they don’t who it stands for any more.
    But I agree we should emphasise our belief in a mixed economy. That we would step in where ‘market forces’ don’t serve society (but otherwise not).

  • Peter Martin 25th Jun '21 - 10:07pm

    “We, as Lib Dems, can attach to society through market societism; an extension of for-profit competition in the free market through companies using the profit they generate for societal purposes rather than returning it to shareholders.”

    I don’t quite follow what you’re getting at here. Companies are owned by their shareholders who can do whatever they decide with their after tax profits. This is equally true if the shareholders happen to be the workers in the firm, if the shares are government owned, or if they are available for anyone to purchase on the open market.

    Companies, of whatever composition, can’t be relied upon to look after ‘societal’ matters. If there are problems with housing, or employment, or inequality, or air pollution etc etc they can only be fixed by government. Both local and national will have a part to play. But we can’t, for example, expect companies like Uber or even any of the rail franchises to solve our transportation problems.

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