A new Social Contract – putting flesh on the bones

Nearly 80 years ago the Beveridge report, ‘Social Insurance and Allied Services’ was published. Last year Philip Alston concluded, ‘Key elements of the post-war “Beveridge social contract” are being overturned’. Beveridge wanted to fight five giant evils – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. We need to modernise the language and fight poverty, poor health, lack of skills and training, homelessness and unemployment.

Just as the Labour government of 1945-51 rejected the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor with the passing of the National Assistance Act of 1948, so must the Liberal Democrats. We have taken the first step. Federal Conference Committee accepted as a drafting amendment to the Fairer Shares for All policy passed at Bournemouth last September our suggestion that we reaffirm our policy to “Scrap the sanctions regime and replace with a system of incentives”. We believe that people needing assistance must be treated with respect, and the attitude of respect must begin at the top, in government, as has not been the case under the recent Tory governments. Most people do not wish to be in receipt of benefits, nor to seem to be asking for help by going to the food banks.

The first requirement of government in a new Social Contract should be to ensure that no one in the UK lives in poverty. They must also ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need in a timely manner; everyone has access to the education and training they require throughout their working life to ensure they fulfil their full potential; that everyone who wants a home of their own has one; and that everyone who wants a job has one.

The only legal requirement for the people in a new Social Contract is to keep the laws of the UK. The social element desired is that people show respect to everyone and their rights.

As a first step to having a programme for government to achieve these undertakings we need to convince our party that we accept them as the basis for our domestic programme. It is self-evident to us what the government should be aiming to achieve, but we fear that there will be lots of party members who disagree. Yet if we commit to these objectives we will give our party a fresh and distinctive voice, and an offer to the country far more specific than any general commitment to begin to tackle the unfairness and inequality of Britain today.

* Michael Berwick-Gooding is a Liberal Democrat member in Basingstoke and has held various party positions at local, regional and English Party level. 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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  • A fresh, timely and excellent proposal from Katharine and Michael which I hope the Party establishment will embrace, seize upon and make their own.

  • David Warren 6th Feb '20 - 8:22pm

    Great stuff from Katherine and Michael.

    As someone who has experienced the system first hand and seen have appalling the treatment is you get when you apply for help I really want to see the party taking this forward.

    It is a national disgrace the way the unemployed, the sick and those who are carers are treated in this country.

  • Peter Martin 7th Feb '20 - 1:55am

    Yes sounds good as far as it goes. The devil will, as always, be in the detail. You’ve not included much of that. Nothing about a UBI for instance. Or about making the minimum wage a living wage. Or about eliminating ZHCs.

    You’ll end up sounding very left wing once you do get into all that. The killer question will of course be “How are you going to pay for it?”

  • “The social element desired is that people show respect to everyone and their rights.”
    This sounds wonderful in theory, however how on earth would you impose it in practice?
    If you really want it then it would have to be made mandatory, because if it were optional there would be no point in even mentioning it.

  • I can see no suggestion that we in some way “impose” anything. In fact most of the rules that we live by are because there is social pressure. For the party to have as an explicit guide to policies a social contract seems a good idea,
    I suppose my problem is that for the party this has always been the case. It seems that this is mainly true of the ordinary members.

  • Tom Harney, yes indeed there are social conventions which are not specifically laws. With our form of law, you can freely do anything provided that it is not specifically illegal. The Napoleonic system (as I understand it) is the other way round. You cannot do anything unless it is specifically legal to do so.
    Our social conventions are all very well, and worked fine when society was cohesive. Now that society is becoming ever more divided, (this is the reality whether you like to acknowledge it or not) we do need increasingly specific laws for dealing with the social incompatibilities that arise.
    It may seem paradoxical and draconian, but for liberal principles to survive, there will have to be increasingly laws to micro-manage what the public is permitted to do and indeed what they are permitted to say and write publicly. i.e. “show respect to everyone” will of necessity become a legally enforceable requirement.
    Maybe I am not expressing myself very well. I hope that you can untangle what I am trying to point out.

  • Andrew Tampion 7th Feb '20 - 9:57am

    Fred Orme. To suggest that our country should adopt a system of law that provides that only that you can only do what the law specifically allows is profoundly illiberal. To address your point about the enforceability of “social convention”; one of the first things I learnt after becoming a lawyer was what a blunt instrument the law is and how difficult it is to enforce. I also do not accept that our society is unusually divided. Looking back over the last 100 years the Women’s Sufferage campaign, self determination in Ireland or the debate between those who favoured appeasement of Nazi Germany and those who wished to oppose the Nazis by military means have all split the Country at least as much or more than any current controversy.

  • “you can only do what the law specifically allows is profoundly illiberal”
    I was pointing out that this is the system of law under the Napoleonic principles. We do not currently live under this system. I do not support it.
    It may be that we are at cross-purposes. The phrase in the article that I originally questioned is this: “The social element desired is that people show respect to everyone and their rights.” How, in a liberal framework, would you ensure that this happens? It just seems paradoxical to me, but maybe you can point out what I am missing?

  • Peter Hirst 7th Feb '20 - 12:09pm

    For the social contract to have legitimacy it must include safeguards so only those in need receive it and only effective remedies are granted. Skills training and self help should be encouraged so we build a self reliant society.

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Feb '20 - 1:35pm

    This is a really interesting concept, but as another reply notes, light on detail. “The only legal requirement… their rights” is a statement with no meat on the bone. I think your concern that many in the party are unlikely to get behind a social contract is the key insight here. There has been an illusion of party unity because of a near universal support for Remain. But it seems to me, having been a member for just over a year now, that we are deeply confused. The rights you want to defend (the laws the UK must “keep”) I’m guessing are the same as those cosmopolitan rights our party upholds, those that underpin the ECHR and the EU. Those are not rights those who believe authority is derived directly from the people recognise as legitimate unless enshrined in law by a sovereign national government. Populist nationalist authoritarians, as Johnson and Cummings seem to aspire to be, will hone in on this latter conception of sovereignty. It seems to me we should clarify our own (on the first page of our constitution, we claim to be both democratic statists and cosmopolitan constitutionalists…). That is a prerequisite to any talk of social contract. Also, at a cosmetic level, it seems unlikely many voters will be convinced we “Yellow Tories” are capable of donning the veil of ignorance on behalf of the worst off in society. I worry it’s a concept that won’t translate to policy very easily either. The language of a New Deal is more optimistic and easily recognised, though these days, likely to be impossible to differentiate from the Green New Deal.

  • Thank you, David Raw and David Warren for your positive comments. We need now to consider how best to get the party to accept this idea.

    Peter Martin,

    How a government would implement its side of the new Social Contract is not set out. The first step is to get the idea accepted in principle. I don’t believe a UBI in the near future would assist in any of the aims for the government. I don’t think ZHC should be totally eliminated. I think they should automatically convert after six months into a fixed hour contract based on the average hours worked each week with the option to do more and for the hours to be increased every six months if the average hours per week increases. I would like to see the National Living Wage increased.

    Yesterday I read an interesting blog by Matthew Green where he asserts that monetary policy to run the economy is no longer available; that the Baumol effect means that services will increase their share of the economy meaning the state will need to spend more money to provide those services it does provide; and that there are fewer opportunities in the private sector for people to invest in which leaves speculation or lending to the government. He states this will mean that higher deficits will not only be needed to pay for the services provided by the government but so people can lend to the government rather than speculate with their money (http://thinkingliberal.co.uk/the-rules-of-political-economy-have-changed-mainstream-politicians-and-commentators-havent-noticed/).

    Fred Orme,

    Respecting others can be encouraged, (especially if the government shows the way by respecting all individuals) but it is difficult to enforce respect for each individual. But perhaps you are correct respecting others is being enforced more and more today, with services being denied to people who the service provider feels don’t show respect. The issue becomes difficult when respect is interpreted as agreement and/ or not being critical. I think respecting peoples’ right can be enforced in law.

  • Peter Hirst,

    The conditions that the government provides under this proposed new Social Contract are universal and have no regard to need. If someone lives with their parents do they ‘need’ a home of their own? Maybe not, but the conditions should exist so that person can have their own home if they want it. I don’t understand how you could say anyone does not need not to live in poverty.

    A self-reliant society sounds like an extreme Tory one where there is no role for the state and individuals have to reply on only themselves or live in poverty and die of starvation. A state that has not existed in the Great Britain since ancient times.

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Feb '20 - 4:45pm

    Johnny McDermott, Thank you for your thoughtful response. The rights that we seek to enshrine in a new social contract are not, however, the laws that all citizens must keep. They are the requirements that we can have of government, and our party can debate those we set out here, but we believe they are compatible with our party constitution.

    The point of a social contract is that it sets out what the citizens can expect of their government. I suggest that in these days of a populist/authoritarian government it is timely to have this debate, since what we regard as our rights we may discover can be disregarded by this government which has anyway shown a disregard for an actual law. It is appropriate for our party to propose it, since we can claim to be the heirs of Beveridge, and because the main Opposition party shows no such clarity of thought and purpose, having many good aims but much division over them.

  • Doesn’t this all sound a bit Socialist? What is wrong with the preamble to the party constitution?

  • Katharine Pindar 7th Feb '20 - 7:48pm

    You can’t go round the voters saying, just listen to our Preamble to our Constitution, Andrew T. You could go round them saying, Lib Dems want a new Social Contract between the government and all of us, to ensure our rights and that they have to treat us fairly and improve all the important things that affect our lives.

  • Andrew T,

    Our new Social Contract is not socialist, it is liberal just as Beveridge was liberal. Socialism is about the ownership of capital and about reducing the share taken by capital and increasing the share given to labour. You could say that our new Social Contract is ‘statist’ because it gives the state the responsibility to provide the conditions set out in the Social Contract. British Liberalism has a long history of ‘statism’ and even in the days of Gladstone British Liberalism saw a role for the state in providing the conditions for liberalism and ensuring people are equally free.

    The preamble to our constitution talks of liberalism being about people being equally free and not held back by poverty, lack of education and training or the need to conform. It states we believe that it is the role of the state to enable all citizens to be equally free. If our party accepted this new Social Contract it would be setting out what is needed to achieve this aim (set out in the preamble).

    Johnny McDermott,

    Are you saying that we cannot be both democratic statists and cosmopolitan constitutionalists? If so please can you explain why?

  • Peter Martin 8th Feb '20 - 9:19am

    @ Michael BG,

    Yes I’d go along with your suggestion on ZHCs. It’s always better to make these gradual modifications than ban them outright. I can imagine that they work perfectly well in some instances.

    Matthew Green is a FB friend of mine. We often don’t agree but neither do we end up talking past each other – which is good! His blog “Thinking Liberal” is always worth a read. We do often find at least some common ground and more than we might both have expected. He introduced me to the Baumol effect which makes perfect sense. The idea is that as the economy grows; musicians, teachers, lawyers, and others, who don’t work in fields where there is quite so much scope for increased productivity, also do benefit from that growth. If they didn’t they’d go off and do something else. Therefore they become relatively more expensive.

    So, we have to factor this in to our calculations . I often see statements along the lines that an increase in GDP of 5%, or whatever, will ‘provide the money’ to fund an expansion of services in the NHS or our schools. Maybe some expansion but not 5%. Doctors, nurses and teachers are likely to be 5% more expensive as a result of the growth.

    That’s why Matthew is questioning that “GDP growth is a critical indicator of economic wellbeing”. I’d put it that we should aim to have growth, providing that the environmental implications aren’t detrimental, and providing we understand, and do something to counteract, the effect of increasing the economic affluence of some can have detrimental impacts on others. For example, in London and the SE, the less affluent are ‘crowded out’ of the housing market. They simply can’t compete. So we have to ensure that the extra income and production is shared out in a more equitable manner.

    I’d agree with much of what Matthew says in the article you link to. However, I wouldn’t use a phrase like “it is OK to play fast and loose with fiscal policy”. It’s important to get fiscal policy right now that interest rates have fallen and we can’t lower them any further. ‘Monetary’ policy isn’t going to be an easily available option, unless we want to increase interest rates.

  • Peter Martin 8th Feb '20 - 9:39am

    @ Michael BG,

    “Socialism is about the ownership of capital and about reducing the share taken by capital and increasing the share given to labour”

    Not necessarily. A prediction of Marx was that the share going to capital would naturally fall as economies grew. We can see that happening now as companies sit on piles of cash, stored in offshore accounts. They won’t invest it because they don’t see any return. The reality is that the capitalists need to be able to sell their produce to a well paid labour force for them to be able to make those profits. So it’s not simply a matter of reducing wages relative to levels of profit.

    Modern day socialism should be about understanding these contradictions, and using the power of the state, and particularly the power of a currency issuing government to ensure that the system works as well as it can, and in the interests of all. The alternative is to scrap it entirely and take a leap into the unknown. I don’t think many on the left are suggesting we do that.

  • Matthew Green 8th Feb '20 - 9:44am

    Thanks for the link to my blog. There is still much missing from my analysis of the new economics. What is certain is that the role of the public sector will grow as the relative importance of public services such as health does. But what I didn’t say is that conventionally measured economic growth is going to stay low. That matters because this is what drives taxes, even if it isn’t so important for wellbeing. It is true that the government can borrow more, but how much this should be used for deficit financing and how much for public investment is not one I currently have a feel for. But I do think that public services need to be much more effective. That means solving social problems rather than applying sticking plaster to them. That role of the state, as well as our tax system, needs to be reimagined.

  • Katharine Pindar 8th Feb '20 - 10:37am

    Tom Harney. You wrote that ‘For the party to have as an explicit guide to policies a social contract seems a good idea’, before seeming to cast doubt whether the party leadership might accept it, am I right, Tom? I am a convinced believer in the latent power of our membership to persuade our leaders, and this should perhaps be more important now that the leadership has got so much wrong in its approach to the recent General Election.
    How can the membership persuade the leadership? The clearest route is by debate at Conference, but this is slow, especially with the rule that the same topics cannot be raised in successive years. So we accepted a motion on social justice at the last September conference and cannot bring another to the next. However, members can group together to seek new policies, and this is one route that we as authors will hope to follow. Other ideas on how we can advance the Social Contract proposal in our party will of course be welcome.

    Andrew Tampion. It was interesting to read your opinion as a lawyer that laws tend to be blunt instruments and difficult to enforce, Andrew. That view would certainly support our opinion that a social policy such as this one is worth floating to seek public acceptance of it, both in our party and in the general public. A big advantage of the idea of a Social Contract is that it brings together several separate requirements of the government, about tackling poverty, poor health, lack of skills and training, homelessness and unemployment, under one comprehensible heading.

  • Peter Martin,

    There has to be a difference between socialism and liberalism. Liberalism wants the capitalist system to work better so everyone has liberty and the freedom to act as they wish, be it having a job, having a home of their own, and not living in poverty. You state that to follow your prescription for the economy is socialism. However, it would be possible for a non-socialist government to implement your prescription.

    I have done a search on Google for socialism and this was the definition, “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole” (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/socialism). I think the old clause four of the Labour Party put it quite well, “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

    Matthew Green,

    You’re welcome. It seems logical to me that from your analysis that the increased deficit will have to fund some of the day to day expenditure on the services provided by the state. As you believe economic growth will stay low then just funding capital investment from the deficit will not be sustainable.

    Have you thought about how you convince the members of Federal Policy and Conference Committees that we need to embrace the idea of funding some of the day to day government expenditure from the deficit?

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Feb '20 - 11:53am

    Fellow members, this thread is not meant to be a kind of Michael and Katharine show! We would like to hear from you whether you agree with our suggestions of the priorities of the proposed new national Social Contract, and how if so you feel the proposal can be advanced. In these days of Tory government, and the threats of price rises and possibly shortages of foodstuffs and even medicines arising from the delays and restrictions of Brexit, we ourselves feel strongly that helping the poorest citizens and reducing poverty must be a priority task for us to campaign on as a party. By recalling in this the legacy of the great Liberal Beveridge we can give the proposal a focus and an offering seen as distinctive from the Liberal Democrats. Please support and help develop this Social Contract idea..

  • I would suspect that many have chosen not to contribute to this thread because while the underlying goal, to reduce poverty and its related ills, is clearly one to which we all subscribe, describing policies as a “social contract” is a little problematic.
    To start with, it’s not really a contract, more of a promise. As the authors themselves say, the only requirement for recipients is to keep the laws of the UK and that they show respect for others and their rights. It follows, I take it, that in parts of our troubled island where crime is common and racism, misogyny, and homophobia rife, the contract will not apply. No, I thought not !
    As a promise to citizens it seems rather similar to the kind of promises Labour has been making for generations. You may argue about whether this is socialism or not. It may not be, technically, socialism from an economic theory standpoint, but it certainly looks like socialist social policy.
    Not even convinced that looking back to Beveridge is going to cut it for a modern electorate. Before Beveridge’s time we had no NHS, and his welfare stare was just a safety net with a presumption that full employment was just around any particular corner. In other words, it was a very different world. So in short, I don’t think this is the answer. Well you did ask !!!!!

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Feb '20 - 5:59pm

    Chris Cory. Thank you for responding, Chris, but I am amazed that any Liberal Democrat member should regard any part of ‘our troubled island’ as being out of reach of a social contract. As Liberals we expect social goods to be available to every individual and community in Britain, and where they are not felt to be much in evidence there could well be further development of the ills you mention, if people have suffered neglect or bad treatment and become bitter or ‘anti-social’ afterwards.

    A social contract would not be a law, it would be a commitment from government, which the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty Philip Alston, found to be sadly lacking after studying recent governments here. We don’t ‘describe policies as a social contract’, but suggest the policies which should follow from governmental commitment to renewing this lost link to the people, this forgotten attitude of the government which we believe should be a commitment to serve everybody. Our party should in our view demand its renewal, because the people need it.

    Geoffrey Payne – thank you, Geoffrey, for stating that the policy ‘enhances our commitment to the Preamble’. Indeed it does, and I hope all members who consider themselves Social Liberals or Social Democrats will help to discuss and promote it.

  • ……………..The first requirement of government in a new Social Contract should be to ensure that no one in the UK lives in poverty. They must also ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need in a timely manner; everyone has access to the education and training they require throughout their working life to ensure they fulfil their full potential; that everyone who wants a home of their own has one; and that everyone who wants a job has one…………..

    Abba’s “Money, money, money” somes to mind. This, and previous, Conservative government want to “shrink the state” which is shorthand for reducing all of the above aspirations.
    The last ‘Question Time’ showed why Cummings/Johnson don’t want ministers to be questioned. Robert Buckland’s defence of government policies (cuts) was torn apart by the rest of the panel (Stella Creasy, Ed Davey , Rachel Shabi and Adam Pearson).

    There may be differences between this party and Labour but they are nothing to the gulf that has (apart from the coalition years) existed between this party and the Tories on social matters. Atlee took a nation broke and worn out by 5 years of war and built a social structure that, until Thatcher, served this country well.

    There is no hope that this government will offer such a contract so it is up to a government of a different colour and, for that. this party needs to accept the need to work with other opposition parties.

  • I admire Katharine’s good grace in dealing with objecters to a proposed Social Contract, but I’m afraid I don’t share her amazement at the attitude of some supposed Liberal Democrats. Add that to some of the market forces rule attitudes on the BBC and it’s pretty obvious why the party is in the unpretty pickle that it is in.

    Near on sixty years ago I joined a radical party with a social conscience. It now frequently appears to be an incompetent vacuum after it stopped being an adjunct of one of the most regressive Tory governments in living memory. Nevertheless all power to Katharine and Michael’s elbows in their desire to rekindle something from the dying embers. There is a vacuum inside and outside this party for compassionate liberalism with a social conscience.

  • Expats,
    the NHS and welfare state did not just appear out of nowhere after WW2. The Liberal government reforms of 1906-1914 laid the foundations. Dame Florence Horsbugh, Tory MP for Dundee 1931/45 completed much of the work for the introduction of the NHS as wartime minister of health. The white paper ‘A National Health Service’ was introduced by the coalition government in March 1944. All three national parties were committed to introduction of a National Health Service in 1945. Churchill in his March 1943 ‘cradle to grave broadcast’ committed the government saying ‘We must establish on broad and solid foundations a National Health Service.’Beveridge was appointed by Churchill to develop the report on social reform.
    I noted with interest today the reports in the Times that the Chancellor was considering the introduction of a Mansion tax and restricting relief on pensions contributions to basic rate only. Policies that were put forward by Vince Cable in 2010 and 2015 and by Ed Balls in 2015.

  • Laurence Cox 9th Feb '20 - 8:26pm

    All this motherhood and apple pie policy is very well, but no one is discussing how we pay for it. In past elections we have gone in with policies like adding one penny to all tax bands for the NHS, or one penny on the basic rate of income tax for education. Those policies were very popular because they were easy for the voters to understand. The social contract policy will have cost implications and we need to be honest with the voters about how we will pay for it. That starts with being honest with others in our own Party.

    I am not opposed to higher and more progressive taxation, indeed I reviewed Richard Murphy’s “The Joy of Tax” on this site:


    I have also been part of a Social Liberal Forum group looking at UBI and how it could be funded by changes to the tax system.

    If you have a clear funding plan then it is much easier to convince others that a change is achievable. For example, thanks to the Lib Dems in the Coalition Government the Income Tax personal allowance was raised from £6475 in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour Government, to £10,000 in 2014-15, the last full year of the Coalition Government, a 54% increase in five years. That would not have happened if we had not been able to convince the Tories that it was achievable.

    In contrast, we only have to look at Labour’s uncosted giveaways in 2019, like free fibre broadband for all or their pledge to the WASPI women, to appreciate that however meritorious any particular decision may be, the combination of many of them only leads to a loss of confidence in a Party’s financial acumen. This is far more damaging to a Party than under-promising.

  • Peter Martin 9th Feb '20 - 8:44pm

    @ Michael BG,

    I don’t like to say “I told you so” but Laurence Cox has just said “All this motherhood and apple pie policy is very well, but no one is discussing how we pay for it.”

    The simple fact, to somehow try to get across to everyone, is that if the Government increases its spending it increases its revenue. That’s where all its revenue, and indeed all ££, comes from. The Government creates them as it spends.

    This doesn’t, of course, mean that the Govt can spend without limit. If it increases the total spending in the economy beyond the economy’s ability to deliver we’ll end up with high inflation as the rationing mechanism. That’s when the spending needs to be curtailed and/or taxes need to rise. But we don’t raise taxes to ‘get the spending money’. We do it to cool down the economy and prevent inflation.

    If this simple fact was better appreciated, we would be in a far better economic position than we are. We’d have known that cuts to Govt spending don’t do anything to decrease the deficit. That’s because its revenue falls as its spending falls and as the economy slows.

    You’ll never get anywhere with your social contract plans if you can’t get the point across.

  • Peter Martin 9th Feb '20 - 8:58pm

    @ Joe Bourke,

    There has been a recent attempt to rewrite history on the question of the NHS. The Second World War showed up the inadequacies of health care in the UK. After the BMA had invited all leading medical organisations to join together and produce a plan for the future, nearly everyone accepted that a complete reorganisation of services was required. In 1942 the Beveridge Report was released. It recommended amongst other things, ‘a national service for the prevention and cure of disease and disability’. The Report was approved by the House of Commons. In 1943 Mr Henry Willink, a Tory MP, became minister of health, he continued the work needed as part of the war effort.

    In February 1944 Willink produced his White Paper entitled A National Health Service. However, it was stated that no patient or doctor would be forced to join the new service, and it was expected that private practice would continue on a substantial scale. And of course it did for the wealthy. The voluntary hospitals were to be left to decide themselves whether they wished to come on board. It was therefore only a pale shadow of the NHS that was later introduced.

    The Willink White Paper was widely supported in Parliament, but the Conservatives were hopeful that little if anything would be done very quickly. The BMA opposed the White Paper, and following further discussions they were assured that nothing would be forced upon them. Willink was accused by others of betraying the principles of the White Paper.

    One of the things this Government conveniently does not explain in their rewriting of history is that their party fought and voted consistently against Labour Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan’s NHS Bill. One of their main charges against Bevan was that he had completely abandoned their Willink plan. He’d gone much further than Willink had ever suggested and even Willink’s plan was too much for many in the Tory Party. They’d only gone along with the idea for the duration of the war.

    I’m not sure how the Liberals voted at the time. Does anyone know?

  • Yousuf Farah 9th Feb '20 - 9:51pm

    Fair enough, but why isn’t representing small and medium sized businesses and trying to construct a strong economy in this?

  • Peter,
    this is a short and accurate account of the background to the introduction of the NHS https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Birth-of-the-NHS/ beginning with the 1909 report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law.
    The critical issues facing the NHS today are not lack of funding commitments. All parties subscribe to increased funding. The existing budgets are not being fully utilised due to a longstanding inability to fill vacancies across the service. These staffing shortages coupled with the lack of integrated social care provision has put unprecdented pressure on health services.
    While under-funding of welfare provision is part of the problem it is by no means the main issue.The more serious problems lie with sanctions, lengthy waits for initial benefit payments, internet only access and above all a critical shortage of public housing.
    These are not issues that are addressed by economic theories. They are addressed by political commitment to maintaining equitable levels of taxation on income, consumption and wealth and attention to detail in delivering high quality public services commensurate with need.

  • Chris Cory,

    Please could you answer some questions? Do you think it is right that anyone lives in poverty in a liberal society? Do you think it is right that some people should be denied the healthcare they need because they lack the money to pay for it? Do you think it is right in a liberal society for any individual not to fulfil their full potential? Do you think training and education should only be available for those adults who can afford to pay for them? Do you think it is right in a liberal society that people are forced to live with others when they desire to have a home of their own? Do you think in a liberal society it is right that someone who wants a job suitable for them does not have one?

    Do you not want to have the social and economic conditions necessary so everyone can be equally free?


    You are correct it is down to us and our party to provide the political will to find the money. During the two world wars Britain had the political will to find the money. The post war Labour government had the political will to find the money to implement Beveridge and to provide our modern welfare state. McMillan as Minister of Housing and Local Government (1951-54) provided the political will so 300,000 new homes a year would be built.

    As Liberals we should aim to build a liberal society and there can’t be a liberal society where millions live in poverty, millions never fulfil their full potential, millions don’t have a home of their own, and millions would like to work but haven’t a job.

    Laurence Cox,

    Have you not read Matthew Huntbach comments where he often states that our plans on how to fund the increase in Personal Allowance were ignored? So the policy was not implemented because we set out how to finance it, but because the Coalition government had the political will to implement it and found the money from somewhere.

    I would argue that the issue with the Labour free fibre broadband and pledge to WASPI women were they were in addition to what was in their manifesto. In our manifesto costing document we stated we were funding £50 billion of extra spending from increased economic growth due to Brexit not happening.

  • Peter Martin,

    You are correct if either of us was responsible for the government’s economic policy economic growth would be higher and the government would have more revenue to spend on social policies. This is why I try to get party members to accept that austerity was the wrong policy in 2010 and the role of the government is to spend money to increase economic growth when it is low and reduce spending or increase taxes when the economy is over-heating. The basis for Keynesian economics.

    However, I think we need to convince party members that this new Social Contract is the only way that we can achieve a liberal society. Once this is recognised I hope we will find the political will adopt the necessary policies to achieve it.

    Yousuf Farah,

    Of course the government would have to run the economy correctly to achieve these goals and having policies to support small and medium sized businesses would be part of the package.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Feb '20 - 5:26am

    Of course we can answer those questions with ‘”Yes”, but that is just the time honoured holier than thou unless the mechanism to achieve them comes with it.
    They want all those things in the teeming squalid favellas and drought parched villages but they can’t afford them no matter how much virtue they wave around.
    The only funding solutions proposed are the usual Keynesian Ponzi schemes, which if they ever did work here would work everywhere and the favellas would be quickly replaced with happy people having all you demand in nice detached houses.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Feb '20 - 9:42am

    Michael’s passionate declaration in his comments last night of what he believes our government should be providing for the people sums up Liberal Democrat principles and the policies we hold and are developing. Tory governments of the last ten years have failed to serve the people and been indifferent to their growing needs, and the lookout now for the poorest is unfortunately still worse. In this situation our party needs to rise to the challenge. The Social Contract idea, developed first by great men of the past, can provide today the overarching theme under which our policies can group and be understood. I call therefore on our members and our leaders to take it up and develop it, and make the government attend to it, for the good of our stricken, divided and apprehensive people.

    Though it is in a true sense a great idea, Innocent, there is nothing airy-fairy about the principles and policies that our party holds and which I claim are compatible with it. Our Manifesto is properly costed and our plans can be paid for, which is more than be guaranteed for most of the vast promises made by both major parties in the Election campaign.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Feb '20 - 10:30am

    I see we will have no meeting of minds. My only ambition was to show that those who pose challenges are just as compassionate and caring.
    The only quibble I have is with the terms properly costed and paid for.
    The economic policies I see flaunted here are just Ponzi schemes.
    If they worked then there would not be scores of countries which can not provide even the most rudimentary levels of food, education and medicine. Their citizens endure crime , poverty and squalor .Our church supports a mission in Honduras and their reports of conditions are pretty horrific.
    Just tell them to increase their GDP by 3% and they, too, can enjoy all these benefits of the social contract.

  • Laurence Cox 10th Feb '20 - 11:09am

    @Michael BG

    My review of Richard Murphy’s book, makes the same point as Peter Martin does above in that the Government creates money as it spends and one of the reasons for taxation is to remove money from the economy to prevent inflation. We need to remember though that the reason why Keynsianism got such a bad reputation in the 1970s was that governments forgot (or chose to ignore) the second half of that sentence. As a result it is better to present the voters with the conventional idea of the Government raising taxes to spend more (which any voter can understand in terms of domestic budgets) rather than real situation. If the voters don’t understand what you are saying they will not elect you and if you don’t win elections you cannot put your ideas into practice.

  • The Irish election has been quite interesting. Despite very strong economic growth and low unemployment the elections have seen Sinn Fein top the polls in 1st preference votes on the back of avowedly socialist manifesto. Strong economic growth has not delivered the kind of services many, particularly younger people want to see. Only a decade ago, Ireland was full of ghost towns; areas with hundreds of unsold houses where people did not want to or could not move to. Today there is a full blown housing crisis. The problem, like that in the UK, is lack of traditional public housing. Ireland has a high wage economy and much higher levels of old age pensions and unemployment benefits than the UK. However, this has to be paid for with higher levels of taxation and a much higher cost of living, particularly in housing and rents.
    It is back to the old adage. There is no such thing as a free lunch in economics. Despite a booming economy relatively and high wage levels; housing. health care costs, childcare services and the general cost of living will all be urgent priorities for the next government to address.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Feb '20 - 1:51pm

    Martin, a great Liberal once brought the idea of the social contract to this country by writing of the great ills that must be fought against – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness – and a great Labour government put into law the measures they agreed on, the creation of a compulsory social insurance scheme, the establishment of comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, and avoidance of mass unemployment. We do but walk in the footsteps of the great in reclaiming the social contract idea, so it is very far from being nonsense.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Feb '20 - 7:30pm

    Let us talk practical politics for a little while, friends. We have had ten years of Tory governments when the rich have got richer and the poor poorer, and social ills have multiplied. Now we face several years more of uncaring Tory rule, with worse to come as Brexit bites. Meanwhile the opposition parties are in disarray. The Labour party is almost out for the count, with months yet to come of its leadership election, and the necessity of drastically paring its Socialist manifesto and huge spending promises.

    Are we out for the count too? Not really. Our manifesto still stands. Our principles and policies remain, and we can modify our plans if the country grows poorer as expected.
    However, we are not heard of any more. The old media blackout is ours again. That is why this proposal of seeking a new Social Contract is timely. If we go for it, if we say in effect that it’s time for Government to accept its duty to right the major wrongs suffered by our country, not just some investment in the neglected North but a resolve to care for everyone here and especially the worst off- if we make this distinctive demand under the headline of a New Social Contract, we will be heard. It is something different. It is comprehensible. It is useful. It has, even, just three distinctive words!! So, let us go for it, and work out the details as we go.

    For myself, when I am old maybe I will take a Master’s degree to add to my old degree in Politics, and study Social Contract Theory; but meantime there is work to be done.

  • Innocent Bystander,

    You are the voice of despair. Liberals cannot accept that despair. Keynesian economics are not Ponzi schemes. Liberals do in fact believe that freedom can be achieved worldwide and no one should live in poverty. We know that economic growth can improve the living conditions in poorer countries and we know that it is possible to redistribute the benefits of economic growth.

    Even Honduras would benefit from economic growth. Its major problem seems to be that it does not create enough new jobs for its rapidly growing population. It probably needs to be able to sustain economic growth higher than 6% a year.


    Katharine and I are not advocating that the individual tries to maximize their own interests as in Social Contract Theory. Nor do we see people as subjects of government in the way you describe Social Contract Theory.

    We see the social contract as what bides us together as a society, therefore what we require from individuals is what is required to live in our society and not to maximize ones gains. Our social contract asks a lot from government but little from individuals. We do not see such a social contract as incompatible with liberalism. I think that the idea of a social contract where individuals have to do certain things to benefit from government action is a well-established concept.

    Laurence Cox,

    It seems that you are advocating adhering to the myth that government finances are like domestic finances while knowing this is not the case, instead of actually trying to educate the public on how the economy really works.

    Joseph Bourke,

    We should as a party agree with Philip Alston, “Poverty is ultimately a political choice, and governments can, if they wish, opt to overcome it.” Then we as a party can choose to have the policies to overcome poverty.

  • Innocent Bystander 10th Feb '20 - 8:35pm

    Keynes is the voice of magic beans. When he was active we had dozens of shipyards and steelworks, we exported locomotives, machine tools (Ward, Herbert, Matrix, Churchill et al ), commercial vehicles (Leyland, AEC, Foden, Scammell, Dennis, ERF etc), more motorcycle companies than I can list. (I had an Aerial Leader my best mate had a Franny Barnett), –
    GEC Ferranti, English Electric, Parsons – massive exporters.
    All gone.
    All Keynes can do now is suck in imports and actually discourage productivity improvements. We would do far better to reduce GDP and concentrate on the real problem which is not that our economy is too small, but that it is grossly inefficient as can be seen in any capital infrastructure project we embark on.
    It is not despair to call for more debate on our problems than just jumping to the simplest of economic get out of jail free cards that Keynes actually is.
    But as an exercise, just think through how could Keynes help Honduras, but after the money runs out.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Feb '20 - 8:45pm

    Martin, nonetheless… Whose is this ‘overriding principle that Government is the servant’, please? are you assuming it is part of our unwritten Constitution perhaps? I see a flaw anyway in your succeeding argument, as far as I understand it.

    People in our country are indeed ‘subjects’, but subjects of the Crown. Were there no Crown, we would be citizens, as in countries without a Crown which retains certain powers. You will object that the powers of the Crown are ceded to the Prime Minister in Cabinet (or elected dictator, as I see him referred to elsewhere! ) However not all of them are. The Queen retains some powers, whether she chooses to use them or not, and I suppose she is not subject to the law as decided by our Supreme Court, as he is. Whether or not, I think it is highly unlikely that people are to be regarded as ‘subjects’ of the Prime Minister in Cabinet. and so the accountability of the Government to the people surely still remains and can be sought to be part of a Social Contract.

    Joseph Bourke. Thank you, Joe, for informing us about the visit of the UN rapporteur Philip Alston to Spain, and for pointing out how relevant are his conclusions to this country’s needs regarding the Health Service and social housing. We should learn from them as we should have learnt from his Report last April on poverty in this country. His final comments which you report are most telling, and entirely relevant to our proposals in this thread. Many thanks.

  • Innocent Bystander,

    With Keynesian economics there is often an increase in imports and this was so in the 1950s and 60s. We export different things now. We are still a major exporting country. We are the ninth largest.

    What discourages increased productivity is having access to a large pool of cheap labour. This encourages business to employ more people rather than invest to produce more with fewer people. The size of a country’s own market is relevant to growth especially with more countries being able to compete in that country’s export markets.

    There would be no benefit to the British economy in having negative economic growth. What it needs is investment to increase productivity.

    It seems that Honduras’ economy was not helped by austerity. One of the problems of Honduras is how to finance its deficit in its own currency. The answer for Honduras is not to reduce its GDP.

  • Katharine Pindar 10th Feb '20 - 11:41pm

    Martin, I’m sorry but I don’t think you have made a case for thinking there is potential harm in a national Social Contract. As for Liberalism, our party’s constitution accepts a role for the state in a Liberal society, and both Michael and I as Liberals maintain that nobody can be considered completely free who has to live in poverty.

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Feb '20 - 7:23am

    I appreciate your response but Honduras may be an good example. If Keynes works here it must work there. I may be unfair to Honduras and I have never been there and I only know it from the reports from the mission our church supports.
    But there seems to be lots of it where you and I should definitely not go.
    What would borrowing money and pumping it into the economy do? Would silicon fab plants and OLED TV factories magically emerge.?
    Or would the gang bosses and drug barons get their hands on it?
    Same here, but our govt calls them infrastructure implementation partners, consultants, preferred suppliers, major contractors etc.
    That’s why HS2 has cost so much. Why the garden bridge did not deiiver one brick for £46 million.
    We have a problem that can not, and absolutely must not, be fed with throwing more money its way. It’s an ugly, difficult problem but get rich quick Keynes will only make it far worse.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Feb '20 - 9:31am

    Any comment against a Social Contract which begins by calling it ‘nonsense’ does not suggest an interest in serious discussion, Martin, and I suggest that you have not listened to the case made rather than that we haven’t made it. With respect, it does not make sense to talk about minority groups possibly being excluded by a social contract ‘in other hands’. This idea is about a new national Social Contract which the Liberal Democrats will put forward as a proposition for government, in which the government would be asked to agree to the principles set out, of serving all our people by eliminating poverty, providing good health care and effective skills and training, and stopping homelessness and involuntary unemployment. It would be a commitment which a Liberal Democrat partner in government would expect to be undertaken, with the underlying attitude of indifference to needs shown by the recent Tory governments banished, and an aspiration to equal the achievements of the great Liberal William Beveridge accepted.

  • Peter Martin 11th Feb '20 - 10:42am

    @ Katharine,

    I do agree with you on the Social Contract issue. Although maybe I shouldn’t say so! There is already an implied contract between Govt and the people. It really wouldn’t do any harm to set about trying to formalise that in a written constitution. The basics of the social contract could be included in that.

    @ Innocent Bystander @ Michael BG,

    You seem to be talking about Honduras rather a lot! It doesn’t really matter if we are talking about any poor country. Chad or Honduras. It doesn’t really matter. If there are few available natural resources, relative to the size of the population, which could well be poorly educated then there isn’t a lot that any brand of economics can do to fix that.

    Maybe that applies more to Chad than Honduras though? The problem in the latter, though I hasten to add that I haven’t studied the country at all, is that land and wealth is likely to be tightly concentrated in the hands of a few families who see the country as their own personal fiefdom. The level of corruption will be high. No one will have much confidence that the tax system is fair. Tax evasion is likely to be high. The US $ will be used instead of the local currency for important business deals.

    The first priority of any sensible government should be to rectify these problems. But that won’t be easy if the government has to rely on a acquiesce of a powerful landed class, and powerful US multinational companies, who would like things to remain pretty much as they are.

  • Gordon Lishman 11th Feb '20 - 12:31pm

    There are several underlying threads here. One is about policies which address poverty, ill health and the inequality which breeds them. As did Beveridge, we should be concerned about causes as well as the administrative details of policies.

    There is also an argument about “social contract”. That concept has various histories, including the dangerous Rousseau belief in forging a “general will” which is redolent of some of the arguments about Brexit with the attendant danger of a tyrannous majority. The major alternative idea goes back to Locke and the principle of consent. It was one of the foundations of philosophical liberalism, oddly more celebrated amongst liberal parties in other parts of Europe than here.

    Following that liberal tradition, the key idea is that people (NOT “the people”) should freely consent to government and its actions. The problem for any party which seeks to address fundamental imbalances of power, income, wealth and health is that the conservative narrative about scroungers and wastrels has become dominant, partly with the acquiescence of Labour politicians.

    Our strategy should be about building trust in democratic politics and the sense of shared responsibility for each other. That certainly involves policies, but the more important element is the dialogue with ordinary people to establish the basis of active consent for those ideas. As William Wallace argues, that consent has to apply to the taxation which underpins the social policies. It also has to start from where people are rather than where we want them to be.

    The Social Liberal Forum began to address those issues in our book “Four Go in Search of Big Ideas*” which was explicitly an attempt to more towards a “new Beveridge” and our more recent book* which took its title from a 1909 quotation of Lloyd George about “that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests”. The annual Beveridge Lecture at SLF’s summer conferences have addressed the same issues.
    *Available via the SLF website

  • Innocent Bystander 11th Feb '20 - 12:53pm

    It’s a Red Letter Day. You have written something with which I wholeheartedly agree.

    “if there are few available natural resources, relative to the size of the population, which could well be poorly educated then there isn’t a lot that any brand of economics can do to fix that.”
    Exactly right and so eloquently put.

    “land and wealth is likely to be tightly concentrated in the hands of a few families who see the country as their own personal fiefdom. The level of corruption will be high. No one will have much confidence that the tax system is fair. Tax evasion is likely to be high.”
    Even better.

    “The first priority of any sensible government should be to rectify these problems. But that won’t be easy if the government has to rely on a acquiesce (sic) of a powerful landed class,”
    I could not have expressed it better myself.

    What’s that? Honduras?? You were talking about Honduras? I thought you were describing the UK and I had found someone else who could see through the rose-tinted spectacles our education system sends us out into the world wearing.

    But your key messages are mine too.
    “there isn’t a lot that any brand of economics can do to fix that”
    “The first priority of any sensible government should be to rectify these problems.”

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Feb '20 - 1:58pm

    Gordon Lishman. Thank you for your thoughtful contribution to this discussion, Gordon. Relating academic to everyday ideas about hoped-for political progress is a constant challenge, which this site is sometimes able to address, and which you are bringing helpfully to the fore in this discussion. But on reading that your 2018 collection of essays “was explicitly an attempt to move towards a ‘new Beveridge'”, I took up my copy eagerly to look up references to Beveridge in it, only to find that there is no index. It seems then that the book, full of excellent ideas, is itself a halfway house between academic and intelligent political thinking, which seems to underline my point about the difficulty of relating deep ideas to those which ordinary people can readily absorb.

    Our proposal that the party should accept as desirable the need for a new Social Contract between government and people, should discuss and formulate it and then campaign for its popular acceptance, is intended to be understood by ordinary people, even while we are able to defend it intellectually when challenged. To use a concept from your book (p.96) ‘framing’, we offer a positive frame to the ideas of governmental responsibility which we are suggesting, and as you have written, “the frames we choose heavily influence the way stories are received.” Indeed, the story we wish to put over to the people is that governments of the last ten years have not ‘done right’ by them, with the continuation of austerity and the neglect of so many needs, and that in future governments must commit to serving everyone fairly and dealing with their basic needs, accepting that they have a Social Contract with the people to do so.

    I don’t accept, by the way, a premise of the book which you repeat here, that the narrative about scroungers and wastrels has become dominant. I believe people are well aware that they have been very much let down by recent governments, and by the political classes generally.

  • Innocent Bystander,

    Economic growth for Honduras before the financial crash was above 6% a year and recently it has been the second highest in Central America – 4.8% in 2017 and 3.7% in 2018. Inflation has often been a problem but I don’t know the causes of this. It has a high crime rate. It seems that its neighbours are able to produce most things cheaper than Honduras and this is problematic. Keynesian economics is not a magic fix; it has its limitations and can only work within these limitations.

    If there were public works schemes to improve the transportation infrastructure and to bring irrigation to land not being used because of this lack the Honduras economy would grow.


    Our starting point were the comments made by Philip Alston, UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty in his report on poverty in the UK last year where he refers to an existing social contract set up after the Second World War based on Beveridge which is being overturned.

    The idea is that everyone in society tries to follow the rules set up by that society. It is this basic idea which we are using for the basis of our new social contract. It would not be a way of excluding people. I hope it would be a way of including everyone. I hope it brings about acceptance that so long as a person complies with the law of the land they deserve to have the things in life which we as liberals believe are necessary for a person to be free.

    In an earlier comment you wrote that you didn’t think poverty could be totally eradicated. Do you not accept that people living in poverty are not as free as those not living in poverty? And that for a society to be liberal no one can be living in poverty?

  • Martin,

    It is mathematically possible to ensure than no one has an income below a particular percentage of the average. Therefore it is possible to eradicate relative poverty in the UK. I don’t understand how you can think a society which has relative poverty is truly a liberal society.

    As liberals we believe that people are generally law abiding. The laws or rules of a society change. As liberals we defend the right of individuals not to conform but we do not encourage them to act outside the law. I don’t believe there are many people who think that being homeless should be made a crime. At the moment there is a lot of conditionality applied to the poorest in society. The aim of our new social contract would be to remove these conditions not impose new ones. Our new social contract would be liberal as we would be setting it up. Your objections seem to be based on the idea that our new social contract would be a way of excluding people and it is not. It is a way of including people.

  • Innocent Bystander 12th Feb '20 - 2:28am

    My longstanding point is that Honduras would derive no benefit from investment to improve transportation and irrigation.
    Because the money would be siphoned off by evil doers long before it could do any good.
    Peter says that the first priority of any sensible government should be to solve these problems first.
    Our evil doers don’t have tattoos and wear red bandanas. They wear the best suits and carry briefcases.
    As you are a decent person, and indoctrinated by our education system to believe Britain is a beacon of honesty, you can not accept this.
    Even on a day when the HS2 gravy train has been given permission to continue looting the taxpayer without a single question anywhere from anyone asking where the lost money has gone.
    Wouldn’t any sensible government send in the Serious Fraud Office and forensic accountants first?
    As Peter says, not whilst a powerful landed class runs affairs.
    Even the Deputy Chair of the formal govt review says costs are out of control but he has been shut down and sidelined. And the looting goes on.
    And you want to throw more money at this system?

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Feb '20 - 10:20am

    The need for a new national Social Contract is as clear to me as is the Liberal Democrat party’s need now for a new Big Idea to advance our fortunes again – a useful conjunction! But rather than dwell on the political advantage to us, I will dwell on why a Social Contract is needed, by telling everyone what Philip Alston the UN Rapporteur said about the Beveridge social contract after his visit to the UK in November 2018.

    He wrote in his Statement: “Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system of delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it. Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned. In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.”

    As Liberal Democrats, I believe we must declare that we reject those values of the successive Tory governments which have brought about this suffering. We have to demand that the Beveridge values be reinstated, and seek public backing for a new stated Social Contract, in which Government accepts it has a duty to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly, and that their basic needs, not to live in poverty, to have good health care, to have sufficient education and training, and to have the chance of both a home and a job of their own, will be realised.

  • Innocent Bystander,

    You have implied that you are a Christian with reference to your church, but I don’t think you are a liberal and share the liberal world view. I think you believe that there are lots of “evil doers” in the world is based on your Christian faith. As I am a liberal I think people are not evil and the majority are good people with just a small minority being criminally minded.

    As I wrote earlier “you are the voice of despair”. I believe that it is possible to eliminate criminal action in government contracts. It is more likely that it is managerial failure rather than criminal action which has led to HS2 costing so much. I have not heard it said that anything criminal has taking place. If you have internet refers to such evidence please can you provide the links?


    If I remember my mathematics correctly there are different types of distribution curves. However, this does not mean that with the distribution of income the government could not take action to ensure that the natural distribution curve is altered so no one has an income less than a percentage of the average. There will still be people who have incomes below the average. I hope this explains why it is possible to have an income distribution curve which has no one in the bottom section with say less than 50% of the average income. I could provide numbers to prove this, but I don’t think this is the correct place to do so.

    You have not provided a case for a social contract being nonsense. You have pointed out that it can be a dangerous concept in the hand of non-liberals. I don’t think either Katharine or I are disagreeing with this. We are just pointing out that as liberals our social contract will be liberal.

    I think I made clear why we wanted to talk about a new social contract as a replacement for the old one setup after the Second World War. As has Katharine in her latest comment.

    The question isn’t really if a new social contract is the only way to deliver the society which we want, but if it is a means to achieve it which the people will understand and accept. We feel this is a good means to achieve widespread support. What means would you prefer?

  • “Travail,famille,patrie”. I am disappointed.

    Most LDV readers will recognise the national motto of Vichy France, during Occupation and Collaboration. The word ‘travail’ in French carries little of the notion of Suffering, which is perhaps the main idea in the English word. And ‘patrie’ often means something like ‘home county’. So this temporary new motto means something like “work hard, and keep your nose and head down”. A new and dismal social contract for the French

    That is not a criticism of the term: but it has served its purpose. That is why it might be thought to be useful now — but its time has passed. The translation Beveridge’s xxxxxxx betrays this; we are offered translations from good old English words into the modern jargon of officialdom, and their meaning is thereby transformed, and in the ears of millions of wobbling voters it sounds like forms and dreary offices with front-of-shop functionaries eager to help, but paid to find reasons to deny your needs by undermining your rights.

    I failed O-level History (Tudors!), so the capitals in Social Contract meant nothing to me until recentl;y, and the name of Beveridge. To those interested, of course both carry great weight. But to those who may vote but are not interested — perhaps the new Blue migrants from the Red Wall? — they are, I believe, past their date. We pride ourselves on seizing something creditable, even glorious, from the defeat of Dunkirk, and we should always salvage what we can from disaster. But today we must look to D-day and new methods, and new words — or, rather, today’s words. They may be slang or posh: but they must be current in form and meaning, not to dozens of LDV readers, but to millions of floatable voters who may vote next time. And we mustn’t hang about — it’s not long to the next General Election, if we’ve got a cunning plan to sell: and we have.

    [Continues below, I trust}

  • [Continues from above. Correction to above: ‘Beveridge’s xxxxxxxx should read “Five Giants”]

    We sell the New Social Contract without mentioning the word, just the thing. And the thing is the Transformative (there’s a word up and cummings!) revolution in social and economic relations that is UBI, or the ‘National Income Dividend’. That is three words, I modestly suggest, which all have very positive connotations and resonances and which will consequently catch the ear and the interest of our floating voters.

    In case you’ve missed it so far, Transformative is the word used by the author of the Report for the (recent?) Shadow Chancellor, to describe the policy he was advising on, the UBI [aka NID for LDs!]. Labour chickened out in December — probably a Corbyn veto), but UBI was in the manifesto of the Greens: it is there for the taking, and it must the LibDems who grab it. Coarse talk — but who will be offended?

    What we need now is a three word banner — something like Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, but the same thing in today’s words. What are they going to be? Not the New Social Contract (but meaning that and being that!) If you haven’t, please at least read the very end of Professor Guy Standing’s report, and salute him. Just Google “Guy Standing Report 2019” and look for the word Transformative. It comes up straight away. Then go to page 58, the last two paragraphs of his ‘Concluding reflections and recommendations’.

    I must conclude by apologising to Katharine and Michael for seeming to pour cold water on the two very important and fruitful threads they have started: my apologies and thanks.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Feb '20 - 5:39pm

    To write, ‘from poorly defined generalities it conjures up unconscious tacit agreements in order to deduce hypothetical specific obligations’ is a fine rhetorical flourish, Martin, which entirely misses the point. There really was an understood social contract after WW2. There really were changes made by the Government, to create a compulsory social insurance scheme to provide non-means-tested benefits in return for contributions, to establish comprehensive health and rehabilitation services, and to prevent mass unemployment. There really was an acceptance that the Government would provide necessary income and services for everyone who would need them.

    Now we see that recent governments have been failing, as Philip Alston pointed out, to carry out its duties adequately, because of letting its values slip. There has been indifference and even callousness shown to many people who have needed help, with a conscious insistence that poor people can only escape from poverty by their own efforts to find sufficient paid work, regardless of their individual circumstances and the state of the job market. Now we believe that people will understand and accept, as Michael suggests, that the government has been failing in its duty to properly serve and care for everyone, and that a new social contract is needed to achieve the society that we want.
    the government is not fulfilling its duty in serving

  • A P.S. to mine above:

    I ought to have enlarged a bit. Referring to Beveridge’s Five Giants [above] Prof Standing on Pages 11 to 24 of his Report introduces what he identifies as Eight Modern Giants for us to slay. I’ll just give their names here:

    1. Inequality. 2. Insecurity 3. Debt 4. Stress 5. Precarity 6. Tha Advancing Robots
    7. Extinction 8. Populism and Neo-Fascism.

    Some of those may sound not all that Modern, but they appear in new forms creating new problems, which he discusses..

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Feb '20 - 5:48pm

    An eliminated half sentence cropped back at the end there, but the meaning of the comment is I hope still visible! Just to clarify, Philip Alston was referring to the failures of recent governments, and Michael and I concur with his view that values have slipped and the government has not carried out its duties sufficiently. We believe therefore that a new social contract should be sought and agreed.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Feb '20 - 10:27pm

    There is nothing transformative about slogans, Roger, whatever they are. What counts for the populace, I suggest, is how genuine the feeling seems to be in the politicians’ words, and how close to their interests are the proposals the words convey.

    I want to be able to talk to ordinary people in my constituency and say, ” We Liberal Democrats have a new idea that we think will be good for the country. You know how hard life has been for most people in recent years, with the austerity and cutbacks of services? Well, we feel the governments we’ve had haven’t had the right outlook about looking after people, and have allowed poverty and inequality to grow while more-or-less telling even really unlucky people that they just must help themselves. Our new idea is that the government must start taking its responsibility to serve everyone – not just people of their own kind or who have voted for them – and tackle poverty and poor health-care and lack of housing and decent jobs, and all the problems people need help with.

    We recall how a big step forward was taken after the last World War, bringing in national insurance and the NHS and helping provide jobs. It was called the Social Contract, and we’re asking now for this government to agree to a new Social Contract – that is, to accept responsibility and its duty to make sure that people get all the things they need that have been neglected, just so long as they keep the law and respect each other. We want everyone to have the basics of a decent life, and where they can’t manage – young people and families to get decent housing, for example – the government should step in. With the fifth largest economy in the world, government can ensure we have these things – so long as they change their attitude and accept responsibility. And that’s what we’re calling a new Social Contract for our country.”

  • Katharine, thanks for responding so promptly. But I am very sorry to have to confess that I find your response very disappointing — as I said above.

    First, I’ll get a minor but important niggle out of the way. It may fool some of the multitude of ‘mobile’ or floating voters, but not most, for us and other politicians to keep boasting about our having “the fifth largest Economy”, as is that meant we were the fifth richest in term of Income per head. It does not. As WW2 was finishing the argument in the playground –I was seven, the arguers nine, and doubtless echoing the grown-ups — was whether Sweden or the ‘England” (they meant the UK, of course) had the higher Standard of living, second only to the other victorious nation (as they saw it), the USA. Today, we rank about 22nd, in terms of Income per Head. And that, surely, is what counts? “Fifth largest? So what, for you and me and everyone here?

    On now — it’s getting late — to your final sentence: “That’s what we’re calling a new Social Contract for our country”. Call it that, by all means, behind LD doors — but not, please, on the campaign doorstep, for the reason I explained, or argued, earlier today: it won’t mean owt t’t punters — and theirs are the votes we must garner from the plight of Labour and the fewness of the Greens, who’ve bravely thrown down the gauntlet that Labour funked.

    So, to sum up: at home, call it a Social Contract; and make “the bones’, as you and Michael are calling it — that is the nitty-gritty essence — the National Income Dividend. The NID can best be the NSC, and vice versa. I want everything you do. But please don’t let floating voters hear you. We are aiming at floating voters and especially the new generation of voters. Aren’t we? I am.

  • Roger Lake,

    This thread is about what we want to achieve with our new social contract. Your earlier comments were about how one of these might be achieved (but I think there are less costly ways of doing it); the introduction of a UBI. We discussed this at some length before and recently in the comments under Katharine’s earlier article – (https://www.libdemvoice.org/a-vision-for-us-based-on-fairness-towards-a-new-social-contract-63284.html).

    In this thread Gordon Lishman as well as reminding us that the idea of a social contract is ‘one of the foundations of philosophical liberalism’, reminds us that the poor have been demonised. People often consider some people as the deserving poor and others as the undeserving poor. This is what leads us to the idea of a social contract – not a something for nothing, but five great things in exchange for being part of society and obeying the law and respecting the rights of others. While most voters don’t talk about a social contract they recognise one should exist as do the Conservative and Labour Parties. We need to persuade people that every human being is valued equally and justice demands that the state does not judge people on their lifestyle choices but only if they obey the law (the basics for a society). Both the Conservative and Labour Parties have moved us away from the post war social contract so the government no longer has to treat people equally but can support the DWP judging people without any due process of law and forcing local councils to do the same.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Feb '20 - 4:21pm

    The likely effect on poverty of the March budget of the new Chancellor of the Exchequer (a.k.a. a probable Johnson/Cummings poodle) should be closely watched. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s guide for welfare spending records how the total spent on social security benefits and tax credits, which was equivalent to 28% of total public spending in 2016-17 and 11% of national income, shifted to pensioners and away from working-age people after 2011 by 3.5 percentage points, and is forecast to take a further 2% percentage point shift towards pensioners in the next six years.

    Whether that occurs or not, I am here concerned, from the point of view of reducing poverty, with the reduction of welfare spending for working-age people. The OBR expects spending on most welfare payments to fall as a share of national income on current policy, with tax credits falling proportionately the most. Specifically, it expects there to be reduced spending on tax credits, housing benefits and Universal Credit. Although the four-year freeze on uprating most working-age benefits ought to end this year, the cuts by government in or since 2015, such as the limitation of the child benefit to the first two children, and cuts to the UC work allowances and to housing benefit, surely contributed to the continuing rise in numbers of families in poverty.

    Reading the OBR guide, one can only foresee continued poverty for many working-age families under current policies. For example, by November 2017 there were one million claimants for housing benefit, which as the OBR notes reflects weak earnings growth despite the strong employment growth. What are poor families to do? They need, if not better-paid jobs or possibly lower rental charges for their houses, better welfare provision. That seems unlikely to be a concern of this government any more than the last’s’ but we must demand better. We need an attitude change from government, to accept how its social contract with the whole of our society has been eroded and requires renewing. Liberal Democrats should make that demand, in which help for the poorest families must be the foremost requirement.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Feb '20 - 10:53pm

    Addendum – the last paragraph above includes the statement, that ‘by November 2017 there were one million claimants for housing benefit’, which should have included the words ‘in employment’: i.e. that there were one million claimants in employment who were claiming the benefit. My inadvertent omission when rectified makes sense of the following explanation, that weak earnings growth prevented the benefit of strong employment growth being felt. Too many people are earning too little, often presumably from uncertain job security, to pay for their housing without housing benefit. And that was cut in the 2015 cutbacks, which contributed to the appalling growth in the need for working people to obtain extra supplies from the food banks.

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