Agenda 2020 Essay #5 What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderEditor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected]

What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today to me is to promote three basic, yet fundamental, principles to help place in people’s hands the tools they need to make the most of their lives: Freedom, Democracy and Community. I believe that, when achieved, a person can reach their full potential and in turn can help others reach their full potential too.

What does it mean to be free? Freedom is more than existing without physical chains; it is about empowering and inspiring people to recognise the chains that already bind them – poverty, illness, a lack of skills, lack of opportunity, lack of identity – and helping them break the chains that hold them back. How can a parent hope to develop their skills to better themselves personally and professionally when they work every hour they can to put food on the table for their children? How can a person develop and grow emotionally and mentally when they are trapped by an identity that they feel isn’t theirs? How can someone with a physical or mental disability contribute to society and a workplace when they are locked in a cycle of self-detriment and no confidence? These are the questions that need to be answered. The Liberal Democrats’ belief that mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health and that mental health stigma and discrimination needs to be challenged is just one example of how promoting freedom is, and should be, at the core of our beliefs.

What does it mean to be involved in the democratic process? Democracy is more than just a ballot paper – it is about championing local politics and involving as many people in taking charge of their own future as possible. It is about devolving power back to the voter as far as it practically can be; it is about local representation, through town-hall politics, through referenda and direct control. The Liberal Democrats’ desire to begin the decentralisation of political power needs to be pushed higher up the agenda in order to place more power in the hands of all of us.

What does it mean to promote the community? A community is not just a geographic space; many of us are members of dozens of communities simultaneously. We are brought together by location, by background, by ethnicity, by sexuality, by religion, by shared interests – both physically and online. We must not see each community as exclusive but see them as unique and help create greater understanding between all and through it we must promote inclusiveness and integration, education and understanding. Our work in building bridges with communities, both established and new, must be a model for how we welcome those who settle in Britain through choice or through need to help make our society and economy stronger for future generations.

Ultimately, to be a Liberal Democrat today is not about pushing an agenda to help certain people succeed, but to remember that the agenda should be to succeed in helping everyone achieve.

* Alex Hegenbarth is the Lib Dem PPC for the Tewkesbury constituency

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2 Comments

  • Little Jackie Paper 28th Oct '15 - 6:43pm

    Sorry Mr H, you lost me with,

    ‘We are brought together by location, by background, by ethnicity, by sexuality, by religion, by shared interests – both physically and online.’

    I think that the term you were looking for under your, ‘community,’ section was actually, ‘civil society.’ It is precisely the diminution of civil society and its institutions that is at he heart of a great many of the problems we see in society today. What it is that has caused the weakening of civil society we can debate. Probably that would be a pretty uncomfortable debate. But please – the internet is a poor substitute for a real civil society. Sitting around tapping away and staring at a screen is civil society in no meaningful sense. We are much too atomised already without pretending that the internet is some sort of cure.

  • Alex hegenbarth 28th Oct '15 - 9:34pm

    Hi Jackie, thanks for your comment.

    The point I was trying to make was that we (society in general) only seem to think about ‘community’ as a defined location: my building, my street, my town etc, while in many instances in most cities people don’t know who their neighbors are. Alongside looking at communities based on a physical location we should also redefine our concept of community to include on other factors (such as cultural groups, for example) in order to engage with more people.

    In reference to the internet, I meant it purely as a means of people sharing ideas and being connected to others who share the same interests, just as we are doing now, rather than suggesting that we should replace a civil society with a virtual one. However, the importance of the internet as a means of communication and connectivity between people across the world is something that cannot be ignored and has become embedded in the fabric of our culture.

    I do agree however that as a party, even as a society, we do need to look at and debate what has caused the weakening of our civil society and personally I think empowerment and engagement with different types of communities is the best way of tacking the adverse effects of this.

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