An Ideology for the Liberal Democrats?

agenda2020aThe new Agenda 2020 consultation on Liberal Democrat Philosophy appears on a special page of the Libdems website which provides the consultation paper and a box for members to submit comments. However, these would then seem to disappear without trace, so that only the privileged will see what anyone else has said. Not a very liberal start. LDV provides a better forum for open discussion, so – here’s my shot.

The consultation paper says:

All political philosophies are based on a view of human nature. … We believe in the essential goodness and improvability of humankind.

Deep breath. Well, OK, I do believe that humans are capable of doing good as well as evil, and that much of the time they don’t really do either. But – surely this is far too unworldly, too trusting, too out-of-touch with life’s harsher realities?

Next it says:

Liberal Democrats trust individuals to make their own decisions about how they live their lives; no one else, whether politicians, clerics or bureaucrats, can do so as effectively. … It is the love of liberty above any other value that marks the liberal out as a liberal.

Having begun with these ringing declarations, the paper does swiftly move on to explain why we also believe in social justice. We recognise “the role of the state”, albeit defining that role as being “to create the conditions in which individuals and their communities can flourish”. We cautiously endorse the ideas of public services and reducing inequality. So, a belated piece of balance. Nevertheless, the pervasive emphasis on “liberty above any other value” soon resurfaces. We read, for example, that “In general, societies which base their economies on free markets and free trade are themselves freer and fairer”, although an afterthought is added that “in some cases … such as health care”, non-market solutions may be more equitable.

It is time to go back to the stated principle that “the love of liberty above any other value” is the Liberal Democrat Mark of Cain, and question whether such a boldly dogmatic, ideological statement is a valid one. It certainly erects a razor-wire fence around the territory of the Liberal Democrat Tribe. But should our party be advancing tribalist barriers, or should we be prepared to work alongside people who might think that other values matter just as much as liberty? Indeed, should we preferably “seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”, to quote the far more open-minded and even-handed words of the Preamble to our Constitution?

Ideological dogmatic politics is supposed to be out of fashion. “Ideological” used to be an insult which we aimed at our opponents. Does the ideology that freedom is the be-all-and-end-all include freedom to get rich at others’ expense, freedom to discriminate against people you don’t like, freedom to annoy your fellow citizens, freedom from “bureaucratic” red tape such as development control, and freedom to trash the planet?

If we do not get away from ideology, and adopt a more balanced philosophy, I fear that one further freedom will become increasingly important to the public – The freedom not to vote Liberal Democrat!

* David Allen is a member of the Rushcliffe Local Party and has been a member of the Lib Dems or its (SDP) predecessor since 1981

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  • Eddie Sammon 26th Oct '15 - 9:58am

    This is a good article. I have spent many hours, probably too many, thinking about ideology and philosophy and usually settle for centrism, but the centre-ground isn’t always right, so it is important not to just constantly say what the crowd is saying.

    I don’t agree with the idea that free trade is always beneficial. Of course, in an ideal world it would be beneficial, but too many try to apply free trade where I don’t think it is acceptable, such as dealing with rogue states. I also like a strong state and think ideas such as big cuts to tax credits and letting the steel industry die are strategic mistakes, regardless what I think about the correct way to stop such measures.

  • Just to say: Andy Hinton published his responses in his blog, and I will be doing the same with mine once I’ve submitted them

  • Christopher Haigh 26th Oct '15 - 11:26am

    Over-powerful individuals (ie massive wealth) are just as bad as over-powerful governments. It is they that support the Tories.

  • At some point, we’ve got to acknowledge that the liberty we stand for is already burned into the structure of our politics. We are already free, but for one reason or another we chose not to act on it. People ask “why invent the Liberal Democracts?” because they have the rule of law and the right to pick their leader.

    When people ask us how we’re going to make the country better, we can’t just say “We will make you more free”. We have to articulate how our changes will give people the confidence to act on liberty they already own.

    This means the freedom we seek to expand is the freedom to try and fail. A more optimum balance of opportunity and risk.

    Both of these variables are dependent on a standard of disparity (or… equality). How much does a person how to gain before they take a chance? How much risk discourages a person from quitting their horrible job and finding their vocation?

    The best way to promote freedom is to cure paralysis.

  • We are at best the third party in a system where the other two parties own the big blocks of both left/right wing political theory and the two socio-economic groups of the rich and poor.

    If we are not ideological then we are saything that we are about nothing and are for nobody.

    I accept that we’ve chosen to go what marketers call “wide and shallow” (I.e. Build our support and membership on a fairly random group of people with limited common beliefs), but where David thinks the logical conclusion is to stop standing for any political philosophy at all, I’d say the call for the Lib Dems is to find a new consensus bringing together liberals with the general “centre left” who we need to create political reasons for them being seperate from the Labour Party.

    In general anyone decrying others being “ideological” really should be shot down. Even people who want us to be nothing more than a managerial party must admit that our chance of building up a “managerial coalition” is pretty close to zero.

  • @David Allen “? Indeed, should we preferably “seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”, to quote the far more open-minded and even-handed words of the Preamble to our Constitution?”

    Quite possibly yes, but to my mind “equality” and “community” are much more problematic concepts.

    There are a group of people in the party who see “equality” as meaning economic equality, and who it would seem subscribe to the position that it is better for people to be equal and poor than for some people to be much richer than others. Equality can often be at odds with diversity, depending upon how you judge it. People do not have equal talents or aspirations and Liberalism should not seek to remedy this beyond the absolute minimum. Liberalism does see that there should not be a significant limitation on individual freedom caused by the state in, for example, discriminating against human diversity in a systematic way (against women, the old, different sexual orientations, races or creeds, in as much that they are not themselves discriminating).

    Similarly “community” – both Tory and Labour believe they represent community. What does it mean for us? I have no idea.

  • @Christopher Haig “Over-powerful individuals (ie massive wealth) are just as bad as over-powerful governments. It is they that support the Tories.”

    Apart from the ones that support Labour.

  • I’m a bit surprised that you chose to pick up on liberty to mean anarchy rather than the preamble: “Freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity” but you did pick up “seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community.”

    To put a particularly extreme interpretation on the meaning of liberty doesn’t help. In terms of how it fits with equality and community, you need equality of opportunity to make it work or would will slide to in to liberty of some and not others so it is implied. It does however accept that there will not be equality of outcome. As for community, humans are social creatures and will form communities regardless of what any government does, most will chose to be a part, a tiny minority will not.

    “But should our party be advancing tribalist barriers, or should we be prepared to work alongside people who might think that other values matter just as much as liberty?”

    Well, there is a difference between the driving value and the method by which it is achieved. If a course of action achieves particular objectives you should be willing to work with anyone who looks to achieve that. A policy can achieve ends that fit with many different ideologies, that is a perfectly normal reason to work toghether.

    As for the questions of does it include:

    “freedom to discriminate against people you don’t like”
    That depends on the basis of your discrimination, if you want to discriminate against someone by not inviting them round to your bbq when you are inviting the other neighbours then I may think you are wrong but I shouldn’t be able to stop you. If you have publicly advertised a job then you shouldn’t be able to.

    “freedom to annoy your fellow citizens”
    What is the annoyance? It is expressing views that you consider annoying, then yes we should all be free to do so. If it is playing loud music all hours of the night then no. But I would have thought that would have been quite obvious where this has been established as a fairly normal balance of liberties. It looks a lot like you are worrying about an extreme position that no one has advocated.

  • Simon Thorley 26th Oct '15 - 2:01pm

    If we don’t have a strong, defining ideology, there’s really no reason for us to exist. Populist politics is very well covered by the two (three?) larger parties; there’s no need for another populist party to be added to the mix.

    I think that David’s position in fact shows how weak the foundation of our party is: that (historically at least) half of the party is not ideologically Liberal but rather Social Democratic, and while there may well be policy overlaps between a liberal party and social democratic party the foundational ideologies are quite different. Nearly thirty years after our party was founded, we shouldn’t still be asking ‘why are we here?’ – but we always will be, as long as there are Liberal and SD strands present.

  • David Allen 26th Oct '15 - 4:56pm

    Life’s tough, isn’t it? Joe Otten and others have written thoughtful, constructive pieces, so I’m afraid I’ll ignore them initially. It’s more important to address more destructive responses!

    Peter says that we are ideological or we are nothing, and grievously misrepresents me with “David thinks the logical conclusion is to stop standing for any political philosophy at all”. No Peter, I favourably quoted the Preamble to our Constitution because it expresses a very clear political philosophy, but it also identifies the need to balance different values – liberty, equality and community – which all matter and sometimes conflict. So we can’t just do what a rigid ideological principle dictates to us, we have to think, both about what will work and about which values matter most in a specific situation. So Peter, I certainly do not advocate being “nothing more than a managerial party”. If you want a values-free technocrat, bring back blasted Blair.

    Simon Thorley shares Peter’s reverence for strong ideology. He adds in effect that the merger with the SDP was a mistake and that the “SD strand” should be rooted out. How his approach can be reconciled with liberal principles is beyond me, but I’ll comment. Personally, I was both an SDP member and an active advocate of merger. I believed that joining Liberal community activism and radical principle to SDP capability and experience would produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If anything, our burgeoning recognition that growing inequality was the primary evil we needed to tackle came more from the Liberal than the SDP side. But our politics has changed almost beyond recognition since those days. A new breed of “liberals” has emerged, who appear to see no merit in the “equality and community” principles from our Preamble. I don’t think we should root these people out (!) However, we might, politely, ask why they think they belong.

  • David Allen 26th Oct '15 - 5:16pm

    Now to address more reasoned comments, starting with Psi’s “To put a particularly extreme interpretation on the meaning of liberty doesn’t help.” Well Psi, I did highlight some adverse aspects of freedom, in a way which I accept was unbalanced. The justification was to demonstrate that freedom isn’t all good. A more profound argument along parallel lines was recently put forward by Kirsten Johnson, who points out that “elevating individual freedom over the common good is dangerous” and “It is the rise of self to the exclusion of how this affects others which has brought us to where we are – rising economic inequality, the worst century of war ever.”

    Fifty-odd years ago, the world needed more freedom – to combat Communism, McCarthyism and Nazism. Now, by contrast, in many ways the world needs less freedom – to combat out-of-control capitalism, free enterprise trashing the planet for profit, terrorism, state freedom to conduct uncontrolled surveillance and torture, and freedom to “pass the parcel” with refugees.

    Turning to Joe Otten, he looks at my pejorative remark about “freedom to get rich at someone else’s expense”, and points out that when the guy who makes the best mousetrap does that, it is probably harmful if the State subsidises the guy who makes bad mousetraps to stay in business. I’d generally concede that in principle (though does that mean we let the Chinese dump subsidised steel on Britain, so that we then close our own steel industry?). However, the makers of fizzy drinks are the gainers when Cameron gives them tax-freedom to add sugar, and that is at our expense. That’s what I meant by my remark.

  • In geometry the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In human affairs – including politics – it’s not; complex goals are best achieved indirectly. Prof John Kay has a word for this – “obliquity”.

    Hence if you want to achieve greater freedom you can’t reliably do so by making it your proximate objective. When people do so that they typically mean only a narrow conception of it, usually a very partisan one, that makes a mockery of what they aspire to. The tell is that they avoid defining what they mean – for instance freedom for ordinary people or freedom for large corporations? They are wholly different things.

    So, an indirect (‘oblique’ per John Kay) approach is necessary and the easiest, most reliable way in is to focus on power and ask who has it and who lacks it. If it’s not roughly equally held then the weaker party is lacking in freedom. That is almost always ordinary people, the very constituency Lib Dems should be supporting.

    The tragedy of the Lib Dems is that, as often as not, they put themselves on the wrong side of debates about power because they hear only those who protest most loudly that their ‘freedoms’ are in danger – and those are usually the already-powerful – for instance multinationals (TTIP) outraged that they should have to look out for the environment or bureaucracies (EU) that want to remain unaccountable.

    The importance of democracy is that it provides a mechanism whereby, however imperfectly, the tiny, divided power of individuals can be pooled to counterbalance the heaped up power of large corporations, unchallengeable bureaucracies, entrenched political elites etc. But for it to work you have to start listening to the people before the loud voices of the powerful and that is something the Lib Dems haven’t yet learnt to do on the national stage.

  • Simon McGrath 26th Oct '15 - 10:34pm

    “Now, by contrast, in many ways the world needs less freedom”

    You really are in the wrong party

  • christopher haigh 27th Oct '15 - 8:17am

    @simon mcgrath-Simon you are going to have to accept that this article represents mainstream opinion in the Charles Kennedy tradition of the party.

  • @Christopher Haigh “you are going to have to accept that this article represents mainstream opinion in the Charles Kennedy tradition of the party.”

    No he isn’t, but I think we can spot that a certain minority strand of opinion on the left of the party wants to paint itself as representing the party mainstream.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 27th Oct '15 - 10:30am

    For me the most enlightening thing about this issue is the revelation that there is a libdemvoice website. I have been a member of the party for about a month and have just discovered it! Finally, something interesting to read other than Tim’s twitter feed!

  • I sent in a comment on the lack of any mention of devolution in the document immediately after conference at Bournemouth. Sadly I’ve hard absolutely nothing back!!

    The writers document appear not to understand the difference between devolution and decentralisation – pretty poor for a party which is supposed to believe in devolution of power.

  • Simon McGrath (26th at 10:34 pm) – You quote David out of context. He went on to say, “– to combat out-of-control capitalism, free enterprise trashing the planet for profit, terrorism, state freedom to conduct uncontrolled surveillance and torture, and freedom to “pass the parcel” with refugees.

    Now, I think he might have put it more clearly – it’s not so much a matter of more or less freedom but what freedom and whose freedom as I discussed in my earlier comment. But, notwithstanding such quibbles, I think his meaning is clear (and he will no doubt correct me if I am wrong); he is opposed to some having the freedom to trash the planet for profit etc. So am I.

    So, what is your position? Do you think some should have the ‘freedom’ to trash the planet etc. just because it enables them to increase their (short-run) profit or do you think that objectives matter making it necessary to qualify ‘freedom’?

    The reason I ask is that many so-called ‘economic liberals’ DO seem to regularly take the side of unconstrained capital against the people . I am curious to know if this is indeed your view and if so how you think it helps humanity. The Lib Dems need to sort out where they stand on this.

    For the record I have no idea where mainstream opinion in the party stands at present. It used to be people-centred as represented, for instance, by conference slogans such as ‘Putting People First’. If the party’s centre of gravity has moved away from that position then that may be partly why Lib Dems did so dismally in May since it remains the position of most of the electorate.

  • TCO, I think we can spot that a certain minority strand of opinion on the right of the party wants to paint itself as representing the party mainstream. Boring, boring, boring.

    Gordon, all, I think we are inching toward a clearer perspective on the significance of “freedom” and “liberty” in our philosophy for the future. I must admit I surprised myself when I found myself writing that on the whole, we now need less “freedom”. I think part of the reason is that the big battles against the centralised statist movements of Communism and Nazism, and most of the battles for personal liberty within Britain, have now been won. We have a proud history of defending liberty. It does matter. However, we cannot afford to live in the past.

    To those who would retain “liberty” as an over-arching ideal which they would see as dwarfing “equality” and “community”, my challenge would be: What are the big battles for liberty that we still need to fight and win?

    For me, the cupboard is somewhat bare. For me, the remaining big “liberty” issues within our own country are open government, good access to unbiased media, and perhaps (it’s a matter of definition whether these are “liberty” issues) aspects of feminism and discrimination. Elsewhere, we can inveigh against evil dictatorship abroad, but chucking bombs to win democracy and oil supplies has been notably unsuccessful and also deeply morally compromised. We do need to have “liberty” alongside “equality and community” – if we don’t, we tend to get vast, uniform arrays of tower block flats. But we don’t want a perversion of “liberty” at the expense of equality and community, and that is what we get from the Tories.

  • Phil Aisthorpe 27th Oct '15 - 11:47am

    Reading this discussion I am reminded of a quote by the physicist Richard Feynman. “Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.” I think the same sentiment applies to politics and politicians.
    I joined the party because it is free from ideology and the influence and control of vested interests. It’s a good thing to be united by a common set of values, but a formal ideology is a step too far. All extremist political movements follow an ideology and use it to eliminate free thinking among their followers and to justify the suppression of opposition. And you don’t have to be an extremist party. The two main UK parties are often criticised for being ideologically driven.

  • Gordon,

    “It’s not so much a matter of more or less freedom but what freedom and whose freedom.”

    Joe Otten,

    “The limit of your freedom is when it diminishes my freedom.”

    These are both helpful perspectives, but I think there is also more to be said.

    First, the ideological juggernaut of “freedom” as an over-arching goal is in itself harmful – I might almost call it an evil. It has been used to justify bombing the hell out of innocent civilians around the globe. It has been used to camouflage self-enrichment by oligarchs, bankers and hedgies. Academics can carefully weigh one person’s freedom against another. In the real world of competing political propaganda, we simply need to discredit harmful propaganda.

    Secondly, it is not always the case that everything comes good if we give the “right” people their freedom. Which fishermen shall have the right to exhaust the fish stocks? When houses are needed, and nobody wants to permit their back yard to be developed, is it good to let all the objectors have their freedom not to allow building?

    It simply isn’t viable to argue that liberty is always paramount, and that when there is a problem, we can solve it by identifying whose liberty should be predominant. It can sometimes be done that way, but it can’t always be settled that way.

  • The main ingredient missing from this discussion, although implied in some convoluted statements, can be summed up in one word ‘responsibility’.
    If we have total freedom, freedom to insult and to exploit, freedom to kill our enemies, we end up with anarchy, where freedom for one person becomes oppression for another.

    To create a level playing field we need to talk about equality of opportunity, not equality per se.

    Finally, the LibDem party should exist to secularise and politicise the Judeo-Christian doctrine ‘ do for others that which you wish others would do for you’ . Politics should be about making lives better for others, not about feathering our own nests, as many perceive politics to be.

  • Joe Otten,

    Well – It’s one thing to say you like chocolate, another thing to gorge yourself on it, or market it vigorously to supplant fruit and veg!

    False propaganda is easier to recognise as false when it comes from abroad. ISIL’s claim to speak for Islam is blatantly bogus in Western eyes, not so in all. US neocon propaganda about fighting a crusade in Iraq for freedom and democracy equally sounds jarring and dishonest in British ears.

    Home-grown false propaganda is more insidious because it is better tailored to those it is targeted at. The Tories argue that taxing sugary drinks is a nannying approach which conflicts with the freedom of the consumer to choose the drink they want to choose. Indeed the Tories argue that taxing anything at all is an assault on your freedom to spend your own money, and so taxes should be slashed to the bone.

    We tend to tackle this false propaganda piecemeal, issue by issue. So we carefully explain that a sugar tax might reasonably be balanced by tax cuts elsewhere, or that liberty should be balanced against public health and the costs to the NHS of treating obesity. The Tories no doubt quietly reflect that “when you’re explaining, you’re losing.”

    I think we should tackle false propaganda on a broader front. We should say, repeatedly, on a multitude of issues, that an obsession with freedom to the exclusion of everything else is one of the besetting evils of our time. The Tories have got the Overton window just where they want it. We need to get it moved!

  • David Allen 27th Oct '15 - 1:18pm

    Simon, do you think multinationals should be free to dodge tax and avoid the costs of cleaning up pollution?

    Do you think each nation in Europe should be free to wash its hands of the refugee problem, and dump it onto another nation? Do you think terrorists should be free to kill people they dislike? Do you think State agencies such as GCHQ should be free to choose who they watch, and should be congratulated for hiding these activities from any form of democratic oversight? Do you think bankers should be free to pay themselves in the millions, to return to the kind of financial recklessness which caused the crash, and then to demand that everyone else should pay the price of their failures? Do you think it is right that when Obama announced his intention to disengage from Afghanistan, leading US Army commanders were free to say “Who the hell’s he?” Do you think that government plans to build more houses are inevitably an offence against freedom, and that every individual must be free to prevent house building in their own locality, irrespective of the crying need for housing? Do you think millionaires and oligarchs should be free to provide the lion’s share of the funding to our governing political party, and to buy up the media, and to spend whatever they like to win elections, and then to dictate what government will do, to demand freedom from taxation, and to demand “business-friendly” policies which enable them to get richer?

    If you believe all or most of these things, it’s you who is really in the wrong party.

    Moderator’s note – this was originally submitted at 12.59am on 27th October. I have changed the date/time to allow better visibility in the thread – apologies for the delay in appearance of this comment which was due to my error. Paul Walter.

  • Gordon

    I can’t speak for Simon McGrath but I will try and offer an answer from an ‘economic liberal’ perspective.

    I would split the two groups of “freedoms” David lists.

    I would not be in favour of “state freedom” as a centre of power it needs to be held to account by the public and kept in check, many of the “state freedoms” are actually just restrictions of individual freedoms.

    On the freedoms of private agents (either individuals alone or acting together through businesses) “freedom to trash the planet for profit” is not a freedom I recognise, as what you are talking about is where there is an unclear property right (it is everyone’s property) and one person is assuming that they hold a property right they don’t, this is the point of the various carbon taxes/cap and trade schemes as an attempt to balance all individuals freedoms. It is not against liberty to have environmental regulation/taxes/systems to balance everyone’s freedom.

    “‘economic liberals’ DO seem to regularly take the side of unconstrained capital against the people”

    Often that may look that way as they object to aiming to ‘bash’ the “capital” rather than empowering the people in their interactions with that “capital”.

    David Allen

    “To those who would retain “liberty” as an over-arching ideal which they would see as dwarfing “equality” and “community”, my challenge would be: What are the big battles for liberty that we still need to fight and win?”

    Top of my list would be Free Speech, which has been eroded and is under constant threat, along with the right to a fair trial (a prerequisite for liberty) which has taken a battering by secret courts, restrictions of state power like JR etc. Others may have different list toppers.

    I don’t see “Liberty” as dwarfing “equality” (assuming it is “of opportunity” we are talking about) but a part, as the freedom from ignorance idea would be the expression of. As for “community”, I don’t see anything as dwarfing it, we are humans and humans are social creatures who will seek community regardless. I don’t see that is something that is a “value” so much as a fact, like the Sun we can’t promote it or prevent it.

  • Simon Thorley 27th Oct '15 - 3:06pm

    @david Allen: I think you’ve put two and two together and come up with five in your response to my comments. I did not state that the SD strand should be ‘rooted out’, or anything along those lines; I merely highlighted that most political parties, 25 years after their foundation, don’t have such fundamental divisions in their founding ideologies.

    Our party is what is it; for many years the combination, as you note, of Liberal and SD virtues (both ideological and organisational) saw increased popularity among the electorate. And then, come the day when we’re in government, our popularity collapses. Why? To my mind, it’s because we didn’t and don’t clearly stand for a section of society, or an ideology. In 2010 and before we campaigned to the left of labour in certain constituencies and sought to attract Tory votes in others – a fine tactic for a protest party, but a very poor strategy if your overall goal is a lasting presence in government (unless you take a more Peronist approach…).

  • Psi – I basically agree with you about state power. Too often state power, often captured by some vested interest – either its own bureaucrats or a political faction representing vested interests or some combination of the two, is used to restrict others’ freedoms.

    OTOH the state power is essential to counterbalance the power of others; currently the main concerns are multinational companies and predatory finance although historically it’s been other actors.

    So the key question becomes how to control the state, prevent it falling into the grip of vested interests and ensure it genuinely works for the common good. The answer has to be effective political parties with a clear philosophy about this and the ‘smarts’ to see through the fog of deception that covers the battlefield. Sadly, I don’t think the Lib Dems measure up on this and the electorate clearly doesn’t think so either.

    When it comes to “private agents” your suggestion of property rights with suitable accounting for externalities is the usual answer. The difficulty is that it is entirely contingent on the existence of a state power that genuinely works for the common good and that is very difficult to achieve in practice. Absent such a state power, property rights prove highly malleable and laws are soon passed that tilt strongly to the powerful.

    What we actually see is banks that go bust because of their reckless lending being bailed out without limit by taxpayers and multiple markets that are ‘fixed’ for the benefit of insiders etc.. We know from history that this is hugely against the public interest in that it slows economic growth and distorts it, sucking wealth and opportunity from the 99% and delivering it to the 1%.

    I would hope that ‘economic liberals’ would have opposed this at every turn but mostly they didn’t. As for the Lib Dems I don’t buy that in coalition they were too few to make a difference. They could have called the offenders out and gone on TV saying, “This law-breaking must stop; we want stiff sentences”. Had they done that the Tories would have been backed into a corner and we would have a lot more MPs now.

    Obviously, this is an ‘if the cap’ fits criticism of ‘economic liberals’ but one that fits a remarkably large number of heads!

  • I forgot to include that the current round of trade deals TPP, TTIP and TISA are a case in point of a captured state being used (that is, abused) to create unjustified ‘economic rent’ for powerful actors at the expense of the public good by enclosing formerly public commons for private benefit.

    One would hope that the extreme secrecy, extra-Parliamentary legislation and special courts only available to a favoured few would sign that something bad is going on since all breach liberal norms. But no! Some ‘economic liberals’ support these dodgy deals illustrating just how muddled the Lib Dems are ideologically.

  • Gordon

    Sometimes the concentrations of power are through the capture of the state by vested interests but sometimes it is due to natural anomalies and we should use the levers of the state to counter act the anomalies. Other times the state helps create an anomaly not due to any ones design but pure accident, that issue can be more of a problem less the vested interests but the inertia against change.

    Finance is a good example, it has been able to collect too much profit from its customers and as a result there has been more for the staff to extract. The complaints of “bankers paying themselves millions” is often more of a problem of the firms making too much money (beyond their economic value) in the first place. The solution to this is to find ways to make it more competitive so that profits are whittled away and there is less for the staff to extract. It is not really any different from other occations of staff extracting more due to the businesses being able to pay them more than the economic value in other industries (nationalised industries with subsidy etc.) just a different scale.

    My concern is that no one at the top of the LibDems in the “economic liberal” side had actually gone back and thought about it from the beginning.

    I would just say I think the problems on the environmental side are more of a learning process, and I think all liberals would be on board with the need for those structures, if arguments exist over how to improve them.

  • A quick comment on the “This law-breaking must stop; we want stiff sentences” one of the problems that is faced on that front is that, again if we are looking at the illegal activity in Finance is that prosecutions did eventually happen (and presumably will continue) with one conviction so far, but complex fraud cases take time (years). Politicians directing law enforcement is something we have avoided in this country, for good reason. Tom Watson’s recent behaviour of leading a McCarthy-esk hunt in to people in their last few months of life because they are not in his party, is not something I would like more of.

    I’m not even going to try and follow the machinations over TTIP until there is something final. But I was encouraged that the last thing I heard was that the secret tribunals sound like they are bing replaced with something more mirroring a proper court system with transparency, I don’t have a problem with the ECJ for example. Hopefully more of any future agreements could have something more transparent which would allow suggested improvement in treaties if they aren’t acting in an economically useful way, resulting in amending treaties via democratic structures over time.

  • Psi – Comment at 5:52 pm) – I agree.

    Comment at 5:53 pm – I wasn’t thinking of politicians leading any witch hunt so much as simply demanding that the law is upheld. The few cases brought so far have been against bit-players. For instance one of our major banks pleaded guilty in the US to laundering the best part of a billion dollars for a Mexican drug cartel. They paid a slap-on-the-wrist level of fine and that was the end of it. That’s just not good enough.

    In the US things are even worse; the first major wave of financial lawbreakers are now protected by the time that’s elapsed (Statute of Limitations) and NO major figure has been charged despite cases of blatantly forged documents being used in evidence in foreclosures. The justice system is now compromised.

    The role of politicians in such a case is to signal to the media that they expect this sort of thing to be reported – which they can easily do by talking about it in speeches, Parliament, on TV interviews etc. and also to signal to the regulators (which for this purpose include the police) that they expect real action. Absent that, regulators tend to react to implicit instructions (as they see it) to be wilfully blind.

    In the 1930s it was the exposures of the Pecora Commission (as it eventually became known), set up under Hoover but encouraged by the newly elected Roosevelt, that cleared the way politically for the reigning in of the over-might banks and ultimately the New Deal. We still await that moment.

    Regarding trade treaties the final intellectual property chapter of the TPP has now been leaked.

    Under ‘Final thoughts’ is this. “Moreover, it’s extremely difficult to see how this is a trade agreement because there’s very little about this chapter that has to do with international trade. Instead, it seems to be more of a method to import undesirable laws from an international body, circumventing the standard methods of lawmaking (namely governmental representatives of the people writing the laws).

  • SIMON BANKS 27th Oct '15 - 9:05pm

    I’m really pleased to see David querying the treatment of this consultation on the party website. The same goes for the party governance consultation. They were never displayed on the home page or even the first page accessed in the members’ area. If you had a strange enough mind, or had found them while searching for information as a conference delegate, you would realise they were under CONFERENCE and then conference papers. But now CONFERENCE is all about York next spring. I’m afraid this party handles internal consultations amateurishly and does not meet standards any local CVS would expect to see in a parish council consultation. Sal Brinton should give sorting this out some priority.

    This is all a pity because it was evident at Bournemouth that the Party really wanted comment on both, and the Agenda 2020 draft is a really good piece of work.

    I do agree with David that it’s a mistake to make optimism the foremost sign of Liberalism. Hope, yes, but hope can be against all odds. If we believe as stated that humans if given the chance will do good, how come the Slave Trade, Auschwitz and the Cambodian killing fields happened? Can we really be so starry-eyed about a species that is likely to be the only species in Earth’s history to single-handedly cause a mass extinction event? It’s absolutely true that Liberals, including Liberal Democrats, do believe in freeing people to follow their own paths (provided they don’t hurt others), but Liberals who were thinkers and practical politicians, like Gladstone and Grimond, knew full well people once freed might do evil.

    As for the extent of our love of liberty, I can’t see that knowing we need to co-operate with people with different values (essential in any political system) should in any way make us water down our own values. I do believe liberty should be our foremost value, but then I understand it in a way which means liberty is bound to be very limited in a profoundly unequal society, (limited largely to the people far from the bottom of the heap), and I believe that without community of some sort liberal politics and freedom cannot flourish. I see them as interconnected.

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