Author Archives: Gordon Lishman

A Movement for Liberal Change

One of the most common responses to Vince Cable’s suggestions about “creating a movement” and “supporters” has been to focus on the army of people who already help us locally with leaflet delivery, cake-baking, fund-raising and loyal votes.  I support the idea that those links should be greater and that we should involve supporters in the national party rather than just backing a local candidate or two. However, Vince’s ideas go a great deal further.

He quotes from the resolution on strategy agreed at our Southport Conference in March.  That commits us “To create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities at every level of society”.  When I wrote those words, they were connected to two other commitments:

“Developing a mass campaigning movement both within and outside the party that is of a scale and effectiveness to match the scale of our ambitions, which supports both elections and issue-led campaigns;

Run issue-led local and national campaigns to help create a liberal society and secure immediate change though harnessing pressure from outside the political system with our own power within it”.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 26 Comments

Four go in search of big ideas

In the recent Social Liberal Forum book, David Boyle asserts that “free trade and anti-trust lay at the heart of Liberalism and Liberal economics from the start of the party”. His essay overlaps with David Howarth’s contribution in returning Liberal and LibDem economics to its roots, rejecting the false claim that “neo-liberalism” in any way represents the liberal tradition.

David writes that: “The original Liberal idea of free trade was not a simple license to do whatever you want, if you were rich and powerful enough. It was thoroughly aware of Adam Smith’s original warning that collusion between entrenched businesses can end in “a conspiracy against the public”. Liberal free trade “was designed as a means of liberation – so that the small could challenge the big, the poor could challenge the rich with the power of the new approach, the alternative provider, the imaginative, liberating shift”.

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Community Politics is not a technique for winning local government elections

There has been a bit of discussion recently on a couple of Party websites about community politics and whether that idea contributed to recent success in the local elections. But is this defining community politics as the delivery of multiple leaflets with bar charts and slogans?

The phrase “community politics” was coined in 1969 and it was adopted by the Liberal Party in 1970. In 1980, Bernard Greaves and I wrote the following:

Posted in Op-eds | 41 Comments

Alderdice Review: Campaigning or Enforcing?

The Party is coming to terms with the implications of John Alderdice’s review: “Race, Ethnic Minorities and the Culture of the Liberal Democrats.”  We spent much of last Saturday’s Federal Board awayday talking about how to take it forward.

A natural default option is an argument: “wouldn’t it all bit a lot easier if we could just tell people what to do and they’ll do it”?  There was a similar feeling about how to get people to go to target seats during the last two General Elections.  It is, of course, an unconvincing argument in a Party full of Liberals working as volunteers.

I was reminded of a campaign we ran many years ago in the Liberal Party. It was a “Party Education Campaign” about gay rights*. In the early 1970s, there were a lot of Liberals who were very uncomfortable with the idea and also, believe it or not, some Parliamentarians whose religious views affected their position.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 8 Comments

Vince Cable on internet regulation

In the years before the 2008 crash, Vince Cable built a reputation for seeing further ahead than most in politics and economics. Vince’s essay in the new Social Liberal Forum book “Four Go in Search of Big Ideas” enhances this record.

Writing before recent revelations about Cambridge Analytica, he identified: “the heart of the worries growing deeper about the data giants: that by filtering the information we receive they can influence not just the goods and services we consume but how we vote and, indeed, what we think”.

Vince sets out the threat to democracy: “Even if the owners of the platforms are benign and well-intentioned, the systems they have created and now monopolise may threaten democracy as we know it”. “Their systems can be used for surveillance by building up a profile of targeted individuals. Elections in many countries often revolve around which candidate has the largest, engaged, Facebook following while the US President’s Twitter following has become a means of short-circuiting the checks and balances built into media coverage”.

Vince’s concludes that “the Internet is being constructed around a handful of companies of immense and growing power, notably Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Netflix, along with their Chinese equivalents, Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu”. “We are dealing with a particular case of regulated natural monopoly. If there are historical parallels it is with nineteenth-century railway companies which dominated the economy and society of the regions they opened up”.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Liberals and Neo-Liberals

Professor David Howarth, formerly LibDem MP for Cambridge, contributes to the new Social Liberal Forum book with a powerful, closely argued essay on Liberal economics. This an extract:

Here is a puzzle: if JS Mill, JM Keynes and James Meade were all Liberals and economists, what is a ‘neo-liberal’ economist? One might have thought that it would be someone who updated their thought to consider new facts and new problems.

In a highly successful example of propaganda and disinformation, ‘neoliberal’ has come to mean the doctrines of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman. But those doctrines are anything but ‘neo’. They hark back to the era before Mill. We need to rectify names. Instead of ‘neo-liberals’ the followers of Hayek and Friedman might be called ‘paleo-partial liberals’.

The next step is to reclaim the Liberal tradition. That was the avowed aim of the editors of the Orange Book, but what some of them seemed to mean was not updating Mill, Keynes and Meade but abandoning them in favour of paleo-partial liberalism. Admittedly the diagnosis was not entirely wrong. The Liberal Democrats, as a political party, had wandered a long way from the Liberal tradition and had succumbed to various forms of conventional wisdom.

But the most distinctive feature of Liberal policy was its stance on corporate governance. From Mill onwards, through the Yellow Book to support for codetermination, Liberals argued for a different way of organising firms, not as hierarchical structures dominated by the owners of capital but as partnerships between labour and capital, incorporating democratic representation. James Meade provided a continuation and deepening of this tradition that should have formed the basis of the merged party’s position.

Posted in Books | Tagged , and | 48 Comments

Four Go in Search of Big Ideas

The Social Liberal Forum is publishing this book to contribute to a Progressive Alliance of Ideas, People and Campaigns. Contributors including leading Liberal Democrats and people from other political backgrounds and some from outside formal parties.

The Four are Helen Flynn, Iain Brodie-Browne, Gordon Lishman and Ekta Prakash and the book addresses major challenges facing progressives in the 21st Century. They believe that the revival of progressive politics in the UK must be based on winning the battle of ideas. All four come from the North of England and their approach reflects their anger about the state of …

Posted in Books and News | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Southport and strategy

This is my personal view about the Southport Conference Strategy motion – what’s good and what can be improved.

There are four big ideas:

  1. A dual approach to politics. We are an insurgent party In our hearts and minds – we want to use political power for change and reform through government and by working with people to help them to take and use power over the forces that affect their lives. It means practical campaigns for our values, fighting the forces that diminish people’s lives and making modern liberalism into a political and social movement.  We should win campaigns NOW on local, national and international issues, working with people in other parties and outside conventional politics.  Our members should be on the streets, into social media and telephoning to win campaigns not just votes. Votes will follow successful campaigns; if they appear to be our main or only purpose, we’ll fail to win hearts and mind for liberalism, fail to win a mandate for radical change and fail to win big elections.
  1. A re-statement of the big ideas that define our core campaign themes: the open society, tolerant, pluralist and internationalist; a fair economy which challenges inequality; and helping people to take back control. We want a strong society, a fair economy, and communities where people find themselves as confident, powerful individuals.

These campaigns resonate with communities throughout the UK . We are not defined by Brexit, although we have important things to say to people on both sides. We have strong messages for people “left-behind” by globalisation and for everyone who wants more control over their lives. We are an inclusive Party, hearing and responding to the pain of many who feel that the EU doesn’t help them, and explaining why open, tolerant, internationalist society works best.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

In Depth: Person-centred Liberalism

Person-centred liberalism is a tautology – there’s no other form of liberalism. However, it might be useful to explore a little of what we mean when liberals talk about individualism, the freedom of everybody to be themselves and to make the best of their lives.  “Isn’t that the same as the Tories?” a lifelong Labour supporter once said to me.

The idea is central to liberalism. It says that each, precious, separate person is more important than any group of which she or he may be part.  Yes, we find and express ourselves in communities and other groups. But it’s the individuals that define the groups, not the other way round.

Take class, for instance.  In modern Britain, social class is self-defined and has little to do with income, status, work or even origin.  Look at the Labour Party’s leadership! But it still has a lot to do with Labour rhetoric and strikes a chord with their core vote. It’s often a key reference for the attitude which says: “I’ve always voted Labour; so did my parents, because we are working class”. Even so, I was surprised to see Blair’s pollster, Philip Gould, start his autobiography with a quotation from Hegel:

The human being finds his proper identity only in those relations that are in effect the negation of his isolated particularity – in his membership in a group or social class whose institutions, organisations and values determine his very individuality.

I’ve quoted that rather turgid sentence because it makes my point exactly: for Hegel and Gould, the important thing is to be defined by class, not to define yourself.  As part of the Labour mindset, it’s also an important indicator about why it’s so hard to move on from the institution that imprisons them.

Posted in Op-eds | 18 Comments

Opinion: Let’s put members in the driving seat

“Caron’s test” for emails to Party members is good, but I think we can go further.

The underlying problem, as I’ve written before, is that too many of the emails  seem to be written by marketing professionals who are trying to achieve a specific result – often one that can be measured by funds raised.  The reason it’s a problem is that we aren’t just donors – most of us see ourselves as members of an extended family who need to be reassured, engaged and spoken with directly in ways that relate to our own experience as Party members.

It is interesting that fund-raising charities now spend a good deal of their time and money on chatting with supporters about what they do rather than just doing constant appeals based on need.

A recent piece of US experience seems to me to be useful:

Levitt and Dubner in their most recent book in their “Freakonomics” series quote the example of Brian Mullaney of Smile Train with his “once-and-done” strategy.  That involved asking potential donors to make only one donation with the option of ticking a box to say “do not ask for another donation”. That seems counter-productive: in charities, we have learned that first-time donors rarely give enough to cover the cost of making the contact. It’s only with continued donations that the charity makes a surplus on the relationship.

Posted in Op-eds | 19 Comments

Introducing the Social Liberal Forum

New members have been asking about Lib Dem organisations that they can join.  You are welcome to submit similar items on behalf of other organisations.

Social Liberal ForumWhat we believe

The Social Liberal Forum exists to foster debate within and beyond the Liberal Democrats, with the aim of developing social liberal solutions to the challenges facing the country, and which find popular support.

The ethos that underpins the Social Liberal Forum has remained unchanged since its formation in 2009, and is best described as the belief that a democratic and open state has a positive role to play in guaranteeing individual freedom.

Like all liberals, social liberals believe that individuals should have the freedom to develop and grow as they wish. The creation, protection and nurturing of this freedom should be a central objective of all governments.

Posted in Lib Dem organisations | Tagged | 36 Comments

Opinion: “Values” and Party

There has been a lot written about the importance of “values”. I’m not convinced.

Talk about values reinforces the idea that one can pick and mix principles and ideas – just as with policies, one can put together a package which suits your pocket or your likes and then decide which party at any one time best meets your need to vote. Or, indeed, you can just campaign on one or two which happen to strike you as most important.

This view encourages the idea that party is an outdated concept and often inconvenient if there happen to be some bits of your party’s policies which you don’t like – which there always will be in an open and democratic community. In this world of values, party affiliations are worn loosely and are often transient. I want to proclaim the importance of both party and philosophy.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 19 Comments

Opinion: Long term gains from short term arguments

Libby - Some rghts reserved by David SpenderMost participants in the post-election debate have concentrated on specific changes they want now: the Leader, his advisers, the communications team, the detail of policy issues etc.  I firmly believe that the underlying issues are systemic rather than one-off and that we should use the opportunity to establish structures for the future which minimise the likelihood of problems arising and improve our capacity as a democratic Party for dealing with them.

Some key targets:

  1. Agreement by the Party in advance on the elements which underpin construction

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments
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