Author Archives: James Baillie

Party Reforms – My Unanswered Questions

Back in September, I wrote on the subject of the proposed party reforms here on Lib Dem voice. In my article, I raised a number of questions over how balloting of these new supporters would work and what was being put in place to create a robust internal democracy based on full and comprehensive debate, accessible from across the liberal movement. Well, I’m here to tell you how many of my questions have been answered in the intervening months. The answer is, precisely, none of them.

Others have written better than myself on the possibility of entryism and the lack of consistent, detailed safeguarding proposals – I wish to focus here, as I did then, on the issue of member democracy and engagement with the supporters scheme across the party. I believed then, and still believe now (no supporter of the scheme has even tried to convince me otherwise) that engaging supporters with decision making power whilst only exposing them to a single source of information within the party risks creating a centralised system in which vague initiatives could be put to the “supporter base” for indicative votes and the results of such polls used to “gently persuade” conference to back a particular specific motion. If that sounds a familiar worry, dear reader, you’re not alone in the disconcerting sense of déjà vu. 

Access to information on what people are really voting for is a crucial issue in any democracy, and our internal democracy must be no exception. In my previous article I asked whether the party’s internal member organisations would have any way of engaging with supporters to help bring them into internal debates and ensure that supporters could form meaningful opinions on the major internal issues of the day – to the best of my knowledge, it’s still not clear beyond a vague promise in the motion to “provide guidance” how and whether our core Specified Associated Organisations would be able to interact with them, let alone many of the policy activism groups which are wholly unmentioned despite often providing the lifeblood of member engagement in policymaking. The potential spectre of HQ going to the supporters saying “we’ve got a fantastic idea, don’t you think it’s good” and the supporters saying “yes”, with nobody having the right to give an alternative viewpoint, would not create a useful polling exercise let alone a useful democratic one.

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Minimum income: From Finnish trial to Lib Dem policy?

The Finnish Basic Income experiment ended at the start of the year, and preliminary results have now been reported publicly. Certain sections of the press blared out that the trial, which paid 2000 unemployed people an unconditional €560/month income for two years, was a “failure” – but was it? It is true that the experiment did not lead to significant increases in the experiment group finding work, but should we be judging the success or failure of a benefits system solely by whether it pushes people into any job that can be found? Our values and policy as Liberal Democrats should lead us toward different analyses.

Looking at the results closely tells a different, important, and encouraging story from a liberal perspective. Despite those opposed to guaranteed incomes claiming that a basic income would lead to nobody wanting to work, the data shows no drop in work-seeking among Finland’s experiment group. The fact that there was no rise either suggests that marginal income effects may be less important in influencing work-seeking than some had imagined; a lack of suitable jobs and retraining opportunities is not something for which any social security system will provide magic bullets. Other potential positive economic effects of a guaranteed income are, however, likely to have been invisible in this sparse study – increasing the spending power of the worst off and building a labour market that can be more flexible in retraining are significant potential positives that would only be effectively visible at scale.

The most important results from Finland’s trial, in any case, are the effects on wellbeing. The experiment group reported lower stress levels and better health outcomes than their counterparts in the control group. This is where we should be getting excited about the possibilities of a minimum income – freeing people from the psychological strain caused by income insecurity, freeing people to make the most of opportunities and build stronger communities, freeing people to live happier lives. Not only that, but consider the strain on other public services, the NHS in particular, caused by health issues that are largely down to poverty. Taking steps towards eradicating those ills is both smart and compassionate politics.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 15 Comments

The social market – a big Lib Dem idea

What people often struggle with when it comes to Lib Dem economics is not the detail of our specific policies – which voters frequently don’t have the time to dig into, in any case – but our economic vision. Labour has a Big Idea, nationalisation, which dominates its economic agenda. The focus on Corbyn’s renationalisation plans was out of proportion to their potential impact, because it fits with how people see Labour’s economics, putting more of the economy under state control in the hope that permanently benevolent governments will somehow manage to run it all for the public good. The Tories likewise have their Big Idea in privatisation, moving more and more of the economy toward shareholder-driven corporations, deregulation, and the profit motive, in the apparent belief that this will placate the magic efficiency fairies. What’s our Big Idea?

The answer, in my view, is the social market, the core of which is that businesses should be owned and run by and for people across society, as independent bodies working to do good things in their own way. Taken to its conclusions it’s a truly radical vision, requiring the transformation of how we hold and invest capital to make cooperative, mutual, and social businesses the new normal. Even taken over the short course of a parliament, it’s a vision that can provide deliverable goals, improving working conditions and pay as we democratise workplaces and help new social businesses enter the market.

The social market is far from the misconception of Lib Dem economics as blandly toeing the middle line between the two other parties. It’s what happens when we logically put our principles into practice, decentralising economic power directly to people in a way that’s sustainable, democratic, and socially just. So how do we get there?

Firstly, we have to make it clear what we’re leaving behind, and secondly, we have to put policies in place that make it clear that what are now considered ‘alternative’ business styles should be standard norms in a liberal future, and ones that we’re prepared to act to help people build and grow. That’s why at Brighton Conference I’m bringing forward Amendment One to F28, the motion on business policy.

Posted in News | Tagged and | 14 Comments

Will party reforms really lead to more democracy?

As anyone glancing down the Lib Dem Voice homepage will become rapidly aware, Vince has recently laid out his plans for the future of the Liberal Democrats, and party grandees and official social media accounts are pumping out a slickly coordinated and prepared promotional run of articles and ads. Whether this is remotely appropriate during a consultation on a draft paper, I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader – but I wanted in any case to discuss the detail, so let’s cut the rhetoric and talk about the fine print that’s been conspicuously missing from recent articles. Do these proposals actually present a blueprint that will turn the Lib Dems into a much larger “movement for moderates”? And is that what we want to become?

It’s unclear either how the party will validate supporters effectively and efficiently, or how conflicts between member and supporter votes will be balanced if they arise in this two-speed system. The issue of tensions between Federal Policy Committee’s priorities motions and the proposed priority ballots for supporters has likewise been unaddressed, especially if HQ rather than FPC intend to write those ballot papers. A non-MP leader also raises the constitutional problem of how the parliamentary leader is then selected – if members are entirely cut out of selecting our parliamentary leader then we risk a worrying gulf opening between our policy-making members and our policy-delivering MPs. The right to choose our parliamentary leader is not one I think that Lib Dem members will be happy to give up lightly.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 18 Comments

In 2018, let’s campaign for Councils of Sanctuary

2017 was a year when a lot of unpleasant events occurred – from the Trump inauguration, to a continued Tory government, to reminders every other week that Labour still think foreign policy is something that only happens to other people. One story you may have missed however – and one of the most shocking – was that of an undocumented migrant being arrested by border security after reporting her own rape to police. That modern Britain is in a situation where the police will simply hand over extremely vulnerable victims of violent crime to the Home Office’s enforcers – a practice both Labour and the Tories are defending – is deeply, deeply saddening.

Posted in Op-eds | 9 Comments

The Radical Association: Fighting for a bolder Lib Dem future

Times are tough for liberals and liberalism internationally, and perhaps especially at the moment in the Anglosphere. It’s frustrating to be locked out of power, and to see our values attacked from all sides both at home and abroad. It’s miserable seeing the UK lurch towards a hard Brexit, and I hope that together we can fight against May’s love-in with the hardline authoritarian regime emerging across the Atlantic.

Even in the darkest and most confusing times, though, it’s important that we look to the future as well as fighting present battles.  That’s why I and others have been working on setting up the Radical Association, a new ginger group hoping to build innovative new policies and strategies for the Liberal Democrats to face the challenges of the 21st century. Global warming, increasing automation in the economy, cybercrime, building a more open & accessible society, coping with an ageing population, strengthening and revitalising local communities – these and more are all issues that need a wave of fresh liberal ideas to meet them and ensure we’re ready for the challenges that the future will bring.

We’ve now got to the stage where we’re ready to lay the groundwork and put together a formal organisational structure for the Radical Association so we can carry these goals forward. We’re planning to work right along the policy pipeline, from supporting policy research and discussion groups, through to working out how we can get bold, clear policies onto the conference floor, to helping the party campaign on new ideas and get them out into the country’s wider political debate. At last conference we were active in calling for a wider rethink of the party’s social security policy, and we’re committed to building on that and working on other areas in the months ahead and helping ensure members are presented with clear choices and big new policies on the conference floor and beyond.

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Three Freedoms: the campaigning priorities for Brexit

The upcoming Brexit negotiations will be difficult for Liberal Democrats to watch. The vast majority of us campaigned to remain, and even those who voted to leave will, I imagine, be nervous at the prospect of an authoritarian Tory leader, probably without a specific mandate from the electorate for her party to run these negotiations, having so much power over what Britain’s negotiating position is to be.

As a parliamentary party, our lack of numbers will make it hard for us to get our message across when we’re needed the most. This is a time we as members and supporters are perhaps needed more than usual; to directly protest, write letters, persuade our fellow citizens, and hold the government to account from outside Westminster in support of our representatives inside.
Creating unambiguous messages to send to government on such a complex problem with such diverse viewpoints is difficult, and much ink has been and, I’m sure, will continue to be spilt on the subject. Today I just want to outline an idea of one specific strategy we could take, which I’m dubbing the “three freedoms” principle, as an attempt to boil down the terrifying complexity of the EU negotiations to something rather punchier.

Essentially, my view is that in the negotiations (setting aside the upcoming struggles on eg working rights and environmental protection which are likely to devolve to Westminster) there are three key things to secure.

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We need to talk to Yanis

 

We’re fighting hard to stay in the EU in this campaign, and we’ve got a good fighting chance of winning it. But it’s important to remember that this has been the campaign that never should have happened. What we’re fighting against isn’t just the lacklustre waffling of a Tory-led Vote Leave campaign that’s largely been hijacked by a fluffy-headed careerist Etonian. That would have been no problem. The real enemy is a drip-feed of decades of anti-EU propaganda and domestic politicians deflecting blame to Brussels – which is in turn made possible by the catastrophic scale of voter disengagement with European politics.

And that’s at the heart of why we should take the leftist reformers of Another Europe is Possible seriously.

The EU needs reform. This oughtn’t be a controversial statement to make; it’s self-evident that in most European elections voters have been wholly disengaged from the issues upon which they were electing their MEPs, and that’s not largely the fault of the voters. It doesn’t help that the appointed commission wields a great deal of authority with little direct accountability, and the tendency of national politicians to use European elections as mid-term referenda on national governments compounds the problem.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 21 Comments

Community – a liberal value in a changing world

 

Community is – rightly – considered a fundamental part of our values as liberals. Beyond its inclusion in our basic creeds, however, it is perhaps one of the less discussed and debated parts of Liberal Democrat belief. Whilst much ink is continually spilt over our positions on equality and liberty, what “community” means is perhaps too often taken as a given.

I want to suggest that we need to think about this more, because community has to stand at the core of a liberal society – and not just in the sense of localism that “community” is too often restricted to in discussions I’ve seen. If we are to be a party that seeks to liberate the people of our country, community is a crucial part of that process. The interpersonal links people make are vital on all sorts of levels; for exchanging information, for coming into contact with new people, for mental and physical health. These things form the difference between being able to positively use economic and social freedoms and condemning people to soulless individualism; nobody is liberated by being thrown as an isolated object into a rat race.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

Nature conservation: a liberal legacy

2015 was a strange year for me, as it was a strange year for the party; an odd, jarring mixture of losses and new hopes. In my case, one especially sad loss was that of my grandfather, Ted Smith, a pioneer of nature conservation across the UK, and especially in his native Lincolnshire – and also a Liberal and Liberal Democrat since the 1930s (one of the last few times I saw him, I helped him fill out his ballot for last year’s leadership election). He was a kind, quiet man, relentless in his pursuit of good causes; but others now have to lift that flag, and as such I thought this might be a time to reflect on how we think about conservation as a party.

We know that the natural world is under threat, perhaps more so than ever given the threat of climate change, and we have been the party most committed to strong science-led efforts to tackle that threat. The green agenda, however, must not be simply reduced to a question of climate alone. We owe it to future generations to conserve and protect Britain’s biodiversity, green spaces and habitats.
Liberal Democrats have to take the lead on the politics of nature conservation. Firstly, we must because nobody else will do so effectively. The Tory agenda for rural areas is one for corporations and landowners, protecting vast mismanaged estates and failing to provide effective solutions to rural issues. Labour’s agenda for rural areas is all too frequently non-existent. We can do better, and we must.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 3 Comments

Liberty: It’s an economic issue

 

In light of recent events, one key question that has been flying about is where we fit into this new and radically changed political climate. Corbyn’s Labour may adopt more liberal policies on social issues such as mental health or LGBT rights, which whilst welcome gives us fewer unique campaigning avenues. Amongst all this, the economy is a key divider, and how we frame our policies may be crucial to our electoral revival or lack thereof.

Building a new liberal economics, distinct from Conservative or Labour strategies, is possible, and we need to do it by the simplest of methods – applying our own passion for personal liberty in the economic sphere. That means ensuring that neither corporate wealth, private wealth, nor the state are able to dominate people’s economic lives, and trying to make the position of ordinary individuals more economically powerful. That means a push to spread wealth and income more evenly without direct state control, by targeting ownership as a source of economic power.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarfrankie 19th Mar - 1:02am
    Matt, You are quoting the remain sides views, the leave side said we wouldn't be leaving the single market, that's the side you voted for....
  • User AvatarDavid-1 18th Mar - 11:44pm
    Will someone kindly tell me why I should not believe that any extension, of any length, would not be frittered away exactly as the past...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 18th Mar - 11:36pm
    Tory and SNP on Newsnight, Labour declining to attend. Why no Lib Dem? This is not about a rule in standing orders, this is Erskine...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 18th Mar - 11:36pm
    A new referendum would be, in some hypothetical Utopia, the ideal mode of dispensing with the old, flawed referendum. But we are not in Utopia....
  • User AvatarRoland 18th Mar - 11:21pm
    @Matt "We were told by some..." More fool you for believing their words at face value... As has been repeatedly pointed out the referendum was...
  • User AvatarMalcolm Todd 18th Mar - 11:13pm
    Just revoke. This comedy has gone on quite long enough.