Author Archives: Jim Williams

It’s not enough to open up the party

Millions of people know that Britain is heading down the wrong path. Very few know what they can do about it. The Lib Dems have to become home for the despairing liberal millions. It’s now or never.

What’s so wrong with Britain today? Well, we can’t find room for even 3,000 child refugees for starters. We let freeloading multinationals take us for a ride. We’re not doing enough to stop climate change. Millions of families struggle to afford to eat. The young have to earn twice as much as their parents did to afford a house. Women and minorities earn less than white men for the same work.

Focus on this one for a second: the UK is so transphobic that last year a British trans woman was granted asylum in New Zealand. Seriously.

The list goes on and on – and that’s not even to mention Brexit.

Millions of people in the UK today are horrified about exactly these causes. We all know them: our family, our friends, our colleagues.

Take a second to count them – how many do you know? Ten, twenty, more?

Now ask yourself this: how many of them do you think would do something – as small as to sign a petition perhaps – to help tackle any one of those problems listed above?

Fewer, right? But still a good number. Let’s think of these people as liberal activists in the making.

Final question: how many would want to think of themselves as a card carrying Lib Dem? I’m guessing very few

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18 Bold Ideas from the Ashdown Prize

More than 1,140 people entered the Ashdown Prize, organised earlier this year by Your Liberal Britain. Only ten of these ideas could make it onto the shortlist – but there were so many brilliant entries that we decided we had to celebrate and promote more of them.
The following are a list of Commended Entries. They are the personal picks of our shortlisters: ideas that didn’t make it to the final ten, but that are worthy of special praise.
Here they are, arranged alphabetically by author:

·    Mental health assessment before military demobilisation – Adrian Grant

·    National post-secondary learning entitlement – Alastair Thomson

·    Link corporation tax to fair pay – Alex Wasyliw

·    Compensate individuals for use of their data – Bansri Buddhdev

·    Set up an NHS national lottery – Brian Morrison

·    Prisoner voting and prison parish councils – Callum Robertson

·    Establish a UK-wide Care Service – Charlie McCarthy

·    Freedom of Information over public contracts – Dave Page

·    Phase out non-recyclable plastics – Dave Parton-Ginno

·    A new capital city for Britain – Drew Durning

·    £1,000 trust for every child – James Thellusson

·    Low-risk prisoners can keep their jobs – Jonathan Hunt

·    Legal aid for suing the state – Jonathan Wilson

·    Legalise a non-binary third gender – Natalie Bird

·    Universal suffrage for all taxpayers – Richard Gregson

·    Introduce credit cards that fund the NHS – Steve Grosvenor

·    Calculate retirement age by life expectancy – Stuart Thompstone

·    Tax relief on investments in the Developing World – Tom Arms

Congratulations to all!

If you’d like to help take any of these ideas forward, come to our Policy Lab at Autumn Conference. We’ll invite you to help putt ideas such as these (and any ideas you come prepared with) through their paces, so that we can all work together with other Lib Dems to polish radical ideas into practical policies.

We’re also going to launch later this year a forum to help Lib Dems develop policies together online. If you’d like to stay posted about that, sign up for our mailing list right here.

We’re now re-designing the Ashdown Prize for next year. You can read our review of what worked and what didn’t here, and you can send us your ideas for how to run next year’s competition here.

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What would you change about the Ashdown Prize?

Last year, Paddy Ashdown and Your Liberal Britain decided to set up a policy innovation prize. Paddy and I both knew that there thousands of Lib Dems out there who were bursting with good ideas but didn’t know where to send them or what to do with them. We wanted to see if we could help.

Why? Well, Your Liberal Britain aims to convince the Liberal Democrats to become a powerful and inspirational political movement, above all by empowering its members and supporters. We want the party to say to its members: “you share our passion for building a Liberal Britain: we’re here to help you do it”.

The Party’s definitely moving in the right direction: from the new strategy agreed at Spring Conference, to the extremely impressive people-powered Exit from Brexit campaign, to the many ways in which the Federal Policy Committee (FPC) is working to involve members in policymaking, to the greater use of competitions, interactive content and digital campaigning. 

But there is still much to do, and we want to help the party out where we can. We don’t think it’s all that useful – or particularly fair – for us to just stand on the sidelines and criticise the party. The challenge we’ve laid down is difficult, after all, and no-one has all the answers (including us). So instead, we’ve decided to run some experimental projects aimed at helping the party make the most use of its members, and at helping members get the most out of the party. Many of these projects have worked; some of them haven’t; all of them provide useful lessons.

Policymaking in particular is one area where the gap between members’ desire to do something and the party’s ability to use them is particularly wide, despite the great work going on in the FPC. To help out, Your Liberal Britain runs a number of projects designed to help members get more involved in policymaking. We distribute free motion summaries at Conference, to help cut through the jargon; we run high-energy policy brainstorm events, getting Lib Dems to work together in groups to hash out big ideas; and we have an online forum in the works that will help people polish these ideas into robust policy.

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Britain in 2030 essay competition: And the winners are…

It’s been a busy few weeks! Your Liberal Britain’s competition to write the party vision statement closed in early January. Since then we’ve had 30 volunteers reading and re-reading the 197 entries we received to produce a shortlist, working from a rigorous set of criteria rooted in the ideas contributed by the 7,000 members we consulted last year.

Now our group of seven judges – including Lib Dem Voice’s very own Caron Lindsay – have selected our winner and runners-up.

But first – why do we need a vision statement? As a party we struggle at times to explain what we stand for: our values mean the world to us, but they can be hard to communicate. Tim Farron is energetically rebuilding the party as a social movement with a common purpose, and our determined stance on Brexit is building support and momentum both.

At the same time, our opposition to Brexit does not in itself explain who we are or what we want to achieve more broadly – nor will it continue to be the defining issue in politics indefinitely.

To support Tim’s work, we need a party-wide conversation about what we stand for. Your Liberal Britain has worked to provide that conversation, hearing from more than 7,000 people and running 67 events up and down the country.

Our approach is simple: to best explain what we stand for, we should describe how Britain could be different if we Lib Dems had our way.

Blair and Thatcher each had more than a decade in government to remake Britain. We can still feel the consequences today. What would the UK be like after a decade of Lib Dem government?

We need a short, simple, inspirational description of how life in Britain would be better if the Lib Dems had their way. Your Liberal Britain’s ‘Britain in 2030’ competition is our effort to write that vision statement.

The authors of the winning and runner-up entries will now form a writing group, along with four established writers in the party who we’ve invited ahead of time. Working from the winning entry, these seven writers will collaborate to produce a vision statement that the whole party can get behind.

We’ll start work in mid-February, and take as long as we need to get it right. If we do our jobs well, this document could guide our policy making, inform our campaigns and communications, inspire our members, and support our candidates and elected representatives.

So who are the winners? First up, here are the authors of the nine entries we shortlisted:

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Seeking an antidote to poisonous politics

Why does poisonous politics keep winning in Britain? A glance down your newsfeed will tell you that, for many, it’s because people are stupid. Let me put this plainly: it’s not.

We all vote with our hearts, however much we may protest otherwise. Brains too rarely come into it, clever or otherwise.

The voters who take solace in the myth of us vs them are just people who feel afraid. People who feel disenfranchised, powerless, ignored. And until we can offer them anything that speaks to their concerns, nothing is going to change.

I believe liberalism is the answer. But saying liberal things in our little liberal bubble will only serve to unite us against them in disbelief. Instead we have to engage: we have to try to understand.

Liberalism is about trusting people. So if you trust people, what are you forced to conclude? That politics has failed us. That society has failed us.

Don’t hate the people that Vote Leave manipulated: find a way of bringing them back into the fold.

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What’s your vision for a truly Liberal Britain?

Your Liberal BritainWhat would a truly Liberal Britain look like, and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives? You can help shape the party’s vision by writing a post for Lib Dem Voice of around 500 words in response to that question.

We all know the Lib Dems exist to create a society based on liberalism and social democracy. We call it Liberal Britain for short. But what would it actually look like?

When I joined the Lib Dems last year, I knew that many of my friends didn’t know what the party stood for. Chatting with other newbies at Lib Dem Pint and at Conference in Bournemouth, we knew this was one of the reasons why last May was such a disaster. Talking together, we realised how hard it can be to explain liberalism: to really get it across to people. Liberalism and social democracy can seem abstract, philosophical.

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Is it enough just to denounce the Tory welfare cuts?

Since we left them alone in government, the Tories have ended housing benefit for the under 25s, frozen working age benefits for four years (effectively cutting them because inflation will slowly drive up the cost of living), and cut Employment and Support Allowance for new sick and disabled claimants by 30%.

They’ve introduced a minimum wage masquerading as a Living Wage, and even gone so far to rule that the full hourly rate should only be given to those over 25.

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Liberal Britain?

Your Liberal BritainWe’re told that Britain is a liberal country, that Liberalism is mainstream. After all, every party supported same-sex marriage, the gender gap is narrowing, and even the class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

The state’s attempts to impinge on privacy are rebutted time and time again – or have been up until now – we keep spending on international development even when we’re hurting at home, and each Parliament is more diverse than the last.

We have much to be proud of, and rightly so.

But in a truly liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men. The best students from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances on results day. Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, as would our politicians.  

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Opinion: Regaining lost trust – the five-year campaign trail ahead


We all know the gloomy picture: I don’t need to re-hash the scale of our losses, or present you with the same statistics you know so well. Let’s leave it like this: we don’t just have to win back seats and votes.

We have to find a way to win back lost trust, in the face of anger, disappointment and – perhaps worst of all – plain disinterest.

That means finding a way to signal a clear break with the past, but without disowning the party’s achievements in government. It means offering a distinctive alternative to the Tories and Labour, but without chasing after protest votes. And above all, it means working out what we can say to make people listen, when many don’t even want to give us the time of day.

So – how should we go about it?

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Opinion: Filling the gulf in British politics – making the centre ground our own

On May 8th Nick Clegg told us that fear won the election. He was right. But hope played just as important a part.

It was hope that took votes from the Lib Dems: Ed Miliband’s hope that shackling business would help the poor; the Green hope that uncoupling ourselves from our addiction to economic growth would deliver social justice; the SNP hope that a fiscally empowered Scotland could abandon austerity.

Each of these visions is as misleading as it is inspirational.

The general election amounted to a choice between firm Tory hands on the reins and the whip alike, and four loose notions of where we ought to be heading – but never how to get there.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 24 Comments

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