Author Archives: Joe Zammit-Lucia

Party reform can re-capture the liberal spirit – and change Britain

Constant dissatisfaction is an essential part of the liberal spirit.

That which, over the decades, has characterized liberalism is the constant search for progress. Progress that seeks to create open societies that welcome diverse views and allow, in Popper’s formulation, constant challenge from below. Progress that breaks down imposed power from the top and liberates the disadvantaged and those that do not have a voice.

The essential flip-side of achieving progress is a constant dissatisfaction with the status quo. The ability and determination to imagine that a better world is possible. As Robert Kennedy’s very liberal statement put it: “Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not.”

In this regard, I was very encouraged by reports that Vince Cable is considering significant reforms to how the party works. A direction intended to make the party more open in different ways.

Posted in Op-eds | 53 Comments

Can Brexit help us do well in the election?

Opposition to a cliff-edge Brexit will be one of the defining messages for our party in the upcoming election. Will it work?

It can – but it needs to be handled well.

That is the message from a recent analysis that we have conducted looking at over 10 million Brexit-related tweets between November and April. Over that period, pro-Brexiteers have been overwhelmingly more successful than those who are opposing Brexit or opposing a hard Brexit. Why?

The pro-Brexiteers use effective, emotive language while anti-Brexiteers have a fondness for complex, rational arguments that have little resonance. Pro-Brexiteers are much more active on social …

Posted in News | 15 Comments

Incumbents or Entrepreneurs?

The rise of insurgent parties or insurgent leaders in politics has split the political landscape. In business terms we can see this as a battle between incumbents and entrepreneurs.

Established political parties with traditional leaders are the incumbents. They are the equivalent of large, oligopolistic corporations. Slow moving, stuck in the old ways of doing things and fighting for the status quo that favours them. Their success depends on having a broad base of support to which they can play. They favour their base while trying to expand it at the edges to gain their overall majorities. In essence, their business model is one of rent-taking – using their dominant market position as their main advantage.

Insurgents are the entrepreneurs. They imagine a different world. They invent a different way of doing things. They are not bound by the previous rules of engagement. They duck and dive, respond and change their ways quickly. They have a much deeper understanding and are closer to the needs and psychology of a particular customer base. They capture that base, learn and expand from there. They have another particular skill – the ability to first needle and then punch the incumbents in their weakest spots and in a way that makes it difficult for them to react effectively.

UKIP, Trump, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, Podemos, the Five Star Movement. These are all political entrepreneurs. Trump’s was a double success. His entrepreneurial approach first overcame the Republican establishment and then the Democrats.

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments

How long will we continue to ignore the obvious?

The Brexit referendum was a perfect demonstration of what many of us have known for a long time: emotion trumps reason – every time. In the referendum campaign, the Remain campaign mounted a campaign focused on ‘rational’ arguments – largely about the economy. All the visceral emotion was with Leave. It is not surprising Leave prevailed. What is also clear is that anger trumps fear – every time. Angry people are fired up. They rise up to do things – often destructive things. Fear paralyses. People cower in a corner and hope it all goes away.

The prevailing political mood at the moment is one of widespread anger. How should one handle it?

Last night at a political dinner, the view was expressed that what was needed was to try to dampen that anger, show people that they were being unreasonable and irrational and win them over to the moderate, tolerant, open, reasonable and rational values of liberalism. I cannot think of an approach that is more likely to fail than that one. It’s the equivalent of being faced by a furious spouse and responding with “Calm down dear and let’s be reasonable about all this.” We all know how effective that is.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 14 Comments

How political parties have lost their sense of purpose

How Political Parties Have Lost Their Sense of Purpose

Several years ago I was in a meeting between senior commercial and research staff in a multinational pharmaceutical company. Discussing various research projects, one commercial person declared with obvious exasperation “Don’t forget that we’re here to make money not to indulge in fancy research projects.” The President of R&D, a Scotsman, looked him in the eyes and responded “Laddie, you’re wrong. We’re here to make medicines that make people better. And if we can do that, then we’ll make money as a result.”

This episode illustrates what has happened to business over the last several decades. It has lost its sense of purpose. There was a time when business used to focus on making products that made people’s lives better. If they could do that at a cost that was below what they could sell their products for, they made a profit and prospered. All of that is gone in far too many businesses. Now the primary goal is “shareholder value” – code for short term profit maximization – irrespective of whether social good is created or destroyed.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

What does the EU Referendum mean for Liberal Democrats

This vote has been a collective howl of frustration – at the political class, at big business, at a global elite.

These were Tim Farron’s words in his outstanding speech following the results of the EU referendum. It raises a question this party must answer – is this party simply part of that political class and global elite that the voters continue so clearly to reject? Are we, like other mainstream political parties, set in our ways, disconnected from the public whose trust the mainstream has lost, stuck in a mindset and language that is hopelessly outdated, and with no idea as to how to understand and empathise with the concerns of today’s voter, let alone find ways to address them? We like to think of ourselves as the outsiders, the challengers, those who question the status quo. But is this reality or simply self-delusion? Does anyone out there see us like that?

Liberalism is a child of the Enlightenment. It is founded on the principles of reason, openness and tolerance – all principles that have been soundly rejected in this referendum. What does this mean for our party? My own view is that we should not abandon these principles but we need to re-define them for a twenty-first century world. We glibly bandy about terms like “open” and “internationalist”, but what should these terms mean in today’s world? What should they be taken to mean by those at the lower end of the skills and income scale? Those who see such words as threats to their livelihoods rather than the aspirational connotations these words have for the cosmopolitan elite whose vision of the future has now been roundly rejected by the British public.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 15 Comments

What it is to be a Liberal

“I really mean it when I say that I’m not sure I fully understand politics right now, which is an odd thing to say when I’ve spent my life in it.” So said Tony Blair in a recent interview. A bunch of mavericks and challengers everywhere have turned politics on its head. Why are they being so successful?

What ordinary people everywhere can see and feel in their bones and their everyday lives is that our current political and economic system is unsustainable. Yet the established parties seem to be offering them just more of the same – with the odd little tweak here and there. The electorate seems hungry for something else.

What the mainstream has lost is the ability to re-imagine the world. Mavericks like Trump and others have stepped into that space. We may feel that the new world they imagine is dystopic at best, horrifying at worst – and unacheivable. But more and more of the electorate seems be leaning towards taking a punt on their vision.

After so many years in power, Blair also seems to have forgotten the key to his own early success. He too, when first elected, presented – and embodied – a vision. A vision of a fresh start. A modern, forward looking Britain that was young in spirit and could break out of tired right vs left arguments to find a Third Way. Just like Margaret Thatcher before him had offered people a vision of a post-imperial Britain that could be effective, productive and great again after a disastrous, if well-meaning, Labour administration that culminated in the winter of discontent.

Posted in News | Tagged | 18 Comments

Liberals Must Have A Comprehensive Policy On Immigration

They say that there is no war that is more difficult and emotionally draining than a civil war. So it is with ideas. When liberals and progressives fight conservatives, the battles are easy. Each is convinced of their own righteousness and, when they run out of arguments, can simply dismiss the other side as being either Neanderthal or degenerate and therefore not worthy of much consideration. Everyone can go to bed enveloped in their own warm glow of self-belief.

Much more difficult are conflicting ideas that spring from the same ideology. Because resolution is difficult, these issues tend to get quietly …

Posted in Op-eds | 17 Comments

Can Liberals stop Marine Le Pen?

The World War II defeat of fascism ushered Europe into an era where liberal democracy became the undisputed political ideology. West Germany became an exemplary democracy. By the end of the 1970s, the dictatorships of Spain, Portugal and Greece had disappeared and these countries soon transformed themselves into liberal, democratic states. 1989 saw the fall of the Berlin Wall rapidly followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eventual expansion of liberal democratic ideals into former Soviet states. In Europe, the success of liberal democratic ideals seemed total and irreversible.

As is often the case, success breeds a complacency that soon turns to hubris. To many of us the idea that liberal and democratic ideals could be reversed just as quickly as they had taken hold was utterly inconceivable. As a result, we started first to forget and then to undermine some of the core principles that underpin the success of liberal democracy. We forgot that democracy derives its legitimacy from a politically engaged population not from the ruling class. We forgot that a system where the idea of democracy is reduced to no more than giving people the opportunity to vote once every five years or so is no democracy at all.

Posted in Op-eds | 6 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarKatharine Pindar 23rd Sep - 12:46am
    Roger Lake, you do indeed have a bee in your bonnet, but to me UBI is a far weaker policy than many that our party...
  • User AvatarRoss McLean 23rd Sep - 12:34am
    I agree with John Grout. That speech by Naimh was memorable.
  • User AvatarMichael BG 22nd Sep - 11:51pm
    Bill le Breton, Kingston was a second tier target seat in 1997. So they received some outside support but members were not encouraged to go...
  • User Avatarfrankie 22nd Sep - 11:47pm
    Well Roger they have their first major Brexit test, getting the Thomas Cook tourists home. Now I know the Brexi's and Lexi's will wail tis...
  • User AvatarRoger Lake 22nd Sep - 11:10pm
    If we expect an election very soon, perhaps we should be looking forward to the next one, in 2024, perhaps? It looks quite possible that...
  • User AvatarJohn Grout 22nd Sep - 10:57pm
    I think Niamh O'Connell's standout speech from the Europe debate deserves a place in the list of favourites, among the speeches that actually happened. I...
Thu 10th Oct 2019