Author Archives: Katharine Pindar

What should we do about Labour?

We need to talk about our relations with the Labour Party. Are they essentially still the centralised, top-down, union-led anti-capitalist party of the past, or are they sufficiently on our wavelength now for us to work with them against the baleful effects of austerity? Should we minimise opposition to them in strong Labour constituencies and regard them as likely future Coalition partners?

Perhaps in this country now equality as an ideal should trump freedom, and in practice the need to fight gross inequality and strive for social justice may demand our party working with Labour for similar ends.

Yet if the price is accepting Socialism, Liberal Democrats can’t go there. As well as having a different economic approach, we have a different outlook. We want an open, outward-looking, tolerant society where individuals count, not one focussed on class divisions and workers versus bosses. So Liberal Democrats welcome the EU as a co-operative enterprise while Labour leaders are suspicious of it as a capitalist club. Labour’s approach to Brexit is closer to the Government’s than to ours, so how could we be allies?

However, look at the demands Labour made of the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, in the lead up to his autumn Budget. They were:

  1. Pause and fix Universal Credit.
  2. Provide new funding to lift the public sector pay cap.
  3. Spend on infrastructure to boost the economy and create good jobs.
  4. Have properly-funded public services including health, education and local government.
  5. Launch a large-scale public housebuilding programme.

What’s not to like in that, considering how much it fits with our own proposals?

But the Labour General Election manifesto last June had been very different from ours. Its radical demands such as ending student tuition fees and nationalising water and energy companies and the rail services had an instant appeal that brought voters flocking in. Acute analysis indeed showed major flaws. Their package would have meant an economic cut in welfare for the poor, saving funds which would be directed to services for the middle classes. While our own manifesto sought reversal of £9 billion-worth of the 2015 and earlier welfare cuts, Labour allocated only £4 billion to this. We were much more oriented towards the poorest, in a well-costed progressive manifesto. Thoughtful voters may have grasped that; unfortunately it is unlikely to have been widely understood. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 102 Comments

A Happy New Year For Liberal Democrats?

To begin at the beginning, at least 2017 is over! It wasn’t a great year for us. Our 24-month climb back to prosperity since May 2015, buoyed by thousands of new members and encouraging Council election results, was paused at the June General Election. The two big parties in their nose-to-nose confrontation swept up more than 80% of the vote, leaving us with less than double figures, though now a dozen good MPs.

It seemed our progress was no more. We lost an inspiring leader in Tim Farron, though gained one of great experience and knowledge in Vince Cable. (It felt a bit like living in the old Rose and Crown joke routine. “They’re closing down the Rose and Crown. Boo! And building a new one. Hurrah!” But yet too serious to joke about just then.) Besides, our commitment to a referendum on the negotiated deal was continually queried, even within the party, though it was reaffirmed at the September Conference. According to the national opinion polls, the Leave voters weren’t coming over in droves to Remain, and our share of voting intentions stayed at around 7%.

All in all, we couldn’t rejoice too much that the quasi-presidential campaign of Theresa May and the Tories’ ill-conceived manifesto failed, so that a hung Parliament unexoectedly emerged. It still meant that the country would have to put up with a Tory minority government backed with expensively-purchased DUP votes. It still resulted in the Government backing a potentially ruinous ‘hard’ Brexit, with the apparent acquiescence of the pallid Janus-faced Official Opposition. The EU negotiations moved at a snail’s pace as impossible outcomes were sought. The Brexiters demanded minimal payments, no further jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and all to be as usual on the Irish Border – and,  Why can’t we have trade talks NOW!? 

Posted in Op-eds | 66 Comments

Make Britain Great Again! First, though, the sacrifices…

Deep in our human consciousness is a memory handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. It is that to propitiate our gods, whoever they may be, it’s necessary to sacrifice something valuable on their altars. This will persuade the god to look favourably on the giver and be good to him. Gods could shape Fate, so to make a sacrifice, part of an act of worship supervised by priests, was a necessary ritual.

I believe that this folk memory of necessary sacrifice to keep oneself safe has surfaced again in the unconscious of British people today, and affects …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 84 Comments

Just who are we, really?

Are we Liberals, radical liberals, or Liberal Democrats? It’s interesting that a current piece aired here about radical liberalism doesn’t mention democracy or refer to the second part of our name. Is democracy then less relevant to our party identity?

This set me thinking, and there seem to be three different aspects it may be worth beginning to consider.

  1. Our party’s own understanding of its identity. Are we here to promote liberalism more than democracy? What do we mean by that, if so?
  2. The party’s identity in relation to that of the Conservatives, Labour and the nationalist parties.
  3. The party’s identity as understood by British voters.

On the first, although personally I was a Liberal member long before we became Liberal Democrats, I should be concerned to think that democracy is less important to us. That is partly because liberalism is closely identified with freedom, which idea, extensively considered in past threads here, is susceptible to being hijacked by the Tories.

Consider, for instance, the statement of principle in our Agenda 2020 party consultation paper.

“Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents, and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state…”

Posted in Op-eds | 34 Comments

Liberal Democrats must be radical now

Liberal Britain must be neither a country of entrenched privilege riding over the less fortunate, nor a nanny state shepherding and corralling its people.

Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how best to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state and a stifling conformity; a free and open society that glories in diversity.

That statement of our principles contained in the Agenda 2020 party consultation paper makes me doubt the ideas of Universal Basic Services and Universal Basic Income, discussed here lately.

“We stand for equality”, continues the declaration of Agenda 2020. Yet UBS and UBI could be argued as likely to reinforce structural inequality in Britain. The benefits might be intended to keep the mass of the population reasonably content in having enough to live on and being looked after, while the rich and privileged might willingly pay for the right to continue to accrue wealth and power in unchallenged peace.

The policy would then be the equivalent of the bread and circuses of Roman Emperors, so Liberal Democrats should shun it. It is too easy for us in our middle-class, educated way to avoid facing the glaring inequalities of our country by offering palliative measures, as we did in lifting poorer people out of income tax but ignoring the poorest who didn’t pay tax at all.

Posted in Op-eds | 36 Comments

Loss, connection and happiness. Is Liberal Democrat activism good for us?

Happiness, social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt have suggested, may be found more in the single-minded pursuit of good aims than in achieving them. If this is true, Liberal Democrats should be some of the happiest people around – always striving, always hoping, yet too often actually failing to achieve our aims.

Ridiculous, retorts common sense. We fail, and that is depressing and debilitating. Yet there must be something in the theory to keep some of us for fifty years or more committed to the cause of Liberalism – not always activists, deflected by our personal human dramas and careers and families, yet always resuming.

You’re just fanatics to do that, say scornful pragmatists. And it’s true that this commitment depends on your being a certain type of character, raised in certain circumstances such as, maybe, growing up in a politically concerned family.  Perhaps also you have to start young, when you can’t anticipate the long unproductive years to come.

There has to be resilience in your character to keep going, and certain social conditions to help sustain you. Liberal Democrats become used to long disappointment brightened by moments of triumph and joy, but actual loss is hard to bear.

The loss of a political position, whether a council or a parliamentary one, may never be as devastating as the loss of someone you love, or getting a life-threatening illness, or seeing your child come to grief, but it’s still a terrible blow. All that effort to get there, all that hard work in office, all that useful accomplishment, suddenly finished, seemingly wasted. How did our Liberal Democrat champions feel, as one by one they fell, from 2011 to 2015? The pain of having failed their closest associates, family, employees and fellow campaigners would have been combined with deep frustration and probable impotent suppressed anger. How many vowed never to subject themselves again to that? It took a certain cast of character to resolve to carry on, probably resisting the plea of loved ones not to be masochistic. They had the imperative of finding other paying work speedily, as well.

Posted in Op-eds | 38 Comments

Lib Dems must lead the fight against the calamity of Brexit

Whatever motion we debate at Conference next month, we already know that the majority of us oppose Brexit. We all need to persuade the people around us of what a developing calamity it is. We also need to take the lead nationally. No new party is required to campaign on this: the Brexit Exiters are us.

But we need to shout about it, not leave it to retired government ministers and would-be leaders from other parties to grab the limelight.

For the country is in dire need of Brexit being called off.

Poverty worsens. Austerity bites harder as living standards sink. Health services decline with too few doctors and nurses. Councils struggle to keep meeting local needs, Young people lack decent rental accommodation at an affordable price. Working people with zero-hours contracts or temporary jobs can’t pay all the bills, fall into debt and resort to food banks.

Yet we have a disunited government which, so far from tackling these ills, is almost entirely occupied with the enormous, wasteful task of trying to accomplish a Brexit which will make conditions worse. Negotiations with the EU on all fronts are stalled – rights of citizens living abroad, the Irish border, the size of the bill to be paid, and future trade relations.

As for the Labour opposition, with a better will to tackle the ills but no power to do so, it is no less divided on the terms of Brexit yet firmly keeps step with the government on the necessity of it.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 58 Comments
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    The Layfield Commission on Local Government Finance (Layfield Committee, 1976) came to the view that there should be major changes in the financing of British...
  • User AvatarJoe Bourke 23rd Feb - 1:18am
    A harrowing tale of real distress for these parents, Kirsten. I echo your conclusion that " We need a joined-up approach to disability provision –...
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    Keynes did offer us some advice on how best to manage the public finances. To find out what is was it is best to go...
  • User AvatarJoeB 23rd Feb - 12:28am
    Layla, as she so often does gets to the heart of the issue in saying " the idea that university should be free for everyone...
  • User AvatarAndrew McCaig 23rd Feb - 12:27am
    nonconformistradical I said "people who did not pay fees". That is everyone who went to university before 1998. Lots of people. I did not say...
  • User AvatarRoland 23rd Feb - 12:26am
    Germany has managed to abolish tuition fees as they weren’t working for the economy. And they are also finding that having abolished them, that also...