Author Archives: Duncan Brack

The 2019 European Election and Liberal History

Everyone knows the 2019 European election result in the UK was remarkable – but do you realise quite how much? 

It was the best Euro election result for the Liberal Democrats or their predecessor parties ever. 

This is true in terms both of seats (16) and votes (20.3 per cent). The party’s previous best seat performance was 12 in 2004, though the UK then had 78 seats in the European Parliament, rather than its current 73. Our previous best vote performance was right back in 1984, when the Liberal-SDP Alliance scored 18.5 per cent. That was in the days before PR, when the country was divided up into giant Euro-constituencies fought on first past the post; the Alliance won none of them. Post-merger, the best Liberal Democrat performance was 16.1 per cent, in 1994.

The Liberal Democrat performance looks even better when compared to the other main parties, outpolling both Labour and the Conservatives by large margins. This has never happened before. 

The last time the Liberal Party won more votes than Labour in a nationwide election (i.e. a general or Euro election) was in 1918 (by 25.6 per cent to 20.8 per cent), though only if you combine the votes of the two factions the Liberal Party was then split into, led by Lloyd George and Asquith. And in that election the Labour Party fought only just over half the seats, and the two Liberal factions about two-thirds, making comparisons tricky. The Labour Party, on 14.1 per cent this year, has never scored even remotely this badly since it started contesting all UK seats; its previous low point was 27.6 per cent, in 1983.

The last time the Liberals beat the Conservatives in a nationwide election was 1906, the year of the great Liberal landslide: 48.9 per cent and 397 seats for the Liberals to 43.4 per cent and 156 seats for the Unionists (as Conservatives were known then). The Conservative performance this time, a mere 9.1 per cent, is staggeringly bad; the party’s previous low was three times as much, 29.2 per cent in 1832 (though throughout the nineteenth century many seats went uncontested, and MPs’ allegiances were often fluid, making calculations difficult), or, in the modern era, 30.7 per cent in 1997.

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Gladstone’s first government

Looking for something to take your mind off Brexit? The Liberal Democrat History Group can help! One hundred fifty years and six weeks ago, on 3 December 1868, William Ewart Gladstone took office as Prime Minister at the head of what can reasonably be accounted as both the first identifiably Liberal government and the first modern administration.

Gladstone was eventually to serve as Prime Minister on four separate occasions. The most famous, recognisable and enduring of all the Liberal Party’s leaders, he dominated British politics for more than thirty years. He brought to the leadership of the party and the labours of ministerial office a physical and mental temperament unequalled among former prime ministers. A voracious reader and bibliophile, who found leisure in his closely argued studies of the classical poets Homer and Dante, he also had a passion for physical labour, expressed in walking, estate work at Hawarden (his wife’s family home in north Wales), and tree-felling.

As Chancellor during the 1850s, he established his reputation for prudent financial innovation by replacing taxes on goods and customs duties with a progressive income tax and established parliamentary accountability for government spending. He swept away import duties on hundreds of products and established free trade almost as an article of faith. Although firmly devoted to the Church of England, he won strong support from Nonconformists for his attitude to religious questions, which at that time affected basic liberties as well as such matters as education.

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Demand Better: Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain

For as long as I’ve been active in politics people have complained they don’t know what we stand for. We may have a reasonable profile for our position on Brexit, but the fact that we’re only the fourth party in terms of MPs makes it even more difficult than usual to gain media attention.

On top of that, the party has more than doubled in size over the last two and a half years, so we have a large number of new or newish members who aren’t as familiar as many of us with the details of party policy or our key priorities for action.

So over the last six months the Federal Policy Committee has worked to produce the paper Demand Better: Liberal Democrat Priorities for a Better Britain, which is available here and will be debated at our autumn conference at Brighton.

We’ve written the paper in close cooperation with the party’s campaigns and communications committees and staff, and we’re using the party’s new slogan as the paper’s title. Demand Better summarises the Liberal Democrat approach to politics in 2018 and highlights our key policy priorities. Should a general election take place in the next year or so, it will provide the core of the Liberal Democrat election manifesto.

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Europe: the history of the Liberal commitment

Opposition to Brexit has become of the defining characteristics of today’s Liberal Democrats. And probably everyone knows that our predecessors in the Liberal Party supported British entry to the European Community in the 1970s and before. But where does this commitment derive from? The latest Journal of Liberal History (issue 98, spring 2018) explores the historical origins of the Liberal commitment to Europe.

As Anthony Howe discusses in the first article, one of the foundations of Victorian Liberalism in the nineteenth century was support for free trade, the removal of tariffs (import and export duties) on trade in goods. Normally discussed today in terms of the economic benefits, Liberal support in fact drew much more strongly from a belief in free trade as an engine of peace, building links between nations and promoting a cooperative rather than a military interventionist approach to international problems.

Eugenio Biagini analyses the different approaches to Europe adopted by the Liberal leaders W. E. Gladstone and Joseph Chamberlain. Gladstone, a committed internationalist, was a fervent supporter of free trade and an opponent of jingoistic nationalism; he was not opposed to the principle of pan-national empires, as long as their rule rested on consent and the protection of basic liberties. Chamberlain, the radical who broke with the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule, followed a different, ‘social imperialist’ path, arguing for the need for states to be powerful, democratic and reformist in social policy – strong enough to survive in the brutal world of international relations while also fending off the rising threat of socialism. His proposals for tariffs against imports from outside the British Empire, with the aim of binding the colonies more closely together, helped heal the divisions in the Liberal Party and underlay the Liberal landslide election victory of 1906.

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Federal Policy Committee report, 21 March 2018

FPC met for three hours on the evening of 21 March. The first item on the agenda was a discussion with the Leader; Vince is chair of the FPC, but inevitably his parliamentary and party duties mean he can’t attend every meeting, so we were pleased to have this opportunity. He updated us on three separate pieces of work under way on aspects of tax policy: on business tax, on the prospects for land value tax, and on options for a wealth tax. He hopes to be able to publish short ‘spokesperson’s papers’ on all of these and submit motions …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged | 11 Comments

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Party and Women’s Suffrage

As we celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave the parliamentary vote to (some) women, for the first time, readers may be interested in two meetings and one publication:

In Conversation at the Mile End Institute: Jo Swinson MP (19 February)

At 6.30pm on Monday 19 February, at the Mile End Campus, Queen Mary University of London, Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrats’ Deputy Leader and Shadow Foreign Secretary and the MP for East Dunbartonshire, will join Professor Philip Cowley in conversation.

This is part of the Mile End Institute’s regular series of political ‘conversations’, the most recent of which was with Jacob Rees-Mogg. Phil Cowley, co-author of the British General Election series of books (he’s currently working on the 2017 edition) is an excellent and engaging interviewer, and the event will be well worth attending.

It’s free and open to the public, but registration is required. To book your ticket, visit the Mile End Institute’s website or Eventbrite. For those unable to attend, the conversation will be live-streamed, and podcast and a video of the event will be available afterwards.

The Liberal Party and Women’s Suffrage (9 March)

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Report of Federal Policy Committee meeting – 13 December 2017

FPC met on Wednesday evening for its last meeting of the year. Taking place in the House of Commons, we were regularly interrupted by the results of votes on amendments to the Brexit bill – including the one the government lost!

Tuition fees

Vince Cable – who is chair of the FPC as well as party leader – pledged in his leadership election manifesto to look at party policy on the tuition fees system: ‘We need a solution that keeps the benefits of the current system – relating contributions to income and protecting university funding – but is fairer across the board, including for the 60 per cent who never go to university, many of whom pursue vocational options instead.’ As he reported to conference in September, he asked David Howarth (Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge 2005–10) to consider options for reforming or replacing the current system and present them to FPC as a basis for consultation within the party.

David’s paper, which he outlined to FPC, sets out the benefits and drawbacks of five options. FPC members raised a series of fairly minor issues, but overall were happy with the paper. I won’t attempt to summarise it here, as the options deserve to be read in detail, and it’s not completely finalised yet. We will publish it as a consultation paper in late January or early February and hold a consultative session around it at the Southport conference, on the afternoon of Friday 9 March. Local and regional parties might like to consider organising discussions on the issue in the spring and summer. Based on the feedback we receive, FPC will aim to put a policy motion for debate to the autumn conference.

Education policy paper

Lucy Netsingha, chair of the Education policy working group, presented a near-final draft of the paper, following our discussion on its outline proposals at our previous meeting. FPC members raised a few new issues and resolved a number of others. We left the remaining major issue, on the future of the schools inspection regime and Ofsted, for discussion at our January meeting, when Layla Moran, the party’s education spokesperson, should be able to join us. The paper will then be published and submitted for debate at the spring conference in Southport.

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New Policy Working Group on Race Equality: Chair Needed

Readers of Geoff Payne’s report on the last FPC meeting, on 18 October, may remember that we took the decision to establish a new policy working group on Race Equality.

The first stage in the process is for the FPC to appoint a chair of the working group, and we’re advertising for applicants now.

The chair will lead a group of around 15–20 members to produce policy proposals setting out the party’s plans for improving race equality and helping us reach out to BAME communities, while exemplifying the party’s values.

The working group will take evidence in the first half of 2018 …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 1 Comment

New from the Liberal Democrat History Group

As well as publishing the quarterly Journal of Liberal History (which features one of the esteemed editors of Lib Dem Voice on its Editorial Board), the Liberal Democrat History Group also publishes a range of books and short booklets on aspects of Liberal history.

New out, just in time for Bournemouth conference, is the second edition of Mothers of Liberty: Women Who Built British Liberalism. This booklet contains the stories of the women who shaped British Liberalism – including Mary Wollstonecraft, Harriet Taylor Mill, the suffragist leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first woman Liberal MP Margaret Wintringham, Violet Bonham Carter, Megan Lloyd George, Nancy Seear, Shirley Williams and many more. This second edition updates some of the entries, adds two entirely new ones and a table of all Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat women elected as MPs, and includes a foreword by Jo Swinson MP.

We have also published a new edition of our popular Liberal History: A concise history of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats. This has been revised and updated to include the 2015 and 2017 elections and their aftermath, including the election of Vince Cable as leader.

Starting with the earliest stirrings of Liberal thought during the civil wars of the seventeenth century, the booklet takes the reader through the coming together of Whigs, radicals and free-trade Peelites in 1859 to form the Liberal Party; the ascendancy of the Victorian Liberals under Gladstone; the New Liberalism of Asquith and Lloyd George and the party’s landslide election victory in 1906; dissension and eclipse; the long decades of decline until nadir in the 1950s; successive waves of Liberal revival under Grimond, Thorpe and Steel; the alliance with the SDP and merger in 1988; and the roller-coaster ride of the Liberal Democrats, from near-obliteration in 1989 to entry into government in 2010 to electoral disaster in 2015 and, now, the path to recovery.

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The leadership of Charles Kennedy

As nominations open for the sixth leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Liberal Democrat History Group’s meeting next Monday takes a look back at the record of its second: Charles Kennedy.

In many ways Kennedy’s period as leader, from 1999 to 2006, was a success. His opposition to the Iraq War – heavily criticised at the time by both the Labour government and the Tory opposition – proved entirely justified and in the 2005 general election he led the party to its highest vote since 1987 (22.0 per cent) and its highest number of seats since 1923 (62). He was a popular figure with the public, appreciated for his quick wit, self-deprecating manner, and careful understatement in an era when respect for mainstream politicians was rapidly eroding.

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History marches at our back

As I write this, the party should be signing up its 100,000th member. Our new members are joining a party with a glorious history – not just the twenty-nine years since the Liberal Democrats were founded in 1988, but the records of its predecessors, the short-lived Social Democratic Party and the three centuries’ old Liberal Party.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Three hundred years ago our political ancestors the Whigs fought for freedom of conscience and thought and religion, for equality before the law. Two hundred years ago the Victorian Liberal Party extended the franchise, brought in free trade, led the assault on privilege: the great cause of Cobden and Bright, Russell and Gladstone.

A hundred years ago the New Liberalism of the twentieth century – the social liberalism of Asquith and Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge – laid the foundations of the British welfare state, aiming to create the conditions for freedom for all.

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Federal Policy Committee Report – 29 March 2017

FPC’s meetings tend to be dominated by two things: consideration of consultation and policy papers, which are ultimately put to conference for discussion and debate; and trying to find ways to improve the process of policy-making and policy discussion within the party. Last Wednesday’s meeting featured both.

For the first hour or so of the meeting we discussed our responses to two of the consultation papers we published in February, on the 21st Century Economy, and on Education. The working groups which wrote the papers for us will take our comments, along with the many received from party members and made at the consultative sessions at York, into consideration when they write their policy papers for the FPC to consider in June or July. The final papers will then be submitted to the Bournemouth conference in September for debate.

The rest of the meeting was mainly devoted to process issues. FPC is keen to improve the opportunities for debating policy within the party. While plenty of policy debates take place at federal and state conferences, at the local party level it’s quite variable. Many local parties run popular and effective pizza and politics events (or their culinary equivalents), but in others their efforts may be entirely taken up with campaigning and fund-raising. We believe policy debate is good in itself: it improves members’ experience of involvement in the party (after all, it’s the reason many members joined) and their knowledge of what we stand for, and it improves input into the formal policy-making process which FPC oversees.

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350 years of Liberal history in 32 pages

If you want to read a short summary of the last 350 years of Liberal politics in Britain, the Liberal Democrat History Group has just the thing for you – a new edition of our booklet Liberal History: A Concise History of the Liberal Party, SDP and Liberal Democrats.

This is designed as a comprehensive but relatively short (about 10,000 words) summary of Liberal, SDP and Liberal Democrat history for readers wanting more detail than they can find on the party website, but less than a full book. We produced the booklet originally in 2005, and we’ve revised it twice since; this edition is up to date as of summer 2016.

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Conference Countdown: Agenda 2020: The final stage

Agenda 2020 paperSunday morning at Brighton will see one of the most important debates at conference. It probably won’t be terribly controversial (though one never knows …), but it is party members’ chance to say what they think – not about specific policies the party should adopt, but about what the party stands for: its basic philosophy.

This is the final stage in the Federal Policy Committee’s ‘Agenda 2020’ process, which has featured many times before in the pages of Lib Dem Voice. Over the past year we have published two consultation papers, organised two consultative sessions at federal conferences, commissioned a set of essays and organised an essay competition within the party (all available at http://www.libdems.org.uk/agenda2020).

The outcome of all this is the policy paper The Opportunity to Succeed, the Power to Change. Its first purpose is to explain the basic underlying beliefs of the party and what, in broad terms, is the point of us. So the first main chapter sets out the case for the Liberal Democrats – the essence of what we are trying to do and why it matters. We’ve phrased this round two objectives: giving people the opportunity to succeed, and enabling them to take the power to grasp those opportunities. Too many people in today’s Britain lack the opportunity to live their lives as they want, and too many people feel powerless in the face of change.

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How did our constituencies vote in the EU Referendum?

It’s obvious from the maps published after the referendum that several former Liberal Democrat seats voted remain – Cambridge, Bath, Cheltenham, Lewes and others. It’s equally obvious that plenty didn’t – all of them in Cornwall and Devon, for example. But because the results were counted and declared by local authority area, we haven’t been able to tell how individual constituencies voted – until now.

Chris Hanretty, Reader in Politics at the University of East Anglia, has tried to estimate how all the 574 Parliamentary seats in England and Wales voted (it’s a reasonable assumption that all or almost all Scottish seats voted remain). He’s taken each council area result and applied demographic factors – average age in the area, the proportion of residents with degrees, average income, etc. – which we know are strongly associated with voting leave or remain to break it down to constituency levels. He can’t be precise, of course, but his model fits reasonably well the results in the 26 local authority areas which are also parliamentary constituencies.

He expresses the result as an estimated leave vote with a prediction interval (i.e. a range of outcomes, since we can’t be precise) on either side. You can see his reasoning, and download the full spreadsheet here.

Based on his calculations, this is how all the seats Liberal Democrats won at the 2010 election break down, in descending order of the remain vote (seats we hold now are in bold):

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The legacy of Roy Jenkins: History Group discussion meeting Monday 27th June

 

One of the very slight crumbs of comfort to be found in the referendum campaign was the way in which, in some parts of the country, members of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and Green parties were able to campaign together positively for a ‘remain’ vote. The 1975 referendum on membership of the European Community saw a very similar experience – with profound results for British politics thereafter.

In the happier of the UK’s two referendums on Europe, Roy Jenkins, then Home Secretary in Harold Wilson’s Labour government, led the ‘in’ campaign alongside the Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and the new Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher. Jenkins and his pro-European Labour colleagues enjoyed the good relations he developed with the Liberals, and this helped to lay the foundations for the formation of the Social Democratic Party, and its alliance with the Liberals, six years later – and, in 1988, to the merger of the two to form our own party, the Liberal Democrats.

With bitter-sweet timing, the next Liberal Democrat History Group speaker meeting, on Monday 27 June at 7.00pm, will discuss the legacy of Roy Jenkins for liberalism in Britain. These extend beyond Europe and the formation of the SDP and the Alliance.

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Agenda 2020 update

Readers will remember the essay competition run by the Federal Policy Committee as part of our Agenda 2020 exercise; Liberal Democrat Voice was good enough to publish several of the entries. We asked participants to write no more than 1,000 words on what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today. We received a total of sixty entries, cut them down – after much debate! – to a shortlist of nine, and invited party members to vote for the winner.

Today we can announce the winner: Edwin Burrows, a member from Monmouth. He only joined the party in May after the election, and the spring conference will be his very first. He says that although for many years he had campaigned for liberal causes, after the election he felt that he needed to stop sitting on the sidelines and get involved. Tim Farron has just awarded him his prize.

In his essay he aimed to boil the Liberal Democrat approach down to one key simple message, to relate it to everyday life, not to abstract principles, and to move people, to serve as a battle cry for our fightback. I think it does all of those things. You can read it here.

The votes were in fact pretty evenly spread, so we are also announcing today two second places, who tied, with exactly the same number of votes: Richard Flowers  and Paul Kennedy. 

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Agenda 2020 update

The essay competition run by the Federal Policy Committee as part of our Agenda 2020 exercises closed in November; Liberal Democrat Voice was good enough to publish several of the entries. We asked participants to write no more than 1,000 words on what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.

We received a total of sixty entries, and we’d like to put on record our thanks to all those who wrote them. Their standard was generally very high. Unsurprisingly, most chose ‘freedom’ as the focus of their essay, but how they defined ‘freedom’ varied quite considerably. Some described it conceptually, some used concrete examples, some stressed more what we are against than what we are for.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 6 Comments

The ideas that built the Liberal Democrats

The ideas that built the Liberal DemocratsPolitics rest on beliefs. Political parties that operate without a philosophical framework stand for little more than personality and populism. But equally, beliefs must rest on thought – they must be continually defined, tested and debated rather than simply inherited unquestioningly.

That’s part of what the Federal Policy Committee’s Agenda 2020 process is all about; I’ve written about the various elements of that already on Lib Dem Voice.

But of course the party doesn’t start from scratch in this respect. The political ideology of the Liberal Democrats draws on the philosophies of two reformist traditions, liberalism and social democracy. Liberalism possesses an immensely rich history, stretching back over more than three hundred years. Social democracy is a label that has meant very different things over the last hundred years and more, but between them these traditions possess a distinctive approach to concepts such as freedom, equality and social justice.

As a concise guide to the key strands of political thought and ideas underlying Liberal Democrat beliefs, the Liberal Democrat History Group has published a new booklet, Liberalism: The ideas that Built the Liberal Democrats

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Leaders good and bad

As we’re now seeing with Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership, political debate often revolves around the characters of party leaders. Elections are portrayed as contests between leaders, voters are often asked to say which leader they will be voting for – even though they can’t, unless they happen to live in a leader’s constituency – and the media, during elections, party conferences and day-to-day politics, generally focus on the leader, sometimes, in small parties, to the exclusion of all other figures. Within their parties, even in relatively democratic institutions like the Liberal Democrats, the leader exercises considerable influence over party policy and strategy.

British Leaders jackets.indd

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Introducing the Liberal Democrat History Group

‘Santayana once said that those who won’t learn their history are condemned to repeat it. The Lib Dem History Group exists to make sure that we can so we don’t.’ (Paddy Ashdown)

Our party, the Liberal Democrats, is 27 years old. It came into being in March 1988, the product of a merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The SDP was itself only seven years old, being formed in 1981 mostly by former Labour politicians, but bringing into politics many people who had never been involved in any party. The Liberal Party, by contrast, was one of the oldest political parties in the world, tracing its roots back into the seventeenth century and the struggles for Parliamentary supremacy over the monarchy.

The Liberal Democrat History Group exists to promote the research and discussion of any topic connected with the history of the party and its predecessors, and of Liberalism more broadly. Our activities appeal to anyone with an interest in the history of British Liberal politics, whether party activists, academics or spare-time students of history.

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Opinion: Rebuilding the party – lessons from history

I’ve already had journalists ring me up to ask when was the last time Liberals did so badly. The answer is 1970, when the Liberal Party won six seats on the back of 2.1 million votes, 7.5 per cent of those who voted. Last week’s result was similar: eight seats from 2.4 million votes, 7.9 per cent of those who voted.

There are other parallels. The opinion polls in 1970 had pointed consistently to a victory for Harold Wilson’s outgoing Labour government; Ted Heath’s win for the Conservatives came as a considerable surprise. On the other hand, then the polls underestimated …

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The Liberal Party and the First World War – event in London next month

War gravesIn this year, a hundred years since the coming of war in August 1914, the conflict is remembered chiefly for
 its impact on the millions of ordinary men, women and children who were to suffer and die and over the following four years. Lives were altered forever and society transformed. But the war had political consequences too: empires fell, new nations emerged and British political parties and the party system underwent profound change – a transformation which plunged the Liberal Party into civil war and caused it to plummet from a natural party of government to electoral insignificance within a few short years.

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Opinion: A green backbone for the 2015 manifesto

2008 - Evopod 1/10th Sea Trials @ PortaferryWhat approach will the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto take? A bit more fiscally responsible than Labour and a bit more fair than the Conservatives? Or something different: a genuinely distinctive approach built on our basic political philosophy and our long-standing commitment to the environment – where the public clearly recognise we’re different from our coalition partners and where our ministers can show real progress?

This is why we launched The Green Manifesto at the spring conference in York, to argue for a ‘green backbone’ …

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Opinion: Not a budget for green policy

Wind turbine - Some rights reserved by thomas vlDavid Cameron may now view climate change as a serious threat, thanks to the winter floods, but you wouldn’t know it from his Chancellor’s Budget statement on Wednesday. What did the Budget do for green growth and the low-carbon agenda? –

  • Froze the carbon price floor (paid by large emitters) until the end of the decade. Introduced just last year at £16/tonne carbon dioxide, it was supposed to increase steadily to reach £30 in 2020 and £70 in 2030; now it’ll stick at £18. This makes coal more attractive and low-carbon energy less.
  • Ended Enterprise Investment Scheme tax breaks for investments in renewable electricity and heat (while retaining them for everything else).
  • Extended compensation for energy-intensive industries from the electricity bill levies funding renewable energy.
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Duncan Brack writes: Introduction to ‘Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy’

This is the introduction to the recently published collection of essays, Green liberalism: a local approach to the low carbon economy. Similar collections are being published under Green Alliance’s ‘Green social democracy’ and ‘Green conservatism’ projects as part of the Green Roots programme, which aims to stimulate green thinking within the three dominant political traditions in the UK.

This collection of essays builds on two Liberal Democrat core beliefs: environmentalism and localism.

As David Howarth argued in The green book: new directions for Liberals in government (Biteback, March 2013), Liberalism is not only compatible with environmentalism, it requires an environmental approach. …

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The 2010 general election in historical perspective

John Curtice, well-known psephologist and one of the relatively few political academics to take the trouble to study and understand the Liberal Democrats, has published his analysis of the 2010 election from a Lib Dem point of view.

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of Liberal History, he looks at why the Liberal Democrat ‘surge’ eventually failed to deliver and why the party’s natural disappointment at the result may be masking what was in reality an impressive result – the second best, in terms of seats, since 1929, and the second best, in terms of votes, since 1923.

However, the …

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So, what does a Special Adviser do?

Special advisers (or “spads” for short) tend to have a bad press. Alastair Campbell was a spad, as was Jo (“good day to bury bad news”) Moore; Andrew Blick’s book on the topic was called People Who Live in the Dark; and a contributor to a recent Lib Dem Voice exchange observed that “We made so many breaks with New Labour, why did we have to adopt their spad culture?”

Actually special advisers have a much longer history than that. One can trace their origins right back to Lloyd …

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John Stuart Mill symposium – Saturday 14 November, LSE, London

One hundred and fifty years ago, in 1859, the great Liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill published his most important and enduring work, On Liberty. Used today as the symbol of office of the President of the Liberal Democrats, On Liberty emphatically vindicated individual moral autonomy and celebrated the importance of originality and dissent. It set out the principle, still acknowledged as universal and valid today, that only the threat of harm to others can justify interfering with an individual’s liberty of action.

Mill himself was not only a philosopher, but also an economist, journalist, political writer, social reformer, and, briefly, …

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Ask questions at conference – even if you’re not there!

Party members not going to the Bournemouth conference still have a chance to input to some of the discussions. The conference features three Q&A sessions:

Sunday 20th September (afternoon) – with Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats

Monday 21st September (morning) – Crime Policy: Panel including Chris Huhne MP (Shadow Home Secretary), Jan Berry (Independent Reducing Bureaucracy Advocate), Juliet Lyon (Director, Prison Reform Trust) and Professor Larry Sherman (Wolfson Professor of Criminology, University of Cambridge)

Tuesday 22nd September (afternoon)
– The Economy: Panel including Vince Cable MP (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer), Jeremy Purvis MSP …

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