Author Archives: Geoffrey Payne

Three top tier Lib Dem candidates to speak at the Social Liberal Forum pre-conference lunch in York 

By the end of the year and after the next general election and the prospects are that we could have 30 or more Lib Dem MPs. In fact, if Nigel Farage decides to lead the Reform party and split the right wing vote even more we could easily win more seats from the Conservatives and have over 50 MPs.

So what would our new Parliamentary party look like?

Lib Dem conference in York officially starts at 4.30pm on the Friday 15th March. So we in the Social Liberal Forum have decided to organise our “pre-conference lunch” event earlier in the day with 3 top tier candidates; Bobby Dean (Carsharlton and Wallington), Victoria Collins (Harpenden and Berkhamsted) and Josh Babarinde (Eastbourne) as speakers.

They will talk about their personal journey from deciding to join the party to becoming candidates in these very marginal seats. They will discuss the challenges ahead, winning over Leave voters (both Carshalton and Eastbourne voted to leave the EU which explains why we lost those seats in 2019) and how MPs representing the prosperous “Blue Wall” seats may be able to work to benefit people living in the deprived communities in the “Red Wall” seats. They will also share their vision of what it means to be a Lib Dem MP in 2024 and beyond.

Tickets for this event are limited and must be bought in advance. So if you want to come along then book now and take advantage of the early bird rate. Book here: 2024 Pre-conference lunch – Social Liberal Forum

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The Gaza conflict and the hierarchy of oppression

Many years ago Winnie Mandela, wife of Nelson Mandela was considered to be a hero. She had to suffer for years whilst her husband was in jail, maybe for life. Yet she still carried on the struggle for freedom against apartheid South Africa.

I also considered her a hero, then one day she announced “With our boxes of matches, and our necklaces, we shall liberate this country”. What she was describing was a horribly sadistic method of murdering someone. In that instant, for me, she was no longer a hero. She was in fact a very nasty person. I was pleased that Nelson divorced her, although I also felt sorry for him that she had turned out this way when he was in jail. Yet for many people she remained a hero, including by left wing progressives who normally oppose the death penalty, presumably for it’s cruelty.

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The United States is spiralling into either a Trump dictatorship or civil war

At the beginning of the year various BBC correspondents gave their predictions for the year ahead. Conspicuous by its absence was any prediction that Trump would get indicted this year and the monumental impact that would have on US and international politics. I for one wondered how they could miss something so obvious?

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Sarah Green MP to speak at Social Liberal Forum pre conference dinner

Are you going to Lib Dem conference next month? Conference starts at 9am on the Saturday morning, so if you want to be there and not miss anything you probably need to arrive the day before. 

So what is happening on the day before on Friday evening? Well the conference program will not mention anything because conference has not started yet. There will be hundreds of Lib Dem members in Bournemouth, but nothing is happening. 

Apart from one event that we in Social Liberal Forum (SLF) are organising. For every in-person autumn Lib Dem conference the SLF have organised their pre-conference dinner and we would like to welcome LDV readers to come and join us. We are delighted to announce that our guest speaker at this event will be Sarah Green MP, winner of the Chesham and Amersham by-election and a former director of the SLF. This will be a great opportunity to meet other conference representatives before conference starts.

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So what happens after the next general election?

Even now with just weeks before the next general election it is impossible to know where we will be with Brexit. For the sake of simplicity, I would like to put Brexit to one side for now. The Tories might find a way to implement hard Brexit by the 31st October and before the next General Election, we shall see. Discuss it elsewhere. There are plenty of other considerations we need to think about.

I can see 3 plausible scenarios for the next general election;

  1. The Tories squeeze the Brexit Party vote and get an overall majority, or;
  2. We have a hang Parliament

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What do do on the Friday night before Conference

Are you going to Lib Dem conference? Officially conference starts on Saturday 14th September, but if you look at the conference program you will also notice it starts at 9am on that day. For most people who want to be there at the start this means it makes sense to arrive on the Friday before.

If that is your plan and you are wondering what to do for Friday evening, then you may recall that last year there were 2 “unofficial” Friday evening events; Lib Dem Pint and the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) pre-Conference dinner.

If Lib Dem Pint is happening this year then I would happily promote it in this article, but my internet searches have not shown that it is. It was a very popular event last year and I would suggest keep a look out for it next year. UPDATE: There is a Lib Dem Pint and you can find out more here.

But there is an alternative…

the Social Liberal Forum Pre-Conference Dinner

The SLF ARE organising their pre-Conference dinner and our guest speaker will be Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate for the Mayor of London next year. It is worth bearing in mind that in the recent EU elections the Lib Dems “won” London with more votes than anyone else, so Siobhan stands a good chance of becoming the Lib Dem mayor of London next year.

If this is your first Lib Dem conference, then the SLF dinner is a great opportunity to get to meet other Liberal Democrats informally before conference has even started.

Last year the event was a complete sell out and people were allowed to turn up on the evening without pre-booking.

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Time to revisit the progressive alliance

So how are things settling after the EU elections? For as long as we as a party were in single figures in the opinion polls, we were effectively on life support, particularly if boundary changes go ahead. But now suddenly our fortunes have changed and the long wait is over. We are back in business again winning elections. Clearly the electorate is unusually volatile and there is hard work ahead to keep the gains we have made, but now we can start thinking about the power that we might have with new MPs elected at the next general election, which may be soon.

The Tory leadership is mostly a horror show. The one decent candidate, Rory Stewart, is unlikely to win. We are seeing a split in the Tory party between the business wing and the bigger nationalist wing who support No Deal. Normally the 2 wings are aligned but the party could split apart over Brexit with the nationalists running the party, becoming even more right wing and aligned with the Brexit party. I can’t imagine us working with them again.

Where else should we look? Change UK are in a very weak position and are at risk of being crushed by the voting system. The ball is in their court as to what to do next. We need to consider our relationship with them once they have decided.

The Greens are a different matter. Their vote went up. And the demographics of their vote is similar to ours. Just 4 years ago Bristol West was a Lib Dem seat, but now it is a Green target. I still hope we can win it for the Lib Dems, but the danger is that we get in each other’s way and Labour win it instead.

And so we come to the Progressive Alliance. Ideas must come first. The usual defensive response is to complain about giving up seats and having pacts. But it is pointless thinking about that. We need a progressive alliance of ideas first. Precisely because we are in different parties there are some policies we do not agree.

However there is a reason why voters have difficulty choosing between us and the Greens. We both support a fairer voting system – a precondition I would say for a Progressive Alliance. We both agree that tackling Climate Breakdown is a top priority. And on staying in the EU, the Remain movement see us as similar parties that should work together.

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The End of the End of History

Back in 1992 Francis Fukuyama wrote a highly influential but seriously flawed book; “The End of History and the Last Man”. The general idea was that after the fall of the Berlin Wall the great ideological conflict between liberal democracy and communism had been settled. Liberal democracy had won, was spreading rapidly around the world and in due course every country would become a one. Good would triumph over evil.

The end of history meant the end of ideological conflict. Democracy would continue but the disagreements would be relatively minor. Ironically this view was similar to the Marxist belief in historical …

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Time for a Progressive Alliance?

There is a lot of noise on social media at the moment with Labour members having to confront the awful reality that Jeremy Corbyn really does support Brexit, and if he succeeds in passing a motion of no confidence in the government then that will be the general election policy of the Labour party too. Many are giving up on Labour and are looking for a progressive alternative. So how about the Lib Dems?

There is the question of the ownership of the word progressive. There was an odd debate at conference in 2016 which rejected the “Progressive Alliance” because it …

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SLF Conference London 15th July – all Lib Dems invited – we need to talk!


The theme for this year’s conference “The Retreat from Globalisation “ was conceived 6 months ago. The country had voted for Brexit and the US had elected Donald Trump, albeit on fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. Since then however Liberals have seen off the threat from the far right in both Holland and France, but more recently in the UK general election both of the pro Brexit parties, the Tories and Labour, made big gains.

So how do we make sense of what is going on and where do we go from here? There are no simple answers so I would like to invite you to our day conference in London on Saturday 15th July. At the time of writing it looks like Vince Cable will be confirmed as our new leader soon unless a surprise candidate puts themself forward. Vince has confirmed that he will be attending and for most of us this will be the first opportunity we have to find out the direction he wants to take the party. In return we can ask questions which, depending on you, may or may not include a controversial matter that the Radical Association has (successfully?) campaigned on recently.

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We don’t need a NEW pro EU party


Ever since the referendum vote to leave the EU last year there has been feverish speculation about the need to set up a new political party. Yet 9 months have gone by and nothing has so far emerged. I would suggest that they have missed the boat. Thousands have already joined the pro-EU parties, notably the Lib Dems and the new party missed the opportunity to recruit them.

Even if it had been set up 9 months ago, would it have worked? Some see a parallel with the SDP formed in 1981 by the “Gang of 4”; Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers. It is worth recalling that they were all substantial political figures in their day. Had any one of them won the Labour leadership back then they would have mounted a far more serious challenge to the Tory government led by Margaret Thatcher. Instead Labour elected Michael Foot who was doomed to fail and Roy Jenkins led the SDP which brought in 50,000 new members (the Liberals had 100,000+), but in alliance with the Liberal party despite polling 26% of the popular vote they were crushed by the voting system and eventually had to merge with the Liberal party (and hence the Lib Dems of today).

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Inequality and Brexit

inequality street 4The Social Liberal Forum conference on Inequality takes place on Saturday in Holloway, central London and readers of LDV are very welcome to come along and participate. We have added a morning session on Brexit to give everyone an early opportunity to debate the implications for the party. Please register in advance via the Social Liberal Forum website.  Guest speakers include Vince Cable, Norman Lamb, Sal Brinton, Shiv Malik, Neil Lawson from Compass and Karin Robinson from Democrats Abroad.

So why are we focussing on inequality?

The EU referendum result came as a terrible shock. Just as we started to wonder where we go from here, news came in of the reactions this provoked, one of which is a huge increase in Lib Dem membership. This opens the possibility that the Liberal Democrats may become a major force in British politics again. Another of course is a huge increase in racially motivated violence and intolerance. So we have more Lib Dem members becoming active in an increasingly illiberal society.

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We should be highly sceptical of air strikes against Syria


There is a famous saying by Albert Einstein I am sure you are all familiar; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

And now we contemplate another military intervention in the Middle East…

Of course the experience of Iraq shows the consequences of getting it wrong. But Afghanistan was also a failed policy. And under our watch in government, Libya too. Yet whilst much has been said about Iraq, little has been said about Libya. Perhaps we have not come to terms of what we did there, and the hellhole that Libya has become?

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Now, about those 100,000 members…

Those of us who have been around for a while will remember  Simon Hughes’ pitch during his presidential campaign, that under his leadership the party membership would double. It didn’t

It wasn’t his fault. The party had to put the work in. There was nothing wrong with the ambition, but plucking a number out of the air will not in itself get you there.

Now I am happy to support Tim Farron as leader, but during the campaign I have to admit I thought that his target of 100,000 members by 2020 was similarly pretty meaningless. But now we have it, lets stick to it.

This is not an article about how to recruit more members. There are training sessions for that. I recommend that you contact your local regional party to organise a recruitment training session in your area.

What does a national figure of 100,000 mean for your local party? Currently we have roughly 60,000 members, so an increase of 40,000 is needed, which is 67% and so the membership for your local party membership should increase by at least 67% for the party to be on target.

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SLF Conference 2014 – Governing as Liberal Democrats

Social Liberal ForumThe Social Liberal Forum have organised their next conference to take place in London on this Saturday  19th July. You can register via the website. We have an excellent line up of speakers and all Liberal Democrats of various shades of opinion are very welcome to attend, and for that matter anyone outside the party who is interested in the Liberal Democrats.

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Opinion: Attending Lib Dem Conference on a Shoestring

In an ideal democratic world, all Lib Dem members should be able to attend Lib Dem conference and have equal opportunity to participate in the running and the policies of the party without personal finance being a hindrance.

In reality of course conferences are expensive, and it is mostly the well-off members of the party who attend. For that reason it is likely that conference attendees are not representative of the party as a whole.

We do not live in an ideal world for a very simple reason; the national party has limited funds and lots of spending commitments some of which …

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Social Liberal Forum Conference. “Ownership and Democracy – where does Power lie?”

slflogoOn July 13th at a rearranged venue in the Central Manchester Friends Meeting House, we are organising the third annual Social Liberal Forum conference, in addition to the one in London on 1st June.

The overall theme will be “Ownership and Democracy – where does power lie?”.  I came up with the idea for this theme after attending an excellent fringe meeting organised by CentreForum at the 2012 Federal conference on “What is Cleggism?”. The debate included David Howarth’s contribution which you can watch on this video.

David Howarth …

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Opinion: Why Richard Reeves is wrong about the ‘Nanny State’

When I joined the Liberal party in the 1980s, no one then used the term ‘Nanny State’. Originally it was a term the political right wing started to use; I do not recall when exactly. The terms betrays its upper case origins, a class that can afford to pay for a Nanny to look after the children.

Richard Reeves has recently published a Demos book that was handed out at the ‘What is Cleggism?’ fringe meeting at the Brighton conference last week. His use of the term ‘Nanny State’ is not new for the Liberal Democrats; I noticed Ed Davey use …

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Will Israel attack Iran, and will this break the Coalition?

Although not widely reported in the British media, there is a build up of expectation that Israel will attack Iran. It amazes me that this was barely discussed at our recent Brighton conference. There were two motions on this submitted for conference but both with rejected by Federal Conference Committee and, perhaps as a consequence, there were no foreign policy motions debated at conference.

To raise the question I had to wait until Tuesday when there were two Centre Forum fringe meetings on foreign policy. Neither of the fringe meetings was specifically on Iran, but the question was asked about what …

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Opinion: The Lib Dems’ moment of Reckoning

It has been widely remarked that House of Lords reform is not such a major issue and that it should not break the Coalition.

Maybe so.

However what is of fundamental importance is the Coalition Agreement. It was that that was broken last week by Tory MPs.

Up until then the Coalition Agreement had been considered sacrosanct. Lib Dem MPs had loyally voted for policies they didn’t agree with on the understanding the Tories would do likewise; this is how Coalitions work. However it is clear that a substantial number of Tory MPs do not want it to work, and there are more …

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SLF conference on intergenerational justice

Nick Clegg, Ed Davey and Naomi Colvin of Occupy will be among the speakers at the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) conference on Saturday 14th July.

You can now register through the Social Liberal Forum website. Last year’s conference sold out so do book your place soon.

The theme for our conference is “Intergenerational Justice”. Since the economic crisis that began in 2007, we now have a young generation that will be poorer than its parents; this is unprecedented in British history since the last world war. At the same time the older generation will have to retire at  a later …

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Opinion: The phone hacking scandal is an attack on civil liberties

Wikipedia defines civil liberties in the following way:

Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one’s self, the right to privacy, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to marry and have a family.

Traditionally when we think about civil liberties we think about how freedom can be taken away from the individual by the state.

So what are we to …

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Opinion: The Social Liberal Forum conference, Saturday June 18th

One of the dominant forces at the last federal conference of the Liberal Democrats was the Social Liberal Forum (SLF). In particular the SLF were responsible for the amendment to the NHS motion which the leadership of the party decided to support and has led to a rethink of the government policy on NHS reform. Not only was this a victory for the SLF, it demonstrated that ordinary party members can go to conference and have a direct say in the policy of our government – for the first time since the 1920s.

So who are we? Our members cover …

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Opinion: Support the Equality Pledge

For many years the researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have been investigating the relationship between wealth, inequality, and measurements of a good society. The measurements of a good society would be low levels of crime, low levels of teenage pregnancy, good health in terms of long life expectancy, low levels of obesity – and many other measures besides.

During their research they have published books on this, and finally they published the book “The Spirit Level“, which has had the biggest impact of all.

There are many countries that are poor, and clearly they need economic growth in order to …

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Opinion: Forget open primaries, and go for STV instead

During the debate on MPs’ expenses at the Lib Dem conference recently, one of the speakers, Michael Meadowcroft, suggested that instead of having open primaries as a way of restoring trust in the political process, why not use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) instead?

STV has been the preferred voting system of the Liberal party and Liberal Democrats for many decades, and was championed by the greatest liberal of all, John Stuart Mill, in the nineteenth century. This week Gordon Brown announced that Labour, if re-elected, would propose a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) system, in which instead of marking your ballot paper with an X, you write down your preferences by rank, 1, 2, 3, etc …

The problem with AV is that you are still only electing one person per constituency.

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Opinion: Britain should withdraw its troops from Afghanistan – and soon

Public opinion polls show that a big majority want British troops to leave Afghanistan. According to a recent opinion poll by ComRes, 64% think that British troops should leave. Yet their opinions barely register amongst our elected representatives.

It is not hard to guess why the public think this. What are our troops doing there? What are they hoping to acheive? How much longer will all this go on?

It is nearly eight years since our troops entered Afghanistan. Many times we have been told how well they are doing. Yet instead of leaving, we are sending in more troops. Some say that our troops will have to stay there for 30 years! Well, you cannot plan a war that will last that long. Whenever someone sets out that kind of time-frame, what it shows is that they have no idea how to end the war.

There are of course many good reasons why our troops should stay.

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Opinion: Now that the ‘Old Economic Model’ is broken, a question for you…

The ‘Old Economic Model’ which brought many years of economic growth relied on people spending beyond their means and getting into debt. People like Vince Cable warned against this, but Gordan Brown didn’t listen, and now the bubble has burst – and we are all paying a very high price.

We need a new model, the old one is broken.

But what is this new model? What is going to drive growth in the fututre now that we cannot return to the old model? Or is infinite growth a Utopian fantasy, and that, apart from places like China and India, we should …

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Opinion: The Great Home Care Scandal

I prefer not to think about how I would die. I like the idea of dying peacefully in my sleep, not knowing what had happened, and ideally at a time when I have no great plans left for the future. I don’t suppose the percentage of > people who die like that is particularly high.

I have made a decision not to have children, but I wonder if I will regret it from a purely self-interested point of view when I am old. For it is perhaps more likely my death will follow a pattern familier to many; increasing illness, disability and reliance on others. And who will be these “others”? Those employed by the home care system, which was starkly exposed by the recent BBC Panarama programme.

It was shocking. It was an absolute disgrace. Care workers who were poorly trained, barely earning more
than the minimum wage, given little or no information on the people they were seeing, constantly on the phone about the next appointment whilst attempting to care for their current appointment, and only given a fraction of the time they were supposed to have with that person. People got injured, their quality of life was appalling and their deaths were hastened.

It was no surprise to me, but it was shocking to see. The suffering was terrible. It reminded me of Kinnock’s warning about voting in a Tory goverment: Make sure you don’t get ill. Only this is during a Labour Government, of course. How did it come to this?

One word stands out; privatisation.

Central government is putting pressure on local government to keep down costs. And whilst it costs local authorities £22 per hour to treat someone, the private sector puts in bids for £12 per hour on average. On Panarama we saw one case of companies bidding against each other, and going down to £9.95. In some places, whoever puts in the lowest tender won the contract. That is the main criteria.

Economic Liberals would argue that such low costs are acheived through greater efficiency. Panarama revealed the truth. Care was cheap because it was substandard. The regulators were interviewed and were tight lipped. For whatever reason, they were clearly not doing their job.

Maybe the philosophy of “light touch regulation” is not just the curse of the City, but a fundamental flaw in all government policy? The moneymen were also interviewed. I was rather shocked to see Justin Urqhart-Stewart for the first time. Normally I hear his voice on the BBC Today Programme discussing what is happening in the City. I wonder if he feels he was set up by the BBC on this one. He was saying what a great investment opportunity Elderly Home Care is. Logically he was right, given our aging population. Clearly he hadn’t factored in the human dimension and the potential for public uproar when we find out what is going on. Maybe he had and figured there is still lots of money to be made regardless.

It is amazing in one sense. It is the elderly who are more likely to vote, and are more likely to be a member of a political party. They ought to have more influence than they currently do.

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Opinion: What is an economic liberal?

As a phrase used in academic circles, it is associated with neo-liberals such as Hayak and Friedman, the pillars of 1980s Thatcherism. Within the Liberal Democrats the term has become popular, but understood in a different way. People like David Laws have tried to combine economic liberalism with social liberalism in order to acheive things in society that Thatcher was either not interested in, or failed to deliver. Economic Liberalism is meant to generate the wealth to make social justice affordable.

Given the success of Thatcherism in delivering victories for the Conservative party and transforming the Labour party, it would seem churlish to reject the whole ideology as we were prone to do at the time (and personally I am still strongly inclined to do). So what economic liberal values should we champion?

Maybe ambition is a good thing? Perhaps we should embrace innovation? Kick out the ‘Nanny State’? I like it that my local party is ambitious (albeit constantly thwarted by poor election results, but you can’t have everything). Our PPCs are ambitious. Neighbouring constituencies have candidates that are determined to win, and in the case of Lynne Featherstone, have done so already. It is good to have the drive for success. It is worth encouraging in society, and in our education system in particular.

But ambition has a dark side. Some people are more ambitious for themselves, rather than any principles that they believe in. You may have even met a few such people within the Liberal Democrats (it has been known). In foreign policy the ambition of “punching above your weight” is considered by new Labour to be a good thing, until we got flattened by Iraq (and Afghanistan will be next).

Economic liberals have been arguing until recently that the Liberal Democrats should appeal to the ambitious. Instead of appealing to weather-grizzled street protesters – which we happily did in the past – we need more sharp-suited city trader types, who like to bark down two phones at the same time.

For a while it became fashionable after the last general election to echo the sentiments that encouraged many of these people to join the Tories. We shouldn’t tax the rich more. Taxing them more is to punish them, and we should do the opposite and allow success to be rewarded. Money that goes to the government will be wasted anyway.

Now we discover the truth. It IS possible to pay people too much, and the Liberal Democrats now want to hunt down those people who were so irresponsible on the money markets. Give markets too much freedom, and you create a moral hazard where people only think about the short term profits of there actions, and neglect the long term consequences.

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Opinion: Kicking the Bankers

Nick Clegg’s leader’s speech to the party’s Harrogate spring conference contained a section where he gave the top-end bankers a good metaphorical kicking.

Personally I no sympathy for them. We will never live in an ideal world but, if we did, people would get paid according to what they contribute to society rather than the crude mechanism of what the market dictates. By that criterion, I have always believed that bankers are paid too much. The only thing you can realistically do to mitigate that is to tax them disproportionately so that at least that money can be spent on improving public services and benefit society as a whole.

However we do not live in an ideal world, and taxing people at the top end does not necessarily deliver the extra revenue, and there is no point in taxing people more simply to punish them with nothing in return. So let’s tax the rich by all means, but lets also take into account their cunning guile in avoiding paying up.

Today we see that paying people too much is not only unfair, it is also counter-productive. So Nick Clegg received a hearty round of applause for laying into them. No doubt he was hoping his outspoken attacks will hit the headlines and bring popularity to the Liberal Democrats. I hope it does … but in some ways he is missing the point.

The reason why bankers behaved irresponsibly was no doubt encouraged by “greed” – something which we are now all firmly against, but it was also encouraged by market forces. Many people caught up in the banking shambles were perfectly decent people, but they were simply doing what everyone else was doing and did not consider the consequences of their actions.

Of course they should have done, and possibly a few did, but it was not what they were paid to do.

There had been concern about the level of debt for many years, but as the years went by and growth continued it became easier to believe that the laws of economics had changed and that it was not only possible to go for short-term profits and not worry about the long-term consequences, but that the long-term consequences could somehow look after themselves.

Even on this forum I remember debating with fair-minded Liberal Democrats who believed that the level of debt was sustainable. My own opinions contrary to that were not based on my personal genius for understanding economics, but the arguments put forward by John Gary, Vince Cable and others that, at a simple level, growth fuelled by debt did not make sense and was bound to end in tears. I was expecting economic collapse year after year, and I really wonder today why it took so long.

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