Author Archives: Neal Lawson

The Independent View: A letter to the Liberal Democrats

Dear Liberal Democrats,

As you anticipate your digital conference gathering at the weekend, I thought I would send some heartfelt reflections on the party’s progress and prospects.

As the Director of Compass my main concern is with effective cross party working in pursuit of what we call a good society – one that is much more equal, democratic and sustainable. But the issue of a so-called progressive alliance gets us to the dilemmas and challenges facing the party.

To have a change of government, and the only feasible/desirable alternative is a Labour led administration, requires extensive cross-party cooperation given the injustice of the current voting system.  Indeed, given the electoral mountain is higher than 1997 then it requires more cross-party work than 1997.  Back then Blair and Ashdown got on famously and squeezed the Tories morally, politically, and electorally.

Nothing like that is happening today. Of course, it takes two to tango and Labour as the biggest party should and must play its part.  Its vote on proportional representation at its conference will be key – and not just to be passed but written into the manifesto and acted on. But as a party more committed to democracy and pluralism than Labour – if you don’t show leadership on this what hope is there?

So why isn’t the party doing more?   Of course, it’s tough working across parties in a system designed to be adversarial. But if it was achieved in 1997 it can be again.  There is rumour of a non-aggression pact between the Starmer and Davey offices but there needs to be much more public policy alignment – not least because there was so much overlap in the 2019 manifesto as Compass set out here, and there could be much more next time. We pretty much want the same things.

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The Independent View: Can Ed Davey help a political realignment?

The Lib Dems have been in the doldrums.  But make no mistake, their Party matters to the future of progressive politics in the UK a lot.

First because ‘liberalism’ matters. Against populism and statism, the place of the individual and more broadly a healthy civil society, based around robust human rights, are essential to any progressive politics. And second because Labour cannot win on its own.

Ed Davey has rejected equidistance and working with the Tories. It’s game on. But to play properly together means getting over the past.

When Compass, the organisation I’m Director of, opened out from being just Labour in 2011, the Coalition made Lib-Labery impossible. The Corbyn era put up new barriers. With the Brexit fight lost and Starmer leading Labour there is a chance to build sensible cooperation.

This demands a recognition of common interests and different complementary traditions.  Liberals are not socialists, but both can and must compliment each other in terms of ideas, beliefs and electoral reach. And anyway, Labour, the party of the Iraq War, 90-day detention and antisemitism, needs to be careful about claiming any moral high ground.

Given Scotland, there is little or no hope of Labour winning alone. It either leads and shares some power or returns to the wilderness and leaves the country in the hands of the Tories once again. The Lib Dems are second in 91 seats – 80 of them are Tory facing and none where they present a real challenge to Labour. To get the Tories out means the Lib Dems have to win as many of those seats as possible. The electoral maths demands cooperation, whether its tactical campaigning or something more formal.

In many cases the Lib Dem targets are soft Tory voters who may never vote Labour – unless Labour goes full New Labour once more. That, to say the least, is unadvisable in a world where neoliberalism is crumbling before our eyes. Letting the Lib Dems soak up these voters, actually leaves Labour the space to be more radical.

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The Independent View: Neal Lawson’s letter to Liberal Democrats

Dear Liberal Democrats,

This is one a series of letters to the progressive parties. I know you didn’t ask me to write but hope you will read it with the same emotion as it was written, a spirit of generosity, hope, realism and just a bit of frustration.

So, it’s one year on from the election and where are you? Recent results were mixed. In some councils you won back seats but in London and Wales little headway was made. Maybe bottoming out is a success – I can see that. But I can also see the potential for you to grow and be a huge part of the political and electoral force a progressive Britain needs. What is the strategy to do that?

Let me start from the fundamentals. Liberalism matters. To be liberal is to be open, to cherish freedom and start politics from the only place we can – from us as people in all our wonderful diversity. Of course liberalism can go one of two ways – you can be a neo-liberal and worship the market or you can be a social liberal and recognize that we only make sense as individuals within a social context. For me it’s the role of the social liberals that is crucial to the future of progressive politics. Indeed is there any real difference between social liberalism and liberal socialism? Someone once wrote that socialism is organized liberalism. I concur.

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The Independent View: What now for any progressive alliance?

Rounding off our trio of post-election views from the other parties (see here and here), we have Compass’s Neal Lawson.

So what now for any progressive alliance? Let’s start with an honest assessment of the hole we are in. Labour is now as divided between pluralist and tribalists as it is between those who think the markets needs come before those of society and those who turned social democracy on it head under New Labour. Labour did OK in the North but badly in the South, it did OK in Wales and atrociously in Scotland. The Greens have …

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The Independent View: Confusing, exciting and terrifying times for those on the liberal left

These are confusing, exciting and terrifying times for those on the liberal left. By the liberal left I mean those of us who want to see people flourish, to make the world as they see fit – to do it individually but also collectively and therefore democratically and all that requires in terms of greater equality of power and resources.

The confusion is that few of us saw the Conservative-dominated Coalition coming and even fewer are aware yet of its effect on each party and British politics. But it will be profound.

Looking back I find it incredible that my Party, Labour, …

Posted in Op-eds and The Independent View | Tagged , and | 98 Comments
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