Author Archives: Paul Hindley

Let’s become the Party of the Universal Basic Income

September will mark 10 years since I attended my first Liberal Democrat Conference, albeit this year’s Conference being entirely online. Having attended most Federal Conferences over that period I have witnessed numerous debates on topics ranging from public services to constitutional reform and from scrapping Trident to building more houses. 

Lately, several of the motions that have come to be debated at Conference have been very uninspiring; all motherhood and apple pie, while not wanting to scare the political horses too much. Can we truly call something a debate if 99% of conference goers are already in favour of it? When we look back at the party’s history, we see moments of great policy radicalism and an unflinching willingness to be the shapers of the big ideas of tomorrow. A liberal party, especially a liberal party with only 11 MPs and currently on single digits in the polls, needs to be bold, radical and imaginative in its policy development.

I was therefore delighted to see that a motion on the Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been chosen to be debated on the evening of Friday 25 September. The Universal Basic Income is the idea that all citizens should have an unconditional guaranteed minimum income. It would enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to own some capital. A UBI would guarantee a social minimum for the poorest members of society and would be the jewel in the crown of the party’s commitment to social justice. I welcome the motion’s commitment to guaranteeing continued additional income support mechanisms for people in receipt of housing and disability support payments. I also welcome a UBI being rolled out on the basis of the best available international evidence.

A Universal Basic Income would deliver essential social protection for those who fall outside traditional realms of employment, such as carers, students, parents with child caring responsibilities, as well as continuing to deliver welfare support for the elderly, the unemployed and people with disabilities. It would also help to raise the income of low-paid workers and those in precarious employment situations. It would help to remedy the injustices faced by the so-called ‘WASPI women’ who have lost out financially as a result of changes to the pension system. Finally, it would give additional financial support for those wanting to pursue a new vocation (such as becoming a musician) or to set up a new business, where there may be a significant period of time before a secure income can be received.

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Let’s embrace our distinctive and radical form of progressive politics

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The Liberal Democrat leadership election is seeing healthy debates between activists and supporters about the future direction of the party. There appears to be an emerging consensus from both Layla Moran and Ed Davey that the party needs to recommit itself to a clear centre-left identity. We Liberal Democrats are the inheritors of two great progressive traditions, liberalism and social democracy.

Our party has one of the oldest political traditions of any party anywhere in the world. It can be traced back to the Parliamentarians and the Whigs of the 17th century. In the 19th century, our radical liberalism ended slavery and advanced primary school education. Whilst our social liberalism in the 20th century led us to lay the foundations of the welfare state and to support the sharing of power and profits between bosses and workers within the workplace.

The origins of social democracy in Britain are to be found with the Fabian writers of the 1880s. In the 20th century, the work of the leading Labour social democrat Anthony Crosland inspired many social democrats in the party from Roy Jenkins to Vince Cable. When the SDP was founded, it liberated social democracy from the divisive class politics of the hard left of the Labour Party.

Progressive politics in our party is a unique radical blend of liberalism and social democracy. Amongst the greatest achievements of our progressive tradition were abolishing slavery, extending the right to vote, establishing workers’ rights, creating the welfare state, legalising abortion and introducing same-sex marriage.

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Revoking Article 50 alone isn’t enough

With the prospect of a general election on the horizon, we have just finished another successful Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Bournemouth. Jo Swinson delivered a stirring first leader’s speech and Conference backed several new policy motions, most notably the party’s new policy on Brexit. A future Liberal Democrat Majority Government would revoke Article 50 and instantly stop Brexit.

British politics now has a party that is prepared to do its utmost to put an end to Brexit, either by getting a democratic mandate to revoke Article 50 or failing that, by securing a People’s Vote with the option to Remain in the EU. Brexit has developed into the biggest peacetime political and constitutional crisis arguably since the 17th century. It is shaking British politics to its very foundations with our constitutional settlement being tested like never before.

It is not just enough to stop Brexit by revoking Article 50, we also need to heal our broken democracy. At the time of writing this, the case against the prorogation of Parliament is playing out at the Supreme Court. The Executive branch has been made to answer a case presented to the Judiciary in regard to its actions towards the Legislature. There is conflict between the three branches of government.

Britain unlike many countries does not have a single written (or codified) constitution with clearly defined checks and balances. In the absence of this, Boris Johnson’s government is able to railroad Parliament by utilising the ancient powers of the royal prerogative to enact a five-week long prorogation. The potential for an extremely authoritarian government being able to take power is very real under the current British constitutional settlement; a fact which is underlined by the majoritarian nature of the first past the post voting system.

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Remembering Peterloo and the struggle for liberal democracy

Liberalism has a long and complex history. Sometimes that history has been bloody. This weekend there is a range of events happening in Manchester to mark the 200 year anniversary of one such episode in liberal history, the Peterloo massacre. This was when a large gathering of tens of thousands of people calling for political reform in St Peter’s Field in Manchester on 16th August 1819 was forcibly charged by soldiers on horseback. This resulted in 18 people being killed and hundreds being injured. The name of the massacre aimed to mock the British victory at Waterloo that had happened four years earlier.

Peterloo is an important reminder that we cannot take liberalism and democracy for granted. Our modern political rights and freedoms had to be fought for and even at times face authorities prepared to use lethal force in order to suppress democratic sentiments. 200 years on, liberal democracy is still a luxury that many countries and parts of the world do not have. From China to Syria, from Russia to Zimbabwe and from Saudi Arabia to North Korea, activists the world over are to this day struggling, fighting and even dying for the political rights and freedoms that we have in Britain in 2019.

Peterloo is important for liberals, but it is also important to socialists and progressives of all kinds. We liberals must be unafraid to defend our history. We must not abandon radical moments of British liberal history to socialists and extreme leftists. The political philosophy of the radical liberal thinker, Thomas Paine, helped to inspire the protesters at Peterloo. Peterloo was about liberty, freedom from oppression and people’s political rights. In short, it was about political reform. All of these things form the core tenets of liberalism. 

In 1819, only 2% of the population could vote (mostly the landed gentry) and working people in cities like Manchester lived in industrial levels of poverty and squalor. Both of these issues would be remedied by Liberals over the century that followed. The Great Reform Act of the Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey in 1832 swept away the Tory rotten boroughs. William Gladstone gave the vote to millions of agricultural workers in 1885 and under the government of David Lloyd George in 1918, universal male suffrage was achieved, as well as the first voting rights for women. In regard to the industrial poverty, Liberals helped to abolish the dreaded protectionist Corn Laws, advanced the rights of workers (including legalising trade unions and legitimising collective bargaining) and created the welfare state.

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We Lib Dems need to oppose austerity

The Liberal Democrats are the party of David Lloyd George, John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge. We are the party that laid the foundations of the welfare state and pioneered support for Keynesian economics, which strived to create an economy of public investment in infrastructure, growth and full employment. Our party’s history is one which is staunchly against ‘slash and burn’ austerity.

Of course, during the Coalition Government, the party’s leadership supported the austerity programme of David Cameron and George Osborne. This continues to be used against us by supporters of other progressive parties, not least Labour, despite the fact that Labour also supported austerity. I hope no-one joined the Liberal Democrats to introduce the ‘bedroom tax’, support the benefits cap, cut legal aid, cut housing benefit to young people, introduce assessments for disability benefits or to support benefit sanctions. It is not a nice thought, but whether you think Coalition austerity was right or not, it has ruined people’s lives and led to thousands of preventable deaths.

Coalition austerity was not compatible with the liberalism of Lloyd George, Keynes or Beveridge and many Lib Dems opposed austerity during the Coalition Government. Since the Coalition, the party has clearly begun to move away from austerity. This began in 2015, when the Liberal Democrats opposed the Conservatives’ Welfare Bill, while Labour abstained. In the general election of 2017, our party was committed to reversing more welfare cuts than even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. 

At our Autumn Conference last year, the ‘Demand Better’ policy motion committed the party to ‘a better society, in which everyone is supported in times of need, with an end to austerity’. Those three words, ‘end to austerity’, are absolutely essential if we are to win over more Remain voters, most of which vote for progressive parties. They are as important as the other two words for which our party is known for, ‘Stop Brexit’. Indeed, austerity has helped to fuel the rise of Brexit populism and therefore if we want to stop Brexit, we must end austerity.

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Universal Inheritance: A Big Radical Liberal Idea

Now more than ever the Liberal Democrats need new imaginative radical policies. Big idea politics is back with a vengeance as both Labour and the Conservatives indulge in increasingly extreme visions for the country.

If we as a party are to successfully challenge both Labour’s socialism and Tory Brexit nationalism, then we need to engage in the ‘battle of ideas’ and develop our own clear alternative. Liberalism has a long radical heritage stretching back more than three centuries. Throughout the history of liberal political thought, liberals have consistently championed ways of spreading power, wealth, opportunity and ownership to individuals.

In the 20th century, Liberals campaigned under the slogan of ‘Ownership for All’. This was a radical social liberal vision of a more egalitarian capitalist society; where citizens would have the right to own capital and have democracy in their workplaces. This led to the Liberal Party supporting worker cooperatives, profit-sharing and corporate power-sharing models between bosses and workers. The Oxford University academic, Stuart White, refers to this tradition as alternative liberalism.

One central aspect of the radical liberal ownership agenda is the establishment of a citizens’ wealth fund (also called a sovereign wealth fund). This is a publicly-owned fund made up of national wealth, taxed wealth and national investments in shares, land and natural assets. Such funds work successfully from Norway to Alaska. Vince Cable and Liberal Democrat party members gave their overwhelming backing to a citizens’ wealth fund at this year’s party conference in Brighton. 

But how should the wealth amassed in a citizens’ wealth fund best be used? One answer is to deliver a universal inheritance as outlined in a recent report for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). Universal inheritance is the idea of having a one-off universal capital grant paid to citizens when they turn 25 years of age. The IPPR envisions that a citizens’ wealth fund could eventually pay out a universal inheritance of £10,000 to every 25-year-old. The basic rationale for the policy is that asset-poor young people should share in the nation’s wealth at the start of their adult lives, when many are starting their careers.

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A 21st-Century Liberal Approach to Education

Education has always been of special importance for liberals and Liberal Democrats throughout the ages. It has been one of the best vehicles for enabling individuals to obtain their full potential, develop their talents and make the most of the opportunities that they are presented with. It is with this in mind that Helen Flynn and John Howson’s chapter is so warmly received in the latest publication from the Social Liberal Forum, ‘Four Go In Search of Big Ideas’.

Flynn and Howson rightly place great emphasis on the need to improve early years education. They call for a highly funded early years sector that is equipped with the staff necessary to develop the learning of schoolchildren and identify any potential barriers that they may face in future learning. These teachers would need to be well educated and properly trained. The authors identify that educational inequalities emerge even before children start their formal education at the age of five. The socio-economic inequalities faced by children from the poorest backgrounds need to be tackled with extra funding from the very beginning.

Flynn and Howson propose a professional College of Teaching that would be a watchdog for professional standards in education in a similar way that the British Medical Association is in regard to the NHS. This is very much needed if the public is to continue to have faith in the professionalism and high standards of the UK’s education sector. In a similar vein, Flynn and Howson also suggest having Chief Education Officer in government who would help to guarantee best practice and develop evidence-based policy.

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