Author Archives: Paul Hindley

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 39 Comments

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 19 Comments

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 38 Comments

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 25 Comments

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.

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarDavid Raw 6th Dec - 8:55pm
    "One commentator has said that Labour has had a policy since 1918 of non-cooperation". Which, of course, is only a very partial truth. Labour formed...
  • User AvatarJames Pugh 6th Dec - 8:12pm
    Contrary to the assertion, I don't think Universal Basic Income (UBI) in general appeals to rural voters. Rural voters are more likely to value notions...
  • User AvatarDan M-B 6th Dec - 8:05pm
    "Our biggest problem is that The Media/Commentariat have collectively decided that we arent News, theres a lot of prejudice in that but I suspect that...
  • User AvatarRodney Watts 6th Dec - 7:49pm
    Some very well put and constructive comments on what realistically might be achieved on and after the GE. Sadly our leadership, have believed and broadcast...
  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 6th Dec - 7:34pm
    There is a debate today in Maidstone, on BBC1 and BBC News at 8pm. Let us hope that a member of the audience asks a...
  • User Avatarmarcstevens 6th Dec - 7:34pm
    Well if the railway network were expanded more people would be happy to use the train. Those Beeching cuts closed down so many rural stations...
Tue 10th Dec 2019