Author Archives: Sarah Brown

Challenges for liberalism 3: Is liberalism under threat, and how should its values be promoted?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by York  University Liberal Democrats.

It’s certainly a difficult time for those who share our values. There’s a song we sing at Glee Club at conference, and it includes the line, “Peace, reform and liberation be our triune aspiration”. I think those are fantastic values –
promote a world in which nations and peoples live together in harmony, in which borders are dismantled, have an agenda of constantly reforming society so that we are constantly ahead of the curve in promoting a more open and fair society, and look to end oppression wherever we see it.

But those values aren’t in fashion at the moment. What’s very much in fashion is xenophobia, knee-jerk conservatism and oppression.

I think we spend too much time apologising about our values, of being embarrassed by them. Take immigration – the guy who says he has “genuine concerns” that all people who look a bit foreign are job stealing rapists is obviously not going to vote for us, but the people who might be persuaded about our values are also not going to vote for us if our message is, “the bigots have legitimate concerns, but don’t vote for them”.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Challenges for liberalism 2: How should liberalism respond to the prevalence of social media?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by York University Liberal Democrats.

I’m not sure if social media is something we’ve invented or, like refined sugar, something we discovered by accident that superficially hits pleasure centres in the body to deliver a highly addictive, but ultimately unhealthy experience.

Liberals generally want to see drugs treated as a public health issue, rather than a criminal law issue, and I think there is possibly a lot of mileage in seeing social media in the same way.

However, I think there’s a bigger problem specifically for us, and that relates to the Paradox of Tolerance.

I’m sure everyone is familiar with that, but just in case the paradox of tolerance is that if you tolerate everything, including intolerance specifically aimed at ending tolerance, you destroy that environment of tolerance you were inhabiting in the first place.

This is why we don’t tolerate nazis.

And social media is an accidental Christmas gift to those guys.

Facebook has huge problems with being used by powerful people, in complete anonymity, to subvert democracy.

It is trying to address that, and some of the stuff it’s been doing recently shows some promise. Twitter though, oh dear…

Because of the complacency and social ineptitude of the people who run it, Twitter has evolved into a highly refined tool to spread lies and hate. It’s not even a case of putting lies and the truth on an equal footing. Twitter actively promotes and rewards liars and bigots, while punishing groups, such as those of us invested in liberal democracy, who are invested in telling the truth.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 4 Comments

Challenges for liberalism 1: How should liberalism respond to inequality and inequity in the UK?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by York University Liberal Democrats.

It seems to me that inequity is a huge problem right now. We have some of the richest and poorest parts of the EU within the country, and an increasingly polarised society. That polarisation is not only writing off millions of people, but it’s also creating the conditions in which authoritarianism, intolerance and violence thrive. We need some big ideas because what is clear is that we cannot keep going on the way we have been doing. We sold the country’s family silver and lived on unsustainable debt in the 80s creating a boom that ultimately had nothing propping it up, but our addiction to economic quick fixes met the cold light of day in 2008.

Sadly it seems we as a society haven’t learned our lesson. We’re just trying to get back to what we had before, and in trying to do that we are using austerity, and that’s both promoting the spread of poverty and systematically dismantling the structures and institutions we as a society have built to mitigate poverty.

So we are in a mess.

As I said, we need big ideas. The last time we faced a crisis on this scale it was liberalism that did provide the big ideas. The NHS, workers’ rights, the trade union movement, the welfare state. Labour may try to claim ownership of these ideas but we were there at their inception.

Let’s be clear – despite our government’s committed attempt to impose economic sanctions on ourselves with Brexit we are still one of the richest countries in the world. People sleep rough on the street, or have to go hungry to feed their children because we have decided, as a country, that these are OK. Two whole generations will work their backsides off to enrich landlords their entire lives because we have decided, as a country, that that’s OK.

And quite apart from the social consequences of this, our pursuit of a model of capitalism that has clearly had its day, at all costs, is destroying the ecosystem. Not the planet, the planet will be fine. It’s just that we might not be around to enjoy it.

Now I don’t claim to have the answers. There’s a lot of talk about moving to a post scarcity economy, of universal basic income, and other ideas and maybe they will coalesce around a single ideological framework, and I hope they will. It seems to me though that we need to start valuing people, and valuing the idea that we need to structure our society so that everyone lives in safety, warmth and dignity.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 13 Comments
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