Big ideas abound at SLF Conference

Yesterday was a fantastic day out at SLF Conference. This annual get-together is always thought-provoking food for the social liberal soul. At this point I should say a massive thank you to the organisers for a great day – and particularly to our own Mary Reid who does so much to make the event a success every year.

Layla Moran followed in the footsteps of the likes of Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and Vince Cable in delivering the Beveridge Memorial Lecture. She’s been in the papers a lot this week with talk of un-named people supposedly trying to support the idea of her being leader. There is no suggestion that these moves have anything to do with her and it seems very unlikely that a new MP with a majority of 800 would be preoccupied with such things. In the last session of the day, she emphatically and genuinely endorsed Vince, saying he is doing brilliantly and is “the grown-up in the room” of British politics. Actually, I think our Golden Dozen are probably the most united, together group of Lib Dem MPs I have ever known. They are all working really well together.

One of the many reasons it’s great to have her as education spokesperson is that you can tell how driven she is. She knows from practical experience what the problems are and has some great ideas about how to fix them. Her frustration at being told to concentrate on the average children and leave the bright to teach themselves and the ones who needed help most to flounder so that the school could do well in league tables led her to find another job.

She was full of passion and willingness to challenge the established thought on education. Why, she says, when people leave education at 18, do we still have GCSEs? Why, when we no longer need to structure terms for an agrarian society, do we have the terms we do? Why not have more school but give parents the flexibility to take holidays when they choose?

She denounced the grammar school system, saying that selection was segregation.

In the school where she is a governor, the Lib Dem pupil premium and free school meals are making a huge difference to children from deprived backgrounds.

She made the point that the radical 1944 Education Act which provided education for everyone, was done in the middle of a world war – and that puts the current Brexit dominated Government agenda to shame.

The first speaker of the day was Professor Kate Pickett, author of The Inner Level which describes in detail the evidence showing that more equal societies have better mental health. There is heightened anxiety amongst the entire population in less equal societies and also less civic participation and mutual trust.

I went to breakout sessions on housing and an intriguing one about creating a welfare society. The latter was interesting as, in groups, we set out what we thought were the modern 5 evils and set out policy ideas to tackle them. In my group, we focused on mental health, misinformation and poverty.

The housing session saw London Assembly candidate and housing solicitor Emily Davey and housing specialist Alex Marsh look at particular issues around tenants’ rights and supply. As Scottish Housing Spokesperson, I could see similar themes around the lack of supply – even though we are building more houses for social rent and have ended the right to buy. We are significantly further ahead in terms of tenants’ rights, though. Every advance that has come in that regard seems to have come from Liberal Democrats as we’ve often outlined on here.

The last session of the day was a look forward to the next big events in UK politics with Layla Moran, Lib Dem peer and foreign affairs specialist Kishwer Falkner (who did offer to write something for us), Lewisham East candidate Lucy Salek and I.

Political predictions are not easy to make these days. Who would have predicted 5 years ago that a racist, misogynist internet troll would be President of the USA? I looked at the dangers ahead of us. When Brexit goes wrong – and even in its mildest form, we take an economic hit – the right will simply some more scapegoats to replace EU immigrants and the EU. So, workers and their rights, disabled people who need social security, Muslims are all likely to find themselves on the receiving end of horrible rhetoric and action. To combat that, we need to be ever more liberal. We’ve been too equivocal about pandering to racist dog whistles in the past. We can’t afford to do that any longer. We have to say to people that we understand why they are struggling – inadequate housing, low income – and we’ll fix that by creating decent satisfying jobs that pay well and provide positive work environments and by building more houses. It is so important as well to do what we can to strengthen communities and encourage communities to work together in pursuit of common goals and we with our history of community activism are ideally placed to heal the divided nation. I also had a few words to say about Vince’s proposed reforms to our party. I don’t want us to be in a position where we could be consumed by New Labourites who don’t have a radical bone in their bodies and don’t have our passion for civil liberties and human rights. That’s not to say we can’t work with these people where we agree but we have to maintain our own distinctive identity.

Kishwer was even more gloomy than I was, talking about countries are taking up the authoritarian, rather than democratic model of capitalism and how that threatens the established world order.

I’d never seen Lucy Salek speak before and I really want to again. Her thoughtful contribution was so thoughtful and sensitive. She talked about the desperate need to heal the massive divisions in our society and that can only be done by listening to people. She described a horrific situation during her campaign when a hustings had to be abandoned because of an angry left wing mob protesting the presence of a right wing candidate. She and others had to be escorted through the mob by the Police.

Layla talked about the atmosphere in Parliament at with significant numbers of Tory and Labour MPs being so frustrated with the direction of their parties that they are looking at all sorts of options. She said that she was becoming more and more optimistic about the prospect of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, which she thinks really could happen.

The Resource for London venue is superb – and well worth considering for other events. Not only is it easy to get to but it has good catering, breakout rooms and other facilities.

I went home feeling energised and hopeful.

If anyone wants to write up any of the other breakout sessions on the economy, universal basic income, climate change, social and economic rights and knife crime, please do.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Jul '18 - 3:53pm

    A very good piece about a sincerely felt event.

    In very divided and frankly a rather worrying era of extremism, we need unity.

    Unfair to refer to New Labour mps “who do not have a radical bone in their body.”

    Radical is subjective. My view, when all about you is extreme, to be moderate is in itself, radical.

    We need friends and many there are.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jul '18 - 4:04pm

    BBC News is currently showing an advertisement which said that
    “Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Turkey are joining the EU.
    None of these countries have joined the EU in the past two years.
    Turkey’s attitude to ethnic Kurds and history of military coups made their joining as full members unlikely. Turkish interests propagating that line were over optimistic. The club has rules (the Acquis).
    People such as Nigel Farage were wilfully propagating this line. Some people believed it and saw it as a reason to vote out.
    A better yesterday would have meant that the bloody wars in which the former Yugoslavia (SFRY) disintegrated might have been prevented. They have left serious physical and emotional damage.
    Peaceful Slovenia was allowed to leave SFRY and join the EU, thereby unbalancing the politics of the federation it left. Reported casualties were 12 border guards.
    Collateral damage included the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, very unpopular in Beijing, a neutral country.

  • Caron – I couldn’t agree more with you when you say
    “I don’t want us to be in a position where we could be consumed by New Labourites who don’t have a radical bone in their bodies and don’t have our passion for civil liberties and human rights. That’s not to say we can’t work with these people where we agree but we have to maintain our own distinctive identity.”
    My blood chills whenever David Milliband is mentioned as the possible Macron or Trudeau to lead a realignment in British politics – for just these very reasons.

  • The problem with First Past the Post is you need to be a very broad church to get elected. Yet another reason for not having “First Past the Post ” as it leads to parties in power who can’t agree with themselves but can’t tell the public that because they would look divided.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Jul '18 - 7:35am

    “The problem with First Past the Post is you need to be a very broad church to get elected. Yet another reason for not having “First Past the Post ” as it leads to parties in power who can’t agree with themselves but can’t tell the public that because they would look divided.”
    Hence the need for such a “broad church” to come together for the sole purpose of reforming the electoral system, aiming towards the vast majority of eligible voters being able to vote in the knowledge that their votes will not be wasted but will count directly towards the election of candidates at least broadly in tune with their views.

  • Tony Greaves 30th Jul '18 - 12:38pm

    A vote for a so-called “broad church” that believes in everything and nothing is itself a wasted vote.

  • Paul Reynolds 30th Jul '18 - 1:21pm

    Very good and helpful article Caron. Especially informative for those of us that wanted to attend, but were unable so to do. Was there any discussion of how the Party can lift itself out of the opinion poll doldrums (eg with the possibility of an October election) , or what we do as a party if & when a new party or ‘association’ is formed from non-Momentum Labour and a few Remain Tories (reportedly planned for September) ?

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jul '18 - 1:28pm

    I am always sad that I can’t make it to the SLF conference so thank you for this write up Caron. One of the problems with social housing apart from the overall lack of supply is its immobility. If tenants wish to move from one area to another this is usually done through the Exchange System. When an area loses its main employers as happened with the decimation of manufacturing industries, tenants are literally stuck in concrete. No one wants to move to their area so they are unable to exchange to places with higher employment, if they wish to do so, and the places where they live decline.
    With new technology we are very likely to face strategic unemployment again so more people will be stuck in areas of low employment. Councils try to attract new employers to the area but social housing tenants have little choice over where they live. I think this is something Lib Dems should find abhorrent. Yes, we need more social housing but it also needs to be more flexible, whether that’s in the type of housing built or by providing finance for local councils in areas of high employment to build more homes to rent and those in areas where there is high unemployment to demolish homes and improve declining estates.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jul '18 - 1:38pm

    A possible solution to this is to use planning laws to raise some of the funding necessary. If housing developers want to build in the green belt and there is nowhere else for housing to be built in a prosperous area, then perhaps this could be allowed if a council in an area of low employment received money from that developer to return industrial land, or parts of large estates with empty homes, to green belt standards. After all, the land that Lib Dems sing about was once all green and beautiful.

  • Neil Sandison 30th Jul '18 - 2:41pm

    Sue Sutherland good points but as we know most of the more desirable social housing in both the rural and urban areas was snapped up under right to buy with most councils losing up to a third of their housing supply .We will again need to build in volume perhaps using prefabricated building methods just to get back to 1980s levels.There is a lot of vacant employment land that did not progress to development and many existing council and housing association estates have surplus land around them that is not being used for recreational purposes .We will have to be brave and dynamic if we want that brought back into use.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Jul '18 - 3:08pm

    I agree Neil. Bravery and dynamism are needed and also the funds for investment. I’m hoping SLF and the party generally will come up with some imaginative ideas about how we can find those funds.

  • Layla Moran had “frustration at being told to concentrate on the average children and leave the bright to teach themselves and the ones who needed help most to flounder so that the school could do well in league tables”, yet she also “denounced the grammar school system, saying that selection was segregation”

    Does she not see the inherent contradcition here?

    The Comprehensive System is designed to focus on the middle of the bell curve. It’s acceptable to provide separate schooling for the least able; why not for the most able?

  • John Littler 18th Aug '18 - 11:25am

    This is good to see. It seems obvious to me that the LibDems as a movement do not work when they cosy up too close to the toxic Tories in Centre right territory. That is a dead end overlap with the Tories where they will be eclipsed and could only ever end in Tory coalitions and “me too” voting with them. the LibDems only find a space for themselves in the radical centre and liberal centre left.

    Britain has had decades of extreme marketisation solutions and look where it has got us.

    The UK has 7-8 /10 of Northern Europe’s poorest regions. GDP per head is lower than all of Northern Europe except Finland ( also lower than Canada and Iceland ), with the once poor Netherlands with 25% higher GDP per head. The UK has inadequate and clapped out infrastructure outside of London, the most expensive and unreliable trains, the second most expensive property in Europe, the most over indebted consumers and the second highest National Debt in Europe after Italy. Also with England as the most over centralised country in the western world

    UK productivity and manufacturing are flat, growth and wages increases are low, homelessness is at record levels, housing is in crisis, Investment was always low compared to France and Germany but fell 50% further last year and the UK credit ratings are Single “A” or “AA ” for the first time, with an expectation to fall further.

    Yet, the Tories continually get away with exaggerated or misleading assessments of the economic situation. The housing debate has hardly moved on ( we must try harder and build more) since the late 70’s yet nothing changes, except it gets worse.

    The LibDem narrative has to be in for the kill. It has to get it’s radical edge back and give people the change that most want now and if there its a chance of swimming in a bigger pond with a new centre party, it has to be a serious consideration under FPTP voting.

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