Category Archives: Books

MOVE – Shuffling Humanity

It is just possible to read Parag Khanna’s latest work and take comfort in our prospects here in Europe’s troubled offshore island – but that optimism (as learned when coding in the late 60’s) – is a Multiple IF statement.  The likelihood of a positive outcome is dependent on passing a series of successively dependent tests, each with its own probability of success.  IF this, IF that, and IF something else, THEN this may be.  Optimists may rejoice that the ELSE, and the timeframe, remains unstated.  Even the far-seeing Parag Khanna can only divine a favourable outcome for Britain ‘despite itself’.

As we all edge ever closer to COP26 in Glasgow, and media outlets and governments turn their talents towards analysing climatic challenges, Parag’s focus is humanity – how mass migration will reshape the entire world.  Those of us who were captivated by Bronowski’s ‘Ascent of Man’ back in 1973 may still vividly recall the migrating Lapps and their reindeer herds.  Their nomadic wanderings across the arctic in search of grazing and shelter may have only recently faded but will be as nothing to the emergent mass migrations in search of climatic sufficiency, sustainability, and survival.

Tagged , , and | 1 Comment

COP26: Likely to save the planet?

Now, I’m not the sort of person that resorts to hyperbole for a dramatic opening sentence but, in case you hadn’t noticed, the future of the planet is hanging in the balance. This is not the statement of a wild-haired fanatic, living with badgers and chanting cross-legged in the woods but a widely acknowledged scientific fact. For the last few years a growing list of eminently respectable people have been warning us that urgent action is required: Sir David Attenborough does it, HRH Prince Charles regularly does it, António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations definitely does it, even peers of the realm do it. Given irrefutable scientific evidence and the reverberating voices of powerful and respected people, then surely, you would think, something is going to change. We know the causes of climate change. We know what action needs to be taken. So, what is stopping us?

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 32 Comments

Power to the people

A book about hydropower in Zambia might not make your list of “must read” titles, but if you care about the climate emergency, then there are two reasons to take note. First, we need practical and sustainable global solutions to power generation in the developing world. Second, “The Political Economy of Hydropower Dependent Nations: a case study of Zambia” is written by Liberal Democrat Dr. Imaduddin Ahmed and therefore worthy of your attention.

This book makes grim reading for hydropower enthusiasts: climate change is causing drought and emptying reservoirs. Drought is therefore causing power supply disruption, making it hard for nations wishing to diversify into manufacturing and away from relying on mining or subsistence agriculture. When there are frequent outages, manufacturers and others use highly polluting diesel generators. (Anyone spending time in Africa will be familiar to the rattling drone and greasy smell of generators that supply as much as a fifth of the continent’s energy).

Hydro plants can also have a devastating effect on biodiversity and communities living in the way of projects. Anyone following the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam saga will know that trying to monopolise the Nile (or Turkey’s plans for the Tigris and Euphrates) has brought several countries downstream to the brink of violence.

For decades the World Bank applied a template for development based on the Tennessee Valley Authority, an FDR-era project that revolutionized the lives of millions of poor Americans. Put simply, the TVA stimulated a consumer boom for US-made products and created employment. The World Bank then imposed the TVA model on countries with no domestic manufacturing base, meaning that America had new export markets for its goods.

Tagged , and | Leave a comment

Review – Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford Vaccine

Having written 150 blog posts on coronavirus since March 2020, and as a recipient of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, I was eagerly looking forward to the publication of this book. When it dropped into my Audible inbox this morning, I immediately began listening as I ploughed on with my daily business of a councillor while living in self isolation. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Gilbert is Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University. Dr Catherine Green is also at Oxford, where she is an Associate Professor in Chromosome Dynamics at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics. Together they tell the story of how the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was developed in record time amid a pandemic that affected their lives as much as everyone else’s.

Their message is: “We went faster because we had to.” That was despite at times feeling the strain of “an unedified mix of science, politics and emotions.”

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Book review: Billy Bragg – The Three Dimensions of Freedom

One of the joys of the opening up of “non essential retail” is the opportunity to browse in bookshops, not least with respect to stuff that barely got a mention in mainstream reviews (although this got a paragraph by Melvyn Bragg in the Observer). I wasn’t aware of it until last week.

The singer/songwriter Billy Bragg is not every Liberal Democrat’s cup of tea but he is worth taking seriously for a number of reasons. We are woefully short on political songwriting and he can do that better that most in our day, even if like most of us he can be a bit off-target occasionally. Crucially, he is a committed socialist but flexible in both thought and deed. He is broadly Labour supporting, perhaps a musical latter-day Orwell.

He endorsed the Lib Dems in 2010 and is passionate about PR and other constitutional reforms. In recent elections he campaigned to get Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat parties to stand down in some constituencies to maximise the anti-Tory victories – and we all have our views on that one!

The Three Dimensions of Freedom is an extended pamphlet, a pocket-sized volume of little more than a hundred pages, but I found it well worth the six quid. Published by Faber and Faber in a “Faber Social” series, it is a glorious rant, worthy of affirmation and debate at the same time, if that is possible! It was written in the year Coronavirus minus one but it addresses a central issue that has become ever more urgent during the pandemic – accountability.

Tagged | 4 Comments

Book Review: “Why the Germans Do it Better, Notes from a Grown-Up Country”

As Liberal Democrats know only all too well, democracy comes in many versions as does totalitarianism. One of the paradoxes of history is the way in which a country which caused so much harm in its first fifty-five years grew up into what John Kampfner describes as “a bulwark for decency, competence and stability.” For two decades after 1945 West Germany struggled to come to terms with what happened in the Nazi period. Then over the next half century Germans engaged in a process of atonement which has affected every aspect of the nation’s life. Kampfner sees overcoming the threat to democracy presented by the spirit of 1968 being perverted by terrorism and the Baader-Meinhof Group as a key staging post.

However the strength of contemporary German democracy has its roots in the constitutional settlement forged in 1949, which Britain helped to create. The “Basic Law” (Grundgesetz) has been amended dozens of times (by two-thirds majorities in Parliament) but its fundamental strength is unquestionably robust. A commitment to a democracy which is almost existential is the backdrop to Kampfer’s “notes” on foreign policy, immigration, the economy, housing, social cohesion and environmentalism. Inevitably Angela Merkel is a recurring presence, unheard of as the Berlin Wall came down but a huge figure in ensuring the steady embedding of unification.

Tagged | 20 Comments

Book review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

“So, who am I to lecture anyone on the environment?” asks a man that flies in private planes and owns big homes. Okay. He is trying to mitigate his impacts through sustainable fuel and carbon offsets. But is Bill Gates the man to tell us how to fix climate change?

Bill Gates’ philosophy is one of improving life chances and lifestyles while cutting carbon emissions. It is an unashamedly market-led approach, creating incentives through carbon pricing and reducing the cost of greening energy. His approach is to roll out new technologies for energy and food production, not to change the fundamental ways that society works.

Tagged and | 8 Comments

Book review: “Jews Don’t Count” by David Baddiel

Any reader of a centre left website like LDV will be well acquainted with the world of “whataboutery”. Any article on any injustice can be upended by a “whatabout” list of other injustices; sometimes with the snide implication that the author is a fake for even raising the original injustice.

In his book “Jews don’t count” David Baddiel is well aware of the risks of “whataboutery” but he is surely right to plough on with his argument that the British left does not take anti-semitism as seriously as other racism and prejudice.

Baddiel’s grandparents were robbed of everything and had close family murdered. They were ruined and bereaved and driven from all they knew by the racist state apparatus of their native land. And yet as Baddiel points out the left has a blindspot about his ethnicity as one that somehow doesn’t count and cannot feel vulnerable as all minority ethnicities sometimes do.

He is right to say that in Britain today this blind spot can take preposterous forms. It is ridiculous for example, that what Luciana Berger went through was often ignored by Corbynistas or labelled by them as misogyny rather than anti-semitism. Many women in public life experience serial misogyny but it doesn’t normally entail their tormentors signing themselves “the Nazi”.

Tagged and | 7 Comments

Book review: Vince Cable “Money and Power”

Despite his many years at the pinnacle of British politics, Vince Cable has always managed to maintain an impressive literary output. In 2009, while the party’s deputy leader and shadow chancellor, he published The Storm, an accessible analysis of the 2008 financial crash. This was followed in 2015 by After the Storm, a look at the aftermath of the crisis on British economic policy from the perspective of Cable’s five years in the Cabinet as Business Secretary. Most recently during his time as party leader, Cable even managed to find the time to publish a political thriller, Open Arms, set at the intersection of Westminster politics and the Indo-Pakistani conflict.

Cable’s latest work, Money and Power, marks a return to non-fiction and the serious economic themes that are his bread and butter. Inspired by Keynes’ oft-quoted remark that “practical men…are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”, the book is a survey of leading politicians over the past few centuries that – consciously or unconsciously – have through their actions changed or deepened our understanding of political economy. As both a trained economist and former government minister, Cable is better placed than most to take on this ambitious task.

The sixteen figures profiled by Cable are genuinely global in their breadth, and include Alexander Hamilton and Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the US, Bismarck, Lenin, and Thatcher in Europe, and Lee Kuan Yew, Deng Xiaoping and Shinzo Abe in Asia. Yet just as compelling are Cable’s profiles of lesser known yet nonetheless influential individuals, such as Ludwig Erhard, an economist turned politician who was instrumental in designing Germany’s post-war economic model, and Leszek Balcerowicz, another economist turned statesman who developed the thinking behind Poland’s largely successful “shock therapy” transition from communism to capitalism.

Tagged and | 2 Comments

Scotland 2070 Healthy | Wealthy | Wise

Visions of a possible future for a country usually come from politicians or, more often these days, from think-tanks. This book is a notable exception, its authors coming from backgrounds in the oil and gas industry, the defence sector, and nursing respectively. The authors deliberately set out to make their vision non-political; what they suggest could equally well be achieved in an independent Scotland, in a Scotland that is part of a Federal UK, or a Scotland that has its present devolved powers. Their vision instead is for a Scotland with a renewal of the spirit that characterised the Scottish Enlightenment.

After an introduction to their vision, they go into more detail in six areas: the economy, the environment, renewable energy, healthcare, research and development, and infrastructure; then sum up the synergies that actions in these areas could bring to a Scotland that wholeheartedly embraced them. They do not claim to have painted a complete picture of Scotland in two generations time, but rather a framework to which others can add.

Tagged | 9 Comments

Review: ‘I never promised you a rose garden’ by Jonny Oates

Last week Jonny Oates published his memoir “I never promised you a rose garden” (BiteBack). Jonny is best known to most Lib Dems as Nick Clegg’s Chief of Staff during Coalition, and as our current spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change in the House of Lords.

Many years ago Jonny was the twenty-something political assistant to the Council group in Kingston, and I first met him then, so I skimmed through the book to find the chapter where he talks about people I know. It is, amazingly, halfway through, so there was obviously a lot I didn’t know about him.

I started the book again, and read it properly, and it is certainly worth doing so. By the time you get to the account of Ed Davey’s first, and astonishing, election as MP for Kingston & Surbiton in 1997, you can understand how Jonny, as agent, alongside the legendary Belinda Eyre-Brook, achieved the impossible, in overturning a 15,000 Tory majority.  This is a man of deep integrity who is quietly determined, possessing the qualities of a team leader (but never a bully) and a sharp political mind, honed in the extraordinary politics of post-apartheid South Africa.

But as a teenager he was conflicted. He writes candidly about his own mental health and his struggles to come to terms with who he was, to the extent that he ran away to Ethiopia at the age of 15 and contemplated suicide. He tells us about the good people who came into his life and guided him with compassion, and the recognition that his parents’ love was unconditional after all.

Of course, Lib Dem Voice readers will be particularly interested in what he has to say about his time as Director of General Election Communications for the 2010 Election, and subsequently as Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister. Jonny gives us a slightly different, but not contradictory, perspective on the Coalition negotiations from those of David Laws and others.

Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Vince’s New Book – China: Engage! Avoid the New Cold War

He has done it again.  Sir Vince Cable has seemingly effortlessly published yet another book. This is at least his 6th, following Globalisation and Global Governance (2000), The Storm (2009), Free Radical (2010),  After the Storm (2015) and the novel Open Arms (2018). Despite its shorter length at around 99 pages, it is packed full with well researched facts and figures, insightful analysis, and is reflective of the mind of an ex economist and academic.

The title China: Engage! Avoid the New Cold War, makes clear his dovish view where it concerns the cold (and possible hot) war involving China. This stance is not ideologically driven but grounded on global evidence seen through the eyes of a senior statesmen and former Business Secretary in the UK Government (2010-2015).

The chapters are constructed in digestible chunks covering China’s economic rise, reasons for deteriorating relations with the US, alignment of the other nations and the more serious tech war.  I say serious as we all know that now in our 4th industrial revolution whoever comes out on top in the IT/AI race will be the one that rules the waves.

I write this serving my 14 day quarantine in a designated facility in Singapore and if not for access to wifi, I would be climbing the walls.  But instead I have just been watching Irina von Wiese speak on Brexit at the European Liberal Forum and am about to log into the Covid19 Anti Racism webinar hosted by the Chinese Welfare Trust charity.  Sadly anti-China sentiment has resulted in a sharp rise in hate crime against the Chinese diaspora communities in the UK and around the world.

Tagged | 18 Comments

Book review: Diane Reay’s “Miseducation – Inequality, Education and the Working Classes”

Embed from Getty Images

I had been seeing a friend and was on my way out when she picked up a book and said – you must read this. I found it a shocking revelation.

Diane Reay published Miseducation Inequality, and the working classes in 2017. The eldest of eight children, her father a miner, she is now an Emeritus Professor at Cambridge and visitor professor at the London School of Economics.

Diane writes that her book is intended to provide an understanding of the working class experience of education together with her sadness and need to make sense of the resulting damage. There is fascinating research, the facts with full details. The book finally comes to a survey by Andy Green on the rise of education systems in England, France and the US, and singles out England as “the most blatant example of the use of schooling by a dominant class to secure control over subordinate group”.

There was that idea from the beginning. The state Education Act of 1870 was due and in 1867 Robert Lowe wrote:

If the lower classes must now be educated they must be educated that they may appreciate and defer to a higher civilisation when they meet it.

Tagged , and | 23 Comments

Book review – “Naoroji: Pioneer of Indian Nationalism” by Dinyar Patel

This is a new biography of Dadabhai Naoroji by Dinyar Patel, who is a Professor at the University of South Carolina.

Before reading this, I knew little about Naoroji apart from him being the first Indian MP in the UK Parliament, but this biography enlightened me about his extraordinary life.

Born to a poor Parsi family, he became one of the early Indian nationalists – described by Gandhi as the ‘ father of the nation’, he was an pioneer of education for girls, a brilliant propagandist , Prime Minster of a princely state, Westminster MP, developed the ‘drain theory’ of how the British were impoverishing India – and on top of all of that a keen Freemason.

He was sent by his mother (his father died when he was four) to the English school of the ‘Bombay Native Education Society’, followed by Elphinstone College – the first institute for Higher Education in India . He became Professor of Maths there at the age of 27 and at 30 left India for London to establish the first Indian commercial firm in London. He then became Professor of Gujarati at University College and the leading Indian figure in the UK, lecturing and working to bring the attention of influential people to the poverty in India (India was seen in the UK as a rich country). One way he did this – much to the discomfort of India Office officials – was to use their own statistics (often showing they were demonstrably incorrect) and make speeches against them. He also developed the first calculation of Indian GDP per head.

Tagged | 9 Comments

Lloyd George and Spanish Flu: In Sickness and in Health

The most treasured possessions inherited from my grandfather are undoubtedly two blue volumes that have been with me for most of my life, The War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was my grandfather’s political hero, and so he became mine too. As a teenager, I read the Memoirs avidly, and they were probably the reason that I became a historian. They were, of course, very much a personal view and not necessarily to be relied upon as an accurate account of all events. But they were the words of Lloyd George.

One of the remarkable things about the Memoirs is that, while dealing with grave matters and costly military campaigns, they are largely silent on Lloyd George’s brush with death. The recent illness of Boris Johnson has inevitably drawn comparisons with Lloyd George’s contraction of ‘Spanish flu’ in September 1918. Lloyd George was the same age as our current Prime Minister and, like Johnson, had taken over the premiership at a time of a national crisis. Lloyd George’s illness was particularly poignant. Just as the Liberal premier was on the verge of a great victory at the end of a brutal war, his own life was in serious danger. At the time, few knew how grave matters had become.

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 15 Comments

Review: Future Politics

Beyond the coronavirus emergency, other major issues need attention.  Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution is transforming our economy, our society, and our political life.

Our party contains many committed privacy activists, and a heartening number of data scientists, to inform our debate.  One of the several LibDem data scientists I’ve recently met lent me Jamie Susskind’s weighty volume on Future Politics: living together in a world transformed by tech, published 18 months ago (thank you Samie Dorgham).

It’s a very ambitious book, ranging from Aristotle and J.S. Mill to Tim Berners Lee and Silicon Valley.  Its central message is that ‘the threats to liberty are unprecedented’, but that active engagement by principled defenders of an open society can hold in check ‘the supercharged state’ and the private monopolists of the internet.

He details examples of the rapid spread of misinformation on social media, and of ‘the engineering of consent’ through detailed targeting of voters.  Well-funded professionals – political technologists, as the Russians call them – can shape public perceptions.  He explores the algorithmic injustice that flows from incomplete data (often leaving out marginal groups) and (often unconscious) bias.

The billionaires of the digital revolution are almost all white, male and American, displaying varying degrees of naivety or arrogance about the impact of their networks on political and social life.  Women, ethnic minorities, black and Asian faces, are all under-recognised.  When algorithms are refined through machine learning,  repeatedly analysing accumulated data, social injustice accumulates as well.

Tagged and | 9 Comments

Memoirs of a moderate man

Those of us of a certain age may have some recollection of John Grant as a Labour MP who defected to the SDP but he was much more than that.

In his book Blood Brothers: Division and Decline of Britain’s Trade Unions he paints a vivid picture of a life in the Labour movement, part history, part autobiography. Born in 1932 in Finsbury Park Grant became a journalist eventually working for the Daily Express as its Chief Industrial Correspondent. In that role he covered a number of high profile strikes, the political climate in which they occurred and rubbed shoulders with a host of prominent union leaders.

Moving on to be a Labour MP his media skills were utilised both by Harold Wilson and  his successor James Callaghan. In the 1974-79 Labour government ministerial office came his way as a Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Department of Employment. In that job he played a part in piloting the 1976 Race Relations Act through parliament, increased wages council enforcement  and introduced measures to help more disabled people into work. He was also the minister who authorised work permits for Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa when they signed for Tottenham Hotspur.

His personal relationships with union general secretaries were often utilised to good effect. On one occasion he was asked by Wilson to make an urgent phone call to Ray Buckton leader of the train drivers union ASLEF urging the postponement of a rail strike in the middle of a General Election campaign.

Tagged | 6 Comments

The uneven path of British Liberalism – from Jo Grimond to Brexit by Tudor Jones

Tudor Jones has updated his 2011 publication setting out and analysing Liberal thinking so that now his purview runs from 1956 to 2016. Everything in the review of the earlier volume applies to his extended work. There is no better single-volume reference work on sixty years of Liberal thought, and Tudor Jones’ analysis of the numerous and diverse publications during that period is both rigorous and reliable. 

The additional chapters in this new volume cover the years leading into the Coalition of 2010 and the disastrous electoral consequences of that Coalition. Tudor Jones deals with the policy issues raised by the Orange Book and its answering volume Reinventing the State. He points out that the reputation the Orange Book acquired for expounding a Liberal economic doctrine was exaggerated and was more tone than detail. He traces the development of a shift from the Ashdown ending of equidistance between Conservative and Labour, and his effort to achieve an arrangement with Tony Blair, with an almost imperceptible move towards being more friendly towards conservatism, a trend, he says, that was not unacceptable to Nick Clegg.

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 11 Comments

On a lighter note, a 73 year-old French book is flying off the shelves…

Embed from Getty Images
Albert Camus (centre)

The Guardian reports:

…the global threat of the coronavirus is sending today’s readers towards novels about epidemics in droves. Publishers around the world are reporting booming sales of books including La Peste (or The Plague by Albert Camus), as well as Stephen King’s The Stand and Dean Koontz’s “frighteningly relevant” The Eyes of Darkness, which has become the subject of conspiracy theories online owing to its prescience.

Tagged | 21 Comments

Book Review: The End of Aspiration? by Duncan Exley

Subtitled Social mobility and our children’s fading prospects, Duncan Exley’s book explores the facts and myths around aspiration. Referencing many studies, linked with real-life stories of people who have moved from rag-to-riches, Exley asks how far the UK is from being an ‘opportunity’ society and whether social mobility should be a priority of policy-makers.

Duncan Exley is the former Director of the Equality Trust. In his book, he delves into issues of equality and poverty, probing the real factors behind people not being able to attain the life they would like to live.

Recently, I toured a secondary school in North Devon with the headteacher. I asked her what the biggest issue was for the young people there. She told me, without hesitation, lack of aspiration. She explained that many of her pupils came from families which could not afford to travel outside of the town, not to mention the county. Pupils stayed in school as long as they were required to and then left for local jobs. She had started taking groups of pupils to Oxford open days and was proud that several now were at Oxford and other universities. But she said one of the hurdles she faced was lack of funding for school trips so that young people could experience the bigger world outside of their own community.

This is one of the many themes Exley tackles – how to give young people from more deprived circumstances the opportunities to explore, experience and participate in the bigger world.

Creating opportunities, however, is not enough. Exley looks at the biology of poverty and cites studies which link the nutrition of grandparents to the birth weight and health of babies. Low birth weight has been linked to poorer attainment. A healthy population is one which can thrive, and child poverty must be tackled. Exley notes the effect of health on career progression:

Tagged , , , and | Leave a comment

Book review: The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman, the bomb and the four months that changed the world


While in Washington DC, I made a pilgrimage to the large “Prose and Politics” bookstore in Connecticut Avenue NW. As one would expect, it was bursting with political books. I would have quite happily walked away with an entire wheelbarrow load of books, if my airline baggage weight limit had allowed it. In the end, I bought one paperback, which was “The Accidental President” by A.J.Baime about Harry S. Truman’s first four months as President in 1945. I was not disappointed. It is a brilliant book – a real page turner. By coincidence, Harry Truman lived with his family from 1941 until 1945 (including for the first few days of his Presidency) at 4701 Connecticut Avenue, which I passed on my way to the bookshop.

Harry Truman took over as US President in the most extraordinary circumstances. A.J.Baime quotes a Boston Globe reporter who wrote that Truman’s elevation to Vice Presidential candidate in 1944 was “one of the most amazing stories in American democracy”, adding:

It is the story of an average man, swept to dizzy heights against his will, a little bewildered by it all and doubting whether it is really true.

Tagged , and | 5 Comments

Book review: “Fear” by Bob Woodward


“Fear” by Bob Woodward traces Donald Trump’s campaign to be US President from March 2010, then follows his Presidency until March 2018.

This is a very readable book. The text is set out with plenty of space between the lines, so that it feels like an “easy read”. The chapters are organised by subject, often looking at policy areas in turn. It is skilfully concise. I found it a “page turner”.

It is a serious book. Scores of “deep background” interviews of White House insiders were carefully transcribed and used. There are 28 pages of sources quoted. As Clive James once quipped:

Woodward checks his facts until they weep with boredom.

This is not a rag-bag collection of tales told out of school about Trump. It is a sober record of Trump’s campaign and the first fifteen months of his presidency. Woodward describes the White House process of policy evolution in such depth that the reader emerges with a better understanding of the Trump presidency.

Tagged and | 17 Comments

Workhouse to Westminster

The chances are that you haven’t heard of Trevor Smith, or to be more precise, Professor Lord Smith of Clifton.  He was the prime financial and intellectual force behind the surge for democracy in the 1990s when Charter 88 was rampant under Anthony Barnett, and the Blair governments were legislating for a spate of constitutional reforms.

Smith is a man of singular entrepreneurial vision and remarkable political energy who most unusually followed through his many ideas in action.  He was a political scientist of distinction when he took on the chair of the Joseph Rowntree Social Services Trust in 1987 and transformed it into the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust with a strong democratic direction.  You should know that he became a close friend and colleague of mine.

His autobiography, Workhouse to Westminster, is published this month and gives a nice rollicking account of his family background – his father spent time as a boy with his family in a workhouse, polishing the stone floor – as well as his proactive chairing of the Trust for 12 years, his ‘Lucky Jim” years as an academic, his time as a reforming Vice Chancellor of Ulster University and as a Lib Dem activist and Lib Dem peer in the House of Lords (where he campaigned vigorously for its abolition and his place in it).

Also posted in Op-eds | 3 Comments

The inspiration for European integration is part of British history too

Two years on from the EU referendum and Walter Benjamin’s haunting observation that “the very past itself is at stake” seems appropriate.

What sort of future Britain will have depends, to a large extent, on how a working majority of voters and politicians understand her past. For, as the UK’s former judge on the European Court of Justice, Sir Konrad Schiemann, noted in a 2012 lecture on the EU as a Source of Inspiration, “what you find inspiring depends to a degree on where you come from and what you’re looking for”. Born in 1937, Schiemann was probably the last CJEU judge to have experienced the Second World War. Growing up in Berlin hiding from British bombs and then, via Poland and the Lancashire Fusiliers, landing up as a law student in Cambridge, Schiemann is clear where his generation were coming from and what they were looking for. His generation of Brits (and many of those that followed) understood the preamble to the European Coal and Steel Community as being part of their history too, despite Britain not having been a signatory to it.

Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Equal Power, and how you can make it happen

I think Equal Power is the first book I have ever pre-ordered. I started reading it the day it came out. When I tweeted about that, Jo Swinson replied, and I promised her I would review it as soon as I finished reading it.

Several months later…..

My post hoc justification for my tardiness is that, to coin a phrase, a review is something best tasted cold. And I find that my opinions about the book have not changed since I first read it.

I found “Equal Power, and how you can make it happen” very powerful indeed. Not because the material was new to me – most of it was not – but because of the way Swinson treats it. She combines statistics and research evidence, other people’s stories and her own experience in a compelling way. The trick with such material is always in the way the combination is made. Statistics are devoid of life and stories lack width in applicability. Swinson combines the two admirably well in a very readable style. She then delivers much of the punch in the book through recounting her own personal experience. And, very importantly, every chapter ends with a summary of actions that everyone can take to improve gender equality.

She gives herself the space to lay out more than simple arguments. She discusses some of the underlying ideas and languages behind many of our attitudes. She notes in particular (around p31) the use of the word “illiberal”, something I have experienced myself, particularly in discussions about gender issues, being used with the evident purpose of closing an argument. “I’m against all women shortlists because they are illiberal.” Of course they are, but you cannot end it there. You have to show why they are more illiberal than the current system which routinely and significantly discriminates in favour of people like me.*  (Jo does not favour all-women shortlists, but for better reasons.)

Tagged , and | 9 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.

Also posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Your Home, Your Power Station

Embed from Getty Images

Ed Davey’s contribution (on the next steps to decarbonize the UK) to a new collection of essays from the Social Liberal Forum is a tour de force in strategic thinking. 

One of the great strengths of Liberal thought through the ages has been an ability to find practical, scientifically and economically-sound solutions to pressing social challenges. For an excellent example of this, from someone who has held high office, look no further than Sir Ed Davey’s essay in Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, which not only provides a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges of decarbonising the UK’s economy in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement but also presents up-to-date policy suggestions to support the deployment of cutting-edge green tech.

For the power sector, Davey suggests that “any new nuclear should be suspended until it can prove substantial cost reduction”. He is also clear both for the need to improve the incentives to supply-side innovations like renewable power with storage (the practice of equipping intermittent power sources like wind and solar PV with battery storage) and to rapidly speed up the ability of “demand-response” technologies and smart grids to respond to changes in supply and to cut overall energy demand.

In a section that reminds clean energy advocates like me of how useful it would be to have Davey back in the Council of the EU, he urges much more use to be made of interconnectors between neighbouring nations, as well as fast-tracking reforms to electricity markets to ensure, for example, that network costs are fairly shared among market participants and that barriers to new entrants like community energy groups are broken down.

15 Comments

Liberals and Neo-Liberals

Professor David Howarth, formerly LibDem MP for Cambridge, contributes to the new Social Liberal Forum book with a powerful, closely argued essay on Liberal economics. This an extract:

Here is a puzzle: if JS Mill, JM Keynes and James Meade were all Liberals and economists, what is a ‘neo-liberal’ economist? One might have thought that it would be someone who updated their thought to consider new facts and new problems.

In a highly successful example of propaganda and disinformation, ‘neoliberal’ has come to mean the doctrines of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman. But those doctrines are anything but ‘neo’. They hark back to the era before Mill. We need to rectify names. Instead of ‘neo-liberals’ the followers of Hayek and Friedman might be called ‘paleo-partial liberals’.

The next step is to reclaim the Liberal tradition. That was the avowed aim of the editors of the Orange Book, but what some of them seemed to mean was not updating Mill, Keynes and Meade but abandoning them in favour of paleo-partial liberalism. Admittedly the diagnosis was not entirely wrong. The Liberal Democrats, as a political party, had wandered a long way from the Liberal tradition and had succumbed to various forms of conventional wisdom.

But the most distinctive feature of Liberal policy was its stance on corporate governance. From Mill onwards, through the Yellow Book to support for codetermination, Liberals argued for a different way of organising firms, not as hierarchical structures dominated by the owners of capital but as partnerships between labour and capital, incorporating democratic representation. James Meade provided a continuation and deepening of this tradition that should have formed the basis of the merged party’s position.

Tagged , and | 48 Comments

Four Go in Search of Big Ideas

The Social Liberal Forum is publishing this book to contribute to a Progressive Alliance of Ideas, People and Campaigns. Contributors including leading Liberal Democrats and people from other political backgrounds and some from outside formal parties.

The Four are Helen Flynn, Iain Brodie-Browne, Gordon Lishman and Ekta Prakash and the book addresses major challenges facing progressives in the 21st Century. They believe that the revival of progressive politics in the UK must be based on winning the battle of ideas. All four come from the North of England and their approach reflects their anger about the state of …

Also posted in News | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Book Review – Power to the People: Confessions of a Young Liberal Activist 1975 – 1987 by Felix Dodds

Felix Dodds, who was Chair of the National League of Young Liberal (NLYL) 1985-1987 and led the so-called Green Guard, inheritors of the late 60s/early 70s YLs Red Guard mantle, wrote this book to inspire and give hope to today’s young people at a time when politics seems a much more cynical and jaded business than the last time we had a Tory female Prime Minister and were arguing about Europe.

Dodds ‘confessions’ tell of his involvement with the YLs starting as a 6th former in Hertfordshire, having been inspired by the Kennedy …

Tagged and | 14 Comments
Advert



Recent Comments

  • Joe Bourke
    Both Conservative and Labour governments adopted similar economic policies in the post-war period - so called Butskellism. It featured current budget surpluses ...
  • Myer Salaman
    For some time I have been increasingly concerned by LibDem politicians using such phrases as 'My Liberal values' or 'A Liberal Britain'. Then I find Michael Mea...
  • Michael BG
    Peter Davies, I am not sure if your comment is addressed to Joe Bourke who wrote, “There is still a possibility that there may be some concessions on the w...
  • Myer Salaman
    For some time I have been increasingly concerned by LibDem politicians using such phrases as 'My Liberal values' or 'A Liberal Britain'. Then I find Michael Mea...
  • Peter Watson
    Strictly speaking, weren't the Greens the "first majority-woman Parliamentary Party at Westminster"?...
Thu 28th Oct 2021
19:30