Changing our attitude to Liberalism and Britain

As we face another change of leadership this summer, we must confront the crisis in our identity with Liberalism. We must also admit the peculiarity of a Liberal Parliamentary party and that Liberalism is not an ideology that can be used to confront the Labour Party, the Conservatives, or the SNP. The crucial thing here is that this is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Liberalism transcends ideology and we must use this to bridge partisan politics. Once we have (and I believe we now have) recognised that Liberalism cannot be used in a primarily adversary manner we can move forward in a more positive direction.

The Liberal Democrats should stand as the party of reason and progress, we should be focusing on the central tenets of Liberalism as our way forward. With the recent events such as Black Lives Matter and Covid-19, race inequality and Racism have been highlighted in our society and as Liberals we are the ones who should actively create programmes and campaign for equality in our society. A first step in creating a Liberal future is to acknowledge the lack of Liberalism in our society.

The great triumphs in our history have been tackling illiberalism in this country and, moving forward, I hope we can add to these triumphs in Britain’s history. The Liberal Reforms of the early twentieth century, the abolition of abortion laws, the campaign against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, and legalisation of same-sex marriage are all triumphs of our party that came about by acknowledging that our society we live in is not as Liberal as we would like to believe, and that we, as Liberals, must act to change the current conditions.

Once again we are faced with the need to acknowledge that Britain is not as Liberal as it should be 2020, and therefore it is our role as Liberal Democrats and as Liberal people to fight for new triumphs of Liberalism in our society.

Liberalism is not being ‘anti’ this or ‘anti’ that, Liberalism is a positive outlook on society: one where we can envision a fairer, equal, and prosperous society. Covid-19 has highlighted to us the inadequacies of our current society, where people are at greater risk of dying from the disease purely based on how much money they have or the colour of their skin. We must acknowledge that we have failed to build a Liberal society and work towards remedying this situation. This is not entirely a failure on our part and although hugely important to change this trend, it also empowers us as Liberals to act and give purpose to the Liberal Democrat party.

What I am trying to communicate here is that I feel we have lost meaning for what it means to be a Liberal. We have lost that positive vision that should drive us to change society for the better. We must not be divisive and partisan for that will not make us stand out from the left vs right rhetoric of the Labour and Conservative parties. A positive and visionary approach will make us stand out as Liberal and Democratic.

* Loukas Christou is a party member in Sussex and University of Leicester YL Treasurer

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  • I don’t believe that Liberalism transcends ideology. It is about a coherent set of values which underpin policies which can change over time and according to context. I have spent my life in an illiberal society working for a more liberal society. Ideology does not in itself imply totalitarianism or dogmatism or even “Yah-boo” politics. Yes I have campaigned for Abortion Law Reform and all the other good things mentioned by Loukas (often with people who were not Liberals) , sustained by a deep-rooted way of looking at the world around me. Be not afraid of those who give ideology a bad name.

  • Loukas Christou 19th Jun '20 - 3:38pm

    What I would like to expand on here and maybe it might help explain my point Geoff, is that, like you say, Liberalism does change according to context. For me this makes it non-ideological. In my opinion ideology is purely dogmatic, although certain ideologies can manifest in different forms, key tenets are kept the same due to the dogmatic nature. Liberalism for me is not ideological because Liberalism is found in differing ideologies, Socialism can be Liberal, Conservatism can be Liberal, Nationalism can be Liberal etc. Like I say, I believe it important to acknowledge the peculiarity of a Liberal Democrat Party and move to more pure Liberal form and bridge partisan politics.

  • Very much agree with Geoff Reid’s comments. Two quick thoughts for Loukas,

    1. The abolition of the Abortion Laws may well have been a triumph for David Steel as a very young back bencher, but it was also a Private Members Bill with cross party support.

    2. As Geoff says, properly understood, liberalism as a philosophy is a coherent body of thought and ideology, particularly as it was expressed by Hobhouse, Hobson, Green, Masterman and Rowntree.

    Maybe as a student Loukas ought to inquire into and familiarise himself with them. The trouble starts for the party when people who ought to know about these things (as happened with the post 2007 hierarchy) either ignore them or choose to invent something else.

  • Loukas Christou 19th Jun '20 - 4:41pm

    Thank you for your suggestions David, as it happens I am aware but perhaps could do with knowing more about 19th century Liberalism.
    I would like to pose one thought, is it possible that like Nationalism classical Liberal values have become so ingrained in our political culture that it does now transcend ideology. With central Liberal values being espoused by other ideologies it clearly has transcended the Liberal illiberal divide.
    Being a History student I fully appreciate Britain’s Liberal tradition, but I would not emphasise 19th C. Liberalism too much, if a lot of it was deemed outdated by the 1980’s I cannot see how we should rely on it so much in our age.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Jun '20 - 5:19pm

    What comes across here is the idea that the only things that matter in liberalism are sexual and race issues. I.e. nothing whatsoever is written about how poverty greatly reduces freedom and the need for government action to stop that. So this helps support the common idea that now exists: that we are the party of Conservative style economics, differing from the Conservatives only by being obsessed by sexual issues, and wanting to replace white working class people by immigrants who are happy to work for lower pay.

    I’m not saying this was what was intended, but the sort of thing written here can be seen as that, and Labour have been keen to push that suggestion, that in our party we were all keen on the right-wing economics of the 2010-15 government, and a Liberal Democrat dominated government would do just the same.

    In that way, we have lost what used to be some of our strongest support, particularly in counties like Sussex, that is poor people who feel Labour don’t really care for them because Labour is only about urban and industrial places. Although that has helped Labour win back a few seats where once we were seen as the main opposition to the Conservatives, mostly it has just helped the Conservatives, turning seats we won, or were in a close second place, back to safe Conservative seats.

    The Conservatives have also won more votes from poor people by letting them believe the main cause of our unequal society, run by and for international business elite types, was membership of the EU. So, when they said this means “return of control to our country” that gave the impression of ending right-wing economics, and having more government intervention which can lead to a more equal society. We did nothing to stop this, instead we acted in a way that encouraged these people to believe that we are now the party of what used to be called “Thatcherism” and voting Conservative was how to reverse that and return to a more equal society.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Jun '20 - 5:37pm

    Loukas here is wiser than the replies.

    Of course he is correct. And he needs no encouragement to read when he clearly has done.

    Both the comments are correct but the tone is not as positive as is that in this terrific article.

    Liberalism shall gain from acknowledgement of the variety in it. I am for abortion reform in reduction of weeks to protect the rights of the foetus. I favour reform to mage the abortion of a female a specific crime. Wera Hobhouse does not but favours a law on making upskirting a very definite one, that is obvious. What is not is which is most or less Liberal.

    We need more of this from those such as our author herin.

  • @ Loukas Just a few years later than the 19th Century, Loukas.

    Here’s something to look up for starters…… and you might find it useful to join the Liberal Democrat History Group…. special rates for students.

    John Atkinson Hobson, 1858-1940 · Liberal › history › hobson-john-atkinson
    13 Jun 2015 – John Atkinson Hobson, the economic writer and radical journalist most associated (along with L. T. Hobhouse) with Edwardian New Liberalism …

  • Antony Watts 20th Jun '20 - 7:40am

    That’s got the esoteric out of the way. Now how about some specifics?

  • Gordon Lishman 20th Jun '20 - 8:24am

    Joseph: Fawcett’s story of liberalism is interesting. But it’s worth noting that he includes Margaret Thatcher within it which may not make him the best authority on twentieth century liberalism from our point of view.
    A lot may depend on what you mean by “ideology”. It’s a slippery term. The version I find most useful defines it as a system of values (or “philosophy “) combined with analysis and understanding of the world and leading to action for change.

  • richard underhill 20th Jun '20 - 9:49am

    “people are at greater risk of dying from the disease purely based on how much money they have or the colour of their skin.”
    We should be careful not to be obsessed with skin colour. People from South Asia are dying because of a vulnerability to diabetes, which is possibly about diet/s.

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