Consultation opens on Liberal Democrat values and beliefs


Why are we Liberal Democrats? What do we mean by liberalism (or, if you prefer, liberal democracy)? What do our beliefs and values have to offer the country over the next five years?

Every member will have their own answers to those questions, but the party hasn’t attempted to describe its basic philosophy in full since the paper It’s About Freedom, published in 2002. As we wrote here on Liberal Democrat Voice two months ago, given the catastrophic result of the 2015 election, coupled with the huge, and very welcome, influx of new members, the Federal Policy Committee thinks it’s time we did so again. Discussing and articulating our basic beliefs – the backbone around which we build our policies on specific issues – is a vital part of our fightback.

The short consultation paper, Agenda 2020, is now available at on the party website, both on the Agenda2020 page and in the Conference section, and print copies should reach conference reps very soon. The paper sets out a brief description of the Liberal Democrat philosophy and outlines the policy challenges the country, and the party, will face over the next five years. Responses to the paper can be submitted via the website.

Inevitably, as a paper agreed by committee, the consultation document reflects a consensus view of Liberal Democrat thinking. By way of contrast, we invited ten individuals within the party to offer us their personal opinions on the topic, and the paper containing their essays will be available very soon from the party website; print copies will be available at conference.

We’re also organising an essay competition, open to any party member, on the theme of ‘What does it means to be a Liberal Democrat today?’ The deadline is 5 October – more details here.

We’re using two consultative sessions at Bournemouth – on the Sunday morning and the Tuesday morning – to enable conference-goers to have their say, and we hope local, regional and state parties and party organisations will organise their own discussions. In this way we hope to provide the framework for a wide debate within the party.

The Agenda 2020 consultation paper certainly won’t be the last word on the party’s beliefs, but we hope it will help all of us think through and discuss what we believe, create firm foundations for our policy-making and campaigning over the Parliament, and – most importantly – inspire us and to help us better to persuade the country what liberalism is and what the Liberal Democrats are for.


* Duncan Brack and Julie Smith are the Vice Chairs of the Federal Policy Committee

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  • Eddie Sammon 17th Aug '15 - 1:49pm

    This looks a bit authoritarian. There is no meaningful consensus and any attempt to construct one will be so vague it would be almost meaningless.

    It is also exactly what some senior figures asked not to do in the immediate aftermath of the election – to get bogged down in a debate about the party’s values.

    One thing that could happen is to stop selling membership like cup cakes. But unless the systement of beliefs has direct consequences then it all seems a bit meaninglessness.

    Also, people tend to produce big texts and speeches about social justice and then go home and eat meat, so a lot of the high ideals are in direct opposition to most of our actions.

  • This is a very good idea. The Party needs to come together and be united after five cruel years in government – what better way to start than by taking a step back, reflecting and then agreeing on what brings all Lib Dems together, whether they were Norman Supporters or Tim supporters? It’s also a very necessary step before the Party can communicate what core values they hold and invite others who share those values to join them.

  • A plea to Duncan and Julie: If the prize for the essay is going to be a copy of On Liberty, whomsoever it is to be signed by, can it at least be a nice vintage hardback and not a nasty paperback fresh from WH Smith? I like this one, with an intro by Millicent Fawcett but then I have been accused in the past of having Millicent tendencies.

  • David Evershed 17th Aug '15 - 6:34pm

    Making clear the Lib Dem values and beliefs is overdue.

    The current Preamble to the constitution amkes statements which are motherhood and apple pie and don’t discriminate Lib Dems from the other main parties.

    My suggestion is to keep the text very short and to base it around freedom – individual freedom, free markets, free schooling, free health and helping those who can’t help themselves.

    Particular policies such as small goverment will flow from these values and beliefs but should not be set out within their text.

  • I’m very interested in the LD values and beliefs. I used to vote for the party a long time ago and before the last election I became a frequent visitor to this site. Now I’m interested to know if this site is typical of the party.

  • A Social Liberal 17th Aug '15 - 11:24pm

    David Evershed.

    Sorry David, but free market economics just let down the country and is doing so still in the housing market. Markets need regulations to stop companies/banks/individuals from taking advantage of their client base.

    The preamble is just fine, some of the opposition might pay lip service to one or another of the principles spoken therein but only Liberal Democrats believe wholeheartedly in all of them. We were doing rather well with those principles placed in the preamble until the Bookers got their hands on our party, we will start to do well again once we convince the general public that we once again have liberal principle as our base.

  • @ Eddie Sammon
    “There is no meaningful consensus and any attempt to construct one will be so vague it would be almost meaningless”.

    Is this not the point? If people don’t know the values & beliefs they are voting for (as it all appears a bit disjointed and difficult to articulate),you simply become a protest party in times of anger and disillusionment towards the other 2 parties.
    The problem now of course is that the anger is directed at us and the Greens,UKIP and arguably the SNP have become the protest parties.
    Because we haven’t been able to articulate our values with any clarity, our core vote is tiny as we’ve just found out.

    If people don’t know what you believe, then how do they know if they believe it too?

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Aug '15 - 10:33am

    @David Evershed — I have to say, I don’t think the party should just be ‘about freedom.’

    Democracy is more than a subset of freedom; it is (or can be) a participative and collaborative process in which freedom, choice and diversity of outcome are applied to decision making and government in an accountable way.

    Freedom in itself does not necessarily secure democracy.

  • Thanks to Roger Roberts for posting the Herbert Samuel quote. That’ll do this Radical Liberal just nicely to start with.

    Our party spends rather too much of it’s time trying to agree on what it believes in. It started with the nonsense of trying to rip apart the Preamble to the old Liberal Party Constitution and come up with some fudge that would satisfy David Owen. It was never going to work. However, things have got worse since the “People of the Book” tried to turn us into an exclusively Economic Liberal party.

    How any serious Liberal, of any shade, can sign up to free markets, other than as dogma, having looked at the history of the last 15 years, let alone economic history since World War II, is utterly beyond me. Markets require regulation, preferably regulation designed by Liberals who see the need for both markets and regulation.

    Someone was once kind enough to describe me as “an instinctive Liberal”. I have no great gift for words, I tend to express my Radical Liberalism through the causes and policies I support or oppose. I have the greatest respect for Duncan Brack (sorry, Julie Smith but you are unknown to me), but an essay , ‘What does it means to be a Liberal Democrat today?’ Honestly? Like it or not Liberal Democracy is not a political philosophy. Explaining what it is like to be a member of a particular party is not going to get us very far. It certainly wont help new party members and, given the recent history of the party, I think there is a real risk that the approach described above will open fresh cracks between economic, social, radical liberals, “liberal democrats” (convince me one of you?) and social democrats. All parties under first past the post have to be broad churches but we still have to be grounded in something.

    My advice would be: keep it short, keep the language simple and get someone who can actually write to draft it!

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Aug '15 - 11:10am

    A Social Liberal17th Aug ’15 – 11:24pm
    (in reply to David Evershed17th Aug ’15 – 6:34pm)

    Absolutely 100% spot on A Social Liberal!

    I too am happy with our core beliefs as set out in the Preamble; if anything we might revisit the pre-merger version but the key question for us now is survival and the so-called #LibDemFightback.

    Personally, I can not see that it is not all things to all men unless one deliberately seeks to misrepresent the words. The Preamble inspires and sets out our belief in a free, fair, equal, green, sustainable, internationalist and democratic future in which individual citizens and their communities are empowered and not constrained by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

    That we are prepared to use the powers of the state as a bulwark against the excesses of global corporation-controlled ‘free’ markets is to our great credit. This is a key tool against the misuse of wealth and power and the subjugation of individuals, communities and nations.

    Should anyone wish to cause terminal damage to the party, this will be achieved in very short time by attempting to continue ‘the Bookers’ experiment in making us Tory-lite Free Marketeers.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Aug '15 - 11:28am

    Hi Mike, I just don’t know how the exercise can be pulled off without managing to be divisive. Unless it refers to a diversity of beliefs within then a lot will disagree with it.

    I know something good could be produced, but I just think something contradictory is going to be produced saying how the party believes in free trade whilst not believing in free trade.

    I’ll give credit if someone manages to pull off something good whilst not upsetting a load of people.

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Aug '15 - 11:49am

    Stephen Hesketh18th Aug ’15 – 11:10am

    … should read: Personally, I can not see that it is all things to all men unless one deliberately seeks to misrepresent the words. An additional ‘not’ crept in to my post completely changing the meaning!

  • David Evershed 18th Aug '15 - 4:57pm

    Several comments have referred to it being divisive if we set out what are our beliefs and values.

    Underlying this is the apparent gap between economic liberals and social liberals.

    I am not sure there is such a gap for most of us and the Liberal Party has traditionally been at the forefront of both social policies and also free trade policies.

    It may be that some SDP ideas about more market intervention has muddied the water but all the more reason for clarity about our beliefs, especially if soft Conservative voters don’t turn to us because they don’t realise we agree with free market policies.

  • Matt (Bristol) 18th Aug '15 - 5:23pm

    David Evershed – I think you are inviting the wrath of all those ex-Liberal pro-interventionists who will now proceed to tell you that they experienced the SDP as less interventionist and more ‘hands off’ with regard to the economy and it is a total misreading of history by people who weren’t there to make a dualism of it perceive the Liberals as pro-free market and the SDP and as more interventionist.

    I appreviate you may have been there at the time, yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when it happens as it’s about to…

    I do however agree with you that there is nothing at all wrong with disussing the values of the party and their roots and examining the range of possible outcomes within the party’s thinking.

  • David Evershed 18th Aug '15 - 7:38pm


    Thanks for the comment.

    All the better if both ex-Liberal and ex-SDP Lib Dems are pro free markets and keeping state intervention to a minimum (always recognising the need for some regulations for financial and physical safety).

    At its heart, being liberal means leaving individuals and businesses free to do their own thing, provided it doesn’t harm anyone else – which is where the need for regulation/intervention comes into play.

    Being liberal does not mean centrally planning everyone’s life and every business in the way a socialist might. But of course we all need the same opportunites in life which does mean the state providing free schools and a free health service, as well as national defence.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th Aug '15 - 8:33pm

    “Being liberal does not mean centrally planning everyone’s life and every business in the way a socialist might. ”

    I’ve hung around with socialists a bit. I even know some now. Unsurprisingly, your parody of what “a socialist might” want to do bears no resemblance to how anyone I’ve ever known actually thinks.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Aug '15 - 8:03am

    I really do get quite cross at the sloppy thinking and lazy comments. Look at who contributed to the Orange book. It included people from all over the party, not just the so called free marketeers. The idea that there was a closely knit group of politically voted individuals who hijacked our party is fanciful at best. Yes, we had a leader who didn’t listen to the party, with dire consequences, but to say this was a takeover by the ‘bookers’ is utter nonsense. By all means waste precious recovery time attacking some of the decisions by the parliamentary leadership during the coalition, but please do it on the basis of fact rather than fantasy. Far better, stop talking and get working rebuilding the party.

  • John Tilley 19th Aug '15 - 9:15am

    Mick Taylor

    You are quite correct that the authors of the fairly random collection of essays that paraded under the title ‘The Orange Book’ eleven years ago were not a “closely knit group of politically (motivated) individuals who hijacked our party” .

    According to the book by Jasper Gerrard, entitled ‘The Clegg Coup’, there were just a couple of individuals behind the The Orange Book. They were Paul Marshall and David Laws.

    Gerrard’s book records their motivation in putting together The Orange Book and their later actions at the top of the party. Both Marshall and Laws cooperated in the writing of ‘The Clegg Coup’ and have never disputed this report of their actions.

    I would politely suggest to you that the structure of the party within Westminster over the last ten years did not require a well organised mass movement of members to change the direction of the party. In your words – ” to hijack” the party.
    All that was necessary was to instal a leader who as you rightly say “…didn’t listen to the party, with dire consequences”, and shared the views of Marshall and Laws on most things.

    That is the theme of Jasper Gerrard’s book and one assumes that is why he chose the title ‘The Clegg Coup’.

    It is neither sloppy thinking nor fantasy to note the influence this had on the party in the last ten years.

  • Matthew Huntbach 19th Aug '15 - 11:29am

    Look at the words Roger Roberts quotes from Herbert Samuel in his comment at 9:36pm on 17th August.

    Compare that with one of the most eloquent cases made for the “Clegg Coup”, Richard Reeves’ New Statesman article here.

    See the difference? There’s just nothing in what Reeves writes which shows an understanding of how poverty and ignorance and other aspects stemming from social and financial inequality have a fundamental effect on freedom. He dismisses people who are concerned about such things as “left-wingers” and welcomes them leaving us to support the Labour Party.

    Herbert Samuel was very much a mainstream Liberal, leader of the Liberal Party in the 1930s, not some fringe element. Those who are most keen on pushing themselves forward as “true liberals” or “classical liberals” or whatever these days simply do not use the language that real mainstream Liberals used in the past. The sort of code words they use about “small state” and “liberalisation” in practice turn out to be disguised ways of promoting the opposite, the sort of tax cuts and service cuts and handing control of everything to big business which has been increasing inequality in this country steadily since 1979, and in my view thereby diminishing real liberalism and not increasing it.

    If it was not meant to work that way, those who continue to push simplistic free market ways of dealing with things as “liberalisation” need to be asking themselves why so many people don’t seem to experience it that way, and why our country now seems to be such an unhappy place (as in the news today).

  • @ David Evershed “At its heart, being liberal means leaving individuals and businesses free to do their own thing, provided it doesn’t harm anyone else – which is where the need for regulation/intervention comes into play.”

    Not for this Liberal it doesn’t. I do not recall J.S, Mill including businesses in “On Liberty”, he was talking about individuals. Basing a philosophy around a human created institution , a relatively recent one at that, as opposed to the humans themselves, is the error many Conservatives and Socialists have made throughout their history, Liberals (of whatever persuasion) should absolutely not repeat it.

  • @ Mick Taylor I see no sloppy thinking in the fact that the Orange Book was part of a conscious attempt by Clegg, Laws and a few others to hi-jack the party for Economic Liberalism. My hazy thinking is around precisely when it started – before or after publication. I don’t think any of us outside the then Westminster Bubble can be sure of this until Clegg or Laws come clean.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Sep '15 - 5:53pm

    @Phil Rimmer “How any serious Liberal, of any shade, can sign up to free markets, other than as dogma, having looked at the history of the last 15 years, let alone economic history since World War II, is utterly beyond me”

    Leaving aside the fact that virtually no Liberals support free markets without regulation the economic history since World war II has been a gigantic improvement in living standards for billions of people , ending the direst poverty and providing food and healthcare to those who never had it before. All due to the wonders of free trade, free markers and capitalism .

  • Matthew,

    That article about children in our schools is really depressing…

    i sometimes wonder if there is an inverse correlation between the extent of Facebook (etc) use and happiness of children…

  • Free Trade was a great Liberal dogma in the 19th century when Britain ruled the waves and was in poll position to exploit all the other countries. This is still happening today, and we should be very cautious that we do not define “doing no harm to others” only in terms of British people.

    On freedom of businesses, it all depends on whether you think they have benevolent motives and therefore will not hurt people… Well my view are that Big Business is about as moral as a cat – if they can make money they will, and indeed the duty of a company is to reward shareholders first. There are many many moral businesses of course that do return something to the community, and are careful not to exploit workers, consumers or the environment. And many neutral ones that just provide useful things and necessary employment.. And these need to be encouraged, while the ones that promote (for example) obesity, negative self-image, and unfulfillable desire for useless items amongst children discouraged…

    I think we may need a new definition of Liberalism in the digital age tbh… My mother did not like adverts so we did not watch ITV… How do you avoid this mind-bending stuff now?

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