Finding our way again

What was it like becoming an activist in 1978? Well, you were given a bundle of newspapers to deliver. No change since then apparently?  You might also be lent a copy of The Theory and Practice of Community Politics, which you thought about, discussed and, importantly, set about acting upon in all the communities to which you belonged.

Neither the people who had developed this new form of Liberalism and fought for the Party to accept it, nor those who followed this theory and practice in the 80s and 90s, would have thought  that forty years later they would be accused of having no values or philosophy and of just callously saying anything to get elected, which is how this kind of activism is attacked today.

The idea of Community Politics was to create a movement.  It was sufficient in many areas to campaign directly in the many communities to which people belong, at work, at home, in their neighbourhoods and in wider non-geographically based communities.  But it also adopted a second avenue (in what was called the Dual Approach) which was to seek election to councils and parliaments where policy could be changed so as to help achieve the central objective – which was to help people take and use power in their communities.

Our philosophy went back to Mill and especially to T.H. Green and from him to the New Liberals.

The notion was that people had power or the potential to realise their potential as citizens but that this power was appropriated from them either by others or by systems that prevented them using this power or from realising their potential.  People working together in their communities could take back this power and increase the strength of all the communities to which they belonged. Liberals wanted to help them do this both through positive and negative freedoms.   Everything we did was to that end.

Decentralisation was at the very heart, therefore, of our practice. For instance in terms of communicating with a community to help it realise its freedoms and potentials, you would not have dreamed of not doing this yourself.  Using a template would have been anathema.  It was important for authenticity’s sake for you to do it yourself.  Nor would this have been a monopolistic practice.  If you wrote a letter to ten neighbours suggesting that we get together to clear up the mess in the road, you also wanted to gain from them ideas for how the mess might be prevented in the first place, perhaps changing street cleaning regimes.  Nor would you want to ‘control’ this situation.  Your ultimate aim was that if something similar needed to be achieved in that neighbourhood someone else – having seen what had been achieved on the cleaning front – could set up a similar group and campaign on another issue.  That way you were helping people to take and use the power that their community and they within in it had.  You did not set yourself up as some special and talented person. Everything you did could have been done by your neighbour once they themselves had seen it done.

Helping to achieve this aim you would also campaign to get local firms or local authorities to change their practices – for instance to have deliveries done at certain times and not at others, or to introduce traffic calming measures.  But this dual approach was not confined to local authorities. Parliamentary policy changes would assist too, provided they were designed to help people realise their potential and prevent others from hindering them in this. So every policy that the Party had in say 1992 or 1997 could be evaluated against whether it helped people realise their full potential or helped them resist their power being misappropriated by the powerful.  The ‘state’ was seen as friend and foe.  The idea was that a Liberal State would be more friend than foe, more a force for helping people create the conditions to freely exploit their life chances and realize their innate potential.

It seemed at the time like a great philosophy built on liberal values, now it seems a lost continent.

* Bill le Breton is a former Chair and President of ALDC and a member of the 1997 and 2001 General Election teams

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  • Andrew McCaig 11th Jun '17 - 9:33am

    Thankyou so much for restating a fundamental part of our philosophy which we have allowed to be weakened by the attacks of our enemies.

  • We became fixated on gaining power at Westminster and forgot our roots. Councillor after councillor where thrown under the bus to allow the leadership in Westminster to claim a phric victory or two; easily rolled back or claimed as a Tory success. In the end hopefully we learned gaining power is not worth the price of your political soul.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jun '17 - 10:03am

    Another general election soon is a distinct possibility as it was in 1974. The Queen’s Speech was amended during the 2016 referendum (by Tory leavers). Labour will try to amend it now (Corbyn says on the Marr programme, although he has not seen it yet). a green paper on the dementia tax has been promised by the PM, so we should continue to put out our view on that and campaign.

  • Another election: do not forget the Parliament Act. Different set of circumstances this time. We want one like a hole in the head. Labour will storm away at this time. We are only challengers in a bare handfull of seats, even in Cornwall and Devon. If it arose again we should absatin.

  • The elephant-in-the-room problem with Community Politics is that it can all too often be as* boring as hell* to most voters and its appeal often lies only with very elderly people who don’t get out much (and hence for whom a broken pavement is a huge issue) or, much worse, with curtain twitching scoutmaster/neighbourhood watch types.

    A great many people are drawn to the Liberal Democrats because of pressing national issues ( e.g the need for electoral reform, opposition to excess state surveillance) and/ or international ones (e.gthe need for multilateral disarmamanet, to oppose the growth of right-wing populism throughout Europe). Broken pavements do not get such people’s pulses racing.

    I’m a newbie and if I were to become involved in my local party -alas, I can’t now as I live abroad – I would soon be turned off and disenchanted if the focus were to rest on campaigning about wheelie bins being left on the pavement or illegal trash dumping in the nearby park. After all – with a bit of pressure – a half-way decent Labour or even UKIP councillour could sort those things out as well as anybody could.

    I do undertand and appreciate the libertarian – democratic philosophy behind Community Politics, but I just feel that, in practice, it can all too easily devolve into the very pragmatic provincialism that its opponents accuse it of. It needs a bit more thought, I think, to update it to our globalised times which are so different from the seventies.

    The old Green phrase: `Think Global: Act Local` might well be relevant here.

  • “People working together in their communities could take back that power and increase the strength of all the communities to which they belonged.”

    Which I always think sits very badly with the Lib Dems’ obsession with participating in the EU, which actively seeks to suck power into the unaccountable middle and out of any democratically legitimate bodies. If the Lib Dems’ ethos is one of local autonomy, why does it rave about how wonderful the EU is, which allows no democratic opposition to its will and if it emerges, disparages it as “ignorant populism”?

  • I was part of the generation who developed community politics in the 1960’s, but we also believed in a radical social and economic policy at a time when the Labour Party appeared to be conservative.

    The party forgets its Keynesian and Beveridge inheritance at its peril……… as it has done in recent years. Corbyn now has the ball at his feet and an examination of his policies shows he is in tune with that inheritance………. He has struck a resonance on austerity, welfare, education and the need for a strong public sector in health and local government.

    Radical policy rethinking is needed if the Lib Dems MP’s are to survive a second election withing the near future.

    An historical footnote – it was said of the 1867 Reform Act ‘Disraeli had caught the Whigs bathing and stolen their clothes’. Corbyn appears to have stolen what should have been our clothes over the last six weeks, and what is now apparent is not a pretty sight.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Jun '17 - 11:33am

    @andrew – thank you
    @frankie – we need as part of this to win power in Westminster and to then redistribute it – it was giving into smears by opponents outside and within the Party that there was no philosophy behind our campaigning and that we were not serious about power – it was always at the heart of what we did – it was all about power and its redistribution. Read Conrad Russell.
    @richard – yes campaign always campaign. still think even before the QS we should seek to get a no confidence debate – May is an obstacle … and then reassess.
    @Edward – it does NOT have to be dustbins. That is an accusation put about to discredit the approach. People exist not alone but in communities. You don’t have to work to help people take and use power in their District Council community. Think Global act local is very true. That is why we always insisted on integrated campaigns, pressing for action at all levels and in all institutions that take power away from people and communities. eg 1p on education works in the community of local schools and in county councils/unitary authorities and in our Parliaments and Assembly. We should be examples in every community to which we belong – helping people take and use power in those communities.
    @RC – I agree.

  • In my lifetime – I am an early Gen X, I have seen a couple of key events which I think are key to this discussion:
    1. An erosion of communities generally, by the massive increase in young people leaving home to go to college/Uni and then not returning.
    2. The rise of Globalisation/Immigration leading to communities becoming much more transient and fluid.

    Many would argue both these shifts are positive, many would not.
    However, since the 60’s/70’s attitudes and community support in many areas have changed significantly.

    Let me give you a simple example:
    Any tradesperson who calls at our house, always has a cup tea/coffee, biscuits, cake etc in their hand within 5 mins of arriving.
    Every single one of them without exception, says hardly anyone under the age of 40/45 offers them a cuppa, nearly everyone over the age of 50/55 does!
    Although, that is almost certainly not representative of people who visit this site, just think for a minute what that actually means, when reading Bill’s (excellent) article above?

    I think the time has now come to do 2 things:
    1. The Lib Dems do indeed need to look at how they engage with the community, but also at how flexible they are in responding to changing circumstances.
    My perception is that the Lib Dem’s are very good at trying to reinvent the party from WITHIN.
    2. I (along with others I know have mentioned this), think the way forward is to “do a Justin Trudeau” and invite people to TELL US what THEY want to see, rather than TELLING them about what we want.

    This would serve not only to gather insight into what community politics means in 2017 (Edward C’s point above I think – listen to to Newbees as well as the Oldies), but also the Lib Dems have a chance to really show they are listening to the people and a much better chance of achieving a real engagement wit the electorate.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jun '17 - 11:39am

    theakes: I have not forgotten the Fixed Term Parliament Act, it is one of our greatest achievements, designed to prevent the corruption involved in a PM (Callaghan, Brown) calling, or not calling a general election according to their expectation of party political advantage. It was part of the machinery which ensured the coalition kept together for the full five years.
    I did not say that I would want another general election soon, only that one is likely, as per 1974. The green paper on the dementia tax has not been published yet, so we should continue to campaign on that issue.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Jun '17 - 11:43am

    @David – our 2005 manifest was close to that put forward by Labour this time as you point out. It is our Party that has moved. It has become more Conservative friendly.

    Back in 1978 virtually all Liberals and later Social Democrats would have agreed that, “The Tories are our opponents but Labour are our competitors”. Now the balance of the Party, I suggest, would say, “Labour are our opponents, but the Tories are out competitors”.

    The Party of the former view won 60 odd seats in Westminster, scores of seats in Scotland and the Welsh Assembly, 11 seats in the European Parliament, ran or had influence on 150 local authorities and had over 3,000 councillors.

    The Party of the more recent view lost all that – squandered it. Because they didn’t know who votes for us and why they vote for us. And worse, believed that they could find new people to replace the 5 million voters who we let down in the summer of 2010.

    I will do my best to respond quickly to comments but may fall foul of the below the line limits to numbers of comments.

  • @ Bill (in response to Edward).
    “People exist not alone but in communities.”

    But hold on a minute – this is part of my point.
    My formative years were lived through the height of Thatcherism.
    My experience is that people during that era have become, more selfish, more self centred, less community orientated and less likely to do simple things like make each other a cuppa!.

    On the positive side I do get the perception that with the latest generation there is now the seeds of a backlash, but often mostly an online Facebook revolution at the moment – another debate needs to be had about how to engage virtual worlds.,

    However, very many of the loudest voices do appear to come from this “selfish” generation – take one look at the average age of UKIP. Nearly all Gen X – at least the loudest voices?

  • Bill,
    Yes we need to win power and we did. They had a golden chance to reform the rigged system we live under. Electoral reform too make everyone’s vote mean something should have been a red line, but they bottled that and settled for trinkets.

  • May I reassure theakes that the prospect of there being a further general election in the near future is not at all likely, since
    – it seems inconceivable that a general election could take place while Brexit is being negotiated
    – a Conservative government, which presumably will be the one still in power at the conclusion of the negotiations, will be desperate that any future general election should be fought on revised electoral boundaries more favourable to it than the present ones, and for that they will have to wait until the Electoral Boundaries Commission has gone through all its necessary statutory processes (which, unless I am mistaken, have to be restarted from scratch at the beginning of this new parliament).

    We would only face a general election sooner than this suggests if the government were simply to collapse, which is not a very likely eventuality at all – and in such an eventuality
    all non-Conservative parties might well make gains.

  • Phil Beesley 11th Jun '17 - 12:58pm

    Thank you for that piece, Bill le Breton. Back in the day when I composed Focus leaflets, I was disappointed if the post didn’t contain a note about a minor gripe. Lots of those things could have been fixed by a phone call from the complainant, others needed a second voice saying that something was wrong.

    Where community politics and Focus campaigning really mattered was when there was an unidentified problem which affected many people. Individual letters to the council weren’t changing things and nobody realised the scale of discontent to set up a local campaign group. The cut-off complaint strip on a Focus leaflet taught me many lessons about where I lived.

  • @ Hugh p “it seems inconceivable that a general election could take place while Brexit is being negotiated”.

    Really ??

    No doubt the Tory Chief Whip is sending all Tory MP’s in dodgy health to see their Specialists. It only needs three or four by-elections to change the Government’s majority.

  • Graham Evans 11th Jun '17 - 1:35pm

    Community Politics works best with broadly settled communities. However in large parts of the country population turnover is now so high that only national and international issues resonate with many voters, particularly the young.
    A long record of local activity has little pulling power among transient voters. However for a successful campaign based on national and international issues the voters must link such issues to their own personal experience, as in the case of tuition fees. Unfortunately issues like the EU are far too nebulous.

  • Community politics surely was a means to an end, or better put, providing a gateway to liberal ideas. When we did this in the early 80s it was raw and gritty -remember the erks – and for much of the electorate, relevant and new.
    Now it is machine driven, vapid, often self congratulatory space filling, and written to a manual. It doesn’t look or feel authentic, perhaps because it isn’t.
    The Focus campaigns certainly harnessed lots of energy, not always entirely to liberal ends, but was a policy void. Members became delivery automatons, contributions only really being valued in terms of the size of your round, or how many you folded. Oh, and of course, regular requests for money.

    I’m honestly not sure what the party stands for now. The excitement of
    Mill seems on a different plane altogether, liberal principles are not applied and constitutional change not powered forward with.

    Not to say that the party is bad, just to say I feel it could easily be so much better! And community politics needs an edge that’s new in the digital age.

  • paul barker 11th Jun '17 - 2:31pm

    As Galadriel said “In times like these all prophecy is vain.”
    I am still trying to get my head round whats happening & have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Thats quite refreshing in a way but it makes it hard to see what we should be doing or saying.
    For today, we should be making it very plain how unacceptable any arrangement with The DUP is, both because they are bigots & because any deal breaks the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.
    Long term, I would like us to quietly drop the 2nd Referendum policy, its just too bloody subtle.
    We need to fight every Election, however small or remote & insist that we get our fair share of Airtime as Englands 3rd Party.

  • Max Wilkinson 11th Jun '17 - 3:26pm

    As a local councillor, I like to feel I’m OK at community politics.

    The problem, however, is that it often leads to our more fundamental liberal values being lost. That in turn leads people to wonder what indeed it is that we stand for at a macro level. They know we are against dog poo and potholes, and they like how we help their local community. And that leads us to win council seats. All good so far.

    However, if we are ever to be a serious national political force, we need an easily recognisable identity. When the Tories are authoritarian right wingers and the Labour Party is presenting a clearly defined left wing programme, our voice is even further marginalised.

    Think of the very many younger people who ‘voted for Corbyn’ this time, who we know share our values. They want to know what we stand for on the NHS, the EU and schools. Because of community politics, however, all they get are letters about worthy local issues, which they would mostly consider very boring. If we don’t reach out to these people, particularly in Liberal Democrat/Tory marginals, then we won’t ever get back to the level of representation we had in our pre-coalition years.

    So, yes, let’s do community politics and let’s put everything into it. But let’s work much harder to tell the world about our liberal values too.

  • David Raw – Agree with you. We should embrace Keynes and Beveridge again and the Orange Book should be kicked for good. Another problem is Farron’s abysmal charisma. If Jo Swinson is a non-Orange Booker, then I hope that she will be the party’s next leader.

  • Tony Greaves 11th Jun '17 - 3:28pm

    Three points (no time to think more deeply). (1) They were called Urks. (2) Liberals used to know WHY they got elected to Councils (as a good thing in itself). Do they any longer? (3) An election result is just a “snap-shot in time”. But it can wreak havoc.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Jun '17 - 4:09pm

    @Mike, I have been reflecting on your first comment and your second comment helps clarify things. Communities have been changing but they are still their for the young and for the urban … perhaps they are thought of as networks now – which itself is an individualistic interpretation. The more individualistic a social grouping becomes the more there are people who drop out and become fatalistic and the more there is need for others to campaign on egalitarian issues to counter balance this. Hierarchies may be flatter but power issues remain for the Liberal to campaign to fix. The young seem a pretty nice bunch and have a strong sense of community.
    @Hugh “if the government were simply to collapse” – stranger things … I do think they we should not have been caught napping with this election. It always looked tempting. My personal recommendation is that the Party should employ Peter Chegwyn to write a report as widely as he feels necessary into campaigning in the Party. He is without doubt one of the two star campaigners of the last 40 years.
    @Phil – yes agree.
    @Graham – what about work issues, transport, there are issues raised especially by trancsience. And if geography is history then community is not bound by locality – certainly the authors of Theory and Practice never thought it was.
    Johnm – if something has by habit been misapplied, throw it out but don’t through the baby out with the bath water – true community politics helps been set themselves and their communities free, increases every members’ opportunities and life chances. If it has been used to exploit and take power from people then call out the mispractice.

  • @ Doubting Thomas “Another problem is Farron’s abysmal charisma.” That is extremely unkind and unlike his competitor of two years ago, he doesn’t bore for Britain. As an agnostic, I’m also fed up about the metropolitan smears about being a Christian which he is perfectly entitled to be.

    He inherited a dodgy legacy, though I would admit he could drop the folksy stuff which can get repetitive. If I was to give advice as a candid friend, I would say given your own result concentrate on the folks back in Westmorland who put you there in the first place.

    What is a concern is that Mr Corbyn has grabbed the radical idealistic market whereas the party still carries the Coalition albatross round its neck. Personally, I’m a bit sorry for Nick Clegg, but it’s the result of his own policy decisions – the students of Sheffield Hallam University spoke. ‘A little bit of this and a little bit of that’ doesn’t get the pulses racing.

    A real concern, apart from the few ‘target seat’ oases, is that there are whole deserts of arid blank sand dunes with hundreds of 2% and 3% lost deposits which speaks volumes about ‘paper candidates’. The oases will be vulnerable to a two party squeeze next time round.

    There needs to be an honest review of the party’s policy and campaigning methods asap. Much of it over the last six weeks was trivial and amateurish, Brexit bound, and did not address the big issues of inequality and social justice.

    If the party has nothing to say it will die at the next General Election (probably next Spring).

  • @ Edward C

    Like you I didn’t join the Liberal Democrats because of broken pavements etc. It was national politics that drove me. However, that didn’t stop me putting out Focus leaflets and in 1994 getting elected as a Councillor. I don’t know if the Liberal Party in my constituency practiced Community Politics. I learnt how to campaign locally from someone who had learnt from a former member of the SDP who saw how Liberals got elected and used the same type of methods (Liberals were not getting elected in our constituency only members of the SDP). We got things done. That was our appeal and why my mentor and I got elected. While we both attempted to build urban Liberal Democrat branches neither of us was successful long term.

    At my regional conference this February I wanted us to consider adding “playing a full part in the campaigning activity of the Party at all levels” to our regional development plan, but no one spoke to support me, while quite a few said that campaigning was not our role only campaigning to get people elected.

    In 2010 before the general election Mark Oaten took part in a Channel 4 programme “Tower Block of Commons” with one Labour MP and two Conservative MPs. During his time living in a tower block in Barking Mark Oaten held meetings of residents and got a petition going. It was interesting to see Community Politics in practice.

  • Bill le Breton 11th Jun '17 - 4:28pm

    @Paul, the best thing is not to waste our breath. Speculation is what is paralyzing the Party. Over the last 2 months most people have got most things wrong. People who have not won an election – and in some cases people who have lost seats by getting simple things wrong have been in positions of responsibility that they would not have lasted in in a better organisation. For hecks sake certain people have lost RP TWICE.
    @Max – I reckon you are being modest, but if community politics is leading ‘to our more fundamental liberal values being lost’ , it is not Community Politics that is being conducted it is ‘electioneering’ of a type that deceives people and/or takes power away from them by concentrating it in the hands of a faux ‘local hero’. Work with people to help them make themselves and their communities freer and therefore stronger. The NHS is most definitely a subject for Community Politics and integrated campaigning. eg Do people know their local commissioners? Is local commissioning behind closed doors liberal? Why couldn’t a Liberal decide that closing a local hospital was the right thing because it saved more lives and campaign for it? Just thinking.
    Finally Max, you don’t get anywhere by telling people about your values – you have to show them your values by action and let them decide what your values are.
    @Thomas – by Keynes I take it that you think we should practice demand management – is that the case you are making? As an aside, Community Economics is a powerful regenerative force.

  • Dave Orbison 11th Jun '17 - 4:29pm

    Max Wilkinson – the problem is that is not at all clear what the LibDems stand for.

    Of course, contributors here are extremely knowledgeable as to the history of the party and then there’s the oft referred to “The Preamble”. But this makes no impact on voters. Voters are not interested in Gladstone, Keynes etc? For us political ‘nerds’ it may make for a hearty discussion but it is not a preferred topic of discussion for the majority of voters.

    Even when the LibDem had a distinctive policy, e.g. a 2nd Referendum, the message was poorly communicated. Who can forget Tim Farron claiming to be a bit of a Eurosceptic?

    The Party remains a mix of conflicting views – Orange-bookers and social liberals. Some lean towards the Tories and some towards Labour in terms of policy. Then there are some who wish to adopt an anti-Tory and anti-Labour position regardless of policy even if there is some overlap with either Tory or Labour.

    No sooner had Tim Farron suggested leaning towards policies advocated by Labour then he seems to suffer a reflex which requires then to mock Corbyn and attack Labour. Tim Farron complained about Labour’s spending plans echoing the Tories mantra but then, presumably as he realised this sounded reminiscent of Coalition days he changed direction and attacked the Tories.

    It was impossible to figure out which way the LibDems will go on almost any issue. There was no coherent set of LibDem values or coherent election strategy. Thus the LibDem campaign was negative relying on personal attacks and piggybacking off nasty media vilification of Corbyn, rather than an offer of hope.

    The LibDem campaign preached fear of Tory and Labour alike. As most electors realised there was never going to be a LibDem majority it begged the question why bother voting LibDem and on 8th June? Well now we know. They didn’t think it was.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Jun '17 - 5:02pm

    A lot of reactions, not a lot of reality in some !

    To come up with ideas all at once too soon and start pointing fingers or blame is pointless.

    Bill le Breton offers us sensible heartfelt testimony. About the past for the future.

    I say with respect as someone many years younger but in young middle age, the communities that matter electorally now are based on groupings , or identity , and philosophy or ideology , and the only community where we can and should raise our awareness where it counts and where we are not , is the online community.

    David Raw talks sense above yet spoils it , thinking in a strange way that to fiercely defend Tim by horribly insulting Norman, is a good tactic , proves why tit for tat , is titilating but tactless !

    The main reason Crbyn did well and we did not is his reaonable stance on immigration , reasonable stance on freedom of movement, and thus on Brexit.

    Tim seemed a fanatic for months on this and his being toned down got us to at best survive politically.

    The other reason Corbyn did well and we did not is he offered people what they want to hear and did so not because he was expedient on those policies but believes in them. We offered the same but on issues fewer care tuppence about.

    We had the best manifesto and the best leader.

    Others forget Macron won from the centre because he is young and attractive and his country has not been mainly centre right for decades, but centre left, and did so against a far right leader.

    May is many things but despite the silly heartless jibe , which works for five minutes, is no far right winger . She should have been criticised as the mediocrity she is, difficult from parties that are seen as both , or were till Corbyn walked on water and parted , pun intended, the red sea !

  • Bill le Breton – by Keynes I mean we must increase state investment in infrastructure, new technology and R&D, but not about nationalization (unlike Labour, although I prefer railway nationalization). The 1929 campaign was about national development and conquering unemployment, not nationalization.

    Making industrial democracy our FRONTAL message is essential.

    You can create another “Third Way” by promoting an export-oriented policy, because it is forgotten by both Labour and Tories.

    You can also “do a Justin Trudeau” by promising to end Middle East airstrikes.

    Opposition to Internet surveillance and authoritarianism (must be as hard as opposition to Brexit) would attract all Liberals, even more than anti-Brexit.

    Finally, Home Rule all round, together with devolution of public services. The trend of privatization of these services must be REVERSED.

    Oh wait, stop all negative campaigning. And if we have to attack anyone, just focus on the Tories, bash all of their proposals. Do not attack Labour when there are lots of overlaps between both parties’ policies.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Jun '17 - 5:14pm

    I would really genuinely like to know who the people are who are determining what to tell the people of Britain what it is the Party is meant to stand for (principles as much as policy) and who gave them the right to do it. I don’t mean Tim Farron, who I think did as well as he could be expected to, better in parts and worse in a couple of bits (ie a genuine human being). For, having watched this election closely from my sick bed sidelines, I still cannot see any real coherence or understanding as to where we actually are as a party in this nation rather than where people think the voters “ought to have placed us if they only had more sense”. It does really seem that the shock of 2015 has dominated much of what we still do centrally and we have collectively learned very little yet. The outcome has been as as though we just wanted to lose the 2015 election all over again, just in a rather better way.

  • Our philosophy [most people have values] is monumental but doesn’t win votes from a pragmatic society always looking for what appeals to their tribe. Every political party must check many demographics, time after time, to have a large footprint in society [ours is currently small so think about that]. As we have seen this last month, young people have values they have known all their lives. Their families. schools, and society in which they have grown up had a secure framework. Older generations too, made provision for their future whether in private or social care. Then along came the Tory fight for votes with UKIP and a ‘referendum of chaos’. And young voters are right to want continued free movement within Europe. Working with other societies is progressive. LDs are ‘progressive’ aren’t we? Older folks are right to expect to be treated the same whether they have physical or mental disabilities as they age. But is an open trading bloc a good thing when it builds trade barriers with non-EU countries? Isn’t the ECJ good for our Human Rights when we are often in need of it against our own government? We’ll keep our values. We’ll fight all governments which subjugate us to their dogmatic will. Our vote for freedoms is paramount. But we need a bigger ‘Movement’ to make progress. Think about how to appeal to all demographics. Think bigger because tribes come together when the cause is also bigger.

  • Bill le Breton – I am really disappointed when LibDem let Labour to replace them as a beacon of ethical foreign policy. But we can reverse it by first promising to end all airstrikes. I personally like Gladstone’s belief of a non-interventionist foreign policy. By doing so, LibDem will be able to reclaim his legacy. Trudeau adopted some of these aspects and gained huge support.

    Political spectrum actually had 2 axes: Economic Left – Economic Right (horizontal) and Social Authoritarian – Social Libetarian (vertical). Lets retain our current economic stance (but with more export-oriented policies) BUT make our social stance more Libetarian.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks – trade barriers must be maintained against countries with human right problems (like Saudi) as well as countries that tend to violate anti-dumping rules (like China)

  • Dave Orbison 11th Jun '17 - 5:56pm

    John I agree with you on Saudi Arabia and Syrian air strikes. Trouble for LibDems is so does Corbyn whereas the LibDem attitude towards ME and air strikes is chequered. So on those issues alone, reasonably voters would support Corbyn and every reason to be distrustful of LIbDems. But then the same applies re student fees, NHS reorganisation and privatisation, public ownership of railways, social care etc.

    The LibDems have not reconciled which way they want to jump after the Coailtion; either it was good or bad. If the LibDem party can’t decide on this or choose to opt out with ‘it was a bit of both’, then it is hardly surprising voters are unclear what LibDems stand for or trust them. I realise that may not be a welcome view here but it is the reality that faces the LibDems.

  • Dave Orbison – then we should go as far as like this:

    “We will END all kind of military entanglement in the Middle East – we will withdraw our military from the region” (or we will let the people of ME deal with IS alone). ALL-OUT NON-INTERVENTION. Very similar to Gladstonian beliefs in 1880-1881 as well as Asquith’s stance against intervention in Russia in 1918.


    Next, as I said, the party can create another “Third Way” by promoting a series of export-oriented policies, because they are forgotten by both Labour and Tories, and because most voters believe that “export is good, import is bad” (we MUST take advantage of this ignorance). Also, putting industrial democracy at the front, make it more visible.

    Snooper charter – well, all-out opposition, and we are unique regarding this issue. Full opposition to authoritarianism attracts all liberals.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Jun '17 - 6:09pm


    Have you been on Labourlist ever ? Do you realise that you spend all your effort here showing this party how wrong they are on him, and telling us we are divided and do not reveal a stance that is obvious or we are confused , when a second on there shows that party are full of those who loathe the leader of it, and refer on the other side to decent centrists as ” Blaritie scum !”This is a direct quote from today and is targeting a former front bencher who withdrew from the leadership.

    There are times when I miss being in a party that had power and was in the mainstream and could do things . Then I go onto that site and realise that we are here because we do things differently.

    I agree with our leader on the middle east. That means a nuanced approach. For strikes against some , against arms sales with others.

    It was this party went into this election with a pledge to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Labour promised a review !!!

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jun '17 - 6:21pm

    Technology has changed. They used to be printed “wet” for speed, as in the Epping Forest by-election.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jun '17 - 6:25pm

    David Lloyd George was content that Asquith should remain Prime Minister while DLG was in charge of the war.
    The Tories do not currently seem to offer TM a chance to stay on while someone else (DD?) does the Brexit negotiations, while, perhaps, chairing a Cabinet subcommittee.

  • @ Richard Underhill “David Lloyd George was content that Asquith should remain Prime Minister while DLG was in charge of the war”. For about 24 hours.

    @ Lorenzo I didn’t insult dear, Norman, I just repeated whatmaby people have said to me. Nice, worthy, thoughtful but incapable of setting the world on fire.

    @ John, “Asquith’s stance against intervention in Russia in 1918.” He was in ‘loyal’ opposition by then, but lost his seat in December, so fat lot of good it did him when LLG applied the Coupon.

    Having said that I agree in principle with you. It was BoJo’s spiritual ancestor WSC who was gungho for intervening in Russia.

  • Bill, I always value your contributions, and your position on the Referendum made me question my Europhilia, though at the moment it is still intact. I was one of the generation who came out of university in the early 70s and went into their communities to put community politics into practice. The first election I fought was in 1973, and I remember telling my supporters that it could take 20 years to implement community politics successfully, and twenty years later we elected our first Liberal Democrat councillor in that ward! But by then I had seen how easy it was for the ideas to become templates – “Massive Response”, “Residents Fury”, etc. Even the BNP practiced successful community politics in the areas where they had support. Of course our councillors need to work hard in their communities (without burning themselves out like so many of my generation did), and of course they need to listen to their communities and be responsive to what they are hearing, but my fear is that today’s advocates for community politics are stuck in a time-warp where working hard and listening, and being good advocates in the council chamber for their communities are still uniquely Liberal, when the reality is that all parties embrace these things and council structures are far more geared to consultation and flexibility of response.

  • Andrew McCaig 11th Jun '17 - 10:32pm

    Re. Macron in France.. Actually there had been years of Right wing governments until finally people got fed up and elected Hollande on a very similar platform to that put forward by Corbyn.
    After 5 years of failing to deliver what the Ielectorate had voted for, the socialists have dropped to well below 20% in the polls and the French equivalent of an Orange Booker (or perhaps a French Nick Clegg) has swept to power…
    I quite like most of Corbyn’s policies on an individual basis, bit the plan to pay for them was totally unrealistic and dishonest, particularly when Corbyn is also committed to withdraw from the single market with virtually certain negative consequences for growth and tax returns in the medium term. (What would you do if you were a company trading in Europe faced with customs delays AND a near doubling of Corporation tax??)
    The Labour manifesto has got Labour what they wanted this time but if we have another election and Labour get a majority I am afraid they will soon be in trouble and that will actually be our opportunity… What we need is more distinctive policies – a graduate tax would be one. We already have staying as members of the Single Market and keeping Freedom of Movement even though we never said that clearly. That is back on the agenda now, and we should claim it.. A realistic and fair policy for social care ( or rather health care in old age) where inherited wealth is shared out to those unlucky enough to need care would be a good idea.
    I am not sure that “leaving countries in the region to deal with IS” is a very sound idea however….. There are times when intervention of some sort is necessary, although I did not agree that extending our action to Syria served any purpose…

  • When Community Politics was “invented” the natural focus was on councils as they controlled much of the machinery that affected people’s lives – schools, public transport, housing etc. 40+ years on that is less the case.

    There was never a focus on having people take power where there was not an electoral element. So today the focus is still on councils but a lot of power has moved elsewhere. Where has been the community politics campaigns in Arms-length housing bodies, schools free of local authority control, NHS foundation trusts etc. Let alone in workplaces or non-geographic communities. Community politics is often used as shorthand for at best insane activism levels (in itself not distinctively liberal) at worst the sort of client politics that actively disempowers people by creating the all-powerful councillor who “gets things done”.

    I think it was after 2011 that Tim said the party should rediscover community politics and got some Rowntree money to write a book/pamphlet about it. Problem was it was almost complete rubbish that basically went not much further than the aforementioned hyper-activism.

  • Hugh P.
    Actually the government is highly likely to collapse as it as it has the slimmest majority even with the DUP. Electoral boundary changes are now unlikely because a) the reduced number of MPs would arguably give them less of a cushion and it will be pretty hard to maintain that a mere 2% lead should translate into even more than 50 plus seats.
    Make no mistake this is a bit of a game changer for the Conservative Party because most of their calculations are based on the idea that people who don’t agree with their current policies can’t be bothered to vote. Plus their pet Newspapers have been exposed as neither accurate readers of the public mood nor that powerful.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Jun '17 - 1:14am


    Macron won in which the centre left has run the government , for years , I meant to say , not decades !

    And we do not need a change of leader to any who want to waste internal party time on that !

    I say that as one who voted for Norman Lamb but could happily have done so for Tim, and made Sir Vince laugh at a gathering recently when I said I backed Norman because he is a number of years older knowing we could have Tim Farron subsequently , so buy one get one free !!!

  • @ Lorenzo
    Maybe he laughed hoping you’d do the same again at the next leadership election 🙂

    I’ve learned a lot this weekend through this site about Nick, Vince and Norman – most of it I didn’t know, much of it I half wish I didn’t now!!

    Hopefully Charles famous line regarding the “long sgian dubhs” has no place here going forward – or maybe that’s simply too much for me to hope of any political party?

  • Bill le Breton 12th Jun '17 - 6:16am

    @tonyhill I wrote this for two reason – someone in the members’ forum keep on trotting out that, in the days we won seats in lots of different places and on lots of democratic bodies, we did so because we had no philosophy and no values other than do and say anything to win. It was to prove that we had values and at their heart it was about helping people to take power and use it themselves and that that is highly Liberal.

    But also I wrote it because of the practice in this election of the ‘centre’ writing stuff, getting it printed and sending via direct mail WITHOUT necessarily even passing it by the individual campaign. I saw it in a target seat I visited. I couldn’t believe that a Party that practiced Community Politics could have lost its way so far from the trail. In one seat I was told it probably cost the seat because a Direct Mail leaflet repeated an incorrect statement about an opponent that had been withdrawn ‘locally’ earlier in the campaign.

    I do literally remember Penhaligon coming to the Ryedale by-election and spending his time in the basement working a very inky printer. If you or your local team can’t write, produce and deliver you aren’t practicing Community Politics. Full Stop. It is not an initiation rite it is key to the relationship with your citizens. If you haven’t a local ‘brand’ to your communications – not one manufactured but one formed by what you do and the way the local people ‘see’ you – and are using templates – or worse you are allowing the Centre to do stuff in your name – then you are not practicing Community Politics.

    A criticism of this kind of thing is not a criticism of Community Politics it is rightly a criticism of ‘tricking’ the electorate and actually acting a bit like the old tabocco companies in the days before packaging restrictions. It is the opposite of Liberalism.

    But everyone please read Hywel’s comment above.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Jun '17 - 6:56am

    @ Richard Underhill – you make a good point about technology. It has made it possible for a boiler room producing direct mail literature for target seats. It has made it possible for campaigners to ‘outsource’ and even ‘offshore’ the production of materiale. That just has to stop. Part of the problem is that the centre identifies candidates with ‘the right stuff’ and puts them in held seats or winnables and says we shall get you elected. Once that support is removed they are helpless to run an orgsanisation that does it themselves.

    @Michael BG – thanks for your contribution, especially the story which ||I recall of Oaten in the Tower Block. The great good of Community Politics is that it keeps practicioners in touch with people in their communities . They see how others live and how those people can be helped to take the power which they undoubtedly have if they had more information and more experience of organisation. They can then better help to bring different people and different communities together and then we, the practicioners, become more rounded more considerate people.

    @tony D – yes this has been, perhaps unintentionally, the most ‘secretly’ run campaign in all the years I have been involved in the Party. In the past the professional paid campaigners have had to move over for the amateur ‘friends’ of the leader. We need to know, really know, if those campaigners had a free hand or whether they were removed from their tasks and authority. We can’t ask them as they are in an invidious position. Which is why I think the Leader and President should employ Peter Chegwyn to do a report on the campaign. He’ll be able to talk in confidence to employees as well as to ‘the great and the good’.

    Will try a react to more comments later in the day. Perhaps about 4pm. But thanks for all the contributions.

  • Dave Orbison 12th Jun '17 - 7:24am

    Lorenzo – I don’t spend all my time here but choose to dip in from time to time as a past supporter and someone who sees the potential benefit of a LibDem party.

    Unless you want a pledge of blind obedience to the Leader, I assume most would accept it is healthy to debate policy and strategy. No more so is this relevant than after a poor election performance and with the prospect of another one around the corner.

    When Corbyn called for the end of sales of arms to Saudis the LibDems where nowhere to be seen by the way.

  • Paul Murray 12th Jun '17 - 9:28am

    The recent election has been an object lesson in the dangers of confirmation bias (extracting the bits from data that “prove” our subjective opinions) and normalcy bias (ignoring the risk of disaster because we simply cannot believe it will happen). I was as wrong as anyone. Only a couple of pollsters did the right thing by following the data to where it took them.

    The Liberal Democrats have also been caught out engaging in these biases. In 2015, expectations of seats retained were “confirmed” by comfort/push polling, and Ashdown famously demonstrated normalcy bias by pledging to eat his hat on hearing the results of the exit poll.

    If the Lib Dems are to “find our way again” then we must surely begin by looking at where the data says we are and acting on it. In the 2017 election C+L was 82.4%. The last time it was this high was 1966. That’s two party politics. There are 12 Lib Dem MPs. The last time it was this low (excluding 2015) was 1979. Those twelve seats are widely dispersed in small areas of traditional strength, often separated by large areas where every seat had a lost deposit – 375 lost deposits in total.

    Does this really sound like a national party? I don’t think it does. Assuming that we share a common purpose of advancing Liberalism as articulated above and can identify policies that flow from that definition then the question is about process and strategy, not identity. And those processes must not be hamstrung by the biases I mention above.

    As a start, how about more freedom for local parties to campaign in ways that local activists know will work. More opportunism – let’s call it “nimbleness” – in responding to events in order to ensure media coverage. More boldness in proposing novel policies rather than falling back on tired, formulaic cliche.

  • Peter Martin 12th Jun '17 - 10:33am

    @ Bill le Breton,

    Community politics will only get you so far. Maybe back up to 50 or 60 seats or so. And its going to take several election cycles to do it. Just like it did last time, as you slowly built on the successes you gained from various protest votes in the by elections that cropped up between the main elections. Only to throw it all away after lurching to the right with “Orange Book” neo-liberalism and getting into bed with the Tories!

    If you want to do better than that, you’ll have to come up with something radically different. The EU/Brexit argument probably won’t do it for you. I’d start by throwing out any economic arguments which are in the slightest way neo-liberal.

    You can say things about the folly of over-worrying about the Govt’s deficit that the Labour party can’t say for fear of being labelled deficit-deniers. You’re the party of Keynes. It’s all still there in his books. Others have built on his work in the Post Keynesian tradition. Why not use it?

  • Peter Martin 12th Jun '17 - 11:01am

    @ John,

    “because most voters believe that ‘export is good, import is bad’ (we MUST take advantage of this ignorance”

    Trying to take advantage of any perceived ignorance is likely to be neither a successful political nor economic strategy. Exports are good insofar as they allow us to import from others without having to borrow. Commodities that we possibly can’t supply ourselves. But, there’s no need to run a large trade surplus, year after year, as does Germany, to do that. So if you feel there is any ignorance amongst the voters why not try explaining it to them? It’s not that difficult a concept.

    There is a valid case for trying to balance our trade. It is the deficit in our trade that creates the need for borrowing and debt. Someone in the UK has to fund that deficit by borrowing and it’s either got to be by Govt or the private sector. There’s an economic crisis looming as the bubble of the property market deflates. That bubble has purely been caused by the Govt trying to minimise its own debt by encouraging ever more private sector debt.

    There’s a genuine scope for new political and economic thinking which the public are very likely to easily appreciate if it is explained in a sensible way.

  • Phil Wainewright 12th Jun '17 - 11:11am

    As someone living in a held seat that owes its history to a longstanding tradition of true community politics, I am nevertheless hugely grateful to the national campaigning, both through direct mail but more particularly on social media, without which we would almost certainly have lost the seat.

    So let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater, just because one regionally organised mailing wasn’t properly fact-checked. That’s a simple matter of having grown-up management processes in place.

    Let’s also not confuse the methodology with the philosophy. In my 20s I printed off street letters on a Gestetner. Today a 20-year-old is going to use Facebook, and their community rarely corresponds to a specific set of streets. I 100% agree with Bill that the philosophy of community politics should be (and I believe is) the heart and soul of our party, but in today’s hyper-connected world you can’t call it ‘pavement politics’ any more. Communities have moved on, and so has their politics.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Jun '17 - 11:18am

    Thank you for reminding us all of community politics Bill. I tried to practise this in the 80s and 90s as a Councillor and yes, potholes, rubbish and dogs’ poo did feature but so did tenant participation, opening the Council up so residents could present petitions and giving tenants some control over small local budgets. Oh and appointing an access officer to liaise with disabled people so their needs could be heard.
    I think the problem is that the party didn’t see how this could be applied to the workings of parliament and government. Indeed I’m not sure if this even occurred to the Parliamentary party when we were in Coalition, but maybe I wrong them. Now we can petition parliament, but I’m not sure who introduced this, but I think this gives the illusion of influence rather than really devolving power, so surely we could work on improving this. I’m not a fan of Corbyn but I did admire his quoting ordinary people’s concerns when asking questions of the PM, but I got the feeling I was the only person in the country who did.
    One of the two main cries of Brexiteers was take back control. I think we should be looking at why people felt things were out of control in the first place and address those concerns by giving people a voice at every level of power.

  • J George SMID 12th Jun '17 - 11:28am

    Bill, thanks. Would it be fair to distill your article to: Think Liberal, think local? Paul’s point of loosing 375 deposits was the verification of your views. To stand or not to stand should be left up to the local party. (Or the national executive should cough up the money). May I just remind the fact that in 2015 we lost 400 deposits. 6% improvement is an improvement and it led to 50% increase in the number of our MPs but without drastic re-positioning we have no chance next time around. Just think when Tories and Labour will move more to soft Brexit – who will pay attention to our mantra of ‘second referendum’?

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Jun '17 - 12:14pm

    Phil and Peter, thank you for your positive remarks which give us a way forward in two important areas. Economic policy and campaigning strategy. This is what we must be concentrating on not trying to find someone to blame.

  • @Bill
    Couldn’t agree more about a healthy life style but we are seriously ill at the moment. With the threat of a GE in the next two years, what we need is some intensive care. We wanted to be the party of opposition. We lost that one. We quickly need to work out what political space we want to occupy and whether that can be sold in this political environment. I have never known a country so divided in so many ways. The center ground is being vacated by tactical voting as each side is so scared of the other. If we cannot find a third dimension on this left right spectrum we will seriously struggle. Just one point on the young vote. The young have woken up and will not go to sleep again but their vote will get more sophisticated.

  • Peter Martin – I want to add an addition case for an export-oriented policy, not just balancing the current account. Most international trade studies (you can search on Google Scholar) concluded that exporters tend to have high productivity, especially if they export to high-income countries. A combination of productivity improvement and current account balance would make perfect support for an export-oriented policy. Besides, by offering export-oriented strategy, which requires hell a lot of state intervention in a much more complex way than just tax and spend, Liberal Democrats would distance itself very far from neoliberal consensus.

  • Why an export-oriented policy requires very big state intervention? (and it will be much more complicated than Labour economics of tax and spend):

    – We will need a ten times bigger British Business Bank (must be as big as German KfW Bank), so that it can provide cheap export financing to manufacturers. Besides, you must control financing to businesses and decide whether support must be increased or cut based on firms’ performance in the long run. For example, go back to the case of BMC and Leyland in 1970s. The right approach (adopted by South Korea) was to leave BMC to collapse and support Leyland, which was quite successful, but Labour merged them into an abomination called British Leyland (not to mention the failed M&As that messed up British aircraft industry). Based on this example, we can’t trust Corbynomics.

    – We must develop a strong domestic supply chain so that we can produce input components for exporters rather than importing from outsiders. In other words, some forms of import substitution. This will be necessary as Brexit will increase the costs of imported inputs for British companies. High import costs would neutralize any gain from exports.

  • For foreign policy, copying Justin Trudeau’s stance over Syria will allow us to outflank Labour massively.

  • Thomas,
    I think with 7% of the electorate and virtually no media presence talking about outflanking anyone is a little too optimistic. Really, any recovery is going to be a long slow slog.

  • David Evershed 12th Jun '17 - 3:30pm

    Excellent thoughtful article by Bill Le Breton.

    Community politics is consistent with the self help approach of Gladstone Liberalism a hundred years earlier.

    Young people have grown up with the idea that they should rely on the government to solve all their problems rather than make the effort themselves.

    State intervention for all and everything – this is what Labour (unrealistically) promises. Hence Labour receive the majority of the young vote.

    Lib Dems need to refresh their ideas of liberalism – emphasising freedom for individuals and freedom for businesses, together with the necessary duties and responsibilities which go alongside such freedoms if we are all to prosper. Encouraging self help and community politics is part of this.

    Our Lib Dem ‘Preamble’ to the constitution is too vague and could be used by any of the other political parties. To be more distinctive we need to emphaise how being socially liberal and economically liberal combines the best of Labour and Conservative and thus differs from each of them.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Jun '17 - 3:55pm

    @Paul M writes “As a start, how about more freedom for local parties to campaign in ways that local activists know will work. More opportunism – let’s call it “nimbleness” – in responding to events in order to ensure media coverage. More boldness in proposing novel policies rather than falling back on tired, formulaic cliche.”

    And the commitment to capital C and P Community Politics will bring pressure from the grassroots for this. The party has created a dependency culture and then a fairly rigid central authoritarianism. When this last happened people like Tony Greaves got some funds and opened an alternative non-Whitehall based centre to encourage this, that is, to set Community Politicians free. Which brings me to …

    @Phil Wainright – fascinating on Direct mail. I see nothing wrong in using it for delivery (though I happen to think literature in the short campaign serves only to stop people reading literature generally and therefore to reduce the impact of our opponent’s literature). What I worry about is if or when it is done without using the locally developed ‘house style’. So in your constituency did local people write the stuff, did they artwork it, or did the central resource use your house style, and how much influence did you have on content?

    And yes, the medium will change over time and has done so. The importance is that the reader or listener or watcher believes it has been done by someone not unlike them, with similar talents and similar short comings. The danger, whether it is on line or through a letter box, is that people think ‘it’ comes from professional marketeers rather than from an activist or a group of activists endeavouring to involve ‘you’ and ‘the community (in whatever form) in changing something for the better .

    We have lost out way here. Too much really does look like double glazing sales material. Just look at it objectively for a minute.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Jun '17 - 4:21pm

    Sue S – your noble dedication didn’t have to be restricted to pavements and dog poo. As Hywel mentioned above there are so many other areas to campaign on. And the way it has to work at the Parliamentary level is that it has to be integrated. ie. to work at local and Parliamentary level for example. Say, if the Party at grass roots is worried about the behaviour of local banks – closing local branches, then, there’s a local campaign here but also there is a national policy implication and we can widen it to campaigning for the Vickers recommendations and the separation of investment and high street banking. Then someone identifies with us from what they see on national tv and what they are getting through their door and what we are on about on social media. I think you are right though. Parliamentarians get sucked into to being Parliamentarians. There are EDMs and you can even get Bills printed up.

    @PJ- there is no centre. It is an illusion. Difference and change is what matters. What is wrong,what is preventing people being free? What change could help make them free, make them more able to realise their potential, provide more life chances for them to choose from. How do we reach people to encourage them to join campaigns for these changes? Go do it. If it doesn’t engage, stop and do something different.

    Worried about the near future? Don’t be. Politics is cyclical. There are many ways to move forward but some that will be right in the future are wrong now. We have to choose the ones that are right for us in this present position in the political cycle.

  • Bill le Breton 12th Jun '17 - 4:32pm

    @Peter Martin – I don’t agree that there is a glass ceiling. We stopped at 60 because we stopped campaigning for change. We believed that there was such a thing as grown up politics and that we had been conducting protest politics. Good Governments protest against themselves because it is the only way to stop those barriers to freedom taking their grip. “You can be in government if your behaviour yourself and abide by collective responsibility”. Liberals never give up their freedom to act in the cause of freedom, never!

    I agree with the economics. The ‘inflation’ we have had has been caused by the depreciation which occurred a year ago – if wages don’t rise (and there seems to be no sign of that) that rise in prices will drop out and we shall be back in a time of deflation again. When that happens we need to set a target for the growth of aggregate demand /national income (they are the same) and we need the Treasury and Bank of England to work together to hit that target growth.

    @David E – sticking on the economic theme. I am not so sure of economic liberalsim. I think it leads to deflation. Let me explain. I believe a Liberal Government has a duty to provide a level of stable growth in National Income (which = aggregate demand). That stability will come when that the monetary value of National income growths steadily at a rate between 4 and 5%. Sometimes monetary policy will be sufficient to provide that steady growth – sometimes some fiscal stimulus maybe need too. But the Treasury and the B of E have to work together with the same target to achieve this. An economic liberal might not agree with that. Nor would most social Liberals for whom monetary policy is a black box.

    That’s my lot for a while given flood warnings and other comment restraints.

  • Bill le Breton – but you must have a clear way to make the so-called “self help” differs from Tories’ idea of throwing people to the wolves.

  • Community politics was foundational to the party’s success since the 1970s but for a national party (as opposed to a coalition of residents’ associations) there is a big problem with it.

    Simply, community politics doesn’t scale invariantly from local to national. That’s not in any way a criticism of CP but just to say that there needs to be an added dimension, congruent with it, to properly engage at national level.

    Arguably, the ‘CP only’ approach didn’t matter too much for the tiny party of the early 1970s but by the time I joined in the mid-1980s it mattered a lot and, as a newbie, was one of the first things I noticed. It was, of course, a problem made worse by the clash between the two Davids – Owen and Steel.

    The paper linked in the article doesn’t really help. The earlier sections on local campaigns are excellent but the later ones are poor. Partly that’s because it’s decades old and set in a vanished world but mainly because, although the party had a clear philosophy, it hadn’t then worked out how to translate that into national policies with voter-appeal. It still hasn’t and this remains an unsolved problem today – and alarmingly – apparently an unrecognised one. (AFAIK Tim Farron didn’t mention it once during his leadership campaign; Norman Lamb did – but only briefly).

    At the time of the Liberal/SDP merger a major concern was, very reasonably, to avoid the chaos resulting from the dual leadership. The chosen solution inadvertently squeezed out diversity by virtue of being tightly controlled. Yet, as we know from biological evolution, diversity is the well-spring of change and adaptation and the just same is true of organisations. No-one would have predicted Corbyn’s success yet the tiny strand of diversity he represented has energised a new generation and replaced both the Old Labour dinosaurs and big beasts of the Blairite jungle. Thatcher did the equivalent for the Tories in 1979.

    So, my prescription is that we must urgently find a radically new way of doing governance and policy or die. What a sad end it would be that a LIBERAL party should fail because of an inability to adapt, in short to die because of extreme CONSERVATISM.

  • David Allen 12th Jun '17 - 8:01pm

    I agree with Hywel and also Gordon, and would add:

    Community politics wasn’t just a values-free political marketing technique back in the 1980s, when our opponents (especially Labour) stood for Council rule by powerful Party oligarchs, and our call to transfer power to local people was both appealing and rational. Nowadays, councils are neutered. Whitehall rules. When you get elected, you just find that Council officers happily ignore you, because they have very little scope to take any notice of what local people think. In such circumstances, helping local people can’t go far beyond doing things (like reporting potholes) which they could just as well have done for themselves if they knew the ropes. That’s fair enough, but it doesn’t amount to an over-arching political philosophy.

    Focuses can also be a hostage to fortune. If you campaign to keep your local leisure centre open, the Tories can put out last-minute lies claiming that your Lib Dem colleague from the other end of the Borough wants your leisure centre closed. If you take action to forestall the possibility that travellers might invade and squat in local woodland, so that nothing happens, the Tories can come back a year later and say that you were just scaremongering about a non-event. They can get a co-operative Parish Clerk to write to Lib Dem Focus, and then when you mention your discussions in the next Focus, get him to put up a public notice rubbishing the Lib Dems, and then put a picture of that public notice in the Tory election address. They can print a picture of the Tory candidate grinning as he bins a Lib Dem Focus. They can say they stand for “Honesty, Integrity and Truth” and call themselves – no doubt grinning again as they do so – the HIT team. All those things and more were done in my ward ten years ago, and as we failed to rebut effectively, they took 50% of our votes away from us.

  • David Allen 12th Jun '17 - 8:02pm

    Now a different point –

    One kind of “community politics” which is growing these days is rural Parish Councils – Which work best when they are non-party. A big recent success story in my village was setting up allotments – finding a co-operative farmer, setting up an organising group, getting legal agreement, etc. It was led by an independent group through the Parish Council and of necessity, involving people of all political persuasions. Could the Lib Dems have a role? The answer was a very firm No. People were working for the sake of the whole community. They were not working to help one political party gain votes at the expense of the other parties, thank you very much!

  • Peter Martin 12th Jun '17 - 10:13pm

    @ Thomas,

    “a case for an export-oriented policy, not just balancing the current account.”

    You need to ask yourself why you’d want to do this. Say that the UK and the USA had demanded reparations from Germany after WW2 and said that for the next 100 years they had to supply us with lots more real things than we supply to them. Cars, machine tools, beer etc etc.

    That would have been considered unduly harsh. Except the Germans want to do this entirely of their own volition. Why? What’s the point of depressing demand in their own economy just so that the excess can be sent overseas?

  • @ David Evershed

    I think you have misunderstood the article, empowering people is not “self-help” (not that Gladstone really believed in that anyway because he saw the need for state intervention) which implies everyone is left to fend for themselves i.e. the survival of the fittest. It is getting people to act together. Sometimes to get institutions to change what they are doing; sometimes to change the way an organisation works so people have more control. The last thing we need as a party is to be economically liberal. We tried that in the Coalition years and it did us no good what so ever.

  • Bill le Breton 13th Jun '17 - 6:20am

    In reverse order:
    @ Michael – thanks for making that point. People naturally do things together.
    @ David – that is a good thing. I think in my piece I made the point that the object was that our work would make us redundant and that we would have to become more and more creative. Sometimes they call that social enterprise. In your point before that mu question is, where has that power gone – a point made by Hywel above – Power does not vanish, it is seized by other people working in other institutions or organisations. I don’t think it has all gone to Whitehall, but if it has then it makes for good integrated campaigning opportunities. Follow the powerful !
    @Gordon of course makes good points. Especially about the effects of the ‘battle’ between the Liberals and the SDP. I had missed that. @David makes the point that it wasn’t value free, but for many it became so. Surely it is when we lost contact with those values that we became sterile and as you say CONSERVATIVE. And the Party has become Conservative as a result of its campaigning techniques and successes. and has therefore been easier for yellow Tories to come in and usurp it. The answer is not to stop trying to get people elected but to get them to put those former values back into practice.

    Hence my belief that we have to return to the Continent of those Lost Values. Now there’s a title for apiece !!!!

    Thanks everyone. Discussion helps the thought processes.

  • Phil Beesley 13th Jun '17 - 1:16pm

    The ways that the world has changed do not entirely negate community politics as an empowering philosophy. Sometimes we overestimate population mobility — people settle when they are able — and we may make false life style assumptions. Even internet shopping brings people out of the house to collect parcels from shops or neighbours.

    Changing powers and roles of public bodies are opportunities. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the level of discretionary council spending was low. Councils had the theoretical power to build houses and enhance schools but few realistic ways of delivering change. Councillors were often reduced to local planning decision representatives or financial watchdogs. I daresay many feel the same way today about cabinet style decision making and City Mayors in single authorities.

    The ownership and governance of social housing, schools and health services seem to change on a regular basis. In theory, citizens are represented. It is for community politicians to ensure it happens and that local people feel it to be true. Where is the closest dentist providing NHS treatment to all?

    Councils are most noticeable in managing big projects. I lived in a city in my 20s where there was a professional theatre, an amateur theatre, for-profit venues offering live music surrounded by shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants. We called it the city centre. I now live in a neighbouring city with a Cultural Zone — it’s sort of the same thing, but more clinical and managerial. The City Mayor raised the capital for new buildings so he is in control. Rent prices have pushed away second hand book shops and small scale music venues. A Marxist would tell you that this is cultural hegemony in two forms…

    There are lots of campaigning opportunities for community politicians. When we read about planning applications in neighbouring areas, we have to think about how it might affect us. The scope of a campaign may have become bigger than a single council ward, village or polling district, but the web and email make that practical.

  • Peter Martin – Exporting more make British firms subject to greater competition, thus forcing them to improve their technology and capacity to compete successfully with foreign competitors on international markets, and the role of the state is to help them to do so.

  • What I mean is that encouraging export generally has been proven to support national productivity growth. Productivity is what determine our long-term wealth creation capability. Unless you are against improving productivity, you should support export-oriented policies.

  • Peter Martin 14th Jun '17 - 10:44am

    @ Thomas,

    The UK govt should do more to balance its trade. But not go so far as to be yet another mercantilistic country like Germany. It simply isn’t possible for every country to run a trade surplus. But it is possible for every country to have balanced trade – or close to it.

    It simply doesn’t make any sense to argue that only the net exporters can have successful economies. That would mean that half the world’s countries would have to be economic failures.

    It’s a mistake to equate a national surplus with a company’s profit and a national deficit with a company’s loss. In a successful economy most companies can be in profit. It isn’t a zero sum outcome. But trade surpluses and deficits are exactly that.

  • Simon Banks 5th Sep '17 - 11:00am

    Bill is right – and the reservations voiced by Edward C, while wrong in some respects (young people can be concerned about unsafe cycle tracks, school overcrowding, speeding traffic, attacks on students) actually reinforce what he’s saying – that we’ve lost the link between national policy and local campaigning. It’s not hard in a Focus to relate one of the local issues to national policy (“the Minister has said no, but we’d devolve power on this kind of issue to local councils”) – it just needs the mindset to ask if you can.

    I had a conversation at a recent Regional Exec with two reps probably 40 or so years younger than me and we instantly shared the understanding that empowerment of individuals and communities was at the heart of Liberalism. I’ve found many active new members understood that too. We need to ask how we’re failing to get that message out beyond the activist huddle.

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