The Independent Group won’t explain what they stand for, but we need to

In February’s issue of Prospect, Chaminda Jayanetti asked: “We know what the Independent Group are against—but what on earth are they for?” They’re not going to give a clear answer any time soon. Why should they, when being all things to all people will draw in new supporters?

It’s different for us. What we believe has been consistently misrepresented for nine years. We have to explain clearer what are we for, if we are to correct this.

Some think we’ve become the party of Europe, the EU-KIP party. But that’s a short-term issue for the moment. We need to explain about what we are for on the other issues of key concern to the electorate.

In the Social Democrat Group, we’ve been trying to answer this question. To think about social democracy in the Liberal Democrats, and why we are social democrats.

For me, social democracy means three things:
1) Protecting and helping the vulnerable
2) Making this work for the whole electorate
3) Doing what works over the long-term

These are important, and they are in tension with each other.

Who the vulnerable are will vary. Someone may be rich and powerful, but if they are being mugged, at that moment they are vulnerable.

We need to be careful about what kind of help we offer. When asked, those in poverty sometimes define it as a lack of choice and a lack of dignity. In this area, I think the Liberal tradition has a lot to teach social democrats.

The vulnerable aren’t just people in our own country. For those in poverty overseas, a Social democracy which only cares about people in one country, is not social democracy at all. One of the most alarming developments in recent years has been the so-called progressives, who call for protectionism irrespective of the consequences elsewhere.

If we want to keep the support of the electorate, it will not be possible to do everything we want, because we need to bring the people with us. For example, there are limits to the development aid, unrestricted access to our markets, or easy immigration which we can bring about. But if we can move public policy in a better direction, that’s well worth it.

Making improvements sustainable is hard. Well-intentioned programmes often bring little but false hope, if they lacked long-term funding and careful planning, the same is true of government if it relies on unsustainable borrowing, fails to invest, or if allows corruption to corrode efficiency.

Truth is important too. Lying can sometimes get want you want in the short term, but then it will provoke disillusionment and angry opposition. For something to be sustainable, it’s important not to deceive people into making it happen.

We need to be honest about how hard all this is. Doing what works is difficult.

A key way is to listen to the experience of others, including those from different political traditions and from different countries.

Among members of the Social Democrat Group we disagree, so will we in the wider party. We should learn to listen better, to help us to refine our own views. If we disagree, but do so with mutual respect, we’ll have a better chance of avoiding group-think, and coming up with solutions that work.

* George Kendall is vice-chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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21 Comments

  • Neil Sandison 22nd Mar '19 - 11:03am

    Thanks George Social Democracy must be internationalist in outlook and not parochial in perspective .We do need to remind members to think globally as well as act locally but i sometimes think the latter being easier to do gets activists more motivated but the wider picture gets overlooked .its easy to recycle locally than challenge the vested interests who have allowed the climate clock to run down to 12 years .its easier to blame individual states for nuclear proliferation but ignore the super powers re-arming with even larger nuclear stock piles . its easier to go along with fracking and abstraction than face up to the challenge of over consumption of water and no new reserves being created or good management of our water courses .We can hope quick fix expensive power stations or keeping the coal fired ones burning a bit longer will do rather than invest in low carbon climate fuels stop that residual waste ending up in a landfill site .
    Social Democracy should add to both social justice and enpowerment and ensure future generations have a planet and economy worth inheriting .

  • The bitter cold truth is that TIG offer the Lib Dems a lifeline and maybe your last chance to be big time players. The zero coverage on Television media etc and meagre returns in the polls should be self evident. Embrace TIG and give yourselves a fighting chance..are members not totally fed up of life in the margins

  • Joseph Bourke 22nd Mar '19 - 12:04pm

    Good article, George.

    In the 20th century the great ideological battles were not so much between left and right, but as Attlee described, between democracy and totalitarianism in the form of Fascism and Communism.

    Attlee was able to achieve almost everything that Marx had dreamed of for the British working classes without a single violent civil act intervening. True progressive giants like Beveridge and the Conservative politician Rab Butler who introduced the 1944 Education Act are radicals of the real—those who accept that democracy implies pluralism, and that a plural society is self-evidently made up of many people and kinds, only a few of them truly exploitative and criminal, most just pursuing their own version of the good life as tradition and conviction has offered it to them.

    That requires a focus that you describe well in your article in saying “Well-intentioned programmes often bring little but false hope, if they lacked long-term funding and careful planning, the same is true of government if it relies on unsustainable borrowing, fails to invest, or if allows corruption to corrode efficiency.”

    Today with Fascism and communism defeated and discredited we face a return to the 19th century tensions of nationalism and populism in Europe and beyond. We should heed the words of Attlee and follow the example of Beveridge and Rab Butler in developing a political consensus around making Britain and the world a better place.

  • @SILVIO. Busy. Let’s have this conversation on May 3rd.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Mar '19 - 2:53pm

    @SILVIO @Martin Land “Let’s have this conversation on May 3rd.”
    I can’t imagine there will be many candidates fighting the local elections under the TIG banner (and it is unclear what would be distinctive about a TIG councillor anyway), so a side-effect of the national publicity for the TIGgers might benefit Lib Dems without any formal relationship.

  • Richard O'Neill 22nd Mar '19 - 3:54pm

    TIG have already lost the excitement and momentum (such as it was) of their early days. Had a cascade of MPs joined them, they might have had more push. It’s striking they refuse to consider by-elections, fearing they will all lose their seats.

    Corbyn might actually call their bluff by organising a new confidence vote in May, in which the TIGs are all pledged to back the PM because they fear a general election.

  • @George
    You need to be able to tell the average voter who we are and what we stand for in less than 30 seconds. Preferably less than 10 seconds. It need to be distinctive and unassailable. If we can do that we stand a chance. Forget policy. Nobody remembers policies. Policy is merely the manifestation of who and what we are.
    ie. Party of the individual and against the aggregation of power.

  • Richard Underhill 22nd Mar '19 - 6:39pm

    “Some think we’ve become the party of Europe, the EU-KIP party. But that’s a short-term issue for the moment.”
    No, it is not short term. It is a long-term policy of constitutional importance.
    Roy Jenkins led a group of Labour MPs in voting for entry. They were hounded out of the Labour Party. One of them joined the Liberal Party, who had voted in the Commons to join at the very start.
    Preventing the recurrence of wars between France and Germany (nee Prussia) in 1870, 1914 and 1939 is a founding principle and worthy of continued support. Please do not say it has been achieved, constant vigilance is needed.

  • Neil Sandison 23rd Mar '19 - 10:05am

    George Kendall .Your last sentence made the point for me . There are no magic bullets and policy should be evidence based .I would ask that Social Democrats support the evidence and not the prevailing wind .Micheal Gove wants us all to drive electric by 2040 but where are the new renewable EFW and AD plants to produce the power required ?
    Where are the efficient means of transporting that power in cable or pylons to where it is needed we have seen without viable infrastructure you can have a society information rich but communications poor because of inadequate connectivity in terms of broadband .We should not accept the glib statements of ministers but be prepared to challenge those statements when they cannot be supported by sustainable evidence

  • Richard Underhill 23rd Mar '19 - 5:13pm

    The Commons on Fridays such as 22/3/2019 is for Private Members’ bills, so many MPs go home to their constituencies on a Friday, or leave slightly early on Thursday evening.
    Anna Soubry (TIG) explained that she was on Channel 4 News because she could not go home. Her partner was away and she did not feel safe because of death threats, one of which said that they know where she lives and proved it by delivering it to her home.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Soubry
    I recall being shocked by the death of Jo Cox MP. I was out leafletting in the 2016 referendum and received a text from my wife who was looking at the news and said that we were all to stop immediately, which I did. the local Courier carried a letter which said that her killer was mentally ill, which was later disproved because he was convicted of murder. If the psychiatrists had thought pretrial that he was mentally ill they would have arranged for him to be detained under section 25 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (known as ‘sectioning’).
    https://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=3He%2fVrWE&id=E702513704CFED9961BAF519F44CA475BDA9181F&thid=OIP.3He_VrWE_nV57ijOixPU-wHaFA&mediaurl=http%3a%2f%2fsn4hr.org%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2016%2f06%2fjo-cox.jpg&exph=755&expw=1116&q=jo+cox&simid=608017881464702704&selectedIndex=11&ajaxhist=0
    I still remember where I was when I learned of the murder of John F Kennedy. I did not believe it. Obviously the US President could have top class protection and why would anyone want to assassinate him?
    I recall John Alderdice confirming to me (at the Liberal International in Belfast) that he had bought a house next to a police station (in Northern Ireland). I hope that their Lordships continue to listen to his insight and wisdom. He was the first Speaker of the devolved Assembly, to which Gerry Adams and the late Ian Paisley were both elected.
    He spoke at our local party AGM once. I told them I had brought them a consultant psychiatrist.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Mar '19 - 5:43pm

    Regarding TIG, we need to be patient and focus on what we have in common with them. They formed their grouping on a shared despair of their previous Parties and not wanting a hard Brexit. They are probably a mixed bag in other policy areas. However, if we are to strengthen the center ground, we must work with them and agree to differ when necessary.

  • chris moore 23rd Mar '19 - 6:09pm

    SILVIO 22nd Mar ’19 – 11:49am
    The bitter cold truth is that TIG offer the Lib Dems a lifeline and maybe your last chance to be big time players. The zero coverage on Television media etc and meagre returns in the polls should be self evident. Embrace TIG and give yourselves a fighting chance..are members not totally fed up of life in the margins.

    Hi Silvio, you are being unnecessarily sensational.

    As long as I’ve been a member, the Lib Dems have been ususally completely written off and ignored by TV and print journalists.

    You have to be realistic: I’m in favor of co-operation with TIG, but they are currently lower tan us in the polls; they have no members; no councillors, no policies.

    If they amount to anything, then there are grounds for cooperating. But you are really jumping the gun and clutching at straws.

    BTW zero coverage in the media? Why exaggerate? it doesn’t make your point any stronger. I was over in the UK twice recently for a couple of weeks in total and saw and heard Lib Dems on both national and regional news quite a number of times.

    Exaggeration and sensationalism do not make for clear thinking!

  • Paul Barker 23rd Mar '19 - 6:41pm

    The SDP, very sensibly, took 2 Months after the split from Labour before they launched the new Party. They were constantly accused of not standing for anything. The parallels with TIG are obvious but TIG have the added problems of not wanting to get in the way of stopping Brexit & not knowing when to give up on more defections.
    TIG do not represent our Last Chance but they may well be our best chance of breaking through quickly, in Months rather than Decades. We need the attention they get as a New Thing & their potential to appeal to people who aren’t Liberals; they need our Organisation, experience & Councillor base. Together we can be more than the sum of our parts, just like Britain in The EU.

  • @George
    My comment was not trying to put forward a slogan. I suppose what I was getting at is the concept of identity. I feel this is something that seems to be a weakness with the LibDems. Most voters follow identity politics at the ballot box. ‘Labour are the party of the workings man’, ‘I am a working man’, therefor I will vote Labour, sort of logic.
    Fill in the following blanks.
    Libdems are the party of ‘Blank’ I am ‘Blank’, therefor I will vote Libdem.

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