Four Go in Search of Big Ideas

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

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

Their introduction says:

Challenging conventional wisdom is hard work, particularly when it’s embedded in public opinion or party stereotypes. We need to break down the barriers between political tribes which inhibit open discussion on big policy issues such as those addressed in this book. Many of these ideas are broadly shared by people of a progressive perspective across party boundaries. Our goal is not just to win political office and to manage the system within the constraints of existing opinions and prejudices. We want to create a shared analysis of problems and a new political narrative so that we can forge a new future based on very different attitudes. We know that social liberalism can make a major contribution to that campaign; it might even lead it.

There are essays on three main themes – Towards a New Economics, The Welfare Society and Climate Change, with a final essay on European Integration by Richard Corbett MEP, Labour Leader in the European Parliament.

Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Rebecca Taylor, David Howarth and Duncan Brack are amongst the LibDem contributors. Graham Allen, formerly a Labour MP and Chair of the Commons Political & Constitutional Reform Select Committee has contributed on the importance of early intervention and Norman Warner, a former Labour Health Minister now a cross-bench peer, has written on the choices to create a sustainable NHS.

Each section is introduced and put in context by an SLF thinker.

Iain Brodie-Browne introduces the economics section and essays by David Haworth on Liberal Economics, Stuart White on Alternative Liberalism, David Boyle on Trying to Remember what Liberal Economics Meant, and Vince Cable MP on Regulation and Competition in the World of Datafication.

Gordon Lishman introduces Norman Warner’s essay on the NHS, his own essay on the failure to reform Social Care, Rebecca Taylor on Health Inequalities, Paul Hindley on Social Rights and Left Behind Communities, Helen Flynn and John Howson on Twenty-first Century Learning, Graham Allen on Early Intervention, Alex Marsh on the Housing Crisis, and Tom Holden on Universal Basic Income.

Edward Robinson introduces Ed Davey on Next Steps to De-carbonise the UK, Suzanna Carp on Climate Change, Migration and Human Rights, Duncan Brack on Greening Government, and Paul Hoggett and Chris Robertson on Climate Psychology.

David Grace introduces Richard Corbett’s essay. Ekta Prakash rounds off the book with a Social Liberal summary of the whole book.

The Four came together 60 years after George Watson’s book The Unservile State unleashed a host of radical, liberal and distributivist ideas and they believe the time has come for a new initiative, building on those ideas and new ones for the wold we now inhabit.

Four Go In Search of Big Ideas is available from the SLF website for £9-50 including postage and packing. Find us here.

* Gordon Lishman is over 70 and has campaigned for older people and on issues concerned with ageing societies for about 50 years.  Nowadays, he does it with more feeling!

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This entry was posted in Books and News.


  • David Blake 5th Mar '18 - 5:32pm

    Looks good.

  • Great idea and I will read it but the diversity of the contributors is atrocious.

    How do we properly identify and solve problems if we predominantly listen to white middle aged men?

  • When I read the ‘headline’ I thought the ‘Four’ referred to May, Johnson, Davis and Fox…Silly me

  • It’s a tad unnerving top read that Helen Flynn is a white middle aged man.

    Spec Savers, Caron ?

  • Helen Flynn 6th Mar '18 - 11:57am

    With reference to Caron’s comment about diversity, to my knowledge, this is the only book put out by Lib Dems of this type that a woman has conceived, largely commissioned, edited and published (as well as writing various bits of it!). I think that is a great achievement and needs to be celebrated! The three others (of the title) were involved in our early discussions and helped to set the tone of the book , and indeed did some of the writing, but it is a project that was conceived and put together by a woman. People will note that the total book has been edited by me.
    We approached lots of different woman to write articles (though were constrained to some extent by the three themes of the sections: economics, welfare society and climate change), but they were either not able to commit to a tight frame or were otherwise committed.
    Obviously I wanted more women–and approached them, but at least it is a woman who has led on the whole process and published a book at a time when the country is crying out for new ideas. We must celebrate that!

  • Mark Blackburn 6th Mar '18 - 1:54pm

    I’m not really involved in the SLF any more on a day-to-day basis but I’m sure it’s not for want of trying Caron. The SLF has made and continues to make real efforts on diversity. It’s had by my reckoning at least two woman chairs and one woman director in its short life. When I was Director, we had more women than men on the executive, and as you know at our own conference and fringes we do our utmost to achieve diversity with panellists and speakers. (One Layla Moran = Keynote Speaker at SLF Conf on 28th July…) Race diversity is admittedly more of a challenge than gender diversity, as is true for the whole party, but again that doesn’t stop us trying.

  • Chris Lewcock 6th Mar '18 - 1:59pm

    Do wish commentators would stop generalising about the prosperous south east when they actually mean London. Here in Hastings and Rye and other coastal towns there are large pockets of deprivation comparable with and sometime worse than indicators in some northern areas. Most local residents cannot afford to commute to London to take advantage of the massive investment that has gone on there.

  • Gordon Lishman 6th Mar '18 - 4:46pm

    Chris: some truth on what you say, but there are large areas of the South East outside London which have done well out of disproportionate investment and there are of course areas of deprivation in London. However, just look at the overall stats for London and South East (and in party terms, the massively disproportionate representation on party bodies from those two regions plus the southern parts of the East and the South Central area). If you look at, for instance, EU regional stats or global information on regions in large countries, the UK’s position is out of line when you compare richest (London and SE) with poorest regions.

  • David Evans 6th Mar '18 - 5:02pm

    Chris, I think you can equally find areas within London that are large pockets of deprivation comparable with and sometime worse than indicators in some northern areas. However ‘the South East’ is a useful shorthand for ‘areas of particular affluence that are typically found in South East Britain, but do not form the entirety of that area and can be found in other areas of the UK as well.

    However, your point does well to remind us of the problems faced by the people in Hastings and Rye, just as I try to remind Lib Dems that handouts to Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds are of any benefit to poverty in rural Cumbria.

  • Nonconformistradical 6th Mar '18 - 5:19pm

    Another point about some south east coastal towns such as Hastings is the extent to which London ‘outsources’ its homeless problems to such places – it just adds to Hatings’s problems.

    And it seems to me that the extent of (Greater) London inequality could make it that much more difficult to exist anywhere in the South East if you are poor – because relative to you most things you need are that much more expensive.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Mar '18 - 7:45am

    @Helen and @Mark: I’m sure that you did try, but I also think that if we are looking for big ideas for society we have to make sure we are taking into account the needs of all of that society and any project that doesn’t do that is diminished.

    I think also that it is worth changing timescales in order to deliver a more diverse publication.

    As I say, I think this is an important contribution and I appreciate your effort in putting it together and I’m looking forward to reading it. I just think that, as Will Smith said, that “diversity is our superpower” and is so important if we’re looking to address the concerns of all of society.

  • Neil Sandison 7th Mar '18 - 9:55am

    Well done SLF members for being ahead of the curve old style liberalism,social democracy and democratic socialism have had their day .We need a refreshed vision for progressive politics to counter the impacts of authoritarian nationalism and protectionism the rise in the far right and as a compass point for our brand of politics in a increasingly polarised world where democracy is being sidelined for expediency and political control by the already powerful. Could i suggest that not every member can afford 9.50 and that you should once publications costs have been covered serialising the book or sections of it to ensure access by the widest range of members regardless of income.

  • paul barker 7th Mar '18 - 7:18pm

    Just to point out that however much Helen Flynn oversaw the book & however hard she tried, the ratio of Men to Women is around 5 to 1 & White to BAME about 25 to 1. Thats not just unnaceptable its obscene.
    I may well read it, when the price falls.

  • Sean Hyland 7th Mar '18 - 7:43pm

    I am not sure obscene is an appropriate term, unfortunate perhaps more suitable. I am sure that Helen Flynn and all involved in this project will have been aware of the mix of contributions and who provided them.

    Yes I would have welcomed a more diverse range of contributions but surely the ideas presented must also be judged on their individual merits. Are we at risk of losing quality proposals, ideas and policies to consider for the future?

    I am happy to take Helen Flynn’s assurance that efforts were made to widen the nature of the contributors but that timing etc were involved. I look forward to reading the book and judging the ideas on their merits. I also look forward to reading future books etc with different writers.

  • @ Paul Barker Are you a white middle aged man ? If so, I sympathise with your affliction, but I must tell you that unfortunately have to ignore your comments.

    If you are a young man then I must warn you of the dangers of becoming middle aged.

    PS. I’m not middle aged any more, so am at liberty to comment.

  • Tom Papworth 12th Mar '18 - 3:41pm

    Chris Lewcock: “…stop generalising about the prosperous south east when they actually mean London. Here in Hastings and Rye and other coastal towns there are large pockets of deprivation…”

    …because there’s no poverty or deprivation in London.

  • To those so outraged that you’d put some sort of diversity quota as more important than actual content, maybe you could edit your own book?

    Book looks interesting so I may well give it a read.

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