Going back to Grimond

The party’s General Election Review has certainly generated plenty of debate and goes on to make a number of useful recommendations which I hope will be followed. However for me a key issue is that we are coming out of a long period where we abandoned our radicalism and we need to rediscover it. At the 2010 General Election we fought on a manifesto that could attract a wide range of voters either disillusioned with New Labour or sceptical of David Cameron’s Conservatives. This was a continuation of the strategy adopted by Paddy Ashdown and it resulted in a 23 per cent share of the national vote and 57 MPs in 2010. Of course we then went into coalition for five years with the result being electoral meltdown, plenty has been written about this and I have no desire to revisit that period. However in the years that followed we have had a muddled approach combining attempts to justify what happened in coalition with some tinkering of policy and the short lived ‘movement of moderates’ a slogan that summed up our malaise admirably.

We now find ourselves at a crossroads, with a leadership election imminent and a number of years before the next General Election we have the opportunity to establish ourselves as a radical alternative to the electorate as a 21st century version of Jo Grimond’s non socialist centre left alternative to the Conservatives. The first building block has to be policies that address the crisis in areas like housing, education, the NHS and social care. In the world of work yes we need to look at UBI but at the same time we must propose decent rights at work and also revive our historic policy of partnership in industry. Secondly and linked to this a nationwide discussion of our Liberal philosophy is urgently needed not least so that when we are pushing FOCUS leaflets through letterboxes we know why we are doing it.

Finally we need activity wherever it can be initiated whether that be in a neighbourhood, ward, borough or constituency. Local associations need to be encouraged to find out what their members are prepared to do and help them do it. The national party could also do with finding out what talents we have and utilise them instead of relying on a diminishing group of London based worthies. Some of these issues were covered in an excellent webinar with Mark Pack organised by Lewes Liberal Democrats last week. An event that gave me a real lift. The future can be bright if we get it right.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Lorenzo Cherin 1st Jun '20 - 4:06pm

    As usual, David, constructive and correct on many things.

    I think the issue is, one person perceives radical, in a different way to someone else.

    Example, on abortion, to be radical, would be to consider that a life begins earlier than twenty four weeks, and protect foetus as well as well as the woman’s rights.

    It would also be radical to say that the NHS, does not work because of its in built aversion to utilising private health practitioners instead of private companies to administrate, so we could integrate the private sector, all private hospitals ans staff, if interested, so you or i get as good as anyone else, but though it could be seen as privatisation, it is semi nationalisation.

    Grimond was in the radical centre, rarely but only once in a while actually on the left, by the standards of the day. Now he would be, as would Gaitskill, for politics moved too far towards the Conservatives of Thatcher,

    I favour us being a party of conscience and connection.

    Few care for the former or do the latter.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jun '20 - 4:52pm

    David: Thanks for another thought provoking post, with regard to where the Lib Dems stand and what the future direction of the party should be I can only say my lifetime support for the party seems at odds with so many on this site since I have started reading and contributing to it that at times I have wondered whether I am really in the correct party, I believed I was all these years, but I suppose at my advanced age it does not matter anymore? But I must say that I was impressed with Wera Hobhouse’ s statement on this site, it certainly rang a bell for me, at least!!

  • Good stuff, in fact I would support every word of the final paragraph. But like Lorenzo, I am a little unsure of the call to be radical. My fear is that for some “radical” policies would simply take us closer to Labour (which is one interpretation on Wera’s statement a couple of days ago). Faced with a straight fight with Labour for the centre left vote there is only one winner and it isn’t us. As the third party we need to offer something different but there is, as yet, no consensus as to what that something might be.

  • Much to agree with there, David, especially, ‘The first building block has to be policies that address the crisis in areas like housing, education, the NHS and social care’. I
    would add poverty and inequality).

    I think it’s fair to say (somewhat to my alarm) that I have the advantage of being around when Jo Grimond was around – working at Party HQ and seeing Jo at close quarters at LPO, in Parliament, in the Whips Office as well as hearing speeches on the platform.

    Of course I was young and impressionable (not so much of either these days)….. and radical (still that), and have to tell you that Jo had immense personal charisma and wit. He was a large man with a commanding presence. He looked and sounded like a Leader….. and didn’t need to claim to be a potential Prime Minister because he looked and sounded like one. I well remembering him holding a huge lunchtime crowd of workers outside the David Brown tractor factory in the Colne Valley.

    Sadly, whilst you’re correct about the need for a radical platform, I’m very sorry to tell you that unfortunately none of the existing candidates are near the calibre of the Leader in ’59, ’64 and ’66.

  • @David Raw. I suspect you are right about the leadership situation but regarding the message, rather than the messenger, I would be interested in your take on, say, education policy, as you mention it . How do we shape an education policy which is neither labour leaning (statist, throw more money at it), Tory (more independence for schools, parent power, etc) or an awkward mish mash of the two ? I just think the call to be radical is easier said than actually done.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jun '20 - 5:49pm

    I too was around during Jo Grimmonds time and while, sadly, not having met him personally, was highly impressed with his manner and statesmanship, he was my inspiration for becoming a Liberal, along with a family tradition, being a third generation in family business that tried hard to be fair to staff and customers alike. I sure we did not get it right all the time but we tried. Sorry to go on???

  • The heart of being radical is to have reforms that will be effective.

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jun '20 - 6:33pm

    Joseph Bourke: Thanks for that piece about Jo Grimmond, I found it very enlightening.

  • @ Chris Cory I was quoting David Warren, Mr Cory, and I’ll keep my powder dry on education on this occasion.

    I’d suggest to Joe Bourke that the Jo Grimond of 1978 was very different to the younger Jo Grimond of his leadership days, particularly on Beveridge. In his 1959 ‘The Liberal Future’, p 28, he approves of the Beveridge Report and applauds the Attlee government for introducing it.

    My comments on Mr Grimond relate more to his charismatic presence, his wit, his ability during interviews and to his speech making abilities in what was a very different political and social world.

  • P.S. I wonder what Ms Swinson would make of p 189 of the Liberal Future (Faber & Faber, 1959.

    “The ‘H’ bomb may not alter the moral aspects of defence. but it certainly alters the practical possibilities. There is no defence against total nuclear war – only deterrence. Deterrence cannot be national ; so long as we rely on nuclear deterrents, they must be Western deterrents”.

  • Chris Cory, David Raw, Joe Bourke – if school choice means “giving public money via vouchers to students and allow them to go to private schools” then everyone must oppose it, because it will deprive the public school system of money. My idea of public education is in line with Labour but less centralized and more devolved to states/provinces/locals.

  • Joe Bourke – Two very radical ideas that I just came across are export promotion and export discipline.


    You really should read the part about Joe Studwell in this article. Liberals must take note, because his ideas do not exactly fit into the state planning vs free market paradigm, thus we are in the best position to champion them.

  • I am also a strong advocate of state-funded universities, like most pre-2010 Libdems. State-funded university system will actually improve meritocracy by removing the incentive of lowering admission/assessment standards and allowing the provision of quack degrees to grab tuition fees. In addition, it will actually save costs by moving university funding away from stuffs like clubs and activities and more towards actual learning and teaching, as evidenced in Germany and various continental European countries. Finally, the tuition-free system is an universal system, and its universal nature means that it will be harder for the Right to undermine it, compared to the current mean-tested system.

  • Chris Cory. Radical can be one of those slippery political words that can be attached to a wide range of politicians. Andrew Marr described Thatcher as radical on BBC4 last night. I have some understanding of radical socialism but cannot imagine radical Labourism. And I was once Secretary of the Alliance of Radical Methodist’s! However help is at hand so far as radical Liberalism is concerned. Liberator goes online free from September…

  • @Joseph Bourke. I am grateful to you for your summary of Jo Grimond’s politics. A commitment to a more equal society, but combined with real localism (as opposed to council led corporatism, I suppose) and, it seems, a healthy liberal suspicion of the big state. Someone will probably now tell me that I have misinterpreted the great man’s ideas, but regardless, it was an uplifting reminder of why I joined this party. Thanks once again Joseph and D.W. for starting this useful discussion.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '20 - 9:09am

    @ Thomas,

    Thanks for the interesting link. It’s hidden behind a paywall unfortunately so I’ve extracted part of it here.

    Studwell is partially right . I’m not sure why the article says “Its not the kind of idea that would sit well with the classically trained economists of the World Bank and IMF.” They are happy enough about “free markets”, exporting and importing etc, but is this really how China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan done it? Possibly should add India too. Or have mercantilism, trade barriers and undervalued currencies played a much larger part? The IMF and World Bank certainly aren’t happy about countries doing that.

    “Studwell believes that good industrial policy boils down to three things. First, developing countries should promote labor-intensive agriculture on small owner-operated farms. Second, once agriculture is going well, countries should focus on manufacturing, and use export promotion as a way to force companies to learn to be more productive. And third, bank-based financial systems should be directed to support export manufacturers.

    The second of these turns out to be the centerpiece. Studwell asserts that developing countries grow by upgrading their technology, and that the only way to do this is to learn by experience. And the best way to do this, he says, is for developing-country governments to incentivize their manufacturers to sell their wares overseas. Exporting entails competing in world markets, which forces a country to acquire, adopt and improve on foreign technologies by any means necessary. In economics the bracing effect of international competition is called export discipline Studwell uses this term a bit more expansively, to refer also to governments practice of disciplining their companies to export, export, export. This echoes the prescriptions of Harvard economist Dani Rodrik, who believes that exporting allows developing countries to discover their comparative advantages in the international trade system. Notably, many discussions of development focus on net exports i.e., trade surpluses. Studwell, in contrast, is talking about gross exports, it doesn’t matter if a country buys a lot from overseas, as long as it also sells a lot overseas too. South Korea, after all, ran trade deficits during much of its period of rapid growth.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '20 - 1:59pm

    @ Joe B,

    “To be able to import a country must be able to export.”

    Either that, or allow the export junkies to give us their real goods and services in exchange for our IOUs. That’s all they seem to want from us.

    The UK enjoyed a significant advantage as the workshop of the world for much the 19th and early 20th century. We seem to have lost our way.

    We haven’t really. We had the options and we made our choice. We could have done like Germany and looked after our manufacturing industry. But rightly or wrongly we made the decision that we should float the pound, not worry at all if it got too high, leave making everyday clothes to Bangladesh, shoes to the Philippines, mobile phones to South Korea and China etc. Mrs Thatcher was blamed for much of that but it continued under the Blair Govt. Maybe we regret it now. Once industry closes down because it’s priced out of the market with a high pound it doesn’t just come back again when the pound falls. We’re stuck with higher prices.

    The policy could still work but we do need to understand that a trade deficit almost invariably translates into a Govt budget deficit and stop wrecking our economy by trying to force the deficit to go away with a combination of tax rises and spending cuts.

  • @ Joseph Bourke ” a pleasant and forensic leader who, frankly, does not stir the blood.”

    And which of the declared Lib Dem leadership candidates are forensic or stir the blood, Joseph – though I’m sure to a certain degree all of them can be pleasant on occasion ?

    It’s just possible that after five years of mendacious Johnsonian folie de grandeur the electorate might prefer a competent forensic leader……… a combination of Asquith/ Campbell-Bannerman…….. or maybe a Major Attlee ?

  • Peter Martin,

    while the UK has been able to attract sufficient credit items on the financial account financial flows, (e.g. portfolio flows, investment flows) to finance the UK’s current account deficit this comes at a price. Those financial flows/IOUs are the currency that is used to buy UK companies and Properties from which dividends and rents are paid overseas taking demand out of the UK economy.
    The UK trade deficit is exacerbated by a deficit in Investment incomes. This is income received on direct investment. A deficit implies that the return on investment in the UK by foreign companies is greater than investment abroad. This reflects a better rate of return on UK investment, with profit from the inward investment being sent back to the country of origin.
    Since 2011 the current account deficit has been increased due to a fall in direct investment income. Investment earnings have declined from a surplus of 3.3% of GDP in 2011 to a significant deficit today. Part of the reason for the fall in FDI earnings is the decline in world commodity prices since 2011. The UK has a relatively high percentage of assets in oil industries, therefore a fall in oil prices has reduced earnings from these oil-related industries.
    A current account deficit in the shorter-tern is not an issue, especially if it goes back and forth from surplus to deficit over the business cycle. Nor have countries with large current account surplus necessarily done better, e.g. Japan had a long period of stagnation despite strong trade surpluses. In an era of globalisation, financial flows are easier to attract and therefore the deficit is financed by these capital inflows. If the current account gets too large, there should be a depreciation in the exchange rate to restore the balance but this can generate significant imported inflation.
    However, the UK has had a persistent deficit since the mid-1980s and a persistent current account deficit over the longer-term is another matter. It is a sign of uncompetitiveness and an unbalanced economy, which leads to lower economic growth and poorer prospects in the long run. If capital / financial flows dry up, depreciation in the exchange rate and a fall in living standards is inevitable.

  • David Raw,

    when you consider the big landslide elections of 1906 and 1945, it is notable they were delivered by two very uncharismatic leaders – Campbell-Bannerman and Attlee. Liberal History writes of Sir Henry Campbell=Bannerman “During his life Campbell-Bannerman was thought rather humdrum and unambitious, a solid Liberal and ultimately reliable but a bit lazy and not in the first rank. Now he is largely forgotten.” https://liberalhistory.org.uk/history/campbell-bannerman-sir-henry/ and yet acknowledges “‘CB’ was far and away the best party leader the Liberal party had. Only Grimond, in very different circumstances, can compare with him. Had Campbell-Bannerman not become leader in the post-Gladstonian shambles of the 1890s, it is likely the Liberal Party would not have lasted intact into the Edwardian era, let alone achieved its greatest electoral victory in 1906.”
    It is said that Churchill described Attlee as “a modest man who has much to be modest about” Even his rival for the Labour Leadership, Herbert Morrison, when asked to sum up Attlee’s achievement in later years, after he had been PM, said of him (perhaps rather ungraciously) he made a good Mayor of Stepney.
    So perhaps it is not a fire-breather or skilled rhetorician we need to revitalize the LibDems but rather someone in the mould of Campbell-Bannerman or Attlee.

  • David Franks 2nd Jun '20 - 3:44pm

    Jo Grimmond’s principles were the reason I joined the party all those years ago and now I want a leader whose performance will remind me every day of those reasons. Jo Grimmond knew what radical was and if you talk of education then we should abandon the “schools for profit” experiments of Blair, Brown and the Tories and give local education authorities the power, the resources and the responsibility to educate our young people.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Jun '20 - 5:55pm

    @ JoeB,

    “However, the UK has had a persistent deficit since the mid-1980s and a persistent current account deficit over the longer-term is another matter.”

    This is true.

    It is a sign of uncompetitiveness and an unbalanced economy

    It’s just a sign that the neoliberally inclined powers-that-be don’t care about it. Neither do they have the macroeconomic policies to deal with it. We know they don’t care because they hardly ever mention it.

    Of course, the other side of it is the surplus in the capital account, the exact mirror image, which means that anyone, anywhere in the world, providing they have the money, can buy up our football teams, our industry, our land, our media, our housing which they often keep empty while we have people homeless on the streets outside. They can buy up just about anything they like! Neither do the neoliberals care about that. This is the operation of the free market.

  • Peter Martin
    Correct. That is illustrative of the main problem of the UK economy. Too little industrial capacity, low long term investment levels, a lack of training, low productivity, poor infrastructure and housing shortages and a lack of an active industrial strategy. I could add no regional devolution and extreme regional inequality
    A “no deal” brexit will make this far worse.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Jun '20 - 11:16pm


    David is correct, on Sir Keir Starmer as one to get on with often, and not compete with , things have changed,plus , as someone who has the same birthday as Sir Henry Campbell- Bannerman, he was the best!

    By the way Churchill denied he said that and always praised Atlee the man, rightly!

  • Well, assuming it goes ahead, I’m looking forward to PMQ’s at 12 o’clock today. The forensic one v the blustering one…… and the forensic one is now ahead in the latest polls.

    But what a farce Rees-Mogg created with a 90 minute vote yesterday. Time to copy Holyrood and get electronic voting at Westminster.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jun '20 - 9:11am

    David Raw 1st Jun ’20 – 8:19pm
    When the US President informed his Soviet ally that a new weapon existed there was no comment from Stalin because he already knew.
    This was not because of a test in the USA, there was a wartime cover story that an ammunition stock had exploded.
    Jo Grimond was Liberal leader twice. BBC Radio 4 may have a copy of the launch of his second period of leadership.
    His memoirs give credit to access to universities as an alternative to having more MPs.
    He supported the Alliance at Liberal Assembly and the merger at the Special Assembly.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jun '20 - 9:14am

    David Raw 3rd Jun ’20 – 7:34am
    Yes, Moggy should be ashamed of himself, replaying His Master’s Voice.

  • Richard Underhill 6th Jun '20 - 9:22am

    Joe Bourke 2nd Jun ’20 – 3:27pm
    Please see analysis by Steve Richards on splits, leaving behind Imperialists for a First Past the Post election.
    Tempting, but dangerous.

  • David Warren 21st Jun '20 - 9:16am

    I watched the BBC Parliament coverage of the 1970 General Election night yesterday. It wasn’t a great result for the Liberal Party but I had forgotten that Jo’s wife Laura stood for in West Aberdeenshire a seat that had been won in 1966.

    Unfortunately she wasn’t successful and commentators were writing the party off as it ended up with just six MPs. Of course organised Liberalism survived and we are still here much to the annoyance of some.

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