In full: Norman Lamb’s speech to the IPPR: Liberalism needs to be history’s chosen instrument to build the bridge to the future.

Both leadership candidates have given speeches to the Institute of Public Policy Research recently. We covered Tim Farron’s last week. Here is Norman Lamb’s.

I want to thank the IPPR for inviting me to speak here today.

The IPPR has been a leading progressive think-tank since I have been active in politics. Under the leadership of Nick Pearce it has consistently shown a thoughtful and challenging perspective on the issues of the day, not least in the field of health.

I have been particularly impressed with the emphasis on the quality of care and the commitment to making decisions locally. Was rather helpful to me as a Minister – thank you! We owe you a particular debt of gratitude for the fantastic Think Ahead programme, bringing the brightest young people into mental health social work just as Teach First brought a generation of new graduates into teaching.

I also welcome the fact that you – as a charity – work across the political spectrum.

And I congratulate you in that the Liberal Democrat trustees you have had in recent times – Shirley Williams, Kate Parminter and Alison Suttie. All brilliant liberals and I’m proud to report all supporters of my leadership campaign!

Well I hope after all those nice things that this speech goes better than the one that I heard about recently.

The speaker went on for rather too long, sat down to muted applause, very muted.

He turned to the person next to him and asked how they would have delivered the speech?

To which the reply came “Under an assumed name?”

But let me start by saying something about the election.

Not just the one I’m standing in now, but the one we’ve just undergone.

I think ‘undergone’ may be the right verb to use in the circumstances.

The result presents an existential challenge to progressive parties in this country.

It goes without saying there are lessons we need to learn.

Organisational ones. Some rather painful ones too.

We have to face up to truth that we lost trust.

Once you are defined for having done that, people stop listening to you.

Then they stop hearing.

But as a party we need to start by asking the big question.

Despite the enormous setback, how to forge Liberalism into a political force that put its stamp on the twenty-first century like it did the nineteenth.

And when you ask that, I think you realise this isn’t just a matter of tweaking the slogans.

Or a more compelling rhetoric.

Or more leaflets than ever.

However important those things are – they’re not enough.

Because to dominate the political agenda, you can’t just split the difference.

(I must say, my heart sank when we were all told to repeat the mantra that we’d cut less than the Tories and borrow less than Labour.

It sank again when I heard the slogan about being the head of one side and the heart of the other.)

My key message in this leadership campaign is that, we don’t just have a lot of work to do to rebuild…

We need to turn the party inside out and upside down.

And we have to do a very great deal of thinking.

Most of it in public.

Michael Portillo wasn’t right about everything, heaven knows.

But he was right about this.

Parties of opposition become governments only when they become the heart of a swirling focus of new thinking.

My message is that the Lib Dems must not live on our intellectual capital – we must, we need to, and we will, renew.

We need practical ideas.

We also need to develop our philosophy to apply it to the new century.

We need to become an intellectual powerhouse.

Building on the legacy of great Liberal visionaries – Mill, Beveridge, Keynes, Popper and so many others.

We need to show the foresight of Jo Grimond, leading a tiny parliamentary force in the 50s and 60s.

Arguing in favour of Britain’s place in Europe.

Fighting apartheid.

Supporting worker co-ops.

Gay rights, travellers’ rights, women’s right.

That’s the party of courage and commitment that inspired my parents.

That led me to put on my first Liberal rosette while I was still at primary school.

That’s the intellectual excitement that attracted people like Robin Day or Ludovic Kennedy to join in the 1950s.

And so many others who provide the mainstay of the party today.

Campaigning attracts people’s votes at specific elections, but it is ideas that attract lifelong supporters.

We can’t have one without the other.

Now, we do have some advantages over the party that Grimond led a generation ago.

Technology means we can share ideas and bring people together wherever they are and whenever they choose to take part.

People can take part in debate as Liberals from the other side of the world, if they want to.

We can have special ideas conferences, special events to focus on specific problems.

We can use the whole gamut of online reports, commissions, essays and thinking, from people deeply committed to the party but also – critically – from those who aren’t.

But we do have to define the problem more clearly.

Lib Dem conferences have always been havens of open-minded debate.

Party members have always been an open-minded conduit for new thinking to get into mainstream politics.

The real problem is that those new approaches don’t tend to filter through into leadership or messaging.

I pledge both – not least to the thousands, over 18,000 who have newly joined and the many who will join.

We need to find a way that the leadership of the party can develop its role in the far-sighted promotion of new thinking, based on Liberal values.

We need to re-connect the party’s leaders – and the party’s campaigning structures – with the world of ideas.

To make thinking one of the central purposes of the party.

Coming up with solutions – liberal solutions to the challenges of our time.

Again, Jo Grimond was the model of a politician who regarded himself as a thought leader.

He was able to carve out a political space for thinking.

I want to find a way to do this again.

To point to new political horizons.

To lead a thinking party.

One that see its central purpose – to win power to solve problems.

To win power because we have the solutions.

And to give people a better life.  That must be our driving purpose.

Because if we can win the battle of ideas and combine that with really effective election campaigning…

Then we’ll be back in the game in a challenging way.

We can become an unstoppable force.

If we can’t, we won’t be.

To do that, we need to reinvent political leadership so that it’s receptive to new ideas, not afraid of them.

Which welcomes challenging debate, rather than fearing it will rock the boat.

Because, let’s face it, the world is now challenged by the most enormous unresolved issues.

An ageing society.

Climate change.

Mass migration.

And on the subject of migration, let me just address the issue at Calais

This is serious, and as I argued on Any Questions, it is about people.


Real people.

People who are refugees in so many cases.

This is just the beginning of a much bigger problem.

In the coming decades, conflict and global warming will have a dramatic impact on the starving and the destitute.

This will fall on some of the poorest countries in the world.

We cannot ignore what is going to happen.

We were shamed in the past by the UK Government’s cynical approach to its international obligations when we refused citizens of Hong Kong UK passports.

Our party, led by Paddy Ashdown, stood up for what is decent and honourable.  We must do so again.

Britain has a responsibility to the international community.

And we have a responsibility to the people gathering in Calais.

Whatever the problem it is better to deal with it today.

For David Cameron to send boats to rescue people in the Mediterranean and then dump them in squalid camps in Italy is cynical short term populism.

That Germany took in 21,000 in the first quarter this year and we took in 4,000 says it all.           [Eurostat]

We must begin now a process agreed with the French Government and work as a team.

Building higher walls is not the answer.

This is a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

There will be some who are economic migrants but there will be many who are refugees and we owe it to them to find the most efficient way of working with the French to resolve this crisis.

So just as we did whether it was Kenyan Asians coming to our shores, people from Hong Kong having British passports or refugees rightly coming to Britain, we must say yes and make it happen.

We have a long tradition of being liberal, of being economically liberal, of being right.

We owe it to those Liberals who went before us to apply their Liberal critique to the challenges that face us today.

And, if we do so, consistently and clearly, we won’t just rebuild a Liberal Democrat party, we’ll build a Liberal movement.

* *

Now – our party has been home to some of the great thinkers of the 20th century.

One of those thinkers was William Beveridge, briefly Liberal MP for Berwick on Tweed, and the architect of the modern welfare state.

I want to spend the rest of this presentation thinking about Beveridge and his legacy.

And thinking about what Beveridge’s legacy means for us today.

Because there’s a paradox here.

Political discourse in the UK is dominated by those who basically reject the Beveridge model and those who defend it exactly as enacted by the Attlee government in 1948

This is exhausting partly because the world has moved on in the past six decades.

But it is odd also because Beveridge himself was frustrated even then at the way his report was being put into effect.

It was much too centralised.

Much too inflexible.

And it also left too little room for the human spirit, human variation and what he called ‘voluntary action’.

And if we look more closely at the way public services have developed since then, it’s pretty clear there are some absolutely critical issues that need to be solved.

As a minister, I tried to reset the dial in my own area of health.

I worked to empower people – within services, and also the patients who depend on them, and their families and carers.

First, the extraordinary pressure the system is under, not least in care and health

Between now and 2030, we will see a doubling of the number of people who live to 85 or above – a doubling.

We see health costs rising in part as a result of an ageing community.

We see over 1.9 million people a day living with three or more chronic conditions.

And that number’s going to grow to 2.9 million by 2019 – an increase of more than half again.

That in itself imposes massive cost increases across the system.

And when Beveridge was writing in the 1940s, he assumed that improving health would cut the costs of the NHS year on year.

That never happened anywhere.

So we have to find the money, and – despite all the rhetoric – people seem reluctant to pay big increases in tax to pay for it, certainly where they feel money is wasted.

So we need to think afresh.

We need to consider an earmarked health and care contribution

And give local areas the power to raise additional funds if they want to.

The second challenge is flexibility.

Giving public services a human face.

And giving power to people.

Because we need our services to meet the needs of a diverse population.

To treat people as people – individuals with their own priorities.

We can’t just go back to the days when we assumed everyone was the same.

When we could have any colour NHS we liked, as long as it was white.

Flexibility, empowering people, and joining up care…

…not just within the public sector, but with an increasingly active voluntary sector too.

Yet, as we know, the model that’s developed has been highly controlling, and highly controlled.

It struggles to find the kind of flexibility that allows services to work for a wide diversity of people.

The Labour Government tried to challenge “one size fits all” services through simple contracting out of services.

But there are more answers than ever more private sector firms.

Too often, the emphasis on winning contracts with ever tighter margins can mean the public service ethos is lost.

I want to underpin and support the role of mutuals and social enterprise in public service delivery.

Let’s look more closely at the resources the staff represent.

Because for me, the remarkable workforce in the NHS is part of the solution, not the problem.

Giving a stake to all staff, making sure they have a voice, ending what is too often a top-down bullying model – that’s the way to move.

I know from personal experience of the NHS that, if you can give a sense of ownership to the staff, then they will fly.

It’s basic psychology.  If you impose change, people will comply – but do it grudgingly.

If you give them the power to lead the chance, they will put body and soul into it.

A shift of power from Whitehall to communities, driving a wave of new mutuals and social enterprise.

I also know it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I learned from my efforts on mental health how strong the temptation is, once you’re in government, to assume that total central control is the most effective way forward.

When you are trying to effect change, you want to say, “Just do it!”

But I also learned that these structural problems – and the injustices that follow from them – are also partly a result of central control

Part of the answer, and one which I tried to develop in government, is to use the energy and innovation locally to adapt and join up services,

To find the best way to use resources and improve the quality of care for their community.

The task is so huge that Whitehall blueprints won’t work.

In fact, reorganisation by central dictat has a pretty poor track record in the NHS and other services.

But there remains a whole series of unanswered  questions.

Can we extend the mutual principle to big acute hospitals?

Why are so few mutuals or social enterprises being contracted under the current system?

How do you make services responsive to the public – but without detailed micromanagement from Whitehall?

And how do we get the system to shift focus to preventing ill health in the first place?

The third challenge is the way we waste the resources, care and knowhow that service users represent, and their families and neighbours.

These big challenges must be met if we are to sustain the NHS and social care.

Our failure to use them effectively has led to a great divide.

A huge gulf between an exhausted professional staff and the users of services.

Who are expected to stay passive, to make them easier to process.

It’s a waste we can’t afford.

Beveridge himself warned that the state shouldn’t “stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility”.

“In establishing a national minimum,” he wrote, “it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.”

The gendered language wouldn’t be acceptable now, but the warning is important.

Often this action is going to be in very small, human ways.

Helping deliver services and provide mutual support.

Companionship, support when people are coming out of professional care.

Helping people to self-care, placing them in control.

When I was health minister, I proposed that neighbourhood watch groups might also get involved with checking whether older neighbours were in difficulties.

We’ve got a national movement that looks out for whether our houses are being burgled.

It seemed to me it could also be thinking about whether there are people on our streets who have care needs.

Or who might just be lonely.

Not to replace help from professionals, but to supplement it.

As the eyes and ears.

To offer friendship, kindness and companionship.

To inject humanity into systems.

Devon has led the way – with a neighbourhood watch for care.

This challenges the traditional approach where managing services from Whitehall like a vast assembly line has tended to make them inflexible and unresponsive.

And almost certainly less effective than they need to be.

It is a vast and disempowering system of control, which doesn’t really control.

But the danger is that it also removes local responsibility and flair, and undermines our responsibilities to our own health and to communities.

But there is something worse.

It also means our public services so often collude with inequality.

At best failing to tackle underlying causes.

At worst actively promoting dependence by bullying and inflexible disdain.

Like the sanctions regime.

Punishing people, often just for mental ill-health.

This isn’t an argument for the withdrawal or privatisation of services.

It’s an argument to make them considerably more effective.

Much more flexible.

And to reach out ahead of social problems to prevent them.

It’s an argument to look clearly and dispassionately at why we succeeded in slaying Beveridge’s Five Giants (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease), but still allow them to come back to life again every generation.

To look at why people so rarely escape from that entrenched poverty.

But it’s also an argument for taking the spirit of Beveridge, and his Liberalism, to look at the roots of his proposals.

And to bring that spirit to bear on the big issues.

In fact, we need a new Beveridge Report for the 21st Century.

Yes, the Conservatives are planning £12 billion of welfare cuts.

Yes, we have to learn to oppose more effectively.

But simply opposing isn’t enough.

It yields too much ground to them.

We need a progressive response.

A Liberal vision.

To imagine services that are delivered close to people and yes, delivered in a more effective way.

Responsive to people.

Services that empower people, instead of leaving them dependent.

Humane enough to work alongside people.

In ways that are sustainable in the decades ahead.

And which don’t just tackle the symptoms or bury them under the carpet.

Or under piles of new reports and paperwork.

And a welfare system which changes people’s lives.

Rather than entrenching the great gulf between rich and poor.

Which can inspire people to believe that the progressive forces have better answers to the challenges of today than those who never really believed in Beveridge in the first place.

To help people become once again the heroes of their own lives.

That’s a whole new kind of public sector and I knew when I was a Minister, I could only sketch the outline, the details – as you said in your Decentralisation Decade report – must be local.

But local is Liberalism.

Power close to people.  Indeed – giving power to people.

Taking that problem, and many others, by the scruff of their necks.

Creating the buzz of excitement that new thinking can generate.

Angry, yes.

Refusing to accept the way things are.

But also constructive.

Building on what we did in Government.

And above all local.

But compelling enough to shape a renewed political movement around it.

Because once again, Liberalism needs to be history’s chosen instrument to build the bridge to the future.

I commend to you the words of that great liberal Eleanor Roosevelt when she said

“You have to accept whatever comes and that the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and the best you have to give”

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  • Ruth Bright 2nd Jul '15 - 10:13am

    Interesting to compare with his line on “split the difference” when he appeared with Tim Farron on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on June 23.

    Norman Lamb: “My heart sank when we were all told we had got to repeat the mantra that we would cut less than the Conservatives and borrow less than Labour. That says nothing about what we stand for as Liberals.”

    Audience members call out: “It’s a matter of integrity.” “Why did you repeat it?”

    Norman Lamb: ” We were told to. I rarely said it”.

  • John Tilley 2nd Jul '15 - 10:56am

    So NL distances himself from the recent past, from the loss of trust, from the election slogans which he says he did not like and from all the failures.

    He does not mention that as Nick Clegg’s “Chief Political Advisor” from 2010 he was not exactly remote from the strategy and tactics that he now says made his heart sink.

    I hope one is allowed to draw attention to this inconvenient fact.

  • Simon Gilbert 2nd Jul '15 - 2:41pm

    It seems to me Norman is willing to engage with some difficult policy areas where there is no liberal mainstream political voice and I applaud him for this.

  • Candy Piercy 2nd Jul '15 - 3:56pm

    I think it is vital we reclaim the Beverage legacy for the Lib Dems. Well done Norman!

  • Candy Piercy 2nd Jul '15 - 3:57pm

    Eek Auto correct strikes again!

  • John Tilley 2nd Jul '15 - 4:18pm

    Simon Gilbert 2nd Jul ’15 – 2:41pm
    “… some difficult policy areas where there is no liberal mainstream political voice …”

    Could you identify which areas you mean?
    My reaction to this speech was that there was a lot of ‘motherhood and apple pie’ and an apparent wish to use the name Beveridge without necessariy following the philosophy set out by Beveridge himself in his book “Why I am a Liberal.”.

    Some of the policies which NL has been associated with over the last ten years seem to be diametrically opposed to the Beveridge view of what Government should do.
    Or is this just an attempt to pretend that a key member of The Orange Tendency has suddenly seen the light and is casting aside his ‘small state’ beliefs?

  • Sorry, too many Blair type sentences without verbs about ‘Real People’. As an unreal person, I’d go easy on the ‘history’s chosen instrument’ bit when some of his supporters have tried to make an issue of TF having a faith.

  • Ruth, the slogan about the party cutting less and borrowing less was not a matter of integrity! The slogan so far as it went was true, it set out our policy intentions. It was just uninspiring and failed to differentiate us from opponents in a values-based way. That is why I agree with Norman that it was a poor slogan. I think Norman is absolutely right to promise far-sighted promotion of new thinking based on liberal values. We need solutions to huge problems the world faces, like ageing, climate change and mass migration. Socialism has failed, neoconservatism is rampant and the world needs liberal solutions, equal treatment and respect, and challenging abuses of power.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Jul '15 - 11:41pm

    Jo – I was quoting the questions fired at Norman from the audience. What concerns me is that he spouted a mantra he didn’t believe in (just not very often)!

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