Introducing Liberal Reform

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Liberal Reform

Liberal Reform was founded early in the previous parliament as a grassroots group to focus on “four-cornered liberalism (personal, political, social and economic freedom), arguing for modern, dynamic liberalism that draws on our party’s long heritage arguing for broad individual freedom.

Virtually all Liberals believe in “four-cornered liberalism” but we, more than some others in the party, believe that economic freedom — open markets, free trade and proper competition — has to be a key component of modern liberalism. First, because as liberals we believe in freedom in itself as a force for good. And secondly, because economic liberalism has proven itself in recent history as the only reliable way in which societies can generate the resources needed to provide real individual freedom and security to every citizen.

We recognise, however, that an open, enterprising economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition to create a liberal society.

It is right that a proportion of the wealth generated through private enterprise is collected by the state to spend in strengthening the society in which we all live, spreading opportunity through the provision of high quality public services and a safety net for those who need it. But the state must be accountable to the people over which it exerts power, through modern, democratic institutions, which is why political liberalism — a tireless belief in the need for constant scrutiny and reform — is so crucial.

As well as being accountable, the state must focus relentlessly on achieving results, following the evidence as to what works in the delivery of public services, eschewing demands from the dogmatic and self-interested, who are to be found both in the private and public sectors. Our starting point is that monopoly provision in the public sector is in many cases just as unacceptable as it is in the private sector. Our tirelessness in pursuit of reform of our political institutions must be matched with an equal desire to reform the way government delivers services, with diversity and localism prioritised over centrist planning.

Government also has a role to play in guaranteeing personal liberalism, for example in ensuring equal treatment regardless of gender, race or sexuality. But throughout history the biggest single threat to personal freedom has always been an overly powerful state, which can invade our privacy and subject us to arbitrary force. Only a hawkish and constant determination to curtail state power can ensure that often hard-won cherished rights and freedoms are not dissipated in the name of security or efficiency, and Liberal Reform actively opposed both the Justice and Security Act and the Data Communications Bill in the previous parliament.

In short, Liberal Reform wants to ensure that the Liberal Democrats are the natural home for liberalism in Britain, and that on every issue we are offering the electorate the sort of consistent, rigorous liberalism that the country badly needs. Liberal Reform members have secured a number of changes in party policy in recent years in pursuit of these aims – including committing the party to tackling tax avoidance by firms like Google and Facebook, accepting the importance of external testing in schools and committing to support both the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and further efforts to encourage global free trade.

If that sounds like your sort of thing, have a look around our website, feel free to get in touch with any of our board, and sign up as a member or to our mailing list.

We hold events at party conference (recordings of previous of which are available online) and seek to influence the debate in the party through media appearances, articles and publications.

* Alan Muhammed is a Management Consultant, Liberal Reform Co-Chair and sits on London Region & Islington Borough Executives. He is a former Borough Councillor and LDHQ Campaigns Staffer.

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32 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 6:38pm

    Good summary. I’m closer to Liberal Reform than the Social Liberal Forum, but I have my qualms :p

  • I have to say that this is overstating it. Historically speaking, local tyrannies and inequality of wealth have been ast least as significant as powerful states in limiting the liberty of the individual. The state has in many cases played a crucial role in increasing the liberty of individuals.

    “But throughout history the biggest single threat to personal freedom has always been an overly powerful state, which can invade our privacy and subject us to arbitrary force. Only a hawkish and constant determination to curtail state power can ensure that often hard-won cherished rights and freedoms are not dissipated in the name of security or efficiency….”

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 6:57pm

    By the way, if Liz Kendall wins the Labour leadership then a merger should definitely be on the cards. Lots for “economic liberals” to like.

    However, I don’t actually think she can win and personally think she should have stayed out of it and supported Yvette Cooper.

    It will be a disaster for Labour and good for the Lib Dems if Andy Burnham wins. He flip flops so much he can’t be trusted at this moment in time. Plus he is a massive panderer when it comes to policy.

  • “economic liberalism has proven itself in recent history”
    What recent events have given support to “economic liberalism”?

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 21st May '15 - 7:11pm

    @ Voter – I don’t really understand that comment. Can you clarify?

  • How amenable to a data-driven critique is your ideology? That is, how falsifiable is it? What events would have to occur to lead you to question the ideology, or are you committed to the notion that any combination of events only proves it to be accurate?

  • @David-1 perhaps you could begin by applying those tests to your own “ideology” and sharing the results with us.

  • Those quotation marks were a wise addition, TCO. I don’t propound ideologies — I think of myself as an idealistic pragmatist, though no doubt I frequently fail on both accounts — but it seems to me that the content of Alan Muhammed’s informational notice is explicitly ideological:

    – economic liberalism has proven itself in recent history as the only reliable way in which societies can generate the resources needed to provide real individual freedom and security to every citizen
    – an open, enterprising economy is a necessary but not sufficient condition to create a liberal society
    – the biggest single threat to personal freedom has always been an overly powerful state, which can invade our privacy and subject us to arbitrary force

    Are these not ideological statements or slogans? Can one not ask whether they are justified by data, or are articles of faith?

  • Malcolm Todd 21st May '15 - 11:24pm

    @Nick Thornsby
    Voter has quoted from the OP a statement that looks like a claim of objective fact, and asked for supporting evidence.
    Does that help?

  • Simon Gilbert 21st May '15 - 11:48pm

    I welcome economic liberalism in contrast to the current welfare for bankers regime that masquerades as economic liberalism.

  • Voter
    Asian Tiger economies

  • Eddie
    So Liz Kendall is a strong advocate of church disestablishment, PR voting systems, co-ownership in industry etc.
    The helping hand not the handout.

  • Andrew Purches 22nd May '15 - 10:01am

    Please enlighten me:

    Is “Economic Liberalism” just straightforward “Libertarianism “, ( which in my book is just rednecked toryism ) ? If this is not the case, then surely Economic Liberalism is just part and parcel of Social Democracy, and the Liberal DEMOCRATS should go back to that base. As to the future ? Goodness knows, the Tory’s are showing all their nineteenth century Wellingtonian nastiness, and this will backfire sooner or later. Where will the Lib Dems be to pick up the pieces ? ….. well they can be honest for a start.

  • Simon Gilbert 22nd May '15 - 10:10am

    I think Liberalism and Libertarianism can both agree on the harmful effects of intervening on markets and on taxes on economic activity and growth. Libertarianism, in my opinion, undervalues the effects of poverty and a narrow concentration of wealth to the rich on personal choice and freedom to improve one’s life. Thus if you support a political system that supports change, that does not intervene in economic activity, that promotes freedom of lifestyle and human rights, but that still redistributes wealth, perhaps via Land Value Taxes, than a party with roots in Classical Liberalism seems to be the only choice to make.

  • @Simon Gilbert I agree with all of that. There is an enduring theme amongst left-leaning posters to equate economic liberalism with libertarianism – erroneously – in order to taint it by association.

  • Simon McGrath 22nd May '15 - 11:10am

    Andrew – libertarianism and Economic Liberalism and very different.

  • I agree with Simun McGrath’s comment that –
    ” – libertarianism and Economic Liberalism and very different.”

    However, it has to be said that a casual reader of LDV might believe that they are exactly the same thing as the supporters of Libertarianism and the self-declared economic Liberals regularly say the same thing and support each other in so doing.

  • Eddie

    “if Liz Kendall wins the Labour leadership then a merger should definitely be on the cards. Lots for “economic liberals” to like.”

    In 1997 Blair looked quite liberal to a lot of people, but as soon as short term pressures get applied peoples core drivers really matter.

    New Labour was very authoritarian, I think you may find if Kendal were to win and gain power when the pressure is on the personal and political liberalism would be lacking.

    Even on Economic Liberalism front, I would just point out that in opposition Brown used to talk a good talk about breaking up the monopolistic/oligopolistic nature of British Banking, once he got in to power the attractiveness of the significant tax base a monopolistic industry was too attractive and he changed focus on to creating an insanely complex tax and benefit system.

    Don’t assume because someone sounds like something you like the base motives are the same and base motives matter.

  • Andrew

    “Is “Economic Liberalism” just straightforward “Libertarianism “, […]? If this is not the case, then surely Economic Liberalism is just part and parcel of Social Democracy, and the Liberal DEMOCRATS should go back to that base.”

    Libertarianism recognises the benefits of competition, as does Economic Liberalism. The difference comes when addressing what to do about the concentrations of power in the system. Libertarianism believes that less and less interference will reduce the imbalances, Economic Liberalism believes intervention can be necessary to redress the balance (which will improve competition) and to alleviate poverty.

    Hence Economic Liberalism will try and ensure there is Poverty alleviation, that there are measures to improve workers bargaining position (education subsidy, tax credits, etc) also intervention that breaks up monopolies such as competition policies or sale of businesses that are owned by government that could be operated in the private sector (as government tend to provide protections to their own businesses).

    There is the side of believing in tax policies that have lower deadweight costs (e.g. higher personal allowances on Income tax, LVT etc) but this is less economic liberalism and more just logic based policy making.

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd May '15 - 11:57am

    Eddie,
    I cannot see Liz Kendall (were she to be elected leader of Labour … which I don’t see as remotely likely, right now) agreeing to compromise with LibDem policies in any way. From the little I have seen of her I feel – rather like Blair – she would happily accept the members, the funding, the airtime, happily and deliberately p*ss off the leftwing of her party who distrust us, parrot something about a new politics, then continue doing what she wanted to do anyway. I think she is interesting and even entertaining to see someone so prepared to stick it to current Labour don’t-rock-the-boat orthodoxy, but I am not hearing a woman who believes in compromise or who knows how to do it graciously, if she did believe in it. It would be a takeover, not a merger. The thing I think she believes in most, right now, is winning. She might – arguably – be what Labour needs, but she would destroy our party if we were daft enough to let her do so (which I don’t think is going to happen, sorry to disappoint you).

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd May '15 - 1:50pm

    Joe, an interesting point. I suppose a Labour Party with a better leader might make people feel “safe” to vote Lib Dem.

    Thanks Andrew. I’m not an expert on the candidates, just going by what I’ve read.

    Thanks Matt. Personally I find that Yvette Cooper has more tact, but I don’t think economic liberals are very keen on her, so thought I would raise the prospect of Liz Kendall and see what others think.

  • @John Tilley I’m not sure who the Libertarians are to whom you refer. I’ve only ever come across economic Liberals on here, so its unsurprising that they would agree with each other.

    Psi’s succinct definition should certainly help you in distinguishing between the two, and you may also find the content of the Liberal Reform website informative.

    We always welcome new recruits and hope you will consider coming on board.

  • I think it would help to see the Liberal Reform critique of Libertarianism, that would clarify things in my mind at least.

  • @Geoffrey Payne I think its quite simple. Taking a spectrum from total state control to no intervention whatsoever, economic liberals sit somewhere between the SLF and the Libertarians. There are also spectrums within each of these viewpoints too, so some on the less interventionist side of ELs will be closer to the slightly more interventionist Libertarians, but some on the more interventionist side of the ELs will be closer to the less interventionist side of the SLF.

  • For me though the main point I want to make is this.
    Given that over the past 7 years Liberal Reform have effectively been in the ideological driving seat of the Liberal Democrats in Coalition, I think they have some explaining to do given the general election result where we lost 2/3 of our support.
    Their critique of the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy’s leadership was that the party was a tax and spend party, and that was why it was getting only 23% of the vote.
    Their preferred policy on taxation – cutting taxes by raising the tax thresholds was in itself mildly progressive ad so palatable to many Liberal Democrats, not just LR supporters. I say mildly progressive. If the sole aim was to be progressive it was not very well targeted as many better off people also benefited, and if you cut taxes you also have to also cut public spending, much of which benefits people on low incomes. Not all public spending benefits people on low incomes, although oddly Liberal Reform did not support a policy of not replacing Trident – something I struggle to understand.
    In Coalition with the Conservatives raising tax thresholds became a flagship policy for us. It looked even better when the Tories tried to claim it for themselves, but were made to look ridiculous when David Cameron’s words in the Leaders debate made it clear the Tories would not have implemented the policy if they had won an overall majority. And yet there is really no evidence it won us any significant number of votes. No one raised the policy on the doorstep when I went canvassing. Even before the general election, no effort was made in the South Shields by-election which took place at the same time the policy was implemented in a constituency with a large number of people on low incomes who were meant to benefit from this policy. We knew then it wasn’t worth the effort and we concentrated instead on other local by-elections taking place at the same time.
    Today supporters of Liberal Reform are warning the party not to re enter it’s “comfort zone” that Charles Kennedy led us into. But their alternative is very much in the discomfort zone of 8% levels of support. So what do they propose to do about that? What have they learnt over the past 5 years? The defeat for the Liberal Democrats on May 7th is in particular a defeat for Liberal Reform. It used to be said of the left of the Liberal Democrats that we were not interested in power. If anyone in the party today is “not interested in power” we now know that the 8% strategy is the way to go.

  • The Party should be listening to those who were consistently right during the last five years and not to those who were, as facts have shown, consistently wrong. It is that simple.

  • Simon Gilbert 24th May '15 - 12:27pm

    There has to be a voice for economic liberalism with the humility and insight to adapt to the new world of stateless money and information, without having to subscribe to the social conservatism and growing authoritarianism of the Conservatives, or the immigrant bashing populist approach of UKIP. I hope the LibDems will consider policies that might resonate with this under represented part of the electorate.

  • Stephen Hesketh 24th May '15 - 3:32pm

    David-1 24th May ’15 – 11:49am
    “The Party should be listening to those who were consistently right during the last five years and not to those who were, as facts have shown, consistently wrong. It is that simple.”

    Well said David.

    And the answer to who they were, on both sides of the debate, is blindingly obvious.

  • Martin Elengorn 25th May '15 - 12:03pm

    There is little sign that economic liberalism is capable of addressing climate change issues. A singular lack of reference to these in the debate.

  • This is what Alan Muhammed says in his article —
    “….. we, more than some others in the party, believe that economic freedom — open markets, free trade and proper competition — has to be a key component of modern liberalism. ”

    This is what Zadok Day says ( he was only 3 years ago the founding chair of Liberal Reform) –

    “… the Lib Dems, a self-electing machine that wants power for the sake of power and then, when it has it, prefers to keep hold of the previously-won power rather than institute liberalism or democracy. 
     .. so  we get spectacles like Jeremy Browne, one of the party right’s few ideological champions, banning legal highs. 
    …….,,It’s easy, you see, to set a group up, to find like-minded individuals and carve out a little niche for yourselves …
    ……………..So, I have resigned from Liberal Reform….”

    He has also resigned from the party because he does not think there are enough ideological right wingers like Jeremy Browne.
    At least Zadok is honest and open about his views. You can read the full story here on Zadok’s blog —
    https://asongofliberty.wordpress.com/2013/03/03/sisyphus-shrugged/

    Why is the present face of ‘Liberal Reform’ so very different from the very rightwing Libertarian stance of its founders?

    A not unreasonable question, I hope.

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