Jeremy Browne MP responds to LDV debates about his book

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 08.06.08 Liberal Democrats LibbyThank you to everyone on Lib Dem Voice who has taken the trouble to comment on my book ‘Race Plan’. It is healthy to have an active debate about how our liberalism can be applied to address the big political events of our time. I am appreciative of the favourable comments; I also thought it might be of interest (and good manners) to respond to some of the main criticisms and themes that emerged on LDV.

Timing of publication

The timing was determined by the date when I ceased to be a government minister. The demands of being a minister would make it very hard to write a book; and some passages in ‘Race Plan’ are not compatible with collective ministerial responsibility. On the day I was removed as a minister I had no plan to write a book; it was only over the following weeks that I considered some ideas for a new project, drawing in part on my observations as a minister. By late-October I resolved to get going, and it took me 4-5 months, plus 2-3 weeks for printing. That got me to early April.

Mark Pack says I published it “a few weeks before polling day”. That is somewhat misleading: it was six-and-a-half weeks; before Easter; and before the manifestos had been published and the formal campaign started for 22 May. There is a difficulty with sitting on a current affairs book that has been completed: arguments risk being overtaken by events; statistics need updating. I might (if the printer had moved swiftly) have been able to publish it a week earlier, but I thought it was helpful not to release it during the week of the Clegg-Farage BBC debate. I am not convinced at all that our performance on 22 May will be a reflection of the coverage of my book. I am heartened that Mark and others believe that publishing the book instead in the immediate aftermath of the European elections would have seen it released during a period of calm and scholarly reflection about the Liberal Democrats in the media. Maybe; but even that would also have been less than a year before the General Election, and could be argued to be best avoided.

Indeed, I noticed that John Tilley criticised me for not publishing my book before an election (albeit the last one). So maybe there is no right answer! The clock started ticking back in October when my circumstances changed; everything has flowed from that point.

Published by ‘Reform’

This was mentioned by some, including Mark Pack (“…not to mention his choice of Reform as the publisher…”). I am very grateful to Reform for supporting my project (not least because they have been so busy organising events for other politicians including Vince Cable, Steve Webb and Norman Lamb). It is expensive to publish a book. I am not receiving any money from ‘Race Plan’, but nor has it cost me anything. Reform put up thousands of pounds to make it possible for a Lib Dem MP to write a book. I see Gareth Epps, in-between complaining about the organisation that did put up the money, complaining that he did not receive a free copy.

My ideas would imperil our popularity

This is one of Stephen Tall’s main themes: how could my views on liberalism be turned into a “vote-winning mandate” (Mark Pack made a similar observation). Stephen made this point in his generally very balanced review on 13 April. Two days later he posted again on LDV to say the Lib Dems were polling at 6% with ICM for the Euro elections. I believe we will do better than that, but what is beyond dispute is that we have been on 9-10% in the polls for years now. Stephen’s criticism would have more force if we enjoyed sky-high poll ratings and were terrified of risking our strong position. As it is, I am not convinced by the view that a compelling argument for the Lib Dems avoiding a clear-cut liberalism is that we would jeopardise our existing popularity.

This is, of course, also a much wider discussion. There are two groups who supported the Lib Dems in 2010 who I believe are not a realistic target for us in large numbers in 2015. One is voters who did not like Labour because they were insufficiently left-wing (the Channel 4 news clip on Political Betting on 22 April is an interesting and alarming further confirmation of their current position). The other is protest voters. We are in government with the Conservatives, and that is not a great platform for reaching either group.

What seems much more plausible to me is making an appeal to liberal-minded people who are well disposed towards us but have not supported us in the past because they believed us to be too statist, too inclined to protest gestures, incapable of governing and a wasted vote. But that is dependent on us demonstrating to them that they were wrong.

Concept of a ‘global race’ and the term ‘authentic liberal’

Stephen Tall criticises the ‘global race’ concept. There is a danger of over-analysis here. It is a neat expression which sums up a widely-understood concept and captures some of the urgency and spirit of competition that we will require. I suppose I could have substituted the phrase instead for: ‘The rise in the wealth, power and influence of a greater number of countries, notably but not exclusively in Asia, and the competitive implications for Britain, including both the threats to our status and relative prosperity, but also the opportunities for greater trade, increased absolute prosperity and the furtherance of a mutually beneficial enhanced network of international relationships’.

More seriously, Stephen claims that I argue that, unless we take remedial action, Britain will “fall behind” (which is my view) and “become poorer” (which is not an accurate representation of my views). In fact I say “global growth is not a zero-sum game: we can all get richer” and expand on this point (pages 56 and 57) including saying “the danger is that small improvements in our absolute wealth will blind us to the damaging implications of our relative decline”. The opportunities for Britain to get richer (not “become poorer”) are also discussed elsewhere in the book, including on page 44: “there are great opportunities for British businesses to export to new markets”.

Caron Lindsay does not like the expression ‘authentic liberal’ (a view shared by some others). I considered using ‘Gladstonian liberal’ or ‘classical liberal’ but I am not sure those expressions are widely understood (or capture the spirit of forward-looking change that we need as a country). But Caron is wrong to say that I am sticking up two fingers to those in the party with radical alternative liberal ideas. I often disagree with them, but I admire their full-blooded belief in liberalism and we, as a party, need to have an open and proper debate about which liberal ideas will best equip the Lib Dems to be successful and serve Britain best in the decades ahead.

Copying China and South Korea

Stephen Tall also claims that the beginning of the book is “a eulogy” to China “yet, paradoxically, the rest of the book is unrepentantly state-sceptic”; Mark Pack makes the same point but using South Korea as the example. The charge appears to be that my admiration for the progress made by some previously very poor countries, and my observation that their rise will have significant consequences for Britain, means that I wish to copy their economic (and social) models in every regard. But I don’t, and the book does not say that.

The economic progress in a wide range of countries is indeed significant, but they all have different models. China is different from South Korea (the latter will need to evolve its rather corporatist system to allow more room for SMEs, but that is a discussion for another day). The ‘Pacific Rim’ countries (page 24) are different again (they are coming together because of their shared free-market and free-trade agenda). The emerging economies also have different problems (page 29). So even if I did want to perfectly replicate what is happening in the emerging economies, which I don’t, there is no single system to perfectly replicate.

In fact I make two different points, repeatedly (but maybe not repeatedly enough). The first is that we should not assume that we have nothing to learn from other countries. They are not so insular or arrogant that they believe they have nothing to learn from us. Without replicating them, we can learn from them, especially in areas where their performance has improved dramatically (education, for example).

My other point, which is one of the dominant themes of the book, and runs completely counter to Stephen and Mark’s charge, is that Britain should have its own distinctive (liberal) template for being globally competitive. If I quoted all of the examples which demonstrate this point I would have to reproduce about a third of the entire book. “The changes Britain requires must … go with, rather than against, the grain of our national character. That is why liberalism … provides the best guide for the years ahead.” There are any number of sections that elaborate on this theme: “Britain has great strengths and we should play heavily to them …” (page 60); “we have numerous national strengths that will stand us in good stead in the global race” (page 65); page 84 goes into further detail. And on it goes.

Stephen and Mark’s inaccurate claim reaches its logical conclusion in the comment posted by David-1, who does appear to literally judge a book solely by its cover: “Dubai is an absolute monarchy which does not seek the assent of its people for the formation of its government”. You can rest assured David-1 (and Stephen and Mark): despite your fears, I do not want to replicate that system in Britain either.

That the book is “for the privileged” (and generally “right-wing”)

This is the essence of Caron Lindsay’s review. I say “review”, although that is not strictly accurate, as Caron makes the commendably honest admission before she gets into the detail of her case against the book (“written by someone who comes from an exceptionally privileged background for those who come from an exceptionally privileged background”) when she says “I have not read this book”.

Maybe it is just easiest to suggest that she does (and others who have made similar observations without being handicapped by actually knowing what the book says). She will find that it is a feast of egalitarianism. From the introduction onwards (“It means liberating the talents of all our people, not just protecting the advantages of the privileged minority, to enable our country to realise its full potential”) the book endlessly and restlessly explores this theme: page 88 (“The educational outcomes for children from low incomes families are a national scandal”); page 90; page 93; housing on page 125 (“The millions of people who own homes owe it to subsequent generations not to pull the housing ladder up after themselves”); the budget on page 132 (“The real victims of government financial mismanagement … the elderly, the sick, the poor and the vulnerable”); page 134 and 135; welfare on page 143 (“A comprehensive welfare state is a hallmark of a civilised society”). And it goes on.

Caron’s review is illustrated by a sign which says ‘It is forbidden for Eton boys to cross at this point!’ As Eton is not mentioned once in the book, I did not go to Eton, and I have never even visited the school, I am probably missing some elitist in-joke. But I do remember from my time at school how difficult it is to write a review of a book without reading it.

The book is ‘Thatcherism plus immigration’

This is Stephen Tall’s opinion of what I believe in (here and in The Times). The book is certainly not conservative (in fact, it is the opposite) but nor is Stephen’s charge even vaguely accurate.

There are, again, any number of examples, and I cannot reproduce whole sections of the book. The Thatcher education reforms were centralising; mine are the opposite (chapter 4). Margaret Thatcher’s appetite for public sector reform did not extend to the police; mine does (chapter 8). Margaret Thatcher eventually got to the point where she entertained the notion of Britain leaving the EU; I argue we should stay in (chapter 7). Margaret Thatcher became Baroness Thatcher; I argue for substantial House of Lords reform (chapter 8) and other constitutional change. Margaret Thatcher was a social conservative; I am a social liberal (that is a given throughout the book).

I do agree with Margaret Thatcher on some issues. She did not believe that Britain should join the Euro; neither do I. She gave prominence to environmental issues, particularly towards the end of her time as Prime Minister; so do I. She was cautious about the government spending large sums of money it does not have; so am I.

Just saying someone is a “Thatcherite” (or a “Blairite”) as a term of abuse is too crude and insufficiently constructive for my tastes. The same applies to stirring up division in our party based on social class (I believe the Lib Dems should maintain our proud and civilised attachment to welcoming liberal-minded people from all backgrounds).

Old ideas

Mark Packs says my ideas are old ideas. I think some of my ideas are new, and the application of all political ideas needs to evolve with the times. But I do agree that some of my ideas are indeed old, because I do not claim to have invented liberalism. I believe we should be an unambiguously liberal party and have the self-confidence to hold that position unapologetically.

To further stimulate my appetite for timeless liberalism (or “old ideas”), I have been re-reading a biography of Jo Grimond over Easter. Some of his themes may sound familiar. ‘Grimond blazed a trail for better incentives, and lower direct taxation. He was an unabashed advocate of the free market …’ In Grimond’s own words: “A free economy is a corollary of any genuinely liberal democracy … I believe that the concentration of economic power in the hands of the State is a threat to Freedom and Liberalism”. He wanted to ‘open up the independent schools … and even toyed with introducing vouchers into the education system’. ‘He was horrified that the leadership of the Alliance, far from being genuinely radical, was returning to many of the nostrums of old consensual politics, presenting itself not as a fresh alternative but as a grouping of the “safe centre”’.

I am not ashamed to be championing this brand of, yes, authentic liberalism, and maybe, in our current circumstances, standing for these ideas and marching boldly “towards the sound of gunfire” might not be such a bad option.

* Jeremy Browne is the MP for Taunton Deane, and was previously a minister in both the Home and Foreign offices.

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102 Comments

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '14 - 1:53pm

    Jeremy,
    I have been sceptical of what I have read of your book, and critical of your usage of the term ‘authentic liberalism’, but am impressed and thankful that you have responded to the debate by posting in this way. I would be interested to know your response to a question that has come into my head over the last few days, which I think is related to the similar fears many voters and members seem to have about the implications of your ideas:

    On the BBC website this week, Danny Alexander is reported as having said that in a future coalition / hung parliament situation, the LibDems would have differences with both the other two major parties – the differences he highlighted were those with Labour on the economy and with the Conservatives on Europe.
    Do you agree that the liberal / Liberal Democrat perspective on the economy is more compatible with that of the Conservative party? Or is it more similar to that of Labour? Or is it unique and distinctive?

    Many of us are concerned that having in the past given support or votes to a party that had a unique mix of differing liberal idea(l)s within it, we are now seeing ideas or trends incompatible or in conflict with the current agenda of the Conservative party being trimmed away or played down, and a changed (I do not say ‘new’) form of ‘liberalism’ being mapped out as an agenda for the Liberal Democrats that is to the political ‘right’ of the historic party agenda, and it is alleged and feared that you and your book are part of that tendency…

    I would be interested to know where and how you think the party could work with Labour if it had to in future.

  • I am not a LibDem, nor have I (yet) read the book, but I have to say that, if what Mr Browne has said here is a reflection of what’s in it, that I am in full agreement with him and would vote LibDem if his views were more represented in the party.

    I think I shall now have to add Grimond (who was rather before my time) to my political guiding lights and find and read the biography.

    In the meantime, I shall remain a member of a liberal party – Ukip.

  • Three disconnected thoughts;

    Broadly speaking, I welcome both the book and this response. We should be a party and liberal movement that embraces and challenges new ideas, tests our values against them and has open debate. A book outlining a different vision for the party would be most welcome. I can understand the frustration from many that one side of the party may have more sway at the moment, but a great way to counter that balance would be books outlining that alternative vision..

    If the Grimond biography you mentioned is the one by Michael McManus, then I can fully endorse its quality. A gripping read.

    Whilst I didn’t agree with all of Race Plan, some of the reaction to it did make me wonder if the GOM , Asquith or Grimond would be welcome in today’s party given some of their views.

  • I didn’t go to Eton, but I very much enjoyed Jeremy’s book

  • Stephen Howse 24th Apr '14 - 2:04pm

    “I believe the Lib Dems should maintain our proud and civilised attachment to welcoming liberal-minded people from all backgrounds.”

    Hear, hear, HEAR! Well said, Jeremy – and that’s from a working class, comprehensively educated lad from Newcastle.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 2:10pm

    Jeremy Browne

    What seems much more plausible to me is making an appeal to liberal-minded people who are well disposed towards us but have not supported us in the past because they believed us to be too statist, too inclined to protest gestures, incapable of governing and a wasted vote.

    For as long as I have been a member of the party (over 30 years) there have been commentators urging us to do just this – to become “more liberal” by which they meant having the economic policies of the Conservative Party, but not the social conservatism. Commentary articles in the right-wing newspapers making this point came out regularly in the right-wing newspapers when they felt they had to write something about us rather than ignore us, such as in the week of our party conference. They were always written by by people who were strong supporters of the Conservative Party. They pushed the line that if we went that way, there was some big bunch of voters who would come over to us.

    Well, following the formation of the coalition, most people in this country think we HAVE gone that way. So, Jeremy, where are the promised voters? Might it be the case that actually there ISN’T a big batch of people out there just longing for the sort of party you and you Conservative supporters want us to be.

  • “Caron’s review is illustrated by a sign which says ‘It is forbidden for Eton boys to cross at this point!’ As Eton is not mentioned once in the book, I did not go to Eton, and I have never even visited the school, I am probably missing some elitist in-joke. But I do remember from my time at school how difficult it is to write a review of a book without reading it.”

    Gold! Pure gold! Caron – please review more books you haven’t read, I want to read more rebuttals like this. 😀

  • Thanks also from me, Jeremy, for such a comprehensive and reasoned response. I find most of the ideas outlined from the book very energizing and very liberal.

    Two articles and commentary on LDV on which you haven’t commented are these:

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/jeremy-browne-responds-on-twitter-to-timess-pointless-front-page-headline-39320.html

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/what-jeremy-browne-did-and-didnt-tell-the-times-about-the-lib-dems-39312.html

    I see from your biography that you studied politics at University. You were editor of your university’s newspaper and President of the Students’ Union. You worked for not one, but two public relations firms. You were Director of Press and Broadcasting for our party under not one, but two leaders. You have been an MP for nine years. You were a minister in two government departments over three years.

    With all that experience of hardball politics, did you not have the remotest suspicion that by talking to The Times in the way that you did that they would convert your words into something like “Lib Dems are pointless”? Or were you taken totally by surprise by their treatment of your interview?

  • I find it bizarre to have got a call-out in this article. I was not critiquing Mr Browne’s book, something I leave to those who have read it; I was simply responding to another commenter (Nick Collins) who asked what the cover was supposed to illustrate, and making a gentle joke about it — one which I would not have thought likely to hit a nerve.
    I imagine that, as is often the case, Mr Browne had no involvement in the cover art at all, and that it was entirely the choice of the publishers, possibly randomly chosen. I hope someone at Reform was not having a joke at Mr Browne’s expense through the use of this cover, but who knows.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 2:31pm

    Jeremy Browne

    She will find that it is a feast of egalitarianism.

    Well, you SAY that. Just as the Soviet style Communist Parties said they were about egalitarianism and workers’ control and all that, and do to this day in North Korea. Ever heard the line “believing your own propaganda”?

    You say that people are calling you a “Thatcherite” as a term of abuse. No, they are calling you that because the policies you advocate are similar in many ways to those pushed by Margaret Thatcher, certainly in most economic aspects. The differences you try to draw between her and you are in many cases rather shallow and superficial, and look a bit desperate as if you have had to scrabble around to find them. Margaret Thatcher too believed her policies would be liberating and hence lead to greater chances for the masses and so a more egalitarian society. But they haven’t worked, have they? Society has grown massively less equal in wealth and income since her days, and all the governments we have had in that time have pushed forward the direction in economic policy which she initiated. We have not had a “shareholders democracy”, big business seems further cut off and further out of control by ordinary people with its leaders taking more from them in terms of huge amounts of payment than ever. Margaret Thatcher believed she was initiating a property-owning society, but now we are seeing rates of home ownership going down, and people trapped in high cost rents or without adequate housing at all due to the selling off of council housing. My parents and myself when young were HUGELY more free than the equivalent today as we lived in a low-rent council house that was given out to people like us then. But you don’t see all that, do you, Jeremy? You don’t even understand what I’m saying because you don’t know anything about what life is like at the lower end of the social scale, do you Jeremy?

    So, we have had ample opportunity to see whether the sort of policies you advocate work in the way you claim they do, what with them being pushed by all governments since 1979. They haven’t, have they? You don’t seem to have any feeling for why they haven’t, you seem rather like the idealistic socialists I used to argue with back in the 1980s, when I pointed out that socialism in practice in the USSR and similar countries seemed to deliver the opposite of what they claimed it would deliver. Their answer was always a claim that the socialism we had in practice wasn’t really socialism, though they were rather vague as to what the difference was and how to stop socialism in practice becoming this thing they called “state capitalism”, and their answer to everything was that we needed more socialism in an even ore extreme form. Aren’t you a bit like those people, Jeremy?

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 2:48pm

    Jeremy Browne

    He wanted to ‘open up the independent schools

    Much of the comment on this line is based on the belief that local authorities dictate what is taught in schools and how. They do not. Having been 12 years a councillor on a Local Education Authority, I never had any chance to dictate to schools in the Borough what they should teach and how, that was not our job. During that time, my wife was Chair of Governors of one of the schools in the Borough, and she never once complained to me about the LEA interfering with her school, because it didn’t. What is taught in schools and how is decided by their heads and governing bodies, not by the LEA.

    As for the idea that “more competition: is needed to improve schools, what that means is that school teachers need more stress and fear in their lives, then they will get better. Yes, this competition you urge is all about making people scared they will lose their jobs, and so lose their houses and everything. Do you REALLY think, Jeremy, that the main problem with Britain’s school teachers is that they are under insufficient stress? Do you not know that already the obsession with league table position dominates thinking in many schools, with rather silly decisions being made because they will artificially push up league table position?

    I teach the skills Britain needs – I am a university lecturer in Computer programming – and next week I am going out to teach those skills in Beijing as I also work a few weeks a year out there, and have been given an award by the Chinese Ministry of Education and one of the best university lecturers in Beijing. I have seen the products of British schools, I have seen where things are going wrong. It is from THIS basis, Jeremy, that I tell you that I believe what you are writing about education is nonsense.

  • Ruth Bright 24th Apr '14 - 2:54pm

    Received my copy this morning – very disappointed the picture with the panda is not in it.

  • Firstly I would like to join those people who welcome that Jeremy has taken the time to read the articles and the comments on LDV and written a long response to some of them. I hope he will also read the comments made to his article and respond to them with comments in this thread as other article writers do.

    However there are lots of points that he hasn’t addressed and some he has misunderstood. Hopefully the authors of those points will comment here and point them out. I will point out a few.

    Helen Tedcastle (and Matthew Huntbach) made the case that school vouchers have been tried and they don’t produce the hoped for outcome. Jeremy has not addressed this. I posted a comment that sets out how a free market could be applied to education https://www.libdemvoice.org/jeremy-brownes-liberal-regime-to-get-britain-fit-for-the-global-race-39151.html#comments. However my conclusion was that it would need lots of government inference to enforce it and that it restricted others more than the current system. Jeremy has not responded.

    Jeremy states “I am social liberal (that is a given …)” see paragraph under Thatcherism section. I would disagree because I do not define social liberal to mean believing in individual freedoms but believing in the improving of the social welfare of the poor, dispossessed and underprivileged. To the charge that his economic policies are Thatcherite (that the government should spend less because the private sector can do things better) he makes no defence. To my point that he is a Libertarian and not a Liberal he has not responded. As Lord Conrad Russell stated “Libertarians believe that ‘anything goes’: Liberals believe that we should enjoy liberty while doing no harm to others. … Libertarians are for minimum government; Liberals are for minimum oppression. We want to see the all power subject to control; not just the power of the state …”

    Matthew Huntback (and to some extent myself) have pointed out that there is no real link between what Jeremy is proposing and what Gladstone would have supported. Jeremy has not addressed this. He has only said he considered using the terms “Gladstonian liberal or “classical liberal”. We have questioned his view of nineteenth century liberalism and he hasn’t responded.

    Where Jeremy talks about imperilling our popularity he doesn’t address the points made by Stephen Tall and maybe Mack Pack that there is no popular support for his views. This point is also made by Matthew Huntsbach in his earlier post above.

  • Tom Papworth 24th Apr '14 - 3:32pm

    George Potter 24th Apr ’14 – 2:12pm: “The point that I will make about Jo Grimond was that he was campaigning for a more free market approach when vast swathes of our economy were state owned. There is now almost no part of the economy which is state owned.”

    No part? Health? Education? Land-use planning? Local utilities? Social care? A large proportion of pensions?

    Just what do you think the government spends nearly half our GDP on, George?

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '14 - 3:38pm

    Regarding the claim to Gladstonian Liberalism – to be honest, the more I dwell on it, you remind me not of Gladstone, but of Rosebery, Jeremy – purporting to support devolution/decentralisation, but never specific on how, frequently advocating modernisation of the party and its message, keen to redefine terms and move with the times, to compete with overseas economies (in his case Germany), distrustful of the grassroots… Need I go on?

  • Anders Hanson 24th Apr '14 - 3:56pm

    “liberal-minded people who are well disposed towards us but have not supported us in the past because they believed us to be too statist”

    The only liberal-minded people who have ever complained to me about us being too statist have been a few existing Lib Dem and Conservative members. I have however spoken to many more liberal-minded people who haven’t voted for us because they perceive us (to some extent unfairly) as being too far in the other direction.

  • I would support Jeremy Browne’s criticism above “Just saying someone is a “Thatcherite” (or a “Blairite”) as a term of abuse is too crude and insufficiently constructive for my tastes. The same applies to stirring up division in our party based on social class (I believe the Lib Dems should maintain our proud and civilised attachment to welcoming liberal-minded people from all backgrounds).”

    There are many who regard Thatcherism not as Toryism, but rather as a reincarnation of Gladstonian Liberalism. Tony Heffer writing in the New Statesman last year is among them Margaret Thatcher was not right-wing >. He writes “She was given intellectual underpinning by a group of classical liberals for whom the free market was the fons et origo of political wisdom. As a practising politician, however, her model was William Ewart Gladstone.”

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Apr '14 - 4:57pm

    Joe Bourke, if Thatcher was a Gladstonian Liberal, she’d have left in 1885-7 as she would never have supported Home Rule. What happened to those Liberals? They almost all eventually became Conservatives.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 24th Apr '14 - 5:20pm

    Well, having read the reviews, and now Jeremy’s entertaining response – sorry, Caron, but you did rather ask for it – I have bought the book in order to get an unfiltered impression of what he has to say. If the book is half as entertaining as this post, it will be well worth it.

  • Matt (Bristol),

    It is a counter-factual, so hard to say how Thatcher would have approached Irish Home Rule. Roseberry, a Liberal Imperalist, who you referred to earlier, helped Gladstone with the second home rule bill in the Lords although it was ultimately defeated there.

    Simon Heffer offers – the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985, which caused such outrage among many of her Tory supporters, was her own attempt to “pacify Ireland”. She was also a minister in the Heath cabinet that introduced the Sunningdale agreement in 1973 – the forerunner and blueprint for the 1997 Good Friday agreement.

    As to Gladstonian or classical Liberalism of the Victorian age – that ended with the Asquith government of 1906 and the ensuing development of the modern social liberalism of Green, Hobhouse and Hobson.

  • David Allen 24th Apr '14 - 6:29pm

    “I haven’t read the book but…”

    I’ll plead guilty in advance to entering the debate on that basis. What I have read is the title. It seems reasonable to infer from “Race Plan” that Browne proposes making Britain’s overriding priority the seeking of economic competitive advantage against the rest of the world. The concept of a “race plan” also clearly implies that to Browne, defeating other nations is more important than collaborating with them.

    Well, I don’t want a Britain with such a mean-spirited one-dimensional attitude to the rest of the world. I accept that economic competition does matter, but so do many other things, like fairness, cooperation, and saving the planet. Clearly Browne thinks these are much lower priorities. Not to most of us they aren’t.

    I see from the discussion that Browne also puts forward a lot of detailed policy proposals, and some of those might be worth examining, even if one has no sympathy with the overall political philosophy. However, I don’t think that is the critical question here – which is why I’m quite content to make a long post having not read the book!

  • Richard Dean 24th Apr '14 - 6:41pm

    My first impression was of some kind of immigration plan, possibly bordering on the German one in the 1930’s and early 1940’s or the Powellite one a couple of decades later. I still feel that same reaction every time I see this thread. Even with the author’s explanation, I can’t think of a worse title for a book about liberalism and democracy.

  • Thank you Jeremy for this response to the comments made. I’ve still to read the book and have an open mind. What i’ve read so far intrigues me and seems in keeping with liberal values. Look forward to finally receiving it. Seems to be taking ages…probably because of Easter! What i object to most in all the criticism levelled at you is the attacks on your background. It doesn’t seem at all Liberal or fair to me to be attacking people for their roots. It matters what someone stands for not from whence they came, I am a liberal from a so-called ‘poor’ background but i don’t expect my views to be put on a pedastal because of it. I thought Liberals didn’t engage in this class politics nonsense. Very sad to see it on these and other threads.

  • Jeremy
    Your attack on Caron might hold more water if the facts were different. You protest that you are not from a privileged elitist background because you did not go to Eton.   According to published information you went to Bedales.

    Annual fees from the list of the top ten most expensive school in the UK (Dec 2012) – Eton is fourth, Bedales ninth.
    Eton College                                                                       £32,067
    Bedales School.                                                                  £30,950

    You might believe that social class and privileged backgrounds are not an important factor in UK politics but those of us who did not go to one of the most expensive schools in the country might be forgiven for having a different perspective.

    But I applaud you for admitting that you are indeed a Thatcherite.
    I note that your main complaint about Margaret Thatcher is that she was not Thatcherite enough for you.

    That is not to use the word Thatcherite as a term of meaningless abuse but to accurately describe the views that you are promoting and which you have clearly stated in your book and again here in LDV.

     

  • Well done Jeremy for writing this article.

    I haven’t read the book yet, so won’t comment on its contents. However I think it is excellent that we have an MP (amongst others) who has written a ‘thinking’ book. We are a broad church and need as many big thinkers and opinion formers as possible.

    Finally, I think it is nothing short of bizarre for people to question the timing of the publication of this book! 1) Hardly anyone in the real world knows who Jeremy is (no offence Jeremy) 2) I can’t imagine the (relatively) small amount of coverage this book has got will affect one single vote 3) The views in this book aren’t that unpopular, so not sure what everyone is worried about 4) Six weeks is a very long time in politics

    However I will concede that the whole ‘lib dems are pointless’ article wasn’t particularly helpful (even if he didn’t actually say that).

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 9:23pm

    Alex Marsh

    If Jeremy Browne is reading this and thinking of responding further to comments then I’d be very interested to hear his thoughts on the significance of the party being called the Liberal Democrats not the Liberal Party, which is, I believe, alive and well, and doing its own thing in its own way.

    The Liberal Democrats are the legal successors of both the Liberal Party and the SDP. The new party which calls itself “The Liberal Party” has taken the constitution of the Liberal Party as it was in 1988, but is not its legal successor.The Liberal Party in the years before 1988 did not support the sort of economics which Jeremy Browne is writing about in this book. Indeed, one of the reasons some members of that party voted against merger (I was a member of the pre-1988 Liberal Party who voted against merger with the SDP) was because there was a growing streak in favour of what we then called “Thatcherite” economics in the SDP, and we were opposed to that.

    So what point are you making, Alex? If it is one that is based around supposing the pre-merge Liberal Party supported extreme free market economics, you are wrong. It would be funny if it were not for the fact that when so many people like you seem to believe this, it shows how much the propaganda merchants of the free-market right have managed to succeed in getting history changed – another sign hat these people, at heart, not liberals, because no true liberal would want to act in that way.

    Sometime I find the flood of propaganda which insists that the pre-merger Liberal Party was a party of extreme free market economics is so intense that I start to wonder if I am going mad that I don’t remember it all being like that. So I get out some of my old books and pamphlets from that time and find, yes, how I remember it is how it was. How people like you seem to think it was is a fantasy. If you were not there to remember it, Alex, then you have been a victim of the sort of thing Orwell wrote about in his book 1984.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 9:31pm

    Joe Bourke

    There are many who regard Thatcherism not as Toryism, but rather as a reincarnation of Gladstonian Liberalism.

    They are wrong. This is a propaganda trick. They take lines which may have been appropriate when private business meant almost entirely small scale enterprises, local to one town, and apply them to private businesses which are global corporations, as if that makes no difference. It makes a huge difference, to ignore that difference in scale is either foolish or deliberate conmanship.

    In any case, when you looks at REAL Liberals in Gladstonian times, you find that actually they were NOT shrieking “the state is evil, everything must be in the hands of private enterprise, we must all engage in dog-eat-dog competition” types like people who like to call themselves “Gladstonian liberals”, “authentic liberals” or whatever are these days. In fact you will find they were very much about good public services, and invented the system of schools with local education authorities which Jeremy Browne is so much against in his book.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Apr '14 - 9:35pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    Can you explain why Shanghai, China, records such apparently impressive results in the PISA league tables? Could it be that the city carries out a ruthless selection policy and only enters the top performing students for the tests? Could it be that these students work up to twelve hours a day studying?

    I teach Chinese students computer programming at one of China’s top universities. I don’t find them that much better than British students. There is far too much of a memorisation-based attitude, which is a disastrous way to approach learning to code.

  • When considering his “race” to be first, did Jeremy read this league table ?
    South Korea is 3rd, China is 6th, the UK is 37th.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_suicide_rate

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    If you read very carefully, you will find that Alex Marsh did not write a “flood of propaganda which insists that the pre-merger Liberal Party was a party of extreme free market economics”. He merely pointed out, I think, that those ex-SDPers who happily joined the merged Liberal Democrats did not do so in order to support Browneian free market economics. Nor, evidently, did you.

    What you overlook is that the SDP was a centre-left party which was temporarily taken over by a right-wing Owenite coup, in very much the same way that the Cleggies mounted their coup a generation later. The Owenites came to a sticky end when the centre-left majority in the SDP finally grasped the nettle and dumped Owen. History, I expect, will eventually repeat itself with the electoral defeat of the Cleggies.

    The majority SDP voted for merger because they had very much in common with the Liberals, or at any rate most of them. They did, I think, also bring something different into the merged party, though it is difficult (especially with the passage of time) to define what that was. I think that as a broad generalisation, the majority SDP (compared with the Liberals) had a greater commitment to social justice, a somewhat greater willingness to accept that the state could be a force for good as well as harm, more common sense and less imagination, more experience and fewer ideas.

    In many ways, those strengths and weaknesses were a counterpoint and a balance to those of the Liberals. I remember hoping that the whole would be better and achieve more than the sum of its parts. On the whole I think those hopes were realised, though obviously we never made the breakthrough we had aimed for. One of the things which held us back was internal tribalism and bickering between some ex-SDPers and some ex-Liberals. It really is long past time to put an end to all that, and concentrate on today’s problems.

  • Matthew,

    I think we need to remember that in Gladstone’s day the British East-India company was the largest global corporation in history, accounting for half of all world trade. Although it was nationalised after the Indian Mutiny, the successor state enterprise – the British Raj- was run very much along commercial lines.

    Jeremy is not the first Liberal politician to call our attention to the need for Britain to pick up the pace in the global race. In 1868, Sir Charles Dilke published a book called ‘Greater Britain’, in which he advocated the unity of the Anglo-Saxon peoples, including potentially the United States. Dilke saw that in the longer term it would be impossible for Britain alone to maintain her strategic and economic lead in the face of the growing military and economic potential of other states in Europe, or of Russia or the United States, unless she combined more closely with the British Dominions overseas. This was all the more important, Dilke believed, as England’s primary mission was the spread of free institutions through the world. He concluded that ‘the power of English laws and English principles of government is not merely an English question – its continuance is essential to the freedom of mankind’. So, for Dilke, the spread of Anglo-Saxon freedoms had become synonymous with the spread of the Anglo-Saxon race – although this was going to be problematical in an empire where the great majority of the population was not Anglo-Saxon.

    9

    Dizzy’s career. Nonetheless Disraeli – a man who had once written off colonies as ‘millstones round ournecks’ – had now recognised that imperialist boasting might appeal to the electorate. By wrapping his partyin the flag Disraeli could boost ‘one-nation’ Conservatism by appealing to all Britons, hence avoiding theclass-based politics that was likely to favour the Liberals or even – in future – Socialists. Such thinking alsolay behind his decision to exalt that other great institution around which the British could unite: theMonarchy, or more specifically Queen Victoria, when he made her Empress of India in 1876. After all, anempire surely needed an emperor – or an empress.Slide 12

    “We don’t want to fight, but by Jingo, if we do We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men,we’ve got the money too.

    Disraeli’s new type of patriotism did seem to chime with the electorate. There was, for example, a wave of popular patriotism – the original jingoism – over the Eastern Crisis of 1877-78 , although it did not preventthe Tories losing the election of 1880, in part because having boosted the Empire, they were punished whena British Army suffered some humiliating setbacks while trying to expand it into Afghanistan. But despitesuch setbacks, the Tories from then on remained unambiguous supporters of empire until at least the 1940s.[1878 music hall song – supporting Disraeli’s threats to send aid to stop Russia advancing against theweakening Ottoman Empire, and so taking Constantinople and so threatening the British route to India bygaining access to the Eastern Mediterranean.]

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Apr '14 - 8:28am

    Joe Bourke

    I think we need to remember that in Gladstone’s day the British East-India company was the largest global corporation in history, accounting for half of all world trade. Although it was nationalised after the Indian Mutiny

    Er, let’s look again at that last phrase “it was nationalised”. So you are defending the claim that Gladstonian liberalism was all about a shrieking “the state is evil, everything must be under private business control” by referring to a state-owned company?

    Jeremy is not the first Liberal politician to call our attention to the need for Britain to pick up the pace in the global race.

    I am not criticising him for calling our attention to the need for Britain to pick up the pace in the global race. I am criticising him for the conclusions he draws from this.

    I am well aware of the liberal argument for imperialism in the 19th century. It is similar to the liberal argument for control of the world by global corporations “It’s all about freedom, and it’s modern so it can’t be resisted or argued against, we must force the natives to be free by taking control of their lives, and if they don’t like it, we’ll replace them by coolie labour”.

  • Steve Griffiths 25th Apr '14 - 9:11am

    Jeremy Browne

    “She gave prominence to environmental issues, particularly towards the end of her time as Prime Minister; so do I.”

    She appeared to, but no one believed she meant it. She was encouraged to say some ‘Green’ things by colleagues (probably Gummer and Tory Party pollsters) as a result of the increasing popularity in the polls of the Green Party at the time. Towards the end of her premiership the Greens secured over 2 million votes at the 1989 European elections (the Lib Dems less than 1 million), and it was generally believed that the loss of Tory seats at that election may have been some Tory supporters going to the Greens. She hated public transport and would never use it herself, and she never made any secret of the fact. She did little or nothing seriously environmental in her entire premiership.

  • Matt (Bristol) 25th Apr '14 - 10:06am

    Joe Bourke, I agree that Rosebery did initially support Gladstone in the 80s and 90s, but come the turn of the century he had decided emphatically that Home Rule and the Irish needed to be dumped for the good of the party and was fantasising about reshaping British politics with a coalition of Liberal Imperialists and Unionist Free Traders. His longterm support for constitutional restructuring was moot and wan. But like Jeremy Browne, he was always calling for a new form of politics that would magically transform the party.

    This is something Gladstone didn’t do; for the most part of his career he focused his attention on government by competent management, combined with constant focus on reforms that would achieve the social unity of the country. Yes, he did deprecate higher taxation, but he also advocated rationalisation of tax and deprecated new purchase taxations; it’s hard to think he would have been favourable to VAT, for eg.

    I like many am a fan of some of what Gladstone did or allowed to happen on his watch, but I guess I need constantly to remember that he and his era does not map simply and neatly on to modern party politics, and that along with Disraeli and Churchill, his is the most-worn costume in the political dressing-up box. Gordon Brown, Roy Jenkins, Thatcher, all claimed to be inspired by him (probably legitimately), but where does that leave us?

  • Paul Walter
    “…otherwise we end up repeating endless samey photos of Nick Clegg or the EU flag.”

    Well we certainly would not want that! Although we have no objection to the EU flag. 🙂

  • Iain BB 25th Apr ’14 – 11:13am

    Brilliant contribution.

    Extraordinarily appropriate.

    The involvement of the dreadful “IEA” both then and now provides a revealing context.

  • Lib Dems should remember that they will need tactical votes from left of centre voters where they are defending seats from the Conservatives in 2015. As it happens, the Lib Dems won a local byelection last night and there seems to have been tactical voting by Labour voters.

  • Steve Griffiths 25th Apr '14 - 12:02pm

    Iain BB

    A very pertinent contribution and a viewpoint recalling history as it was, much needed on LDV. We DO have a need at this hour for someone to debunk Thatcherism. Following what many of us suspect will be very poor results for the Lib Dems in the upcoming European and General Elections, the party will be faced with a choice for it’s future economic policy. Stick with the current ‘orthodoxy’ of free trade liberalism (or even go further as Jeremy Browne advises), which has lead us to where we are now, or redress the balance towards social liberalism. If a future split is coming for the Lib Dems in the election aftermath of many lost seats, it will be on this issue. A leader so identified with only one side of the party economic debate will have great difficulty holding the party together.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Apr '14 - 12:37pm

    David Allen

    If you read very carefully, you will find that Alex Marsh did not write a “flood of propaganda which insists that the pre-merger Liberal Party was a party of extreme free market economics”. He merely pointed out, I think, that those ex-SDPers who happily joined the merged Liberal Democrats did not do so in order to support Browneian free market economics. Nor, evidently, did you.

    Well, I asked Alex Marsh directly “So what point are you making?”, and I am sorry he has not had the courtesy to come back and answer that question.

    When Alex Marsh wrote about “the significance of the party being called the Liberal Democrats not the Liberal Party”, it seemed to me that he was referring to the party being a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP, and assuming that the Liberal Party aspect of that was very much like what Jeremy Browne calls “authentic liberalism”, with the SDP element being that which moved the party towards being more sceptical about the efficacy of standard free market economics. Comments about the division between those in the Liberal Democrats with politics like Jeremy Browne and those with politics like us and linking them to the origin of the party as a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP, with this sort of assumption are now very commonly made. I am not saying that Alex himself wrote “a flood of propaganda” on these lines, I am suggesting that he has read this flood and believed it and his comments were made on that basis. If they were not, he can come back and say so.

    I call it “propaganda” because I believe this attempt to get extreme free market policies called “liberalism” and to link them with the historical Liberal Party has been done quite deliberately by people who want to give more credibility to the sort of politics Browne advocates by making out – falsely – that it is just a return to what a large part of those who made up the origin of the Liberal Democrats stood for when it was formed just a few decades ago. I am appalled to find what I know to be completely untrue, having been alive and active in the Liberal Party at that time, to be repeated so many times by people with a political motivation to spread these untruths, that others who were not there at the time believe it to be fact.

    So I am not, as you keep suggesting, bringing this up in order to re-open old divisions. I am bringing up the TRUTH – that is what those of us who were around at the time of the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP were arguing about – to expose the UNTRUTH of those like Jeremy Browne who want to call their defence of the financial elite and policies which support the power of that elite “liberalism” and falsely claim that sort of policy was what the Liberal Party was about.

    Sure, those of us who were on opposite sides in those days are now often found on the same side, fighting against these Browneite types. The divisions have changed. It seems to me, which I think is what you were also saying, that Browne and Clegg and Laws and that sort are really the heirs of those you say mounted a right-wing coup and took over the SDP. They use many of the same lines – that the party needs to look more “serious”, which means it has to be about politicians in Westminster looking and acting like how the people think politicians look and act, that, they say will bring us votes, our success, they say, means dropping all this old protest politics stuff. They use the line that the move towards more free market oriented politics is “modern” and therefore cannot be resisted, and therefore those who argue against it are just old fashioned stick-in-the-muds, who can be dismissed without consideration. They want a party which is all about a tight machine at the top run by professional Public Relations people dictating to its members what they should do and how they should do it, with members just as a sort of unpaid sales force who need to be rallied into unthinking support of all this by fan club mechanisms.

    I do think the model of political party which was imposed on us at the time of the merger and is far more that of the SDP than that of the old Liberal Party has made this sort of coup from the top easier to execute. Concern about this was actually the real main issue in the debates about what sort of party the new party would be when the two parties were merging.

  • David Allen 25th Apr '14 - 1:34pm

    Matthew said: “those of us who were on opposite sides in those days are now often found on the same side”

    Look, I was SDP, you were Liberal. We were not on opposite sides! We were in Alliance! It was only a minority of Owenites – along with a minority of Liberals – who stood out against an effective partnership, and did much to cause the Alliance’s failure to “break the mould”.

    Were they visionaries, or a wrecking crew? Well, Owen claimed to be a visionary leader who held the monopoly on wisdom and should therefore be allowed to override those amateurish squabbling Liberals. Given his considerable eloquence and intelligence, those claims were not totally without foundation. I see that you claim in return that your oppositionalism can be justified because the SDP had a more authoritarian party structure which you didn’t like. Clearly you do have a point, though I don’t recall our party structure excessively inhibiting critical thought in, say, the Ashdown or Kennedy leadership periods. It is the Cleggites’ naked factionalism and coupism which have really caused our degeneration.

    Reflecting on all this, the words of “Turn, turn, turn” drift into my mind. “To everything there is a season. A time to build up, a time to break down.” For most of my political life I have been a loyalist, a builder for a centre-left party. Paradoxically that gives me strength now that I have become a breaker-down, an opponent of Cleggism who believes that the Lib Dems are now a force for harm and, if they cannot be reformed, should if possible be destroyed. I wouldn’t want to think of myself, or be thought of by others, as just a perennial malcontent.

  • Liberalism
    Liberty
    Free trade – no tariffs
    Freedom of thought , word and associat ion
    Absence of patronage
    Transparency and accountability by the State
    A respect for the fact that the British people are sovereign and state employees, quangos, politicians and Eurocrats answer to them.
    The patronage used by the Tories and the Monarchs from the 17-19centuries:, the giving of pensions, tiles and sinecures has been replaced by Labour using employment in the public sector, quangos, unions and charities.
    A small state means minimal ability to use patronage. large scale public sector employment is a common method of political parties using taxes to buy votes.. As Ruth Sunderland of The observer said “Brown’s economic policy was nothing more than increasing public sector employment in the regions” . Once organisations become large and there is very little quantifiable output ( e.g cars) it is easy for overmanning to occur, see website.. http://www.insidethe environmentagency.co.uk

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Apr '14 - 7:16pm

    Iain BB

    Thanks for the history, which goes back much further than mine! Some of this I’m aware of because it’s the sort of thing older members of the party would talk about when I first joined, so I hope too that my talking about events some thirty years ago will be of interest to new members of the party today.

    As you put it, there was a small group who had taken the traditional Liberal support for “free trade” and extended it to what we can now see was proto-Thatcherism. I remember that group still being talked about, but definitely seen as oddities, never part of the party’s mainstream, and their departure being welcomed as helping establish the party as what it was when it started turning around. For me the big turnaround was the February 1974 general election and the series of by-elections before then, as these happened when I was just old enough to begin to understand politics, though older members probably would want to date it to the Orpington by-election.

    The departure of people like Arthur Seldon, with the formation of the IEA which was a big intellectual driving force behind Margaret Thatcher really does show up Jeremy Browne. He claims that those who call him a “Thatcherite” are just doing it out of abuse, but I never use political terms like that as meaningless abuse. For example, I would never call Jeremy Browne a “fascist” because quite clearly he is not, and I very much oppose the use of that word as a general term of abuse. When I use that term – as I have done for describing people who are keen on the idea of executive mayors – I use it with a definite political meaning, that is, a supporter of the idea that putting all power into the hands of one person is a good idea because that makes it more visible and accountable and blah-de-blah-de-blah. Those in the Liberal Party who held most to those ideas left it and were influential in developing Thatcherism. Therefore, if Jeremy Browne likes that sort of idea, then he needs to see that the heirs to it are in the Conservative Party, not the Liberal Democrats, so that is where he should be if that’s his sort of politics.

    You are also quite right in pointing out the close connection between the Liberal Party and nonconformist Christianity, something which those who declare themselves “authentic Liberals” and the like never talk about. I am told that in parts of the West Country whether a village has a strong Liberal tendency or not up till recent years went back to where it stood in the Civil War – if it was Parliamentarian, it developed a strong Nonconformist community, and that developed a strong local Liberal Party, if it was Royalist, the Church of England was dominant and that meant the Conservative Party was dominant.

    The Nonconformist background to the Liberal Party in the UK is part of why it did not develop as most of the continental liberal parties did. In much of the rest of Europe, liberal parties developed from the anti-clerical movement. In those countries the sort of social care attitude associated with Christianity went into the Christian Democrat parties, which are actually quite a different thing from the UK Conservative Party, whose ancestry makes it more like the European pro-aristocracy partied which largely disappeared in the 20th century. In the UK, the Nonconformist Christian background of the Liberal Party meant it developed features which in the rest of Europe were seen more in the Christian Democrat parties than in the liberal parties – a belief that the state has a duty of care to the less fortunate, a liking for the small-scale, and while generally in favour of private enterprise, a suspicion of its more dog-eat-dog attitudes.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Apr '14 - 8:42am

    I also am really pleased that Jeremy has taken the time and effort to respond to the fairly intense debate that his book sparked off on LDV. The number of comments and the fact that this is the most read piece of the week so far is a testament to how much that feeling is shared by our readers.

    Stephen Tall has described this piece as “enjoyably robust”. I’d stick a mostly in front of that because I think Jeremy has been a bit unfair to me. My article wasn’t and never pretended to be a review of the book. How could it be? I hadn’t read it and I made that perfectly clear. Unlike many others, including even Liberator, I didn’t get a review copy and, it being school holidays and me not being made of money, I hadn’t got round to buying it. Come payday next week that’ll be a different story, particularly as the price has come down a bit… That line about remembering from school how difficult it is to write a review of a book without reading it might give a few people a bit of a cheap giggle at my expense, and means he can avoid substantive discussion about the actual, quite legitimate, points that I make about how reducing the size of the state might mean that those who are less privileged have less opportunity and about his laying claim to the title of authentic liberalism.

    Anyway, its publication had attracted intense publicity. Jeremy had been interviewed widely talking about his ideas. I made it perfectly clear that my comments were based on those interviews and his piece for the Daily Politics. A major part of my article covered the use of the term “authentic liberalism”. You don’t need to read the book to take issue with that depiction. My view is that anyone who signs up to the values we espouse in the Preamble to our Constitution is a liberal. That makes us a broad church and I have no right to claim that a particular and controversial stream of ideas are somehow real. You can’t do that without implying that all the rest are fake. In his response, Jeremy only responds to one line of the three paragraphs I wrote on this. He had nothing to say when I compared his claim to the sort of debate we are getting up here in Scotland at the moment where some nationalists, even some elected ones, claim you’re not a true Scot if you don’t support independence, or where I said that you can’t really factionalise this party because there are things that bind all of us together even if we are at loggerheads on the economy. The very term “authentic liberalism” is divisive and it does rather look as if its author is trying to set himself above those of us who don’t subscribe to that line of thinking. It is really unhelpful.

    Timing

    I appreciate that events move on. However, I don’t really think that this book would have been out of date if its publication had been left until June, after the European and local elections. At a time when we are trying to show the very clear differences between us and the Tories, in the run up to a crucial poll, extensive press coverage of the type that Jeremy’s book attracted was, frankly, extremely unhelpful. Ok, so he didn’t say the party was pointless, but that headline may well come back to haunt us. In the context of an election where a couple of percentage points can make all the difference, a small delay until June would not have been too much to ask. Jeremy has undoubtedly put discord into our pre-election mood music and therefore can’t just stand by and say “it wasn’t my fault” if things don’t go as well as we hope on May 22nd. There is no law that says you have to publish your thoughts immediately after you have committed them to paper, after all.

    Privilege

    First of all, as Paul has already explained, I didn’t choose the photo. However, I will confess to emailing him and telling him I liked it. Eton does symbolise privilege in this country so it was perfectly appropriate. It was also good to have one of Paul’s own images, a slightly different view. Now, Jeremy has never been to Eton, but he did go to Bedales, something I did check while I was writing my article. When I first read Jeremy’s response, I did actually go and look up the comparative fees between Eton and Bedales, but John Tilley has spared me the bother of posting them. Jeremy’s background is not the point, though. It’s whether he understands the practicalities of life for the poor. He’s quoted a whole load of statements from the book about how he’s concerned for the poor, but I was trying to show in my piece that one idea, every school being a free school with parents having the complete choice of where to send their children might not be practical for a child from a poor background. I don’t think Jeremy has shown an understanding of the realities of poverty and at the same time argues for the size of the state to be cut back, a move which could only adversely affect the poorest. Like I said, the important thing is to pitch the size of your state according to the needs of your society, not by grabbing a figure out of the air. It certainly doesn’t follow that big state means fewer poor people, but you do need a reasonably sized state to effectively give people access to the opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. There is no getting out of that one.

  • Caron
    Well said, and I am particularly pleased that you made this point –
    “…it might give a few people a bit of a cheap giggle at my expense, and means he can avoid substantive discussion about the actual, quite legitimate, points that I make…”

    His “response” reads to me not like honest debate but like he is avoiding substantive discussion.

    Is Jeremy Browne really interested in genuine debate within the party? Has he ever been?
    Or does he belong to that class of full-time professional lobbyist/politician who thinks that the membership of political parties are there to pay their subs, make donations, laugh at weak jokes at fund raisers and then do as they are told ?

    I was rather surprised by some early comments in this thread from people who were congratulating Jeremy Browne for being prepared to debate.
    But is the promotion of this book and the response at the top of this thread genuine, honest debate ?
    Or is it PR and spin ?

    If genuine debate within the party was his purpose — why the Times “Liberal Democrats are pointless” front page banner headline ?

    As Paul Walter pointed out in his comment addressed to Jeremy Browne —
    “… I see from your biography that you studied politics at University. You were editor of your university’s newspaper and President of the Students’ Union. You worked for not one, but two public relations firms. You were Director of Press and Broadcasting for our party under not one, but two leaders. You have been an MP for nine years. You were a minister in two government departments over three years.

    With all that experience of hardball politics, did you not have the remotest suspicion that by talking to The Times in the way that you did that they would convert your words into something like “Lib Dems are pointless”?
    Or were you taken totally by surprise by their treatment of your interview?”

    Will Jeremy Browne respond honestly to Paul Walter’s questions ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '14 - 9:50am

    Me

    Those in the Liberal Party who held most to those ideas left it and were influential in developing Thatcherism.

    Just to clarify, by “those ideas” I meant the ideas that Seldon etc took into the IEA and were developed into Thatcherism, not the ideas I mentioned in the side remark about the ideology developed in the 1920s, which I think has re-appeared in an attenuated form with this call for executive mayors.

  • Jayne Mansfield 26th Apr '14 - 10:28am

    @ Caron,
    This blog must give you a great deal of work. Like Helen Tedcastle, I don’t see why you should have to justify anything that you write.

    Much as I promise myself that I won’t, I am constantly drawn back to reading all the contributions and it is wonderful to see that the Liberal Democrat party is still so lively. I also promise myself that I will not post anything on here, instead, just to read and learn more about the party I voted for, but being an opinionated OAP, that also proves too difficult for me sometimes, too.

    What draws me back to Lib Dem Voice is the quality of the discussion. As someone who, in the past, has always voted for your party, I have been casting around for a party to vote for in the next election and when I read some of the posts, I start to think that it might well still be your party.

    Oh dear, your feeling that you need to justify yourself,( in my opinion, totally unnecessary), and the inspiring post from Helen Tedcastle above has caused me to once again, break my promise not to post.

  • Clark Gwent 26th Apr '14 - 3:53pm

    I went to the bookshop and asked “have you got the new book on the Lib Dems”
    The bookseller said “sorry we’ve sold out”
    I said “yeah that’s the one”

    Boom tish thank you

  • Miles Edgeworth 26th Apr '14 - 6:22pm

    “My article wasn’t and never pretended to be a review of the book.” (Carol Lindsay April 26th)

    “Today Jeremy Browne responds on LDV to various reviews of his book. He’s not too chuffed with mine- here it is again.” (Carol Lindsay April 24th)

    https://twitter.com/caronmlindsay/status/459233766884798464

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '14 - 8:45pm

    Alex Marsh

    Others prominent in his neck of the woods see much of the new liberalism of the twentieth century as having taken a wrong turn, away from a rigorous focus on economic liberalism and succumbing to some form of soft socialism. It appears there is an aspiration to return to earlier, purer and more austere approaches.

    Yes, and there you go, spouting out these people’s propaganda. That is the problem, you probably don’t even realise it’s propaganda, you probably think what you wrote above is just neutral. It isn’t.

    By using the word “earlier” you are implying that liberalism in the past primarily meant this sort of obsession with competitive market based solutions. That is an opinion, it is not a fact, I believe it is an opinion that is wrong, and one that has been invented and pushed primarily by wealthy and powerful people in order to defend their wealth and power by falsely linking it to older principles.

    Similarly, by using the word “pure”, you are suggesting that the very essence of liberalism, what it is at heart, is this obsession with market oriented competition, and suggesting that if that obsession is tempered by other considerations what we have is “impure” which is a pejorative word.

    I believe that liberalism in the past was NOT primarily about market competition, and that those aspects of it that were need to be seen in the contexts of private business being on a very much smaller scale in those days than now, in fact of private business being a challenger to the dominant powers of the day – the established church and the landed aristocracy – rather than as it is now, the actual dominant power of the day.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '14 - 9:00pm

    Alex Marsh

    And that is before we come to social democracy (by which I don’t mean Owenite Thatcherism lite). We almost never talk about how (or indeed whether) social democratic thought influences policy within the party, even though it was integral to its foundation and to its ongoing self-identity. When there is talk of a split in the party it is between “economic” and “social” liberals.

    When the Liberal Party and the SDP merged, it was the other way round. At that time it was as if the word “liberal” was banned, If you described yourself as a “liberal”, you were treated with suspicion, the implication was that you weren’t really in support of the merger, you were one of those old-time wearers of beards and sandals who hadn’t appreciated how the SDP had come along and “modernised” the party and made it more capable of winning elections by looking more like professional politicians and less like, er, people. There was a very strong move to get the party to be called just “Democrats”, and when Liberals insisted otherwise, then it had to be the cumbersome “Social and Liberal Democrats” to avoid it being seen as a “liberal” party.

    It seems only when the term “Liberal” had been pushed aside for long enough for people to forget what it used to mean that it was re-invented by the likes of Jeremy Browne to mean what used to be called “Thatcherite”.

  • Some interesting comments in this thread but I remain very disappointed by the constant referral to JB’s schooling, upbringing and indeed his work past within the lib Dems. I was an active young Liberal/Lib Dem around the same time as the likes of JB and Tim Farron et al and I don’t think I ever once assessed my contemporaries at the time by their background. Many became great friends and all were united by the liberal cause. I, from a mining background in South Yorkshire never once felt out of place nor inferior because I’d gone to a comprehensive or had free school meals etc. The Lib Dems were indeed classless in attitude and approach and background mattered not one jot. JB has his views. Whether you think his ideas would work in alleviating poverty or supporting the poorest etc or not, they should be argued about in the context of policy not the person or personality. I don’t expect to be held on a pedestal because of my ‘poor’ background. And nor should JB be pilloried for his perceived privilege either. This form of prejudice should have no place in a liberal party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '14 - 10:54pm

    David Allen

    Were they visionaries, or a wrecking crew? Well, Owen claimed to be a visionary leader who held the monopoly on wisdom and should therefore be allowed to override those amateurish squabbling Liberals. Given his considerable eloquence and intelligence, those claims were not totally without foundation.

    Those “amateurish squabbling liberals” who were winning seats. While the SDP was not. If you look at the figures, you will see most “Alliance” councillors were Liberals, most Alliance MPs were Liberals, and where the SDP won it was quite often because the Liberals ran the campaign.

    That was the real problem. The SDP came in, told the Liberals “We’re better than you, we’ll show you how to win votes”, and they did not. It was like what Clegg did in 2010 – he thought that by looking more “professional”, by looking like a “proper politician”, people would be impressed, people would come over to us, people who had in the past dismissed us because we looked a bit amateurish would be mightily impressed to see Clegg standing at the despatch box in Parliament being a proper politician. Well, it didn’t happen, did it? We’ve lost votes and support in that way, not gained them. We have lost that feeling that somehow we were a bit different, somehow we were not like those despised “politicians” – just perhaps maybe that “amateurism” was part of our appeal.

    To some extent, the “amateurism” of Liberal campaigning back in those days was carefully cultivated. Yes, it WAS intentional, and ALC were issuing guideline on how to do it. It was quite clever stuff. And the SDP just didn’t get it.

    Neither did the press, who wrote up the Liberal-SDP Alliance as if it were all the SDP with the Liberal Party as just a side issue.

    For all that the Liberals were accused of being amateur and not capable of running things, when they did win councils, they did a good job. The idea that Liberals were all head-in-the-clouds airy-fairy nonsense people was shown to be wrong by that.

    The history books – and it is now history – now shows the bias that exists then. They write up the 1980s as if it was the foundation of the SDP as the turning point which reawakened the third party movement in Britain. But it was not. If you look at the general election figures, it was quite obviously the 1974 general election. The 1983 election gave results that were in line with how the Liberals may well have progressed from 1974 anyway. Sure, 1979 was a bad year, but there were reasons for that, and in fact the Liberal survived it better than the commentators had predicted. I had joined the Liberal Party by then and was impressed by the energy and excited flow of ideas that was in it, but also by that history and long memory which Iain BB gives us – somehow that did give it a grounding that worked. The idea that the Liberal Party was a “sleepy” party, or just a decaying historical relic until the SDP came along is complete nonsense. Yet that is what is being taught to politics students today – I’ve seen it written up like that in the textbooks.

    For those of us in the Liberals, the SDP coming along like this was these arrogant attitudes, ignoring all we were doing, telling us they knew better, and then falling down because they didn’t and having to be picked up by us and taught how to play the third party game, was pretty sickening. It all seemed a complete waste of time. Why couldn’t they have just joined us in the first place, instead of going through all this complex mess of forming a new party?

    There’s always this “how might it have been?” feeling, how would we have developed all ideas if the SDP had never been formed? Because what happened is after the SDP was formed we seemed to be spending all our energy arguing with them and with the complexities needed to manage two parties working as one. The new ideas that were developing in the Liberal Party seemed to come to a halt. Instead, radicals like myself got stuck into a “We’ll show ’em” mode of thinking, pushing the “community politics” mode of campaigning with more energy than thought to show that it worked, but in doing so forgetting its original aims, so that it became just a technique. Essentially, we stopped thinking, because we wanted to show the SDP that they were wrong to think we didn’t know how to win elections.

    I don’t mean this as a personal attack on your David, I just mean it as an honest account of how it seemed if you were a Liberal at the time and why there was resentment. The reality was that most people who were attracted to join the SDP just didn’t know what the Liberals were doing, so tended to take it they were as the press painted them – a mixture of historical relic and bearded sandalled weirdoes. Mostly the people who joined the SDP were the sort of people who would have joined the Liberal Party if they had lived in a place where it had strong local activity. In short, at grassroots level, there weren’t significant differences between the people in the two parties. This was even more so after the first flash of the SDP, when it became clear it wasn’t going to be a quick route to power, and some who had joined it on that basis dropped out, leaving the SDP with those who like the Liberals appreciated it was going to be a long haul. That there was no significant difference between the people in the two parties was show by how smoothly the merger went at grassroots level. Almost everywhere the two parties came together and started working as one and that was it. The press did not write it up like that, but they were completely wrong. I myself, having voted against merger, was very soon standing as a candidate working alongside former SDP members in one of the few council seats where it was the SDP who had made the running in winning it. To be honest, after a few years we forgot who was originally what completely. The idea that there was this big division between semi-socialist Social Democrats and keen free market Liberals, and that this division persists until today is complete and utter nonsense. The Liberal Party at that time and Liberal members were NOT “authentic liberals” in the Jeremy Browne terminology. That free market freakiness which Browne and co want to pretend was what the Liberal were historically all about just did NOT EXIST in the Liberal Party, or at least it was insignificant and more than balanced by people whose politics was really fairly left wing, and there were just as many in the SDP, probably more, getting influenced by the free market freakery which was just becoming fashionable then.

    The problems were at the top. David Owen was just too arrogant to accept it wasn’t all about him, and he was bolstered by the continuing false reporting of the press which made out it was. In the Liberal Party, the SDP was used as a tool by the right-wing of the party to clobber the left. Some even suggested that David Steel encouraged the separate formation of the SDP for this reason. It was the right-wing of the Liberal Party who saw no difference between themselves and the SDP, who thought “liberal” and “social democrat” meant the same sort of thing. It was the left-wing of the Liberal Party – those most hostile to Thatcherism – who were keenest on establishing a distinction, and on thinking that “liberal” meant something distinct. So, the complete opposite of what is now being written up now by those who weren’t around at the time. As Helen Tedcastle puts it, we thought “liberal” meant ” small-scale communities and self-empowerment”, running things on a sort of co-operative model, a human oriented approach to politics rather than the dog-eat-dog money oriented approach of Thatcherism which Jeremy Browne now wants to call “authentic liberalism”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Apr '14 - 11:05pm

    Ashley

    And nor should JB be pilloried for his perceived privilege either. This form of prejudice should have no place in a liberal party.

    What about the prejudice that assumes that because someone comes from that sort of background he must be very clever, is obvious leader material, and so on?

    Sorry, Ashley, but it goes both ways round. I’m afraid it’s very obvious that there are several people who are actually not nearly as clever as they are painted and fairly incompetent at leadership, who are in senior positions in our party because they come from a privileged background which has given then links others do not have to climb up to the top, and an image and demeanour which still seems to impress, perhaps because many of the press commentators writing it all up come from similar backgrounds and so have a prejudice, maybe an unconscious one, in favour of people like themselves.

    I regret that I HAVE experienced quite a bit of class prejudice in our party, in fact I know of several people from a working class background like myself who have walked out of the party after experiencing it. You may not get it because you’re northern – it’s southern working class accents that are the one which are really despised, written off as “poor speech”, mean those with them are dismissed, not taken seriously. How many leading people in our party or any of the others have a southern accent? I mean a REAL southern accent, not Received Pronuncication, which is NOT a southern accent, although northerners think it is (and that shows just how much anti-southern prejudice there is, so much so that real southerners are invisible).

  • What is the Establishment ? I suggest it changes over time. I think A Sampson’s “Anatomy of Britain” books were very good at describing those who run Britain. The idea of over lapping circles is a useful way of describing influence.

    I would suggest there are various interlocking circles. Labour have been very good at creating a nexus of middle class arts graduates, workers employed by Labour MPs, the BBC,NGOs, charities and quangos. Another one would be several financial institutions. Those people appointed to run the Co-op appear to come from a similar background and produced disasterous results. Another group of interlocking circles would be Royal Marine Commandos, SBS.
    , Parachute Regiment, SAS.

    I would suggest that where any interlocking groups of people/organisations use this to their advantage and to the disadvantage it is an abuse of power which is detriment to the country. I would suggest that the Liberal Party arose in order to check the power/patronage used by the Tory Party/Monarchy/Anglican Church. Post 1945 , the nexus of power between the Labour Party/Unions and Nationalised Industries was a misuse of power. More recently, Labour allowing constituencies to become of different size and appear to be indifferent to irregularities within postal ballots is a misuse of power. If the practice continues, how long before we have rotten boroughs?

    I would suggest that the Liberal Democratic party supports liberty and meritocracy and is opposed to any groups accreting power for the benefit of themselves and the detriment of others. This could apply to civil servants, armed forces,any public sector organisations, quangos, charities, companies, unions , football clubs, landowners, the BBC, individuals or groups of individuals, religions, priest, rabbis, mullah, universities, academic bodies, the EU and EU officials, politicians or any organisation for that matter.

    Knowledge is power and many organisations make it very difficult to understand what they do, how they spend money, their influence , who has authority and who has responsibility.

    Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I would suggest that when it comes on deciding careers or purchase,s knowledge is important. Much disadvantage occurs because poor people lack the knowledge. I would suggest that increasingly it is the ability to posses knowledge that others lack, which will privilege people- a bit like insider trading. The reality is that in the computer/software age, most of those such as B Gates have a good academic ability due to their middle and upper middle class upbringing. The teenager who sold an App for £15m came from Kings College School, not a poorly performing inner city comprehensive.

    After all it was the Non-Conformist craftsmen with their superior modern education which gave us The industrial Revolution, not the Monarchy, Tory Party/Anglican Church

    Perhaps The LDs task is to ensure all organisations explain what they do clearly so they are accountable to the British people? Perhaps it is not so much how much the state spends but how , where and how wisely; only then we can decide if it offers value for money?

    In summary , the ability of an organisation or person to hide the information on how it functions gives an advantage as it reduces the ability of people to hold them to account; while a person or organisation which has superior knowledge to others, allows them to gain advantages with regard to influence and material wealth.

  • Matthew Huntbach .
    By accent do you mean, Hampshire, Devon, Somerset , Cornish?

  • Ghariie

    I agree with you abut the ‘ Anatoy of Britain ‘ book by Anthony Sampson. The follow up which was published ten years ago just before he died was entitled ‘Who Runs This Place ?’ was the anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century and made depressing reading for anyone who favours social mobility, social change and improvements Iyour democracy.

    Sampson notes that in some significant cases things had got far worse since his first book which was published forty years earlier. He pointed out the enormous growth in the secret service both in terms of numbers recruited and expenditure. But the most depressing thing he charted was that the centres of power becoming dominated by an ever smaller elite drawn from the same schools and universities and excluding the vast majority of the population.

    Jeremy Browne is a personification of the problem that Sampson identified.

  • Paul In Twickenham 27th Apr '14 - 7:48pm

    If I want to spend my political/economic book budget for this month then I think I am more likely to choose “Capital” than “Race Plan”. It would be interesting to hear the opinion of some of the “economic liberals” who contribute to this site on the central thesis of Piketty’s book, particularly in the context of traditional Liberal views about rentiers.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '14 - 10:48pm

    Charlie

    Matthew Huntbach .
    By accent do you mean, Hampshire, Devon, Somerset , Cornish?

    I’m thinking more of what is called “Estuary English” than south-western accents. Most people in south-east England speak in that way, rather than Received Pronunciation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '14 - 10:53pm

    Tim Oliver

    I do not think Mr Browne is a Thatcherite. I think we should stop using the word “Thatcherite”, especially as an insult, in this party, because it is only ever used now to try and shut down the debate and exile large chunks of the party.

    As I have already explained, I am not using it as an insult. I am simply pointing out that it is what the policies supported by Jeremy Browne would have been called when I joined the party. I am not trying to shut down debate. It is me who is feeling shut out, when I find leading member of the party like Jeremy Browne supporting policies which I joined the party to oppose. Whereas I was once an enthusiastic member of the party, a bit to its left, yes, but not extremely so, I now feel myself to be on a left-wing fringe and just not welcome as a member of the party by those leading it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '14 - 11:04pm

    Tim Oliver

    There are more fruitful things to do than to use a government that left office 24 years ago as a weapon to beat other party members around the head with.

    Like what? I feel you are shutting me up, telling me I am not welcome in the party. There has been a fundamental change in politics, a massive shift to the economic right since the days of the Thatcher government. It is not just something that happened 24 years ago and can be forgotten now, it is something that has stayed in place ever since then, with the Blairites turning the Labour Party into one that also endorses it, and people like Jeremy Browne wanting the Liberal Democrats to be a third version of the same thing. You are telling me I am not even entitled to point this out, I have to just accept it and keep quiet, I just have to accept democratic politics being closed down in this country with all three major political parties, or all four if you include UKIP, endorsing the same sort of economic politics which in my younger days were seen as extremist right wing.

    Well, fine. People like you have already almost driven me out of the party. The local elections next month are the first in 30 years where I will not be standing as a candidate for the party. They are the first where I will not be giving up many hours of my time to campaign for the party. I am hanging on to my membership in the hope it will be brought back to the party I was once so enthusiastic about, but I will do no work for it so long as it is dominated at the top by people who can’t see how this drift to the economic right in our country has been so damaging and needs to be reversed.

    In my borough the party can’t even find enough candidates for all the seats.That is because people like you with your attitudes have driven out people like me who once would have been those candidates.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Apr '14 - 11:16pm

    Alex Marsh

    With respect, I was perfectly well aware of what I was doing. I was summarizing a view that has been voiced quite forcefully

    It wasn’t at all clear what you were doing. You wrote words about “Liberal” and “Democrat” which seemed to imply that the “Democrat” aspect of the party was the aspect which meant it had suspicions about enthusiasm for free market solutions, whereas the “Liberal” part was all in favour of them. I am assuming by these words you meant the influence of the SDP by “Democrat” and of the Liberal Party by “Liberal”. You didn’t make clear that this was an opinion you might not have agreed with it, you wrote as if you accepted it as a fact.

    I am pointing out that from my active involvement with the Liberal Party at the time of the merger I know it is not only not a fact, it is the opposite of fact – it was Liberal Party members at that time who tended to be more critical of market oriented solutions than SDP members. It is simply NOT the case that the current division in the party between enthusiasts for extreme free market policies like Jeremy Browne, and those who do not think such policies do much to enhance freedom derives from the origin of the party as a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP.

  • Matthew, a few responses:

    “Those “amateurish squabbling liberals” who were winning seats. While the SDP was not.”

    At local level that may have been due to strong Liberal campaigning. At Parliamentary level it was basically because the Liberals had the advantages of incumbency and clung to it, while the SDP had mostly to start afresh.

    “For all that the Liberals were accused of being amateur and not capable of running things, when they did win councils, they did a good job.”

    Probably fair comment about the local council level. Balance it if you will against Des Wilson’s view of what many Liberal MPs were like:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2614131/My-party-guilty-secrets-After-THAT-bombshell-book-revealed-Cyril-Smiths-serial-sex-attacks-asked-senior-Liberal-Party-chief-review-damning-verdict-accuses-David-Steel-burying-head-sand.html

    The SDP’s Gang of Four founders, even Owen, were quite right to believe they were far better than that.

    “The history books … shows the bias …. They write up the 1980s as if it was the foundation of the SDP as the turning point which reawakened the third party movement in Britain. But it was not. If you look at the general election figures, it was quite obviously the 1974 general election. The 1983 election gave results that were in line with how the Liberals may well have progressed from 1974 anyway. ”

    1983 was streets ahead of 1974, and the SDP was why.

    “Why couldn’t they have just joined us in the first place, instead of going through all this complex mess of forming a new party?”

    Because David Steel, probably rightly, advised that they’d make a better impact as a new party.

    “Mostly the people who joined the SDP were the sort of people who would have joined the Liberal Party if they had lived in a place where it had strong local activity.”

    Not in my experience Matthew. Amongst our 10-or-so main SDP activists in my area then (Southampton) I was the only one who had previously voted Liberal. I remember the meeting at which I expressed surprise at that fact, and my colleagues found it difficult to respond. Eventually someone said something like “yes, I suppose I agree with most of what they say, but…”. To which I said “Well yes, the reason I’m an activist now but I wasn’t before is because we’re now a serious possible future government, which the Liberals on their own weren’t.” The response was a lot of relieved-looking smiles, which I think implied “Good, so we are all on the same wavelength, then.”

    “The Liberal Party at that time and Liberal members were NOT “authentic liberals” in the Jeremy Browne terminology. That free market freakiness which Browne and co want to pretend was what the Liberal were historically all about just did NOT EXIST in the Liberal Party, or at least it was insignificant and more than balanced by people whose politics was really fairly left wing, and there were just as many in the SDP, probably more, getting influenced by the free market freakery which was just becoming fashionable then.”

    That sums it up perfectly. Both the old Liberals and the old SDP had to see off a minority of free market freaks who didn’t belong. Because one of them got to be SDP Leader, the SDP had more trouble, and caused the Alliance trouble, but the majority SDP eventually did see him off. Ironically, the guy has now rather mellowed, many years later! I don’t suppose Clegg ever will. So, will we see him off? My bet is, yes.

    “The problems were at the top. David Owen was just too arrogant to accept it wasn’t all about him”

    True. A truth which gradually dawned on the SDP rank and file.

    “It was the left-wing of the Liberal Party – those most hostile to Thatcherism – who were keenest on establishing a distinction, and on thinking that “liberal” meant something distinct.”

    True. Also rather unhelpful. It would have been better to build up the Alliance, not help Owen to break it down.

  • Matthew,

    Please check this thread again, when maybe my reply to you will have got past the powers that be!

  • Paul in Twickenham
    Thank you for drawing attention to this book – “Capital in the 21st Century,” the new treatise on income inequality by French economist Thomas Piketty.

    I hope LDV might get someone to review it and start a thread here . It would certainly be worth discussion. So far outside of LDV I have not met anyone who has even heard of Jeremy Browne’s book. To be fair most do not even know who Jeremy Browne is. What bliss that must be.

    Whereas I am reliably informed that —
    “…….Anyone who’s anyone (and many more who aren’t) has written something this week about “Capital in the 21st Century,” the new treatise on income inequality by French economist Thomas Piketty.”

    I am also informed that Thomas Piketty is “a rock star economist”.
    Mind you a rock star economist could I guess be anything. Since reading the phrase I am juggling between conficting images of the economics of Ozzy Osbourne as opposed to the economics of Buddy Holly.
    Would the economics of Janis Joplin be superior to the economics of The Travelling Wilburys or The Incredible String Band ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Apr '14 - 1:54pm

    Tim Oliver

    I think, Mr Huntbach, you busily engaged in trying to drive people like me out of the party, because we represent alternative strands of liberalism that are not your own, and so use the Thatcher government as one of several weapons to try and do so.

    No, as I keep explaining, I use the term “Thatcherism” as a factual one, not as a random term of abuse. It is a plain fact that the sort of policies Browne is advocating here are those that were advocated by Thatcher and the right-wing of the Conservative Party back in the 1980s, and had almost no support in the Liberal Party and SDP, at least not until David Owen started showing some sympathy for them.

    I accept that there are small-c social conservative aspects to the Conservative Party and to what Margaret Thatcher was all about which are not shared by “economic liberals”. However, I believe these are a fairly minor theme, and have become more so in today’s Conservative Party. That is why I say what Browne is advocating here, while not exactly all of what Thatcher was about, is closer to Thatcher than it is to the Liberal Party that I joined in the 1970s. My point is that this “alternative strand of liberalism” was absorbed into the Conservative Party – itself the result of a merger of the old Conservative Party and the more right-wing parts of the old Liberal Party, first through the Liberal Unionists then through the National Liberals, then as Iain BB has pointed out in this very thread, through a right-wing faction in the Liberal Party splitting off to form the IEA which was very influential in the development of Thatcherism.

    The party is a democratic one. If you wish to join the Liberal Democrats and take it over and turn it into something other than it was, in the end you have the right so long as you can find enough others to do it. And I have the right to say that the Liberal Democrats is no longer the party I joined, no longer stands for what caused me to campaign for it, and to advise all those who I in the past persuaded to vote for it to vote for it no longer. So far I have remained a member of the party and refrained from attacking it in public, out of support for my friends who are still active within it, still trying to hold onto what I helped build when I was Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Lewisham Borough council. Do you want to drive me to the point where I no longer remain silent?

    If you wish to critique his ideas, do them on their own merit, and talk about them in their own terms.

    I have done just that. In all these threads on Jeremy Browne’s book I have given criticism in detail of aspects of his policy suggestions. NOT ONE of his defenders has come back to me on those details. All I have had is abuse for using the term “Thatcherite” and accusations of intolerance because I stand up for what I believe in and won’t stay silent to see my party taken over by people whose politics is so far from mine and from what the party stood for when I joined it.

    If you wish for this to be a debate on policies, then instead of attacking me for my attitude, say something on what I have written about why I believe Jeremy Browne’s policies are misguided and won’t work as he thinks they will.

    It seems to me the tolerance you are urging is one way. We have to silently accept out party being pushed to the right, not openly but surreptitiously, through the rewriting of history and the subtle way the word “liberal” has been taken over and got to mean “supporter of free market economics”. If we speak out against this, we are accused of “intolerance”.

    I am happy to accept that free trade is a big theme in liberalism, and to listen to those who argue for more of it. But I am not happy for them to make out that it is the ONLY thing in liberalism, which is what Browne was doing when he labelled his ideas as “authentic liberalism”. I wold be happy if Browne would engage in a debate in which he accepted my different interpretation of liberalism, but he has not. He has made no reply to what I wrote in reply to him. And neither have you when it comes to actual policy, or, for that matter, on historical truth as I myself remember it.

  • Charlie27th Apr ’14 – 6:16pm
    “By accent do you mean, Hampshire, Devon, Somerset , Cornish?”

    Ken’ish, ‘n all.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Apr '14 - 4:52pm

    David Allen

    Probably fair comment about the local council level. Balance it if you will against Des Wilson’s view of what many Liberal MPs were like:

    Funnily enough I happened to have come across a copy of the Mail on Sunday, picked it up to skim through it as it’s always a good insight into just what we face in terms of campaigning for what we believe in, and came across Des’s article having no idea it was there. And funnily enough, I read it as supporting what I’m saying rather than what you’re saying – I read it as saying that the Liberal Party had some fine activists who were doing great stuff, but were let down by poor leadership.

    I think a lot of it comes down to personal experience. I happened to have had experience moving around and coming across a lot of these decent Liberal activists – starting with Des himself, as I was a teenager in the constituency where he fought his famous by-election, and also in Adur District close to where we lived, won by the Liberals in 1973, and Eastbourne, another council won by the Liberals not that far away in 1973. From where I saw it, 1983 WAS just a natural progression from what I had seen 10 years previously. From where you saw it, I guess little in the way of local Liberal Party activity, it wasn’t. That was the point I was making – there wasn’t a big ideological difference, someone would be in one party or the other due to where they happened to have lived and not due to some sort of ideological choice.

    Because the driving force in Liberal Party activity then was local campaigning and not what the being done centrally, it was patchy. However, the local campaigning when done well worked, it showed politics didn’t have to be run in the top down way that the Cleggies now insist on. There was also a crude Darwinian aspect to it. Those local Liberal parties which were run by the weirder sort of activists who couldn’t connect didn’t thrive, those run by sensible people who campaigned well did, and we can see the organic growth in many of them to eventually electing MPs – Lewes and Eastbourne in my home county are just a natural progression from what was started in the 1970s.

  • Paul in Twickenham 28th Apr '14 - 9:38pm

    @John Tilley – the central premise of Piketty’s book is that income from capital (in the form of economic rents) grows much faster than salaries and the economy in general. In other words, those who are rich keep getting richer and those who are poor keep getting poorer. He proves this with a mountain of data.

    Those who subscribe to Georgist ideas such as Land Value Tax will rightly say that they’ve been banging on about this stuff for a hundred years – but as so often it takes a “rock star” to make people take notice.

    “Authentic Liberals” recognize the risks of rent-seeking – cronyism and plutocratic government – and show no regard to special pleading by the rich.

    “Authentic Liberals” do not berate labour to “work harder” but recognize the powerful vested interests that have made a mockery of the idea of “meritocracy” and fight to correct those injustices through an activist fiscal policy.

    “Authentic Liberals” are not neo-liberals.

    I would recommend reading Paul Krugman’s excellent synopsis of “The Piketty Panic” in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/opinion/krugman-the-piketty-panic.html?_r=1

  • Matthew,

    “Des’s article … funnily enough, I read it as supporting what I’m saying rather than what you’re saying – I read it as saying that the Liberal Party had some fine activists who were doing great stuff, but were let down by poor leadership.”

    Funnily enough, that’s also just what I’m saying. What else do you think I meant, when you quoted my words: “Probably fair comment * about the local council level. Balance it if you will against Des Wilson’s view of what many Liberal MPs were like”…? (* Your comment having been “For all that the Liberals were accused of being amateur and not capable of running things, when they did win councils, they did a good job.”)

    I am happy to concede to you that you were right to take pride in Liberal capabilities as local activists. I joined the SDP to support the leadership of Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, who had the principles and the ability to lead in government. Maybe you didn’t think that mattered much, but I did.

    Which half of the Alliance was further to the left in 1981 was, I think, a moot point – I would have given it to the SDP on social justice, to the Liberals on community politics. I accept that once Owen took over, the SDP shifted hard to the right, but I and many others didn’t shift with Owen, any more than either of us now shifts with Clegg.

    Des Wilson’s views on the Liberal MPs, lionised by those who didn’t know them well but (according to Wilson) in reality a pretty self-centred bunch lacking in principle, are sobering. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been shocked at how many of our brave parliamentary representatives were happy to sell the pass when ministerial jobs were on offer.

    Anyway – the crucial point is Geoffrey Payne’s, above. The Liberal party at the time of merger was a left of centre political force. So was the original SDP. What we have in common is what matters now, and the driving need is to oppose “a different set of Liberals”. We need to hang together on that. At the moment, we are pretty much, in Franklin’s words, hanging separately.

  • Since last Thursday afternoon Jeremy Browne has not posted a comment on this thread. Having read the previous threads and the comments to them; he has just decided not to respond. Another Liberal Democrat MP has just used LDV to talk to us rather than to engage in a debate with us. Again my hopes have been disappointed by a Liberal Democrat MP.

  • Geoffrey Payne
    “………Sub Thatcherite. I think that describes Jeremy Browne’s politics very well. ”

    Sub Thatcherite, Neo-Thatcherite, it does not really matter which sort of Thatcherite.
    What is clear is that his views are Thatcherite, he says so himself.

    He is a Browne Thatcherite.

  • Paul in Twickenham
    I like the idea of —
    “…………..the risks of rent-seeking – cronyism and plutocratic government – and show no regard to special pleading by the rich.

    I will definitely set about reading Paul Krugman’s New York Times review http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/opinion/krugman-the-piketty-panic.html?_r=1

    Although as one of my birthday presents yesterday was Pete Townshend’s autobiography, I am tempted to read about the real rock star first.
    I suppose when he lived in Montpelier Row he could have commented in LDV as “Pete of Twickenham”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 11:12am

    Geoffrey Payne

    Matthew – I think you should ponder whether you like it or not. Social Liberals and Social Democrats have more in common with each other compared to what the Coalition is supporting today. What was ever wrong with R H Tawney anyway?

    Sure. Look, the real point I’m trying to make here is not to open up a division between old-style Liberals like myself and those who are proud of what they did when the SDP came into existence, but to point out that the things we argued about back in the 1980s were NOT what Jeremy Browne and those who call themselves “authentic liberals”, “classical liberals” and the like stand for. What particularly alarms me is the way many who were not around at the time now write up the Liberal Democrats in a way that goes on about it being formed from the Liberal Party and the SDP and assumes the Liberal component was all about what Browne calls “authentic liberalism”. So long as I am alive, I will stand up and repeat the truth in response to that – it is 100% wrong, it is a piece of dirty propaganda, it is the sort of rewriting of history that would make Stalin and the like proud.

    I fully agree with you that old-time Liberals like myself and old-time SDP members like David Allen have much more in common with each other than with the Cleggies who run the party now, and we should be united in opposition to them. That is why it is important to point out that what divided us then was NOT the “economic liberal v. social democrat” thing at all. There were policy differences, but those who mostly proudly called themselves “liberal” and distinguished that from “social democrat” tended to have positions that were something like what is found in the Green Party now. Also, as I’ve been trying to point out, a lot of the division was more about tactics than policy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 11:35am

    David Allen

    I joined the SDP to support the leadership of Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, who had the principles and the ability to lead in government. Maybe you didn’t think that mattered much, but I did.

    No, it was not that, not at all.

    My MAIN concern back then was that I felt the Liberal Party had managed to find a way that would appeal to the sort of people I grew up among – working class people in the south – who were not Tories, but who found Labour off-putting, and who weren’t interested in politics at all because no-one in politics seemed to speak for them. I was frustrated to live in an area which outsiders thought of as “true blue”, assuming everyone living there was a Conservative because all its MPs were, and assuming everyone living there was the stereotypical Conservative type. I had seen the new sort of politics work, Des Wilson’s by-election campaign, and the local campaigning in Adur, motivated and mobilised the working class people where I lived in a way that Labour, with its northern and urban and trendy social elite imagery hadn’t been able to do. So I saw what the Liberals were doing as a way to overthrow the Tories in the south.

    What concerned me most about the SDP was that they didn’t seem to know or care about that. They seemed to be offering the same sort of centralised Westminster and national leader focussed model of political party that the people around me didn’t think much of. I was sure they meant well, but I didn’t think the SDP would be the force to mobilise the working class of the south and throw out the Tories in the way I thought the Liberals and their community politics could. I also spent a couple of years living in Norwich in the 1980s, not quite the south, but found much the same – the local campaigning of the Liberals in Norwich had just started going, electing their first councillor, and that eventually led to winning the Parliamentary seat – many years later. I always thought it would be a long haul, the SDP thought it would be instant. Who was right?

    Next I found myself in inner London, a very different environment, with Labour dominant. AGAIN, I found it was the Liberals doing the running, waking up and exciting working class people who had been taken for granted because Labour just assumed their votes would always come so didn’t need to work for them. Again I found the SDP just didn’t get it, and the sort of campaigns they ran just didn’t work and build up enthusiasm as the Liberals’ did the classic example being the two south London Parliamentary by-elections, Peckham and Bermondsey.

    Note that I could very much see that the Liberal MPs at the time were local eccentrics mainly from far-flung seats, more like a collection of independents than a disciplined party group. We knew that more MPs coming up through the long haul process and discipline needed to win seats by the community politics method would give us a much better and more effective Parliamentary party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Apr '14 - 5:08pm

    Paul in Twickenham

    @John Tilley – the central premise of Piketty’s book is that income from capital (in the form of economic rents) grows much faster than salaries and the economy in general.

    Yes, I recognised this in the 1980s, it was a big motivating factor in my politics. Returning home after my two year sojourn in Norwich, with my two sisters returning home after taking degrees in London, we suddenly found there was nowhere for us to live. Our parents had been given a council house, which was the norm for people like them back then, but with the Tories eager to sell off council housing, that option wouldn’t be there for us. We were too old for all of us to squeeze back into that small council house we grew up in. House prices were rising rapidly in our home town, and I could see how it was squeezing locals out. I could see how property ownership, though a good liberal principle, needed to balanced by property redistributive policies, otherwise the gulf in society would open up bigger and bigger, and it was in the south that this was happening first, and no-one was taking about it because, thanks to the electoral system which gave the south 100% Conservative MPs, we had no voice in Parliament – and Labour was very happy with this cozy deal that in return gave them safe seats in the north and inner London.

    Well now, I note that the Brighton and Hove conurbation where we lived is now officially the place in this country with the highest ratio of average house price to average wage. I saw what was happening back then, and I saw the conventional left weren’t even talking about it, they were always on about the miners and people like that up north, but had nothing to say about the different issues in the south. I wrote to the housing minister, Ian Gow, also a local MP, asking how the next generation would cope with house prices rising so rapidly, and his running down council housing. His answer (I paraphrase only slightly) was “Don’t worry your little head, the houses will still be there, only privately owned, so there’ll be no problem”. Well, who was right, now we are where I was writing to him about then, him or me?

  • Matthew,

    I suggested that you weren’t as concerned as I was to work for a party which had the ability to lead in government. I said “Maybe you didn’t think that mattered much, but I did.”, and you replied, “No, it was not that, not at all.”

    You then wrote four more paragraphs in praise of local Liberal activists.

    I think you have proved my point.

  • Paul in Twickanham
    Matthew Huntbach

    I have now read quite a lt more about Capital in the 21st Century . The Krugman review recommended by Paul is very good.
    I have also just watched Newsnight with Thomas Piketty himself being interviewed by Paxman. Whilst the subsequent discussion with talking heads did not add too much light ( perhaps because one of those heads was Norman Lamont) it is encouraging that Newsnight managed to cover the story at all. Hopefully others will have seen this piece on Newsnight and that it will encourage further discussion.

    I really would ask that LDV starts a discussion on this book.
    It has far more to do with the future than Jeremy Browne little book.

  • David Allen “You then wrote four more paragraphs in praise of local Liberal activists.”

    Only four? 😉

  • Paul In Twickenham 1st May '14 - 12:23am

    @JohnTilley – the only references to “Capital” that I have seen on LDV so far are in the form of a throw-away tweet from Stephen Tall linking to an article called “Ten handy phrases for bluffing on Capital” which appears in The Spectator, and a tweet from Nick Thornsby that appeared to be hostile (I think it said something like “The most important book in the world is all wrong. It’s The Spirit Level all over again”) although I might have got that quote wrong.

    The Spectator article is in the mode of light-hearted “blagger’s guide”, but of course (as Krugman notes) capitalism normalizes dissent through any available means including humour, sarcasm and insult.

  • Paul in Twickenham
    “…..and a tweet from Nick Thornsby that appeared to be hostile….”

    I suppose a cynic might conclude that this indicates a basic flaw in the editorial approach of LDV’s leading folk.

    But I am an optimist and I live in hope that LDV might pay some attention to a book which the rest of the world is talking about.

    ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ is a book which even Paxo has devoted time to before he retires from Newsnight.

    Even Norman Lamont has apparently seen it — surely that would impress Nick Thornsby and Stephen Tall ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st May '14 - 11:18am

    David, I am always very sceptical of the “great man” idea in politics, that is that good politics is all about a few charismatic figures at the top. I didn’t think that because the SDP had a few people with ministerial experience that this made it hugely more skilled in general than the Liberal Party. This does have something of relevance to issues today, because it links with the Cleggite boasting about being “in government” and the supposition that this will bring us support we haven’t been able to get before. Among members of both parties, I didn’t in particular see SDP members as having more skills than Liberal members. What I did see just after the SDP was formed was a big influx of people who seemed to be there because they thought it was a quick route to political power, and dropped out when it became clear it would not be. That meant that those who remained after the 1987 general election were those who were committed and were involved in politics out of principle. That is why I had no problem working with them when the two parties merged, particularly with Owen’s new SDP taking away those (very few) who I might have felt uncomfortable with. My objections to the merger were more on the grounds of dislike of the more centralised and leader-oriented constitution of the new party than on policy, though I did find SDP members on the whole somewhat to my political right – on social justice and economic issues – so I felt the new party would be a shift a bit away from the sort of party I originally saw in the Liberals policy-wise.

    Mostly, however, ” a party which had the ability to lead in government” was less of an issue for me because I didn’t think the Liberal-SDP alliance would be in that position. I felt the SDP and its members were hugely over-optimistic about the number of seats they would win, and didn’t really have much of a clue about how to do it.

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