Just who are we, really?

Are we Liberals, radical liberals, or Liberal Democrats? It’s interesting that a current piece aired here about radical liberalism doesn’t mention democracy or refer to the second part of our name. Is democracy then less relevant to our party identity?

This set me thinking, and there seem to be three different aspects it may be worth beginning to consider.

  1. Our party’s own understanding of its identity. Are we here to promote liberalism more than democracy? What do we mean by that, if so?
  2. The party’s identity in relation to that of the Conservatives, Labour and the nationalist parties.
  3. The party’s identity as understood by British voters.

On the first, although personally I was a Liberal member long before we became Liberal Democrats, I should be concerned to think that democracy is less important to us. That is partly because liberalism is closely identified with freedom, which idea, extensively considered in past threads here, is susceptible to being hijacked by the Tories.

Consider, for instance, the statement of principle in our Agenda 2020 party consultation paper.

“Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents, and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state…”

Is not that statement likely to be acceptable to conservatives, but much less so to socialists?

For myself I want a democratic focus. That is not only because I dislike ‘a controlling, intrusive state’, but also because if we must have elected mayors and police chiefs, I want them at least to remain under direct democratic control by the people they serve. Similarly, I – and you – dislike having an unelected House of Lords, and the unfair First Past the Post voting system.

Secondly, what is our party’s relationship to the other great parties of our nation? Devotion to liberty may incline us towards the Tories, but social democracy towards Labour. To be social democrats, not just democrats, and so identified with centre-left politics, seems to be a current choice of our party, although there should be a new survey of members to ascertain preferences, since so many have joined since 2015. However, Labour is no more democratic than the Tories, with its top-down hierarchical approach to politics, and its backing of workers and unions rather than individuals in flexible, self-chosen communities as we prefer. Nationalism also is too narrow for us, although patriotism is acceptable. Our party is different, making close alliances unlikely and perhaps undesirable, though it may follow that only voting reform can enable our party to grow significantly again.

Finally, how does our identity appear to the voters? Unfortunately, it appears confused. We like to think of ourselves as radical Liberals (not that I do), but possibly we simply appear to the electorate as well-meaning people with moderate, reasonable ideas, who are not at present very relevant to political power.

This is the identity we need to strengthen, and our democratic focus is important here. Our emphasis on empowering people, when we put it into practice in our localities, can and should appeal. We should also keep pointing out that the present Government is anti-democratic, having gone to court to try to stop Parliament having the final say on Brexit, and that we are the only party to demand that the final word should be that of the people.

However, we have much work to do to produce, develop further and proclaim radical policies which would benefit our people by tackling the injustices and inequality of Britain today.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • Finally, how does our identity appear to the voters?

    Frankly, these days the Lib Dems mainly come across as the ‘legalise weed and prostitution party’.

    (Previously it was the ‘PR, oh and also legalise weed and prostitution party’ but the 2011 referendum has put paid to the first bit of that).

    Given that it’s not really surprising why the British public, who tend to be small-c conservative, don’t vote Lib Dem in droves.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Nov '17 - 11:40am


    Take a look at this:


    and this:


    which are both about Brexit and people’s views.

    I think that it it is important for us to own the term “open” rather than “freedom”, which can be claimed equally well by libertarians, who are not liberals. Many years ago the philosopher Karl Popper wrote a book “The Open Society and its Enemies”


    What we need is to say that we stand for the Open Society as Popper meant it. This fits very well with our emphasis on evidence-based policy.

  • Bill le Breton 3rd Nov '17 - 11:44am

    Finding Ourselves?

    This is best done through action and problem solving.

    Tony Greaves recently ended his Viv Bingham Lecture with this set of tasks:

    “We need to work out from first principles some of the enormous issues of the day, not just for this country but for the whole world. Inequality. A world economy run by multi-national corporate companies bigger than many states, and with no allegiance to any. Control of the modern means of communication by GAFA and their associates, paying hardly any taxis and ever more controlling our lives. Climate change and all the linked problems such as food, migration and water supply. Public services and the way we are allowing them to atrophy in the great name of Austerity. The fragmentation of work – as it affects people now and through people’s lives – and how to apply the old Viv Bingham Liberal policies of co-operation, mutualisation, co-ownership, co-partnership between workers and shareholders in this modern world. Robotisation of work – and everything else we do? The re-establishment of a community politics that is about Liberalism and Liberal values, not just populist local campaigning. ”

    This is a good structure. Conceive Liberal answers. And this will be ‘Where We Stand’.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '17 - 1:08pm

    Thanks for the links, Laurence. I had already digested Professor Kaufmann’s work, with his helpful distinctions of open vs. closed personalities and adherence to order or openness. Taken also with Professor Sanders’ distinction of ‘tribes’,where he suggested that 48% of British voters hold authoritarian/populist views, so that the liberal left and liberal centre-right will have to combine to win a majority, we can have a realistic view of the possibilities of ‘progressives’ (to use a catch-all phrase) gaining power.

    So I am interested in your first reference, which I was not familiar with and don’t see the origin of, because the author, a Green supporter, suggests, ‘if the Labour party continues to have internal divisions it might be time for them to unify on a platform of implementing PR’ – via a progressive alliance. Does he or she have a useful idea there?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Nov '17 - 1:15pm

    Katharine ,this is really one of the most reflective and important pieces in a sense , for quite a while , on here , speaking to me very strongly.

    You know my views well on this, it has been something I refer to a lot. I dislike the presumption of a handful of longstanding Liberal party stalwarts, that the name should be Liberal , as if the SDP never established themselves as the instigator , for a number of years, of a genuine third force in with a chance. I was a youth in the Labour party the, and can assure those seeing it only from a Liberal party tribal perspective, the SDP made an impact there , in the dislike and envy of the divided Labour party.

    To abandon the word Democrat from our title , is an insult to that tradition, and I welcome the contribution of George Kendall and the Social Democrat Group he chairs.

    There is another reason the word is important , more so than the reference to social democracy, democracy itself, and liberal democracy , it,s frequently expressed and referred to expressive extension.When we have such a title , we should celebrate it, and mean it.

    That said, it could also work as a sub title, and rebranding, even for parties, happens a lot on the political scene in other countries. After Brexit took hold and fearing the break down of peace in Northern Ireland , and that the continuation of that remarkable peace is taken too much for granted, I have suggested we could align with our sister party there and the others in Europe, calling ourselves, The Alliance Party, Of Liberal Democrats. We , or , this party , was in its earlier Liberal, SDP phase, The Alliance, and it got twenty six percent of the votes, something it never got as the Liberal party, nor as the Liberal Democrats!

    That era was very polarised and the message of the Alliance was very unifying. The sort of policies Bill mentions here, advocated by Lord Greaves in his lecture, are relevant now, and many were from the best traditions of Liberal manifestos , and backed by good social democrats , before , during and after the SDP time. Roy Jenkins, a favourite of mine, like me , was , a radical and a moderate, depending on what , and in relation to whom.

    We should be making more of a breakthrough and could if we made ourselves more relevant and much, yes, far more exciting !

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '17 - 1:19pm

    Bill, it’s a great list, covering most of the main areas of liberalism. But we are not starting from scratch, we are constantly engaged in problem-solving and action. For us, we have to prioritise. For the voters, we have, I think, to pick out, concentrate on and be known by our major priorities, to have any impact. Opposing Brexit is the first, what should be next?

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '17 - 1:53pm

    Lorenzo, I am glad of your support, thank you. I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat. In fact I wrote in a comment here in September, that I was more proud of being so even than I was proud as a Liberal, because of the greater inclusion of worthwhile belief. But I couldn’t really welcome any extension of our name, worrying though the situation is in Northern Ireland – it would confuse the voters, and suggest less solidity and faith in ourselves. We actually need to project strength and unity, an image which was hurt by the circumstances of our late change of leader.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Nov '17 - 2:22pm

    Katharine, thanks , it was a suggestion ,rather than a decision, from ,or by me, on our party name, I concur with your comments.

  • @Dav – Don’t degrade the good bits or you will have nothing left to offer ..

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Nov '17 - 11:15pm

    Politics falls ever deeper into disrepute. There was the referendum called for the wrong reasons and laced with falsity. There was the unnecessary general election. There were the deep splits among the Labour Party faithful and the splits in the Tory cabinet, barely concealed in either case. And now there are the sleaze accusations against figures in both major parties, with MPs suspended from each.

    The columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown said on Sky TV tonight that the current situation was a shame for democracy. We in the Liberal Democrats can’t claim to be holier-than-thou, but we surely should determine now to uphold democracy, and with it promote and defend the higher standards in politics which are so much needed.

  • Gordon Lishman 4th Nov '17 - 9:17am

    I don’t object to being called a Liberal Democrat. However, a liberal in politics is by definition a democrat. The reverse doesn’t always hold true. Liberal democracy is a form of democracy – open, pluralist, rationalist. Therefore, my pedantic view is a preference for Liberal and liberalism as the definition of who I am. I don’t think that the word “democrat” normally implies “social democrat”. The Liberal Democrats clearly fall in the category of “social liberals” in the family of liberal parties in Europe and around the world. I like “radical liberalism” (as per Paul and Chris’s piece) because it means thinking things through from their roots (“radix”) and being prepared to go where that thought leads.

    Do these pedantic distinctions matter? Only if you want to use words with clarity, precision and meaning.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Nov '17 - 12:57pm

    ‘A liberal in politics is by definition a democrat’. I can’t see how that follows, Gordon, if we are after clarity, precision and meaning. I agree that the word democrat doesn’t necessarily imply social democrat, but I never said it did.

    You say that our party ‘clearly falls in the category of “social liberals” in the family of liberal parties in Europe and around the world’, and that may well be true. But I’m not sure that our party is incontestably ‘social ‘ liberal or democrat, and it would be interesting to have another survey of members to explore how many identify with that. We do have at least a smidgeon of relationship to centrist thinking, as I expect Lorenzo would agree, and I realised myself – social liberal though I class myself – that in the exploration of UBI I incline to a preference more easily identified with centrist than radical thinking. There you go, I was going back to the roots in that thought! Thanks for pursuing the discussion.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Nov '17 - 3:49pm

    I have been wondering along the same lines Katharine, but in a much more woolly fashion. The group called Liberate caught my eye because it seems such an active word. So I wonder if we should think of ourselves as Liberators so we are forced to do away with everything that imprisons people, which somehow isn’t implied by the words Liberal or Lib Dem.

  • Katharine Pindar 4th Nov '17 - 6:11pm

    Liberal Democracy is surely liberating, Sue, plus ‘open, pluralist, rationalist’ as Gordon suggested. You have given us another thought that again extends the idea, so that it is broad but not woolly, as I know your thinking is not either! Liberalism by itself is now not enough for me. Laurence wants us to think in terms of ‘open society’ rather than of ‘freedom’ and points out the wider implications of that word, but liberalism does stand for liberty, which is not that different, surely, from freedom – and I want that, but much more too, for our party and from us for the country and the world.

  • This sort of navel gazing is all well and good but we need to start winning elections if we are going to have any impact on the nation’s future.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 5th Nov '17 - 8:14am

    Katharine, thank you for this article. It is so important that the party should have this discussion about “just who are we really?” – what does it mean to be a liberal democrat, and what should our main focus be?
    The party did seem to lose its way during the coalition, and has not really found it again. It does seem to me that all the focus on the EU, and opposing Brexit, has been used by the party as an excuse to avoid having that discussion about “who are we really”.
    We need to go back to the core liberal principles which are so eloquently expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution. First and foremost, the belief that “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.
    There has been previous discussion on Lib Dem Voice about whether the party should focus on being “the party of freedom”. I do feel that the party is, first and foremost, about the freedom of the individual, but we must never forget that this includes freedom from poverty.
    You ask whether we should emphasise the “liberal” part of our party name, or the “democrat”. But it is not really a matter of either/or, as democracy is an essential part of “freedom”, and there can be no real “freedom”, or liberalism, without it. The Preamble to the Constitution emphasises the “democrat” part of our name, as well as the “liberal”.
    We must not forget get the belief expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution that “sovereignty rests with the people, and…authority in a democracy derives from the people”. I’m afraid the party has recently been in danger of forgetting this core belief. It makes me uneasy when I hear Lib Dems sneering at the phrase “the will of the people”. It makes me especially uneasy when some Lib Dems suggest that Parliament should not have voted for article 50, or that Parliament could now vote to cancel it, using the excuse that “Parliament is Sovereign”. We must remember that, according to our party’s constitution, it is the people who are sovereign. Parliament only has “sovereignty” as the elected representatives of the people. If the sovereign people have stated their wishes through a referendum, then members of Parliament, as representatives and servants of the sovereign people, must carry out the instructions of the people.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 5th Nov '17 - 8:26am

    Following my previous comments about our core beliefs, as expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution – The Preamble to the Constitution also emphasises that the party must be internationalist. But it makes it clear that this internationalism must go beyond Europe. In fact the “European Community” gets only a brief mention towards the end. The Preamble states “our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries”. The clear implication is that our responsibility cannot be confined by the boundaries of the EU either. We must remember that we are, first and foremost, not Europeans, but citizens of the world.

  • Laurence Cox 5th Nov '17 - 12:00pm


    What is interesting about https://www.flourish.org/2016/07/on-finding-political-axes-using-maths/ is that although the posting itself is from 2016, it uses data (in the Google slides) from 2005. This issue with part of the population holding authoritarian views has a long history (and probably goes back far beyond 2005).

    But we shouldn’t automatically assume that Sanders’ ‘tribes’ are homogenous. Peoples’ views fall on a continuous scale (as the Google sides show) and some people with more authoritarian views may support us for other reasons. The two axes only amount to 27% of the variability in belief, it is just that there is no strong correlation between other beliefs so they are not useful in forming further axes. So it may not be the case that we have to combine with liberal centre-right (who are more economic liberals than social liberals) if we can get support from the mildly authoritarian left (the people who Labour now call the Blairites). What is significant is that in 2005 Liberal Democrat supporters’ positions on the two axes coincide pretty much with Labour supporters. This I think is the basis of a “progressive alliance”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Nov '17 - 1:03pm

    Excellent interaction on the thread .

    Katharine is as usual both pugnacious and cautious, yes , indeed I , as someone who is in the radical centre and moderate centre left, I do relate to your stance and stances.

    Catherine , Gordon, others herein add to the much welcomed , by me , debate.

    I am not worried about universal basic income, I am worried about national below basic income ! But too much emphasis on individual policies seen as a panacea, when most do not see us on the political scene, means to be sure of our identity or to be radical or moderate or both, we need people to convey these qualities, not just policies.I like and support Sir Vince very much, but he hardly appears as the new and exciting or age old exciting values or attitudes that make the impact needed.

    Like David Raw on here, I am a fan of the music and persona of such as Pete Seeger, Joan Baez etc., but these old timers were protesting what was wrong,and promoting what was needed.

    We do not give that impression. W e should , but in ways by, the way, radical and moderate, more than ever , being the latter , is the former, when the alternatives are extreme.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Nov '17 - 3:34pm

    @Laurence, I like the evidence you point to of similar viewpoints between Liberal Democrat and Labour supporters in 2005, though I am still uncertain of where your reference comes from. But is not the case that authoritarian populism has grown stronger in Europe in the last dozen years? (And the 27% figure does not apply to Sanders’ research, for which I must hunt a reference to back up my notes – perhaps you have it.) It seems to me that, although you are right to point out that the ‘tribes’ are not homogenous, and Kaufmann says there is a deeper personality dimension than that of the authoritarian vs. liberal one of Sanders, there is difficulty for us in finding any political alliance that will command a majority of British voters.

    This is because in an order-openness divide (which Kaufmann says is emerging as the key political cleavage) we are clearly on the openness side. Equally, in his interesting divide between Settlers, Prospectors and Pioneers, we are clearly Pioneers – people who express individualism and cultural equality. And the point is, that these sorts of people with which we can identify are going to be fewer in number than the rest, as far as I can see. Maybe the support of ‘the mildly authoritarian left’ ( I like that characterisation) will indeed help tip the balance, but we will still probably I believe need to have the support of former Tories, which can’t be ruled out since we got on well with them in the Coalition. The good news is, however, that we don’t need anything like 52% of the vote to win a general election – just more than the opposition.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Nov '17 - 4:06pm

    ‘Sovereignty rests with the people’. Thank you for reminding us of that statement in our Preamble, Catherine, because it is a vital question, whether sovereignty should or does lie with the people, or with its elected representatives in Parliament. The latter is often maintained, with people having written on this site that ultimately a referendum is advisory (which has then of course been hotly disputed!). But if we stick with the Preamble, I don’t understand why you cannot accept that we are maintaining the sovereignty of the people in asking for another referendum. We want to give THE PEOPLE the final choice, the chance to change their minds, and that is truly upholding democracy.
    (I don’t, by the way, ask whether ‘Liberal’ or ‘Democrat’ should have greater emphasis, but like you want both to be significant.}

    Lorenzo, what an excellent point, that you are worried not about universal basic income, but about ‘national below basic income’! And equally, that emphasising individual policies when we are just not regarded as part of the national scene is no panacea. Do you not think, though, that we should group and narrow down the presentation of our policies, so as to be known, for example, for fighting against the rise in child poverty, for reducing inequality by taxing wealth, for defending the rights of EU nationals in this country, and for insisting on the duty to bring more refugees here?

  • Can one not be a trade unionist if one is a liberal democrat then, or vice-versa?

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Nov '17 - 6:29pm

    It’s surely that we Liberal Democrats don’t put the interests of our trade union above those of non-unionist workers or the workless, Mark. But belong to a union, by all means (as I did myself when working as a journalist).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Nov '17 - 8:08pm

    I think, Katharine, we should have a policy on most things relevant to the day to day, and which cannot be decided locally.

    Example of where we need not have national policies , and that a local or conscience decision, left to mps and councillors, in my view suggests on these issues ,we should not, faith schools , nuclear disarmament , abortion.

    On the whole , we should propose a policy on topics that a central government can and must do something and has responsibility for that something on a daily basis, effecting individual lives.

    Poverty , inequality, justice, injustice, health , social care , education, fees, industry, business…

    We need to be realistic but dynamic, there should be an identity by virtue of how very doable and seen to be so, our policies seem.

    It is not centrist split the difference , to say we should be true to the far more radical side as well as the moderate, in our philosophy and policy.

  • Katharine Pindar 5th Nov '17 - 10:36pm

    Be realistic but dynamic, tend to the radical rather than the moderate where choices are finely poised: I don’t disagree with anything you write there, Lorenzo . I think the instinct of Lib Dem activists IS to be radical when we can be, and with the current state of our party in the polls it makes sense. But there are matters I have been groping towards here. First, that we should continue to seek to be democratic as well as liberal. Secondly, that to gain public attention we should concentrate our policy demands on the most important areas, such as how increasing poverty and inequality should be tackled. Thirdly, and here I have surprised myself, we should include the good from Tory thinking as well as from Labour in our forward planning, because we relate to them in their better intentions though not of course in their unprincipled uncaring drive for selfish power. And we will need the votes of the better-intentioned among them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Nov '17 - 1:18am


    I read Katharine , a staunch advocate of remain in the Eu, then I read you and despair at our party.

    Katharine talks about people who need us now , our ideas, our compassion, our policies, when, you talk as here, about the Liberal Democrats wanting nothing but to persuade on Brexit, count me in as a Liberal and a Democrat , but in no way a Liberal Democrat despite my membership !

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Nov '17 - 7:30am

    Katharine, thank you for your reply to my comment. I don’t really want to repeat all the arguments about the party’s response to the referendum result, because that is going rather off topic. But I just feel that the “referendum on the deal”, although it is being presented as “giving the people the final say”, is really an attempt to make people vote again until they give the “right” answer. And somehow I’m not convinced that the party would accept the result of that referendum, if, as is likely, it was again a vote to leave. People would start say that referendum was also “only advisory”, or that the public didn’t really understand the deal that they were voting for. Also, the referendum that is being suggested only gives two choices : accept the deal, or stay in the EU after all. What if someone wants to reject the deal, but still leave the EU, without a deal? Or if someone still wants to leave, but thinks Britain should ask for more time to negotiate a different deal?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Nov '17 - 8:06am

    Katharine, by the way, I am sorry I didn’t comment on your previous article, in which you discussed Universal Basic Income. I am actually very much in favour of Universal Basic Income, and I do not really understand why you distrust the idea. UBI could be an important step towards ensuring that no-one is “enslaved by poverty”. It could also help to free people from being “enslaved by conformity”, allowing them to follow their dreams to become writers, artists, entrepreneurs…rather than being trapped in the “slavery” of a boring “conventional” job in which they are miserable and in which their talents are wasted. And society as a whole, as well as individuals, would be enriched by allowing so much creativity to flourish.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Nov '17 - 9:46am

    Persuading 300 or more MPs to vote to remain in the EU cannot be our only goal to the exclusion of everything else, Antony Watts. Firstly we need to be persuading the British public that it is possible and desirable, to create a groundswell of support which will influence MPs, and that is a strategy we are all (hopefully) already engaged in. Our Parliamentarians will work more directly, as they are doing, collaborating on amendments to the withdrawal bill and developing useful alliances, to further our aim.

    But as Lorenzo says – thank you very much for that excellent defence, Lorenzo – we need to be supporting the people who need us now, so that as well as fighting Brexit we have to be urging and developing the policies that address the deep problems of our country. And this small enquiry of mine is not pointless navel-gazing, because it considers how we approach the voters and who our allies are. You are not in the real world, Antony, if you think of us as a modern David single-handedly throwing stones at a giant foe.

    Catherine, thank you for your patient attempts to engage on the issues with me. But this is not the place to re-engage on the UBI question, and you and I are not going to agree about the proposed referendum. I am still interested in the question you brought up, though, as to whether Parliament is finally sovereign, so should settle the Brexit question itself as Antony wants, or whether sovereignty remains with the people so that another referendum would be the more democratic outcome.

  • Peter Hirst 6th Nov '17 - 3:05pm

    A sequel to empowering others is that we should fight concentrations of power wherever they occur. This could be in the media, the board room, monopolies, the voting system, trade unions or the town hall. This could be one of our overriding values and core beliefs, something people could vote for us because.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Nov '17 - 5:43pm

    ‘Fighting concentrations of power wherever they occur’. That is a brilliant conception, Peter, thank you, and as an aim for our party one that deserves consideration in depth. You immediately set me off looking through my Agenda 2020 booklet (the final version is on the Website, but was accepted as a whole at the Brighton Conference), to see what is said there on the principle.

    For instance, it says that we should aim at ‘situating political power at the lowest level consistent with effective government … This implies decentralising power to local government and to the nations and regions of the UK.’ (2.17) . But how then, we might reflect, to prevent too much power going to elected mayors and police chiefs?

    Then, considering how individuals can be empowered through their chosen communities, the paper suggests, ‘To function effectively, communities need to be able to exercise real political and economic power … decentralising power, for example through the establishment of local banks or community energy cooperatives, tenants’ management of social housing, or mutual structures at work, employee participation and trade unions.’ (2.11) This is, however, followed by a timely word of warning – ‘We recognise, however,that communities can sometimes be illiberal and oppressive.’ That fits in with something you suggest, Peter, that trade unions may be among the concentrated power structures. The question then arises, how can that power be controlled and moderated?

    This is obviously a huge subject to consider in relation to our principle of empowering individual people, and I am so glad you have started, or perhaps restarted, debate on it .

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Nov '17 - 8:55pm

    Coming back to the great issue of the day, and linking it to our need to enhance our appeal to voters, it seems to me that we should try to win over Remainers who have turned, mistakenly, to Labour in the hope that that party will save the situation. We should offer them real hope instead by explaining that it is still possible to remain in the EU and enumerating the benefits of doing so. These will not only include the known advantages of easy travel to and possibly finding work on the Continent, the tariff-free movement of goods and the opportunities for all our services to retain ready access to Continental opportunities, but also the little-known fact that the EU allows immigrant workers who don’t find a job to be asked to leave. Not, of course, that we want those who do find work to leave – on the contrary we could do with more of them, such as nurses and doctors and people for the hospitality trades and building. And finally, we can point out that there is no danger of being drawn unwillingly into a Federal States of Europe, because we are already in an outer tier of nine EU states who aren’t in the Eurozone and can expect to remain there.

  • Simon Banks 21st Dec '17 - 4:28pm

    Just because libertarians misuse “freedom” doesn’t mean we must abandon the word to them. “Open” means something different. You can be open to all sorts of things, but unable to do anything (lack of freedom). Britain could be open to immigration but apply oppressive laws to everyone.

    The problem with the word “democrat” is that all serious British parties believe in democracy. We need to explain why it means something more to us. Frankly, it’s in the name as the residue of “The Social and Liberal Democrats” and hence of the Liberal/SDP merger. But it could mean much more. Since that merger, the party has gradually placed less and less emphasis on devolution – power to the people – so that when in coalition we co-operated in a tougher squeeze on local authority expenditure than national, hardly a squeak was heard outside the dwindling ranks of councillors. We believe in proportional representation, of course, but so do conservative, nationalist and socialist parties on the continent. We should return to a radical devolution of power.

    We also need to re-emphasise community – one of our three core values according to the preamble to our constitution. Humans reach self-realisation not alone, but with others. Many important issues in people’s lives cannot be solved alone, but need co-operation: indeed, politics is about such issues. We believe in free and democratic communities.

    Katharine’s concern about the summary of our values seems justified. Yes, Liberals must fight an intrusive state – but why just the state, which, unlike overmighty big business, is ultimately directed democratically? If you examine what stops people realising their potential, I submit the state is less than half of it – and often helps people to that end.

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