LDVideo: David Laws on the success of The Orange Book, 10 years on

On Tuesday, Centre Forum, the liberal think tank, held a one-day conference in London to mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Orange Book (we have already run pieces on the event by Stephen here, by Andrew Chamberlain here and by Rebecca Hanson here).

David Laws, one of the co-editors of The Orange Book (along with Paul Marshall), delivered the key-note speech on the day, a video of which has now been put online by Centre Forum. You can view it below, or here on YouTube.

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29 Comments

  • Most of this could have come from a Conservative party broadcast of the 70’s and 80’s. To hear it now from a LibDem Minister – who seems to think it’s something new – really is very sad. It all seems like so much out-dated claptrap – why on earth would anyone vote for them at the next GE when they can get the same by voting Tory?

  • Richard Harris 26th Jun '14 - 9:17pm

    David Laws represents so much of what went wrong with the LDs since the election – right wing views and certainly not a representative of new, higher standards in public life. Best thing the party can do is give him a peerage to shut him up. People didn’t vote LD at the last election because of his interpretation of what Liberalism is.

  • Kevin Colwill 26th Jun '14 - 10:44pm

    Clinton, or rather his advisers, was right. It really always is about the economy stupid. If you’re more Tory than the Tories on core economic policy it can’t matter how lovely and liberal you are on other issues – non-Tories won’t be listening.
    If the Orange book millionaires club had gone off and joined the Tories we’d probably have a Conservative government right now… but we’d also have a Lib Dem party worth voting for.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Jun '14 - 11:43pm

    Short socially libertarian passages interspersed by much longer ones about the alleged benefits of the free market becoming ever more intrusive and dominant in our parties philosophy and policies. Although not particularly to my political tastes, I could accept this if it were just one strand of Liberal Democratic thinking. What comes across loud and clear however is that although many of the contributors were and remain atypical of the thrust of Orange Bookery, the founding editorial concept of the book was to essentially hijack and reposition our party on the economically neo-liberal right. The inclusion of such Lib Dems as Cable, Huhne and Webb might even be interpreted as a plan to give some cover to the main strategy of moving the party away from its core membership and recent voters towards something entirely different.

    Hearing the horse deliver his own words and place the book in its historic context leaves me more convinced of the need to take back the party sooner rather than later.

    Leaving the party and its future direction in the hands of the authentic Orange Bookers is clearly not going to lead us back towards our centre left values, our lost supporters nor our lost voters.

  • Well, although he comes across as being quite smug, minimises the sheer scale of the challenges ahead, and although I disagree with him mildly on his basic notion of what liberalism must mean and strongly on much of what he says about specific issues, he is right on a number of points.

    Primarily, the point that there is no credible, properly set out, costed and *published* alternative platform does sadly hit close to the mark.

    This is the challenge we, as the wider party, absolutely need to take up. And soon. There needs to be a new book. Call it the Yellow Book of 2015, the Gold Book, Geoffrey or any name you like, but it needs to be written. And then made available online free of charge so that we aren’t just running a book club for the well-off.

    We might worry that the party hasn’t got figures of the stature to stand against Chief Secretaries to the Treasury or Junior Ministers in charge of pensions in the field of essay-writing and rhetoric. But frankly that doesn’t matter – when the Orange Book was being drafted, its authors weren’t anybody special. Just a collection of backbenchers, advisers and the odd MEP. It can be done again.

    The second point that I’d agree with is that he says economic liberals have been far too complacent that free markets will automagically iron out inequalities of opportunity and outcome when left alone. This at least suggests to me that he’s not ‘just a Tory’, because the basic Tory instinct is to say that inequality of opportunity and outcome aren’t things that its possible to be complacent about, they’re just the way the world is.

    In my view, Laws’ views are important to have in this party, even though they will always exist on its rightmost fringe. He’s very useful to have onboard as a voice reminding the party that even with the best intentions, uncosted spending without a plan is harmful in the long run. But we badly need that other strand of thought, and we need to get thinkers with ideas that are more useful than Big Markets or Big State to put those thoughts down on paper and get the intellectual rigour back into our policymaking.

  • Stuart Wheatcroft 27th Jun '14 - 1:13am

    Economic liberalism is about people – like every other thread of liberal thought.

    The reason economic liberals tend to favour markets is because markets share several characteristics:
    1. They are (or should be) based on voluntary interactions, which I would hope all liberals would agree is a Good Thing.
    2. They allocate resources without the need for a central planner with the power to impose decisions.

    The second point is really important, but I think economic liberal thought on this is often misunderstood. Monopolistic practices in the private sector are anathema to economic liberalism, though this is a point that I think is rarely made strongly enough. The idea of Tesco planning the economy is certainly no more appealing than the idea of BIS planning it, but neither is remotely appealing.

    Where I think many self-defining centre-left liberals fall down is that, having (rightly) argued for a role for the state in preventing abuse of power, they tend to overlook that the concentration of power in the state itself leads to abuses. There is nothing about health or education that magically eliminates the conformist and illiberal tendencies of state power, or makes a state monopoly immune from ossification – any more than the fact that the security services are basically trying to do the right thing means we can trust them with civil liberties. The state’s role in any aspect of life should be under constant challenge.

    What we should be seeking to build is a society and economy in which power is dispersed, and in which self-actualisation is not dependent either upon the whims of a multinational or upon the favour of Whitehall – or the townhall, for that matter. I believe that is likely to be a point of agreement for the overwhelming majority of Lib Dems, and I think it’s a real tragedy that we end up with these acrimonious battles over the means.

    As an aside, I’ve long observed that the Tories don’t actually believe in free markets, in that they lack the will to act to make / keep them free. They promote deregulated markets, which are not necessarily any more free than heavily regulated ones. Please don’t confuse post-Thatcher Toryism with any kind of liberalism – if we reach no other firm point of agreement on this comment thread, let’s agree on that!!

  • How can markets be “based on voluntary actions” when (a) there are a great many things that people need from the markets that they cannot do without (making them captive consumers) and (b) market access, market information and market power are extremely unequally distributed? How can the market itself ensure that all of its participants are on a level playing field?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jun '14 - 3:08am

    I can’t stand seeing all these so called economic liberals talking about the free market whilst staying silent about market rigging by the central banks.

    This is what the Institute of Economic Affairs said about QE:

    “Some Bank officials have claimed that QE is mainly intended to boost the price of financial assets in the hope that the resulting wealth effect will stimulate activity.”

    It was basically just a massive wealth transfer. Where’s the calls to undo it!???

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jun '14 - 3:12am

    By the way, I’m not criticising leftists who like QE because they like government intervention, but why do economic liberals kick up so much fuss over interventions aimed at helping the poor and stay pretty silent about interventions that help the rich!?

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Jun '14 - 4:02am

    Just watched the speech, thought I should, given my diatribe. I don’t have much to say. I didn’t want to say anything anyway, but it makes me angry when I see people talk about economic liberalism whilst ignoring the statist policies that help the rich.

    The thing is, free market theory has become so obsessed with competition that it has reached the stage where people think corporate handouts should be maintained if it means companies and individuals might go elsewhere. It’s basically feudalism.

    David Laws does a good job of arguing for maintaining high quality public services and warning about inequality, but we need to do more.

    Best regards

  • @Caracatus
    “Labour’s plan was to cut the deficit by half in 5 years, too little too late said Laws, but the coalition hasn’t cut it by half even with the one offs ”

    In that case, given the economic circumstances and Labour’s opposition to any kind of cuts whatsoever, the likelihood is that a Labour goverment would by this stage have cut it by much less than half.

    Cutting a deficit, however you do it, *by definition* takes demand out of the economy. So are you saying the Coalition should have taken even more demand out of the economy? If so, at what point in the past five years should this have been done?

  • The mere fact that Laws comes up with the trite phrase “Nanny state liberalism” is enough to condemn him and the Orange Book thesis in my view.

    The point is, it is not the size of the state that matters. It is what you do with it and how it is subjected to democratic control and how you involve citizens in its processes. If you look at other northern European societies, particularly in Scandinavia, they often come a lot closer to the ideals of “freedom to” liberalism in terms of empowering all members of society to reach their full potential than do societies where the state is small but inequality far greater.

  • And David Laws is in charge of our Manifesto writing…
    That is why I have and will continue to boycott the process, until he is removed.

  • Caracatus / RC
    I am sure Laws was also meaning Tax Credits / other benefits as well as progressive taxation. “City people”, like Laws was, for want of a better descriptor, are very against what they see as “subsidies”. They come from a bias of market, more market, and even more market. They cannot see that within the context of an urban, industrial, resource-pressed world, we need subsidy as a mechanism. People such as Laws need to recognise that wage levels and their inequality are the main issue, NOT the quality of education. We have education and training initiatives coming out of our ears. But unless there are well-paying jobs, which means more democratic oversight of all “markets”, and more bottom-up power, we will never overcome inequality as a major problem in our world.

    They – the neoliberals – are desperate that we do not take and use that power.

  • Peter Chivall 27th Jun '14 - 10:08am

    The appointment from on High of David Laws to chair the Manifesto working group was a thoughtless insult to the many thousands of LibDem supporters who accepted with regret that the Coalition was the best of a bad set of options following the last election, but have stuck with the Party regardless, mainly through focussing on local campaigning.
    The Manifesto Themes Working Party presented a well thought out set of policies to the Glasgow Conference, but the Motion presented to the Party had, inter alia, any mention of ‘green’ or ‘sustainability’ excised from it, other than passing references to ‘green jobs’. The justification we were told was that ‘polls show that Green issues are low on the public’s list of concerns’. But Ryan Coetzee had told members of at least one campaigning workskshop in Glasgow that; ‘half of those who might return to supporting us say that our green commitments would be a large factor in their decision’. (I paraphrase).
    Hence the writing of the Green Manifesto by a group of respected members and former members of Federal Policy Committee which was launched at York Spring Conference. The contents of the document were widely welcomed by NGOs from FoE to the Woodland Trust, and by Tim Farron, Martin Horwood and other MPs (notably those whose Local Parties were more successful in the recent local and Euro elections.)
    Yet still, David Laws appears convinced that we should continue to promote ‘liberal’ Conservative policies only and chase their supporters against the wishes of , I believe, the vast majority of Liberal Democrats, and ignore the majority of those who would return to us based on our green credentials and a reaffirmation of our Party’s core beliefs as set out in the Peamble.
    Why?

  • Peter Chivall 27th Jun '14 - 10:17am

    @Tim13. ‘City people like Laws …….reject subsidies’ (I paparphrase). But they don’t really: half the total subsidy from Government to passenger rail services goes to London & South East commuter Season Tickets, and what else is Crossrail but a largely state-financed high speed Tube line from Canary Wharf to Heathrow. Even though City firms promised to cough up, it was only a fraction of the cost.
    Oh, and I was forgetting the bank bail-outs……..

  • “the alleged benefits of the free market”

    We are a Liberal party. Our roots go back to the whole idea of liberal free trade, we can’t just scorn that or somehow present the sheer notion of having economic liberals in a liberal party as some sort of aborition. We are a party of social and economic liberals, long may we continue to debate how those views interact and welcome both.

  • Stephen Hesketh 27th Jun '14 - 11:53am

    ATF27th Jun ’14 – 10:51am

    I accept your comments even if you take mine somewhat out of their context. I think I might have been better including the word ‘unfettered’ … that is: Short socially libertarian passages interspersed by much longer ones about the alleged benefits of the [unfettered] free market becoming ever more intrusive and dominant in our parties philosophy and policies. Although not particularly to my political tastes, I could accept this if it were just one strand of Liberal Democratic thinking.

    The other point I should have added last night was that if anyone had any doubts that the party has been subjected to the Lib Dem equivalent of the New Labour Project, the evidence is here in David Law’s own speech.

    Peter Chivall27th Jun ’14 – 10:08am “The appointment from on High of David Laws to chair the Manifesto working group was a thoughtless insult to the many thousands of LibDem supporters who accepted with regret that the Coalition was the best of a bad set of options following the last election, but have stuck with the Party regardless …”

    Peter – total agreement. Through their ongoing strategy they are also attempting to tie us in to their strand of neo-liberal, post Thatcherite thinking post 2015.

    Also Tim13 🙂

  • @Stephen Hesketh

    Thanks for the response. Didn’t source you in my original post as I aiming more to address, what feels, a broad feeling within the party rather than your comment specifically. More than happy to accept that it didn’t reflect the full context you said, my fault for typing it between meetings at work.

    (Pleased to report I actually agree with much of your response, unfettered free markets are indeed a bad thing – the disctinction between liberal and libertarian is often far to blurred for my liking. Government has a vital role in regulating markets).

  • Matt Burrows 27th Jun '14 - 5:17pm

    What we have at the moment is an illusion of economic liberalism and skewed markets. Former state monopolies have been externalised into private monopolies with time limited tenders. This isn´t economically liberal as it leads to further concentrations of economic power. This is what the Tories *think* economic liberalism is. It is anti-statist but that is as far as they are prepared to go. Liberalism is pluralistic so genuine economic liberalism should challenge concentrations of economic power (inc by the state itself) so no one sector is dominant. As we know economic power can easily mutate into political power. Media industry is a key example.

  • I find it amazing that we have to rely on Farage to challenge the idea that delivery by private companies will lead to better value. Why are the Lib Dems not taking this up?

    We still seem to be living in the shadow of Blair who believed in public-private partnerships.

  • David Laws in his speech is re-writing history. According to him we were supposed to be economic liberals and we didn’t appreciate the benefits of choice and competition. While his second point has merit the first is just wrong. Our party in the twentieth century wasn’t a party that included economic liberal ideas in its policies or philosophy. He states that economic liberalism is a return to Gladstonian economic liberalism. The aim of Gladstone’s economy policies was to reduce protection and tariffs and not provide free market solutions to social problems. The Liberalism of the nineteenth century still believed in using the power of government to provide a better social and economic environment – the Factory Acts and giving powers to local authorities to provide services are just two examples. Gladstonian liberalism had two aspects – reducing tariffs to provide cheaper products and so benefit everyone including the poor and social reforms by the government to provide better living conditions especially for the poor. Economic liberalism doesn’t help the poor, it benefits the fittest and richest.

    He is wrong to believe that there is no alternative to economic liberalism. The best alternative is a mixed economy and this might be want he means. He states that the size of government should be reduced to less than 40% of GDP. He recognises the problem of inequality but not that an ever smaller government will not solve it. He correctly accepts that Liberalism believes that each human being has an equal value. However he only seems to want to provide equal opportunities for children. He doesn’t seem to accept the need for opportunities later in life. He seems to believe that the pursuit of money and wealth is the correct way for people to be free and to increase their liberty rather than accepting that the free market will always have winners and losers and for liberals the losers need help to achieve their full potential and a life of liberty and freedom.

    ATF – “Our roots go back to the whole idea of liberal free trade, we can’t just scorn that or somehow present the sheer notion of having economic liberals in a liberal party”
    Free trade liberals are not the same as economic liberals. Free trade is about reducing tariffs and so prices, economic liberalism is about free markets and giving freedom to companies and suppliers. As a liberal I support free trade but I only support free markets when they are regulated to ensure they work for the benefit of consumers.

    @ Matt Burrows – “genuine economic liberalism should challenge concentrations of economic power”
    The problem is that David Laws’ economic liberalism doesn’t do that.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Jun '14 - 5:16am

    Having calmed down I would like to say that I respect economic liberals, but no one is anger proof and they need to promote a more coherent philosophy.

    People might say it is my problem that I sometimes get angry, but economic liberals have also got to ask themselves why they struggle to get elected. I think their policies can become more popular if they show that they can enact tough economically liberal policies on the rich and not just the poor.

  • Jonathan Pile 28th Jun '14 - 8:06pm

    An alternative Manifesto to Orange Book policies – here are a few ideas from the “Yellow Book Manifesto”

    The Yellow Book
    A True Liberal Democrat Manifesto for 2015 and beyond
    A popular and practical alternative to the Orange Book

    Transport
    • Scrap HS2 – extend HS1 (subject to local referenda) through low population areas to link UK (see HS1a)
    • All new Government cars to hybrid/electric from 2016
    • Block Heathrow runway expansion
    • Increase Stansted & Gatwick (subject to local referenda)
    • Promote further UK Space Agency inconjuction with ESA
    • Make Cycle helmets mandatory
    • All Foreign HGV’s to have tachographs
    Economy
    • Raise minimum wage over 5 years – have an incomes policy to raise living standards
    • Increase Roll-out of ultra fast broadband and broadband across UK
    • Pay-off £1.4tn National Debt using UK “Top 1% Wealth bond guarantee” rather than global borrowing
    • Lower VAT to boost growth
    • End Tax Havens – Jersey, Bahamas, Bermuda, IOM,
    • Tax Land Ownership by foreign corporations
    • Lower tax rates for SME’s, higher rates for Multinationals & Large Companies
    • Network with EU partners to reflate EU economy to reduce EU unemployment and boost trade
    • Introduce a Capital Levy for Hedge Funds
    • Ensure that Interest Rate policy is subject to the needs of the whole UK economy rather than a London housing bubble or City speculation. Dampen down London housing market by regional stamp duty & taxation
    Social Policy
    • Strengthen and renew the Welfare Society – more spending to those according to need and past contributions. Reduce spending to those receiving universal benefits but not needing them.
    Immigration Policy
    • A fast, fair, efficient & compassionate Immigration policy
    • Ensure that Discrimination legislation is enforced and that all job vacancies are advertised in local press and interviews held at jobcentres before jobs can be advertised on the internet or recruitment from EU or overseas.
    • Ensure that Health & Safety legislation is enforced, so that workers are not recruited who cannot read or speak English safety notices & information as required by HASWA 1974. Better safety workplace protection for migrants
    Energy Policy
    • UK to become Energy independent by 2030
    • Solar Panels on every house & every government building & every business
    • Community Wind-turbines for every village & town.
    • Phase out Nuclear Power & Coal Power
    • Aim to become 100% renewable
    • Block Shale Gas Fracking in UK
    • All government buildings to have LED lighting & motion sensors
    Health Policy
    • Double spending on Health Prevention
    • Increase taxes on products & services which cause ill-health
    • Introduction of National Care Service to complement NHS
    • Protect & improve NHS, oppose privatisation in all it’s forms
    Foreign Policy
    • Strengthen membership of NATO
    • Strengthen membership of EU
    • Strengthen membership of UNO
    • Promote free trade with countries which are democratic & support full human rights
    • Call for Tony Blair to be impeached by parliament for Iraq War deception
    • Campaign to end unlimited Vetos in UN Security Council
    Defence Policy
    • Increase defence spending
    • Increase Armed force strength
    • Declaration of War subject to full majority in both houses of parliament
    • End unrestricted mass surveillance by GCHQ/NSA
    • End support for unrestricted US drone strike assassinations & secret Rendition
    • Support the Hague Court for prosecution of human rights violation by terrorists or governments.
    Education Policy
    • Scrap Tuition fees altogether
    • Restore Student Grants
    • Wipe all student debts
    • Strengthen & Improve Comprehensive Education
    • Abolish tax breaks for Private Schools
    • Ensure all schools (inc Faith, Free & Academy schools meet National Education Standard)
    • Abolish OFSTED – replace with local School Standards Agency
    • Abolish SATs
    Constitutional Policy
    • More Referenda for local & National Issues
    • Replace Hereditary peers with elected Women Peers to offset Gender political gender balance.
    • Introduce STV for all UK Elections by 2018

  • @ Jonathan Pile

    You have a very long shopping list, some things I agree with and some I think are pie in the sky. But you haven’t included three very important policies.
    The government and the Bank of England manage the economy to produce full employment;
    Citizen Income to be introduced
    A Job Guarantee at the Minimum Wage for everyone who wants it, including opportunities to retrain
    Another policy needed is to rebalance the economy regionally across the UK
    An important policy is the building of social housing. Maybe we could not only promise 300,000 houses a year but at least 150,000 will be social housing

    Your Minimum Wages policy is weak. It needs to be raised to recover the real value it has lost since about 2006.

    I am not convinced that lower VAT is the best way to boost the economy. I would be interested in knowing what the effect of 2.5% decrease in VAT on its own was when done by Labour.

    You can’t stop land ownership by foreign corporations or at least you shouldn’t because they need places to run and operate their business from in the UK.

    It is pie in the sky to think that the EU could have an economic policy to reduce unemployment. Germany would need to recognise that it has to do as much for the poorer EU countries as it did for East Germany and they are nowhere near to agreeing to that.

    If a motion was selected at conference that included wanting there to be solar panels on all buildings would you speak in favour of it?

    I don’t think every town and village wants its own wind-turbine. Would you support giving money to local authorities to have watermill power generation instead?

    Maybe we should just support the abolition of the UN Security Council

    Increasing defence spending is not a liberal policy. Re-examining the recent review to ensure we have the forces for our Foreign policy would be.

    I don’t think we can restore Student Grants but a Citizens Income would help with student living costs and maybe we could extend housing benefit to them as well.

    I am not in favour of more referenda because they are very often used to vote against an unpopular government.

    I am not sure that STV should be used for both houses of Parliament. Maybe we could have STV for the upper house and AV for the lower one.

  • Jonathan Pile 29th Jun '14 - 6:28pm

    @ Michael BG
    Thanks for responding all ideas which are worthy of close scrutiny. I think all of us have a list like this but the orange bookers of this world have convinced us that nothing outside of the market is achievable when we know in our hearts that is not true but only fear that this is the case. Please keep them coming and they will be considered for the final version of the new yellow book. I shudder to think what will make the 2015 manifesto

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