Let’s be the party of the empowered individual

We Liberal Democrats are supposed to be the Party of the empowered individual; how can we help people to become that, to build a sense of security and community? And are we doing it?

My view is that we could start by articulating the simple liberal ideas behind our campaigns, policies and positions. We must bring change, but we must use this to illustrate what liberalism is about too.

In today’s public debate there’s often seems little attempt to challenge assertions, or argue with points; merely to deny the right of alternative viewpoints to exist, to campaign, or to argue. Motives are questioned, the (wo)man is played, not the ball.

On the first or second Saturday after the referendum, a man screamed “Who’s the f***ing Fascist!?” at me because he objected to our petition on unilateral protection of EU nationals’ rights. As he shouted this, my then 6 month old son was strapped to me and I was holding a clipboard and pen. I did indeed wonder who the Fascist was.

The reaction to last week’s horrific events has been depressing. There’s a lot of justifiable anger – but the political prism this is seen through seems to be one of fundamental division:

“Lily Allen accuses government of being dishonest over number of victims who died in Grenfell Tower blaze”, The Sun, 17 June 2017

“MOB OF LEFTIES SLAMMED Hard-left activists blasted for ‘hijacking’ the genuine outrage over the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy”, The Sun, 16 June 2017

We seem to be living in an age of virtue signalling. But could cognitive dissonance drive people to support liberals and liberalism?

A 2013 study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that someone in a state of uncertainty may show more political open-mindedness if they also perceive themselves to be out of harm’s way. However – “when people sense a threat on top of that uncertainty, the opposite reaction occurs: Subjects in the study tended to close ranks and become rigidly intolerant to other political views.” So we must help people to control and shape their communities, which will also open them to our message. People need to come first in our society, we should be saying that, and showing it.

But communities have come together to provide support for the Grenfell tenants and their families, there are now opportunities to address not only housing inequalities (including our approach to health and safety standards, and the medium-term impacts of austerity), but also our democracy, where accountability and responsibility for local decisions is opaque at best.

This should be a moment for radical liberal democracy to show the solutions – not to politicise the disaster, but to support our people in organising to help: details of groups on the ground to support, model questions to ask our local authorities, simple statements from our MPs and Lords, appropriate and useful social media posts to adapt and share. To be the Party of the empowered individual: we have over 100, 000 members, let’s empower them first.

* Anthony Fairclough is Vice Chair, Merton Borough Lib Dems and is writing in a personal capacity

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  • Well said. The tone of politics, even on some LD Facebook groups, has become anti-rational and spiteful. We have strengths at local level in many areas (not mine, sadly). Let’s use those to move forward.

  • Unfortunately socialism and nationalism are two sides of the same coin, which is why you get hardline and intolerant attitudes amongst the socialist left or the nationalist right. It is noticable that on comments pages on the papers, you never get mobs of “Cleggites” abusing people, which is a common staple of socialists and nationalists – where as the armies of Kippers, Corbynists and Cybernats troll the online media, and even join forces when they have a shared enemy – usually the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg in particular.

    Both nationalism and socialism are doctrines of protectionism, and anything which challenges their power in society, is met by such responses, particularly if the challenger is foreign – be it the right wing complaining about the EU Commission, immigration and the left complaining about multinational corporations or foreign states owning British infrastructure. Whether it is Farage and Cambridge Analytics interfering with the referendum, taxi drivers holding London to ransom over Uber, the RMT and ASLEF endangering people’s lives with their support for Victorian train operating methods, the attacks on the bankers by the racist conspiracy theorists, the anti-corporate bigotry by McDonnell, the downright racist behaviour of Hopkins and Milo or whoever.

    We need to make a strong argument that protectionism is inherently immoral and never works, and debunk socialism and nationalism once and for all.

  • Dave Orbison 21st Jun '17 - 5:43pm

    Stimpson – how ironic that an article that features Grenfell, where penny pinching appears to be a factor in choosing a more combustible insulation, provides you with an opportunity to attack the RMT for resisting guardless trains.

    You refer to them clinging on to Victorian working practices, I say it is an example of cost cutting that goes too far.

    A guardless train puts the driver, as a lone worker at greater risk of stress, and the passengers at risk in the event of any number of potential scenarios.

    I once spoke to a train driver who was severely shaken having just missed a child who was playing ‘chicken’. He stopped the train and was comforted by the guard. He told me this story in passing. He worked in the North and was not involved in any industrial dispute. Although this had happened a couple of years ago it was clear it still affected him. He spoke at length as to his appreciation for the support given by the guard and the reassurance thereafter.

    If we should learn anything from Grenfell it should be that we take a very long hard look before cutting budgets when safety is concerned.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Jun '17 - 8:24pm

    Anthony writes a very thoughtful article , saying what many should.

    The phrase ” for the many , not the few,” irony of ironies , comes from the replacement of clause four of the Labour party constitution,to , many long forgotten, to those who supported it then,like me , when Blair made it happen, not. Corbyn has made his peace with the rewrite because it is much better written !

    I , in the spirit of this article would add, prefer , as a manifesto title, ” for each , and every one of us.”

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 22nd Jun '17 - 7:05am

    ” for each and every one of us.”

    Lorenzo Cherin, I like this; as it encapsulates much about us and I think this will serve the party moving forwards.

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Jun '17 - 10:36am

    Lorenzo I’ve been thinking about this Labour slogan too because I think it’s a good one, but I’ve started to think of other implications. I come originally from the West Country and as a teenager I remember noticing that Labour always talked about Yorkshire and Welsh miners, never about the ones in Somerset. No mention was made of tin miners in Cornwall until the lovely Liberal David Penhaligan started to speak up for them. I came to the conclusion, which I still hold, that Labour instinctively supports the powerful “many” not the individual or small groups of workers.
    I came up with a similar slogan for us. For everyone and for you. Glad to see we’re thinking along the Sam lines again.

  • Sue Sutherland 22nd Jun '17 - 10:58am

    At least we would have been thinking along the same lines if spellcheck had minded its own business!

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jun '17 - 12:24pm

    @ Anthony

    “Let’s be the party of the empowered individual”

    Look, we’ve been hearing this kind of guff from Libs and Lib Dems for as long as anyone can remember. It’s all quite meaningless for a young person who doesn’t have at least a reasonably well paying job for starters.

    So lets start off by working how we are going to give a job to everyone who wants to work. We managed to do that in times of war when we previously thought it to be impossible. We managed to do that in times of peace up until when Mrs Thatcher took charge.

    So how about deciding how we can do it again?

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 22nd Jun '17 - 8:26pm

    So lets start off by working how we are going to give a job to everyone who wants to work. We managed to do that in times of war when we previously thought it to be impossible. We managed to do that in times of peace up until when Mrs Thatcher took charge.

    So how about deciding how we can do it again?

    Answers easy enough: start working closely with enterprise, technology and innovative sectors and remove as much starting up costs so they can invest in growth and thereby employing staff.

  • Joseph Bourke 22nd Jun '17 - 8:44pm

    Mavarine Du-Marie,

    you might like to read this before coming to your answer http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/full-employment

    The Road Not Taken

    It is common knowledge that John Maynard Keynes advocated bold government action to deal with recessions and unemployment. What is not commonly known is that modern “Keynesian policies” bear little, if any, resemblance to the policy measures Keynes himself believed would guarantee true full employment over the long run. This paper corrects this misconception and outlines “the road not taken”; that is, the long-term program for full employment found in Keynes’s writings and elaborated on by others in works that are missing from mainstream textbooks and policy initiatives. The analysis herein focuses on why the private sector ordinarily fails to produce full employment, even during strong expansions and in the presence of strong government action. It articulates the reasons why the job of the policymaker is, not to “nudge” private firms to create jobs for all, but to do so itself directly as a matter of last resort. This paper discusses various designs of direct job creation policies that answer Keynes’s call for long-run full employment policies.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 23rd Jun '17 - 6:45am

    Joseph Bourke, I am not indoctrinated in the past regarding this matter. Government action has failed in terms of employment, full or otherwise, for growth and development, they left this sector without any future policies. And the Government had and have not much influence I agree how business creates jobs. Should this be something they should have looked into. For the reality is that there is a shortfall of highly skilled labour in this country, and we must move on or we will be viewed as a third world country with not much on the table to offer in trade.

  • Peter Martin 23rd Jun '17 - 7:59am

    @ Mavarine Du- Marie,

    Yours is what might be called a typical neo-liberal view. The idea is that Government just needs to get out of the way and the private sector will create jobs and the wealth. Government should just concentrate on balancing its books like a local council has to. Why should Westminster be any different? Here’s why:

    It is different. It has a responsibility to fine tune the economy. If the GDP is , say, 2 trillion then our economy needs 2 trillion worth of spending. If there’s too much spending we can end up with too much inflation. If there’s too little we end up with too much recession. So the Govt has to act as a stabiliser to the economy by doing the opposite of what everyone does. That usually means running a deficit which is necessary, for a net importer like the UK, to replenish money lost to the economy when we pay our import bill.

  • Simon Banks 9th Aug '17 - 6:43pm

    Well said, Anthony. I would just add that a feeling of being threatened is, I think, promoted deliberately by much of the media, but also comes from the speed of change and the “noise” of confusing information, particularly for older people. In 1938 Chamberlain was able to get away with calling Czechoslovakia “a far country of which we know little” but now a murderous riot in Indonesia is instant news. It also comes, of course, from economic pressures and people brought up to think they got dignity from work finding no-one wants them except the demagogues of the right.

    Also it’s important to remember that as Jo Grimond stressed, humans are social animals and the empowered individual is not just a unit in the marketplace, but a member of an empowered community.

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