Lib Dem policy now


In a way the recent focus on the EU has been a distraction from the things we ought to be talking about and campaigning on. There are many good reasons to want to be inside rather than outside, but there are also many good things to work for whether in or out.

Our political and economic elites are almost entirely neoliberal in heart and doctrine, determined to reduce the power of the state and increase that of corporations, despite the world, with the end of the Soviet empire a generation ago, having moved beyond the phase that made that an attractive proposition for stability. Thus we find ourselves with a choice between being beholden to a neoliberal elite on a European scale, or a neoliberal elite on a countrywide scale (the size of the country yet to be determined). Put in these terms, the choice is unappealing, but, all other things aside, given the option, I would still plump for being in the EU, as human rights were woven into its institutions and practices before the neoliberals came along, and woven in so firmly that they have been unable to do winkle them out.

But, in or out, we find ourselves in a fundamentally divided world, in which inequality grows by the minute. Not just inequality in income but in security, worth, identity and a whole host of other fundamental criteria.

In my last post “What were people voting about?” I showed how the evidence suggests that people are angry at elites – vested interests and political leaders. And they are angry about the things that matter close to their lives – schools, the NHS, job security, housing, borders, the fishing industry, TTIP, privatisation. Liberal Democrat policy to get us back in to the EU is to people’s benefit, but they don’t believe us. So it is important to campaign on issues which do matter to them. And most of them are fertile LibDem territory. I do not expect to be able to change the minds of many people who voted to leave. I do think that we can change the conditions in which they make up their minds. There are many issues that we should campaign on, some about the political system and some about the conditions of people’s lives.

We should continue to make the case for different systems of government, in which people’s voices can be heard much better than they are today. That includes proportional representation so that people’s votes count. There should be much more power at regional level, because the closer decision makers are to people, the more people’s opinions count. That includes having a robust policy for regions, to enable them to claim more of the cake than they currently get. (The idea of regional policy should also include the south east which has problems linked to its popularity, like dwindling water supplies.)

We should campaign for everybody who has a job to have decent conditions, a decent rate of pay and decent security.

We should campaign for everybody who does not have a job to get a decent minimum without constant, expensive and futile harassment from the powers that be. We can focus that campaign around food banks, the most visible sign of this rich country’s vindictive policies towards the poor. We should make much of the fact that many food bank users are in work, and we should campaign for a country where food banks are not necessary.

We should be saying loud and clear that the country has had enough of austerity. If the Bank of England can create money for banks, it can create money for people. We should re-balance the relationship between citizens and corporations so that corporations, and individuals who can afford it, pay a fair share towards the good of all.

We should campaign to get houses built. There is a problem here in that every government promises to build houses and somehow they do not materialise. We should ensure that every Lib Dem council everywhere in the country is stretching every sinew to build as many houses as it can, and we should trumpet our successes as widely as we can.

We should work to restore a sense of solidarity to our national identities – English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, British. National identity has been stolen by nationalists and fascists. We need to make the case for a liberal identity, proud of who we are, but not pretending to be better than everybody else. This is most needed in England. Perhaps a minor starting point would be making a clear case for an official English national anthem.

Alongside those, and only alongside those, we can campaign for a sensible decision to return to the EU fold when the time is right.

* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at

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  • Howard Martin 11th Jul '16 - 12:41pm

    I’ve just joined the Lib Dems – the first time in my life that I have joined any party. I come from a Conservative voting background, but always been very centrist and “liberal” in my views. I’ve done so, like many others, because of what Tim Farron has said that the party will continue to support the case for staying in the EU (as we haven’t left yet and who knows what will happen with the negotiations). Ian Hislop’s comments on Question Time are absolutely right on this point. It is not a done deal. I thought your comments above about being either “in” or “out” were too even handed, as if you accept the new status quo and must move on. At least for the next two years, I hope that Lib Dems will continue to represent the pro EU voice loudly, especially if the Tories vote for Andrea Leadsom. When we have actually left the EU, then at that point, it may be difficult to argue for “rejoining”, as that will seem unrealistic. We will then have to refocus on the issues you raised and representing a liberal and open society, as immigration will continue and we cannot turn the clock back to some mythical past, as the Brexit voters appear to desire. We must continue to argue that immigration has had a beneficial effect on the economy, for example. The argument must continue and I hope the Lib Dems will argue for a second referendum or a General Election on the terms of the exit strategy. A second time around the economy will (sadly) play a more important part in peoples’ thinking.

  • Conor McGovern 11th Jul '16 - 12:54pm

    The cross-party proposal for a federal Britain is really interesting – I think we need to accept the need for an English parliament as well as home rule for the other nations and a Cornish assembly. Regional bodies aren’t a terrible idea but people won’t identify enough with them. We need a fully fledged vision for a new union, with a new foreign policy as a plucky, liberal, trading island nation, and put it before the people at the next election as our unique pitch for Britain outside the EU, not some “rainy, fascist island” as Paul Mason lamented in the Guardian a few weeks back.

  • Not sure why we need to build any extra new homes, as the UK doesn’t have a physical shortage of housing. There is high demand for locations that provide higher wages and amenity levels, which cause prices to be high.

    However a 100% tax on the rental value of location would drop the selling price on an average UK home from £280K to £100K, knocking around £6K a year off the interest payments for a first time buyer.

    If the proceeds were all dished out as a Citizens Income, the discretionary income of a typical renter would rise by around £4Kpa. Making renting 3-4 times more affordable, as a ratio of discretionary income than now.

    Furthermore, as a LVT levels the playing field between renters, owner occupiers and landlords, it enables the market to allocate resources at optimal efficiency, reducing vacancy, under occupation, land banking and urban sprawl.

    And as it would reduce both regional and individual inequality, demand and investment would shift to where capacity is highest. In short, just by the rationalization of existing property resources, we probably wouldn’t need to wastefully build any extra new housing stock for the foreseeable future.

  • Laurence Cox 11th Jul '16 - 10:38pm

    I suggest that anyone seriously thinking about Citizen’s Income goes to the Green Party web site and downloads their Basic Income consultation document. Roughly, to give every adult a sum equal to JSA, with additions to ensure that families and pensioners are no worse off than they are now will cost about an extra £160 billion in taxes, even after replacing benefits and the administration savings from not having to pay benefits.

    In round figures there are 25 million houses in the UK, so that is an average of £6,400 per annum, or around 2.3% of the price of the house annually. This will result in some very big losers among house owners who will not only be paying much more tax on their house, but will also be pushed into negative equity by the house price falling. A factor that people like @benj fail to consider is that being in negative equity effectively traps you in your house as you cannot sell it, because the money you can get for it will not pay off the mortgage. All you can do is keep paying the mortgage repayments.

  • Sue Sutherland 12th Jul '16 - 1:34pm

    I agree with you Rob, that we can’t campaign to return to the EU without measures to improve things for those who’ve drawn the short straw in life. Perhaps this could be linked to Paul Walters ideas in his article? We invoke emergency measures to achieve this while remaining in the EU? Maybe five years to reinvest in local services, housing etc and re-establish the fund to help areas where migration impacts the most?

  • Rob Parsons 12th Jul '16 - 5:04pm

    Nice idea, Sue – and better than many of mine. I think I’ve identified the problem but haven’t yet lit a fire with the policy proposals I ahve been able to come up with. But I really only wanted tos tart a debate.

    I am very taken with this blog at the New Economics Foundation “Putting communities at the heart of a post-Brexit plan” which puts much more flesh on the bones of a workable philosophy and policy platform.

  • Simon Banks 12th Jul '16 - 8:22pm

    Just a couple of short points. One, being in the EU is to people’s benefit, but they don’t believe us? 48% did and there’s some reason to believe that would now top 50%. I agree we need to talk about other key issues, but to keep the EU one on the boil. It’s given us a surge of new members, after all.

    Two, yes, PR is important. Traditionally it’s of little interest to working-class people, but there is a strong case that the main reason why Labour strongholds outside London swung heavily to Brexit was that the people there do indeed get little attention from politicians – because everyone knows who will win the parliamentary seats and the great majority of the council seats. PR would make the votes of people in Merthyr and Sunderland matter as much as the votes of people in Harlow and Gloucester. How to get that over, though?

  • @ Laurence

    An LVT is merely the way be which we equally share the value nature supplies for free. That is we share this Earth as equals. If we don’t do this, we get excessive and widening inequality.

    Why should we suffer inequality and a dysfunctional economy in perpetuity just because a minority of people now might be worse off? All changes produce one off winners and losers. The point is an LVT both grows the economy and reduces inequality. That is the only criteria needed when weighing up policy proposals.

    If you think falling house prices are a bad thing, then presumably you think building more homes is also a bad idea, not just LVT?

    Negative equality might only harm those looking to trade down and cash in unearned capital gains. For the majority, it will make no difference, and their extra discretionary incomes will mean that they will be able to pay off the outstanding mortgage in less than half the time.

  • “I suggest that anyone seriously thinking about Citizen’s Income goes to the Green Party web site and downloads their Basic Income consultation document.”

    No, I would suggest you go to the Citizens Income Trust website, where you’ll find that their proposals of replacing out of work benefits, child benefit and State pensions are revenue neutral.

    But as I said already, an LVT could fund it without any other changes to the tax system. It would not only reduce inequality, but would increase economic efficiency.

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