Liberal Britain?

Your Liberal BritainWe’re told that Britain is a liberal country, that Liberalism is mainstream. After all, every party supported same-sex marriage, the gender gap is narrowing, and even the class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

The state’s attempts to impinge on privacy are rebutted time and time again – or have been up until now – we keep spending on international development even when we’re hurting at home, and each Parliament is more diverse than the last.

We have much to be proud of, and rightly so.

But in a truly liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men. The best students from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances on results day. Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, as would our politicians.  

In a liberal Britain, migration wouldn’t be a source of fear: it would be a source of pride. Immigrants would be celebrated for strengthening our economy, enriching our society and invigorating our culture. British values wouldn’t be the good old inward Anglo-Saxon values we know so well: they would be globalist, welcoming, caring, just.

Companies that pay their fair share would be celebrated, child poverty would not just be measured but eradicated, and the terminally ill could choose dignity over suffering: in their own time, in their own way.

Each vote would carry the same weight, teachers would be allowed to focus on teaching, not paperwork, and our doctors and nurses would be trusted to heal, innovate, learn and heal better.

A liberal Britain would not only take its fair share of refugees, but make the case that our neighbours should do the same. A liberal Britain would lead internationally: championing nuclear disarmament, Security Council reform, the rule of law, and the supremacy of human rights. But a liberal Britain would never use arms to spread its values: only to defend those who can’t defend themselves.

Above all, a liberal Britain wouldn’t scaremonger, wouldn’t pit Us against Them, and wouldn’t seek to profit from division and discord. A liberal Britain would give everyone a fair chance, be unafraid to put trust in the goodness of ordinary people, and be unafraid to call to account those who abuse that trust.

As Liberal Democrats, we believe Britain’s not liberal enough. This is what we’re about. This is why we’re here. It’s time we made sure people knew it. It’s time we made sure no-one ever asks again, “What’s the point of the Liberal Democrats?”

Thumbnail featured post image by ianonline Flickr CCL.

* Jim Williams is the founder of Your Liberal Britain

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23 Comments

  • “But in a truly liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men.”

    A truly liberal Britain would not mind if there were more men around the directors’ [sic] table, if women had exercised their shoice not to be there.

    “The best students from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances on results day. ”

    I’d be very surprised to find students in either, unless they were helping out on sabbatical from University. Pupils, however, will have the same chances on results day when our state schools can select their intake by academic aptitude, in the same way the their independent colleagues can.

    “Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, as would our politicians. ”

    I don’t care what the police, soldiers or politicians look like as long as they do their job to the best of their ability without fear or favour. And I think we’d have trouble making the Brigade of Ghurkas look anything other than Nepalese.

  • Phil Rimmer 4th Sep '15 - 12:21pm

    An interesting and thought provoking article. However, it has one key weakness in my mind in that it approaches “Britain” as a single country when it isn’t and never has been. I suspect Britain gets labelled as “mainstream liberal” because, in the modern age at least, it rarely opts for political, economic, cultural or social extremes. However, as Liberals, surely we are aware of the fact that this does not a Liberal make, never mind a Liberal society.

    As for the constituent pasts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland:

    Wales – if there is a part of the UK that is instinctively liberal, it has to be Wales in my experience.
    Scotland – I am not at all sure Scotland knows what it is and I doubt that it will until either it is independent or we move to a fully Federal structure in the UK and the overwhelming majority of Scots accept that.
    Northern Ireland – a society polarised by religion and politics but one in which, as a visitor, I have found the warmest most open welcome of any country I have ever visited. Certainly not liberal in the mainstream but I am hopeful.
    England – since first joining the Liberal Party at the age of 18 in 1979, I have been convinced that we are fighting a guerrilla war for the survival of Liberal England. for most of that time we have been losing.

  • @ Phil Rimmer

    The UK’s diversity is one of the reasons why Britain is more liberal than it otherwise would be.

  • “A liberal Britain would not only take its fair share of refugees, but make the case that our neighbours should do the same”

    I would keep very quiet about what our neighbours should do until we have our own house in order.

    We should acknowledge the positive role taken by the German government and in particular its Chancellor Angela Merkel including defying right wing protest and visiting a refugee centre to declare “There is no tolerance for people who question the dignity of others, there is no tolerance for those who are not willing to help where legal and human help is required”.

  • John Tilley 4th Sep '15 - 12:55pm

    Excellent — forward looking, open, internationalist, generous, optimistic.

    How splendid to read something that does not bleat on about reducing state spending to 35% (or whatever the voodoo economists dictate.)

    I don’t agree with everything in your article, Jim Williams, but it was a pleasure to read it!

  • “But a liberal Britain would never use arms to spread its values: only to defend those who can’t defend themselves”.

    But this sentence does not make sense does it? If we use our arms “to defend those who can’t defend themselves” presumably the reason we are doing so is because one of our values is “protecting those who cannot protect themselves”.

  • @Richard “But this sentence does not make sense does it? If we use our arms “to defend those who can’t defend themselves” presumably the reason we are doing so is because one of our values is “protecting those who cannot protect themselves”.”

    Good point. Is the rise of ISIS one of self-determination? Certainly there are some people who are attracted to living under an Islamo-fascist theocracy. Or is it the imposition of such a regime by force of arms against the will of the people, in which case should we be supporting those who cannot protect themselves from it?

  • Interesting thoughtful piece.

  • @ TCO

    ” Is the rise of ISIS one of self-determination? Certainly there are some people who are attracted to living under an Islamo-fascist theocracy. Or is it the imposition of such a regime by force of arms against the will of the people, in which case should we be supporting those who cannot protect themselves from it?”

    Challenging questions.

    First we should note that the Iraqi government has requested limited military support from the UK government against IS and we are providing that.

    Part of the choice of some people to live in ISIS’s fascist state involves compelling others who have no wish to, eg the Yazidis, to join them. I suspect we can agree that there are circumstances where the use of force of arms would be justifiable against such a state. Because of this I think we can agree that the rise of ISIS is not one of pure self-determination so the Liberal dilemma you set out does not arise in this particular case.

    But we could also conceive of a state with a fascist agenda which was only populated by people who had chosen to move there. Would intervention be justified in such a case? Or to be even more provocative suppose such a state were to arise in the future rather than prosecuting people who shared its values and tried to move there would we not be better off buying their plane tickets?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Sep '15 - 2:43pm

    John, you make it sound as though we print articles about shrinking the size of the state all the time. I have written about it two or three times and dismissed the idea pretty resoundingly every time.

    I agree with you that Jim’s article is very good – it made me smile to read it this morning – a whistle-stop tour round our core values.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Sep '15 - 5:34pm

    Sounds the same as a socialist Britain to me. Liberals should focus on removing suffering. The state should not be the master of our lives and try to create absolute equality in areas besides economics, although that would probably be the end goal too if you go down this path of thinking.

    We also need to get rid of the myth that there is a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Those who have more have greater opportunity.

    Regards

  • Good article, only quibble is that am not sure that every party did support SSM, unless
    we are discounting UKIP and the Ulster parties for some reason (and Plaid Cymru had some flakiness of its own over this).
    On the ‘state of the nations’ round-up above, my suggestions would be:
    Wales – not really that liberal at all, old socialist in the south and north east (dying away slowly to the benefit of the right), and linguistic-nationalistic or small c conservative elsewhere.
    England – too big to generalise as one entity, seems more liberal in the south and south west, less liberal in the midlands and east? London and north west I don’t know about to comment upon.
    Scotland – progressive govts with some real promise, but as with England, not sure how liberal every region really is ‘on the ground’.
    Northern Ireland – blighted by awful Right wing parties of a sort that would not prosper elsewhere in the UK, but, given the example to its south, bug might be hope for liberal thinking if religion is swept out of secular matters.

  • Jim Williams 4th Sep '15 - 6:30pm

    Good evening all – thanks for all the thoughtful comments.

    TCO – good eye for detail, thank you! Agreed on the point that Liberalism is about choice rather than outcomes, but I don’t think anyone would argue that women don’t want to be on directors’ [sic] boards, would they? And no, I think we absolutely should start a campaign to make the Gurkhas ethnically representative of Britain’s modern diverse population. 😉 Now is not the time for compromise!

    Phil – an important point, yes. Thank you.

    Richard – absolutely agreed. What I want to say is that we shouldn’t just be meeting our obligations to help the vulnerable, but should be making it such an important part of our national identity and our foreign policy that we inspire others. As you say, we’re a long way from that ideal.

  • Jim Williams 4th Sep '15 - 6:50pm

    Glenn – I’m astounded and delighted. This is the first piece of mine you seem to have liked! Tremendous.

    Caron – thank you!

    John – honestly, I couldn’t disagree more: Liberalism is both a way of life and a political creed.

    Eddie – thank you for the prompt. Looking back over the article, I can see why you might think that. I disagree though. There is an important difference between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. Yes, you’re right, those who have more have more opportunities – but isn’t that exactly why we should seek to spread equal access to opportunities?

    And indeed, that’s one of the main differences between socialism and liberalism too, no? That a socialist government would seek to enforce equality of outcome, while a liberal government would enforce (politely, of course) equality of opportunity.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Sep '15 - 7:03pm

    Thanks Jim. I think a limit on inequality would be good. If inequality is kept within a range then most of the time it should be deemed to be fair.

    A turning point for me on the equality of opportunity versus outcome debate was when a talented teenage girl I know was taken out of some performance arts classes because her parents couldn’t afford to keep sending her. She’s doing well now, but I’m still not very hopeful because of how much a lack of money has and still is affecting her in the industry. It is the same when setting up a business, those from better backgrounds are much more advantaged.

    Regards and thanks for the article. Some good points.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Sep '15 - 7:22pm

    Jim Williams

    even the class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

    No it is not. Inequality of opportunity and wealth are growing, not shrinking. The number of people in top positions who come from humble backgrounds is falling. The class division is becoming greater, not less.

  • Jim Williams 4th Sep '15 - 8:57pm

    John Tilley – I missed your comment the first time round. Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.

    johnmc – quite right. Thanks. I’d say ‘major’ parties, but … let’s not follow that train of thought.

    Matthew – agreed on the trends, just disagreed on whether they amount to class division specifically becoming greater, as opposed to inequality more broadly growing stronger. But semantics. I take your point.

    John Marriott – nope! He was a liberal, sure – but that quote taken alone isn’t inherently liberal. Liberalism is about promoting freedom from and freedom to – if you’ll forgive the jargon (it’s late). The quote’s about optimism, about daring to hope, and seeing beyond the seeming inevitability of the way things are staying as they are. The two aren’t necessarily entwined: one could be optimistically conservative (sadly); one could dare to hope for a crackdown on immigration; one could see beyond the inevitability of retaining a publicly funded healthcare system. Silly examples perhaps, but you see my point.

  • Geoffrey Payne 4th Sep '15 - 10:55pm

    An excellent article although worth pointing out that if state educated children had the same life chances as privately educated children then there would be no need for private education. In that case, even better!

  • jedibeeftrix 5th Sep '15 - 11:24am

    “British values wouldn’t be the good old inward Anglo-Saxon values we know so well”

    What are the inward anglo saxon values you speak of?

  • Simon Arnold 10th Sep '15 - 12:49am

    Liberty, is slipping away.

  • Simon Arnold 10th Sep '15 - 12:51am

    The State is far too big.

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