Liberal Insight: new think tank launched

Today we are announcing the launch of Liberal Insight, the new liberal think tank. Liberal Insight will contribute radical, progressive and innovative ideas to a vision of liberal society.  Our advisory board is being chaired by Party President Tim Farron MP.

Liberalism has seen a resurgence in Britain in recent years, culminating in almost 7 million voters at the last election for the Liberal Democrats, a place in the Coalition Government and a long-awaited opportunity to implement distinctly liberal policies.

This rise in electoral success has come against a trend of the liberal gains of the last century being eroded by the deliberate actions of successive governments or the simple failure of specific policies.  We face a fractured society with greater inequality, both of wealth and opportunity.  We face existential threats to the welfare state and public services. Perhaps worst of all, we face a worrying disengagement not only from politics, but also from civil society, by a growing number of people.

The Coalition provides liberals with an excellent opportunity to reverse this trend and some progress has already been made.  The pupil premium, for example, is a perfect example of a far-sighted policy that tackles the causes, not just the symptoms, of social inequality. It will contribute to establishing the equality of opportunity that should be the cornerstone of any liberal society.

We need to work out how to do better.  How, for example, do we go beyond the pupil premium and reform the non-financial aspects of the education system?  What would a liberal public healthcare system look like and how can we implement it in light of the Health and Social Care Bill?  How can we best build local democratic institutions to deliver the real benefits that liberals have historically supported? How can we make sure governments here and abroad protect the environment and tackle our over-dependence on dwindling natural resources?

In the recent past liberalism has lost out on the investment in generating new ideas.  Most prominent think tanks have been aligned to either Labour or the Conservatives and with the loss of the Lib Dem policy unit, the intellectual base of liberalism is somewhat under threat.  We aim to redress this, not least by starting to tackle the big questions above.

Our website,, is up and running and contains our first policy paper outlining some recommendations for the tax system.  You can get in touch with us at [email protected].

* Tom Smith is Director of Liberal Insight, the new liberal think tank.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • mike cobley 9th Mar '12 - 4:14pm

    Quote – “Liberal Insight will contribute radical, progressive and innovative ideas to a vision of liberal society.”

    Interesting that Tom Smith feels no need to make even so much as a gesture to the social democrat stream of the party’s legacy. Can we take as read that he and others in Liberal Insight now view the Liberal Democrats to actually be the Liberal Party in all but name?

  • Foregone Conclusion 9th Mar '12 - 5:17pm

    @ Mike Cobley,

    When people like Shirley Williams refer to themselves interchangeably as liberals and social democrats, does it really matter? Most people in the party weren’t members of the Liberals or the SDP, and the up-and-coming generation wasn’t even born when merger happened (sorry if that makes you feel old!) Sometimes it feels like a false distinction that we left behind a long time ago.

  • David Allen 9th Mar '12 - 6:07pm

    No – we shouldn’t hark back to the SDP, which after a strong start under Jenkins, pioneered the shameful shimmy to the Right, setting the stage for Blair and then Clegg to do likewise.

    Yes – we should recognise that “liberal” is now even less adequate than it used to be as a sole descriptor of our purpose. The term nowadays is most commonly used in the UK in a business context, meaning privatisation or the removal of any state controls and restraints on the free market. (Ironically, it does of course have a quite different meaning in the US, as a term of abuse for anyone to the left of Mitt Romney.)

    The above post contains no less than about 16 examples of variants on “liberal”. This is becoming a form of Cleggspeak, whose subliminal message is meant to be an identification with the business and free market viewpoint by the tactics of constant repetition. True liberals in the old-fashioned sense will understand the need for a broader appeal to social goals, fairness and justice – as well as liberalism.

  • Just to wish you well!
    Tim Leunig, chief economist, CentreForum – a liberal think tank!

  • Tony Greaves 9th Mar '12 - 7:43pm

    I don’t think Tim Farron is a social democrat by heritage, rather a radical Liberal. And remember that the Liberal Party was to the left of the SDP.

    But as someone above says, that’s all in the past. There are few social democrats left in the party of the kind we did not like in those days.

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '12 - 12:26am

    Could the Think Tank please start by thinking about how to involve party members directly in the thinking?

    One way to do this might be to set up online forums like LDV, but addressing specific issues? Perhaps with voting buttons? Also with a way to suggest what issues could usefully be thought about? And perhaps with different modes of thinking, such as meditative, lateral, logical, ruminatory, random, collective, individual, rational, emotional, competitive?

    A new, distinctive name for the process and/or the tank might also be electorally helpful. Something the journalists and newsreaders would be happy to include in their sound bytes.

  • Richard Dean 10th Mar '12 - 12:27am

    Yes, “Liberal Insight” does sound a good name!

  • Just wondering ………. How does Liberal Insight differ from Liberal Vision [in England] and Liberal Futures [in Scotland] – are you all “thinking” the same things?

    As Richard Dean says above – “how to involve party members directly in the thinking?” How do we, the grass roots members, have our thoughts and views included? What is the place of ordinary members? Or is this just another elitist group which won’t involve any of the Party’s hard-working “foot soldiers”?

  • Good luck chaps.

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