Liberalism is our solid ground, but also our springboard for the future

‘Liberal values are always worth fighting for.’ That statement is self-evident to Liberal Democrats, who believe they know what they mean by the term, and are committed to that fight.

Is it not evident in Tim Farron’s leadership of us towards a Britain ‘open, tolerant and united’? Do we not recognise the liberal values in our Preamble, as it begins, ‘ We seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community …’? Yes, we know what we mean.

But those words, ‘Liberal values are always worth fighting for’, were actually spoken, according to The Times on Monday, by the Tory sage and ex-Cabinet minister, Sir Oliver Letwin. In the report by Rachel Sylvester, under the heading ‘We all made a terrible mistake on immigration’, Sir Oliver is quoted as saying, ‘properly controlled immigration enriches the country in every sense’, and as asking Theresa May to challenge the xenophobic mood.

Good luck there, Sir Oliver. You have a surely impossible struggle to persuade your divided party to unite on that. But, welcome to the Liberal Democrat viewpoint! It is our party which has constantly stressed the values of immigration to Britain.

To be liberal, to know what we mean by it and be prepared to fight for it, is at the heart of Liberal Democracy. We see it in our care for the homeless and those with terrible housing conditions. We recognise it in our concern for refugees and fear for the unaccompanied children currently stranded in France. And we care about the ordinary families being thrust into poverty by further welfare cuts this year, because we genuinely feel for the needs of British people, and don’t resort to glib slogans about them.

Our liberal values are evident in the demands we shall make of the Chancellor today, after the Autumn Statement. Our demands for the essential £4 billion emergency funding needed to sustain the NHS and social care and that councils be unleashed to build more homes are not plucked out of thin air, but arise from the policies we have developed and are always developing, because we are Liberals.

Ours is the history, the proud history that goes back to the days beyond Lloyd George and William Gladstone. Ours is the future, for what visitor from another planet, alighting in Britain, would not grasp that a Liberal party must have better things to offer the people than parties named Conservative or Labour? Especially when afterwards discovering that both those parties are split from top to bottom, whereas the Liberal Democrats being united have more capacity to get things done: to work towards ‘Our Liberal Britain’.

Liberalism is ours. We own it. The word Liberal is our precious stone, our temple of light, our constant inspiration and our pride.

* Katharine Pindar is a long-standing member of the Lib Dems and an activist in the West Cumbrian constituency of Copeland and Workington.

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  • ‘properly controlled immigration enriches the country in every sense’

    Whether you ask a Tory, Labour, Lib Dem or even a UKIP voter it would be hard to find people who disagree with that. It’s just that everyone has a different opinion on what “properly controlled” means.

  • We know what we stand for, but the challenge is to put it
    a. in language that the public gets
    b. is short, to the point and requires little explanation
    c)to get to a point where they think/feel: ‘ they believe what I believe, they just feel like the right people to vote for’

    Since becoming more involved, what I notice constantly is that the Lib Dems are fantastic and making big rallying cry type speeches, but I’m always left thinking:
    Yes, but how? That’s the challenge I think

  • Hi Katharine
    Just seen your comment on the ‘Freedom” thread re Branding/Marketing of political parties.
    Well, you have much more experience than me, so it would be inappropriate for me to challenge back.
    So, I’ll simply continue to comment in this area and look forward to the development of clear joined up policies and proposals that I can feel enthused about which will give me a ‘route map’ to the ‘destination’ that is the preamble.

  • David Evershed 23rd Nov '16 - 11:24am

    I hope Katharine Pindar is not arguing that our current immigration rules are liberal when we discriminate against those from India, Africa, and China in favour of those from Germany, Poland and Hungary.

  • William Ross 23rd Nov '16 - 11:41am

    Sorry Katharine but I think you mistake what Sir Oliver was saying. Unlike you he meant that immigration managed by this country ( as opposed to oligarchs in Brussels) is genuinely uplifting. I agree with Sir Oliver as my wife and son ( from South America) are immigrants, and my wife is not yet a British citizen. What you and your party are for is uncontrollable immigration from a continent of 500 million people. The majority of us, on the other hand, voted to take back control……

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Nov '16 - 11:59am

    First, I would disagree with Malc. Many leave voters would rather that next to no immigrants came to our shores. Indeed, until it was pointed out to them that immigrants benefited our economy by billions NIgel Farage and UKIP were fighting for a complete moritorium on inward migration – have people forgotten what was being said less than three years ago?

    I would also point out – again – that we do not count the immigrants that leave the country. In addition, the ONS immigration figures are extrapolated from conversations with just four or five thousand people coming into the country. I will try and get the link for this but it had to be shown me twice in recent months so I do not hold out much hope.

  • A Social Liberal

    “Many leave voters would rather that next to no immigrants came to our shores”

    That still comes under the banner of “properly controlled”. Any party can make vague claims, but they lack detail. What is the Lib Dem policy? On their website it says:

    “We will say yes to doctors, experts, entrepreneurs and investors. But we will say no to crooks, traffickers and those who would damage our country.”

    That’s all well and good, nearly every “leave” voter would agree with that. However, what’s the Lib Dem position on the 99% of people that don’t fit into those groups?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd Nov '16 - 7:39pm


    You as ever talk sense , but though agreeing with every word , the words “properly controlled ” stand out ! When that is heard more in our party policy , which actively supports the sentence in full, we shall gain more ground , galore !

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Nov '16 - 10:27pm

    Hello, people, thank you for commenting here on a day when so many good pieces were jostling for position! My contribution was meant to be a riposte to the article making Freedom our article of faith, because I believe to stress Liberalism is more important for us. It ends in a fairly poetic way, maybe not catching the mood of many people in their working day, but I believe that a healthy party also embraces passion, poetry and philosophy, and perhaps, Mike, I am more oriented towards those things than towards marketing nowadays. However, I thought it was worth pointing out that we have the capacity to attract people who actually share our values but do not yet recognise that they are natural supporters. Practically, our party policy on the EU is the big draw we have to offer them this year.
    On the immigration question, Lorenzo, Malc, William… I think views have shifted and the debate continues in our party. It was Sir Oliver who used the phrase ‘properly controlled’ , but for my own part I have come round to thinking that there will have to be some sort of ‘managed migration’ in future, not only into Britain but into the rest of the EU. It’s because all of Europe with its higher standard of living is seen now by many poor people with rotten prospects in Africa as well as the Middle East as a desirable destination, their hopes shared by social media and encouraged by traffickers: many young people there want to migrate for jobs, but as youth unemployment is so high in many EU states, I believe that we do have to consider European youth first. That is, perhaps, a view even Mrs Merkel is coming round to, so that there is hope that sensible and humane negotiation will enable compromise agreement to be reached between the other EU states and Britain, so long as no absolute position is adhered to .

  • Hi Katharine
    I realised what you were attempting to do and agree with you that passion and philosophy are just as important.
    I am still observing and learning as well as contributing.
    I have come around to the view (as I said on another thread), that the party policy on the EU is probably the right thing to do at this moment. Politically the Lib Dems are the only voice for half the population – it makes sense both politically particularly when twice as many in the party agree as don’t
    I’ve also been quite vocal at presenting the other side though, not because I agree with brexit, I don’t, but because I think calling the other side dim, ignorant or lacking in intelligence comes across as arrogant which is not a good look.
    I also truly believe that very many intelligent people (many of my own friends/family) agonised over this decision and many who voted leave did so having thought it through as much as we did, but simply came to a different conclusion – that’s democracy in action I guess.
    I agree also on the Immigration issue – I suspect there will be a sea change in the attitude of everyone now, there will have to be compromises made with the electorate if we are to be taken seriously and listened to. Busy day to get attention on a thread I think 🙂

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Nov '16 - 9:29am

    Katharine, I feel a bit worried about your comment that “we do have to consider European youth first”. I don’t think you quite mean this, as in your article you do speak of the importance of helping refugees. But you seem to suggest that “economic migrants” from Europe should automatically be given priority over “economic migrants” from the third world.
    I would have liked to have kept the freedom of movement within the EU. Indeed, in comments on another article on Lib Dem Voice recently, I said that in an ideal world, there would be no border controls. People replying suggesting that I was being hopelessly naive. But I was really just suggesting that a world without borders was an ideal – a dream for an ideal future that we should be working towards, rather than something that could or should happen immediately.
    For now, it seems inevitable that there must be some border controls. But should we not be giving priority to those with the greatest need to come to Britain? You mention that unemployment is high in many EU countries. This is true, and yet most European young people are privileged compared with refugees from Syria, or young people from desperately poor parts of the third world, for whom emigration seems the only chance of a decent future. Surely it is not fair that, say, a young German from a well to do background should automatically have the right to come to Britain, but not a young refugee, or an “economic migrant” fleeing from terrible poverty.
    Obviously we also need to think about giving priority to the immigrants of whom Britain has the greatest need, such as health professionals. But I feel that priority should be given to two categories of people – those for whom we have the greatest need, and also those who have the greatest need to come to Britain. And let’s remember that often the same people will come into both categories.

  • I would like to see more reference to the fact that we are sympathetic both to enterprise and to the well-being of the whole community, and hold these two goods in tension. We can tip over into being too ‘economic’ and we can be over simply in favour of the disadvantaged. It is the subtle combination that characterises us at our best.

  • Katharine, I like what you are trying to say here but it’s more complicated than you suggest in a way that has important implications. For instance, you argue that we have the huge advantage of being united whereas both Conservatives and Labour are split from top to bottom.

    Labour are indeed split – it’s civil (actually uncivil) war over there. Years of top-down control by Blairites have caused the pressure-cooker to explode in rage against policies that have failed members and supporters. That’s no way to run a party and will count heavily against them at the next GE.

    The Conservatives have their differences (inevitably so since any big party must also be a ‘big tent’) but they usually handle them well if somewhat messily at times – that’s politics. Leaders are chosen partly for the policy thrust they propose and partly for their political ‘smarts’. Other factions grumble incessantly but rally round and ambitious rivals wait in the wings for a slip-up to open the door. This approach has made them highly adaptive, able to turn on a sixpence when necessary and easily the most successful UK party. Even when not in power Tory thinking dominates politics to the point that at the last election Clegg conceded they were the ones with a ‘brain’ – meaning the ones who understand how the economy works. (He was wrong but that’s another story).

    Lib Dems do indeed manage to be united but only by being zombiefied – locked into a home-grown version of political correctness, heavy on identity politics, light on economics and studiously ignoring any voices of reasoned dissent because the governance can’t handle them. This lets down our natural constituency and makes a mockery of the preamble to the constitution.

    We should remember that the first strategic imperative for any army, business or political party is not the other side but rather to make sure it’s structured, equipped and trained to do the job. The Lb Dem’s governance patently isn’t and that needs to change. In short, a bit more internal politics, more division if you like, is needed to make the party match-fit.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Nov '16 - 1:04am

    Catherine, I like your approach, but it rather gives me the impression that some authority is required to anxiously assess which economic migrants have the best claim to come to Europe, and all I am thinking is that young people in my own back yard, since I am a European, should be allowed to move freely about Europe and seek jobs in Britain or wherever they can – and we do need them in Britain. Gordon, I’m always interested in your rather different and original views, but when it comes to Lib Dem Governance you lose me, since I find the party hierarchy approachable and the government reforms moved by President Sal ok, and as to our members being zombified, they certainly didn’t appear so at the Federal Conference nor seem so here. Mike, hello again! and thanks: I do appreciate you being so thoughtful and open-minded, and I hope I like you keep learning from these exchanges. Tim on Question Time this evening, in great form, said just as you say above, that many Leave voters are sincere people who deserve to be heard, but still made a powerful case for the view you have come round to, and was much applauded.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th Nov '16 - 1:57pm

    Just to add, I heard Nick Clegg on the World at One Radio 4 programme a few minutes ago, speaking about the threat to liberalism in politics today. Obviously we have to fight hard then for our liberal values. I am wondering, is there anyone among the pro-Brexit and non-LD members who regularly comment here who DOESN’T agree with our liberal values? Are they just being taken too much for granted? Because they are as Nick says actually under threat.

  • Katharine, you mistake my meaning. I am not saying members are zombies since they’re evidently not and the hierarchy is indeed approachable. My issue is with the party’s organisation – the way members’ skills and enthusiasm are harnessed and led which is dire. For whatever reason (a debate for another day?) the total is far less than the sum of the parts and that IS a problem.

    Consider the recent posts groping towards a succinct statement of what liberalism means and ask yourself why this is necessary. How can a party over 25 years old (not counting earlier incarnations) still not have that? It’s Politics 101.

    Consider also that after Autumn Statement the IFS said the outlook for wages is “dreadful” (that may well be optimistic!) so this is going to soar up the agenda in the next few years. As Bill Clinton rightly said, “It’s the economy, stupid”. Yet the party doesn’t have a collective view on how the economy works. There are some ‘economic liberals’ who more or less adopt the Tory analysis and a larger group of ‘social liberals’ who lean to a Labour view (both gross simplifications of course). Understanding how the economy works – and hence how to make it work better and deliver social justice – is the crucial task for the next few years. Politics 101 again.

    Consider that if your principle council has more than one Lib Dem councillor then it’s proportionately more successful than the national party. The usual excuses are a negative media and FPTP. These don’t help but are ultimately excuses – see Farage and the SNP. A big clue is that council groups do their policy-making differently from the national party.

    The thing is we humans bunk off tackling the important but difficult in favour of the congenial but peripheral. Ultimately that doesn’t work; someone has to exercise leadership and hold people’s feet to the fire, find a concise statement of what we’re about and understand how the economy works etc. then ensure the party delivers in line with that.

    The existing party structure doesn’t support that sort of effective leadership; small changes could change that for the better – unless, of course, we allow ourselves to be imprisoned by conformity.

  • I too heard Clegg on The World at One and he was very good.

    Regarding your question for pro-Brexiteers this touches on something I nearly included in my earlier comment.

    My understanding has always been that liberals are for devolving power as far as reasonably possible. Hence the support of liberals (including myself) for a federal system that would provide a framework for that. (But note that ‘federal’ has undergone a change of meaning and many people now understand it to mean ‘centralised’).

    The EU is explicitly committed to “ever-greater union”. Yes, there is occasional lip-service to “subsidiarity” but the thrust is clearly towards centralisation; like any bureaucracy the Commission has an inbuilt tendency to accrete power to itself when it can get away with it.

    So, in line with their beliefs, the Lib Dems would obviously oppose the push to “ever-greater union” except for specific issues where clearly justified. But wait! They didn’t. They’ve done the opposite and always supported the EU establishment to the hilt in its drive to “ever-greater union”.

    So the people who, in practice, DON’T support liberal values are the Lib Dems!

    In contrast the Brexiteers are quite clear about this. For most it’s the unjustified loss of control to remote and (in practice) unaccountable centralisation that’s the problem. I agree about that: it’s already devastated the economies of southern Europe and will, in my view, eventually destroy the whole European project.

    This has been a gross failure of leadership by the Lib Dems. I believe a huge number of members resigned or lapsed their membership over this issue over many years but somehow, once unquestioning support for the EU was policy, it just ploughed on like an out-of-control super tanker.

    Sadly, my guess is that once the dust has died down the official party view will be, “nothing to see here, move on” and lessons won’t be learned.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th Nov '16 - 12:05am

    Thanks, Gordon, for continuing this interesting discussion. I agree that the question of party organisation had better be left for another day – my piece set too many hares running at once! On the EU, I am not sure that the old commitment to ‘ever-closer union’ still exists there, given the deep divisions appearing even in the heartland of France. I agree that we haven’t as Lib Dems thought through our ‘unquestioning support for the EU’, but if LDV discussion is anything to go by, that has changed now: I remember, for instance, Michael B.G. suggesting that the head of the Parliament might be elected in the future, and that Parliament should be allowed to initiate policy: and and I have certainly absorbed the notion that making the structures more democratic is a necessity. Further, we need in future to be more aware ourselves and help people generally to become so of what our MEPs are doing, supposing they continue to exist – it was a nonsense that people elected UKIP MEPs.
    On our views of the economic future, maybe you are right that there is still a split between centrist and more left-of-centre views in the party, but yet I have read posts which seem successfully to bridge that divide. It isn’t one of my strengths, I’m afraid, but I think we have people who can progress this. As to Liberal values themselves, Nick Clegg gave a handy definition at lunchtime which I wish there had been time to record, but my feeling is, we know what we mean. Yes, devolving power – and trusting people with it – is very much part of it. We have excellent definitions in the Federal documents, and though we can’t hold forth on those to the people around us, I hope and feel that what we do say and how we act will resonate with the public, because our liberal values are really also theirs, or have been, and are being revived now against the tides of the current time.

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