LibLink: Jeremy Browne – The Lib Dems must define themselves more clearly

Jeremy Browne - Minister for Crime PreventionFormer Lib Dem minister, Jeremy Browne, fresh from publishing a book calling for the party to return to ‘authentic liberalism’, has issued a further plea in The Spectator for Lib Dems to get distinctive ahead of the 2015 election. Here’s an excerpt:

The Liberal Democrats will struggle to command support in this marketplace without having a sharp definition. The appeal of cautious centrism is limited. …

Where is the demand for a tepid Milibandism or a watered-down Cameronism? Why buy the low calorie version when the full-flavour option is also in the marketplace?

But the big advantage the Liberal Democrats possess is that the party has the strongest claim to the greatest pitch in the marketplace – liberalism.

An unambiguous liberalism best captures the spirit of our era – freedom and opportunity. Free people, free speech, free markets, free thinking. It is egalitarian, internationalist and healthily subversive. A new generation – both economically and socially liberal – is looking for inspiration.

Liberals of all strands of opinion within the Liberal Democrats have exciting ideas that can capture the national mood. We need a standard that people can rally around.

A clearly-defined and self-confident authentic liberalism is that standard; moderating the ideas of others to make them marginally less bad is not.

You can read Jeremy’s post in full here.

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  • Charles Rothwell 8th Jun '14 - 8:39am

    I agree entirely that one of the (numerous) problems the Party faces lies in re-establishing a clear and unambiguous identity in terms of how it is seen by the electorate. The days of us being “the protest vote” are gone after having been in government for the first time since 1945 and we have got to adjust to this by becoming again “the party of ideas”. Ideas are generated by discussion and debate (in our view as least – others may prefer to see them just imposed ‘from above’ while others may just package up half-truths, gut instincts and prejudices and call them ‘policies’) and, while Browne’s ideas may not the ones favoured by some in the Party, he has a perfect right to advance them and to help get the debate started and I agree entirely with the first three paragraphs quoted above.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Jun '14 - 8:47am

    Browne is running circles round Clegg. He thinks that he wins both ways. Either he is positioned as the main candidate should Clegg step down or he drags Clegg towards his vision. He may be he’s right to think that.

    Certainly he is demonstrating by contrast the pedestrian nature and confusion at the heart of Clegg’s team.

    This is Championship football v Conference League.

  • If, as Bill le Breton suggests — this is Championship football v Conference League — I suppose the position Browne is now playing is “outside right”.

    Clegg does not really seem to know what position he is playing, or even what game. Whilst everyone else is playing football and scoring hoping to win, Clegg is playing Royal Tennis; a game which is only played by terribly posh people and does not seem to have a goal or many rules, but if you stay in the centre of the court people look at you and you can enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame.

    It does not really matter for Clegg what the result of the game is because if you are rich enough to play in the first place you are always going to be a winner, even if you if you let down all the other members of the team and 98% of the fans have already walked away.

  • Richard Dean 8th Jun '14 - 9:15am

    I wonder why people assume that debate is equivalent to an attempt to oust the leader?

  • Jenny Barnes 8th Jun '14 - 9:28am

    “An unambiguous liberalism …clearly-defined and self-confident authentic liberalism…”
    oh yes. those are the best sorts of liberalism. What does it mean again? Did someone say financial globalised neo-liberalism?

  • Tony Dawson 8th Jun '14 - 10:03am

    @Geoffrey Payne:

    ” I think he stands as much chance of becoming the next leader of the party as Danny Alexander”

    I think Jeremy has very little chance of becoming Danny Alexander. One is enough! 😉

  • Having just read Browne’s book, Race Plan, I think I understand what his idea of ‘authentic liberalism’ means: more state-loathing, competition-obsessed ideology.

    His book is based on an unabashed advocacy of the virtues of extension of the private sector and Darwinian competition into the delivery of public services like health and education, with precious little in the way of hard evidence to back it up.

    It leans on a negative view of the state’s role in society that is almost pathological in its intensity. In Browne’s imagination, the state is some kind of monster that is constantly breathing down people’s necks. When Browne comes up with such jewels as: “Flabby and unnecessarily intrusive government is a burden we cannot afford if we want to make the successful transition to being a competitive and prosperous country”, without providing any examples to support his contention, you can’t help feeling he is simply expressing a long-held prejudice rather than looking at the evidence in hand.

    The Browne view of what liberalism constitutes is one that metamorphosed fundamentally at the end of the 19th century as Liberals (note the capital L) recognised that the state could play a positive role in ensuring that everyone had access to certain basic protections and assurances that could allow them to achieve their full potential in life. It was further tempered by the wisdom of people like Beveridge. It is the liberalism that looks at “freedom to” rather than just “freedom from”.

    His arguments seem fundamentally confused, since his book spends all its time lauding the development and forward-looking nature of societies like South Korea and China, while steadfastly ignoring the fact that this dynamism has been very much driven by state intervention and planning. And at one point in Race Plan he pays lip-service to the idea of the state as a possibly positive player in meeting basic standards of well-being in society, all the while denigrating it casually elsewhere in his book.

    I think we do need to redefine ourselves and be clearer about what we want as a party, particularly as regards aims like devolution and democracy and how we intend to ensure greater equality and sustainability in our economy. But Jeremy Browne’s version of “better definition” i.e. a lurch towards the uncritical idolatry of private over public and competition rather than co-operation is not one that, for me at least, holds much appeal.

  • Richard Church 8th Jun '14 - 10:25am

    It’s hard to find a word to disagree with in the article, but that’s because it doesn’t actually say anything substantive at all.

  • Bill le Breton 8th Jun '14 - 10:43am

    First, Browne thinks Clegg is about to backslide (under pressure). This type of piece not only positions him but warns Clegg that he shouldn’t think he can do this without someone publicly challenging that.

    Of course it is vague and insubstantial but code is rather like that and so are ‘standards’ by which I mean those coloured flags that people place in the ground. It is how you win and retain hearts and minds.

    I actually think it refreshing. But only if champions (like Adrian) emerge to fly another flag.

    My immediate thought on reading Browne was that someone should construct say 10 detailed proposals and ask, “ok so given those values, how would you have us vote/campaign on ….”

    But you can’t blame him for not doing that … at this stage that’s not what his intention is. If he can connect emotionally (see Richard C’s reaction) and keep in the corner of Clegg’s eye the big stick he has in his hand, he will have done what he desired to do. At least he is demonstrating that he understands politics.

    The idea that we can wait under the present leadership for a whole year before we have this debate is absurd. We shall have Clegg vacillating from side to side and reinforcing our image for opportunism and inconstancy.

  • Adrian Sanders for leader!

    I’m sure rolling around in a field of stinging nettles could be highly invigorating and have positive benefits for the circulation…

  • Well, if I had the cash I would fund Adran Sanders to write a book.

    Sorry Adrian, I spent my life working in public health and in my spare time was a Liberal activist and councillor.
    I do not even know a friendly Hedge Fund Manager that might fund a book by you.
    I guess that most of them are not that likely to want to fund a book that might influence politics to benefit 99% of the people, which is why they were such bankers in the first place.

  • He’s police right that the lib Dems need to define themselves, but come on politics is not a “market place”. He’s a bright guy but he sounds like he’s pitching an ideology based Ap to the panel of Dragons Den..

  • Phil Rimmer 8th Jun '14 - 11:12am

    I hope Adrian Sanders won’t object if I take his observation on the battle for the ideological heart of the party one stage further. For most of the last hundred years the British liberal party has been a pan-liberal party. For most of that time social and economic liberals have managed to live together with varying degrees of success. However, live together we did.

    It seems to me that at some stage in the last year Clegg and his supporters decided the party would be better off as an exclusively economic liberal party. In effect, they started an unnecessary civil war. Jeremy Browne is now firing a salvo from the right against his former colleagues and failed leader. The civil war, as civil wars will do, is turning nasty.

    The problem with trying to split the liberal family was that additional fractures were always likely to emerge. Time to prepare for rebuilding once the bloodletting is over.

  • Nick Barlow 8th Jun '14 - 11:19am

    “It’s hard to find a word to disagree with in the article, but that’s because it doesn’t actually say anything substantive at all.”

    Yes, and whenever Browne actually reveals his supposedly daring and radical vision it’s the usual tax cuts-shrink the state-school vouchers proposals that the liberal New Right have been talking about for years.

  • Richard Church and Nick Barlow, I think I have found the inspiration for this.

    Jeremy Browne  writes in The Spectator —

    “. Free people, free speech, free markets, free thinking. It is egalitarian, internationalist and healthily subversive. ”

    I knew this reminded me of something.   
    Just remembered, it is John Betjeman’s –  ‘In WestminsterAbbey’

    Some of the relevant lines —

    Free speech, free passes, class distinction,
        Democracy and proper drains.
    Lord, put beneath Thy special care
    One-eighty-nine Cadogan Square.

    Although dear Lord I am a sinner,
        I have done no major crime; 
    Now I’ll come to Evening Service
        Whensoever I have the time.
    So, Lord, reserve for me a crown.
    And do not let my shares go down.

  • Adrian writes :
    “My liberalism is old fashioned and based on a belief in freedom and people being able to do whatever they wish so long as they do not infringe upon the liberties of others.”
    That statement is a very reasonable position to hold. But is it possible that Liberalism was born at a time of much lower population, vast untouched resources, and the cheap energy, and space, to do almost anything, without ‘ infringing upon the liberties of others’?
    The world today is very different. It is barely possible today, to build an extension to my home, build a wind turbine, or build HS2 *without* infringing on the liberties and freedoms of others.?
    In short, it is not that Liberalism is wrong (as an ideal), but instead, Liberalism is having to face the brick wall of a finite world. The 1972 book by the Club of Rome ‘The Limits to Growth’ was a prescient illustration of not just global growth limits, but also of our ability to support our Liberal freedoms in a resource limited world?

  • Simon McGrath 8th Jun '14 - 11:54am

    @Phil Rimmer ” It seems to me that at some stage in the last year Clegg and his supporters decided the party would be better off as an exclusively economic liberal party”
    any evidence for this ?

  • I am perturbed (again)! There are precious few liberals of any sort at the moment, and those that there are are engaged in some sort of phoney left v right war! Those of a radical bent are frustrated because the leadership seems neither to reflect nor even represent their opinion (at the moment this seems to have done grounds). They’re also frustrated because the. ‘Right’ seems to be producing all of the ideas. Time will sort the first grump out, and the left can put pen to paper too surely meantime to rebalance the second.
    What is truly urgent is that the professional politicians return power within the party to the members, and that what’s left of the base is reinforced. Otherwise there is a real danger of the activists fracturing 3 or 4 ways – but all mean a much weakened Liberal force in the UK.

  • See Clegg is making a speech tomorrow to define Liberalism!!!! To the average member of the public it is “betrayal”/
    He and his cohorts are in a world of their own. It gets sadder by the day.
    See the pretty negative panel response on the Sunday Politics.

  • I share Adrian Sanders view of what Liberalism. is and should be.

    There are only two political positions that it is possible to take and it has always been so. One is a conservatism that seeks to maintain the status quo – preserving the advantages and authority of vested interest. The contending position is an anti-establishment progressive political force that endeavours to liberate the common man from the shackles of authoritarian control.

    Gladstone defined these polar positions eloquently when he said “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”

    RC’s comment is appropriate ” liberalism …metamorphosed fundamentally at the end of the 19th century as Liberals (note the capital L) recognised that the state could play a positive role in ensuring that everyone had access to certain basic protections and assurances that could allow them to achieve their full potential in life. It was further tempered by the wisdom of people like Beveridge. It is the liberalism that looks at “freedom to” rather than just “freedom from”.

    Jeremy Browne is right to state “The Liberal Democrats will struggle to command support in this marketplace without having a sharp definition. The appeal of cautious centrism is limited.”

    The position of the Liberal Democrats can and should be clearly defined in direct opposition to the forces of conservatism and regression and in juxtaposition to the progressive left, as a liberal and progressive alternative to socialist authoritarianism.

  • Bill le Breton,

    Ok so given those values, how would Jeremy have us vote/campaign on these 10 proposals:

    1. Economy – Monetary & Fiscal policy, structural reforms and deficit reduction developed on the basis of a stable full employment economy (<5%) with a more flexible range of inflation targets based around Nominal GDP measures. Long-term funding of national infrastructure and flood defence programs.
    2. Jobs – expansion of apprenticeships, skills development and short-term job guarantees for long-term unemployed; government training programs in areas of skill shortages typically filled by EU migrants in construction trades, social and child care services.
    3. Welfare reform –replacement of means tested universal credit with universal basic income for all (including University students), replacement of work capability assessment with disability eligibility assessment by district nurses/social workers. Housing benefit eligibility conditional on being in employment, disabled or a pensioner. Extension of time before which EU migrants can claim benefits in the UK to 6 months. Phased increase in minimum wage towards national living wage (outside London).
    4. Taxation – merger of income tax and earnings tax into single rate applicable to all sources of income including capital gains, rents and investment income, replacement of higher rate tax income tax with Land Value Tax.
    5. Housing – provision of 1 million + homes (private and public) over five years and reform of council tax bands. Bringing Public Sector Net Debt (PSND) accounting rules into line with other EU countries so that local authority borrowing is not constrained by central government debt targets. Finance guarantees to local authorities and housing associations to provide for replacement of social housing stock to pre-eighties level.
    Development of infrastructure/housing bonds to attract investment from pension funds. Reinstatement of employment as condition for able-bodied to be eligible for social housing in conjunction with job guarantee program.
    6. Immigration – reduction in employer demand for EU migrants with local authority hiring of construction trade trainees from government programs and placement of single mothers requiring housing and trained as carers with elderly requiring live-in care. Development of English language training program for migrant job seekers delivered by ESL teachers recruited and trained from ranks of native English speaking long-term unemployed. Take students out of net migration targets and rebuild trust in the migration control system with exit checks and deportation of illegal immigrants, retaining existing legislation to provide irregular adults a route to regularisation. Implement ‘Training up Britain’.
    7. Crime and Justice – decriminalising of soft drugs and licensing of prostitution, review of secret court legislation and effectiveness of anti-terror legislation, implementation of enhanced security measures to contain threat from extremists returning from Syria.
    8. Transport, Energy & Environment – return of natural monopolies (rail network, domestic power generation and fracking) to the public sector, introduction of tax relief for commuting by public transport, insulation of all public buildings and public housing stock, significantly increased investment in renewable energy and commitment to International cooperation on mitigating global effects of climate change, review of effectiveness of badger cull in containing bovine TB.
    9. Banking reform – nationalisation of Natwest network as public bank and regulatory reform of ‘too big to fail’ commercial banks, concentration on maintenance of adequate capital ratios and financial system stability, support for further development of peer to peer lending platforms.
    10. European Union – overhaul or replacement of Common agricultural policy, review of transition rules on free movement of labour for new entrants. EU wide banking regulation, common policy on multi-national transfer pricing and corporate tax avoidance.

  • Denis Mollison 8th Jun '14 - 2:02pm

    Joe Bourne –

    Well put!

    But, whether it’s now or after the 2015 election, do we have a leadership candidate who can unite us behind this vision?

  • i don’t think the differing strands of liberalism are incompatible at all. I think we must simply start from the core principle which is that we want, as far as is possible, is to create a liberal society at all levels and in all areas. How we do that is obviously always up for debate but ultimately i think we all have the same aims. I don’t think we should let ourselves get hijacked by private and public sector agendas nor by left/right binaries. For me being liberal is a gut thing. You know when something is liberal and you know full well when it aint. It should be the easiest of all the isms to define.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jun '14 - 2:25pm

    I have several points to make on this (politely):

    First of all I see some people on this thread I’ve been a bit rude to in the past (Jenny Barnes and Adrian Sanders), so I’m sorry about that. I try to express feelings, but I need to keep it proportionate and not go too far.

    When it comes to Jeremy Browne’s politics: I prefer them over the left and I don’t doubt his sincerity, but his policies remind me of something I don’t think I could ever do: suck up to the king, which in this case is king capital. He is good on the racism, sexism and homophobia stuff though.

    And finally Adrian Sanders kindly taking the time to communicate with us and express his vision for liberalism. Some good points, but I don’t believe in always siding with the consumer over the producer, especially when we have powerful consumer lobby groups who also have vested interests. It is the same with unions, so I prefer a more objective approach. I don’t believe people have a right to high standards of care either. It is ideal of course, but I don’t think anyone has “the right”. I’m also worried about modern day Keynesian seemingly having a bit of a disregard for risk.

    However having said all that, I think people who have issues with the state due to things such as getting in the way of self-employment should communicate and find common ground with those who think it permits injustices of mass wealth and lacks compassion. I can’t believe many people get fire in their belly fighting for the rights of people like Bill Gates.

    Adrian also makes a good point about not protesting enough. In my opinion what Cameron is trying to do with the EU Commission Presidency at the moment is a democratic outrage, but we seem to be silent.

  • David Howarth 8th Jun '14 - 2:46pm

    It is a battle for the soul of the party, but it is also a battle for its electoral survival. What Jeremy Browne doesn’t seem to realise is just how small a proportion of the population is both liberal on social issues and in favour of a smaller state. According to the British Election Study data, if one looks at people who believe very strongly or strongly that immigration has culturally enriched the country (19% of the total excluding don’t knows) and asks how many of them think that privatisation hasn’t gone far enough, a classic smaller state belief, one finds that only 1.5% of the population are potential Browne-ites and that they are outnumbered by those who are liberal on immigration but opposed to further privatisation by nearly ten to one.
    Similar results come out if one uses other questions, for example on attitudes towards the death penalty and public spending cuts.
    It is true that younger people are more inclined towards a smaller state than older people, but the overall position among younger voters is basically no different. One can look, for example, at the beliefs of voters aged 30 or under on the same questions about immigration and privatisation. Jeremy’s coming generation of right-wing liberals amounts to a mere 3.2% of their age group and they are outnumbered by young ‘left’ liberals by nearly seven to one.
    If you wanted to unify the forces of tolerance and decency, you wouldn’t start from where Jeremy wants to start.

  • Shaun Cunningham 8th Jun '14 - 3:06pm
  • Stephen Hesketh 8th Jun '14 - 3:37pm

    If there were to be anything worse than a soggy centrist leading the party it would be a neo-Thatcherite libertarian.

    I believe this sort of essentially unrestricted free market economic analysis is part of the problem not the solution and that Browne should be making this sort of appeal to young Conservatives and their supporters. These young people are usually more liberal-minded and accepting on social matters than their older counterparts while still being economically authentic true-blue Tory.

    I don’t see it having much of a constituency amongst a centre-left grouping like the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure we would share certain priorities and may even one day form a coalition with such a party but that’s all. Though hopefully whoever is then leading the Liberal Democrats will recall what happens when a radical reforming non-socialist centre left party enters into a coalition with an economically right wing party! I’m also hoping that Gordon Lishman’s proposals are adopted and protect us from any future flights of fancy.

    My thoughts are otherwise pretty much in line with much said (in order of posting) by Jenny Barnes, Geoffrey Payne, RC, John Tilley, Phil Rimmer and Joe Bourke.

    Regarding Ashley’s post, to some small extent I agree. My observation would be that social and economic liberals have always coexisted in the party, as have social democrats (before and since the SDP), environmentalists, libertarian socialists and certain strands of conservativism. Our views are as diverse as our membership. This is a great strength.

    However since 2010, an organised attempt has been made to move us to the right by an internal Parliamentary coalition of free market economic liberals and Clegg’s ‘always in office’ centrists. We are presently reaping the rewards of this failed ‘New Liberal Democrat’ experiment amongst our voters and internally.

  • What kind of liberalism is this? i am so far off the libertarian wing of the party that I am no longer a member but I dont see much connection between what I believe and how an earlier poster described Browne’s book. For me, economic liberalism, i.e. Economic freedom is primarily about separation of powers between business and the state. This kind of thing, at every turn the government trying to create new situations where something is private and public at the same time and totally regulated and subsidised without any real possibility for new entrants who cant get through the governments bidding process, where for market participants the key relationships are with the regulator and the board giving out subsidies/funding not with customers and suppliers, including suppliers of work. This sounds to me to be a lot more like New Labour managerialism – at best it is peripheral to what economic liberalism should be about, removing the restrictions on legitimate, customer-facing businesses and getting to the eventual state that anything which would be legal with no money involved should also be legal where money is involved.

  • Browne’s neo-liberalism is to the right of Clegg and would be a disaster. I am actually starting to think that the LIb Dems made a fundamental mistake by going into coalition with the Conservatives. A better option might have been a coalition with Labour. It would probably have collapsed by now and the Lib Dems might have agreed a confidence and supply arrangement with a minority Conservative government. However, some of the more progressive policies of the coalition might still have been implemented, a yes vote in an AV referendum would have been more likely and the deficit would not have been much higher.

  • Keith Browning 8th Jun '14 - 9:10pm

    The party has speant four years taking on the image of being part of the Establishment and my impression of Jeremy is that is an Establishment figure – one that supports the status quo. I always have to pinch myself before I realise he is a Lib Dem not a Tory yes man.

    What the party needs is someone more feisty, who speaks their mind, in an an open and progessive way. Someone who might ruffle a few feathers in Whitehall – might I dare to say it, but a Liberal minded Nigel Farage. Do we have such a man or woman in our midst?

  • Some excellent questions from. Joe Bourke 8th Jun ’14 – 1:57pm

    No answers after eight hours. Perhaps some answers tomorrow ????

  • Gregory Connor 8th Jun '14 - 10:09pm

    The problem is the message as well as the main messenger and without a change in both this party is heading for a meltdown at the next general election. This matters not just because many good local MPs will be lost to their communities and the Commons but more importantly because the people of this country will be left to the mercies of Labour, the Tories and UKIP as we will have abdicated our responsibility to offer them a realistic alternative.

    In order to resolve this for the next general election it is necessary to have a leadership election with a range of candidates, including Nick if he wishes, given the opportunity to articulate a principled and cogent Lib Dem vision and the translation of this vision into practical policies which the electorate will want to see enacted in government.

    I think Nick Clegg is a brave man and the decision to go into coalition with the Conservatives was a necessity given the electoral arithmetic and the needs of our country at that time. A degree of unpopularity was the main risk to the party and a price worth paying in the national interest. However given the abject performance of the party in recent elections and the prospect of utter marginalisation in the forthcoming general election it is unacceptable that Nick has not at least offered his resignation.

    If the parliamentary party is incapable of ensuring that the members are consulted about the political direction and leadership of the party then local parties should do so. This is not disloyalty but the reverse – it is loyalty to the principles of the party and to its duty to offer a viable alternative to the electorate.

  • Neil Monnery 8th Jun '14 - 10:20pm

    ‘My liberalism is old fashioned and based on a belief in freedom and people being able to do whatever they wish so long as they do not infringe upon the liberties of others.’

    Ding. Ding. Ding. That has hit the nail completely on the head Mr Sanders.

  • paul barker 8th Jun '14 - 10:33pm

    The basic proposition of the article is just plain wrong for 2 reasons. First the great majority of Libdems are Classical Liberals & Social Democrats, the two are not mutually exclusive.
    Secondly there is a much bigger constituency for moderate Centre-Left policies than for Libertarianism & like us, Voters often fall in both categories. The Centre-Left part of our offer isnt watered down Labour its what Labour would be if they could drop the vested interests, the innate conservatism & the unpleasant streak of bigotry & plain nastyness that runs through them.

  • David Allen 8th Jun '14 - 11:20pm

    Joe Bourke has given us an excellent, very detailed manifesto and programme for government. But first we need to get there. So we also need to pick out the key messages which will persuade people to vote Lib Dem. Let’s say, about three key planks of policy, a few more secondary topics, and above all, an overarching narrative.

    Joe, I know it’s horrible to criticise a long and carefully written book by saying “what we really need is a book about a different subject”. But, well, that is what we need….

    Would you – or anyone else – like to have a shot?

  • Here is an interview with Tony G, the new ALDE MEP from Lithuania. It doesn’t go into much detail about policy but the reason I am posting it is as a guide, particularly for market liberals, in how to speak human without talking down to anyone (except for terms like tight agressive and loose passive which come from poker, his previous career and the audience for this interview).

  • Stephen Donnelly 8th Jun '14 - 11:43pm

    Joe Bourke that is a 562 word response to a 207 word article. It kills the debate. Perhaps one example would have been enough?

    Time for a word limit on comments.

  • Steve Comer 8th Jun '14 - 11:50pm

    Joe Bourke’s ideas must be put to the manifesto working group a.s.a.p. Mix them with the relevant bits of the 2005 manifesto and we could once again be putting forward a programme which is both radical and achievable. Joe doesn’t mention local taxation as such which is still a huge problem with the regressive Council tax, but he does mention a land value tax, which would be a good replacement (possibly linked to an element of local income tax).

    David is right we need to pick out a few key policies that will work, we managed to do just that in 1992 and 2005, but we’ve not been as cklear in other elections.

  • Jeremy Browne’s article is more sprightly than some of his previous offerings, but its loving examination of every possible facet of the market/marketing metaphor becomes tedious well before the end. Some of the debate above does, however, begin to open the question up for profitable probing. Until tomorrow…

  • Richard Dean 9th Jun '14 - 12:25am

    @David Allen
    Joe Bourke called his list “ten proposals”, so I don’t know whether he intended it as a “detailed manifesto and programme for government”, but as such it would leave a lot to be desired. No mention of

     the NHS
     defence
     education
     international aid

    I’d far rather see a list that was visibly connected to decisions that had been made by the Party or were already in discussion. Anyway, the ten proposals were interesting as an ad-hoc, off the cuff list of thoughts. Here are some comments – necessarily brief since each one of the ten proposals could be the subject of an entire thread:

    1. Economy – Policy recommendations seem too vague; not distinctive enough. How will the deficit and national debt be reduced, and what will this mean in terms of restrictions on government programmes, taxation levels, etc?

    2. Jobs – Too much focus on training. What about investment?

    3. Welfare reform – Replacing universal credit with something new is a high risk strategy that could have just the same technical problems; is it not better to fix the present ones? Why no housing benefit for unemployed people?

    4. Taxation – too radical, likely to have all sorts of teething problems that will disrupt people’s lives, and why would the electorate trust what is so difficult to understand?

    5. Housing – fine, a 100 billion investment program over 5 years, but it will reduce the value of the existing housing stock (law of supply and demand). Will this policy drive existing house owners to other parties? How much will it cost in terms of lost ability to secure loans using housing as collateral?

    6. Immigration – Unconvincing as a solution to the electorate’s concerns. Also needs to address real issues of problems of integration of some immigrant communities.

    7. Crime and justice – is that all? What to do about hard drugs, international cooperation, wider terrorist threats, human trafficking, identity theft, cybercrime, …?

    8. Transport, Energy & Environment. Maybe some interesting ideas, but is that all? HS2? Airport Expansion?

    9. Banking – Why the attack on NatWest? What is an “adequate capital ratio”? Generally too vague for a policy statement

    10. European Union – does not seem to address the main concerns of much of the electorate. What about a referendum?

    I’m sure Joe himself would be able to find lots of other things that need to be added to make a list like this into the basis of a programme for government. But I certainly agree that the problem then is to write the book that gets the LibDems elected – based on proposals agreed by the Party and framed in a way that is accessible and believable to a skeptical electorate.

  • The idea that the question of the rôle of the state can be summed up in “big government vs. small government” is like saying that when you go to buy a suit all you need to worry about whether it’s big or small.
    The fundamental question about the rôle of the state is not its overall size — in practice, everyone agrees that it should be big in some respects and small in others — but whether it should be tailored to fit the people, or, to the contrary, whether the people should be cut and moulded to fit the state.
    The first is the liberal position. The second is an authoritarian vision. So, for that matter, is the vision of a world run by corporate interests in which individuals are expected to bend (and often break) to fit those interests’ demands; where the maximum choice entrusted to individuals is between a small number of corporate powers, barely distinct from each other, if at all.

  • David Allen,

    in terms of overarching narrative and messaging, I would like to be able to campaign on a distinctively liberal policy plank that offers a clear vision for the future:

    The vision:
    A Liberal and Social Democracy of equal opportunity and just reward for effort, equitable balance between rights, liberties and responsibilities, tolerant and cooperative local communities exercising power at the local level, protective of the environment and internationalist in outlook.

    Policy Priorities:

    1. Full employment – expansion of apprenticeships, skills development and short-term job guarantees for long-term unemployed.
    2. Welfare reform –replacement of means tested universal credit with universal basic income.
    3. Housing – provision of one million homes (private and public) over five years and reform of council tax bands.
    4. Transport and Energy – Return of natural monopolies (rail network and domestic power generation) to the public sector.
    5. Banking reform – nationalisation of Natwest network as public bank and regulatory reform of ‘too big to fail’ commercial banks, concentrating on maintenance of adequate capital ratios.

  • Richard Dean,

    you are right that the party’s manifesto needs to be comprehensive and should include areas such as the following:

    1.NHS – executive oversight of Clinical Commissioning Groups, budgetary and needs planning by local authority Health and Well-being boards, full integration of mental health, ambulance service and social care programs, expansion of smaller local hospitals.
    2, Education – decentralisation of executive authority and needs planning to local authorities including authorisation, funding allocations, financial and minimum standards oversight of academies and free schools
    3. Defence, foreign policy and overseas aid – commitment to 2% of GDP defence spending in accordance with NATO obligation, support for Israeli/Palestinian two-state solution and halt to settlements in occupied territories, pursuit of nuclear-weapons free zone in Middle-east, ethical foreign policy based on respect for human rights and International norms,
    4. Overseas aid – non-lethal aid to Syrian National Coalition, Libyan and Ukrainian governments, maintenance of overseas aid at 0.7% of GDP
    5. Small business – establishment of new enterprise hubs, focus on local authority procurement from local businesses, pubco reform.
    6. Electoral reform – change of voting system for local elections to STV.
    7. Culture and Sport – implementation of Leveson recommendations for press standards regulation and statutory regulation of football governance and financial rules
    8. Scotland – Home rule, devolution max
    9. Northern Ireland – embedding of peace process and continued development of cross-border co-operation through Council of Ireland
    10. Wales – bringing health and education standards up to UK wide levels.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Jun '14 - 8:14am

    My PC was clearly on a go slow yesterday afternoon as David Howarth’s excellent post providing some hard data behind some of my (mere) gut feelings was not showing!

    Regarding Joe and Richard’s sub-thread, we must not forget the environment and energy (including diverting waste from landfill to energy generation) and also please do not forget some devolution for the English regions. Although not identifiable nations, we do share much of the same analysis regarding being ruled from Westminster.

    Speaking of which a rebalancing of the UK economy towards manufacturing and away from the financial sector and the south east would help everyone – including people trying to get on the property ladder in London and the S.E.

  • Phil Rimmer 9th Jun '14 - 8:21am

    @Simon Mcgrath
    I said, “It seems to me”, I did not say “I know that”. So, no, I do not have evidence. If I did, I would not be reporting it first on Lib Dem Voice! However, in my opinion, Clegg’s public behaviour towards that party, and particularly, any members who disagree with him, suggests of an economic liberal who finds it inconvenient to be leading a pan-liberal party.

  • Phil Rimmer 9th Jun '14 - 8:37am

    No, I am not convinced civil war was inevitable. Because of the Frist Past the Post idiocy, all UK political parties are coalitions. They all have internal give and take built into them and it is, perhaps surprisingly, rare for a physical split to happen.

  • Phil Rimmer 9th Jun '14 - 8:43am

    @Stephen Donnelly
    A word limit? Please, tell me you are kidding? I rarely write more than 50 words but I am more than happy to engage with a serious thinker who is willing to post 500+ considered words., whether I agree with them or nor.

  • Richard Dean 9th Jun '14 - 9:12am

    @Joe Bourke

    The vision is too fluffy, needs to include the words “prosperous” and “full employment”, and given the recent electoral experiences, must include something about Europe!

    Basically, is this still the party of IN? If so, it needs to produce evidence-based, costed, and convincing arguments about why that’s the UK’s best future. If not, LibDems will have a mammoth credibility gap – saying one thing one year and something different the next.

  • John Critchley 9th Jun '14 - 9:17am

    The first fundamental decision in my view is the size of ‘The State’. For me 50% (as at present) is too high. It should be 40-45%. That places me firmly in the smaller State area, with little or no borrowing.
    Then comes decisions about what can be done with the money. There’s the NHS, education, defence, security and policing, transport, and more. That’s currently about 30%, leaving £150-225bn a year which sounds a lot but the current welfare bill is £200bn. It doesn’t leave a lot of spare cash?

    Housing needs an investment program. In my view it also needs some mechanism for restraining prices like compulsory lower mortgage multiples and/or capital gains tax similar to some other EU countries who want housing to be homes not investments. £24bn on housing benefit? What a waste!

    Free competition in the commercial sector was once said to be fundamental, and in many ways still is. Consumers can chose from whom they buy and that means good business succeeds and bad business fails.
    However we now have such large and powerful enterprises in the market that a laissez-faire approach is no longer appropriate.

    I’m sure that some would now just refer me to the Conservatives. I’m not a Conservative because I don’t like the their attitude to people, tolerance, freedom, society and community etc. That’s why I’m a Liberal Democrat.

    That’s the mix I want. A caring society and local responsibility coupled with a fairly tough economic and financial philosophy. Not left or right. Maybe left and right!

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 9th Jun '14 - 9:21am

    Great thread, enjoyed reading everything. Not the LDs that JB was hoping for but suits me just fine.

  • David Allen 9th Jun '14 - 9:31am

    I see that Clegg is to produce a shift-to-the-left speech:

    “Nick Clegg will use a speech on Monday to distance the Liberal Democrats from Conservative economic thinking…”

    That’s what Clegg always does when he perceives that his position is under significant threat. The game plan, of course, is to shift back to the Right once things have quieted down. That has worked for him, to date.

    Will it work for him this time? Let’s not be fooled again!

  • Geoffrey Payne When exactly DID Jeremy Browne join the Lib Dems? I thought it was relatively recently.

  • Stephen Hesketh rightly highlights the need to put emphasis on the generation of energy.

    This does not need huge multi-billon pound illegal subsidies to dubious French and Chinese nuclear merchants.

    The technology can already be seen on roofs of houses across the UK.
    Solar power can be a game changer in national energy security and in reducing electricity bills.
    With only a fraction of the illegal subsidy that Ed Davey wants squandered on his friends in the world of big business we could put free solar panels on the roof of anyone who wants it.
    if we are indeed to have a policy that says build 300,000 new houses, they could all be houses with a purpose built solar power generating roof.

    This is not rocket science ( although solar has been used in the space programme since the 1960s). It is as easy as knowing that the sun rises every day.
    The technology is already there — yet we have a LiberalDemocrat Secretary of State for Climate Change who fronts a right wing energy policy which makes us dependent on Russia for gas and China for nuclear. How mad is that?

  • Tim13
    Jeremy Browne was Paddy Ashdown’s newsboy in the late 1990s. Some of us remember him at the time rushing round telling us that ever closer union with Tony Blair was the only future for the Liberal Democrats.
    Funny how things turn out

  • Richard Dean 9th Jun '14 - 9:41am

    @Joe Bourke
    I’d also be very wary about words like “reward” and phrases like “just reward for effort”. These bring to mind a feudal system in which a Lord judges and rewards peasants according to the Lord’s assessment of their effort. Visions of fawning, beatings for bad work, mud, all sorts of stuff. Not liberal or democratic at all!

  • John Tilley
    Thanks for that info. I remember when Jeremy was originally being considered, and considering, the Taunton candidacy after the departure of Jackie Ballard, connections with Charles Kennedy were mentioned.

  • David Allen 9th Jun '14 - 10:17am

    Joe Bourke, Richard Dean,

    I don’t think you’re there yet, but I do think you are getting there. Joe’s comprehensive proposals and fistful of ideas can actually be fed quite effectively through Richard’s critical review machine, filtering out the unproven and focusing on the things that matter to those ordinary people out there.

    We also need to engage the emotions of the voters and to give them one or two key reasons to identify with us. Look at Miliband’s most successful proposal (despite its practical problems), the freeze on energy prices. Why did people love it? Because at a stroke, it got away from the “indecisive” image, it went for boldness, and above all it positioned Miliband on the side of struggling people against remote profiteering energy companies. Where is our equally effective “big issue”? My current favourite would be “A big shift of power, money and jobs away from London and back to the rest of Britain”.

    Who is going to take this all forward, and bring it all together into an effective manifesto for the election? The person who wins the forthcoming leadership election, that’s who.

  • Stephen Hesketh 9th Jun '14 - 10:57am

    JohnTilley9th Jun ’14 – 9:36am.
    “This does not need huge multi-billon pound illegal subsidies to dubious French and Chinese nuclear merchants.

    The technology can already be seen on roofs of houses across the UK.
    Solar power can be a game changer in national energy security and in reducing electricity bills.
    With only a fraction of the illegal subsidy that Ed Davey wants squandered on his friends in the world of big business we could put free solar panels on the roof of anyone who wants it.
    if we are indeed to have a policy that says build 300,000 new houses, they could all be houses with a purpose built solar power generating roof”

    How right you are John. I have them on my roof and they generate double the electricity we use. And goodness knows how many acres of warehousing we have whose roofs could be similarly treated.

    All the renewable options are cheaper, faster to erect, smaller scale, more labour-intensive and local! Get them underway first!

    Ed Davey has been one of the biggest disappointments of the coalition in implimenting LD policy.
    I hope no one proposes him as a replacement for Clegg. Frying pan/Fire!

  • Re Renewable, especially solar energy and Ed Davey’s failure with this and in maintaining an anti nuclear stance. Hear hear to Stephen Hesketh and John Tilley. I am sure substantial research into battery / energy storage potential (especially that which could use cheap easily available materials, rather than rare earths etc, which cost the earth in both senses of the word should be funded. Ten years ago, I was a great Ed Davey fan, and I would have wholeheartedly backed a bid for the leadership from him after Charles K was forced out. It is a long time since I felt like that.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jun '14 - 1:48pm

    I skimmed through the latest Spectator and I was amused to find an article by James Delingpole with his great new idea for UKIP. “Classical liberalism” by which Delingpole meant commitment to extreme free market policies. This, according to him, was the big gap in British politics which needs filling.

    Some of us might think that since it’s the way all the main political parties have shifted in recent decades, and it’s what the UKIP leadership really believes in anyway, though they hide it from their voters, it’s just about the last thing that is needed. But the political elite have had this absolute obsession with this idea for decades, it’s a bit like the old-style socialists who argued and argued over minute differences in various forms of socialism, and mostly if things went wrong said what was needed was a more extreme form of socialism to solve the problems of less extreme version not working.

    There used to be a time when I enjoyed reading the Spectator. I might not have agreed with much of its politics, but it was always well-written and raised some interesting thoughts. But now it’s more like a mirror image of Dave Spart, forever spewing out the same old tired political slogans in a way that involves no thought or intelligence, just mindless repetition. Jeremy Browne is part of this. He thinks it makes him very clever. The old Trots used to think spouting our tired old socialists slogans meant they were very clever as well.

    I have never met anyone in the real world in this country who wants more extreme free market politics. If there was a big demand for that sort of thing, we’d find there was a big demand for the abolition of the NHS and its replacement by private medicine, paid for by cash with lots of private companies bidding for our custom as “competition drives up quality”. Anyone come across such people while canvassing recently? Anyone come across people who say “the trouble with you LibDems is that you haven’t pushed hard enough for the privatisation of the NHS”? Well, if so, jolly good, put Jeremy Browne in as the next party leader to appeal to them. I won’t be part of it, but as I’ve dropped out of working for the party already, it won’t matter, will it?

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jun '14 - 2:03pm

    Isn’t the clearest definition for a Lib Dem these days:

    “I don’t agree much with Jeremy Browne”? 😉

  • Surprising I agree with Jeremy Browne – we do need to define ourselves more clearly and being a watered-down version of the Labour or Conservative parties is not the answer. The issues that will appeal to voters are likely to be social and I don’t mean what Jeremy means by social. He means individual freedoms and I mean social in the sense of the conditions in which people live. Therefore being “economic liberals” or “neo-liberals” or neo-Thatcherites” cannot address these social issues.

    The issues that need addressing are the lack of housing, the problems some people have in getting a job, increasing inequalities, low wages, disaffection and hopelessness. We need to have policies that allow everyone to achieve their full potential in life.

    Balancing the budget and reducing government expenditure (and reducing the safety net) will not address these problems.

    @ Adrian Sanders

    Please can you start getting used to rolling round naked in a field of stinging nettles, so you can then ….

    I am not sure Adrian believes the same as me, but he appears to want many things that all liberals should want – “people being able to do whatever they wish so long as they do not infringe upon the liberties of others” (I expect Jeremy would support this); “abhor(ing) cartels and monopolies”; “sid(ing) with the consumer against the producer”; “support for those left behind”

    However he doesn’t go so far as to say that – If capitalism and free markets cannot produce the jobs people need then the state should intervene to stimulate the economy so those jobs are produced and no one is left out or left behind. He doesn’t say – If the system fails to provide people with affordable housing then the State should build houses so enough affordable housing is available.

    For me he doesn’t draw enough on Keynes, but his view of Liberalism is much better than Jeremy Browne’s.

    @ John Critchley – to even raise the idea that the state has an ideal size is to move away from Liberalism towards Libertarianism. Liberals should not be concerned about the size of the state, what needs to be considered is ensuring that where the state is involved it is to protect and support people and not dictate to them. The outcome is important not state involvement.

  • John Critchley 9th Jun '14 - 7:15pm

    @ Michael You obviously know more about political theory than I do so I can’t argue that point. I did not mean to raise ‘an ideal size’ for The State. I want a firm financial policy for any Party that wants to be in (or a part of) Government and I think that the current 50% of GDP is too much. Presumably you would not agree with that?

  • As far as I know, Jeremy Browne joined the Liberal Democrats when he was a student at Nottingham University in the early 1990s. I remember him in London around 1992 to 1993. He was working in the Palace of Wesminster, as I recall.

  • The trouble people like Jeremy have is that ” the spirit of our era – freedom and opportunity. Free people, free speech, free markets, free thinking. It is egalitarian, internationalist and healthily subversive. “

    isn’t primarily about the things they are interested in, like replacing police with G4 employees, having civil servants pick winners to deliver public services and thereby distort the public and private sectors, and so on. It is about things that cautious gone-native managerialist politicians like them won’t touch with a bargepole, such as cyber privacy, fully legal cannabis, rights for young people to build houses, being able to start a business without legal risk, and seeing internationalism as being about a much bigger world than the EU.

  • @ John Critchley

    Firstly the current level is not 50% of GDP. According to the OBR in the Budget Report government expenditure forecast for 2013-14 is 43.5%, for 2014-15 is 42.5% and the outturn for 2012-13 was 44.7% (page 110
    If the government does not increase spending during a period of economic growth the amount spent by the government as a percentage of GDP reduces. This is because the amount spent by the government is always less than the total amount of the economy.

    Since 1900 it was only during the two world wars and the year after that public spending was above 50% of GDP.

    Therefore you are correct the level of government spending would only be of concern to me if it was at an historical high (above 60% of GNP). What concerns me is the level of unemployment and pursuing policies that produce more jobs so more people can have fulfilling lives.

  • John Critchley 10th Jun '14 - 8:35am

    @ Michael – I had a different figure of nearly 50% in my mind and can’t remember where it came from but accept yours. I still think that 40-45% is about right (in which case, where we are), and would not countenance 60% at all. Isn’t that either a very high tax take or borrowing? Neither of which I want to see.

    “What concerns me is the level of unemployment and pursuing policies that produce more jobs so more people can have fulfilling lives”

    I agree, but we would go about achieving it in different ways. That’s really what a lot of the current debate is about isn’t it? How we go about making a better ‘fairer’ country.

  • @ John Critchley
    Note I have add BG to my name.

    Referring to your original post if we had to make the economic decisions together I would want to push you towards your 45% limit and use most of the money to finance a social housing building programme, to both try to reduce the housing benefit bill and to stimulus the economy more to reduce unemployment faster.

  • Nigel Cheeseman 12th Jun '14 - 11:56am

    One of the most positive types of legislation is that which regulates to improve quality and safety. As an example, in the motor industry, the level playing field imposed on manufacturers has resulted in cars which are safer (MoT testing, seat belts, crumple zones etc.) and greener (emissions control, tax banding etc.) Similarly, if we turn our attention to housing, a requirement to ensure that all new buildings have a zero emissions requirement (e.g. Built in solar, thermal storage, wind turbines or whatever) together with creative relaxation of planning restrictions will increase the technological advances needed to provide high quality environmentally sound housing. (which will also mitigate against fuel poverty)

    What is not needed is a return to government control, be it central or local, of things which are best left to innovators. A belief that nuclear is part of the energy mix I the future can only be as part of a socialist economy, as the taxpayer is always going to have to pick up the tab when the facility needs dismantling and the waste needs disposal.
    A worry expressed above that a massive increase in housing would devalue the existing stock may well be true on paper, but it is clearly not desirable for very ordinary homes in parts of London to have values of up to a million pounds; a situation which has come about due to chronic under supply.

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