LibLink: Nick Clegg: Blaming liberalism for the world’s political turmoil is just too easy

A powerful riposte from Nick Clegg to those who blame liberalism for all the evils of the world:

My schoolboy history taught me that while Mill was a man of the 19th century he also espoused remarkably progressive causes — free speech, feminism, the environment and workers’ councils. My guess is if he was alive today he’d be on the barricades in favour of a mass, state-funded housing programme while defending Britain’s long tradition of internationalism, including our place in Europe.

But I would say that, wouldn’t I? For much of my political career people have either ignored liberalism, falsely espoused it (remember “liberal Conservativism”?) or, as we see today, used it as a catch-all for the world’s problems. It’s high time liberals answered back.

You can read the whole article here.

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14 Comments

  • `And is it liberalism’s fault that so many millions of voters in the UK have lost faith in the way our immigration system works (or doesn’t)? Who promised over and over again that immigration would be brought down to the tens of thousands without the remotest clue how to do so? David Cameron and, er, Theresa May. Who dragged their feet in government, despite constant pressure from me and other Lib-Dem ministers, to implement proper exit checks at our borders so that we could chase visa overstayers? The Home Office and, er, Theresa May. `

    Err the point is no longer just about visa overstayers (and the checks need to be instituted) it’s the fact that free movement of labour has become illiberal in itself and discriminates against the economic sovereignty of British citizens. As John Longworth said (ex cbi DG) on Daily Politics `corporations and other companies are more interested in taking on Eastern Europeans and other cheaper labour people from Southern Europe than an unemployed Brit`. It’s about time the Lib Dems bit the bullet – what are you offering aspiring British people whom are either out of work or under-employed? Either you agree with the no borders system that discriminates or you want to intervene in it with radical sensible innovative policies.

  • It is a good piece, and we certainly need some muscular defence of Liberalism in today’s political environment.

    The problem with it is that it is authored by Nick Clegg. I would argue that Mr Clegg is *himself*one of the reasons why the word `Liberal` has become besmirched in the UK

    For one thing he strenuously positioned the Liberal Democrats as being a party of the Centre (and at a time when being in the `centre` was already all the rage anyway) – and thus cemented the stereotype of Liberals being `wishy-washy` well-bred referees between two opposing `unreasonable` sides.

    But then he also associated himself with the Orange Book tendency in the party which had been involved with further calls for deregulation and privatisation ( In fact centre-right policies, if anything).

    So when people talk of `neoliberal` eceonomics (making reference to 19th Century brand of economic liberaaism which *most* of us have long since grown out of) you can hardly blame them for making an association between that and curent political Liberalism (and least as under Clegg).

    And when peoplke talk about `laissez faire` liberalism in the sense of bland `consensus politics` which is too mushy to ever take radical measures – then they may well have Cleggs `centre party` leadership in mind too.

    I think that Clegg is doing good work on Europe at the moment, but otherwise, I’d franklyrather he butted out of things – at least until such time as the party has recovered its identity and credibility after the post-coalition backlash.

  • Little Jackie Paper 13th Jan '17 - 12:00pm

    ‘Much has been made of the “liberal” orthodoxy which has inflicted economic and social misery in parts of Europe, as weaker economies have suffered under unflinching austerity and the disciplines of the eurozone. But the flaws of the single currency are nothing to do with liberalism. The failings, such as they are, can be traced back to the political decision to allow countries such as Greece into the eurozone when it was clearly unprepared to live by its rules.’

    Whilst Clegg is probably right to identify the failing as being that Greece was allowed into the EZ when it was, surely the Euro is very much run along ordoliberal lines?

  • Christopher Haigh 13th Jan '17 - 12:38pm

    @littlejackiepiper, your mention of ordoliberalism strikes me as a good definition of liberal Democrat economic policy and what attracts many to the party. We like the German social market economy model(so-called Rhineland Capitalism ) in preference to the neo-liberal ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalism model of the Tories.

  • Little Jackie Paper 13th Jan '17 - 1:07pm

    Christopher Haigh – Perhaps. But as the Germans are starting to find out ordoliberalism and the importance of an ‘ordnung’ does not sit easily alongside EU integration. Or at least asymmetric EU integration.

    In and of itself much ordoliberalism is moderate and reasonable – Britain could probably do with a blast of it. However we perhaps would do well to remember that less than 20 years ago Germany was being seen as the sick man of Europe (admittedly in part due to reunification). Ordoliberalism’s weakness has been unforeseen events where the ordoliberal imperative is that rules are adhered to even if it in effect means governments losing credibility as a result. Certainly all the ordoliberal approach has done with Greece is defer the problem repeatedly at great cost to Greeks and I’m very surprised that Nick Clegg’s article makes no mention of it.

  • I agree with the headline, “Blaming Liberalism … is just too easy”, but not for the same reason as Nick Clegg.

    Each of the great political traditions – Liberal, Conservative and Socialist – has supporters who see it as a shining light on a hill and a bulwark against the dangerous obsessions of the others. Politicians use this to motivate their followers and drive a wedge between them and the others blaming everything on ‘them’ – on unions for the Tories, on greedy bosses for Labour.

    The net result is that multiple definitions exist of what each tradition is about – some made by its supporters, some by its enemies so a primary task for any political leader is to articulate a clear vision that supporters can rally round and which can underpin a legislative platform. Propaganda notwithstanding, it obviously helps mightily if this is based on a sound analysis of the issues and credible proposals to deal with them.

    Where liberalism has differed from the others (although Labour now looks to be in a similar hole) is that no recent leader has successfully articulated a coherent liberal world view taking the best of the tradition and restating it for modern circumstances. Too often Lib Dem attempts have included a mix of crude fundamentalism (meaning simplistic readings of ancient policy prescriptions devoid of relevant context) and unwitting imports from others – principally the Tories in recent decades.

    The resulting vision is clouded at best, the analysis weak and the resulting policies are often contradictory.

    That failure leaves others free to (mis)define liberalism for us – which of course they are more than happy to do – so, yes, blaming liberalism is just too easy.

  • An interesting discussion of ‘ordoliberalism’ but what does it mean? There appears to be no precise English translation but has flavours of order, rules and organisation.

    FWIW I’ve always understood that at root it’s the idea that, where reasonably possible, rules and industry structures should be set to keep markets working for the public good.

    An example: we visited friends in Berlin last year. When I said how nice it was to see a private bookshop just down the road from them they said they could take us to several within a 15 minute walk. In contrast there are very few left in Britain because the market here works quite differently.

    In Germany it seems the rules governing the market ensure that being small is not, of itself, a barrier to success whereas in practice it very often is in Britain – in books and many other businesses. I suspect (but do not know for sure) that in Germany the principle is to use smaller businesses, working within a suitable structure of rules and regulations, to keep the big ones honest.

    In contrast in Britain we’ve traditionally (well, for 40 years at least) relied on a combination of competition and regulation but with the strong suspicion that the former is actually rather limited and that the latter is largely ornamental and toothless. It’s a system that delivers fake ‘offers’ (sofas always at half price and the rest) in abundance but that’s about all it reliably delivers which is one of the awkward secrets of this government. In particular, over-emphasis on price is damaging and tends to work against quality.

    If that’s a correct reading of ‘ordoliberalism’ then I rather like it but, as I say, I hope others can shed more light on it.

    Of course none of the above means that even the best system can’t go to the dark side. Tweaking the ground rules even slightly can greatly change the game to favour a different outcome. Think what a free-scoring game football would become if FIFA decreed that goals should be six inches wider and six inches higher!

  • @ Little Jackie Paper

    Your quotation from Nick’s article shows that Nick Clegg does not understand how a single currency area should work and that he does not recognise the stupidity of the “Stability and Growth Pact” which wishes to impose on all member states “a fiscal policy aiming for the country to stay within the limits on government deficit (3% of GDP) and debt (60% of GDP)”.

    To agree to limit government deficits to 3% and the national debt to 60% of GDP is to give up on Keynesian economics and using fiscal measures to control unemployment and economic growth. This seems to me be to neo-liberal!

  • Nom de Plume 14th Jan '17 - 4:28pm

    If Liberalism is understood as a philosophy that tries to maximize human freedom (not necessarily individual freedom), then it can never be to blame. Not unless you want to be a slave. The problem is with the interpretation, which depends on the specific socio-economic conditions. In this sense it always needs to be “neo”.

  • David Evershed 14th Jan '17 - 5:53pm

    According to Edward C neoliberalism is 19th century.

    Whatever it is, it works for me.

    The economic benefits of market competition and free trade since the 19th century are plain for all to see. Low priced food, goods and services.

  • For once Nick Clegg is right, but for the wrong reasons.
    We can’t blame liberalism for the worlds turmoil. Indeed liberalism is in decline as a result of the worlds turmoil. And in turn the world is in turmoil, because we are hitting the limits of growth, because of a decline in the worlds [per capita], resourses. [New technology and efficiency measures can buy us time, but they cannot solve the ultimate dillema, of trying to grow infinitely, on a finite planet.?]

    It’s no coincidence, that experiments with socialism, communism, liberalism, have only occurred over the last 250 years whereby we were able to release the astounding power of stored sunlight from its hydrocarbon form. The discovery of how powerful [and cheap!], fossil fuels were,.. allowed humanity to ‘get things done’, in an exponential way over the last two centuries, and,…. and this is the important bit..!!. it allowed humans to develop ‘humanity’, and release the slave from the whip on his back,.. and free the navvy from the poverty and drudge, of life with nothing but a shovel in those dirty deep dangerous trenches.

    As such, fossil fuels over the last two centuries, gave us three things.

    1. It gave us the awsome power [many multiples of Horse Power], to access untold wealth of material resourses from the earth.

    2. It freed-up many more humans, [at least in the western world], from much of the drudge, enadling them to have better health, lifestyle, and career choices.

    3. It allowed humans the time and scope, to develop more humanitarian social, ideological, and political structures [such as liberalism], that could simply not be ‘afforded’, prior to the discovery of fossil fuels and their ‘bountiful’ use.

    As we hit the limits between the decline of resourses, and the increase of a global population, it can only increase impoverishment. It’s easy to get people to be ‘liberal’ when the economic pie is expanding, as it has over two centuries. But we see, even the best of liberals are severely ‘challenged’ when it means them giving up a piece of that [now], declining economic pie.

    In short ~ Liberalism as you have experienced it, is now in a permenant decline. If any form of liberalism is to survive, it must adopt a ‘Triage’ strategy. We have to work out, for the sake of humanity, what we need to keep,… and what we are [unfortunately], willing to let go.? A Liberal,..Triage economy, will be one with very tough choices.

  • David Evershed – 19th century liberal economic policies, while reduce costs and prices, had led to British industrial decline because new industries, which were unprotected, could not compete with foreign competitors (synthetic dye was always a classic case). Meanwhile, minimum state intervention had distorted the development of new technology like electrification. There was a reason why Liberals had to change their economic policy after WW1.

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