My passion for bold and radical Liberalism reaffirmed, as my time as SLF Chair comes to its end

Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”.  He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:

Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

 It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference.  In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”.  This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.

At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010.  We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been.  

I have been known by my colleagues to have said on various occasions, since I became Chair of the SLF in 2016, that “there has never been a more important time for Liberalism than now”.  I passionately believe this, so as my time as Chair draws to a close, and as nominations to the new SLF council are underway, I am re-affirming the vital importance of new, bold, radical ideas that will keep Liberalism as the relevant and necessary force in British politics that it needs to be.

The book that the SLF published earlier this year, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, was significant for several reasons: it showed that there are many progressive, liberal people out there thinking radically, coherently and sensibly about what we need to do next as a society; that we do not need to be tribal, but can work with others to generate progressive ideas; and that liberal and progressive thinkers are and always have been the people to move politics forward in this country.

Our conference next weekend will be bold and radical and will be about new Liberal, progressive ideas, and will be a fitting end, I hope, to my time as Chair. Layla Moran will deliver the Beveridge Memorial Lecture, and she has given us the marvellous title “A new Liberal approach to education- challenging the broken status quo”.  Kate Pickett (co-author of The Spirit Level), will deliver a lecture, putting forward new, radical thinking on inequality, and will spend some of her time discussing regional inequality in the UK.  

There is still time to book, and I hope to see as many radical, progressive thinkers there as possible, and also hope that some of you will consider standing for the SLF council.  No political party should be an island, especially a party carrying the torch of Liberalism.  The diversity of thought and different ways of reaching common, Liberal goals that the SLF represents is just as vital to the Lib Dems now as it was during the coalition.  

My sincere hope is that the next SLF Chair will be radical, progressive and ensure that the strong tradition of social liberalism prospers and is heard–everywhere.

* Helen Flynn is an Executive Member of the LDEA. She is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Harrogate Borough Councillor and has served on the Federal Policy Committee and Federal Board. She has been a school governor in a variety of settings for 19 years and currently chairs a multi academy trust in the north of England.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Dr Rosemary Reynolds 22nd Jul '18 - 10:44am

    Frankly I joined the LD membership because I really thought they would make a radical stand against Brexit, before the referendum, during, after and since, but it has been a disappointing performance to say the least. They seemed more scared of losing votes than opposing strongly and in the end that is what will happen anyway in my view as they will be seen as limp rather than radical. Really, really disappointed.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd Jul '18 - 10:57am

    Rosemary, if you look at what we were saying right at the start – about opposing Brexit and wanting a referendum on the deal and how that has now become mainstream, surely that shows that we have had an impact on the debate – a pretty pivotal one.

  • Gordon Lishman 23rd Jul '18 - 10:09am

    The Party, as well as the Social Liberal Forum, should say a big “thank you” to Helen for her time as SLF’s Chair and particularly for managing the technical aspects of book publishing, which are outside the experience of others of us who worked with her on it. She has been a key voice in helping the SLF to find its new role post coalition.
    I’m about to become SLF’s Acting Chair (again) until we elect a Chair after the election which takes place over the next few months. In that role, I’d like to pick up a theme from Helen’s piece and the comments from Rosemary and Caron.
    The Party’s machinery for making policy is dire. It is based on the assumption that we have to accumulate enough unchallenging policy detail eventually to have persuaded enough rationally-minded voters to sweep us to power. It manages to suck the life out of any policy area it touches. Apart from Brexit, it gives campaigners very little to catch the imagination and stimulate the commitment of ordinary people. And Brexit is, to put it mildly, not the most attractive single campaign theme in much of the country!
    The Ashdown Prize drew out some radical thinking on important matters (I was one of the shortlisters and saw some hundreds of bids). Unfortunately, big ideas like industrial democracy, federalism and big constitutional reform are not new to the Liberal Democrats or its predecessor, so they didn’t qualify. They did demonstrate that there is a strong appetite for much stronger statements about these themes. Economic and social justice also shone through as themes.
    The SLF will take these ideas forward, especially when the Party is failing to do so. Please join and help us. – see the SLF website for details.

  • Peter Hirst 23rd Jul '18 - 2:55pm

    We could do worse than tackle sleeping on our streets. It needs a co-ordinated approach using modern technology, public involvement, resources into providing alternatives and a pro-active prevention. I am sure many incidents are predictable and avoidable with the political will and resources.

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