New Liberal Reform group to launch today

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2011 saw the second full year of Liberal Democrat participation in national government. It also saw the beginning of a process to test the waters for the creation of a grassroots grouping supporting the economic and social liberalism, the individual and political liberty that is so valued by our party. Discovering a good level of support for the idea, we decided to proceed. Our mission statement can be found on our website, but its preamble should give you an idea of the direction we intend to take.

Liberal Reform exists to promote four-cornered freedom in the Liberal Democrats – personal, political, social and economic liberalism. We are an organisation founded and run by members and activists, to both propose policy in keeping with the party’s liberal heritage and to continue arguments for free people and free trade in the future political direction of the Liberal Democrats. We seek, through active debate, policy initiatives, and broad campaigning, to foster an understanding of the party’s heritage and philosophy.

The Liberal Democrats are a political party, and like all political parties is a coalition of individuals with beliefs best described as variations on a theme. Yet we are also a family – and family comes first. All members of Liberal Reform are active campaigners for the party. All have the experience of unfriendly letterboxes and sharp-edged Focuses. All share the core belief in liberalism as a force for good, and in the Liberal Democrats as the best force for liberalism in British politics. We hope to be at the heart of the party, encouraging friendly debate and participation with other groups, building alliances for the good of liberalism and the Liberal Democrats.

If you want to get involved or find out more about Liberal Reform, go to our website.  We intend to be a group directed by its membership, so we look forward to your ideas for campaigns and discussions. We are currently organising a drinks event for Spring Conference in Gateshead, and hope to see many of you there.

* Zadok Day is a Lib Dem activist based in Bury, and is co-Chair of Liberal Reform.

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35 Comments

  • Joe Donnelly 13th Feb '12 - 2:14pm

    While I oppose factionalism it would be good to have a mature debate between the SLF and Liberal Reform, both are coalition supporters and neither are anything but liberal (and Liberal Democrats) so no splitters here!

    Another important point to note is that on 90% of stuff SLFers and LRers will agree (in fact some were saying that people can of course be members of both groups) and SLFers and LRers both want the same ends social liberalism in the economic and social sphere. Just on 10% of stuff LRers and SLFers might disagree on the methods by which we achieve this.

    I just think its important to remember how much unites SLF and LR before anyone gets into a slanging match!

  • I think it would be useful to set out explicitly the points of agreement between LR and SLF, not least before the L-Lers leap in.

    Anyone qualified to do this?

  • Daniel Henry 13th Feb '12 - 2:37pm

    I don’t think there’ll be such clear cut differences in position, more of emphasis.
    ER will emphasise the benefits of economic liberalism, which they sometimes feel is undervalued by much of the party, while the SLF will emphasise the need to push and deliver social justice.

    If the intercourse can lead to policies that successfully achieve both then we won’t be a party of “a compromise between left and right” center, more of a “best of both worlds” center.

  • Rich – anti-factional group? Splitters 😉

  • Tony Greaves 13th Feb '12 - 8:02pm

    Well I’ve looked at the website and am not much wiser. I distrust the word Reform nowadays – usually means privatising public services and generally wrecking them! It’s been the motto for both Blair and Cameron…

    The only real guidelines I could find are about taxation – which should be “as low as possible”. This is fundamentally wrong – it should be at the level which is necessary and reasonable (or a compromise between them). It’s also wrong to say that governments should not borrow money. There are two good reasons for government (and wider public sector) borrowing. The first is for capital investment. It’s the cheapest, fairest and most efficient way to raise the cash. The second is to balance out the economic cycle – though it should be neutral over the course of the cycle. The fact that this has been forgotten is at the heart of present economic problems (along with some other things!)

    Tony Greaves

  • Sorry, David, the radical left is a part of the mainstream of the party – the fact that the party is being led from a position generally to the right of its usual Post World War 2 position should not mean that Liberal Left is out of the mainstream.

  • Tony Greaves

    Wise words!

    David M Gibson – although Liberal Left are clearly a faction within the party I take issue with your comments regarding the mainstream and the ministers – in some ways I think ministers are as much of a faction as Liberal Left are. It may be mitigated by the fact that the mainstream thinking in the party has taken a shift to the right (as can be seen by the comments on the party membership on these pages)

  • I am going to set up the Free Church Liberal group to promote temperance,
    disestablishment of the Church of England and pacifism within the Liberal
    Democrats.

  • Manfarang, as long as you don’t try to get temperance in the Lib Dems, you may stand a chance!

  • David
    For staters as Mr Rennie said, “There will be no quick fix to Scotland’s alcohol problem. Minimum pricing should be part of that action.” As it will be south of the border. Alcohol and drug abuse are serious problems.

  • David Allen 14th Feb '12 - 8:39am

    Let’s face it, this is what disintegration looks like, right?

  • Be fair,Tony Greaves, the full section on tax in the new group’s mission statement is –

    “We desire a liberal society, which will need a significant level of public spending, to be financed primarily by taxation rather than state borrowing. We argue for a fair tax system which rewards hard work and entrepreneurship, that punishes social harms, and that places the greatest burden on the broadest shoulders. Taxation is a significant but necessary reduction of individual freedom and should be kept as low as possible, consistent with the goals of a liberal society.”

    I think the reference to borrowing – as if it was an alternative to taxation – is over-simplified and a bit clumsy but the reference to the desirability of low taxation “consistent with the goals of a liberal society” is fine with me, especially coupled with the argument for progressive taxation.

    There is a tendency in some quarters to regard high taxation as a sort of punishment for the better-off in society which is good in itself even if not needed to provide us with a healthy public sector. Not a Liberal view surely.

  • LondonLiberal 14th Feb '12 - 10:17am

    Let’s face it – the Liberal Democrats are a tarnished brand, even for their (our) remaining supporters (except those in the Whitehall bunker with Herr Clegg). So any brands that can sit slightly to one side of that and say ‘hey, look, we still believe in all thse things we said we believed in’, whether left, right, ahead, orange or red, must be welcomed as giving hope to us LibDems who feel that we have somewhat lost our moral compass in government.

  • I think there is a tendency for those on the “radical left” to think that that is what the Liberal Democrat membership reflects because, to be honest the majority of activists has tended to come from this tendency. This over time is bound to be self-reinforcing; those with differing views within the membership will tend not to be active rather than passive members because in most local parties the activists do not share their view. That’s certainly my experience of the local parties where I have lived (which have all been faced against Conservative incumbents – it may be different in Labour-facing areas).

    What will be interesting about the Liberal Reform experiment is finding out whether there is a more centrist element to the wider party membership than is found within the self-perpetuating activist oligarchy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Feb '12 - 12:01pm

    Tabman

    I think there is a tendency for those on the “radical left” to think that that is what the Liberal Democrat membership reflects because, to be honest the majority of activists has tended to come from this tendency

    Yes, which means they work their guts out winning votes for the party, only to see shadowy right-wing groups take it over at the top.

    The experiment has been done. For years we’ve had people like Tabman saying that if only our party became more right-wing, if only it promoted liberalism as meaning mainly extreme free market policies, if only the leftist “self-perpetuating activist oligarchy” were silenced, it would win a huge latent support which is out there looking for such policies. Most people, seeing the Conservative government pursuing such policies, and the Liberal Democrat leadership seeming to give uncritical support for these policies, now suppose the party HAS gone in that direction. We haven’t seen a big rise in the polls, have we?

    Just where are all these people who would vote Liberal Democrat if it were not for these offputting left-wing activists? Is the main complaint amongst those who have supported us in the past but are not doing so now that we are too left-wing?

  • Matthew Huntbach – the last time I looked c40% of the electorate didn’t vote at all. Has anyone been out to see what these people believe in?

    There are also an awful lot of people who don’t vote for us because “you’ll never get in” or “you say all things to all people” or “you’re too nice and never take tough decisions”.

    The Labour Party has the statist vote sewn up.

    The Conservatives don’t pursue Liberal economics; they pursue producer-protectionist economics.

    It goes without saying that neither pursue individual freedoms.

    Everything to play for.

  • Mark Blackburn – “I find this relatively new distinction between the theoretical neoliberal ‘free markets will solve everything’ approach and ‘producer-protector economics’/’crony capitalism’ unconvincing, to say the least. Don’t you Liberal Reform/Liberal Vision/Orange Bookers realise they’re one and the same?”

    The depends upon how you define a market. A true free market requires effective competition and perfect information. The Tesco example you cite is actually a good example of market distortion and the need to re-level the playing field. Monopolies or monopolistic behaviour (which is what you get with the supermarkets) are market distortions and therefore need an effective regulatory framework to overcome these distortions.

  • Daniel Henry 14th Feb '12 - 5:19pm

    Can you give an idea/example of the regulatory framework you have in mind?
    (The best I can think of of the top of my head is limiting the share of the share of the market and individual company can take – I’d be interested to see some ideas from people who have thought about it more)

    I think “Economic Liberals” are unfairly characterised as lasseiz faire “anything goes” capitalists.
    One of the things I’m looking forward to seeing from Liberal Reform is policy suggestions on how to tackle problems in an economically liberal way.

  • Daniel – off the top of my head, Telecomms.

  • Simon Titley 15th Feb '12 - 1:30am

    Liberal Democrat factions seem like London buses. You wait ages for one to come along, then several turn up all at once.

    But if you are going to start a new faction, you should at least have a clear prospectus. Liberal Reform fails to offer one. Which is strange, because, so far as I can tell, the six founders listed on the website all come from the market fundamentalist fringe of the party. I am familiar with the views of three of them:

    * Simon McGrath is an old friend of mine and a lovely man, but he is by his own admission an unreconstructed classical liberal who does not believe that social justice is a legitimate political objective. He also denies that climate change is happening and wants the UK to withdraw from the EU.

    * Nick Thornsby appears to have the role on Liberal Democrat Voice of promoting ‘TINA’ (There Is No Alternative). He simply cannot conceive of any alternative to neoliberal economic orthodoxy and promotes this subjective view as if it were an undisputable fact.

    * Charlotte Henry has an odd record for someone belonging to a group claiming to seek “active debate”. Such is her desire for mature debate that she refers to the Social Liberal Forum as the “Socialist Liberal Forum”. She also has a shaky grasp of the Liberal Democrats’ history and traditions, as James Graham pointed out on his blog recently:
    http://www.theliberati.net/quaequamblog/2012/01/18/why-charlotte-henrys-purity-test-of-real-liberalism-is-misguided/

    Now you would think that people with such forthright views would have made their purpose clear. But are they shouting from the rooftops that their philosophy (whether you call it neoliberal economic ideology or classical liberalism or market fundamentalism – or even the vaguer ‘economic liberalism’) is a good thing and why it is a good thing? No.

    Instead, Liberal Reform’s website talks about “four-cornered liberalism”, surely the most vacuous slogan in the party since ‘Alarm Clock Britain’. It then waffles on about “personal, political, social and economic liberalism” as if it were some sort of ecumenical organisation.

    This unusual reticence suggests that the founders of Liberal Reform either lack confidence in their beliefs or are trying to deceive. If they haven’t the balls to be honest about what they stand for, why should anyone else take them seriously?

    And why should we trust an organisation that claims on its website: “35% of Lib Dem members and activists describe themselves as ‘economic liberals’, now a bigger presence in the party than those who would describe themselves as Social Democrats.” What Liberal Reform fails to tell you is that, in the relevant Lib Dem Voice poll on 30 April 2011 (to which Liberal Reform’s link is broken, incidentally), the figures were 35% economic liberal and 34% social democrat (only a 1% difference). More importantly, 64% classed themselves as social liberal, almost double the number of economic liberals.

    Finally, you would have thought that, if Liberal Reform had any traction, it would have recruited some MPs and peers. Apparently not. Not even Jeremy Browne. If you’re too right wing even for Jeremy Browne, then perhaps it’s time to pack up and go home.

  • Simon McGrath 15th Feb '12 - 6:40am

    @ Simon Titley “Simon McGrath is an old friend of mine and a lovely man, but he is by his own admission an unreconstructed classical liberal who does not believe that social justice is a legitimate political objective. He also denies that climate change is happening and wants the UK to withdraw from the EU.”

    Well, I am lovely and you and I are are old friends.
    But I certainly do believe social justice is a legitimate objective, am agnostic on climate change and am a supporter of our staying in the Eu ( though not of a federal Europe)

  • Simon McGrath 15th Feb '12 - 6:41am

    oh, and by the way we haven’t tried to recruit any MPs or peers.

  • Richard Swales 15th Feb '12 - 7:56am

    Denis quoted and wrote
    ” “Taxation is a significant but necessary reduction of individual freedom and should be kept as low as possible, consistent with the goals of a liberal society.” ”

    “There is a tendency in some quarters to regard high taxation as a sort of punishment for the better-off in society which is good in itself even if not needed to provide us with a healthy public sector. Not a Liberal view surely.”

    I also feel that there are too many people in the party who are anti-success, rather than simply redistributive (maximum wages for employees is one example). Good to see that I am not alone.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Feb '12 - 10:27am

    Tabman

    Matthew Huntbach – the last time I looked c40% of the electorate didn’t vote at all. Has anyone been out to see what these people believe in?

    There are also an awful lot of people who don’t vote for us because “you’ll never get in” or “you say all things to all people” or “you’re too nice and never take tough decisions”.

    Well, yes, and now we are “in” and we are making tough decisions. Our party’s national leader and those close to him who tends to be the ones he promotes have done much to push the stream within liberalism which focuses on the benefits of cash markets and the idea that cutting taxes and state services is what liberalism ought to be about. Most people who do not know our party well go by what is written in the press, and that is very much focused on the party being just its national leadership, and so the general notion of our party amongst the electorate is that it has been well and truly captured by “Orange Book economic liberals” (yes, I know the “Orange Book” was a diverse collection of essays, and it’s simplistic to dismiss it just as free-market rants, but if most party members who use the phrase as a convenient tag for such stuff haven’t read the book, how much more that applies to the electorate in general?).

    So, if what you are suggesting is that there is a huge pent-up demand for a purely “economic liberal” party out there, and what was stopping it coming to us was the belief the Liberal Democrats were old lefties who would never stop throwing money at students, welfare spongers, the unreformed NHS, shouldn’t we be seeing our opinion poll figures booming as they start coming over to us? Our opinion poll figures aren’t booming, are they? They didn’t boom, as some on the right claimed they would do when people saw Clegg at the dispatch box and having his love-in with Cameron, and they didn’t boom as our party started getting associated with “tough decisions” such as the student fees issue. The only thing that seems to have saved our party from total wipe-out in the polls is pressure from its left on the leadership to do more to make clear we are not happy with every economic policy of Cameron’s Tories, and that if we had more power in the coalition it might not be so gung-ho free market.

    The left in the party actually kept remarkably quiet and loyal following the formation of the coalition. There was no mass walk-out as many had predicted. The formation of formal leftish discussion and campaign groups within the party seems only to have happened after it became clear that our party was heading for disaster if there was not a stronger push on the leader to dampen his tendencies to push, or let be pushed, the party’s national image towards a purely economic interpretation of liberalism, and a realisation that unless those more to the “social” or “left” end started shouting “we have not gone away” we would lose permanently most of the support we have painstakingly built up over the years.

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