No Rishi! The country does not share your values

In his speech to the Tory Party conference, Rishi Sunak made a bold declaration: “We share the same values. The Conservative Party and the country.” For a start the 57% of voters who didn’t opt for the Conservatives last December will disagree. But his statement also raises a key question: what are the values that today’s Conservative Party stand for? Anyone who takes a moment to look at Johnson’s Conservatives can see that the party of statecraft, the rule of law and fiscal conservatism no longer exists.

The rest of Sunak’s speech was surprisingly brief and light on policy. One thing he did emphasise was his commitment to balancing the books. But that didn’t seem to matter when it came to getting Brexit done or when announcing huge infrastructure spending.

They say they are about law and order, but have just voted to allow themselves to break international law. And Priti Patel’s speech at the weekend advocating an escalation of the hostile environment towards those seeking asylum made clear the Conservatives aren’t a party that looks out for the most vulnerable in society.

Part of the problem for the Conservatives is their own internal ideological divisions. On the one hand they have a raft of MPs in solidly safe seats who keep their heads down in public and quietly do as they are told, willingly voting for the Government every time. Some of these types also come from Lib Dem facing not-so-safe seats where their bacon was saved by Nigel Farage standing down his Brexit Party troops. 

Then on the other hand there is a clutch of newly elected MPs from the so-called ‘Red Wall’, where voters were persuaded that Boris Johnson had done a great deal with the EU and that he would turn their lives around for the better if they made him PM. Even before the pandemic, those promises were bound to fail.  But it is these areas which are likely to be hit the hardest by a no-deal Brexit in just a few months time and would have been the victims of this Government regardless.

Trying to reconcile these different factions has turned the modern Conservative Party into a Trumpish, populist group. They say what they like in any given moment and hope that no one notices or cares when they do a screeching U-turn five minutes later. Unfortunately, they have been able to get away with too much of this as so many people have switched off the news or become numb to the outrage.

Our perennial Lib Dem problem is that people always complain that they don’t know what we stand for. We all joined the Party for different reasons. Some people are focused on improving public services, others want to concentrate on fighting for equality for marginalised groups, some want to make sure we stay at the heart of Europe. Some joined to get the potholes filled. It’s healthy that we each have different interests and areas of expertise. We’d be rather boring and ineffective if we didn’t. But those underlying liberal values of freedom, fairness and internationalism are there across the board, uniting our aims and driving what we do.

We all know we have a lot of work to do if we are to let voters know what we stand for. Coming back from the 2019 defeat will take a huge effort. Ed Davey’s listening tour will help us better join up our values to the demands of communities. But the one thing that gives me a lot of comfort is knowing that as a Party we do still have those underlying liberal values that unite us. The same cannot be said for Johnson’s Conservative populists.

 

* Judith Rogerson was the Parliamentary Candidate for Harrogate & Knaresborough at the 2019 General Election and is a barrister specialising in healthcare law. She grew up in South Yorkshire and lives in North Yorkshire. She is a member of the Northern Liberal Network Committee.

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12 Comments

  • Barry Lofty 6th Oct '20 - 10:47am

    A very accurate appraisal by Judith Rogerson on where the country and the Lib Dems stand at the present time.

  • Given his audience and the fact that practically the only people Rishi can turn to, to increase tax revenues are the (wealthy) Conservative party supporters, I suspect he needs them to think that they are at one with the country and thus will willingly step up and pay increased taxes…

  • “We share the same values. The Conservative Party and the country.” For a start the 57% of voters who didn’t opt for the Conservatives last December will disagree”

    Following that logic 89% of the population disagree with Lib Dem values. Who has to change, the Tories or the Lib Dems?

  • Peter Hirst 7th Oct '20 - 2:02pm

    It is one thing having values and quite another to put them front and centre of our campaigning. Unless we can connect our core values to the reasons people join us, we are going to have a hard time progressing. We need to talk more about these such as freedom, fairness and the rule of law rather than respond to each issue as it hits the headlines.

  • Maybe, but a lot of people do. Is this yet another example of a Lib Dem writing as if we know it all, we patently do not, indeed at the moment we are down on our knees, almost extinct. Who shares our values, that’s the question. Mind you, after the Coalition and the mistakes we have made I am not sure what our values are any more.

  • john oundle 7th Oct '20 - 11:58pm

    ‘We all know we have a lot of work to do if we are to let voters know what we stand for.’

    So you don’t think voters understood last year what we stand for?

  • Peter Martin 8th Oct '20 - 3:38am

    “For a start the 57% of voters who didn’t opt for the Conservatives last December will disagree. ”

    Let’s get it right. It was 56% to the nearest percentage point.

    Some of those voters would have voted for parties even worse than the Tories so they aren’t all of the left. And why are you now implying that Labour voters are your allies when that wasn’t at all the case in the run up to the election?

    You turned your fire mainly on Labour. So any improvement in Lib Dem voting didn’t result in extra seats. The Tories increased their vote share by only 1% but that was enough to secure a working majority.

    One of the problems with trying to build an anti-Tory alliance is the unreliability of the Lib Dems. Both at national level and with LD voters too. There’s clearly a second preference for the Tories unless the Labour Party runs on a very right wing platform.

  • Alex Macfie 10th Oct '20 - 2:54pm

    @Peter Martin: For the umpteenth time, what gave the Tories their Parliamentary majority was straight Labour→Tory switching in Red Wall seats, where the Lib Dems hardly figured in the ground campaigns. This was directly due to Corbyn. Lib Dem target seats were nearly all Tory-held, and so we were mainly directing our attacks on the Tories. Our vote share rose in many of our target seats, but in most cases not enough to actually win them, principally because some soft Tory voters stuck with the Tories due to fear of Corbyn (as well as some Red Wall type straight Labour→Tory switching in the more working-class areas of those seats). And that is why we to needed to attack Labour as well, to try to distance ourselves from Corbyn.

    “There’s clearly a second preference for the Tories unless the Labour Party runs on a very right wing platform.”

    not true at all. Lib Dems went into both the 2017 and 2019 elections on a platform of no coalitions with either major party. In 2017 we kept to that promise by refusing to prop up Theresa May who had lost her majority. The feeling in the party at both elections was that both Labour and Tories were extreme and we could have nothing to do with either of them. The reason we went into Coalition with the Tories in 2010 was simple Parliamentary arithmetic.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Oct '20 - 9:50pm

    I think Judith is right, and it is the lack of the values we have and the Tories generally don’t that makes me fear for our poorest citizens this winter. There is likely to be an increase in the numbers of the fourteen million people who are already living in poverty in this country, as people are laid off or try to survive on a pittance. It is now two years since the UN Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty Philip Alston visited this country and pointed out the government indifference and even callousness to the poorest and most disadvantaged there had been in the years of austerity, saying that the Beveridge social contract appeared to have broken down. I can’t see the present government, despite the Chancellor’s welcome handouts, caring about eliminating poverty. Our own values surely demand that it shall be eliminated. Before a Universal Basic Income is introduced, if it ever is, I believe we should be campaigning for much increased welfare benefits and major reform of Universal Credit, as the first stage of a renewed social contract between government and people.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '20 - 3:25am

    @ Alex MacFie,

    “Our vote share rose in many of our target seats, but in most cases not enough to actually win them, principally because some soft Tory voters stuck with the Tories due to fear of Corbyn”

    And this is why it was necessary for the Lib Dems to do their utmost to increase that fear in the first place??”

    @ Katharine,

    “the Beveridge social contract appeared to have broken down”

    The Beveridge “Social Contract” was a contribution based system of benefits to provide workers who were made unemployed through no fault of their own. So if it has broken down it is because of a lack of linkage bewteen contributions and benefits. The term National Insurance has long ceased to mean anything. It’s just another tax and has been since at least the 70s.

    Beveridge wasn’t in favour of no conditions being applied to payouts. For example:

    “those unemployed for a certain periods should be required, as a condition of continued benefit to attend a work or training centre, such attendance being designed as a means of preventing habituation to idleness and as a means of improving capacity for earnings.”

    It’s always worth having a look at the source from time to time to check what is actually there rather than is what is imagined to be there.

    http://www.psi.org.uk/publications/archivepdfs/Victims/VV2.pdf

    It is clear that Beveridge did not share the modern Lib Dem version of a one way contract with nothing required of benefit recipients other than to stay alive.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Oct '20 - 9:33am

    You are mistaken in this, Peter Martin. The Beveridge social contract was much more than a matter of insurance contributions to obtain out-of-work subsistence payments , which William Beveridge had been personally involved with actually since the First World War. In the Second, Beveridge was concerned with ‘five giant evils’ , Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness, which he believed must be combated by the reforms he proposed in 1942. Thank you, I have personally consulted the sources, including two of his own speeches which are recorded on YouTube, and I wrote an explanation of his intentions, the post-War Social Contract and the Social Contract needed now, for my own constituency’s Lib Dem members.

    You should look at the UN Rapporteur Philip Alston’s Statement of November 2018, which made the original reference to the Beveridge Social Contract having broken down, and see that he understood the term as being concerned with the attitude and practices of our government in relation to UK citizens, and perceived that this had fallen far short in the past few years of what was needed. He has a long section for example on the failings of Universal Credit.

    https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881 is the reference I have attached to my copy of the Alston Statement. He confirmed his findings in his Report of the following May. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/41/39/Add.I
    I trust, Peter, you will consult at least one of these documents, and become better informed on what the new Beveridge-type Social Contract Michael Berwick-Gooding and I are seeking for the country may involve.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '20 - 5:10pm

    Katharine,

    If I’m guilty of leaving anything out, it is that Beveridge was committed to a policy of full employment which he defined as always having slightly more jobs available than unemployed workers needed to fill them. That’s the number one policy IMO which is sadly lacking in the manifestos of political parties today. Put that in place with a legally enforced minimum and living wage, the abolition of ZHCs and a sensible system of unemployment benefits and help getting everyone’s skill level up to where it needs to be then we’re well on the way to abolishing the 5 evils.

    “Full employment is defined as a state where there are slightly more vacant jobs than there are available workers, so people who lose jobs can find new ones immediately. Unemployment should be aimed to be reduced to 3%.”

    The last 3% are going to be the most difficult. Whatever else we do we shouldn’t give up on incorporating them into the workforce somehow.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_Employment_in_a_Free_Society

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