Opinion: A focus on values

 

Prior to May 11th I had not read a manifesto, been on a political party’s website or looked for sites like LibDemVoice. My exposure to politics was limited but I had always voted LibDem, mainly because LibDems always seemed to resonate with me whereas other politicians, more often than not, had me shouting at the radio.

In this election I was taken in by the politics of fear and almost changed my vote, although at the last moment I stuck with my gut feel and voted LibDem again. I sat down to see what the exit polls were saying and could not rationalise my feelings of sadness and shock when I saw what was predicted. The next morning I watched Clegg’s resignation speech and felt I had to do something.

Over the weekend I heard about new members joining the LibDems. I went onto the website and the penny dropped when I stumbled across the Preamble to the Constitution. I read it twice and realised why I had always felt right voting LibDem. It was values. I agreed with LibDems because I shared their values. I disagreed with others because our values clashed.

I started more research. I stumbled across LibDemVoice and read the articles for new members. I bought books and watched or listened to political shows. Everything started to make sense. By applying values I was able to understand the Party’s stance on policies such as housing, Europe and Human Rights amongst others.

And so, I come to the point of my discussion. I am lucky to have had an excellent education and to have experienced a lot in life, but I had never been taught or gained an understanding of what Liberalism is. I see and hear lots of commentators stating how many people hold Liberal values and that all the Party needs to do is to engage with them. But my question is, are we sure the majority of people actually understand how their values correspond to those of political parties? Does the electorate understand the different values of Liberalism, Socialism, Conservatism and how they underpin a party’s policy? And most importantly, does the electorate apply those values to their voting decisions?

I wonder if there is an opportunity here to shift the way politics is discussed? Should we start to explain our values to the electorate, highlight how they differ from the values of other parties and focus the debate there, rather than just having discussions about policy. I can’t believe that only 1 in 8 of those who voted in my constituency have liberal values. So could we make the electorate think about what their values are and encourage them to vote and support a party accordingly? And should we focus the debate with other parties on values too, to make the electorate think?

Now this could be the naive, uninformed thinking of someone who has never been involved with politics and who just missed the point about values in the past. I realise I have a lot to learn and may be way off the mark. And I am happy to be put right if so. But given the Party’s present situation, perhaps there is an opportunity to think about whether we could use a change in focus to get us back to where we were, or maybe even beyond that.

* Peter Evans joined the Liberal Democrats after the 2015 election

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24 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 8th Jun '15 - 5:52pm

    Fresh eyes are of the greatest value. Have you seen the very excellent piece by David Howarth, who shares many of your ideas? http://www.socialliberal.net/david_howarth_thoughts_on_the_way_forward

  • Clare Brown 8th Jun '15 - 5:55pm

    Thanks for writing this. It describes my own experience almost exactly. I thought I was fairly well educated and understood the politics of different parties until, feeling inexplicably dismayed the day after the election, I did some research into what different parties actually stand for and their history. l have been surprised to discover that ‘liking the lib dems’ is actually not a wishy washy middle ground but a different political position outside of the tired left-right discourse that is unfortunately the only thing discussed in the media. I have joined the party and I am left scratching my head as to why I didn’t know this stuff earlier. I am sure there must be many others out there who also have very little understanding of what the liberal democrats actually stand for. Unfortunately the coalition seems to have confused people even more. We have a lot of brand-building to do in my opinion.

  • Simon Gilbert 8th Jun '15 - 7:07pm

    As a fellow new member I found classical liberalism before the lib dems, as the party has not always promoted a liberal agenda in recent years, instead allowing itself to be defined by conservatism and socialism. Perhaps this can change as I believe voters have a thirst for a confident liberal proposition.

  • Sadly I have just learned of the death of Beryl Healy, a long time stalwart of Liberalism in Eastbourne.
    For people to know what Liberalism stands for, it is a question if going back to the roots.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Jun '15 - 7:24pm

    ‘But my question is, are we sure the majority of people actually understand how their values correspond to those of political parties? Does the electorate understand the different values of Liberalism, Socialism, Conservatism and how they underpin a party’s policy? And most importantly, does the electorate apply those values to their voting decisions?’

    This sounds like a rather severe overstatement. Even if people’s values were so tightly defined or consistent as this suggests I don’t think you can assume such a clean-cut link to voting decisions. The voters can make of those that put themselves up for election whatever they want to.

  • I have to agree with Little Jackie Paper, political philosophy (or even class to a large extent) is not the main underpinning of voting patterns anymore, mainly as political parties cover such a broad stretch of politically philosophical ground. Even in a smaller party such as ours there is a substantial gap between true social democrats and classical liberals, so a agree of political philosophy is always required. To throw in my own opinion here, we (the LibDems) need to strip everything back and start knocking on doors again to find out what really matters to people rather than basing issues purely around political philosophy.

  • A written preamble did not however make any influence on decisions made in coalition eg bedroom tax, secret courts etc. That is why the LibDems lost. What you read is not what you get.

  • “Should we start to explain our values to the electorate….?” Absolutely. It is no longer enough to use what have become tired old cliches regurgitated Focus after Focus. And we have to make sure that at every level in the party our behaviour is in accordance with our values.

  • Welcome ‘home’ Peter.
    I hope you new members know how much we oldies appreciate you!

  • Welcome to the party, Peter.

  • Spencer Hagard 8th Jun '15 - 10:12pm

    Thank you Peter Evans for your excellent piece.

    Unless our values are clearly embedded in all that we proclaim as Liberal Democrats, and unless the way we behave towards one another, at all levels of the party, clearly springs from our values – as tonyhill rightly demands – and unless our values explicitly inform the political positions we adopt – as Clare Brown emphasises – we will not deserve a future as a liberal political party. We cannot expect most electors to discern our values if we fail to communicate and promote them constantly.

    And surely we should now demand of our leadership candidates, and of those who promote them, that they give much more attention to the candidates’ core values. So far, it has been left to Andrew Neil – of all people – to reveal some of the major differences in Tim’s and Norman’s values. If we really believe in a values-based party, It is surely up to us all to open up these differences and explore them.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Jun '15 - 5:22am

    Thanks for your article Peter. If Lib Dems meet people’s interests with a leader that they trust then the party should do well. I would much prefer the debate to be conducted on this ground, rather than one about ideology.

    I used to think cheerleading centrism would win more votes than it did, but I’m not abandoning cheerleading people’s interests.

    I thought Labour were getting the above approach, but it seems in their candidates desperation to win the leadership election they are all making statements that will come back to haunt them, except Liz Kendall, who I didn’t notice for five years and then is suddenly meant to be a political heavyweight.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 9th Jun '15 - 5:43am

    Thank you for this article.

    At secondary school (state), the only thing we were taught was to read political parties manifestos and then decide upon that which we would vote for as they stated that what changes society (policies) even though they were only declarations and not binding. Fast forward 2014, and I asked around how they teach politics in schools and this “manifesto” driven doctrine is still being taught in that manner. They do not teach what each political party stands for, which if it were, would given a clearer reflection about the stance of each party from an informed choice.

    For myself, before the GE, I decided that I could not go on voting on manifestos and what I had done is research about each political party and what they stand for. After reading about them, I then realized that my persons’ was more liberal and that I believed in the democracy for society and so decided to join the Liberal Democrats. I was also pleased that religion played a part in the foundation of the Liberals which was an important aspect for me, due to the convictions one held .

    And so now, I continue to expand my knowledge from the debates and discussions going on such as in forums.

    Cordially,

  • How refreshing to read of other members who have been inspired by the Preamble. My story is the same. A couple of years ago I ‘stumbled’ across the Preamble and immediately identified with the values it expressed. I was so inspired by it that I joined the LibDems without hesitation. But now I am ‘on the inside’ so to speak, I have grown disillusioned with the views of a significant number members – particularly many of those who regularly post on the forums in the LibDem Voice. I suppose it is the nature of the beast that such forums give a platform for venting a lot of hot air but all too frequently it seems the discussion moves away from our core values.

    For me it is our ideology that makes us distinct from other parties. I don’t see us as centrist, or left of centre or even right of centre. Some of our core values are shared by parties on the left and others are shared by parties on the right. Instead I see the values as laid out in the Preamble as a bed rock that can and should underpin left and right wing views.

    Our Preamble is a very noble piece of writing. It is a statement of our party’s aspiration. All our thinking, manifesto writing, policy making decisions should and must refer back to the Preamble. Instead I find members who are all too quick to ignore it in order to promote their own agendas.

    The big names in the party all seem to keep to the core values – this is what keeps me a paid up member – but few do much to promote what Liberalism means and make explicit our core values. The nearest we have to it is the mantra “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” but rarely if ever explain it as part of our wider core values – at least not in a way that is explicit and helps non-liberal voters understand our stance better.

    Only when we think, speak and breathe our core values will we make our identity distinct and more readily understood by the wider public.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jun '15 - 10:02am

    Mavarine Du-Marie

    At secondary school (state), the only thing we were taught was to read political parties manifestos and then decide upon that which we would vote for as they stated that what changes society (policies) even though they were only declarations and not binding. Fast forward 2014, and I asked around how they teach politics in schools and this “manifesto” driven doctrine is still being taught in that manner.

    In other words, what is taught in schools is the Leninist view of political parties. To the Leninist, a political party is about the politburo formulating a rigid five-year plan, then the party seizing power and implementing that five-year plan regardless of circumstances, with the imposition of unquestioning loyalty to The Leader of the party being an essential aspect of that.

    The liberal democratic view of politics is that we elect a representative assembly, and policies are made through debate in that assembly. Parties will have general principles, yes, and this helps people choose representatives, but that does not mean rigid imposition of policies without consultation. It does not mean the supposition that every vote cast for a candidate of that party is a vote for every line of a rigid five-year plan. It does not mean that every elected politician of a party has to accept without question every aspect of a rigid five-year plan without question, and so there has to be a Great and Glorious Leader whose words are accepted without question as The Party Line because that is necessary to get the Party Unity which is necessary to push this idea of a rigid five year plan which is supposed to be “binding”.

    The liberal democratic view of politics accepts that there is a variety of views, all of which have a right to be expressed, and that an assembly representative of all significant views is where those views are balanced and the most acceptable policies worked out. It accepts that individual representatives should use their own thought and intuition and experiences and feedback from wider consultation in order to come to a decision, and that the best overall outcome results from the combination of many representatives doing this, and not rigidly obeying The Party Line.

    The liberal democrat view of politics accepts that you cannot lay down a rigid five-year plan. For one, it accepts that there are often a variety of views and that there is often not a clear consensus and so a compromise between different viewpoints has to be arrived at. For another, it accepts that sensible politics has to take account of circumstances, that future events are unpredictable so that what seemed the right way at one time is obviously not the right way later, that people may change their minds after seeing some initial impact of a proposed policy, that some big new and unexpected development may mean a change in direction is the best way of carrying on meeting the underlying principles. For this we need politicians we can trust, people we know think like us, people we know will listen to us and tyake our views into account as they make decisions. That is why we have political parties, because that is the main purpose of political parties: they are a gathering of people to help put forward some of their number for elected office, having ascertained those they put forward are the sort of people they want and can trust. The role of a political party in the liberal democratic view of politics is NOT to devise a rigid five-year plan and then forces it through regardless of circumstances.

    So why is the Leninist view of politics taught in schools rather than the liberal democratic view?

  • @Matthew Huntbach “So why is the Leninist view of politics taught in schools rather than the liberal democratic view?”

    That is a very good question …

  • Matthew Huntbach

    “So why is the Leninist view of politics taught in schools rather than the liberal democratic view?”

    I was a visiting a school (in the Blair years) and heard the head tell the 6th formers that if you want to know the facts on any thing you should look for it on the no. 10 website…

  • Welcome especially for your fresh thinking. Of course we need to discuss our values and that is what politics has lost because it has concentrated on winning over floating voters in marginal constituencies and offering them what they say they want.
    The trouble us policy making seems to take off on its own and become hard to relate to our values. Perhaps all policy groups should have the preamble in front of them when they meet to discuss. They may do because I’ve only ever been in one policy group and that was a long time ago.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jun '15 - 11:32pm

    Joe Otten

    Not only why is the Leninist view of politics taught in schools, but also why did we need a manifesto of 150 pages?

    We shouldn’t have needed anything like that.

    It was not that long ago that general election manifestoes were short statements of aims and objectives. The move to them being lengthy and detailed political statements is a modern one, and, yes, it is an aspect of the move towards assuming the Leninist model of political party is the only model that there can be.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Jun '15 - 3:39pm

    We must live our values. We should be open and inclusive with new members who will strengthern us individually, collectively and not just numerically.

  • I suppose if the constitutional convention is that a party is justified in pushing through everything in their election manifesto, on the basis that they had been elected to enact that manifesto, then there is an incentive to pack everything possible into it.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jun '15 - 11:09am

    David-1

    I suppose if the constitutional convention is that a party is justified in pushing through everything in their election manifesto, on the basis that they had been elected to enact that manifesto,

    Why should Leninism be the constitutional convention?

  • Richard Underhill 25th Dec '15 - 6:53pm

    MichaelDSP 9th Jun ’15 – 6:45am Welcome abroad.
    Please do not be influneced by the rare mention of Lenin, who must be dead by now, as Winston Churchill said.
    Despite disbelieving Soviet Communism we saw his body in Moscow, embalmed.
    The Tories also believed in manifestos, and decided not to overturn manifesto promises after the 1945 election. They are even considering honouring some of them now.

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