Opinion: Blast from the Past: Wisdom from the old Liberal Party

Amidst the party’s recent problems, a lot of people have been talking about the party’s principles, and in particular, the preamble to the constitution.

As a statement of principles, it’s fine – I would imagine that most Liberal Democrats can sit through it, nodding in broad agreement. It speaks to my head – but not my heart.

And we mustn’t imagine that it’s set in stone. I recently dug up this beauty: the Preamble to the Constitution of the old Liberal Party, from 1980. It’s stirring stuff, and is really worth a read.

The original preamble was written in 1936 by Elliott Dodds and Ramsay Muir, two of the sharpest minds the Liberal Party ever produced, who were responsible for vast swathes of long-standing, distinctive Liberal policies. As you can tell from the 1980 text, it had been periodically amended by Liberal Assemblies, to bring it up to date. But in all its many forms, it’s a beautiful, moving, poetic vision of what a Liberal society would look like. It’s certainly far more moving than today’s preamble, which is almost pedestrian by comparison.

What’s striking about the 1980 text is just how radical it is – clear commitments to the principles of global federalism, private property ownership, redistribution of property by the state to make that happen, multilateral disarmament, the breaking down of monopolies, land value taxation, and the waging of war on poverty and hunger worldwide. Some of these are topics which we as a party haven’t discussed in decades, yet which have never been more relevant. It says far more than the new preamble, with its vague generalisations. Indeed, the only really memorable phrase of the new preamble – that “none shall not be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” – is a direct lift from the old text.

The current text was really a compromise created out of convenience; a late 1980s fudge generated by the SDP refusing to commit to many of the more radical components of Liberal policy. This is ironic, given that the loudest voices now calling for a return to such radical liberal themes are often those with a social democratic cut to their jib.

The 1988 merger talks were so traumatic, that throughout the 1990s and 2000s, no-one really wanted to revisit the preamble text, and the wrangling around its phrasing. As a result, it has gone unamended for 26 years. I think it will soon be high time to look again at this fundamental declaration of our principles.

I am not arguing that we should resurrect a decades-old text verbatim and unamended. But beyond 2015, the time would be right to re-examine our values, and revisit some of the fine ideas and themes of the preamble, in old and new form – and this fine, admirable, principled old text from our Liberal heritage offers some good pointers on the direction we could take.

 

* Dr Seth Thévoz is an academic historian, and former member of the Social Liberal Forum’s Council. He writes here in a personal capacity.

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102 Comments

  • Matt Gallagher 10th Sep '14 - 3:39pm

    Er….isn’t this the current constitution of the UK Liberal Party?

  • Julian Tisi 10th Sep '14 - 5:52pm

    Wow. I see what you mean about the old one. While I have nothing against any of the content in the current preamble it doesn’t really lift me or sound radical and bold in the way the old one does.

    Not so sure about a World Authority or abolition of national armies though.

  • paul barker 10th Sep '14 - 7:02pm

    I loved the bit about World Government & the need for everyone to have significant Personal Property but for a preamble its a bit long.

  • Paul In Wokingham 10th Sep '14 - 7:45pm

    It’s just a little bit over a month until the 50th anniversary of the 1964 general election, which happened on October 15th, 1964. The Liberal manifesto in that election was called “Think For Yourself” (would any party dare to use a title like that any more?). Here is a link: http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lib64.htm

    It is an excellent manifesto that even after 50 years looks fresh and forward-thinking. For example “The age of automation could be an age when the individual is trampled on and power is dangerously concentrated in the hands of big business and the state. Change must be humanised so that the new wealth within our reach is used to give the individual a richer life and protect the weak.”

    The tone in this reflects Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 speech in which he warned about the dangers of the rise of the military-industrial complex.

    The manifesto is optimistic, internationalist, progressive and challenging. What a contrast to the dreary focus-group led pap that so often passes for political discourse today.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep '14 - 8:36pm

    Now perhaps you can see why some of us were unhappy about the merger at the time, and also just how offensive it is when people today use the word “liberal” to mean “extreme free market economics” and move from that to assuming that the pre-merger Liberal Party was mainly about pushing free market economics and talk about the division in the Liberal Democrats today as if the free market fanatics that are trying to take it over are the descendants of pre-merge Liberal Party thinking.

  • Mark Blackburn 10th Sep '14 - 8:54pm

    To that end, recently uncovered my grandfather’s election leaflet from 1945. Quite apart from the fact that is titled “Blackburn Backs Beveridge”, it’s full of solid social liberal content on education, pensions, the NHI and even a minimum wage! This unfettered free market revisionism needs to be challenged every time it rears its ugly head.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Sep '14 - 9:27pm

    Nice reminder of the constitution of the party I first joined!
    But Seth (the author rather than the subsequent contributor), although many excellent free-thinking social democrats did stay with the Owen-free Liberal Democrats, I must take exception with your comment that “This is ironic, given that the loudest voices now calling for a return to such radical liberal themes are often those with a social democratic cut to their jib.” I don’t think this would stand up to proper scrutiny if you ran a straw poll here!

    @Matthew Huntbach 10th Sep ’14 – 8:36pm – Couldn’t agree more … and would also add the abuse of the term radical/radicalisation which has been corrupted so that it now covers some pretty nasty illiberal ideologies rather than it standard European political usage. Oh the blessings of a free media (free at the point of misuse?).

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Sep '14 - 10:52pm

    Hi Seth, thank you for the added context. 🙂 … in that case I think we pretty much agree – although as the sometime ‘Preamble Liberal’, I must say that had the present leadership paid more than petty lip service to the present constitution, we wouldn’t be in the dire situation in which we find ourselves today.

    Economically, the Clegg-Laws-Browne strand of Orange Bookery probably has more in common with Owenism than it does with our present constitution.

    I am not adverse to revisiting the preamble but we must not lose sight of the main problem – that is those attempts to turn us into a party of sub-Thatcherite economics while otherwise being ‘anchored firmly to the centre’.

  • JohnTilleyBi 11th Sep '14 - 12:37am

    3. At home its goal is a country in which the powers of the State will be used to establish social justice, to wage war against poverty, to spread wealth and power, to ensure that the country’s resources are wisely and fully developed for the benefit of the whole community, and to create the positive conditions which will make a full and free life possible for all regardless of colour, creed, race or sex; a country in which, under the protection of law, all citizens shall have the right to think freely, to speak freely, to write freely, and to vote freely;

    Not exactly an endorsement of the Orange Book revisionists is it?
    “Using the power of the state … to wage war against poverty”— I always liked that bit.

  • Sara Scarlett of the Far Right Liberal Vision with its links to Big Tobacco ( see –http://www.tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Liberal_Vision )
    clearly does not understand or has chosen to misrepresent the 1930s Preamble.

    It does not worship the markets like some Thatcherite enthusiast for letting Big Business rip at the expense of the masses. Quite the opposite.

    Sara Scarlet, you specifically quote — “” “liberty to buy, sell, and produce in circumstances which secure for the consumer real freedom of choice”.

    Tell us Sara, how does the marketing of cigarettes to children to get them addicted to smoking before the age of sixteen”secure the consumer real freedom of choice” ???

  • Spencer Hagard 11th Sep '14 - 7:59am

    Thank you Seth for raising this.
    The Liberal Party preamble expressed what I believed, felt and thought when I joined as a student in the 1960s, and it still does. After its first 42 words, the Liberal Democrat preamble dribbles away into a muddy puddle, a properly dull reflection of the Liberal/SDP Alliance in practice at all levels, not simply an end-stage failure of negotiation.
    Working as a Liberal foot soldier in the mid-80s among the newly ‘politicised’ SDP foot soldiers, and social gatherings, and workplace conversations, brought home to me the apolitical, anti-ideological nature of many adherents of the new party. At least the Liberal Party’s negotiators ultimately suppressed the SDP proposal to turn commitment to NATO into a constitutional principle included in the preamble!
    Revision of the preamble after the general election is a must. The ideology and elegant expression of the Liberal Party preamble is the place to start (‘reculer pour mieux sauter’). But when we do this, we need to take into account its critical omissions – freedom of association, for example. Others would be the need to fight inequality, not only poverty, and the values we see embodied in community politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Sep '14 - 8:33am

    I’ll tell you how somebody becomes an economic liberal: being in debt and customers wanting to buy a service from you, but the government saying “no”. The government doesn’t always know best and its authoritarian power can be oppressive. They also look at things like how minorities are treated and see more state oppression.

    I’m not an economic liberal any more, but the moral case of taxing and regulating micro businesses in order to support a big public sector is dubious. This week we’ve had it announced that Steve Webb is expanding the state’s role in private sector pensions, harming small financial services companies across the board. This is why people sometimes lean to the right.

    When it comes to the article: I think the future is the liberal centre ground, which isn’t just pandering to public opinion.

    Regards

  • But Caractatus and John Tilley, ad homs aside, do you agree with Sarah that the old preamble is anti-socialist and anti many interpretations of social democracy?

  • Joe Otten — of ourse it is anti- socialist.
    As for Social Democracy, I have since the early 1980s held to the Ralf Dahrendorf view that social democracy only offers “a better yesterday”.
    If you had been around at the time of the merger of the two parties you would be under no illusion about my views on social democracy.
    Now that I have answered your question could you return the favour and explain why you think the Green Party has become “the hard left” of UK politics? They seem a bit social democratic to me. 🙂

  • John Probert 11th Sep '14 - 9:53am

    “1. The Liberal Party exists to build a Liberal Society in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property, and security and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. ITS CHIEF CARE IS FOR THE RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND IN ALL SPHERES IT SETS FREEDOM FIRST.”

    Thank you, Seth for that very timely reminder . Those ares precisely the words. which have anchored me to the Liberal cause through thick and thin for (dare I say ?) now seventy years.

    It’is a very radical statement so you can well understand why I squirm every time Nick Clegg speaks of us being “anchored firmly in the middle ground.” What has that to do with anything (other than a dead duck)?

    Let’s put Paragraph One back where it belongs – in our constitution.

  • That should read ” of course”.

  • John Probert, if Clegg looks like a dead duck, walks like a dead duck and sounds like a dead duck he is probably not a beautiful swan.

  • Joshua Dixon 11th Sep '14 - 10:07am

    You can’t read the old preamble and not feel inspired. A revival in the vain of what the 1980 Liberal Party stood for would certainly have my support. Although I feel the comments need to be toned down a tad. There is no need for us to be at each others throats like this!

  • Caracatus
    I am not sure that Joe Otten is fully aware of the difference between socialist, social democrat and “hard left”.
    I guess things look different in Otten’s Sheffield, where the Conservatives stand down in local elections to give the Liberal Demorats a free run against Labour.

    BTW – Caracatus
    As today is the eleventh of September (or 9/11 as the Americans would hve us say) I thought you might like this —

    http://www.theguardian.com/culture/charlottehigginsblog/2012/may/01/caractacus-britains-osama-bin-laden

  • Yeah, the Tories fail to get their papers in in 5 seats, only 2 of which we are fighting, and one which went UKIP, and its a conspiracy. Come on. You’re crediting the Tories with a much less tribalist attitude to politics than Lib Dems or anybody else!

    Caractatus – I was careful to say some interpretations of social democracy – lets not get into an argument about what social democracy really means . I would argue that liberalism holds “At home its goal is a country in which the powers of the State will be used to establish social justice, to wage war against poverty, to spread wealth and power, to ensure that the country’s resources are wisely and fully developed for the benefit of the whole community” – but if somebody else wants to call themselves a social democrat for believing that, that’s not a problem. The difference between the social democrat and the liberal lie not in that clause but in the others that Sarah Scarlett refers to.

    I hope nobody is suggesting there is a conflict between the free market sentiments and the social justice sentiments in the old preamble.

  • Joe Otten
    Obviously you know more about the Sheffield Conservatives than I would pretend to. I live in a borough where both Labour and Conservatives have put up up a full slate of candidates at every election in living memory. Conservatives not standing in 5 of your wards must have made things easier for you ??

    I am still waiting for your definition of “hard left” — why are you so reluctant to give it?
    Is it perhaps “anyone to the left of Margaret Thatcher” ???

  • “A free Government interferes with nothing except what it must” (Harcourt)

    I fear that many people from the Liberal tradition pay an excessive respect to the glorious past, and are not willing enough to learn from more recent history.

    Simply “not interfering” is not good enough. When workers form unions and strike for higher wages, does a classic Liberal government defend the workers’ freedom of association, or does it defend the employer’s freedom from “industrial blackmail”? Classic liberalism has no answer. Right-wing ideologues like Sara Scarlett certainly take a partial view when they argue that liberalism must mean market freedom from all constraints against burgeoning social inequality. However, classic liberalism is at fault for failing to resolve the issue and failing to recognise that governments cannot just duck out of necessary choices. One man’s “freedom” is another man’s enslavement.

    One of the reasons I joined the SDP was that, whilst its leaders came with a lot of political baggage which I did not share, they were (largely!) people with the intelligence and humility to recognise the need to look critically at that baggage, throw away what was no longer suitable, and adapt to changing times. They also seemed – Jenkins and Williams, anyway – to be better grounded, to know which side they were on. The Liberals did not. For example, Grimond’s idea that workers should replace wages with share dividends, implying considerable insecurity, struck me as more appealing to academic theorists than to working class families trying to keep afloat.

    On the question of knowing which side you are on, the ultimate scoreline between Liberal and SDP was a very goalless draw. To their chagrin, the SDP discovered that it harboured a coterie of right-wing Owenites who staged a showy coup, flickered briefly, and then self-destructed. To their chagrin, the Liberals later discovered that they harboured a coterie of right-wing Cleggites who staged a showy coup, flickered briefly, and are now in the process of self-destruction.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '14 - 12:18pm

    Sara Scarlett

    How typical that this thread would naturally be reduced into the simplistic social liberal v. the free-market dichotomy. The usual suspects at work, I see… Such a shame as this document is so much more complex, a nuance quickly lost on this thread!

    Well that just shows how it must be you who are obsessed with that issue, since the point of my post was to use this pre-amble to argue AGAINST the line that the differences between the Liberal Party and the SDP before the merger were on a simplistic social liberal v. the free-market dichotomy. A line I come across quite often now in Liberal Democrat Voice, and even in national media commentary, writes up the division that exists now in the Liberal Democrats between those who are very favourable to free-market solutions (I know Michael Meadowcroft doesn’t like it, because it misses some of the nuances in that book, but “Orange Booker” is the least judgmental name I can call them) and those who are sceptical as originating from the party’s formation as a merger between the Liberal Party and the SDP. This line is always from people who weren’t around at the time, and I find it shocking not just because it is completely untrue, but also because the fact that many just accept it as fact indicates some serious work has been done by forces I regard as malevolent to get people to believe this untruth.

    This pre-amble DOES give what I regard as a reasonable summary of what the Liberal Party that I first joined was about. It is a long way removed from the shrieking “the state is evil, we must cut taxes and government services, and privatise everything” line that is now being pushed using words like “authentic liberal” with a hint that it is just a return to what the pre-merger Liberal Party was all about. Wrong. In those days we used to call that sort of thing “Thatcherism”, and many of us who were keen members of the Liberal Party were very much opposed to it.

  • Excellent comment by Matthew Huntbach who remembers the truth of what happened in the 1980s and as he has done money times before sets it out clearly and unambiguously.

    I really wish others, especially the conspirators and entryists involved in the Clegg Coup, could occasionally get their facts right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Sep '14 - 12:43pm

    Sara Scarlett

    What is incredulous is that the majority of this threat is waxing lyrical about the old constitution whilst seemingly ignoring its commitments to markets that are, for the most part, free. I suppose that’s to be expected as many of the commentators on LDV like to lump all free-marketers together failing to realise there are different strains just like there are different strains of liberal.

    Again, that says more about you than about those you are arguing with.

    The lines is that old pre-amble about the use of the free market put it in its context as flowing FROM a more general principle of freedom. This is very different from those today who love to call themselves “authentic liberals” or “classical liberals” or similar such terms, but who seem to start off from the idea that the use of free markets is the most basic liberal principle and all other aspects of liberalism hang from that. The biggest problem from that is that if you believe that free cash market are the most basic aspect of liberalism, it blinds you to all the possibility that they don’t work as well to enhance freedom as those who most energetically push them claim. Note that those pushing this “free markets and liberalism are the same thing” line tend to be those who benefit the most from the current free market system, or those who are paid from the large amounts of money that big finance is giving to push that line.

    I’m not ignoring at all, and never have, the idea that there is a link between free markets and liberalism. Just because I am not part of the shrieking ” the state is evil, democracy is evil, we must abolish power exerted through by the ballot box and instead have power exerted through choosing how to spend” crowd does not mean I am opposed to any existence or use of markets, which is what you seem to be suggesting. Rather, I am concerned with questioning the assumptions that have dominated politics since New Labour came to accept much of what was previously called “Thatcherism” and the “Orange Book” seemed to be pushing the Liberal Democrats in the same direction. I accept that the use of the market is appropriate in many circumstances, as it does come down to people being free to trade goods and services as they like. And that is how the wording in that pre-amble, quite rightly, puts it.

    However, it seems to me to be very clear that many people in this country have NOT experienced the push towards market-oriented policies that has been continuous since the days of Margaret Thatcher as enhancing their freedom, in fact, quite the opposite. A truly authentic liberal would be able to see this, and be able and willing to investigate why free market economics has not quite delivered the personal freedom its enthusiastic promotes promise. And I think the wording of this pre-amble gets it right in this. Those words about enslavement by “poverty, ignorance and conformity” just capture so neatly those aspects of liberalism which are ignored by those who think that liberalism and free market economics are one and the same thing.

  • Thanks for the very lively comments.

    David Allen: “Grimond’s idea that workers should replace wages with share dividends, implying considerable insecurity, struck me as more appealing to academic theorists than to working class families trying to keep afloat.”

    Two points on this: firstly, Grimond did not argue that wages should be replaced by shares altogether; but that a standard employment package should include a share component. That crucial difference cancels out the insecurity you mention, while giving workers a much more direct incentive to see their employers’ interests as their own. It’s no different to a company director being guaranteed a minimum level of income through a direct wage, and then a bonus beyond that; indeed, if shareholder dividends were spread out across more of the workforce like this, it would severely curtail the phenomenon of “fat cat pay”, but in a rather more nuanced and coherent way than “let’s just punish the rich for being rich”, and actually directly address wealth creation, wealth distribution an inequality in society. I find this a very appealing idea, and one that tended to unite the left and right of the old Liberal Party. After all, it is a fundamentally left-wing proposal, spreading the ownership of capital among the workers; and yet some of its greatest advocates have been on the right (Keith Joseph famously supported it, asking “Why would workers ever strike if they were their own shareholders?”).

    Secondly, it wasn’t Grimond who came up with the policy, he was just a very persuasive advocate for it. Profit-sharing in this way was actually first adopted as Liberal policy in 1938, and remained in place (sometimes to the embarrassment of the leadership) until merger in 1988.

  • David Allen 11th Sep '14 - 1:19pm

    Seth,

    Fair enough, the proposal was that workers should earn a mixture of wages and dividends. However, if the dividend proportion of the total package is large, then the worker struggling to make ends meet still faces considerable insecurity. You say “It’s no different to a company director being guaranteed a minimum level of income through a direct wage, and then a bonus beyond that” – but the crucial difference is that the company director won’t starve if he doesn’t get his bonus! And if on the other hand the dividend proportion of the total package is small, then it wouldn’t be enough either to achieve a major impact on inequality, or to achieve Keith Joseph’s aim of preventing strikes.

    Profit sharing isn’t a bad idea, but it isn’t the industrial panacea that Grimond thought it was. To make a big thing of it now would be to hark back to the past.

  • Joe Otten
    You make a fair point about revisiting old threads and ask to concentrate on giving my own views.
    But I did exactly that in response to your suggestion that “herd left” equates to Tony Benn at his worst.

    I expressed my view that Tony Benn was at his worst in the 1970s when he was Secretary of State for nuclear power stations. I pointed out that Ed Davey is carrying on the same policies as Tony Benn at his worst.

    You see my point ?

  • David Evershed 11th Sep '14 - 3:18pm

    The issue with the current preamble is that all the other parties could equally sign up to it – and it’s too long.

    We need something that differentates the Lib Dems from the other parties, plus far shorter so people will read it to the end.

  • David Allen 11th Sep '14 - 5:31pm

    Michael Meadowcroft said:

    “The fact is that the Liberal party always had a number of economic Liberals active within it. I recall well such members as S W Alexander, Oliver Smedley and Arthur Seldon, amongst others, passionately debating their point of view – and losing the vote. No-one suggested that their brand of Liberalism was illegitimate, but only that it was obsolescent. We should take the same relaxed view today.”

    We can’t! The b*ggers aren’t “losing the vote” any more. They are implementing a Thatcherite brand of liberalism in government! And I’m sorry, I don’t want to read a booklet Clegg wrote in 2009, I can judge him by his deeds.

  • Anything written by Michael Meadowcroft is always worth reading.
    I still have my copies of his four pamphlets mentioned above.
    He is also correct in his reminder that NATO was in the Liberal Democrts preamble. I remember only too well because as a member of the conference committee it was my job to assist Viv Bingham who chaired the debate that concluded with a significant majority to remove all mention of NATO.

    II think Michael is quite wrong in his assessment of Clegg. The Clegg who is lauded in the book ‘The Clegg Coup’ seems to be a different one from the one who wrote ‘The Liberal Moment’. But we all know which one has been an abysmal failure as leader of this party.

  • Michael Meadowcroft – Your view, separating Social Democrats and Liberals into “two families” Socialist and Liberal seems extraordinarily sectarian. I am afraid I didn’t read your essays at the time (or since), and I think I might have made my mind up about merger more quickly (ie to vote for it) if I had. It is fairly clear, however, that there is plenty of overlap between the “two families”, and if you consider over the years how much fissuring there has been between people and groups within both these “families”, I think it is even more obvious that the distinction is not that clear.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep '14 - 8:46am

    Sara Scarlett12th Sep ’14 – 2:10am / Sara Scarlett12th Sep ’14 – 2:22am

    Sara, it is somewhat rich of you to complain of ad homs after dismissing many of us out of hand – in your very first post – as being “the usual suspects”!

    Re Matthew Huntbach’s “…and also just how offensive it is when people today use the word ‘liberal’ to mean “extreme free market.” and your “but the only person who thinks this is you”.

    Sara, I can categorically state that you are wrong in this assertion; Matthew is far from being alone in his discomfort upon hearing reference to the present global corporate/banking economic free for all being described as liberal.

    The neo-Conservatives realised this and chose to hide beneath the cloak of ‘neo-liberalism’ … and are now seeking to complete the metamorphosis and acceptability by simply referring to it as ‘liberal’.

    It is anything but Liberal.

  • Sara Scarlett 12th Sep ’14 – 2:10am
    Liberal Vision …. …..receive no funding from the tobacco industry.

    Sara Scarlet
    It is not an ad hominem attack to reveal the truth about someone and how their organisation is funded. In my earlier comment I provided this link Liberal Vision with its close connections twith Big Tobacco
    tobaccotactics.org/index.php/Liberal_Vision
    But people do not have to believe me to see where you are coming from and whose interests you represent, because you reveal it all on your own website —

    Sara Scarlett – Contributor
    Born and raised in the Middle East, Sara joined the LibDems in 2008 before reading Politics & International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since that time she has completed internships at the Cato Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. She has also worked alongside organisations such as Students For Liberty and the Institute of Economic Affairs.
    Sara is a member of the Board of Advisors of Liberty League UK.

    Your personal connection with right wing so- called ‘libertarian’ organisations mainly based in the USA makes me wonder why you joined the Liberal Democrats in 2008. Can you confirm that you are no longer a member of the Liberal Democrats ?

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 10:08am

    Joe Otten

    Can you give me an example of this shrieking? Looks like a straw man to me.

    Please go and look back at many of the arguments I’ve had on this newsgroup with you, as an example.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 10:14am

    Sara Scarlett

    Matthew Huntbach – I don’t have time to read your goddamn essays but the only person who thinks this is you.

    Really? Is it really true that I am the only person who exists, or the only member of the Liberal Democrats, at least, who is unhappy about the way the party seems to have moved, with a lot of push from people who seem mysteriously to appear at its top, towards a position which is what we would have called “Thatcherite” when I joined it? Am I the ONLY person who disliked Jeremy Browne’s recent book, and particularly disliked the way he insisted that his ideas were “authentic liberalism”? Did every other member of the Liberal Democrats cheer him on over this? When Richard Reeves wrote his New Statesman article, urging those who were unhappy about the Liberal Democrats moving to a position which interpreted “liberalism” as meaning tax cuts and government services to join the Labour Party, was he addressing those remarks exclusively to me?

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Sep '14 - 10:24am

    @ Stephen Hesketh,
    This is not the first time that I have seen the term ‘usual suspects’ used on Liberal Democrat Voice.

    As a tactic for undermining the validity of opinions and arguments of those one disagrees with, I am unsure of its effectiveness. It”s a bit like starting an argument with the words , ‘Naturally’, ‘Obviously’ etc., when there is nothing natural or obvious about what follows.

    Hurrah for the ‘usual suspects’ for refusing to let their arguments be undermined by such dismissive language. and for continuing to speak out.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 10:25am

    Seth

    Thirdly, as Simon Radford persuasively argued in the recent blog post below, Classical Liberals embraced free market economics as a means to an end, not as an end in itself

    Yes, that’s the point I’ve been making. I think it comes across well in this old pre-amble, which uses language which is very different from that we tend to hear from those who like to call themselves “classical liberals” today and use that to mean endorsing a sort of politics in which everything is handed over to big business to run. I fully accept that there is an aspect of liberalism which quite rightly does not want unnecessary state power, so would prefer goods and services to be made available through free trade. However, to DEFINE liberalism as meaning that and nothing else is to ignore the way that state services are needed to balance the illiberalism that comes when some own so much more than others. Note also that today’s people who are keen to call themselves “classical liberal” often push the free market as about “competition driving up quality”, which is a different argument from the freedom one.

    The big factor you’ve missed, however, is the huge difference in scale of business organisations in the 19th century and now. Back then, private business was mostly locally based, and it was far easier for people with modest means to start up a business. It sees to me to be ridiculous to use language and thinking and ideas from those days as if nothing has changed, taking no account of how business is now dominated by global companies, and complex technology means much of it has of necessity to be on a large scale.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Sep '14 - 10:28am

    A fascinating thread by the way, and much needed by those of use who are plagued by uncertainty in the run up to the next election.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 10:39am

    Michael Meadowcroft

    I am disappointed that a number of colleagues have succumbed to the media’s caricature of the Orange Book as some sort of coherent body of essays aimed at pulling the Liberal Democrats to the Right. It was no such thing.

    Michael, I know you’ve made this point many times, and I see what you mean by it. However, I think there can be no doubt that our party HAS moved in a way that has become far more accepting of the idea that privatisation and markets or pseudo-markets are the ways things should be run than it was in the past, and that it seems to have been pushed in that way not by its members democratically deciding they want it to go in that direction, but by powerful forces at the top. I’m sorry, but the Orange Book WAS very much part of that. Sure, it was, as you say, very much a mixed bag of essays, but it was interpreted by commentators as an indication that the party wanted to move rightwards on economics, and the line in some of those essays that liberals should not dismiss the liberal aspect of market economics HAS been taken by some to push further this notion that liberalism means primarily the idea of running down the state and turning over the power that used to be exercised through local and national government to private corporations.

    Perhaps the term “Orange Booker” is a bit of codeword for this, but people know what we mean when we use it in that way, and it seems to me to be the term that has least in value judgment. I’d be happy to stop using it if you could suggest an alternative that is neutral. I don’t like “classical liberalism” because I think to use that means an acceptance of the dubious claims of modern free-market extremists that they alone are the natural heirs to 19th century liberalism. I certainly don’t like Jeremy Browne’s “authentic liberalism” for the same reason. I’ve sometimes used “Thatcherism”, but I think that’s a bit unfair, because authentic Thatcherism did mix a great deal of social conservatism with the free market ideas, which is another issue.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 10:48am

    Michael Meadowcroft

    The fact is that the Liberal party always had a number of economic Liberals active within it. I recall well such members as S W Alexander, Oliver Smedley and Arthur Seldon, amongst others, passionately debating their point of view – and losing the vote. No-one suggested that their brand of Liberalism was illegitimate, but only that it was obsolescent. We should take the same relaxed view today.

    No, sorry, I certainly can’t be relaxed about it today. If it was still just a small group pushing interesting ideas that were worth discussing, if only to see why they wouldn’t work as well as their promoters supposed, that would be fine. But it isn’t. This has now become the dominant political ideology. It is the ideology endorsed by most of the national press. It is an ideology being aggressively pushed by many well-funded think tanks. It is the predominant ideology of the Conservative Party, it has seeped into Labour through “New Labour” and into the Liberal Democrats through it being endorsed by those strange people who rise effortlessly to the top, and underneath it is what UKIP is all about, however much they may fool their gullible supporters into thinking they are purely about social conservatism.

    The FACT is that the aggressive pushing of this ideology by ALL recent governments has caused many people in this country, perhaps most people, to feel more miserable and less free than they used to. I could say more and explain more, but I no-one would pay me to do so. If, however, I were arguing the opposite way, I could probably find plenty of big business funds willing to pay for me to do it.

    It’s this imbalance that concerns me above all.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 11:04am

    The other thing about the Orange Book, or at least the interpretation of it as being a set of essays suggesting liberals should pay more attention to free market thinking is that it came along at the time when that was least needed. When it came, those ideas were ALREADY being very aggressively pushed. It wasn’t like the early 1980s when, though I may have disagreed with them, they at least had a freshness and I enjoyed reading Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and thinking about it, and essays about that sort of thing in places like the Spectator. No, by the time the Orange Book came out, these ideas were already old hat, established orthodoxy, where politics had been going. To me, the interesting question now, and already by the time the Orange Book came out, is just why these ideas haven’t delivered what they promised.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep '14 - 11:08am

    JohnTilley (re Sara Scarlett)

    Since that time she has completed internships at the Cato Institute, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC.

    In other words, she has been handsomely paid to develop and push her ideas. Whereas I have to find time to develop and push my ideas on my own, and no-one is going to pay me to do it while employed as an intern. What I write in criticism of this is squeezed in between my paid work, and relies a lot on what I hear from friends and relatives about how horrible life has become after marketization has been pushed on us.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep '14 - 12:45pm

    @Tim13 12th Sep ’14 – 8:22am

    Tim, I am in full agreement with your post.
    My core personal values as an older green egalitarian Liberal are probably not that different to the pre-1980 young man who until then had considered himself to be an environmental libertarian Socialist.

    Setting aside theoretical political science, they are merely the labels we use in our attempts to make sense of, and position ourselves within, the political environment in which we find ourselves. Liberal, social democrat, socialist (to which I might add Radical) traditions are somewhat interwoven, particularly in Britain, particularly when one considers the development of the parties, the movement of those such as the Foots and Benns and some of the key the Liberal policies adopted by Labour.

    I must say though, reading the inspiring Liberal Party preamble (the topic of Seth’s post) and the radical, Liberal, alternative to the huge contradictions and conservativism of the class inspired Labour Party (which I had never joined) was a genuinely liberating experience I recall.

    I think your point: “It is fairly clear, however, that there is plenty of overlap between the ‘two families’, and if you consider over the years how much fissuring there has been between people and groups within both these “families”, I think it is even more obvious that the distinction is not that clear.” is very valid and that, as individuals, we would all be able to find varying levels of philosophical agreement with others both inside and outside the Liberal Democrats.

    With a nod to Michael Meadowcroft though, I must admit to letting my membership lapse during the ‘social and liberal democrat’ period! I am glad to say however that these days our original entry philosophies are seldom, if ever, possible to determine on the ground.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep '14 - 12:55pm

    @David Allen11th Sep ’14 – 5:31pm
    “We can’t! The b*ggers aren’t “losing the vote” any more. They are implementing a Thatcherite brand of liberalism in government!”

    I think the biggest problem Dave is that we never did actually lose the vote – we were hijacked by a small band of centrist and economically neo-conservative MPs.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep '14 - 12:58pm

    Sorry – David – a slipped reference to your less famous namesake!

  • Sara Scarlet, why do you remain a member of the Liberal Democrats?
    You are a very active participant in many right-wing groups which are quite clearly opposed to the values and aims of the Liberal,Democrats as set out in the existing Preamble to the constitution, let alone the more radical Preamble to the Liberal Party Constution beimg discussed in this thread.

    So-called ‘libertarian’ groups funded by Big Business including BigTobacco promoting a world view and policies further to the right than Thatcherism are not compatible with Liberal Democrat values.
    So why do you not resign your membership and join UKIP or the wilder fringes of the Tories?

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep ’14 – 12:55pm
    I think the biggest problem Dave is that we never did actually lose the vote – we were hijacked by a small band of centrist and economically neo-conservative MPs.

    Stephen, not just neo-conservative MPs. The sorts of organisations listed in Sara Scarlet’s resume on the Liberal Vision website ( see my post above ) are clearly set up to promote political objectives that are alien to what we stand for. They are very well funded and despite their carefully honed claims to be interested in freedom, are in reality only interested in the freedoms of the rich, the oligarchs and the large corporations who fund them.

    Just google any of these organisations and you will see some of the players in what Jasper Gerrard described as the 50 year progress that ended in the Clegg Coup. These Hayek inspired right wingers would be at home in the Tory party, indeed there is a lot of overlap between these groups and far right Tories.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Sep '14 - 6:21pm

    Mr Tilley, please be more polite. Some people could say that your politics are incompatible with the Lib Dems. People use whatever vehicles they can.

    By the way, I did wonder how someone who often sounds as angry and intolerant as me could ask someone else to be more polite, but it’s how I feel on this issue. Mainstream libertarianism, i.e. not the extreme stuff, can’t be put in the same box as centre-right conservatism.

    Best wishes

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Sep ’14 – 11:08am

    Yes that’s right Matthew. The support from these right wing groups also goes well beyond bursaries and direct payments to interns.
    For example the so-calledLiberty League UK at their Freedom Forum earlier this year were able to advertise as follows — ” Food and drink are provided for all, and accommodation tickets are available for for people coming from outside of London between the ages of 18 and 30, with hostel accommodation provided for Friday and Saturday nights only.”

    Free food and accommodation for a political conference for anyone under30 living outside London. !!! So different from LiberalDemocrat confernces where people pay their own way.

  • Eddie
    It is not impolite to tell the truth.

    It may be confrontational but speaking the truth to power often is.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Sep '14 - 6:43pm

    @Sara – Tilley has a track record of doing this – he recently took something from my FB page (about a deceased friend) to make a malicious point. He’s just rather bitter and sad .

  • David Allen 12th Sep '14 - 7:21pm

    Simon McGrath, I have no idea what specific topic you are referring to. But what you’re accusing John Tilley of “having a track record of doing” is using the Internet, finding out information, drawing conclusions, and posting those on the Internet. Hey, I do that all the time, so do you, and it doesn’t mean we are bitter or sad!

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Sep '14 - 8:32pm

    @JohnTilley 12th Sep ’14 – 6:18pm.
    I too had clicked on Sara’s blue name to see where the link led. Obviously this indicates me also to be of a malicious rather than curious disposition!

    Some interesting aims and links.

    All I will say is that my brand of Liberal Democracy takes its inspiration from somewhat closer to home, does not see a democratic state as being inherently bad and does not have any delusions regarding something euphemistically promoted therein as the free market.

  • What an interesting discussion Seth’s fine post has inspired! Some quick points:
    1) Four-cornered liberalism! Wow! Who knew? Well, I will do one better. I want foreign policy liberalism. That makes five-cornered liberalism!! That means whatever I say is now the new objective truth of the party… I am sorry to pick on Joe Otten, but his banal comment is symptomatic of the rather tiring lack of any hinterland showed by the current leadership. Rather than repeating Westminster Bubble nonsense, perhaps we can turn our brains on?
    2) I’m sorry for the rather personal tone aimed at Sara Scarlett. We don’t agree on everything, but I prefer to drown libertarians in kindness!
    3) Markets are a legal fiction. They don’t exist naturally. It’s time we made Karl Polanyi’s ‘The Great Transformation’ compulsory in schools! http://www2.dse.unibo.it/ardeni/papers_development/KarlPolanyi_The-Great-Transformation_book.pdf
    4) So, let’s start by asking the right question. As philosophers would say, let’s talk ontology before we obsess over epistemology. What are the aims of liberal politics? A golden thread of liberal thinking all point towards something that defines who is a liberal and who is not: liberals want to endow individuals with the power and capabilities to exercise power and control over the surroundings and destiny. This is true from J.S. Mill to Amartya Sen. The ways to achieve this end are secondary.
    5) How do we best do this? The pupil premium and raising the tax limit a little isn’t exactly old-age pensions or Beveridge’s NHS. Clegg’s performance is rather thin gruel for those trying to divine what liberalism is all about. What are the major enemies to a liberal vision of freedom? faceless, chainstore high streets, the undermining of local community, frightening levels of adult illiteracy, the cult of shareholder value that has led to share buybacks taking precedence over rising wages, the frankly immoral levels of social mobility in the UK that means class is destiny, a failure to integrate immigrants into British society, sky-high house prices etc etc etc So much to talk about. Some will need government to reset incentives for ‘markets’ to work. Others will need government to regulate, tax, control. So be it if it serves liberal ends.
    6) Does anyone know how we can make six-cornered liberalism?? Roffle.

  • The problem with the Orange Book is that it really isn’t very good! Objectively anyone would admit that Reinventing the State is a far more interesting read.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Sep ’14 – 6:43pm
    ….– he recently took something from my FB page (about a deceased friend) to make a malicious point.

    Simon McGrath
    That is imply untrue and you have chosen to misrepresent one comment in afairly lengthy exchange between you and me on the Liberator Facebook page. Anyone who has access to that can read the exchange. I took nothing from your FB page as you claim. I made no reference to a deceased friend,. You have made accusations here that are incorrect. This is not the place to carry on what appears to be something personal but I could not let your misrepresentation go unanswered. Fortunately the Liberator Facebook page has the evidence and there enough people with access to that to know that what you have posted here is untrue,

  • David Allen
    Thank you for that supportive comment. As you say, I used the Internet and included relevant information in my comments here in LDV.
    I was not expecting the vehement response it attracted. I was simply passing on relevant information published elsewhere to provide context to the discussion.

  • Seth
    Thank you for the link to The Liberal Moment. On page eleven at the end of the introduction is the following —
    “…… In much the same way that Labour was on the right side of events over a century ago when the Liberal party was not, I will argue that a reverse ‘switch’ in which the Liberal Democrats can become the dominant progressive force in British politics is now more possible than ever before…..”
    After 8 years with Clegg as leader it would be difficult for anyone to claim that we have become the dominant progressive force in British politics.

  • Stephen Hesketh, thank you for your comment that you too–” …had clicked on Sara’s blue name to see where the link led.”

    I guess that qualifies you as one of the people Sara Scarlet calls “the usual suspects” or “the ikes of you JohnTilley” when she is not accusing others of ad hominem attacks.

  • Christine Headley 13th Sep '14 - 1:27am

    Incidentally, the last major look at the Preamble was in 1992, as part of the constitutional review held after the first general election fought by the LibDems. I remember much discussion (I was administrator) but not what the changes were. If there has been one since, my attention was elsewhere.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Sep '14 - 7:53am

    Hi Sara, reading your website I did indeed note your pro-peace credentials but also your belief that low taxes, small government and the free market are able to answer the problems facing Britain today.

    Besides this philosophy already having two British parties pushing it (Conservatives and UKIP), I, and obviously almost everyone else on the broad libertarian left, including our own natural constituency, see this highly flawed philosophy as being alien to us, as having been tried and found wanting and finally to be part of the present problem and absolutely not part of the solution we see for a free and more egalitarian and democratic society.

    The free for all envisaged by your small non-interventionist state taking minimal taxes from the victors in a monopolistic corporate world may be seen by some as being ‘libertarian’ but in fact it is the liberty of the few over the many and its outcome would be as Libertarian as full blown statist communism but with shareholder replacing party member.

    Economic liberal thought is one thing but the ultimate outcome of unfettered ‘free’ markets is not empowered individuals and communities, an upsurge in sustainable and job-creating small businesses and freedom from poverty and conformity but a world dominated by all-powerful global corporations using the earth and its resources for their own short term profit. It is the very antipathy of Liberal Democracy. It is for this reason that such views attract our total rejection.

    I look forward to you writing a piece for LDV explaining the benefits less regulated markets.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Sep '14 - 9:08am

    By Seth Thevoz | Wed 10th September 2014 – 3:00 pm

    … And we mustn’t imagine that it’s set in stone. I recently dug up this beauty: the Preamble to the Constitution of the old Liberal Party, from 1980. It’s stirring stuff, and is really worth a read.

    Indeed it is … I believe the wording of certain elements have been improved since 1980 but I would love to see a reinstatement of:

    3. At home its goal is a country in which the powers of the State will be used to establish social justice, to wage war against poverty, to spread wealth and power, to ensure that the country’s resources are wisely and fully developed for the benefit of the whole community, and to create the positive conditions which will make a full and free life possible for all regardless of colour, creed, race or sex; a country in which, under the protection of law, all citizens shall have the right to think freely, to speak freely, to write freely, and to vote freely; power through a just electoral system to shape the laws which they are called upon to obey; autonomous institutions ensuring genuine self-government; an effective voice in deciding conditions in which they live and work; liberty to buy, sell, and produce in circumstances which secure for the consumer real freedom of choice; guarantees against the abuse of monopoly, whether private or public; opportunity to work at a fair wage; decent homes in a varied and attractive environment; good education and facilities for the full cultivation of the human personality; an assurance that the community shall enjoy the full benefits of publicly created land values; and, as a safeguard of independence, the personal ownership of property by all citizens. These are the conditions of liberty, which it is the function of the State to protect and enlarge.

    Stirring stuff indeed!

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Sep '14 - 2:51am

    Sara Scarlett

    Freeing markets is the true proletariat revolution and if you think this has already been tried you are sadly mistaken.

    Just like the Trots of old. When the political remedy you are pushing works in the opposite way you said it would, your excuse is that it wasn’t done properly, and just needs to be done in a more extreme way. The Trots used to say that every failed socialist experiment (i.e. every attempt to implement socialism) was just “state capitalism”. So now you write off the way that the privatization you push inevitably makes the rich richer and the poor poorer as it just being “private market socialism”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Sep '14 - 7:23am

    Sara Scarlett

    I’m sorry that doesn’t vindicate your own world view

    My “world view” is based on what real people have experienced, what they say and how they feel, and I am not paid by anyone to push it. But I don’t have some big over-arching answer to everything “world view” anyway, I am pragmatic. I look at what works and what doesn’t work, and try to see it from a human point of view. I am capable of seeing both sides of an argument, and capable of being self-critical – that is, with any policy idea I think is good, I also look at possible bad aspects of it, those ways in which it may go wrong. I think this is essential, I don;t like one-track ideologues whatever their ideology.

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Sep '14 - 9:46am

    @Sara Scarlett 14th Sep ’14 – 3:24am
    “When the political remedy you are pushing works in the opposite way you said it would, your excuse is that it wasn’t done properly.” < Wrong. The remedy I'm pushing hasn't been tried yet and in circumstances where it is being tried it's working very well indeed."

    Really?

    Please could you give me an example of where deregulated free markets have benefitted the many rather than the few? The small local business over the multi-National or the environment over its significant degradation and the little more than 'appropriation' of its resources.

    I rather suspect that, just as with the similarly 'not-properly tried' communism, in the real world there are far more negatives than positives and that given the spread of human response to 'opportunity' we are far better with the imperfect but workable system of spreading wealth and power (along with its checks and balances) as envisaged by our 1980 and current preambles!

  • Matthew Huntbach
    You hit the nail on the head in your sentence — “My “world view” is based on what real people have experienced, what they say and how they feel, and I am not paid by anyone to push it. ”

    Sara Scarlet is part of the inaccurately named “Liberal Vision” and has received money and employment from other equally dubious organisations whose origins are in far right Libertarian groups in the USA.
    I only know this because of the link that she provided in her ‘blue name link’ in this thread and what she said herself in a comment aout how she was funded to live in Washington DC.

    The main item on her organisation’s website is a complaint regarding a Government “quit smoking” advert. The advert stated:
    “When you smoke, the chemicals you inhale cause mutations in your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation.”

    Why would undermining public health campaigns, which are designed to encourage people to quit smoking be a principle objective for an organisation which claims to be all about freedom?
    Why would an organisation which claims to be Liberal and have freedom as their main objective be happy for children to be targeted by advertisers so that them become addicted to a product that kills half of those that become addicted?
    Could it be that the organisations that Sara Scarlet receives money from are funded by tobacco companies?

  • Stephen Hesketh 14th Sep '14 - 8:11pm

    Thank you. Don’t forget the environment and small businesses as well.
    Perhaps a brief explanation as to how additional deregulation of international banking might have enabled ordinary people world-wide to avoid bailing out the banks might also be enlightening.

  • Simon Banks 14th Sep '14 - 8:54pm

    Yes, there’s some great stuff there but the current preamble with its “liberty, equality and community” and “none shall be enslaved by…” speaks to my heart – and as for everyone nodding it through, I can see certain elements trying to change “equality” to “equality of opportunity” – just a clarifying amendment, of course.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Sep '14 - 9:28pm

    Sara Scarlett
    “The remedy I’m pushing hasn’t been tried yet and in circumstances where it is being tried it’s working very well indeed.”

    Um. Colour me confused. Has it been tried or hasn’t it?

  • Sara Scarlet
    You claim that –“There is a strong undeniable correlation between freer markets, increased wealth and more personal freedom.”
    But throughout this thread have refused to respond to the point about a freemarket in tobacco products.
    Are you happy for children to be targeted by advertisers so that them become addicted to cigarettes, a product that kills half of those that become addicted?
    The Libertarian organisations that you are involved with are constantly trying toundermine public health campaigns and act as defenders of Big Tobacco. It is therefore a perfectly reasonable question to ask you.
    Once someone is addicted to cigarettes in childhood is there a free market, or is the child enslaved to the addiction?

    Are you only there to promote the freedom to exploit, the freedom to profit, the freedom of large corporations as opposed to the freedom of individuals to enjoy a healthy life?

  • This is all so navel gazing, guys. Yawn yawn yawn. No-one cares.

    Your party is in a desperate struggle for its very existence. The electorate are deserting you in droves , you speak for no-one any more.

    We are currently witnessing the most exciting period in our national politics since the second world war. In some ways for centuries, since the very nation state is at risk. Even if it survives, a big if, the whole political landscape will be changed by a no vote. It is extraordinary, politically captivating, exciting beyond measure.

    And you concern yourself with insular trivialities such as this. Yes there are other threads on the momentous issues of the day, but nothing that is remotely in keeping with the seriousness of events.

    If you want an explanation, in microcosm of why you are fading into irrelevance this pointless, earnest, self congratulatory, totally off the pace thread is it.

    Get with the programme guys, no-one in the rest of the country cares about this nonsense. Can none of you see this???

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