Opinion: How the world has changed since the Orange Book was published

Earth Day 2007 - Atlantic ReflectionIt’s so commonplace for politicians to publish their thoughts on policy for public debate now that it’s hard to understand the furore which prevented the Orange Book having a public launch when it was first published in 2004.

Yesterday’s Orange Book – 10 years on  conference finally celebrated the way in which contributors to the Orange Book raised the standard of debate about liberalism by exposing their views to rigorous scrutiny and by doing so challenging others to do the same. Amongst a very tempting variety of excellent speakers Maajid Nawaz was for me the most compelling with his timely insights into ISIS and the Gove/May fight about extremism in Birmingham.

My one concern was the temptation of some speakers to straw-man criticism of the Orange Book by suggesting it was simply ahead of its time. There was a worrying lack of insight into the reality that some of its ideas were flawed and naive, some of the criticism wise and some of those who expressed concerns were simply trying to protect politicians who still needed time to develop their ideas from being associated with political views they would not always hold as their experience grew.

Since 2004 social media has changed our world so that it’s now normal and acceptable for people with emerging ideas to air them in public and then to move on from them. I’m very glad that’s happened, in part because it means there is no need for anyone involved in the Orange Book to be shy of recognising its limitations.

Maajid encouraged us to understand the difference between freedom of expression of views and liberalism. Let’s hope the editors of the new book correctly judge which of the views expressed at yesterday’s conference belong in the former category and not the latter.

* Rebecca Hanson is a teacher, a lecturer in education, an education adviser and a member of the LDEA committee. She was the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Copeland by-election in 2017.

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59 Comments

  • Jonathan Pile 25th Jun '14 - 3:03pm

    The problem with the Orange Book and Orange Bookers is the way they have excluded social liberal and traditional liberal democrat contributions and narrative from the party policy making via Nick Clegg’s right of centre leadership cadre. Many loyal liberal democrat members and voters are finally waking up and smelling the Orange Book Java. It is responsible in part for the dire state of the party.
    http://www.libdemfightback.yolasite.com

  • David Evershed 25th Jun '14 - 5:11pm

    My impression is that most of those who want to change the leadership of the party really want to change what the party stands for – from being Liberal to being Social Democrat or various shades between.

    How much better to have this debate about policies than about personalities.

  • Steve Griffiths 25th Jun '14 - 5:29pm

    @David Evershed

    “My impression is that most of those who want to change the leadership of the party really want to change what the party stands for – from being Liberal to being Social Democrat or various shades between.”

    What? Is this a serious comment?

    We want the party to stand for what it always stood for in the 40 years I was an active member, not this recent and demonstrably electorally suicidal excursion to the centre right.

  • David Evans 25th Jun '14 - 7:13pm

    In those days it clearly stood for those governed and not those governing. I suggest a reprise of several Grimond papers onwards would be useful.

  • David Evans 25th Jun '14 - 7:59pm

    Q1 – All of them!
    Q2 – I don’t know, but I would suggest people start by looking him up on Wikipedia and working through his Writings.
    Q3 – That is one of those eternal liberal conundrums summed up in the expression “balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community.” The key word being balance.

  • David Evans 25th Jun '14 - 9:20pm

    Rebecca, there is no formulaic how. It all comes down to a personal, liberal judgement of the desirability, achievability and cost of different options. It really is the only way.

  • Social Liberalism is about equality of opportunity, e.g. funding good quality state education for all through progressive taxation to enable the next generation to compete on a level playing field, whereas economic liberalism is about inequality of opportunity by those who know it but pretend otherwise (Tories) and those who are naive and believe the lie that it achieves equality of opportunity (orange bookers).

  • I am glad you agree on one thing, but your second comment is rather modernist, and almost ageist. The belief that the ideas of those who lived in the past are less relevant because of modern inventions like the internet, is quite simply misguided. Problems are rarely caused by technology, but by people and people are largely the same as they have been for hundreds of years. That is why we are having to contend with the rise of the extreme right again. I would strongly urge you to read from one of our greatest liberal thinkers before you use such a simplistic put down.

  • @ Steve
    Social Liberalism is not about equality of opportunity, e.g. funding good quality state education for all through progressive taxation to enable the next generation to compete on a level playing field,” Nick Clegg believes this and he is no Social Liberal.

    Social Liberalism is about empowerment. It is about ensuring people are not so poor that they have restricted life choices. It is about ensuring people continue to have opportunities throughout their whole life. It is about not writing anyone off.

    @ Rebecca Hanson

    Each policy should be examined to see if it increases the liberty of people or does it help the better placed people more. For example it can be argued that raising the Income Tax Personal Allowance is not a liberal policy because it helps those in full time work more than those in part-time work or unemployed or sick. It doesn’t increase the liberty of the last named groups.

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Jun '14 - 7:43am

    I think orange bookers should pay greater attention to the law of unintended consequences and the book of common sense which should be recommended set texts for those who my flirt with post-Thatcherite agendas.

  • @MiachelBG
    “Social Liberalism is about empowerment. It is about ensuring people are not so poor that they have restricted life choices. It is about ensuring people continue to have opportunities throughout their whole life. It is about not writing anyone off.”

    I agree, mostly. However, I disagree with the assertion that Nick Clegg believes in the one example of a socially liberal policy I gave. Clegg scrapped the funding of HE through progressive taxation in favour of private tuition fees paid by the individual taking the course, linking the cost of the course to the amount that is eventually paid by the individual notwithstanding write-offs for failure to gain suitable employment. Once the course fees have been paid, or the loan repaid, no further money is taken by the government from that individual even if they earn millions each year. On this policy, Clegg cannot be described as a centrist/social liberal.

  • Iain Sharpe 26th Jun '14 - 9:14am

    There’s a certain mythology around Jo Grimond that would be dispelled by reading what he actually wrote. Although as leader, his views on economic management were fairly conventional, this isn’t true of his later thinking. Books such as The Common Welfare (1978) and A personal manifesto (1983) show a recognisable strain of what today we would call economic liberalism. In particular he argued that the free market was the most successful system for creating wealth and prosperity, but it produced unequal outcomes and the challenge for liberals was to redress that balance. He was also very interested in voluntary collective action as an alternative to the conventional welfare state. It is not unreasonable to argue that much of what we term ‘Orange Book’ liberalism is very compatible at least with elements of Grimond’s thinking.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 9:16am

    It is reasonable to say:

    What happens if all the individually socially liberal policies create a total system which is highly vulnerable to economic collapse of the kind which will force huge cuts in benefits?

  • “What happens if all the individually socially liberal policies create a total system which is highly vulnerable to economic collapse of the kind which will force huge cuts in benefits?”

    It would be. Have we seen any such a collapse resulting from social liberal policies? Not that I’m aware of. There was recently a massive economic collapse caused by neoliberalism which has been ‘solved’ by rewarding the perpetrators and introducing more neoliberalism.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 9:44am

    I lived through the 1970s and 1980s when we were desperately struggling to avert such a collapse Steve.

    Are you unaware of what happened to all the countries which did not reform their economies in time?

    I don’t think the recent collapses were caused by neoliberalism. I think they were caused by human factors.
    The book ‘Masters of Nothing’ gives some partial insight.

  • Bill le Breton 26th Jun '14 - 9:57am

    Rebecca, I welcome your approach and your challenge. I don’t think terms such as economic liberalism or social are helpful as they are so vague that everyone has a different definition of them.

    When I became active in the Liberal Party the most influentual ideas were those stemming from Community Politics and in particular their distillation in the pamphlet, The Theory and Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman. Have you read it? You can find it here: http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/uploads/community_politics.pdf

    Do not confuse this expression of Liberalism with the sterotypical and fromulaic use of some of its ideas to ‘win elections’, although it does demonstrate that this way of pursuing a Liberal Movement is extremely popular and was the stone on which our great revival in the Eighties and Nineties took place.

    This thinking is rooted in the Liberalism of T.H. Green and later of the New Liberalism of the 1890s which themselves underpinned the progress made by the Campbell Bannerman government on what was then called the ‘social issue’. It is still possible in an afternoon to read and find great ideas in L.T.Hobhouses’s *Liberalsism*.

    I have just opened my copy and at randon selected this; “In particular, in the matter of rights and duties which is cardinal to Liberal theory, the relation of the individual to the community is everything.” And this is where the over attention to indiviudalism can lead people astray. Paradoxixcally the more individualistic we are the less free we are.

    The Young Liberals of the 190 70s took this further and endeavoured ‘to help people take and use power in their communities’. That was the essence: to help people overcome the forces of conformity, but not through individualism – which is an illusion. We are social beings bearing the imprint of the society into which we have been socialised.

    In society, power is often disguised and there is often a taboo in looking straight at it. There are people working within institutions who seize power and prevent others from exercising THEIR power. Liberals work with those people to help them take back what is more rightfully theirs and with which they can more successfully fulfill their potential as members of their communties, to the benefit of all, to the benefit of the commonwealth.

    Clearly hierachies and bureaucreacies disposess people of their power, but so too do most markets as they operate in the real world. Yet we need both and we must therefore constantly reform both. We need to do this by working *with* and not *for* people in such a mission, if we are to avoid replacing one type of powerlessness with another – dependency – which creates its own isolation and fatalism which we see in some of the most disadvantaged communities.

    I took a break from active Lib Demmery from 2000 to around 2008. On my return to ‘our’ community I found that those ‘putting their ideas foreward’ as you rightly describe it, had never come across this little pamphlet or have seen its influence on the Liberalsism that they worked to change and which they have changed.

    Over in the private forum one person wrote recently about his version of economic liberalism that read very differently to how I understood the term and used his thinking to look at the most powerless person working for an employer and thought that economic lineralsim would or should help that person. This seemed a very novel ‘reading’ of economic liberalism, but it did reminded me of the struggle that Bernard Greaves had in taking his ideas of the ’70s and 80s forward and which he was finally able to distill into another pamphlet, this time with David Boyle, which they called, The Theory and Practice of Community Economics. I asked the young person to review it and he replied that he knew of the work and actually lived near Bernard and would do so. I look forward to that.

    So, I wonder whether I might ask you a similar favour. Born and bred in very different times to me, would you down load the Theory and Practice of Community Politics and review that for all of us, please?

    It may then help us all understand why not being a neoliberal does not mean we have to be a social democrat. The Liberalism of Green, and late (not early) Mill and Hobhouse is alive and it kicks against the system and it fights for change everytime one of us helps people in our community take and use their powers, their rightful powers.

    And every time those people succeed in taking and using their power the Liberal Movement takes another pace forward. The effect is transformative for those who take their power and for the rest in their community, their nation and this globe.

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Jun '14 - 10:18am

    Maynard Keynes was a good liberal he understood that cutting wages depresses demand and lowers economic growth. Even a die hard capitalist like Henry Ford realised that if he paid his workers more he would get more cars made and richer workers to buy those cars. Orange Bookism smacks too much of classical economic laissez faire liberalism that struggled to cope with the 1920’s and 1930’s and the Yellow Book of 1928 came up with the answer. We don’t need another orange book – we need another Yellow Book. Only raising wages of the lowest paid will bring sustainable growth.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 10:19am

    Thank you for this Bill. I’ve sent the booklet to print but probably won’t be able to read it today.

    Gordon Lishman was one of my mentors for the essay I submitted to the Orange Book competition but I haven’t read this booklet before.

    I don’t think the view that ‘the more individualistic we are the more free we are’ is paradoxical for two reasons.
    Firstly there is so much which can only be achieved through collective action. How can be free if we are not free to organise? (I made this point in my essay).
    Secondly collective organisation often leads to very substantial gains in economic efficiency, so it releases more resource to empower freedom.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 11:08am

    Jonathan why don’t we just introduce a minimum wage of £20/hour then?

    Keynes and the yellow book discussed solutions to the problems they faced in the context they were in. I would welcome a new yellow book which examined solutions to the problems we face in the context we are in.

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Jun '14 - 11:34am

    We both agree on something . Success. As for a minimum or living wage, as a free enterprise “social minded” entrepreneur such a rise needs to be gradual and practical. Unfortunately many small businesses struggle to pay themselves minimum wage so, we need to focus on raising minimum wage in the Large employer sector first and then taper down to the SME sector. SME’s can only pay if improvements are made to late payment of invoices, and they can pass this on to customers in higher prices. Technology, globalisation, free movement of labour is driving a deflationary cycle with mega profits being pooled into those driving this change at the expense of the many. Lets start writing the New Yellow Book today, what chapter would you write?

  • Bill le Breton 26th Jun '14 - 11:35am

    Rebecca, thanks. I look forward in the hope that the pamphlet does inspire you to express your views on it.

    I did write, “Paradoxixcally the more individualistic we are the less free we are.” I wasn’t quite sure whether you were misquoting me above or turning the quote to “I don’t think the view that ‘the more individualistic we are the more free we are’ is paradoxical for two reasons.”

    To me ‘the more individualistic we are the more free we are’ is an illusion used to sustain individualistic approaches to social problems.

    The most powerful illusion in classical economics is the belief in *Homo Oeconomicus*. He is greedy and selfish, yet we are told to believe that our greed and selfishness brings the greatest gains to all. It is the idea on which all such thinking is based. But thankfully he is a fiction. Economic Man doesn’t exist. But the moral claims that result from *his presence* strip us of our power and enslave us as surely as iron fetters.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun ’14 – 11:08am
    Jonathan why don’t we just introduce a minimum wage of £20/hour then?

    Rebecca, I would be genuinely interested in your arguments against a minimum wage of £20/hour.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 11:48am

    And yet any coherent policy must respect the nature of many people Bill.

    It must harness the competitive spirit many possess and use it wisely.

    It must not deny that it exists. Instead it must recognise the strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities of those who possess such instincts.

    I think one of the greatest weaknesses of neoliberalism is that it fails to recognise and utilise the strengths of those who possess no such instincts.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 12:02pm

    John I’ll provide them if you first detail the logic by which it will deliver sustainable growth.

  • Iain Sharpe
    Your comment on Books such as The Common Welfare (1978) and A personal manifesto (1983 have more than a grain of truth.
    But it is stretching the point too far to suggest a putative link to the OB.
    Grimond in ‘The Common Welfare ‘ Devotes a chapter to Greenock, the contents of which might make OB enthusiasts rear up like frightened horses.
    Mondragon would I guess be anathema to OB enthusiasts.
    In his chapter on The Economy he quotes GE Meade’s 1948 work ‘Planning and the Price Mechanism’. Here Grimond speaks approvingly of the notion that unpleasant work (drudgery) should be highly paid whereasay scales should be lower for those with interesting jobs. I doubt that would go down well with the Hedge Fund card-sharp who funded the OB.
    Given their anti-union rhetoric the OB angels would probably have Grimond lined up in front of the same Celestial Firing Squad as Bob Crowe and Tony Benn.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun ’14 – 12:02pm
    John I’ll provide them if you first detail the logic by which it will deliver sustainable growth.

    Rebecca, not sure why you should set preconditions for answering a polite question which was merely asking you to expand on your earlier point.
    Are you just stalling for time?
    Had you to considered what you were saying? Or was it just a throw away remark?

    If I were to answer your question I would run the risk of being diverted into a different discussion. I asked why you opposed a £20 inimum wage. Why so coy?

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Jun '14 - 12:26pm

    Rebecca, I am largely an observer and not an actor in the formulation of policy and political and economic theory, but I find David Boyle’s posts and blogs very stimulating in considering:
    – forms of the state and economy that are responsive to the modern age
    – querying how we can not be dependent on a ‘big’, interventionist monolithic structure in seeking social good
    – respect the people who are participants in the nation within the processes of government
    – differentiate between the property of the state and that which is in the public realm and needs to be held collectively and collectively managed in the public interest and protected from being exploited or being lost to the nation as a public good.
    – avoid a free market that becomes aggressively dominated by big business

  • All successful political movements require some form of intellectual underpinning – whether that be Mein Kampf, Das Kapital, Adam Smith, the Yellow Book, or the Orange Book. Some of these works provided a comprehensive basis for thought and action, others including the Orange Book provided something more fragmentary. Rebecca Hanson is right to find much that is of intellectual interest, albeit sometimes “flawed and naive”. She is on less secure ground when demanding that social liberalism define itself with (it would seem) a complete answer to life, the universe and everything, while at the same time admitting that the Orange Book doesn’t really achieve all that from the economic liberal point of view.

    There is much that is worth reading and study in the Orange Book, just as there is in many key political texts from the Right, Left and Centre. However, if we are to judge the overall value and impact of the Orange Book, we must begin by evaluating why the project was undertaken and what its overall motives were.

    The Orange Book, and the think-tanks which followed it, have been lavishly funded by City money. It was a successful exercise in developing the intellectual underpinning required to boost one particular strand of opinion – economic liberalism – within the Liberal Democrats. It paved the way for the Clegg Coup and a shift to the Right. It paved the way for the active participation and support, from a previously centre-left party, in a radical right-wing governing programme. This programme has seen an unprecedentedly successful assault by a reforming government against the principles of equal opportunity access to health, education and welfare services, against any real attempt to avoid climate change, and in favour of increasing social inequality.

    The City got what it wanted. Charles Kennedy famously said that Britain did not need three conservative parties. The City did not agree. A third party not dancing to the City’s tune would have been a danger to the City. So the City bought us up.

    That is the real meaning of the Orange Book project. Don’t let fascination with the details of the various intellectual debates hide that meaning.

  • Iain Sharpe 26th Jun '14 - 1:01pm

    @John Tilley re £20 minimum wage. (equivalent to a minimum wage of £36,400 per annum)
    I don’t pretend to expertise in economics, but I imagine it goes something like this.
    There is always a risk that increasing the costs of employing people deters job creation, although this has to be balanced against the danger that low-paying employers are subsidised because their employees’ wages have to be topped up through the benefits system.
    So A Company sells stuff (goods or services). But under the new £20p/h minimum wage, its salary bill doubles overnight, the cost of its stuff to the consumer goes up and they stop buying it. So the company either goes out of business or moves abroad or makes people redundant.
    Its employees are now dependent on benefits, which needs to be funded through taxation. But tax income is down because companies like this one are employing fewer people because wage bills are prohibitive. And providing benefits is now more expensive too because the staff who run it have had a big wage increase. So state spending is up but tax income is down. (I suppose you could put tax rates up, but as a minimum it would be perverse to increase everyone’s wages only to take back the increase in tax.)
    The government can borrow to pay for its increased expenditure, but it will need to service the debt, and since no one wants to employ anyone, it hasn’t got the money to do this, so in the end no one will lend to it, so it defaults on debt and the whole economy goes belly up.
    In other words while there are moral reasons why the minimum wage should not be too low, there are practical ones why making it unrealistically high becomes counterproductive.

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Jun '14 - 1:33pm

    Re £20ph minimum wage . The current rates are:
    21 and over £6.31 18 to 20 £5.03 Under 18 £3.72 Apprentice £2.68
    I would suggest for 2015 – SME Rate s (UK) – as above but + 10% – Non-SME UK Rate s – as above +15% , SME Rates (London) + 15% Non-SME Rates (London) +20%
    so that would take us to :
    21 and over SME UK £6.95 , Non-SME UK £7.26, SME London £7.26, Non-SME London £7.57
    If we took a gradualist approach then job losses might be negated. This would demand into the economy but we need to be careful to mitigate the SME sector who may not be in a position to pass this on to the market.

  • @David Allen

    “This programme has seen an unprecedentedly successful assault by a reforming government against the principles of equal opportunity access to health, education and welfare services, against any real attempt to avoid climate change, and in favour of increasing social inequality.”

    A quote straight from “planet Labour”. I don’t think there is any factual justification for any of the points you’ve made there. And in fact, some data e.g. on UK gini coefficient point in exactly the opposite direction – to the fact that the UK is less unequal than it was before the recession.

  • And in fact the data on the increased uptake of higher education among students from less affluent families flatly contradicts what you are saying.

  • I would like to add that I say that as someone who is highly critical of the Orange Book and what it tried to do. I do not agree with its core thesis, as I have made clear elsewhere. Free markets fail in many circumstances and simply to pursue an even more market-based society can act to amplify those failures.

    But to then say that everything that has been done in government is terrible and part of some evil City conspiracy is to take things to an extreme that is unsupported by the facts.

  • “And in fact the data on the increased uptake of higher education among students from less affluent families flatly contradicts what you are saying.”

    How does it? With the expansion of higher education there is tremendous pressure now on anyone who wants a career of reasonable social and economic “status” to get a degree. This pressure continues to operate despite the fact that a degree now brings with it huge debts. Unless you have some way of knowing what would have happened if this government hadn’t trebled tuition fees, the continued increase in numbers proves absolutely nothing.

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 2:35pm

    I’m currently very pushed for time but I’m appreciating these excellent comments. Thank you to you all.

  • There is a fundemental misunderstanding here that economic and social liberalism are contradictry. Thats not the case. Economic liberals want an economy that grows and enables us to spend more money on social liberal ideals.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jun '14 - 3:13pm

    RC – please show me the evidence for poorer students taking up higher education, the only figures I have seen demonstrate that those students come from AREAs of disadvantage, not that they are in receipt of FSM

  • Jonathan Pile 26th Jun '14 - 4:07pm

    @ Simon
    I disagree economic liberals and social liberals agree only when the economy grows when it contracts social liberals fight for the poor and economic liberals try to incentivise the rich. That’s the split.

  • daft ha'p'orth 26th Jun '14 - 7:09pm

    @Chris
    “Unless you have some way of knowing what would have happened if this government hadn’t trebled tuition fees, the continued increase in numbers proves absolutely nothing.”

    Well, yeah.

    And of course the vertiginous ski-slope down which part-time and mature student attendance has slid in the last couple of years suggests that equal opportunity, if more broadly defined than ‘seventeen-year-olds classed as disadvantaged’ – as indeed it should be! – is not doing very well at all. To quote the director of Fair Access to Higher Education:

    “I am very concerned by the significant decline in part-time and mature numbers as students in these groups are more likely to be from groups under-represented in higher education. If higher education is truly to meet the needs of all those with the talent to benefit, it must be flexible enough to support those who choose to study later in life, whether part-time or full-time, as well as those who go straight to university from school.”

    The number of people starting part-time higher education courses has dropped 40 per cent since 2010 and there has been a 7.1 per cent fall in mature entrants (i.e. those aged 20 and older, who make up more than half of undergraduates) between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years
    – See more at: http://www.offa.org.uk/press-releases/offa-annual-report-warns-over-drop-in-part-time-and-mature-student-recruitment/#sthash.4iMz0FWs.dpuf

  • Liberals are Liberals. Liberal Democrats are essentially Liberals.
    Those who nowadays follow the fashion for describing themselves as “economic” seem to be mistaken about the fundamentals of Liberalism.
    Why, I wonder do they not describe themselves as “Economic Democrats” ?
    Unless it is some sort for attempt to resurrect an enmity between former members of the SDP (surely only a tiny fraction of current Liberal Democrat members) and the rest of us.

    The OB and the self proclaimed “economic” faction do not seem to have the best interests of the party s a priority.
    250 days from the next general election and their main priority seems to be to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the publication of what, let’s face it, is an obscure footnote in the history of political pulishing.

  • Tony Dawson 26th Jun '14 - 9:31pm

    @Bill le Breton:

    the most influentual ideas were those stemming from Community Politics and in particular their distillation in the pamphlet, The Theory and Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman. Have you read it? You can find it here: http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/uploads/community_politics.pdf

    I would also recommend the ALC’s ‘Worthing Declaration’ drafted at the ALC conference in 1983 after a somewhat hairy General Election. Trouble is, I cannot find a copy on the internet. The reason I refer to this is that it was a restatement of values and objectives originated by Liberal councillors and campaigners (and pulled together by G Lishman and T Dawson 😉 )

  • Rebecca Hanson 26th Jun '14 - 10:09pm

    Back now!

    I’ve looked through the Greaves & Lishman booklet and it really is very much of its time (1980 – pre-internet, pre overcoming class war in the workplace). It may have some useful general anecdotes in it but politics is an applied discipline. I’m going to continue to assert that these principles need to be interpreted by current voices.

    I don’t think that interpretation will come from people who start with the theory of liberalism. I think it will come from people who are can define a clear narrative of our time in a way which will help us steer a wise course through it. The concepts of Liberal Democracy are likely to arise naturally in such a narrative and should be relatively easily to highlight in it.

    I wonder if Maajid Nawaz might manage this or contribute to making this possible in due course?
    His autobiography (Radical) has reached me today so I’ll read it as soon as I can.
    and Matt thanks for suggesting David Boyle. Where should I begin with his work?

  • @ Steve
    I am glad we can agree on a wider definition of Social Liberalism and the fact that Nick Clegg isn’t one and I accept your evidence for this.

    @ Simon
    Economic liberals may want an economy that grows, but I am not convinced they wish to spend more on social liberal ideas, because I have just listen to David Laws speak at the 10 year on event and he talks about the need for economic liberals to reduce the amount of GDP spent by the government. Social liberals also wish to see an economy that grows but they wish it to benefit everyone and believe it is the role of government to intervene to assist in this and there is no perfect size of government, we need the size of government that achieves the outcomes that increase liberty and freedom.

  • Rebecca Hanson

    I was a bit disappointed in your peremptory dismissal of what you describe as “the Greaves and Lishman booklet”.
    You might want to ask yourself why that booklet inspired more than one generation of Liberal and Liberal Democrat activists to devote their lives to working in and with communities, to the practical aspects of Liberalism. To taking and using power. Electoral success was a consequence.
    In comparison the OB and the myth created around it seem to have resulted in division, disillusionment and dispute. Electoral failure seems the obvious result.

    Your original piece included. –
    1). contributors to the Orange Book raised the standard of debate about liberalism by exposing their views to rigorous scrutiny

    You do not seem to have applied the same rigorous scrutiny to the Comunity Politics ideas of Greaves and Lishman.

    You go on in your original piece to say —
    2) Since 2004 social media has changed our world so that it’s now normal and acceptable for people with emerging ideas to air them in public and then to move on from them. I’m very glad that’s happened, in part because it means there is no need for anyone involved in the Orange Book to be shy of recognising its limitations.

    You also mention “since the Internet” in some of your replies. You seem to put a lot of emphasis on a change in technology as if this has enhanced the ability of people to think and discuss.
    But you must be aware thatvthe rigorous exchange and challenging of political ideas have gone on in this country for centuries. The Putney Debates in the seventeenth century were carried out in a church by an unusual gathering of people without the aid of I-Pads or the latest Samsung phone: some of the ideas launched in those debates were spread through pamphlets and tracts printed on wooden printing presses, or by public meetings and word of mouth but the ideas remain powerful to this day and dare I suggest it, those ideas are no less valid than Jeremy Browne’s latest outburst on Twitter.

  • Tony Dawson
    Can you remind me if The Worthing Declaration made reference to The Green Party?
    Or was that in the margins of the discussion s around it?

    Now that a large and significant number of Liberal Democrat voters and activists for the moment feel more at home in the Green camp it might be worth considering if the last thirty years might have been better spent cooperating with people who share many of our aims rather than chasing the illusions of hedge fund millionaires.

  • Gordon Lishman 28th Jun '14 - 12:47pm

    I tend to agree with Rebecca that much of “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics” is of its time. The middle sections in particular could and should be replaced by more contemporary analysis. The bits that do seem to me better to stand the test of time are the first few chapters and the last. It was the last section where I sought to ground the community politics idea in the long history of liberal thinking and I think its references remain helpful – although I could add a lot to it now! Bill Le Breton is right to refer also to the actual amendment agreed by the Party in 1970 and I have liked his emphasis on the principle of the “dual approach”.
    I agree with Rebecca about the value of a critical approach to Adam Smith – that is assessing and thinking about it and seeing it in its time rather than criticising. Nicholas Phillipson’s book on Smith (and his book on Hume) are good as is P J O’Rourke on Smith.
    There isn’t a book which defines liberalism out of context and time – that’s because liberalism is about the underlying view of humanity and how it thrives, not about short-lived context. However, the essay “On Liberty” remains the best place to start if you can master its nineteenth century style.
    There were some attempts around Grimond’s centenary to set out his view. David Steel gave a good address in Kirkwall and the LibDem history group had a meeting which was written up in their journal. Tudor Jones’s History of Liberal Thought from Grimond to Clegg is a thorough piece of research which cuts through the vagaries of memory.
    I agree with David Howarth that liberalism is essentially political – it sees power and control over one’s life as the necessary starting point. That’s why I also agree with Nick Clegg’s emphasis on opportunity, self-development and personal fulfilment – which is the base of his presentation of liberalism.
    I think that generosity of spirit, commitment to help for those who need it, internationalism and promoting equality of opportunity are essential parts of liberalism – that’s my starting point as a social liberal. I strongly support economic competence, but I don’t think that makes me an economic liberal.
    After many years of argument with German liberals and their acolytes, I see economic liberalism as based on faith in a particular economic structure rather than an analysis about what works best for the time being. Sometimes the result is the same, but as David Boyle points out from time to time in his blog, that is not always the case.
    The liberal faith is in people not systems, economic or otherwise. Amongst others, the Italian liberal philosopher Benedetto Croce made the point very well in 1946!
    No, the Worthing Declaration doesn’t mention the Green Party. I have a copy somewhere – ditto, the Harle Syke Declaration, but I would suggest reading all these things for the underlying ideas rather than the short-term context.

  • Bill Le Breton 29th Jun '14 - 10:09am

    Gordon writes that the Liberal faith is in people not systems, economic or otherwise.

    The weakness of classical economics and how it was taken forward by the ‘marginal revolution’ is that it is based first on a ‘system’ of marginal utility and upon a mythical being, homo oeconomicus, a rational utility maximizing man, who clearly does not exist but serves to underpin an ideology.

    There is a brilliant review of Picketty’s Capital in the 21st century by Benjamin Kunkel in the London Review of Books that explores this very well. It is here, http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n13/benjamin-kunkel/paupers-and-richlings

  • Gordon Lishman 2nd Jul '14 - 2:11pm

    Thoughts on Rebecca’s post:
    The Enlightenment wasn’t just scientific. Having just read a biography of Hume, I am reminded (1) how far thinking developed in specific places such as Edinburgh, where people could talk with each other directly; and (2) how much international correspondence there was between thinkers at least throughout Europe. However, the latter point was also true at least two hundred and fifty years before then – Erasmus’s correspondence testifies to that and, going back further, the exchanges between outposts of the Roman and Chinese Empires.
    I don’t see the development of a global narrative – outside, that is, the semi-closed areas where people who agree with each other spend time reinforcing their views and prejudices. In fact, it seems to me that the greatest lack – and the area where we seem to be going backwards – is that of coherent debate where people actually listen to each other and are willing to think about and change their views in the light of the evidence and the arguments. The loss of fora for direct discussion – mass membership political parties and trade unions, church groups, WI and Townswomen’s Guilds, etc – has undermined engagement. The same has happened locally where people excoriate politics and so do not engage with political decision-making. My least favourite local example is “I am against you because you failed to do anything about the problem I didn’t tell you about because I knew you wouldn’t do anything”!
    It follows that I agree very much with the second part of what you say – and it fits very much with the classical Mill argument about personal development. However, I would add challenge and argument to mentoring. Those things can indeed be part of mentoring, as in the traditional Oxbridge tutorial approach, but it tends not to include the direct challenge of opposing ideas which is where thinking takes place most valuably.

  • Gordon Lishman 2nd Jul '14 - 2:24pm

    Turning to Bill Le Breton, I haven’t yet faced the struggle of reading Piketty, although I have read a variety of the reviews and subsequent argument. Despite being a former member of the Jevons Society in the Economics Department of Manchester University 45 years ago, I don’t recall much of him then or since! As with other concepts, however, I think that marginal value and marginal utility have their place in understanding the real world. Despite this, I am not convinced that economics as a discipline remains stuck in a pre-Keynesian mould. It’s not just the behaviouralists, the game theorists and the psychologists who have changed our understanding but a wider shift in understanding economic forces, based partly on their work. One test would be to look at the work of Nobel prizewinners in economics of the last 60 years. Very little “homo oeconomicus” there.

  • Gordon Lishman 5th Jul '14 - 10:23am

    I like the exposition that Rebecca has found. The only detail about which I cavil is putting Adam Smith with Hayek as “primarily an exponent of economic freedom”. Unsurprisingly, The Wealth of Nations is about economic relationships, but for Smith this was very much in the context of morality and personal obligation – which come out more in The Theory of Moral Sentiments and some of the essays.
    The emphasis in the piece is on Mill and Harriet Taylor. It’s also worth mentioning the extent to which the Edinburgh Enlightenment included women, with its emphasis on discussion and debate in polite society – notably more so than in the London coffee-house milieu of an earlier time.

  • matt (Bristol) 7th Jul '14 - 3:33pm

    Returning to this thread late – Rebecca, the only place I would know to start with David Boyle is on his blog.

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