Opinion: Now is the time for social liberals to organise, and quickly

A member for 13 years, this is only the fifth time (out of five) that I have been a candidate and lost; it’s only the ninth set of elections that I have been involved with, all of which have been characterised by losses.  I realise that I am only a beginner compared to many folk in this wonderful political family of ours.

In our part of the world, there are elections (of some form or other) almost every year.  And I admit, particularly after the results became clear last Thursday, to have started to flag a bit.

But as the days have gone by since polling day, I have gradually begun to take heart.

Much has been made of the encouraging numbers of people that are joining the party.  The era of everything being the Lib Dems’ fault is now well and truly over.  As a result of Nick’s gracious resignation, we have the opportunity of a leadership election in which we can, as a party, make an important decision about the future.

I have also been encouraged by the tone that has been set by the declared candidates, and many other internal commentators, regarding the importance of unity and decency in the leadership election to come.

But let’s be absolutely clear.  This election has ontological importance.  It is a battle for the soul of the party.  So whilst we must, of course, be decent, we must have the gloves off, and must not pull any political punches.

There has been an imbalance between the parliamentary party and the membership in respect of liberal orientation for far too long.  With the parliamentary party decimated, there is an opportunity for this balance to be restored.   And social liberals must organise.

Over the coming weeks the candidates for the leadership may seek not only to re-brand the party, but to re-brand themselves.  Whilst it is right to look to the future, we members must determinedly examine the candidates’ record, check these against the Preamble to the Constitution, and make a judgement about whether the record will provide strength, depth and timbre to the distinctive, social liberal voice our party needs: not only to survive, but to grow again.

Without question, this country needs a radical and progressive liberal party at the centre of its political life.  The Labour Party does not have the DNA required.  It is our destiny, and we must embrace it.

But we can only do so successfully with someone at the helm that the public trusts.

As much as I like and respect Norman Lamb, and (as a mental health social worker myself) admire the ministerial leadership and profile that he has given to mental health care, electing him as leader would be a huge political mistake.

There are three reasons for this.  First, as Nick’s Personal Private Secretary during the tuition fees catastrophe, Norman did not take public action regarding the grave political concerns of many of the 2010 candidates (who have been proved right) about the breaking of the pledge.  Second, in my opinion, as a shadow and then a Government Health minister, Norman has appeared far too comfortable with the role of the private sector in the NHS.  Finally, if all elections boil down to a need for change, or a need for more of the same, Norman is without doubt the continuity candidate, and the party desperately needs change.

For these three reasons, as well as because he embodies the party I want the Liberal Democrats to become, I will be backing #Tim2Lead.

Right.  What do I do next?

 

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.

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46 Comments

  • The last thing we need is “a battle for the soul of the party”, and the sense of what our way forward is will not be settled by the leadership election: that is just part of a much longer process.

    Blaming Norman over tuition fees is a bit low: that was something we couldn’t get into the coalition agreement because our coalition partners would not go along with it. The consequences for the nation of walking away from the coalition (which was the other option) would have been dire.

    Before people get too fired up about the role of the private sector in the NHS, do remember that that increased most under the last Labour government: there were reasons for them taking that path and it doesn’t equate to an attack on the NHS.

    Is Norman the “continuity candidate”? Personally I am drawn to support him because I recognise his wisdom and depth. Those are qualities Nick Clegg also has, but they are not ones to turn away from.

    It doesn’t help us explore the rich territory of the preamble to the constitution of we blow up the difference between “orange book” and “social liberal” as if it were a Tory-Labour right-left split.

    The Orange Book was a collection of essays helping us to think our way forward. We could do a lot worse than to put together another collection of essays to think from where we are now.

  • Paul Butters 20th May '15 - 6:16pm

    Great article Nick! If people want to join Tim’s positive campaign to be the next Lib Dems leader please do goto http://www.tim2lead.co.uk and sign up there!

  • A very one sided piece, perhaps you should have added next to Norman’s issues with tuition fees about Tim’s dithering over equal marriage to balance it out!

  • When I feel at my lowest about the prospects of Liberalism, I am more likely to agree with the author: reject the coalition episode as a gruesome mistake; go for a scorched earth approach and rebuild, perhaps looking to get half as many or a few more MPs nest time, making incremental progress over several election cycles; in which case there would be a lot to be said to have Tim Farron as our interim leader in parliament.

    At more optimistic moments when I feel that all our previous seats should be hot target seats and that events are likely to demonstrate the worth of Lib Dems in government, I would want a more authoritative, experienced and inclusive figure. The problem is that there is not a lot of choice, both candidates have much to prove, particularly in regard to their ability to connect with the public, but neither deserve to be dismissed so lightly as Nick Perry does to Norman Lamb in this piece.

  • Kirsty Burton 20th May '15 - 6:43pm

    Yeah I agree with other commenters, although I respect the author’s opinion, this was super one-sided and surely all types of liberals need to “get organised”?

    Being a new member but long-term voter, I do need to know a little more about each candidate’s backgrounds. My worry is that this post shows just how potentially split members are on the “soul of the party”. I don’t consider myself a socialist, but I still believe in liberalism. Does that mean I am not welcome? Are there tribes forming within the party? Is that what this leadership debate is about?

    These are genuine questions. I’m still learning.

  • I am not a member or supporter of the Social Liberal Forum but I support Tim Farron as the best man for the job. It is not what Tim stands for that makes me support him or that he is a particular wing. It is the fact that he is a man that can be trusted to make a commitment and stick to it. If Norman Lamb had kept to his pledge I would consider his candidacy but sadly he chose a different path.

  • @ Mark Argent,

    I am afraid we have to put to bed once and for all these weasel words about “our coalition partners would not accept our position on tuition fees” I doubt if they would have agreed to abolish them (our manifesto policy), but there is no way they would have sacrificed the chance of government for it. After all, the policy is still increasing the deficit AND the national debt, so it was far from necessary to resolve the financial crisis….

    Given the nature of the pledge, which was clearly ALWAYS in the power of each individual MP to keep, breaking it was the biggest political error in living memory (far eclipsing Thatcher’s Poll Tax). It was completely different from a “manifesto promise”, which is always preceded with “If we get into power”. Everyone except a few people in our party recognises that. It was by far the main reason why Nick Clegg’s popularity rating went to -60% and 92% of the electorate stopped listening to what we were saying

    The breaking of the pledge was a catastrophic error completely independent of whether someone is a “social” or “economic” Liberal. Personally I am on the social side I guess, but if Norman had kept the pledge and Tim had broken it, I would vote for Norman as the only chance for rebuilding trust with the VOTERS, who are the only people who matter in politics… As it is, Tim is the only viable choice…

  • On seeing Nick Perry’s comment that he is a social worker, I looked up the pay of social workers and found this on http://www.payscale.com: “The average salary for a Social Worker is £26,440 per year.”

    It seems to me that by voting for the new tuition fees system, Norman Lamb has nothing to apologise for to social workers as he has significantly reduced what they have to pay. Of course in respect of those earning twice, thrice this average salary and more could be said to deserve an apology because they will be paying more and some even the whole cost.

  • @Martin

    It is not about the money it is about the integrity of the individual. The voter/social worker may not be worse off financially but how can they trust the party if they vote for a leader who broke that bond of trust. The pledge was not predicated on the basis of applying only if we formed a governent. We can all find reasons to say one thing and do another but what does that make us ?

  • Samuel Griffiths 20th May '15 - 9:40pm

    Good for you Nick! This party certainly needs more Social Liberalism and a lot less excuses. Let’s not make this about tuition fees though, the entire coalition was a fiasco and an social platform we chose to put forward has to accept that. The party needs to reflect it’s members and values, we simply cannot afford to be divided along two different futures.

  • I shall be voting for Tim but not for any of these reasons.

    Mark Argent echoes my views very well. Why should this be about social v economic liberalism? I would consider myself to be both a social and economic liberal – I see no contradiction between the two. I think both Tim and Norman are good candidates for different reasons. Tim to me has the x-factor as I see him most connecting with potential supporters.

  • on the NHS, I have yet to see any reasoned financial analysis of how paying taxpayer’s money directly to profit-making organisations saves money.

    Privatisation of the health service in the sense of letting people who want to pay extra to see a consultant quicker makes a certain amount of sense – it is not very “fair” but at least those people pay twice. But just giving money to entrepreneurs and foreign shareholders?? It only makes sense if you have an ideology that says “public employees are incapable of making rational decisions”. I have never subscribed to that ideology, and the fact that New Labour did just shows they were Tories in disguise, I am afraid… I don’t consider myself “left wing” for holding that view BTW! It is common sense, like energy efficiency. Private enterprise should stand on its own feet: anything that requires or expects significant public subsidy (like banks, it would seem, but also prisons, old people’s homes, nurseries) should be run by the State (perhaps as State owned companies returning profits to the Treasury, in many cases). You do of course have to build in structures that prevent monopoly and incentivise efficiency, which is what was lacking in the old nationalised industries. But we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in the Thatcherite revolution (which was never backed by a majority of the electorate, by the way!)

  • think it would be a great deal better if John Pugh were to stand in his own right. He has articulated the social liberal position much better than any other surviving MP. It seems like Clegg v Huhne all over again. I am afraid I am one of those who finds it very difficult to buy Farron’s radicalism. I think both Tim and Norman have great assets, and clearly both have sold themselves well to their local electorates, but we need to get back to proper base camp now. We missed out on Steve Webb as the candidate of the “left” last time. For goodness sake don’t let’s do it again!

  • Kirsty Burton 20th May '15 - 11:47pm

    Hi Nick. Thanks for your reply. Completely fair enough. Kirsty

  • Richard Marbrow 21st May '15 - 1:10am

    First of all, vote for Tim, he will be an excellent leader.
    Second of all, decimate does not mean what you think it means
    Third of all, it is not “a battle for the soul of the party” unless you think the party would be better served by some kind of purge
    Fourth, you state there is an imbalance between the parliamentary party and the membership in terms of liberal orientation and also celebrate the 13000 new members. Did you ask them all what their “liberal orientation” was before writing this or could we possibly let them discover the whole party in all its wonderful liberal diversity before you assign them to a tribe.
    I love your enthusiasm and passion here, I really don’t like your attempt to enslave people to some kind of conformity. The bird of liberty needs both of its wings to fly.

  • Is it any coincidence, Richard Marbrow, that when the Party veers to the right with coalitions with the Tories etc, splits ensue, and big defeats. People do not expect this from Liberals / Lib Dems, and should not get it. At present, if we are just to believe the evidence of our own eyes, let alone media judgments, the Labour leadership contest / battle for the soul of the party is not going well at all. We are much nearer flat on our back than Labour, so I am not sure how four simply stated ideas is necessarily the way forward. Some have touted “interim leader” as a way forward for Lib Dems. Perhaps we need to think wider, and look for an extraparliamentary leader. With only 8 in Westminster (Commons, that is) we need to encourage them to make an impact there, but the debate and the decisions needed in the party must be wider.
    Where is money to do what we want coming from, by the way?

  • Apology – I should have said “interim leader… for Labour”. What I then meant was that perhaps we should consider this strategy. I would also add that it is very difficult in practice for this NOT to be a battle for the soul of the party. There are worrying signs that people are STILL trying to say “we were right (in Parliament), the electorate got it wrong”. Well, what if the electorate got it right?

  • To be frank I’d rather that Tim and Norman were fused in some way, as they each have qualities that I admire, and have done and said things with which I disagree.

    Unfortunately, that is not possible, and so I hope that with only two candidates (thus far anyway) whichever one wins will offer the other a leading position in the parties structures, so that we can be seen as a single united political force, albeit one that has differences of agreement over the interpretation of some of our core tenets.

  • The author has clearly chosen to unpack a large red flag and wave it in the direction of the Economic Liberal bulls.

    One of the other posters has articulated it well: ” Why should this be about social v economic liberalism? I would consider myself to be both a social and economic liberal – I see no contradiction between the two.”

    I’d go further and say you can’t have one without the other, or indeed personal and political Liberalism.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 12:47pm

    TCO21st May ’15 – 11:50am

    You say … “I’d go further and say you can’t have one [social and economic Liberalism] without the other …”.

    My brackets to keep the background discussion short.

    Of course you can’t but, in truth, does it not boil down to what we actually mean by economic liberalism – the distinctively Liberal view as represented by the preamble, our decades-old cooperative, participatory, mixed economy approaches as supported by democratically agreed party policy or that envisaged by Browne and Laws as part of ‘Reclaiming Liberalism’ – not to mention them adding economic liberalism as a distinct fourth corner to what we had thereto recognised as plain old Liberal Democracy.

    Perhaps we need to unpack some of the philosophical and practical differences between the economic liberalism of the self-identifying social justice and economic strands?

  • @Stephen Hesketh “Perhaps we need to unpack some of the philosophical and practical differences between the economic liberalism of the self-identifying social justice and economic strands?”

    @Nick Perry “No straw men or women please.”

    I agree with both of you. But in my experience, Economic Liberalism is usually presented (and vilified) in the straw-man form.

    You will note that that preamble states:

    “We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary.”

    I agree with all of this.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 1:05pm

    Nick Perry21st May ’15 – 12:53pm
    “but in my opinion there has been an imbalance in the sway of these different strands over the past five years at least.”

    Nick, almost as much as we love fairness, freedom and justice, the British do love understatement 🙂

  • @MatGB {APPLAUSE}

  • @Nick Perry “The key part to italicise surely being ‘in industry and commerce’?”

    “We seek to make public services responsive to the people they serve, to encourage variety and innovation within them and to make them available on equal terms to all.”

    Nothing there that states that they have to be provided by state employees in a monopolistic fashion.

  • SIMON BANKS 21st May '15 - 9:25pm

    I’m for Tim Farron, but I respect and value Norman Lamb. He seems to me to have a deeper understanding of Liberalism than Nick Clegg. If we’d been on 40 MPs and in government, I’d have thought carefully about whether I might support him (but then, on 40 MPs we’d have had Jenny Willot, Steve Webb, Michael Moore..) We’re reduced to a rump, many people think we’re finished and the media will not come to us for quotes as they have been doing. We need a leader with passion, commitment, energy and an ability to seize the agenda. That sounds more like Tim to me – and Tim is also better placed to reconsider our direction.

    What is clear to me, though, is that between moderate Social Liberals like Tim and caring Economic Liberals like Norman there is not a huge gulf. Elsewhere on LDV I’ve seen people making assumptions about Social Liberals that I don’t recognise – for example, that decentralising the state and making it more responsive to people is more an Economic than Social Liberal thing. Rather, the extreme Economic Liberals like Jeremy Browne view any manifestation of the state with distaste, however local and democratic. I’m sure Norman Lamb isn’t one of them.

    One thing Social Liberals could do more right now is (with the natural Liberal room for dissent) define for the rest of the party, like here, what Social Liberalism is.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 10:03pm

    SIMON BANKS 21st May ’15 – 9:25pm
    “I’m for Tim Farron, but I respect and value Norman Lamb. He seems to me to have a deeper understanding of Liberalism than Nick Clegg.”

    So, having had Nick Perry’s British understatement (21st May ’15 – 12:53pm) now we have Simon Banks damning Norman Lamb with faint praise 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 10:19pm

    TCO 21st May ’15 – 1:00pm
    [[Stephen Hesketh: “Perhaps we need to unpack some of the philosophical and practical differences between the economic liberalism of the self-identifying social justice and economic strands?”]]

    TCO: “You will note that that preamble states: ‘We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary’ I agree with all of this.”

    This is very good TCO and having you quote the preamble to me ‘@Preamble_LibDem’ borders on talking dirty you naughty man :-0

    So, let’s try you with this: We recognise that the independence of individuals is safeguarded by their personal ownership of property, but that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth and promote the rights of all citizens to social provision and cultural activity.

    Just in case you missed it, “… that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth …”.

    Can you unreservedly agree with this also?

  • @Stephen Hesketh ““… that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly. We support the widest possible distribution of wealth …”.

    Can you unreservedly agree with this also?”

    Oh dear … This is just too easy.

    No economic liberal believes in a regulation-free economy. Go and look at the US if you don’t believe me.

    And yes I believe in the widest possible distribution of wealth. But my definition of possibility, and of equality, is a Liberal, not a socialist one.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 10:58pm

    Just switched Question Time off. Tim Farron cheering immigration on a day like today is dreadful. The audience yet again is full of lefties. No point listening to this nonsense.

    Can’t see myself sticking around if Farron becomes leader. Cameron, Cooper and Kendall are all much more competent than Farron.

  • Malcolm Todd 21st May '15 - 11:15pm

    We’ll look forward to tomorrow’s piece from you Eddie: “Why I’m voting for Tim.” 😉

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 11:17pm

    Malcolm, I did actually end up voting Lib Dem, but when the facts change I do change my mind. However, Labour have got some very good candidates for leader.

    I’m not a Lib Dem member anyway – I don’t even have a bank account – but that is only temporary and even when I’ve felt at my most financially vulnerable I’ve never trusted a lefty to run an economy.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 11:18pm

    PS: the right can’t run an economy either.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 11:20pm

    Eddie Sammon 21st May ’15 – 10:58pm
    “Just switched Question Time off. Tim Farron cheering immigration on a day like today is dreadful. The audience yet again is full of lefties. No point listening to this nonsense.
    Can’t see myself sticking around if Farron becomes leader. Cameron, Cooper and Kendall are all much more competent than Farron.”

    Eddie – very simple question – are you actually a member of this party?

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 11:28pm

    Stephen Hesketh, please see my comment above where I deal with that question. I would be a member if I had a bank account. It might be surprising for someone not rich like me to be a bit of an economic liberal, but I have other support and the main thing is I think the left make it more difficult for the self-employed.

    But that is besides the point. My main point is Farron is defending immigration of 2-300,000 per year. We can’t just concrete over the green belt.

  • Stephen Hesketh 21st May '15 - 11:45pm

    Great to hear Tim successfully putting a very clear Lib Dem message without a cliche in sight. Makes you proud to be a Liberal again.

    By the way I have recorded it if you change your mind and wish to pop round to watch it over the weekend Eddie 🙂

  • Eddie Sammon 21st May '15 - 11:50pm

    Ha ha, thanks Stephen! I wouldn’t have minded if the audience were representative, but because it wasn’t I weren’t up for it.

    It looks like Farron was cheering trade unions though. I agree with him on that.

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