Opinion: SLF Conference: Why social justice must be at the heart of re-booting liberalism

social liberal forumThe Social Liberal Conference was held on one of the hottest days of the year so far but not even good weather could have kept me away from joining fellow Liberal Democrats for a day termed as ‘Re-booting Liberalism’. I am a social Liberal because I believe strongly in social justice as a means of addressing the problems of inequality. This must be our fight as a party if the Liberal Democrats are to gain relevance and support from the electorate in the coming years.

The keynote speech was a William Beveridge memorial lecture and was delivered by Baroness Claire Tyler. The whole speech can be found here. Her words as follows set the tone for the day:

I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it – we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.

The morning sessions were split into roundtable discussions, open sessions and two fringe events. A very generous and yummy lunch was served. It was a great time to network, catch up with friends and be canvassed for GLA votes.

In the afternoon there were three open sessions and two roundtable discussions. I attended the session called, ‘Equality: Opportunity or Outcome’. I am a great believer in the merits of equality of opportunity especially during the early years but I was really interested in the panel discussion which focused on how organisational models (eg co-operatives) can enable equality.

The highlight of the day was the hustings. The chair, Naomi Smith, threw a question to both contenders and the person who answered first was to kick off the hustings with an address to the audience. The question was about which former adviser to Nick Clegg wrote an article suggesting that Social Liberals should join Labour. Norman spoke first after answering correctly (Just in case you were wondering the answer is Richard Reeves). Tim’s arguments centred around topical issues and he displayed his political intelligence and adaptability which is what we need in a leader. Norman’s speech was appealing as he showed passion and it was evident that he cared deeply for the issues he fights for, such as mental health. We could not ask for two better candidates.

As we fight for relevance and support in the next five years it is essential that Social Liberal Forum plays a strong part in reshaping the party’s values and policies. This is essential if we are to separate ourselves from the Conservatives and show that we are a compassionate and viable party.

* Maelo Manning is a 15 year old Lib Dem member. She blogs as Lib Dem Child.

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12 Comments

  • Lester Holloway 8th Jul '15 - 10:18am

    Excellent article!

  • Joshua Dixon 8th Jul '15 - 3:31pm

    Well said, Maelo! I’m glad you enjoyed the day as much as I did 🙂

  • Good work. Thanks so much for this.

  • Maelo Manning 8th Jul '15 - 8:24pm

    Thank you Stevo and Lester, I am glad you enjoyed the article. :).

    Thanks Joshua much appreciated!

  • Thanks for forwarding that Maelo. Well worth reading it.
    Yes, Social Justice must be at the heart of Liberalism.

  • Matthew Huntbach 10th Jul '15 - 11:07am

    Maelo Manning

    The question was about which former adviser to Nick Clegg wrote an article suggesting that Social Liberals should join Labour. Norman spoke first after answering correctly (Just in case you were wondering the answer is Richard Reeves).

    Yes, let’s once again link to Richard Reeves’ comments here.

    Thanks to the SLF for drawing attention to this. I first became aware of the damaging things Richard Reeves was saying from his 2012 New Statesman article. When I drew attention to it, and that Reeves was billed as outgoing”Director of Strategy” to Nick Clegg, I was told not to worry about it, this was something Reeves had said after he left that post, it was even hinted that he had been sacked because his way of thinking had moved in that way.

    Now we see, however, that Reeves was saying just the same things in 2008. So Nick Clegg appointed this man as his “Director of Strategy” knowing that Reeves was a supporter of a strategy which involved destroying the Liberal Democrats by encouraging most of its activists to leave and join the Labour Party.

    I am truly shocked by this revelation. I did not feel my dislike for Nick Clegg could fall any lower. It now has, much lower. We should NEVER have let that man become our leader. His appointment of Reeves suggests he had an agenda of destruction for our party from the start.

  • Matthew Huntbach,

    Absolutely! But what is to be done to prevent this happening again? It’s very evident from this sorry episode that the party’s structure is seriously flawed so we need to take a long hard look at how it actually works and make changes accordingly.

    Top of my list of changes would be to NOT put the leader on a pedestal as is traditionally the case but instead make it much easier to depose him if he goes off piste in any way – as Clegg did in multiple ways.

    What do others think?

  • Richard Underhill 10th Jul '15 - 8:21pm

    The point of a leader is to lead. The test of a leader is whether others follow.
    Reprimanding someone who is off piste may lead him/her becoming piste off.
    This is why conference delegates cannot be mandated.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jul '15 - 9:51pm

    Richard Underhill

    The point of a leader is to lead. The test of a leader is whether others follow.

    We are liberals and we are democrats. I think this means we do NOT think the point of a leader is to lead in any direction he or she fancies. The point of a leader is to lead in the direction that those he or she is leading have asked to go.

    We could look at this as like a taxi driver. We ask the taxi driver to take us somewhere, the taxi driver may choose the best route, but must take us where we want to go. The taxi driver may need to interact with us should unexpected circumstances come up, a traffic jam blocking what we thought was the best route or something, but must leave the final decision to us.

    It may be that the requests to the taxi driver are vague or open to different interpretations, such as “take us to a nice restaurant which has good vegetarian options”. The taxi driver might then make a choice, has to bring various factors into it, such as how far are we willing to travel, to what extent we are willing to compromise on our ideal, and so on. But I don’t think it would be up to the taxi driver to think “Oh, vegetarians are silly people, so I’ll ignore that part of the request, and tell the vegetarian sitting on the back seat to get out if he doesn’t like it”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jul '15 - 10:01pm

    Maelo Manning

    Gordon – The cult of leadership made it hard to question the actions and motives of the party.

    In part that comes from politics now always being presented that way. The general assumption among almost all commentators, and people whose understanding of politics comes from those commentators, is that there is only one model of political party, and it is the Leninist one. The party decides it policy, and elects its leader, yes. But after that, the leader is The Leader, and must be obeyed without question. Whatever was decided as party policy is The Party Line, and all members of the party must follow it with enthusiasm and agree to it all, and if The Leader changes it, well, then they must follow the new version with enthusiasm and reject the old version.

    Since the party is therefore the tool of The Leader, anyone who argues against The Leader is branded a “rebel”, and that is thought to be a bad thing, as it goes against the idea that parties must be “united” and “strong” meaning “all members obey The Leader without question”.

    I find that when I try to discuss with ordinary people outside politics what political parties are or how they could be, they are often astonished. The idea of a political party as a network of people who share common ideas and who get together to help some of their number achieve public office has vanished in most people’s thinking. If you try to talk in those terms, people stare at you as if you are talking nonsense, or using a language they don’t understand. Most people just take it for granted that a political party is directed from the top down, that if you are a member you are expected to obey The Party Line as set down by The Leader without question.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 10:16pm

    Not so much a taxi, more a bus, because people are joining and leaving all the time. Because the party is organised democratically the wishes of the new members must be taken into account on an equal basis.

    We have representative governemt and some direct democracy in the party. Our elected councillors, MPs and MEPs need to take into account the interests and opinions of their electorates. If we give the leader the task of getting more Liberal Democrats elected he must do that, being an MP himself.

    We might want the party to specialise in a particular cause, as the Greens used to do and as the Scottish Nationalists tried to do, which can “turkeys voting for Christmas”.

    We are not all formaer commandos, certainly I am not, but Paddy Ashdown was considered a successful leader in terms of enlarging the party. He has said some very quotable things on this subject, which are better coming from him. David Steel occasionally disagreed, for instance on how to achieve some actual progress on Lords’ reform.

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