Opinion: We must become the party of liberty

When William III arrived on these shores in November 1688, the new King proclaimed to maintain the liberties of England and vigorously defend the liberty of his subjects. In the subsequent months, Parliament adopted the Declaration of Rights – The English Bill of Rights 1689. The corner stone of our constitution, which is still in force to this day but sadly has become a forgotten relic of antiquity.

It seems that we in Britain have forgotten about our hard struggles to gain our liberty. When it comes to foreign affairs, especially the European Union, we understand how unique individual sovereignty and liberty is; we do not seem to defend those rights domestically though. Countless governments, most notably the previous Labour administration, destroyed personal freedom in this country and took advantage of financial and security fears in order to provide more power for the state. The rhetoric was extremely totalitarian towards those who believed in traditional liberties and defending the individual rights of British citizens – suggesting that some of us were appeasing terrorists.

In the name of fairness and balance, Margaret Thatcher had one of the most centralised governments in British history, yet she is routinely referred to as a social libertarian. Conservatives should be aware of previous clandestine approaches to expanding the power of the state, by Conservative governments.

This current coalition cannot truly be described as the guardian of liberty. Pre-charge detention of 14 days is still too far long. Suspects will still have their freedom of movement restricted thus the old fashion innocent until proven guilty is redundant and the market is obstructed by government influence over the economy. Businesses, including financial institutions, should be allowed to fail because that is the nature of economic liberalism and the nature of a true free market.

Liberal Democrats should be arguing for a new constitutional settlement between the people and the Crown. The current Bill of Rights does not provide adequate protection from the executive and international institutions. Sovereignty of Britain should be declared in the people, not the Parliament, and the Commons should be given the authority to vote on appointments of Ministers; it should no longer be a requirement of Her Majesty to authorise the selection of government. The mandate should be given by Parliament. Thus finally making the executive accountable to the British people.

As Nick Clegg announced at the Spring Conference, we [the Liberal Democrats] are the party of the people. It is liberals who trust the people to govern the nation and make the decisions; it is, to quote the famous phrase, government by the people and of the people. But if we are to become that true party of government, then the aspirations and liberty of this great nation must be defended and maintained by the Liberal Democrats.

Daniel Furr blogs at Too lib·er·al [adj.] .

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24 Comments

  • This all sounds very good but I thought the Lib Dems were keener than anyone else on transferring more power to Europe. The Lib Dem manifesto mentions Europe in many places but in not one place does it talk about “declaring sovereignty in the people. It’s all about “working within Europe”. The manifesto also says the Lib Dems believe it’s in Britain’s best interests to join the Euro. How, exactly, would that increase liberty? How has it been for liberty in Greece, Ireland and Portugal?

    How can one Liberal blogging on this site espouse things that are so much at variance with the rest of his party?

  • I also think these claims are a bit rich coming from a party that supports and promotes the signing away powers to a corrupt and remote European parliament.

    I agree sovereignty should be acknowledged to rest in the people, but it should be explicitly stated that this manifests itself through our Parliament in Westminster and the ultimate guardian of which is our Monarch.

    I also agree ministers should be approved by the commons (although I also like the idea of direct election), but I’d oppose any move in taking away the monarch’s role in the forming of a government. Sooner or later someone has to formally acknowledge who won an election and who has the right to form a government so it might as well be our head of state. The last thing we want are disputed elections.

  • Simon McGrat 16th Apr '11 - 11:29am

    @George
    Odd, I thought LD policy was to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But when it came to it this was ditched in favour of a referendum on membership, which blocked a referendum in the UK

  • I realize this isn’t a party mouthpiece website, especially on a day of when bloggers take over, buts lines about being a party of liberty and electoral reform so frequently emerge from the party mouth pieces that are so rare in criticism of the EU that it is incredibly annoying.

    When Daniel briefly mentioned the EU but failed to address how the Lib Dems should approach the various issues I assumed he was one of these, although having now seen his blog and opposition to the bailouts I realize I misdirected my sentiments.

  • Political liberalism and espousing freedom of the individual from the over-weening state is a fundamental belief of Liberals and Liberal Democrats. We put the individual first and it is why both Labour and Conservative fail over civil liberties because they see the power of the state in controlling people’s lives as their prime objective; the state knows better. So of course Liberals in Britain have always put civil liberties above state interference.

    On the other hand Economic liberalism is what the British Conservative Party believes but is anathema to Liberals like myself who believe (as have successive Liberal leaders and conferences) in the mixed economy and strong regulation to prevent dominance by over powerful private corporations to the detriment of small businesses. Regulation is of course also essentional to protect the civil rights of trade unions and working people faced with monopoly capitalism and the free market in reducing their wages and rights at work. Europe has been supported and membership of the Community has been supported by Liberals long before we joined Europe. The reason is not only trade (a prime reason for Tory support in the ’70s) but because European laws and regulations prevent unfair practices against working people in their workplace and upholds many other civil liberties both Labour & Tory governments have tried to undermine.

    The modern Liberal Party developed under successive leaders and conferences from Jo Grimond onwards have believed in this balanced economy; as we do in the welfare state and the NHS at the heart of the welfare state (now being undermined by the privatisation schemes of the Tories supported by Clegg et el).
    Modern British Liberalism also believes and has developed the view that a lot of political power should be devolved outside Westminster; which is why we were the first to advocate Devolution and also regional and stronger local democratic government assemblies.

    Questions about Liberal beliefs in Liberty open up the question of what we mean by liberty and what modern British Liberals believe when we talk about being the ‘Party of Liberty’. I believe much more than the other two dinosaurs that we are the party of Liberty – but always Tom Paine & John Stuart Mill (social & political liberty) rather than a narrow and literal interpretation of Adam Smith and so called free market capitalism where the poor, disposessed and vulnerable always suffer without economic regulation and restraint.

    I

  • ”The fact the EU is unaccountable, bureaucratic and highly undemocratic means it is illiberal. Majority of EU regulations do not benefit the economy or the workplace – it makes it extremely difficult for the business community. In fact, one could argue that the EU is against a free market and more in favour of state influence and protectionism. ‘

    That might have been the case in the past but now do vote for our EU representatives – of course the EU is in the process of change and becoming more accountable; after all it was established as an economic unioon out of the former European Coal and Steel Community. As it has taken on a greater role and become more a political body so it has become and continues to become more accountable and representive. The myth that it is being run by ‘faceless bureaucrats’ is the spin put on it by the Right wing press and the right of the Tory Party, the BNP, other ultra nationalists and fellow travellers. The Right do not like the EU anymore because it increasingly seeks to protect workers and individual rights. Actually you are wrong on all counts as it is becoming more democratic and accountable.
    The EU only makes it difficult for businesses who wish to pay their employees low wages and treate them unfairly and wish to sack people at ease. Yes those sort of businesses do not like EU regulations protecting workers rights.
    Yes it is against the unfettered free market and thank goodness – as the free market left alone ends up infringing and limiting human rights and civil liberties. Unfettered economic freedom is not liberal but very illiberal. The EU is not proectionist as it has many agreements with other states outside the EU and is more open to competetion than people think. However saying all this I certainly don’t think it’s perfect and still needs reform.

    ‘A mixed economy does not promote economic freedom or liberalism; it allows the state to become an obstacle to personal choice’

    In a mixed economy the excesses of the free market are restrained by regulation in order to protect and benefit the ordinary person or consumer. It has never limited genuine and gifted entrepreneurialism. Richard Branson suceeded in a mixed economy as have other great genuine entrepreneurs.

    Good businessmen and women do not see regulation as a barrier only those who wish to exploit and divide and/or take advantage of ordinary men and women.

    Finally, despite your criticism of the NHS – most people are very happy with the way the NHS is running and most do not wait long for operations or what ever, of course there are exceptions and the NHS is not perfect; but it’s a dam sight better than what poor people have to face in the United States – at least before President Obama’c changes.

    It is a pity Daniel (although I respect your views) that you think as do many on the Right and far Right that you either have unfettered capitalism or state socialism! The great thing about the Liberal Party and LDs after 1945 an especially from Jo Grimond onward (well at least till Mr Clegg) that there is a middle and radical left of centre alternative which promotes competition regulated to protect worker and consumer; upholds as a primary concern human rights & civil liberties; and protect the social well being of the people and country through a welfare state. It is that combination that is truly liberal and maintains the dignity and true freedom of the individual. That is why there will always be a need for a Liberal or Liberal Democratic party (or whatever name it chooses) in the UK – which incidently is why I worry about our links with the Tories in coalition as that party tends to like to swallow up or destroy other parties.

  • ‘Mr Branson would still be selling second hand records’

    Actually in the days before Amazon and ebay he wasn’t selling 2nd hand records but new records which undercut high street store prices – on the back of the Melody Maker et el if I remember rightly.

    Yes Sir Richard is perhaps not the best example in many respects – and as you say cleverly (craftily?) did take advantage of such things as rail privatisation. I agree the the airlines and the railways should never have de-regulated and privatised. My point was merely to illustrate that where there are genuine entrepreneurs and buisiness start ups on a small scale it helps benefit society. Decent samll enterprises should not fear regulation.

    ‘It is, largely, state intervention that has created “monopoly capitalism” No – state intervention is there to regulate the economy in the interests of both worker and consumer. This is why Thatcher and Major were so wrong to sell off state industries – at least they were answerable to the people through parliament.

    I am a great believer in small enterprises being free to start up and develop but they need to be regulated to ensure there are doing things above board etc and in the interests of their workforce. By this I mean ensuring the employees have union representation at their place of work, a minimum wage (which should be well above what it is today), guaranteed conditions of work etc. European Law is also there to protect the workers from being exploited by poor employers. (One old Liberal idea that used to be mooted was worker participation on the board of management as one way of improving poor industrial relations in the ’70s.)

    The only regulation on businesses are there to protect employees and consumers so if a business cannot or will not go along with this perhaps they shouldn’t be in business(?). Every employee is entitled to a minimun wage and decent condition of work – that is one of the main reasons for such regulation.

    Large industries need to be be closely regulated for the same reason and broken up if they become too powerful or brought into public ownership to ensure democratic control – eg. the banks (which Vince Cable advocates – till got at by the Tories).

    ‘Much workplace safety regulation actually follows best practice not creates it.’
    Unfortunately that is most definately not the case, as it has been Trade Union pressure that has brought about safety regulations – left to their own devices many companies would not ensure safety regulation but have often been forced into doing so. Certainly in the pages of the Daily Mail and other Right Wing Media the Unions are said to be ‘unnecessary’ or ‘irrelevant’ but the facts are that without Union protection ordinary working people would be driven into unaccepatble conditions of work and pay. On your own you are weak but with the Union behind you become strong – the boss might stand up against one working person complaining about conditions and pay but not when the whole factory comes out on strike! I do actually agree on that point that unions need to be able to call industrial action whenever by calling for a majority vote and Thatcher anti-union Laws (maintained by Blair’s New Labour) should be scrapped to ensure working people are able to protect the welfare of each other.

    Trade Unions (and I a member of one) have always been there to protect workers rights and, unlike many large scale private corporations, are democratically accountable and that is why they have to act in the name of their members. That is why they are hated by both the Tories, & the Right Wing Media but respected by businesses who run their companies with the workers interests at heart.

    ‘It is difficult to set up in business and comply with this mountain of regulation’.
    Somewhat of an exaggeration as this regulation is only there to ensure proper standards to benefit the consumer and proper conditions in the workplace. That is why the Tories, and fellow travllers on the ridiculous right (ie UKIP), hate Europe so much; as the Community has ensured sound employment practices and protection of the employee, and benefit to the consumer (that the consumer isn’t being conned etc). That in turn is why they hated the minimum wage – I remember them claiming that because of the minimum wage businesses would fold – it proved untrue.

    A sound mixed economy welfare state is what has proved so successful and just; not just in Britain but in the rest of the EC and contrasts markedly with the laissez Faire in the US. There are many who wish to take us down the US road in privatising everything including the NHS (sadly happening now under Tory plans – which had been oppoesed by Lib Dems till the coalition; and ending all forms of regulation under the claim that is is too onerous.

    Today we are free of a New Labour Party with its ID cards and other draconian attacks on civil liberties which only the Liberals seemed to be genuine in opposing (it’s in our DNA) but now we have a Tory led government which is hellbent on undermining our economic & social well being (freedoms) and only paying lip service to political freedom in which they have never really believed.
    If Labour under Milliband ditch the political statism of New Labour and embrace political liberalism then I believe the Lib Dems should ditch the Tories before they ditch us and move into a rainbow coalition of progressive forces. Who is supporting us over AV? Not the old guard Labour; and not any Tory – but Ed Miliband is showing he is different and perhaps a signal to us that he rejects old New Labour. We have joined forces over AV for political change and progressive politics let’s not form a new genuine coalition of the Centre Left – our natural home as opposed the staying to the reactionary Right before they consume us or destroy us.

  • Old Codger Chris 20th Apr '11 - 11:40pm

    We are right to rail against erosion of freedom.

    But does anyone seriously believe that the people (other than a priveleged few) were more free under William III and his ministers than under Elizabeth II and hers? I know the Liberal colour was once orange, but……………….

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