Reflections after a Conference – a challenge to the Lib Dems

Editor’s Note: Mick wrote this piece after the Brighton Conference in 2018 and sent it to me recently as he felt it was still relevant today. Apart from the fact that Brexit is now an (at least for now) inescapable reality, he’s right.  We need to be radical and punchy to deliver the liberal, fair, more equal society that we want to see. I’m reminded of the Liberal not Moderate t-shirts that some of us wore proudly around that Conference…

After a short period at the Lib Dem conference I am still in Brighton for a couple of days. Brighton is quite a good place to reflect on the state of the UK.

Thinking back, Brighton used to be in much better nick than it is now. Many pavements are cracked and broken, many of the houses and hotels look run down and in need of repair and renovation. The seafront is not particularly special and the West Pier is still a burned out shell. Here, in one of the UKs premier resorts, there are many homeless people on the streets and many beggars as well. Hardly the sort of Britain that we Liberal Democrats want to see!

Recycling largely takes place by means of unsightly bins strewn around the streets and the former green-run council’s recycling policies made a mockery of recycling anyway.

I suspect that much of this is the result of austerity, especially the massive cuts to the finances of the local council that no longer enable it to respond to the needs of the Brighton and Hove Community.

Brexit will hardly improve matters, because hotels and restaurants here rely heavily on European workers and they may not be available after March 2019.

Although I have no direct information, I suspect that housing is expensive and that many people, especially the young, have no hope of getting on the housing ladder and live in the private rented sector with its high prices and insecurity of tenure.

Brighton is not a place where the Lib Dems do well, given that it is the parliamentary seat of the UKs one Green MP, Caroline Lucas. It is a long time since 1962 when a young Navnit Dholakia won a seat here in the post Orpington surge that saw so many Liberals elected to local councils.

Far too many people are now living in a state of fear: fears about the post Brexit world in which Liberal ideas are crushed by the ideologues of right and left; fears about money and whether food and essential supplies will be available; fears for the future of our children and grandchildren. It used to feel good to live in the UK and now it doesn’t anymore.

So how do we Liberal Democrats offer hope to Brighton and the rest of the UK?

I suggest that it isn’t by being moderate or centrist. Rather we need to offer a peaceful revolution that changes the face of the UK. Radical and progressive policies that devolve power, create proper democracy both at work and in the community, policies that really tackle the huge disparities in income and wealth that are the cause of so much discontent, develop a caring welfare system that gives everyone a decent minimum income and builds lots more houses that people can afford and ensure the finance and continuing existence of the NHS. Oh and stops Brexit. Not to mention a humane immigration system that enables families to live together and welcomes people to our country.

I think the Liberal Democrats have the policies that could bring about this radical transformation. I am much less sure that we have the capability, the money and the numbers to persuade enough people to back it. Are we all prepared to devote the time, the energy and the cash to ensure this happens?

* Dr Michael Taylor has been a party member since 1964. He is currently living in Greece.

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  • Peter Wrigley 28th Jun '23 - 8:44am

    A welcome blast from the past. The only change is for the worse. Let’s for goodness sake resume the “Liberal not Moderate” spirit, reprint the T-shirts and loudly and fearlessly proclaim (not timidly hide behind the sewage and potholes headlines,) our policies on the issues Michael so comprehensively enumerates.

  • Trevor Andrews 28th Jun '23 - 9:28am

    So are we saying that the Greens are not good at running a council or is more to do with central governments power over council funding.

    If it is the latter, would Libdems change this?

  • Mick Taylor 28th Jun '23 - 2:07pm

    @Trevor. Actually both. The Greens made a complete fist of running Brighton, especially over recycling. The government also has far too much control of what local councils can do and systematically starves them of cash.
    We DO have solutions. Giving back to councils power over local decisions and
    giving them sufficient fund raising powers to meet their needs. [Ideally of course, entrenching their status within a written constitution]. Lib Dem run councils have done well with green issues like recycling and some, like Eastleigh raise much of their funds from enterprising activities so as not to be wholly dependent on government funding.

  • Chris Moore 28th Jun '23 - 6:59pm

    The Greens did make a total hash of re-cycling as Mick says.

    But also in their first term leading Brighton Council, the Greens lost control of the Council finances. They were unable to pay Council workers. This led to a strike of said workers, with numerous malign knock-on effects for residents. The local MP, one Caroline Lucas, came down on the side of the strikers. Hence the only Green-led council (at that time) was at loggerheads with the only Green MP. A disaster.

    In both terms, they ducked tricky decisions on a serious park and ride to curb Brighton’s heavy town centre traffic.

    The second term ended in a heavy defeat last month by the Labour Party. Amongst the low lights was the knocking down of a part of the Green Wall, a remarkable Victorian monument and forward-thinking paean to nature in the city. This was because of cock up in supervising and instructing council works.

    Brighton Pavilion has got to be at risk, as Caroline Lucas is standing down.

  • Simon Banks 29th Jun '23 - 9:00am

    Our policies tend to be produced by getting together acknowledged/supposed experts and sifting out anything any of them object to. The result is generally wordy, worthy and unstartling. Policy motions at conference start with a long explanation of why there’s a bit of a problem. At the last conference I attended (autumn 2021, virtual), only one policy motion vote was carried by less than 90%, which indicates a lack of lively, constructive controversy.

    As for the lack of numbers, that won’t be sorted till we have a clear message about who we are, we behave in line with that and we pay more attention to helping the numerous weak and struggling local parties to grow. There is never a time when there are not arguments that it’s the wrong time to divert some resources towards them.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 29th Jun '23 - 9:48am

    Good but sad, even tragic. Everything is worse in the country now, and those of @Mike generation are older.
    It was 2018 I think that we passed a radical policy covering immigration and asylum issues. Not all agreed, but it was passed overwhelmingly. Nothing in it has been implemented, even our party don’t refer to many of the highly relevant points, and the new Immigration bill that is illegal is going to get agreed despite vibrant opposition in the Lords (many of our peers deserving a T shirt!).
    I know we are winning some elections, but what is there to cheer me and all the people who are so badly affected up. it is too many months to a general election, and anyone winning it be anything more than “Moderate not Liberal”.

  • I very much agree with the article’s sentiment but not with the view that LDs have the policies to bring about radical transformation.

    On that I’m with Simon Banks – there is no serious debate nor, I would add, is there any discernible leadership.

    That matters because the Tory ‘project’ of the last 40+ years – the marketisation of everything, of privatisation, of deregulation etc- is failing even more badly than did the period of Labour dominance in 1978-79’s Winter of Discontent.

    The last 40+ years have been funded partly by North Sea oil, but mainly by selling off companies and land, by increasing debt – ever-growing mortgages, student loans, and the likes of Thames Water. This road has run out.

    Compounding the problem ‘state capacity’, the ability to actually deliver objectives, has collapsed.
    There are Liberal answers but we need to break out of our rut to find them.

  • Jason Connor 2nd Jul '23 - 2:56pm

    I agree with Gordon and Simon. It can only be a matter of time until Kemi is compelled to bring Thames Water back into public ownership, good result, what with its £14 billion debt. As for the Greens they gained control of a council but perhaps when they get power, people realise their lives do not get any better. I read that they even object to the building of solar farms in many places around the country so perhaps they’re are not so supportive of renewal energies after all?

  • @Jason “ I read that they even object to the building of solar farms in many places around the country”

    Perhaps that’s because many proposals are daft and are simply greenwash.

    Near me a consultant is out for a new “solar” business park, supposedly it will have all energy provided by renewables. To achieve this, a large area of farmed farm land is to be covered in solar panels, yet within the “solar” park there will be no turbines or solar panel, even though there will be plenty of roof space etc. for them… additionally, this “green” development will require a new junction on the A14 as there is no existing bus or train access to the proposed site.

    I’m not a member of the Green Party, but I object to all greenfield solar panel installations, whilst the vast majority of roofs still have no solar panels and businesses do not have small scale vertical wind turbines.

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