The ideological background to coalition

Richard Grayson (former head of policy for the party and one of the leading lights behind the Social Liberal Forum) has written a thoughtful pamphlet for Compass about the different strains of thought within the Liberal Democrats and what they mean for coalition government.

The subtlety of some of Richard’s views mean you have to read the whole piece to do them justice, but a flavour of his interpretation of the so-called social liberal versus economic liberal difference is given by these extracts:

One other point needs to be made about the supposed social-economic liberal divide is that for the vast bulk of the party, the issues concerned in the debate are not pressing. In a thoughtful blog, party activist and thinker Iain Sharpe said of a speech I gave in Newcastle in February 2009, ‘I wince a little when I read Richard Grayson’s reference to “two approaches” to Lib Dem policy, “Orange Book” and “social liberal”.’ Iain went on to say, ‘This makes me feel more uncomfortable as I, and no doubt many other Lib Dems, don’t fall neatly into either camp, and don’t find them mutually exclusive.’10 On that basis, I think Iain was right to criticise what I said. I am certainly clear that such a divide does not exist for most members. As I shall argue below, the party is relatively under-factionalised. Indeed, ‘Orange Bookers’ are a very small section of the party, probably a much smaller section of the party than New Labourites were in their party – and they were never large in number. However, as labels for the directions from which much policy initia- tive has come, I defend the terms. While the party’s policy and principles have been broadly social liberal, a clear policy drive has come from the direction of The Orange Book

How then does this narrative help us to under- stand the way in which the coalition has been greeted within the Liberal Democrats? Why has there not been more internal opposition? In the first place, we must not underestimate the extent of tribalist knuckle-headed Labour opposition to a deal with the Liberal Democrats. John Reid and David Blunkett were the tip of an iceberg in a party where many despise ‘the Liberals’. Such people lining up to tell the media that a period of opposition would be best for Labour was a terrible disappointment for those Liberal Democrats who were openly calling for a deal with Labour.

In contrast, the leadership has been able to put forward an argument, which finds much favour in the ranks, that the party is getting much from the coalition deal. All are agreed that the Conservatives offered much more than anybody would ever have imagined. As Polly Toynbee said of the coalition agreement, ‘There are policies here that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling adamantly, and wrongly, refused to contemplate so wedded were they to New Labour’s rigid caution, triangulating themselves to death.’ That not only involves major constitutional reform but also a strong green strand and the sweeping away of some Labour legislation which posed threats to civil liberties. The leadership has been able to claim some success in the budget on matters as such as capital gains tax.

The most contentious section is where Richard argues that,

What the party still does not seem to recognise, or at least accept as a problem, is that the coalition can also be best understood as the preferred option of a leadership grouping which since it took over the party has consistently sought policies which will reduce the role of the state and steadily take a centre-left party to the centre- right. The major debates in the past two to three years have seen the small Orange Book tendency in the party steadily whittling away at broadly centre-left policies on, for example, the level of public spending, the level of income tax and roles of local government in education.

What I think Richard under-plays is the way the party’s attitude towards the state has changed not in response to different internal ideological views gaining ascendancy but rather in response to changing external circumstances. Given the huge expansion in public spending in the middle years of the Labour government, and the big expansion of central control in the early, middle and late years of Labour government, it is hardly a surprise that many who previously instinctively reached for more public spending and new regulations as the solution to problems now see both as having gone too far and a different emphasis needed instead.

You can read the full pamphlet below:

The Liberal Democrat Journal to a Lib-Con Coalition – Richard Grayson

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50 Comments

  • This is gracious writing by Richard.

    If pushed, I fall into the centre-left camp; indeed I was brought up as your standard ‘anti-Tory’. But as Richard and Iain concur, and this is true I think for many of my generation within the party, I do not view the size of the state as a ‘good’ or as a ‘bad’, what matters is the Liberal (freedom ‘from’ and ‘to’ others – not just the state as libertarians seem to obsess) and Democratic (Ligitimacy of power depends on democracy – not just equality of power as Dworkin seems to conceive).

    The capability based Liberal simply doesn’t fall neatly into either camp. But what I certainly don’t fall into is, as Mark rightly points out, an authoritarian Labour Party or an un-democratic Conservative Party.

  • Tony Greaves 12th Jul '10 - 4:23pm

    We will see where the balance of views in the party lie as the public spending cuts begin to bite at local level, and as madcap policies such as academies and free schools, and handing the NHS over to GPs, begin to cause the destruction of systems that at least try to be fair and have fairness at their heart.

    With Gove and Lansley rampant and being urged on by the LD leadership (if not their parliamentary ranks) – and Pickles waiting in the wings – who knows what disasters lie ahead?

    It seems that we are being asked to accept all this crazy right-wing stuff in return for advances in civil liberties and constitutional reform (timid as it is). Will therfe be a breaking point for the party? Or will it be a matter (as a result of the party being under-factionalised, as Richard points out) simply of individuals having their individual breaking points and giving up?

    Or can the worst of it be halted in time?

    Tony Greaves

  • Norman Fraser 12th Jul '10 - 4:45pm

    I find it difficult to take that so far the Party has accepted a budget with 25% cuts in every department of state. Of course we have few examples so far but the abolition of the Food Standards Agency today bodes ill for the future. With the initiatives in schools and the NHS looking as though they are designed to aid privatisation, I wonder if the Party is willing to stomach the dismantling of much state support and regulation in favour of, ultimately, big business. No-one in the Party voted for these measures and no-one but a fool believes that our current level of deficit makes such a level of cuts mandatory.

  • paul barker 12th Jul '10 - 4:46pm

    I am one of those who if asked to choose between “social liberal” & “economic liberal” would say both. Yes we are on the “centre-left” but Left-Right is one of only 4 major axes in British politics; the others being Nationalist-Internationalist, Authoritatian-Liberal & Green vs ? Labour are Nationalist & Authoritarian & those are built into their structure, not just an aspect of ideology.
    The big problem with Labour is that their membership have so little power compareed to the Trade Unions. The Unions are bound to be defensive, small-c conservative, nationalist, masculine & statist. Of course they have a vital role to play as part of civic society but they have no place in party politics. Labour emerged from the pre-democratic politics of the the 1890s & cant ever be a fully democratic party. We have to work with them sometimes but Britain will be a healthier place when Labour wither away.

  • Andrea Gill 12th Jul '10 - 5:09pm

    @Norman Fraser “Of course we have few examples so far but the abolition of the Food Standards Agency today bodes ill for the future”

    It HASN’T been abolished, though IMHO it *should* – it merely duplicates the work of the relevant EU agency unnecessarily, why do the work twice and pay twice?

  • Norman Fraser 12th Jul '10 - 5:31pm

    @ Andrea A number of papers were touting the abolition of the FSA this morning Apparently no decision has been taken yet. Nonetheless, I cannot see how you work out that it merely duplicates the work of the EU when the FSA agenda is domestic and it has a regulatory function. No EU body has direct control over the government machinery of a member state.

  • david thorpe 12th Jul '10 - 5:55pm

    its correcty to say most of us are somehwere between the two points on the compass, and neither of the two points should be called an extreme.

  • I’m new here but I thought ALL lib dems were social liberals and the difference was how much of economically liberal we are (I’d consider myself in the middle)

  • “Left/right is only one axis of the spectrum, the more important one is libertarian/authoritarian.”

    Which makes it all the more disturbing that I’ve seen posts on here that divert from the party line too much suddenly vanishing …… lib by name … by nature, well. Not so much.

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Jul '10 - 10:06pm

    There is an axis where Liberal Democrats do need to take a position. Do we accept the findings of the Spirit Level, and that reducing the gap between rich and poor brings a better society?

    (The Spirit Level has been debunked, it’s bad math)

    That’s just an instance of the same old “left vs liberal” thing.

    The left-wing attitude is that egalitarianism – reducing the “gap between rich and poor” – is the way to a better society.

    The liberal attitude is that freedom from poverty – raising the wealth of individuals above the poverty line – is the right thing to do.

    These two ideologies agree on some actions and disagree on others. The left-wing approach says that making rich people less wealthy is an acceptable solution – the gap is smaller, even if poor people are still just as poor. The liberal approach says that the gap can get larger, if all people become more wealthy and the rich just get it faster. The key distinction is whether or not it is necessary to bring down the rich in order to achieve this goal. A left-wing thinker would say that it is – people can never be equal while some have more than others – while a liberal would say that it’s not important, so long as everybody has their needs met.

    Also do we believe in Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”. Whether he intended it or not, this is interpreted as meaning that markets are self correcting.

    That’s not a matter of belief. Markets in scarce commodity goods are self-correcting. Other markets are not. As soon as you understand basic economics, this is obvious. We can very clearly define which markets behave in this manner, and which markets require regulation in order to function.

    What we found out from the banking crises is not that there was too much state involvement (albeit libertarians will insist there was), but not enough.

    Less state involvement would probably have worked too. What we had was exactly the wrong amount of state involvement – the government legitimised and backed the system, while failing to ensure that the system worked.

    Well the belief that the size of the state should be reduced by 1/4 suggests not. This seems a ludicrous position to me, and for now I could not possibly defend it.

    Why? That would just take us back to the early days of the Blair government. I don’t recall the state being ludicrous back then. When you realise that Labour has massively bloated the state over the past ten years, it doesn’t sound so unreasonable to just undo that.

  • @SandraF: “I’m new here but I thought ALL lib dems were social liberals and the difference was how much of economically liberal we are (I’d consider myself in the middle)”

    Yes it’s not like there are any really truly social conservatives in the party IMHO.

  • @Sandra F – if by Social Liberal you mean people who are happy to accept whatever size various Labour Governments have inflated the state to (which seems to be how they define themselves) then certainly not all LDs are Social Liberals.

  • @SMcG – That’s not the definition I’d use.

  • @SMcG: no, I mean the true meaning of social (not socialism).
    By social liberal I mean we want the state to stay the hell out of private matters,as long as they don’t impact other people’s freedom.

  • Norman Fraser 12th Jul '10 - 11:20pm

    @SMcG and I would not use it either.

  • Norman Fraser 13th Jul '10 - 7:35am

    @ Sandra F There is a problem with your definition of “social liberal”. To be a Social Liberal means to accept that the state has a role to play in maintaining freedom and social justice and “recognises a legitimate role for government in addressing economic and social issues such as unemployment, health care, and education while simultaneously expanding civil rights. Under social liberalism, the good of the community is viewed as harmonious with the freedom of the individual.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_liberalism “Economic liberalism” insists on the primacy of free markets http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_liberalism and takes a narrower view of the role of the state.

  • @sandra F – “By social liberal I mean we want the state to stay the hell out of private matters,as long as they don’t impact other people’s freedom.”
    That is to be a Liberal. No need to add the social bit!

  • Grammar Police 13th Jul '10 - 9:08am

    The interesting point in Richard’s pamphlet for me was on whether we are “under factionalised”. I’ve long thought it interesting that our internal groupings seem rather atrophied – even the most successful (imo the Green Liberal Democrats and ALDC) don’t seem to have much of a presence. Others, such as ALDTU don’t even seem to exist – I’ve attempted to join a few times then simply gave up!

    Internal groups can: be the drivers for policy development; by providing resources and a forum to discuss particular ideas; they can give guidance and coherence to internal elections as they indicate political/policy positions and interests; and they can also be the support network and the reason you stay involved when the party leadership (locally or nationally) heads in a direction you’re not keen on.

    I don’t think I’d join the Social Liberal Forum (although I’m not an ‘Orange Booker’ either) but I’d support it for that reason.

  • Norman Fraser 13th Jul '10 - 9:26am

    I’m actually rather concerned by this discussion because it reveals a lack of awareness about ideology. It is one thing to be sceptical about the claims of any one political philosophy and quite another to be totally unaware of what that ideology is and how it impacts on policy. Throughout the Party this laziness of thought has spread to the point where I think that many members have concluded that Lib Dem policy is whatever the leadership says it is. This drift away from policy concern goes some way toexplain the atrophy of the various associated bodies.

  • Norman, one of the downsides of “localism” being regarded as the most important thing about being a Lib Dem! Of course the party, like any other is “a broad church”, but that’s different from being so broad it no longer seems to be a church at all!!

  • Geoffrey – I agree with you on much, but you offer us a false choice – I can reject the Spirit Level that says that a more equal society is automatically better (though I agree with some points it makes), whilst still saying that it is one of the most important aspects of Liberty to reduce this gap.

    Rawls, Sen and Nussbaum are the way we should go: At the moment, we should aim to ensure that there is no poverty, no ‘poor’ and no-one who doesn’t have the capability to choose their own version of the good and pursue it.

    I worry that the Budget harms this, but the coalition agreement doesn’t. So I will still support the coalition, but voice my objections to a) lowering corp. tax instead of keeping VAT down, b) free-schools and c) various other repulsive Tory policies.

    We’ll wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review is published on October 20th.

  • Throw away comments, such as Andrew Suffield’s “The Spirit Level has been debunked, it’s bad math” [above], don’t help Liberal Democrats to grip the issues or to debate them intelligently. If you want to understand the controversy about the significance and reliability of the Spirit Level here are two suggestions: Peter Saunders’ Beware False Prophets and Richard Wilkinson’s Beware false rebuttals .

  • Oops – Wilkinson’s False rebuttals

  • Some interesting elements of principles cropping up here, like “The left-wing attitude is that egalitarianism – reducing the “gap between rich and poor” – is the way to a better society; The liberal attitude is that freedom from poverty – raising the wealth of individuals above the poverty line – is the right thing to do.”

    Trouble is that these declamations are firmly rooted in the 19th century, along with a lot of what passes for Liberal philosophy. The liberal attitude seems to imply that taxing or impeding the wealthy is unnecessary, clearly an inadequate perspective in an age where 2% of humanity owns 50% of the global wealth (http://www.gizmag.com/go/6571/) and that was in 1996! The trouble is that loadsa money alters the way you see your fellow citizens and their part in your grand design; thus the rich seek to maximise their advantage, buying up the media or starting thinktanks or PR or lobbying firms. Then there’s the corporations, the transnationals, the global megacorps who follow the same maximisation programme but on steroids. What does 19th century liberalism have to say about this? Nothing, as far as I can see. Which is why the Clegg leadership found themselves easily swayed into signing up to the coalition: quite simply, a skeptical attitude towards market orthodoxy and transnational corporations is absent from the centre of the party’s principles, making us easy meat.

    Personally, as a party member, I’ve held onto my social democrat tenets, which include a hard-headed, practical and unsentimental view of money, markets and corporations. We’ve come quite a long way since the days of Adam Smith; its time to let him go and get on with rejuvenating the party’s core principles around the fundamental requirements of a democratic and open society.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Jul '10 - 12:26pm

    @mike cobley

    Of course, there are many vested interests. The media, as you say, is corrupted.

    However, capital is highly mobile, and trying to claw back too heavily at the top end, merely encourages capital flight, and is hence self-defeating.

    I suppose that there are a number of tax measures that could have been introduced that would not have resulted in capital flight. For instance, further higher bands of council tax, or green taxes. The green taxes are certainly coming, anyway. Super VAT on certain luxury items.

    A fundamental problem with higher levels of state intervention is the question as to how to raise further taxation. The previous Labour governments, for populist political reasons, neglected to do this, and we are all, now, suffering the consequences. If you tax too heavily at the top end, capital flies. If you tax business too heavily, you undermine economic growth. Therefore you have to tax ordinary working people – and their levels of taxation are already very high. Labour seemed perversely to tax the poor and then give them – and the middle classes – some of their money back. They called it redistribution, but really it just looked like a Byzantine system of middle class tax bribes for temporary electoral success. Squaring the circle is not easy.

  • I am aware of this argument of not taxing the rich because they’re so clever that they can disguise their wealth or give it wings to fly away, away…. which, with respect, I think is nonsense and/or an expression of genuine despair (or do I mean defeatism?) I find it hard to believe that after nearly a century that the modern tax-collecting system cannot attach the earnings of those earning over a half a mil. And I know that many would feel happy if certain rich individuals did indeed sod off rather than part with their ??-gotten gains.

    Yes, capital flight is a serious problem, which should be addressed. Globally mobile capital plays its part in the undermining of democracy – the virtual senate – and the callous looting of weak nations. Which of course is closely allied to the activities of companies like Goldman Sachs and the black hole of derivatives which is still gnawing away at the foundations of international finance. The point is that its just not enough to say that the rich are too clever and throw up your hands and shake your head. Equally, it is a monstrous deceit to publically state that the pain will be shared, we’re all in it together, etc, and then baldly let the wealthy off the hook.

    The wealthy can maximise the system to their advantage – how can the rest of us do the same?

  • Paul McKeown 13th Jul '10 - 12:45pm

    “how can the rest of us do the same?”

    Share the answer to your question, please.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Jul '10 - 12:46pm

    “baldly let the wealthy off the hook”

    That certainly hasn’t happened.

  • Stuart Mitchell 13th Jul '10 - 12:50pm

    “Left/right is only one axis of the spectrum, the more important one is libertarian/authoritarian.”

    That is certainly a common view. Glossing over the fact that nobody around here seems to know what the word “authoritarian” actually means, I think that this is a rather feeble ideological crutch that has been used by Lib Dems to justify the goings on since the election.

    If Labour seem weaker on civil liberties now than the Tories and Lib Dems, this is more to do with the fact that they have just spent 13 years in power rather than any ideological factor inherent in the nature of the Labour Party. Note how roles have been completely reversed since 1997. Chances are they will be again.

    Clearly, at the moment Lib Dems would rather think about the evils of the DNA database and CCTV than frothy matters such as the regressive VAT rise and scrapping of the school building programme, since they need to focus on the things they believe they have in common with the Tories. But this will not be enough to sustain you for five years.

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 13th Jul '10 - 4:09pm

    “Left/right is only one axis of the spectrum, the more important one is libertarian/authoritarian.”

    A common misconception (if being kind) or misrepresentation (if one is being accurate) of those who seek to demonise ‘the state’.

    It is that old oxymoron of ‘left libertarianism’. In/ under the inbuilt unfairness and staggering wealth differentials of a capitalist system greater equality and greater ‘freedom’ are more often than not on the opposite sides of the argument.

    All ‘greater freedom’ succeeds in doing under a capitalist system- where different groups, individuals, communities, sectional interests are endowed with much different abilities to take advantage of ‘greater freedom’- is to ingrain and exaggerate the underlying inequalities that exist. If we could start again with a blank sheet then we could enshrine freedom, localism, diversity and micro politics/ micro government as the basis of our society. But we can’t. We are in a capitalist system that has centuries of inheritance and inequality ensconced tightly within it. And- these days via money markets and international financial flows- does everything in its vast power to ensure that it stays that way.

    All ‘big society’ localism will achieve (and remember it was started under Blair 2003-2005 though Brown halted it) are more post code lotteries in all types of public good provision; a huge differential in standards whereby the more affluent , more networked/ clued-in communities take more and give less and the poor give more and receive less. Think upper middle class Toby Young and the yummy mummy free schools only writ large and rolled out to all types of services: swimming pools, ‘public’ libraries, GP’s, town planning, refuse collection, road quality, policing/ private security etc etc

    In our society-economy/ in the advanced capitalist nations, only state action on behalf of the majority who are on average and below average incomes or on welfare entitlements; on behalf of those without *economic power*- either as owners or as hi-end consumers on six figure salaries- can succeed in reducing inequality. But the state – and those directing it- must want to take that action. Blair-Brown did not- they were frightened of the markets and probably rightly so. But even the little they did achieve for the poorest communities- in areas like regeneration and social enterprise- is now being rapidly dismantled by Cameron-Clegg and the Orange-neo Thatcherite stampede towards a return of Edwardian Britain.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Jul '10 - 5:51pm

    “stampede to Edwardian Britain”

    haha, like it, do your write for Socialist Worker?

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 13th Jul '10 - 5:51pm

    @Jedibeeftrix

    “assume I am justifying Clegg’s apparent attempt to drag his party towards orange book right-of-centre liberalism. i am not, i am a right-of-centre person with a preference for classical liberalism, not the same thing.”

    hhhmm

    both- imposed in the illiberal way that they are being- are an attempt to take us back to Edwardian Britain (technically: pre social democracy).

    In that sense this pin head dancing does not matter: they are both 19th century creeds and they are both a disaster for millions of people in 21st century Britain.

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 13th Jul '10 - 5:56pm

    @Paul McKeown
    ““stampede to Edwardian Britain”
    haha, like it, do your write for Socialist Worker?

    Ah one of the orangemen ultras again- the baying of the beast betrays its prescence 😉

  • ROB SHEFFIELD 13th Jul '10 - 6:07pm

    “If Labour seem weaker on civil liberties now than the Tories and Lib Dems, this is more to do with the fact that they have just spent 13 years in power rather than any ideological factor inherent in the nature of the Labour Party.”

    Notwithstanding the (you would have thought) oh-so-obvious-fact that during that period was 9/11 and 7/7 and Glasgow airport. Labour stopped any more atrocities in the UK with their ‘illiberal’ belief in the sanctity of UK citizens having the right to be protected by the government from Islamist extremism.

    I await the response of David Davis, Norman Tebbit, David Cameron and Nicholas Clegg the next time a bus gets blown up in central London taking tens of people with it.

    Another atrocity is unlikely to happen yet though- not until the ideological ’19th century liberal’ spending cuts bite into anti-terrorism funding….

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jul '10 - 11:12am

    mike cobley

    Trouble is that these declamations are firmly rooted in the 19th century, along with a lot of what passes for Liberal philosophy. The liberal attitude seems to imply that taxing or impeding the wealthy is unnecessary, clearly an inadequate perspective in an age where 2% of humanity owns 50% of the global wealth (http://www.gizmag.com/go/6571/) and that was in 1996!

    There has been a determined attempt by a small but powerful elite to try and capture the word “liberal” to mean this, but it is simply not true. 19th century liberalism was just not what you say it is here, it just was not the Ayn Rand philosophy however much the wealthy elite try and give that philosophy more ground by falsely linking it to 19th century liberalism.

    19th century liberalism was less focussed on the danger of business wealth owned or controlled by small numbers of people because business enterprises were on a much smaller scale then. So small scale business then might be seen as part of the struggle against the traditional holders of power, the aristocracy and the established church. However, it is simply not the case that 19th century liberals saw reducing the state and reducing taxation as all that politics should be about. A simple glance at the history books will show how 19th century liberals regarded the provision of good state services as part of their purpose.

    It was a central part of the Liberal cause going into the 20th century to confront and break down the power in concentrated land ownership. How on earth can you, for example, look at the words of the “Land Song” and yet write what you wrote? How on earth does “Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hands?” fit in with what you claim to be “a lot of what passes for Liberal philosophy”?

    The recognition that the state may be used to temper the destructive power of the market economy when ownership is so uneven was clear in the development of the Liberal Party in the 20th century. When we went into the merger with the SDP, the words from our statement of aims and objectives we most wanted to keep were “freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity”. How in any way does that fit in with what you claim is the “liberal attitude”?

  • Stuart Mitchell 14th Jul '10 - 9:09pm

    Rob:

    “All ‘big society’ localism will achieve (and remember it was started under Blair 2003-2005 though Brown halted it) are more post code lotteries in all types of public good provision; a huge differential in standards whereby the more affluent , more networked/ clued-in communities take more and give less and the poor give more and receive less.”

    An analysis so accurate I’m quoting it just for its own sake.

    The latest move in this direction – the scrapping of national wage bargaining – will be yet another means of amplifying the differences between the more and less affluent areas. I know we’re only eight weeks in but this government is so awful I am starting to think the previously unimaginable: maybe Thatcher wasn’t so bad after all.

  • Actually, Mike, even Adam Smith saw the need to exert some control over business which became too powerful. Of course we need to act and legislate for the times we are in, but agree with Matthew that many of the fundamental principles of 19th Century liberalism (and whiggery / radicalism) still apply now in our changed circumstances. Of course, Empire was used to get round purely national laws then, now it is “globalisation”. One of the major problems we have is the lack of genuine supranational democracy to balance the lack of financial constraints. And guess who opposes internationalism in this way? Yes, Murdoch and his ilk – corporations who directly benefit from the lack of cross border regulation and taxation.

  • Andrew Suffield 14th Jul '10 - 9:26pm

    The liberal attitude seems to imply that taxing or impeding the wealthy is unnecessary

    Not exactly. The liberal attitude (at least in the form I was describing, there’s other opinions) is that taxing or impeding the wealthy is not an objective, but may be acceptable if it is necessary to free people from poverty.

    From a pragmatic perspective, it’s obvious that at least with current economics, any way to free people from poverty is going to require taking money from people who aren’t poor. However, the liberal perspective doesn’t see any need to go further than this, while the left-wing perspective says that even if everybody has all their basic needs met, you must still crush the wealthy elite out of existence (and in its most extreme form, that it’s acceptable for everybody to be reduced to poverty so long as they’re all equal – although we don’t have any significant far-left parties in the UK, so that’s not a perspective you’re likely to encounter).

  • Norman Fraser 14th Jul '10 - 10:04pm

    @ Andrew Suffield “while the left-wing perspective says that even if everybody has all their basic needs met, you must still crush the wealthy elite out of existence”

    No it does not. Stalinism is not the whole of Socialism by a long chalk. I wonder why you need to invent bogeymen but then you do specialise in reductionism. Your definition of ‘Liberalism’ is a case in point.

  • Norman Fraser 14th Jul '10 - 10:09pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach But what do you stand for now?

  • Actually, my perspective is that of a social democrat (well….radical democrat), from which I accuse the very and ultra wealthy (both individuals and corporations) as consitutting centres of power that are almost always deployed for anti-democratic purposes. Andrew S says that it is a bad thing to crush the wealthy elite out of existence – well, what is the argument for permitting them to go on possessing all that enormous and economically inactive wealth while 50% of the world population possesses 2% of the wealth? Today’s gulf in incomes and wealth is grotesque and vile – how could you argue otherwise?

    As to liberalism, its root principles do certainly still offer valuable guidance on certain general aspects of governance and individual freedom, but its 19th century origins inevitably render them inadequate to the full range of problems we face. We need an updated set of core principles from which to tackle the threats to democracy, which today originate almost exclusively from establishment elites, the ultra-wealthy and ruthless corporations. One useful viewpoint on the last of those is a book called ‘The Corporation’ by Joel Bakan which I cannot recommend highly enough.

  • mike cobley 15th Jul '10 - 3:19pm

    @Jediguy
    I certainly didnt mean outdated and outmoded – what I mean is that classical Liberalism more and more resembles something like Windows 3.1. Or look at it this way – Newtonian physics was eventually superseded by Einsteinian physics and Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, but that didnt make Newton completely obselete, just relevant as a special case, under certain parameters. Which is my take as a radical democrat, really – I came to the Alliance via the SDP and stayed thru the merger, but ultimately my stance is that I can defend democracy from attack, no matter what direction, left or right, the attack comes from. And that, I feel, should be one of our core, updated principles. To my mind, a vibrant private sector is a necessary part of an open, progressive, forward thinking democracy – but that is all, a PART, not the whole. Equally, in order to safeguard the wellbeing of the people, an open and transparent public sector is also needed (which I personally would extend to the utilities and the rail system), efficient and democratically accountable.

    All political creeds have their times and classical liberalism belongs to the age that brought it to flower – what we need now is a social democratic liberalism fit for today’s crises. And we better get a move on.

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  • Michael BG
    Joe Bourke Thank you for your comment. The producer energy companies are benefiting from the higher price of gas and so these higher profits should be taxed ...
  • Michael BG
    Jenny Barnes, I had been using a lower figure for medium earnings (in October I was saying that average earning was £32,084 https://www.libdemvoice.org/jere...
  • Katharine Pindar
    Alastaire S. Even big businesses can fail and are failing, Alastaire as I am reminded every time I visit my local town centre and see the huge empty shell of wh...
  • Martin
    It is a hard question: who could we see as Leader of the Party, someone who is able to promote modern Liberalism and have the ability to make use of declining f...
  • Zachary Adam Barker
    "Ed Davey is the likeliest leader of the current crops of MPs" Then perhaps we should consider allowing the party leader to come from outside of the Commons ...