Social Liberal Forum launched

A group of party activists has launched the Social Liberal Forum to help set out a bold Liberal Democrat vision to tackle inequality in Britain. The SLF is a new progressive voice in the party that will focus on how the mainstream social liberal traditions of the party should be applied to the huge challenges facing British society and the world.

The Conservative Party tries to disguise its indifference to poverty with empty words about a broken society. Labour rhetoric on equality has not been matched by actual achievements. The challenge for the Liberal Democrats, in the next election manifesto and beyond, is to develop the strong social justice commitments in areas like child and pensioner poverty for inclusion in the next election manifesto that will continue to give the Liberal Democrats a radical cutting edge in British politics. Liberal Democrats must continue to be the party that guarantees strong public services and tackles inequality in a radical way that neither the Tories nor Labour would ever contemplate.

SLF believes attention should be given to identifying who are the poorest in society and fashioning the breadth of policy instruments that will help them. We want to build on existing policies, such as the pupil premium, in order to decisively break the cycle of disadvantage. Priority should be identifying who are the poorest in society and what policy State action has to be refashioned in order to achieve the goals of equality and social justice. Liberal Democrats must also be ready to demonstrate how a more equal society is in the interests of all citizens not just the poor.

The SLF will hold a launch event at the party’s Harrogate conference in March, on a ‘A Liberal Democrat Vision for Social Justice’. This will examine how the party can best present an energizing vision of a more equal society.

An executive team of Richard Grayson (Chair), James Graham (Treasurer) and myself as Director will also be organising discussion events throughout the year, and holding debates through the website. We want to provide opportunities for party members from all across the country to contribute their ideas about how to develop a modern policy programme that will reinvigorate the drive for social justice. As part of this, we will be hosting the Reinventing the State policy discussion evenings that James Graham announced last month.

Steve Webb is chairing the SLF’s Advisory Board of campaigners at all levels of the party, joined by fellow MPs Tim Farron, Lynne Featherstone, Sandra Gidley, Evan Harris, Paul Holmes, David Howarth, Matthew Taylor and Jenny Willott and writer Claire Rayner.

Social Liberalism is the mainstream of the party and has been for decades. But we need to ensure that social liberals within the party continue to innovate on policy as the challenges we face change and develop. The Social Liberal Forum is intended to be an effective and open place for the mainstream of the party to develop new ideas to contribute to the formal party policy processes.

Dr Matthew Sowemimo is a former editor of The Reformer and was researcher for the Lib Dem Treasury team. He is a former Director of Government Affairs at the Equal Opportunities Commission and is currently Campaigns Manager at Christian Aid.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • And just when things were beginning to look up for the Lib Dems, up pops another splitist group to rile everybody up and set Lib against Dem.

    Won’t we ever learn.

    Maybe I’m being too pessamistic, but the lack of any Clegg heavy weights among the MP supporters suggests this is just an anti-clegg pressure group

  • And how does the group differ from the Beveridge Group, or is the Beveridge Group now dead?

  • another sigh 12th Feb '09 - 6:55pm

    so is there a liberal liberal group too?!

  • Oh yes.

  • Liberal Neil 12th Feb '09 - 8:37pm

    I welcome the establishment of this group, and any other that is genuinly trying to encourage debate about how liberalism progresses.

  • I’d rather have had a liberal social group.

    But, bad puns aside, I wish this group every success.

  • Charlotte

    Maybe you should think more about people and less about non-socialism and/or niches?

  • David Morton 13th Feb '09 - 1:33am

    Lots for this group to do. Number 1.

    Some work on raising the basic Income Tax Allowance to the minimum wage level.

    £5.73 times 37 (hours a week) times 52 (weeks in a year) is £11024. God alone knows how that would square with claw backs on benefit,tax credit etc but the basic principle should be the lowest paid shouldn’t be paying tax and then having to recycled back via vast levaiathan state aparatus.

    It would be expensive but a highly communicatable idea. step two would be to raise it to say 125% or 150% of minimum wage to add incentive for over time , progression etc

  • David Morton 13th Feb '09 - 4:09am

    Number 2. Is the ” Nudge” approach liberal ? I can’t get my head round this. You are preserving freedom by allowing people to choose. No one is cohersed. However its a direct intrusion by the state into private behaviour by indentifying good actions, promoting them and by placing a burden on the individual to opt out.

    If nudge can be seen as being liberal enough for us to use then a whole host of behaviours of poor demographics could be tackled. For impecible liberal reasons we would never use force to do this and thus todate things like poor diet, cooking, nutrition and crucially parenting have been off limits.

  • The saddest thing about this forum is how it seems to be setting out on the premise that if only you give poor people enough money, everything will be OK. This ignores the reasons why they are poor and suffer bad education and health outcomes in the first place. Often it is their own behaviour. The lesson from the failure of New Labour is not that more of the same is needed, but that a radical rethink is required. Why, for instance, do we have large numbers of single mothers on benefit who continue to have more children? Why are large numbers of children trapped in an anti-learning culture that means they cannot make use of educational resources that are actually abundantly available? Why do large numbers of fathers fail to take responsibility for their offspring? Why do people suffer poor health because they choose to smoke, don’t exercise and make poor dietary choices?
    The last 11 years have shown not only that showering people with extra benefits actually deters them from making the right choices in life, but actually creates adverse incentives. Without leaving our fellow citizens in penury, how do we create incentives for people to take more responsibility for their lives? These are the questions any forum needs to look at.

  • Responding to James Graham:

    The clue is in the title of the group James. It is not called Lib Dems Equality Forum or Lib Dems Focus on Poverty etc…but Social Liberal Forum…..which is encouraging factionalisation.

    You fall back on that old trick of saying that If I am disappointed in this initiative I must be against political discussion….tactics that are very Bush like I may say.

    We all know the subtext to this James.

    Some were uncomfortable with the direction set out in MAke It Happen.

    Attempts to amend the paper failed (quite spectacularly)

    So instead the same people (taking others along for the ride) set up a group to help them campaign to change the direction (or modify it).

    This is all quite legitimate, and in many ways positive.

    But it isn’t always positive to set up a group in which the subtext is to challenge the direction set out by the Leader and endorsed by conference in what is likl;ey to be as near as dammit an election year.

    I call that divisive.

    My sigh is not one of disapproval, rather one of sadness.

  • Thanks James.

    I am glad then that you are helping run this show, because if it was left to others, the tendancy to polarise on dogmatic grounds could take hold.

    As evidence, I post an excerpt from Richard Grayson’s speech on your new website, which it seems to me, defines exactly what this group is about:

    “Within the Liberal Democrats, there are broadly two approaches. A minority view, that sees little reflection in party policy, but which has attracted much media attention, is the school of thought associated with the Orange Book, published in 2004. It is a view which suggests that we need to emphasise ‘choice’ in public services, tends to see the state as ‘nannying’ and believes that the way forward is to treat individuals as consumers and offer them choice through insurance schemes.

    Less eye-catching to the media is the social liberal approach, which tends to influence party policy much more.”

    This is about either or in the view of your Chief Executive.

    I’m all for political debate, but I am not for division, particularly when it is based on an artificial ‘choice’ between two competing ideas when actually the marriage of social and economic liberalism (if we have to use those stupid phrases) has been what the party has been about for many years.

  • Gareth Epps 13th Feb '09 - 2:33pm

    There really is a lot of nonsense being talked here, mainly by people with axes to grind and anonymity to cower behind.

    This Forum is clearly set up to be out in the open, and lead in creating debate. This can only be a good thing, as there are enough Liberal Democrats who complain that we do not talk enough about politics. It is important to do this alongside all the campaigning.

    As for ‘sigh’ (sic), it has been clear for some time that Liberals who believe that the free market has limits have been wanting to have a structure that contrasts against the well-funded ‘Centre for um’…. and provides a melting pot for ideas and debate. This has sort of been happening with Liberal Conspiracy and the like, but in a cross-party way. Your desire to curtail political debate must make you Gavin Grant and I claim my £5 🙂

    As for ‘robertc’, er, no. Those of us who see the results of Labour’s centralist approach to doing things *to* our most deprived communities know what lessons need to be learnt. One task I hope this group will not shy away from is looking at those communities and towards finding genuinely Liberal ways to give them power and control (which yes does mean money). From a local government point of view, this is needed in best practice and support from our urban councillors in power; too often for them the only tools available are Labour control-freak centralisation. It is absolutely a job for social Liberals and fits absolutely centrally within that glorious Liberal tradition. Adherents to trickledown economics and the like just can’t work it out.

  • David Allen 13th Feb '09 - 2:53pm

    “the marriage of social and economic liberalism”

    It’s all been done long ago. It was John Prescott who discovered this Holy Grail – it’s PFI for the NHS!

  • This is a good thing, it should encourage more thinking on all sides of the party.

  • I think it is a good thing if political parties have mechanisms for discussion about possible changes in direction.

    Surely, if the electorate can change in its views and the world can develop, a party can as well.

    I am someone who might vote LibDem in the future and would feel encouraged to do so if I felt the party was moving in the right direction, particular on financial management where politics has not delivered a stable banking sector.

    What is the alternative to having these kinds of discussion? Members just accept the party line and hope that the leadership has a road-to-Damascus moment? Backroom dealings? Starting a new party?

  • “SLF believes attention should be given to identifying who are the poorest in society and fashioning the breadth of policy instruments that will help them”

    I’d rather you focused on recording your new album.

  • Martin Land 13th Feb '09 - 8:17pm

    Wow, all I can say is this must be a very significant development if it can get 20 lines out of Geoffrey without him once mentioning Trident…

  • David Morton 14th Feb '09 - 6:26am

    Peiority Number 3. Look at Universial Inheritance. I’m bitterly disappointed by the party’s policy on Baby Bonds. What evr their faults there are

    – a secure long term savings mechanism

    – a rare example of long term policy making where the benefits are delivered long after the memoirs are writen rather than the next days headlines.

    – an incentive to save

    – an attempt to address asset inequality rather in come inequality.

    – an attempt to build a transformative welfare state rather than a dependency building one. nearly all welfare benefits are either income or condition contingent ( eg you are either very poor or have a child,disability). they are also doled ot in weekly or monthly instalments which keep you afloat but does little to chalenge the under lying issue.

    What benefits never do is give you a single cheque big enough to actually change your life.

    – a move towards a culture of long term investment rather than sort trm cosumption. I’m really p***ed off at some of the party sound bites slagging this plicy becuse its saved jam tommorrow where as we will spend it on jam today. This appeals to human instinct but isn’t necceserily what we need right now.

  • David Allen 14th Feb '09 - 7:58pm

    Casting about for a suitable motto for the SLF, I alighted on Google’s choice, which is “Don’t be evil”.

    It would be evil to carry on supporting a party which had abandoned many of the key principles it has held for decades. It would be evil to carry on working for a party of cheerleaders for big spending cuts, the increasing marketisation of health and education, and the inevitable resulting increases in poverty and social inequality. Wouldn’t it now?

    I applaud the formation of the SLF, and I trust its founders are well aware of the urgency of the task they face.

  • Simon Radford 16th Feb '09 - 1:33pm

    I am pleased to say that I agree entirely with Gareth Epps. We need more political debate in the party, not less. As long as we can maintain a healthy atmosphere to conduct that debate in, then the more voices, the better.

  • Matthew Huntbach 17th Feb '09 - 10:22am

    There has been a great deal of factionalism within our party recently from people who wish to push it in more of an “economic liberal” direction. And they have often done it in a way which I believe is dishonest – set up groups which they say are just to “encourage thinking” and which they say are just “liberal”, but only on looking closer do you find they have a strong agenda of pushing just one form of liberalism.

    It reminds me a lot, as a Christian in the catholic tradition, of the fights I have had with groups like the “Christian Union”. I have no objection to them pushing their own form of Christianity, though it is not one I agree with. I have every objection to them not being honest in their name and way of promoting themselves about the fact that they are very much pushing one interpretation against others. I particularly dislike the way they use language which is intended to push the idea that their interpretation of Christianity is the only possible one, by constantly referring to themselves as just “Christian” or “non-denominational” when if they were honest they would use the honest term which describes them, “Protestant”.

    Historically, the Liberal Party as it evolved in Britain and revived in the last quarter of the last century has been a social liberal party. In part this is because it was the remnant of a split where the more right-wing elements of liberalism joined with the Conservative Party. This is why the Conservative Party in Britain has survived as to quite a large extent the economic liberal party. In other parts of Europe the liberal parties have been more economically right-wing, but the equivalent of the Conservative Party is a “Christian Democrat” party which can be quite social democratic when it comes to economics.

    It therefore seems to me that those trying to push the hard economic liberal line in our party are the interlopers who aren’t in its tradition. But they have a right to join it and try and push it in their direction. As I have said, if it goes too far, I would find the Liberal Democrats no longer a party I could happily support. This is how parties work, and those who are trying to push them in new directions have to accept it may mean the loss of the some of the footsoldiers who have been quietly keeping them going at ground level.

    This “Social Liberal Forum” is open about its aims, and so far as I am aware its structure and funding. I like that honesty. We have already seen the factionalist accusations that it is about “defending producer interests” or “imposing state uniformity” which are rubbish. Though I do plead guilty to suggesting at times that the economic liberals are people who are just defending the producer interests of big business and the dull uniformity of big business products, and the wealth of those in charge of big business.

    In factional debates it can be hard to distinguish between “You hold a view which I believe will lead to X” and “You hold to X”. Perhaps we should bear that in mind and try to stick to the former when disagreeing with party colleagues.

  • David Morton 18th Feb '09 - 4:35am

    While politics is an awkward business to be using a Crystal ball in its at least worth looking at the following senario. In 16 months time we will have

    – A Conservative government

    – A shattered Labour Party

    – The need for signifigant tax rises and expenditure cuts

    – The social fall out from 3.5 million unemployed

    – the clock further towards zero on climate change

    This will be the best oppertunity for 30 years (since the Labour/SDP split) to rethink and reclaim the progressive ground in British politics for genuine community minded liberalism. A politics based on Horizontal inter relationships at community level rather than vertical ones between state and individual often involving dependency inducing benefit transfers.

    Vacous platitudes about “hard working families” won’t do it any more. I’m bewildered why a few people seem so touchy about a body encouraging fresh thinking in the party.

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