Success will bring a painful challenge and we must embrace it

We’ve had an extraordinarily successful month. Back in April, we were written off, now we are clear leaders of a national movement that potentially includes over half the country. But we must be prepared for the cost of success.
Many who want a People’s Vote will join us, but they won’t agree with all our policies. A key part of our values is the belief that people should not be enslaved by conformity and should think for themselves.  Well, that belief is going to be put to the test.
There are many thousands of social democrats who are disgusted with Corbyn’s economic illiteracy, his hardline socialism, and his supporters’ intolerance of anyone who disagrees with him. If these thousands join us, and especially if some of them are moderate Labour MPs, that will start to change the culture of our party.
There will be thousands of Tory members who are disgusted with the way their leadership have caved into populism, have put personal careers and party before country, and are leading the nation in a calamitous direction. If these thousands join us, and especially if some are moderate Tory MPs, that will start to change the culture of our party.
This will be painful but necessary. If we refused to be a broad church, then we’d only get narrow support and the two-party system would re-assert itself. If so, our country, as it suffered under a succession of governments led by dishonest populists of the left and right, would rightly treat us with contempt.
Of course, it’s only a small minority in our party who oppose the broad-based alliance needed to change our country’s direction. But they are a loud minority, and they call our potential fellow members “neoliberals”, “reactionaries”, “soggy centrists”, and “authoritarians”.

Part of our party’s culture is that we don’t like unnecessary conflict. If someone is rude, we prefer just to change the conversation. Often that’s sensible. But, in this case, we must not stay silent.
If our potential fellow members hear themselves being insulted by Liberal Democrats, and no Liberal Democrat speaks up in their defence, they’ll not join. And if enough of them don’t join, this historical opportunity may be lost.
We must not let that happen.

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

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  • Neil Sandison 31st May '19 - 12:02pm

    Couldnt agree more George we have a golden oppertunity to build a broad progressive social liberal movement without all the doctrinal baggage that has held british politics back for many decades in this country .Evidence based policy making rather than ideological lurches to the left or right .Brexit is a manifestation of how that can cripple a country that has only just recently escaped a external recession brought about by casino economics in the international financial markets .simplistic solutions that claim the grass is greener if only we adopt one or other economic model will just put us back into the same scenario .

  • Hear hear. The Voters are listening to us again & we must greet them with open hearts. Liberals should work with those who are not Liberals, (inside & outside the Party) to break open the system & let people in.

  • I take George’s point, but at the end of the day, political parties exist to fight for a particular set of values. We already have a problem that people sometimes aren’t clear what the party’s values are, diluting our identity further is not without cost (as George implicitly acknowledges in his opening statement about being “prepared for the cost of success”.

    I don’t want to be overly tribal, MPs and members who are happy to sign up to the statement of values set out in the preamble to our party constitution are, of course, welcome. But we need to be clear that people who join this party are doing just that: joining *this* party.

    If they want to argue from within to change it, fair enough, the line between entryism and arguing your corner has always been a little fuzzy, but nobody should be expecting us to throw away our party’s philosophical heritage just to get them in the door.

  • Bill le Breton 31st May '19 - 12:25pm

    Neil Sandison. How do you build a social liberal movement without doctrine?

    Doctrinal ‘barrage’ ia bit perjorative. Doctrine is a set of beliefs.

    Values are choices – choices of ways to live.

    Our values and our doctrine is set our in the preamble to the constitution.

    The preamble is quite broad but not a licence to believe anything or support any policy.

    People are welcome to join but they must be made aware of that Preamble. And they must feel that they have joined an organisation whose members are completely committed to it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 31st May '19 - 12:54pm

    George as usual writes from a stance of sensible and the word I utilise, flexible.

    It’s ironic this man prefers not to self describe as Liberal, prefers, social democrat.

    We have few in our terrific party more in tune with Liberalism, as is or should be, than him.

  • Sue Sutherland 31st May '19 - 1:51pm

    As a previous Social Democrat who adopted the Liberal political philosophy many years ago I agree with you George. If people are searching for a party which allows them to enter with the hope of finding a political family and develop their own ‘take’ on the political positions they find there then I believe we are that party. The essential requirement is that they support the preamble to our constitution.

  • John Marriott 31st May '19 - 8:28pm

    When he and a few of his followers refused to join the Social and Liberal Democrats, David Owen made the quip that his doctor had always advised him to “eat salads for breakfast”. When the party ditched the ‘Social’ and was mocked for not knowing what it wanted to be called, a supporter countered; “Better to change your name and to keep your policies”. We know the rest.

    So here we are some thirty years later and another ex Labour MP may have to eat humble pie. This time, however, it might also be the potential ‘winner’ of this latest tussle for the middle ground, who may, if they want to change the system, have to change their attitude towards those, whose beliefs may not be as ‘pure’ as theirs.

    If you really want to make the difference you have got to compromise. Being ‘Liberal’ might be fine with PR. Under FPTP being Liberal alone won’t do it. So, until the new dawn arrives, if you want those percentages to stay in the 20s and even higher, I would be wary of trying to ram that preamble down people’s throats.

  • Denis Loretto 1st Jun '19 - 10:17am

    It is always difficult to make the distinction between principle and policy. I think the absolute principle category should be strictly limited but it definitely exists. For example I do not think we could accommodate views on the economy which advocated either total state control or complete abolition of the public sector. However there is a lot of scope between these two extremes. Also we must learn the lesson from the success of our recent adoption of straightforward understandable messages. While we must not descend into mere sloganising I do wonder how much resource we should continue to devote to conference resolutions pages long which (let’s face it) often contain far too much dancing on the heads of pins.

  • I do believe that the tectonic plates of politics are shifting and it is reversing the “Strange Death of Liberal England” where the old Liberal Party was gradually replaced by Labour as the main progressive party in early 20th Century and the trends are broadly across Europe.
    Labour have become both too associated with long term welfare interests and with professionals, primarily in public services and the public sector. They are increasingly seen as irrelevant to would be aspirational working class communities and do not perform well in either rural areas or most suburbs. In addition, labour are losing the Celtic nations they once relied upon to get them over the line.
    I am not saying that long term welfare interests are not important, just that the thrust of policies and perceived interests see too many people consider that it does not help them now. Of course Corbyn has made things far worse for themselves and has accelerated the decline of their core vote.
    But with the Tories brought low by a brexit it is impossible to make an acceptable go of it, while showing them up as incompetent, LibDems will be able to draw from both sides, which is probably a post war first. A real opportunity.
    LibDems topped the EU polls in London, including 15 boroughs and had the greatest gains nationally at 15, considering that Farage just re-launched UKIP under a new name and gained just 5 MEP’s.
    LibDems are now in poll position to in London Mayor in 2020
    The sister Alliance Party in N.I. had record council gains and their first MEP.
    The LibDems also won the previous two local elections on councils and councillors gained.
    Across Europe ALDE, the Liberal group had easily the largest gains at forty odd MEP’s in 3rd place and are in a good place to replace the Socialists into 2nd place in 2023.
    Liberal policies of devolving power and public money to local levels, an active Industrial Policy and creating institutions to better manage capitalism are more in keeping with the times than Labour’s centralisation and eye watering increases in tax, borrowing and spending, as well as their planned government take overs of company boards.
    It’s a Liberal future

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Jun '19 - 4:40pm

    George Kendall

    I want us to build a Liberal Democrat movement, as defined by the preamble.

    Sure, and thanks to Caron Lindsay for having put up the preamble here and before to remind everyone of what the Liberal Democrats are, or ought to be, about.

    Perhaps George, you are unaware of the extent to which it was the Liberals who insisted that the preamble took this form. In particular, it was the Liberals who insisted, against the wishes of the SDP, that the phrase “no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” be in the preamble. This was taken from the preamble to the Liberal Party constitution, and was seen as a key definition of what we are about.

    I say this now to point out that the belief that seems to have developed that the old Liberal Party was to the right of the SDP and stood for what now gets called “neoliberalism” is completely wrong. The reality is that we were very much NOT seeing liberalism as primarily about reducing the state. As the preamble makes clear, we accepted the role of the state as necessary to preserve true freedom.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jun '19 - 5:09pm

    @George Kendall
    “But I fear, if we are tribalist, do not form a broad church, and do not welcome people with a wide range of opinions, then those we are rejecting will stop voting for us, the opportunity will be lost, and the #labservative duopoly will reassert itself.”

    George – if anyone was being tribalist round here I would have thought it was you, obsessing about social democrats as opposed to liberal democrats.

    Why is there such a big issue about any LibDems perhaps having reservations about welcoming ChUK people when they seem at pains not to tell us their values? If any.

  • George, I am an irregular reader of this forum, so I may be, er, out of date. But I think your point above needs emphasising, because it increasingly seems to me that you have hit the nail on the head — but not hard enough. Too much discussion goes on, which is based on a hidden misconception. And that is caused by the elusive connection between two commonplace terms: Liberal, and Neoliberal (variously spelt). If I’ve got it right, Liberal as in Liberal Democrat describes one who subscribes to the social or moral belief in egalitarian freedom tempered by a spirit of fellowship and social responsibility. “Neoliberal” does not mean an up-to-date version of that, because it is not applied to the social context, but to a particular doctrine held by those who profess expertise in Economics, and in particular in the theories that used to be called laisser-faire, and later Thatcherism. So, for forty years or more, Conservatives have been neo-liberals. Unfortunately, so have some who are liberals in our own sense of the word; members of our own party, alas. I keep myself going by nourishing the belief that the Lib Dems have twigged, at last, having realised with dismay the academic error (or swindle?) which has given us our current Austerity. There are very encouraging hints of this in your opening piece, as well as later. But we need somehow now to purge ourselves not only of the error itself, but also of the smell the Cons have succeeded in imparting to our ‘brand’: today’s Liberals are not Neoliberals, I trust.

    And I hope they . . .we, I mean, are moving towards adopting as a central policy, and under a better title, a thoroughgoing (there is no otherway) Universal Basic Income, renamed. Now is the time for it, to mend the impending pain of the Conservative Brexit.

  • Daniel Henry 23rd Jun '19 - 11:24am

    Reading this thread, there seems to be a lot of talking past each other.

    George says (rightly in my view) that to be successful we need to reach out to people who don’t agree with us on everything. We do this by emphasising where we agree and being friendly and respectful where they don’t quite agree with us yet.

    I think this is the right approach. People won’t initially agree with our whole programme, but being welcoming makes it more likely to convince them. And even if they remain unconvinced, we’d prefer that “on balance” they still see us as the best option available to them.

    Most of the disagreeing responses have been based on concerns that this would result in diluting some of our more radical policies. They argue (also rightly in my view) that we shouldn’t sacrifice good policy in the name of being “centrist” or having “broad appeal”

    But I don’t think George has ONCE suggested that we compromise our policy to get people in. He’s just asked us to be to be welcoming and deal with disagreements respectfully, emphasising how they would fit in rather than they wouldn’t.

    It may be that some eventually find that they disagree with our policies to the point that they can support us, which is fair enough.

    But let them make that decision themselves. In the meantime let’s be as welcoming as possible and emphasise the things we agree on rather than the things we disagree on.

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