Tag Archives: liberal values

Challenges for liberalism 3: Is liberalism under threat, and how should its values be promoted?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by York  University Liberal Democrats.

It’s certainly a difficult time for those who share our values. There’s a song we sing at Glee Club at conference, and it includes the line, “Peace, reform and liberation be our triune aspiration”. I think those are fantastic values –
promote a world in which nations and peoples live together in harmony, in which borders are dismantled, have an agenda of constantly reforming society so that we are constantly ahead of the curve in promoting a more open and fair society, and look to end oppression wherever we see it.

But those values aren’t in fashion at the moment. What’s very much in fashion is xenophobia, knee-jerk conservatism and oppression.

I think we spend too much time apologising about our values, of being embarrassed by them. Take immigration – the guy who says he has “genuine concerns” that all people who look a bit foreign are job stealing rapists is obviously not going to vote for us, but the people who might be persuaded about our values are also not going to vote for us if our message is, “the bigots have legitimate concerns, but don’t vote for them”.

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Any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal the sugar tax

As the so-called ‘sugar tax’ comes into being, it’s worth remembering just how poor a piece of policy it is. The sugar tax is regressive, it is ineffective and it is illiberal; any Liberal government worth its salt would repeal it.

The pre-amble to the constitution of the Liberal Democrats commits the party to both the fundamental value of liberty and ensuring that no-one is enslaved by poverty, the sugar tax fails on both these counts.

First and foremost the sugar tax is illiberal. If we accept that philosopher John Stuart Mill’s ‘harm principle’, the idea that power should only be exerted over an individual against their will if it is to prevent harm to others, is a cornerstone of liberal thought, then quite clearly the sugar tax fails this test. The consumption of sugary drinks poses no threat of harm to others, and as such the state has no business attempting to reduce their use. Whilst you could argue that the ‘harm’ to others associated with the consumption of sugary drinks is the additional strain this may put on the health service, if you were to follow this argument through to its logical conclusion you would advocate taxing gym memberships, as injury sustained through excessive exercise would too place a strain on the NHS. Clearly, this is nonsensical.

To add to this, not only is the sugar tax illiberal but it is also regressive, as it will disproportionally affect those on the lowest incomes. This is both because they are more likely to consume non-diet soft drinks than wealthier individuals, and also because tax rises such as this will take up a larger proportion of the poorest individual’s budgets. Evidence suggests that for individuals with a high sugar diet, taxes do little to reduce their consumption, and as such the sugar tax is all cost and no benefit to those whose disposable income is already low. Far from lifting people out of poverty, the sugar tax further condemns them to it.

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Caring, Bereavement and the Liberal Family

I recently suffered a major bereavement, an event that triggered a decline in my health.

Ten years as a carer has taught me that there isn’t much help out there. That still appears to be the case as I try to cope in a very difficult situation.

Bereavement counselling is only available from charities and there is a three-month-long waiting list.

The alternative is the NHS run Talking Therapies which takes you through several hoops before you can even get to speak to a professional counsellor!

All this whilst dealing with the arrangements for the person who has passed away, which there is no …

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“Opportunity, community, sustainability and an open mind.” Willie Rennie’s liberal values for today’s Scotland

On Sunday night, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie made a speech in St John’s Church in Edinburgh. He talked about his vision of liberalism and what it means for today’s world. He looked at the consistency of liberal values in practice through the ages and quoted Charles Kennedy on finding the way forward from the history books.

There’s nothing particularly new in there, and I’m not sure about this “militant for the reasonable person” phrase. Reasonable, is, after all, a very subjective phrase. I’m sure Nigel Farage thinks he’s being reasonable, but generally liberals find what he says deeply unpleasant. Nor am I sure about militant. Maybe that’s because I remember the Labour lefties in the 1980s. We liberals are passionate, certainly, but militant? I’m not so sure. I prefer his summary of liberal values – opportunity, community, sustainability and an open mind. Those are very consistent themes for him and he’s been talking about them ever since he became leader. What he now needs to do is show how these values underpin all our policy ideas.

I also liked the bit where he praised the Church’s strong support for equal marriage, saying that they had shown that tolerance, faith and love were “comfortable allies.”

He also talks about how he and Tim Farron come from similar backgrounds and have similar perspectives on liberalism. He ended with a list of things that his small team had done. What he needs to add when he does that is to say how these have actually persuaded or provoked changes in SNP government policy. It’s not a bad record for a small team of 5 MSPs out of 129.

Here’s his speech in full. What do you think?

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Opinion: Blast from the Past: Wisdom from the old Liberal Party

Amidst the party’s recent problems, a lot of people have been talking about the party’s principles, and in particular, the preamble to the constitution.

As a statement of principles, it’s fine – I would imagine that most Liberal Democrats can sit through it, nodding in broad agreement. It speaks to my head – but not my heart.

And we mustn’t imagine that it’s set in stone. I recently dug up this beauty: the Preamble to the Constitution of the old Liberal Party, from 1980. It’s stirring stuff, and is really worth a read.

The original preamble was …

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