Tag Archives: liberal values

Lord William Wallace writes…Fighting for liberal values

Putin has paid us a compliment.  He’s defined politics as a conflict over values, with liberal values as the enemy that authoritarian regimes like his define themselves against.  He’s full-throated in defending autocracy against democracy: government by diktat, authoritarian leader as father figure, leaning on nationalist myths and ‘traditional’ values for legitimacy. A regime underpinned by force, disguising huge gaps between the privileged rich, close to power, and the poor.  Viktor Orban (in Hungary) and other rising authoritarians haven’t yet gone quite so far: he defines his style of government as ‘illiberal democracy’, retaining some of the outer structures of popular participation while bringing media, universities, and much of the economy under state control.

Many 19th century liberals were optimistic about progress and education leading almost inevitably to enlightenment, tolerance of diversity and minorities, the rule of law and an open society.  The 20th century taught liberals that these achievements can never be taken for granted, and have to be promoted and defended by every generation.  And that’s not an easy task: it’s a complicated argument to defend minorities and minority rights, to talk about the importance of law and political processes, when much of the population is more concerned about economic insecurity and more attracted by the easy promises of charismatic populists.

Britain, like many other countries, has made enormous advances in recognising liberal values over the past fifty years – in opportunities and rights for women, in attitudes to ethnic diversity and to sexual and gender diversity.  But the populist appeal to ‘traditional values’ blows a dog whistle against all this.  Populist attacks on ‘elites’, often described as ‘liberal elites’, dismiss reasoned debate in favour of gut feelings.  Michael Gove’s attack on ‘experts’ was an encouragement to the public to follow their guts and stop listening to reason or detailed argument; his efforts to return the teaching of history to ‘the national story’ would have pleased Putin.  Boris Johnson’s campaign is becoming more illiberal by the day. His dismissal of his own party’s reasoned policy on the sugar tax is a classic example of an appeal to prejudice against enlightened self-interest.

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Remembering the liberty message among the Brexit madness

The Liberal Democrat result in the European Elections has shown that the #BollocksToBrexit message has finally got through.  But my twitter feed in the last couple of days makes me think that our position on civil liberties is also very relevant to the chaos around Brexit and all that this stirs up for people.

Recently there was an article in the Telegraph  about secret talks between some Tory donors and Nigel Farage with a view to a pact to avoid Tory Brexiteer and Brexit Party candidates standing against each other. 

My twitter feed had a string of comments from people alarmed at this. The sharpest I saw was from @bulshdetector  on 16 June: 

 

This is a different time and the parallels between now and then shouldn’t be drawn too closely, but the anxiety is real and should be engaged with.

Christina Wieland’s majesterial book The fascist state of mind and the manufacturing of masculinity gives a perceptive account of how people’s real anxieties left them prey to strong-sounding leaders in Germany and Italy in the 1930s. Earlier this year, the Hansard Society’s 2019 Audit of Political Engagement showed 54% of Britons in favour of a “strong leader who would break the rules”. It’s tempting to read the show of machismo in the Tory leadership contest as a competition to take up that role — in eliminating Rory Stewart they removed the voice calling this out.

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This is Vince Cable’s Election

Yesterday we were privileged to welcome Vince Cable to Liverpool. It will be one of his last visits as Leader as he intends to step down to allow a contest for a new Leader to take place in June.

I want to put on record just how much I think the Lib Dems owe to this man as we face what is probably the most amazing electoral turnaround (in a positive sense) in our history.

In 2015 we came close to becoming irrelevant. Under Tim Farron we weathered that storm and that was no mean feat. We got our membership base up and steadied the ship. Instead of facing the loss of even more councillors and activist we dug in and strengthened our position in local elections. We did marginally but surprisingly well in the General Election of 2017 increasing our number of MPs from 9 to 12 and crucially getting back into Parliament three heavyweights: Vince himself and the probable contenders for his job next month, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. Tim did us well despite a General Election stumble over one aspect of his beliefs. We should continue to thank him for that.

Then Vince stepped in. He knew he was a caretaker and we knew that he knew! We were content with that because the Lib Dems needed settling down before a leadership election not least because the two probable contenders needed time to re-establish themselves.

Vince brought five things to us:

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Liberal Anti-Fascism

The death of Pawel Adamowicz marks a turning point.

With the rise of the right there has been a spike in political violence in Europe and in the US. Bombs are being thrown, people threatened, and people killed in the name of so-called “populism”. The moment Adamowicz’s killer linked his actions with allegations levelled at the Civic Platform group of politicians is the moment when it became a political act.

The same goes for the murder of the MP Jo Cox. These are symptoms of the augmentation of what we deem as populism to a far more reactionary line of thinking, which will end, organically, in all out fascism. These exact paths have been trodden before.

What can liberals do about it? Adamowicz’s life was one of political action. As a student he organised protests and strikes across Poland during the time of Soviet occupation. He was a champion of minority rights and those of the LGBT community. He was, for all the things he did and said, a good man. I say that we ought to follow his example.

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The Problem of Moderation

A question that has plagued the party since inception and has, in recent years, come to the forefront is the question of identity. How do the Liberal Democrats define themselves? It seems to me that when members and supporters speak about the topic the same two words repeat themselves – “moderate” and “centrist”. As a result, these words have become synonymous with the term “liberal”. This article, the first of two, will cover the problems I have identified with this synonymity, the first target being the term “moderate”.

The main problem lies in how the term is actually used. For example, when one takes a diet of moderation all things are accounted for and everything is presented on the plate in equal measure. This approach, however, is not one that quite works within internal party political discourse. When we mention, say, Ken Clarke we can quantify him as being a “moderate Tory”, a believer in conservatism with a leash. Owen Smith is a “Labour moderate”, a social democrat rather than a democratic socialist – a Labourite with a leash. They still belong to the Right and to the Left but they do not take their ideologies too far.

Yet when it comes to a Liberal Democrat the same cannot be said. Who can, or could, be described as a “moderate Lib Dem”? This term would be akin to tying a tight leash around a short leash in a mobius strip of stasis.

So, then, one can only be “moderate” relative to the rest of the party or ideological camp that one finds oneself in. Now this is established we can get to the root of the problem, one of the party’s actual ideology, or ideological spectrum. The other parties can have moderates as they have ideological principals that underpin their ideas. Moderates, just like everyone else around them, agree with the means, goals, and ends of the parties they represent.

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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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  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 22nd Oct - 1:40am
    Sorry for typos, it is one forty am!
  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 22nd Oct - 1:37am
    Can I say this. Despite being involved on a more cross party trajectory in recent years post coalition and referendum, despite regarding cross party involvement...
  • User AvatarPatrick 22nd Oct - 12:00am
    Also, I'm thinking that now that Dr Phillip Lee has been given the justice brief, he has a great opportunity to prove his liberal credentials,...
  • User AvatarPatrick 21st Oct - 11:53pm
    Till otherwise proven with appropriate references, I'm willing to give Dr Phillip Lee the benefit of the doubt. And if someone will issue references that...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 21st Oct - 10:25pm
    Adding to Expats comment, in his latest twitter comment (and in a letter to The Times) two days ago, Dr Lee stated, Dr Phillip Lee...
  • User Avatarexpats 21st Oct - 9:54pm
    George Potter, I have no brief for Dr. Lee but everything I've read shows him IN FAVOUR of rehabilitation for prisoners rather than 'hard labour'......