Tag Archives: liberalism

Wednesday Debate: What do you think of Governments’ plans to ban a generation from buying cigarettes?

It’s Summer 2049. Peter and his friend Mark are doing their weekly shop in Morrisons.

They stop at the cigarette kiosk on the way out. Peter, born on 31 December 2008, shows his compulsory ID card to prove that he is old enough to buy tobacco products. Mark, born just a day later has never been legally allowed to buy them. Instead, he gets them from various sources, including a dodgy bloke down the pub. Every year, he hires a van and hops over to France to fill it up with an unhealthy supply to keep him going for a few months, paying duty to the French Government rather than the UK Government.

All of this assumes, of course, that we aren’t doing our shopping via Elon Musk’s chips implanted in our brains, but never mind.

In a rare move, this week Governments across the UK announced a plan to prohibit anyone born after 1 January 2009 from ever buying cigarettes. I don’t think any of us think it is ok for a 15 year old to buy cigarettes. But do we really want a situation where 40 year old Mark is legally prevented from doing what 40 year old Peter does legally?

Health charities and organisations are delighted at the Government’s plans. Of course they are, because reducing smoking is obviously going to improve public health. They are doing their job.

The British Heart Foundation’s Chief Executive, on their website, said:

When we have known for many decades that smoking kills, it is utterly unacceptable that smoking continues to take so many lives, causing at least 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease every year across the UK.

“On top of this, smoking is a significant driver of health inequalities, disproportionately affecting the health of the poorest in society.

“Tough measures are needed to put a stop to this ongoing heartbreak, and we welcome the UK Government’s bold proposal to create a smoke-free generation by raising the age of sale for tobacco every year.

“It’s right that the Government is taking action to make vaping less appealing. Children and people who have never smoked should never start vaping, which is why we need effective measures that make it harder for young people to buy vapes in the first place.

“There is clear public support for this Bill and we now urge every MP to support this once-in-a-generation legislation when it is brought to the UK Parliament. We hope to see this policy adopted by administrations across the UK.

So what should the Liberal Democrats be saying about this? As a liberal party we hold personal freedom for adults to do things, even if they harm themselves, as a core value. I have to say that I’m surprised that the proposals put forward by three Governments who spend most of their time rolling their eyes at each other have been accepted with so little controversy. Only a few voices, such as our controversial ex Prime Minister Liz Truss, have spoken out, calling the measures “un-Conservative.”

This is one of these issues where you can use liberal principles to reach either conclusion in the debate. You can argue that the health of a generation is more important and that smoking rarely harms just the person doing it and that this measure is important to stop deaths which are entirely preventable.

On the other hand, we know that prohibition rarely works. In the example above, Mark has found ways of obtaining his cigarettes. What is likely to happen is that there will be a flourishing underground market in tobacco products for those who don’t or can’t head across to Europe to replenish their supplies.

As a party, we have long argued for the decriminalisation of Cannabis. Surely supporting this measure would be inconsistent.

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The Lib Dems (and Labour) could learn from Russell T Davies

Christine Jardine wrote about the 60th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination earlier this week. The day after, 23rd November, marked 60 years since the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast.

For me, ever since the very first episode I watched in 1974, it’s been a  constant source of joy, inspiration, curiosity and adrenaline rushes. There seems to be quite an affinity between Lib Dems and Doctor Who. We identify with a socially awkward eccentric travelling through time and space saving peoples and worlds and universes, a lot of the time from themselves.

Last night marked a new era for the show. Or, more accurately, a reboot of one of the most successful ones. Russell T Davies is back as head writer and has reunited much of the team who brought the show back so brilliantly in 2005. Much as I love the Doctor and all his companions, it simply hasn’t been as good since RTD left in 2009.

David Tennant, the first actor to return for a second stint as the Doctor is reunited with Catherine Tate who played his last regular companion, Donna Noble. The way her character developed over 13 episodes was outstanding, but then the Doctor, against her will, wiped her memory to save her life.

Russell T Davies really knows how to play with your emotions and not just in Doctor Who.  In the drama It’s a Sin, he just breaks you as he contrasts the  horrendous cruelty of discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS with the love and support of friends.

Last night’s Star Beast had plenty tugs on your heartstrings. Joy, apprehension, fear, optimism, love, the fierce, protective love of a mother for her daughter being just a few.  The one thing he is not is subtle. You are in no doubt about what he is saying, and those of us on the progressive side of politics could learn a lot from him.

Right wing politicians have been dividing and ruling us for too long now. They are not known for hiding their rhetoric under a bushel. Look at how Conservative politicians treat vulnerable asylum seekers, set about removing benefits from sick people who can’t work and demonise trans people because they think it is politically expedient to do so. And some of them, like Nigel Farage, do so while portraying themselves as the jokey bloke down the pub that everybody loves.

While we are on the subject of Farage, rumoured to be pocketing £1.5 million for going on I’m a Celebrity, I will never forgive Have I Got News For You for showing that clip of him naked. If you haven’t seen it, you have been warned.

Sadly, those of us who want to see a more liberal and equal society  too often shy from challenging the right wing. We murmur round the edges, too timid to take them on in case we scare people from voting for us and we shrink back when the right shout at us. Even when our policies are much better, and pretty much all the  time they are, we don’t use our creative skills to appeal to the better, more compassionate side of public opinion. It’s there, but it needs to be nurtured.

And every time the right go unchallenged, they pull the political agenda a little bit more over to their side. We all lose when that happens because the country becomes a nastier, unhappier place to live, particularly for those whose lives become a lot worse as a result but the toxicity affects us all.

And so back to last night’s Doctor Who. 5.1 million people saw it, the highest for the first episode of a drama this year.  It was woke as hell, and much the better for it. You see, woke, explained properly, is all about making sure everyone can take part in life. It’s about kindness, generosity and seeing the best in our fellow humans. No wonder the Daily Mail hates it.

I’m wary of too many spoilers, but the joys included a TARDIS that anyone could access and a  scientific adviser being given the perfect tool she needed to do her job.

It was clear from the get go that Donna Noble has a brilliant relationship with her daughter, Rose. We learn that Rose is trans, confirmed by boys from her school yelling transphobic abuse at her. Every parent will recognise the furious love Donna has for Rose in that moment. We all want to protect our children and Davies evoked that beautifully.

Russell T Davies manages to get you in the gut every time. And that’s what we need to get better at.

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Don’t take freedom for granted

I attended the fringe meeting titled “Is International Liberalism dying? Persuading the world that the future is liberal” in the Autumn conference. One panel member expressed a sentence like this: “The reason the Global South countries are not cooperative with the West is so-called Liberal Imperialism.”

Coming from one of Global South countries – China – 19 years ago, I knew different answers, which could be the more realistic ones, yet have rarely been noticed by the West. Thanks to Rachel Smith’s encouragement, I raised my hand up for the first time in this conference, and got the attention of host Christine Jardine MP, to ask: “I am a British Chinese. I took 18 years to learn what freedom is after I moved here in 2004. The West has taken freedom for granted, my question is – Do the South counties who don’t know much about freedom have rights to pursue global fairness? ”

There were a few of the audience who gave me applause, yet stopped immediately, because of no more echoes.  My question didn’t get well received from the panels, the one who answered my question said: “Your question is not what we are talking about.” Yet from what I have seen, her attitude was exactly the problem – Western have taken democracy and freedom for granted.

When I studied International Relations at the University of Bristol, there are two major theories – Realism and Liberalism. The latter is based on the principle of individual liberalism in our party,  and was the leading theory representing then global positive cooperation atmosphere, economic globalization. I didn’t know Lib Dems then and thought Brits were all liberals. I corrected myself this year as I finally realized Labour and Tory both borrowed the idea of liberalism from the Lib Dems. We are the true liberals.

I am a different liberal though. I remember the first year I was in the UK;  a few Brits asked me a question: ‘’Why doesn’t China have democracy?’’. The attitude was like ‘”how come you don’t have such a easy political system?”. I spent my first 30 years in China before I immigrated to the UK. I have always known how impossible it is to have freedom in China. Sometimes people asked: ‘’Why don’t your people fight?’’. I was speechless, at that time I was equipped with a 1.0 generation (1.0 G) of immigrants’ mindset (Mainland Chinese mindset, I set Brits’ mindset as 2.0 G), had never been educated about civil society, never known what human rights are truly about,  let alone known about campaign action, all of which took me about 20 years to learn, until today.

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Reflections after a Conference – a challenge to the Lib Dems

Editor’s Note: Mick wrote this piece after the Brighton Conference in 2018 and sent it to me recently as he felt it was still relevant today. Apart from the fact that Brexit is now an (at least for now) inescapable reality, he’s right.  We need to be radical and punchy to deliver the liberal, fair, more equal society that we want to see. I’m reminded of the Liberal not Moderate t-shirts that some of us wore proudly around that Conference…

After a short period at the Lib Dem conference I am still in Brighton for a couple of days. Brighton is quite a good place to reflect on the state of the UK.

Thinking back, Brighton used to be in much better nick than it is now. Many pavements are cracked and broken, many of the houses and hotels look run down and in need of repair and renovation. The seafront is not particularly special and the West Pier is still a burned out shell. Here, in one of the UKs premier resorts, there are many homeless people on the streets and many beggars as well. Hardly the sort of Britain that we Liberal Democrats want to see!

Recycling largely takes place by means of unsightly bins strewn around the streets and the former green-run council’s recycling policies made a mockery of recycling anyway.

I suspect that much of this is the result of austerity, especially the massive cuts to the finances of the local council that no longer enable it to respond to the needs of the Brighton and Hove Community.

Brexit will hardly improve matters, because hotels and restaurants here rely heavily on European workers and they may not be available after March 2019.

Although I have no direct information, I suspect that housing is expensive and that many people, especially the young, have no hope of getting on the housing ladder and live in the private rented sector with its high prices and insecurity of tenure.

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Labour show their true colours

It has not been a great  week for those who think Liberal Democrats will find it easy to work with a minority Labour Government  or that Labour are our natural partners.

First we had Keir Starmer’s very odd comments on  people working in the NHS – where he said 

What I would like to see is the numbers go down in some areas. I think we’re recruiting too many people from overseas into, for example, the health service.


I have recently  spent time visiting someone in hospital and was struck by what a high % of the nursing and auxiliary staff were from overseas : what a message to send to them !  

Of course Starmer knows perfectly we need people from overseas to staff the NHS – this is pure dog whistle stuff designed to get a headline. 

Then we have that old  Labour favourite, identity cards. Labour’s last, fabulously expensive plan, for these was  rightly scuppered as one of the first  (and widely acclaimed ) actions of the Coalition but now  revived by Stephen Kinnock who says Labour is thinking : 

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Ed Davey interview with Tory think tank, Bright Blue

Ed Davey has been interviewed by ‘Centre Write ’ the magazine of Bright Blue – who describe themselves as “an independent think tank for liberal conservatism. We defend and improve liberal society.”

The interview is billed as talking to Ed about “about coalitions, what it means to be a liberal, and what the future, holds for the party he leads” and Ed provides some robust answers  to their questions. When asked if he regrets entering the Coalition he talks about his fighting the Tories over renewable energy – but as a result of winning those fights we have cheaper energy and lead the world in offshore wind. He doesn’t answer the question about whether he regrets us joining the Coalition but could not be clearer when asked “ Would you ever enter into a coalition with the Conservatives again?: 

“The answer is no. It’s quite simple.”

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Restating our political identity through a new liberal manifesto

Do you remember what you were doing on the evening of 16 April 2015? The chances are you were in front of your telly, as I was, watching the seven leaders’ TV debate in the run-up to the general election. I have a distinct memory of that night: I became aware I could sum of what six of the seven parties stood for in three or four seconds, but the one I struggled with was my own party.

We must be careful not to make too much of the ‘Do people know what we stand for?’ line, as politics is more about which parties feel right and trustworthy. But in a political culture dominated by two main parties, and a media culture governed by two sides to a story, it’s very hard for a third party to create an identity in the minds of the average voter. As a result, the Lib Dems have become in many voters’ eyes a compromise between Labour and the Conservatives, an image we have not shied away from encouraging with slogans such as ‘Stronger economy, fairer society’.

But we are not a compromise, we stand for something! The problem is that what we stand for is not easily summarised, the way being pro-environment is for the Greens or being anti-EU was for Ukip. So, we need to find a way of encapsulating what we offer.

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Liberalism or Die

The best definition Liberalism I know was spelled out by Timothy Garton Ash in a Guardian article on 29 November 2004.

Liberalism, properly understood (is) a quest for the greatest possible measure of individual freedom compatible with the freedom of others.

That’s all there is to it if we understand “freedom to” (live and eat decently, get educated, achieve our potential, participate in society, debate our differences in a respectful manner) as well as “freedom “from“ (want, fear, coercion, domination, exploitation).

We now know that Fukuyama was wrong to declare the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy in 1989. It is virtually non-existent in China, and on the back foot in India, severely dented by continuing Trumpism in the USA and populist nationalism in parts of Eastern Europe, and our own government is systematically removing its building blocks in the UK.

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A distinctly Liberal viewpoint

Did our Leader Ed Davey in Conference, and can we as members on the doorsteps, explain a distinctly Liberal point of view?

Ed told us we should say that we stand for a fair deal, and are decent politicians who care about you. We perhaps confirmed that at Conference with the passage particularly of the F24 motion, A Fairer, Greener, More Caring Society, which was built on the Themes policy paper.

Liberalism is certainly not populism, but we Lib Dems do incline to believe that a large proportion of the British public share our moderate, centrist views, together with our belief that the State is needed to enable all citizens to have the chance of secure, healthy and fulfilling lives. We don’t believe in the centralised over-powerful State sought by Socialism, nor the small-state attitude of Conservatism.

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Forty words

Earlier this year the Social Liberal Forum Council discussed what should be its priorities. Along with the nature of work, welfare and how citizens participate in their communities there was a hunger for a vision, an underlying narrative, something that goes beyond individual, evidence-based policies about specific issues, something you might call liberal ideology. It is pretty clear that many people in the country don’t know what Liberal Democrats stand for. We hear on the doorsteps, “We like you but we’re not sure what you’re about”.

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Liberalism in the United States

What is political liberalism in the United States? That’s the topic of the Liberal Democrat History Group’s next discussion meeting, at 6.30pm on Tuesday 6 July. All are welcome.

The original conception of liberalism in America was the protection of people from arbitrary power, support for the free market and advocacy of religious tolerance. Many of these concepts found their place in the American Declaration of Independence and in the constitution of the emerging United States. The Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton (who may have been surprised to find himself, 230 years later, starring in a rap musical), John Jay and James Madison are now regarded as classics of western constitutionalism, laying out the doctrine of limited government, representative democracy and federalism.

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Woke or Asleep?

I think we’ve reached a very interesting phase in our UK politics.

The ‘free’ British press can write whatever they like as long as you’re willing to pay for it.  Brexit Britain is a place where expats living abroad voted leave and then are very surprised when their host government asks them to do likewise; where our great fishing industry has now escaped the dreaded EU red tape, to have replaced it with more excellent British Red, White and Blue tape that is now crippling a once thriving industry.

Good job we ‘took back control’ when we did as I’m sure we would have needed Brexit for our successful vaccine roll-out, which is, incidentally probably the only real thing our incumbents have done a decent job at. Even then we only have to scratch the surface to see some have ‘jumped the queue’ and claimed to work in social care when they don’t and there has still been poor take-up in many ethnic minority communities. It’s like they don’t trust the government or something to treat minority groups fairly and with respect? I will welcome an independent enquiry to unpick these challenges in the future, but now is not the time.

My big gripe at the moment may well be down to semantics.

The idea and thought of Liberalism seems to have become a dirty word. ‘Liberal elite’ is used like a pejorative insult and the word ‘woke’ expelled with the vitriolic bile of a thousand angry ducts.

This idea of being woke is not something new. Liberal thinkers have often been labelled or abused for looking to do the ‘right thing’. This is like the latest and next in a long line of jargon created by our press gangs to cause disquiet, disillusionment and discredit those who would seek to make life more acceptable, helpful or comfortable for all. Equality if you like.

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Defending Liberalism from the culture warriors

‘Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it. Strengthen it. Renew it.’ President Biden said that in his virtual address to the Munich Security Conference last week. He was talking explicitly about threats to Democracy across the world, but implicitly also about the threats within the United States. We should worry that liberal Democracy, open society and constitutional government are not to be taken for granted in Britain, either.

None of us should under-estimate the extent to which the US Republican Right has effectively colonised the Conservative Party. Our right-wing media takes its cue from American campaigns – on culture, free markets, ‘family values’, suspicion of government as such. Tory MPs interact with US politicians and think-tankers far more than with conservatives across the Channel. Funds flow into the UK from right-wing US foundations, companies and lobbies, supporting similar groups and promoting like-minded causes over here. The denigration of liberalism that grips the American right is echoed in London seminars on ‘post liberalism and endless attacks on Britain’s allegedly ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ – by well-connected and well-paid Conservative intellectuals who live in London themselves.

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Trump and Johnson: our unfortunate special relationship

Last Wednesday, 28th October, the Guardian ran one of its rare single topic double column Leaders devoted to an excoriating denunciation of Donald Trump and his Presidency. Here’s a selection of the words and phrases used:

leader least equipped; divided country; not…a fit and proper person; brazen disregard for legal norms; propagated lies and ignorance; cruel and mean; agenda of corporate deregulation; tax giveaways for the rich; narcissist; devastating lack of empathy; growing gap between the level of competence required… and… ability; cronies whose mob-like fealty to their boss; post shame politician; one rule for wealthy elites and another for the

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No Rishi! The country does not share your values

In his speech to the Tory Party conference, Rishi Sunak made a bold declaration: “We share the same values. The Conservative Party and the country.” For a start the 57% of voters who didn’t opt for the Conservatives last December will disagree. But his statement also raises a key question: what are the values that today’s Conservative Party stand for? Anyone who takes a moment to look at Johnson’s Conservatives can see that the party of statecraft, the rule of law and fiscal conservatism no longer exists.

The rest of Sunak’s speech was surprisingly brief and light on policy. One thing he did emphasise was his commitment to balancing the books. But that didn’t seem to matter when it came to getting Brexit done or when announcing huge infrastructure spending.

They say they are about law and order, but have just voted to allow themselves to break international law. And Priti Patel’s speech at the weekend advocating an escalation of the hostile environment towards those seeking asylum made clear the Conservatives aren’t a party that looks out for the most vulnerable in society.

Part of the problem for the Conservatives is their own internal ideological divisions. On the one hand they have a raft of MPs in solidly safe seats who keep their heads down in public and quietly do as they are told, willingly voting for the Government every time. Some of these types also come from Lib Dem facing not-so-safe seats where their bacon was saved by Nigel Farage standing down his Brexit Party troops. 

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LibLink: Malcolm Bruce – Why a polarised world is in need of Liberals

Writing in the Press and Journal this week, Malcolm Bruce argued that liberals are an essential and critical part of the fightback against the polarised world we find ourselves in.

Much of society has degenerated into angry, polarised camps, brooking no compromise and demanding people conform to their woke identity slogans or resign themselves to being the “enemy”.

This is not the stuff of a civilised society. It prevents genuine exchange of views. Evidence is discarded in favour of fake news and alternative facts, leading to rash decisions.

He wonders why the other parties are so vicious in their attitude towards us:

In an ever-more complex, challenging and divided world, once-great parties are offering simplistic, irrational, glib solutions. By the same token, the political debate has sought either to trash the Liberal Democrats or sneer at their irrelevance – displaying uncertainty of intent. Why are other parties so splenetic about the Liberal Democrats? My guess is it is because we get in the way of simplistic, hardline, ideological identity politics.

Liberal Democrats believe in the freedom of individuals to express themselves in their own way, free from pressure to conform. We celebrate diversity and pluralism in an electoral system that has the deliberate intention of forcing people into camps.

He says that there is another way:

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The radical centre needs a new story

You only need to read the comments on any news coverage that we happen to get to see the problem. We’re so used to the jokes that we are often the first to make them, pre-empting the inevitable. “The Lib Dems are wishy-washy centrists. They sit on the fence, stand for nothing, and betray their principles at the first hint of power. They’re irrelevant. Being a Lib Dem is just a marginally more socially acceptable front to being a Tory.”

We are not good at selling the story of liberalism.

Shocking as it may seem to some of us, voters don’t go through manifestos with a fine-toothed comb, weighing up to merits of each and every policy before coming to a decision. People vote based on ideas. The left owns equality, health and social care and education. The right is the home of the economy, of business, of the free-market. If we call ourselves left-wing social liberals, why aren’t we Labour?  If we find ourselves more to the right, why aren’t we Conservatives?

And at both extremes, we find politicians willing to listen to our anger and our concerns and provide us with people to blame. It’s a simple, attractive narrative; you’ve lost your job because there are too many immigrants. If we send them ‘home’, then everything will be okay again. Alternatively, maybe it’s big business at fault?

Both the left and the right offer solutions offer visions of a better future. We need to find out who we are, and communicate to voters what we want from the world. To a certain extent, ‘Stop Brexit’ did this. We were offering something distinct from the other parties, and at least for a while, polling rewarded us for it (remember when we were above Labour?). Yet defining ourselves on a single issue like Brexit will never work as a long-term recruitment strategy.

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Britain needs a Liberal party, let’s make sure there’s still one left

At the time of writing this, we have 17 days left of the leadership election and here is my confession: I cannot wait for it to be done.

Whilst we have two fantastic candidates standing for us, you would think from the comments being slung around by some members on social media that there is some vast ideological difference between the two.

I had the pleasure of chairing Liberal Reform’s Leadership Q&A this weekend and really enjoyed the debate. We discussed everything from nationalisation to the housing crisis, from party structure to the Orange Book.

And you know what? There was very little …

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The geopolitics of COVID-19: Can liberalism win the day?

Embed from Getty Images

The pandemic is an unprecedented global challenge affecting all humanity, which is suffering the consequences at very considerable social and economic cost.

The world was already in disorder before COVID-19 made its appearance but the crisis has undoubtedly deepened the great power rivalry between China and the U.S., aggravated by a far-reaching trade war starting sometime before the pandemic hit.

Trust in international systems of cooperation have been impacted. Although coordination is better right now, and concrete initiatives are underway to try and ensure that the eventual vaccine is a global public good for health, the scramble between countries to be first to have their populations vaccinated will sorely test the world’s ability to cooperate together again.

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On cancel culture

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A tenet of the liberal standpoint is freedom of speech and ideas – that debate with reasoned arguments is essential to progress and democratic participation. This seems to be a view that is being tested with what many call the “culture wars” of the moment, centred around racism (historic and current), as well as trans rights.

The charge is that activists on various sides look to deny people with opposing views the opportunity to express them. From pressuring institutions to cancel speakers, to hounding the opposition off Twitter, impassioned campaigners are trying to redraw the boundaries of what is acceptable and “up for debate”, and what is beyond discussion.

As liberals, where is that line drawn? And, further, is it OK for that line to be moved with the prevailing culture?

My gut reaction to debate being closed down is that it is unhealthy to do so when looking at the overall benefit to society. A free market of ideas is what helps us get to a better place, to make progress. But it’s only fair to test that – what would I feel uncomfortable about encouraging a debate about? Can I imagine allowing, as an extreme example, a pro/anti debate on paedophilia on a University campus?

To be honest, I can’t. To allow the suggestion that both sides would have a 50/50 split of credence would not seem reasonable. My criteria here isn’t the law (it should be perfectly acceptable to argue something should be legal), it’s the severity of disgust and opposition to the ‘motion’ I feel. Is this a good basis for trying to deny someone avenues to talk about their point of view?

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William Wallace writes: Active citizenship

The Financial Times is the most politically liberal national newspaper – sadly, read only by a fraction of those who get the Daily MailMartin Wolf’s ‘Big Read: the New Social Contract’ in the FT of 6th July laid out very clearly the links between active citizenship, stable democracy, and limits to economic inequality:

Citizenship…is the tie that binds people together in a shared endeavour…  In today’s world, citizenship needs to have three aspects: loyalty to democratic political and legal institutions and the values of open debate and tolerance that underpin them; concern for the ability of all fellow citizens to lead a fulfilled life; and the wish to build an economy that allows the citizens and their institutions to flourish.

Liberal Democrats have not been sufficiently vocal about the drift within the UK to passive citizenship and populist central government.  Local democracy has been squeezed; civic education is minimal; political campaigning is increasingly dominated by well-financed professional advisers.

But Wolf is concerned to analyse the economic factors behind the decline in democratic activism and open debate.  He notes the decline of the skilled working class with the collapse of the UK’s industrial base, the importance of education in gaining employment and worthwhile incomes in the post-industrial economy,  and the consequent widening gap between rich and poor.  He also underlines ‘the inordinate growth of finance’, ‘the decline of competition’ and increasing corporate tax avoidance as banks and corporations have consolidated and exploited offshore loopholes.  The result has been ‘a strong sense of unfairness’ in our society (and in other countries), and the exploitation of ‘coalitions of the disaffected’ by populist groups.

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Changing our attitude to Liberalism and Britain

As we face another change of leadership this summer, we must confront the crisis in our identity with Liberalism. We must also admit the peculiarity of a Liberal Parliamentary party and that Liberalism is not an ideology that can be used to confront the Labour Party, the Conservatives, or the SNP. The crucial thing here is that this is an advantage, not a disadvantage. Liberalism transcends ideology and we must use this to bridge partisan politics. Once we have (and I believe we now have) recognised that Liberalism cannot be used in a primarily adversary manner we can move forward in a more positive direction.

The Liberal Democrats should stand as the party of reason and progress, we should be focusing on the central tenets of Liberalism as our way forward. With the recent events such as Black Lives Matter and Covid-19, race inequality and Racism have been highlighted in our society and as Liberals we are the ones who should actively create programmes and campaign for equality in our society. A first step in creating a Liberal future is to acknowledge the lack of Liberalism in our society.

The great triumphs in our history have been tackling illiberalism in this country and, moving forward, I hope we can add to these triumphs in Britain’s history. The Liberal Reforms of the early twentieth century, the abolition of abortion laws, the campaign against the Commonwealth Immigrants Act, and legalisation of same-sex marriage are all triumphs of our party that came about by acknowledging that our society we live in is not as Liberal as we would like to believe, and that we, as Liberals, must act to change the current conditions.

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It’s time for us to get out of people’s lives

It’s time for us to defining what we are for, rather than simply what we are against. A new Labour leader who is far more electable than the previous, and a Conservative Government that is currently polling really well, puts the Lib Dems in a tricky electoral position.

Part of the problem is that people seemingly know what we are against, such as Brexit, but people don’t really know what we are for. It’s what we are for that we can then create a positive message for the UK, a vision that people can get behind.

I think we should begin with re-finding liberalism and putting that right at the front of our offering to the electorate going forward. It’s time for us to get out of people’s lives and let adults make their own decisions. We are pro-drug reform, a very sensible policy, yet we are inconsistent in other areas.

For example, we are, as a party, supportive of the Sugar Tax, despite strong opposition internally and we have been supportive of restricting food advertising too. Furthermore, we have been pro-minimum unit pricing on alcohol. A policy which puts pubs out of business, damaging the social fabric of many communities, and hurts the millions of responsible drinkers across the country.

This is not liberalism. It is interfering with people’s lives in a way which doesn’t even lead to the intended outcomes, in most cases.

For example, the Sugar Tax was introduced to reduce obesity. The goalposts swiftly changed to targeting a reduction in sugar once it became clear people simply substituted sugary drinks for sugar elsewhere.

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These are the conditions of liberty and social justice …

Earlier today Adrian Sanders mentioned the Preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Democrats. That’s quite a mouthful – and sounds deadly boring – but all party members can read on their membership cards a short extract from this document:

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

In fact, this is the first sentence of one of the most beautiful pieces of political writing in English. When people ask me what Lib Dems believe I always point them towards it.

Recent posts appearing on Lib Dem Voice have demonstrated some of the turmoil within the party following the General Election and Brexit. We could all benefit from taking ourselves back to our fundamental values before seeking a way forward.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 40 Comments

Get Liberalism done

It’s over, finished, done, our membership of the EU has ceased to be. This is very sad for our wonderful team of MEPs and their staff, it’s heart-breaking for those who support the idea of ever closer union, and very worrying for anyone concerned that the uncertainties of the future are going to harm our country, economy and standing in the world.

Dwelling on what might have been has become something of a preoccupation for many Liberal Democrats, myself included. I won’t forget where I believe responsibility lies for our and the nation’s current predicament. Sir Nick Clegg and his advisors were directly answerable for losing so many seats in 2015 that handed Cameron a majority that enabled him to hold the EU referendum.

Brexit gives many of us a chance to close one very disappointing and depressing chapter and to open a new, positive one. It is a golden opportunity for all of us to realign both our purpose and our image. If anyone is in any doubt as to why this is necessary just look at where we were before the 2010 General Election and compare to today.

Alongside the loss of thousands of Councillors and political control over billions of pounds of national, regional and local government spending, losing our place as the third party in the Commons cannot be understated. We have not overcome the loss of House privileges, media coverage and money that came with it, and our ability to do so has been hindered by competition from other parties such as the Greens, Ukip/Brexit, and Independents as well as the Nationalists who became the third party in 2015 and have held on to it.

We have been defined by the coalition years and our opposition to Brexit to the exclusion of all else for far too long. The time has come, to coin a previous slogan – to get Liberalism done.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 87 Comments

A defence of liberalism

“Socialism is the only ideology fit for the working class”

These were the words I was told the day after the 2017 General Election- and to an extent, they were true. For as far as the eye could see across South and West Yorkshire, the only real option voters had was to vote for Labour. ‘My patch’ was nothing more than a patchwork quilt of safe red seats, Trotskyist CLPs, and statist, unambitious, complacent Labour-run councils. As you may have imagined, I rejected this dogma. I saw nothing optimistic about Corbyn’s left-populism and his commitment to the growth of the state, whilst the arrogance of which my local Labour Party machinery had governed these one-party states had instilled in me a great suspicion of their supposed attachment to progressive politics.

Instead, I turned to liberalism. Ambitious, confident liberalism- an ideology that can enrich and empower the lives of all citizens. I’d be lying if I said I could remember the single event that tipped me into this decision, but the quiet dignity and humility of Nick Clegg’s concession speech ensured that days later, I was a signed-up member of the Liberal Democrats. By rejecting Labour’s state-socialism, I was committing myself to the fundamental values of freedom, liberty and democracy which can only ever be found in the Liberal Democrats. I was supporting a party that would stand up for individual rights and freedoms; that would radically transform our unfair, broken politics; that believed in free markets and free trade as a force for good; and that recognised the state can be used as a tool to ensure opportunity for all. Instinctively internationalist and green to its roots, the Liberal Democrats remain the true radicals of British politics, and the only credible alternative to the statism and small ‘c’ conservatism of Labour and the Tories.

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Liberalism Down Under

Australians recently went to the polls and elected a Liberal government. Unfortunately, Down Under the Liberal Party is a conservative body firmly fixed on the centre right of Aussie politics who with their allies the Nationals (previously known as the Country Party) have been in power for the majority of the country’s history. If it isn’t them in office, it’s Labor.

So what is the current state of our particular brand of liberalism in this part of the Commonwealth? Australia uses AV for the lower houses of its Federal and State parliaments while Upper Houses or Senates use STV, and the …

Posted in Europe / International | Also tagged | 10 Comments

The problem of sustaining Liberalism in Britain today

The joke of Conservatism in Britain today being defined by Boris Johnson is not much funnier than the joke of Socialism being represented by Jeremy Corbyn. Hence the fractures in both main parties, and the gap left for Liberalism in the shape of the Liberal Democrats. Yet when the constitutional crisis is resolved, whether in the way we want or otherwise, can the Liberalism we represent flourish and our party continue to grow? For we will then be up against parties, even if diminished, representing the  great traditions of Socialism and Conservativism, which will most probably be led by men and women of more centrist, moderate views – and this may well happen within a very few months.

Liberalism worldwide is threatened by populism, and it may appear to be the case here also, with the rise of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, surely a classic case of popular sentiment being roused and directed by one strong and charismatic leader. However, there is no such thing as Brexitism. The Conservatives in choosing their own charismatic (if scarcely strong) leader hope to root out the alien growth, and if they succeed in achieving Brexit may do so. Or else, if we succeed in stopping Brexit through a renewed democratic popular vote, again it should wither. The British people are not attuned to populism, and if the proximate cause of this cancer is removed, they surely will mostly be relieved to have an amicable working relationship restored with our useful European neighbours.

Even so,  Liberalism in Britain and the continued growth of our party could still be threatened. That is partly because elements in British society have developed during this prolonged crisis a readiness to confront and go rapidly to extremes, even to violence, and there is greater public tolerance of these effects, for instance abuse of minorities, than there used to be. In the heightened atmosphere, Liberalism may perhaps not seem to convey a strong enough identity, to offer people security and some comfort and hope in their private lives.

For however much the main parties may fracture now, the ideas of Conservatism and Socialism retain their appeal to large sections of British society. And a Conservative party led by a more moderate figure than Johnson, once Brexit is resolved, will claim Liberalism, especially economic liberalism and freedom, as part of its DNA. Similarly the Labour Party, once Corbyn is replaced, through renewing the commitment to social democracy rather than Socialism will try to lure leftward-leaning social liberals away from our party and into theirs.

It won’t in those circumstances be much use to produce our traditional claim of strongly centralised top-down parties being different from ours and undesirable, because people have got used to the idea of strong central leadership being needed in these days of seemingly unending crisis. Yet there is still a way to show and continue the appeal of  Liberalism as exemplified by Liberal Democrats.

Posted in Op-eds | 75 Comments

28 June 2019 – today’s press releases

Lib Dems: Conservatives are not doing enough to make our country safe

Commenting on the National Audit Office’s report into serious and organised crime, which reveals ‘significant and avoidable shortcomings’ by the government, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Ed Davey said:

From County Lines drug trafficking to child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, organised crime gangs are ruining lives and damaging our country. This report reveals that the Conservatives are not doing nearly enough to prevent these appalling crimes and keep our country safe.

Police forces and the National Crime Agency need urgent additional resources to deal with the growing scale

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Why I call myself a Social Democrat

I have lots of friends who call themselves Liberals, and I agree with almost everything they stand for. So why don’t I call myself a Liberal?

If I did, perhaps I wouldn’t be called an “authoritarian”. It’d be nice to avoid the insult, but I can’t call myself a Liberal if I don’t know what it means

Much of the time, politics is a battle between the rights of the individual and the needs of the wider community. To be useful, I would want liberalism to help me pick a side in these battles.

I think the need of the community to avoid mass killing by a rogue gun owner trumps the rights of individuals to own guns. Does that make me an authoritarian?

Forcing drivers to wear seat-belts is certainly a restriction on individual freedom. But I think that’s a price worth paying for a substantial reduction in road death. Does that make me an authoritarian?

We have significant taxation in this country, and that restricts the right of individuals to spend their wages on what they think best. But reducing poverty is a higher priority for me. Does that make me an authoritarian?

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 44 Comments

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