Tag Archives: social democracy

Part 2: If we want to win elections we have to denounce austerity

So I was hesitant to get into ideological discussions but the argument often gets made that even if austerity is unpopular we must defend the small government “Classical Liberal” tradition. That argument needs to be answered- yes there has always been a laissez-faire strand of Liberalism, however, the idea that Liberalism only means small government and free markets is an idea that dates from around 1980.

Liberalism has a quite complicated and wide-ranging history from being initially associated with generosity (as in the word Liberality, a liberal act meant a generous one), to the alternative association of the French revolution (describing someone as a “Liberal” was an insult intended to suggest they were radical revolutionaries, there was no suggestion that Liberals were aiming for small government as such, just that they were anti-monarchist.). Liberalism went on to include large sections of the early Socialist movement, including such hailed Classical Liberals as John Stuart Mill. Early Liberalism was actually not very much to do with economics at all and was more part of the Whig and Republican movements that were about moving from a feudal system to the beginnings of democracy. (I heartily recommend Helena Rosenblatt’s ‘A forgotten history of Liberalism” for more of that story.)

It’s because of these political instincts and aims that when it became clear that unregulated markets were hurting people in the late 19th century Liberals changed policy rather than changing ideology. That’s where the social reforms of Asquith and Lloyd-George came from, leading into the Social Insurance systems of Beverage and the economic theories of Keynes. That’s how the Liberal party ended up to the left of the pre-merger SDP and how the Liberal Democrats ended up to the left of New Labour. It’s not an aberration, it’s just the natural place that Liberalism ended up.

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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?

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Why be a Liberal Democrat?

My family had a century of Labour Party membership between us. I left after three decades, coming home, intellectually, emotionally and ideologically, by joining the Liberal Democratic Party.

After one year’s membership, as a candidate in a marginal ward, and part of the campaign to re-elect our popular Mayor, I am writing this in ancient Rome. A timely reminder that the name, “potholes” dates from when the Anglo Saxons dug up the clay from Roman roads to make cookware and that the history of ideas matters. In particular that England has been divorcing Europe since Henry VIII. In this context, why be a Liberal Democrat?

The first reason is the need to keep the ideas of Liberalism and Democracy alive. Our broken politics and failing democracy make this challenging. But the twentieth century taught us that the twin evils of totalitarian communism and nationalism will lead to barbarism every time that the freedom, tolerance and rule of law inherent in Liberal Democracy are abandoned. The works of Sir Karl Raymond Popper illustrate why.

In The Poverty of Historicism and The Open Society And Its Enemies, Popper shows us that when the pseudo-scientific certainty of authoritarian dictatorship defeats liberalism and social democracy, barbarism is inevitable. He also elucidated the ultimate liberal paradox: freedom of thought and speech is sacrosanct but there must be limits on the actions of the enemies of freedom from the left and right.

Second, we are the true children of the enlightenment. Rational, evidence-based policy is already abundant. Taken together with the philosophy above and coupled with a renewal and extension of democracy will offer the best chance of a progressive hegemony in the twenty-first century.

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We must reclaim our Social Democrat heritage

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party brings back memories. Of when a Labour activist grabbed me by the throat, and a Trotskyist threatened to break my arm.

Few Labour members in the 1980s were violent, and nor are the vast majority of Corbyn supporters. But I have no doubt that the same intolerance and intimidation that I experienced at university is being felt by moderate Labour members today.

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Why I am a Social Democrat

Poor boy afraid
Social democrats know that to fight poverty you need a vibrant economy. It is the goose that lays the golden egg, and it flourishes with freedom, but it stagnates in a factory farm.

Social democrats don’t just do poverty reduction as a minor act of charity, it is central to what drives them. But a true social democrat won’t just throw money at the problem, they will look for what works.

For a short period, I worked in the field of international development. When listening to those who had worked in

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 16th Jun - 12:11am
    Peter Martin, we discussed above the savings identity. In a closed economy, national savings is the sum of private saving and the public saving (government...
  • User AvatarSteve Comer 15th Jun - 11:13pm
    There is a statue of Samuel Morley in Bristol. (It is now opposite the building I used tio work in!) https://statues.vanderkrogt.net/object.php?webpage=ST&record=gbsw026
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 15th Jun - 10:12pm
    @Dilettante Eye Just who is fooling who? Whoever you are, your nom de plume just about sums up the naivety of your view. On the...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 15th Jun - 8:42pm
    @ JoeB, "In essence, unemployment results from a lack of private investment" How about "In essence, unemployment results from a lack of spending" ? And...
  • User AvatarMick Taylor 15th Jun - 8:14pm
    Where is the Leeds event?
  • User AvatarRuth Bright 15th Jun - 7:25pm
    Chuka Umunna has been truer to the "none shall be enslaved by poverty..." aspect of the Lib Dem constitution than the Lib Dem leadership candidates!...