Tag Archives: social liberal forum

Caron’s Conference Part 1: A glimpse to the future

I’m now back from York, having stayed on for a bit of a tourist break. I’ve spent so much time in the city over the years, but have rarely deviated from the Golden Triangle of the Barbican, Novotel and Mason’s Arms.  I did not know until Monday that I had walked past the grave of Dick Turpin many times.

Thursday and Friday

I am writing this in York on Friday morning in an exceptionally comfortable and cosy room, propped up in bed with lots of plump and luscious pillows. A cup of Earl Grey at my side. It is always strange when I am away to have a whole bed to myself and not to have find a space clinging to the edge of the bed while my husband clings to the other edge and two spaniels take up all the space they can.

I arrived in York yesterday lunchtime and spent an enjoyable afternoon in the pub (me drinking tea I’ll have you know) with my friends.

In the evening we went to Toto’s, the Italian near the Barbican. The food was brilliant and the company stunningly good. I had prawns with avocado and Marie Rose sauce – a very generous portion – and then tagliatelle with a creamy salmon sauces. The Tiramisu was chocolaty and creamy though I would have added more amaretto.

Afterwards back to the Mason’s Arms, traditionally Awkward Squad HQ and where 6 of us are staying. The landlord had kindly bought in supplies of Whitley Neill Black Cherry gin. Jennie Rigg and I had drunk them out of that by the Friday night last year.

It was great to catch up with Our Hero of Rochdale Iain Donaldson and hear all the intel about the by-election and the aftermath. All you need to know is that George Galloway is far from being universally loved on that patch.

My path to the bar was blocked by beautiful border terrier Betty who very much needed a belly rub and that was the most important thing ever.

I got to bed at a civilised hour.

Friday started in very relaxed fashion.

It was Long Covid Awareness Day, I am acutely aware of how much smaller Conference has become for me. I can no longer cope with the whirlwind from day to night. If I don’t rest in the afternoon I pretty much collapse in a heap and that can set me back for days.

So a slow start was essential laziness.

The first thing I had to do was the Social Liberal Forum lunch at 12. I need to plan and pace everything within an inch of its life which does not really come easy to as free and impetuous a spirit as me.

The Social Liberal Forum gave, I very much hope, a glimpse into the future. The three speakers are PPCs in highly winnable seats: Victoria Collins our hope for Harpenden and Berkhamsted, Josh Babarinde for Eastbourne and Bobby Dean for Carshalton and Wallington. The links to their website are included in the hope that you get on to them, donate all the money you can afford to their campaigns and do what you can to help them. They all have so much to bring to the parliamentary party and we need them to get elected.

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Three top tier Lib Dem candidates to speak at the Social Liberal Forum pre-conference lunch in York 

By the end of the year and after the next general election and the prospects are that we could have 30 or more Lib Dem MPs. In fact, if Nigel Farage decides to lead the Reform party and split the right wing vote even more we could easily win more seats from the Conservatives and have over 50 MPs.

So what would our new Parliamentary party look like?

Lib Dem conference in York officially starts at 4.30pm on the Friday 15th March. So we in the Social Liberal Forum have decided to organise our “pre-conference lunch” event earlier in the day with 3 top tier candidates; Bobby Dean (Carsharlton and Wallington), Victoria Collins (Harpenden and Berkhamsted) and Josh Babarinde (Eastbourne) as speakers.

They will talk about their personal journey from deciding to join the party to becoming candidates in these very marginal seats. They will discuss the challenges ahead, winning over Leave voters (both Carshalton and Eastbourne voted to leave the EU which explains why we lost those seats in 2019) and how MPs representing the prosperous “Blue Wall” seats may be able to work to benefit people living in the deprived communities in the “Red Wall” seats. They will also share their vision of what it means to be a Lib Dem MP in 2024 and beyond.

Tickets for this event are limited and must be bought in advance. So if you want to come along then book now and take advantage of the early bird rate. Book here: 2024 Pre-conference lunch – Social Liberal Forum

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Sarah Green MP to speak at Social Liberal Forum pre conference dinner

Are you going to Lib Dem conference next month? Conference starts at 9am on the Saturday morning, so if you want to be there and not miss anything you probably need to arrive the day before. 

So what is happening on the day before on Friday evening? Well the conference program will not mention anything because conference has not started yet. There will be hundreds of Lib Dem members in Bournemouth, but nothing is happening. 

Apart from one event that we in Social Liberal Forum (SLF) are organising. For every in-person autumn Lib Dem conference the SLF have organised their pre-conference dinner and we would like to welcome LDV readers to come and join us. We are delighted to announce that our guest speaker at this event will be Sarah Green MP, winner of the Chesham and Amersham by-election and a former director of the SLF. This will be a great opportunity to meet other conference representatives before conference starts.

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Putting the leaves on the Magic Money Tree

Putting the leaves on the Magic Money Tree, seeking a radical Liberal approach to economics.

Fairness and the pursuit of it is essentially the purpose of the Liberal Democrats. If that is the case, how then do we expect to be taken seriously without that we have a radical agenda for economic reform?

The last 40 years of our national political story has been dominated by the Thatcher / Reagan /Hayek economic experiment. It has failed. If we agree that to be the case, then it is essential that rather than pretend to seek a better way to manage the status quo (in just the same way that we are supposed to be able to grow an economy without equality of access with our competitors to our nearest and largest market) that we commence the task of considering alternatives.

Free from the constraints of any economic dogma we are free to consider options in the widest and freest sense. Essentially, I believe that our core instinct is one where intervention and constraint of seemingly uncontrollable forces are our natural territory. Capital is like water, if left unchecked it will seek the easiest route. Unlike water, capital fails if it does not engender belief in those then required to consume its final output.

To this end the Social Liberal Forum are commencing on a series of events looking to consult and define a new exciting, entirely radical, free approach to economics.

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UK and Europe: Offshore island or part of the main

It is back! The Social Liberal Forum Conference will be held in London after a two year gap. It will be held at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Rd, London N7 6PA and online on 25th June 2022.

We are delighted to be able to give you a first glimpse of the programme. An impressive list of speakers will lead off our discussions on Britain’s role in Europe. We are concentrating on three key areas

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • Security

Although Brexit has allegedly happened and Boris Johnson pretends the UK’s focus is on the “Indo-Pacific”, wherever that may be, and the government sees trading with Australia and the USA as the future, we remain part of the continent of Europe and must not throw away the history of peace, prosperity and environmental protection built by the European Union.  This conference asks the question, how are we to continue to co-operate with our close friends and allies in Europe and who are those friends?

Speakers include former Liberal Democrat MEPs Phil Bennion, Jane Brophy and Rebecca Taylor, leaders of our Social Liberal Dutch colleagues D66, Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP and Gijs de Vries – who formerly was State Secretary of the Interior in the government of The Netherlands and the EU’s first Counter Terrorism Co-ordinator.

The economy session speakers are Professor Chris Grey (author of the ‘must read’ Brexit & Beyond blog) and Will Hutton of the Observer and the author of “The State We’re in” – the biggest selling politico-economic work since the Second World War.

In addition we will be joined by our own Duncan Brack, Wendy Taylor, Denali Boisot, Gordon Lishman, Louise Harris and Baroness Julie Smith.

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Lessons from 97 Lib Dem/Labour co-operation – Compass/SLF podcast

Lib Dems and Labour swapping lists of target seats, co-operating on policy and not getting in each other’s way helped oust the Tories in 1997. What lessons can we learn from that today?

This week, I went along to the recording of Compass’s “It’s Bloody Complicated” podcast. Our own Duncan Brack, Compass’s Neal Lawson who was one of the fixers of the deals between Blair and Ashdown and YouGov’s Peter Kellner  who looked back to 1997 and the co-operation between Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown.  The event was chaired by Compass’s Frances Foley

Duncan explained how, after the disappointment of the 1992 election, there were tentative attempts  to float idea of co-operation between non Conservative parties but Labour under John Smith were not interested.

When Blair became leader, there was significant co-operation including swapping information on target seats. Later on, Neal Lawson told of a meeting in a pub in Victoria where bits of paper were swapped.

A significant part of this was that information was fed  to the Mirror during the campaign. Their subsequent recommendations on tactical voting meant that we won 20 out of our 22 targets.

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Liberal Equality – David Howarth delivers Social Liberal Forum’s annual Beveridge Lecture

You always come away from a David Howarth speech with your brain fizzing with excitement. Our former MP for Cambridge did not disappoint tonight as he delivered the Social Liberal Forum’s Beveridge Lecture in a hybrid event hosted online and at the National Liberal Club. Our newest MP, Sarah Green, a former Director of the SLF, was in the Chair.

The theme for tonight’s talk was Liberal Equality – what should the liberal attitude be to equality.

He started out by pointing out that unequal societies are unhealthier and unhappier – even if you have above average income. The financial crash and the pandemic have hastened an already growing inequality.

He talked about the threat posed by the super rich to our democracy and liberal values.

He looked at how John Stuart Mill’s idea that “the best state of human nature” involves nobody being poor, nobody having the desire to be richer and nobody fearing that they could be thrust back into poverty.

He had some ideas about how we could break up concentrations of wealth and power – capping political donations, state funding political parties by giving citizens vouchers to spend on the party of their choice, capping the amount you could inherit. Before anyone in a blue wall seat has to lie down and grab the smelling salts, the amounts would be beyond the incomes of all but the ultra rich – the sort of amount it would take to buy a national newspaper.

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Social Liberal Forum event: What kind of UBI? Tonight 7pm

As the dust settles from last week’s successful local elections, we at the Social Liberal Forum are already looking forward to the next task: supporting (and challenging!) the Liberal Democrats to develop the best possible UBI policy, and get it adopted at this year’s Autumn Conference.

Working with Lib Dems for Basic Income, we’ve secured the opportunity to host an event with Paul Noblet, who has been chairing the party’s official policy working group. This is due to publish its recommendations and open a short consultation window imminently – and we’ve got Paul to join us and give you a chance to get under the skin of them.

To make the event even better, we’ve also got Jane Dodds, Leader of the Party in Wales and the party’s most prominent basic income champion (see her new video series here), and Christine Jardine MP, who represents the Liberal Democrats on the main cross-party group on UBI, to act as first responders.

They’ll also be joined by Max Ghenis of the US-based UBI Center, who the SLF commissioned to model a radical, “clean slate” approach to UBI in the UK to challenge and inspire the working group during its process. That report is now live and available on the SLF website here.

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Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country

Today, we have published a new report with the Social Liberal Forum “Winning for Britain: Rebuilding the Lib Dems to change the course of our country“. We have done so because we passionately believe the Lib Dems must learn from last year’s catastrophic election defeat, not only for the good of the party and Liberalism, but because if we don’t the Conservative will rule for another decade.

We present evidence of the scale of what went wrong last December and ideas on what needs to change. Some of this is about data collection, analysis and improved message testing. But our report is also about the party’s strategic positioning, relative to the voter groups we need to win over.

The challenge in front of us is to build a coalition that spans voter tribes labelled in the report as the Green Left, Older Establishment Liberals, Progressive Cosmopolitans, Young Insta-Progressives, Centre-Left Pragmatists, Mainstream Tories and into the Younger Disengaged and the Older Disillusioned. In the latter two groups, the majority currently do not vote at all.

Our argument is that this coalition can only be built by a fundamentally progressive and socially liberal turn that consigns Cleggism and “equidistance” to the past. The Lib Dems must fight from the centre left but rather than being a pale imitation of Labour, must offer our own distinct, Liberal alternative to the Conservatives. The research in the report shows that the voter tribes we need to attract will support us on social justice, environmentalism, and internationalism. It shows we will get support if we attack unaccountable and over-concentrated private sector power. It shows that we can tap into new sources of support in disillusioned communities, young and old, if we challenge over-concentrated public power too. It shows we can win if we expand citizen voice and use it to erode the toxic perception that politicians are out of touch, a perception that helps drive support for right wing populists who claim to speak for ‘the people’.

But our report also shows that we should move on to territory that some in our potential voter coalition care about and that we often ignore. Issues like patriotism and social order matter to some voter tribes where we have strong potential to grow our support.

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Liberal Democrats and Socialists: can we form a progressive alliance?

Last Thursday Clive Lewis a Labour MP was the first non-Liberal Democrat to give the Social Liberal Forum’s Beveridge lecture (you can access it HERE ) entitled ’21st-century progressive alliances & political re-alignment’. Clive Lewis called for ‘a progressive alliance of the mind’, involving individuals, campaigns and movements. After outlining the great challenges facing us all today, he said that there is a crisis of democracy in our country, with people turning to the wrong solutions such as Brexit and populism.

“Liberalism”, Clive continued, “is a powerful political philosophy with important things to say about individual freedom, democratic politics and the market economy and about how these interact” (time stamp in the video: 23.18). But he said that much conservative and liberal propaganda claims socialists want to snuff out the freedom of selfish individualism and mould it into a perfect collective (27.59), as a kind of Socialist ‘Borg’ (antagonists of Star Trek) wanting to assimilate liberalism. He said this was not true as “Most Socialists want to find ways of allowing more people to benefit from and have a say in the management of the co-operative processes in which they are already engaged in almost every aspect of their lives. That sounds remarkably like freedom and equality to me” (28.38).

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A new direction for the Social Liberal Forum – A Liberal “Think and Do” tank

When Ian Kearns joined us from Labour in 2018, he gave a barnstormer of a speech at the Brighton conference that year explaining why. Here’s a reminder:

Now Ian has taken up the post of Director of the Social Liberal Forum.

In a post on their website, he sets out his vision for the role of the SLF website:

Over coming months and years we will set out and campaign for a vision of a Citizen’s Britain where what matters is not a person’s race, religion, gender or sexuality but the content of their character. A country where every human life has equal worth and where all are equal before the law. We will campaign to create a country where individuals take power at every level and use it to shape a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. We will challenge the remote, over-centralised, and unresponsive British state and the massive accumulations of unaccountable private wealth and power that sustain an unjust status quo. We will chart a course to the next renaissance and to a society and government not only of the people and for the people but by the people.

It is our belief that only such an approach can restore trust in our institutions, create the conditions for much needed fundamental reform, build resilience in our communities and provide the opportunity for mass flourishing that our citizens deserve and our planet so badly needs.

And these are just some of the things he has in mind:

We will build and host a set of liberal networks across science, technology, business, academia, the media, law, engineering, the arts and politics. By drawing on their expertise and via a series of events, publications, consultations with members and exercises in participatory democracy, we will analyse, host virtual and physical debates on, and develop liberal solutions to the biggest questions of our time.

We will pursue an era of great reform so as to decentralise the British state and usher in an era of community power. We will campaign for fair votes. We will campaign to re-engineer our cities and towns so they become the sustainable urban centres upon which our survival is going to depend. And we will campaign to replace our crony and oligopolistic economy with a new economy of the common good, where everyone has a stake and where we ask not what we can do for capitalism but what capitalism can do for us.

We will go wherever the debate takes us, and not shirk big or uncomfortable questions or talk only to ourselves. To build a liberalism that is future ready, we will think through and articulate an electorally viable ‘build back better’ strategy in the era of COVID-19; study and learn how to beat the populists; work to extend the social reach of truth and to tackle fake news; build and promote liberal technologies in the age of AI; grapple with the profound challenges of a shifting geopolitical landscape; and combine the articulation of a liberal form of patriotism with a passionate defence of the very idea of international community.

And a resounding call to action – we are the people we’ve been waiting for:

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Time to get off the floor, and build a Social Liberal future

It would be easy in the wake of last December’s crushing election defeat for social liberals to be down-hearted. There are certainly serious questions to be asked with regard to the party’s election campaign. The social liberal narrative was drowned out by Brexit, and by an incoherent mix of tactical manoeuvres aimed at attracting votes from the right rather than from the left and centre.

Some of the operational questions that need answers will be dealt with in the party’s official election review. But as we turn to the future, the political ones fall to all of us to resolve.

The Social Liberal Forum (SLF), of which I am a proud member, intends to play a full part in the work that needs to be done. As we embark on that work, we will be guided by three simple propositions.

First, that we must never again allow the rich tradition of social liberalism, of Lloyd George, Beveridge, Keynes, Grimond and Paddy Ashdown, to be marginalised in Liberal Democrat identity and strategy. Its rightful place is at the heart of our party, furnishing it with a coherent, non-socialist but identifiably progressive alternative to Conservatism.

It is past time to re-discover the radical commitment to a Britain of empowered citizens and to champion that cause against the citadels of unaccountable and over concentrated power. To do that, we must develop a visionary and unifying social liberal narrative about the future of this country that doesn’t just attach us more firmly to the islands of support we already enjoy but resonates across all nations, races, regions, genders and social classes.

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Review: The Wolves in the Forest, tackling inequality in the 21st Century

The relationship between liberty and inequality is one of the central tensions in liberal philosophy – and one of the defining lines between economic and social liberalism.  So it’s highly appropriate that the Social Liberal Forum have published a collection of essays on this theme (edited by Paul Hindley and Gordon Lishman), taking its title from Lloyd George’s promise when presenting his ‘People’s Budget’ that there would be a time when ‘poverty…will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.’

Peter Hain contributes a sharply-worded essay on the Liberal Democrat record in the coalition, accusing us of abandoning the legacies of Keynes and Beveridge, though recognising that the previous Labour government had also failed to challenge the conventional wisdom of ‘mainstream economics’.  Other contributors reclaim Keynes, and Hobhouse, as major Liberal thinkers.  Paul Hindley insists that ‘individual liberty cannot exist without social justice’; and adds that the distinction between social democracy and social liberalism is that the latter are committed to spreading power as well as wealth.  Gordon Lishman reminds us that spreading power and status at work is also a long-held Liberal theme – badly neglected in recent years.  Robert Brown notes that a Liberal citizen community must be politically and economically inclusive: ‘People must feel they have a stake in society.’

Several contributions explore the different dimensions of inequality – from Britain’s sharp differences in regional prosperity to wide gaps in educational provision and social aspiration, to continuing inequalities for women and for ethnic minorities.  James Sandbach traces the differential impact of cuts in legal aid and access to justice on already-disadvantaged citizens; Chris Bowers argues that poorer people suffer disproportionately from environmental degradation.

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What do do on the Friday night before Conference

Are you going to Lib Dem conference? Officially conference starts on Saturday 14th September, but if you look at the conference program you will also notice it starts at 9am on that day. For most people who want to be there at the start this means it makes sense to arrive on the Friday before.

If that is your plan and you are wondering what to do for Friday evening, then you may recall that last year there were 2 “unofficial” Friday evening events; Lib Dem Pint and the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) pre-Conference dinner.

If Lib Dem Pint is happening this year then I would happily promote it in this article, but my internet searches have not shown that it is. It was a very popular event last year and I would suggest keep a look out for it next year. UPDATE: There is a Lib Dem Pint and you can find out more here.

But there is an alternative…

the Social Liberal Forum Pre-Conference Dinner

The SLF ARE organising their pre-Conference dinner and our guest speaker will be Siobhan Benita, the Lib Dem candidate for the Mayor of London next year. It is worth bearing in mind that in the recent EU elections the Lib Dems “won” London with more votes than anyone else, so Siobhan stands a good chance of becoming the Lib Dem mayor of London next year.

If this is your first Lib Dem conference, then the SLF dinner is a great opportunity to get to meet other Liberal Democrats informally before conference has even started.

Last year the event was a complete sell out and people were allowed to turn up on the evening without pre-booking.

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D66’s Sophie in t’ Veld MEP confirmed as Keynote speaker at Social Liberal Forum Conference

We delighted to report that D66 MEP Sophie in ‘t‘Veld will be speaking at the SLF Conference and contributing our new book The Wolves in the Forest.  Lib Dem Voice readers who watch BBC’s Newsnight will be familiar with the contribution of Sophie in t’Veld who has frequently been brought on to patiently explain the reality of Brexit. You can register for the conference here.

The new Social Liberal Forum (SLF) book will shortly be on its way to the printers. The editorial group are reading through the contribution and we are impressed by the quality of writing. Lib Dem Voice readers may recall that this book, which we plan to launch at the Conference in Bournemouth, examines a Liberal response to inequality. 

I have just been reading Kirsten Johnson’s (PPC North Devon) really important contribution on ‘Inequality and the Arts’ and , as mention above, I am awaiting Sophie in t’ Veld’s essay (MEP from D66) to arrive in my in box. Altogether we have fifteen chapters covering the topic from a wide range of perspectives.

The title of this new publication is ‘Wolves in the Forest – tackling inequality in the 21st Century’ is taken from Lloyd George’s budget speech of April 1909: “we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.

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Keynote speech from Tony Greaves and climate change feature at SLF AGM

All are welcome at the Social Liberal Forum AGM, in Manchester on Saturday 25th May with Tony Greaves, Jane Brophy, John Pugh, Louise Harris, John Leech.

I need a new pair of shoes. We have all been on the campaign trail for a long time-local elections followed by the European vote. The Social Liberal Forum AGM in Manchester on 25th  May provides an ideal opportunity to reflect and take stock before we set out for the next challenges. Personally I am looking forward to going back Brecon and Radnor, I was last there in 1985 for Richard Livsey’s outstanding by-election triumph. There seems every chance that 2019 will see another Brecon and Radnor by-election. 

We kick off at 1.00pm with a key note speech from Tony Greaves. I think we can guarantee that he will provide a stimulating commentary on the political situation. The Euro votes will have been counted and we will be awaiting the declarations. Jane Brophy, one of our leading NW candidates, will be joining us. During the afternoon there will plenty of opportunities for everyone to contribute with breakout sessions, one of which Jane will lead focussing on Climate Change.

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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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Am I a Liberal?

On Monday 4th March at 7.30pm if you are in or around London the NLC is the place to be. The Social Liberal Forum is launching its new publication and Ian Kearns will be speaking. Admission is free. Full details are on the SLF website. Dr Seth Thevoz reviews the publication for Lib Dem Voice. The SLF will also be holding a fringe meeting with Ian Kearns about the book at the Spring Conference inYork.

The Social Liberal Forum has given us a very welcome republication of John Maynard Keynes’s Am I a Liberal?, alongside a new essay by Ian Kearns, asking that same question. Indeed, it’s doubly timely, as the piece by Labour defector-turned-Lib Dem Kearns asks some particularly topical questions, at a time when we are still trying to make sense of what the new Labour breakaway Independent Group stands for, or even seeks to do.

Keynes’s original essay prompted a serious assessment as to what liberalism means in the modern world – he argued that remaining Gladstonian shibboleths such as Free Trade and Temperance were not, in themselves, enough to sustain a mass ideology. Instead, he proposed five new dimensions that any Liberal should apply themselves to:

  • Peace Questions
  • Questions of Government
  • Sex Questions
  • Drug Questions
  • Economic Questions

The essay remains ahead of its time in many of its conclusions, and its vindication can be found in the number of ardent Liberal converts over the years, recruited on these very issues – although parts of the essay are also dated. The sections on women’s rights, for instance, are reminiscent of Bertram Russell’s Marriage and Morals (1929), in essentially being a feminist text, written by a man who does not reference any women or early feminist writers. Despite these serious setbacks, the essay is original, and buzzing with ideas; and it is well worth a read, 96 years on, for the sometimes-uncomfortable questions it raises.

Kearns’s essay is a more personal one, following on from some of Keynes’s themes – especially the passages excised from the original version of Keynes’s paper, as delivered at the 1925 Liberal Summer School. Kearns looks at much at other ideologies, and while he has nothing positive to say about conservatism, he focuses his real fire on the modern Labour Party, and its shortcomings as a vehicle for Liberal thought or action. 

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Things to do on the Friday night before Lib Dem Conference

Are you heading to Lib Dems conference in Brighton?  Are you arriving on Friday?

If so, then you may have noticed that the conference doesn’t start until 9am on Saturday 15th September.

Well once you’ve arrived on Friday and have settled down, you might wonder about what to do with your evening. Fortunately, there are two outstanding Lib Dem options for your evening:

  1. #LibDemPint

A popular choice, Lib Dem Pint runs from 7pm to 11pm at the Palm Court Restaurant on Brighton Pier. Tickets are £5 on the door or can be bought in advance online here.This is always a busy pub …

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Big ideas abound at SLF Conference

Yesterday was a fantastic day out at SLF Conference. This annual get-together is always thought-provoking food for the social liberal soul. At this point I should say a massive thank you to the organisers for a great day – and particularly to our own Mary Reid who does so much to make the event a success every year.

Layla Moran followed in the footsteps of the likes of Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and Vince Cable in delivering the Beveridge Memorial Lecture. She’s been in the papers a lot this week with talk of un-named people supposedly trying to support the idea of her being leader. There is no suggestion that these moves have anything to do with her and it seems very unlikely that a new MP with a majority of 800 would be preoccupied with such things. In the last session of the day, she emphatically and genuinely endorsed Vince, saying he is doing brilliantly and is “the grown-up in the room” of British politics. Actually, I think our Golden Dozen are probably the most united, together group of Lib Dem MPs I have ever known. They are all working really well together.

One of the many reasons it’s great to have her as education spokesperson is that you can tell how driven she is. She knows from practical experience what the problems are and has some great ideas about how to fix them. Her frustration at being told to concentrate on the average children and leave the bright to teach themselves and the ones who needed help most to flounder so that the school could do well in league tables led her to find another job.

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My passion for bold and radical Liberalism reaffirmed, as my time as SLF Chair comes to its end

Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”.  He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:

Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

 It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference.  In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”.  This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.

At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010.  We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been.  

I have been known by my colleagues to have said on various occasions, since I became Chair of the SLF in 2016, that “there has never been a more important time for Liberalism than now”.  I passionately believe this, so as my time as Chair draws to a close, and as nominations to the new SLF council are underway, I am re-affirming the vital importance of new, bold, radical ideas that will keep Liberalism as the relevant and necessary force in British politics that it needs to be.

The book that the SLF published earlier this year, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, was significant for several reasons: it showed that there are many progressive, liberal people out there thinking radically, coherently and sensibly about what we need to do next as a society; that we do not need to be tribal, but can work with others to generate progressive ideas; and that liberal and progressive thinkers are and always have been the people to move politics forward in this country.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 5 Comments

The inspiration for European integration is part of British history too

Two years on from the EU referendum and Walter Benjamin’s haunting observation that “the very past itself is at stake” seems appropriate.

What sort of future Britain will have depends, to a large extent, on how a working majority of voters and politicians understand her past. For, as the UK’s former judge on the European Court of Justice, Sir Konrad Schiemann, noted in a 2012 lecture on the EU as a Source of Inspiration, “what you find inspiring depends to a degree on where you come from and what you’re looking for”. Born in 1937, Schiemann was probably the last CJEU judge to have experienced the Second World War. Growing up in Berlin hiding from British bombs and then, via Poland and the Lancashire Fusiliers, landing up as a law student in Cambridge, Schiemann is clear where his generation were coming from and what they were looking for. His generation of Brits (and many of those that followed) understood the preamble to the European Coal and Steel Community as being part of their history too, despite Britain not having been a signatory to it.

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Kate Pickett to speak at SLF Conference

The Social Liberal Forum exists and campaigns to create a society where everyone has access to the wealth, power and opportunity to enable us all to lead full and rewarding lives, unfettered by social hardship.  We speak for and promote a vision for social justice.  So we are thrilled to announce that Kate Pickett, co author of The Spirit Level and the newly published book, The Inner Level, will be speaking at the annual SLF Conference on 28th July this year.

The Spirit Level, published in 2009, was a highly influential book, going on to sell 150,000 copies.  It demonstrated conclusively the pernicious effects of economic inequality. In more unequal countries, outcomes are worse for almost everyone in areas such as public health, education, obesity and social mobility.

In The Inner Level Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson posit that the growing level of anxiety in our society stems in larger part from increasing social pressures brought about by material inequalities—in effect greater status anxiety.  A recent meta-analysis of studies published in the Lancet Psychiatry concluded that rates of metal illness were higher in societies with larger income differences.  The UK and USA are at the top of the graph on both mental illness and income inequality.

We hope that this link between inequality and the growing tide of mental illness will be one of the focuses of Kate’s presentation at our conference.  However, there is much more crossover between the thinking behind Richard and Kate’s most recent book and the guiding philosophy behind the social liberal movement.  The co-operative model for workers, employee representation on company boards, and an education system that is inclusive and where the professionalism of teachers is respected are also discussed in The Inner Level.

We are sure there will be much food for thought and much to debate at this, our eighth annual conference.  

Posted in Op-eds | 5 Comments

The housing crisis – long overdue for some “big ideas”

You can tell things must be getting really bad when even the Conservatives are concerned about the shortfall of affordable houses. Survation recently polled 121 senior Conservative councillors, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ahead of the government’s publication of its social housing green paper, expected in the next few months.  The poll found 71% were concerned that the £2bn Government set aside for affordable housing in the Autumn Budget will be insufficient to meet the needs of their constituents.

So what solutions do we need?  Alex Marsh, a housing policy expert, has set out some truly radical proposals n the Social Liberal Forum’s new book, Four Go In Search of Big Ideas.  After setting out the commonly accepted “truths” of our current housing crisis, he crucially asks, “Is it all about new supply?  He argues:

A more profound criticism of this approach to dealing with our housing problems is that it is based upon a misdiagnosis. The argument is that if we view the issue in terms of the amount of housing available relative to the number of residents then the country is not suffering from a significant shortage of accommodation. The issue is its distribution .  Some people are occupying a lot more housing than others, many households are squeezing into overcrowded accommodation and others are squeezed out of the market entirely. In this respect the problems of the housing market are in part a manifestation of broader social and economic changes, including changes in income and wealth inequality or welfare reform and increased use of benefit sanctions. We see problems in the housing market, but they are not necessarily problems of the housing market.

It is through these kinds of radical ways of looking at our current problems that we can generate new ideas and new solutions.  And Alex proposes some truly radical liberal ideas—ideas that should be of interest to any true Liberal.  He says: 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 25 Comments

Liberals and Neo-Liberals

Professor David Howarth, formerly LibDem MP for Cambridge, contributes to the new Social Liberal Forum book with a powerful, closely argued essay on Liberal economics. This an extract:

Here is a puzzle: if JS Mill, JM Keynes and James Meade were all Liberals and economists, what is a ‘neo-liberal’ economist? One might have thought that it would be someone who updated their thought to consider new facts and new problems.

In a highly successful example of propaganda and disinformation, ‘neoliberal’ has come to mean the doctrines of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman. But those doctrines are anything but ‘neo’. They hark back to the era before Mill. We need to rectify names. Instead of ‘neo-liberals’ the followers of Hayek and Friedman might be called ‘paleo-partial liberals’.

The next step is to reclaim the Liberal tradition. That was the avowed aim of the editors of the Orange Book, but what some of them seemed to mean was not updating Mill, Keynes and Meade but abandoning them in favour of paleo-partial liberalism. Admittedly the diagnosis was not entirely wrong. The Liberal Democrats, as a political party, had wandered a long way from the Liberal tradition and had succumbed to various forms of conventional wisdom.

But the most distinctive feature of Liberal policy was its stance on corporate governance. From Mill onwards, through the Yellow Book to support for codetermination, Liberals argued for a different way of organising firms, not as hierarchical structures dominated by the owners of capital but as partnerships between labour and capital, incorporating democratic representation. James Meade provided a continuation and deepening of this tradition that should have formed the basis of the merged party’s position.

Posted in Books | Also tagged and | 48 Comments

Four Go in Search of Big Ideas

The Social Liberal Forum is publishing this book to contribute to a Progressive Alliance of Ideas, People and Campaigns. Contributors including leading Liberal Democrats and people from other political backgrounds and some from outside formal parties.

The Four are Helen Flynn, Iain Brodie-Browne, Gordon Lishman and Ekta Prakash and the book addresses major challenges facing progressives in the 21st Century. They believe that the revival of progressive politics in the UK must be based on winning the battle of ideas. All four come from the North of England and their approach reflects their anger about the state of …

Posted in Books and News | Also tagged | 17 Comments

Radical, distinctive and quite possibly the start of something big

How do we get off 8%? We’ve been at or around that figure in the polls since well before the 2015 election, and despite our very clear and principled stance on Brexit, we’re still stuck.

Maybe we just need some ‘events, dear boy’. We’ve had precious few parliamentary by-elections, which were the lifeblood of the party’s momentum in the 1960s, 70s and 90s, and we haven’t had the kind of Iraq War issue that puts us on the right side of public opinion and leaves the Conservatives and Labour on the wrong side. But do we just wait for such an event to arise?

No, we have to grasp the nettle and do something, and if you’re going to be in Southport for the Lib Dem conference, please come to a fringe meeting that involves doing just that. It’s only for an hour, and at 6.15pm on the Saturday night before the alcohol starts flowing. But it’s aimed at starting the ball rolling towards the party finding a handful of policies that can define us as a caring, distinctive and radical social force in British politics.

Entitled ‘Radical Liberalism – defining what we stand for’, it builds on a paper Paul Pettinger and I wrote in the autumn, and which was the subject of a piece we jointly wrote on LDV on 27 October. Many of the responses from LDV readers were very helpful, and have helped shape the meeting we’re organising in Southport in association with Social Liberal Forum and Compass.

The two central thrusts of that paper – which are also the two thrusts of our meeting – are that we need to be defined in policy terms, not in relation to other parties, and we need to frame our policies so others who support what we stand for in elections where we can win (and their preferred party can’t) feel able to vote Lib Dem. There is also an implied willingness to work with people of other parties who have a similar mindset to ours, be it pre- or post-election, public or behind-the-scenes. As elections get closer, the media will try to present a Lib Dem vote as a closet vote for another party; we will find it easier to rebut such coverage if we can say ‘We’re clear what we stand for – if you agree with it, just vote for us!’

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Latest Social Liberal Forum publication: Universal Basic Income as a tool for tax and benefit reform

At the recent SLF Annual Conference in July, a well-attended fringe session discussed the benefits and drawbacks of Basic Income.

My contention, as Chair of this session, was that we now need to be looking more closely at Basic Income, given increasing robotisation and technological change that will massively shake up conventional work, and given that our welfare system is creaking and needs modernisation. Basic Income is a policy that seems fundamentally socially liberal, and so it seems to naturally deserve attention from the SLF and all who are socially liberal.

Therefore the SLF is very pleased …

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 33 Comments

Follow the Social Liberal Forum conference today

The annual Social Liberal Forum conference is always nourishing for the Liberal soul. There’s always some proper intellectual heft behind its discussions and deliberations.

It takes place today in London. By the time you read this, I’ll have been up since before the crack of dawn. That 6:25 flight from Edinburgh is not my favourite way to travel but I couldn’t justify the cost of the sleeper.  The last time I was on this particular flight, it didn’t even leave until after 11.

The theme of the Conference is “The Retreat from Globalisation.” That takes the morning and the afternoon will include a leadership hustings (free to all Lib Dem members to attend) and a look back at the General Election.

Here’s how the day will unfold:

Morning theme: The Retreat from Globalisation

10am: Refreshments
10.30am: Welcome
10.35am: William Beveridge Memorial Lecture “Is a liberal and democratic society compatible with globalisation?”, William Wallace
11.30am: Global conflict, Prof Sir Lawrence Freedman
12.10pm: Global warming, Ed Davey MP and Mark Campanale

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 6 Comments

Leadership hustings – a chance to discuss the future of the party with Vince Cable

The first Leadership hustings will take place this Saturday in London.

Why a hustings, I hear you ask, given that there is only one candidate? Technically nominations close next Monday, so until then the advice is that we cannot assume that there will not be a contest (although, of course, the chances of a challenge are minimal).

The Social Liberal Forum Conference is holding the hustings at 1.30pm at Resource for London, 356 Holloway Road, London, N7 6PA. Vince Cable has agreed to take part. If any other candidates do come forward before Saturday then they will, of course, be invited.

Whilst any party member is welcome to attend the hustings for free, we would love it if you could sign up for the whole day’s conference. In the morning the theme will be ‘The Retreat from Globalisation’ with some eminent speakers, while the afternoon will be devoted to more local issues including the Leadership election and a review of the General Election. You can register here: www.socialliberal.net/slfconf2017.

Posted in Leadership Election | Also tagged | 8 Comments
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