The Future of Lib Dem Thinking

I managed to get myself on the list for the Institute for Government’s (IfG) debate on the Future of Lib Dem Thinking and attended the discussion in the beautiful John Nash building that adjoins the official London residence of the Foreign Secretary.

So what is the future for us? The line up saw Lord Clement-Jones, Julian Astle of Centre Forum, Timothy Cox of Liberal Vision and Neil Sherlock, who has advised both Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg, discuss the coalition and where next.

Lord Clement-Jones kicked off with the admission that the coalition is hard to swallow and that we need to demonstrate our independence within the government but that Nick Clegg showed courage in doing something so bold. Of course, as was pointed out later, Clegg had said throughout the campaign that he would speak to whoever had the most votes and, like it or not, the Conservatives did win the most seats and he therefore sought to speak with David Cameron first.

Next up was Julian Astle, he raised the differences between social and economic liberals and that both have differing views on issues, which needs to be acknowledged within the party. With localism being on both the Tory and the Lib Dem agendas he argued that radical decentralisation is more likely to bring the success of socially progressive aims. Ultimately, Lib Dems want to put power in the hands of the individual, Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is actually liberalism.

Tim Cox warned of the dangers of Lib Dems constantly seeking to find differences with the Conservatives as it could lead to poor decisions being made just to prove the point. He reminded the audience that coalition means you don’t get everything you want and the importance of showing that coalition can work.

Last to speak was Neil Sherlock and he launched into the positive that many forget, Lib Dems have had more than a taste of power, they’ve been running or coalescing in councils, Scotland, Wales and Europe for years. He also noted that the Lib Dems were completely written off by the London political commentariat and major newspapers who all predicted a Tory outright majority. David Yelland apparently claimed he had never met a Lib Dem and we know that we had more media at conference in September this year than ever before, so Sherlock’s comments rang true. Will they ignore us in future?

The event was appropriately chaired by Lord Adonis, a former Lib Dem and now a Labour peer; he admitted that the idol on the wall of his office is Gladstone and managed to add his own views to the debate in a humorous and teasing fashion. He challenged the panel on electoral reform – what will happen if we don’t win the yes vote? Answer: bite the bullet and carry on – and disagreed with the statement that the worst day in government beats the best day in opposition.

And for the future? Well Astle suggested we tax the wealthy more; Cox remains proud (as do I) that we continue to debate when no other major party does; Lord Clement-Jones stated that a liberal democracy is better than a social democracy and that the coalition is more redistributive than the last government, but that our elected representatives need to prove that their motives are right and fair to the party.

You can listen to the full podcast and see short interviews with the panel members as well as read the IfG’s synopsis of the event.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • tonygreaves 2nd Nov '10 - 12:56pm

    Why on earth do these people invite someone from the so-called Liberal Vision people who are just parasites on the party? Why at the least, was there not a counter-balance from the radical wing of the party who have the virtue of existing in some depth?

    Tony Greaves

  • Richard Morris 2nd Nov '10 - 1:19pm

    Sounds like a good debate – but who was there? I see the IfG descibes itself as for ‘senior civil servants, politicians, policy makes, experts (well that covers a multitude of sins) and acedemics. So not much room for the Lib Dem members there in a debate about what we stand for.

    Or am I being unfair? Was it stuffed full of activists waving the 2010 manifesto and shouting ‘more of this please’?

  • Sounds like a fascinating debate – chaired by Andrew Adonis? He’s truly brilliant.
    However, a question: “the coalition is more redistributive than the previous government”? I thought that had been proven untrue?

  • Gladstone's Hat 2nd Nov '10 - 3:58pm

    Did they really have a debate under this title, entirely about day to day politics and with nothing about actual thought at all?

    Tony Greaves is right about Liberal Vision: they are a strand of thinking within the party, but a vanishingly tiny one and much eclipsed by a few other much larger ones.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Nov '10 - 6:27pm

    I do think Tony Greaves can sometimes be ‘over-blunt’ in expression. You cannot get away, however, from the fact that his expression was correctly-based. I had never heard of ‘Liberal Vision’ before I Googled their web-site just now and saw that besides having a picture of a lady beach-volleyballist, they quote Mark Littlewood, who is to Liberal Democrats as a bat is to a racehorse. This panel in no way reflects any kind of balance of Liberal Democrat thinking and one wonders, therefore, who assembled it?

  • Few things can validate the presence of Liberal Vision more than Tony Greaves attack on them.

    Surely social democracy was represented by Lprd Adonis?

  • Mike(The Labour one) 3rd Nov '10 - 12:01am

    The future will be whatever Nick Clegg wants to decide in pre-coalition talks with the Tories. Again.

  • “The future will be whatever Nick Clegg wants to decide in pre-coalition talks with the Tories. Again”.

    Correction, that should read David Cameron instead of Nick Clegg

  • I seem to remember Mark Oaten and other assorted luminaries when it (Liberal Vision) emerged between 5 and 10 years ago, I think.

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