Julian Huppert writes….’The Generous Society’ – a vision for a liberal Britain

Liberalism has offered a lot to the UK over the decades. Liberal thinker John Stewart Mill was an early champion of female suffrage and the abolition of the slave trade. The last Liberal Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, started the modern welfare state; the Liberal William Beveridge’s totemic report led to the creation of the National Health Service, and the great Liberal economist John Maynard Keynes set out how economic tools operate and could be used to benefit citizens.

Liberalism is still a crucial philosophy now – possibly the only antidote to the authoritarian, centralising tendencies coming from some on the economic left and right, and the best response to surveillance capitalism, excessive consumerism, and the perils of an over-free market.

However, at the present time it is not well articulated. Its values are too often conflated with neo-liberalism or libertarianism – two very different world views, for all their linguistic similarity. The Liberal Democrats, who still carry the banner of liberalism, have stumbled in recent years, too often lost in discussions of the Coalition and seen as fundamentally pro-European, rather than fundamentally Liberal. It has failed to articulate a clear liberal vision for too long.

There are liberals in almost all UK parties, and among those who do not feel connected to any political movement. Some do not realise that they are liberals, because they have not yet seen a clear description of what a liberal is, and what the underpinning drive is for liberalism.

It is for all these reasons that we set out to produce a vision for what Britain could be. Entitled ‘the Generous Society’, it dreams of a country where we can all be generous, to ourselves and to each other. Our vision is to see individual freedom, human diversity and ingenuity, and natural beauty flourish and advance within a generous and free society.

It sets out 10 clear freedoms that should apply to everyone in our country: freedom to create and earn; to shape your surroundings; to move, live, and love; to be generous. Freedom to learn and grow; specialise and adapt; and to access good information. Freedom from economic demands and anxiety, from state and private intrusion, and to express yourself fully.

This is a vision for a better Britain, and one that should appeal to and inspire liberals from all political backgrounds. Liberalism transformed the first half of the 20th Century – it can do the same in the 21st, but only if the sleeping giant awakens, with a compelling vision.

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* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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20 Comments

  • Julian Tisi 9th Sep '20 - 4:58pm

    I’ve had a skim read and this is rather good!

  • In fairness people’s difficulty. in understanding what Liberalism means is not entirely our fault. The L word can be used to describe its opposite. The Australian Liberal Party is always worth a cringe and I suspect that Boris Johnson can keep a straight face while describing himself as liberal. However it is good to see the reclamation of the word generous. Many of came into the party because of a full-hearted internationalist, anti-discrimination approach. Even our most flawed leaders have not faltered on this. When governments were bringing in far from generous immigration laws, it usually fell to a small third parry in parliament to lead the opposition. Just occasionally dictionary definitions can be helpful and liberal meaning generous is not just about individual attributes. There is such a thing as institutional generosity as well as institutional meanness. When Little Englanders were setting off fireworks gto celebrate “leaving the EU” at the end of January, Chris and I were almost in tears in the Grand Place in Brussels, the historic buildings bathed in red, white and blue as part of a full evening tribute to the UK which was regretful but generous.

  • There we go again…traducing libertarianism, and yet complaining that people seem to have misinterpreted liberalism over the years…

    Ho hum…I’ll get my coat.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 10:08am

    “it dreams of a country where we can all be generous, to ourselves and to each other. Our vision is to see individual freedom, human diversity and ingenuity, and natural beauty flourish and advance within a generous and free society.”

    There was I thinking it was only the ultra left who had a tendency towards Utopianism.

    We’re living in a capitalist society. The capitalists want higher profits to justify their investments. The workers have to work to earn their wages and keep the system ticking along to produce the things we need. Governments want their cut too. The capitalists do understand they can’t let workers starve if they lose their jobs. They might need them again in the future so they have to be kept alive but that’s about it.

    Short of total revolution, and even then I’d be sceptical, the best we can hope to do is remove the rough edges. After all our years of trying there are still more than few and some are getting much rougher than they used to be.

    So let’s be realistic about this.

  • @Peter Martin
    I think you’ve neatly demonstrated the different between the liberal vision and that of the right and left. They both see the world as essentially a competition in which one can’t win unless the other losers (hence the need to entrench the system / overthrow the system, so that me and my friends can dominate). Generosity doesn’t really fit into such a world view.

  • Peter Martin 10th Sep '20 - 1:56pm

    @ Julian Tisi,

    “Generosity doesn’t really fit into such a world view.”

    You’ve missed the point. People are capable of being incredibly generous. We don’t rely on paid blood donors in this country. I’ve given several armfulls over the years – in Tony Hancock’s unit of measure 🙂 . If a child goes missing, hundreds of people will turn out to search. In some cultures children won’t answer a question in a classroom unless they sure that everyone else will know the answer too. They don’t want to embarass anyone.

    On the other hand, we can all be incredibly selfish at times too. We are a complex mixture of the good and the not-quite-so-good.

    But you have to understand the nature of our society and our economic system too which is set up to harness a certain degree of our selfishness. As Adam Smith, who is often quoted with some approval by those in the centre ground, says:

    “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”.

  • I agree with George on his statement of intolerance of intolerance which I have also seen and witnessed as leading to attempts to shut down and silence any debate on certain topics. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that people should be allowed to break the low in inviting hatred or violence. There are however legitimate debates to be had about immigration numbers, sustainable population number for the U.K. merits or otherwise of positive discrimination, quotas for, all black people, woman, gay people, insert as according to opinion, short listing. What if any action should be taken to avoid further climate change. Last but not least there is Brexit or more to the point, people who voted Brexit who I have seen described on this very site as, racist, stupid, uneducated, intolerant, old / fortunately close to death and I people whose views the party should ignore and / or simply overrule. It has not generally shown the individuals or the party in a very Liberal light.

  • I agree with George on his statement of intolerance of intolerance which I have also seen and witnessed as leading to attempts to shut down and silence any debate on certain topics. I don’t think anyone is suggesting that people should be allowed to break the law in inviting hatred or violence. There are however legitimate debates to be had about immigration numbers, sustainable population number for the U.K. merits or otherwise of positive discrimination, quotas for, all black people, woman, gay people, insert as according to opinion, short listing. What if any action should be taken to avoid further climate change. Last but not least there is Brexit or more to the point, people who voted Brexit who I have seen described on this very site as, racist, stupid, uneducated, intolerant, old / fortunately close to death and I people whose views the party should ignore and / or simply overrule. It has not generally shown the individuals or the party in a very Liberal light.

  • Apologies for double post.

  • David Garlick 10th Sep '20 - 4:50pm

    Wake up people and smell the coffee. A horrible phrase but if the Climate Emergency is to be dealt with then much of Julian’s vision of generosity will be vital if we are to get through. Don’t doubt that the current capitalist system is not fit for the future. Labours vision of the distribution of wealth is not able to bring ‘those who have’ along with it. Something will have to give and something new will have to emerge that is very, very different to what is considered normal now. I am not sure that the ’10 freedoms’ will cut it but it is at least a start.

  • George Kendall 10th Sep '20 - 9:22pm

    Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the reply.

    It seems to me the long-standing liberal principle has been that all views should be tolerated, with very few exceptions.

    Where someone thinks certain views are to be regarded as intolerable, the onus is on that person to be as specific as possible as to which views are unacceptable.

    For example, while I am very pro-EU, I am extremely concerned when I hear anyone say: anyone who voted for Brexit is a racist. Does that mean anyone who voted for Brexit is not welcome as a supporter of the party? I hope not. Because, if so, that means we cut off 52% of the country from voting for us, and are writing off many seats that we held prior to 2015. And, while I disagree with them, I know many who voted for Brexit did so for genuine reasons which were not racist or bigoted at all.

    The comment I was complaining of was being “intolerant of the intolerant”. Lacking any specifics, I think that comment is extremely dangerous and illiberal, and goes completely against the traditional liberal principles of tolerance of different views, as expressed, among others, by Voltaire and Mill.

    Sal Brinton has rightly said, we should play the ball not the person – and, while we may not agree with them, we should be tolerant of everyone as a person. Unless they are clearly being deliberately abusive, where we disagree, we should try to understand rather than condemn. Sometimes, we’ll find that the person who we think is being bigoted has merely expressed themselves poorly. If so, we should try to understand their underlying concerns, because we may find they are genuine and do need to be taken seriously.

    I could link to specific examples of intolerant posts on the public internet, cases where freedom to speak is being discouraged by so-called liberals around the world, or to policy areas where people used to feel free to express their views but no longer feel able to. But I don’t want to personalise this. Nor do I want to get caught up in the minutiae of particular policy areas – because, as I say, the onus to be specific should be on those who want to restrict debate.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Sep '20 - 8:35am

    Geoff Reid: The Liberal Party of Australia is not a small-L liberal party, and is not considered as such by Australians (who always make a clear distinction between “small-L liberalism” and the politics of their Liberal Party (which is a sister party to the Tories, and is not a member of Liberal International)). There’s also the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither liberal nor democratic, and its Japanese namesake. Neither party belongs to Liberal International.

  • I love how the current advert at the top of the page is for last night’s IEA “Live with Littlewood” 🙂 (featuring Delingpole, Elliott, Deane, Terry Kibbe and Sammy Wilson). I guess that’s from an algorithm that picks up my past accesses, but it would be funny if everyone on here was seeing the same thing 🙂

  • Alex Macfie 11th Sep '20 - 9:39am

    Jock Coats: I’m getting that ad as well. Maybe the algorithm is picking that up because of your post!

  • I’m very sorry to have to point it out, but when the Vision says things like “To make generosity a possibility for everyone, we must ensure that people are no longer competing for too few resources,” and “By rethinking and reforming the way our society works in a liberal fashion, we can ensure that for many people, life will no longer be a competition for scarce resources,” it really shows it has not grasped one of the fundamental problems of existence on this planet (and not just human existence).

    All resources are scarce to some extent or other and always will be. We live in a finite planet and no amount of intellectual ingenuity can overcome that. That is the fundamental lesson that the Green movement has taught us, or at least i thought so, until I read this publication.

    When I read it, I was astonished to find that it mentions the term Green just once – “from cycle lanes to green spaces,” the environment twice – once in the expression “has been accelerated by the information environment”) and extinction not at all.

    Equally the section on “The Global Realm ” is entirely about international relations and rule of law.

    I’m very sad to say it, but if this is what some people think being liberal is all about in 2020, I’m glad I grew from being just a liberal in 1987 and became a Liberal Democrat.

  • richard underhill.,. 17th Sep '20 - 1:51pm

    BBC headlines remind us that this is an anniversary of a WW2 operation known as “A bridge too far”. The conclusion was that the planning was faulty.
    A US glider was shot down and plans for the whole operation fell into enemy hands.
    The priority was to deal with V1 and V2 missile fired from Belgium and Holland to London. The RAF shot down some. Allied forces were instructed to capture and demolish the bases from which the missiles were being fired.
    Market Garden and the collapse of Romania happened at the same time.
    Reinforcements and resupplies were delayed by fog in the Midlands.
    Officers in area adapted plans locally.
    BBC correspondent Chester Wilmot wrote
    “two trucks had gone off the concrete and onto the grass and had been blown up. Next morning the wreckage was seen by all drivers moving north and, lest the warning should be disregarded some over-conscientious sapper had set up a notice: DONT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU. KEEP ON THE ROAD, VERGES NOT CLEARED OF MINES.
    In fact all the mines at the road block had been lifted and it was most unlikely that the Germans would have been able to mine the verges of the road ahead since this had been their own supply line until the previous afternoon.
    Over the next five miles to Valkenswaard the concrete road was only just wide enough for two vehicles. There were ample grass verges, but whenever convoys were halted to let more urgent convoys through the drivers clung to the concrete, creating a succession of traffic blocks which took hours to clear.

  • richard underhill.,. 17th Sep '20 - 1:52pm

    Page 512
    During the night of the 19th-20th, while a battlegroup of 10th SS were being ferried across the Neder Rijn to stiffen the Nijmegen garrison, Horrocks and Browning made a new plan, designed to give them full possession of the Nijmegen road bridge by simultaneous attacks from north and south. Next day an American parachute regiment (the 504th) was to cross the Waal a mile downstream and seize the northern end of the bridge in concert with an attack on the southern defences by the Grenadier Guards and a battalion of parachutists. First, however, the town of Nijmegen had to be cleared of Germans so that the assault troops could gain access to the south bank of the Waal.
    The mopping up took all of Wendesday morning and it was nearly three o’clock before the 504th were in position to launch their storm-boats into the fast-flowing river. The combined effect of the current and the severe enemy fire was such that only half the boats carrying the first wave reached the north bank. Undaunted , some two hundred men scrambled or swam ashore and established a slender foothold which was gradually reinforced and expanded as the afternoon wore on. This bold assault in clear daylight across a defended river, 400 yards wide, was a most brilliant and courageous feat of arms and was duly rewarded. By 6.30 the Americans had routed the opposition and were advancing towards the road bridge. En route they secured the northern end of the railway bridge and there they raised the American flag.
    When this signal of success was seen by watchers on the southern bank the Guards pressed home their attack.

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