The Liberal Democrats must remain the party of the Open Society

Throughout the world, the defining cleavage in elections has largely become that between those advocating the Open Society, against a new wave of parties and movements strongly propagating the Closed Society. In the UK, this is at the forefront of the current election, embodied in the debate around Brexit.

Here we see many of the standard clashes in the Open-Closed debate, including on the virtues of globalisation and of international institutions, strong disagreements on immigration, and a debate on whether to take society back to the communities of the past, or forward to the future.

In addition, with the rise of those advocates of the Closed society – Marine Le Pen in France, and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines among them in what appears to be a global phenomenon – there has been a return of authoritarianism, and strong law-and-order values where freedom and liberty have been seconded in importance to the mercurial concept of “collective security”. Carrying this message are the aforementioned populist figure, with the most notable figure within the UK having previously been Nigel Farage, although the Prime Minister has done well politically in co-opting much of this rhetoric.

With the current crisis of the Labour Party, under a leader who has traditionally been Eurosceptic and sceptical about international institutions such as NATO, it has been left to the Liberal Democrats to defend Britain’s internationalism, and the Open society.

This of course does not mean that the party should not try and appeal to those who clamour for the Closed society – in many cases, it is not so much a desire to shut off Britain from the rest of the world, nor born out of a form of xenophobia and racism. Instead, as seen in many cases across the world, it is the desire for a return of community, which, admittedly, can sometimes be a casualty of globalisation and the Open Society.

Yet it remains the goal of the Liberal Democrats to continue to promote the open, tolerant, and free society. The party should remain one that embraces globalisation in all its forms, helping to create a multicultural, international community that looks forward to the future. To those that mourn the loss of past communities, the party indeed must do more – cosmopolitanism admittedly does not appeal to everyone, and I would be curious to ask how many feel that this problem could be addressed. Yet the party remains the strongest bastion in British politics against authoritarianism, populism, and those forces that wish to close Britain’s borders to the outside world.

* Sam Skubala is a student in London, who otherwise lives in Hong Kong. He has recently joined the Liberal Democrats.

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  • Surely, It depends if you think it is a debate about the past v the future. Imperialism and Rome and The Church were pretty internationalist. They also felt they were more moral/progressive than what the natives were up to. These are not new ideas.

  • “Instead, as seen in many cases across the world, it is the desire for a return of community, which, admittedly, can sometimes be a casualty of globalisation and the Open Society.”

    This, I believe, is a very important point. The challenge is how to ensure whole communities do not get ‘left behind’ and/or dismantled, thus resulting in a backlash against ‘open’ political parties.

  • One again we have got ourselves in an unholy mess. What is going on. Vincent Cable has spoken about Lib Dems supporting Labour in some seats!!! (you can hear the recording on LBC).
    Good god, that might be strategiacally helpful if this were 1997 and a very unpoluar Conservative government, but this is 2017, Cons in the ascendency and a very unpopular Labour party. Give me strength. What is our problem. Cannot people toe the same line. I guess all Cable has done is strengthen the Cons hand in Twickenham and he and the rest of us will accordingly suffer as a result.
    I sent the party some money this morning, my first reaction is to stop the cheque.

  • I hope that Libdem policy researchers would take a look at En Marche’s economic policies, especially industrial and enterprise policies. There are lots of great ideas that Libdem can adopt for Britain, many of which would help us to outflank both May and Corbyn at least in theory. For examples:
    – Anti-dumping measures, which the Tories mindlessly opposed to cosy China.
    – A growth fund for enterprises (Libdem already had 2, now our task is to expand them).
    – Borrow at low interest rate to invest in infrastructures (this is also adopted by Trudeau).
    – Tougher foreign takeover law to defend strategic companies both in France and in EU as a whole (meanwhile, Tories and Nu Labour have consistently sold off our national assets since 1980s).
    – Reconciliation of capital-labour relation, increase employee representative (a classic Liberal policy in the past).
    – Import substitution strategy to reduce import dependency (especially from China as in case of En Marche)
    – Re-industrialization of left-behind regions (please, please put this into Libdem manifesto).
    – R&D tax credit
    – He did mention about productive capacity of industrial sector. One example: 34,500 industrial robots, with a high average age, are in service in France, compared with 62,000 in Italy and 150,000 in Germany.
    – Invest in vocational training
    – Fight against tax optimization and defend, at European level, a tax on the turnover realized in EU countries for services of electronic service.
    – Create a mean to inject funding either directly and indirectly into research and industry.

  • It really bugs me that we are stressing the “open” part of our aim to build a fair, free and tolerant society while not stressing that we want a more equal society and that we will fight to reduce all inequalities. I think our emphasis should be on reducing economic inequalities which have greatly expanded over the last 38 years.

    People might think that we want a society in which there are no restriction on foreigners coming to live and work in the UK. When we were in government this was not the case we supported higher barriers for people outside the EU coming to live and work in the UK.

    The Open Society Foundations ( uses the word open as in “open to the participation of all people”. They state, “We seek to strengthen the rule of law; respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions; democratically elected governments; and a civil society that helps keep government power in check” and “We build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information”.

    An open society is not about letting everyone in the world have the right to come and work in that society. An open society does not restrict the movement of its own people.

    According to Wikipedia an open society is the opposite of an authoritarian one. An open society is one where the government is open as opposed to secret. Examples of closed societies are Communist and Fascist ones.

    As Liberals of course we are opposed to Fascists and those wanting a more authoritarian society (perhaps a society that Theresa May wants where there is no opposition to the government and everyone is “united behind the government”).

    If we are going to use “open society” we need to be clear that it opposes authoritarianism and it is not a society which is dominated by corporations because of globalisation. Globalisation is another form of a closed society where people are no longer free to make their own decisions because all the important decisions being made by corporations.

    A Liberal open society is one in which people are protected from the power of global corporations, where the people decide things and not outside bodies. A Liberal open society works with people in other countries and their governments to control the power of the unelected.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th May '17 - 12:57pm

    Sam, welcome to the party , and a very big agreement with a well written article.

    You would do well to be able to promote Liberalism and Democracy in Hong Kong, no doubt , following in the footsteps of the terrific Martin Lee, the only individual person as a party or country representative of Liberal International !!!


    I disagreed with you on something strongly the other thread or two, and you came back with good grace, so delighted to agree with you strongly here. I have said good things about Macron for a while, usually in response to old fashioned left wing naysayers saying he’s lousy, neo-liberal , all that guff ! I am impressed that you. like any of us who actually seem to care about the reality, have , as have I, read some of his actual policies, and those of the excellent En Marche, which I am trying to encourage to apply to become members of Liberal International , ALDE, and our Liberal family.He is , and they are Liberal. Not neo anything !

  • Lorenzo – Well, a neo-liberal would never call for tighter foreign investment law. Also, East Asian countries was able to thrive because they rejected the Washington Consensus claptrap. LibDem should be a flagship for the movement away from neo-liberalism.

    Besides, I want to stress that there is one condition in any industrial strategy that would distinguish LibDem from Labour. It is called discipline (or it would be even better if it is export discipline), I mean, any support for businesses via British Business Bank or the State must be performance-based. Lets take an example, during late 1960s, British car industry had 2 firms: BMC, a bad firm and Leyland Motor, which was competitive and successful. Performance-based support means that BMC should have been left for dead, while Leyland must receive greater support. However, Labour forced them to merge and created a mess: British Leyland. Libdem must go for performance-based strategy (in East Asian nations they used EXPORT performance) that emphasizes competition like the East Asian Tigers, not propping up inefficient producers.

  • @theakes
    I fear that the Tories have poisoned the well on Brexit negotiations before they have even started. The only way we can get anywhere with the EU is to get rid of this government and reset the atmosphere. I don’t believe the conservatives are popular. T.M. seems to be, but that may change. The Tories are deliberately keeping their brand out of things in order to recruit Labour Brexiteers. Much as it goes against the grain I feel we have to cooperate in order to bring this government down. The Tories know that the only way they can be beaten is through cooperation of the opposition. In that case it’s OK with me.

  • Any mention of co-operation with anyone destroys us. All Cable is doing is strengthening the Tory vote, you can see their poster a picture of Corbyn with one of Farron in his pocket. We must be mad.

  • “With the current crisis of the Labour Party, under a leader who has traditionally been Eurosceptic and sceptical about international institutions such as NATO, it has been left to the Liberal Democrats to defend Britain’s internationalism, and the Open society.”

    I’m not sure it’s that simple; these internationalist groups are only as strong as the representatives who are sent to sit and speak. Don’t forget that one of the most recognizable MEP’s in the UK is Nigel Farage and if his ilk were dominant in the EU parliament then I’m not sure many Lib Dems would feel so positive about it.

  • David Hopps 9th May '17 - 7:49am

    This is one of the most important debates in the party. As Sam, Michael and others have referenced, in rightly supporting a liberal open society we must reference how we protect communities and how we ensure that open society does not just put power in the hands of the big corporations. I will be checking out the Open Society Foundations link.

  • My take on things includes the following. After the war – the second world war that is – there was an inevitable period of austerity. After 1951 when the Conservatives managed a narrow election victory things started to get better. The Conservatives used this with slogans like you have never had it so good. Since then people have assumed that their children would see a better life they they themselves. This is longer true. People see the reality of a country getting richer while they get poorer. This is where the division is. The Conservatives have again grabbed the good slogans.

  • Antony Watts 9th May '17 - 2:24pm

    It’s pretty simple to me. An open society has to be a law abiding, democratic one: this means respect for justice, obeying the law and building working democratic structures (we are behind the curve in this area in UK) the other areas need lots of attention.

    – why do people have to goto court to get a government to do what they are legally obliged to do? This is bad politics and lazy government.
    – why do we still have FPTP when consensus, cooperation and coalition is proven to be a better way to meet our needs and harmonise society?

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