The Liberal message in uncertain times

What is a liberal? It’s a question that we need to answer, and answer now.

The public have known for some time, or thought that they’ve known, what the Conservatives and Labour are. For years these parties fitted nicely in to easily defined boxes, but that’s changing. Are Labour the Corbynite members on the left? Or the more centrist, so-called Blairites that hold the PLP? And in the Tories, is it the moderate pro-European majority, or the Eurosceptic, UKIP-flirting right?

My great grandfather was a prominent Communist Party member in his community, who went to Spain to train the Republican navy against Franco’s Fascists. Socialism runs deep in my family, and for a number of years I was a Labour Party member, of a similar mind to those who now take to the streets to defend a vision of socialist activism embodied by Corbyn and McDonnell. But something has changed in our country, and many of us have changed with it.

I draw upon my great grandfather’s experience as I reach the age that he was when he travelled to a divided Spain. He went with ideological certainty on his side, determined to join his international and Spanish comrades in a glorious struggle for the people against the extreme right. Alongside him in Spain were such illustrious figures as George Orwell, who famously imagined a dystopian vision of Britain where those in power operated with the doctrine of a “boot stamping on a human face, for ever.” His cause was righteous and noble, but before his eyes he saw it fall apart.

He learned that in factions on the extreme right any division in policy are ultimately stamped from debate, and on the extreme left differences in opinion result in collapse, until those differences are likewise brought to a close by threat. By the end of the Spanish Civil War, Republican factions fought each other on the streets of Barcelona and Madrid. The Fascists won, and readied their boots.

If he were alive today I’m certain that my great grandfather would take a look at the factional Labour Party, and then at the rise of the right which ultimately led to the harnessing of fears in the EU referendum campaign, and he would see history repeating itself again.

In such a period of division and uncertainty among the electorate we need a new voice. A strong voice, firm in its determinations and its message. In an age of hard left and right, with all the ideological in-fighting that non-negotiable extremes tend to foster, that voice needs to be open, inclusive and honest. It needs to be heartfelt, passionate and inspiring. It must be liberal, and it must be vocal.

Please do not shy from speaking up. The fate of our country and the legacy of those that built it must be defended from extremity and disaster. Tell your friends, your MPs, the press and the wider public what it means to be a liberal. Educate them on the values that liberals stand for. Speak loudly and proudly for the rejection of past mistakes, and for tolerance, common sense and honesty. Cut through the chaos and division of competing factions within government and its opposition, and fill the void with the progressive message of the Liberal Democrats.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Terry Balfour 7th Jul '16 - 10:49am

    As a Classical Liberal. i would say being a modern day Liberal is about being a broad enough church to accept differing opinions, knowing that they lead to the same goal..notably people not becoming enslaved by dogma, becoming free by education and not having to conform to suit others, in doing so, spreading the love of a free and open society that is at peace with itself. I’m in the Orange Book camp I guess, nonetheless, am proud to be a card carrying member of this party.

  • “Are Labour [represented by], the Corbynite members on the left? Or the more centrist, so-called Blairites”
    Equally, you could ask,… are LibDems [represented by], the Farronite members on the left,.. or the more centrist, so-called Cleggistas.?
    The two parties now in their identity death spiral, are Labour and Liberal Democrats, and for the very same reason.
    Some decades ago, the working class party (Labour), got hijacked by a group of careerist posh boys headed by Blair. Blair (and his Blair-istas), and even re-branded it to ~ New Labour.
    The unspoken reality, is that a very liberal party,.. Liberal Democrats, also got hijacked by a group of careerist posh boys, who re-branded it ~ Orange Book’ed, the liberal party for their own career reasons.
    In short – Both Labour and LD parties, became vehicles for the rise of the young political careerists. The articulated desire by both Blairism, and Cleggism (both frankly politically interchangeable?),.. was for a notion of centre ground politics. But, from the outside looking in, this had the effect of creating (intentionally or inadvertently?), two almost identical parties,.. owned and run by the careerist middle classes,.. almost solely for the benefit of careerist middle classes.?
    No wonder then that the ‘left behind’, felt that there was no political conduit for their voice.?
    So, fast forwarding to today. Corbyn’s ineptitude aside,..Today the Labour battle is to rescue (or un-hijack?), a working class party, back from the chattering young middle class careerists.
    The real dilemma, is that before too long liberals (real liberals!), are going to have to do some similar internal LibDem housekeeping.? Be under no illusion, if the Labour party implodes, and scurrying careerist Blairites seek a new home, they will no doubt find welcoming arms from the careerist middle class Cleggistas. But when the ‘pretend socialists’ seek comfort with the ‘pretend liberals’,.. its game over for any notion of liberalism.?
    The question is not,.. What is a liberal?,.. it is,.. As a liberal am I in denial, still sitting in a ‘paper’ liberal party, which has been hijacked from liberalism.?

  • Tony Greaves 7th Jul '16 - 2:41pm

    The question you should be asking is “What is a Liberal?”

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Jul '16 - 8:36pm

    David Gore provides an intelligent and encouraging piece , then Terry Balfour adds further to it , only to have J Dunne wreck things.

    Why , Mr. Dunne , or Ms . , the class ridden inverted snobbery that has no place in a Liberal party ?

    “Posh boys ” is a pathetic and crude attempt at demonising along class lines. Tny Benn was far “posher ” than Blair or Clegg , or even Cameron , the latter and his Tory colleagues oddly ignored in your proletarian rant !

    David Gore gives us ideas , shame some prefer insults.

  • “I am a classical Liberal” inherent in Liberalism is the notion of progress, the policy attitudes of Victorian Liberals were inappropriate in 1906, let alone 2016.

  • It appears from the posts on LDV that the Liberal Democrats stand for the free movement of Europeans (EU and EEA member countries), and for some of them everyone in the world, and allowing them all to be able to enter the UK to work. At this time I hoped that there would be voices within the party that saw that some (and most likely a majority) of the 52% who voted Leave are disillusioned with this. And recognised that outside of the EU and the EEA we would have the freedom to make our country a liberal country where everyone who wants to work can find a job, where there are not lots of long termed unemployed or lots of unemployment young people or people who feel they will never find a job again. Where people think that the lives of their children will better than their own lives. Where economic inequalities are being reduced not increased. And who reject the idea that it is a good thing for economic growth just to continue upwards so long as we can encourage enough people to migrant into the UK.

    The only voice I have noticed being against us being in the EU is Bill le Breton who recognises the deflation caused in the Euro zone and the failures of the ECB but still want us to be in the EEA and to have an open door for people from this failed economic area to come to the UK to work.

    We as a party need to recognise the failure of the EU and be clear what reforms are needed for it to be a successful economic area. And then be clear we will only re-join when these reforms have been carried out. On the top of my list is establishing that the aim of the economic policies of the EU is full employment across the whole of the EU and the reduction of economic inequalities across countries and regions to reduce the pressures on economic migration and the social pressures it brings, but would Germany ever agree to it?

  • @Michael BG: You’ll find that the UK has far, far less influence outside the EU than in it — though the EU’s commanding role in the UK will hardly be lessened by the 52%’s decision to no longer have a part in EU decision making. Far from expanding the UK’s ability to act independently, leaving the EU leaves the country at the mercy of others.

  • @ David-1

    I voted to remain and have not advocated leaving the EU, and so I do accept we should have fought much harder to get the EU to reform economically and Nick Clegg wasted his opportunity by pursuing deflationary budgetary policies in the UK and not being in a strong position to get the Euro zone to reject such policies and run the Euro zone economy for the poorer areas and not Germany. (I am not sure if these economic policies and rules effected the regional economic policies of the UK and its failure to run our economy for the whole nation rather than London [and so encouraging economic migration to London and the south-east of England]). However my point was we should not advocate re-joining the EU unless it has sorted out the economic problems in the Euro zone because this economic policy (and its rules) makes it impossible for any member state’s government to pursue an economic policy to achieve full employment which decreases inequality and so create a liberal society within their country.

  • Trevor Morotn 8th Jul '16 - 9:34am

    We should not even contemplate re-joining the EU whilst it continues down the track to Federalism and the uber-Federal power the dreamers in Brussels so crave for. Its fundamentally orthogonal to the direction (me) Liberals would want to travel. The prospect of sleepwalking into an EU super state accounted for my vote to leave and end my LD membership. I grew up in Germany, multi-lingual, I am European.

  • Michael Cole 8th Jul '16 - 8:09pm

    For far too long, arguably for 60 years, Labour has worn the mantle of being the Party that stands up for the poor and underprivileged. Now we must and can dispel that myth.

    UK has been poorly governed for all of my considerable adult life, caused not only by Labour’s time in office but also when they are not – for want of an effective opposition.

    Tony Greaves is right to point out that “The question you should be asking is “What is a Liberal?” My personal reply would be “One who believes that the best way forward is to apply pragmatic intelligence to our many problems matched with a determination to see it through. ”

    For all its ‘bleeding heart’ Labour has signally failed to do just that; the Corbyn episode is just the latest demonstration.

    Nationally, we have to show that Liberal Democrats are the ones who care and who can bring effective solutions. Politicians of all Parties would claim this but we have done this for many years at a local level. I think Tim is well aware of this.

    The question is: How do we make our voice heard ?

  • Simon Banks 9th Jul '16 - 10:39pm

    Liberals believe in liberty, equality and community. You can and indeed should have arguments about the meaning of all three, but the same can be said of any meaningful statement of Conservative, Socialist/Labour or nationalist beliefs. The liberty is individual liberty: for us, the freedom achieved by separating one place from another (whether the UK from the EU, or Scotland from the UK, or Catalonia, Quebec or Slovakia) is nothing unless individuals are thereby more free. The equality is equality of esteem and as far as possible, opportunity, power and resources, with the classical (traditional) emphasis mostly on equality of power (extending the franchise, reforming the voting system, the rights of married women to be equal to those of married men). The three cannot be completely separated as, for example, equality of opportunity is impossible in a society with extremes of poverty and wealth. Community is free association of individuals to co-operate to the common good. Liberals believe we are all one human family and that family has a responsibility for the planet. The commitments to equality of power and to community lead to a commitment to bring power as close to the individual and small community as possible.

    There were excellent essays written last year on this topic. The party should publish the shortlisted ones. This was part of a process of redefining a common statement of Liberal Democrat values and beliefs: there should be something of it on the party website.

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