The Orange Book, 10 years on: 5 thoughts on its legacy

Orange_BookToday saw what its co-editor Paul Marshall called the belated launch party for The Orange Book – such was the controversy surrounding its publication 10 years ago that the original event was cancelled. I was only able to attend one of the sessions (on public service reform) so here are five more general observations on its legacy…

1) The Orange Book remains much misunderstood, sometimes deliberately by those who enjoy internal warring, more often by those who’ve not read it (whisper it, some sections are pretty turgid) but know its reputation and assume it’s a right-wing, Thatcherite manual for destroying this country’s social contract. As Paul Marshall re-affirmed today, the aim of The Orange Book was to show how socially liberal aims could best be achieved through economically liberal means, recognising that in the real world both markets and governments fail. Two of its leading contributors are currently the most popular Lib Dem ministers in government: Vince Cable and Steve Webb. That said, it was (for both Marshall and David Laws at any rate) also a very deliberate statement of intent in 2004 that the Lib Dems needed to do more than simply out-Labour Labour by proposing new money and extra staff in every area of public service and argue that was liberalism (which is largely what the party’s 2005 manifesto did).

2) For all that The Orange Book does stress both economic and social liberalism (alongside political and personal liberalism too) it’s pointless to deny it exposes some pretty fundamental ideological divides within the party – put crudely, between those who think government is more often the problem (economic liberals) than the solution (social liberals). The Lib Dems are by no means the only party to have two wings – Tory libertarians co-exist with social authoritarians, Blairites with Bennites in Labour – but being both a smaller and a more democratic party than the other two the divide is frequently on public display. (Of course, the bulk of members are somewhere in the persuadable middle.) If we had proportional representation, perhaps we would break very naturally in two: under first-past-the-post such a split would be harmful to both halves. And if politics were less tribal, then perhaps the Orange Book disapora (the Tories’ Nick Boles, Labour’s Alan Milburn, the Lib Dems’ Jeremy Browne) would unite under the same banner: they would, after all, find more on which to agree with each other than with many in their own parties.

3) The Orange Book did not forge the current Coalition: that was the inevitable and unavoidable product of 2010’s electoral maths. What it did do, however, was give it some pre-ordained common purpose. For a start, Lib Dem policy-making started to take account of the challenge that the book laid down: we moved beyond thinking more money, more staff was always the answer to every social ill. This happened under Charles Kennedy (with Norman Lamb’s first attempts at Royal Mail reform), under Ming Campbell (with the switch away from higher taxes on income towards taxes on pollution and wealth instead), and continued under Nick Clegg. The 2007-08 financial crash would have made much of this inevitable anyway, but at least now it had some form of ideological underpinning. And that did mean there was more affinity with the Tories, especially under the initially modernising David Cameron. This reached its zenith in the Rose Garden in 2010 – with its imprinted image of two parties fusing cheerfully together – and its nadir with the collapse of House of Lords reform in 2012. The Orange Book likely encouraged many Lib Dems (probably me included) to over-estimate the extent to which we could liberalise the Tories.

4) The Orange Book was not a manifesto. For a start, it included no chapter on education, a surprising omission considering not only the Lib Dems had long made education a centre-piece of the party manifesto (eg, the 1p on income tax campaign under Paddy Ashdown), but also Marshall’s keen personal interest (as chairman of ARK schools) – and ironic given it’s been David Laws’ principal brief both in opposition and in government. Nor did it have much to say about the economy. True there is a chapter on liberal economics from Vince Cable, then our shadow chancellor, but much of its focus is on regulatory reform and public service provision. Yes, there’s some cursory discussion of the size of the state, but it’s an after-thought, as the question of how to create a liberal economy so often is for the Lib Dems.

5) All-too-often missing from Orange Book-inspired discussion (as indeed it was missing from Jeremy Browne’s Race Plan, in some ways its natural successor) has been the question that’s key to any political party: “Who’d vote for this?” For instance, in the session I did attend Paul Marshall set out some of the ideas he said would be top of his list for an Orange Book v.II: ending the cap on senior public sector executives’ pay being no higher than the Prime Minister’s; local pay-settlements for public sector workers; making strikes illegal in hospitals and schools; and requiring a minimum 50 per cent turn-out for strike ballots. One of those has merit, I think: local pay, as I’ve argued before, is a potentially important way of ensuring we can recruit to vacancies in the poorest areas. The rest strike me as largely symbolic policies likely to use up a lot of political capital and achieving little. Though an Orange Book sympathiser, I’m not an Orange Book purist: there’s no point putting forward authentically liberal policies without knowing how you’d sell them on the doorstep to a sceptical public. That way lies the fate of the FDP.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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35 Comments

  • Stephen Howse 24th Jun '14 - 10:18pm

    “The Orange Book remains much misunderstood, sometimes deliberately by those who enjoy internal warring, more often by those who’ve not read it (whisper it, some sections are pretty turgid) but know its reputation and assume it’s a right-wing, Thatcherite manual for destroying this country’s social contract.”

    Found myself nodding most vehemently at this bit.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jun '14 - 12:30am

    I think the Orange Book served a purpose, but now I think we need something better and more defined. I think we should focus on liberalism without adjectives, or centrism as I sometimes call it. I have too many criticisms of economic liberalism.

    One thing I would say though is that too many economic liberals seem to believe in “economic liberalism, unless the rich and powerful want something different”. There’s no future for a party that supports that.

    Regards

  • Stephen wrote, “As Paul Marshall re-affirmed today, the aim of The Orange Book was to show how socially liberal aims could best be achieved through economically liberal means, recognising that in the real world both markets and governments fail.” This might have been the aim, but it wasn’t the impression I received at the time. The impression was market forces and completion good, government doing it bad. I must have missed what the social liberal aims were.

    Stephen lists some of Paul Marshall’s ideas. Again I can’t see the social liberal dimension. Why would liberals think that teachers and those who work in hospitals shouldn’t have the freedom to strike? If we allow the public not to vote in elections and don’t ignore those with turnouts of less than 50% why would liberals not allow union members the same freedom in strike ballots? I must have missed the liberal argument Stephen makes in his article that national agreed pay-scales should be scraped. Until I read some of the comments I thought the idea might have merit. Some of the issues raised by Stephen in that article might be better addressed with more flexibility to address recruitment or skill issues.

  • Total agree with Michael BG – the gap between the stated aim of the orange book (whether it is the real aim or not) and what it delivers is enormous.

    The reason for their being no chapter on education is that David Laws views would have been unacceptable.

  • Tony Dawson 25th Jun '14 - 7:52am

    We’ve been Tango’d! 🙁

  • David Bertram 25th Jun '14 - 8:56am

    “it was…a very deliberate statement of intent in 2004 that the Lib Dems needed to do more than simply out-Labour Labour by proposing new money and extra staff in every area of public service and argue that was liberalism (which is largely what the party’s 2005 manifesto did).”

    Found myself nodding most vehemently at this bit.

  • Mark Blackburn 25th Jun '14 - 9:03am

    The literalists who bang on about what the Orange Book ‘really says’ are missing the point – of course there are chapters within the book which do not espouse devout economic liberalism. However that’s no reason not to use Orange Booker as a well-understood term of reference for those who tend towards the neoliberal rather than the liberal, the most extreme of whom (as James Sandbach so eloquently and concisely put yesterday) would see Singapore as some sort of paragon liberal state.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Jun '14 - 9:46am

    Thanks Stephen – a useful piece, sorry you couldn’t be there all day. CentreForum did video it, and the videos will be on the CF website for all in the next few days. It will be interesting to get a range of responses from those who were there and those who watch the videos – Matthew Green’s sceptical view is here: http://thinkingliberal.co.uk/?p=1165

    Gareth: Could you provide a link to your piece? I didn’t see you there, though I may have missed you.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Jun '14 - 9:49am

    Hit send too soon. My take on yesterday was that it was there to stimulate debate, and hopefully it will do so. Maajod Nawaz was the highlight for me with his robust defence of universal human rights and liberal internationalism; inspiring stuff!

    I’d encourage everyone who’s interested and couldn’t be with us yesterday to watch the videos when they’re up. I’ll post a link.

  • I think it’s fair to say that not even those of us on the “extreme right” of the party back Paul Marshall’s idea to make strikes for teachers and nurses illegal! There was quite an audible groaning noise in the room when he said it…

  • Stephen – do you really think that some of the critics of the Orange Book have deliberately misunderstood it because they get off on “warring”? What was there to misunderstand when David Laws advocated replacing the NHS? The good book’s critics understood only too clearly.

  • I quite liked the ideas on health, but as Stephen says, it would be electoral suicide to make them policy while the consensus (on the left certainly) is that the NHS holy cow must be preserved at all cost.

  • Having read it for the first time recently, I was not impressed. Much of its core thesis has been undermined by subsequent events, including the financial crash.

    “the aim of The Orange Book was to show how socially liberal aims could best be achieved through economically liberal means”

    I have yet to see any real-world substantiation of this thesis. Economic liberalisation (the extension of markets to areas where there previously were none or deregulating those that already exist) rarely seems to have the effect of reducing inequality.

    The theory of efficient markets depends on rational, informed economic “agents” (i.e. people) being able to maximise their wellbeing by exercising choice. If however, this choice is limited by things like complex and difficult-to-understand information (medical treatment), transport options (schools, hospitals and other services) and social skills (in accessing public services generally), this theory fails.

    In general, it is those who are already well off who are best placed to exercise choice, and therefore the benefits of liberalisation, such as they are, accrue to them, rather than to society’s disadvantaged groups.

    So the core idea behind the Orange Book might be great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t work.

  • Tom Papworth 25th Jun '14 - 11:55am

    Eddie Sammon: “One thing I would say though is that too many economic liberals seem to believe in “economic liberalism, unless the rich and powerful want something different”. There’s no future for a party that supports that.”

    I would be interested in any references you could find to economic liberals setting their liberalism aside in the service of rich and powerful vested interests. This would be a damning indictment and would also allay any concerns that your statement is utter nonsense.

    Gareth Epps: The whole of LDV is an Orangist conspiracy, you know. I blame Caron and Mark for silencing the voices of SLF members.

    Michael BG: “The impression was market forces and completion good, government doing it bad.”

    I don’t think that the book made that claim. Certainly I have heard Paul Marshall several times say words to the effect that “Both markets and governments can fail. This is inevitable because human beings are fallible. The Orange Book is as much a challenge to the market fundamentalists as it is to the social democrats.” He said something like this at the Conference. His speech should be available on YouTube later today or tomorrow (Thurs).

    Caractatus: The reason that there was no chapter on education was discussed at length by Paul Marshall in his contribution to “The Orange Book: 8 Years On” – http://www.iea.org.uk/publications/economic-affairs/eight-years-the-orange-book-volume-322. Considering Laws’ radical approach to healthcare, the suggestion that the editors self-censored due to the radical views one held on education is implausible.

    RC: “the aim of The Orange Book was to show how socially liberal aims could best be achieved through economically liberal means” I have yet to see any real-world substantiation of this thesis. Economic liberalisation … rarely seems to have the effect of reducing inequality.”

    The focus on inequality is an interesting one. It is not given that liberalism should be inherently egalitarian. Economic liberalism has, however, been unquestionably successful in addressing poverty. The welfare of the poorest in economically free countries is vastly greater than the welfare of those in more managed economies. Economic liberalism has also delivered much better education, health care and retirement provision than more statist approaches.

    I also don’t accept the argument that “complex and difficult-to-understand information” is beyond the capacity of individuals to cope with. As with all complex material, intermediaries arise in the market to help consumers address information asymmetries. Witness, for example, how countless media outlets and organisations such as Which? conduct detailed product testing to enable individuals to make informed choices about areas (e.g. highly technological products; pharmaceuticals) where they could never themselves acquire sufficient knowledge.

    While it is true that “it is those who are already well off who are best placed to exercise choice”, this is even more true in the state sector, where producer and middle-class capture leads to extremely unfair and inequitable outcomes.

  • My view of the Orange book is that it was based on the pre-crash economic truisms of the day and against a backdrop in which New Labour looked like an unstoppable electoral force. It certainly wasn’t a secret manifesto, but IMO acted as a sort of repositioning of the Lib Dems. The problem is that by 2008 it looked short sighted and ultimately lead to Mr Clegg’s damaging over identification with tory policies and spin-like pronouncements..

  • @ Tom Papworth “I would be interested in any references you could find to economic liberals setting their liberalism aside in the service of rich and powerful vested interests.” Two words – Banking Reform.

  • Two more – Tax havens.

  • Stephen Campbell 25th Jun '14 - 1:18pm

    @ Tom Papworth “I would be interested in any references you could find to economic liberals setting their liberalism aside in the service of rich and powerful vested interests.”

    Tax cuts for the rich, sanctions for the poor.
    Rewriting laws so fracking companies can drill for gas under one’s land without their consent or compensation.
    Clegg holding up a copy of the Sun.
    NHS “reforms” which carves up the service to sell off to American companies, where their only concern is profit, which has indeed happened.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Jun '14 - 1:32pm

    Oldliberal: I agree on tax havens, and would be keen for the manifesto to include extending UK financial regulation, disclosure, transparency and tax rules to the UK crown dependencies and overseas territories. This isn’t a left-right thing, I cannot see the argument for the UK to backstop legally and financially bad policy in the secrecy jurisdiction. George Turner is very sound on this.

    But I fundamentally disagree that banking reform has been a sellout. On the contrary, the point of the intervention in RBS and Lloyds was to save the economy, and party policy is in line with Stephen Williams’ proposal (http://centreforum.org/index.php/mainpublications/30-getting-your-share-of-the-banks) for a bank share distribution to the whole country. In making the banks safer to ensure that there isn’t a repeated bailout, economic liberalism is married to social liberalism.

  • Toby Fenwick 25th Jun '14 - 2:29pm

    Gareth: is this (http://www.garethepps.org.uk/2014/06/24/on-liberator-the-orange-book-still-absurd/) the piece you feared would get censored here at LDV? (An assertion that I can see no evidence for, by the way).

    If so, let’s discuss.

  • Tom Papworth 25th Jun '14 - 5:54pm

    Stephen Campbell: “Tax cuts for the rich, sanctions for the poor.”

    The rich are now contributing a larger share of tax than under Labour.

    “Rewriting laws so fracking companies can drill for gas under one’s land without their consent or compensation.”

    Property rights over land are extremely complex – it has long been a principle that one has no right to the minerals below one’s property, for example. This is about energy security and the government has explicitly talked about ensuring that local communities keep some of the profits.

    “Clegg holding up a copy of the Sun.”

    The leaders’s (misguided) choice to endorse a paper has nothing to do with economic liberalism.

    “NHS “reforms” which carves up the service to sell off to American companies, where their only concern is profit, which has indeed happened.””

    Devolution of power to patients and GPs seems eminently liberal to me and has nothing to do with American companies. Anyway, if American companies can provide a better, more efficient service, good luck to them.

    Just because you disagree with a policy does not mean that it must be a cave in to billionaires.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jun '14 - 6:16pm

    Tom Papworth, I know economic liberals are principled, but I have spent two years complaining about massive state intervention in the money markets with practically no support from any economic liberals. Surely it is time to start reducing state subsidised credit, but hardly anyone seems willing to challenge the banks on this.

    George Osborne sometimes calls himself a liberal, but he’s in favour of monetary activism, help to buy, tight fiscal policy, bombing places if the US wants it, pretty much the only common principle I can see is agreeing with the rich and big business. It is a harsh thing to say, but lives are on the line and sometimes people need challenging if they aren’t doing good enough.

    Regards

  • David Allen 26th Jun '14 - 1:30am

    When you walk into a church, you may see many things. You may be attracted to see a meeting place for the community, or social concern for those under threat, or rational debate. However, you will be aware that the overriding aim of those who built and staffed the church will have been to promote an agenda of belief.

    The Orange Book was like that. Sure, it included an eclectic mixture of ideas, the good, the bad and the ugly. Sure, at its best it challenged lazy thinking and offered new insights. However, it is important to see the wood for the trees. It was funded by rich people, and it was funded to promote a specific agenda of belief.

    It was the planned precursor to the Clegg Coup.

  • @ RC
    That is the best critique of economic liberalism I have seen.

    @ Tom Papworth
    What I was talking about was my impression at the time. I wasn’t stating that it was the claim the book made.

    You are mistaken when you compare economic liberalism with “statest” countries. What you really are comparing is mixed economies with managed economies. You are not alone in this.

    The idea that everyone would be informed consumers is absurd as is the idea that everyone would subscribe to Which to discover which school or hospital they should pick. Consumer choice is wider for the rich than the poor. You are correct that this is also true in the state sector, but at least when provided by the state the aim is equality of treatment and the state aims to provide fair outcomes unlike markets.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jun '14 - 4:36am

    Hmm, I’ll just tone down my personal criticism of George Osborne and some economic liberals. I don’t believe anyone sets out to purely serve vested interests, but I think some of it goes on. Years ago I used to do a bit of vested interest serving in order to pay the bills, so I know how people can get themselves into such situations.

    Even if I am wrong and it is not people serving vested interests, I don’t agree with capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich in a belief that the rich hold the veto and if we don’t serve them the economy will collapse and there will be loads of job losses. The poor are just as powerful as the rich and some people need to recognise that a bit more.

    Best wishes

  • Tom Papworth writes, in his eighth paragraph:
    It is not given that liberalism should be inherently egalitarian.

    I believe this is sometimes known as “burying the lede.”

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jun '14 - 9:47am

    Tom Papworth

    The rich are now contributing a larger share of tax than under Labour.

    That’s something you would see if the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

  • Stephen Campbell 26th Jun '14 - 10:36am

    @Tom Papworth: “This is about energy security and the government has explicitly talked about ensuring that local communities keep some of the profits.”

    It is still caving into big business and vested interests. Why aren’t people being consulted by and large about fracking? Why don’t we have as much as say in this as the fracking companies do? Why do the government listen to, and change laws for them when it barely listens to the electorate who will have to live with fracking? Why are the police crushing, often with brutality, anti-fracking protest camps? And do you honestly believe local communities will end up with any of the profits? Really?

    “The rich are now contributing a larger share of tax than under Labour.”

    That may be true, but they’re still doing rather well. In fact, the rich are probably the only group who have seen their incomes grow since the 2008 crash. A lot of people got even more rich off of peoples’ misery and through QE. They may be paying a bit more, but they’re not hurting at all, are they? Poor dears might have to buy a £50 bottle of champers versus a £75 one. Meanwhile the poor are being kicked out of their houses via the bedroom tax and the unemployed facing brutal, often arbitrary sanctions. Voted through Parliament by your MPs.

    “The leaders’s (misguided) choice to endorse a paper has nothing to do with economic liberalism.”

    Does it not? The Sun is one of the most illiberal “newspapers” in existence, both socially and economically. Further, Murdoch owns Fox News in the US, which is so right-wing they’re almost fascist. They’re homophobic, stir up race hate, don’t like women much and attack the poor on a daily basis. If I were Clegg, I would not want to be associated with any company that is completely against the views I hold. But Clegg is happy to endorse them. Sounds like siding with big money to me.

    “Devolution of power to patients and GPs seems eminently liberal to me and has nothing to do with American companies. Anyway, if American companies can provide a better, more efficient service, good luck to them.”

    Except the NHS hasn’t improved since your “reforms”. In fact, as a frequent user of the NHS, I can confirm things have become worse under your government. Waiting times are up and I feel like I now have even less say in my care. I’ve received not one jot of “more power” through your “reforms”. Quite the opposite, in fact. One third of doctors involved with the Clinical Commissioning Groups have an interest in private companies and will be able to push patients towards those companies. So rather than “devolving” and giving patients more power, you’ve just given more power to vested interests. The NHS, through your “reforms”, have given multi-million pound contracts to the likes of Serco, who have no experience in running health care. They won the bid because theirs was the lowest, not because they could do the best job. The North West Ambulance Service which recently outsourced some of its operations to Arriva has utterly failed to meet its targets and has even left many patients waiting for hours on numerous occasions. And I thought the “profit motive” was supposed to drive up quality? Further, I don’t want to have to “shop around” for the best care. I just want good doctors who will keep me healthy and deal with my ongoing illness effectively. Not everything has to be a market, especially with something as important as health care.

    Unless you are, like me, one of those on a rather low income, I don’t think you truly understand how markets not only do not always make us more free, they can also enslave people as well. What you see as “economic freedom” feels the opposite to me. In our day and age, money = freedom. The less money you have, the less free you are. One thing I sense from your posts, and I may be wrong, is that you don’t know what it is like to live on a very low income and have little to no power. You seem to be talking of poverty and lack of power due to markets as some sort of abstract. Well, I’ve lived it for the past 30 years and all your neoliberalism has done is make me more poor (through driving down wages at all costs), less insecure (as I’m always fearful of losing my job) and feel less powerful, without a proper voice.

  • A Social Liberal 26th Jun '14 - 2:48pm

    I concur with Stephen Campbells remarks, especially on the NHS, and will go further. when the royal Colleges oppose the changes to the NHS, when over 80% of GPs want nothing to do with the changes, I cannot see how Tom Papworth can make the comments that he has.

    Under these changes I have seen heart patients having to travel over 150 miles for treatment, I have seen attempts to force dementia patients treated over 30 miles from their homes and I have seen similar attempts to make the nearest A and E over 40 miles from some housholds in my area. This is an abomination!

  • @Toby Fenwick
    “In making the banks safer”

    What makes you think that the banks are now safe?

  • ” Paul Marshall set out some of the ideas he said would be top of his list for an Orange Book v.II:
    ending the cap on senior public sector executives’ pay being no higher than the Prime Minister’s;
    local pay-settlements for public sector workers;
    making strikes illegal in hospitals and schools;
    and requiring a minimum 50 per cent turn-out for strike ballots”

    My guess is that many members of the Liberal Democrats and the vast majority of voters have no idea who Paul Marshall is.

    He is a very, very rich man who sets out his priorities to include a state ban on strikes by some low paid workers and the use of the full power of the state to interfere in the private democratic arrangements of voluntary, membership organisations (trade unions).

    Liberals (authentic, classical, 19th century) used to be against rich and powerful plutocrats using the power of the state for their own benefit.
    Time to recapture Liberalism from this mlitant hedge fund tendency

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