The Party’s crisis

The global political situation, with the rise of populism and nationalism, and the domestic political scene, with a Conservative government trampling on democratic values with impunity, is crying out for the powerful advocacy of Liberalism. The huge problem is that in Britain there is currently no relevant political organisation that encompasses and promotes Liberalism. The Liberal Democrats have sunk to such a level that the party is incapable of recovering to become the political force that the vacuum in our politics demands without first developing a topical and substantial statement of Liberal philosophy to unite around and to promote, and then adopting a dedicated and well-funded strategy to revive the hordes of derelict constituency associations.

The recent document “What Liberal Democrats believe” is a start but it fails to link the philosophy with relevant recent history and lacks the vital context of the current political situation. Its narrative is inconsistent and needs developing to provide a real Liberal vision that will inspire. Alas it merited a mere fifty minute debate at the recent conference (the previous equivalent debate aeons ago was allocated a complete half day!) and significantly the three working parties for which the Federal Policy Committee recently invited participation did not include one for the development of the philosophy statement.

The party cannot continue to drift along without a core vote and virtually no public relevance, as if it believes that eventually, in some mysterious way, it will re-emerge in the electorate’s mind. It will not happen without an acceptance of the crisis and a determination to re-build a Liberal party from the grass roots.

This paper is an attempt to set out the deep crisis within the party and the need for reviving Liberalism as a political force. It has been signed by a number of party colleagues and further signatures are invited. Its original draft was prepared by me as a final attempt to rescue the party before I give up and retire.

* Michael Meadowcroft joined the Liberal Party in 1958. He has served at every level of the party organisation. He was a Leeds City Councillor, West Yorkshire Met County Councillor and MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. For 25 years he led or was part of electoral missions to 35 new democracies on four continents.

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109 Comments

  • Paul Barker 30th Sep '21 - 2:23pm

    I will try to read this paper at some point but I have to say that the first sentence is nonsense – We do have a core vote, at about 7% & we have a good idea of who they are & where they live.

    This looks, at first sight like another attempt to re-invent the wheel.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Sep '21 - 2:59pm

    Michael, in addition to Conference passing the What Liberal Democrats Believe motion F22, the Preamble to the Constitution was amended with the Environment commitment transferred to the first paragraph, and Wellbeing being introduced as a means of assessing progress, in the constitutional debate on F41. It can be viewed as amended in the record of motions passed at autumn ’21 Conference.

    Environmentalism being only one of the seven values accepted in the earlier debate (the seventh added in the amendment I had contributed), I made an attempt in the F41 debate to have the others similarly given prominence, but this was too difficult to achieve then and there. In my opinion the next step would be to have a high-level working party established to work on rewriting the entire Preamble, which has so many vital ideas in twelve paragraphs but without any subheads. Such a working party could consider whether there is a further need for updating and taking in current political requirements, as you suggest. We have not, alas, the help of Tony Greaves to rewrite, but the readiness of the Vice-Chair and two Vice-Chairs of FCC to do so was proved I assume by their partial updating of it.

  • Katharine Pindar 30th Sep '21 - 3:08pm

    Typing mistake – I meant to write, Chair and two Vice-Chairs – the Chair being Cllr Nick da Costa, and the Vice-Chairs Cara Jenkinson and Cllr Jon Ball.

  • Peter Watson 30th Sep '21 - 3:13pm

    @Paul Barker “We do have a core vote, at about 7% & we have a good idea of who they are & where they live.”
    But do we know what they believe or what they think the Lib Dems are for? Do they even have a shared view of what the party is for?

    Lib Dem strongholds and targets are relatively (sometimes very) affluent areas. The successful campaign in Chesham & Amersham appeared to be founded on small-c conservatism of the nimby variety and opposition to party policy on HS2. But Lib Dems who post on this site often demonstrate a radicalism and a compassion for the poor and disadvantaged that appears to be at odds with that “blue wall” strategy. So which is the core vote? Who are the Lib Dems?

    Michael Meadowcroft’s paper is a heartfelt call to arms. I entirely agree with him that the party needs a clear identity, though I am less convinced that there is enough agreement on what “Liberal” means for it to be any more helpful as a label than “Liberal Democrat”.

    It would be nice if I could look at the party and say, “Ah, I see exactly what Liberal Democrat means”, but on the whole, if I pick any political policy area, I feel I can predict where the Tories or Labour would stand but not the Lib Dems.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Sep '21 - 3:25pm

    Michael, I admire your record and efforts as someone of principle. I watched you on tv in the seventies and eighties when i was a boy interested in politics. I welcome your invite at the conclusion of this paper to e mail you but would like to alert you to a few things here.

    The paper is excellent as a statement of values. Your correlation of the few brilliant points there, the list itself, with those needed in the Covid era, are better than I have seen, and the arguments I have been making, with little interest.

    But your over emphasis on a statement being essential, is, with your overly negative attitude to the word Democrats, what negates some of your excellent commentary and insightful suggestion.

    Democracy is what this country lacks. and Social democracy is in part, also, what the party stands for. You might have for years felt left out in your decision to not engage in the merger, but you cannot encourage those who were here, or, like me,. ex Labour, with hair splitting over words and value stated.

    Values are lived. Sir Ed is living Liberal values, and Layla Moran amongst many. we have a Liberal, democrat party here full of talent. I try to make an impact as do many, mostly unrecognised and ignored. You were well connected and chose to be later. some of us are not well connected and would like to be more.

    There are Liberal Democrats with much to offer. We believe, like you, in human, more than economic values. We struggle to be heard and unless in a seat with any chance of interest being gained or had,now, struggle or do not try , to get elected.

    The party needs to be like a proactive think tank. I have a project to develop this but, who would be interested, when few seem to be keen on much more than criticising vaccine passports and defending struggling pubs.

  • Peter Watson 30th Sep '21 - 4:47pm

    @Peter Watson “I feel I can predict where the Tories or Labour would stand …”
    On reflection, I feel I can predict where the Corbyn wing of Labour would stand but I’m not sure I could guess where Starmer’s Labour would (perhaps vaguely sliding around rather than standing).
    On a related note, I wonder if Labour’s confusion under Starmer gives Lib Dems a great opportunity to present a vision and an identity, as described by Michael Meadowcroft, and to stake a claim in more radical centre-left territory with which many might be comfortable.
    Instead, I fear we will approach the next election with two parties presenting themselves as nicer versions of the Tories than Johnson’s (and the SNP rubbing their hands in glee). If the Tories feel threatened, Johnson may go on a charm offensive or his party might replace him with their own nicer version, but I’m far from certain they will even feel threatened.

  • Steve Trevethan 30th Sep '21 - 6:07pm

    If an essence of Democratic Liberalism is fairness, might we loudly and visibly, adopt a mixture of classical and M.M.R. economics?

    Currently we seem to be going along with a finance industry led, neo-liberal extractive approach to economics.
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/09/30/chinas-fortune-cookie-crumbles/

    Might we adopt policies which lower internal costs such as housing and education ?
    Might we work for more self sufficiency by producing more of what we need?
    Might we distance ourselves from the selfish foreign policy of the U.S.?

    Look at the Afghan tragedy whereby the U.S. and the U.K. worked to recruit, train, arm and pay for an armed force which destroyed a tolerable national lifestyle and then defeated us.
    defhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Cycloneeated us.

  • Callum Hawthorne 30th Sep '21 - 6:51pm

    I must admit that as an Orange-Booker, I find the current trend toward higher public spending and government intervention in the economy deeply concerning.

    Opposed to both the Conservatives and Labour, I would like to see the Lib Dems campaign for sound finance with an emphasis on reforming tax from income to wealth, as well as lifting burden from the most vulnerable. Rather than imposing common-ownership, entrepreneurship should be encouraged and supported at the local level to spur innovation and job creation. The Covid pandemic has demonstrated how bloated and stagnant the NHS is, highlighting a critical need for reform beyond blindly pumping money into a failing system. Better “solidarity” and “community” could be improved with a drive for devolution and encouragement of municipalism.

    Smarter wits will have more detailed arguments than I can provide. However, as liberals, I do think it is imperative upon us to work against the illiberal trend of the heavy-handed dirigisme promoted by the current Johnson administration.

  • Callum Hawthorne makes a good point. We should be in favour of reforming public services as well as investing in them.

    The worshipping of the NHS has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It has some upsides but it is not the most efficient way of providing healthcare and a lot can be learned from the social insurance systems in Europe and Australia.

    There should be more decentralisation, user involvement and diversity of provision. Well regulated private providers might achieve better outcomes than unaccountable state providers.

  • I wonder if there is a link between this article and Katharine Pindar’s (https://www.libdemvoice.org/a-distinctly-liberal-viewpoint-68697.html), where she asks if there is a distinctly Liberal viewpoint. I posted some quotes from the recently passed policy paper 143 which I think provide viewpoints on what a Liberal society looks like.

    I have a clear vision of what a Liberal society looks like. It is a society where no-one lives in poverty, is held back by health issues, by discrimination, or by the lack of the education or training needed for them to obtain a job right for them, where everyone who wants one has a home of their own, where everyone who wants a job has one, where everyone is free to decide how to live their lives, so long as they don’t cause harm to others, where the government trusts people to make the best choices for themselves, and in which the challenges of climate change are tackled. Katharine and I tried to get it incorporated as part of our vision to the strategy motion but it wasn’t accepted as an amendment. However, it does seem to have influenced the quotations I gave in my first comment on her thread.

    It may have also influenced the policy paper 142 ‘What Liberal Democrats Believe’, which states that “In a liberal society, everyone is free to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents and to live their lives as they wish. Everyone has enjoyed high-quality education at school and has access to education and training throughout their lives. People can apply for worthwhile jobs or, if they prefer, work for themselves. They know they are supported by health and social care and welfare benefits in case of need, and they can rent or buy decent housing in safe neighbourhoods to live in.”

    Callum Hawthorne,

    Covid 19 and the huge increase in public spending shows that public spending is not a bad thing. It is the state of the economy which is the main influence on whether a government should be increasing its deficit. The question about increasing future government spending levels is no longer as simple as it was at the start of the Covid crisis. This is because of the inflationary pressures in the economy. The government spending should not be increased hugely if those people who saved during the Covid crisis start spending their savings in huge numbers. The economy cannot cope with a huge increase in aggregate demand.

    Conference last week agreed that an active state is vital for liberalism.

  • Peter Martin 1st Oct '21 - 5:06am

    @ Marco,

    but it (the NHS) is not the most efficient way of providing healthcare

    It probably is. Or, at least there is no evidence that it isn’t

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/283221/per-capita-health-expenditure-by-country/

    @ Callum,

    “I would like to see the Lib Dems campaign for sound finance…..”

    No-one is going to campaign for ‘unsound’ finance. But, what is sound finance? Does it mean doing what is needed to keep the economy running efficiently?

    …….with an emphasis on reforming tax from income to wealth

    There’s are multiple aspects to taxation. One of which is demand management. Another is in equalisation of wealth. Taxes on income and consumption affect the former more than the latter. Taxes on capital and other assets affect the latter more than the former. So when taxation policy is decided we need to decide what we are trying to do.

    It’s not simply a question of how much money is raised in total, relative to Govt spending. Where it comes from is equally, if not more, important.

  • Peter Martin 1st Oct '21 - 9:48am

    @ Michael BG,

    “It is a society where no-one lives in poverty……..”

    The problem is that this is incompatible with a Capitalist system. Or if it isn’t, no-one has yet found a way to make it compatible.

    Throughout our lifetimes we do what we can to keep our income up to a reasonable level. At times, especially in our younger days , we are only a single paycheque away from being in serious trouble. It is the fear of that pushes us on to do what Capitalism requires us to.

    I’m not saying that a Socialist society wouldn’t have the same issue, albeit to a lesser extent, but on the other hand I can’t see how you can go along with the Capitalist system, as do the Lib Dems, and expect it to be fundamentally any different than it is. The best you can hope for is to alleviate the worst excesses.

  • Peter Martin 1st Oct '21 - 10:02am

    “In the UK the government has imposed a government health insurance which it imposes on people coming to work in the UK, even though they also have to pay National Insurance.”

    Have the Lib Dems opposed this? There should of course be a requirement that anyone coming to the UK should pay National Insurance but there’s no justification for asking them to pay more.

    Do we have any numbers for how much is collected this way? I would expect it to be a relatively small amount in comparison to the £150 bn pa or so cost of the NHS. It’s not likely to have a bearing on whether or not the NHS is good value for money.

  • Peter Martin,

    Is the idea that poverty is necessary in a capitalist society from Marx?

    I don’t accept that. The basis seems to be that people only work because they don’t wish to live in poverty. People work for a number of reasons, a better life for them and their family, social reasons, for esteem, for something to do, to make a difference, to give their life meaning, and to have more money so they can afford to buy a house, holidays and expensive items.

    When I was young I wanted to work so I could buy things I couldn’t buy without a higher income. This is why I got a Saturday job when I was 14. When I was at university the grant meant I was not living in poverty, but I wanted to work in the summer holidays so I could have money for things which I couldn’t afford on a grant. After university – so I could afford to go to the pub with my friends and buy driving lessons. Later for holidays and to buy a house. Most of the time I enjoyed my jobs and when I didn’t I found another one.

  • Paul Barker 1st Oct '21 - 12:30pm

    Wasn’t sure where to post this but it does seem possible/likely that our typical Polling range is falling back, from just over 9% to somewhere between 8% & 9%.This could be the start of a trend back to 7%.

    That would be in line with previous boosts gained from success in particular elections, it doesn’t tell us anything about our longterm prospects.

  • ”The Liberal Democrats have sunk to such a level that the party is incapable of recovering to become the political force that the vacuum in our politics demands without first developing a topical and substantial statement of Liberal philosophy”

    The Lib Dems suffer from a problem that often plagues formerly great institutions. They become very attached to certain viewpoints (but poorly understood out of context) that worked well in their glory days then find it difficult to move on and adapt to a changed world. So, they find it impossible to see the wood from the trees – a task made even more difficult than it might be by the careerists who are good at faking it but have little instinct for the core of the faith. Such people join up because, even when much diminished, once great movements retain immense powers of patronage making them a candle to the careerists’ moth.

    This is equally true of the Labour Party and also, in a different realm, the Church of England – but NOT of the Conservatives. As someone observed recently they have the ability to shed previous positions like the skin of a snake and reinvent themselves.

    It comes down to governance. Systems which let different strands of thought compete (surely a very liberal approach) tend to succeed as the best of those strands outcompete the rest. Mao said, “Let a thousand flowers bloom” and although it didn’t happen until he was gone it soon made a difference.

    Lib Dems have chosen to have just one ‘correct’ view which is perhaps comforting in that it leads to a formal consensus. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lead to new thinking (which is notably scarce) and it doesn’t work politically (as the voters keep trying to tell us).

    Unfortunately, I fear the Lib Dems are now so far gone as to be irrecoverable as an organization. However, there IS a Liberal alternative out there which the country desperately needs.

  • John Marriott 1st Oct '21 - 12:52pm

    Up until WW1 politics on these islands usually amounted to the Tories/Conservatives on one side of the House of Commons and the Whigs/Liberals on the other. Even after that, while the Tories held together, the Liberals split and were eventually replaced by the Labour Party. At the 1951 General Election, nearly 98% of the electorate voted either blue or red. The Liberal Party, with just over 2% of the vote, was rewarded with six seats, a feat they equaled in the next two General Elections. Although there were quite a few other parties standing, like the many ‘candidates’ in the US Presidential Elections, they got nothing to show for their troubles.

    Scroll forward to the 1980s and we had in England at least a quasi three/four party split; but again, while by election victories offered hope for the Alliance between the breakaway SDP and the Liberals, when resources, both financial and human, were spread more thinly, the General Elections of 1983 and 1984 were largely a disappointment. The same could be said of 1992 and 1997 as well, in terms of seats won.

    This article is entitled ‘The Party’s Crisis’. In some way, perhaps it ought to read ‘The Parties’ Crisis’, as all our political parties need to indulge in a spot of honest inner reflection. It is clear to me at least that, given what I have written earlier, there will always be a place for radical ideas in the body politic, which is where liberals can play their part. However, the chances of the party winning back the ground it surrendered to Labour in the 1920s were slender, if not impossible. Labour, on the other hand, has to a great extent lost its ‘raison d’être’ and continues to try to stitch together its two wings, while the Tories just keep soldiering on changing to meet circumstances and relying on the fact that most people are suspicious of any change, both major and minor, confident in the belief that FPTP will continue to deliver as far as they are concerned. The fact that they are offering rubbish governance and still gaining popularity speaks more to the fact that the public expects (and gets) precious little from its politicians.

    While ever there is to be thinking outside the box, there will be a need for what we like to call ‘liberalism’. It will probably never achieve a majority; but its voice needs to be heard and a voting system more reflective of political opinion, would make that much, much easier.

  • Peter Martin. There are alternative models of capitalism around the world beyond the disastrous version that dominates in the UK. Socialism comes in various forms too, although the fact that we have socialist and non-socialist approaches to politics inside our own dear Labour Party tends to obscure this. I’ve co-operated with both elements in the past and on occasions I have recoiled from the remarkably similar arrogance displayed when they gain power at various levels. I believe it is possible to combine an open-minded outlook on life with a liberal ideology that seeks a shift in power in the direction of the widest number of people in a liberal society. Michael Meadowcroft seems to be insisting that the philosophical tools are there but we hesitate to pick them up – a claim that deserves taking seriously.

  • Roger Billins 1st Oct '21 - 2:25pm

    I so agree with Michael. Like him I have been a member of this party and its predecessor for a very long time-in my case, 1975. I have endured Thorpe, the failure of the Alliance to achieve breakthrough in the ‘80s, the problems of Charles Kennedy in the2005 election, the disaster of the coalition and the fiasco of the 2019 campaign. The Party fails to grasp that if you do things the same as you always have done, you’ll get the same outcome. Part of the problem is that community politics as practiced by the Party has had its day. The public know our policy on potholes but not what we stand for or our policies for instance on the economy or climate change. What’s worse is that the Greens have picked up on the strategy and are challenging us in many areas. Time to smell the coffee.

  • @ Martin, Peter Martin

    There have been a number of studies into the efficiency of healthcare systems and the NHS often comes out near the bottom.

    A 2018 IFS study concluded that “the NHS performs neither as well as its supporters sometimes claim nor as badly as its critics often allege.” It’s good at procuring cheap medicines for example, and it’s the best in the world at providing care to people when they need it on a totally equal basis. Its main weakness however is outcomes – that is, actually keeping you alive. “

    (How does Jeff do the fancy quotation marks??)

    Don’t know about you but I think “keeping people alive” is the most important factor!

  • This paper is very welcome.
    With every passing week we ignore the Green danger, the Green Party I mean.
    They get two more gains this week.
    Will everyone realise they are an enemy that has to be defeated, if not goodbye Liberal Democrats.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Oct '21 - 4:10pm

    @Roger Billins
    “Part of the problem is that community politics as practiced by the Party has had its day.”
    Has it? Anyone here from a LibDem-controlled council care to comment?

    “The public know our policy on potholes but not what we stand for or our policies for instance on the economy or climate change.”
    Mightn’t that be the party’s own fault for failing to express policies in plain English?

  • John Marriott 1st Oct '21 - 5:33pm

    @Roger Binns
    ‘Community politics’ worked at local level and probably still does if given a chance. It does not, however, guarantee success at national level. In my last few years as a councillor, I used to find that local councils were much more ‘customer savvy’. If I got a ‘complaint’ I would invariably refer the complainant to the relevant department, who would deal with the problem. Only if they messed up would I step in.

    The REAL problem for all parties is that the majority of people do not lead their lives as they used to. Single issues, where they themselves are affected, social media etc. motivate them occasionally; but they largely just want to get with their own lives. The really big social injustices that might have motivated our grandparents or parents to support parties such as Labour or earlier the Liberals, belong to a great extent in the history books for most people. When groups such as ‘Insulate Britain’, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ or even such worthy causes as ‘Black Lives Matter’ get going, they are largely met with indifference rising in the case of the first two at least to outright hostility.

    If you want to win people over to your cause you just don’t tell them what you think is good for them. Hubris is a very dangerous thing. Those with ‘liberal’ views need to work with others, whose views may differ slightly from theirs to find common ground. Nobody, I repeat, nobody has call the answers.

  • Tristan Ward 1st Oct '21 - 7:34pm

    The problem is that [a society where no one lives in poverty] is incompatible with a Capitalist system.

    If poverty is relative I think this could be right- because absent enforced equality (not liberal by a long chalk) some people will always have les than others and therefore will be in poverty (eggs in the poorest 10% say). But any other system would be the same.

    So to be meaningful/useful to liberals the statement has to refer to absolute poverty. “No secure place to live, inadequate diet, inability to keep warm or cloth oneself decently, in adequate sanitation so you can’t keep clean. (I’m sure this would flex)

    As someone once said, the poor will be with you always but capitalism (*) has a pretty good record (**) of getting people out of absolute poverty.

    (*) especially liberal capitalism but also including the Chinese variety)

    (**) caveat required here to take account of environmental costs

  • Paul Fisher 1st Oct '21 - 7:54pm

    As a former LibDem, I agree with Peter Watson – his point is more poignant from outside the bubble. The Party system is broken and the paradigm needs to change.
    “Michael Meadowcroft’s paper is a heartfelt call to arms. I entirely agree with him that the party needs a clear identity, though I am less convinced that there is enough agreement on what “Liberal” means for it to be any more helpful as a label than “Liberal Democrat”.
    It would be nice if I could look at the party and say, “Ah, I see exactly what Liberal Democrat means”, but on the whole, if I pick any political policy area, I feel I can predict where the Tories or Labour would stand but not the Lib Dems.”

  • Christopher Haigh 1st Oct '21 - 9:47pm

    @John Marriott John I always enjoy reading your contributions. Just for interest I had a look at voting percentages during my lifetime.between the 1950 and 2019 elections. Labour fell from 46pc to 33pc. Tories their usual 43 pc in both. So Libdems)iLibs actually gone up from 2pc to 12pc !

  • Peter Martin 1st Oct '21 - 10:03pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “Is the idea that poverty is necessary in a capitalist society from Marx?”

    Marx was of the opinion that poverty was the result of the inequalites that resulted from Capitalism. He was also of the opinion that humans were not driven by individualism which is the standard narrative we hear from neoliberally inclined economists, but by the collective. We see this in pre-capitalist societies where production and the distribution of the production is organised collectively.

    So Marx wasn’t advocating that individuals had a right to do nothing if they so chose. It was up to the collective to decide on the division of labour. An interesting quote is:

    “… the individual producer receives back from society – after the deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it.”

    The “deductions” are effectively the taxes we pay to support the elderly, the sick, education for the young etc. Marx recognised that this still meant that there would be a large measure of inequality as a result so added an extra factor to level things up with his famous line of ” From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”.

    Each person should work if they can and contribute to the social product, which would then be distributed according to material need. Later socialists have interpreted this as an ideal to be tempered with an acceptance that the distribution has also to include some measure of allowed inequality according to the value of the work contributed.

  • Katharine Pindar 1st Oct '21 - 10:13pm

    Tristan Ward. We surely want something better in relieving poverty than rescuing people from what you describe as ‘absolute’ poverty. I believe the object should be to bring everybody to at least the poverty level. How much is needed by an individual person or a family is defined for example by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

  • Tristan Ward,

    Relative poverty is poverty relative to average earnings. In the UK this is an income of less than 60% of the median income. It would be possible to ensure that no-one receives less than 60% of median income because the amount of income people earn does not affect the median average in the same way as the mean average. This is because the median is the half way point when all incomes as listed by amount.

    The Government’s definition of absolute poverty I consider meaningless. It is where a household’s income is less than 60 per cent of the median as it stood in 2011.

    My preferred way of assessing poverty is to use the Social Metrics Commission’s definitions of the poverty line excluding housing costs. They publish six poverty lines depending on the composition of the household. The ones they published in 2020 are:
    Single person £157 a week
    Single person and one child £211
    Single person and two children £325
    A couple £271 a week
    A couple with one child £325
    A couple with two children £439

    It should be possible to ensure one person households have a minimum income of £157 a week; that a two adult household has a minimum income of £271; and that households receive more income for each child they have.

    Benefit levels including any new Universal Basic Income could be set to ensure no-one lives below the poverty line. Keeping the Universal Credit £20 uplift (a single person would receive £344 a month) and having a UBI of about £78 a week would be a large step in the right direction.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Oct '21 - 7:39am

    This type of discussion has been going on for decades. The problem is no nearer being resolved and is probably further away now than it was fifty years ago.

    The concept of welfarism has fallen out of favour with the general public. Even the working classes are sceptical as you’d find out if you actually spoke to them about the problems. I’ve seen claims that the general public supports the concept of a UBI. I’m not sure how they can when even your own Mark Pack has conceded that hardly anyone knows what it is.

    https://www.markpack.org.uk/166694/less-than-one-in-ten-say-they-know-what-universal-basic-income-ubi-is/

    So only one in ten say they know what it means? But saying they know isn’t the same as actually knowing. From discussions I’ve had I would suggest that many think it has something to do with a minimum wage. This is not at all the same thing. There is much more support for wages to be adequate and enough for people to live on.

    This is because there is an general understanding, outside of the usual ‘liberal’ circles, that we all do have responsibilities as well as rights. If someone is making a useful contribution there is much more acceptance, even a general acceptance, that they should also be receiving their fair share of what is being produced.

    It’s the “liberal” preoccupation with “rights”, found in the Labour Party also, and the almost total rejection of responsibilities which has led to a high level of scepticism towards welfarism. This has created the political conditions which have allowed the Tories to treat all welfare claimants very harshly even though the majority need help rather than harsh treatment.

    This is not to suggest that we should require the disabled to work digging up potatoes! Not everyone is capable of manual work. But many disabled people would like to be involved in some way. We shouldn’t write them off.

  • John Marriott 2nd Oct '21 - 9:04am

    @Christopher Haigh
    David Raw, Barry Lofty and now you… that makes three ‘supporters’ then. Perhaps I should quit while I’m ahead!

    Yes, your figures are interesting as they illustrate what I have been writing for years, namely that there is a significant conservative vote that hardly ever moves.

  • Katharine Pindar 2nd Oct '21 - 10:22am

    Peter Martin. It’s interesting that in discussing what ordinary people want according to your own experience you are suggesting agreement with what the Tories say must relieve poverty – adequate wages. Yes, of course anti-poverty campaigners want to see people paid adequate wages, and it is very good that our party in its recent Conference also demanded job guarantees and job training schemes for unemployed people. But the fact is that there are many people of working age in Britain who cannot work or are unable to find paid work suitable for them (except perhaps on zero-hours contracts, which I believe should be made illegal). For the many people of working age unable to find paid work or not in a position to look for it because for instance being disabled or ill or having caring responsibilities, a Universal Basic Income or Guaranteed Minimum Income would ensure that they were relieved of the fear of absolute deprivation.

    But ordinary people in Britain surely want more than that – to be able to pay for warm and dry accommodation and all the basics of modern living including digital aids. I don’t think the word ‘welfarism’ is generally used or known. I do know that ordinary people receiving Universal Credit need to go on receiving the increased amount, because they are going to have a very hard time this winter without. As Michael BG writes above, benefit levels could be set to ensure that no-one lives below the poverty line, and that is indeed what our party which fundamentally holds that ‘no-one shall be enslaved by poverty’ must aim for.

  • Peter Martin,

    Since about 2014 public attitudes to welfare and claimants have improved and attitudes to those claiming after Covid is even better.

    Increasing benefit levels should be seen as going in parallel with our policies to restore full employment with our new jobs guarantee policies (including one specially designed for those with disabilities). If unemployment benefit was seen as being temporary because we have dealt with the issue of long term unemployment and employability then I see no reason why improving the safety net for those hit by bad times should be unpopular.

    Universal Basic Income is a liberal policy, but it is expensive and more work needs to be done on why it is a good thing. However, if only a third of the population have strong liberal values, which trusts each person to make the best decisions for themselves, rejects the idea of coercing people into work, believes people should have a guaranteed income so they have the freedom to make choices once their basic needs have been met then UBI will not have majority support. But it doesn’t need majority support to be introduced.

    If everyone knew that if they didn’t work their basic needs including a roof over their heads would be covered, then I think wages would increase.

    An issue which doesn’t get discussed is how can the government make employers pay more and not subsidise wages. I am concerned that when benefits are increased and we make work pay by continuing to pay the benefits when a person is in work those on above average earnings become eligible to benefits. In the same way they were eligible to Tax Credits when introduced by the last Labour government. Would when a person reaches 30 if they have no children we ended a person’s eligibility to benefits if they worked more than 34 hours a week work as a way of increasing pay for both full-time and part-time workers?

  • Re Hetton by election this week.
    Sensational rise in Lib Dem vote, almost akin to the UKIP vote last time, that party did not stand this time. Does it suggest both UKIP and the LIB Dem vote are protest and little else.
    Hardly seems we have a philosophy, approach and appeal that is based on being Liberal.
    We must get a grip and have a clear and this is imprtant an easily understood platform. Pontificating about this and that takes us nowhere.
    Need to steal the Greens clothing, why not have an emblem that is Orange and Green.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Oct '21 - 11:38am

    @theakes
    “Sensational rise in Lib Dem vote, almost akin to the UKIP vote last time, that party did not stand this time. Does it suggest both UKIP and the LIB Dem vote are protest and little else.”
    Why should the LibDem vote have been a protest vote? Libdems made some gains from Labour on Sunderland Councli in May 2021. Why wouldn’t the LibDem team in Sunderland put effort into a by-election there?

  • @Peter Martin – absolutely spot on about responsibities. That’s the thing that is missing from every attempt to define liberalism that I’ve seen on these forums recently. A lot of people seem to think it’s somehow compassionate to expect the Government to provide everything to everyone without expecting anything in return; to my mind – far from being compassionate, it’s actually dehumanising, as well as being impractical in practice. Impractical because it’s impossible for us to have all the things that make a prosperous and civilized society (homes, energy, transport, food, a free flow of information, etc.) unless individual people actually step up and work to make those things happen; dehumanising because we are fundamentally social creatures: It’s human nature that, to feel fulfilled, most of us need to feel we are contributing to society, and that we have a network within which we are needed by other people: Having the Government provide welfare without expecting anything in return tends to deprive people of that feeling of being needed.

    (Note: I’m not saying we should just abandon welfare in the way some on the right would have us do, more that welfare in general, and our concept of a liberal society and what liberalism means, should be much more based on, providing for people but also expecting that people are willing to contribute to society in return).

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Oct '21 - 12:14pm

    Rights and responsibilities – perhaps we might need to talk about and focus more on helping communities and people to help themselves?

  • For what it’s worth, and very much off the top of my head, my understanding of liberalism and what a liberal party should be working for would be something more like:

    A society that values each person as an individual within the community, and is based primarily on allowing each person to determine the direction of his/her own life, freely express his/her beliefs, and to play a role in influencing/improving the World. As part of that, everyone should have adequate means/opportunity to be educated and to play an active role in society, should they wish; and no-one should be forced to live in poverty through circumstances not of their own making. Although primacy is given to people’s freedom to determine their own lives, that is always balanced by an awareness that we live in an interdependent society: Freedom does not include the freedom to harm others.

    In practice that generally means supporting representative democracy and (ethical) capitalism and the market economy, while balancing that with Government action to ensure everyone has a fair opportunity to participate in society and make a good life for themselves and their family – simply because there is no other known political/economic system yet devised that appears to be capable of delivering the aims of liberalism.

  • Joseph Gerald Bourke 2nd Oct '21 - 2:13pm

    As so often, Michael Meadowcroft puts his finger on the current issues facing the party. His paper notes:
    The current state of British politics is an open goal for Liberalism. The values that have been highlighted in society during the pandemic and which will continue in its aftermath are essentially Liberal values:
    • solidarity between individuals, recognising a common need;
    • community identity to focus on support for “neighbours” and on carers;
    • recognition of the importance and value of the public service;
    • a greater emphasis on human as opposed to economic values;
    • the value of Keynesian economics;
    • the necessity for job creation, particularly using co-operative and common ownership structures;
    • the recognition of the need for internationalism.

    “Liberals have a number of solid policies that are unique to a genuine Liberal party, including co-ownership in industry, land value taxation, civil liberties, human not economic values, federalism, devolution to regions and to local government, community identity, holistic and broad education, embracing the ecological imperative, a viable social care system, supporting refugees and asylum seekers, enhancing the public service and electoral reform…”

    He concludes by quoting the Guardian “Liberalism is its own creed, and its adherents ought to make the case that it remains the one most capable of meeting the challenges ahead”.

  • Paul Holmes 2nd Oct '21 - 3:16pm

    Some of the things Michael Meadowcroft says about the poor state of the Lib Dems over very recent years are true. There are however a number of major flaws in his analysis about how we got ourselves into this mess and how we might get out of it.

    For example, for most of the 33 years the Liberal Democrats have existed Michael was a member of the ‘continuing’ Liberal Party which fought bitterly against us. Presumably, in that small Party his prescriptions for ‘true’ Liberalism and electoral success had free rein? Someone remind me how they did in real elections between 1988 -2021?

    Michael also constantly harks back to some golden age before the Liberal Party was sullied by the SDP and the later merger in 1988. But for much of that period the Liberal Party was in a worse state that than the Lib Dems are post the misguided Economic Liberal experiment of 2010-2015. Throughout the period 1945 -1970 for example the Liberal Party had fewer MP’s than we do now and far from every constituency being a thriving hive of activity the Liberal Party couldn’t even field a full slate of candidates as late as 1974.

    As a late comer to all this (I joined the SDP in 1983) I certainly admire the ‘Liberal Spirit’ that inspired so many of my close friends and colleagues of the next 4 decades, many of whom had joined the Liberal Party in the 1960’s and early 1970’s when the Party was constantly on the verge of electoral extinction. But the idea that the ‘true Liberalism’ and unfettered constituency freedom of the Meadowcroft Years produced vibrant electoral success does not bear scrutiny.

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Oct '21 - 4:21pm

    I agree with Michael. There is a huge void in our politics that is crying out for us to defend individual and civil liberties. Civil society is being weakened and without it all that is cherished in our society and has seen us through decades if not centuries will disappear.

  • @MichaelBG – I don’t see how that statement defines Liberal values or aims. Let’s reverse it:

    “It is a society filled with poverty, ill-health, discrimination, lack of education, mass unemployment, insecure housing, the government enforcing what it thinks best for people, and climate change being ignored as an issue.”

    No mainstream party is self-admittedly aiming for any aspect of that sentence and only the Conservatives are deliberately making policies to do it while still claiming otherwise because it would obviously be an electoral disaster. So are all of the Greens, SNP, Labour, Plaid, etc also Liberal parties (and the Conservatives pretending to be)? If so, it would explain the difficulties the Lib Dems are having breaking through. If not, clearly the statement isn’t really defining Liberal values so much as it’s defining “anyone left or centrist or centre-right” values, and that’s not really much of a platform.

    Admittedly, given Peter Watson’s excellent point about the distance between many Lib Dem activists and many Lib Dem voters, it might be the only sort of platform they could both agree on.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 2nd Oct '21 - 4:47pm

    Excellent contributions.

    People ought to read Jo and how in the quotes, here, the points of Michael, on our values, resonate.

    But Paul Holmes really adds much food for thought, as does Martin.

    Many good colleagues of older ages here, John Marriot, David Raw, et al, are correct to remember that once upon a time there were better advocates of and for Liberalism at Parliamentary level, or at best, in the House of Commons.

    But that led to no real impact at elections other than by election one offs.

    I favoured making non mps be possible leadership contenders for party leader.

    I believe a spokesperson is different from a leader of a party.

    And thus our candidate process is too rigid and in crowd, decided by cliques.

    We dearly need a US model, let all run, and let our members have a really wide choice in constituencies as mp candidates, at national level in leadership elections. All Liberal Democrat members with no blots on a record, ought to be able at a minutes notice to run a campaign for a first round of a several ballot , or two or three, election.

    I disagree with one thing some say, we ought to emphasise democrat as much a Liberal. It is the liberal attitude,too flexible, to democracy, ie a lack of it, which this country and even this political party, suffers from.

  • Barry Lofty 2nd Oct '21 - 6:19pm

    As one of the older generation of supporters that Lorenzo refers to I have to admit doubts to why I continue to support the party as I seem out of step with many on this site but a continued dislike of the Conservative party and in particular it’s latest incarnation keeps me onside, for now at least?

  • Peter Martin 2nd Oct '21 - 7:15pm

    @ Katharine

    The examples you raise require some lateral thinking. If anyone has responsibilities as a career the work itself can be recognised as job. A number of hours can be assigned according to the amount of care required.

    As Simon R states it’s not about making an abrupt switch away from welfare but starting to emphasise that help is a two way process. It’s more important to start with younger people. You’re keen on Beveridge. His idea was that unemployed workers should be required to retrain if they were unable to find a new job in a set period of time.

    The govt in return will fund the training and also ensure there are enough jobs in the economy to make the retraining worthwhile. That’s not a big problem at the moment.

  • Returning to Michael Meadowcroft’s paper.

    Few members would disagree with (d) campaigning on Liberal issues. We have done so in the past, however Michael points out that in our opposition to the Iraq War we didn’t do a good job of pointing out the liberal values our opposition was based on.

    Therefore perhaps we need another point. The party must relate its policies to its values in a clear way. In the past I believe our policy papers would look at the subject firstly by setting out the issues from a liberal prospective. I seem to remember speeches at conference arguing whether a policy position is liberal with reference to liberal philosophy. If we set out and talk about why and how our policies come from our liberal values, this should make it easier for people to understand what our position will be on issues where we have no policy. Also when we promote our policies we will have the reasons why it follows on from our philosophy and so we will be more likely to talk about both.

    In the paper I can’t see anything about creating (b) committed local leadership. Also I can’t see any reasons that Michael believes that our leaders at a local level are not committed. The paper talks of “massive effort has produced an initial success … wards with a huge amount of campaigning work … The effort to keep on winning is killing and too many colleagues suffer burn out trying to carry on successfully” (page 7). This proves there are committed people at a local level. Many of these people will be the leaders at a local level. Recruitment is often carried out and led by this same leadership group.

    The paper also states, “Mending pavements and saving post offices does not recruit long term local leaders” (page 7) but gives no evidence for this. The evidence we have is that membership fell from about 101,768 in 1992 to 65,861 in 2010 and at its lowest we had 40,530 members mid-2013. From there it increased to 126,724 in 2019.

  • I agree with (c) that we need a strategy for reviving derelict constituencies (changed from associations which we haven’t had since merger). This is very difficult to achieve. It seems that it is easier to get people to move out of their local area to help in an election especially if the person thinks they will be working as part of a winning team, than to get them to move outside their local area to help recruit or canvass in a ward where we have no expectation of winning. The creation of large local parties which cover more than one constituency I think was to ensure all constituencies are in a local party and for the strong areas to help develop the weaker areas, but this hasn’t really happened. The larger local parties are not the problem. The problem is how the party can motivate its members to develop the weaker areas while still winning council seats. I can’t see anything in this paper which addresses this problem.

    The policy paper 142 What Liberal Democrats Believe is a start in setting out what we believe and how our policies come from this. It even sets out what a Liberal society looks like. I agree this needs to be developed further (not only because of the amendment passed to the motion at conference) so it can be given to new members to inspire them.

    The paper attacks the name of the party, implying we should change our name to the Liberal Party. However there is already a political party registered with that name. Michael has to be aware of this as he helped set it up in 1989 and stood in 1992 for his old Parliamentary seat as a member of that party. He was the leader of that party from 1989 to 2002 according to Wikipedia.

    Implied in the paper is a call to end targeting. Targeting was a successful policy at the general elections of 1997, 2001 and 2005. Our number of MPs increased from 20 at the 1992 general election to 62 at the 2005 general election. It could be argued that this wasn’t bad for our share of the vote either. It increased from 17.8% in 1992 to 23% in 2010.

    The paper calls for the organisation of the party to be changed so we become only “more akin to a guerilla warfare organisation able to respond rapidly to political events and opportunities”. A guerilla organisation is not normally democrat, open or transparent or liberal. I think members would become disillusioned and disconnected with a political party organised as a guerrilla type organisation.

  • John Marriott 3rd Oct '21 - 9:23am

    Paul Holmes’ comment reminded me of the fact that, around the time I was getting active in the Alliance and the ‘Social and Liberal Democrats’, Mr Meadowcroft was indeed taking his bat and ball home. Having tried his luck with the (continuing) Liberal Party, he appears to have crept back into the fold some time ago and now, like me, appears to be retiring from active politics. They say; “Beware Greeks bearing gifts”. Well, Michael’s particular Trojan Horse seems to contain many of the assumptions that have proved a handicap to Liberals over the years

    Prominent amongst the ‘one last heave’ brigade is that, eventually, the majority of the electorate will get a handle of what ‘Liberalism’ is and come on board. Well, I’m still waiting. Now some of you, knowing my propensity for fessing up, may be aware that I did not renew my party membership a couple of years ago, so I have no right to tell you folks who have stayed loyal what to do. Of course, you have a point. However, despite everything, I still identify with the Lib Dems and really do want them to play a rôle in the governance of the U.K., both at local and national level. I wrote “rôle” because it may never be that of the lead player, certainly at the latter level. After all, as I have written many times, ‘liberal’ parties in most, but admittedly not all PR voting countries appear to hover at a few percentage points above 10 of the popular vote, which is at least reflected in the number of parliamentary seats they gain.

    The Labour Party Conference just managed to head off a vote for PR thanks largely to the Unions’ block votes. As our ‘friend’ and guest socialist, Peter Martin, wrote, only when a “major party” gets interested in PR will we ever get a chance to adopting it at future elections. Well, what is more ‘major’ than Labour, Peter? That’s the kind of ‘sound of the guns’ we should be heading towards.

  • To Paul Holmes’ comment can be added that Michael Meadowcroft wrote a pamphlet entitled ‘Focus on Freedom – The case for the Liberal Party’ in 1992 and a revised and extended third edition in 2001 (https://beemeadowcroft.uk/liberal/focus_on_freedom.pdf). The new Liberal Party formed in 1989 was in the best position to be a guerilla type organisation and as that party’s leader he was in a position for them to produce an ‘extended statement of its values’. But his Liberal Party did not make an impression, it was not the vehicle for creating a liberal society. I assume Michael recognised this and so re-joined the Liberal Democrats in 2007 (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-why-i-joined-the-liberal-democrats-1478.html).

    Another point not covered in the paper is the effect of not being the third largest party in Parliament. (Even between 1951 and 1959 and in 1970 when we had 6 MPs elected at the general elections we were the third party in the House of Commons. In October 1974 we had 13 MPs compared to 11 SNP.) To get better press coverage we need to replace the SNP as the third party in the House of Commons. This might happen when we have over 30 MPs. Since 1945 this only happened between 1997 and 2015. With targeting in 1997 we gained over 20 seats. So if the next general election is similar to the 1997 one we have a chance of recovering our third party status in the House of Commons.

    Paul Holmes,

    Throughout the period 1945 -1970 for example the Liberal Party had fewer MP’s than we do now and far from every constituency being a thriving hive of activity the Liberal Party couldn’t even field a full slate of candidates as late as 1974.

    According to Wikipedia the Liberal Party stood 577 candidates in 1979 (the Conservatives 622 and Labour 623) and stood 517 in February 1974.

  • Simon R,

    No-one here is suggesting the government should provide enough money to people so they can buy everything they want. It is just not possible. A Universal Basic Income at £157 a week would provide enough so a person would not be living in poverty, it should be enough to buy their basic needs but doesn’t cover the cost of renting a home (or of a mortgage). I am not aware of anyone on here suggesting a UBI of £157 a week.

    You imply that if a person receives a substantial amount from which they can buy most things that the person will be dehumanised. Are you against the idea of paying pensioners enough money so they have no need to work?

    An expectation that someone contributes to society soon turns into a demand that a person does something to contribute to society and if they don’t they are not worthy of state support. For liberals everyone is of value not matter what they contribute to society. To have such a demand on people would restrict their liberty and I don’t think there is a good reason to do so.

    Cim,

    It seems to me that what you describe as the antithesis to my view of a liberal society is the current state. Your opposite of “where everyone is free to decide how to live their lives, so long as they don’t cause harm to others, where the government trusts people to make the best choices for themselves” seems to be “the government enforcing what it thinks best for people”. UK governments do think they know what is best for individuals and don’t trust them to make the best choices for themselves. This includes Labour governments. It was a Labour government which introduced sanctions. Even in 2017 and 2019 the Labour Party didn’t have an aim to end poverty. In both elections independent evaluations stated we planned to do more to help those on benefits.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Oct '21 - 12:42pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “Even in 2017 and 2019 the Labour Party didn’t have an aim to end poverty.”

    We’ve always, at least for those of us on the left of the party, aimed to end poverty as far as it is possible to do so by providing well paid jobs for those who are capable of working and decent benefits for those who genuinely can’t. The only criticism that you seem to make is that we lack a commitment to ending poverty for those who choose it as an option by refusing to work.

    However, we’ve always had that option even in pre-historical times. If we didn’t get out to pick wild fruits and berries, hunt animals, fish in the rivers etc we’d end up going hungry. The tribal structures we had at the times would have probably been enough to provide sufficient support to see us through periods of illness but it wouldn’t have been unconditional.

    We’ve always had the freedom to choose poverty if we want to. I thought Lib Dems were in favour of those freedoms. 🙂

  • David Allen 3rd Oct '21 - 6:34pm

    A successful party must offer the voters a clear philosophy combined with a coherent plan of action. Unfortunately the Lib Dems have several competing philosophies – Michael Meadowcroft’s fundamentalist liberalism, versus Ashdown / Kennedy social liberalism, versus Orange Book neo-conservatism. However, all is not lost. After all, the other parties face similarly difficult internal conflicts. What is needed is leadership.

    An effective leader, like Thatcher, Blair or indeed Ashdown, shapes a choice between the competing philosophies, and persuades voters to follow that lead. An ineffective leader, like Starmer, dithers and vacillates, obfuscates and loses. A half-way effective leader, like Johnson, offers a plethora of bogus ideas and starts phoney culture wars. Even that approach can win, if what the opponents offer is even less coherent.

    The Lib Dems now, it seems, have become a Chesham and Amersham party. Pose as pale pink Tories. Stand against the crude low-class populism of Johnson, Patel and the Brexit ultras. Play the Nimby cards. But don’t scare off your middle-class target voters with anything like effective social reform, or green commitments which would actually cost serious money. Just pick up some posh Home Counties seats on the cheap. Leave planning serious governance to somebody else. And then don’t worry too much when nobody else emerges with a serious plan for government, either.

  • As David Allen comments, all parties are coalitions including the Libdems. That is as it has to be for a national party seeking the endorsement of a disparate electorate.
    Gladstone defined Liberalism long ago when he said ” Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”
    Conservative mistrust of the individual leads to advocating authoritarian command over the individual and is encompassed in the belief that society has two parts – those born to lead and those born to be led.
    Socialism holds to the idea that the source of social inequalities is the ownership of private property and consider unequal outcomes in education, wealth, and health to derive from an unequal share of private property – hence the focus on state ownership of the means of production.
    Social democracy shares the same economic views as those of liberalism and conservatism which is an economic system that is based on private enterprise, accepting capitalism as a reliable method of creating wealth. Economically, social democracy is not wholly different from liberalism and conservatism as they all adhere to the capitalist economic concept.
    Modern Liberalism in common with social democracy acknowledges a prominent role for the state in addressing social inequality in a mixed market economy, while maintaining minimal state intervention in civil liberties. Conservatism on the other hand, favours a strong state whose task is to maintain law and order and is generally against significant “redistribution” of wealth.
    The values and policies that seek to deliver a Liberal and social democratic society are those outlined in Michael Meadowcroft’s paper.

  • Peter Martin,

    On 1st October (9.48am) you declared that in a capitalist society there has to be poverty. You wrote, “The best you can hope for is to alleviate the worst excesses (of poverty)”.

    The Labour Party since at least 1994 has not had policies to increase out of work benefits to ensure no-one in the UK lives in poverty. From the comments posted by you, Peter, it seems it doesn’t want to have such policies, such as providing ‘decent’ benefits to those not in work. It seems to be only concerned with “hard working families”.

    The Liberal Democrats want to ensure that no-one lives in poverty, because a person living in poverty can’t be free.

    David Allen,

    The Liberal Democrats put in a lot of time and effort in developing our policies. To have policies which deal with the issues people and the country face. We have good green commitments and some of us are working on getting effective social policies.

  • Katharine Pindar 3rd Oct '21 - 8:17pm

    I don’t see our party as being in crisis. I think the Conservatives have more claim to that description. I think our party does relate its policies to its values, and the policies passed at Conference recently were useful additions. It’s good also that Federal Policy Committee immediately advertised relevant new working groups, such as the one on how to fund and deliver social care in England, the problem which the government is no nearer to solving.

    I understand that there will be another working group to be formed which may have a social welfare focus. I hope this will not be concentrated on developing the UBI policy, which I think is well understood as a desirable ideal but especially difficult to follow up in practice. Martin, while Michael BG undoubtedly understands as much as anyone about how that may be achieved, he remains committed as I do to the achievement of a wider Beveridge-2 type plan, about which we have lobbied FPC with a detailed paper. It would be a pity if another working group were too narrowly conceived.

    It appears that the Starmer led Labour party is now in pursuit of some policies which are congruent with our own, which bodes well for informal co-operation in ousting the present government. However, I am not sure of the position of either the SNP or the Greens in that endeavour. At present, all attention surely needs to be focused on the pressing problem of the threat to the standard of living of thousands of our fellow citizens with the rising costs and inflation of this autumn, with due pressure on the government to provide remedies.

  • “the misguided Economic Liberal experiment of 2010-2015.”

    Under the leadership of Charles Kennedy who I greatly admired, the Pro-Euro Conservative party were persuaded to fold into the Lib Dems. Key Orange Book figures such as David Laws and Mark Oaten were promoted and their ideas such as abolishing the Department for Trade an Industry became policy.

    So I’m not sure that 2010-2015 was quite the aberration you think it was.

  • Paul Holmes 3rd Oct '21 - 9:56pm

    @Martin. I have not seen any complacent comments here or ones that ‘concentrate on Michael’ as you put it.

    As a Party we are in a poor state (so no complacency there) although not for the reasons Michael puts forward. Yet even in our present dire circumstances we have more MP’s and Cllrs than the Liberal Party did up to 1974 and only slightly less MP’s than up to 1983. So Michael’s call for a return to the good old days is not well founded factually. Also, it is surely legitimate to point out that our period of greatest electoral success happened to largely coincide with the period when Michael was in a rival Party fighting against us?

    As for Target Seat strategies, which Michael says have destroyed us across much of the country, it is important to note three things:

    Firstly, had there been any sort of serious Target Seat programme in 1974 or 1983 then our big electoral surges of those years would have resulted in considerably more MP’s.

    Secondly, the seriously focussed Target Seat approach of 1995-2005 saw us achieve our 3 cumulative best electoral outcomes of post war history. In each sucessive election however, far from being hollowed out as per Michael’s analysis, there were MORE serious Targets in play at each sucessive election. After 2005 we had a post early 1920’s record of 62 MP’s and there were perhaps 80 or 90 serious seats in contention -more than at any time since before WW2.

    Thirdly, after 2005 however new Leadership Teams looked for different approaches. Sometimes quick fix ones, as in 2019 which bore absolutely no relationship at all to the painstaking Target concept of 1995-2005. It is therefore entirely inaccurate to talk about THE Target Seat strategy as there have been more than one. Also of course, in 2015, the best Target Seat strategy in the world would not have made much difference to the electoral destruction flowing from the Economic Liberal disaster of 2010-2015. A disaster that had already been emphaticaly foreshadowed at every electoral level in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 but which those in charge chose to ignore.

  • @Michael BG “Are you against the idea of paying pensioners enough money so they have no need to work?

    It’s rather different with pensions because the understanding is that pensioners have (hopefully) already worked for much of their lives and a pension and being able to enjoy retirement are something they are getting in return.

    To have such a demand on people would restrict their liberty and I don’t think there is a good reason to do so.

    The rather trite answer would be that, if you think expecting someone to do any work is an unacceptable restriction of their liberty, why aren’t you campaigning for all jobs to be abolished?

    More seriously, I can think of a few people I’ve known who at times were living on benefits and lived – as far as I could tell – miserable, purposeless, lives, sitting around bored out of their minds every day and becoming increasingly detached from society, precisely because no-one expected anything meaningful of them. IMO that is dehumanising. If the deal the Government offered had instead been something more like, We’ll give you money to live on, and in return we expect you to show up on – say – 2 days a week to work (on some useful project) in the community, then maybe those people would have had more meaningful, happier, lives.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Oct '21 - 10:22pm

    @ Michael BG,

    Your criticism of Labour Party would apply to those on the Right like Rachel Reeves who once said “Labour will be tougher than Tories on benefits”. She’s also an economic illiterate as Richard Murphy points out:

    https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2021/09/26/why-is-labour-stuck-in-gold-standard-thinking-era-and-why-does-it-want-gold-standard-era-austerity-that-inevitably-follows/

    I really don’t want to be in the same party as Rachel Reeves.

    So why do you, Katharine and most other Lib Dems prefer her wing of the Party to mine?

  • @MichaelBG

    I would quite agree that no party of government in my lifetime has made a serious attempt at implementing the “Liberal Values” you talk about – not the Conservatives, not Labour, and not the Lib Dems. But equally they all claim to want to.

    We are indeed in a state where none of it has happened, despite decades of governments claiming to want it, so it seems most unlikely that a party identifying itself with the centre ground of British politics will achieve that.

  • @Simon R “The rather trite answer would be that, if you think expecting someone to do any work is an unacceptable restriction of their liberty, why aren’t you campaigning for all jobs to be abolished?”

    Fair, of course. But on the other hand … I currently have a job, which pays me sufficient to live on, and hopefully allows me to save up sufficient to retire on as well. If I was suddenly to win a million pounds, then I would have enough money to quit my job and retire immediately while continuing my current lifestyle.

    I don’t think anyone would expect me to keep working in such a scenario – so if the difference between person A (who needs to work to survive) and person B (who doesn’t) is simply about which one was lucky enough to win/inherit a million pounds, then the idea that person A has some moral obligation to work – as opposed to a long-term survival need to do so – I don’t think holds.

    We’re already in a position as a country where much of our critical jobs – retail, logistics, agriculture, care, etc. – have poor pay, poor conditions, and so anyone who does personally get the Liberal freedom to “a job suited to them” generally does so. But if we all did that, the country would collapse overnight. Things are falling apart already because enough people did do that, and most of the ideas to fix it seem to be variants of “well, can we get some foreigners who don’t know what a proper job looks like to do it?”.

    Obviously there is work that needs to be done to keep society going. But the current “jobs” system of allocating that work probably is an unacceptable restriction of a lot of people’s liberty.

  • Peter Martin 4th Oct '21 - 10:46am

    @ Michael BG,

    “To have such a demand {make a useful contribution} on people would restrict their liberty and I don’t think there is a good reason to do so.”

    I can’t decide if some Lib Dems are completely detached from reality or only partially!

    Presumably when you pick up your car from the garage you pay the bill expecting the mechanic has actually serviced the car or done some repairs to it. You don’t think that actually requiring something to be done in return for your payment is a restriction on anyone’s liberty!

    How would a collection of Lib Dems (BTW what’s the collective name for a group of Lib Dems?) in a household organise the routine duties? Would there be no requirement, on the grounds of ‘restriction of liberty’, for anyone to actually do anything useful, like put the bins out, vaccuum the carpet or do the washing up now and again?

  • Simon R,

    You argue that if someone under retirement age is not in work and is paid by the state so they can live at the poverty level this is dehumanising, while the same doesn’t apply to someone above retirement age. This seems illogical. The reasons a person when unemployed may well have “miserable, purposeless, (sic) lives, sitting around bored out of their minds every day and becoming increasingly detached from society” are not because they are paid by the state an amount of money below the poverty line while not working. It could well be because they don’t have enough money to continue to be part of society, and to get out of the house. It could be that being forced to apply for jobs which they don’t want and which they are never selected for interview for has made them depressed, despondent and feel their life is purposeless. It is what the government demands from a person while living below the poverty line which means they live miserable lives. A liberal society would provide a better alternative.

    I think no-one in the UK should live in poverty. I trust people to make the best decision for what is best for them when they have freedom of choice. To abolish work would restrict people’s liberty. To force someone to do something they don’t wish to do restricts their liberty (and there are often good reasons for doing so). But to force someone to look for work when they don’t even get invited to an interview is wrong. To support a person not in work to lead a purposeful life is much better.

    I accept there are benefits to being in work above the extra income a person has. Therefore the state should provide real support to people to make the right decision for them at that time, be it meaningful and helpful support to find the right job for them, or to find the right education or training course for them, or to find the right social activities for them. The state should help a person be free. It should not force someone to conform (unless there are extremely good reasons to do so).

  • Peter Martin,

    I don’t prefer New Labour to the left wing of Labour. I was never a fan of Tony Benn. I liked some policies advocated by John McDonnell. On LDV I criticise the Labour Party less than I criticise the Liberal Democrats. I do attack Labour for wanting to “be tougher than Tories on benefits”.

    Cim,

    no party of government in my lifetime has made a serious attempt at implementing the “Liberal Values” you talk about … But equally they all claim to want to.

    None of them have presented policies in their election manifestos to achieve my vision of a liberal society. You have ready written that the Conservatives are pursuing policies to achieve the opposite of what I would like to see. Labour often support policies which does the same. Neither of them are Liberal parties. The Labour Party often seem to just agree with Peter Martin, “The best you can hope for is to alleviate the worst excesses”.

  • David Evans 4th Oct '21 - 6:00pm

    Michael BG,

    As the Preamble to our Constitution says “The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society,” In the last ninety years we have had just one chance to build one and Nick blew it. Indeed he even failed to safeguard what there was of one by sacrificing so many of our front line troops making life easy for David Cameron. We now have so few MPs we are totally in safeguard mode, and only there to a tiny fraction of what is necessary to stop the Tories on their path to national destruction.

    The biggest threat to our party remains that most of its leading lights still refuse to accept that we are not a big party any more but once again a tiny one fighting for our very existence as a parliamentary force.

    How else can anyone support a report so woolly as to recommend in all seriousness “Review ongoing governance of all areas of the party; local, national and regional parties, The Parliamentary Party, HQ Operations, The Federal Party, including the Federal Board, and all connected organisations and committees – and incorporate into the strategic direction.” i.e. with totally inadequate resources to do it, look at everything the party does and align with a barely fuzzy strategy.

    Sorry Dorothy – you would get a Full House in Senior Manager’s Buzzword Bingo, but a Recommendation that clearly says what you need to do so you can put things right – Nul Points.

  • @ Paul Holmes

    Looking at our current top 50 target seats I estimate that 29 have previously been held by the Lib Dems since 1992 (either the same seat or one with substantially similar boundaries). Therefore, why would a targeting strategy not be viable now?

  • Paul Holmes 4th Oct '21 - 10:59pm

    @Marco. I don’t know? Why do you think that is an issue?

    What I clearly said was that there have been a number of different Target Seat strategies. There was the one that worked extremely well in 1997, 2001 and 2005 and then there have been others ending with the utter farce of 2019. Thankfully the powers that be seem to have now moved back to the version that has been proved to work but which requires prolonged effort and does not offer glamorous quick fixes that do not in fact work.

  • Peter Martin 5th Oct '21 - 1:45am

    ” But to force someone to look for work when they don’t even get invited to an interview is wrong. ”

    Agreed. But what about if there was a guaranteed job on offer? This could involve a large element of training, so we aren’t talking about breaking rocks in quarries! I would suggest we could start with the under 30s. There’s probably not a lot of point with older workers who are close to retirement but of course they could actually suggest jobs for themselves, if they wanted to, and if they wanted to top up their accumulated benefits from a contributory based NI scheme.

    As for my own quote, which you’ve thrown back at me “The best you can hope for is to alleviate the worst excesses”:

    We aren’t even close to doing that at the moment. There was near full employment in the sixties and early 70s but we still had considerable relative poverty. Still, we didn’t have anywhere near the same number of beggars on the streets nor the same number of homeless people. The young did have access to free education, there was a chance of council housing, and there were rent tribunals to set fair rents in the market etc.

    So let’s get back to doing that before we start to discuss how we can completely eliminate poverty. I doubt this will ever be entirely possible but we can certainly do much better than we are. We have done it in the past so it is a realistic goal.

  • Peter Martin,

    The quotation you should have been given was “To have such a demand {make a useful contribution or receive no benefit} on people {not in work} would restrict their liberty and I don’t think there is a good reason to do so.

    To work for pay, or to pay for a service is not the same as the state requiring people to do certain things with their time when not working so they can get their meagre benefit.

    I was reading our second consultation paper on UBI and thought I would share this statement from it with you Peter,
    “… starts to move us away from a social security system based on the principle that people need to be coerced into work towards a system based on the state trusting people with their own lives. That social bond of trusting one another throughout society to forge our own paths, a trust on which any open and democratic society must be founded, is core to the UK that we as Liberal Democrats seek to build” (page 4-5).

    Both Katharine and I have posted on LDV that following Conference in September the Liberal Democrats policy includes a green jobs guarantee and a training guarantee scheme.

    You wrote with regard to job guarantees, “if they wanted to”. Maybe you are coming round to the idea that job guarantees and training guarantees are voluntary with no element of force or talk of cutting benefits if a person doesn’t want to have one.

    As I wrote above, having full employment would be a requirement for increasing benefits to the poverty level. I think it was only after the government stopped running the economy to provide full employment that people became concerned about people being unemployed and on benefits for long periods and mistakenly believing this is because benefit levels are too high.

    Having voluntary job guarantees and training courses are the solutions to today’s unemployment because of the recognised mismatch between the jobs being advertised and the experience and training of those unemployed. It seems that increasing demand in the economy is more likely to increase inflation than reduce unemployment levels.

  • @Michael BG: “To work for pay, or to pay for a service is not the same as the state requiring people to do certain things with their time when not working so they can get their meagre benefit.” But if people are being asked to work in the community for – say – a couple of days a week – in return for their benefits, then what they are getting is for all practical purposes, work for pay. It becomes something akin to a guaranteed job – not full-time, but enough hours/pay to get by on.

    I’d also point out that you’re very keen on defending the right of benefit recipients not to have to contribute to society in any way, on the grounds of liberty: But you haven’t said anything about the people who pay through their taxes for the benefits. You are after all compelling them to give up part of their salary, and not giving them any choice in the matter, even while you insist that people who receive some of that money from those taxes should not be asked to do anything in return. Do liberal ideas of liberty and not compelling anyone to do anything only apply to people who receive benefits, but not to people who work and pay taxes?

  • Peter Martin 5th Oct '21 - 1:12pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “…..state requiring people to do certain things with their time when not working so they can get their meagre benefit.”

    You know very well that I’m not advocating workfare. If someone is doing a job they should be paid the proper rate and not ‘meagre benefits’. The details would have to be worked out and I accept there are issues to be resolved but the concept is sound on a macro economic basis.

    Pavlina Tcherneva has written the most on the concept.

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Case-Job-Guarantee-Pavlina-Tcherneva/dp/1509542108

    The problem, especially for young people, is that short term unemployment can lead to longer term unemployment which in turn can lead individuals to become homeless and/or involved in drugs and crime. So the idea behind the job guarantee, especially where young people are concerned, is to give them a job with a high degree of training involved to prevent a reliance on benefits and stop the process lead to unemployability.

    The hope and expectation would be that most young workers on the JG would move out into the main economy as soon as their training was completed.

    On the question of “if they wanted to” I was referring to older workers nearing retirement. The exact details of any JG scheme would have to be resolved in the usual way but there would be a general acceptance that older workers who had lost a job through no fault of their own wouldn’t be treated in quite the same way as a young person who had a problem getting out of bed in the morning.

    You’re supposed to be keen on Beveridge. This is exactly the way he saw his system would work but didn’t as it turned out. It’s going back to basics.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Oct '21 - 2:11pm

    Simon R is making a very fair point in the 2nd para of his posting at 5th Oct ’21 – 12:02pm

    If a person who is able to work but chooses not to do so when there is work (or useful community activity) available which they could do, even if it isn’t necessarily what they’d choose to be doing (if anything – after all, they might just be totally bone idle), wouldn’t that induce (justifiable) resentment on the part of those who are working and paying?

  • Peter Watson 5th Oct '21 - 4:02pm

    @Nonconformistradical “wouldn’t that induce (justifiable) resentment on the part of those who are working and paying?”
    I would suggest that a high proportion of Lib Dem target seats and voters potentially fall into this category, so it will be interesting to see how the party balances its “blue wall” strategy for electoral recovery with the radical (and redistributive?) anti-poverty policies favoured by many members.
    I suspect the party will not make a big deal about policies which could frighten the horses (I’m still waiting for the party to remember 5 year old conference votes on faith schools and academic selection) and instead it will become louder on electoral reform and carry on with the Johnson-bashing. I also suspect that UBI could be one of the car crash topics in a pre-election leader’s interview.

  • Peter Chambers 5th Oct '21 - 8:08pm

    @Gordon

    Interesting viewpoint. Organisational stasis. Someone must have seen this before.
    Oh, they have.

    1. Be suspicious of any new idea from below — because it’s new, and because it’s from below. After all, if the idea were any good, we at the top would have thought of it already.
    2. Invoke history. If a new idea comes up for discussion, find a precedent in a an earlier idea that didn’t work, remind everyone of that bad past experience. Those who have been around a long time know that we tried it before, so it won’t work this time either.
    3. Keep people really busy. If people seem to have free time, load them with more work.
    4. In the name of excellence, encourage cut-throat competition. Get groups to critique and challenge each other’s proposals, preferably in public forums, and then declare winners and losers.
    5. Stress predictability above all. Count everything that can be counted, and do it as often as possible. Sweep any surplus into master accounts, and eliminate any slack. Favor exact plans and guarantees of success. Don’t credit people with exceeding their targets because that would just undermine planning. Insist that all procedures be followed.
    6. Confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Then announce big decisions in full-blown form. This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.
    7. Act as though punishing failure motivates success. Practice public humiliation, making object lessons out of those who fail to meet expectations. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.
    8. Blame problems on the incompetent people below — their weak skills and poor work ethic. Complain frequently about the low quality of the talent pool today. If that doesn’t undermine self-confidence, it will undermine faith in anyone else’s ideas.
    9. Above all, never forget that we got to the top because we already know everything there is to know about this business.

    after Rosabeth Moss Kanter here.

  • On the point of statements if values, it is one thing to state what you are for but if it’s things nobody would be against that doesn’t tell you very much.

    It is a good idea in my view to say what you are prepared to tolerate as that tells people more about your values and the difficult decisions you would make.

    For example if in favour of genuine localism that means being willing to tolerate “postcode lotteries” as a price of local innovation.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Oct '21 - 12:33am

    @Simon R. Your long paragraph, Simon, seems to me a denial of the very possibility of the Liberal society that Michael BG and I are trying to help our party to foster. You complain that Michael is very keen to defend the right of benefit recipients ‘not to have to contribute to society in any way’ but ignores the right of people who are ‘compelled to pay for the benefits through their taxes’. Even without a Liberal society yet at all fully established in Britain, it is surely the case that everyone is eligible for benefits if they need them, just as everyone is obliged to pay taxes if they are earning at work. We are all in the same boat, and there is no such clear-cut division as you suggest. A family paying taxes one year may need also to become benefit recipients the next, as indeed happened to friends of mine who fell into misfortune and could no longer either earn or pay nearly as much as they had before. Surely we want a society where people look out for each other and contribute where they can, with the same generous spirit that was often evinced in the depths of the Covid crisis, but with an equal right to hope for secure and satisfying lives for themselves and their loved ones.

  • Peter Watson 6th Oct '21 - 12:48am

    @Katharine Pindar “Surely we want a society where people look out for each other and contribute where they can”
    From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.
    Hmm, that sounds familiar … 😉

  • Peter Martin 6th Oct '21 - 2:14am

    @ Katharine,

    I wouldn’t be quite so pessimistic about a “liberal society”. We’ve become ever more so over the years. Who would have thought, in Maggie T’s time, that we’d have quite so many Tory MPs from the Gay and ethic minorities just a few years later?

    It’s more that some 21st century LibDems have created their own interpretation of the term which would exclude such luminaries as Beveridge himself. He wasn’t for handing out social benefits unconditionally as I’m sure you’ll know.

    Many socialists would concur with “From each according to their ability to each according to their needs” as an ideal, but accept that in practice it does need to be tempered with some acceptance that we can’t be totally equal and there does need to be some reward for effort to ensure that everyone does give according to ability.

    Neither you nor Michael BG have offered any advice to my hypothetical household of Lib Dems. (See comment of 4th Oct ’21 – 10:46am). How can they ensure they keep their nest clean and tidy without abandoning their ‘liberalism’ ?

  • @Katherine Pindar. “ Surely we want a society where people look out for each other and contribute where they can” I think that sentence is absolutely correct. And I’d say that, if you want to look at the ethics from that point of view: Someone who is working and earning enough has money available, and therefore you ask them to look out for others by contributing money through their taxes. Someone who can work but has no work needs money, but has vastly more free time than does someone who is working (assuming they don’t have caring/childcare/etc. responsibilities). Therefore you should ask that they look out for others by contributing some time, in return for the money you are giving them to live on. That becomes the guaranteed job, which is essentially what I’m arguing for. One of the great things about that is that it means you’re not only giving the person money to live on, but you’re also giving him/her the dignity of being needed, and feeling they are able to contribute – which ISTM is a fundamental human need, and which is currently denied to people by the current welfare system (and would also be denied to people by UBI).

  • Simon R,

    You don’t mean “asked” to work, but forced to work in return for their meagre benefit. Almost like being in slavery where a person’s liberty has been removed.

    Liberalism trusts people and the Liberal Democrats don’t think it is right to coerce people to do things. To force people to do something for their welfare benefit is illiberal and no liberal should be supporting it. It might be how you envision a job guarantee, but for liberals a job guarantee has to be voluntary and people should not be forced into it by having their benefit reduced if they don’t.

    In a humane society we wouldn’t want people to starve. In the UK we have provided a safety net for people. In the nineteenth century it was often via the workhouse. People living in a workhouse were forced to carry out work. This model was rejected in the twentieth century and a more liberal approach came in, where people were paid benefit and had the freedom to live their own lives while on benefit and not forced into a life run by the government. Forcing people to do things against their will affects people’s mental health. Treating mental health issues is costly and would cost the tax payer more than providing a humane benefit system. The current coercive benefit system, as you said, makes people have “miserable, purposeless lives, sitting around bored out of their minds every day and becoming increasingly detached from society”.

    Noncomformistradical,

    Resentment is often caused by a sense of unfairness. Therefore to remove the sense of unfairness is important. If everyone had the choice of not working and living life at the poverty level hopefully this would remove any sense of unfairness. To work would become a free choice of those who wanted the benefits of being in work and having a larger income to take them off the poverty line.

  • Peter Martin,

    I don’t know that you are not advocating workfare. Your position always sounds like people should work for their benefit by being forced into a guaranteed job.

    It seems you only trust people aged over 30. This is not Liberalism. Liberalism trusts everyone to forge their own path, to find their own purpose in life and not being forced by the state to conform. (This trust is not something Katharine and I have made up. See Joe Bourke’s quotation from Gladstone above – “Liberalism is trust of the people”.)

    It is false to believe than all 18 and 19 year-olds want to stay in bed all day. I didn’t. At 14 I got a Saturday job. My sister didn’t, at 14 or 15 she got a job working Saturday and Sunday mornings in a boarding school serving lunch to the boarders. Did you?

    Many people aged 15 can’t wait to leave school and get a job. If a young person has a problem getting out of bed in the morning, perhaps there are mental issues involved, or maybe they are not a morning person. (I remember there was a TV programme which stated that some people were morning people who had no trouble getting up in the morning, but had problems with staying up in the late evening/early morning, while there are others who have no trouble staying up in the late evening/early morning but do have issues with getting up in the early in the morning. The programme suggested things they could do to counter their natural state.)

    No-one forces a family to ensure that they keep their home clean and tidy. However, I do have the impression that sometimes the state via a social worker does force families to do so.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Oct '21 - 10:42am

    Simon, your modified approach is fine by me. The party has agreed to aim to provide guaranteed (Green) jobs to the unemployed, mostly thanks to Michael’s amendment at Conference. However, I think where we differ from you – and from Peter – is about restriction of liberty. You would weigh up, I take it, whether a recipient was doing enough in the way of caring responsibilities, for example, to justify their benefits.

    I don’t think we should be that prescriptive: we want people to be free to live their lives in the ways that they choose, so long as they do not harm others, and are reasonably responsive to the needs of those around them. We shouldn’t be enquiring into every detail – for instance, whether an artist is selling their work, if they are claiming benefits, or whether the voluntary work someone is offering is good enough. That would be one good thing about UBI if we ever get it – giving people more freedom to do what they want while receiving just enough to live on . But personally I want most to see everyone at least reach the policy level. Sadly, we are far from that today with the cruel ending of the £20 extra in Universal Credit.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Oct '21 - 10:43am

    Poverty level not policy level in my penultimate line!

  • John Barrett 6th Oct '21 - 11:58am

    I agree with…Paul Holmes

  • Peter Martin 6th Oct '21 - 1:44pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “It seems you only trust people aged over 30. This is not Liberalism. …..”

    Isn’t it?

    Why then does a UBI only apply for the over 25s? Why should those below that age have to pay more tax and possibly lose other benefits to pay for a UBI they won’t be receiving?

    “…..Liberalism trusts everyone to forge their own path.”

    This is probably something that Beveridge wouldn’t have said. Or if he did, he wouldn’t have meant it in the way you mean it to include the unconditional and universal handing out of benefits to all regardless of need. His ideas and my own don’t exactly coincide but they are much closer than they are to yours. More importantly they are much closer to what the electorate wants too. So by all means campaign for a Beveridge 2.0 but it should at least have some continuity from Beveridge 1.0

  • Peter Martin 6th Oct '21 - 2:01pm

    @ Michael BG,

    “It is false to believe than all 18 and 19 year-olds want to stay in bed all day. I didn’t. At 14 I got a Saturday job. My sister didn’t, at 14 or 15 she got a job working Saturday and Sunday mornings in a boarding school serving lunch to the boarders. Did you?”

    No. But I did paper rounds, cut hedges, washed cars and generally wheeled and dealed to make some money. I used the rest of my free time to play football, cricket and go cycling. So I didn’t have that much time or energy for homework and didn’t do that well at school. I just scraped into Uni but did much better after that because I had a full grant! That was great but I still worked during the holidays too.

    So just because your sister and I didn’t want to stay in bed all day, (maybe that was because we hadn’t met each other:-) ) , it doesn’t mean that some young people don’t seem to have much motivation and need a bit of a prod to jolt them into action.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Oct '21 - 7:21pm

    Peter, Beveridge wanted everyone to have enough, whatever their age or circumstances, including health care. It is muddying the waters to write aabout ‘unconditional and universal handing out of benefits to all regardless of need.’ Benefits are delivered now to those who need them, but they are not sufficient, and now especially are liable to drag people into debt – for instance private renters: the charity Crisis says that thousands of people are at risk of homelessness due to arrears now that the £20 extra if Universal Credit has been withdrawn. We need benefits to be raised, including the legacy benefits, as was agreed at Conference following another of Michael’s amendments. Universal Basic Income is a proposed separate and extra provision, which will not of itself raise people to the poverty level.

  • Simon R,

    I don’t have an issue with asking those not in work to do more voluntary work and reforming the benefit and sanctions regime to make it very easy for those on benefits to do so. So abolishing the sanctions regime and the requirements for people to do specific things is a good thing. I hope you agree that the current requirements on the unemployed to do certain things should be abolished and they should never be forced to do any work in return for their benefit. They should be given the opportunity to take up voluntary work and supported to do so.

    Peter Martin,

    I don’t know where you get the idea that the Liberal Democrats want to introduce a UBI for working-age adults above 25. In the May consultation paper on UBI we were suggesting 18 as the age when someone starts receiving their UBI. In the current consultation it seems we are suggesting making the age 16.

    Each individual liberal makes their own decisions on how they interpret and how far they support liberal tenets. What each individual supports or what the party supports at any moment in time do not change the liberal tenets. One of which is that liberalism trusts the people. This was the argument used to extend the franchise. But individual liberals differed on how far to go at a particular moment. Therefore according to liberal principles the franchise should have been extended to all adults, but there were some Liberal Party members who opposed giving it to some men and most women and they were not taking up the ideal liberal position.

    If a person wants to stay in bed most of the day or they have little motivation the wrong policy is to try to force them to do things, as it will adversely affect their mental health and may lead to even less motivation. Instead they should be provided with the help and support to find something to motivate them so they have a purpose in life and can meet their full potential and be motivated members of society.

  • Peter Martin 7th Oct '21 - 11:20am

    @ Michael BG,

    “I don’t know where you get the idea that the Liberal Democrats want to introduce a UBI for working-age adults above 25.”

    You’ve got a short memory.

    “The changes to Universal Credit which are party policy apply under the example the consultation paper gives which is for a single person aged 25 or above.”

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/help-shape-our-new-universal-basic-income-policy-67737.html#comment-554827

    There’s lots of wrestling with the figures to try to make them look both attractive and “affordable”. There have been various proposals but there hasn’t been any agreement on whether to start with an affordable but low UBI or to go for what it takes to eliminate poverty with a more ambitious UBI.

    Even a guaranteed job for 35 hours per week at £10 per hour would generate an income of over £18k per year and would eliminate poverty with most of those who cared to take it up. If the scheme works as planned with recipients taking advantage of the training offered the prospects for future years would be even better.

  • Neil Sandison 7th Oct '21 - 11:59am

    The Liberal Party has a lomg history of evolution .Most of the previous dead ends in our DNA have occurred when it has drifted to the right . The current social liberal outlook is where most members feel comfortable and the rediscovery of our environmental roots adds and strenghens the party and underpins our localism . As a long serving councillor i reject that we have lost our community politics base , it has matured to a more meaningful mode of communication with our electors and now features as much on line as well as in regular Focus newsletters . For the tired or jaded or history is important but we cannot afford to live in yesterday but we must move on through better leadership.

  • Peter Martin,

    It seems you misunderstood my post of 30th May that you provided the link to. The discussion was about rates of Universal Credit. Joe Bourke had stated there was one standard rate of Universal Credit and I was pointing out there are four main ones. Two rates for single people and two rates for couples each based on age – below 25 and 25 or above.

    Therefore the example I refer to was about the effect of a UBI on a single person 25 or above. Giving a before and after. The age was important for the before amount and not in this case after our UBI has been introduced. As I pointed out above in the May consultation paper we were suggesting 18 as the age when someone starts receiving their UBI.

    From the introduction to the consultation papers it seems that submissions can be made from non-party members. (I think an American think tank the UBI Center made a submission in June.) Did you download the May UBI consultation paper from the link provided in the article that you provided to? Have you downloaded the current one from – https://www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-21-papers ?

    I don’t support providing a fixed wage for those in a guaranteed job, instead people should receive £50 a week on top on their benefits and travelling costs. Your guaranteed job wage of £18,200 is lower than the poverty level excluding housing costs for a couple with two children. (According to the Social Metrics Commission the poverty line excluding housing costs for a couple with two children is £439 a week [£22,828].)

  • Peter Martin 8th Oct '21 - 8:17am

    @ Michael BG,

    I wouldn’t support a UBI payment to 18 year olds. I don’t know if I was a cruel parent who didn’t care about their “mental health” but I did from time to time use such phrases as “no-one is going to pay you for stopping in bed all morning”! I’m sure they’d have been happy to vote Lib Dem so they could say “Oh yes they will”. But it really wouldn’t have been doing them a favour.

    The potential income for a family of two children plus two parents, under a JG, even at the modest rate of £10 per hour would be over £36k per year plus £1500 in child benefit minus £3k or so in tax and NI. So we’re looking at around £34k per year at current rates. There could be an expansion of nursery provision. They could be staffed by those on a JG themselves. There would be maternity and paternity leave too of course in the first year after birth.

    The economics of all this is much more doable than the UBI because you’re only paying out for those who need it. Plus society is getting back something in return.

    As Pavlina R. Tcherneva puts it : “Forget UBI. It’s time for universal basic jobs”

    https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-06-24/forget-ubi-says-an-economist-its-time-for-universal-basic-jobs

  • Peter Martin,

    The Liberal Democrats do not see it as an ‘either or’ question. We support both a UBI and Jobs Guarantees. I am hoping we will make Jobs Guarantees and Training Guarantees the centre pieces of our ending unemployment policies. I was interested to see the list of possible jobs that Pavlina gives – “everything from physical work to online work — documenting historical sites, improving maps, transcribing genealogy records, oral histories of COVID”. I also note her Jobs guarantees are completely voluntary. She said, “I want to stress, this is not punitive. We are providing jobs, not requiring them. The progressive answer to structural unemployment is a jobs guarantee. The reactionary version is workfare. If we leave this to right-wing authoritarian governments, they’ll have punitive public works programs.”

  • William Francis 10th Oct '21 - 3:20pm

    @Michael BG

    What exactly would people do in these guaranteed jobs? This kind of work has to be, accessible to the people most inclined to be jobless and both socially and economically useful enough to be politically sustainable but not so useful that good labour market conditions would wreak an important part of the economy.

    Does such work even exist?

    Why not just push for post-war style full employment?

  • William Francis,

    I would like the government to have economic policies to achieve full employment. However, increasing aggregate demand does not target the need for jobs into the regions with the greatest need. So the government would need to not just do what the post-war governments did, but it needs to invest in the poorest regions to increase demand there.

    A training guarantee would provide the training a person requires to do the jobs which are available. Once they have been trained there might still be a need for a jobs guarantee so they can gain the experience required for them to be hired by an employer. Another objective of jobs guarantees is to provide jobs so those doing these jobs can use their current work skills and keep them up to date. These guaranteed jobs are often seen as being provided in the public sector or by charities.

    Therefore those having a job guarantee to gain the experience needed to be employable are in economically useful roles. The people doing these guarantee jobs must end up with a real job and companies should be banned from only employing people on a guaranteed job without employing people who have competed their job guarantee. I don’t see many jobs being unavailable as a guaranteed job.

  • Peter Martin 11th Oct '21 - 10:18am

    @ William Francis,

    “Does such work even exist?”

    There’re lots of jobs that need doing. Every local council will have a list of what they would like to be able to do if only they had some extra money.

    We’d probably have to modify it a lot for the 21st century, but the US pre-war Works Progress Administration shows what is possible.

    We wouldn’t need anything on the same scale. Most of the available labour can be utilised if we had a policy of close to full employment. The difficulty is the last few percent which would represent those hard-to place-workers who are often overlooked by employers for various reasons which could include some form of disability. If we run the economy too hot to force employers to hire everyone we could create an inflation problem.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Works_Progress_Administration

  • Job guarantee programs are an important element, but only one element, in addressing hardship. However, neither “banning companies from only employing people on a guaranteed job without employing people who have competed their job guarantee” or forcing employers to hire everyone are desirable or practical policies.

  • Joe Bourke,

    neither “banning companies from only employing people on a guaranteed job without employing people who have competed their job guarantee” or forcing employers to hire everyone are desirable or practical policies”.

    It would be wrong to allow a company to employ a relay of people doing the same guaranteed job. Once a person has finished their job guarantee there should be an expectation that the company will employ them if they wish to have another person on an identical guaranteed job. If a company is allowed to continue to employ different people doing the same guaranteed job with those completing their time in the guaranteed job ending back as unemployed there is little benefit to the person and the company will be abusing the scheme by using it as a form of free labour. This is not forcing a company to employ people leaving their guaranteed job.

    I don’t understand why allowing a company to use a guaranteed job as free labour is desirable or ensuring that they don’t is not practical. It is good politics. And it will ensure that a guaranteed job will be a useful experience and not seen exploitation by the general public and those taking part.

  • Peter Martin 11th Oct '21 - 1:04pm

    @ Michael BG @ Joe

    The employer of those on a JG will be the State. If they go off to work for someone else there will be a cost in the same way as if they were hiring workers from an agency. But unlike an agency there would be no objection to them offering the JG worker a job on normal and agreed terms and conditions.

    It’s possible that we could include local councils and the NHS as the State, but we wouldn’t want Tesco using JG workers as free labour doing shelf stacking or example.

    The objects of the exercise are to use any surplus labour for the public purpose and at the same time provide a level of training to enable JG workers to enter the normal jobs market.

    We need some creative thinking on what the public purpose might be. Instead of paying a carer’s allowance, for example, we could allocate some hours via the JG. Or if we want to train more nurses or HGV drivers or whatever, their training could be funded as a JG. Their ‘job’ would be learn to do whatever they were being trained to do. Similarly for a student at a university on an approved course. Their job would be to learn enough to pass their exams, and behave themselves sufficiently well to avoid being thrown out or their JG contract would expire!

  • Andrew Melmoth 11th Oct '21 - 2:09pm

    – Peter Martin
    What would prevent a council sacking 10% of their staff and replacing them with lower paid people on a JG scheme? You talk about ‘surplus labour’ and the ‘normal jobs market’ but both would be distorted by the existence of a JG scheme. We’ve already seen how the government’s apprenticeship schemes have distorted the jobs market, lowering pay and conditions for entry level jobs. Seems like a JG would just lower pay and conditions for public sector workers. Is that your goal?

  • Peter Martin 11th Oct '21 - 9:21pm

    @ Andrew,

    The JG would place a floor on conditions and pay levels for all workers. So would raise pay levels rather than lower them. We’d only ever have a JG with the agreement of the Trades Unions and the issue of possible displacement of non JG workers would naturally be high on their list of priorities to be resolved.

    One possibility would be to apply a time limit on workers doing particular jobs. After that they would be moved or else employed on a non JG basis. If it were seen that councils were abusing the process JG workers would be reassigned. If the JG authority wasn’t being paid by the council they wouldn’t have any reason to keep them there in any case.

  • Peter Martin,

    Technically the employer of those on a Job Guarantee will be the state because the state would provide all of the money a person in a Job Guarantee receives. When I used the term employer I meant the organisation proving the work carried out by the person. Maybe I should have talked of where people are “placed”. I believe that there are a number of schemes to place people into work sometimes with training where the placement is with a private or public company. This would continue with a Jobs Guarantee. There is no need for the organisation providing the placement to pay the state for the person, but it could happen. If it did then charities that provide the place might have to be exempt from this payment.

    I agree that we wouldn’t ‘want Tesco using JG workers as free labour doing shelf stacking’ but we wouldn’t object to a person working in a charity shop as part of a JG. I think there might already be schemes that provide such placements. I don’t accept that JGs are only for a ‘public purpose’ or are really training schemes. This is why I talk separately about training schemes which provide training and have no placement. I have stated they can involve most types of jobs, especially where the person doing the work is doing it to keep their skills up to date. I think I would like to limit the time a person can spend at the workplace to 35 hours a week and I think a case can be made that this limit should include time spent away from the work place on an external training course. (I have always assumed that a Guaranteed Job would be time-limited to a maximum of one year.)

    Andrew Melmoth,

    It would be important to check that the organisation providing the placements has not sacked staff to make space for those doing the Job Guarantee. You may be correct that with Jobs Guarantee’s most employers will not take on trainees. Therefore ensuring that some entry level jobs which require only a few days training are not included in Jobs Guarantees, examples might be shelf fillers, till operators, warehouse pickers, bar staff, cleaners and other housekeeping roles. If a person needs little training to do the job then that role can’t be included in Job Guarantees even if it did enable those doing the JG to keep their skills up to date.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '21 - 8:58am

    FAQs on the JG by Pavlina Tcherneva

    https://pavlina-tcherneva.net/job-guarantee-faq/

    @ Michael BG,

    “we wouldn’t object to a (JG) person working in a charity shop…”

    Not sure about that!

    https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/markets/article-6737765/How-charities-spend-226m-fat-cat-pay-spin-doctors-running-costs.html

  • Peter Martin,

    Pavlina talks a lot about the Guaranteed Jobs needing no skills or that they are low skill jobs. These types of jobs do not meet the requirement for those in a Guaranteed Job to gain new skills or keep their old skills up to date so they either become more employable or retain their employability. She has a different vision of Job Guarantees than I do.

  • Peter Martin 12th Oct '21 - 11:46am

    @ Michael,

    PT does provide an answer to this question in the FAQ link I provided previously.

    “It will offer youth apprenticeship programs, child and elder care, and special needs programs for veterans, at-risk youth, and former inmates.”

    We might all have slightly different ideas on how it could work but PT’s other suggestions ( see her section 8A) don’t seem too far off what I would have in mind. Possibly I would put more emphasis on skills and training, leading to getting workers off the JG as soon as possible but these are details to be discussed as we go along. PT is discussing the situation in the USA which may be somewhat different from what we have here. I’m sure she would encourage us to make whatever modifications we see fit.

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