The Radical Association: Fighting for a bolder Lib Dem future

Times are tough for liberals and liberalism internationally, and perhaps especially at the moment in the Anglosphere. It’s frustrating to be locked out of power, and to see our values attacked from all sides both at home and abroad. It’s miserable seeing the UK lurch towards a hard Brexit, and I hope that together we can fight against May’s love-in with the hardline authoritarian regime emerging across the Atlantic.

Even in the darkest and most confusing times, though, it’s important that we look to the future as well as fighting present battles.  That’s why I and others have been working on setting up the Radical Association, a new ginger group hoping to build innovative new policies and strategies for the Liberal Democrats to face the challenges of the 21st century. Global warming, increasing automation in the economy, cybercrime, building a more open & accessible society, coping with an ageing population, strengthening and revitalising local communities – these and more are all issues that need a wave of fresh liberal ideas to meet them and ensure we’re ready for the challenges that the future will bring.

We’ve now got to the stage where we’re ready to lay the groundwork and put together a formal organisational structure for the Radical Association so we can carry these goals forward. We’re planning to work right along the policy pipeline, from supporting policy research and discussion groups, through to working out how we can get bold, clear policies onto the conference floor, to helping the party campaign on new ideas and get them out into the country’s wider political debate. At last conference we were active in calling for a wider rethink of the party’s social security policy, and we’re committed to building on that and working on other areas in the months ahead and helping ensure members are presented with clear choices and big new policies on the conference floor and beyond.

But for all that, we need the help and support of interested Liberal Democrat members, both just in joining the RA to have a democratic input into our new constitution and committee, and of course ultimately in getting a strong committee and volunteers to help out and create new possibilities for what we can achieve. We’ve recently published our draft constitution, on which we’re happy to hear any feedback, and we want to get as many members signed up as possible in the next few weeks so we can get a wide range of inputs as we put our first elected committee together.

By creating strong, liberal policies, by ensuring that we are – as we have historically been – undeniably the party of ideas and the party of thinking ahead, we can put both the Liberal Democrats and the country in a better place in the years and decades ahead.  In every generation in this country, for over a century, people have had their lives changed for the better by big, liberal ideas. I hope you’ll join the Radical Association to ensure we have and build those ideas for the generations to come.

* James Baillie is a member and activist from Breckland and a former chair of the Lib Dems' Radical Association. He is currently a doctoral student at the University of Vienna, where he works on digital studies of medieval Georgia. He blogs about politics at

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  • James, I’m sympathetic to your aspirations. But what’s wrong with the S.L.F. and why can’t you work within that existing framework ?

  • I am probably sympathetic to your aims, but I can’t see the party need s another group.
    What it needs is a total over hall of the way it is run to bring it out of the 1980’s.

    The best policies in the world are no help if the MP we elect don’t share it, the members feel no ownership and the party doesn’t promote it with the public.

  • Conor McGovern 1st Feb '17 - 3:36pm

    I’m not certain we need another sub-group in the party, but I share most of your basic ideals and want a bolder Liberal set of policies. The obvious ones are Universal Basic Income and a policy to regenerate our industry along green lines, but all require debate and detail. More democracy in the party would be welcome.

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Feb '17 - 4:30pm

    Radicalism is fine if it is based on facts. During my training as a financial adviser, and my experiences, I learnt that it is very hard to avoid a lot of tax and still access the money, but if you listen to some you would think it was easy.

    I also don’t see much different between this and the Social Liberal Forum, but I’m sure you have your reasons.

  • James Baillie 1st Feb '17 - 4:32pm

    I think the answer to the question of RA as opposed to SLF is that the SLF is – and I think sees itself as – the guardian of a social liberal tradition within the party, rather than the more blue-skies group that the RA is and seeks to be. Take for example the vote on social security at the last conference, where the SLF supported an amendment to abolish the sanctions system within the current benefits system whereas the RA pushed for voting down the entire motion on the grounds that it was a missed opportunity to work on a minimum income or negative income tax system; I think that’s an example of the difference of approach, and I think there’s easily room, especially with the significant growth in the party’s membership, for both organisations to contribute to the party and its future direction.

  • @ James I take your point about research. For a start you could draft a policy on welfare sanctions and the outsourcing of conditionality.

    I have just got back from watching Ken Loach’s film, “I, Daniel Blake” in Berwick-upon-Tweed (Alan Beith’s old seat). The Maltings Theatre was packed. When the film ended there was stunned silence, followed by huge applause. It was organised by the Berwick Food Bank. As a Trustee of a Scottish Foodbank, I can confirm the accuracy of what I saw in the film.

    Every Liberal should see this film. including those ex and still MP’s of ours, who supported the welfare sanctions policy.

    It’s time to make amends by a) saying sorry (again) – and b) drafting a radical policy to deal with the issues, Over to you, James.

  • paul holmes 2nd Feb '17 - 12:13am

    @David Raw. David in another thread on the Article 50 vote you say that Norman and Greg should have shown loyalty to the Leader and former Leader. Yet here you criticise former and current MP’s who supported the welfare sanctions policy – in many cases, I think, against their better judgement but showing rather too much loyalty to our former Leader.

    Surely we want more MP’s who think for themselves and stay true to their principles?

  • I recognise a good debating point, Paul, and you’re an ex MP that I do respect, but this is apples and pears.

    On welfare, a collective exercise in better judgement (in a preliminary party meeting to establish red lines) could have had an effect on government policy…….. and reduced the misery of such as Daniel Blake.

    On the latest vote it achieved nothing – and was never going to achieve anything – other than to give John MacDonald (this morning BBC R4) and Peter Bone (PMQ’s) a stick to beat us with.

    There were enough breaches of trustr in 2010-15 without adding to the score.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Feb '17 - 3:53pm

    I too am rather concerned about this fissiparous tendency on the left of the Party. It is all very well forming this new group, but if they want the rest of the Party (including the SLF) to take UBI and things like it seriously, it is incumbent on them to present the costs involved and how they would change the taxation system to raise the aditional funds needed. Do they advocate a UBI at the level the Citizen’s Income Trust recommend, which is based on Malcolm Torry’s work, or the higher level in the Green Party’s consultation paper before the 2015 GE, or something else?

    We need to remember that without getting into Government we cannot implement our policies. At best, our policies may be cherry-picked by other parties, changed and presented as their own. Policies which are not well thought-out will not persuade the voters to support us.

  • James Baillie 3rd Feb '17 - 2:09pm

    David Raw: Thankyou, and agreed on all counts!

    Laurence Cox: of course policies need to be well thought out. That is, however, not the same as them being the least bold variant possible, which is something that it rather feels like gets conflated. And to get those thought out policies, we need committed people and groups to do the research (which is something I’m very much committed to, given my background is in academia!) and get them onto the table and seriously discussed. It’s important that we build further research into more radical liberal policies and facing future challenges, and that the people doing that research have the confidence that their work can and will get a fair hearing at party conference. Both things are, at present, very much lacking.

    As for the specifics of a universal income – I think we need a stronger policy groundwork, and as the RA is still in early stages we’re not. Our policy at conference was not “here is the specific version of this we think needs implementing”, but rather a deeply held concern that the social security working group had (primarily because their remit for working age social security was constrained to 2014/15 spending levels) not been able to properly consider the benefits of alternative systems.

    I also agree entirely that getting into government is important for us, and I hope and believe that having an organisation like the RA that can afford to stick its neck out further than the main party in experimenting with both policy and campaigning techniques will be a helpful part of that.

  • Laurence Cox 3rd Feb '17 - 4:54pm

    James Baillie:
    You are completely missing the point I made; I did not argue for less bold policies. There is plenty of analysis out there, including Malcolm Torry’s at LSE, on the costs and benefits of UBI. You don’t need to go right back to the beginning because the groundwork has already been done. If you don’t like their taxation changes, then you are at liberty to offer your own (you might want to introduce LVT instead of raising income tax rates) but you still have to propose a means of funding the additional benefits.

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