They can’t keep us social liberals down – congratulations from D66

Dear fellow Liberal Democrats,

My most sincere congratulations with your encouraging results at the local & regional elections last week.

A special “congratulations” to the batch of young Liberal Democrats, who became party members and activists after your/our meltdown in 2015, and got elected within the year. I enjoyed seeing one of them, Caroline Warner, making it to the BBC online liveblog of results with her tweet, after “waking up [being} a councillor” in Tandridge.

The BBC clearly was aware of this important aspect of this Lib Dem revival…

I attended your Autumn Conference last year, and was impressed with the quality of that new generation of “post-meltdown members” who had already been chosen as constituency representatives and mounted the rostrum delivering impressive, passionate speeches on all kinds of subjects. A promise for the future indeed!

A similar influx of young, passionate members presaged the Grimond/Thorpe revival (both in party activist and new ideas, including “Community Politics”) of the Liberals in 1956-’66…Just read Thorpe’s memoirs “In my own Time”, or Chris Cook’s history of the Liberals.

We in D66 survived a couple of such total meltdowns in the 50 years of our party history since 1966 (at one time, in the 1970’s, falling back to 250 members in the whole country), usually after being in coalition governments, but we always bounced back. I became a member in the resurrection of 1976, in an Orpington-like atmosphere of new beginnings, striking out on our own as non-socialist progressives (in a decade when being “left” seemed being de rigeur for anyone being progressive…NOT).

In 2006 we had another of those meltdowns, also after having governed in a difficult coalition, but by

  • attacking the xenophobic Populists of Mr. Wilders (where the big parties tried to ignore him),
  • banging on about the importance of Internationalism and Education &Culture, when others kept mum, scared of the populists,
  • and keeping on a federalist EU course (after the disastrous 2005 EU Constitution Referendum),

we regained our profile, our identity with the voters.

I can tell you from rich experience that resurrections by Social Liberals always start out slow, but keep gaining momentum when people recognize we stick to our reformist, sensible, pro-EU, and environmentalist agenda. In 2014, we even became bigger in Amsterdam city council than Dutch Labour (PvdA) who had ruled there uninterrupted since the 1920s; they haven’t recovered from that body blow! That PvdA (presently governing the Netherlands with the NatLib, center-right VVD) will struggle at the next general elections to equal our percentage in the polls!

Now that the “Remain” side in the Brexit Referendum campaign are pointing out Macro-Economic, Security and household-budgetary home truths, the Lib Dems should come into their own: being hard-nosed pragmatic while remaining idealistic and altruistic. Just our attitude!

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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7 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 13th May '16 - 6:41pm

    We need to blend the best aspects of social liberalism with other ideologies. On the economy I see lots of areas where I want more spending to the point where it depresses me a bit because I know we’ll have to put up taxes.

    You mention populists, but simply attacking populists often leads to left of centre parties being nearly silent about terrorism. When there is an attack it is too often simply: watch out for the racist backlash! What about the terrorism? Focus on both: tackling the racism and the terrorism.

    That’s just one example. But a way to defeat populists isn’t just to attack them regularly. People need to provide competent government.

    Best wishes and thanks for the article.

  • Noorderling 13th May '16 - 6:42pm

    Bernard,

    Can you please explain what’s social liberal about the rightwing economic policies that your party’s advocating?

  • Care to give is any examples, norderling?
    D66 has been linked with mainstream liberal politics for a very long time, and it’s nice to hear from bernard and them here.

  • Yes, some context for that claim would be helpful – including whether they are really D66 policies or simply being painted that way due to coalitions and the like.

    Otherwise for all readers in the UK know it might be like tarring the Lib Dems for Labour’s bedroom tax, or praising the Tories for the Lib Dems’ same-sex marriage bill.

  • Eddie Sammon: the “near-silence” on terrorism is exclusively from the Corbynite hard left. It is unfortunate that the main left-wing party in this country is now dominated by the Corbynites, but it should not reflect on those on the non-Corbynite left who condemn all terrorism without equivocation. And remember that the terrorists WANT the racist backlash. Also there are far-right terrorists (e.g. Breivik)

  • Bernard Aris 17th May '16 - 1:39am

    You ask for social-liberal credentials?
    Let’s use the famous Liberal Party trinity, used by Gladstone, Lloyd George and Grimond:
    • Retrenchment;
    • Peace;
    • Reform.

    Retrenchment is spending efficiently, not overspending on things because it feels good. D66 have a good record in that: the Economics and Budget spokesman from our 1970’s Parliamentary Party, Maarten Engwirda, became our party leader in 1982-’86; afterwards he was selected for the Dutch equivalent for the National (UK)- or General (USA) Accounting Office; and from there as Dutch director in the Accounting Office of the EU in Luxemburg, from which he just retired. See about him: article by Bruno Waterfield, Daily Telegraph, January 11th, 2011.
    Peace: the greatest international law professor from Dutch Social Liberalism, professor Cornelis vanVollenhoven (1874-1933; see wikipedia) proposed giving the League of Nations its own Navy to enforce its decisions. D66 has supported each UN and NATO Peace mission The Hague has undertaken. In 2006 we only opposed the first Uruzgan/Afghanistan mission because it was being sold as peacefull; anybody knowing Afghanistan knew that was false advertising; it turned out a fighting mission; we supported its prolongation. And we’ve been European Federalists because it consolidates peace.
    Reform: the D66 laws on euthanasia with strong medical and legal controls; and our law on gay marriages started worldwide legislative initiatives. The D66 parliamentary parties in both The Hague and Brussels/Strassbourg support LGTB rights; ex-party leader Boris Dittrich (2003-’06) is Human Right Watch Advocate gfor LGTB in Berlin. We’re proud to continue the pioneering Social Liberals (Aletta Jacobs, see Wikipedia) from the Firstr Feminist Wave into the Second and Third Wave; we’re proud of our female party leaders: Lousewies van der Laan and Els Borst (the VVD, calling themselves liberal, have none!). We’re lifelong environmentalists and post-materialists.

  • @ Bernard Aris

    The D66 sees itself as a “social liberal” party, while the VVD is an openly “economic liberal” party. However I don’t think you see “social liberal” as the opposite of “economic liberal”. I think you see “social liberal” as “socially liberal” the opposite of “socially conservative”.

    I don’t consider Gladstone as a social liberal. Lloyd George and Keynes I see as social liberals. The reform examples you gave are socially liberal not economically social liberal which I think Noorderling was asking about.

    I expect your environmental policies would be seen as part of what is generally considered social liberalism. I consider social liberals should be concerned with social justice and reducing inequalities and addressing economic and social issues such as unemployment, housing shortages, poverty and health care. For me social liberalism is about increasing the power and well-being of the economically disadvantaged and reducing the lack of freedom and liberty caused by unfavourable economic and social factors.

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