We already have the Social Liberal Forum, so why do we need a Social Democrat group?

The Social Democrat Group has been formed to work with social democrats outside the party, to build links with them, and encourage some to join the Liberal Democrats.

As I handed out leaflets to promote our fringe meeting in York (see here for a recording) , I was asked why we needed another group when we already had the Social Liberal Forum (SLF). A year ago, I’d have agreed a new group wasn’t needed but the situation has changed.

When the party merged in 1988, there was a lot of controversy about the party’s name. It was vital the party move on from that debate, so many former members of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) agreed that the short name become the Liberal Democrats. I feared this might mean we would eventually be called Liberals, and the SDP heritage forgotten, but I believed it was necessary.

Sure enough, increasingly, we have been called Liberals. I haven’t liked it, but when there were so many other serious issues to grapple with, it didn’t seem a fight worth having.

All that changed with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party, and the appointment as Shadow Chancellor of John McDonnell, a politician influenced by Marx, Trotsky and Lenin.

The situation for Labour is far worse than when the SDP was created in 1981. Michael Foot, the leader back then, was a socialist, but he was not a close associate of Trotskyists. He was an anti-communist, a supporter of NATO, who never referred to terrorists as friends.

Once Corbyn was elected, I knew many social democrats would leave Labour. However, if there was no visible social democratic presence in the Liberal Democrats, would they see our party as a safe refuge?

The Social Democrat Group aims to encourage social democrats to join the party, by reaching out to them, and by helping develop social democratic thinking in the party.

We also aim to build better relations with social democrats who remain outside the party, especially in Labour.

We’ve already started building links with the Labour blog Labour-Uncut, who recently published one of my articles. We hope to build relations with all centre-left groups in the Labour party.

For our purposes it’s not necessary to define precisely what social democrat means. We’re a Lib Dem group, and anyone with full membership is a Lib Dem member. As far as we are concerned, anyone who thinks of themselves as a social democrat, and agrees with the values of the preamble of the party constitution, is a social democrat. Those who aren’t members can become associate members.

At our inaugural committee meeting at York, we agreed that we would not be a campaigning organisation, promoting specific policies. This won’t stop me or any other committee member expressing our individual opinions. Just that those views will be ours, and ours alone.

Will we publish pieces you disagree with? We certainly hope so. We want to provide a forum for debate, not an echo chamber. We also want debates with as much mutual respect as possible.

We don’t want to duplicate the work of other groups, such as the SLF. It is important for political parties that there are groups which promote specific values and policies. In our party, this includes the SLF, the Green Liberal Democrats, Liberal Reform, and others. These organisations provide a creative tension within the party, and that’s vital. We don’t want to duplicate their work.

While we don’t exist to promote specific policies, we want to help the development of social democratic thinking, both in and outside the party. However, we will be facilitators, not a pressure group.

The current Tory division will make little difference to the quieter civil war which is raging in the Labour party. As it rumbles on, more Labour members will become disillusioned.

There are now many social democrats looking for a new home, both in Labour and elsewhere. Sadly, they have forgotten the rich social democratic tradition of the Lib Dems.

Some have recently joined us from Labour. If we can remind them that we share many of their values, I believe many more will do so. And that’s what we plan to do.

* George Kendall is the acting chair of the Social Democrat Group. He writes in a personal capacity.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Shaun Cunningham 25th Mar '16 - 12:34pm

    Of course we need the Social Democrat Group. Why?

    Because this party the Liberal Democrats is not the old Liberal party, like some would like it to be.

    Over the years the influence of the Social Democrats within the party has been eroded because many have left, leading to ridiculous politics like the legalising of drugs or Tim’s ridiculous policy on refugees.

    Time we Social Democrats within the party spoke up and moved the party to where we can actually start re-building the party and stop playing to political fringes who only interests is one of protest.

    What this part presently needs is the cool heads of the Social Democrats within the party. It is now nearly a year since the General Election and what have we achieved? Ok, we recently had some good by-election results, but they don’t in themselves create a party which can reconnect with the vast majority of the voters of this country. We are still on 7%

    12 months down the line and we are still unable to find traction with the Country, steady as it goes may be an option for some but it’s not for me. Time to banish policies which are no more than political posturing and to start building a party which which many in this country are yearning for. A true political party of the centre and not a fraud in the way of the Conservative party.

    I am not an Liberal, I am a Liberal Democrat, there is a difference.

  • Mark Blackburn 25th Mar '16 - 1:08pm

    So George and his ex-SDP friends want to revive the ghost of David Owen – what’s that, he’s still with us? Well, good luck to them – I’d rather mix with social democrats than libertarians. But I was a liberal and a Liberal before the SDP came along, and personally the Social Liberal Forum very much represents my kind of liberalism.

  • Tony Greaves 25th Mar '16 - 2:07pm

    Do we really want another group of rightwingers in the party to divert us from the only possible future for this party – a fight back based on the radical left-of-centre Liberalism that is our genuine heritage and destiny?

    Tony Greaves

  • Ryan McAlister 25th Mar '16 - 2:35pm

    The noble Lord with his characteristic tolerance of opposing views (!). Always a treat.

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '16 - 4:03pm

    “there was a lot of controversy about the party’s name”
    I was a member (originally of the Liberals) at that time, and agreement over the name felt like a drawn out affair that damaged a lot of momentum that had been built up and left us as “Salads” (for what it’s worth, I favoured something like the Alliance Party of Liberals and Social Democrats which would have traded under the “Alliance” name with which people had become familiar). I also remember a darkly funny Spitting Image sketch in which Davids Owen and Steel agreed on two words from one party (“Social” and “Democratic”) and two words from the other (“The” and “Party”).

  • Peter Watson 25th Mar '16 - 4:19pm

    @Rob Jackson “Some of the party’s policies still mystify me – legalisation of cannabis, anti-fracking (and I thought we were an evidence-based party) to name but a few!”
    I have similar feelings, so will watch with interest through the window of LDV the progress of you, George Kendall and the Social Democrat Group to see if the Lib Dems become a party I want to support.
    I am a bit confused by Tony Greaves’ comment, and wonder if we have different ideas about left-right or if it is just my ignorance of the factions within the Lib Dems. I have the impression that Social Liberals and Social Democrats are leftish, and economic liberals, libertarians and so-called Orange Bookers are rightish. Is there a particular group that represents “radical left-of-centre Liberalism”, or is that how all party members consider themselves (but often not each other)?

  • Neil Sandison 25th Mar '16 - 4:35pm

    As someone who joined the SDP and then the Liberal Democrats I do take exception to Tony Greaves describing me as a right winger .I was never an Owenite which was more of a fan club for the then leader and struggled with its core values .My inspiration like Georges came from Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and of course Charles Kennedy .Watch what the tories with almost moaist veal are doing to our country which horrifies me and I still believe an on going campaign for social justice is required but lets not forget the democrat part of the equation .We are seeing an erosion of local democracy to fit the model the tories want not the electorate needs , We are seeing a manipulation of what constitutes social housing for ideological reasons not because there is not a need for a mix of tenure types .Pay to Stay is just plain wrong .There are policies that need promoting like a reformed co-operative and social enterprise sector .Trade unions should be supported but need to be developed into industrial or sector unions independent of political control and should do more to encourage job creation and the success of their sector of the economy more on the European model .There is much for Social Democrats to do ,not only about the heritage of our party but to ensure as policy develops it is underpinned by social inclusion and democratic accountability.

  • Nick Collins 25th Mar '16 - 4:48pm

    The reference to “maoist veal ” conjures up a worrying image. I don’t think i’d want to eat it unless I was really hungry.

  • Paul Holmes 25th Mar '16 - 5:20pm

    Agree with most of what Neil Sandison says but also on most things I agree with Tony Greaves!

    When I joined the SDP in 1983 I had never heard of Tony Greaves but started to read ALC (Association of Liberal Cllrs) pamphlets he had written and which I agreed with and learned a great deal from. But at the same time I heard of him as a die hard Liberal completely opposed to us SDP types, which was confusing to say the least. As 1988-2016 progressed it became pretty clear that someone from the SDP like myself and a Liberal like Tony Greaves had barely a cigarette paper between us (to borrow a phrase) unlike the yawning gulf that separates both of us from a Liberal such as Nick Clegg.

    Funny things these political labels. Probably helps to some extent if you insert ‘Social’ and ‘Economic’ as appropriate in front of ‘Liberal’.

  • Samuel Griffiths 25th Mar '16 - 7:52pm

    Corbyn and friends aren’t anywhere near as left wing as they are being made out to be. Corbyn represents incredibly standard centre-left Social Democracy. It is a credit to the power of our media that Labour have been transformed into some Communist nightmare. Because of this, I am cautious of those leaving the Labour party due to it’s “left wing” slant. Might these be the same people who supported the incredibly centre-right New Labour? The sort whom have had very little agreement with classical LibDem values over the years?

    This all said, the party needs a Social Democrat resurgence, so any group working towards that aim gets the thumbs up from me!

  • Jayne Mansfield 25th Mar '16 - 8:32pm

    @ Samuel Griffiths,
    In my experience Jeremy Corbyn has been something of a ‘slow burn’, and people are ignoring they hysterical opinions of some media commentators and making up their own mind.

    I’m not sure what all the political labels being bandied around signify in practical terms. At the next General Election, I want to know what the underpinning values and principles of a party are, what policies they intend to pursue to put these values and principles into practice and whether they can be trusted to keep their word.

  • Perhaps those who want to see a schism between Social Democrats and Liberals ought to consider that the SDP founder, Roy Jenkins, is the very same Roy Jenkins who wrote the rather admiring standard biography of the reforming Liberal PM H.H. Asquith.

    ………And I often thought that the ex-SDP Charlie Kennedy was a more liberal Liberal Democrat than the classical liberal Nicholas William Peter Clegg.

    It’s time to move on and to engage in radical policy making which talks truth to power.

  • @ Samuel Griffith “Corbyn and friends aren’t anywhere near as left wing as they are being made out to be. Corbyn represents incredibly standard centre-left Social Democracy.”

    Agree with that – yet, sadly, there are still some on LDV who want to see reds under the bed and to hang to nurse for fear of something worse.

  • This is a great iniative & very timely.
    I have some relevant experience to the current Labour divisions because I was a Trot & joined Labour in 1975 as an entryist. Taking over our local Ward organisation was ridiculously easy, as now we recruited lots of semi-marxists & single-issue enthusiasts. The group I was with, now The AWL, seems to be quite close to the core of Corbyn supporters.
    I have no doubt that Corbyn himself is a Marxist, certainly lots of his allies are. I recently looked up groups involved with Momentum & found 7 marxist groups, 5 Trot, The Reformed Communist Party (CPGB) & a Maoist group.
    Theres no great push to take over the Labour machine because theres no need, they have already won & can afford to take it slow & steady. Every week more Corbyn supporters join & more Social Democrats leave, time is on the side of The Left.

  • George Kendall 25th Mar '16 - 11:49pm

    @Samuel Griffiths

    At the risk of turning your thumbs up into a thumbs down, I take a different view on Jeremy Corbyn.

    I agree that the economic policy compromise between Corbyn and the MPs who agreed to be part of his shadow cabinet is little different from the policies of Ed Miliband. However, for me, Corbyn’s leadership seems different when I look closer.

    Normally, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. And perhaps if Corbyn had appointed someone like Rachel Reeves or Chris Leslie as shadow chancellor, and hadn’t surrounded himself with people who had a consistent background of campaigning for the far left, I would feel different.

    Maybe I could imagine Corbyn on his own embracing economic and political realities. However, for me, the idea of all of Corbyn, McDonnell, Livingstone, Milne, and Fisher simultaneously abandoning their far left values overnight, stretches credibility. Among Corbyn’s advisors are admirers of Hugo Chavez, associates of trotskyists, and anti-capitalists who acknowledge Marx, Lenin and Trotsky as major influences.

    Reds under the beds? Hardly. These guys are the leader of the opposition, the shadow Chancellor, and their top advisors.

    As to whether those who are leaving Labour are rightwing, I prefer to give individuals the benefit of the doubt. In my book, leftwing means a belief that the primary job of government is to look after those who can’t look after themselves. To fight against poverty, and for opportunity for everyone. If someone has that as their priority, I may disagree with their policy positions, but that doesn’t make them rightwing. I’ve been wrong in the past, will doubtless be wrong in the future, and so I try to remember that they may be right.

    @David Raw

    I fear we’ll disagree in other areas, but at least we agree on Roy Jenkins. I understand that Grimmond believed that Roy was an Asquithian Liberal, and David Steel a social democrat. For all I know, that might be true. But as I’m not sure what these terms mean, I’m not going to worry about it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Mar '16 - 8:30am

    I personally have no issue with people who self-identify as being progressive reforming centre-left, liberal-minded, social democrats but several points made here appear to look more towards centrism and the Liberal Democrats being a centre party.

    I am happy for fellow travellers to join but self identifying social democrats, centrists and classical/economic liberals must be aware they are in fact joining the UKs party of social liberal democracy.

    Social Democrats might usefully observe they are at their most successful (e.g. Charles Kennedy and Vince Cable) when they make no great distintion between their original philosophy and Social Liberalism.

  • Stephen Hesketh 26th Mar '16 - 8:41am

    Early in his leadership campaign, Tim Farron appeared to be considering a change to the party’s name if he were elected.

    This thread brings to mind the ‘Social Liberal Democrats’

  • Lorenzo Cherin 26th Mar '16 - 1:45pm


    I have often expressed my enthusiasm for what you are doing , a word of advice , start a proper web site , many of us who are not facebookers or twitterers can then have access. Your article is , as usual , excellent , and , as usual , Lord Grevious has to wreck things with insults , he is the most opinionated, and judgemental person in any seniority I have ever seen , it astonishes me he seems to think he knows what Liberalism is and it is what he says it is !If it is , I am a Social Democrat !Ironic, other than those like the Lord Greaves I actually consider myself more of a Liberal !But some of us are not left wing Liberals , but ,rather more varied in our views , yet not right wing !

  • SUSAN Sutherland 26th Mar '16 - 3:35pm

    I joined the SDP in 1985 and became quite active in local politics. I can remember the horrors of becoming one party because Liberal members felt they were being forced away from their history and unique political stance. I also remember the hysterical laughter over the Glee Club rendition of Supercalifragilistic Expialidocious as Social Liberal Democratic etc. I also remember going up to Tony Greaves at conference, when he was threatening to leave the party because of the SDP influence, and telling him I didn’t want him to leave. Tony Greave’s reply was that it wasn’t about people like me and I imagined it was some of the SDP great and the good who were irritating him.
    I joined the SDP because they were strong on defence and the Liberals weren’t, not because of some political creed or teaching even though I had studied politics at University. In local politics working as the Alliance, I found that divisions never seemed to be across party lines but I would say that the SDP had a more centrist, top down approach than the Liberals, and perhaps worked on intricate policies created from cerebral activity rather than felt in the gut. A combination of the two seemed better.
    I missed the Orange Book activity because of illness but it’s unfortunate that the party became divided because of this. I am concerned that the establishment of too many groups within the party may lead to its demise now that we have suffered such a tragic defeat in 2015. This has happened to the extreme left, with splits into smaller and smaller units, but George seems like a laid back person who isn’t anxious to form a splinter group or make a takeover bid so I’m hoping this won’t happen. For me, social justice is paramount but I value the Liberal stress on the freedom of the individual and a bottom up process for decision making, an approach which I believe was completely abandoned within the party when we were in Coalition. I like George’s concept of creative tension between groups and if we can use Glee club humour to provide the spark for that I hope the party will emerge stronger for it.

  • Simon Banks 26th Mar '16 - 4:02pm

    Well, let’s see. For Shaun, being a social democrat means being anti-diversity, willing to reject evidence and nationalist rather than internationalist. He’s in favour of that. For George, it clearly means something different. I quite understand his point that refugees from Corbyn who might be at home in the Liberal Democrats would be reassured by the presence of a Social Democrat group within the Liberal Democrats; but the discussion strongly suggests to me that his statement that it’s not necessary to define “social democrat” won’t stand up. In particular, what about social liberalism does a social democrat reject and what can a social democrat offer that social liberalism doesn’t?

  • It’s an odd term that can unite pre-1917 Lenin and Roy Jenkins.

    But I do wonder why anybody would want to preserve ‘social democracy’ in the Lib Dems, considering it was born out of a scheme coordinated with the Thatcher government to keep the Tories in power…

  • George Kendall 26th Mar '16 - 8:07pm

    @Simon Banks
    We had a go at this discussion, after had a stab at a definition of social democrat in my article https://www.libdemvoice.org/why-i-am-a-social-democrat-47486.html
    But that was just my interpretation, and I’m sure it didn’t satisfy you.

    Just as Liberalism means different things to different people, I feel it would undermine what the SDG is trying to do, if we tried to tightly define what social democrat means.

    But let me have another go at describing social democracy in a few words:

    1) Social democrats think the government has a duty to look after those who can’t look after themselves. To do this a strong economy is essential, otherwise there won’t be the resources to fund the services to achieve this. There are limits to the levels of taxation that can be taken from the economy, without undermining that economy, so it is vital that services are run as efficiently as possible.

    2) Everyone will claim to believe in the above. However, in practice, rightwingers often make a higher priority of protecting the interests of the rich, than of the weak. And some leftwingers lack the laser-like focus that is necessary, to ensure public services are delivered in an efficient way.

    3) For good social democracy, I think it is essential to have a certain level of humility. We can’t be sure of the best way to nurture a strong economy, and we can’t be certain of the most efficient way to deliver public services. So social democrats will, and should, have different opinions on both. What I hope we all try to do is keep an open mind, and when shown that we were mistaken on the details of policy, to change our mind.

  • George Kendall 26th Mar '16 - 8:11pm

    @Lorenzo Cherin
    Thanks for your kind words.

    We started with a Facebook page, because it was very easy to set up, and a good way to engage people who had a Facebook account.

    In due course, we’ll create a website, and we’ll be able to have discussions there. But, for now, while we are finding our feet, it’s hard enough to create a community in one place. And, of course, anything we do takes time and money, so we need to grow as an organisation.

    If anyone would like to get involved, you don’t need twitter or Facebook, please just fill in the form here: https://goo.gl/JS3qoa

    @Stephen Hesketh
    In my view, a name change for the party now would just cause unnecessary angst. Of course, if there’s a realignment which eventually leads to a new merger, that’ll become a massive issue, but let’s not worry about something so hypothetical. We’ve enough to be doing.

    @SUSAN Sutherland
    I had the same experience. During merger, I’d chat with Liberals and they’d denounce these SDP types. I’d remind them I was a member of the SDP, and they’d say, “Oh! But you’re not really a social democrat.” I’ve never really got to the bottom of what they meant by that 😉
    As for forming a splinter group, I really don’t want that to happen. Obviously, having the name “social democrat” in our name is provocative to people who want us to be totally a Liberal, and in no way a social democrat, party. But I think folk who feel that are in a small minority.

    You’re mistaken. Polling evidence shows that the Alliance took as many votes from the Tories as from Labour. And the seats we won were predominately from the Tories. In my opinion, the Tories will always beat a Labour party that veers to far to the left, as it did in the 80s, and is doing now.

    In the 80s, the only real threat to the Tories was the Alliance. If there’s a realignment, I think the same will be true again.

  • @George Kendall: There are documents where SDP founding figures say that it is their intention, and literally meeting with government figures to help plan a Labour defeat while still sitting as Labour MPs and letting Labour activists go and doorknock for them. My favourite is one from 1980 released a couple of years ago under the 30 year rule, when Neville Sandelson met Ian Gow, because it’s so brazen about the intentions behind the split:

    ‘Sandelson says that his remaining political purpose is to ensure the
    re-election of the Conservative Party at the next Election, because only
    by another Conservative victory will there come about that split in the
    Labour Party, which he considers to be an essential pre-condition for a
    real purge of the Labour Left …

    The prize for Jenkins would be
    to detach Shirley Williams, David Owen and Bill Rodgers from the Labour Party,
    and then to start a new party, which would have an electoral pact with the

    Sandelson believes that Britain needs shock treatment at the present
    time and that only the Conservative Party can administer this with the
    necessary resolution’.

  • I was very aware in the 80s how socially conservative the SDP tended
    to be (with the exception of liberal roy jenkins), and how fixated it became
    with weapons of mass destruction –
    some of the comments above reflect those tendencies still, so yes, right-wing fits. I am a liberal and so wish your group well, but believe that you will need to demomstrate what social democracy means before finding out whether there is any yearning for what it is supposed to offer in the nation at large.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Mar '16 - 9:00am

    @ Paul Barker,
    I remember a time when Young Liberals were called ‘communists’.

    They would probably have self- described themselves as ‘Radical social liberals’.

  • Jacob Collins 27th Mar '16 - 9:30am

    I’d like to know why self described socal democrats don’t just join the labour party?

    I don’t say this in a hostile way, and im not saying you dont belong in the party (social democratic politics is probably a better fit for the lib Dems than my politics is). I’m just intrigued to know why you think the lib Dems are a better vehicle for advancing your views than the labour party?

  • Neil Sandison 27th Mar '16 - 12:46pm

    Jacob Collins asks an honest question of why social democrats didn’t join the Labour Party .The reason many of us didn’t was because Labour used its core voters as cannon fodder always the promise of reform and improvement ,social housing was largely ignored the promise were made but never the delivery or outcome of those promises frequently fell very short. ,Always the talk of social reform but all too often they got themselves hopeless entrapped by the Islington set and its narrow agenda of special interest groups .Indeed more was done under the coalition than under 13 years of Labour to lift tax threasholds ,invest in primary school education and recognise the needs of troubled families .Sadly the tories are now unpicking most of that good work done by the Liberal Democrats. So there is still a need for a party that is prepared to advance social justice and democratic accountability.

  • Jayne Mansfield – I remember Young Liberals describing themselves as libertarian socialists and anarcho-syndicalists. I couldn’t really identify with the first, and I didn’t know what the second meant! There is a strand of anarchism in my political philosophy, though, which prevents me from being enthusiastic about social democracy, although accepting it as an important element of the Liberal Democrat family.

  • Stephen Howse 27th Mar '16 - 3:11pm

    I’m not a self described social democrat… but I fully support the Social Democrat Group, its aims and its objectives.


    Because of its inclusive and accommodating tone. Because it is looking to build bridges and bring people together, not divide them artificially like so many in the so called “left” of the Liberal Democrats. Because it is looking beyond its own nose and beyond the petulant “Judean People’s Front” debates within the party, and is positively trying to expand our base and our movement.

    Where social democrats and I disagree, I feel far more comfortable that those disagreements will be amicable than I do when I disagree with a so called “social liberal”, and that the focus will be on the aims, policies and values that unite us.

    So thank you, George, for all the excellent work you have done and are doing, and for the tone of debate you have set. I wish that every Liberal Democrat Group followed your example. I hope they will in future.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Mar '16 - 5:59pm

    Paul Holmes (in response to your comment re Tony Greaves):

    At that time, the word “Liberal” in the UK did not mean “a supporter of free market economics”. Back then, most of those in the Liberal Party who were not keen on merger took that position because they felt the SDP was to the right of them politically.

    What happened is that after the merger, the word “Liberal” was seen as a dirty word. If you used it to describe yourself, you were regarded with suspicion, as a “loony beards and sandals” type supporting what now gets called “Corbynite” policies. This was kept up for long enough for many to forget what “Liberal” used to mean. Then along came the economic right-wingers who stole the word to describe themselves, rewriting history in the way George Orwell described in 1984, to make out that liberalism was always what they now used the word to mean.

    In many ways, however, the difference at the time of the merger was about how politics was done rather than policies. To those of us in the Liberals who didn’t like the SDP, it was to a large extent because the SDP seemed to be about a sort of top-down leader oriented party, with members reduced to a fan club of the leader. We wanted decentralised politics, with the party more as a network of activists.

    So, the Liberal Democrats as they became under Clegg, all about The Leader and his appointees, was what we saw as the “Social Democratic” model of politics that we wanted to avoid, indeed that we were active in the Liberal Party to build an alternative to.

    Tony Greaves was directly involved in the merger negotiations, and I was indirectly (as a member of the national executive of the Young Liberals, advising our Chair who was one of the negotiators). Half the Liberal negotiators walked out at the end, because of the way the constitution of the merged party was pushed into that top-down way. What we did not want to see was just what we have seen in the way Clegg led the party. It is Clegg and those surrounding him and the way they ran the party who were the heirs to the SDP as we saw it then. So, please don’t suggest the opposite, if you do, you are a victim of their Orwellian trickery.

    To be sure, the infiltration of economic right-winger now does mean that people whose membership goes back to those days and who in those times were political opponents, often now find themselves as allies.

  • Matthew Huntbach – welcome back, and thank you for the accurate historical contextualisation.

  • Paul Holmes 27th Mar '16 - 8:48pm

    Never suggested any such thing Matthew, I never mentioned top down etc but talked of the key difference being in the difference between Social Liberals and Economic Liberals. I noted that as a Social Democrat I in practice found much more in common with people like Tony Greaves (Social Liberal) than I ever did with Nick Clegg or David Laws (Economic Liberals).

    Different historical perspectives are interesting though. You talk of being a bottom up Liberal as a Young Liberal at the time and seeing the SDP as a top down Party. But that most certainly was not the Party I joined in 1983 -quite the reverse. As a Politics Teacher at the time I knew that the SDP were the only One Member One Vote party -no Trade Union block votes, no electoral Colleges, no Magic Circle to select Leaders, no votes restricted to MP’s only, plus a conference that decided policy again without block votes or ‘weighted’ votes. That David Owen having endlessly talked about these virtues then tried to take his ball home when the Sheffield Conference voted for merger was his failure not that of the SDP.

    Agree though with what you say about the way the Liberal Democrats were run from Dec 2007-May 2015. On the other hand, from what I have read and heard, didn’t the Young Liberals at the time think much the same of some Liberal Party Leaders?

  • Matthew Huntbach’s historical summary is, to my certain knowledge, correct.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 12:08am

    Paul Holmes

    But that most certainly was not the Party I joined in 1983 -quite the reverse. As a Politics Teacher at the time I knew that the SDP were the only One Member One Vote party

    In other words, you did not know about the Liberal Party and the different sort of politics we were building up. Instead you went for a much more conventional political model of a party being all about centralised policy-making. Sure, you probably didn’t realise that. Mostly what happened was that people joined one or the other depending on where they were. If they were in a place where the Liberal revival had been active, they joined the Liberals, if they were not, they joined the SDP.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 10:09am

    George Kendall

    I know I’ve been wrong in the past, so I’m wary of holding my opinions too trenchantly, and a little cautious when others do so. In my opinion, we can’t know the best way to arrange society, so being forced to compromise with others who hold different views may actually be a good thing.

    I have stopped posting to LDV precisely because I got fed up with the attacks made on me by those I dubbed the “nah nah nah nah nah”s when I made just the point you are making here, which to me IS a core aspect of what liberalism is about. It is the reason why, though my politics are very much to the left, I could never join the Labour Party with its insistence on there being a monopoly party of the left and an electoral system that keeps it that way.

  • I know about Sandelson, and how he went back to Labour after the SDP split had enabled that purge of the Left he wanted and thus fulfilled its purpose. At this point he was liaising with Jenkins and absolutely was a crucial SDP figure, as he had been in the Social Democratic Alliance for years (which is another sordid history altogether). He was prescient at least, the SDP achieved everything he expected of it.

    If you want a revival of this outfit, look to the Progress MPs trying to derail Corbyn.

  • Paul Holmes 28th Mar '16 - 1:56pm

    Matthew -in 1983 what constitutional rules did the Liberal Party have about how it elected its Leader?

    What the Young Liberals may or may not have achieved in rebellion against their own Party is a different matter -but of course pockets of Liberal activity were few and far between so like most people I had little idea about any of that. Up to 1983 (I was 26 then) I had only ever met one member of the Liberal Party in my life ( a student at University) and had never once received a Liberal leaflet through my door despite having lived variously in Sheffield, York and Chesterfield.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 2:40pm

    Paul Holmes

    What the Young Liberals may or may not have achieved in rebellion against their own Party is a different matter -but of course pockets of Liberal activity were few and far between so like most people I had little idea about any of that.

    You prove my point. By then across much of Britain, certainly most of southern England, but also parts of the north, the Liberals had pushed their way to the front and were the principle opposition to the Tories. They had also made inroads into Labour areas, re-invigorating politics in places where Labour had become complacent and were doing little for the people.

    There was a temporary dip in 1979, in part due to the Thorpe affair, but already that was being overcome in the 1980s. It was the left of the Liberal Party that was invigorating it, developing new ways of campaigning that were working. Where I was growing up, in the supposed true Blue Tory county of Sussex, I could see it happening. The Liberal were winning control of councils, and that was leading to winning Parliamentary seats. You could also see it in Labour places like Tower Hamlets and Liverpool.

    All of this was almost completely ignored by the press, which is perhaps why people like you were unaware of it, and so used belittling lines against the Liberals, as you do here.
    We certainly did feel incensed that all we were doing was being ignored, and instead we should concede it all and bow down to Roy Jenkins, David Owen etc and treat them as our superiors because they were attached to the Westminster Bubble and we were not.

    Huge amount of time and effort were then spent arguing over this, trying to persuade naive new members of the SDP why what we were doing worked. In the end what most of us Liberals then did was take a “We’ll show them” approach, pushing ourselves in a Stakhanovite way to win actual seats. We did it in the Bermondsey by-election (to show we could win such places when the SDP could not win in the Peckham by-election), but we did it mostly in local elections. Look who was winning the council seats during the time of the Liberal-SDP alliance – mostly it was the Liberals, but again unreported by the press because the SDP had the Westminster Bubble attachments and we did not.

    Unfortunately, this Stakhanovite approach ended up damaging us. We stopped thinking, and made winning the elections an end in itself. Community politics lost its radical edge and became just an election-winning technique.

  • Paul Holmes 28th Mar '16 - 6:41pm

    Matthew, in what way is stating that at the age of 26 I had never had a Liberal leaflet put through my letterbox and had only ever met one Liberal party member, belittling the Liberal Party? It’s just a statement of fact.

    Indeed since making that post earlier today I have been thinking back to what I had ever heard about the modern Liberal Party before I joined the SDP/Alliance in 1983. As a Politics teacher for 4 years at that point I had read up some material because the exam syllabus had a small section on the Liberal Party when dealing with Electoral Processes and the Two Party System. Otherwise my knowledge was essentially that of any ordinary member of the public who had to rely on the media unless they had the great good fortune to live in an area of Liberal activity. I have racked my brain and as far as I can recall it amounts to:
    a) 1974 election surge (I was 17 then) but few MP’s.
    b) Jeremy Thorpe and Hovercraft.
    c) Clement Freud and dog food adverts.
    d) Cyril Smith, large Northerner.
    e) Jeremy Thorpe and scandal.
    f) A Lib Lab pact and the ‘Boy David’.
    g) Peter Hain digging up cricket pitches.

    Sorry, but that’s it. We would all do well to remember that the vast majority of the public do not hang on the every word of even major parties let alone minor ones. A couple of weeks ago around 3% of our Party Membership attended the York Conference. I was one of the 97% who did not (I will not have been for two years by this Autumn) and I made a conscious effort to note what I would have learned of that conference had I not read LD Voice every day. As a very assiduous consumer of news I saw and heard nothing at all on Radio or TV. Scanning the online newspapers every day I saw just two articles on Diversity (one on the Friday and one on the Monday) and, as it was behind a paywall, just the headline of a FT article on tax policy. So for the vast majority of the population the headline would have been “The Liberal Democrats had a Conference but no one noticed.”

    I’m not belittling our Party by noting that fact. Just stating facts.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 9:17pm

    Paul Holmes

    Matthew, in what way is stating that at the age of 26 I had never had a Liberal leaflet put through my letterbox and had only ever met one Liberal party member, belittling the Liberal Party?

    It’s when you wrote “of course pockets of Liberal activity were few and far between “. You have ignored the whole community politics movement, that was invigorating the Liberal Party, and leading it to growth in so many places. By its nature, it was patchy, yes. But it was much more widespread and successful than you suppose. That is because all you seem to know about is what is reported in the national media, and yes, it went almost unreported in the national media.

    The whole POINT about it was that it was not about politics being about a glossy national image set up by ad-men and its leaders in Westminster. It was about ordinary people getting together to change things by themselves.

    You clearly know nothing about the way that the Liberals were winning in many parts of southern England. Nor about their urban successes. You ought to be ashamed of your ignorance here, given that you say you were a politics teacher.

  • Paul Holmes 28th Mar '16 - 9:34pm

    You use very offensive and personal tones Matthew.

    In 1979 I believe the Liberals had 600 Cllrs although that was down in number because of the Lib Lab Pact and Thorpe Affair. How many Councils did the Liberals run in those many parts of Southern England you talk of?-as a Northerner they obviously passed me by. Where were all the Urban successes? Please enlighten this ignorant individual.

    Also, as a great fan of the theory and practice of Community Politics, I have never been able to track down much in the way of anything published on actual examples of it being put into practice in the way that for example Councils were restructured to empower the community. Can you help me out?

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 9:35pm

    Paul Holmes

    As a very assiduous consumer of news I saw and heard nothing at all on Radio or TV.

    Yes, and that is why we need a different way of doing politics. One where politics is about people doing things for themselves, not passively following what is reported in the national media. And THAT was what radical Liberals had invented and were using successfully, and it was beginning to work, when along came the SDP and tried to squash it all.

    There is no point in relying on making a glossy image that will get reported in the national media, because they’ll never give us fair coverage. Theres no point in playing conventional party politics, because the votes out there for us to win are all those people put off politics, who would never watch or read anything about it, and would throw any conventional political literature in the bin if it came through their door.

    So we need to do something different, that attracts people because it really does talk about them and their interests and needs, and does not come across as party politicians talking down to them in language put together by ad-men.

    The disaster of Clegg was that he dismissed all that, and felt the way to win votes WAS to become conventional top-down politicians, a “party of government” as he put it so proudly, and he and his type even seemed proud when it lost us votes, dismissing them as “borrowed”, and supposing there was some new big bunch of voters coming over to us once we became this conventional ad-men run party. Only it didn’t happen, did it?

  • Paul Holmes 28th Mar '16 - 9:48pm

    No. And some of us opposed it from the start.

    But I don’t recognise in the slightest what you say about the SDP and their terrible ways and of course however alternative your political approach there is still the minor obstacle of having to actually get people to vote for you.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 9:59pm

    Paul Holmes

    In 1979 I believe the Liberals had 600 Cllrs although that was down in number because of the Lib Lab Pact and Thorpe Affair.

    Yes, and that’s the point I was making – it had started off, with the 1974 general election which saw the Liberals replace Labour as the main opposition to the Tories in much of southern England, but did suffer a setback due to the Thorpe affair and the Lib-Lab pact. Nevertheless, the 1979 general election saw a substantial number of those second places kept, and it was already building up again before the SDP came along. This was when I became an active member, and I remember the excitement of it all.

    Adur and Eastbourne council were early wins in my home county of Sussex, but there was a time when Hastings, Worthing, Mid-Sussex, Lewes all seemed likely wins. Of course, we DID eventually win Lewes as a Parliamentary seat. Tower Hamlets and Liverpool were two of the early urban successes. I was involved in the Liberal victory in the Bermondsey by-election, and also Michael Meadowcroft winning his Parliamentary seat in Leeds West. I was also involved as things kicked off in Norwich, where we eventually won Norwich South.

    I also saw how powerful these techniques could be during my time of involvement in the London Borough of Lewisham – where we started off active in just one council seat, where I was elected as a councillor, and we ended up as the lead opposition across the whole borough, coming close in two the three seats in the 2010 general election (all destroyed thanks to Clegg after that, though).

    Yes, it takes time – 12 years in Lewisham. That’s the point, it was just kicking off in the 1970s and 1980s. But you are wrong to dismiss it as nothing. Even if you look at who was winning most of the council seats in the 1980s, it was the Liberals, not the SDP. Why would that be if, the Liberal were just a “sleepy party” or a “historical relic”, and the SDP was the winning force, as the Westminster Bubble in its ignorance often put it?

    Now, the point is Paul, we are probably on the same side now in the party. I am telling you history as I knew it because I was there. Do not necessarily believe what you are told by those who were not, or who have a vested interest in ignoring the truth. In particular, do not believe those who tell you that “Liberal” back then meant “a keen supporter of free market economics”, as the Orange Bookers try to make out.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 10:02pm

    Paul Holmes

    however alternative your political approach there is still the minor obstacle of having to actually get people to vote for you.

    Go and look at what happened in Lewisham during the time I was Leader of the Liberal Democrat council group there. I was just part of the team in that role, but please, don’t lecture me as if I don’t know about winning votes given my activity there.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Mar '16 - 10:28pm

    Paul Holmes

    But I don’t recognise in the slightest what you say about the SDP and their terrible ways

    I don’t blame people who joined the SDP, because most of them were people like you who had no idea of what was going on in the Liberal Party. However, the SDP was founded as a top-down party, making a big thing of its glossy national image, and to a large extent always was a fan club for its Parliamentary leaders.

    When the SDP was founded, it was wearying to have to argue with its local members, about what we were doing and why, when they in their naivety often seemed to think that winning elections was about doing things in a conventional way.

    As I said, the result was that many Liberals took a Stakhanovite “we’ll show ’em” approach, pushing community politics purely as an election-winning technique, and thus losing the radical edge it started off with. Many of those who joined the SDP soon dropped out, when they saw that winning elections was not quite as easy as they supposed, and most of those who hung on eventually got to see the point, which is why the merger did go very smoothly at grass roots level in the end.

    I do feel that the danger of the more centralised political party that the SDP insisted on at the merger was shown by the disaster of the Clegg-led party.

  • An insistence on OMOV for electing the Party Leader and selecting candidates, on Conference making policy and on proper membership registers is not centralisation.

    Again I just do not recognise your portrayal.

    Similarly you can no more ascribe the Liberal vote surge of 1974 to the effect of Community Politics than you can the even greater Alliance vote surge of 1983.

  • Clegg’s destruction of the Party was because he used Coalition to completely by pass the Party and ignore its policies. It was nothing to do with the 1988 Constitution. The idea that an arch Economic Liberal like Clegg is somehow an heir to the SDP is risible.

  • The old SDP (of which I was a member) contained a mixture of people with widely differing political philosophies, the worst of whom were narrow-minded tribalists who hated Liberals for specious reasons. The old Liberal Party contained a mixture of people with widely differing political philosophies, the worst of whom were narrow-minded tribalists who hated the SDP for specious reasons.

    At its best, the Alliance brought together Liberal idealism and SDP practicality, Liberal imagination and SDP common sense, Liberal classlessness and SDP commitment to reducing equality. At its worst, the Alliance failed because of the baleful influence of the tribalists, Owen the worst of them but by no means solely at fault.

    Since then, a completely new force, the Orange Book, has emerged, taken fire, glittered briefly, and burned up. We now need to move onm from there. Instead, amazingly, tribalists of an earlier generation have regressed to the 80s and are still fighting that generation’s fight. It’s almost like Ulster and “Remember 1690”! My plea is – Forget 1690, forget Owen, forget nostalgia, for heaven’s sake let’s look to the future.

  • David Allen is right to say let’s look to the future.

    BUT – if this is to succeed the only position will have to be as a radical critique of the inequalities stemming from modern society and the powers (political and economic) who run it. Look at the Bernie Sanders campaign to see what I mean.

    The difficulty with this is the way leading figures in the party have pursued policies associated with the defenders of inequality (the Tories) and on a personal level seem to have been in a headlong vanity chase to acquire gongs,knighthoods and peerages. All this has been combined with inept governance when actually having power.

    Frankly there is a mountain to climb and we hardly have a bicycle let alone a four wheel drive vehicle. Post May it will be interesting to see how many of the re-joiners renew again.


  • Typo – one frankly is enough.

  • I agree with David Allen and David Raw that we need to look to the future -which is why I have literally just come off the phone from talking to one of our brand new candidates for next years County Council elections (and a very good community campaigner she is too).

    However the idea that you can create a blank slate Party with no reference to the past is wrong and as a Historian by training I will always challenge one sided versions of what happened in the past and what lessons that holds for our future. Which is why I disagreed from day one with the Orange Bookers and their desire to return to the Classical Liberalism of Gladstone’s era.

    If our Party is to rebuild from the disastrous elections of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 we need to be clear about why they were so disastrous. As we are back to the national vote and seat levels of half a century ago we also need to be clear about how we painstakingly built up our strength over that last half century. Back then we were by default the Third Party, today we are the Fourth in a field that is crowded with competitors that barely existed back then. History has a great deal to teach us.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Mar '16 - 12:47pm

    Enough of the chit chat ,what are we going to do ?Sal Britton is heading up a constitutional review .We do need some discipline in policy development or we could end up with another tuition fee fiasco . Suggest that whilst member conversations and plenary sessions at conference have there uses in terms of member engagement they are no substitute for focused green and white papers stages prior to adoption that have been properly costed and have a golden thread to other policy areas .Never again should we go into a general election with back of a fag packet shopping lists aimed solely at appeasing the few and lead to such disappointment by the many when we cannot as the government or part of a government deliver that promise .no one believed Labour on the economy and the Conservatives are now finding some of their half baked policies at the last general election are falling apart at the seam .Lets be the reliable party with deliverable policies.

  • Paul Holmes 29th Mar '16 - 2:10pm

    Neil -not sure what you mean about ‘Tuition Fees fiasco’ and ‘back of a fag packet shopping lists’.

    The Historian in me has to point out that the core of our well thought out Tuition Fees policy had been in place since 1997 and that the 2010 Manifesto was fully costed to the last penny. Or at least that is what both Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg separately proclaimed when launching that Manifesto to the Media! Admittedly they did falsely claim that this was a first for a major Political Party when in fact our 2005 and 2001 (maybe 1997 too?) Manifestos were also full costed. Indeed it used to drive me to distraction as an MP that that we had to nail down every last thousand pounds when Labour and Conservatives would happily have £Billion holes in their Manifestos that the media never challenge(d) them on.

    In terms of ‘not being able to deliver a promise’ of course the Coalition did spend immensely more on other policies such as tax cuts (Income and Corporation), Pupil Premium etc than would have been involved in our supposedly ‘unaffordable’ Manifesto proposal to phase Tuition Fees out over 5 years. As for the infamous pledge -‘to oppose any increase in Tuition Fees’ that would not have cost a single penny to implement.

    The policy paper stages you suggest in developing policy are of course much akin to what is in our 1988 Constitution -and Tuition Fees Policy emerged from such lengthy scrutiny over along period of time.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Mar '16 - 7:50pm

    The Tuition Fees fiasco was not due to the policy, but the PLEDGE. First, we should not have signed it. Second, once we had signed it, we should not have gone back on it. Both decisions were bad politics. Whoever it was in the Campaigns Department who thought it was a good idea to sign a public pledge saying that come what may, regardless of events, our MPs will always vote for a particular policy position clearly did not have a clue. It betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of politics. Parliament is not an electoral college, so candidates simply should not be signing pledges of that kind. And Clegg, despite his apparent opposition to the policy, went along with the idea of signing the pledge, AGAINST the advice of many seasoned activists in the party, especially those with actual experience of campaigning coalition negotiations, who knew that it was bad politics. To be clear, the fiasco was NOT the doing of grassroots activists, it was the fault of politically clueless PR people who thought that signing the pledge would be a jolly PR stunt that would get us lots of votes with no likely consequences because “we will never get into government.” And Clegg, not having a clue about how politics works himself, thought it was a jolly good idea and went along with it.

  • @ Alex MacFie “The Tuition Fees fiasco” “And Clegg, not having a clue about how politics works himself, thought it was a jolly good idea and went along with it.”

    Wasn’t just that one Alex. Try this for size : LDV 10 April 2010 : by a certain Stephen Tall

    “Nick Clegg reveals Tories’ £13bn VAT bombshell” under a big banner – Ten weeks later, the Coalition government announced a rise of VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Mar ’16 – 7:50pm & David Raw 29th Mar ’16 – 9:07pm

    “The Tuition Fees fiasco” “And Clegg, not having a clue about how politics works himself, thought it was a jolly good idea and went along with it.”

    There must be a clean break with the past and this needs a clear statement admitting what was done wrong under NC’s leadership the release of the ’secret’ analysis which blames Clegg entirely would be ideal.

    Cameron’s efforts in response to IDS’ resignation letter – by admitting through Crabb that the planned reductions in disabled benefits was a mistake, which would be reversed – emphasises how important it is to deal with such problems promptly and fully. Otherwise the perceived faults take root and steadily grow. Certainly, from what I have seen, whenever the Party is mentioned and in whatever context other than on BBC News – it is usually viewed as a ‘joke party’ with NC’s tuition fees pledge [or Hannan’s extremely witty Cledge] usually cited. I don’t know if Cameron will succeed in his attempt to convince the electorate that the Tories are a ‘one nation party’ [which of course they are not] – but what I saw of his extremely skilful attempt in the HofC – makes this quite possible.

  • Katerina Porter 30th Mar '16 - 11:27am

    My husband and I joined the Alliance, never having been members of any party though I had voted Liberal. So we each joined one and I cannot remember which way round it was. We admired David Steel, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rogers and had reservations even then about David Owen. Mrs Thatcher’s government became very unpopular at its start and the Alliance popular, up to 50% at one point. It was the Falklands war that fixed it. For me Social Democracy recognizes where the state is needed. In 2014 Demos produced a report on how GDP calculation does not include the value of public investment, only how much is spent. Some examples using US figures included $185 billion per annum spent on surface infrastructure giving $800 billion gain, the Clean Air Act in its first 20 years costing $500 for compliance but $22trillion in health and other benefits, and so on, particularly in education. Going back to history most Western governments whatever their party had Social Democratic policies after the War, and the US already had the New Deal before the War. It was something that De Gaulle and Macmillan agreed on! Those first thirty years of creating welfare states and state economic planning and investment produced enormous increases in well being and prosperity for most of the population – the French call those years les trente glorieux.
    Income tax was very high and politically impossible now though accepted then – marginal rate in the US was 90% for most of that period. Income tax has the advantage of flexibility up or down without the immense destructiveness of our cuts of the last five years which will never be replaced. However all this could not cope with the oil crisis and the inflation that followed and in our case robber baron unions and we got the ideological swing we still have.

  • Matt (Bristol) 30th Mar '16 - 11:56am

    I have viewed this with interest.
    There seem to be multiple different definitions of ‘social democrat’ in evidence:
    a) a person who was a member of the SDP
    b) a person who thinks like the SDP did (this is capable of pejorative usage from those who think the SDP was misguided on certain points)
    c) a person on the historic right of the Labour party, whether or not they were involved in the SDP split
    d) a person on the current right of the Labour party, ie a Blairite (NB – it seems to me that many Labour people now use also ‘progressive’ for this and c))
    e) a person who wants the British politics of the centre-left to be more like that of Europe (A key part of Roy Jenkins’ original motivation in seeking to form the SDP).
    f) a person who wants to build a British cross-party coalition on the centre-left across current party boundaries.

    It seems to me that George in fact wants the social democrat group to be a coalition of all these people, and to draw as many of them as possible into contact with, or into, the Lib Dems.

    Social Liberals seem to be (arguably) people who feel that a left-wing politics can be built within Liberalism, with reference primarily to the concept of liberty and the Liberal thinkers who recognised inequality as a barrier to Liberty, and see Labour and the SDP as – at best – misguided fellow-travellers, or – at worst – a damned nuisance.

  • Neil Sandison 30th Mar '16 - 12:16pm

    Paul Holmes take your point re tuition fees but the fact remains that neither the Labour party or the Conservative party were going back it so no majority in the house would have voted for it. It was nothing more than a political gimmick to attract the student vote. Vince Cable did his very best to save us from this political folly so my comments on policy making stand .Appreciate the additional work required in costing policy but the up side is that MPs and spokesperson then have the ability to defend the policy when it comes under scrutiny .Good structure in policy making should not be dismissed as purely historical but will enable trust for the Liberal Democrats to be restored in future elections.

  • Paul Holmes 30th Mar '16 - 1:18pm

    But the Tuition Fees Policy came out of exactly the detailed policy making process you say is needed. If you believe that the view of one person -however exalted – should override everyone else then you are arguing against the very policy making process you are otherwise advocating!

    Also, are you arguing that a Liberal Democrat Manifesto should only ever contain policies that we know the Labour or Conservative Parties will agree with? Not a lot of point being a separate Party in that case?

  • Alex Macfie 30th Mar '16 - 1:40pm

    As mentioned, it was not the policy but the pledge that was the political folly. Had it not been for the foolish decision (vetted by the party leadership despite its ostensible opposition to the policy) to force our parliamentary candidates to sign the pledge, our U-turn on tuition fees would just have been one of many policy U-turns performed by both Coalition parties. Of course, we still should have explained that what we ended up supporting was not party policy and we would have supported something different if we were in government on our own, but that is also the case for a lot of other things we did in government. Differentiation, or the lack of it, was a major failure of our party in Coalition.

  • @ Alex Macfie “Differentiation, or the lack of it, was a major failure of our party in Coalition”.

    Sorry, Alex, it was something much deeper than that. It was something called substance. It was also something called telling the truth.

    It was compounded later by somehow believing (unlikely) or spinning that those well known American supporters of George W. Bush, the Lehmann Brothers, (David & Ed ?), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were members of the Labour Cabinet and in charge of the Treasury in 2008.

    There is a certain irony in the title given to Mr Clegg’s latest anti-Brexit post on LDV.

  • Neil Sandison 30th Mar '16 - 3:18pm

    Regardless of Paul Holmes comments I still think a deliberative policy structure through green and white papers is the best process and it allows you to adapt policy in the light of changed circumstances policy made in the Summer of 2016 may in fact become outdated by 2020 at least with a white paper stage in 2018 modifications can be made to ensure it remains reasonable up to date before it goes into the manifesto.
    And no I do not support policy made by the secretary of state or minister at the time but we did as Alex and David point out loose our credibility on an important policy issue because of that silly pledge.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Mar '16 - 6:02pm

    David Allen

    Since then, a completely new force, the Orange Book, has emerged, taken fire, glittered briefly, and burned up. We now need to move on from there. Instead, amazingly, tribalists of an earlier generation have regressed to the 80s and are still fighting that generation’s fight.

    David, you are missing the point.

    The point of bringing up the arguments between members of the Liberal Party and members of the SDP between the time the SDP was formed and the merger is that these arguments were NOT about the SDP believing in state intervention and the Liberals believing in unrestricted free market economics.

    We are seeing a lot of comments now, some of them here, which seem to suppose that the division between Liberal and SDPers then was about free market economics. The people who make those comments are giving support to the Orange Bookers and their Orwellian rewriting of history. To some extent, that is what we are seeing here, George Kendall and others unwittingly supporting the Orange Bookers by the way they use the words “Liberal” and “Social Democrat”.

    So I would say to them PLEASE do not give support to the Orange Bookers and their false claims by doing that. It is actually insulting to people like myself, who proudly called ourselves “Liberal” back then, and who did have issues where we disagreed with the SDP, but those issues were NOT about free market economics.

    I do think some of our issues of concern, that were pooh-poohed by SDPers at the time, have been shown up as issues that should have been taken more seriously by the way the Cleggies and the Orange Bookers were able to take control so easily of our party in a top-down way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 31st Mar '16 - 6:17pm

    George Kendall

    I prefer a constitution that says: “we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community” to one that says: “in all spheres it sets freedom first.”

    The phrase that Liberal pushed hardest to be kept in the constitution at the time of merger, because they felt it was the best summary of their beliefs was not the one you seem to believe it was by what you write here. It was “None shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”. That phrase sounds as if it is was written deliberately to counter the line of the Orange Bookers that the main aspect of freedom is lack of state involvement – and I believe it actually was constructed precisely with that intention.

    I am quite certain myself that the move towards a “free” market economy since the time of Thatcher had reduced the freedom of most people, not enhanced it. The Orange Booker line is a view of freedom so skewed towards the wealthy that it is laughable. It shows up their own detachment from the lives of ordinary people that they can’t see that. If you have wealth and contacts to fall back on if things don’t work out for you, sure you can be more experimental and the free market may seem like a fun game to play. If it just means a situation where you are in constant insecurity, there is little guaranteed state support to give you a decent free life, and you always lose out to those with wealth and contacts, the free market is a game you are almost always doomed to lose. It is NOT about true freedom.

    For example, if there was one thing above all others that gave my family true freedom when I was growing up, it was having the security of council housing. Taking that away in the name of the “free market” has had a TERRIBLE effect on people, reducing their freedom as they struggle to find somewhere to live or have to pay huge amounts of their income for it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 31st Mar '16 - 8:00pm

    George Kendall 30th Mar ’16 – 4:40pm

    George, you say you think “on the right of the Labour party” … “sounds a bit insulting” and that you prefer “moderate”. Surely all but the smallest most homogeneous and/or single issue parties are essentially composed (economically-speaking) of a left, centre and right. They are broadly neutral descriptors – whereas I find your ‘moderate’ is a much more loaded descriptor. If these are the moderates, there must also be ‘extremists’!

    It would be very interesting to know just how many of us would prefer a liberal-minded democratic socialist or an illiberal Blairite/centrist/moderate?

    We share many values with Britain’s other centre left parties and traditions including Democratic Socialists, Greens and Social Democrats but with none of them uniquely.

    We need to remember just how many times we found the policies of the moderate-controlled non-socialist Labour Party thoroughly illiberal.

    Having so recently suffered from the Orange Book tendency’s attempt to take over and then almost destroy our party in the process, I really do not want to see our party now become a refuge for careerist Labourites and not particularly liberal middle of the road moderates simply because they choose to call themselves Social Democrats.

    Others may be able to switch parties with the ebb and flow of party fortunes and internal tastes but social justice Liberal Democrats have just one party – this is it – and we should be very careful not to dilute its distinctive values and solutions.

  • I just want to say, in true 70s style: “SPLITTERS” 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Apr '16 - 5:13am

    George, as I have indicated previously, I believe liberal social democrats like Charles Kennedy, Vince Cable along with very many ordinary former SDP members have made a huge contribution to our party and don’t think anyone here is suggesting that self-describing social democrats should leave our party. I personally do not hold any such opinions.

    The question is to what extent new members are primarily being attracted to ourselves on the basis of Tim’s, “If you’re a liberal, I need you to become a Liberal Democrat” and in positive support of our vision of a radically different Britain or primarily because they are simply fleeing something because they are politically small-c conservative big-c Centrists.

    Personally I would readily welcome politically liberal, politically radical, Social Democrats, Greens and Socialists to our radical Social Liberal Democrat party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Apr '16 - 8:07am

    George Kendall

    Firstly, freedom means very different things to different people. For some, it means freedom to have as low taxes as is feasible. I don’t like high taxes, but if the choice is between fairly high taxes or increased poverty, I’d tend to go for the higher taxes,

    Yes, I agree, I always have done. That is just the point made by that great Liberal Party statement “None shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity”.

    I think the Orange Booker line is less clear than you realise.

    No, I’ve made the same point you’ve made here myself in previous messages. The actual Orange Book was a collection of essays, not a coherent manifesto. Although it had a general focus on free market economics, and was in that way definitely a major factor in pushing the party to the right – or perhaps more a signal of how it had been pushed to the right – the essays had a variety of themes, and the authors did not agree on everything.

    I’m just using “Orange Booker” as a shorthand for the sort of person who interprets the phrase “in all spheres it sets freedom first” in the way you are concerned about – and I have precisely the same concerns there as you do. If someone could suggest another phrase that could be used to describe these people that I could agree with, I’d use it, but we know what we mean by “Orange Booker”, don’t we? I refuse to use “economic liberal” or “classical liberal” or any of those phrases they use, because I don’t want to support their claim that extreme free market economics is “liberal” in any way.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Apr '16 - 8:30am

    George Kendall

    Over the last couple of months, I’ve been slowly getting to know some moderate Labour party people, and I think we LibDems have a lot of myths about them. They seem mostly to be to be people who care deeply about reducing poverty and improving opportunities for the disadvantaged.

    I’ve no problem with Labour Party people as individuals. Sure, most of them (not just those you call “moderate”) do care deeply about reducing poverty and improving opportunities for the disadvantaged. My problem with them is always that they don’t really believe in democracy. Almost universally they want a monopoly party of the left, and they believe that party should take power however it can, regardless of what actual support it has. That attitude is what has led to the people who need them most becoming suspicious of them and either not voting or being fooled into voting for right-wing parties.

    During the time I was Leader of the Opposition in Labour-run Lewisham, I always ran a constructive opposition, which meant I didn’t spend my time pouring abuse at them. Very different from how Labour always acted when it lost power to Liberal (Democrat)s in what it thought was places where it had the right to permanent rule. For example, in Tower Hamlets, where it spent its eight years in opposition deliberately running a campaign based on making false accusations of the Liberals being motivated by racism.

    Lewisham was at the time I was a councillor known as a flagship Blairite council. As a result, we tended to have good relationships with the more left-wing anti-Blairite councillors. However, the greatest compliment they could ever pay to use was to say “Why don’t you join Labour?”. The Blairites were just the same. You could have good constructive conversations with them, but they just could not comprehend why you didn’t want to join with them to make Lewisham a one-party state.

    That IS in the end what Labour is about. They think everyone should be in a trade union (I don’t have a problem with that) and all trade unions should be affiliated to Labour – I do have a big problem with that, as that’s what it means: one party state.

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Apr '16 - 9:51pm

    George Kendall

    I think many of the misunderstandings on the internet come about from using poorly defined terms as shorthand, and so, unintentionally, upsetting people.

    Oh sure, but I was often criticised myself for writing over-lengthy comments on LDV, and part of the reason for that was to try and qualify and not use shorthand and show I understood both sides of the argument etc. However, now LDV has placed a limit on the length of what one can write, what is one supposed to do?

    For a long time I avoided using the term “Orange Booker” in the way I have now done for just the reasons you suggest. I remember Michael Meadowcroft, who I knew personally for a while helping him to get elected in Leeds West, writing to me criticising me for things I said about the Orange Book. So, let me make it clear, I’ve no problem with people writing a book like that, of course everyone has a right to argue their case, and we need productive arguments in the party.

    I am, however, concerned at the way people with that point of view have used unfair and undemocratic means to come to dominate our party, taking advantage of the fact that the neo-aristocracy are very much in favour of Orange Bookery type policies for the reason that it benefits them, and so fund that message to be pushed and make sure their type get pushed ahead. I am particularly concerned at the way history has been re-written, and to some extent as I have said you are going along with that, with the entirely false suggestion that the disagreements betweeen Liberal Party people and SDP people in the 1980s were along the lines of Liberal Party people being in favour of unrestricted free market economics, and SDP people being against it.

    To me, the biggest question in current politics is why free market economics seems to have made most of us more miserable and feel less free when its advocates claim the opposite. It seemed to me that the Orange Book came along at just the time it became obvious that we need to question the assertions of the free marketeers, and it did the opposite of that. In that way, it was rather like a book supportive of the claims of USSR-style communism published in the 1970s.

  • Stephen Hesketh 6th Apr '16 - 7:13am

    Matthew Huntbach 5th Apr ’16 – 9:51pm

    Ditto. Excellent summary Matthew.

  • Michael Kingsnorht 29th May '16 - 9:35am

    I was a founder Liberal Democrat and Social Democrat before that. I left the party as I felt the Liberal Democrats had fully embraced economic liberalism and left the mixed economy behind. My political home is no longer in the Liberal Democrats. There is a need for a Social Democrat party more so now than in 1981. I think it’s a must for social democrats across the party boundaries to work together. I am not sure you are going to get Social Democrats on mass to return. I voted against the merger back in 1988, and I feel right to have done so. Rather than trying to get people like me to rejoin, we need a cross-party campaign for electoral reform such as the one’s Owen Winters, and the Electoral Reform Society are fighting to keep alive. The AV vote was a farce. With PR there would be room for a Pro-European Social Democrat party who could work with Liberal Democrats on social issues. Alternatively, you need to look at again and your economic policies and embrace the many good things that the SDP brought at the time of the merger. My comments may not be popular, but I am just giving you my pennyworth of thought!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Chris Moore
    Hello Mary, you say this, "he party made a huge tactical error – when they could have had massive influence on a vote by vote basis – and betrayed millio...
  • Gwyn Williams
    As a student some 44 years ago, I delivered leaflets in a byelection in a new(ish)housing estate on the outskirts of Reading. It was uneventful until a furious ...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might we please have a pamphlet or three on the harsh harm done to so many in our policy-deprived, not-rich fellow citizens and the some 25% of our children w...
  • David Blake
    Leaflets work, but they have to contain more than just 'Labour can't win here'. We need to get people voting for us because of our policies and values, not jus...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Mary Fulton: Confidence & Supply would have had the same risks for us as a full-blown coalition. It would have looked like we were just propping up the Tor...