We’re all “Preamble Lib Dems”

There has been a very minor outbreak of people using the label “Preamble Lib Dem” to describe themselves.

There are two ways of approaching this. The first is to say that all Liberal Democrat members believe in the Preamble to the constitution and therefore can call themselves “Preamble Lib Dems” if they want to.

The second is to ask why a few people feel the need to call themselves this? It appears to be so that they can differentiate themselves from Lib Dem members who, they believe, do not believe, and/or act in accordance with, the preamble. In other words: “I believe in the preamble, but some others I could mention don’t”. If this is in the absence of actually having spoken at length about their philosophy to the people in question, then this seems to me to be arrogant and sanctimonious.

If people sign up and pay up to be a Liberal Democrat then I accept that they believe in the preamble. They are a brother or sister or friend as far as I am concerned. A fellow party member. There are disciplinary procedures for dealing with members who obviously do not believe in the preamble.

That said, people are at liberty to describe themselves how they feel they want to describe themselves. That’s fine. I don’t seek to stop them or cramp their style. But I am equally entitled to say that I do not approve of it.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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104 Comments

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 30th Sep '15 - 6:15pm

    It’s just as irritating as “authentic liberalism.”

    Part of being a member of this party is signing up to the values in the Preamble. It is legitimate to sometimes wonder if someone has beliefs that actually belong in this party, but that is very, very rare.

  • Paul Pettinger 30th Sep '15 - 6:17pm

    People generally use the term ‘preamble Liberal Democrat’, not to differentiate and challenge the validity of others , but to assert where their loyalties lie. I am a preamble Liberal Democrat.

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Sep '15 - 6:30pm

    I must say I chuckled when Paul said to David Allen the other day “How does one become a “preamble Lib Dem”? Is there some sort of initiation procedure? “. Hopefully not involving pigs. Or maybe a bird. Or perhaps a parrot. 😀

    I’m not a Lib Dem anymore and probably voting Conservative for locals and Europeans, but I still don’t trust them and want a stronger Lib Dem party by the time the general election arrives so I can hopefully vote for them again then.

  • Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep '15 - 6:33pm

    Paul Walter

    “I believe in the preamble, but some others I could mention don’t”

    We have just been through a long period where people close to the leadership of the party, including the person the leader appointed as Director of Strategy did just the same thing, publishing articles and books which arrogantly dismissed many, perhaps most, long-term members of the party as “not true liberals”.

    Once again, read Richard Reeves and consider: our leader never disavowed himself from that sort of comment. I’m sorry, but if that sort of abuse is thrown at long-standing party members, those who through it shouldn’t be surprised to get similar back. There is precious little on enslavement by poverty, ignorance and conformity in what Mr Reeves wrote, so it is quite appropriate for those who think those aspects central to liberalism to distinguish themselves from the likes or Mr Reeves and other so-called “authentic” or “true” liberals, who seem to think liberalism is all about cutting state services and dog-eat-dog economics.

  • Stephen Howse 30th Sep '15 - 6:34pm

    “People generally use the term ‘preamble Liberal Democrat’, not to differentiate and challenge the validity of others , but to assert where their loyalties lie. I am a preamble Liberal Democrat.”

    My loyalties lie with the Liberal Democrats. I am a preamble Lib Dem.

  • After reading this article and the comments a number of things came to mind:

    1) The most important point; Eddie thank you for your frankness and we should do everything we can to regain at least your vote and then hopefully your membership
    2) This is the first I had heard of this term and, while I agree people can call and identify themselves as whatever they like, it should never be used to distinguish one group within the party as different or more important than others, as surely that goes against the concepts we are all trying to champion anyway.
    3) I don’t even think I need a 3)

  • David Evans 30th Sep '15 - 6:51pm

    Like Simon, I originally signed on to the Liberal party and its preamble, and I was very attached to it. The point which caused the most confusion stemmed from the word property, which many misinterpreted as a Conservative like protection of the haves rather than what was meant as a protection of liberty.

    Thus it all was put in the context that “Property gives a man independence as he has the means to ride out misfortune or oppression. Thus if his Conservative employer chooses to oppress him, he has the means to withstand the pressure as he has some independent means. Equally he is not forced into total reliance on the state benefits and its associated dependence on the Labour party. This independence is a cornerstone of his liberty.”

  • Preambling Lib Dems? – It sounds like Lib Dems involved in a displacement activity: all very dithering and wishy-washy.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Sep '15 - 8:32pm

    Paul, “There has been a very minor outbreak of people using the label “Preamble Lib Dem” to describe themselves.”

    But there’s only one @Preamble_LibDem 🙂

    1) If you are a Preamble-believing Lib Dem, you don’t need to reinvent it as economic or four cornered Liberalism.

    2) The Preamble remains all-inclusive and accommodating of different strands of Liberal Democrat thought.

    2) If anyone wishes to look for the cause of disunity they should direct their gaze not towards Preamblers but to those Authentic (economic/classical) liberals who sort to ‘Reclaim Liberalism’ from previously silent, no axe to grind, mainstream focus deliverers, canvassers, agents, councillors, etc.

    3) The Labour party dropped Clause 4 due to the activities of their New Labour modernisers. Our ‘modernisers’ were the Marshall/Laws/Browne/Astle etc group and I intentionally use the term to differentiate my Liberal Democracy from that of the aforementioned group some of whom thought that radical Liberals and other independent thinkers should clear off to the illiberal Labour Party of all places!

    Just for the record, I also originally signed up to the Liberal preamble. I did so because the words were inspiring and looked forward to a truly Liberal Britain and world. I did not sign up to be a member of a be nice everyone, all things to all men, soggy status quo-accepting centre party.

  • Well said, Matthew Huntbach. Just read the Reeves article and astonished at some of it……….

    “Fiddly legislation on alcohol minimum pricing” With polite and great respect , what ill informed nonsense. …. And I’m sorry but it makes me really angry.

    Reeves ought to read the evidence base from Sheffield university……. And see as I have seen deaths in a ward from liver failure. There really is a form of ill informed arrogance from so called small l liberals which is quite breathtaking. It is no great comfort to say that the electorate didn’t buy it………though the vested interests in the food and drink trade will be delighted with it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Sep '15 - 8:39pm

    Matthew Huntbach 30th Sep ’15 – 6:33pm

    I agree and would not have made such a lengthy post had I seen Matthew’s post first!

    PS Apologies for missing Mr Richard Reeves off my list! He was obviously another hero of the authentic liberal movement.

  • Peter Bancroft 30th Sep '15 - 9:01pm

    The preamble is suitably vague that I expect most Tories or Labour party members would be able to sign up to it. Having said that, I can see how for some people it contains some inspiration that I might find in the writings of Isiah Berlin or Mill.

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th Sep '15 - 10:19pm

    I’m with Simon Shaw. I signed up to the old preamble but it is a broad church. I agree with most members from Greaves to Reeves, more than I do with those in other parties.

  • @Paul Walter your article title echoes the classic line from Life of Brian “We’re all individuals!”
    To which the correct answer is, of course, “I’m not.”

    @Stephen Hesketh a “preambler” puts me in mind of someone with a beard and cagoule pulling on their walking boots.

    “1) If you are a Preamble-believing Lib Dem, you don’t need to reinvent it as economic or four cornered Liberalism. ”

    Four-cornered Liberalism isn’t a reinvention of the preamble, but a reaffirmatioin of it given it contains the words “we believe in markets where possible”; words which have in the past been forgotten or mislaid by some.

    “2) The Preamble remains all-inclusive and accommodating of different strands of Liberal Democrat thought. ”

    Agreed. See my comment above.

    “2) If anyone wishes to look for the cause of disunity they should direct their gaze not towards Preamblers but to those Authentic (economic/classical) liberals who sort to ‘Reclaim Liberalism’ from previously silent, no axe to grind, mainstream focus deliverers, canvassers, agents, councillors, etc. ”

    Leaving aside the small matter of repeating your numbering, you look to be creating division where there is none. Why is that?

    “3) The Labour party dropped Clause 4 due to the activities of their New Labour modernisers. Our ‘modernisers’ were the Marshall/Laws/Browne/Astle etc group and I intentionally use the term to differentiate my Liberal Democracy from that of the aforementioned group some of whom thought that radical Liberals and other independent thinkers should clear off to the illiberal Labour Party of all places!”

    A tiny number of the self-declared radical Liberals who populate this board give the impression that they are more enamoured of the Corbynite approach than they are of their own party leader and policies. That’s their prerogative, of course, and I wouldn’t want them to leave if here is where they would like to be, but they must find it a frustrating and disappointing experience. Each to their own!

    Furthermore it’s somewhat ironic for them to be accused of calling for people to leave the party for having views incompatible with it, given that seems to be the judgement most often meted out to them!

  • Paul Pettinger 1st Oct '15 - 12:00am

    The preamble includes things like ‘We support the widest possible distribution of wealth’. Clearly some Lib Dems do take issue withe the preamble.

  • @ TCO
    “of the preamble, but a reaffirmatioin of it given it contains the words “we believe in markets where possible”; words which have in the past been forgotten or mislaid by some.”

    Please can you quote more of the paragraph in which ““we believe in markets where possible” appears in the preamble because I seem to have mislaid it.

    I would expect to see it in paragraph 5 – “We will foster a strong and sustainable economy … and works to benefit all, with a just distribution of the rewards …”

    Or we could look in paragraph 6 – “but that the market alone does not distribute wealth or income fairly.”

  • @michael BG its in paragraph 3 (which you call paragraph 5) and the exact quote is “the state allows the market to operate freely where possible”.

  • It’s quite funny really if it wasn’t so sad. Sad in the pathetic way, not the teary way. It’s the same kind of divisive marker, internecine bickering that is going on labour at the moment. Except in typical Lib Dem style, while they go for the jugular and call each other trots and tories we come out with beige, apologetic terms like “preamble lib dem”.

    As a party we are beyond parody sometimes.

  • Lester Holloway 1st Oct '15 - 8:27am

    I’m not a preamble LibDem. Not when the party are interpreting the language that no one shall be enslaved by poverty as exempting concern and action to tackle unequal racial outcomes against people of colour.

  • George Kendall 1st Oct '15 - 8:47am

    @Ryan “It’s quite funny really if it wasn’t so sad”

    It’s not the party, Ryan, it’s the internet. It attracts people who enjoy arguing. Members in local parties throughout the country would be utterly bemused by all this.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Oct '15 - 9:24am

    Paul Pettinger1st Oct ’15 – 12:00am
    “The preamble includes things like ‘We support the widest possible distribution of wealth’. Clearly some Lib Dems do take issue withe the preamble.”

    Lester Holloway1st Oct ’15 – 8:27am
    “I’m not a preamble LibDem. Not when the party are interpreting the language that no one shall be enslaved by poverty as exempting concern and action to tackle unequal racial outcomes against people of colour.”

    Precisely.

  • @Ryan as George says its not a widespread phenomenon, you don’t get it in local parties on the whole. I think the handful of people who describe themselves in this fashion are quite similar to the Blairites in that the influx of new young members has shifted the centre of gravity away from their point of view so its an understand able need to assert themselves.

  • Paul

    you are really pushing some dangerous ideas here. How will the Judean Peoples Front dell themselves apart from the People Front of Judea if they can‘t invent labels to try and ‘brand’ those they consider to be ‘other’ or ‘nasty?’

    Just imagine where all this may lead… soon people will actually have to engage with each others ideas and arguments and not come up with labels such as “Thacherite” “hard left” etc. We could see an outbreak of sensible discussion (ok now I am really going too far).

    I’m not sure you have thought this through…

  • Paul Kennedy 1st Oct '15 - 9:52am

    I thought we were all preamble Lib Dems – after all it’s written on our membership cards, Indeed it was re-reading the preamble that stopped me tearing mine up over tuition fees in December 2010.

    A fair, free and open society and fighting poverty, ignorance and conformity are incompatible with either collectivism (Labour) or defending privilege (Tories) so I don’t think either party can really sign up to it.

    I always pay attention to Lester’s comments and we need to monitor racial outcomes carefully but I don’t accept that the party let alone the preamble tolerates unequal racial outcomes. The pupil premium doesn’t specifically target race but I suspect it has done far more to tackle unequal racial outcomes than many race-specific measures. We also need to tackle unequal gender and orientation outcomes – across all races and religions.

  • I am a Preambling non-Lib Dem.

    I’ll get my coat (and walking boots).

  • @Paul Kennedy tackle unequal outcomes or opportunities? Outcomes are also dependent on the individual and the natural diversity we find in how people choose to live their lives. As liberals we should ensure everyone has the same opportunity to live their life the way they choose, not predetermine the outcome.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '15 - 10:18am

    TCO

    You look to be creating division where there is none.

    As well as Richard Reeves, let us consider what was in the Clegg Coup book. The word “coup” means an undemocratic take-over from the top, and here we have a Clegg supporter actually stating outright that that was what was done. So I think it very clear that there was division, and those responsible for it boasting about it. I think we can also see it has not worked out as these people claimed, there has been no rush of new supporters to the post-coup party.

    The Coalition was always going to be dangerous for us, as we have seen most people in this country don’t understand liberal democratic politics, with its key feature of representatives reaching a compromise, and so launch these attacks on us which suppose that because we supported the only compromise possible we must have done do because it was our ideal, rather than because we are democrats and accept that 57 out of 650 MPs cannot and should not get it all their own way. The last thing we needed was for division to be fomented in the party, with those who had to swallow hardest to accept the coalition made to feel particularly unwanted by “sources close to the leader”.

    Yet these Clegg coup types revelled in the destruction of the party as it was, its loss of support from those they deemed “not true liberals”. Which hints that the mistakes in presentation which caused the damage to be worse may have been deliberate strategy, not mistakes.

    The Preamble is a general statement. Such things have to be written in a way that few would openly disagree with them, the issue is what they choose to emphasise. We have it openly published that those who surrounded Clegg though they had made a big shift away from the party which put the emphasis on what was in that Preamble, and we can see from what that sort write today that their own emphasis is very different. It does not mean their concerns are wrong or illiberal. However, those of us who think it was the wrong direction have every right to say so, and to wish to stick the emphases of the pre-Clegg party.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Oct '15 - 10:25am

    I am not an individual – it would be ludicrous to think that I were.

    Peter Bancroft, as so often, provides light. The debate is much to do with the tensions between the campaigning concentration on ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom from’.

    Marshall Laws and Clegg were clearly frustrated by the way the party before 2007 had campaigned. They did endeavour to and succeeded in shifting the balance between where the Party campaigned on that spectrum of freedoms. They won control of the party and for seven or eight years used that power (made more considerable by the patronage of Government) to change the values and policies of the party, and to select their own campaigns to those ends.

    They sincerely believed (I would say naively) that they could produce significant electoral support for their endeavours. The party then divided into A) those who thought succeeding in this endeavour was more straightforward than their predecessors had had the imagination to see, and B) those who thought it was a little more complicated than they thought.

    Obviously I am part of the ‘old’ (literally and metaphorically) brigade. I therefore immediately had my doubts and expressed them here and in other places. In 2010, I watched in horror as the lessons learned by councils and national parliaments in how to manage situations where no party has overall control were ignored. I kept my piece for a year. But by December 2010 the party was in real trouble but I waited until after the 2011 elections before expressing this, as candidates were in the field until then. 1/2

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Oct '15 - 10:42am

    TCO

    A tiny number of the self-declared radical Liberals who populate this board give the impression that they are more enamoured of the Corbynite approach than they are of their own party leader and policies.

    I am a liberal, not a Leninist, therefore I do not agree with the Leninist model of political party you are promoting here, TCO, one in which members are expected to be uncritical supporter of The Great Leader, and so if The Great Leader has in fact mounted a coup and changed what the party is about, they will go along with the new Party Line.

    To suggest that anyone who is sceptical about some of the claims of the free market fanatics, who thinks that poverty is a barrier to freedom and there is a case for state action to fight against that barrier and the way it tends to increase with a pure free market economy, who is concerned that the general economic direction this country has taken since 1979 is not leading to the freedom and happiness those who led us promised is a “Corbynite” is silly. I am pleased that the success of Corbyn has opened up political debate and widened the spectrum when it had become very squashed into what many electors dismissed as “all parties are the same”. As a liberal I welcome free and wide discussion, don’t you? I think there is a great big political space which is neither traditional hard left Labour nor the Blair/Cameron/Clegg consensus that politics had got stuck into.

    So far, Corbyn seems to be more about a vague hand-waving wish-list than carefully thought-out policy. History tells us that the danger with left-wing idealistic politics is when it comes combined with a Leninist approach to political party. That is all the more reason why there is a need for people who have some sympathy and understanding of what drives the political left to remain outside the dominant left party, and inside one which has a thorough understanding of liberalism. We need political pluralism, a point which the likes of Richard Reeves telling us we should leave the Liberal Democrats and join the Labour Party just do not understand.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Oct '15 - 10:45am

    The Preamble is an excellent document, carefully thought out by people such as Sir Russell Johnson, modernising from the Liberal Party’s equivalent to include enviromental issues and including Social Democratic thinking.
    Although there was a continuing trickle of constitutional amendments i do not recall the preamble being debated at federal conference. Duncan Brack was Head of Policy under Paddy Ashdown’s leadership and is well informed on the history of the parties, so i await an erudite correction.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 1st Oct '15 - 10:58am

    Paul Pettinger

    I don’t know of a single Lib Dem who doesn’t believe we should aim for the widest distribution of wealth possible. The important word is “possible” and that’s where there is disagreement. How do we balance this desire against conflicting liberal ideals? And how does evidence-based policy making fit in?

    It is interesting that there seems to be a broad acceptance among economic liberals that the primary difference between them and “social liberals” is over means, rather than ends. On the contrary, many of the latter seem constantly keen to assert that the difference is much more fundamental.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Oct '15 - 11:13am

    “It is interesting that there seems to be a broad acceptance among economic liberals that the primary difference between them and “social liberals” is over means, rather than ends. On the contrary, many of the latter seem constantly keen to assert that the difference is much more fundamental.”

    Yep, I’ve definitely noticed this as well. I self-define as an ‘economic liberal’ – that doesn’t mean I don’t want equality of opportunity for all children, the eradication of homelessness or an increase in the living standards of the masses. We all want the same things.

    Indeed, I would say we want the same things as most in the Labour Party – the chief dividing line is over how we would achieve those ends. Labour, and many within our own Liberal movement, seem to favour top-down control and solutions which involve greater levels of state spending, whereas I would use choice (and – the key division between ‘economic liberals’ and Tories – the ability to exercise choice) and individual control over spending to empower individuals and communities.

  • As someone who self defines as part of neither group, I think the key difference between social liberals and economic liberals is that economic liberals think it would be REALLY NICE if people could have equal opportunity but sadly we can’t just redistribute wealth to equalise opportunity because that would be illiberal; and social liberals think it would be REALLY NICE if we could not have top-down centralisation, but we have to have it or nobody will do as they are told.

    I personally think there’s knack all point in a choice of providers if you can’t afford any of them, but there’s also knack all point in imposing central solutions on individuals who don’t ever fit into neat little boxes.

    As to whether I am a preamble Lib Dem? I don’t know. But I think it’s telling we’re all spending so much time discussing it.

    [/helpful contribution]

  • David Allen 1st Oct '15 - 12:22pm

    It is blatantly obvious that there are different “wings” within this party. What this article attempts to do is to use semantics as a weapon in the debate. Clearly, if you can get people to believe that the only valid labels for one wing are “sensible guys whose beliefs are right and are bound to be dominant”, while the only valid labels for the other wing amount to “a silly minority who have got it all wrong and don’t belong in the party”, then you have “won” the argument. You have won it, in much the same way that George W Bush won the argument about Saddam Hussein. He repeated the lie that Saddam was allied with Al-Qaida so many times that the majority of Americans now believe it, although experts on Iraq know that there is not a shred of truth in it.

    The right wing of this party commonly adopt the tactic of rejecting all labels that anyone might use to describe them, preferring to present themselves simply as the core and leadership of the party, whose position is essentially unchallengeable. A perfect example of this tactic is TCO’s pretence that those who disagree with him are “creating division where there is none”. This is, of course, a statement of staggering insouciance given the existence of a whole book by a more loose-tongued member of the right wing entitled the “Clegg Coup”. TCO has clearly learned his political tactics from George W Bush.

    (1/2)

  • David Allen 1st Oct '15 - 12:26pm

    Just to add for Lester Holloway, the Preamble does also include “we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality”. So, by all means argue if you think we don’t meet these stated aims in practice, but I don’t think you should be blaming the Preamble.

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Oct '15 - 12:29pm

    Paul, taken literally “the widest possible distribution of wealth” could appear to be calling for a totalitarian communist state as that is a possible model which would allow for a near perfect distribution of wealth. It also implies that private property (as it being part of wealth) would probably have to be banned.

    You don’t want any of that and neither do I, so we both see that clause in metaphorical terms. i’m not even sure we particularly interpret it differently – I see it as potentially alluding to LVT and/ or a wealth tax, which I’m guessing we both support.

    Practically there is a limit to how much you would want to push wealth to equal levels (a society without any difference in wealth at all would in effect be unable to function), but even then if we were to sit down in person and look at what that might look like the difference is in degrees.

    The phrase also makes allusions to the idea that a greatly unequal society probably has something wrong with it. Here I think you and I would draw different conclusions. I have great interest in the more equal societies of Scandinavia and what I’ve learnt is that’s primarily driven by quite complicated social, cultural and historical factors rather than the state. Here my guess is that you’d see it primarily as being about levels of central taxation.

    Does all of this really imply that you’re therefore a “preamble Liberal Democrat” and those with other opinions are not? That seems a very difficult argument to make.

  • Shaun Cunningham 1st Oct '15 - 12:50pm

    May is 8 months away, the fight between now and then will need all our Kinetic energy, so the preamble debate, is there one honestly, will have to wait. Come on folks stop this ridiculous nonsense and start focusing on the goalmouth.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Oct '15 - 1:04pm

    David Allen says: “Clearly, if you can get people to believe that the only valid labels for one wing are “sensible guys whose beliefs are right and are bound to be dominant”, while the only valid labels for the other wing amount to “a silly minority who have got it all wrong and don’t belong in the party”, then you have “won” the argument.”

    I strongly agree with this, and I’ve seen plenty so-called ‘left-wing’ Liberal Democrats trying to do exactly this – paint themselves as moderate and mainstream, and ‘right-wingers’ as extreme and illiberal.

    Those of us on both ‘sides’ who are sensible and reasonable recognise that there are differences of opinion to be accommodated, and want a party which is big and mature enough to handle that. Those of us on both ‘sides’ who try to do what David describes, if they are successful, will doom this party to total irrelevance. In our FPTP system, you need a big tent. Some of us may subscribe to one or more of the four corners of liberalism more, or to some parts of the preamble more, but I don’t think there are any but a tiny handful who genuinely couldn’t describe themselves or be described as signing up to the whole of the preamble.

  • >The second is to ask why a few people feel the need to call themselves this?

    The reason I infer from this label is that they believe in the hopes and aspirations contained in the Preamble but they don’t agree with the direction the party is (currently) travelling in and hence it’s current leader, policies agreed at Conference etc..

  • Geoffrey Payne 1st Oct '15 - 1:17pm

    There was a debate during the Coalition about how committed the party leadership was to the preamble of the constitution. They supported benefit cuts that put people into greater poverty and ruined their lives. It seemed at least to be against the spirit of the preamble where we look forward to a society where none shall be enslaved by poverty.
    But we have argued endlessly over that and that moment has passed. From now on I believe the party will be committed to reducing poverty and opposing benefit cuts. I would like to think that we are all preamble Lib Dems now.

  • Chris Randall 1st Oct '15 - 1:24pm

    I think everyone of us should read the full preamble at least once a year if not monthly, it would at least hold the yellow Tories and yellow Labour that exists in all of us under reasonable control.

  • Stephen Howse 1st Oct '15 - 1:38pm

    “From now on I believe the party will be committed to reducing poverty and opposing benefit cuts.”

    I think we need to be spelling out how we’d run the welfare system differently, not just angrily opposing cuts. Labour will do that plenty, after all. We need to be spelling out how we’d make the system more compassionate towards those reliant on it, more understanding of individual need, and more effective at helping people off benefits and into work.

    I’ve been unemployed in the recent past, and it was pretty horrible. I am sure there are good people working at JobCentre Pluses, and some were sympathetic, but some members of staff were cold, uncaring and harsh, which when you’re broke and feeling crappy about yourself because you are out of work and want to be back in work is the last thing that you need.

    We can cut the welfare bill in the longer term *and* do it in a way that ensures none are enslaved by poverty – we can build more housing, including social housing, which would do more than anything else to bring down the rents paid by the state for those who cannot afford to pay themselves. There are things we could do which’d cost nothing but would help people to get off in-work benefits, too, like allowing them to volunteer for longer than the 16 hours a week currently allowed under DWP rules, and waiving signing on for people who undertake work experience or educational courses they’ve sourced for themselves.

  • @Stephen Howse “I strongly agree with this, and I’ve seen plenty so-called ‘left-wing’ Liberal Democrats trying to do exactly this – paint themselves as moderate and mainstream, and ‘right-wingers’ as extreme and illiberal. ”

    I also agree with this, and their usual tactic is to pick extreme libertarian positions and describe them as economic liberalism / Orange Bookism. This differs quite markedly from the self-declared admiration for distinctly left-wing/socialist positions that they often espouse.

  • @Jennie 1st Oct ’15 – 12:16pm — Good points, well made.

    @Peter Bancroft 1st Oct ’15 – 12:29pm
    “Paul, taken literally “the widest possible distribution of wealth” could appear to be calling for a totalitarian communist state as that is a possible model which would allow for a near perfect distribution of wealth. It also implies that private property (as it being part of wealth) would probably have to be banned.”

    — I thought that as I read it, and then had an epiphany as to why I’m still a Lib Dem and not a “totalitarian communist”, despite being terribly “left wing”.

    We want the widest possible distribution of wealth, not the widest possible distribution of poverty.

    Liberal Democrats should encourage the ethical accumulation of wealth, the security of property, and independence – for everyone – just not at the punitive expense of others (socially or economically, rich or poor, unionised or not).

    So to a “Preamble Lib Dem” that should mean responsible, but liberal economic policy – AND – a sensitive social policy. If we can’t achieve both, we’re failing… (though If *I* had to choose, I’d err on the side of good social policy first).

  • Bill le Breton 1st Oct '15 - 3:22pm

    “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.”
    ― John Milton, Areopagitica

  • David Evans 1st Oct '15 - 4:56pm

    All Liberal Democracy involves making judgements and balancing fundamentals, as the preamble clearly sets out. So where I have the greatest difficulty is those who want to impose total moral absolutes above everything else and then use it to demean others’ Liberalism because they disagree. To me, everyone who creates a dispute over another person’s religious belief to undermine their liberal credentials; or whether it is their being a feminist first and a Lib Dem second; or their LGBT activism, or their age, or whether they are a Social Liberal or an Economic Liberal, they are all ignoring that key bit of the preamble.

    Whether our strapline for the General Election (or at least for part of it) “Stronger economy, Fairer society”, should have been “Fairer economy, Stronger society.” is much less important than the “Allowing everyone to get on in life.”

  • Duncan Brack 1st Oct '15 - 5:07pm

    Since Richard Underhill has invited me to comment, I will. As far as I remember, there has only ever been one debate and set of amendments to the preamble, at the autumn 1989 conference. This was on a proposal to remove the reference to support for NATO (and the Commonwealth) that was included in the original preamble, at the insistence of the SDP merger negotiators, based on distrust of Liberal leanings on defence. Agreement on the Liberal Democrats’ first policy paper on defence, at the same conference, coupled with the evident ending of the Cold War, made everyone rather more relaxed about the issue, and it passed without significant opposition.

    A number of people at Bournemouth suggested that the preamble should be revised, and the FPC and FE are happy to look at it – any suggestions welcome. It could always be tinkered with, of course, but I’d suggest we should restrict ourselves to major revisions only (if any).

  • @ TCO
    ‘@michael BG its in paragraph 3 (which you call paragraph 5) and the exact quote is “the state allows the market to operate freely where possible”.’

    But you have omitted that ““we believe in markets where possible” is not in the preamble. Thank you. We can’t even agree on the number of paragraphs. I wonder if you are counting sections and not paragraphs. The sentence in which your last quote appears is: “We want to see democracy, participation and the co-operative principle in industry and commerce within a competitive environment in which the state allows the market to operate freely where possible but intervenes where necessary”. This allows for lots of intervention.

    I was surprised to find much in the Richard Reeves New Statesman’s article I could agree with – “attacking the hoards of power that disfigure our politics and economy, and to keeping the state out of private lives”, “The financial crash of 2008 and the MPs’ expenses scandal of the following year exposed the rottenness of the British institutional establishment: overcentralised, under-regulated, elite, complacent and closed”, “We urgently need to modernise the UK’s outdated political and economic institutions. We need radical reform of the banking system, parliament, the structure of our companies, the tax system, media ownership, party funding. … a bold redistribution of power”, “It is not Britain that is broken. It is the British establishment”, “On the economy, a stronger public case should be made for public investment in infrastructure – preferably via a national infrastructure bank … for a big push on employee ownership and mutuals; and for a clearer commitment to green growth.” Of course there was also lots I disagreed with.

    With regard to economic liberals I have the impression that they want to continue with the economic policies of the last 35 years which has increased inequalities in Britain, and that they don’t believe that governments should build enough houses so everyone who wants one can have one and run the economy so that everyone who wants a job can have one. They put other concerns above these two aims.

  • Dave Orbison 1st Oct '15 - 6:53pm

    I can’t confess to being a great political scholar. When I joined them ~ 2007 it was in protest at Labour’s support for the Iraq war and due to their disregard of civil liberties. This became ironic as Clegg, in response to criticisms of the Coalition, told Conference in 2013 that “people who like protest should join the Labour Party” Of course he went on to forecast great things for the LibDems by 2015. I subsequently took his advice.
    But having read the contributions in this thread it simply reinforces my view that there are two groups within the LibDems – the social and eco ‘liberals’. I have followed the arguments of both camps but come decisively down on the side of the social liberals. The eco liberals seem to become almost rabid at the suggestion that the state should play any role in almost any part of our lives.
    Indeed, Corbyn’s willingness to reply on the state to help industry or people is often used as a major criticism on LDV (to the point of much ridicule) by some (maybe many) eco liberals.
    So I went back to the LibDem ‘preamble’ and read it in full. Given the demonising of the state by some I was somewhat surprised to read in the preamble “We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.”
    Now the preamble could have stayed silent on the role of the state but it has not. My interpretation of its inclusion and in the literal interpretation of the wording (should there be any other interpretation) is that the state is seen as a positive body and one that could and should help citizens achieve the aims cited in the preamble. In which case why are eco liberals seemingly so anti-state?

  • @Michael BG “With regard to economic liberals I have the impression that they want to continue with the economic policies of the last 35 years which has increased inequalities in Britain, and that they don’t believe that governments should build enough houses so everyone who wants one can have one and run the economy so that everyone who wants a job can have one. They put other concerns above these two aims.”

    That may be your impression, but have you ever talked to one to find out?

  • @Dave Orbison “The eco liberals seem to become almost rabid at the suggestion that the state should play any role in almost any part of our lives.”

    Do they really.

    “My interpretation of its inclusion and in the literal interpretation of the wording (should there be any other interpretation) is that the state is seen as a positive body and one that could and should help citizens achieve the aims cited in the preamble. In which case why are eco liberals seemingly so anti-state?”

    The short answer is that they’re not. Let’s take two examples:

    – a centralised state-planned and state-delivered education system, funded by taxation
    – a decentralised, part state-delivered and part private-delivered education system, paid for using vouchers and funded by taxation

    In both cases the state is helping citizens achieve the aims prescribed in the preamble. But one is Socialist, and the other is Liberal.

  • David Allen 1st Oct '15 - 8:18pm

    It’s interesting to compare the old Liberal preamble words “every citizen shall possess liberty, property, and security” with the newer Liberal Democrat replacement wording “fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”. David Evans helpfully explains that the reference to “property” was included as a guarantor of liberty and security, rather than a form of class prejudice in favour of the haves. To requote the contemporaneous explanation which David cites:

    “Property gives a man independence as he has the means to ride out misfortune or oppression. Thus if his Conservative employer chooses to oppress him, he has the means to withstand the pressure as he has some independent means. Equally he is not forced into total reliance on the state benefits and its associated dependence on the Labour party. This independence is a cornerstone of his liberty.”

    This reveals that the old Liberal preamble was a creation of its times, a position which was valid then but is surely valid no longer. Apart from the blatant sexism of “property gives a man independence”, the old Liberals didn’t have to tackle the problems faced by Generation Rent!

  • George Kendall 1st Oct '15 - 8:19pm

    @Dave Orbison “why are eco liberals seemingly so anti-state?”

    Hi David,

    I can’t speak for them, but my guess is this is because the way a lot of people debate is by picking out the things other people say that they disagree with, rather than highlighting what they agree with.

    If lots of rightwing Tories visited us, and made the sort of anti-state remarks they do on ConservativeHome, you might find some of these anti-state Lib Dems were actually pretty pro-state.

    At some point, hopefully in the next week, I’m going to be critiquing the Tories with another article or two. I hope what I say will come over as clearly left-of-centre.
    From past experience in the private members forum, it’s possible these so-called right-wingers could agree with me. We’ll see. They didn’t seem to have a problem with my article https://www.libdemvoice.org/why-i-am-a-social-democrat-47486.html

  • @Dave Orbison – we’re pro an enabling state, but anti a prescriptive state. Hopefully you’ll be able to understand the difference from the example I’ve given.

    Far too many supposed liberals believe that the only solution for a problem is one imposed centrally, or even locally by the state, and delivered by the state in an invariant and uniform fashion.

  • James Baillie 1st Oct '15 - 11:53pm

    TCO: my critique of your position would be that you’ve failed to consider a number of factors, such as whether the choice mechanism is viable or appropriate in this situation, and whether the model you claim as the only “Liberal” option would actually restrict people’s freedom in other ways. Choice mechanisms and markets do not always in and of themselves create greater liberty for people, because they can only do so in situations of perfect information and competition, which don’t actually exist. In situations where a choice mechanism is inappropriate, it may well be more liberal to be able to centrally plan services if this makes them more easily accessible for citizens, ensuring they are well situated and on an even footing and thus helping create a more consistent standard of services and liberating people to do other/better things with their time than, say, faffing around trying to fight to get their kids into a particular school.

  • David Allen 2nd Oct '15 - 12:22am

    The centre-left wing of this party are commonly willing to present an open and honest case for the beliefs they stand for. Part of that case often involves adopting some form of identity label. The right wing response is to seek to deny the validity of all such labels, and hence present those who disagree with them as a bunch of disunited mavericks.

    Many on the centre-left have consequently described themselves as “traditional” Lib Dems. The right-wing response has been that this is invalid because a minority of right-wingers were also in the party before 2007 (albeit with little influence). I have adopted the idea (I think originated by Stephen Hesketh) of using the label “preamble” Liberal Democrats. The Preamble is philosophical, so it does not unhelpfully cast practical policies in stone. But its opening “we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity” very clearly stands in opposition to the Conservatives and their allies.

    The “Preamble” label therefore describes rather well what this party has always stood for. Under its new leader, it has the opportunity to restore this traditional position.

  • @ TCO
    “That may be your impression, but have you ever talked to one to find out?”

    I don’t think my local party as anyone who thinks of themselves as totally an economic liberal so my impression is created by reading comments of such people here.

    So why don’t you tell me what parts of the economic policies of the last 35 years you would change so governments could deal with the failure of the market with regard to housing and employment?

  • @James Baillie. My critique of your position is that it can be summarised as “you’ll get what you’re given /we think is best for you, regardless of what you think is best for yourself or what you consider your own best interests to be .”

    Now that is an intellectually consistent position, but it’s not a Liberal one. Its one I’m sure Mr Corbyn would agree with.

  • @michael BG you call the housing crisis a market failure. The inflated property market is a result of too much demand and not enough supply, and the availability of cheap money for mortgages. The first is due to government imposed planning restrictions limiting the availability of a scarce resource (land) and the second due to low interest rates which are set by a quasi government organisation responding to government – set targets.

  • What a brilliant phrase. I had not used it before, but I’ll use it from now on. Seems to me that after the coalition, the party needs to return to espousing the core principles of the preamble.

  • Stephen Hesketh 2nd Oct '15 - 9:11am

    Michael BG 2nd Oct ’15 – 2:55am
    [[@ TCO “That may be your impression, but have you ever talked to one to find out?”]]

    “I don’t think my local party as anyone who thinks of themselves as totally an economic liberal so my impression is created by reading comments of such people here.”

    Absolutely right Michael, unfortunately for the TCO analysis, in my constituency the members are also traditional mainstream preamble Liberal Democrats. Only one, as it happens a close working colleague, self identities as ‘orange book-ish’.

    Far from being some isolated lefty, I actually find many to be of a similar mainstream persuasion – and can recommended the Birkdale Focus Blog to all LDV readers as an excellent example of this.

    I keep plugging away on this sort of thread because the Clegg coup was a genuine attempt to recast the beliefs of the party without obtaining its wider democratic agreement.

    A very small but well connected group of think tank members, academics and NC-circle colleagues appear unable to accept that their venture has failed within the party and with our wider core vote.

    The Liberal Democrats are primarily the party of British style Social Liberal Democracy. By all means let us debate specific policies (which must change with time and events) but a failure to accept what we are philosophically and what we all sign up to via the Preamble remains a coup-inflicted open wound. Until we accept this, the wound will not heal.

  • David Evans 2nd Oct '15 - 9:25am

    @David Allen. I appreciate your points, but I’m not totally sure that the old Liberal preamble is as out of date as you may think. From a historical perspective “Generation Rent” is not a new phenomenon; indeed home ownership is higher now than it was 30 years ago. In 1980 owner occupation comprised 50% of all households having been on the rise for a great many years. It rose to 64% in the early 2000s and since then has fallen back to 60% (in 2012, latest data I can find quickly – Sorry). In that regard the Lib Dem preamble developed in the 1950s (I think) was ahead of its time and designed as an aspiration towards a more liberal society, and envisaged a way out of dependence into independence and liberty. In that regard it was prophetic and successful. So perhaps it is something we need to build on rather than consider as being simply a child of its time.

    Regarding your comment on blatant sexism, I think we need to remember that in its terminology the preamble was a child of its time. In those days, while sexism was more common, the use of the word man was in many circles used and understood to be simply a shorthand for all people, as in the expression mankind. In the case of the preamble, it wasn’t sexism, just using language people understood.

  • James Baillie 2nd Oct '15 - 11:10am

    TCO – rubbish, firstly, and secondly it would be nice if you didn’t resort to slinging the “no true liberal” fallacy. The fact that something is state or local government provided does not mean that there are no feedback mechanisms into it, that’s the whole point of a democracy. Have you ever lived in a rural area? In places like where I grew up the idea of putting a choice mechanism into school selection is a total absurdity. People can only get to one school, because only one school is nearby enough and only one school will provide necessary local transport. Having vouchers that theoretically allow them to go to the next door catchment would be a pointless imposition, and profit-making companies running schools within that would just soak people’s money out of the system into business owners’ pockets whilst providing no choice anyway. The liberal position is to ensure that people have more control over their services, of course, but the idea that a choice/market mechanism as opposed to a democratic mechanism is always the best way to do that is simply a fantasy.

  • Peter Bancroft 2nd Oct '15 - 11:57am

    I’d assumed the former liberal pre-amble’s reference to “property” is about the right to ownership, rather than the right to own your own house. Property (as in ownership of private resources) has always been a bedrock of liberalism and it’s only relatively recently that at an ideological level we should treat economics in a utilitarian way as social democrats do (I.e. You only allow people to engage in trading to the degree that it generates a positive outcome).

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Oct '15 - 12:09pm

    James Baillie 2nd Oct ’15 – 11:10am This might be ambiguous, a lot of local government politics is about rubbish.

  • David Allen 2nd Oct '15 - 12:46pm

    David Evans, thanks for a thoughtful response. Our back history is littered with policy proposals which seemed to make sense at the time but never really took off: the property owning democracy, employee share ownership, incomes policy to control inflation (now superseded by the Thatcher policy of making unions too weak either to cause inflation or to prevent rising inequality!) being examples. Some of our ideas older had flaws (though not necessarily crippling flaws), others just didn’t grab the imagination of the governing parties, while still others were swallowed up and partially adopted by governing parties.

    To say that many of our past proposals had merit isn’t the same as saying that they should be brought back now. Yes, owning my own property provides me independence and liberty, but the old Liberal ambition that all or most people could achieve a similar independence has not been realised in practice. Instead, I and my generation are privileged. We need to help Generation Rent, and I don’t think ownership is the answer.

    Unless, that is, you are a Tory, and you think it is a good idea to provide heavily discounted home ownership to a special group of people whose votes you are buying, at the expense of everyone else – council tenants under Thatcher, now housing association tenants under Cameron. The Tories understand that the best scams to pull are the old and tried ones! I trust we won’t be cheerleading for any of that.

    PS on sexism, I’m old enough to hanker for the simplicity of “property gives a man independence” and similar phrasing, much more elegant than “gives a person independence”. Yes, the Liberal preamble was a child of its time and should not be blamed for its language. Perhaps one day we’ll be able to revert to the use of “man” to mean “human”, knowing that sexual equality has been achieved. But not yet, sadly!

  • David Evans 2nd Oct '15 - 12:47pm

    Peter,
    Yes, I think you are right, in the liberal party preamble property was meant in a wider sense than just a home. I think that the utilitarian approach to economics you mention is a better way than just liberty, so long as it is properly regulated (and not just arbitrarily controlled). Thus in an oligopoly price fixing between consenting business units must be illegal as it is used simply to extract more from customers who often have no choice and so impinges on their liberty unduly and inappropriately.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 2nd Oct '15 - 1:09pm

    In the Governance Review Paper it is suggested the Preamble might be changed. This is a live issue.

  • Neil Sandison 2nd Oct '15 - 1:48pm

    Antony Hook .Governance Review given all the comments here I would suggest that they don’t go near it with a 40ft barge pole !

  • Having given it some thought since re-reading the preamble, Freedom of Property feels like much more than (home) ownership.

    It could be seen as a not towards economic liberalism, but I think it’s much more fundamental than that, and I’d very much like it to stay. It differentiates and protects Liberal Democrats of all colours from accusations of being hippy-dippy/totalitarian-communists/elitist.

    It’s a shield against those who would have everything be entirely state-controlled, with fewer personal freedoms – and a sword against those who engineer society so that property is the sole reserve of the “Haves”.

    It’s about both the independence of means, and the responsibility of ownership – and it’s an extremely grown up and nuanced concept, in a world full of simplistic nonsense.

  • @James Baillie unfortunately like many in the party you seem to fetishise local government without looking at it’s considerable problems as a feedback mechanism:

    – many local government areas are one party states
    – elections are typically decided by less than a third of the electorate
    – elections are held once every four years, a timescale much too long to be sensitive to needs
    – issues are all wrapped up in one bundle and not differentiated

    I also grew up in a rural area and it’s not the case that “people can only get to one school”; how do you think the tripartite system worked in rural areas?

    For many people the local government-provided school does not meet their needs and they have no alternative but to entrust their child’s education to it, however flawed that may be and however far it might be from meeting their needs.

    Beyond a few genuine emergencies, I can think of no situation where an individual might not want to exercise a degree of control over what happens to them.

  • @ TCO

    I think a failure of the private sector to meet the demand for houses can be called a market failure. It is a falsity to say the planning system is to blame. In 2014 planning permissions for 240,000 houses was given. In 2012-13 only 135,500 houses were built and 214,000 planning permissions given. The reason seems very clear to me. In the 1960’s nearly 200,000 council houses were built a year, now very few are built and Housing Associations only build about 20,000 a year. (http://leftfootforward.org/images/2011/09/House-building-in-the-UK-1955-2010.jpg)

    The solution seems simple to me. The government nationally and locally need to build 200,000 new houses a year. It might be difficult to build 450,000 houses a year but that should be the minimum target. I would prefer 500,000 so within 10 years no one who wants their own home can’t have one.

  • David Allen 2nd Oct '15 - 6:34pm

    AM, David, Peter,

    What you’re saying is that “property” stands in general for ownership of private resources – in other words, wealth. As the orginal Preamble pointed out, “property” or “wealth” gives an individual freedom both from dependence on state benefits and from exploitation by an over-mighty employer.

    Sounds wonderful! Only one little question, is this “property” to be something anyone who is willing to work is readily going to obtain, or is it – as it is today – something which increasing numbers of people in the UK cannot realistically hope to obtain?

    A generation ago, many couples had only one member in work and could still afford house purchase. Now, many couples have both members in work and cannot afford a house. That shows how the increase in capital values relative to wages (as Piketty showed) has produced a massive shift toward greater inequality.

    The old Liberal preamble was written at a more optimistic time when it was not stupid to believe that more and more people could become “men of property”. Things are very different now.

    I’m all in favour of making it our urgent priority to reverse the process of growing inequality. But it won’t be achieved by a complacent belief that we can all readily attain wealth.

  • Peter Watson 2nd Oct '15 - 7:41pm

    @Michael BG “I think a failure of the private sector to meet the demand for houses can be called a market failure.”
    Supplying a smaller number of houses so that demand and prices are high and maximum profit can be realised on each new house could be called a market success. But a failure for society.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '15 - 8:43pm

    David Allen

    This reveals that the old Liberal preamble was a creation of its times, a position which was valid then but is surely valid no longer. Apart from the blatant sexism of “property gives a man independence”, the old Liberals didn’t have to tackle the problems faced by Generation Rent!

    Well yes they did. Private renting was the dominant form of housing tenure at the beginning of the 20th century, and it remained that way for several decades. However, after that it was definitely seen to be on the way out, and I remember by the early 1980s it was seen as a historical relic thing. It came back with the end of rent control, but even then was supposed to be mainly for those seeking temporary accommodation. It was, of course, the right-to-buy and failure to replace sold-off council housing that brought it back.

    On property, look up the Distributist movement. Although somewhat fringe, it did have quite an influence on the Liberal Party as it was struggling to build a distinct identity between the Labour Party and the Conservatives. The Distributist movement, however, had links with the Catholic Church, part of why it got forgotten among Liberals, and its memory tends to be kept alive by far right free marketeers, particularly in the USA where it is linked to the religious right.

    Note, however, that the free marketeers who keep alive the memory of the Distributist movement keep a very partial memory of it. They ignore those aspects of it which were as strongly anti-capitalist as anti-socialist. In particular, they ignore the fact that the Distributists were strongly opposed to people owning property in excess of their need. Free marketeers these days call any attempt to impose property taxes an attack on property-ownership, but the Distributists were all in favour of taking property away from people when it was more than a single house, or a small family business.

    Of course, it was unrealistic even at the time, and is much more so given the scale of modern society. Also the Distributists never really faced up to the contradiction that they were opposed to a large state, and yet to get what they wanted working, it would need a big state mechanism to stop people owning above a certain amount.

  • nvelope2003 2nd Oct '15 - 9:14pm

    I wonder what sort of place the UK would be in 50 years time if we built 500,000 house every year.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Oct '15 - 9:19pm

    Dave Orbison

    Now the preamble could have stayed silent on the role of the state but it has not. My interpretation of its inclusion and in the literal interpretation of the wording (should there be any other interpretation) is that the state is seen as a positive body and one that could and should help citizens achieve the aims cited in the preamble.

    Yes, that was the intention of those words, they were not considered controversial when the Preamble was written. The big arguments over the Preamble was whether to include explicit mention of membership of NATO and the EU (SDP for, some Liberals against). The fact that you were surprised by those words indicates just how much the Liberal Democrats have had their image changed by a relatively small group of people who stand for something far removed from what the party stood for when it was founded, and who were non-existent as an influence in the party until very recently. As Stephen Hesketh puts it – I think what he writes applies to MOST Liberal Democrat constituency parties – the sort of view you seem to think is standard in the party is in fact held by very few ordinary members.

    For many years, the idea that liberalism ought to be primarily about thinking the state a bad thing was something put forward only by Tory commentators on those rare occasions where they had to write something about the Liberal Democrats, and since they knew nothing about the party and couldn’t be bothered to do any research into it, that was what they came up with. It was laughed off by party members as ludicrous, with the universal position being a pragmatic one which accepted there was a role for an active state in preserving freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity, and indeed in ensuring property remained widely distributed.

    The problem came when our party seemed to get taken over at the top by people whose only knowledge of it was what they read in the newspapers. So they actually took this nonsense seriously.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Oct '15 - 11:33pm

    I like the preamble and have no desire to change it, but think it is important we don’t fetishise it. As an evangelical Christian, I have enough Holy Writ in my life already. I was voting for the party well before I read the preamble, awareness of the preamble dimly impinged on me during the period when I got more interested in the idea of being a (semi) active supporter, but I think it is entirely likely that without the preamble I would still be a Liberal Democrat.

    The constitution of a party exists, in my book, to create a broadly defined park in which several bands of children can play and interact, in this case radicals, liberals, democrats, social liberals, social democrats, free-traders, community advocates, reformers, internationalists, constitutionalists, devolutionists, federalists, centrists, localists, and several other tribes we could probably invent terms for…

    Human beings seem incapable of creating any form of words that is capable of being interpreted in one way only, and it is certainly unlikely that such a document could ever be created by committee.

  • Matt (Bristol) 2nd Oct '15 - 11:35pm

    Oh, and I quite like the Limehouse Declaration too, although it lacks a fair bit as poetry and is clearly a statement of protest rather than of self-definition.

  • The preamble is vitally important, and yes some people are using it to draw attention to the gulf that they feel exists between the current party and their own positions. The question is, for them, ‘which has strayed?’ – you can get an answer by filtering policy through the preamble.

  • Stephen Hesketh 3rd Oct '15 - 1:50pm

    Matt (Bristol) 2nd Oct ’15 – 11:33pm
    “The constitution of a party exists, in my book, to create a broadly defined park in which … radicals, liberals, democrats, social liberals, social democrats, free-traders, community advocates, reformers, internationalists, constitutionalists, devolutionists, federalists, centrists, localists, and several other tribes we could probably invent terms for…”

    Indeed Matt and most of us are, in practice, shades of all of these things; to which I would add green, humanist and economic Liberals for starters.

    We essentially all got on together as Liberals and then Liberal Democrats. Yes there were policy disagreements, differences in emphasis and, being human, the occasional personal clash, but we all broadly agreed with the inclusive Preamble and the general direction of the party.

    And then emerged a divisive force not as a bottom up democratic movement from within the party but a top down, Westminster, Think Tank, SpAd and Academia-employed elite who effectively didn’t understand or appreciate the decades of work many had put into the party, their local communities and what had been achieved even without being in Government. This was our New Labour/Blairite moment.

    Having envisaged the potential to win over a slice of the soft Tory vote, they had a new way to do things and a new core vote to cultivate. They were going to ‘Reclaim Liberalism’.

    I obviously don’t need to mention names or remind fellow members how well it all turned out for us in May.

    Yes, I personally tend towards the radical, green, egalitarian, devolutionist and democratic parts of our Preamble and belief spectrum, but my issue with those who sought and still seek to ‘Reclaim Liberalism’ and make it ‘four cornered’ is actually more fundamental – it stems from me being a democrat. I am a Liberal Democrat because I don’t like centre-imposed, top-down politics.

    If the party had repositioned itself as a result of democratic debate and agreement then I would have a membership choice to make; it turned out there was not to be a debate.

    Laying down our agreed core beliefs, values and aims in the Preamble provides a firm reference point in the ebb and flow of daily life and politics. Not unlike your bible Matt.

  • @ nvelope2003
    “I wonder what sort of place the UK would be in 50 years time if we built 500,000 house every year.”

    I would not expect us to build 500,000 house a year after we have built that number for 10 years. I would expect it to reduce down to about 300,000 if immigration into Britain is at the current levels and even less if new houses are only needed for the number new households that wish to be created every year.

    Less than 3% of the land in the UK is built upon. In 2013 there were nearly 28 million dwellings in the UK and only just over 2 million are “Council houses”. If we have 33 million homes by 2020 we would have no housing shortage and the amount of built on land would increase by ½% if the new homes were built to the current average size.

    @ David Allen
    “The old Liberal preamble was written at a more optimistic time when it was not stupid to believe that more and more people could become “men of property”. Things are very different now.”

    I don’t think this has to be so. If there was full employment wages would increase and inequalities would reduce. If there were another 5 million houses then the decline in ownership could be stopped. Thereafter it is possible if wages for everyone are high and the number of new houses being built meets supply for there to be an increase in home ownership. With an increasing population if the same ratio for home ownership is kept then more people would own their own homes.

  • Peter Bancroft 4th Oct '15 - 11:37am

    David Allen,
    Your critique of the freedom to property sounds like a Tory complaining about the ECHR right to privacy given that some people will use it to cause terrorism. There is nobody in the UK political debate calling for policies exclusively focusing on positive liberty (i.e. the state will not…), therefore it is redundant to argue against them. You’re either not understanding the arguments of those you disagree with, or you’re actively trying to link them with libertarianism/ anarchism.

  • David Allen 4th Oct '15 - 12:17pm

    Michael BG, I applaud your vision of full employment, high wages for all, and hence increasing home ownership. However, you don’t indicate how such a vision might be achieved in reality. When political parties actually claim that they will deliver such desirable things, the Lib Dems are commonly quick to condemn them (rightly?) as head-in-the-clouds Corbynists / Greens whose financial numbers don’t add up. My point is that, when we are not progressing toward high wages for all, in fact we are moving in the opposite direction, it would seem rather smug and elitist to delight in the merits of being a “man of property”. Far too many of our fellow citizens are not men of property, and have no realistic hopes of becoming so!

    Peter Bancroft, I have made a point about what levels of home ownership are realistic, and you have sought in reply to talk about terrorism and anarchy. Well, good knockabout stuff, I suppose, if you like that sort of thing. I’ll just elaborate that I do not “critique the freedom to property”. I am glad I own my own home, I think it is a good thing, but I also know that I am one of the lucky ones. When you say that “property is a bedrock of liberalism”, I fear that you are the kind of liberal whose instincts are that it is only “men (and women) of property” who are really the people who matter.

  • @ David Allen
    “Michael BG, I applaud your vision of full employment, high wages for all, and hence increasing home ownership. .. the Lib Dems are commonly quick to condemn them (rightly?) … My point is that, when we are not progressing toward high wages for all, in fact we are moving in the opposite direction, … Far too many of our fellow citizens are not men of property, and have no realistic hopes of becoming so!
    As Liberals if we do not believe it is possible to build a society where everyone who wants a job can have one and everyone who want to live in their own home (mortgaged, owned, or rented), what is the point in being active in politics? To tweak society at the margins? We must believe in everyone having these things or they don’t have the basics for being truly free.

    A Liberal Democrat government should set a target for council house building of 200,000 by the end of the second year of government. We managed to achieve such levels in the 1960’s so there should be no reason why we can’t again. It should give Councils the power to build houses for sale (if they don’t already have that power). It should finance infrastructure building in areas of high unemployment. It should set up an Investment Bank to lend money to those businesses who are financially viable but who the commerce banks won’t lend to. It should fine companies who employ 100 people or more 1% of their wage bill if they do not employ 1% of their employees from these three groups of unemployed people. If they employ someone who has been unemployed for a year or more then they will not have to pay any employer national insurance for the first year and only half for the second. Thereafter this person would not count as a member of the three groups. If they employ someone who has any long term illness or disability then they would not have to pay employer national insurance for the first two years and only half for every year that the person still has the illness or disability. If they employ someone who has an illness or disability that would entitle them to employment and support allowance (or similar benefit) then they do not pay employer national insurance for as long as the employee would be entitled to the benefit. It should be possible to manage the economy to keep unemployment below 3% as it was in the past, instead of making 6% the lowest number of unemployed possible. All it takes is the political will and ignoring the Conservative economic narrative.

  • Sorry, I forgot the closing quotation marks after “no realistic hopes of becoming so!” and a blank line.

  • Peter Bancroft 4th Oct '15 - 7:13pm

    David, I think you’re still misunderstanding what is meant by property. You could replace property with “stuff” and it might be easier to understand. If you really fear that I think that only people who own their own houses “matter”, then you are either making a massive assumption about someone you don’t know or you’re not understanding anything that I post (e.g. about the need for more housing, land value taxation, action on homelessness…).

  • “A Liberal Democrat government should set a target for council house building of 200,000 by the end of the second year of government.”

    Much more sensible and sustainable to set a population cap (say circa 58M as starting point, which was the population in 1998 and which much of our environmental targets have been predicated on, but there is good reason to set a stretch target of say 40M) and then work towards achieving it…

  • David Allen 5th Oct '15 - 12:29pm

    Peter Bancroft, no, I don’t think it helps to replace “property” with “stuff” in the old Liberal preamble. I don’t think that more stuff is the salvation of the planet, or of anything else!

    My own synonym for the idea of “property” as expressed in the old preamble would be “freedom achieved by means of the attainment of individual wealth for all, including but not limited to a home”.

    I fear that this nascent Old-Preamble movement is fast collapsing under its internal contradictions. Michael BG is proposing to link it to an ambitious statist solution to the housing shortage. Well, I personally agree with the idea of more state-built affordable housing now, since it’s the only way we are likely to conquer squalor, but it won’t also easily achieve the theoretical ideal espoused by the old Liberal party of freedom from the state. In total contrast, you seem to be sticking closer to the original Liberal ideal of a non-statist solution based on individual wealth – which must somehow be reconciled with action to help the homeless and needy. The phrase “camel through the eye of a needle” comes to mind when considering the difficulties to be encountered!

    The current Lib Dem preamble is better, because it doesn’t dictate whether “liberty, equality and community” and freedom from “poverty, ignorance or conformity” are to be achieved by “statist” or non-statist means. Might it even be that this party learnt something to its benefit from the SDP half of its merged partnership? (I’m donning my flak jacket now …!)

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Oct '15 - 3:13pm

    David Allen

    The current Lib Dem preamble is better, because it doesn’t dictate whether “liberty, equality and community” and freedom from “poverty, ignorance or conformity” are to be achieved by “statist” or non-statist means. Might it even be that this party learnt something to its benefit from the SDP half of its merged partnership?

    No, because that is how those words, which came from the Liberal Party constitution, were universally interpreted in the Liberal Party before the merger of the two parties. The idea that pre-merger Liberals were in favour of a minimalist state and therefore would have been against state action on these things is wrong. If even you, who remember those times, think that’s how it was, it shows just how successful the Orwellian re-write of history by the right-wing infiltrators into our party has been.

  • @ David Allen
    “Michael BG is proposing to link it to an ambitious statist solution to the housing shortage. Well, I personally agree with the idea of more state-built affordable housing now, since it’s the only way we are likely to conquer squalor, but it won’t also easily achieve the theoretical ideal espoused by the old Liberal party of freedom from the state.”

    I don’t recognise that the old Liberal Party espoused freedom form the state. The Liberal Party starting with Gladstone’s Irish policy believed that the government (I don’t like the term state which implies central control I prefer government which to me implies its democratic control and includes all it many tiers) had a vital role to play in enhancing people’s freedoms. Then there was Foster’s Education Act that increased the number of schools run by “the government”.

    When the free market fails it is the duty of governments to intervene and for Liberal governments to intervene to increase freedom for those without power. I don’t believe that someone living in a council house would think that the state has reduced their freedom compared to somebody living in private rented accommodation. I don’t think people in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s who benefitted from full employment felt their employment freedoms reduced by this government policy.

  • David Allen 5th Oct '15 - 7:07pm

    Matthew, Michael BG,

    I agree that only a tiny minority of old Liberals espoused the idea of a minimialist State. In fact, it was the old SDP who spent more time assessing the demerits of statism. As one of their “virgin politicians”, I understood that this was because our ex-Labour members had to put some necessary distance between themselves and the Foot / Benn Clause 4 philosophy. As a result, one of the better things the SDP developed (and yes, it wasn’t all good!) was a careful balance between statism and privatism. The SDP pointed out that ideological belief in either privatisation or nationalisation was misguided, and that we should concentrate on making a mixed economy work well. Thirty years later, I still think that was wisdom.

    Rather more pre-merger Liberals, I think, did favour concepts such as freedom through “property” and independent wealth. They sought to make the free market work in favour of social justice, with direct intervention by government only when the free market had failed. In hindsight, the Tories knew how to come along and drive their steamroller over the top of all these attitudes, and argue that those with a mild preference for greater equality should give way to their own overriding preferences for greater inequality!

    Well, we live and learn, I hope. We should learn that total reliance on “property” and the chimera of wealth for all is an inadequate philosophy, thankfully now expunged from our Preamble. We should also learn that despite all its dangers, we must embrace active government which is willing to intervene in favour of those without power and “property”. Further, we should not see that as a last resort, to be adopted only when it is evident that the market has failed. If we think that government action (e.g. council housing) is the best option, we should go for it.

  • @ David Allen
    “We should also learn that despite all its dangers, we must embrace active government which is willing to intervene in favour of those without power and “property”. Further, we should not see that as a last resort, to be adopted only when it is evident that the market has failed. If we think that government action (e.g. council housing) is the best option, we should go for it.”

    I agree with David.

  • David Evershed 6th Oct '15 - 6:56pm

    The main issue about the Preamble interpretation is with the word freedom

    We all want to be free but where it interferes with others’ freedom there is a conflict.

    We all want to earn a living but then find part of our earnings are taken to pay tax.

    Companies provifde goods and services but then find they have to meet regulations and pay tax.

    So no one can be completely free in a society and a balance has to be found. Perhaps the Preamble should be changed to relect this.

  • David Evans 6th Oct '15 - 7:13pm

    David, The pramble says it already ” … we seek to balance the fundamantal values of liberty equality and community …”

  • Neil Sandison 7th Oct '15 - 12:35pm

    Dave Allan is so right lets stay with the mixed economy .There are now so many models of employment and ownership that one size does not fit all .The mixed economy gives you the power of a flexible response should any part of your economy be in crisis .Remember it was Vince Cable who called for a bank rescue intervention in the financial crisis without it the impact on our economy and our citizens incomes could have been so much worse and that’s not to say it wasn’t bad enough but the intervention was justified. You can only do that with a mixed economy where you do not have all your eggs in one basket.

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