What are the party’s principles and values?

What values make you a Liberal Democrat? What makes you proud to be a Liberal Democrat? What is distinctive about the Liberal Democrat philosophy today?

If you have a view on any or all of those questions, please feel free to participate in the Federal Policy Committee’s consultation session on Liberal Democrat principles and values at autumn conference. It’s taking place in the afternoon fringe session on Saturday, from 1600 to 1650. There are no speakers – it’s an opportunity to hear your answers to any or all of the three questions in the first paragraph.

As background, you might like to look at the short consultation paper available on the party website. To quote the summary, it argues that: 

‘Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how best to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state and a stifling conformity. A free and open society that glories in diversity is a stronger society.

We stand for equality, for the right of everyone to be treated equally and with equal respect, whatever their personal characteristics; and in the duty of the state to create the conditions in which individuals and their communities can flourish.

We stand for community, for dispersing political and economic power as widely as possible, since government works best when it is closest to its citizens.

Since we believe in the worth of every individual, we are internationalists from principle, seeking cooperation, not confrontation, with Britain’s neighbours.

And since we believe that future generations have the same rights as we do to live their lives in the ways they choose, we aim to create an environmentally sustainable economy and society, where people live in harmony with the natural world.

Holding these beliefs, Liberal Democrats are instinctively on the side of the individual against concentrations of power, free thinking, unimpressed by authority and unafraid to challenge the status quo.’

That’s a brief summary of the paper. I’m sure people will disagree with aspects of it – we’d hardly be Liberal Democrats if we didn’t! – so do read the paper in full, feel free to send us comments on it (email address is in the paper) and turn up to the consultation session. At the session we’ll be inviting people to give us their answers to any or all of the three questions at the top of this piece through short interventions, and/or through even shorter comments in the chat.

Following the session, we’ll be working on expanding the consultation paper into a full policy paper, provisionally for debate at next autumn’s conference. I’m sure we’ll also be running additional online consultations before then, and I hope you have the chance to contribute.


* Duncan Brack is a member of the Federal Policy Committee and chaired the FPC’s working group that wrote Rebuilding Trade and Cooperation with Europe.

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  • Peter Watson 22nd Sep '20 - 9:27pm

    “Liberal Democrats stand for liberty, the freedom of every individual to make their own decisions about how best to live their lives. We trust people to pursue their dreams, to make the most of their talents and to live their lives as they wish, free from a controlling, intrusive state and a stifling conformity.”
    This begs an obvious question about what, based upon these principles, would distinguish a Lib Dem approach to covid lockdown from that of any other party.
    I would have expected Lib Dems to favour education, free choice and trusting people to do the right thing, so I was more than a little surprised that Lib Dems appeared to want to lock us all down at least as hard and as fast as anybody else (not disappointed though: I’m probably a bit more to the left and more in favour of a larger, more interventionist nanny state than many Lib Dems give the impression they would like and the quote above would suggest).
    An obvious response is to cite Mill’s Harm Principle, but that just seems to lead to a Humpty Dumpty position of “When I use the word liberal (or harm), it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less”, again blurring any difference between the major political parties.

  • My first thought is what help is all of this to people making real decisions. How do you deal with the fact that giving one person freedom restricts another person’s freedom? Whose side do you choose?
    Of course the problem is that there exists a confusion about who the paper is addressed to. The reality is that it is not enough to say we will trust people to do the right thing. Who is this « we » making these decisions.
    In reality we are part of community and the question is how we behave towards each other. Another question is to investigate the reality of the world.
    This paper is a dangerous distraction.
    We need to find ways of building a society where all can co-operate to deal with the very real challenges that humanity faces. Answering three meaningless questions will not help us in finding what the party should do in the real world we live in.

  • Duncan Brack 23rd Sep '20 - 9:08am

    Thanks for the comments. To answer Tom, I don’t think the three questions are meaningless ones, but if people want to pose and answer other, related, ones, that’s fine. Tom writes as though everyone knows what Liberal Democrats stand for and what our basic beliefs and views of human nature and the good society are – all the things that determine how we approach finding ‘ways of building a society where all can co-operate to deal with the very real challenges that humanity faces’ – but I don’t think that’s true, either of voters or party members. That’s the point of this paper and this session.

  • I hope I do not write as though everyone knows what Liberal Democrat’s stand for, etc, as I do not believe that to be true.
    Nor do I believe that most people I meet even think in those terms.
    I do think that it would be helpful to look at our own party, and how to Involve to involve all members in deciding our future.
    As far as my comments about the future of our planet are concerned I do not presuppose anything. Except that is that things are changing rapidly. The use yesterday of exponential curves in the strange events concerning covid was interesting. The changes in our atmosphere, our seas and our land can be illustrated by exponential curves, The changes have been over a much longer period. Since they were largely caused by humans we need humans to find ways of dealing with them.
    Personally I do not believe this will happen, but do not think that philosophical discussion will help.
    However I do not claim infallibility.

  • The party’s principles and values are eminently sensible. What is not to like about them? Everyone should regard such values as important and I believe that the majority of people do.

    Yet, I am not a great fan of current Lib Dem policies. A glance at the polls suggests that not many people are. Why is this?

    As an unrelated comment, I believe that the desire for Brexit was driven by such values. The EU is not a very democratic organisation. It is obsessed with central control, massive regulation and ever closer tightening of the rules. It takes power from the people locally and places it with unelected Commissioners in a foreign capital. It has even been known to impose its own officials to run countries that cannot cope with the required austerity. Brexit would seem to fit well with Lib Dem principles and values.

  • The paper requests comments by 31st May 2020. What is its status now? Why are we being asked to comment on a paper almost four months after the closing date for comments? Will anything said this week be taken into account?

  • I’m particularly concerned that this seems to be a move by the Federal committee to remove ‘sex’ and therefore ‘sex based rights ‘ from the women in the party. How many local parties were consulted on this? How many replies were received to the consultation? Why is the consultation now closed? Will anything be done with those that raise concerns at Saturday’s conference?

  • To Peter Watson
    I entirely agree with your comment. If the Lib Dems stand for freedom to make one’s own decisions and make the moist of one’s talents, etc, they do not distinguish themselves from any other party, it’s just cliched motherhood-and-apple-pie stuff that we hear all the time. Rather like the recorded voice at the end of your phone that assures you are an extremely valued customer and your call is very important, this sort of well worn blarney makes people switch off.

  • Duncan Brack 23rd Sep '20 - 3:36pm

    Nigel, sorry about that. The paper was originally issued for the spring conference, and we put it on the website again without remembering to change the deadline for comments. It should be 31 October.

  • Nonconformistradical 23rd Sep '20 - 3:44pm

    @Peter Watson
    “An obvious response is to cite Mill’s Harm Principle, but that just seems to lead to a Humpty Dumpty position of “When I use the word liberal (or harm), it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less”

    Not sure why you say this. My understanding of Mill’s position was that a person is free to live their lives as they see fit – unless/until their freedoms clash with someone else’s. At which point clashing freedoms and rights need to be evaluated – which ones are more important than others – and maybe compromises made.

    In our current Covid-19 predicament I don’t think Mill would be too impressed with those who ignore social distancing guidelines etc. The right to life is rather important and such people may through their behaviout be putting other peoples’ lives at risk. Not a situation for compromising in my opinion – just do it!

  • I share George Kendall’s concern.
    I am deeply worried about the increasing tendency to try to shut down other peoples’ viewpoints, most of all when that is taken up by government (as in Scotland, through the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill).

  • @Duncan Brack
    I think your question needs to be answered but I think it needs a second part.
    ‘Compare and Contrast with Labour and Conservative’
    Only when we can define both parts can we convince people on the doorstep to vote LibDem.

  • Clearly, the party’s principles and values are foundational to everything it says and does. And yet, I have severe reservations about the utility of this quasi-academic approach to defining them.

    In theory it’s fine, in practice it has been tried again and again over the last 30+ years yet has never cut the mustard with the voters.

    I think that’s because it floats in the stratosphere, far removed from events on the ground; Victorian thinkers are freely referenced but sense-checking against the concerns of ordinary people is rare to non-existent.

    Most (and I include myself) are far more comfortable thinking about down-to-earth things that directly relate to our lives and those of our family and friends – education, housing, security and so on. So, we should use what we say about those things as a demonstrator of our values. That doesn’t have to be fully worked-up policies – an outline of ambition and direction of travel will do.

    For example, the Westminster Village + media regularly obsesses about the alleged unfairness of Oxbridge admissions, a problem that affects perhaps 0.0001% of the population. Those who pile in on these periodic storms in a teaspoon reveal far more about their real concerns and values than any number of consultation papers.

    Conversely, little is said about the lack of good quality vocational training for the 50% who don’t go to university (not to mention the further 25%+ who do but probably shouldn’t), again revealing much about politicians’ real values. So, this is an open goal and moreover one that speaks directly to how people are enabled to “pursue their dreams”.

    So, we should think hard and creatively about the big problems that impact people’s lives – for example how to create world-class vocational training to suit all aptitudes and new institutional arrangements to deliver it. That is a suitably tangible activity which, if done well, will illuminate Liberal values in a tangible and – crucially – politically marketable way.

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