What the Liberal Democrats believe

“Tell me more about what the Liberal Democrats believe”. Whether it’s a possible new member, a potential council candidate or a new office volunteer asking, I’ve always found over the years that one of the trickier questions to answer. Not because of the inherent question, but rather because of the paucity of materials available to conveniently answer it.

There’s always been a simple short 1 or 2 sentence answer to hand (such as the slogan of the day or an extract from the preamble to the party’s constitution) or a really long answer available, such as Conrad Russell’s superb An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism. The former is often too short and the latter too time consuming really to work as an answer and so I along with many others have often reverted to using the party’s current list of top policies or campaigns as a substitute answer.

That’s sort-of ok, but doesn’t really address what the party’s beliefs are in a way that helps convert someone who likes our pot hole repairs and regular leaflets into someone who understands and supports liberal democracy.

Alex Wilcock has at times produced some great paragraphs of text to use that try to do this (and it’s been great to see the ideas he’s sparked off with his latest one), and to compliment such efforts I’ve also therefore produced a new infographic.

It’s deliberately designed to provide people with a broad welcome into the party, providing some understanding of the debates they’re likely to come across whilst emphasising what people in the party agree on. I hope you find it useful!

What the Liberal Democrats believe - infographic

(Click on the image to see it at a larger size.)

(If you would like a higher resolution version, for example for printing off as a poster, see the foot of the page here.)

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Evans 30th Mar '13 - 6:22pm

    I think that Liberal Democrats used to believe they were members of the one truly open, democratic, participative party in British politics. Now they believe that whatever they do, the leadership will do whatever it likes.

  • Richard Dean 30th Mar '13 - 6:23pm

    This looks like a party that doesn’t know what it believes!

    Why the emphasis on dispute? Social vs Economic? Spectrum or Not? “LibDems often struggle to find…”?

    Is the “history and priorities through the ages” likely to be attractive in the internet age?

    The preamble misses out enslavement to ill-health, enslavement to falsehood and illusion, for example.

    Are we likely to be confused with a party that focuses mainly on trafficking and modern-day slavery?

  • Eddie Sammon 30th Mar '13 - 6:56pm

    An informative, balanced and presentable image. The only thing I really disagree with is The Economic Problem – I don’t think we are the party for mutuals or co-operatives anymore, rather the party who takes an unbiased approach to employer – employee disputes.

    To summarise what we believe in I would keep it much simpler and say “equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome” – Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives all fail majorly on this test. I think it is better than the Stronger Economy – Fairer Society slogan.

  • Mark Inskip 30th Mar '13 - 7:26pm

    @Richard Dean
    Good to see you’re making positive constructive comments rather than trying to pick an argument…

  • Richard Dean 30th Mar '13 - 8:16pm

    @Mark Inskip
    What a patronising waste of time your comment is!

  • James Baker 30th Mar '13 - 8:46pm

    Perhaps in light of the leaderships decisions on secret courts, and the reported return of the snoopers charter in this year’s queen speech the claim about civil liberties is pushing it a bit! Good infographic though.

  • Richard Harris 30th Mar '13 - 8:50pm

    @Mark Inskip
    Um, this is a forum for discussion and argument isn’t it? Or perhaps we should all agree with the article. It would save a lot of time.

  • Richard Harris 30th Mar '13 - 8:52pm

    I notice there’s a lot of green on the infographic. Is that because there’s a lot of blue influencing the yellow these days?

  • As somebody who is beginning to think about how I’m going to vote in 2015 I was excited to see this post on my first visit to this blog . I read it but I’m feeling underwhelmed. Is there anything here that Tony Blair or Kenneth Clark wouldn’t agree with?

  • Whilst it may well have been fun putting this instructive presentation together, it comes across too much as a manifesto and lacks the sharp focus that is required into anyone asking about Liberal Democrat beliefs.

    People who ask this question usually demand a short succinct reply and like Richard Dean are often keen to simplistically deride any hesitant qualification.

    In my opinion the best answer is to say that we believe in Liberal Values and Representative Democracy and then expand how this applies to particular issues. Of course a lot is packed into the term Liberal Values much of which Mark has carefully presented and he is right to note its enduring influence from the Enlightenment (he could go back to Hume) to the present day, but quite a few may well be cold to this perspective.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Mar '13 - 9:49pm

    Rather than what we ‘believe’ in the form presented, I believe an extended introduction to preamble is a must as part of any such document – these are the core values to which every Liberal Democrat subscribes – everything else flows from this analysis. Within this shared philosophy, our beliefs (opinions) as to how best to build a Liberal and Democratic society will vary by individual and across time as the problems facing us ebb and flow. In short the core philosophic values of the party remain fairly constant while our priorities and therefore policies change in response to events and experience.

    Sorry Mark, on balance, it appears to place more weight on explaining some of the internal differences rather than on our the shared values that make us a distinctive philosophy and party. It strikes me as a broad introduction to the Liberal Democrats written to the politically semi-literate rather than an inspiring message to help draw in future members and activists.

    If I were writing this document I would drop the history and replace it with (in no particular order) our plans for the environment and a sustainable future, building a fairer society, reforming banking, proportional representation etc.

    What caused us to enter into coalition with the Tories (our opponents ever since ‘party’ politics emerged in Britain) is of more relevance than the SDP period for example!

  • Steve Griffiths 30th Mar '13 - 9:49pm

    There is a spectrum missing from the section entitled ‘Centre Party or Not’. Many Lib Dems believe or believed at one time that the Party was a Radical Reforming Party of the Centre Left. It was so for many years and I am curious to know why this is being ‘air-brushed’ from this document.

  • I’d like to think that one of the things that stands out as part of the LIb Dems’ unique features is that we are agnostic about public versus private and that if public works, we will embrace that too.

    Which makes it all the more preposterous that we are still allowing privatisation to carry on in cases where it has been proven not to work. In particular I am thinking about the decision to put the East Coast mainline out to franchise again when it is working perfectly fine in state hands. Why are we allowing this kind of mindless, ideologically driven, nonsensical policy to go ahead?

    I’d like to think it was purely because we had had to concede it to the Tories with gritted teeth in exchange for some very worthwhile Lib Dem objective while arguing very hard against it and explaining what a very stupid idea it was. But somehow, I fear this might not be what really happened and I fear we really do have people who think “state bad, private good”.

  • Stephen Hesketh 30th Mar '13 - 10:01pm

    @Steve Griffiths … “Many Lib Dems believe or believed at one time that the Party was a Radical Reforming Party of the Centre Left”. Absolutely! And I make no apologies for remaining on that very ground.

  • Richard Dean 31st Mar '13 - 2:43am

    There does seem to be a lot of confusion about what “Liberal” and “Democrat” mean!

    Ultimately those words have nothing to do with centre, left, right, reforming, or not. Old style liberal is leave it alone unless it’s bad. New style liberal is perhaps more paternalistic, which fits more with social democrat roots. Democrat is about how things are decided.

    I apologize if I misunderstood you, Mark Inskip, but the preamble says we should be free from enslavement to conformity. So my first reaction to being congratulated for conforming is that it’s a nasty insult. Even nastier if the thing I’m accused of conforming to is someone else’s idea of how I should behave.

    I think I’ll join another party, you young fellas don’t seem to have a clue.

  • I agree that the Left-Right, Liberal – Authoritarian divide is unrealistic. Very few Lib Dem supporters will be on the extreme age of ‘Liberal’, which is probably some version of Social Anarchism, though many more will be interested in this strand of thinking and most supporters of the party would put themselves to the Left of centre in the Left – Right axis.

    The trouble is that in the face of an economy bound by huge public and private debt any party in office will be easily characterised as Right wing. What I am unable to fathom is how shifting debt from one ledger sheet to another becomes a driving force for policy: RC mentions the East Coast Mainline franchise; I think the tuition fee system was driven by the same impetus. Privatisation of debt was also very much a Labour favourite speciality: it imposes a right wing slant on policy but for what gain? It may satisfy some economic gurus, but it hs to be paid for all the same.

  • Paul In Twickenham 31st Mar '13 - 8:28am

    Mark – that’s really cool.

    I was looking at it and thinking “What about Keynes and the yellow book?”.”What about Asquith and the people’s budget?”. “What about Grimond and ‘Think for Yourself’?”.

    Those aren’t criticisms of what’s on the poster, quite the opposite. Because looking at it and considering what I’d have put there reminds you of what a rich heritage the party has inherited : thinking about what I would personally have included in such a poster (had I thought to do such a thing) was a refreshing and engaging experience 🙂

    I think you capture characteristics that are essential aspects of Liberalism, and you made me think again about what it means to be a Liberal. Good job!

  • Stephen Hesketh 31st Mar '13 - 9:42am

    @Richard Dean “There does seem to be a lot of confusion about what “Liberal” and “Democrat” mean!” Such as?

    With respect to old and new-style Liberals, with the exception of our companion Jedibeeftrix, I’m not aware of any other ‘old style’ Liberals posting here. I do however think your “leave it alone unless it’s bad” definition is disingenuous to our many of our pre-20th century colleagues.

    Much of modern liberal thought – whether it came to us via Liberalism or Social Democracy or, dare I say it, still lurking in elements of Labour and to a lesser extent in Conservative thinking – has its roots in the thoughts and approaches of the Radicals.

    “Ultimately those words have nothing to do with centre, left, right, reforming, or not” – As dictionary definitions I must agree but in practice no democracy can be truly free and libertarian without subscribing to those core beliefs and values set out in the preamble.

    The pamphlet is a relatively simple introduction to the party today. The words of the preamble are inspired and inspiring!

  • Stephen John Ashmore 31st Mar '13 - 12:37pm

    I know what I believe as a Literal Doomacrat & what most ordinary Lib Dem’s want. A fair society for all where we all pull together for the good of the weakest as well as the strongest in this great multicultural country of ours. No discrimination whatever our gender, sexuality, culture, religion or politics. Freedom to be the best that we can be.

    What does Nic Clegg & some others in our government believe????

    Staying in power whatever the cost to the weakest and least powerful in our society. Forget about the £700 that went in increased travel & living costs.
    I speak as as disabled wheelchair using scrounger with MS and a life long Literal Doomacrat.

    Most ordinary folk I speak to think we are a joke, but no one is laughing except Camaroon & co………..

    Time to walk out of the coalition as the Tories have not kept their promises to us.

    It is the only truly Liberal Democratic thing for us to do…………..

  • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 4:05pm

    Richard Dean, but which party will you join? The Conservatives believe in a hierarchical society with your life chances largely decided at birth, UKIP believe this even more and Labour are the nanny state party who believe more of your money should go to the government than to yourself.

    You may disagree with the traditional liberals but we are heading in the right direction and trust me if we go back to adopting out of touch radical policies (such as the Euro and nuclear disarmament) then I will be considering my membership too.

  • Steve Griffiths 31st Mar '13 - 10:04pm

    Thank goodness for Tony Greaves. Just as I was beginning to think that I had been mistaken and I had clearly forgotten what the last 40 years in the Liberals and Lib Dems had been about, Tony pops up and reminds me that in fact it is only the recent direction taken by the party, that has been so alien to what we believed, strove for and held dear.

  • Paul Pettinger 1st Apr '13 - 12:24am

    Not only is placing the Party in the centre highly questionable, but so is the inference of economic and social liberals being on different wings. Social liberals still easily out number economic liberals – they are still the Party’s mainstream/ centre ground.

  • David Allen 1st Apr '13 - 1:34am

    “Many Lib Dems believe or believed at one time that the Party was a Radical Reforming Party of the Centre Left”.

    Yes indeed, and perhaps we should analyse more carefully why we have historically used the term “centre left”. We have used it, to a large extent, to distinguish ourselves from the doctrinaire Socialist Left, who used to believe that public was inherently superior to private, that trade unions should be granted a commanding influence on economic management, and that we should leave the EU because it is a capitalist institution.

    Almost nobody believes those things any more. Many in our party and elsewhere would argue that public is not inherently inferior to private, that trade unions should be listened to, that business should not be granted the commanding influence on economic management, and that the EU has faults which should be addressed. Very different from the old Socialist Left.

    Do we really need those words “centre left” any more? Should we just spit it out and say that we, the Lib Dems who have maintained the principles they stood for before Clegg came along, are now part of the modern Left?

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Apr '13 - 1:58am

    “Do we really need those words “centre left” any more? ”

    I would go one further and say we need to move on from the political spectrum. Words such as centre and centre left are divisive and I believe create divisions where divisions may not exist. They also cloud people’s minds with ideology, which ultimately can result in real political differences.

    I would more be in favour of a statement of aims that we all work towards. I do not believe the preamble achieves this goal. I’ll have to start getting some of my thoughts down in articles.

  • Yellow Bill 1st Apr '13 - 4:12am

    Sorry Eddie, the reference to the political spectrum is even more necessary now the party has been so badly split by the Orange Bookers. The parliamentary Lib Dems are not social liberal but have reverted to the ‘muscular liberalism’ of the mid 19th century. Centre left vs right quickly explains where the two factions stand.

  • Paul in Twickenham 1st Apr '13 - 8:02am

    @Eddie Sammon – please, no, not the mind probe mission statement.

    “Our narrative is incubating new paradigms of responsible leadership, leveraging synergies and between public and private sectors that work in partnership, and celebrating the achievements of diverse communities”.

    The above meaningless rubbish is with apologies to Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) who many years ago created a mission statement masterpiece during a trip to the senior management of a well-known Silicon Valley company: http://articles.latimes.com/1997/nov/16/news/mn-54489

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Apr '13 - 9:02am

    Just to clarify my position. The preamble crystalises our philosophy. As members of the Liberal Democrats this is what we sign up to. What the party does by way of policy and actions should be driven by these fundamentals.

    I am absolutely not stating it should be ‘either or’ when it comes to recruitment literature but the problem is fairly apparent in that it would take quite some debate to agree what a simple pamphlet should state – this is amply demonstrated above. And then we would need to discuss the words and their meanings!

    My preference would be that until a nationally agreed pamphlet is agreed local parties should produce their own document. My problem with Mark’s initial draft is that, for what it appears intended to do, it is too simplistic and tabloid in its presentation.

    Those who are thinking about joining should perhaps receive something more literate – What we all believe in (the preamble), our roots/how we got here … up to the present day! What we have achieved in government, where we differ from Conservatives and Labour. I’m sure other have additions but it would make for a longer and more thoughtful/politically literate document.

    Finally – @Paul Pettinger “Not only is placing the Party in the centre highly questionable, but so is the inference of economic and social liberals being on different wings. Social liberals still easily out number economic liberals – they are still the Party’s mainstream/ centre ground.” Quite!

  • Paul in Twickenham 1st Apr '13 - 9:06am

    Oops.. the missing preposition strikes again…. my proposed mission statement (replete with vacuous corporate neologisms) should have clause 2 that says ” leveraging synergies in and between public and private sectors that work in partnership”.

    I always felt that New Labour were like a bunch of management consultants sitting on green leather instead of black leatherette, cast adrift on a sea of “pragmatism” without any ideological moorings. Clegg reminds me of Blair…

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Apr '13 - 12:07pm

    I never said anything about a corporate mission statement, I was referring to a statement of aims such as 1. Reducing wealth inequality whilst not making the poor poorer. 2. Rejecting discrimination etc. It was just an idea.

    Discussions about the political spectrum are just pathetic, It’s far too subjective. People say Cleggites are right wing, but I’m against the benefits freeze, want to reduce wealth inequality and in favour of a net wealth tax, if you support Clegg you have to put up with a lot of prejudicial abuse and are assumed to be a libertarian trying dismantle the state; it’s pathetic. In fact, I’m even against the privatisation of public services, but I support Clegg because he has no time for dogma and he is addressing the historical criticisms of our party – not with words, but with policies.

    The preamble is also intellectually nonsense because by reading it you would assume it was in favour of 75% tax rates, global open door immigration and sharing the same currency as Kosovo. It fails to address the problems of today and the needs of the electorate.

    Discuss if you like, just raise your game rather than accusing me of being “centre right” as Yellow Bill did and Paul in Twickenham assuming I want a waffly mission statement.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Apr '13 - 12:49pm

    @Paul in Twickenham – forget Liberal Democracy “leveraging synergies” should not find usage in any British English sentence – written or spoken!

    Re New Labour and ideological moorings and certain views relating to (elements of) the LD Parliamentary party … ideological moorings … hmm perhaps the preamble still has a use after all?

    @Alex Wilcock re my comments on Mark’s infographic. I think it slightly presumptive to suggest that most people don’t want to spend ‘masses’ of time reading ‘masses’ of detail. I’m sure they don’t but someone thinking about joining a political party will surely have been through the stage of knowing and liking the basics and is actually likely to be looking for something more substantial. Also I frequently write first drafts as part of my job also so hope everyone will appreciate my thoughts are not meant to be (non-constructively) negative. My starting point is that we should be attempting to attract and inspire new Liberal Democrats rather than the vaguely curious. I do appreciate the preamble might be too lengthy but it is the democratically agreed summary of what we stand for.
    I am yet to read your linked article but as it happens I agree with much of your ‘Short Statement’ as the basis for further discussion but would like to see additional themes explored such our commitment to the environment (what we steal from or leave to future generations) and importantly on international, regional and localism.

    I will follow your link and comment positively as you suggest but you yourself do state you would use more words. We are probably a lot closer than we might originally have thought! People would can’t be bothered to read sensibly-lengthed paragraphs are unlikely to join anyway and would be even less likely to get involved in local campaigns or be true long-term members.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Apr '13 - 1:19pm

    I’m certainly glad I didn’t comment on anything Eddie said!
    However “The preamble is also intellectually nonsense because by reading it you would assume it was in favour of 75% tax rates, global open door immigration and sharing the same currency as Kosovo. It fails to address the problems of today and the needs of the electorate.” is something of a classic. No, I don’t think anyone will accuse you of being centre-right again! 🙂

  • Eddie Sammon 1st Apr '13 - 1:24pm

    lol, thanks Stephen. Sorry for the fit of rage, I have calmed down now 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Apr '13 - 6:17pm

    Glad to be of assistance. I’ve just spent the afternoon taking my mother to garden centres. Posting here would be of no therapeutic value; glass of wine called for! 🙂

  • Yellow Bill 3rd Apr '13 - 2:49pm


    So you support Clegg for his ability to cut through the rhetoric and put policies in place – even though you disagree with those policies.

    As for accusing you of being something of the right (to terribly misquote Miss Widdicombe) I suggest you are mistaken – unless you happen to be either an Orange Booker or a member of the parlliamentary Lib Dems.

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