A case for radical pragmatic ideas

During my book-hunting escapades, I stumbled upon Harold MacMillan’s “The Middle Way.” Its weathered cover, nestled among forgotten tomes, bore striking images: Mussolini’s Fascist emblem and the Soviet hammer with sickle; symbols of Europe’s political divide in 1938. Between them, the book’s title, “Middle Way,” almost asking politely: “Do things have to be this way?” The lack of evocative symbol of its own hints at thoughtful ideas contained within its pages. Intrigued, I purchased it, eager to explore its ideas before the rain set in.

If some of your readers are familiar with my previous (and first) blog entry, where I discussed Harold Wilson and his purported working-class persona, you might remember I discussed the stark contrast between his political imagination and his lifestyle reality. Just as Wilson’s persona was far removed from true working-class experiences that that of Del Boy, Harold MacMillan’s aristocratic lifestyle would fit more kindly in Hyacinth Bucket’s aspirations.

Yet, it was the devil in the detail from his book that surprised me: how strikingly compassionate and concerned about the lack of social coalescence.

His book doesn’t present itself as a warning about how too much government would lead to the formation of regimes and their state apparatus. Instead, if anything, he argues how too little government creates conditions that help extremists prey onto an unsuspecting public. In his book he calls it a study rather than a philosophy, “The Middle Way: A Study of The Problems of Economic and Social Progress in a Free and Democratic World”. The word study is rather methodical but doesn’t go too far for being called abstract.

MacMillan’s assertion of the need for a more interventionist government role is equally crucial in a free society. He advocated for pragmatic, evidence-based approaches, clear-sighted good sense; even going so far as to call for nationalization where market failures we’re evident or private interest was incompatible to public interest.

I noticed quickly upon joining as a new member that we LibDems come in all political colours. While critics may argue that this diversity muddies the Party’s image, painting it as too broad a church, wishy-washy, colourless, and just a bit ‘meh’; we centre our values on personal freedom and liberty. I always found the words “freedom” and “liberty” can be misleading sometimes. I often found its use, by extension, as the establishment’s way to excuse our collective responsibility. The freedom of choice is only as convenient if people have the economic resources needed to fully participate. The freedom from: social injustice, poverty, inequality etc. The “freedom to” is needed for a just society, but in cohabitation with the “freedom from” narrative.

So how could we envision this? Here is a list of a few ideas and thought experiments that I had in mind to share in this discussion.

Bring public transportation back to “the public”. Put rail back into public hands and support incentives for local authorities to bring their regional bus services into local ownership.

Tackle housing insecurity and rising living costs by establishing ‘Great British Housing,’ a locally led state corporation tasked with building social homes. Pause right-to-buy until housing stock is replenished.

Explore the possibility of implementing a ‘Universal Income’ and perhaps consider establishing a ‘Citizens Endowment Fund’ to assist young individuals when they reach 18, aiding them in paying for training or starting a company, as a way of making peace with the Tuition Fees betrayal.

Simplify, make fairer, and smarten our tax system instead of merely raising tax rates. The current tax system is overly complex, riddled with too many loopholes that allow the wealthy to avoid paying altogether. Let’s focus on fixing the system, not just adjusting rates.

Look to Europe for economic inspiration, adopting a Nordic model built on a co-partnership between employees and employers. As proponents of anti-protectionist policies, we should align more closely with the EU.

Advocating for fiscal responsibility where we prioritize sound financial management and prudent budgeting. Aim for low deficits but borrow solely to investment with am ambition to return to surplus to address government debt and interest.

In closing, underneath MacMillan’s curated Edwardian persona, his adoption of radical pragmatism, based on what works in practice rather than theory, underscores a profound understanding: blindly accepting economic orthodoxy for consistency’s sake is meaningless if it compromises a just society. As we reflect on this, let us embrace pragmatic and new ideas, and, much like my observation of MacMillan’s front cover, politely ask, “Do things have to be this way?”

* Andrew Chandler is a former Labour member turned Liberal Democrat Member in Stoke-on-Trent

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

21 Comments

  • Oh, dear, Harold Wilson’s “purported working class persona” again. Facts not creative fiction please.

    As a matter of fact, Mr Chandler, Harold Wilson was brought up in a two up two down terraced house in Cowlersley, Huddersfield. In his time the house had an outside toilet and a tin bath. Harold’s Dad, Herbert, was an industrial chemist who became unemployed between 1930-32 and the family had to move to the Wirral for him to find work.

    For what it’s worth, Harold was a regular at Leeds Road when Huddersfield Town had their glory years in the 1920’s as champions three years running and appearing in three Cup Finals. I know this because he once showed my Dad – a fellow Town supporter – a picture he carried in his wallet of the 1926 team that won the title for the third year running.

    He went to what is now a comprehensive school in Huddersfield, and later, in the Wirral was a scholarship boy who won an exhibition to Oxford (there was no way his Dad could have paid the fees). He later became Beveridge’s personal assistant when plans for the welfare state were being drawn up. At Oxford he was in the Liberal club as a student but later became the youngest member of the Attlee Cabinet.

    So, please, no more faux working class about Mr Wilson.

  • Steve Trevethan 17th May '24 - 8:23pm

    Thank you for an interesting sketch map of ways forward out of our current Neoliberal socio-economic ideological blind spots

    Might our party advocate a mixed economy which provides the essential, genuine competition between the private and public sectors?j

    Currently, a competition-free, “big-business” private sector has no real competition and so behaves as a cartel which harms so many of our society.

    Might such reduce/avoid the current manifest damages done by the current determination to privatise, centralise and detach from the practical realities essential for the infrastructures of a compassionate and productive society?

    Might our party advocate not minimal government, which offers no actual, measurable socio-economic benefits for our fellow citizens and their children, but “Best Size/Optimal Sized Government” which could be always assessed for effectiveness and efficiency?

  • I totally agree that ‘radical pragmatic’ is the way to go. We can all see the many ways that our society and Government has become so dysfunctional, and I’m certain that the solutions will involve radical change. But being pragmatic is also crucial, because to be effective, any changes we propose must be based on sound analysis/evidence that they will work.

    One of my biggest frustrations with much LibDem discussion is that so many people (correctly) call for radical policies, but then when they elaborate, it becomes clear that by ‘radical’ they just mean the old failed tax-and-spend + welfarism that pre-Blair Labour repeatedly tried. To my mind, tax-and-spend is neither radical nor pragmatic. So while I don’t agree with all your specific suggestions, it’s nice to see that you’ve clarified by suggesting some more innovative proposals.

  • Andy Chandler 17th May '24 - 8:49pm

    @Steve Trevethan
    Thanks Steve and it’s good we can have debate on this. Appreciate you liked the opinion piece.

    I would also add I am not opposed to doing what Teddy Roosevelt did in the States. A Republican who brought in anti trust laws and broke monopolies. I could see that being some we could do where private market failures haven’t meet public needs.

    I was going to add perhaps reforming the water energy sector or energy in general where the government own the infrastructures but private companies compete with a solid regulator. So gov. are the “Suppliers” and private are the “Retail/Distributors”. I would also break up all the water companies…have systems where they could compete to grow in other areas but keep it capped so it’s not a monopoly.

    But yeah, we need ideas like this and hopefully we can get a conversation going. But yeah, I had many ideas but would just became a manifesto aha.

  • Correction. Having checked with a local source I have to correct my previous post – Harold Wilson’s boyhood home in Cowlersley Huddersfield had three not two bedrooms.

  • Andy Chandler 17th May '24 - 9:03pm

    @David
    Okay David, point made 🙂

  • Andy Chandler 17th May '24 - 9:18pm

    @David Raw
    I mean I will say that in my best judgement I have read my political biographies about Harold Wilson and documentaries for people who were proponents to him and they often say due his father’s professed background of being a Chemist which is a skilled profession and not exactly a coal miner or doing back breaking manual Labouring work as well as they never struggled financially or work demanding hours that it was understood he was in the middle class bracket. Perhaps lower middle class. And these are from people who studied him intensely and admired him. Even wiki says Middle Class (although taken with salt that source but I read many books on him).

    His dad was briefly unemployed yes which might have impacted his politics but we do have a word count of these things. It’s not a political book I am writing.

    I am someone that actually respects and admires Harold Wilson a lot so I think you are probably misreading my view of him. I don’t think class should be a issue, ir should be policy. I even said in that article he didn’t let it get away from good policy. Many working class people liked Tony Benn who had aristocratic lineage.

    If it disappointed you then it’s regrettable.

  • Whether or not Harold Wilson was or was not working class would depend in which definition of class we are using – liberal or Marxist. The two are quite different.

    Here in the UK we like to use retain the use of both definitions without knowing that we are doing so – this helps no end when we wish to use inverted snobbery as a rhetorical weapon.

  • Andy Chandler 18th May '24 - 2:22pm

    @Adam
    Not too sure what you mean by “invented snobbery”. I just want to give everyone my background. I come from a working class background. My dad is a social carer. Was raised in a council estate. I live in a one bedroom apartment studio. I worked in many jobs from such as warehouse stacker, pot wash to name a few. I did struggle for the last few years financially but I worked hard to became a Junior Data Analyst in my last employer and now I am a Senior Data Analyst. I was thankful to have my last employer gave me a chance even though the pay and level of work I was doing was not good. I was practically on minimum wage on what should be a 32k job minimum so I moved to my new employer.

    I felt the need to clarify this incase people are directing it at me or something or trying to paint a picture of my background without actually knowing me personally. I just wanted to get this all straight with people because I have heard many times the read too much between the lines of my writing style and paint me as something. Just wanted to get this clear because I suffered from this before. I’ve been called many things when people based it purely on my writing style.

  • @ Andy

    Not “invented” but “inverted”!

    https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/inverted_snobbery

  • David Symonds 18th May '24 - 8:44pm

    I find the adversarial politics in Britain to be highly depressing and corrosive. They are enforced and reinforced by the rotted First Past the Post voting system which wants us to choose Con v Lab and squeeze out all other parties. The only way we can get our politics back for the people is to secure PR and hopefully STV as used in the Irish Republic. Labour will only back this if they are forced to via a “hung” parliament but at the moment Labour could win about 70% of Commons seats based on 45% of the vote and Tories will never accept it though if they drop to a derisory number of seats out of kilter with their vote they may change their tune. Labour and Tories are the same sides of the political class at Westminster, playing a game with each other, they say they detest each other but they are “frenemies”, they need each other and would rather each other win power rather than have LD’s in office or in coalition with them. Remember that Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher were united in their hatred of the SDP/Liberal Alliance because they feared a new politics although FPTP helped save them sadly.

  • Andy Chandler 18th May '24 - 8:47pm

    @Adam
    Ah, that’s my bad on that. I misread it. Apologise about that. Part blame dyslexic tendencies (always came out as that despite three attempts to get it properly confirmed, ADHD and me just ignorantly rushing the text. Soz.

    I like that actually that word and I do actually agree that I think what I try to evidence is that there is something superficial when it comes defining values with class and having a prejudgement or prejudice. But that is a great phase so thanks for that.

  • @ David Symonds “Remember that Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher were united in their hatred of the SDP/Liberal Alliance because they feared a new politics although FPTP helped save them sadly”.

    Hatred is a strong word, Mr Symonds, and I’m sorry you use it on a liberal web site, particularly when referring to Michael Foot whose family had long and very honourable connection with the Liberal Party.

    In fact, the (at the time split Asquith/LLG) Liberals could have had PR way back during the debates on the 1918 Representation of the People Act. At one stage it looked very likely it would happen, but for reasons similar to the ones you outline they chose not to pursue it.

    Yes, all a long time ago, but more recently as a radical I haven’t seen a lot of the ‘ new politics’ either during the Coalition years or since 2019. There’s not much wrong with radical Liberalism…… but getting it and seeing it these days is quite another thing.

  • As for Wilson and MacMillans alleged cultivated personas, that’s a side issue. We all do it to some extent. Can I recommend The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Irving Goffman.
    The substantive proposals were, in my humble opinion, spot on. Issues that resonate with the public with personal liberty the core value. And no diving down cultural rabbit holes.
    I rather like Mr Chandler’s view of the Liberal Democracy. If it came about, I might actually renew my membership.

  • Chris Moore 19th May '24 - 9:51am

    Your style of writing is different and interesting: don’t take any criticism to heart.

    Welcome to the party.

  • David Symonds 20th May '24 - 9:43am

    Sorry to have used the word “hatred” but “dislike” and “fear” may have been better. Conservatives and Labour don’t like anyone else to govern other than themselves. When Labour have been in office they have not been good allies of Liberals or their successors and the Con/LD coalition was not a good time for Lib Dems. The old two class based parties (that is my humble opinion). Ramsay Macdonald was happy to see Liberal decline in 1924 and the Lib/Lab Pact was used by Mr Callaghan to prop up the ailing Labour Government in my view which probably didn’t help Mr Steel and colleagues at the time.

  • Peter Martin 20th May '24 - 12:45pm

    On the question of who are the “working classes”: I would suggest the answer is contained in these two words.

    If you rely on the income you earn from your labour for your survival then by definition you’re working class. It doesn’t matter if you’re a chemist or an assistant in a chemist’s shop. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or a school caretaker. It doesn’t matter what accent you speak with.

    We can all argue we had it the toughest when we were young. The conversation can rapidly go the same way as in the Monty Python Yorkshiremen’s sketch. “A hole in the ground?” “Luxury. We used to dream of living ….”

    FWIW my dad worked in a factory, we lived in a terraced house, we didn’t have a car, but I wasn’t deprived. The NHS saved my life when I was very sick in childhood. I always had enough to eat. I didn’t have to go barefoot. I had a good education. My cousins and I were the first in our family to make it to university. We had grants and travelling expenses to help us out. This made it possible for us whereas previous generations had to leave school and find work from the age of 14.

    I’d just like us to get back to what we had in the post war period. The GDP of the country is much higher than it was then. The argument that we can’t afford it is just nonsense.

  • Peter Martin 20th May '24 - 1:06pm

    @ Andy Chandler,

    “Advocating for fiscal responsibility where we prioritize sound financial management and prudent budgeting. Aim for low deficits but borrow solely to investment with am ambition to return to surplus to address government debt and interest……”

    This is neither radical nor pragmatic economics. It’s very neoliberal.

    Pretty much every country in the world has a National Debt. This isn’t money that is owed to the extra terrestrials. It’s money owed by governments to the rest of us. It’s our savings. If you’re saying the debt is too high you’re also saying our savings are too high too.

    That’s economically possible, but I’d say unlikely. The size of any deficit is rather like the £ to $ exchange rate. It’s something to keep your eye on but it doesn’t make any sense to aim for any particular level.

    Rather we should aim to maximise the productivity of the economy, sharing out the proceeds as equitably as possible, and the responsibility to make a contribution too. Exchange rates and deficits will largely take care of themselves if the economy is in a healthy state. At the same time levels of unemployment will be low.

    There is something to be said, superficially, for the Nordic model. The snag is that it requires the running of continued export surpluses to function as designed. It’s obviously not possible for everyone to do this so we do need to look for a more viable alternative model.

  • Peter Martin 20th May '24 - 3:44pm

    @ David Symonds,

    “Remember that Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher were united in their hatred of the SDP/Liberal Alliance because they feared a new politics although FPTP helped save them sadly”.

    You may have changed your wording from “hatred” to “dislike”and “fear” but why would Margaret Thatcher have felt any of these emotions?

    She wasn’t stupid whatever we may think about her. She knew perfectly well how FPTP works. When the anti-Tory vote was split she knew full well she’d likely win more seats with fewer votes.

    That’s exactly what happened in the first general election the Alliance fought in 1983. The Tory vote dropped by 1.2% but they gained 32 seats.

    Margaret Thatcher had every reason to love the Alliance.

  • Peter Hirst 27th May '24 - 2:17pm

    One of our aims is to empower people. To do this they must have sufficient resources. A Universal Basic Income could go some way to achieving this. It would enable the time rich and resources poor to play their part in building the country we all want.

Post a Comment

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

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

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

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

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Alex Macfie
    @Peter Martin: No-one was saying that at all, except maybe @Adam who is relying on BtL comments on news articles which cannot be taken as representative of anyt...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Chris, Adam and David, So can we all agree (except perhaps Alex ) that being in favour of the EU does require uncritical support? This is a big problem...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Adam: I rarely read BtL comments in newspaper articles as they tend not to be representative of public opinion. All I can say is that such opinions as you have...
  • Adam
    "Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it’s scarcely surprising t...
  • David Allen
    Peter Martin, "In practice, we seldom, if ever, see any criticism of the EU from its supporters." Yeah, yeah, yeah. When the Tories make a political broa...