Your Liberal Britain: What would a Liberal Britain look like?

Your Liberal BritainHow many times have you heard it? “What do the Lib Dems stand for?” I mean, it’s not as though Labour have been socialists for the last 20 years. There is clearly no such thing as one-nation Conservatives, or fiscally responsible Tories, or compassionate Conservatives. Yet the public seems to think they understand the main parties’ positions.

The typical voter thinks it’s the Lib Dems who have no stance, the piggy in the middle that invited the Cameron treatment for five years. Not a party of government, as our failed campaign slogan confirmed last year. Our position as a party is one of the reasons the Your Liberal Britain group was created. So, here’s my two penn’orth.

I joined the party because I believe that government is about nurturing and investing its citizens’ talents, not putting the fear of God into them, not reining them in or nannying them and certainly not spreading anxiety and mistrust.

Fundamental to our system of justice is the presumption of innocence. We are supposed to trust each other. But recent legislation doesn’t reflect that.

  • Disability benefits claimants are interrogated by private companies incentivised to wheedle out any “cheats”
  • Teachers spend more time proving they’re following the government line than they do inspiring our children.
  • Our police suspicions are swayed by race and religion.
  • Security services’ needs trump civil rights.
  • The basic right to protest is increasingly reined in.
  • Employers and doctors are expected to act as immigration officers or doctors expected to deny treatment to foreigners?
  • Our human rights are under threat to catch the few abusers.
  • Volunteers have to pay for certificates to prove their trustworthiness.

We have suffered over 20 years of law-making that flies in the face of the presumption of innocence, on the basis that to catch a cheat you should catch everyone. The Lib Dems are better than that.

If the Liberal Democrats should stand for anything, it is the presumption that people are inherently good, that a society that is trusted to do the right thing will, on the whole, do the right thing. If we base our policies on that assumption, the amount of crime, greed, corruption and bigotry that our current system encourages will steadily diminish. And why? Because people feel trusted, supported and protected… and because people accept their responsibility towards their neighbours, their fellow citizens, their country and the world.

I am fed up with a Britain where people are suspicious, scared and prejudiced. I want a Britain where people comfortable in their communities and in their own skins.

If the Liberal Democrats constitutional pre-amble is to be realised, we have to ensure that all our laws meet three basic principles:

  • That people are presumed innocent,
  • That there is no place for intolerance,
  • That each individual has responsibilities to their family, community, country and world.

And we can demonstrate this by setting ourselves this guiding principle, that Liberal Democrats will not create any that don’t meet these criteria and will dispose of any laws that fail the test.

This is not vague, ‘woolly liberal thinking’. This is perfectly clear and in this day and age, revolutionary. It’s not a warm and cuddly basis for government. It’s tough because it’s not easy to keep to and it’ll take a massive effort to change our national culture of mistrust, fear and prejudice. It will lose some votes but I believe that, in the long run, it will gain us more among people who are, like me, tired of government by fear and abuse of rights.

This rule answers that on-going question. Liberal Democrats believe people should be trusted to get on with their lives, to succeed where possible and, should they fail, to know they will be given help. In return, we expect people to show responsibility to a nation that supports them, protects them and nurtures them. It’s a principle that no other party adheres to, that is absolutely true to our values, and it’s the one which will make this country into a more productive, safe and happy place to live.


This piece is part of the Your Liberal Britain series of posts here on Lib Dem Voice. Everyone can take part – why not send in your own vision for Liberal Britain? 
Your Liberal Britain is a grassroots initiative launched and run by new members of the party, inviting every Lib Dem to help explain what the party stands for. We all know we want to build a fair, free and open society – but what would it actually look like? And why should anyone care?
To take part, simply write 500 words in response to the question ‘What would a truly Liberal Britain look like, and what improvements would it bring to people’s lives?“, and send it to [email protected], mentioning ‘Liberal Britain’ in the subject line.
To get inspiration for your post, read others in the series, and take a look at all these ideas that other members have submitted to Your Liberal Britain. You can also get involved by hosting a simple discussion evening with your local party – everything you need to run one is right here.

* Neville Farmer is an Executive Member of the Parliamentary Candidates Association

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Lorenzo Cherin 20th Apr '16 - 1:32pm


    This in its essence and emphasis is good stuff, but its tone is a little too convinced of the essential goodness of people for me .I believe most people are good , even very good. But some are not and some are downright awful !The purpose of innocence presumption is so we are all equal in the eyes of the law and presumed good , until proven otherwise!

    But surely that should , as on most occasions we are a party that believes in evidence based policy making , lead us to a more neutral stance in the good vs bad debate about character and society .Life often is not what you make it , but it is sometimes. Mindful of the fact that there is evil and wrongdoing at the very edges of human existence , but so harmful as to be dealt with, and properly , we need to balance our love of humanity with an awareness that humanity is often what we show to others and what some do not !Therefore we need strong policies to not lead us into the trap of being taken for a ride !

    I do agree with you , in much of your instinct ,in many areas we have pushed people into becoming the reflection of the image and likeness of government itself , in the absence of a strong belief in God , human beings elevate themselves and their certainty and play God .Even in a democracy , government shows this tendency .New Labour , which did some real good too, lost its way in this approach .Now the Conservatives are following in that direction !

    We need to respect and empower the individual.Put the power in those hands , genuinely .And , yes, only when found wanting , should we want to remove it !

  • Totally off-topic this, but your book on XTC was a really good read. The article itself is of interest to me as a non-Lib Dem who agrees with most of the sentiments, but just isn’t convinced that they often get put in to practise as well as they should.

  • Neville Farmer 20th Apr '16 - 11:22pm

    Lorenzo. I appreciate your comments. Intelligently argued, but there is nothing in what I’ve said that assumes everyone is good, just that if we don’t start from a position of trusting each other, we end up with the nervous, negative and conformist society both Labour and the Tories have pushed us into. If we are to refresh ourselves as a nation, we have to take the risk that almost everyone will do the right thing. Your final sentence sums up what I said in a nutshell…

    And Stuart, thanks for the kind comments about the book. The sentiments in the article and those that I hope we as a party can put into practise because no other party is. Shattered as we are from last year’s election, we are in a better position now to rebuild that those parties too scared to take the chance.

  • Bill le Breton 21st Apr '16 - 7:23am

    Did Gladstone bring Neville and Lorenzo into accord?

    “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.”

  • Hilton.Marlton 21st Apr '16 - 9:25am

    Thanks Neville. I will be sharing this article. Beautifully articulated with echoes of the philosophy underpinning the Canadian Liberals success. Seeing and nurturing the positive in people is surely the basis for non cynical politics, an approach totally lacking the UK.

  • Matt (Bristol) 21st Apr '16 - 10:14am

    Neville, whilst I can sign up to much of what you outline, as someone who has seen in small measure the lingering impact of both elder abuse and child abuse, the eternal challenge for government when it gets down to the nitty-gritty detail is how to draw the line between ‘presumed innocent’ and ‘open to the possibility of what could happen’ – when those who might be offended against are vulnerable or manipulable, asking if something might happen and what might be a reasonable contingency against it is not the same as ‘presuming guilty’. Those who work in child and adult protection have to live with this tightrope of how much to be suspicious of what and whom.

    In the past, some were presumed more innocent than others, and that was manifestly not a great idea.

    Asking people who want to work or volunteer in certain jobs or roles to evidence their past history in the form of some sort of records check, (whether or not we like the current systems) is not presuming any individual guilty, but it is possibly remembering a societal past failing.

  • Jayne Mansfield 21st Apr '16 - 10:54am

    @ Matt ( Bristol),
    I wholeheartedly agree.

    @ Neville Farmer,
    My own experience tends to support the idea that there is a greater level of trust amongst members of closed, conformist ( tribal) communities rather than that found in individualist societies where some do not understand the difference between enlightened self -interest and pure self interest.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Apr '16 - 12:45pm

    I received a Focus leaflet recently saying the Lib Dems are against the council tax rise but we are also against the council cuts and I thought that summed up quite well what the Lib Dems believe in (lol). However it was better than Labour’s leaflet which just focused on public services and pretty much nothing else.

    The problem with championing things like civil liberties over security is that it’s not a very good survival strategy. Unless we buy the narrative that the West provokes all the attacks so if only we stop provoking them we’ll be OK, which I don’t agree with.

  • @ Eddie Sammon “I received a Focus leaflet recently saying the Lib Dems are against the council tax rise but we are also against the council cuts”.

    Quelle surprise. You can say that but I couldn’t possibly comment…………..

  • Simon Banks 21st Apr '16 - 2:55pm

    We’ve faced this “neither one thing nor the other” thing ever since the 1930s. The media and many people think binary – right/left, Tory/Labour. They’re used to thinking as if every political issue can be positioned along one measure. Ultimately for many of these people we can’t win because we’re not Tories and not Labour, so it stands to reason, we’re nothing. However, in the 1990s we began to develop a clearer profile – pro-diversity, pro-liberty, pro-equality (not just of opportunity) and anti-injustice. During the coalition we managed to totally confuse our own natural supporters and many have yet to come back.

    Neville talks a lot of sense though I do think the exchange with Lorenzo points to one danger in Liberal philosophising. There’s a lot of people think being optimistic about human nature is fundamental to Liberalism. So the species that produced the slave trade and Auschwitz, that is probably causing a mass extinction event, is that good? No, we understand the evil as well as the good in humanity but, like most Christians, hold as a fundamental principle that all people CAN be good and we prefer the risk of trusting the people (within reason, thanks, Gladstone) to the risk of trusting unaccountable rulers.

    Finally, many excellent essays on Liberalism were produced in the recent competition (OK, mine was one shortlisted, but all of them on the shortlist were good) and I’ve asked about them being published somehow as a collection, but I’m not aware anything has happened.

  • Neville Farmer 21st Apr '16 - 4:12pm

    So far, so good. As expected, some assume I’m saying we should be blind to the evils of the world and some express exactly the fears that I am writing about. But most seem to agree. I don’t look back on days of unlocked doors and kids walking miles to school on their own with rose tinted spectacles. But the pendulum has swung so far in the direction of paranoia and suspicion, form filling and league tables, no party campaign, new legislation or tabloid headline or school gates / pub conversation is immune. Time for a rethink.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Apr '16 - 1:08pm

    A very constructive response , many thanks and keen to read and take part in future commentary and engage with you !

  • I noticed, though I only read the full version of one of the articles (Farmer’s), that there was much about people, but no mention of “bodies corporate” – ‘firms’ for short. Rather a lot, of Law, etc is, or should be, about controlling firms – which includes the conditions of the people they employ. Specifically adverts placed by firms have a huge effect; including promoting what is resulting in the wrecking of the planet – in the name of “growth”. A Party should beware that people are affected by firms. From history, “Liberal” – as “Free Trade” – tends to free the firms. (See ‘aldestalk’ for reference to the dangers of “neoliberal”.)

  • Neville Farmer 25th Apr '16 - 11:38am

    Thanks Lorenzo Cherin. Likewise.

    Henry Cox, in any short article it’s always wrong to assume that, because something isn’t mentioned, it isn’t considered. Liberal Democrats have always stood for the rights of the individual and that has to include their rights as an employee. But this was an article about how we make laws – all laws, from criminal to social to corporate laws. The same principle stands across the entire piece. I hope that helps.

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