The need for “grown up” policy

[Originally posted at Social Liberal Forum blog, 29/07/13]

SuitsIt’s being billed as a set piece set-to.

The rapidly approaching Autumn Conference in Glasgow is of great significance. Discussions that shape the content of the next General Election manifesto will be at the core of the agenda. It would appear that Nick Clegg and his aides are aiming to use a string of votes at Conference to push the party in his preferred direction. The major Clegg-sponsored motion on the economy – which basically asks voting reps to sign up to Osbornomics as official party policy – is likely to be a particular flashpoint; just as previous motions on the economy have been.

Some are portraying this conference as a battle for the heart and soul of the party. That may be overstating the case. But it appears that, depending on how the votes fall, the party could end up approaching the next General Election with a rather different policy platform to those upon which its previous electoral progress was built. [Read more...]

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Economical with the truth?

The agenda for this year’s Liberal Democrat Spring Conference carries the strapline Stronger economy, Fairer society. Given the parlous state of UK plc, and the deeply inequitable impacts of the Coalition austerity policy, the strapline touches on two of the biggest issues of the day. So the unwary among us might think that the discussion would have the economy somewhere near the top of the agenda.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the cynic might suggest there was strong circumstantial evidence to the contrary. The party leadership is doing as much as it can to avoid giving an airing to the issue of the direction of economic policy.

6162309761_6e59bfde6d_nFirst, Vince Cable has not been given the opportunity to speak to Conference as a whole. Instead, he found himself on a less high profile platform: speaking to a Friday evening fringe meeting organised by the Social Liberal Forum. The meeting nonetheless attracted an audience of a couple of hundred delegates. [Read more...]

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On #LDConf – good, bad, indifferent?

This year’s Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Brighton is heading towards its final day. There was a lot of interesting substance to some of the discussions I attended. The conference also raised plenty of questions about the way the party goes about its business. I may return to some of them in future. Here I’ll just note a couple of issues that stood out.

Good

Today’s motion F41: No Government above the law – the Justice and Security Bill was trailed as a likely flashpoint for dissent. And so it proved. The motion called for the Coalition to withdraw part II of the Bill which allows for so-called “secret courts” and for Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against it if necessary.  The leadership introduced an amendment that would effectively neutralise the motion. People were quick to see this as a wrecking amendment.

This is the sort of issue upon which Liberal Democrats know their own mind. It is an issue that goes absolutely to the heart of the Liberal Democrats’ self-identity. A commitment to upholding civil liberties is just about the only thing everyone can agree on.

Even as the leadership tried to move their amendment all the speeches in favour were carefully structured to argue that the amended motion would do a better job of protecting civil liberties than the original motion. It would have been suicidal to suggest that the original motion was not solidly liberal. It was just the sort of thing that would have been a no-brainer in opposition. The only available option was to suggest that it could be made even better by amendment. The strategy was transparent, but Conference wasn’t persuaded. [Read more...]

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Intergenerational justice – SLF Conference 2012

This year’s Social Liberal Forum Conference – on the theme of Social justice for today’s youth and future generations – is being held on 21st July at King’s College, London.

Nick Clegg will be delivering the inaugural William Beveridge Memorial Lecture, while Ed Davey will be talking about economics for future generations. [Read more...]

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Is Liberal Left ludicrous?

That is how it was described on Twitter today by a prominent LibDem blogger. And that followed a post yesterday evening by another prominent blogger who offered a particularly derisive response to the news that Liberal Left will be holding an evening session at Spring Conference. The basic position was that those responsible for Liberal Left should get back to the Labour party where they belong. It is unusual to see such disrespect and naked tribalism.

Liberal Democrat Voice today carries a rather more measured post by Paul Ankers arguing that the most important coalition of all, from the Liberal Democrat perspective, is the party itself. Factions are not necessarily a problem if they can engage constructively and respectfully. When the mud-slinging starts then there is a problem. We may then be talking not factions but fracture.

The ‘ludicrous’ comment was clearly a throwaway line. The reasoning behind it was not transparent. But it is evident that anything that involves Linda Jack and Richard Grayson is always going to bring some people out in a rash.

I don’t find the Liberal Left group ludicrous. But I am cautious about this development. [Read more...]

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The Big Society and Community Politics: My Contribution to #SLFconf

[This is the text accompanying my presentation to the Social Liberal Forum Conference: “Liberalism, Equality and the State”, City University, 18/06/11. Not all of it was delivered on the day, because of the way the session panned out and because there's too much of it. My thanks to my co-contributors Mark Pack, Simon Hebditch and Lee Chalmers - and to everyone who attended - for a really interesting session.]

“ … a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (MacBeth, Act V, Scene V)

David Cameron clings tenaciously to the Big Society as the organising concept behind his approach to state and society. He does so in the face of almost universal indifference and incomprehension from political opponents, the public, and many on his own side of the House. One is tempted to invoke the above quotation from Shakespeare and leave it at that.

That would, however, be unfair. It would also be a mistake.

Because the Big Society could signal something significant. Although not, perhaps, what its architects intend.

My aim here is to reflect a little on the idea of the Big Society, the consequences of the context in which the idea comes forward, and what it might have in common with the more venerable Liberal idea of Community Politics. In considering these issues it is essential to distinguish clearly between intention and outcome. The pursuit of the Big Society has the potential to set in train processes that may lead to outcomes quite unlike those intended or sought. [Read more...]

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Liberalism, Equality and the State – The SLF Conference

The first Social Liberal Forum annual conference – on the theme Liberalism, Equality and the State – is being held on 18th June at City University.

I’ll be saying my piece on the the compatibility of the Big Society and community politics – accountability and marketisation.

Here is the full list of speakers:

Vince Cable, Lee Chalmers, Evan Harris, Simon Hebditch, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne, Will Hutton, Neal Lawson, Alex Marsh, Mark Pack, Ed Randell, Alexis Rowell, Naomi Smith, Claire Tyler, Halina Ward

[Read more...]

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