Social liberalism and the Liberal Democrats

Last week a tweet by the estimable Stephen Tall crossed my timeline. The tweet pointed to his blogpost The Economist is right. Liberalism is winning. Which could be bad news for the Lib Dems in 2020. That immediately piqued my interest. After all, it is axiomatic, as all right thinking people surely know, that the Economist is pretty much never right about anything. Except, of course, on the odd occasion when, through enlightenment or inadvertence, it takes a position on an issue that I happen to hold already.

But I think on this occasion the Economist, and Stephen’s blogpost, raise an important issue. Nick Clegg, in his emotional resignation speech, argued that liberalism is needed now more than ever. This is a theme that has appeared pretty regularly in statements from leading Liberal Democrat politicians and bloggers, including the candidates for the party leadership, over the last few days. The substantial increase in the party membership since the election is taken by many as an indication that there are plenty of people who agree, but were previously, for whatever reason, not inclined to pin their colours to the mast.

A need for liberalism does not, however, necessarily imply a need for the Liberal Democrats. [Read more…]

Going down fighting

decision...My goodness the atmosphere around the Libdems is febrile at the moment.

No sooner had it become clear that Friday’s Libdems4change petition was going to fizzle out than we learn of Lord Oakeshott’s freelance polling manoeuvre. It’s almost as if the timing of the leak of the poll results was planned to keep the heat on.

A number of people online referred to Lord Oakeshott as a Scooby Doo villain, but his acrid resignation letter may yet prove to be genuinely damaging not only to Nick Clegg but also to Vince Cable, his preferred party leader. If so then the self-inflicted damage means the comparison with Dick Dastardly might turn out to be more apt.

As Lord Oakeshott disappeared sulphurously into the sunset the next instalment in the saga arrived in the form of a letter to The Times from the co-chairs of the Social Liberal Forum. The letter calls for a review of strategy and approach, including to the leadership. This was initially represented – and indeed was represented by the Times – as another call for Nick Clegg to stand aside. But, to be fair, the letter doesn’t call for that. Not quite. [Read more…]

Inclusive capitalism

Mark Carney’s speech yesterday to an Inclusive Capitalism conference has attracted plenty of press coverage. And rightly so.

It is a fascinating speech. But it is not necessarily fascinating for the arguments it sets out. The arguments are familiar. It is fascinating because it is Carney who is making the arguments. Markets erode social capital; inequality undermines the legitimacy of capitalism; more robust regulatory structures are insufficient on their own to deliver a safe and socially useful financial system; banking should be viewed as a support to broader, more important social objectives rather than an end in itself; we need to rediscover a focus on the long-term and the systemic.

These arguments have had currency among the critics of the established financial order for many years. And they have achieved much greater profile and urgency among those outside the citadel since the global financial crisis.  The need for the financial system to undergo an ethical overhaul becomes ever more compelling as each new area of fraudulent market-rigging becomes exposed.

Now the arguments are more clearly registering with insiders. [Read more…]

‘roots against the machine

Last weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference was hailed by most of the mainstream media as a victory for Nick Clegg over the party’s grassroots activists. Commentators across the right wing press congratulated him on a job well done. Clegg engineered a situation in which the party voted to adopt a range of positions deemed to represent serious and grown up policy, suitable for a ‘party of government’. That is, the sort of policies that tend to find favour with right wing publications. The implicit association of ‘grown-up policy’ with policy that is hardly distinguishable from that of the other main parties is one of the most insidious, but clever, tactics the leadership has employed in volume, over time.

Anyone who believes in offering a radical social liberal alternative must be childish, because they are clearly not interested in ‘grown-up policy’. [Read more…]

Reaching the Terrible Twos

Today is the second anniversary of this blog opening for business. Happy Birthday – Blorthday? No, that sounds awful – to me. Another year of offering a largely indifferent world some more or less coherent thoughts on a range of loosely related topics.

This landmark arrives at a time when the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is going through a period of reflection. This was triggered by Stephen Tall’s comments at the Liberal Democrat Voice Blog Of The Year awards at the Brighton conference. He made the point that things aren’t quite what they used to be, with a reduction in the number of active Liberal Democrat bloggers, and the enticements of alternative social media – primarily Twitter and Facebook – seemingly proving a distraction. Several prominent bloggers – including Jonathan Calder, Richard Morris and Neil Monnery – responded. The assessment that emerged was not, perhaps, quite as downbeat as Stephen’s initial comments might have been taken to suggest.

My view is that, for all their virtues, other social media cannot supersede blogging or, if they do, then something will be lost in the process. [Read more…]

Membership renewal, or not

It’s that time of year again. Autumn Conference can be reinvigorating. So I guess, from the party’s perspective, this isn’t a bad time to have to be reaching into my back pocket. But I have to confess that there has been plenty of reflection about whether to sign on the dotted line again.

Much of what happened at Conference this year was as liberal as you could possibly want it to be. I was only able to be there for a couple of days. I caught up with some of the rest of the proceedings on BBC Parliament. I went to some interesting fringe meetings raising important issues and – sometimes! – trying to move beyond tribalism. There were votes on several issues – including on secret courts, aviation, welfare reform, housing – that seemed to me to be fine examples of Liberal Democrat values. There were, of course, other elements that weren’t perhaps so congenial, particularly the debate on economic policy.

And then we finished with the Leader’s speech. [Read more…]

Richard Reeves and his hard-driving radical liberal party

A lengthy piece by Richard Reeves has just been published online by The New Statesman. There is much in it that I agree with. Apart, that is, from the main thrust of the argument. It would be worth performing a detailed discourse analysis on the piece, but now isn’t the time.

Reeves ploughs a familiar furrow. He thinks Clegg should stay as leader. That comes as no surprise. But Reeves counsels that Clegg needs to complete his mission to ‘liberalise’ the party. Again, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. [Read more…]

Housing transformations and trajectories: My contribution to #SLFconf

[This is the text accompanying my presentation to the 2nd Social Liberal Forum Conference: “Social justice across generations”, King’s College London, 14/07/12. 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 Paula Keaveney, Emily Davey and Martin Tod – and to everyone who attended – for a really interesting session.]

We are experiencing a momentous period in UK housing – both in terms of the housing system itself and housing policy. This is not simply a product of the current economic crisis but of the crisis layered on top of longer-term and deeply-rooted problems.

We are witnessing a housing transformation on the ground. The last five or six years have seen an increase of more than a million households living in the private rented sector. This is in part because of the scarcity of mortgages for first time buyers; one of the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis.

And we are witnessing a transformation in the thinking underpinning housing policy. As those who play #shappsbingo know, Grant Shapps regularly refers to his aim of shattering the “lazy” consensus in housing policy. I don’t agree with him on much, but I think it is fair to say that there was a consensus on the broad parameters of housing policy, and that he has shattered it. Ideas that a few years ago were only whispered among the more outré right wing think tanks are now the premises upon which policy is based.

And if we don’t like the direction in which housing policy is heading then we will need to come up with some strong social liberal arguments as to why not. In my view housing policy needs refounding. [Read more…]

Why Liberal Democrats?

… as opposed to straight down the line Liberals? This is a question that we perhaps don’t reflect upon as often as we might. Now would seem as good a time as any to do so.

In fact, it is an extremely pertinent question at this precise moment. We’ve just witnessed David Laws in the media promoting his campaign for a smaller state, invoking various liberal icons in support. Fanboys and girls in the Orange Book Tendency have rallied to the cause. His campaign complemented some of the key messages David Cameron has been peddling on welfare reform.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIn the ongoing debate about appropriate political directions for the party we’ve witnessed some intriguing recent contributions. [Read more…]

David Laws, neoliberalism, and concentration of power

Calling someone a neoliberal is rarely a sign of agreement or a term of endearment. It is one of those terms that’s only ever used pejoratively. It’s hard to think of anyone who would choose to classify themselves as a neoliberal. The definition of neoliberalism is quite fluid and contested, but no one uses the label as a sign of approbation.

So when David Laws was branded a neoliberal in the comment thread on a recent post at Liberal Democrat Voice a few supporters sought to defend his honour. The majority of the commenters, on the other hand, were less complimentary about him and his ideas. And there was some negativity about the possibility of his returning to government. Everyone agrees he’s a jolly clever chap. But many see him as the poster boy for the Orange Book Tendency and, as such, a malign influence within the Liberal Democrats. He seems reasonably comfortable with the Orange Book label and that it betokens a faction within the party. Indeed it is one he seems to relish.

But is he a neoliberal? [Read more…]