Radical Liberalism in the 21st century

Frances Foley

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

This think piece by Chris Bowers and Paul Pettinger makes the case for radical liberalism in today’s political context. The authors, both linked to the Liberal Democrats, argue that their party should embrace and advance radical social liberal values, such as seeking the devolution of power as well as wealth, and empowering people as individuals. The authors argue that in the current political landscape, the Lib Dems must keep pushing for proportional representation, and engage in a progressive alliance to make this a reality.

You can read the think piece here.

Please let us have your comments about this vision on the role and the future of liberalism in 21st century UK politics below.

 

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  1. Posted by Martin Wright

    Proportional representation – yes, but the right kind.De Borda probably the best, but single transferable vote would do.
    Economics: need to promote co-operatives.
    Companies should be audited for corporate responsibility.
    Employment: promote the arts and craftsmanship.
    Criminal justice: promote restorative justice.

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  2. Posted by Derry Hannam

    I like the thinking here but in order to change the political landscape we need to create genuinely democratic experiences for all young people in our school system. Democracy and Human Rights need to be practised in the everyday life of our schools not just talked about by teachers in poorly taught citizenship lessons. There should be real democratic discussion and decision making at class and school level. Students should be represented on governing bodies. In order to get staff and students negotiating and listening to each other a significant portion (10%-20%) of curriculum time should be freed from all external assessment and prescriptive curriculum pressures and be built around the interests and enthusiasms of the students. Then we might have more engagement by young people in the political life of our democracy.

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  3. Posted by Mick Hills

    I sometimes despair. It is now without doubt proven beyond any doubt , argument or even comment that Capitalism / Neoliberalism call it what you want is taking the world, the country , the individual toward an age that we thought we left behind 200 years ago. Asking now if we need ‘radicals’ is like asking if you would like to see Mount Everest climbed for the first time. But unfortunately it reflects just how out of touch the middle classes and middle of the road political elite have become. It is a condemnation its self to tentatively ask now, should we adopt radical policies. Please, if you have to inquire or plead then you have already lost the case and shown that you have absolutely no grip on what has been happening, not just since the bank crash but long before. Every decent economist worth their salt have been shouting from the rooftops for years that radical action must be taken to stop what is going on. Its like the Lib Dems et al are the only ones not to have seen the film. Making the case for Liberal radicalism now is almost laughable when you think about what the 1945 Labour government did on Liberal recommendations. The case has been made, just get on with it. I would say as a Labour supporter and member you are letting down Liberalism massively but of course you are still trying to disentangle yourselves from the ghastly effects of Nick Clegg. Hurry up, because you are well out of date.

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  4. Posted by Mike

    Hi,

    If this is a document written by politicians for politicians then it’s probably fine, but given that half of it is about political posturing it really means very little to people outside that bubble. What is needed more than anything at the moment is sensible discussion about real issues for real people, then maybe the general public will pay attention and get involved

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  5. Posted by Neil Foss

    Its pathetic how introspective and soulsearching Libdums have become since 2015. Only the most naive of political players could have broken a pre election promise on their first day in power. The fact they did epitomises the naked ambition and desperation for even a sniff of power. Cameron et al took them to the cleaners becaue they knew.
    This document is the same as the Libdums and all their previous incrnations over the decades since they lost out to the new Labour movement. Its determination to alienate at least 52% of the electorate by supporting a second referendum on Brexit which lays bare their real ideology. Supporting EU membership makes all the rest of the document toilet paper or fish and chip paper at best. The EU is no supporter of liberalism, no supporter of ordinary citizens, no supporter of workers. The treaty Bliar signed gave capitalism slave labour in Eastern European immigration on Eastern European minimum wage, under utting the UK minimum wage and causing poverty and misery to ordinary people and workers. The Eu is elitism, capitalism, neoliberalism, faux free market, open access for big corporations to lobby for more centralism, more exploitation, more environmental destruction, more inequality, more power and wealth for the already rich and powerful.

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  6. Posted by Richard Fletcher

    Much too wordy and woolly. There is a list of to-do’s to put as on the right track. If I hear the word “reform” or “change” again I think I’ll puke
    1 A proportional voting system
    2 A written constitution
    3 A federal system in the UK, alternatively a written common wealth in the Canadian model
    4 A tax system seen to be fair
    5 Remove inter-generational inequity. Abolish tuition fees
    6 Allow councils to start building council houses again
    7 Bring the railways back into public ownership
    8 Make gas, electicity, and water companies subject Rate of Return regulation–as practiced for 100 years + in the US. Nat Grid knows all about it
    8 Reverse this PPI nonsense

    I could go on…but you see my point, a claim to “radical” policies is just nonsense and bound to fail. The country needs PRACTICAL solutions. We need to get started, and keep going

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  7. Posted by Richard Addison

    As a left-leaning liberal, I agree with much of the article and believe the Liberal Democrats should occupy a position on the centre left as opposed to parking themselves slap bang in the middle of the big two parties. I welcome co-operation between the parties on the left but suspect that Labour tribalism, and their sense of being the only progressive party, will ensure the continued dominance of the Conservatives.
    Electoral reform is essential if we are ever going to truly modernise this country. I welcome the fact that more Labour politicians are in favour of PR but I suspect that too many in the Labour ranks prefer FPTP for the same reason the Conservatives do, i.e. not having to share power.

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  8. Posted by Chris Ingold

    I joined the Libs when they became this party under Kennedy and I left when they lost it under Clegg. I joined Labour hoping they might become that party and then the Momentum thugs took over and parts of Labour became the party I didn’t join in the 90s due to too much emphasis on the mob and inter party bullying. Now the libs are in the wilderness somewhere and I don’t yet trust that the party has accepted what went wrong in Cleggdom but the principle is still true and whilst the exasperated comments above are understandable I for one need a liberal, social justice oriented party to grow and right now Labour aren’t getting there.

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  9. Posted by James Harris

    The only thing I could say reading this is ‘Yes’. The Lib Dems also need to be explicit – no deal with the Conservatives, even command and supply, under any circumstances. And a proper apology for the Coalition’s worst excesses – spouse visa minimum income thresholds anyone? – would also be worthwhile. I believe the liberal voice still has a great role to play in UK politics.

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  10. Posted by Leo Aylen

    At the moment, we are being governed by an unrepresentative – I would say fascist – government, who are on the point of destroying British politics and British culture in favour of society run by Rees Noggs. Before any thoughts about liberal democracy, we must stop Brexit.
    Democracy should mean the people must decide. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Manchester, Liverpool, York, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Bath , all voted for Remain. Democracy should mean the break-up of the United Kingdom. No sane government would ever have a choice like Leave-Remain decided by a straight majority. Any sane country, including South Africa, insists that constitutional change must he by two-thirds majority. For a government to take over the inconclusive and incoherent result of such a referendum is pure Fascism, and should be resisted to the limits, short of war. There must be a second referendum. Any attempt to sort out of the problems of our bitterly divided nation(s) while undergoing the financial hardship we shall all suffer as a result of Brexit is madness. Stop Brexit, and then there’s a chance we can stop Tory Fascism. Then we can discuss Radical Liberalism.

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  11. Posted by Geoff Naylor

    “Labour’s cherished idea of ‘one more heave’ to get it into government is optimistic to say the least.”

    How true. It is arguable which needs the other most: Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

    I came across this the other day, which seems to encapsulate the problem from Labour’s perspective: “Engels pointed out in The Peasant War in Germany, talking about Thomas Müntzer, ‘The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government at a time when society is not yet ripe for the domination of the class he represents and for the measures which that domination implies…Thus, he necessarily finds himself in a unsolvable dilemma. What he can do contradicts all his previous actions and principles, and the immediate interests of his party and what he ought to do cannot be done. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whose domination the movement is then ripe. In the interest of the movement, he is compelled to advance the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with talk and promises, and with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests. He who is put into this awkward position is irrevocably lost.’

    There we have it. Britain is not ready for Labour under Corbyn and if it and he were to be elected, they wouldn’t be able to carry out the Labour manifesto and ‘New Labour’ would probably be resurrected.

    Incremental progressive change would appear to be the way forward. A Labour manifesto tempered, not so much by a welcomed Liberal Democratic radical agenda, but by their membership. Hardcore Labour ameliorated by ‘normal’ Lib Dem people we vote for in the shires. The idea of an electorate pact for mutual advantage has just been seeded. It may be that or, God forbid, Tories for another 5 years.

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  12. Posted by John Halsey

    I’m a Labour Party member, and I agree with practically all the policies Chris Bowers and Paul Pettinger say the Liberal Democrats should support. However, our experience here in Ealing Central and Acton over the past three elections is that the Lib Dems have split the anti-Tory vote. In 2010 their untrue claim that they were the only party that could beat the Conservatives may have led enough voters to switch to them to let the Tory candidate win. In 2015 Labour’s majority was wafer-thin.

    The writers understandably try to distance themselves from the Lib Dems’ support of the Conservatives in the coalition. But they describe it as “a measure to provide political stability in an uncertain time”, when in my view it enabled the Tories to introduce quite radical, destabilising – and unprogressive – policies in health, welfare and education. Neal claims that this doesn’t reflect the true heart and soul of the party, but more party members voted for Nick Clegg than for Chris Huhne, and very few Lib Dem MPs refused to join the coalition government.

    Perhaps some of these Lib Dems didn’t inhale.

    Incidentally, the distinction the writers draw between class-based Labour and individualistic Lib Dems is out of date, in my opinion. It was truer in the 1980s when the number of people who belonged to Trade Unions was higher than the number who voted Labour. But the fall in union membership has changed that significantly.

    I like the idea of a progressive alliance. I also wish Bowers and Pettinger every success. But as long as Labour contests every seat I’m not convinced these are compatible.

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  13. Posted by John Halsey

    I’m a Labour Party member, and I agree with practically all the policies Chris Bowers and Paul Pettinger say the Liberal Democrats should support. However, our experience here in Ealing Central and Acton over the past three elections is that the Lib Dems have split the anti-Tory vote. In 2010 their untrue claim that they were the only party that could beat the Conservatives may have led enough voters to switch to them to let the Tory candidate win. In 2015 Labour’s majority was wafer-thin.
    The writers understandably try to distance themselves from the Lib Dems’ support of the Conservatives in the coalition. But they describe it as “a measure to provide political stability in an uncertain time”, when in my view it enabled the Tories to introduce quite radical, destabilising – and unprogressive – policies in health, welfare and education. Neal claims that this doesn’t reflect the true heart and soul of the party, but more party members voted for Nick Clegg than for Chris Huhne, and very few Lib Dem MPs refused to join the coalition government.
    Perhaps some of these Lib Dems didn’t inhale.
    Incidentally, the distinction the writers draw between class-based Labour and individualistic Lib Dems is out of date, in my opinion. It was truer in the 1980s when the number of people who belonged to Trade Unions was higher than the number who voted Labour. But the fall in union membership has changed that significantly.
    I like the idea of a progressive alliance. I also wish Bowers and Pettinger every success. But as long as Labour contests every seat I’m not convinced these are compatible.

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  14. Posted by Jeff Kaye

    I subscribe to every paragraph in this well-written piece. It describes so many of the beliefs that shape my thinking. If ‘liberalism’ was an NGO, then I am sure that it would gain good funding and provide solid advocacy that would cause many to think again.
    However….unless I am mistaken, liberalism needs a political party to fight its battles as it is primarily through parliament that change is made. Since the early twentieth century, when the young Labour Party derived an economic policy that generated enthusiasm amongst a large portion of the population that had previously voted Liberal, the ancestors of that once-great party have suffered diminishing electoral success in line with the diminution in effective economic policies that might capture large sections of new voters.
    While Labour and Tories have maintained economic policies based on real benefits that they believe will come through for the economy and then to their voters, Liberals/Liberal Democrats have not been able to enunciate much beyond a half-way house between the two or a softer market approach than the Tories. While I might agree with the sentiments provided in the paper on economics, it does not amount to much and, while I may continue to vote for a liberal agenda, most will not unless that agenda comes with an economic policy that wnis the hearts and minds of significant numbers of voters that believe that a distinctive economic policy will benefit the country and themselves. This has not existed in the Liberal Democrats or its predecessors since the 1930’s.
    Keynesian economics was a bedrock of Liberalism but was overtaken by Labour (and the Tories when they saw fit). Liberalism now needs to resurrect an economic philosophy that works for the 21st Century and vitally appeals. It needs to try much harder than the ‘middle way’ that appeals to no-one in particular. We need to spend some time developing this or liberalism (despite its plethora of excellent philosophies) will never gain support.

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  15. Posted by Roger Crowther

    A long overdue attempt to move the Libs back to the left of the political spectrum, where they were when I was a candidate! Requires next a closer look at specific policy areas and how close to /apart from other political groups we are. Richard’s list posted on 24/01is a start but what about education? The statement in the document is vague and hardly gets to any core issues like who controls/supports the school system.
    I see the old moan about “abandoning” the HE fees policy is again being raised. I don’t see how as minority members of a coalition Clegg and co. could have persuaded the Tories to accept a return to no fees, or is the argument that we shouldn’t have entered coalition unless this was guaranteed?

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  16. Posted by Martin Childs

    The ball is in Labour’s court. They must embrace proportional presentation for elections to the House of Commons or there won’t now be a Progressive Alliance or electoral pact or any other kind of co-operation. When the petition on electoral reform was presented in Downing Street, Plaid Cymru, SNP, Lib Dems and Greens were there in force. But no sign of anyone from the Labour Party, let alone the leader. Absolutely no one from that party was prepared to break ranks and say that regardless of their party, they just had to be there and make a commitment to a modern democracy. A pact between just the Greens and the Lib Dems is virtually meaningless if we want to remove the Tories. But those parties won’t be wanting a pact with Labour without support for PR being agreed first. So I’m not worrying about another five years of the Tories, but the possibility of perhaps another thirty. Labour has to join the 21st century and prove itself truly progressive by embracing proportional representation. Democracy is always the ultimate empowerment for ordinary people and Labour is failing us badly.

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  17. Posted by Simon Norton

    One issue that needs to be specifically highlighted is transport, which has a unique potential to bring all the campaign strands together.

    Buses are the only truly inclusive mode of transport — they can go anywhere where there are roads and can be used by almost anyone independently of traffic skills, physical fitness, wealth etc., and getting people out of cars onto buses is the best antidote to problems of congestion and pollution. They should therefore be first in the queue for funding — but ever since 2010 they seem to have been the prime target for cuts.

    Our urban areas are blighted by pollution, congestion, noise and danger. Our rural areas are becoming inaccessible for people without access to cars, who have not been recognised as a “protected group” within the meaning of the Equalities Act. Even many new developments imprison people in their homes in the evenings and at weekends for lack of transport.

    People talk about affordable housing, which is certainly a key issue — but we also need to seek accessible housing which is linked to transport from early morning to late evening 7 days a week.

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