Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Why YOU Must Vote!!!

It's that time again, politicians from left and right are out pounding the pavements across the country looking for people to vote for them. The 2015 general election campaign looks like it will be the closest election in decades. Either Labour or the Conservatives could win it and the Liberal Democrats, or the SNP are likely to be the kingmakers.

The political marketplace is now more crowded than it has ever been and yet millions of people at this election will not even bother to vote. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands may not have even bothered to register to vote, many of which will be students. I think this is nothing less than a national tragedy. Our democracy is so important and yet millions are disengaged from it.

Politicians from all parties must of course take some of the blame for the level of political disengagement. Trust in politics is at an all-time low and parties across the spectrum lack distinctive positive visions. Not to mention the fact that many politicians come from privileged social backgrounds that often seem alien to most voters. Despite this fact there are more viable choices to vote for than ever before.

One hundred years ago not a single woman or a single poor person of either gender had the right to vote and we are still one of the significant minority of countries that have a genuine democracy that is free and fair. We cannot take our democracy for granted we must use our voting rights and always seek to improve and reform our democracy.

Beyond all other things democracy embodies political equality. It is the only true and absolute equality that we have. Everyone regardless of wealth, race, gender, class, ability/disability, age and sexual orientation has just one vote. Regardless of whether you are a banker or use a food bank you have just one vote. Regardless of whether you are the Prime Minister or an ordinary person you have just one vote.

British democracy has faced many threats. We achieved universal democracy in the aftermath of the First World War, but our grandparents soon had to fight to defend it against the Nazis in the Second World War. For the five decades that followed, Britain faced an equally big threat to our democracy coming from communism and the Soviet Union.

History has shown us the tireless work of campaigners around the world to achieve democracy; from George Washington to Martin Luther King, from Emmeline Pankhurst to Aung San Suu Kyi, from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. All of these political campaigners had to fight against those who were prepared to deny them their fundamental democratic rights. Such people didn't struggle to achieve our democratic rights just so they could be squandered by apathy.

Over the next five weeks engage with the political parties and take the opportunity to use your fundamental democratic rights. No one will ever listen to your voice if you are not prepared to use it. Of course there is the feeling that people have been ignored by politicians; so for goodness sake MAKE THEM LISTEN TO YOU!!! Don't be passive and apathetic, MAKE YOUR VOICE COUNT!!! Use the democratic rights that your great-grandmothers chained themselves to Parliament to achieve; and your grandfathers fought a world war to defend. Don't take democracy for granted, because in many parts of the world it does not exist. People from Hong Kong to Cairo are campaigning for democracy today. Even in this so-called advanced democracy; true democracy is less than 100 years old.

There is such a wide range of political parties out there.
The Conservatives have pledged to tackle the deficit with spending cuts and tax cuts.
Labour aims to strengthen social fairness and improve living standards.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party with a commitment to fill the £8 billion funding gap in the NHS, also they have radical plans to ensure civil liberties and political reform.
UKIP want Britain to leave the European Union and stop immigration.
The Green Party wants to stop climate change and renationalise the railways.
The Scottish National Party want to make Scotland an independent country.
These are just the core issues that define the leading parties, they have many more policies as well.

On May 7th ensure your political citizenship by casting a vote. And if you really can't bring yourself to vote for any party, then you should consider standing as an independent. If no-one is prepared to listen to you, then you make them listen to you through campaigning and persuading people. Democracy has the power to radically change things. Apathy is not an option and frankly it is an insult to all those around the world who struggle for democracy.  OUR DEMOCRACY WILL ONLY REMAIN VIABLE IF PEOPLE LIKE YOU BOTHER TO VOTE!!!

Monday, 19 January 2015

My Ideas for the 2015 TV Debates

There is currently a lot of talk in the media about future television debates during the 2015 general election. In 2010 the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats were involved. However now there are calls for the leaders of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, the Scottish National party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru to also be included.

Obviously, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party should be included in all three televised election debates. The Liberal Democrats with their record in government over the last five years and there realistic potential to hold the balance of power after the election this year means that they should be included.

UKIP should be included in two of the election debates to take account of their considerable support in the opinion polls, as well as their recent by-election and European Election victories. As for the Green Party, they have seen a notable increase in their support in recent months and this means they should be included in one of the debates. The Green party should not be included in any other debates because they will not hold the balance of power after the general election. This being said if the Green’s support continues to grow after 2015 they might be eligible for more than one debate in 2020.

The SNP have seen a massive surge in their support after the Scotland referendum. They should be included in one debate to take account of this, but due to the fact that they only stand in Scotland, they shouldn't be included in the other two debates. Furthermore there should be Scotland only debates between the main parties in Scotland. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru should be included in Wales only debates. As for the national TV debates, I see no evidence to justify why Plaid Cymru should be involved.

I suggest that there should be three TV debates and that there should be a two week period between each debate. In 2015 the general election campaign will last five weeks and with a fortnight gap it will ensure that the campaign isn't entirely dominated by the debates.

The Grand Debate

My idea for the first debate is what I am calling "The Grand Debate." The Grand Debate would include six party leaders. These leaders would be David Cameron (Conservative Party), Ed Miliband (Labour Party), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Natalie Bennett (Green Party). This debate will last for two hours (to take account of the large number of participants) and it would be entirely based on issues of any policy area. This could include questions on the economy, home affairs, foreign affairs, law and justice, the environment, health, education and welfare etc.

The Domestic and Foreign Affairs Debate

The second debate would be entirely on domestic and foreign affairs issues. The duration of this debate would be an hour and a half. 45 minutes will be on domestic affairs and 45 minutes will be on foreign affairs. Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage should all be included in this debate. All of these parties have expressed strong positions on domestic and foreign affairs. The Greens and the SNP should not be included for the reasons stated earlier.

The Prime Ministerial Debate

The purpose of this third and final debate is to discuss economic issues. Like the second debate it would last for one and a half hours. One hour would be devoted entirely to the economy with the final 30 minutes devoted to any policy area. This debate would include the three main party leaders; David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The purpose of it is to give them an opportunity to outline their economic vision and defend their economic records in government. UKIP should not be included in this final debate due to their lack of a clear narrative on the economy and their primary focus being placed on foreign affairs issues and a few domestic issues.

My TV Election Debate Format

The Grand Debate                                            2nd April 2015        
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg     Nigel Farage
Nicola Sturgeon     Natalie Bennett
Themes: Any Policy Area (2 Hours)

The Domestic and Foreign Affairs Debate   16th April 2015      
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg     Nigel Farage
Themes: Domestic Affairs (45 Minutes) Foreign Affairs (45 Minutes)

The Prime Ministerial Debate                       30th April 2015
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg    

Themes: The Economy (1 Hour) Any Policy Area (30 Minutes)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

My Predictions for the 2015 General Election

I have made a handful of predictions for the 2015 general election based on my own political instincts and knowledge. It will be interesting to see how many of these predictions turn out to be accurate in a few months time. The purpose of this article is merely to catalogue my own political thoughts in January 2015.

There will be another Hung Parliament.
With Labour and the Conservatives so close to one another in the opinion polls it appears that like in 2010 there will be another Hung Parliament. However I'm not brave enough to say whether the Conservatives or Labour will be the largest party in that Hung Parliament.

Regardless of the result questions will still remain over David Cameron’s and Ed Miliband’s Leadership.
Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have faced internal pressures over their leadership. Which ever leader loses the election or is unable to form a government will have to resign. If David Cameron remains Prime Minister he will continue to face internal pressures over Europe and immigration. Should Ed Miliband become Prime Minister he will continue to face criticism from the Blairite right and the socialist left which criticise his leadership style and policy stances.

It’s the Economy (and Living Standards) stupid.
The big issues at the election will be the economy and living standards. The Conservatives will emphasise a stronger economy, while Labour will emphasise improving living standards and the Liberal Democrats will focus on a mixture of both.

Labour and the Conservatives combined will poll less than 70%.
Two party politics is under pressure like never before and in this environment it is unlikely that Labour and the Conservatives together will poll 70% of the vote.

The Liberal Democrats will poll between 12% and 15%.
Much of the electoral analysis over the last few years has focused on the dire state of the Liberal Democrats which are currently polling between 8% and 10%. The Lib Dems will see a notable increase in support prior to election day due to them being an incumbent government party. The Lib Dems will poll between 12% and 15%. This is a considerable improvement but far less than the 23% the party won in 2010.

The UKIP bubble will deflate.
UKIP are polling currently in a strong third-place position however as we draw closer to election day many former Tory and Labour voters will return back to their traditional parties. UKIP could still poll over 10% but much less than their current poll rating between 15% and 18%.

The Green bubble will burst.             
Since the European elections in 2014 the Green Party has had a notable increase in its support even briefly overtaking the Lib Dems on 8%, however this bubble will burst before the general election. The Greens might still poll either 2% or 3% a notable increase on the 1% they won in 2010.

The SNP will defeat Scottish Labour, but it will be close.
The rise of the Scottish National Party seems unstoppable in Scotland. The SNP will probably win the general election in Scotland however it will be much closer than the opinion polls are currently saying with Scottish Labour only a few percentage points and seats behind the SNP.

The Liberal Democrats will hold onto most of their seats where the Conservatives are the main opposition.
While the Lib Dems could see a considerable decrease in their national support in 2015 in the seats that they hold they have a strong incumbency factor. This factor is especially strong in seats where the Conservative Party is the main opposition. Hence the Lib Dems will hold onto the vast majority of their seats in Conservative leaning areas and will win a few marginal seats from the Tories.

There might be a second election.
If the general election in May 2015 has an inconclusive result and no coalition or minority government can be formed it is likely that a second election could be held before the end of the year.

British politics will have changed immensely by 2020.
British politics is at a turning point. 2015 is likely to be the beginning of considerable political change. One party majority government is in decline and Britain is on the verge of becoming a multi-party system with significant support for at least five political parties: the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the SNP. Should any of these parties face a change of leadership in the next few years they will likely take a radically different direction to their current course. The British party system will have changed immensely by 2020. Let's just hope that these are political parties that can inspire the electorate and bring about radical progressive change.

Monday, 29 December 2014

2015: A Landmark Year in British Politics?

The State of the Political Parties

2015 has the potential to be a landmark year in British politics. The general election that is likely to happen on 7th May 2015 is both the most exciting election and the most unpredictable election since 1974. There are six political parties that are getting noteworthy support: the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Conservative Party
David Cameron has been the Prime Minister for the last five years and he will be aiming to win a second term in government. It seems very unlikely due to the electoral arithmetic that the Conservatives will win an outright majority. More likely, the Tories could be the largest party again in a Hung Parliament. Over the past year the Tories have been fighting a right wing rearguard action against UKIP; following the defection of two Tory MPs to UKIP in the last few months. The Tories will aim to move the political argument away from immigration and onto the economy. Tory strategists anticipate that their management of the economy will be their biggest vote winner in 2015.

Labour Party
Throughout 2014, the Labour Party has been narrowly ahead of the Conservatives in the opinion polls. If this trend holds until election day, Labour could win the election outright but with a small majority. Failing that, Labour could seek to be the biggest party in another Hung Parliament. Despite Labour being more popular in the opinion polls, Ed Miliband is far less popular than David Cameron in the leadership polls. For Labour the big issue in 2015 is likely to be living standards. Despite reasonable economic growth, there is still considerable youth unemployment and up until very recently inflation was far above wage increases. Unpopular policies like cuts to public services and the bedroom tax as well as the potential for a crisis in the NHS, will be vote winners for Labour in 2015.

Liberal Democrats
Over the last Parliament the Liberal Democrats have lost over half of its electoral support and has been repeatedly hammered at the ballot box. However despite this, the Liberal Democrats are the most likely party to still be in power after May 2015 especially if there is another Hung Parliament. Furthermore, incumbent Lib Dem MPs are on average much more popular than their Labour or Tory counterparts. As a result the Lib Dems might hold onto more seats than the opinion polls are currently predicting due to the strength of their local incumbency. The Lib Dem leadership is trying to strike a balance between a stronger economy and a fairer society. In 2015, the ambition of the Lib Dem leadership is to be once again the kingmaker in another Hung Parliament.

UKIP over the last two years has taken advantage of angry protest voters who are dissatisfied with the mainstream parties. This has led to a considerable rise in UKIP’s support making them the third most popular party in most opinion polls. In May 2014, UKIP won the European Elections. UKIP benefited this year from two defections from the Conservative Party and two subsequent by-election victories. UKIP in 2015 will be focusing primarily on the issue of immigration hoping to win support from traditional Tory voters as well as some angry Labour voters. UKIP will be hoping to win several seats in parliament in 2015.

Green Party
Over the last few months, the Green Party has seen a notable rise in its support in the opinion polls. In a few opinion polls the Greens even briefly overtook the Lib Dems. Of the six parties, the Greens are the most left wing and have adopted a socialist economic platform, thus making them the most anti-austerity party of those that I have mentioned. Despite their rise in support, the Greens are unlikely to win more than two or three seats in 2015 due to the electoral system. However 2015 might act as preparation for a true electoral breakthrough for the Greens in 2020.

Scottish National Party
The SNP are undoubtedly the party of 2014. The political year was dominated by the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum and its aftermath. Despite the Unionist parties being victorious; the SNP has seen an astonishing rise in its political support in the aftermath of the referendum. The Scottish National Party is now the third largest party in Britain after its membership more than trebled after the referendum. In the opinion polls the SNP vote has soared in Scotland. The rise of the SNP has placed Scottish Labour in deep peril. Nicola Sturgeon will be aiming for the SNP to become the largest party in Scotland at the general election. Some opinion polls have shown the Scottish National Party winning over 40 seats in Scotland.

Another Hung Parliament?

As we go into 2015 and it looks very unlikely that any political party will be able to win an overall majority. Another Hung Parliament is probably the most likely outcome of the next general election. 2015 will likely test the first past the post voting system like never before. When six political parties are getting a considerable share of the vote, a voting system that only benefits two parties will see not only outdated but undemocratic. The implications on the British constitution of another Hung Parliament are profound and are unprecedented.  

Who will be the next Deputy Prime Minister?

General elections are dominated by speculation of who could be the next Prime Minister; however in 2015 as much speculation might be paid to who could be the next Deputy Prime Minister.

Nick Clegg will be hopeful of winning a second term as Deputy Prime Minister. The Liberal Democrats could potentially go into coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour. However, will the party have much appetite for another coalition with the Conservatives, especially from the perspective of the social liberals within the party? Furthermore, will the Orange Bookers have much enthusiasm for a coalition with Labour after opposing them for five years?

If UKIP’s support surge is realised in 2015 it is not entirely impossible that Nigel Farage could hold the balance of power. It is likely that UKIP could form a right wing coalition with the Conservatives, however Farage hasn't ruled out doing a deal with the Labour Party. Farage will no doubt call for strict limits on immigration as well as an immediate referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

Alex Salmond (if he is returned as an MP) could hold the balance of power in a Hung Parliament in 2015 especially if the SNP become the largest party in Scotland. The SNP won't work with the Conservatives however Salmond could strike a deal with Labour which more than likely will include devolving considerably more powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Two General Elections in 2015?

At the beginning of this article I compared the 2015 general election to 1974. In 1974, there were two general elections in one year. Could the same happen again in 2015? If there is an indecisive result will either Labour or the Conservatives take the opportunity of having a second general election at the end of 2015? This is exactly what Harold Wilson did in 1974. Labour was the biggest party in a Hung Parliament after the February election, however the Liberal Party didn't have enough seats to form a coalition with either party. A few months later, Wilson called another election in October 1974. Could either Cameron or Miliband in 2015 follow Wilson's example and call a second election, if no viable government or coalition can be formed after the first election?

Austerity Forever in 2015?

Britain has been experiencing austerity since 2008. In Britain, the Conservatives are talking about continuing austerity until 2020. Tory austerity will negatively impact upon already squeezed local government budgets and will lead to additional cuts in public services and the welfare state. Labour and the Liberal Democrats will cut less than the Conservatives and increase taxes on the wealthy in order to reduce the deficit.

There are small cracks emerging in the austerity consensus. The SNP and the Greens have been running increasingly on an anti-austerity platform. Even within the political mainstream; social democrats in the Labour Party and social liberals in the Liberal Democrats are tiring of austerity and are contemplating a Keynesian alternative. Added to this, the austerity policies of the Eurozone might change if left wing governments get elected in Greece and Spain. Could 2015 be the last austerity election?

The Future of British Politics

The general election in 2015 could be a landmark election. It will certainly be very exciting and might be the defining election of a generation. It may even have the potential to usher in a new era in British politics similar to the elections in 1906, 1918, 1945, and 1979. What is beyond question is that British politics has never been more interesting and British democracy never more exciting.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Lancaster University Liberal Democrats Annual General Meeting Speech 2014

This is the speech I gave to the Annual General Meeting of the Lancaster University Liberal Democrats on Wednesday 5th November 2014.

Check the speech against delivery.

Lancaster University Liberal Democrats

It’s great to be here at the Annual General Meeting at Lancaster University Liberal Democrats. In six months time will we will be having a general election. It's safe to say that this one will be quite different from the one in 2010. In 2010 every other window on campus had an orange diamond poster in it.

However despite recent setbacks, LU Lib Dems must be a campaigning society and must be unafraid to put the case for liberalism and the Liberal Democrats to the students at Lancaster University over the next few months.

Lancaster Local Elections

On the same day as the general election we have the local elections taking place in Lancaster. It is very important that students from the Society have the opportunity to stand in the local elections especially here on the University ward and in the Ellel ward that encompasses South West campus.

Locally we should aim to get as many Lib Dems elected and potentially once again hold the balance of power on Lancaster City Council. To do this, it is very important that we rediscover community politics and we should start right here on the university campus.

General Election 2015

The next general election will be the toughest since the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP in 1988. Things will be very tough in Labour leaning areas however don't be surprised if we make gains against the Conservatives.

Locally for example we should aim to regain the Lower Lune Valley Ward from the Conservatives. Nationally too we stand a very good chance of taking marginal seats off the Conservatives; seats such as Bosworth in the East Midlands, Watford in Eastern England and Camborne and Redruth in the South West.

A Free and Just Society

We Liberal Democrats must not forget our historic objective of creating a free and a just society.

The Labour Party cannot be trusted with our liberty. New Labour sought to erode our civil liberties with ID cards and 90 days detention without charge. Furthermore let's never forget their illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Conservative party cannot be trusted to achieve social justice. Our party has been absolutely right to oppose housing benefit cuts for young people, the Tory fire at will proposals and our party conference has voted against free schools and the NHS reforms.

We should also congratulate Andrew George for introducing a bill to protect the most vulnerable from the worst aspects of the bedroom tax.

In government, we've protecting civil liberties by scrapping ID cards, limiting detention without charge and by removing innocent people from the DNA database. Furthermore, we were absolutely right to oppose Theresa May’s Snoopers Charter.

We have also helped to create a fairer society. We have lifted low paid workers out of paying income tax. We have helped the most disadvantaged children in the country through the pupil premium. And Steve Webb has ensured the fairest and most generous pensions system in a hundred years.

Also we must not forget that we have done much to create a more equal society. It was Liberals who abolished slavery and who gave women the right to vote; and we must also be proud that we have introduced equal marriage giving gay and lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. Thanks to Lynne Featherstone.

We are also going to tackle inequalities in health care. One of our priorities at the next general election will be to ensure that mental health issues receive equal care and have equal waiting times with physical health issues. This will save many lives and help many more.

The Green People’s Budget

In 1909, David Lloyd George gave his People's Budget, which laid the foundations for the welfare state. In the 21st century, it is time for a new People's Budget. A Green People's Budget is needed to tackle three of the big issues facing modern Britain; climate change, unemployment and housing shortages.

This Green People's Budget would directly stimulate the building of new houses and green infrastructure such as wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal and tidal energy sources. Britain desperately needs new homes and to ensure a safe future, we need to be doing a lot more to tackle climate change. The Green People's budget would aim to achieve both, and in the process will grow the economy and will create thousands of new jobs in the housing, environmental, and science and technology industries.

Now I know what you're thinking how is this going to be paid for?

Firstly, I'm not sure why we spend billions of pounds every year on an outdated Trident nuclear defence system, which heaven forbid we will never use. At the very least we should cut back the number of nuclear weapons and downgrade to a cheaper weapons system; or potentially consider scrapping our nuclear weapons entirely.

Secondly, the original People's Budget placed great emphasis on land value taxation and I think it's about time that land taxes were introduced on wealthy estates and on wealthy land owners.

Tim Farron often talks about creating a new consensus. I hope that the Green People's budget will be a central pillar of the new consensus that we Liberal Democrats want to create.

Freedom from Authoritarianism, Freedom from Poverty, Freedom from Climate Change

In the next few months, in places like this campus our party will begin the road to recovery.

We must always be a party that will stand up for the social justice of the most disadvantaged members of society; and be a party that will stand up for the civil liberties of everyone in society.

We must have no time for the politics of nationalism wherever it comes from UKIP or the SNP. We must always remain proud to be a pro-European and a pro-immigration party.

British politics needs radical reform; we need to reform our voting system, start electing the House of Lords and ensure federalism for the whole of the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cornwall and the English regions too.

Above all, we must reject the authoritarianism of the Labour Party, the Thatcherism of the Conservative party and the xenophobia of parties like UKIP. Britain faces many challenges in 2014 and only the Liberal Democrats have the answers to them.

Liberals are the champions of freedom; freedom from state authority, freedom from poverty and freedom from climate change. Young people must be the vanguard of this Liberal Movement.

Now, let’s get out there and build the freer and fairer society that we all want to see; and let’s ensure that no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Radical Liberalism: The Lost Political Tradition

The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy

Liberalism is one of the oldest political traditions. Its roots stretch back to 1688. Far from being a philosophy of the status quo, liberalism has a rich radical history. For centuries it was the philosophy of radical political and social change. It is time that the lost political tradition of radical liberalism was rediscovered.

The father of liberalism, John Locke, laid the foundations for the philosophy in his Second Treatise of Government in 1689. Government was only to be justified through the consent of the people and should any government violate the fundamental rights to life, liberty and property; then the citizenry had a right of revolution. Right from the beginning, there were two aspects of liberalism which often came into conflict with each other. These were the political aspects such as liberty, individual rights and government by consent; and the economic aspects such as private property, capitalism and a limited state. The political aspects became radical liberalism and the economic aspects became laissez-faire liberalism or modern day neoliberalism.

In 1776, the American revolutionaries took up arms against the British Empire. In the Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers echoed John Locke by stating that man had unalienable rights such as "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Liberalism also inspired the French Revolution which began in 1789. The radical liberal philosopher, Thomas Paine wrote a staunch defence of the revolution in his "Rights of Man." Liberalism throughout the 18th century was seen as a radical revolutionary philosophy. In the name of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” the old aristocratic tyrannies were to be challenged and overthrown in favour of democratic governance.

Whose Land is it Anyway?

Liberalism's challenge to the power of the aristocracy took a different form at the end of the 19th century. Many nations in Western Europe had become republics or exchanged their autocratic monarchs for constitutional monarchs. In constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdom, the aristocratic land owners drew their wealth and power from the land and as a result many had wealthy estates. It was this fact that made radical liberals such as Henry George support land value taxation.

The taxation of land became a popular movement especially within the British Liberal Party in the early 20th century. Working class Liberals supported land taxation as a means of shifting wealth away from the aristocratic land owners towards the working poor.

Social Liberalism and Freedom from Industrial Inequality

Throughout the 1800s, liberalism had been the philosophy of the Industrial Revolution. Liberals such as William Gladstone had pursued a policy of laissez-faire. A century earlier liberalism had proclaimed "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity" now it appeared to be the philosophy of a capitalist industrial elite. Liberalism was derided by socialists as being a bourgeois ideology, which they thought should be overthrown and replaced by a “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

It appeared that radical liberalism had run its course and that it would soon be replaced by socialism. It was at the turn of the last century that the radical liberalism of the 18th and 19th centuries became the social liberalism of the 20th century. Social liberal thinkers such as Thomas Hill Green and Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse argued that liberalism needed to promote social justice in order to help the industrial poor. Equality was therefore seen as a means to advance liberty. Social reform was needed to combat the tyranny of unrestrained industrial capitalism. As a result liberals began to support welfare policies and workers rights.

The British Liberal Party under Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George began to lay the foundations of the welfare state. In 1942, another social liberal William Beveridge published a report calling for social security from the cradle to the grave and founded the modern welfare state. Liberalism had therefore gone from being a philosophy of a laissez-faire elite to a philosophy with a genuine concern for the welfare of the poorest.

Power to the People

Throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s the Liberal Party in Britain was seen as a political irrelevance by its opponents. It was during this period that the Liberal Party began to believe in placing power directly in people's hands. The Liberal Party leader, Jo Grimond placed great emphasis on cooperatives and workplace democracy. In the early 1970s a new philosophy began to emerge called "community politics." This was the legacy of a left wing libertarian group within the Young Liberals often referred to as "the Red Guards." Community politics emphasised the need for people to use power at the grassroots level. It was not just meant as a campaigning strategy but as a means of creating a more participatory democracy. The radical liberalism that had toppled regimes in America and France was now embarking on a peaceful democratic revolution in the way that power was used within local communities and in the workplace.

Neoliberalism: The Death of the Radical Tradition

If radical liberalism had been about anything it was about putting power into the hands of ordinary people and about holding the powerful to account. This changed in the 1980s as laissez-faire liberalism re-emerged in the form of neoliberalism. Early neoliberal politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan sought to unleash free market capitalism, privatise state assets, restrict workers’ rights and shrink the welfare state.

Far from bringing power closer to the people as neoliberal economists argued; in reality power shifted upwards towards global corporations. In an age of economic globalisation the ability of nation states to pursue welfare policies has been limited. Furthermore the ability to hold wealthy corporations to account is limited at best and non-existent at worst. Added to this global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank advocate and reinforce neoliberal philosophy. Neoliberalism is a reaction against the historic principles of radical liberalism and social liberalism.

Global Radical Liberalism

In the 21st century the principles of radical liberalism and social liberalism are needed to mitigate neoliberal globalisation. Radical liberalism sought to tackle unaccountable power. A new democratic globalisation based on radical liberalism is needed to hold the global corporate elite to account. Global institutions underpin contemporary economic globalisation. Therefore new global institutions will be needed to wrestle back democratic sovereignty from global corporations and the Washington Consensus. Hopefully, global radical liberalism will in time help to replace global neoliberalism.

Radical liberalism might date back to the end of the 17th century; however it is needed once again in the 21st century. Transnational corporations are the unaccountable kingdoms of the 21st century. In the age of globalisation; the lost political tradition of radical liberalism needs to be rediscovered.

Friday, 19 September 2014

After the Referendum: Now is the Time for Radical Political Reform

“A revolutionary moment in the world's history is a time for revolutions, not for patching.” – William Beveridge

The Scottish Referendum

Scotland has just voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom by 55% to 45%. The Scottish referendum has been the most extra ordinary display of democracy and political engagement. The turnout figure of 85% in itself has broken all modern records for British electoral turnouts. Now the UK will never be the same again. Britain must see radical political reform in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum.
Time for a Constitutional Convention

This radical political reform must come across the United Kingdom. The move towards Scottish Home Rule is now inevitable, but power must also be shifted to Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. Britain is on its way to becoming a federal country. In the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, the constitutional settlement of the UK must be renewed. This can only be achieved by establishing a Constitutional Convention.

The Constitutional Convention should aim to disperse power away from Westminster towards all the other parts of the UK, but it should also make British politics fit for the 21st century. England is one of the most centralised nations in Europe; therefore it is necessary to give power to England on a regional basis. This would take account of the English North-South divide. It could take the form of Regional Assemblies or the form of empowered English city regions and empowered English counties. 

In time, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions should have full federal powers. This would leave the Federal Parliament in Westminster to have authority over issues such as foreign affairs, defence, immigration, national security, foreign development, international trade, Constitutional affairs, national economic policy and national welfare policy. The states of a federal Britain would have control over the other policy areas.

The cornerstone of this federal system would be a formal written constitution accompanied by a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights should not only protect political and civil rights, but also social rights. Social rights such as a right to free health care, a right to a free education, a right to have access to social security, a right to join a trade union and the right to be paid a fair wage. When scare stories about federalism are told they usually refer to the inequality of the American system. A federal Britain would not be viable without the very commitment to social rights that the American Constitution is lacking. As a centre-left liberal I could accept nothing less.

A British Constitutional Convention should also determine whether it is acceptable to have a second chamber made up of aristocrats, bishops and political appointees. Surely, the House of Lords will have to be elected and accountable to the British people. This also raises questions about what voting system should be used to elect the Houses of Parliament. First past the post is clearly an outdated and unfair voting system a move towards a more proportional system such as the single transferable vote (STV) is much more desirable.

Finally, one of the outstanding successes of the Scottish referendum debate was the decision to give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote. The momentum behind votes at 16 is now unstoppable. 16 and 17 year olds should be fully enfranchised and entitled to vote in time for the next general election in 2015.
A Voice for the Disenfranchised

            Thousands of voters who had never voted before were engaged by the Scottish referendum debate. These were not just 16 and 17 year olds but thousands of adults who have never been willing to vote before. It is vital that politicians from across Britain realise that they need to engage with a disenfranchised minority who do not believe that the main parties represent them. This is most notably the case in poorest areas of Britain. A process of federalisation and constitutional reform is certainly a means to engage more people in politics. Hopefully the decentralisation of power will make politicians at the grassroots level more responsive to the concerns of those disenfranchised voters who feel they haven’t got a stake in our political system.

            People should avoid the dog whistle politics of English nationalism coming from UKIP and the Tory backbenchers. Nationalism only seeks to divide people. It is up to the progressive parties namely the Liberal Democrats and Labour to oppose this nationalism and actively seek to engage with disillusioned working class voters.

The Liberal Hour has come               
As of this morning, political reform is in the mainstream. MPs of all the main parties are talking about reforms to the British Constitution. What is a liberal party for if not to champion political reform. The Liberal hour has truly arrived. The Liberal Democrats for so long have been the masters of political reform and they must lead the debate to come. Liberal Democrats are the vanguard of constitutional reform; now is the time for a more liberal and a more democratic Britain to emerge.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to overhaul the entire British constitution and it is an opportunity that the Liberal Democrats cannot miss. For decades Lib Dems have been discussing constitutional reform now it is being discussed at the highest level. There may not be another opportunity like this again for several more decades. Hence it is up to senior Lib Dems to ensure that Britain makes a bold break from the past and that British politics is fit for the 21st century.

It is now very likely that in the 2015 general election the West Lothian question (also called the English question) will be a key issue. The Lib Dems must answer this question with a single word: federalism. The Lib Dems must position themselves as the party of federalism. Political reform and federalism must be a central pillar of the 2015 General Election campaign.

The Last 24 Hours

            After the last 24 hours no one can say that British politics is boring. Scotland might have voted to stay a part of the United Kingdom but the whole British Constitution is now up for review. The Scottish referendum which was so long represented the possibility of breaking up the UK now has the potential to renew it. Only Liberal Democrats can lead this change because we have political reform in our blood. The Scottish referendum reinvigorated democracy in Scotland; now let's reinvigorate democracy across the rest of the UK.