Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Post-Thatcher Consensus: A Critique


On the face of it British politics has never been more interesting. The government is currently run by an increasingly awkward coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. There remains a considerable amount of unease within the Labour Party towards Ed Miliband’s style of leadership. In Scotland, we are only months away from a decisive referendum on whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom. And to top it off across Europe, we are seeing the rise of the populist right embodied in Britain by Nigel Farage and UKIP.


Surely there hasn't been a more interesting time to be observing British politics. That is until you asked the question where is the argument for genuine change coming from? The only answers seem to be being provided by an unholy mixture of separatists and right-wing nationalists. The rise of nationalism whether in the guise of separatism or populism is concerning enough; but this misses the bigger picture of widening inequalities.
 

What of the main three parties, where are their arguments for change? With the exception of the Lib Dem commitment to political reform; genuine change seems thin on the ground. All three of Britain's main government parties subscribe to the political and economic consensus that began during the government of Margaret Thatcher. This is the consensus of Thatcherism and its offshoots; a group of philosophies which many academics refer to as neoliberalism. Thatcherite watchwords like the free market, privatisation, deregulation, austerity, competitiveness, welfare reform and fiscal discipline have now become commonplace. In a nutshell, this consensus boils down to the preference of private over public, the corporate over the community, self concern over social concern and the ability of the free market over the ability of the state.


This is the consensus to which all three of Britain's main political parties now subscribe to. Obviously, it was the Conservative Party in the late 1970s that first adopted a free-market approach under Margaret Thatcher. It wasn't until the mid-1990s that the Labour Party adopted the post-Thatcher consensus. Tony Blair under a programme called "the third way" sought to mix the competing economic views of Thatcherism and social democracy. As for the Lib Dems, they have consistently supported social liberalism since 1906; however in 2004 "The Orange Book" was published, which sought to fuse the social liberalism of the left with the economic liberalism of the right. Orange book liberalism has been in the ascendancy within the Lib Dems since the resignation of Charles Kennedy in 2006. The offshoots of Thatcherism can also be found in aspects of the SNP; whereas UKIP is an overtly Thatcherite party.


So what have been the consequences of 35 years of Thatcherism? Firstly there has been a widening gap between the rich and poor. In Britain this is epitomised by the fact that almost 1,000,000 people have had to use a food bank in order to feed themselves in the last year. Furthermore there is a widening regional gap between the former industrial North and the business orientated London and the South East. At the same time property price bubbles have been allowed to develop due to reckless bank lending. In 2008, this led to a global financial crisis, which came against a backdrop of under-regulation in the banking system and as a result a bailout of the banking industry was required.


While regulations were being curved for the rich, they were only increasing for the poor. Welfare-to-work programmes have been on the rise, whereby welfare claimants for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) will have to work to continue getting their benefits after nine months. There have also been stricter rules, tougher penalties and closer scrutiny placed on the welfare claimed by the poorest especially in relation to unemployment. Welfare reforms such as the “bedroom tax” have led to the housing benefit for those in social housing being reduced if they have one or more spare rooms. Such welfare reforms have been a major cause in rising inequality and the rise of food poverty in Britain. This has been accompanied by a vile political discourse, which vilifies people who claim benefits. This is being conveyed through the media who target the poor, the unemployed and the disabled with sensationalist headlines and television programmes like “Benefits Street.”


Youth unemployment is a serious problem in today's Britain. The country still has almost 1,000,000 young people unemployed this is the equivalent of almost one in five young people being without a job. Young people feel alienated from politics and from society due to a whole raft of broken promises and welfare cuts that have impacted on them. Even the Labour Party intends to cut JSA for the under 22s who do not get training or qualifications. No politician of any political party seems to be willing to defend the rights of young people let alone tackle youth unemployment. From 1945 until the late 1970s, governments had a profound role in tackling unemployment. Such Keynesian policies like full employment have become a thing of the past under Thatcherism. It is this neglect of social policy that has undermined almost 1,000,000 young people and is denying them of having a more secure future.


Before Margaret Thatcher came into office it is true that income tax levels were incredibly high and that in some respects the trade unions were too powerful. However, the situation has gone from one extreme to the other. Today, the wealthiest are taxed less than 50% and there are no measures to tax the property assets of the wealthy. As for the trade unions, from being too powerful few decades ago they are too weak today. Any democracy needs a functioning trade union movement; however wage levels for a decade have remained relatively stagnant, partly due to the absence of an effective trade union movement.


The reach of the free market seems to be never ending. A whole range of industries were privatised in the 1980s and 1990s, from telecommunications, to utilities, to the railways. The free market has also had an increasing influence in public service provision. In the NHS, private companies are increasingly being relied on to provide health care services and competitiveness has been placed at the heart of the NHS. It is worth remembering that the first concern of a private company is to create profit. The profit motive is the primary motive and any other motive whether it is caring for patients, educating school pupils or delivering local services will only ever be secondary.


Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the post-Thatcher consensus has been the political disengagement of many people with the political process. Too many people, especially from traditional working class communities, no longer feel represented by the views of the mainstream parties and are in danger of falling foul of the siren voices on the populist right. Why is no one making the case that people are facing such economic difficulties not because of immigration, but because of entrenched inequalities, or the under-regulated banking industry, or the lack of a Keynesian solution from government, or through the lack of an effective trade union movement.


Where is the progressive challenge to the current status quo going to come from? There is a whole wealth of centre-left social liberal and social democratic groups and intellectuals, who are laying the foundations for a potential progressive alternative to the post-Thatcher consensus. Internal party groups such as the Social Liberal Forum and Compass are becoming factories for new progressive ideas in order to challenge the worn out status quo. There are also a wealth of academics on the moderate left from which progressive inspiration could be drawn from, such as, John Rawls, Thomas Piketty, Will Hutton, Paul Krugman, Ha-Joon Chang and Roberto Unger.


The post-Thatcher consensus has left Britain more economically unequal, more politically disengaged and more socially insecure than when it began. It has centralised political and economic power in Westminster and the City of London. The great democratic deficit between working people and the company management needs to be bridged through a mixture of co-operatives, worker representation on company boards, worker share ownership and renewed trade union engagement. There also needs to be a serious attempt to redistribute wealth and to reduce the scope of the free market in social policy. Finally, there needs to be a Keynesian solution focusing on tackling unemployment, the looming housing crisis and the ever present threat of climate change.


In some respects Thatcherism and the post-Thatcher consensus has tested the fabric of our society, our economy and our democracy almost to breaking point. It represents a tired and worn out consensus, that doesn't benefit millions of people in Britain. Furthermore it has neutralised the ideological competition that makes democracy a viable concept. The three main political parties must break away from representing fifty shades of Thatcherism. Britain needs a new consensus; the freedoms, rights and opportunities of the most disadvantaged in society depend upon it.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

What is Liberalism For?

What is liberalism for? This was a question that the Liberal Party began to ask itself at the end of the 19th century. Following the defeat of the Liberal Party in the 1895 general election, it became clear that the Liberals had to examine their guiding philosophy. Liberalism, the radical ideology that had sought at the start of the 19th century to provide everyone with liberty and rights had ended the 19th century looking out of touch and unable to address the problems which people faced. The one time philosophy of radical reform looked uneasy and unable to acknowledge the vast inequalities that had emerged within industrial society. The defeat of 1895 helped the Liberals move away from the stale status quo of Gladstonian classical liberalism and towards the philosophy of new liberalism, what today would be called social liberalism (“The New Liberalism” The Liberal Democrat History Group http://www.liberalhistory.org.uk/item_single.php?item_id=85&item=history). The transition to social liberalism enabled the Liberal Party in the early 1900s to become the champions of social reform; by laying the foundations of the welfare state, securing workers rights, and by redistributing wealth through taxation.

Today in 2014, it has become necessary for British Liberals to ask themselves once again, what is liberalism for? For almost 100 years social liberalism had been the dominant political discourse within the Liberal Democrats. In 2004 however a new brand of liberalism emerged in the Orange Book. Orange Book liberalism embodied a fusion between the social liberalism of the left and the old Gladstonian classical liberalism of the right. The answer according to the Liberal Democrat Orange Bookers was to promote a brand of liberalism that was directly in the centre of the political spectrum. The Orange Book narrative was that of a pragmatic party of the radical centre, hence the Liberal Democrats would be a party of power with the opportunity to form coalitions with either the Conservatives or Labour. A situation not too dissimilar to the German Free Democrats (FDP), who had up until recently assumed the de-facto status of being an almost permanent party of coalition government. While social liberalism seeks to foster social justice in order to enable the individual freedom of the disadvantaged, Orange Book liberalism seems to defend the status quo at best and at worst promote policies that undermine fairness and social justice.



The liberalism that is currently on offer to the British electorate is bland and seems to lack any radical and progressive perspectives for social change. Phrases such as social justice, tackling inequality, community politics, public services and redistribution have almost become dirty words or perhaps even more concerning, they have become in the minds of some "anti-liberal” words. Radical centrist liberalism far from being radical has become a defender of the status quo. Far from removing the Liberal Democrats from the traditional left-right axis, radical centrism has placed the party right in the middle of it. The Liberal Democrats should be a party of change willing to tear down the status quo, not propping it up through endless coalitions and bland politics. Currently British liberalism is in danger of being a valueless no-man’s land which is neither able to attract voters from the left or the right. This fact has been shown through the disastrous results for the Liberal Democrats in the 2014 Local and European Elections.
 


Whatever happened to the philosophy that guaranteed people's freedoms and wanted to hold the powerful to account through political reform? Whatever happened to the philosophy that created the welfare state? Whatever happened to the philosophy that sought to put power in the hands of ordinary people, while ensuring that the environment was protected for the next generation? Where is the Liberal mission in 2014? The reality is all of these aspects encompass the modern need for liberalism. The liberalism that actively enhances people's lives today while protecting their future for tomorrow. Liberalism (especially social liberalism) is needed to combat Labour authoritarianism, Conservative free market policies and the rising tide of right wing populism.



Liberalism must exist to address the concerns of 21st-century Britain. There are massive wealth and power inequalities in British society. The burden of austerity has fallen too heavily on the poorest, the most vulnerable and those who depend on vital public services. Unemployment is still a massive issue facing Britain, especially amongst young people. There are massive regional inequalities throughout the country with London and the South East seemingly benefiting from a recovery, while the rest of the country lags behind. This recovery is one that is being fuelled by a dangerous housing bubble at the same time when Britain needs hundreds of thousands of additional new homes every year. Many people continue to work in a situation of job insecurity ,where wages are low, future prospects are uncertain, and trade union activity and collective redress is limited at best and non-existent at worst. This is all set against the backdrop of the increasing encroachment of the free market economy into the NHS and the education system. Finally, looming over the world like a shadow is the imminent threat of global climate change. The Liberal Democrats must develop policies to combat these hardships facing many people in Britain today.



What is liberalism for? Liberalism is for freedom, social justice, local empowerment and the future. The status quo is failing millions of people across Britain and the Liberal Democrats need to challenge it. Those Liberal Democrat politicians who are not driven by this sense of mission, by the drive for change, those who forget the history and values of liberalism will surely face the wrath of a disillusioned electorate. Liberalism exists to help the people not to cling onto power; fellow Liberal Democrats we forget this fact at our own peril.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Why I want to stand for the Social Liberal Forum Council


           There are many challenges that face Britain today. Social and economic inequalities are still rife in society from people having to use food banks, to the issue of low wages and the problems caused by welfare reforms. Britain needs to rediscover its spirit of social justice, and its concern for the most disadvantaged members of society. When I first got interested in politics it was over the issues of civil liberties and my opposition to the War in Iraq. There was only ever one party that spoke to me on these issues and that truly inspired me, the Liberal Democrats. But that's not all, in the mid-2000s, the Lib Dems were the only main party willing to stand up for social justice in the face of the social hardships ignored by New Labour and caused by the Conservatives that came before them.


            Today, four years into the Coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, that spirit of social justice may seem like a world away. The Coalition has adopted some progressive policies such as raising the income tax threshold, the pupil premium and most recently free school dinners for the most disadvantaged pupils. Although there have also been some regressive policies such as the NHS reforms, welfare reforms such as the “bedroom tax” and an economic strategy that has placed too much of the burden of austerity on the poorest.

 

            What is often missed by media commentators is the excellent work done by members of the Social Liberal Forum in standing up for the traditional social liberal values that the Lib Dems have had for over a century. The SLF has been vital in calling for reforms to the government's economic policy to ensure that it focuses more on a house building stimulus and taxing the wealthy and less on slash and burn cuts to public services. Furthermore, they have consistently backed Lib Dem motions opposing the NHS reforms, opposing food poverty, backing a living wage, opposing the bedroom tax and being critical of the approach to free schools. If the spirit of social justice is to be found anywhere within the Liberal Democrats; it is to be found within the Social Liberal Forum.


            The Social Liberal Forum is on the verge of having elections to its ruling council and I am very eager to run for a position on that council. I have always been somebody who has proudly stood on the left of politics and I firmly believe that the Liberal Democrats are at heart a centre-left party. The SLF represent the historic centre-left traditions of the Lib Dems. As someone who has always been committed to social justice; I am very proud to be a member of the SLF. It is vital that we stand up for the poorest and most disadvantaged people in our country, many of whom lack a voice and are alienated by political parties who turn a blind eye to poverty and inequality.


Some might say that there's no place for an advocate of social justice in the Liberal Democrats today. However, I understand my Liberal history; the Liberal history of social liberalism that goes back to 1906. In 1942, the social security report by the Liberal Party social reformer, William Beveridge ensured that there was a national minimum, beneath which no one would be allowed to fall. The defining feature of social liberalism is the belief that social justice can enable the individual to reach their full potential. In this regard, Beveridge’s welfare state has done more to free people than any other institution since the establishment of democratic governments. The Beveridge report has been fundamental in freeing people from poverty, unemployment, ill-health and a lack of education. I am very proud of the history of great social liberals such as William Beveridge, John Maynard Keynes and David Lloyd George as well as the great Lib Dem titans of British politics such as Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Charles Kennedy. This history proves that the Liberal Democrats are a centre-left party of social justice and social liberalism. And if I get elected I would hope to continue that tradition.


There are many problems facing Britain today and social liberalism has many of the answers to them. Social liberalism rejects the false choice of choosing between promoting liberty or tackling inequality; simply put you cannot achieve one without the other. A more just society is a more free society. To be free from poverty is just as important as being free from the authoritarianism of the state. You cannot truly enjoy freedom if your capacity to achieve and develop is held back by poverty and inequality.


Hence, the powers of the state must be kept in check; but also there must be a progressive alternative to the free market consensus of the last thirty-five years. Social liberals must promote a living wage, land taxation, British federalism, community politics and workplace democracy especially through cooperatives. Above all, social liberals must aim to give a voice to the poor and the disadvantage and ensure that they have a stake in British society again. A stake that free market economics has denied them.


If I get elected to the Social Liberal Forum Council, I will stand up for social freedoms, social justice, the rights of the poor and the rights of people with disabilities (of which I am one). I aim to represent the Liberal Democrats’ historic centre-left principles of social liberalism. Overall, I hope that the Liberal Democrats can be a party that can once again stand up to injustice. This can only be done through the great work of the Social Liberal Forum; great work to which I hope to contribute. I hope that

Monday, 7 April 2014

For The Sake of Democracy, We Need Big Ideas, Re-engagement and Progressive Visions


Is this what the end of history looks like? Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History”, which was developed at the end of the Cold War, represented the triumph of free market western democracy over communism, fascism and feudalism. Three decades after the free market revolution of Margaret Thatcher, our political system in Britain has been transformed. For domestic British politics, the end of history seems to have embodied the triumph of neoliberalism over democratic socialism, social democracy, social liberalism and one nation conservatism. The democratic battle between the Keynesianism of the left and the free market of the right seems to be over in Britain. One of Margaret Thatcher's most famous free market slogans was "there is no alternative" a phrase that was often referred to by the acronym of TINA. Thirty five years since Thatcher came to power and in the age of austerity; TINA still dominates the political discourse in Britain. This is bad both for Britain and for our democracy.

 

Since Thatcher's government, we have seen a steady hollowing out of party politics. Politicians today take great pride in the fact that they have no guiding philosophy or ideology. Valueless pragmatism is the name of the game in 21st century politics. It is very common to hear politicians attack their political opponents for being "ideological" or "political." The person who embodied the hollowing out of politics more than any other was the New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. New Labour used focus groups to develop policies as well as having a great emphasis on the need to spin and manage the party's media presence. Blair no doubt saw ideology as a relic of the past that surely must have died out at the end of the 20th century. But far from phrases such as ideological or political being insults; isn’t it these things, what are supposed to fuel democracy? Democracy should be a politically driven competition between different ideas and philosophies.

 

Today the main political parties in Britain all represent different versions of the neoliberal consensus of the last three decades. A kind of fifty shades of neoliberalism. The Conservatives were obviously the first party to adopt the neoliberal framework as Thatcher went to war with the one nation Tory old guard within her own party. This was followed by Tony Blair co-opting the Labour Party into the neoliberal consensus. The one-time party of socialism and social democracy became staunch defenders of the free market and many public service reforms under a programme called “the third way.” Far from being an alternative to traditional social democracy or the free market; the third way in reality represented a slightly more moderate version of the policies begun by Margaret Thatcher. Finally, the Liberal Democrats have increasingly adopted free market based policies influenced by the neoliberal Orange Book. The Orange Book has gone against the grain of the Lib Dems’ philosophy of social liberalism; which has been dominant in the party since 1906. Orange Book liberalism has seen its zenith under the coalition with the Conservatives, with many contributors to the Orange Book holding senior posts in the Coalition Government.

 

In 2014, apathy in British politics as well as mistrust of politicians is very high. These factors are probably partly influenced by the fact that there is no discernible difference between the philosophies of the main three parties. No senior politician in Britain today seems to articulate a real vision of the future. Clement Attlee had his "New Jerusalem", Margaret Thatcher had her "Property Owning Democracy" but where is the big political vision of 2014 coming from? Where is the essence of democracy, the ideas and the visions?

 

Politicians of all political stripes need to re-engage with the people, and perhaps no group needs more engagement than the working classes. Over the past 20 years, the working classes have been increasingly alienated by British politics as politicians from across the spectrum have sought the votes of Middle England. There is a danger that this gap in the focus of the main parties may be filled by extremist parties. In particular, the right wing nationalist party, UKIP are seeking to reach out to disenchanted working class voters. UKIP are exploiting the political void left by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Surely, the main three parties cannot abandon many working class voters to UKIP and the politics of fear. The political mainstream need to invoke the spirit of Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan and David Lloyd George; politicians who inspired millions of working class people to get involved in politics. Whoever can successfully reach out and harness the working class vote will determine the outcome of general elections.

 

A second group that politicians desperately need to re-engage with are young people. The voters aged between 18 and 25 represent the literal future of Britain and its democracy. Yet the same age group is suffering immensely in the current economic climate. One in five young people are unemployed. That's a youth unemployment rate of 20%. The average rate of unemployment during the years of the Great Depression was 17%. We must face the reality of the situation that in this country we have mass youth unemployment. This is an entire generation of people who feel unable to contribute to our economy and unable to take the first step on the job ladder. Politicians are often (quite rightly) concerned with the issues of older voters, however many young people feel neglected by our current politicians and feel turned off by politics in general. This is going to be very bad if fewer people have faith in politics and if young people do not think it can make a real difference to their lives.

 

A healthy democracy is one that flows with new political ideas. Big ideas, guiding philosophies and political passion will re-engage many voters who have been turned off by the politics of recent decades and will ensure a revival of democratic participation. The Liberal Democrats need to reassert their historic social liberal philosophy over the Orange Book. Whereas, Labour need to rediscover progressive politics. In fairness to the Conservatives, they are the only party in British politics that are able to follow their true conservative ideology as it is the only one that naturally seeks to expand the reach of the free market economy. Thus modern conservatism is the only ideology that naturally seeks to advance neoliberalism.

 

We need to bring back the battle of ideas and with it politicians who seek to make a real difference, according to their own set of ideals and philosophies. The strength of our democracy depends upon it. Britain desperately needs a progressive alternative to the neoliberal consensus, and it is ultimately up to the Liberal Democrats and Labour (and perhaps even some Conservatives) to provide one. Politicians must be proud to be political again. Politicians need to have a defining vision. But above all in the age of austerity what people really need is hope. Hope for a better, fairer future for them and their friends and families. Hope that will encourage them to become active in our democracy again. Because if Britain's politicians are not willing to revive democracy and engage many of those alienated in recent years; then the future of politics will indeed be hopeless, especially from the perspective of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society. For British democracy to remain strong, we need to revive big ideas, we need to re-engage with alienated groups and we need progressive visions to help everyone in society; not just the ultra-wealthy.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Britain’s Many Conservative Parties

It was once believed in Britain that traditional conservative attitudes towards Europe, law and order, immigration, gay rights and nationalism had long been in decline amongst Britain's political parties. However over the last few months British politics has seen a resurgence of traditional conservatism. Three political parties in particular have spearheaded this resurgence. Firstly the Conservative Party, secondly and quite surprisingly the Labour Party and thirdly the UK Independence party (UKIP). This right wing shift in social policy may have grave consequences for British society and is there anyone left to make the case for a more liberal and more tolerant society?

The Conservatives’ Rightwards Shift
Perhaps it is only obvious that a rightward shift in social attitudes and a return to traditional conservatism would happen within the Conservative Party. The Tories, when David Cameron first became leader portrayed a more tolerant view of society. This was coined by the media as "hug a hoody." However following the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the Conservative Party has begun to return to the hard justice traditional conservative policies of Michael Howard in the 1990s. This even lead to the new Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling calling for homeowners to be able to use force to defend their property. This policy was dubbed "bash a burglar" by the media. This has been accompanied by a re-emphasis on punishment and prison within law and order policy, this focus on tough justice was first displayed a year ago in the response to the summer riots.

The European Union remains a bone of contention for the Conservative Party; an increasing number of Tory MPs are becoming Eurosceptic and vocally attacking Europe on many issues. Many right-wing Tories would like to scrap the Human Rights Act the because of the codification of the European Convention on human rights within it. Some Tories are even talking about Britain leaving the Council of Europe because of this opposition to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Conservatives have returned to their traditionalist roots in regard to many issues that affect society. There are even over 100 Tory MPs willing to vote against same-sex marriage. The notions of hug a hoody have long since faded and the re-emergence of the Nasty Party has taken place.

Labour’s One Nation Conservatism
Lord Glasman shortly after the last general election developed a thesis called Blue Labour. Blue Labour combined the Labour Party's traditional focus on social democracy with traditional conservative values. This conservative social democracy has increasingly crept into the mainstream of the Labour Party. Ed Miliband at the last Labour conference even adopted the Conservative slogan of "One Nation." This slogan had originally been applied to Conservative Prime Ministers such as Benjamin Disraeli, Harold Macmillan and Edward Heath. The thread of one nation conservatism within the Labour Party would no doubt have had former Labour Party leaders turning in their graves.

Labour have continued to pursue very populist policies on law and order usually attacking the Coalition for not being strict and hard enough in tackling crime and punishing those responsible. The Labour Party also remains committed to authoritarian policies such as a CCTV surveillance state and an illiberal DNA database, both of which would erode civil liberties. A few weeks ago the Labour Party allied itself with Eurosceptic Tories to vote for a cut in the European budget. This event in particular showed that the Labour Party is becoming much more opportunistic on Europe and is increasingly unwilling to make the case in favour of the European Union. When Labour does make a progressive argument on the economy, it does so by wrapping it in nationalist terms, for example "how will this work programme help to create one nation?"

Labour’s incorporation of one nation conservatism within its existing social democratic views is very much in the essence of the Blue Labour thesis. When it comes to law and order, Europe, immigration and the concept of the nation, Labour is becoming increasingly traditionally conservative.

UKIP: The Ultra-Conservatives
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is an emerging force in British politics. In most opinion polls UKIP is only a couple of points behind the Liberal Democrats, meaning that UKIP are now the undisputed forth force of British politics. The party of Nigel Farage is very right wing party and the more conservative than the Tories on both social and economic issues. Their primary objective is to withdraw from the UK from the European Union. They are spearheading Eurosceptic sentiment in the UK. Furthermore they are incredibly anti-immigration and want to prevent hardly any immigration from the EU into Britain. They are the only senior party that is openly hostile and opposed to the concept of equal marriage between gay and lesbian people. This Eurosceptic party as its name and philosophy suggests is profoundly nationalistic in its political views.

An Opportunity For The Liberal Democrats
Considering the increasingly conservative attitudes of the Tories, Labour and UKIP, who is left to make the case in favour of the EU, immigration, civil liberties, human rights and a tolerant view of law and order? The move to the right on social issues may provide an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to defend a liberal view of society. Their liberalism embodies civil liberties, internationalism and socially tolerant view of law and order. The Lib Dems must use this as an opportunity to defend liberalism in the face of increasingly conservative opponents. Crime, justice and prison policy are almost entirely viewed through conservative lenses by the other political parties. They mst also avoid the populist nationalism of the Tories, UKIP and increasing Labour. Furthermore they must not be afraid to be proud pro-Europeans who are pro-immigration and display an unwavering commitment to internationalism in contrast to the Euroscepticism of the right and the opportunism of the one nation Labour Party. If the Liberal Democrats cannot defend liberal principles amongst the rise of increasingly conservative parties in Britain, no other political party will.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Empowering The Poor and Tackling Poverty at the Local Level

In 1909, the Liberal Party Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George delivered his People's Budget. During his delivery he stated that;
"I cannot help hoping and believing that before this generation has passed away, we shall have advanced a great step towards that good time, when poverty, and the wretchedness and human degradation which always follows in its camp, will be as remote to the people of this country as the wolves which once infested its forests.”

One hundred and three years on from the People's Budget how close are we to seeing David Lloyd George’s "good time" when poverty will be remote to this country? Well in the previous century, Britain has developed a strong welfare state, built a National Health Service (NHS) and established progressive taxation, much on the foundations laid by Lloyd George. However despite these progressive achievements poverty still remains in 21st century Britain.

The United Kingdom is currently going through a period of harsh austerity measures. The nature or austerity means that it will naturally impact on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially when cuts are made to the welfare budget and to social services. The charity, Save the Children in its first ever UK appeal says that too many children in Britain today from poor families "are going without hot meals, new shoes and winter clothes" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/05/save-the-children-uk-campaign).

For most of the last few decades the poorest people in Britain have been suffering. This was long before the latest period of austerity. During this time Britain has seen both Conservative and Labour governments come in and out of power. Take my hometown of Blackpool in the mid-2000s for example, I had many school friends whose parents struggled with food bills and struggled to feed themselves and their children properly. Added to this, many of their parents couldn't afford new clothes and often had to put up with damaged and worn out shoes. Food and clothing are the very basics in life, and yet in the mid-2000s during what Labour would have you believe was an age of plenty, the poorest in our country still struggled to afford them. Many poor working class areas, most of which vote Labour have in many cases been abandoned by the tradition party of the working class.

In-order to tackle poverty we need a multi-pronged approach. An approach that includes a redistributive welfare state, free healthcare, a good education, tackling personal debt, tacking addiction and community engagement and local empowerment. I shall focus mostly on the last one of these prongs, community engagement and local empowerment.

It is time for a truly localist route to tackling poverty. We must tackle poverty at its local grassroots. Firstly we need local authorities to be actively engaging with their poorest communities. This should include establishing community leaders that can work alongside the local council, local councillors, police officers, social workers, trade unions and local charities. This should establish an active and positive dialogue between communities and local authorities and charities. This community engagement should be used to recognise what the social issues are that prevent poverty from reducing. The community and local authorities should cooperate in addressing the social issues.

Secondly, their needs to be an efficient targeting of resources at a local and community level. National government should devolve funding and recourses to local government specifically for tacking local poverty. Local councils should be able to target this funding at the poorest areas where it would be most effective at eradicating poverty. The funding should be directed according to what problems need to be tackled to reduce poverty and increase opportunity. This funding could be directly redistributed to the poor, used to improve underperforming schools, used to tackle alcohol and drug addiction or used to renovate poor areas and communities.

Thirdly we must ensure the poor have an effective democratic voice. Having the vote and actually feeling part of the democratic process are two different things entirely. What is needed in order to give the poor an effective democratic voice is community politics. Community politics is the doctrine of empowering individuals within their communities. It is an ideology of “social transformation” (The Theory & Practice of Community Politics: http://www.cix.co.uk/~rosenstiel/aldc/commpol.htm).

Community politics is a doctrine that is most practiced by the Liberal Democrats. It involves active local politicians engaging with communities to determine what local issues are affecting those communities. Local politicians and local people then campaign together by delivering leaflets, lobbying the local authorities and by organising local petitions. The hope being to achieve the enactment of the policy being campaigned upon.  Examples of community politics may include the need to have a new playground built, to prevent the closure of a youth centre or to protect local hospital services.

Community politics should form the liberal and democratic foundations of any attempt to tackle poverty as well as any attempt to empower and engage with poorer communities. In short, community politics should be perused to give our poorest communities a genuine stake in the democratic process. We must not only strive to tackle inequalities of rights, wealth and opportunities, but we must also tackle inequalities in power between the rich and poor as well.

To tackle poverty in the 21st Century, we must empower people especially the poor. We must ensure that society has a social minimum below which no one is allowed to fall. Rights, wealth, opportunity and power must be openly available to everyone. It has been 103 years, since Lloyd George’s budget and poverty is still not “remote to the people of this country”, far from it. But if we are to tackle poverty we must not just redistribute wealth through an active welfare state, but actively seek to engage with, direct resources to and democratically empower our poorest people at the local level.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Politics of Doctor Who

At the weekend the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) returned as series 7 of Doctor Who began on BBC One. I have been a committed Whovian ever since Doctor Who was relaunched in 2005. In between bouts of sci-fi madness I also took the time to get a degree in Politics. So how better to celebrate the start of Doctor Who series 7 than by analysing the politics of what is surely the greatest sci-fi show in existence.
The left-wing bias of Doctor Who
It is often stated that Doctor Who especially the classic series had a subtle left wing bias to it. People point to numerous left-leaning references throughout the Pertwee and Baker years. These range from supporting striking interplanetary Mineworkers to opposing right-wing female dictators. The Russell T Davies years made numerous references to the progressive centre-left. Amongst them was Harriet Jones being in effect a Labour Prime Minister, Harold Saxon (the Master) being a one-time Labour defence Minister before subtly taking over the world and the appearance of Barack Obama in the Christmas special "The End of Time: Part One". If there has been a bias towards centre-left politicians it hasn't affected the episodes of Stephen Moffat for he has already featured two prominent conservative politicians Winston Churchill and Richard Nixon. Whether there was a left-wing bias in the past is arguable however there does not appear to be an overt left-wing bias in the new series at least not towards socialism.
Is the Doctor an anarchist?
When considering the Doctor's political affiliations it is often the case that he is cited as being an anarchist. This ranges from the clear individualism he displays as being a "madman in the box" to his clear disregard of external authority. The ability to travel through time and space in the TARDIS is obviously very anarchic in the sense that the Doctor and his companions can travel wherever or whenever they choose (in theory). The Doctor’s quirky eccentric personality which embodies his individualism along with him being the “last of the Time Lords” makes him a perfect candidate for being a classical individualist anarchist.
However To call the Doctor an anarchist is to overlook the sparks of pure authoritarianism that he displays from time to time. The Doctor's flashes of authoritarianism usually emerge when he is without a companion or when he's forced to relive aspects of the Last Great Time War. Examples of such authoritarianism can be seen with how he treated the Racnoss (in "The Runaway Bride") or when he enforced the protocols of the Shadow Proclamation, when the Atraxi tried to destroy Earth (in “The Eleventh Hour”). Furthermore the lordly qualities of the last of the Time Lords have led some to refer to the Doctor as a "mighty warrior" ("A Good Man Goes to War"). All things considered how many determined anarchists would travel in a blue police box, even if the chameleon circuit was broken?
Why the Doctor is probably a liberal.
The Doctor embodies freedom in his very nature. The freedom to travel throughout space and time is the Doctor’s raison d'ĂȘtre. The Doctor doesn't just represent freedom he promotes it as well. Not to mention the legions of alien threats that he and his companions have freed people from throughout the ages. The Doctor also embodies a liberal sense of equality with his clear tolerance and accommodation of different species. Most notably in "Cold Blood" when he encourages negotiations between humanity and the Silurians. The Doctor is also an advocate of justice, in both its social and legal senses. In the 2010 Christmas special, "A Christmas Carol", the Doctor is critical of how Kazran treats the poor people of his planet. In the final confrontation with the Teselecta at the end of series 6, the Justice Department remind the Doctor that they uphold law and order as he has always done. Perhaps the Doctor’s most liberal trait is his use of reason and logic which for a man who never carries a gun, can often be the greatest weapons he possesses. It is difficult to say exactly which political philosophy that the Doctor best embodies however all things considered the philosophy that best sums up the Doctor is that of liberalism.

The Daleks: Pepper pot fascists.
The Daleks are the ultimate enemies of the Time Lords. And no Time Lord is a greater enemy to them than the Doctor (or the “Oncoming Storm” as he is often referred). The Daleks are pepper pot shaped machines piloted by screaming slug-like aliens originally from the Planet Skaro. The Daleks are the embodiment of hatred, whose whole purpose is to “Exterminate” all life that isn't Dalek. Added to this the Daleks usually create empires through which to conquest the universe. Think of the Daleks as being intergalactic equivalent of the Japanese Empire equipped with Dalek Emperors, Dalek Supremes, Dalek social hierarchy and ultimately Dalek racial supremacy. The Daleks also appear to have a legislative branch beneath the Emperor, the Parliament of the Daleks which is overseen by the Dalek Prime Minister as seen the first episode of series 7 the "Asylum of the Daleks." This screaming and ranting aspects of the Daleks as well as their severe hatred is obviously comparable to that of the Nazis. The Daleks are thus the equivalent of fascists and they are clearly based on the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese.

The Cybermen: The silver socialists.
Finally no Doctor Who analysis would be complete without a look at the Doctor's other great enemy, the Cybermen. Cybermen are cyborgs with human organs encased within a metallic silver body. The Cybermen claim that human conversions are necessary to eliminate all class, colour, creed and emotions. They're famous rallying cry is that "you will become identical, you will become like us." This embodies an absolute collectivism that seeks to abolish individualism as well as to eliminate social and physical inequality. This most resembles a creed of socialism born out of a cybernetic equality. The Cybermen are authoritarian and they have a limited hierarchy, thus they probably best resemble the sci-fi equivalent of Leninists or Stalinists.
Conclusion
Overall Doctor Who as a television programme can probably be best seen as promoting a small L liberal outlook in its political make-up. It is a great sci-fi programme and I hope it will continue to inspire people for many generations to come.