Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues
In government, in elections, in just wondering why we bother, Liberal Democrats must be inspired by what we stand for. So today I’m writing about just two things. First, what my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ means, how it explains our beliefs, our priorities in government and our message, as set out by Nick Clegg:
“The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.”And second, Mark Pack’s new Infographic poster version of what Lib Dems believe. You’re still invited to write your own, too! Thank you to everyone who has. When enough of you have come up with your own ideas on ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, and I’ve already seen a few since the last time I republished several contributions, I will do another round-up to boost the debate and meme.
I hope some of you will find my own version of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ useful. My aim is to bring together our philosophy, our heart and soul, with what we’ve brought to the Coalition and with what the party leadership’s now encouraging everyone to get across as our key message.
If you want to use my declaration in any way – leaflet, speech, newsletter, website – please do. If you drop me a mail to say so (email link on the sidebar), I’d be interested, and if you give me a credit, I’d be delighted. But it’s free for you to use whether you give me any mention at all – the reason I wrote it is to help get the Lib Dem message out, and the more it spreads, the happier I’ll be.
I deliberately made it short, but not just a soundbite, so it can be used simply, snappily and comprehensibly in all sorts of places. But several contributors to my first appeal to join in the meme not only set out their own declarations but explained how they came to them, so I thought I would, too. Below, I’ve published not just each line of my short version, but explained just what each bit of it means. If you use it, I hope that’ll help you with the context if anyone asks you any questions. Even if you don’t use it, I hope it answers any questions of your own about it!
What My ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ Means
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.
I put freedom first, and freedom in two very definite contexts that make clear what’s different about the Liberal Democrats. We start with the individual, which is crucial: it means we’re not a class-based or nationalist party. It means we’re for everybody, not a divided society. Any party that puts a particular group first obviously discriminates against anyone who’s not in that group, which is for me an entirely wrong approach to politics. More subtly, that also limits even people in the ‘favoured’ group, because the party sees them as ‘one of them’ first and foremost, whatever that person thinks is most important about themselves, their relationships, their hopes and choices. Start with the individual, and you understand that people combine in many ways and have many different identities – perhaps part of a class or nation, yes, but also a family, a local community, a workplace, an ethnicity, a sexuality, a fandom, a religion… And it’s up to them which is the most important for them to define themselves, not for a political party to instruct them in what’s the point of their lives. The other crucial context for freedom is that Liberal Democrats see some problems not just as probably bad things that are box-ticking targets to reduce, but as evils because they’re barriers to people having freedom over their own lives. That’s why standing for freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity makes us different: they’re bad because they hurt and hold back individual people.
To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.
Expanding on what freedom means, obviously it needs fairness to underpin it – not everyone has the same chances to start with, so not everyone has the same freedom, and it’s the job of a Liberal party to help raise people up. That goes hand in hand with a successful economy – fairness isn’t much of a virtue if it just means pushing everyone down equally, or if it’s an excuse to stifle people being creative and generating financial success, because government’s too often tempted to see itself as the owner and source of all money. So economies are at their best when they’re sustainable, when there’s plenty of opportunity to innovate, and when some of that success is shared.
So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.
If you’re in desperate need for the basics of life, it’s very difficult to exercise any other freedoms, even if you’ve got them in theory. As Winston Churchill – not often seen as on the red-hot lefty side of Liberalism – said:
“To have a little freedom, you must have a little money.”So ensuring everyone has a material baseline is crucial to Liberal Democrats, but it’s only the start of freedom. It’s all the more reason to make sure, too, that the whole economy works, not just to pay for supporting those in need but so as many people as possible can make a success of themselves, as well. Just pretending government can always be a source of goodies and that all money comes from and belongs to it sounds lovely to some people, but turns into a disaster. Labour irresponsibly borrowed much more money on top of what the real economy was bringing in even at the height of a boom – meaning that, when the terrible crash came, the national debts were already piling up again and the Labour Government was already committed to so much spending it couldn’t afford that the deficit between spending and income was so much worse than any reaction to the crisis alone.
You don’t look after our children by giving more money to international bankers in debt interest than we spend on education and then stiffing those kids with the ever-growing bill for this generation’s financial failures when they grow up. It’s not fair to make them pay for our environmental failures, either, so as the economy is rebuilt it has to be with green growth, not just repeating old mistakes. That’s why each government should be paying its own bills, but shared fairly by changing the balance of taxes, as the Lib Dems have done in government by massively reducing the tax bill for ordinary people, lifting the lowest-paid out of Income Tax altogether after Labour doubled their tax, and at the other end, making the wealthiest pay much more than they did under Labour (not least by raising Capital Gains Tax on the wealthy after Labour cut it), and holding back the Tories’ desire to give extra to the rich (not least by keeping a top rate of Income Tax that’s still higher than Labour had for 155 months of their 156 in power).
Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.
Education and training have for a long time been at the heart of Liberal Democrat policy priorities. All forms of learning give people the skills and opportunities to widen their chances in life, and the knowledge and freedom to make their own choices. From the 1990s, Paddy Ashdown championed extra investment in education as the single most important way to get the economy working, by helping unlock every individual’s potential. From the 2000s, perhaps the issue Nick Clegg has been most passionate about is investment in early years education to help increase social mobility and help prevent people being held back by inequality from an early age. In government, the Liberal Democrats have made these passions into realities, especially through the Pupil Premium that targets more schools money to pupils from deprived backgrounds, and through a huge increase in apprenticeships to open up real training and work opportunities.
And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.
Freedom from conformity is the most distinctively Liberal of all freedoms. It’s important to have the material basics and not be held back by poverty – but it’s not enough. It’s important to have the opportunities and skills and the ability to make your own informed choices that free you from ignorance – but it’s not enough. It’s crucial that you have the freedom to live your own life as you see fit, not as others tell you to, not as the government orders you to, nor even as well-meaningly bossy people want you to ‘for your own good’. No-one else knows best for you, because everyone’s best is different.
Liberal Democrats believe you’ll be able to contribute best if you’re free to be creative, be individual, and make your own life. It’s not government’s job to order you about. Instead, government should be making sure you’re not pushing other people about, and making sure everyone gets the same playing field in society, with the law not tilted to rich or poor, big or small, or against any particular sex, race, sexuality, religion or other part of who you are. And the best way to hold government to all that is to make it much more accountable, letting you see more of what’s going on, making democracy more representative, breaking up big government, spreading power to different levels so more people can get involved and stop absolute power making absolutely wrong decisions.
That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
So that brings everything down to the core of the Liberal Democrat message. For everyone to do well, rich or poor, entrepreneur or ordinary worker, and not least those who need help to get by, the economy needs to get stronger and more sustainable, built to last with green growth and paying its way. For everyone to do well, society has to be for everyone, with everyone getting better chances and not being held back by poverty and ignorance, and everyone paying their fair share. And perhaps most importantly, everyone should be able to do well in their own way, not just conform to how government or any other bully thinks they ought to, because you’ll not just be happier and more fulfilled, but you’ll always work harder and do better and be more successful – and more able to share that success, too – the more you get the opportunity to live your life in your own way.
What Do the Lib Dems Believe? A New Poster!
I wrote last month that I’d helped Mark Pack with a new Infographic he’s designed with Kath Harding. It sums up his idea of “What Liberal Democrats Believe,” too, and he’s published it today in an exciting new form that you can print out as a poster.
Mark’s aim, like my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, is to come up with something that’s a consensus across the party on our beliefs, but it’s more than that. It’s a mixture of history, philosophy, controversy and current priorities, the story of the Party and its soul, if you like, for information and for inspiration. I think it does pretty well, and I’ll be proud to have it on my wall. Mark’s done a brilliant job of bringing together an awful lot into something simple and striking, and putting up with several competing ideas from several competing people, and perhaps most of all with very many nagging emails from me. I think where I made the biggest difference is in building on others’ ideas on the differences between Liberals by then saying what brings all Liberals back together again, as for me it’s important not to lose sight of how all Liberals agree as well as how, being Liberals, we naturally think for ourselves and argue, too.
You can find the Infographic in both small and poster-or-publication-printable versions here, along with Mark’s own setting it in context.
The Complete ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ Challenge
- 2013.2 – My Version, and making the Challenge. Now it’s your turn!
- 2013.3 – The first Eight Answers to the Challenge. What’s yours?
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