Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Love and Liberty I – Introduction (#LibDemHeart #LibDemValues 1.1)

Ever tried to sum up ‘What the Liberal Democrats stand for’ in a sentence? And make it exciting? With – probably – 99 days until the General Election, many Lib Dems are already hard into their ‘ground war’, pounding the streets and delivering leaflets, but there’s more to politics than being a good local campaigner. Where other parties work hard (or, perish the thought, local Lib Dems don’t), what’s the difference that makes you think, ‘Yes, I’m still sure I’m a Lib Dem’? Nick Clegg uses one word: Fairness. I’ll look at that later, but first, what would I say? You’ll not be surprised that it’s more than one word…

Actually, when I had a good think about it eleven years ago, I started with two. You know what they are.

Back in the early ’90s, when I was heavily involved with the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, I wrote a lot of letters. Other Lib Dems often used their own particular sign-offs, “Yours liberally” being an obvious favourite. One day, I decided to adopt my own, and – being a huggy sort of chap and a definite Liberal – “Love and liberty” were the two words that instantly sprang to mind. One of the people I wrote to most often was LDYS’ first Chair, Kiron Reid. For trivia buffs, he was also (separately) the Young Liberal Democrats’ last Chair; these days they’re called Liberal Youth, and I understand there’s a vacancy. If Kiron can sign himself up as a mature student, do you think he fancies the triple? Anyway, a few years later, the two of us having long become friends, activists, LDYS ex-Chairs and enraptured by Liberalism, he asked me to expand that instinctive tag into a philosophy.

From 1998 onwards, Kiron Reid and Bill le Breton edited a series of booklets from Liberator Publications, each usually consisting of two essays (the first of which was Kiron’s own highly recommended Rough Guide to Liberalism). The series was called Passports To Liberty, and in March 1999 I stayed up a few nights to write my contribution, then dashed up to Liverpool so that Kiron and I could format and print it just in time to flog at that weekend’s Liberal Democrat Spring Conference. The A-essay in Passports To Liberty 3 was Jackie Ballard’s The Politics of Community, so it’s worth hunting down a copy for that. You can read my B-essay here over the next few days, split into more digestible parts by its original sub-headings.

The Best Book On Liberalism Ever Written (Before Moving On To The One For Which I Hold The Copyright)

So, if there’s one short book or long essay you should read about Liberalism, it’s without a doubt – well, there are two. John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor’s On Liberty, which you can find free online, and Conrad Russell’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide To Liberalism, which was published like mine in 1999, to rather greater fanfare and not run off on an illicit photocopier in the dead of night. If you can find a copy, grab it, particularly as it’s criminally out of print and going for £50 second-hand. I can find things to disagree with in both, but they’re still brilliant.

I wouldn’t put my Love and Liberty in a top fifty, but it is the one that I can republish as much as I like. Besides, I intend this to be the first in a series of articles looking at my and many other people’s ideas of ‘What the Liberal Democrats stand for’, and as I’m not going to agree with all of them it’s only fair that I stick my own beliefs on the block first. Bring your own tomatoes.

Modestly subtitled “Alex Wilcock on Social Liberalism,” I’m not sure that my definition of Social Liberalism was one with which Mr Hobhouse would entirely agree, but it tied in with what Conrad called a “rhetorical flourish” (I wonder if I still have the very kind review he wrote – was it in Liberator, or in Liberal Democrat News? I had some unkind reviews, too, but you can look for those yourself). As you might guess, I argued that for Liberalism to work it needed to stand for both love and liberty – each having limitations on their own. How well did I knit them together?

Love and Liberty

Alex Wilcock on Social Liberalism

“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world… All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10.12.1948

Part One: Love

One Person, One Value
Liberal Individualism
Liberal Internationalism
Green Liberalism

Part Two: Liberty

Equal Voices, Different Choices
Freedom from Poverty
Freedom from Ignorance
Freedom from Conformity

Conclusion: Love and Liberty

Click on the as-yet-unfinished links to read each section in turn, and follow me on my journey through a definitive essay I wrote eleven years ago to discover with me whether I still agree with it, just how dated my knocking copy on the other parties is from a day when New Labour was new, and Iraq was as yet uninvaded (will I be as eerily prescient as the conclusion to Conrad’s book?), and how desperately I tried to shoehorn in lines I thought really ought to be in there somewhere but couldn’t really find a place for. The last is my main memory of what was dodgy about it at the time, but no doubt today I’ll find much more.


I’ve been thinking about this series on what the Liberal Democrats are about (“This is what KLF is about!” has just belted out behind me) for a couple of months, seeing quite a few other people write about the same sort of thing along the way. So this introduction seemed an appropriate way to celebrate my 500th blog post on Love and Liberty. Thanks for reading so far, if you have!

It’s with rather more trepidation that I’ve also celebrated by joining Twitter. You might very well think that starting to micro-blog just as I set out on a series of maxi-blogs is an incongruous move, but… My shivering hand was held by Her Highness of Hashtags herself, Helen Duffett, so thank you, Helen, for the starting advice, and the nonsense I tweet is entirely my own.

Obviously, I need to amend my links to add my Twitter account, but as the whole sidebar’s not been updated for about a year, it’s almost as terrifying to contemplate redoing the whole thing as it is to think about tidying the spare room…

Forward to II

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I think fairness adequately sums up my apporach to most things, but I really like the expression of "love and liberty."

My people are ostensibly the greatest defenders in the world of both things, yet they seem often to lack them in their treatment of one another.

This dichotomy manifests itself on the international stage as well; our president is a great man who wants to make needed and enlightening changes to our country, yet he has allowed our people to be drafted into the fighting of a war.
Thanks for your ahistorical cut-and-paste propaganda, Mr Barham. And was there any particular reason you pasted it here…?

Thanks rather more for your comment, Aaron – glad you liked the phrase! Do come back and let me know what you think of the rest of it as it appears day by day.
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