Saturday, July 11, 2020
Liberal Democrat Values: Mark Pack’s Three Answers
What do the Liberal Democrats stand for, and why vote for us?
That’s my lead question from several I sent to Liberal Democrat Leadership candidates Layla Moran and Ed Davey. I’m still awaiting their replies, yet have just had answers from a Lib Dem Leader… But probably not the one you’re expecting.
Doctor Mark Pack is Acting Co-Leader of the Liberal Democrats, an unexpected temporary addition to his election as Lib Dem President, so I sent him three of the same questions and he was first to respond. Thank you, Mark! Here are Mark’s pithy answers:
People say all politicians are the same. Lib Dems have often seen moderation, working with others and compromise as virtues, to the point of the caricature that a Liberal is someone so fair they don’t take their own side in an argument. So what really motivates you?
When someone asks you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in a sentence or two what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and why anyone should vote for us – what do you answer?
We want to give everyone the best possible chances to live their lives as they wish, to be who they want to be and to make their own choices. Both Labour and the Conservatives are far too keen to tell people how they should behave, or to pick chunks of society who they don’t care so much about and to put different parts of our society at odds with each with other.
(That’s my English doorstep answer, of course. For Scotland and Wales, I’d talk also about nationalists, and how we want to bring down barriers, not put up new ones between people on our common islands.)
Two of the most heartfelt Liberal Democrat instincts are ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘Stand up to bullies.’ Whether you call those ‘moderate and Liberal’, ‘caring and courage’, ‘love and liberty’, the party feels both, needs both, but they’re often competing as well as complimentary, so our balance between them changes with the times.
Which do we need most to lead on right now?
As your own blog’s name correctly captures, we need both. Each is dependent on the other. Love and liberty each flourish when the other is present. I wouldn’t make a forced choice between the two, just as I won’t pick vowels or consonants are the most important types of letter. It’s when both come together that the best happens.
Ask what the core of Liberalism is and the answer’s obvious: “It’s About Freedom”. So obvious, that was the title of the Liberal Democrats’ 2002 philosophy paper. Look at our other positioning papers and manifestos under Charles Kennedy – “Freedom In A Liberal Society”, “Freedom, Justice, Honesty”, “Freedom, Fairness, Trust” – Freedom led. Our constitution leads with “Liberty, equality and community”. But Leaders and campaigns since have made Freedom or Liberty invisible.
Are we afraid it’s not popular, not relevant, or have we just ceded it to the illiberal Right?
I’m enthusiastic about the concept of freedom while being cautious about the vocabulary. The word as acquired strong right-wing overtones. If someone saw a leaflet saying ‘I’m for freedom’ and had to guess the politics of the candidate before reading on, I strongly suspect most people would assuming the person is right-wing, a libertarian even perhaps. If the word freedom seems right-wing, I also suspect the word liberty sounds like a word from the past. You’re more likely to hear it in a historical Hollywood movie than in ordinary conversation.
So I don’t worry too much about word counts on either, as long as the concept comes through clearly in what we argue for – such as the future benefits of a close relationship with the rest of Europe that minimises barriers, and so protects people’s freedoms.
Lib Dems Believe – More Answers
I posted my three questions (with an extra two individually targeted ‘mean’ ones for Ed and Layla) here on Monday, along with some of my own commentary on where the Liberal Democrats are going and – to lower the bar for the candidates – the two absolutely worst answers I’ve ever heard on Lib Dem values and why to vote for us.
I was rightly challenged on this to share some of the best answers I’ve had, too. So you can read my eight-Tweet thread here in which I pick out some of my favourites, including answers directly to me from Lib Dems such as Lynne Featherstone, Caron Lindsay and Brian Paddick, and historical choices such as David Lloyd George and Roy Jenkins (and a friend has just shared with me his own new vision this week, which I hope to quote and promote when he publishes it).
During the 2015 General Election I posted every day on Lib Dems Believe with a variety of values, long and short, old and new, in which the same ideas and ideals came across over and over, though in a wide variety of different words. Most answers I’ve had tend, like Mark’s, to be pithy. My absolute favourite is of course the longest of all those I chose, an abridgement of one of Paddy Ashdown’s Leader’s speeches and still the most inspiring I’ve ever heard. I recommend it.
Finally, as I’m judging others it’s only fair I put my own answers up for judgement too. Over many blog posts on what the Lib Dems stand for over many years, the pithy values closest to my heart remain “Freedom, Fairness, Future” (which I evolved from the party’s “Free, Fair and Green” in the 2000s because alliteration goes a long way) and “Freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity” (my more active rewording of the Preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution). My longer versions have changed much more, but this article includes both the latest written statement of values and my YouTube ‘Why vote Lib Dem’.
Here’s to the next set of inspiring answers!