Who Are the Liberal Democrats?

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Jeremy reviewed a special issue of the Political Quarterly journal about the Liberal Democrats (available for download free here), for the September 2007 edition of the Journal of Liberal Democrat History.

This volume is an excellent picture of the Liberal Democrats, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a good view of the many different aspects of the party – even those who have been active in it for a while.

Its nineteen chapters between them look at a wide range of features of the party – and the detachment of the academic authors of some chapters is very well leavened by the fact that the several of the authors are writing about things they themselves did or were involved in.

Several of the articles tackle head on different aspects of the question of who the Liberal Democrats are, in terms of positioning and ideology.

Former Lib Dem Director of Policy and editor of this volume Richard Grayson himself has an excellent article looking at the party’s ideology. Measured against Tony Crosland’s definition of a social democrat party he concludes that in its attitude to freedom, and in the subsidiary importance of ensuring equality towards achieving that; and in its attitude towards taxation, the Liberal Democrats have nothing to separate them from a social democrat party. But it is in its relation to the state that the Lib Dems show themselves to be ‘social liberals’ instead – “Put simply, Liberals are suspicious of it, while there is little evidence of social democrats fearing it at all”.

Ed Randall (like Grayson, both a politics academic and a Lib Dem politician) looks at this further. Read more…

My Tony Years

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When Tony Blair announced his resignation, everyone seemed to want to give their assessment of what the Blair years had been like for Britain – giving history’s first judgement of the legacy into which he’s put so much effort.

Many sought to measure his achievements in numbers: numbers of teachers under Blair, the change in waiting lists for hip ops under Blair, the spending on international development, the numbers unemployed under Blair.

But they didn’t tell me what I want to know about the Tony years.

For although I’d voted Lib Dem in the misty early morning of the 1st May 1997, before doing the 7am stint telling, I shared in the excitement of the new regime that weekend – like almost everyone who wasn’t a Conservative, and, one sensed, even quite a few who were.

I hoped that the new government would do something about what I thought was wrong about Britain after 18 years of Conservative government.

What was I looking for from Tony? Read more…

Improving Disabled Access at Party Conference

disabled.gif Jeremy reported to the 2006 autumn party conference on the work of the Conference Access Group, of which he is Convenor. Full about the work of the Access Group can be found here.

Coming to Conference can pose a number of challenges for party members with disabilities. But ensuring all our members have the opportunity to be part of policy-making and conference is one of our party’s distinguishing strengths, so two years ago Conference Committee created a Conference Access Group (CAG) to tackle these challenges and make attending conference as smooth as possible.

Since then, the Access Group has worked hard to review all aspects of coming to conference. It contains members with a wide range of disabilities, and its meetings over the last eighteen months have identified more than a hundred individual points aimed at improving access. We have been able to address virtually every single one of these, and as a result disabled access to Liberal Democrat Conference, which was already good at a basic level, has improved significantly and is now extremely good. Read more…

The Challenge for the Liberal Democrats

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A few months ago, I spent some time campaigning in a rural seat which, despite high hopes, we had failed to take at the previous election. At one point, a number of members took me aside and confided to me their views on why this was. “We delivered too many leaflets”, they complained. “We shouldn’t have produced tabloid newspapers” they explained “they’re too downmarket.” In the space of a few minutes, they attacked just about every successful local campaigning technique that the party has developed over the last thirty years.

I told them I didn’t agree – that however much we might all prefer to sit at home instead of going out delivering in the rain, it was exactly doing this that had turned the tide in the decline of twentieth century liberalism, and seen us start to win seats again rather than lose them. Impatiently dismissing their innovative – and in one or two cases, extremely odd – suggestions for what we ought to do instead to win votes, I found myself saying “There is a formula, and it works”.

And work it really does. The proof is in the thousands of council seats and dozens of parliamentary seats which the party has won in recent years, and which came about because of the sheer hard work which local campaigners have put in – often over many decades. We are bloody good at local campaigning, and it works.

The sheer power of local campaigning to move mountains is made most clear in byelections. Somebody told me that in the Brent East campaign, the Liberal Democrats delivered a million leaflets – somewhere around 120 for each vote that we won.

It’s this kind of result which means that the success of local campaigning is so universally recognised within the party – and which is so widely feared by our opponents, both locally and in parliamentary byelections.

But for those of us who believe in the sheer power of this kind local campaigning, the result on May 5th does throw up some conundrums. Read more…

It’s About the Public, Stupid

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The role of the private sector in helping deliver public services through PFI schemes is a controversial subject. Across the country Liberal Democrat Councils are responsible for administering many hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of PFI schemes. The booklet It’s About the Public, Stupid, edited by Jeremy and published by the Lib Dem Group at the Local Government Association, is a collection of the experiences of six Liberal Democrats responsible for running PFI schemes, and what they think of them.

The full booklet is available here.

Liberal Democrat Conference in 2002 debated our proposals for the future of public services. Key themes included much greater devolution of control, and possible earmarking of tax for certain services. The role of the private sector in helping to deliver services is also a key issue. Read more…

Private Sector Working

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It is a Lib Dem Council which has had the job of making the first full LEA outsourcing in the country work. Jeremy Hargreaves reviews Private Sector Working, Islington Lib Dems’ account of how they have made it work. The full booklet by Jeremy is available here. When Islington Liberal Democrats won a byelection and took control of the Council in January 2000, they faced the task of improving a whole range of sub-standard Council services after thirty years of neglect under Labour. But in Education the task of raising standards was slightly different. The previous year the LEA had received just about the worst Ofsted inspection report ever, and David Blunkett, then Education Secretary, had ordered the whole lot to be contracted out. In the two years since then, the Lib Dem administration has worked with the contractor (CEA) and has turned the service around. Re-inspecting last year Ofsted agreed that “the tide has turned”. “Communication has been established and effective systems put in place. Even more importantly, a sense of purpose and optimism has been instilled. The task facing the LEA has been a formidable one, but, to a remarkable extent, it has been successfully accomplished”, they said. Read more…

Why Enlarging the EU is in Britain’s Interest

The European Union is in the process of carrying out the biggest ‘Enlargement’ in its history, bringing in ten new member states to its east and south, to take it up to 25 member states in all. Read more…

Blair & Brown – The Rivals

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Jeremy reviews James Naughtie’s book on the love-hate relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. In one of his last Conference speeches as Leader, Paddy Ashdown asked the question – Is Tony Blair a control freak or a pluralist? It’s a question which lies at the heart of much that this very readable book discusses. It charts the relationship between Blair and Brown from their first arrival in Parliament through to the extraordinary love-hate relationship of their second term in Government – a relationship Naughtie is fond of describing as a “political marriage”. Read more…

Education – for Children and Profit?

This article first appeared in the December 2001 issue of Liberator magazine. The inside front cover of this year’s Conference Agenda carried an advert from the NUT with the slogan “Education is for Children, not for Profit”. That is one view. The problem for Liberals is that it is a Socialist view. Socialism is not something that many people will openly admit to these days, but readers of Liberator will remember that it is the political ideology of Socialism which was driven by the desire always and everywhere to prevent profit being made. It was Socialism which focussed not on outcomes – in this case, how good an education the pupil gets – but on the technical machinery which produces the outcome. For Socialism, the definition of a good system was one in which no-one – the capitalist, the exploiter, call him what you will – makes a profit out of it. Read more…

Building Better Partnerships

cpppb_cover.jpg Jeremy reviews the report of the independent Commission on Public Private Partnerships, sponsored by the IPPR. This article first appeared in Liberal Democrat News in August 2001. This Report goes to the heart of the main public policy debate of the day – the balance between private and public provision of public services. Its criticism of the ways some high-profile PFI schemes have been mismanaged has been widely represented as a wholesale attack on private sector involvement in general – but in fact this Report is in fact a prolonged argument for the value of PPPs, put together in the right way. Read more…

Why I Believe in Europe

Jeremy sets out his reasons for supporting European integration, in an article originally written for the Norwegian European Movement, and available on their website here. Read more…