Yesterday the Liberal Democrats held what seems to have become our almost annual one-day January policy conference, this year on the theme of a progressive future for Britain.
Perhaps the most constant theme across the day, or at least the sessions I was in, was a consensus about the importance for that goal of investing in education, at every phase from early years right through schooling and up to further and higher education (actually further education didn’t get much of a mention, though it should have done). There was a strong consensus that education must be at the heart of achieving the liberal idea of empowering individuals to - as the preamble to the party’s constitution puts it - not be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. And indeed our spring party conference in six weeks’ time will have a whole raft of proposals in each of these three phases, including significant plans for additional investment in each.
But the point that got me thinking most was one made in the final session, about the importance of parenting skills.
We all agree now, it seems, that investing in the education of children, the younger the better, is the most effective way of helping them to develop, so that in due course they are in the best position to make their own choices about their lives and indeed their world.
But what about the far greater part of their lives that young people don’t spend in school, nursery or any other kind of formal setting - but at home? Surely that must also have a huge impact on how they develop (and indeed there is evidence to support this)?
I always think this is a fascinating dilemma for liberals.