We need a radical, robust and impassioned liberalism


I wrote during the election about what a joyless event it had been. Almost a phoney war to some extent in which all Parties hid behind slogans and sound bites but failed to express their true beliefs – even supposing that they had them.
During the election no party enunciated a clear, coherent vision of the Country that they would like to lead. UKIP and the Greens gave some ideas but they were bonkers, absurd and undeliverable. Labour and Tories hid their ideals behind sound bites and things that focus groups had told them that some people wanted. We came up with a four word slogan and a 140 page manifesto that said so much that it actually said little. What all three main parties campaigned on was the same essential themes that they had campaigned on since the 50s. The battle between capitalism and labour. A battle that has been increasingly remote from what people perceive in real life. They clung to it, though, like a comfort blanket, to hide themselves and the electorate from a failure to confront today’s realities and tomorrow’s possibilities.
I suspect that we might now see what it was the Tories wanted to hide. Although their first announcements seem to suggest that like UKIP they see the future as being the past. It seems highly unlikely that the Labour leadership contest will throw up anything of interest. It will, again fight the personality battle of the 90s ‘new Labour’ against central state Labour; personality against personality, blame culture against blame culture.
But enough of them. Lib Dems now have an exciting opportunity to be different and to define themselves in such a way that we can discern the massive underlying differences which do make US different from THEM.
When I joined the Young Liberals back in the 1960s (1967 to be precise) it was not because I wanted to be part of a soggy centre. The Liberals were then the exciting bit of British politics and the Young Liberals even more so. We marched to the Sound of Gunfire as our former Leader, Jo Grimond had told us to. We marched and campaigned on issues like civil liberties, I marched to Ban the Bomb, I marched and campaigned about Barclays investments in Southern Africa; we campaigned against the emerging police state; we demanded an end to patronage and we fought the traditional hierarchies.
We had a description for it then which I still use today – ‘libertarian socialist’ that’s what I am. I believe in the redistribution of wealth; I believe in helping people who cannot help themselves whilst encouraging people who can. I believe in a massive redistribution of power from London to the regions; from the regions to the Town Hall; and from the Town Hall to communities. I believe that the UK is part of an international family of nations and that only by being part of a family can we defend ourselves and our values. I believe that the state cannot run things and that we need to look at new methods of service delivery; I believe that society needs to restructure itself to deal with the challenges of ageing that could engulf us if not handled properly.
What does that mean in practice? Let’s take two examples from my past:
Between 1979 and 1981 we produced in Liverpool the biggest housing cooperative programme in Western Europe. More than 42 housing cooperatives were nurtured in new or existing buildings. We gave power to people to run their own lives but crucially gave them the resources to enable them to do so properly. All but one of those housing cooperatives was opposed by Labour who argued that the Town Hall knew best despite the fact that we had massive arrears; massive repairs problems and a complete failure to respond to the needs and wishes of our tenants. When they came to powere they scrapped the cooperative programme. Some of the estates that Labour built had to be rescued within a decade whilst the housing cooperatives thrive to this day.
Between 2003 and 2012 I was heavily involved as chair with Plus Dane Housing in the North West of England. Plus Dane (in its various incarnations) was an excellent housing association with a strong development record. It decided however that being a good landlord simply wasn’t enough. It became a ‘Neighbourhood Investor’ working with all other parts of the public sector to ensure that all the needs of its tenants and leaseholders were met. In so doing it saved the public huge sums of money by joining up services around the needs of the people rather than producer. It had massive levels of satisfaction from its tenants.
We succeeded in some of the most deprived and challenging neighbourhoods by doing things in a different way; by tearing up the rule book and coming up with pragmatic community based, community led solution which maximised involvement of people and minimised the impact and influence of the bureaucrats.
Surely that is something that we can begin to do on a much wider scale within the Party? Let’s tear up the rule book. Let’s acknowledge that the class war warriors are from the past. Let us recognise that advances in technology and the erosion of national barriers and cultures give us the opportunities to refocus society and its institutions to meet these new challenges.
On what should our policies be based?
• Decentralisation with decisions and their implementation being undertaken at the lowest possible and practical level.
• Internationalism with commitment to the international principles and institutions which alone can bring peace and prosperity to a world which is eating itself.
• Environmentalism recognising that unless we act and act swiftly there is no viable world for our children’s children.
• Fiscal probity as we understand that unless we raise money we cannot spend it.
• New forms of ownership of public assets to ensure their effective use and management
• New forms of ownership of wealth creating bodies to ensure that minimise the gap between the highest and lowest paid and enhance employment satisfaction and the local use of labour and resources.
Does this sound like idealistic twaddle?! I hope it does sound idealistic. I am not in politics to do things a little better or stop them becoming a little worse. I want real, radical and lasting change. Are they twaddle? Well that is for other to judge BUT there are so many examples in place about all the new ways of doing things that I have discussed above that I am sure that if we joined those small things together we could create mighty ideas and a mighty movement to bring them into being.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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3 Responses to We need a radical, robust and impassioned liberalism

  1. So why weren’t you at the Social Liberal Forum AGM today?

    • richardkemp says:

      Because I think that the SLF is a waste of space! I did a 4.5 hour Advice centre at out Farmers Market and then went delivering thats far better than joining a Lib Dem sect.

  2. James says:

    Of course the great progressive cause which is developing now is the boycott and divestment movement against the Israeli government. Isn’t it time we took a proincipled stance to support the Palestinian people without worrying what the press and the tories are goingto say…

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