Liberal Left is initiated by Liberal Democrats who oppose the party’s membership of the Coalition. It is open to all who seek co-operation across the liberal left in order to provide an alternative to the current government.
Liberal Left articulates policy positions within the Liberal Democrats which should be central to a radical party. Such views have informed recent general election manifestos on which Liberal Left’s candidates have stood, and on which Liberal Left’s MPs have been elected. These views are not currently being voiced effectively in a party whose radical traditions have become muted in government, and whose leaders have taken the party’s policy position to the right. We are now part of a Government which is Eurosceptic, neo-liberal and socially conservative.
The Economy and Public Policy
The Liberal Democrat leadership has argued that Coalition was necessary to eliminate the structural deficit in a single parliament. It is now clear that this objective will not be achieved. Whilst the right of the party will use this failure to argue for a continuation of Coalition policy into the next parliament, Liberal Left believes there are different lessons to be learned.
The Liberal Democrats argued during the 2010 General Election that Conservative plans to eliminate the structural deficit in a single parliament would remove growth from the economy and that their impact would fall disproportionately on those least able to afford them, increasing the gap between the rich and poor and further dividing the country. This is exactly what has happened
We support a different economic strategy – one that does not involve blaming the country’s problems on the demonised poor, nor on apparent ‘overspending’ by the previous government (spending which Liberal Democrats did not say should be reduced). Such a strategy should involve the budget deficit being reduced more slowly, with hardships falling squarely on the shoulders of those who benefited from government bail-outs. That would be in line with the scope and timing proposed by the 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto. It should also involve prioritising investment in public works, especially green jobs, to boost employment.
But there are wider issues at stake than public policy responses to the economic crisis. Liberals have long argued against concentrations of power and resources, whether in the hands of the state or of private institutions. Social Democrats have long argued that inequality in wealth, income and esteem undermine social cohesion. The financial crisis is the result of decades of neo-liberal ideology and politics which has ignored these lessons. Instead public policy has allowed financial markets to consolidate power in the hands of unaccountable institutions, has disempowered communities, undermined local economies and has redistributed income and wealth from the bottom to the top. The crisis has also allowed a rebirth of social conservatism as those on the right try to blame the nation’s ills on the poor, the public sector, and a decline of family values.
People understand this. The popularity of progressive single issue campaigns shows a genuine appetite for progressive politics. We believe that Liberal Democrats should be part of this politics, not its target. This is a time for Liberals and Social Democrats to work together for a fairer and more democratic Britain in which people and communities are empowered to build a sustainable future and in which disparities of income, wealth and power are reduced. We must also work together to promote Liberal Left’s shared approach to public services and attitudes towards social justice. We believe the state has a clear responsibility to enable people to make the most of their own lives, in contrast to the coalition’s mission to slash the role of the both local and national government dramatically.
Political Strategy and Public Trust
The political result of the coalition has been disastrous for the Liberal Democrats. The party has haemorrhaged support, activists, members and councillors. The effectiveness of Liberal Left’s policy gains such as increasing tax allowances at the bottom of the income scale and the partial implementation of the pupil premium, have been dwarfed by the impact of others, including the rise in VAT and loss of standards funds in education. The party’s volte-face on tuition fees has fundamentally undermined Liberal Left’s trustworthiness.
If there is to be any future for the liberal left in British politics, Liberal Left believes that there must be overt and public dialogue between Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and others on the democratic left. There is a centre-left majority in the UK but it all too often fails to be expressed because of parties not being clear in advance of an election about who their preferred coalition partners would be. Many of the political problems faced by the current coalition flow from it being a government which most Liberal Democrat voters did not want. It is ideologically unsustainable and without a mandate.
A future coalition with Labour and others on the liberal left is more likely to secure Liberal Democrat goals than a further coalition with the Conservatives and Liberal Left should actively work to make that possible. If that is ever to happen, future centre-left co-operation must not founder on personal hostilities, and policy differences/similarities must be fully understood. If coalitions are to become more common, then voters cannot be left in the dark over what parties are likely to do (or not do) from their manifestos if they co-operate. The public deserves to be given a clear idea of what co-operation between Liberal Democrats, Labour the Greens and others would mean in terms of public policy if they are to be expected to trust such a government.
To further Liberal Left’s policy and strategy aims they will:
1. Provide a voice within the Liberal Democrats, opposing the party leadership on economic and fiscal policy, and advocating a positive alternative.
2. Seek every possible opportunity to build good relations across the left, between Liberal Democrats, Labour, the Greens, and the non-party liberal left, recognising that organisations such as Compass already offer a thriving space for such dialogue around democracy and sustainability.