I was challenged a while ago by Linda Jack as part of Alex Wilcock’s Lib Dem Values series. Never being one to respond to a prompt quickly, it’s stewed in my mind for a while, but now I think I’m ready to take a stab at it. In a truly liberal way, I’m going to ignore the rules and write about what I think the key areas and overall themes for the party should be, then see at the end if I can hone them into a coherent message.
Liberty – freedom and justice: This is the freedom to do what you want, as long as it harms no other, and the freedom from oppression and aggression by the state. We oppose authoritarianism, be it the security state or the nanny state. Liberty is the cornerstone of justice, and the law exists to protect freedom and liberty from those who would infringe upon it.
Democracy – power and equality: We believe the best way to control power is to divide it and share it around. That’s why Liberal Democrats support devolution and real localism, seeking to create a system where power flows from the bottom up, not the top down. We seek to give real and meaningful power to individuals, regardless of circumstance, giving them the power to control their own lives and a say in decisions by the wider community that affect them. We want to remove barriers that prevent people using that power.
Liberty and democracy are inextricably linked within our values, for they mean nothing without each other – no matter how much power might look like it has been devolved, proper democracy can’t exist if people don’t have real freedom to live lives of their choosing, and liberty needs the safeguards of democracy to prevent it from being corrupted and abused.
These two are the core values, from which others flow, but other important principles need to be stated to explain some practical implications.
Environment: This could, perhaps, be up with liberty and democracy as a core value, as a healthy environment is necessary for liberty and democracy to flourish. One can harm others indirectly by polluting the environment, and the threat of climate change is a massive external threat to liberty that will need individuals to work together to combat and adapt to.
Internationalism: We believe that liberty, democracy and the rights that go with them are universal, applying to everyone. A free world is a safer world, and we seek to encourage the spread of liberal values. Decisions need to be taken at the level where they’re most appropriate, which can range from the individual to the global and to enable this to happen in a liberal and democratic fashion we will engage with multi-national and super-national bodies to encourage transparency, openness and democracy.
Society and economy: We seek to create a society where everyone can fulfill their potential, removing barriers to participation and encouraging access to education and training for all throughout their lives. We want to see a diverse economy that supports a diverse, tolerant and open society.
Science and education: We believe politics should be evidence-based and would seek to make policy based on fact and evidence, not belief and prejudice. Education and understanding is vital for a thriving democracy, but that education has to be about developing the individual, not forcing them into moulds to fit the world. To protect the environment and create a developed economy that’s vital for protecting liberty and democracy, we will invest heavily in scientific research and development.
Not sure how much of that is values, and how much comes across more as the introduction to a manifesto, but that’s my initial thoughts which, as ever, are subject to change, clarification and expansion as and when I have egregious errors and omissions in them pointed out. They key test, though, is whether I can get the important information from that into Alex’s target of 150 words that explains what the Liberal Democrats are for. Here’s my attempt:
We believe in a society that works to maximise the happiness and potential of every individual, one that works to give everyone the opportunity to live their life as they want, providing they do not harm others. We seek to create an open, liberal and democratic world, where power is spread around, people have a real say in decisions that affect them and fair and impartial justice is available to all. A liberal society should protect the environment, promote education, create opportunity, reward enterprise and encourage innovation. Everyone should be free to participate in society and we seek to both tear down the barriers that restrict them and help people to overcome circumstances that limit them. In a liberal society everyone should be free to live their lives, free of restraint by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
It’s still rough, and no doubt needs editing and tweaking, but what I’ve tried to do is make it a statement about liberal values and principles, rather than specifics. I’ve also tried to emphasise the importance of creating a liberal society as a key value, and so haven’t made much reference to economics. I think we often get too bogged down in talking about economic issues (though it’s not too surprising, given the moment of history we’re in) as though they’re an end in themselves rather than as a means to create a liberal society. I joined the party because I wanted to work for a liberal society, and I think we often underestimate the potential power there is in the vision of that society. Our values and principles shouldn’t echo the ‘we’ll tweak the current system better than them’ managerialism of the other parties, but should emphasise how and why we’re different. There is a strong radical strand running through the history of the party that we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace and promote.
So that’s my statement of Liberal Democrat values, what’s yours? I’m not going to tag anyone, but if this piques your interest, then feel free to chip in with your vision.