Looking beyond Brexit

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce. In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future. Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order: Improve Benefits. Universal Credit […]

The sense of things going horribly wrong is likely to get much worse as 2019 gets under way and #BrexitShambles becomes #BrexitFarce.

In the probable chaos of the coming months the country needs us to articulate our hope for the future.

Putting some flesh on those bones, in no particular order:

  • Improve Benefits. Universal Credit could have been a good idea, but under-funding has hit it hard and people are suffering. Improving the funding is a good place to start. We also need to go further. It is a scandal to have people needing to use food banks or losing the roof over their head because of the way the system works. I’ve spoken with people struggling to live on benefits, who voted Leave in the desperate hope that things would improve.
  • Wealth inequality. Back in the autumn, Vince Cable put forward a raft of tax reforms to make the system fairer, especially around inheritance and investment income and pensions. Univeral Basic Income has been on the edge of discussions for a long time. It is time to take it seriously — it can’t be done overnight, but it is time to start the conversation as a way to pick up where we are, and fears around the way in which technology is reshaping the world.
  • Brexit has pushed climate change from the top of the agenda. People have every reason to be worried. That means is that it is high time to turn that worry into action — around renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, nuclear power, zero carbon housing, improved public transport, and more.
  • The Blair government had some good ideas on devolution, with elected regional assemblies and pulling government offices and development to the same boundaries. The imbalances around devolution to Wales, Northern Ireland and particularly to Scotland would look very different if there was meaningful devolution in England.
  • It’s time to talk openly about federalism. Too often it’s a dirty word in British (or at least, English) politics. It’s time to dispatch the myth that it is about centralising power and put the case for doing centrally only what needs to be done there and pushing decisions as close as possible to the people they affect. That applies as much to devolving power from Westminster as it does devolving it from Brussels.
  • It’s time to be celebrating diversity, the opportunities coming from free movement of people and the economic benefits of immigration, so we go from the fantasy of immigrants “taking our jobs” to the reality of what we gain from immigration — beginning with the reality that the Tories keep missing their immigration targets because you can’t cut immigration without hurting the economy.
  • Celebrate being being European, with our shared heritage, history and values. It also means celebrating the vision behind the EU. That’s both about drawing on the richness of our story and recognising, and holding in check, our capacity to harm each other.
  • Education and life-long learning are the real responses for people who experience globalisation as a threat to their livelihood.
  • Too many people live in places where their votes don’t count. Many felt that the 2016 referendum was a rare chance for their vote to make a difference. The message has to be that people, and their votes, count. This means voting reform. It is about enabling all voices to be heard.

There is a raft of Liberal Democrat policy that is relevant to healing the divisions behind and exposed by the 2016 result. Commitment to “the values of liberty, equality and community” is a brilliant starting point for the task of working together to build a bright, European future.

 

* Mark Argent was the candidate in Hertford and Stortford in the 2017 General Election

Challenges for liberalism 1: How should liberalism respond to inequality and inequity in the UK?

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by Leeds University Liberal Democrats. It seems to me that inequity is a huge problem right now. We have some of the richest and poorest parts of the EU within the country, and an increasingly polarised society. That polarisation […]

Editor’s Note: These posts are based on a speech given by the author at an event organised by Leeds University Liberal Democrats.

It seems to me that inequity is a huge problem right now. We have some of the richest and poorest parts of the EU within the country, and an increasingly polarised society. That polarisation is not only writing off millions of people, but it’s also creating the conditions in which authoritarianism, intolerance and violence thrive. We need some big ideas because what is clear is that we cannot keep going on the way we have been doing. We sold the country’s family silver and lived on unsustainable debt in the 80s creating a boom that ultimately had nothing propping it up, but our addiction to economic quick fixes met the cold light of day in 2008.

Sadly it seems we as a society haven’t learned our lesson. We’re just trying to get back to what we had before, and in trying to do that we are using austerity, and that’s both promoting the spread of poverty and systematically dismantling the structures and institutions we as a society have built to mitigate poverty.

So we are in a mess.

As I said, we need big ideas. The last time we faced a crisis on this scale it was liberalism that did provide the big ideas. The NHS, workers’ rights, the trade union movement, the welfare state. Labour may try to claim ownership of these ideas but we were there at their inception.

Let’s be clear – despite our government’s committed attempt to impose economic sanctions on ourselves with Brexit we are still one of the richest countries in the world. People sleep rough on the street, or have to go hungry to feed their children because we have decided, as a country, that these are OK. Two whole generations will work their backsides off to enrich landlords their entire lives because we have decided, as a country, that that’s OK.

And quite apart from the social consequences of this, our pursuit of a model of capitalism that has clearly had its day, at all costs, is destroying the ecosystem. Not the planet, the planet will be fine. It’s just that we might not be around to enjoy it.

Now I don’t claim to have the answers. There’s a lot of talk about moving to a post scarcity economy, of universal basic income, and other ideas and maybe they will coalesce around a single ideological framework, and I hope they will. It seems to me though that we need to start valuing people, and valuing the idea that we need to structure our society so that everyone lives in safety, warmth and dignity.

The preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution has this clear when it talks about how none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.

That lofty goal is not going to be delivered by fiddling round the edges of what we have now. Instead of trying to frame our liberalism in reference to the economic system any hypothetical liberal government would inherit, we need to start thinking, and acting, like radicals. Start with a bold vision, and let’s work out how to get there. One thing that is clear to me is that we aren’t going to get there by being triangulating centrists.

* Sarah Brown is a Liberal Democrat activist from Cambridge, an Exec member of LGBT+ Lib Dems and a former Councillor in Cambridge