Saturday, 21 March 2015

Good advice from David Steel -belatedly getting in touch with the grass roots



BBC news are reporting former leader (who is seldom consulted by Clegg) as handing out some rather good advice. He asserts that the party should be listened to after the election and that there is no appetite for another coalition and that ' the party needs to recharge its values'

I agree with him both about the mood of the party and the need to recharge our values.. In an earlier interview on Radio 4 Steel hand branded this coalition as 'unnatural'

Alan Beith reviewed the latest book on Steel in the Autumn 2014 edition of the Liberal History Journal  and wrote about Steel's 'detachment from the grassroots workers of the party he led'. Beith goes on 'It was someone who was much more ready than the current generation of Liberal Democrat leadership to define himself as 'centre left' established so little rapport with those in the Party who defined themselves in the same way.'

You can say that again, but frankly better late than never and maybe this new empathy comes from experiencing being shut out and the fact that he shares the values and judgements of the party's activists. He will be a powerful voice in rebutting the attempts to rubbish supply and confidence arrangements.

Another Scots, Nigel Lindsay in the excellent book Unlocking Liberalism reminds us that we should be on the side of the governed not the government. In that he is echoing Jo Grimond in an essay the Young Liberal published during Steel's leadership.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The aftermath of Sefton's budget

Over the past few days there have been some interesting responses for the debate about Sefton's Budget. In Southport it is generally held to have been a disaster.

One particularly perverse piece of spin has been put about, namely that because we managed to shame Labour into accepting a minor amendment to improve the cold weather provision for rough sleepers we should have supported the entire budget. Pause for a moment of thought. Consider if the Government had proposed legislation to, say, have an immigration policy the practical impact of which was to say if you were white you come to Britain and if you Black you would be barred. ( Any resemblance to the Labour Party's Commonwealth Immigration Act is not accidental) If that legislation went on to allow the Government to disregard International Law and invade sovereign states killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people and leading to the destabilising of a fragile region and further if that Bill allowed the government to intercept and reading the correspondence of free citizens I would vote against it even if it introduced the separation of Sefton into two boroughs.

Now I fully appreciate that the Leader of the council does not for one minute believe the nonsense that an opposition party should vote for his budget just because they agree with section 9, sub section 14, point (iii). It is put about to encourage the more gullible and ill informed of his followers. I was much taken with a posting on a Labour website that identified one of the real problems facing the Opposition namely that the :  '......insular righteousness is nearer the behaviour of a cult than a party of government. It is not enough to believe we are right because we are Labour'.

Other contributions have been more thoughtful. Back a bit we were faced with other cuts to the Botanic. I tried very hard in cabinet and outside to establish a workers' cooperative to take over those functions. Sadly there was no support from other parties (the Council was in no overall control) and the staff took redundancy. I still think that was the employee owned business was the preferable option.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Sefton's Budget 'kick in the teeth' for Southport

Last night's Sefton budget was real kick in the teeth for Southport. Despite demonstrating how the money could be found to maintain the visitor infrastructure in Southport the Bootle dominated Labour cabinet blocked our reasonable amendments.  Relatively small sums were needed to safeguard the Botanic Gardens and to maintain the excellent partnership between the volunteers and the essential professional gardeners. But Labour would have none of it they would rather line the own pockets and maintain their mega allowances. We identified that the proposed 'cull of senior officers' (which has been a long time coming) had yielded enough to plug this gap and wasn't be spent on anything else. It was a disgrace and confirm that the Labour Party neither understand or care about the plight of the Southport economy.

I would like to put on record my thanks to our budget team for all their preparation. The persuasive skill of Cllr Daniel Lewis need to deployed more fully.
He holds the record for having got a budget amendment through. Congratulations. Dan's amendment was to take forward a previous Lib Dem initiative for rough sleepers. Reader may recall that residents alerted us to the fact that the emergency cold weather provision for rough sleepers was only available in Liverpool. This is not a fat lot of use to those needing the service in our town especially as there was no assistance in getting to the provision which is situated in a church hall outside the City Centre. Our initiative led to the establishment of a provision in Southport run by a local charity. We have now found extra funding to expand the operation of that service.

I think we can claim two victories because we flushed out a second concession over the pot of money created by the underspend. There was a significant underspend in last years budget and we wanted to be clear that that money would be available as a capital grants for those struggling to set up Community Libraries. This is another example when instead of working in partnership  with volunteer local groups the Labour Party would rather shut down the service.

There was a mighty contrast between our team effort and the Labour party who gagged all their councillors only allowing the Leader to speak. Welcome though those victories were the truth is that on the main item -preserving the infrastructure of our town’s visitor economy-we were blocked by an intransient Labour party who could not care less about the economic success of our town. So petty and vindictive was their approach that even where we clearly identified funding to bridge the gap for the Botanic and The Atkinson they refused to budge.

We really have to consider whether Sefton is an acceptable vehicle for local government in our town. Back when the Boundary Commission last looked at the plight of Southport they issued what in effect was a ‘yellow card’ warning to Sefton. Since then, especially under Bootle domination, things have become intolerable. I think 'video evidence' will confirm that last night Sefton deserves another Yellow Card . We need to go back to the Boundary commission. Sefton is not fit for purpose.

On a brighter note did any of you, apart from our resident train buff, notice an announcement that was slipped out last night about the electrification of the Southport line to Manchester? Tony R is in search more details. This is real triumph. At last, it appears, that the economic case for upgrading that wretched line has been accepted. As soon as we get more details I shall circulate them.

Minimum wage boost welcomed

WELCOME ANNOUNCEMENT THAT NATIONAL MINIMUM WAGE WILL RISE 3%


The independent body which advises the Government on the National Minimum Wage is to recommend that it be increased by 3%. The above-inflation rise would take the adult rate from £6.50 to 6.70 an hour, the biggest rise since 2008. Business Secretary Vince Cable said the Low Pay Commission's recommendations had always been accepted by politicians. If approved, the increase would apply from October. The Low Pay Commission's recommendations to the Government for the 2015 rates are as follows: · Adult rate - £6.70 · 18-20 rate - £5.30 · 16-17 rate - £3.87 · Apprenticeship rate - £2.80

Local Lib Dems have been campaigning for an increase in  the National Minimum Wage. We have emphasised that the Government must take into account the concerns of the local tourism sector and small businesses. Making it easier for people to get by has been a massive issue over the last few years. We are delighted that, if agreed, this boost would represent an annual pay rise of £416 for a full time worker on the minimum wage.

In a town like Southport where many of the jobs in retails, hospitality and care are low paid this is of real significance.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Labour Leader gets his facts wrong again on Sefton Local Plan

In a far from impressive performance at the last Full Council held in Bootle Town Hall the council leader rounded on concerned-and very well informed- residents and accused them of peddling myths. It was not his finest hour. The local plan has been controversial throughout Sefton and very late changes have justly upset folks. Here in Southport and plot of land designated for industry all of a sudden became a large housing estate.
 
In Birkdale our chief concern has been with neighbouring West Lancs proposal to build significant numbers of houses hard on the boundary -well away from centres of population within that borough- making it inevitable that those new resident will access facilities in Birkdale where the new homes bonus and the increase Council Tax will not be collected. I specifically challenged the Leader on school places. In his summing up- captured on video- he dismissed such concerns asserting that there were school places. Brandishing a piece of paper he said he had the figures and that Farnborough Rd Junior School had 26 empty places .
 
The facts are these:
 
Year 3 - 118
Year 4 - 123
Year 5 - 113
Year 6 - 119

This is a total of 473. The school's standard number  per year is 120 ie 480 in the four years.
As they are 3 OVER number in Y4, they actually have 10 spaces in school.

They are over number in Y4 as Sefton admissions have asked us to take children into that year group who have siblings that can be placed in other years in school.
e.g A Y5 place is available, but the Y4 sibling cannot get in. As the family would probably win an appeal, the school has permitted them to start. Each of these cases has gone through In Year fair Access panel.
 
Of those ten places the overwhelming majority, seven, are in the same year.
 
This is a very small example but it does illustrate why there is a scepticism about the Leader's assertions

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Pugh: ' to make cuts and deny them and absurdly twist language to do so is dishonest and dangerous'.

A little extract from Hansard which gives hope to our Councillors:
 
John Pugh (Southport) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts).
It would be churlish not to welcome the new money announced—it is welcome and needed—but I want to make a few brief observations. It is indisputable that during the attack on the deficit local government has been hit first and hardest, as it often is by all Governments—because local government is not us. We set the budget and they, the councillors, have to make the cuts. In fact, however, it is the only public service budget that has to reach a black line every year, no matter what we throw at it—and we have thrown an awful lot at it, which makes things tough and constrained.
It is widely admitted, however, that in very difficult circumstances local government has coped quite admirably—somehow—but in varied ways and with greater or lesser difficulty. If the NAO is to be believed, the Government do not realise how much that has varied and cannot be sure that local government can continue to cope in the future. The hon. Member for Sheffield South East made that point very effectively. We cannot be sure that local government is sustainable in its current form, particularly because no party is offering it any kind of reprieve, so far as I can see.
It is indisputable—I would not disagree with the hon. Gentleman—that by and large the metropolitan and urban areas have lost most in proportional and real terms. We can, as the Government do, call that fair, because they had the most per capita in the first place—and they still have—or unfair because they have the greatest need. We can stand in argument either way, and most of our argument concerns just that point.
I personally regard a 40% overall reduction in the DCLG’s account during this Parliament as too severe to be well managed and as unnecessarily damaging. I say that as a supporter of the Government’s deficit reduction ambitions. I have voted unflinchingly so far on most financial issues. On this occasion, however, one thing sticks in the craw—the dishonesty and disingenuousness of the presentation of the facts.
It was bad enough when we had the sophistry of spending power replacing the clear grant support figures in hard cash terms. When we started to include money actually in the NHS budget in council spending power—and then went on to deny double counting—the truth started to recede for me. It was very depressing. As the hon. Member for Sheffield South East has explained, the last straw came last week when I and other members of the Communities and Local Government Committee, some of whom are present, saw the permanent secretary and head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, attempting to describe double counting as something else. It was 
10 Feb 2015 : Column 690
almost comical—there were contortions that could have appeared in a TV sketch for “Yes Minister”. It was a genuinely class act of a civil servant defending the indefensible. I urge hon. Members to try to download it or find it on Parliament Live, where they will see it is a work of considerable ingenuity!
My point is simple. To make cuts and defend them is honest and tough; to make cuts and disguise them is, as I think most would accept, cowardly and weak; but to make cuts and deny them and absurdly twist language to do so is dishonest and dangerous.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ronnie addresses the haggis at Southport Burns Night

 
 
 





Southport Lib Dems Burns Night, excellently organised by Pat Keith et all, was a great success. I must confess to a moment or two of doubt when Ronnie entered wearing an excessively mini kilt. I feared he was going to ham it and reduce the address to farce. I need not have been afraid. With great seriousness Ronnie delivered Burn's address to the haggis.
 
David Pullen was unwell and so we were spared one of his difficult quizzes. He was ably replaced by Julie whose twelve questions you can see above. Can you do better than Table 1? Julie won a bottle of Malt Whisky to take home to David and I'm sure that will speed his recovery

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Full review of Unlocking Liberalism with additional thoughts-no website, no e book not alot of a launch...


 I have been posting my review of Unlocking Liberalism in instalments. Below is the full version with added observations.

Firstly I should record what an excellent initiative this is and how impressive are the collection of authors that Liberal Futures have gathered.
Secondly given how impressive the book is and how professionally it has been produced and the quality of the writing it is a mystery to me why the group did not invest a fraction of the time and effort they had put in to launch the publication. At no cost they could have had a website /blog to stimulate the discussion. Working with partners they could have had a launch at Glasgow, Liberator or SLF would have been obvious collaborators. And they could have also published online-not necessarily the whole book but releasing one or two of the essays as 'teasers' would have worked and I suspect more than paid for itself in increased sales. None of that should detract from the positive things about this project.

Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures.

Leave that bundle of Focus undelivered by the door, switch off the phone and send your apologies to all the time boring meetings; there are more important things to do. A new book of essays has been published by a group of Liberal Scots. Its self-proclaimed objective is ‘….to re-establish the anti-establishment, challenging, coruscating radicalism which is our party at its best…’ The editors Robert Brown, Gillian Gloyer and Nigel Lindsay have brought together an inspired group of thinkers who bring us the hope that there is life for radical Liberalism after the travail of the past five year.

The standout essay of the collection is Nigel Dower’s on Liberalism. He takes the ideas associated with New Liberalism and the writings of Hobhouse and Green and makes them fresh and relevant for this generation; greened, decentralised and internationalist. He contrasts these radical liberal ideas, which are predicated on social justice, with the fashionable libertarian ideas which underpin the small state and ultra free marketeers and their allies in the Chicago School of Economics. It is an impressive contribution and lays a solid foundation for the ideas that follows.

The dozen or more essays that follow examine five areas: The Financial Crash and its Aftermath, the UK, Europe and the World, Strategy, Power and Values and Geographical Justice in a Global Age. The Editors make clear the challenge we face, it is, as Lindsay says quoting Jo Grimond -to be on the side of the governed not the government. It requires a programme the offers ‘hope and opportunity, enhances freedom and life chances’.

There is a grotesque disparity of wealth and income in our society and that directly impacts on people’s opportunities to fulfil their potential; or as the 1928 Yellow Book asserted; the end of all our policies was that men and women ‘may have life and have it more abundantly’, take your pick but economic disadvantage undermines that aspiration for too many of our citizens. In line with Dower’s essay this is identified as a key barrier to building a liberal society. Time and again the writer return to this issue. 

In the section ‘The Financial Crash and its Aftermath’ the full extent of our economy’s failure to deliver prosperity for all is laid bare. Liberator readers will be familiar with the SLF Plan C for the economy and that approach is advocated here. The failings of the banking system and the continuing need for radical reform are rehearsed with ideas for establishing a network of regional banks ‘arranged as mutual or co-operatives’. These ‘would have close links to local businesses and a stake in their success’ -very similar to the Basque Caja Laboral Popular Cooperativa de Crédito which impressed Grimond and which he saw as a model for the Highlands.

The maldistribution of income is repeatedly challenged. Wages for Super Managers have surged ahead far beyond the point that is justified by the contribution they make to the enterprises they head up. They sit on each other’s remunerations committees ratcheting up the ‘going rate’.  For large numbers of other people wages have stagnated or fallen in real terms.

Liberals in the post war years predicted this development.  The Unservile State, a collection of essays that helped launched Grimond’s radical ideas and was the first major Liberal publication since the Yellow Book drew on ideas of decentralisation and Distributism. In it Peter Wiles essay ‘Property and Equality’-discussed the growing divorce between legal ownership and management control. In ’56 Anthony Crosland in the Future of Socialism had looked at the significance in both practical and ideological ways. For him it underlined the irrelevance of the traditional socialist plan for state ownership. Wiles thought differently, absentee ownership through limited liability meant ‘the absentee shareholder in a modern limited company was the possessor of a mere scrap of paper which entitles him to a certain payment by a remote and unknown agent’. Shareholders rarely exercised power and control it had passed to managers separate from owners. This may have meant, as Crosland said, that state socialism was dead but it also precluded the Liberal aim widespread employee ownership and industrial democracy.

It was on these authentic Liberal ideas that Liberal Leaders from Grimond through to Ashdown built. In his 1985 book David Steel set himself the task of winning the intellectual argument against Thatcher’s new free market Conservatism. Like James Meade, who contributed a chapter to the book, Steel recognised that wages were not growing as fast as the dividends received by the owners of capital. The fear was abroad that cheap labour from new economies, the impact of automation holding down wages and the consequent reduction of the bargaining power of workers would lead to unemployment and insecurity. Steel advocated a ‘substantial part of the average person’s take home pay should not be expressed as a regular wage but as a share of profits or value added in the company to which he or she has contributed’. Meade argued another way to redistribute income from property was for the state acquiring a share and distributing the income either as a citizen wage or through ‘the payment of social benefits on more generous terms’.  When these ideas are added to long standing Liberal proposals to break up concentrations of wealth through levying inheritance taxes on those who receive bequests rather than on the estate, we are approaching the goal of ‘Ownership for All’ and the economic security and independence that results.



In the published Liberator review I did not have the space to explore how those authentic alternative liberal ideas could be developed. I have long been concerned that we have concentrated too much on redressing poverty and insecurity by handing out doles rather than addressing the underlying problem- the misdistribution of ownership. To significant extent since Paddy stepped down as Leader these ideas has lost out to the assertive and well funded policy coup led by what is popularly, if not accurately, known as the Orange Bookers.  
Despite the indifference of our party to effectively pursuing Ownership for All there has been some academic interest. Stuart White has summed up the contribution that could be made to mainstream politics by that alternative liberal vision in a recent article . The ideas are further fleshed out in the free ebook 'Democratic Wealth' and readers may find chapter 10 of particular interest.

As a Young Liberal 40 plus years ago I was used to hearing Richard Wainwright tell Liberal Assemblies that  the end objective of our economic/industrial policy was that labour should hire capital. Paddy in his book Citizen Britain took up that idea writing that 'in some cases, the present situation will be reversed…with workers employing capital and even hiring their own management’

White points out in his article that 'Liberals argued that capital’s authority in the firm ought to be limited by workers’ rights to consultation and participation in structures of co-determination. The right of capital to control the firm is not absolute. The right to invest in a firm is conditional, on this view, on accepting workers’ rights to share in authority at various levels of decision-making. Participation rights here can include representation on works’ councils and on firms’ governing bodies. The rationale for this was again in part about alleged work relations and productivity, but also about inherent justice. In the words of one Liberal party report from the 1960s' ( which I am guessing was Wainwright's one and only published pamphlet):
Just as there is a difference between a citizen and a mere subject, so there is a difference between an employee who is simply hired by his company and one who shares, officially and formally, in the ultimate power to determine the company’s aims and call its directors to account.

At every Glee Club we sing The Land, the essence of the Georgist plan is explained by White as

'One strand in the liberal philosophical tradition, for example, argues that natural resources such as land are fundamentally the property of all. If individuals wish to use those resources for private purposes, they may do this. But they must pay the community for the privilege. Taxes, e.g., a land value tax, can be used to ‘charge’ natural resource users for their appropriation of part of the commons. The funds can then be recycled to citizens as a basic income, reflecting their right to an equal share of the underlying resources.'

 I was critical of Stephen William's idea of handing out bank shares when the state owned banks are sold off. My preference was for them to be established as mutual. The experience of privatisations and de mutualisation of Building Societies is that it does nothing redistribute ownership in the long term. In pretty short order the shares were hovered up by the usual suspects. Professor Meades ideas od establishing a citizen share as an option is still very attractive. We have bank privatisation, fracking licences and who knows what else coming along. There is now some practical experience with these ideas from Alaska where the citizen dividend is working 

The writers of the Unlocking Liberalism identified the big issue of social inequality. We now need to come up with a plan that permanently redresses the unbalanced way that ownership is understood in Britain. This is the big debate we have not had. The ideas of Professor Meade and other Liberal like Elliot Dodds have much to teach us.
 

 

 

David Steel also contributes a chapter this book reflecting on the implications of the Scottish Referendum. Hibernophiles everywhere will be delighted to see references to the Darien Scheme, Aine Satyre on the Three Estates, and phrases like ‘tachraidh na daoine, ach cha tachairna cnuic, and a proper anger at the unbalanced development of our economy to the disadvantage of the majority caused by the concentration on London. Tony Hughes expresses this well in his essay: ‘London versus the Rest’. But this is not a tartan shortbread box portrait of Scotland, it is resolutely focussed on the here and now in a country with low wages, insecure jobs and homes and where (despite the Edinburgh Parliament) political decision making can be remote and alienating. It is good to read such a robust defence of federalism entrenched in a written constitution. We Northerners could do with a similar manifesto to ward off a London answer to the English question. Glasgow may have the biggest City Deal-£1billion- but if you asked the Scots to have it as an alternative to their Parliament it doesn’t take much imagination to guess their response. We should not settle for less.

 

A great strength of this collection are the reflections on the constitutional upheavals that must surely come. This not only encompasses the rest of the UK but our relations with Europe and the wider world. David Steel’s thoughts based on his time as Co-Chair of the successful Scottish Convention have important pointer for those of us south of the border who wish to see powerful Regional Assemblies established and he challenges us to think again about the role of the second chamber, the Senate, in a federal constitution. But some of the best insights come from those like Ross Finnie and Robert Brown who served as Ministers in the Holyrood Parliament. I think they are very restrained given their successful time in Coalition Government. It must be galling to hear the crass comments coming from some of the Ministers in the present Westminster Government posing as the first Liberals in Government since WW1.

 

The Scots have a lot to teach us about how to prepare for and run a Coalition whilst keeping the party together. In this regard Caron Lindsay also has some wise things to say in her essay. It is appropriate the heading of this section is Strategy, Power and Values. It is important to affirm that entering a coalition is a political act and not just a managerial response to a set of circumstances. Nigel Lindsay in his Chapter, Future Challenges for Liberalism makes this point and goes on to say ‘Our party, which voters once identified with an agenda of reform and social justice, has lost much of the trust it had on these issues. The Party will need to work very hard, once the coalition has ended, to persuade voters that it is still capable of radical action to help the least well-off to meet their aspirations.’ The first challenge to face up to the truth of that statement and the next is to develop a new radical programme to respond to this situation. Lindsay identifies three serious threats to the possibility using political power to create the conditions in which people can exercise the positive freedom that is the objective of Social Liberalism. 

Political power is not what it once was in the new global economy. Government’s room for manoeuvre is constrained by the power of large international corporations who have larger budgets and greater power than some governments that seek to regulate them. Secondly he identifies ‘the globalisation of what we ironically call financial services, and the mass movement of money by financial institutions and hedge fund speculators over which governments have little control. The third threat is ‘the mass movement of people fleeing from despotic and incompetent regimes, which is certain to have a substantial impact on all parts of Europe over the next decade or two.’ None of these threats will be rectified by ‘leaving it to the market’.

There was little fanfare when this book was launched. There was no fringe meeting at the Federal Conference in Glasgow and no website to taken on the debate and I think that was a mistake.

Social Liberals have not been slow to fire up the debate about the future Liberalism. The Little Yellow Book (the first offering of this Scottish grouping), Re-inventing the State, The Green Book and now Unlocking Liberalism all testify to a determination to face the intellectual challenges of C21st. It also the give the lie to the comment made by Tim Farron when he told a fringe meeting: ‘my answer to those on the Left of the party who criticise The Orange Book is: write your own flippin book’. We have, and as a recent poll on Lib Dem Voice confirms the majority of Party members self-identify as members of the Social Liberal tradition.

All thing considered we have hope that after the coalition we can build a Radical Future for this party, we must hold together, add to this debate and go and deliver those Focus that you’ve left by the door.

Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Unlocking Liberalism, Liberator review part three Scottish dimension

Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures. 

Taking a leaf of out Lord Bonker's diary, and there is no shame in copying the Liberal blogfather, I will post my review of the book which has appeared in the most recent edition of Liberator in instalments. This is the third instalment, the Introduction can be found here and Part 2 here

The Scottish dimension

David Steel also contributes a chapter this book reflecting on the implications of the Scottish Referendum. Hibernophiles everywhere will be delighted to see references to the Darien Scheme, Aine Satyre on the Three Estates, and phrases like ‘tachraidh na daoine, ach cha tachairna cnuic, and a proper anger at the unbalanced development of our economy to the disadvantage of the majority caused by the concentration on London. Tony Hughes expresses this well in his essay: ‘London versus the Rest’. But this is not a tartan shortbread box portrait of Scotland, it is resolutely focussed on the here and now in a country with low wages, insecure jobs and homes and where (despite the Edinburgh Parliament) political decision making can be remote and alienating. It is good to read such a robust defence of federalism entrenched in a written constitution. We Northerners could do with a similar manifesto to ward off a London answer to the English question. Glasgow may have the biggest City Deal-£1billion- but if you asked the Scots to have it as an alternative to their Parliament it doesn’t take much imagination to guess their response. We should not settle for less.


A great strength of this collection are the reflections on the constitutional upheavals that must surely come. This not only encompasses the rest of the UK but our relations with Europe and the wider world. David Steel’s thoughts based on his time as Co-Chair of the successful Scottish Convention have important pointer for those of us south of the border who wish to see powerful Regional Assemblies established and he challenges us to think again about the role of the second chamber, the Senate, in a federal constitution. But some of the best insights come from those like Ross Finnie and Robert Brown who served as Ministers in the Holyrood Parliament. I think they are very restrained given their successful time in Coalition Government. It must be galling to hear the crass comments coming from some of the Ministers in the present Westminster Government posing as the first Liberals in Government since WW1.


The Scots have a lot to teach us about how to prepare for and run a Coalition whilst keeping the party together. In this regard Caron Lindsay also has some wise things to say in her essay. It is appropriate the heading of this section is Strategy, Power and Values. It is important to affirm that entering a coalition is a political act and not just a managerial response to a set of circumstances. Nigel Lindsay in his Chapter, Future Challenges for Liberalism makes this point and goes on to say ‘Our party, which voters once identified with an agenda of reform and social justice, has lost much of the trust it had on these issues. The Party will need to work very hard, once the coalition has ended, to persuade voters that it is still capable of radical action to help the least well-off to meet their aspirations.’ The first challenge to face up to the truth of that statement and the next is to develop a new radical programme to respond to this situation. Lindsay identifies three serious threats to the possibility using political power to create the conditions in which people can exercise the positive freedom that is the objective of Social Liberalism. 


Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Liberator Review Unlocking Liberalism tackling the grotesque disparity of wealth, authentic alternative Liberal ideas

Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures. 

Taking a leaf of out Lord Bonker's diary, and there is no shame in copying the Liberal blogfather, I will post my review of the book which has appeared in the most recent edition of Liberator in instalments. This is the second instalment, the Introduction can be found here 
There is a grotesque disparity of wealth and income in our society and that directly impacts on people’s opportunities to fulfil their potential; or as the 1928 Yellow Book asserted; the end of all our policies was that men and women ‘may have life and have it more abundantly’, take your pick but economic disadvantage undermines that aspiration for too many of our citizens. In line with Dower’s essay this is identified as a key barrier to building a liberal society. Time and again the writer return to this issue. 

In the section ‘The Financial Crash and its Aftermath’ the full extent of our economy’s failure to deliver prosperity for all is laid bare. Liberator readers will be familiar with the SLF Plan C for the economy and that approach is advocated here. The failings of the banking system and the continuing need for radical reform are rehearsed with ideas for establishing a network of regional banks ‘arranged as mutual or co-operatives’. These ‘would have close links to local businesses and a stake in their success’ -very similar to the Basque Caja Laboral Popular Cooperativa de Crédito which impressed Grimond and which he saw as a model for the Highlands.

The maldistribution of income is repeatedly challenged. Wages for Super Managers have surged ahead far beyond the point that is justified by the contribution they make to the enterprises they head up. They sit on each other’s remunerations committees ratcheting up the ‘going rate’.  For large numbers of other people wages have stagnated or fallen in real terms.

Liberals in the post war years predicted this development.  The Unservile State, a collection of essays that helped launched Grimond’s radical ideas and was the first major Liberal publication since the Yellow Book, drew on ideas of decentralisation and Distributism. In it Peter Wiles essay ‘Property and Equality’-discussed the growing divorce between legal ownership and management control. In ’56 Anthony Crosland in the Future of Socialism had looked at the significance in both practical and ideological ways. For him it underlined the irrelevance of the traditional socialist plan for state ownership. Wiles thought differently, absentee ownership through limited liability meant ‘the absentee shareholder in a modern limited company was the possessor of a mere scrap of paper which entitles him to a certain payment by a remote and unknown agent’. Shareholders rarely exercised power and control it had passed to managers separate from owners. This may have meant, as Crosland said, that state socialism was dead but it also precluded the Liberal aim widespread employee ownership and industrial democracy.

It was on these authentic Liberal ideas that Liberal Leaders from Grimond through to Ashdown built. In his 1985 book David Steel set himself the task of winning the intellectual argument against Thatcher’s new free market Conservatism. Like the Nobel Prize Winner James Meade, who contributed a chapter to the book, Steel recognised that wages were not growing as fast as the dividends received by the owners of capital. The fear was abroad that cheap labour from new economies, the impact of automation holding down wages and the consequent reduction of the bargaining power of workers would lead to unemployment and insecurity. Steel advocated a ‘substantial part of the average person’s take home pay should not be expressed as a regular wage but as a share of profits or value added in the company to which he or she has contributed’. Meade argued another way to redistribute income from property was for the state acquiring a share and distributing the income either as a citizen wage or through ‘the payment of social benefits on more generous terms’.  When these ideas are added to long standing Liberal proposals to break up concentrations of wealth through levying inheritance taxes on those who receive bequests rather than on the estate, we are approaching the goal of ‘Ownership for All’ and the economic security and independence that results.

In the published Liberator review I did not have the space to explore how those authentic alternative liberal ideas could be developed. I have long been concerned that we have concentrated too much on redressing poverty and insecurity by handing out doles rather than addressing the underlying problem- the misdistribution of ownership. To significant extent since Paddy stepped down as Leader these ideas has lost out to the assertive and well funded policy coup led by what is popularly, if not accurately, known as the Orange Bookers.  

Despite the indifference of our party to effectively pursuing Ownership for All there has been some academic interest. Stuart White has summed up the contribution that could be made to mainstream politics by that alternative liberal vision in a recent article . The ideas are further fleshed out in the free ebook 'Democratic Wealth' and readers may find chapter 10 of particular interest.

As a Young Liberal 40 plus years ago I was used to hearing Richard Wainwright tell Liberal Assemblies that  the end objective of our economic/industrial policy was that labour should hire capital. Paddy in his book Citizen Britain took up that idea writing that 'in some cases, the present situation will be reversed…with workers employing capital and even hiring their own management’

White points out in his article that 'Liberals argued that capital’s authority in the firm ought to be limited by workers’ rights to consultation and participation in structures of co-determination. The right of capital to control the firm is not absolute. The right to invest in a firm is conditional, on this view, on accepting workers’ rights to share in authority at various levels of decision-making. Participation rights here can include representation on works’ councils and on firms’ governing bodies. The rationale for this was again in part about alleged work relations and productivity, but also about inherent justice. In the words of one Liberal party report from the 1960s' ( which I am guessing was Wainwright's one and only published pamphlet):
Just as there is a difference between a citizen and a mere subject, so there is a difference between an employee who is simply hired by his company and one who shares, officially and formally, in the ultimate power to determine the company’s aims and call its directors to account.

At every Glee Club we sing The Land, the essence of the Georgist plan is explained by White as

'One strand in the liberal philosophical tradition, for example, argues that natural resources such as land are fundamentally the property of all. If individuals wish to use those resources for private purposes, they may do this. But they must pay the community for the privilege. Taxes, e.g., a land value tax, can be used to ‘charge’ natural resource users for their appropriation of part of the commons. The funds can then be recycled to citizens as a basic income, reflecting their right to an equal share of the underlying resources.'

 I was critical of Stephen William's idea of handing out bank shares when the state owned banks are sold off. My preference was for them to be established as mutual. The experience of privatisations and de mutualisation of Building Societies is that it does nothing redistribute ownership in the long term. In pretty short order the shares were hovered up by the usual suspects. Professor Meades ideas od establishing a citizen share as an option is still very attractive. We have bank privatisation, fracking licences and who knows what else coming along. There is now some practical experience with these ideas from Alaska where the citizen dividend is working 

The writers of the Unlocking Liberalism identified the big issue of social inequality. We now need to come up with a plan that permanently redresses the unbalanced way that ownership is understood in Britain. This is the big debate we have not had. The ideas of Professor Meade and other Liberal like Elliot Dodds have much to teach us.




Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Liberator Review : Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures

I am ashamed to admit I had not heard of the Scots Liberals who have come together under the banner of Liberal Futures until the Glasgow Conference when they were selling their most recent publication.
 
Unlocking Liberalism: Life after the Coalition, published by Liberal Futures. 
Taking a leaf of out Lord Bonker's diary, and there is no shame in copying the Liberal blogfather, I will post my review of the book which has appeared in the most recent edition of Liberator in instalments. I should reassure my colleagues in Birkdale that no Focuses or Christmas Cards were left undelivered because of the writing of this review -as they will discover if they read to the end. 
Introduction

Leave that bundle of Focus undelivered by the door, switch off the phone and send your apologies to all the time consuming meetings that have no outcomes; there are more important things to do. A new book of essays has been published by a group of Liberal Scots. Its self-proclaimed objective is ‘….to re-establish the anti-establishment, challenging, coruscating radicalism which is our party at its best…’ The editors Robert Brown, Gillian Gloyer and Nigel Lindsay have brought together an inspired group of thinkers who bring us the hope that there is life for radical Liberalism after the travails of the past five year.
The standout essay of the collection is Nigel Dower's on Liberalism
The standout essay of the collection is Nigel Dower’s on Liberalism. He takes the ideas associated with New Liberalism and the writings of Hobhouse and Green and makes them fresh and relevant for this generation; greened, decentralised and internationalist. He contrasts these radical liberal ideas, which are predicated on social justice, with the fashionable libertarian ideas which underpin the small state and ultra free marketeers and their allies in the Chicago School of Economics. It is an impressive contribution and lays a solid foundation for the ideas that follows. The essay stands comparison with David Howarth’s writing in ‘Re-Inventing the State’[i] which the Social Liberal Forum (SLF) has on its website to define their philosophy.

 

The dozen or more essays that follow examine five areas: The Financial Crash and its Aftermath, the UK, Europe and the World, Strategy, Power and Values and Geographical Justice in a Global Age. The Editors make clear the challenge we face, it is, as Lindsay says quoting Jo Grimond -to be on the side of the governed not the government. It requires a programme the offers ‘hope and opportunity, enhances freedom and life chances.[ii]

Tomorrow I will cover the sections which cover the grotesque disparity of  wealth and income and the negative impact that has on liberty. I think it will then become clear why David Steel, who contributed on essay to this collection, has asserted that the book ' provides much needed heart and encouragement'.

Order Unlocking Liberalism, cheques for £11 (incl p&p) made payable to Liberal Futures 4 Church Road, Bo'ness, EH51 0EL
 



[i] Reinventing the State
[ii] Has Democracy a Future NLYL 1975
[iii] Plan C available via SLF website