by Steve Beasant on 18 September, 2015
In a world in which metaphors are cheap and superlatives often superfluous, I hope I am not overstating the case by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the Labour party has sent shockwaves throughout Westminster and politics in general. And for my party, the Liberal Democrats, it potentially changes everything.
Over the past few days I have received a number of messages and calls from friends within the Labour party distressed by the direction that their party is taking. To the right, I have talked to a new Conservative MP taken aback by the attitudes that they have encountered within their own party.
Together, the result is the opening up of a massive space in the centre ground of British politics, for sensible, moderate progressives who are opposed to what the Conservatives are doing, but cannot bring themselves to support a party of the hard left.
There are lessons, however; lessons to be drawn from Corbynmania. His campaign plugged into a mood – also exemplified by Donald Trump in the United States, Syriza in Greece or indeed by the tens of thousands with whom I marched on Saturday in support of refugees – which is deeply distrustful of the establishment and old style Punch-and-Judy politics.
The challenge for politicians, therefore, who want to speak for moderate, progressive voters is to talk about their own party’s values and policies, to define ourselves and leave others to define themselves too.
So, as we approach our party conference, I have no interest in engaging in the old knockabout routines. I want to take the opportunity to talk about what it means to be a liberal, where we stand, and why those who share our values need to join us.
For the past 200 years we have relied on the nation state as the core unit of power to direct and shape our lives.
And yet, the limitations of individual states when it comes to the challenges presented by multinational businesses and internationalised markets, by non-state-driven terror organisations, by climate change and by mass migration are becoming increasingly apparent.
And the pace of change is only just beginning to heat up. As individuals, the internet has opened up new, previously unimaginable opportunities – as consumers, as entrepreneurs and as citizens – but rendered the regulatory procedures on which we have previously relied entirely redundant.
How do we respond to and take advantage of a world in which homeowners can not only buy but sell energy; hotel companies can exist and thrive without hotels; alternative banks allow us to borrow and save money without bankers? The structures and models we have come to expect are changing before our very eyes.
As government loses the power to manage and regulate traditional activities it can respond in a number of ways: it can become isolationist and seek to withdraw from the modern world, going it alone; it can turn in on itself and its citizens, spying on their emails and interfering in their private lives; or it can embrace the change and empower its citizens to be the very best they can be. It can see its role as an enabler, working alone and with others, pooling power with others where necessary through supranational institutions such as the European Union or simply increasing the opportunities for individuals at home.
This vision of government – as an enabler, a creator of opportunity, a guarantor of freedoms, a voice for the powerless – is a liberal vision. It is what has prompted my call for Britain to opt into the EU scheme providing homes for the refugees currently stranded across our continent. It is what drives our party’s wholehearted commitment to the EU in the referendum.
But it is also what places housing at the very top of my agenda, as a secure home is the entry ticket to a job, a community, and individual and collective economic prosperity.
This is the liberal vision that I believe is shared by millions in Britain, not only within the Liberal Democrats, but across all parties and none. A vision which, as other party leaders set out their stall for our country’s future – whether through words or deed – will more clearly be seen as the centre ground of British politics. And perhaps a vision which we alone can offer.Leave a comment