Social Liberal Forum Conference: The Retreat from Globalisation
By Caron Lindsay in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by Rutland and South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats
Saturday's Social Liberal Forum conference in London provided much food for thought as speakers challenged Liberal Democrat orthodoxy in various ways.
William Wallace kicked off proceedings by giving the annual William Beveridge Lecture. His theme was: Is a Liberal and Democratic society compatible with globalisation. His answer? Well, it disproportionately benefits the super rich and authoritarian states, so we have to change things to ensure that nobody is left out.
He started off by quoting Emmanuel Macron, who's said he supported a market economy but not a market society. He said our society was divided between the poor, unskilled and the relatively affluent highly educated. The gulf between them is cemented in successive generations. Globalisation had meant a substantial number of left behind people whose grievances were entirely justified. Those grievances led to the Brexit vote.
Challenging the idea that higher taxes harm the economy is key. We need investment in public services and to recognise that the social fabric is damaged if there is too big a gap between wealthy CEOs and their workers.
He looked at business ownership and how little multi-national takeovers do for regeneration and how important it was that our financial and corporate leaders tackled this.
We need to throw the "Citizens of Nowhere" thing right back at Theresa May, he argued, pointing out the super rich from across the world who dominate our economy.
One idea he had to improve social solidarity was to have all adults undertaking a year of Citizen's Service working on a community project, or care home.
Giving people some sense of ownership and control over their destiny was key, whether that was by closer, more responsive local government or an increase of mutual ownership of companies.
I am old enough to remember when it was our policy to have what we called a Citizens' Income - where all would be paid a certain amount of money from the state that was theirs to do with as they needed. It would alleviate poverty and recognise unpaid work, most of which is done by women.
I would love to support the modern incarnation of that idea, the universal basic income. What stops me more than anything else is the reservations from people like Ruth Lister who used to run the Child Poverty Action Group about how it might not meet the needs of those who needed extra support, like children and disabled people.
Helen Flynn led a session on this, highlighting the impact on tackling poverty.
Ed Davey took part in the final session of the morning, on climate change. While Mark Campanale of the Carbon Tracker Initiative scared us all witless about the irreversible progress of global warming, Ed took us through the politics of the situation including some fascinating insights into his negotiations with the Obama Administration when he was in Climate Change Secretary.
He also raised the worrying prospect of Brexit hampering the EU efforts on climate change. Our votes swung in favour were instrumental in the EU taking such strong action.
He highlighted the positives in China and India now taking climate change seriously - helped by the reduction in costs of green tech.
Our almost-leader came along and took an hour of questions. I had assumed we wouldn't be allowed to tweet what he was saying, but he had absolutely no problem with that.
He repeated all the stuff he'd said in the press - about starting to think that Brexit might not happen, about going from third to first. He offered a capacity to be heard above the noise and a credibility on economic matters.
He was very strong on tackling intergenerational unfairness - take the shackles off Councils and let them build houses, he said, looking back at his experience in Glasgow in the 70s when they built 5000-6000 Council houses every year.
He also talked about giving young people in further education voice that they didn't currently have.
I'll do a separate, more detailed article on his appearance. He did well - but it was a very friendly audience who didn't push him that hard, really.
Perspectives on the General Election
Our panel discussed various aspects of the election. Daisy Cooper talked about young people and how Labour made such a successful play for their votes and highlighted what we need to do in the future. Sarah Olney talked about the value of Progressive Alliances. She benefitted in Richmond Park - but she said there was no point in doing them if there was not a clear benefit to us. Hammersmith candidate and Federal Board member Joyce Onstad talked about ethnic minorities. She attacked the party's lack of diversity and said that in London we should have 40% ethnic minorities on shortlists. Some of the stuff that she says about the way she was treated as a candidate needs to be sorted out. I spoke about Scotland and how we won our 4 seats with copious literature and endlessly repeated messaging.
David Howarth then took us through the British Election Study's December report which is the most up to date one available. He looked for clues about what people thought, primarily about us and Labour. His conclusion was that we are the only plausible party capable of governing the country sensibly, but people don't love us. We have some stuff to work though - mainly the trust issue which just won't go away.
As usual the event was particularly well organised by our Mary Reid. She has put so much work into it despite playing a massive role in Ed Davey's campaign and celebrating her Golden Wedding next month. Thanks, Mary, and congratulations.
I am so glad I went. I'll write some more later about what I think the key challenges for SLF are over the next year.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings