Where we stand and why we are needed
‘The Liberal Party exists to create a liberal society, in which every citizen shall possess liberty, property and security, and none shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. Its chief care is for the rights and opportunities of the individual, and in all spheres it sets freedom first.’
Paragraph 1 of the preamble to the Constitution of the Liberal Party.
High minded ideals indeed, but what is the Liberal Party, who are we and why are we needed?
The Liberal Party first came together as a nationally organised and constituted political party in 1877, although in practical (but rather disorganised) terms it had been in existence long before then. It has its origins in the Whig Party and can thus trace its origins back to the seventeenth century.
The Liberal Party was frequently the principle party of Government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These governments were radical, reformist and far sighted, they backed the masses against the classes, swept away vested interest and privilege, and secured increased rights and freedoms for the people.
The Liberal Governments of 1906 – 1914 laid the foundations of the welfare state; broke the power of the Lords to stand in the way of popularly elected governments; secured the future of the trade union movement; introduced old age pensions; ensured that those injured in workplace accidents were provided for, and introduced measures to improve working conditions for those in low paid ‘sweated’ industries.
These achievements are now a century old, it is no good our continuing to cite them as evidence of our competence in Government or as a substantial reason why people should vote for use today, they do however, show that liberal philosophy, when applied to the practicalities of Government, provides real, radical and enduring solutions.
The Liberal Party declined in the 1920s, losing out principally to the Labour Party and its (then) fashionable new idea: Socialism. Committed liberals found new homes on the right of the Labour Party and the left of the Conservative Party, but the Liberal Party survived. It did so because the country needed a radical non-socialist alternative to the vested interests of the Conservatives.
The value of Liberalism and liberal philosophy was increasingly recognised in the 1950s and 60s and a ‘Liberal revival’ began.
In the 1980’s the Liberal Party became allied with Social Democrats who had broken from the Labour Party as a result of its increasing commitment to the bankrupt ideals of far left socialism.
Social democracy is a form of ‘Socialism Lite’ with which some Liberals felt they could live, if the prize was electoral success. The much heralded breakthrough never came.
In 1988 a large number of Liberals joined with the Social Democrats and formed what went on to become the ‘Liberal Democrats’. In doing so they jettisoned what they saw as cumbersome intellectual baggage, other Liberals saw this as fundamental liberal philosophy and resolved to continue with their commitment to The Liberal Party.
Many local Liberal Associations refused to submit to the newly formed party and resolved to continue as before. Hence the Liberal Party can trace an unbroken line of organisation and membership back to the origins of the party.
So much for the history…….…
THE LIBERAL PARTY TODAY
The Liberal Party was kept going by those members who refused to leave the party to join the Liberal Democrats, but that was over 20 years ago and is not the end of the story. Since then we have attracted many new members, from all parties and none, some of whom were not born in 1988, let alone able to vote!
The party has attracted new members who have joined because they wish to see a more liberal society and who work towards the election of Liberals at all levels of Government, we also aim to influence and inform the political debate with liberal ideas and policies founded on liberal principles and liberal philosophy.
The Liberal Party currently has over 30 councillors at all levels of local government. The Liberal Party continues to contest local and Parliamentary elections in the UK and elections to the European Parliament. In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament the Liberal Party secured over 96,000 votes in the North West Region.
The Liberal Party is a wholly independent political party. We define ourselves by reference to our own policies and philosophy. We stand and seek to be judged alone, on our own policies, ideals and record.
We are not the Liberal Democrats, but we are not Labour or the Conservatives or UKIP either. The difficulty with our name and common heritage is that we are often confused with, and asked how we differ from, the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Party differs from the ‘LibDems’ in many ways. Internally the Liberal Party respects the independence of its members and local associations, we do not seek to impose central decisions and whipping on the party at large. Our policies are made at our annual assembly, at which all members are entitled to attend and vote.
In terms of policy the Liberal Party has its own policies, which are wholly different from the ‘LibDems’. There are numerous fundamental differences.
Principally and most obviously the Liberal Party is not involved in, nor is it in any way connected with the Coalition government. We believe that the ‘LibDems’ as a party have traded any last vestige of liberal principle or belief for a few seats at the cabinet table. In so doing they have made themselves party to a cruel and uncaring government which is now seeking to make the poorest and most vulnerable in society pay for the mistakes of bankers and financiers who appear to have come out of the financial crisis relatively unscathed.
There can be no clearer example of the ‘LibDems’ contempt for its principles and those who voted for them, than the tearing up of the pledge on tuition fees. Is it any wonder that the British public hold politicians in such low regard?
There are also many fundamental policy differences between the Liberal Party and the ‘LibDems’.
- The Liberal Party would dismantle all of the UK’s weapons of mass destruction now, we thus remain committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament and would scrap Trident, now, not seek to replace it. The LibDems appear to want to fudge the issue by keeping our nuclear weapons, developing a replacement for trident but delaying the final decision!
- The Liberal Party believes that fundamental reform of the European Union is essential, and that the UK may have to withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, from the EU to get it. We believe that policies such as the common agricultural and common fisheries policies are protectionist, fundamentally illiberal and have proved disastrous. We are opposed to the introduction of the Euro in the UK;
- One of the great paradoxes of LibDem policy is that they campaign for power in the UK with the apparent desire of surrendering it all to the EU. They are fundamentally uncritical Euro-enthusiasts;
- We are opposed to the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon and campaigned extensively to secure a referendum on the issue;
- The LibDems are enthusiastically in favour of the Lisbon Treaty to the extent that they went back on their promise of a referendum and helped the Government impose the Treaty on us with out our being given any choice. Hardly a liberal position to adopt;
- The Liberal Party remains committed to land value taxation, a form of taxation which releases the wealth from land and gives it back to the community to whom it belongs;
- The Liberal Party would dismantle the bureaucratic and unaccountable NHS Trusts replacing them with predominately elected community based bodies, while the Liberal Democrats would retain them;
- We oppose any sort of national curriculum imposed by Whitehall and would abolish league tables and all SATS, while the LibDems would retain them in a revised form;
- Liberals would return the water and rail industries to public ownership while the LibDems would maintain the status quo;
- The Liberal Party opposes the use of undemocratic “party list” systems of proportional representation in elections, while the Liberal Democrats claim to have been responsible for their introduction.
These are just some of the reasons that Liberals believe that the Liberal Democrats are simply a party of opportunism, with no firm philosophy underpinning its policy agenda and that such a party is thus an inadequate vehicle for Liberalism.
The Liberal Party exists to promote and implement Liberal policies and in doing so we must compete with all other political parties, not just the Liberal Democrats.
WHY WE NEED A LIBERAL PARTY
There are numerous challenges facing the UK today, many of which we believe could be met by the application of liberal principles and the implementation of Liberal Policies.
One of the major difficulties faced by the UK is a lack of interest in the democratic process. This is caused, in part at least, by the fact that there are no real ideological differences between the three main parties. They all different shades of the same post-Thatcherite consensus. The Liberal Party stands outside this convergence of political ideas and aims to offer radical solutions to real problems and thus re-engage the electorate by offering real choice.
We live in an increasingly authoritarian age. The previous Labour government has acted to centralise power with politburo style target setting and increasing government control. Despite its much vaunted ‘freedom agenda’ the current Coalition government has done little in practical terms to turn back this tide.
Whatever the problem the answer is the same: introduce more regulations, laws and targets and assume central government control.
There is an increased fear of crime and anti-social behaviour, so the government passes hundred of new laws when the state is plainly having difficulty enforcing the ones we already have.
The NHS is seen to be failing, so the government employees management consultants paid thousands of pounds per day, sets targets and introduces increasingly complex regulatory bodies, whilst infection in hospitals is rife, the sick still wait in the hope of an appointment and patients lie in filthy beds and on trolleys.
The Liberal Party watches with incredulity and despair as the Coalition government seeks an increased ‘market’ based approach to the provision of health services, involving GPs in more bureaucracy and necessarily less time treating the sick. The provisions which allow a greater role for private treatment in NHS hospitals appears little short of perverse.
The Coalition government, like the one before it, purported to make education a priority, so it continues to test our children from 7 up, set targets, encourage league tables, set quotas for universities and perpetuates the charade that standards haven’t fallen. If our children come out of the school system with the desire and ability to go to university they will now pay tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year.
The Liberal party continues to speak out against the creeping authority of the state seeks to defend the rights and liberties of the individual. We continue to set freedom first at a time when other parties seem to have gone strangely quiet on the issue.
People are not battery chickens: health and educational standards aren’t improved just because artificial targets are met; students aren’t ‘made’ clever because universities are forced to admit them; crimes don’t go away just because the government makes things ‘more’ illegal; freedom is not protected by making citizens register with the state.
A liberal society would address the causes of crime and disorder as well as properly enforcing the laws we have and punishing the wrongdoer – effectively.
A liberal society would free the NHS from central, bureaucratic control and give power to local communities for money to be spent on treatment not targets.
A liberal society would strip away the testing and quota culture from our schools and give teachers the freedom to educate not teach for tests. The Liberal Party restates its belief that higher education tuition fees should be free to students and funded out of general taxation.
A liberal society would protect our freedoms from the terrorists, not surrender them. Liberty is so precious it must be protected at all costs, not rationed.
So why do we need a Liberal Party?
To create a liberal society.
Chair of Policy and Assembly Committee
Updated, February 2012
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