Thursday, 14 July 2016

'Northern Powerhouse’ progress: Slower than the Southport to Manchester train?

A guest post from Lauren Keith on the so called Northern Power House



The Northern Powerhouse is fast becoming a political cliché. The 8 Lib Dem MP’s (led by Southport’s own MP John Pugh) have recently published a report claiming that the initiative is in danger of becoming little more than smoke and mirrors.

It’s about time that there was a thorough analysis of what the Northern Powerhouse actually means and what it has really achieved.

The report argues that rather than being a comprehensive and new plan bringing additional funding to the North it is in fact just semantics. The authors reflect that while the city devolution deals may seem like large sums of money, when central government cuts are taken into account Northern cities were actually still left at a loss.  In Liverpool the figure of £30 million a year is totally negated when the 43% cut in local authority budgets is taken into account. They are also sceptical about the power that the newly created city regions actually have, arguing that working with UKTI to boost trade and powers for new skills provisions are merely programmes rather than substantive power. 
The other powerful point made is that the transport programmes that have been implemented or are in planning so far, tend to focus on the connections between the North and London. This ignores the connections between Northern cities and crucially between Northern cities and the wider region.
It’s pretty apparent that the Northern Powerhouse idea is very much focused around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield rather than the wider region. A recent report by think tank IPPR North looked at the status of small and medium sized towns and cities in the Northern Powerhouse framework. Crucially, their research found that connectivity is more important than size or concentration when it comes to unlocking economic success and productivity. One of the paper’s policy recommendations is for Transport for the North to ensure that its future strategy development takes account of the ‘complexity of the North’s urban ecosystem.’  In other words, recognising that the North isn’t just two cities but a web of smaller towns and cities!

The Northern Powerhouse concept is symptomatic of the general approach by Government in response to a ‘problem’. Thinking up a new strategy, appointing taskforces or ‘Tsars’ and creating ‘zones’ seems to be currently in vogue.  The danger of this is paralysis through over analysis and a failure sometimes to see the glaringly obvious.

Investing in critical infrastructure, improving broadband and rail and road connections and increasing education and training provision and opportunities are surely the key basics for economic success.
The first direct air link to China has just been launched from Manchester yet at the same time that the Manchester Airport service from Southport is apparently being reviewed. Surely the equation for the social and economic success of a town or city is diversity of population and connections to other cities and hubs. There is the tangible ease of access to other regional businesses that this connectivity brings, but there is also the vibrancy that comes with this. Better transport links means that people can more easily commute to work and will be more likely to live in smaller towns like Southport. In Southport’s case, this would inevitably mean that retail, leisure and other offerings will grow to cater for a more mixed population as the young professional demographic increases.

There is no one size fits all policy to unlocking prosperity. Southport, for example, is an excellent place for running with several parks and a beautiful sea-front. The annual half-marathon is a great initiative that will attract visitors to the area. Similarly, the town is also synonymous with golf as a result of the Open at Birkdale. Lord Street, the apparent inspiration for the Parisian boulevards, is the perfect setting for a strong retail and leisure offering.  Each town and city has its own strengths and weaknesses and it is up to local leaders to capitalise on these and be allowed the freedom and voice to do so.

Only when towns like Southport are able to shape their own destiny rather than being seen as under the umbrella of a larger city will the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ really be harnessed. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Freedome of England by God’ Blessing Restored

On the Mayoral Blog I has writing about the visit of Formby U3A to Bootle Town Hall. Among the items of interest were the maces and admiralty oar that are carried in front of the Mayor at Council meeting and on other civic occasions

The maces we were looking at were from the former Bootle Council and Crosby and Waterloo Council. They were heavily decorated with royal emblems. My mind went back to an occasion a couple of decades ago when I was a member of Congleton Borough Council and I was being shown the town's treasurers by a local historian. The prize possession was a mace, but this one started life as a republican mace and was, allegedly, the model for the one made for the House of Commons. You will recall that Charles1 lost his head in 1649 and The Commonwealth was declared. The Congleton mace dates from that time.

http://www.congleton-tc.gov.uk/discover-congleton/town-treasures/
As the Town Council website explains:


Town Mace
Silver gilt, made in 1651, the mace has an intriguing historical connection with the execution of King Charles 1. It is reputed to have been used as a model for the House of Commons mace and is still carried in front of the Mayor on ceremonial occasions by the Mace Bearer. An inscription around the head of the mace, originally said: “The Freedome of England by God’ Blessing Restored.” But, in 1660 King Charles II regained the throne and the inscription was considered subversive. The town accounts of 1661 refer to a sum of £3 being “payd to ye goldsmyth for altering ye Mace.” The date was changed, somewhat clumsily, from 1651 to 1661 and the phrase “to C.R” (Charles Rex) added to the inscription. These alterations can be clearly seen today.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Good politics like good religion should seek to break down barriers not build new ones and encourage us to do more than focus on purely national interests.

My Chaplain during my year as Mayor is Canon Dr, Rod Garner . His most recent column in the Southport Visiter explains why he will being voting to remain in the European Union. It reminds me of something Russell Johnson might have said...

THE QUESTION OF IDENTITY


It’s 25 years since Dr. Helen Sharman became the first British female astronaut to go into space. In a recent radio interview she was asked if the original journey felt a long time ago. Without hesitation she replied that it was all still wonderfully fresh and real. The enthusiasm in her voice left me in doubt that this was so. In particular she recalled how from space, geographical boundaries quickly melt away. As she gazed upon our blue and fragile planet, her attention was initially and quite understandably directed to our own country. Fairly quickly however, she became absorbed by the continents and then to the Earth itself, bounded only by unending darkness. Countries and states, walls and boundaries, historical separations caused by wars or geological shifts over aeons of time, seemed to dissolve before her eyes. Now there was just the Earth in its splendour and teeming life in all its forms.
I’ve been thinking about the interview and how it has some bearing on how I will vote on Thursday 23 rd June. That’s the day of course when the UK decides if it will remain in leave the European Union (EU). By then we can expect more contradictory facts, opinions and arguments ranging from the plausible to the ludicrous or even offensive. I’m still listening to most of them and it’s not easy separating truth from fiction. My mind is made up however. For me, this important decision does not rest solely on the key economic and political issues that are shaping the current debate. I do want the best outcomes for Britain’s future in terms of jobs, travel, national security and manageable control of our borders but there is something else that compels me. It has do with my sense of European history and the way our shared cultural values have been shaped so profoundly by Greek philosophy, Roman law and the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Put simply, who I am, where I belong, the people and places, values and ideas that have influenced me, extend far beyond these shores. I am proud to be British and can sing ‘Jerusalem’ with a voice worthy of the Last Night of the Proms. I think our inherited values are worth defending and only wish they were more evident in blighted parts of our world. We also invented football and produced George Best. Those last two facts alone should give us pride of place at any international table!
With all this acknowledged however, I still feel a citizen of a larger European world separated only by a meagre strip of the English Channel. We are an island race with our own proud traditions but we are also indebted to wider and no less gracious influences beyond the UK. Difference is life-enhancing and enables us to grow and learn. Good politics like good religion should seek to break down barriers not build new ones and encourage us to do more than focus on purely national interests. Viewed from space, which is another way of looking at the world with the mind of the Creator, we all appear the same with the creative gifts and shared humanity that can enrich our common life in an increasingly precarious world. When the big day comes on 23rd June I’m voting ‘in’ partly because of the question of who I think I am and, furthermore, where we fit as a nation in the bigger scheme of things. It’s a matter of personal and shared identity as well as beneficial trading arrangements and secure borders. You might want to ask yourself the same question if you are still undecided.
Canon Dr, Rod Garner

Saturday, 4 June 2016

At last a Labour person finally making a progressive case for Europe, what took so long?

Watch this excellent video by Gordon Brown. At last someone, other than Tim, making the internationalist case for Europe. At last someone else talking about peace and human writes and not obsessing about a Tory leadership challenge.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Marco Pannella, the 'lion of liberty' Radical Party leader has died

Marco Pannella, politician, was born on May 2, 1930. He died on May 19, 2016, aged 86

I met Pannella sometime in the mid 70's at an EFLRY seminar.(for younger readers this was some time before LYMEC was formed). He talked about Gueseppe Mazzini and the unification of Italy, his successful campaign for divorce law reform and the upcoming campaign for abortion .
He had joined the Italian Liberal Party in his youth and was a student leader. In 1956 the broke with the party -then led by Giovanni  Malagodi a man prominent in Liberal International and often quoted by Jeremy Thorpe. Pannella along with others on the left helped to form the Radical Party. 



Renzi pays homage to the “Lion of Liberty”
Tributes for the leader came pouring in from his political colleagues, led by the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who said: “He was a great political leader, a radical who left his mark on the history of this country, fighting battles that were sometimes controversial but always bravely and without any hidden agendas. I pay tribute on behalf of myself and the government to this warrior and lion of liberty.”

A fully obituary has appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, The Times (£) and many other papers
As he Guardian says, he was 'good at annoying people' but had real achievements to his name, their obituary begins
For the past 40 years, the Italian radical politician and civil rights activist Marco Pannella, who has died aged 86, was at the forefront of Italian politics on issues such as divorce, abortion, prison conditions, world hunger, world peace, Europeanism, the decriminalisation of drugs (he was briefly arrested for smoking a joint in public) and sexual reform.


Monday, 23 May 2016

Mental Health new Mayor's priority

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, 18 May 2016


The beginning of my Mayoral year

Daughter Katie and grandchildren Sarah and Lily join me in the Mayor's parlour after the ceremony
Last night I was installed as Mayor of Sefton at a meeting of the council held in Southport town hall.

I am going to use a blog to record all my comings and goings as mayor which can be found at : http://themayoralblog.blogspot.co.uk/ and so the Birkdale FOCUS will not have any more postings from me for a while.

At a reception held afterwards in The Atkinson I had the chance to thank my predecessor Stephen Kermode (who passed on a very good joke), divest myself of the Ruritanian outfit  and to outline some of my plans for the year.

For 36 years I have worked alongside people with mental health issues on their journey to living a full and independent life. I hope to use the opportunity that the mayoralty gives me to continue to challenge the stigma and ignorance that so often blights their lives inhibiting them from playing their full part in our communities.  I intend to work alongside the 800 group of charities-so called because together they have given 800 years of service to our communities-to include those who are often excluded from the life of the borough.
later, without the Ruratanian robes....


Looking at the diary for the coming year it is dominated by the remembrance of war. We mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at events throughout the borough. I shall be at Southport where the war memorial has a special chapel dedicated to those young men who died there. I shall lay a paving stone dedicated to a Bootle man who received the Victoria Cross for his bravery on the centenary of his death. In June shall  the Royal Hotel to commemorate the battle of Waterloo in the district named after the battle. It is a blessing that Europe has found a peaceful way of resolving its disputes.

During the year I hope to have the opportunity, on behalf of the borough, to thank individuals, voluntary groups, faith communities and  businesses who make our borough such a diverse and successful place.

I have no doubt that along the way I shall encounter many challenges, not least of all from those who will regard me as an imposter as every self respecting Sandgrounder knows that there is only one Mayor of Southport and that is Maureen Fearn!

Friday, 6 May 2016

The brilliant results from Southport in detail, a clean sweep

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Below are the brilliant results from Southport. Never before throughout the whole history of the borough have we won every seat. That goes back to the granting of the borough's charter in 1858!

some of the victorious Lib Dem team after the count


Most magnificent was the stonking majority in Dukes ward never before achieved- very closely followed by the extra ordinary gain from the Tories in Ainsdale. In addition we held Cambridge - a seat we failed to take last year. Look too at the size of the majorities..........

These seven seats make up the Southport constituency


Ainsdale - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Lynne ThompsonLiberal Democrats171342%Elected
Jamie HalsallConservative Party114928%Not elected
Mhairi McLeod Johnstone DoyleThe Labour Party72918%Not elected
Duncan BrowneUnited Kingdom Independence Party39410%Not elected
Barbara Ann DuttonThe Green Party1333%
Not elected


Birkdale - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Richard Ronald HandsLiberal Democrats144346%Elected
Ged WrightThe Labour Party71723%Not elected
Linda Julia Ann Gunn-RussoUnited Kingdom Independence Party43914%Not elected
John Charles Lyon-TaylorConservative Party42814%Not elected
Bernhard FrankThe Green Party1073%Not elected

Cambridge - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Pat KeithLiberal Democrats157547%Elected
Jordan Thomas ShandleyConservative Party72922%Not elected
Michael SkarrattsUnited Kingdom Independence Party50115%Not elected
Stephen James JowettThe Labour Party46514%Not elected
David William CollinsThe Green Party722%Not elected

Dukes - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Tony DawsonLiberal Democrats149645%Elected
Jacky BlissConservative Party92728%Not elected
Frank HanleyThe Labour Party43813%Not elected
Matthew James HubbardUnited Kingdom Independence Party34911%Not elected
Bernie DraperThe Green Party1073%Not elected

Kew - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
David Gwyn PullinLiberal Democrats108539%Elected
Janet Catherine HarrisonThe Labour Party68025%Not elected
Terry John DurranceUnited Kingdom Independence Party55120%Not elected
Tina BlissConservative Party32912%Not elected
Richard James FurnessThe Green Party1024%Not elected

Meols - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
John DoddLiberal Democrats163551%Elected
Luke Anthony ThompsonConservative Party53517%Not elected
Debbie BannonThe Labour Party51016%Not elected
Katy BonneyUnited Kingdom Independence Party45814%Not elected
Sarah-Jayne McIntoshThe Green Party863%Not elected

Norwood - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Bill WelshLiberal Democrats121043%Elected
Lesley DelvesThe Labour Party69825%Not elected
Peter Neol GregsonUnited Kingdom Independence Party41715%Not elected
Poppy Elise JonesConservative Party32612%Not elected
David McIntoshThe Green Party1465%Not elected

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Birkdale potholes

As a cyclist I am more aware of potholes than most folk but a couple that have appeared in Birkdale are so big nobody can missed them. We have reported several in recent days but the one in Burlington Rd and the one in Lyndhurst Rd take the joint 1st prize for the biggest. And before anyone tells me I have already reported the state of the road by The Fisherman's Rest

Full review of Lib Party and the Economy , Peter Sloman

Liberal Party and the Economy 1929-1964 by Peter Sloman

Like many academic books it is ridiculously expensive, it is advertised on Amazon for £58 .  
I recall a meeting of the Liberal Party Standing Committee in 1979 which was drawing up the Election Manifesto. We reached the item on the agenda marked economic policy. There was a silence until Richard Moore spoke: ‘I joined the Liberal Party in spite of not because of its economic policy ‘he told us.
Many people hold the opinion that our party gives economic policy a lower priority than say the environment, reform of government, foreign policy, Europe, individual rights or the state of the pavements. Such indifference, it is argued, allows a few well motivated and wealthy mavericks to high jack the party’s policy position. William Wallace has written about one such event.

‘The group of free-trade Liberals that included S.W.Alexander and Oliver Smedley had drive, financial resources, and a clear sense of Liberalism in a libertarian, minimum-state interpretation. The almost anarchic structure of party assemblies allowed for such groups to exert real influence.

The Radical Reform Group (RRG), as I recall, provided the most coherent alternative definition of Liberalism – much closer to the radical Liberal tradition, and to the nonconformist beliefs which a high proportion of its members held. It helped enormously that Jo Grimond as leader was naturally sympathetic to the RRG perspective; but the existence and activities of RRG, and the arguments of its members on the Party Executive, made Grimond’s task in reorienting the party much easier.
My future father-in-law, Edward Rushworth, had for many years been both a member of Radical reform Group (RRG) and of the party executive.

He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.’

Some Liberator readers may well join Richard Grayson in seeing the policy coup in 2008 over tax cuts and promoting a vision of small state in a similar vein to the antics of Smedley and Alexander.

Peter Sloman’s book The Liberal Party and the Economy 1929-1964 (OUP 2015) challenges the assumption that the history of economic policy making in the Liberal party is the history of a struggle between classical free market liberalism and interventionist social liberalism. Sloman has gone where no other historian has gone before examining the twists and tortured turns of policy making. It is an excellent account of the party’s history giving some new insights into issues –not all of them related to economic policy.

Sloman identifies four strands of Liberalism and examines the interplay between them. Classical liberalism, Georgism, New (left) Liberalism and constructive Liberalism. The first two are seen as essentially non-interventionist while the latter two see a positive role for the state. The New Liberal tradition stemming from Hobhouse and Green focusses on ethics whilst the constructive liberalism is influenced by professional economists and focused on practical policies.

If you don’t know your Distributists from your Georgists or your Keynesians and are unaware that the Liberal Party under Clem Davies endorsed central state planning then this is the book for you. Here you can also read how the idea of membership of the European Common Market was used to rout the extreme free marketeers at the 1960 Liberal Assembly and of the most successful economic campaign to come out of NLYL: ‘Ownership for All ‘
Some aspects of classical liberalism had a strong hold on the popular imagination. The belief that free trade enhanced worldwide prosperity and peace tapped into the party’s internationalism. The assertion that free trade kept the price of bread low was a key aspect of the Liberal appeal. In the 1906 election here in Southport that was the main message of the successful candidate
Astbury

The Liberal Party never supported pure laissez fair economics. All Liberator readers know Gladstone favoured nationalising the railways. By the time of the 1906 Liberal government, many of whose members were influenced by T H Green, the party had moved decisively away from the small state view beloved by the ideologically pure classical liberals. In the 1920’s Keynes announced to the Liberal Summer School that ‘laissez faire was dead’. Nevertheless the neo liberal corpse has had an after life and each new manifestation has been more grotesque that the previous one. We have already glimpsed the destructive impact that neo liberal activists had on the small struggling Liberal Party of the 1950’s. Many of them decamped to the Institute of Economic Affairs where they acted as midwife at the birth of Thatcherism and which today is an apologist for corporatist capitalism.


With the publication of the Orange Book* a new generation of neo liberals have come and wreaked havoc on the party helping to reduce the parliamentary base from 56 to 8 MP’s. The work of a generation, whose activism rebuilt the party in the years after Grimond, has been wiped out. Sloman has argued that the Orange Book led to the rightward move of the party’s leadership facilitating the formation of the coalition with the Tories. It certainly provided the intellectualunderpinning for Nick Clegg’s disastrous  2010 speech, which worried only about social mobility and dismissed tackling the inequality of experienced by citizens today. David Howarth has identified that speech asone of the triggers for the catastrophic fall in support for the Lib Dems from which it has not yet recovered.

Many things from the classical liberal tradition have been absorbed into the Radical Liberal agenda: individual liberties, suspicion of monopolies and the opposition to the excesses of state power promoted by the likes of Blunkett, Reid and Straw. Sloman points out that ‘Gladstone was as concerned about the integrity and autonomy of the state as about its size. It is difficult to find the same concern among today’s ‘economic liberals ’. Radicals need to be robust in rejecting neo-liberalism- a C 20th heresy of the New Right.

Another strand of Liberal economic thinking identified by Sloman is Georgism. Its anthem‘The Land’ has had pride of place in the Liberator Song Book since before Lord Bonkers was born, as it did in ‘Songs for Paper Tigers’ in the time of his father. It is based on the writings of Henry George who argued that land was a finite resource and that no one had an exclusive right to its ownership and that owners should be taxed to compensate the community for their monopoly use of it. Essential they were classical liberals who believed that once the issue of the land was addressed by imposing a tax on the unimproved value of plots the market would operate effectively and a just society would result. Lloyd George include a modest land tax in the People’ Budget of 1909. 


Left Liberalism inspired by the New Liberals was associated with thinkers like T H Green and L THobhouse. They saw a legitimate role for the state in promoting social justice and did not regard free markets and free enterprise as immutable principles

The final categorisation that Sloman identified he calls Constructive Liberalism and it was the dominant position in the C20th. Essentially this is a conflation of classical and New Liberalism. The Summer School movement and the 1929 manifesto are part of that tradition. It is a very elastic term stretching from a fairly minimalist position for the state up to the peak of intervention in 1943 when Clem Davies and  Tom Horobin’s ‘Radical Economic Policy for Progressive Liberalism’ advocated wide scale nationalisation, export and import controls and a high degree of central planning.

By using his more nuanced classification of Liberal policy and moving away from viewing it as a struggle between classical and new liberalism Sloman has given us a much better understanding. Radicals need to take up the challenge of the RRG and produce a new synthesis for C21st which is anti-authoritarian and socially egalitarian. Drawing on the left/New Liberal tradition of passionate social concern with its starting point of distributive justice we can fashion an approach which offers new hope, answering the challenges that Picketty and others have identified. We must reject the neo-liberal consensus that has led to an unacceptable concentrations of wealth in the hands of a small number of owners of capital and a reduction in the share paid to employees. This global trend is accelerating and will soon impact on all employee as automation and cheap labour undercuts their wage rates and destroys their jobs. 

Throughout most of the C20th employee ownership and industrial democracy have been an enduring feature Liberal policy. They were the signature policy of the Grimond years. By offering a radical interpretation of the distributive ideas promoted by the Ownership for All campaign Radicals have advocated using state power to compel companies to introduce profit sharing and meaningful employee representation at Board level. Economists like Nobel Prize winner James Meade (who once advised our party) came up with many ideas to re distribute capital including legalisation to require companies to issue new shares to employee trusts. David Steel in his 1985 book Partners in One Nation argued that these radical ideas were part of a ‘fundamental economic philosophy distinct from that of socialism and free-market capitalism’ and as the RRG said Radicals aim to distribute instead of concentrating political as well as economic power’. Workers would become citizens of industry, not merely hirelings of private employers or of the state.

In his book Sloman suggests that Georgism, the Ownership for All policy and the Distributive ideas of Belloc are part of the classical tradition. What Radicals identify is that they all challenge the existing rights of owners and argue that the state action should be used to redistribute ownership. In his time Paddy Ashdown foresaw a time when ‘workers would be employing capital’. In that assertion he was echoing the greatly respected Liberal Richard Wainwright for whom employee ownership was the ‘holy grail of liberalism’. It is time to take up the quest 

All the links work in the early version here and here
----------------------------------------------------

This is my review of Sloman's book that I wrote for Liberator. Regrettably it took me so long to get round to complete it that someone else had submitted one before I had finished. As the thrifty Liberals of yesteryear would have said 'waste not want not', so I am posting it here in three instalments

*I am well aware that The Orange Book is a 'mixed bag' containing some interesting and useful contributions . Nevertheless the motivation of some of its key protagonists has been to shift the centre of gravity of economic thinking away from the social liberal consensus within the party towards a more neo liberal position. In light of that I think it is perfectly reasonable to use 'Orange book' as a short hand for that group. Their liberalism was replaced in the early 20th century with a commitment to the welfare state because of the work of T.H. GreenL.T. Hobhouse and the economist J.A. Hobson; the Orange Book writers were seeking to overturn nearly a century of Liberal party history. It is to be greatly welcomed that the recent conference at York passed an excellent economic policy motion promoted by the Social Liberal Forum

Hans Dietrich Genscher RIP

The Free Democrat leader and German Foreign Minister died 10 days ago. A number of obituaries have appeared including in the Guardian  

It is odd how random facts about people stick in your mind. The 'Gencher' fact for me was his penchant for wearing the FDP 's colours. His yellow sweater became his trademark a fact mentioned in the The Scotsman's obituary.

He was a dedicated European who clearly saw that German's role in the world should be acted out in concert with his neighbours.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Liberal Party and the Economy 1929-1964 by Peter Sloman concluding section

The first part of this review can be found here





Many things from the classical liberal tradition have been absorbed into the Radical Liberal agenda: individual liberties, suspicion of monopolies and the opposition to the excesses of state power promoted by the likes of Blunkett, Reid and Straw. Sloman points out that ‘Gladstone was as concerned about the integrity and autonomy of the state as about its size. It is difficult to find the same concern among today’s ‘economic liberals Radicals need to be robust in rejecting neo-liberalism- a C 20th heresy of the New Right.



Another strand of Liberal economic thinking identified by Sloman is Georgism. Its anthem ‘The Land’ has had pride of place in the Liberator Song Book since before Lord Bonkers was born, as it did in ‘Songs for Paper Tigers’ in the time of his father. It is based on the writings of Henry George who argued that land was a finite resource and that no one had an exclusive right to its ownership and that owners should be taxed to compensate the community for their monopoly use of it. Essential they were classical liberals who believed that once the issue of the land was addressed by imposing a tax on the unimproved value of plots the market would operate effectively and a just society would result. Lloyd George include a modest land tax in the People’ Budget of 1909.

Left Liberalism inspired by the New Liberals was associated with thinkers like T H Green and L THobhouse. They saw a legitimate role for the state in promoting social justice and did not regard free markets and free enterprise as immutable principles

The final categorisation that Sloman identified he calls Constructive Liberalism and it was the dominant position in the C20th. Essentially this is a conflation of classical and New Liberalism. The Summer School movement and the 1929 manifesto are part of that tradition. It is a very elastic term stretching from a fairly minimalist position for the state up to the peak of intervention in 1943 when Clem Davies and  Tom Horobin’s ‘Radical Economic Policy for Progressive Liberalism’ advocated wide scale nationalisation, export and import controls and a high degree of central planning.

By using his more nuanced classification of Liberal policy and moving away from viewing it as a struggle between classical and new liberalism Sloman has given us a much better understanding. Radicals need to take up the challenge of the RRG and produce a new synthesis for C21st which is anti-authoritarian and socially egalitarian. Drawing on the left/New Liberal tradition of passionate social concern with its starting point of distributive justice we can fashion an approach which offers new hope, answering the challenges that Picketty and others have identified. We must reject the neo-liberal consensus that has led to an unacceptable concentrations of wealth in the hands of a small number of owners of capital and a reduction in the share paid to employees. This global trend is accelerating and will soon impact on all employee as automation and cheap labour undercuts their wage rates and destroys their jobs. 

Throughout most of the C20th employee ownership and industrial democracy have been an enduring feature Liberal policy. They were the signature policy of the Grimond years. By offering a radical interpretation of the distributive ideas promoted by the Ownership for All campaign Radicals have advocated using state power to compel companies to introduce profit sharing and meaningful employee representation at Board level. Economists like Nobel Prize winner James Meade (who once advised our party) came up with many ideas to re distribute capital including legalisation to require companies to issue new shares to employee trusts. David Steel in his 1985 book Partners in One Nation argued that these radical ideas were part of a ‘fundamental economic philosophy distinct from that of socialism and free-market capitalism’ and as the RRG said Radicals aim to distribute instead of concentrating political as well as economic power’. Workers would become citizens of industry, not merely hirelings of private employers or of the state.

In his book Sloman suggests that Georgism, the Ownership for All policy and the Distributive ideas of Belloc are part of the classical tradition. What Radicals identify is that they all challenge the existing rights of owners and argue that the state action should be used to redistribute ownership. In his time Paddy Ashdown foresaw a time when ‘workers would be employing capital’. In that assertion he was echoing the greatly respected Liberal Richard Wainwright for whom employee ownership was the ‘holy grail of liberalism’. It is time to take up the quest.

This is second part of a review of Sloman's book that I wrote for Liberator. Regrettably it took me so long to get round to complete it that someone else had submitted one before I had finished. As the thrifty Liberals of yesteryear would have said 'waste not want not', so I am posting it here in three instalments


*I am well aware that The Orange Book is a 'mixed bag' containing some interesting and useful contributions . Nevertheless the motivation of some of its key protagonists has been to shift the centre of gravity of economic thinking away from the social liberal consensus within the party towards a more neo liberal position. In light of that I think it is perfectly reasonable to use 'Orange book' as a short hand for that group. Their liberalism was replaced in the early 20th century with a commitment to the welfare state because of the work of T.H. GreenL.T. Hobhouse and the economist J.A. Hobson; the Orange Book writers were seeking to overturn nearly a century of Liberal party history. It is to be greatly welcomed that the recent conference at York passed an excellent economic policy motion promoted by the Social Liberal Forum

KGV the ongoing crisis -time to look for a local solution

Councillor Tony Dawson and I have supported dozens of parents and students during the past four years of KGV College's troubles. This is the statement Tony released yesterday:
"When I saw this in the paper, I thought it was an April Fool item. After all, we were assured by the Funding Council at the end of last year that things were getting better. One does wonder if the Funding Council is really fit for purpose, also.
"KGV College is in a managerial mess and has been for a number of years. There is a continuing culture of secrecy which means that important reports and important papers are not publicly available as they are in colleges up and down the country.

"The principal problem right now is funding. There are nowhere near enough students enrolled. So, the numbers just do not add up. 

"KGV had a proud history both as a school and as a sixth form college: two of my brothers attended there. But it is unfortunately now totally unanswerable to the people who matter - the parents of the children attending our town's primary and secondary schools. Due to government meddling, the College has no kind of accountability to these parents' elected representatives either.
"Merger with Hugh Baird might well be an option but it is surely not the only option or the obvious option. Southport parents and teachers, particularly head teachers, need to be involved in consultations and discussions about the best way forward. We have the highly-successful Southport College just a mile up the road and we have highly-successful secondary schools including one right next door to KGV. We also have Runshaw College which appears to be the present destination of choice for hundreds of Southport sixth formers. 

There is no obvious logic to merging with a college in a town many miles from Southport. It must be recognised that the positioning of KGV makes it a natural option for hundreds of students from West Lancashire as well as Southport and Formby."

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Liberal Party and the Economy 1929-1964 by Peter Sloman

Like many academic books it is ridiculously expensive, it is advertised on Amazon for £58 .  
I recall a meeting of the Liberal Party Standing Committee in 1979 which was drawing up the Election Manifesto. We reached the item on the agenda marked economic policy. There was a silence until Richard Moore spoke: ‘I joined the Liberal Party in spite of not because of its economic policy ‘he told us.
Many people hold the opinion that our party gives economic policy a lower priority than say the environment, reform of government, foreign policy, Europe, individual rights or the state of the pavements. Such indifference, it is argued, allows a few well motivated and wealthy mavericks to high jack the party’s policy position. William Wallace has written about one such event.

‘The group of free-trade Liberals that included S.W.Alexander and Oliver Smedley had drive, financial resources, and a clear sense of Liberalism in a libertarian, minimum-state interpretation. The almost anarchic structure of party assemblies allowed for such groups to exert real influence.

The Radical Reform Group (RRG), as I recall, provided the most coherent alternative definition of Liberalism – much closer to the radical Liberal tradition, and to the nonconformist beliefs which a high proportion of its members held. It helped enormously that Jo Grimond as leader was naturally sympathetic to the RRG perspective; but the existence and activities of RRG, and the arguments of its members on the Party Executive, made Grimond’s task in reorienting the party much easier.
My future father-in-law, Edward Rushworth, had for many years been both a member of Radical reform Group (RRG) and of the party executive.

He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.’

Some Liberator readers may well join Richard Grayson in seeing the policy coup in 2008 over tax cuts and promoting a vision of small state in a similar vein to the antics of Smedley and Alexander.

Peter Sloman’s book The Liberal Party and the Economy 1929-1964 (OUP 2015) challenges the assumption that the history of economic policy making in the Liberal party is the history of a struggle between classical free market liberalism and interventionist social liberalism. Sloman has gone where no other historian has gone before examining the twists and tortured turns of policy making. It is an excellent account of the party’s history giving some new insights into issues –not all of them related to economic policy.

Sloman identifies four strands of Liberalism and examines the interplay between them. Classical liberalism, Georgism, New (left) Liberalism and constructive Liberalism. The first two are seen as essentially non-interventionist while the latter two see a positive role for the state. The New Liberal tradition stemming from Hobhouse and Green focusses on ethics whilst the constructive liberalism is influenced by professional economists and focused on practical policies.

If you don’t know your Distributists from your Georgists or your Keynesians and are unaware that the Liberal Party under Clem Davies endorsed central state planning then this is the book for you. Here you can also read how the idea of membership of the European Common Market was used to rout the extreme free marketeers at the 1960 Liberal Assembly and of the most successful economic campaign to come out of NLYL: ‘Ownership for All ‘
Some aspects of classical liberalism had a strong hold on the popular imagination. The belief that free trade enhanced worldwide prosperity and peace tapped into the party’s internationalism. The assertion that free trade kept the price of bread low was a key aspect of the Liberal appeal. In the 1906 election here in Southport that was the main message of the successful candidate
Astbury


The Liberal Party never supported pure laissez fair economics. All Liberator readers know Gladstone favoured nationalising the railways. By the time of the 1906 Liberal government, many of whose members were influenced by T H Green, the party had moved decisively away from the small state view beloved by the ideologically pure classical liberals. In the 1920’s Keynes announced to the Liberal Summer School that ‘laissez faire was dead’. Nevertheless the neo liberal corpse has had an after life and each new manifestation has been more grotesque that the previous one. We have already glimpsed the destructive impact that neo liberal activists had on the small struggling Liberal Party of the 1950’s. Many of them decamped to the Institute of Economic Affairs where they acted as midwife at the birth of Thatcherism and which today is an apologist for corporatist capitalism.


With the publication of the Orange Book* a new generation of neo liberals have come and wreaked havoc on the party helping to reduce the parliamentary base from 56 to 8 MP’s. The work of a generation, whose activism rebuilt the party in the years after Grimond, has been wiped out. Sloman has argued that the Orange Book led to the rightward move of the party’s leadership facilitating the formation of the coalition with the Tories. It certainly provided the intellectual underpinning for Nick Clegg’s disastrous  2010 speech, which worried only about social mobility and dismissed tackling the inequality of experienced by citizens today. David Howarth has identified that speech asone of the triggers for the catastrophic fall in support for the Lib Dems from which it has not yet recovered.

Many things from the classical liberal tradition have been absorbed into the Radical Liberal agenda: individual liberties, suspicion of monopolies and the opposition to the excesses of state power promoted by the likes of Blunkett, Reid and Straw. Sloman points out that ‘Gladstone was as concerned about the integrity and autonomy of the state as about its size. It is difficult to find the same concern among today’s ‘economic liberals ’. Radicals need to be robust in rejecting neo-liberalism- a C 20th heresy of the New Right.

Another strand of Liberal economic thinking identified by Sloman is Georgism. Its anthem‘The Land’ has had pride of place in the Liberator Song Book since before Lord Bonkers was born, as it did in ‘Songs for Paper Tigers’ in the time of his father. It is based on the writings of Henry George who argued that land was a finite resource and that no one had an exclusive right to its ownership and that owners should be taxed to compensate the community for their monopoly use of it. Essential they were classical liberals who believed that once the issue of the land was addressed by imposing a tax on the unimproved value of plots the market would operate effectively and a just society would result. Lloyd George include a modest land tax in the People’ Budget of 1909. 
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This is first part of a review of Sloman's book that I wrote for Liberator. Regrettably it took me so long to get round to complete it that someone else had submitted one before I had finished. As the thrifty Liberals of yesteryear would have said 'waste not want not', so I am posting it here in three instalments


*I am well aware that The Orange Book is a 'mixed bag' containing some interesting and useful contributions . Nevertheless the motivation of some of its key protagonists has been to shift the centre of gravity of economic thinking away from the social liberal consensus within the party towards a more neo liberal position. In light of that I think it is perfectly reasonable to use 'Orange book' as a short hand for that group. Their liberalism was replaced in the early 20th century with a commitment to the welfare state because of the work of T.H. GreenL.T. Hobhouse and the economist J.A. Hobson; the Orange Book writers were seeking to overturn nearly a century of Liberal party history. It is to be greatly welcomed that the recent conference at York passed an excellent economic policy motion promoted by the Social Liberal Forum