Freedom. Justice. Honesty.

by jackdavies on 17 May, 2021

I have lost count of the number of articles and comments on social media after any election where the Liberal Democrats inexplicably don’t gain a hatful of seats claiming that the party has an identity crisis and voters don’t know what the party stands for. In this article, I will address these claims and offer my perspective on what it is the Liberal Democrats stand for.

The idea that the Liberal Democrats have an identity crisis stems from the formation of the party itself. The Liberal Party and SDP had very different ideological traditions albeit their differences upon forming an alliance in 1981 were minimal compared to their differences with the Labour Party and Conservative Party. These claims only got louder upon the full merger between the two parties in 1988. The claims mostly relate to the difference in opinion regarding the economy between the SDP and the Liberals. Whilst the SDP preferred a more interventionist approach, the Liberals were fierce defenders of the free market. It’s easy to see how the party might be torn in two between these two competing economic ideologies. However, I think that focusing on the differences within a party fails to address the shared principles and beliefs which led to the merger of the two parties in the first place.

Charles Kennedy, who won the party its highest number of MPs at the 2005 General Election, summed it up perfectly in the preamble to the 2001 Liberal Democrat manifesto and I think it’s something subsequent party leaders have forgotten in the heat of the Westminster battleground. The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom, justice, and honesty.

Freedom – because everybody deserves the opportunity to make the most of their life. Justice – because there can be no freedom without fairness. Honesty – because where fairness has a price, we will be honest about how we will pay for it. Freedom – so cherished by Liberals – also stands for personal freedom as well as economic freedom. Nobody should be discriminated against based on circumstances beyond their control. Justice is what makes true freedom possible. There can be no true freedom without the freedom of the poor and powerless. That is a point so many Conservatives do not seem to understand. Honesty matters too. Honesty is what underpins the entire message.

It is this most basic mantra which has been forgotten by too many Lib Dem leaders since Kennedy – most notably Clegg. Everything Clegg and his closest advisors supported in coalition should have been checked off against the three criteria for a Liberal Democrat policy. Would this policy ensure the freedom of the poorest and powerless? Would this policy ensure that people were treated fairly? Were we being honest with how we were paying for it? If not then he should not have supported it.

This is a lesson I hope the current leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, learns. I have seen encouraging signs with attacks on the ridiculous vaccine passport idea simply for going to the shop and for standing up for the rights of refugees. I am cautiously optimistic that we are on the right track.

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