Wednesday, March 06, 2013

What do the Liberal Democrats stand for? #libdemvalues

The amazing Alex from Love and Liberty has challenged us all to come up with a statement of what the Liberal Democrats stand for and has tagged me. Thing is, as ever, his version is so good that I feel that I couldn't possibly match up to it. Here's what he has to say:

The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

I guess this sort of thing is shaped by the things that matter to each individual. That is the very essence of liberalism - a deep respect for the uniqueness of every individual and the unique cocktail of circumstances and experiences that affect their thinking. We expect that people are different and we celebrate it. That doesn't mean to say we sling everyone adrift and let them get on with it like the Tories would do. We recognise the state has a role to play in removing barriers to people achieving all they are capable of. Nor do we adopt Labour's collectivist one size fits all approach to public services. They treat people as if they're amorphous blobs rather than individuals.

I am well aware that some of what I'm about to write will attract cries of "but you did x or y" in government. Everyone who has ever been in a relationship or ever had to work with other people in any capacity will understand that compromises have to be made. Some of the compromises that the Liberal Democrats have agreed during this first period of government in 80 years in the worst economic circumstances since the Great Depression have been particularly hard, if not impossible, to swallow. Our aspirations and values remain the same, though and shine through in much of what the Coalition Government is doing.

I think that you can get a better form of words than the opening to our Preamble to the Constitution
The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity
The word no-one is as important in this - we don't stop until we all live with the sort of freedoms we want. 

Alex turned it round so that it was freedom from poverty ignorance and conformity. I understand why, but I think that it's good to stay aware that there are powerful forces who are quite happy to restrict others for their own ends. 

So, how would I express the values it contains?

The Liberal Democrats are about freedom for every individual to live as they wish so long as their choices don't harm others. We aim to break down the three major barriers which hold people back: poverty, ignorance and conformity.

We believe in carefully managing the resources we have, mindful that generations to come deserve the same freedoms as we have. That means that safeguarding our environment and making sure that we don't over-spend, amassing huge debts for the future, are essential. 

The cost of running an effective, liberal state must be met in a fair and sustainable way with those who earn the most contributing the most and those who have least being protected as much as possible That is why we have ensured tax cuts for the lowest paid, taking many people out of tax completely while increasing taxes for those who can afford it.

We believe that education, knowledge and a curious, enquiring mind are essential to get on in life. A person's ability should determine their progress in life, not their background. That is why we are giving extra money to help disadvantaged children learn both at home and abroad. 

We believe that quality of life and wellbeing are also vital to ensuring that people are truly free. That is why we gave given mental health equal status in the NHS mandate and put extra money into providing the most effective therapies for half a million people. 

We recognise that people have individual needs. That means that  public services should as far as possible be flexible enough to meet the needs of the people who use them. We believe that the criteria for having your relationship recognised by the state should be that you love each other which is why we are giving same sex couples the right to marry and have a long record of fighting for LGBT equality. 

We believe in working with others to meet our aims. That can be to provide a Liberal Democrat influence in a local or national government but we are also a proudly internationalist party. We believe in the principles of  international co-operation, whether that be within the EU or further afield. A world where 1 in 3 women experience violence, abuse or rape is not acceptable to us and only by working on a global level can we eradicate this and give women and girls the freedom they are entitled to.

We believe that the purpose of the state is to serve the people, not the other way around. That is why we will not tolerate unnecessary restriction of people's freedom. The state should not hold DNA or fingerprints of innocent people unless there is a very good reason, nor should it restrict movement or protest. Freedom of expression, the right to effectively challenge authority are essential parts of a liberal society. The state has no business intruding into your lawful activities. 

Commercial organisations should be forced by effective national and international action to behave responsibly both to the environment and their customers so that they can not abuse the power and influence that they have.

We believe in decisions being taken at the lowest practical level. Communities should be able to influence the services available to them. 

We do not believe in quick fixes. We believe in looking carefully at the challenges our society faces and providing sustainable solutions. 

This is nowhere close to being ready, but it's as much time as I have before Alex's deadline. What do you think? It wouldn't exactly fit on the back of a postcard.

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