I’m a Social Liberal NOT a Socialist

The other day I read that someone on social media was connecting Social Liberalism with Socialism when in fact there are at least two major differences that define why Liberals and Socialists are on very different but partly parallel routes.

Socialism usually leads to big state intervention and control and it is often marked by authoritarianism too. Social Liberalism, whilst being of the left, is very much not authoritarian and it does not see the state as always being the best/main provider of services, employment etc.

Social Liberals see the state as being there to act in balancing our society. To regulate where that is required or helpful, to protect the weak from the powerful, to find the most socially and economically effective way of providing public services. However, we are not necessarily backers of big state control. We may well have grave concerns about public services being run for profit but on the other hand, the state often proves to be ineffective, overly bureaucratic and inefficient when directly providing services. Social Liberals will often look to Cooperatives, not for profit companies and mutuals to deliver services for example.

History shows that state-led socialism is as bad at delivering services as poorly regulated privatisation. The UK has tried both in the last 60+ years, often lurching from inappropriate state control/intervention to unbridled privatisation and the result has been the general run down in our manufacturing industry and more. Instead of looking at sectors and service provision from the perspective of which method of service delivery will work the best socialists will virtually always say the state is best whilst Tories will nearly always say deliver it privately. They both suffer from a predetermined political mantra clouding what’s best socially, economically and will be the most efficient.

Sometimes state delivery is best, but how has the country which once developed a thriving mutual and cooperative sector managed to lose so much of it. The loss of so many building societies during the 1980s/90s was a backwards step, for example. The demise of cooperatives (particularly in poorer/working-class areas) another. Sometimes, particularly at a local level community interest companies/not for profit enterprises may well be the best form of service delivery. Then look at housing associations; they’ve been turned into businesses with little or no control/input by their tenants.

The state will provide, the Council should provide is the socialist mantra; we know what’s best for you. Of course, the Conservatives see solutions from the exact opposite end of the telescope and never the twain shall meet.

Blair often talked about the 3rd way/middle way and whilst I think he got the issue in the abstract New Labour did not really put in place the right social and economic levers to enable the community interest companies, mutuals and cooperatives etc. to thrive once again. And this despite the Co-Op Party sponsoring some Labour MPs!

The other issue has been deregulation, light-touch regulation etc. which has directly ended up with unscrupulous providers delivering poor public services at high cost to the public purse and both Labour and Tory governments have had a hand in such failures.

So yes I’m a Social Liberal of the left but no I don’t think the state should be controlling everything or indeed any more than it needs to. But we do need firm regulation and the appropriate regulators to oversee the delivery of public services from the perspective of service users as well as efficiency for the public purse. Such regulation should encourage innovation and stamp out exploitation.

Does that explain why Social Liberals and NOT Socialists?