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?

Blair gets a gong and 1m signature balloon goes up!

Blair, if you put Iraq to one side, was the most progressive PM in generations; go on give me the name of a recent PM who was more progressive?

And the reason I’m blogging about Blair now? I’m told 1 million people have signed a petition asking for his Knighthood to be rescinded.

Yes he was too right-wing for me as a Social Liberal of the left, yes in my view (in European terms) he was akin to a Christian Democrat, yes he was a policy ditherer too, taking far too long to get on with things. But despite all that he’s still the most progressive PM we’ve had in generations, so doesn’t that show how right-wing the rest have been!

I’m ignoring Brown here as I never got where he was coming from, although he’s become a bit of a Jimmy Carter-type in retirement i.e. looked upon as a statesman, but only after he’d left office.

But the other thing for as an observer of politics like me is how much Labour Party members and supporters dislike Blair, indeed they seem to look at him in the same way they look at Thatcher! I’ve lost count of Labour backers slagging off Blair so I’m guessing many of the 1m signatures on the petition to get his gong removed will be Labour members and supporters.

Starmer has backed Blair’s award but then again he had little choice. If you think about it Starmer is of the Labour right-wing, some say he may even be right of centre with regard to British politics. On that basis, he’s going to want to back the award to Blair. However, I bet he’d rather have kept quiet as he knows his party members will be 80%ish against Blair. But saying nothing was not an option because it would make him look like a leftie and that’s the last thing he’d want as he tries to get the white, working-class, right-wingers back within Labour’s tent. So he was cornered and had to say he backed Blair’s gong.

My point here is that as someone of the left I’ve not been motivated to add my name to the petition, indeed I saw the award as an inevitability at some point. Yes, I know the vast majority of the signers will be to the right of my politics and I also accept that there’s a case for Blair to answer with regard to Iraq and its long-running humanitarian and terrorism consequences. But, from a cynical perspective, I see the campaign against Blair’s award being driven, at least in part, by those who find it a useful distraction to help turn away eyes and ears from the appalling government we presently have. We can’t do anything much about the things Labour did under Blair, they are history. However, we progressives can try to turn the screws on Johnson and his wretched government and frankly that should be very much our aim as opposed to refighting battles of the past no matter how much Labour members enjoy such blood letting.

Driving UK society to a new ‘wild west’?

If we can get away with it, it’s OK. Our leaders don’t follow the rules, so neither will we. It’s every man and woman for themselves. We are all Thatcher’s children. Grab what you can before anyone else does.

I put it that such is starting to characterise what is happening to our UK society which was once thought to be very stable and law-abiding.

A process that has probably been well in train and developing for many years seems to have accelerated since lockdown, indeed you could say it’s been driven with the foot very much down to the boards. The end result is one of us becoming a more self-centred and isolationist society. Wasn’t it Thatcher who said there’s no such thing as society? Well in 2021 that’s even more true than when she said it 40 years ago. We seem to have a significant section of present-day society that does not see itself as being a part of anything much at all and certainly not part of a neighbourhood or community, and very much not part of a wider world!

You see this most obviously on our ‘wild west’ roads where pretty much anything goes these days. I never fail to be troubled, and this is pretty much every time I leave our house by cycle or car, at lunatic driving. Not just breaking the speed limit but doubling it and red-light running is something I now expect to see at every traffic-lighted junction and Pelican Crossing as opposed to a once in a blue moon thing it was say 20 years ago. Litter comes tumbling out of cars at junctions, even dirty nappies. Anyone who drives at or just below the speed limit is hounded by abusive drivers who feel entitled to do whatever speed they wish and who know the chances of being caught doing it by the powers that be are all but non-existent.

And then I look at our wretched government which seems to lead this wild west society by doing just as it pleases and beggar the consequences. Yes, of course, I’m no Tory so I do have an axe to grind against them but surely the modern Tory Party is a world away from what it once was? A party which has always had its spivs and wide boys but which kept them firmly in the background now seems to celebrate dodgy doings and those who do them!

My Dad’s family were working-class Tories living in a council house but with a few unfortunate exceptions, in terms of beliefs, they were decent and law-abiding. The exceptions being, anti-semitism and anti-Catholicism. Dad died in 2009 but even back then he was clearly troubled by the declining standards within the Tory Party; his views on Johnson are unprintable. He once told me that his concerns mirrored what he saw as the decline in his much loved Daily Telegraph newspaper. He could not be doing with dishonesty and could not understand the drift of the Tory Party he had been a member (off and on) and supporter of his whole adult life.

Yet will this drift towards a wild west-type society be tackled or have we gone too far for any politicians to have the guts to stand against selfishness, I know best and sod everyone else I’m doing what I want attitudes? I have my doubts as bit by bit Johnson has been taking us towards a Trumpian-type society and it is very difficult having in effect endorsed a ‘do as you please there’ll be no consequences’ approach to then haul that back. That horse has bolted and the opposition looks too weak and ineffective to address matters; best to not see what’s going on.

As a Social Liberal, my guiding principle is along the lines of we should be free to do as we wish so long as we are not harming others and the environment in exercising our freedoms. If we learn that what we doing is hurting others/the environment then we should try to restrain our freedoms accordingly, but I appreciate that many Conservatives and indeed Labour supporters would not support such a view of our world.

On the whole, I’m pessimistic about our direction of travel not least because it will inevitably lead to the poor becoming poorer and the powerful grabbing an even bigger share of our ever more unequal society.

Liberalism

I came across a graphic a few days ago that tries to define where Liberalism sits in the political landscape. Here it is, but you’ll have to enlarge it for reading:_

One issue which sticks out for me is the supposed positioning of Liberalism between Labour on the left and the Tories etc. on the right. Well, where to start? How about the definition of Labour as a party of the left – really? Labour is a party of the working-class so it encompasses a very wide range of political opinions indeed from right to left and that is of course why it’s in a state of almost continual internal warfare. Often referred to as a ‘broad church’, it’s like all religions together in one tent and the squabbling for which sect is the top dog is unstoppable.

So to look at Labour as a party of the left is very misleading and you only have to take their passive position over Brexit as a rather glaring example of the party in effect backing a policy of the right because their working-class right-wingers, who support Labour electorally, backed Brexit and Labour could do nothing about it. Labour has as a consequence lost some of its traditional supporters to the Tories as they thought Labour’s Brexit stance (on the fence but leaning towards Brexit) was not good enough. In fear of losing more supporters this way, Labour’s leadership has in effect hidden behind the sofa hoping no one will mention Brexit.

As a Social Liberal, my view is that the vast majority of Labour supporters are to the right of me politically but where you can place Labour on a left V right axis is problematic as that party has the potential to be left or right of centre. Conversely, until recent times, it would be possible to find Tory supporters who were all but centrists but of course, they’ve either been thrown out or have left that party. My own present political axis for England would look something like this:-

Liberals, Greens, Social Democrats ———–Centre———— Tories, UKIP
——————Labour———————-Labour————————Labour——

That Labour desperately wants its former right-wing voters back is a given, but presently many are in Johnson’s clutches. However, this very Labour problem kind of makes my point about where the Labour Party sits in the political spectrum because its white, working-class, right-wing voters can easily move to back the Tories. There may even be a few Tories left who can easily move to vote Labour too as they don’t see it as a left-wing party.

As an aside, I’ve never been particularly taken with the alternative view i.e. looking at political parties as Liberal V Illiberal as that is not how folks in the real world look at political parties in the UK.

I don’t consider myself to be ‘middle of the road’, ‘moderate’ or ‘centrist’ but of the left. As a Social Liberal and a life-long trade unionist I’ve never been tempted to join Labour as it mostly seems to be to the right of my politics.

1979 – My political awakening

The Liberal Party leaflet scanned above is from the period of my party political awakening and as I’ve said before on this blog site I ended up joining the old Liberal Party on New Year’s day 1980. I mention it now because my dear friend Peter Gibson presented me with the leaflet a few days ago as he thought I’d like and appreciate it. He was right.

My original grasp at politics was with a small ‘p’ when I decided to become an activist in my trade union IRSF (Inland Revenue Staff Federation) in 1978 and it was only after this that my thoughts turned to politics with a big ‘P’. I was sure I was not a Conservative as at the time I lived with a sometimes card-carrying one (my Dad) but frankly I was not particularly well versed in party politics. This pondering was brought to a head by my old friend Andrew Beattie who sadly died back in 1999. Andrew obtained the 1979 GE manifestos of the 3 major political parties; well he did work in a book shop! Anyway, we set about reading and debating them; him from a left-leaning household, me from a right-leaning household. In the end, we both concluded we were in fact Liberals by instinct and joined the party of that name together, at Peter Gibson’s house, on the 1st day of 1980.

It soon became clear to me that the Liberals were streets ahead of Labour in terms of worker rights and and worker participation in companies. I recall listening to policies outlined by the likes of Richard Wainright MP and thinking that’s what I think too. Richard saw Labour as a party tinkering around the edges of employment issues but without the courage to really empower workers in the workplace. I liked the idea of worker cooperatives, mutuals, and meaningful worker participation in companies as opposed to the ‘us and them’ approach to industrial relations offered and indeed promoted by Labour and Tories.

It’s interesting that this old political leaflet talks of a ‘A new industrial partnership that gives workers equal rights with shareholders, joint decision making, employee ownership and profit sharing’ and those ideas are still needed over 40 years later!

I met Steel once in Liverpool and saw him on many more occasions. He was a good political performer although having developed my true political opinions to one of being a Social Liberal I must admit he was actually selling a moderate centrist outlook which with hindsight (always a wonderful thing) lacked a truly radical Liberal edge.

So interesting memories were brought back to mind by a historic political leaflet.

Sturgeon V Burnham

Or is that Jimmy Krankie V Andy Capp?

Sturgeon, who comes across as a tough Glasgow political street fighter, takes on Greater Manchester’s Scouse Mayor who tries to portray himself as the fighter for the common northern man and woman. Well, there’s only going to one winner in that spat and it’s not Andy Capp. Frankly, Burham’s not in the same league as Sturgeon; he’s more a shouter from the sidelines in my view.

Yes I know, I’ve never rated Burnham as readers of this blog site will know. He’s always struck me as a populist follower rather than a leader of progressives. And wasn’t he close to NHS privatisation during the Blair years?

But whilst the spat is ostensibly about whether Manchester/Salford folk can travel to Scotland during the present Covid 19 situation the reality seems to be that Burnham, you might say cleverly, is using the issue to promote what looks like his ongoing plan/campaign to run for Labour Leader leader (again). This on the basis that, as many within the Labour Party seem to think, Starmer is forced to call it a day or is told to call it a day. But let’s not forget that Burnham has stood for leader previously and if memory serves his performance hardly won many hearts and minds. The reality is, of course, that Starmer will probably limp on until the next general election so Burnham has a while yet to find a safe seat. If he does stand then it will be to try to pick up the leaders job.

So would Labour do any better with a populist (with a conscience) as their leader especially one who is clearly a northerner? That’s a question no one presently has an answer to but you can bet it’s exercising many a Labour strategist mind presently. Of course, as I’ve already indicated Burnham will have to find a safe Labour seat to become an MP once again as his old seat (Leigh) is now represented by a Tory! And that very situation kind of sums up how left of centre politics has been unable to find answers to populist right-wing politics (with little or no conscience).

With credit to Private Eye re. Andy Capp