This post on the Liberal Democrats has little to say about the party but there is much to say about it’s forbearer and it’s philosophy of liberalism and social democracy. So I decided to take a look at the party and liberalism itself and for what it means, if anything in our society today. Liberalism and free speech is already a hot topic in the news now from the fight for free speech in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the growing tide of nationalism and anti-Semitism. I hope that this post will make people perhaps better understand the impact that these core values in our modern day society where corruption and greed is paramount and that liberty and freedom are under threat from the people who exploit it. First lets start with the political party itself and what it has done for us so far.
The Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems) are not actually one party at all, like the Tories they are the result of an amalgam of two parties. Whereas the Tories were founded from a split in the Whig party until they evolved into a proper party, the Lib Dems were formed from a combination of an old party called the Liberals and a party formed from a breakaway of Labour members called the Socialist Democratic Party in 1988. Let’s begin with the tale of the Liberals. When the modern Tories broke away from the Whigs there was just a small faction of Tories called the Peelites that originally been led by Robert Peel, a party of middle and working class liberalists called the Radicals and the remaining Whigs. In 1859 all three of these parties formed an alliance to become The Liberal Party. The Liberals were like an early socialist movement who had their own agenda based the ideologies of liberalism: classical liberalism, liberalism and social liberalism. This might sound confusing as liberalism seems to be similar to socialism but whereas socialism focuses on communal collectivism by all the people, liberalism is based on individual freedom, free trade and modern reforming. So if you are in a state where your property is owned by the council and you go to work in a state owned industry on a minimum wage in a state produced car then you are in a socialist society. But if you are in a state where your property is owned by you and your job is in a free trade society where you own your own set wage in a car made by a company run by an individual then it’s a liberal society. The economics here are similar to capitalism but without the extreme polarization of wealth. So it’s somewhere in-between capitalism and socialism. Although the Lib Dems haven’t been in much positions of government seats or had a chance to lead the country since their inception, their predecessors the Liberals have been. The ideas of liberalism were created around the same time as the Tories were formed during the Age of Enlightenment. The first modern philosopher of liberalism was a man named John Locke who developed the idea that the government must consult the people they govern for their consent. Locke argued that there was a natural right of people to the liberty of conscience, which must be protected from government authority. Locke’s ideas also supported the foundations for the development of the independence and social liberation movements of the American War of Independence and the French Revolution. However Locke’s ideas first come to the fore in Britain in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 when the Bill of Rights was established in a joint agreement between Parliament and the newly joint crowned William and Mary, two heads of state who had replaced the unpopular James II who dismissed Parliament as a nuisance. The Bill established that the crown would have no interference with the law and allow free elections to Parliament, no taxes were to be levied or laws would be made without Parliament’s consent, trials must have juries and it was lawful to keep arms for national defence. It was also lawful for everyone to petition the monarch and outlaw ‘cruel and unusual’ punishments like hanging, drawing and quartering. Later we had a right to a free press and the foundations of freedom of speech. These teachings of liberalism have gone onto form the fundamental building blocks of democracy that we have today.
But what about the modern Liberal Democrats, where do they fit in with liberalism? Well they haven’t been in power by themselves but their beliefs, according to Wikipedia, are support for constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, environmentalism, human rights laws, banking reform and civil liberties. That sounds very similar to New Labour, not the ordinary Labour party, but the New Labour party fronted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. After all they needed to give Labour a complete overhaul to appeal to a capitalist country. It was celebrated in the culture of Cool Britannia in the 1990s. Perhaps the more important values that the Lib Dems endorse is the foundations of modern democracy, social justice, and freedom, which they owe to their predecessors. One of the Liberals most successful prime ministers was William Gladstone, who served as PM four times in four sets of offices between 1868 and 1894. Gladstone had a reputation for radical thinking supporting decent social values and support for the poor, reformation of the country’s governing framework, valuing human life, protecting the state and laying the foundations of devolution. He was called the ‘’Grand Old Man’’ by his followers and had a dynamic ability with oratory. His moral approach often angered his upper class components and he opposed the monarchy. Among Gladstone’s praised achievements were developing order with other countries based on co-operation and mutual trust, which was defeated by his opponents; the development of the Elementary Education Act in 1870 providing elementary schools; abolished religious testing for schools; introduced the secret ballot, legalised trade unions and reorganised juries in a move that was motivated by the socialist movement with their chartist movements. Gladstone’s most famous achievement in power is passing the Third Reform Act in 1884, one of three major Acts of Parliament that expanded the electorate to all corners of society which also lead to the creation of an Irish Parliamentary Party. In effect this led to the beginning of what can be considered the devolution of the United Kingdom. Another effect of the Third Reform Act was bringing less politicians and therefore less bureaucracy to the English county constituencies. Back then they were represented by multiple MPs until Gladstone made it feasible that they were represented by single member MPs corresponding to population patterns. So basically Gladstonian reforms had been responsible for making the government and the monarchy influenced not only by the middle classes but the working classes.
You may remember from the story of socialism that the Labour Party brought the welfare state into being through the post war consensus. Well it’s architect and social planner was William Beveridge, a Liberal Party member. The socialists and the liberalists shared some of the same beliefs with one another, as the liberalists also shared some beliefs with the conservatives (the philosophers, NOT the party). Beveridge worked closely with Winston Churchill and together these men were once members of the Liberal Party before the party became a third major party and the political landscape of the 20th century was defined by the constant cycle of Labour and Conservatives. So the welfare state wasn’t purely a socialist invention it was a liberalist too. The liberals were also brought in some of the last major reforms that would create the 20th century society that shape the second of the half of the century under the leadership of Herbert Asquith. Among them were regulation of work hours, National Insurance and welfare. They also brought in the People’s Budget which was the first intent of redistributing wealth among the British public. For me these are the last great social inventions of the Liberal Party and it’s members and it seems like as the country got more and more in harmony with the same social values and standings for all classes of citizens we no longer needed many liberal reforms as necessary. Social and economic development would become the most valuable political agenda for the rest of the century. It was now more important to exploit liberties and freedom to achieve production for the nation and the people.
The Liberal Party started to become a third major party during the First World War when the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith found the party suffering from infighting where half of them supported and wanted to protect their liberal policies against the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). DORA was an act to give the government a wide range of powers during the war such as acquisitioning buildings or land needed for the war effort, and make regulations creating criminal offences in protection of the country against the enemy. Eventually the party fell apart over this issue and Asquith went into business with the Conservatives and they formed a coalition together this time with David Lloyd George, who would be the last Liberal prime minister. Lloyd George would go onto become a coalition prime minister again in 1918 furthering causing dispute with Liberal members some of whom defected to the newly formed Labour Party which was gaining in strength from membership since the end of war. Later in 1922 the Conservative backbenchers rebelled against the coalition as they were a Conservative majority with a Liberal prime minister. Lloyd George eventually resigned from government after he was involved in a cash for honours scandal, the Tory rebellion and the Chanak Crisis. It was a sad ending to the reign of the Liberals in Parliament for a long time. Labour went on to become the sole party of the left in 1924, Churchill went back to the Conservatives and some Liberals defected to Labour. The Liberals only ever managed to get into government during the depression era thanks to the National Government which was established to heal the damage that brought on the Great Depression. While they were in opposition they did support some changes from the other two parties to make liberalism and social democracy a philosophy that is still recognisable. Examples like promoting British membership of the EU and promoting non-socialist radical ideas. They then suffered membership with the rise of the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties SNP and Plaid Cymru and finally suffered difficulty in forming a government with Labour in 1977. When Margaret Thatcher was in power the Liberals became so insignificant that they went into an alliance with the Social Democratic Party in 1988 and then reorganised themselves as the Liberal Democrats and the rest is history.
Liberalism has proven itself to be one of the greatest forces for good in British political history. It was a stunning moment that give the right for the individual to be wrong but better himself. A thought provoking act that challenged authority and glorified individualism. Shaping the society by progressive movements that benefit the people. True liberty can only be derived from self-determination so you as an individual must make your own path in life in order to be something. This is a quality of liberty that I like the most and when I combine with my conservative beliefs I am capable of making great things happen. But you need to be aware that when you exercise those liberties of yours you are also likely to have the freedom to do wrong. The trouble with liberalism is that as a philosophy, despite protecting and freeing individuals it crushes authority in such a way, that it doesn’t consider protecting the base from that which that freedom and liberty can exercise itself. Consider the modern day liberalist anti-fascist movements who are determined to crush organisations like the British National Party or UKIP because of their protectionist policies against multiculturalism and international trade relations. Well with all due respect how do you as liberalists expect to be able to exercise the rights of liberty when you are in favour of multiculturalist ideas that permit foreigners of criminal activity into the country to take away your right to protest? Islamic terrorists like the ones who massacred the staff of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo were against free speech and liberties! Well in which case you need to align your priorities with the common good that make benefits that allow Britain as a nation to flourish. It’s no good taking liberties with authority and then wandering around without a clue what to do with yourselves. Your are just making the rights of liberty look like a joke!
One of the most important things about liberties is that you are a law unto yourself. You must protect your freedom and justify it. When we have liberties we can do good and bad things to others. It’s a privilege with some hidden agenda. A few years ago the British Press had been free to print whatever stories they liked that was to shock, gossip and share information with the world that could influence or destroy other people’s lives. And it had been going on for the last 300 hundred years. It all came to a shuddering halt in 2011 when it had been discovered that several newspaper journalists had been obtaining stories by hacking sensitive information, in effect making them a public enemy that they had trusted for hundreds of years. This however was blown all out of proportion and spin was used to cover up the real acts of villainy in this endeavour. The phone hacking case started with News International, a corporation owned by media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. It had been discovered that they hacked the phones, computers and other digital devices of celebrities, politicians, the Royal Family, and even a murdered schoolgirl called Milly Dowler, dead soldiers and the victims of the 7/7 bombings. All for the sake of earning a story or for passing on information in exchange for money and corporate and political spin usage. Now whereas the famous people in the media and the relatives of the victims were largely sympathized with support for the new media legislation there was some sides of this investigation that was largely unreported and dismissed by the mainstream media. Now as celebrities famous singers and actors rely on the press to promote their work and sell their material. However there is a limit to which the press must abide by but being that they are constantly following famous celebrities as their fans do – the celebrities who court the media with their ‘look at me’ attitude – should expect intrusion. Just like what happens when you say something that could be incriminating to a police officer. It’s just ludicrous hypocrisy! Besides compared to the stories the media wanted to get out of the rich and famous they are worth their value in peanuts compared to the bigger issues the private investigators dug up from the government and the business and financial sector.
Even ordinary employers watch the sickies that their employees do by checking to see what they are doing on their Facebook and Twitter pages. When I write these blogs and I write Facebook posts I expect people to follow them and see what I am doing and expect criticism, intrusion, mocking and praising. However there a dark side to the story that we seem to be forgetting about, there was four times as much intrusion and hacking into corporate and personal details. Details that journalists and private investigators did to more high profile people which made the celebrity culture seem like a side line. These were acts of industrial espionage designed to bring down the competition between firms and corrupt individuals with victimisation. It was a disgusting abuse of the rights of liberty and freedom to information. When you have too much liberty you go after hidden truths that only satisfy the teachings of dictators who criminalise their opponents with smears. That’s corruption. As far as I’m concerned the Leveson Inquiry is just a big whitewash. It made scapegoats out of the mainstream free press and it dismissed the high level corruption that was going on between the police, the public and the business. There was a number of blue chip companies that employed private investigators who hacked, blagged and stolen personal information about business rivals and members of the public. These practices have gone largely unnoticed by the mainstream media and so the liberal press have been made a scapegoat by the Leveson enquiry. Barely any of the companies or the investigators they hired were prosecuted or made public. So even though we live in a liberal society, there is corruption exploited from liberalism.
Liberalism is a great and powerful trait that all human beings must use to excel at their individual best. But we must be cautious and watch what happens to the country. You have to protect the livelihood and the civilization that allows freedom and liberty to flourish. Take heed critics of right wing parties, multiculturalists and tabloid haters. Just because you have the rights of liberty, it doesn’t mean you can have all the world to yourself and show no care for others. Just because we have freedom it doesn’t mean there is no responsibility.