Having previously criticised other Liberal Democrat speech makers for having speeches which have positive things to say about the past but only gloom about the future, it is only fair to point out that there is one I have heard who does painting a picture of a positive liberal future well – Ed Davey.
I’ve heard Ed speak a handful of times now, but it was his latest speech that was the most striking in this regard as it was at a South West London Lib Dem fundraiser for Munira Wilson, just after Tim Farron had spoken. Tim’s speech was his usual good local party fare (and hence the usual fare which I’ve talked about before: Tim Farron: good speech, but wrong message) but it nicely set up Ed Davey’s speech in contrast, for Ed had a positive message about the future.
Ed is in the unique position of being a Liberal Democrat minister in a department which is also headed up by a Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member (Vince Cable). As a result, he has a slightly easier job than some of pointing to the policies that are distinctively his and the Liberal Democrats. But more importantly, as his speeches show, he not only does that but also does not bundle them up as a disparate shopping list.
Instead he presents the policies he is working on in his ministerial remit as a coherent liberal program about giving people more power over their own lives and their communities.
First, there is the push to encourage cooperative purchasing, particularly of energy and food, so that communities can band together to get better prices and better goods. There is a great example from Kent where a project has brought together families without cars, freeing them from their dependence on very local expensive shops and using their cooperative power to cut food bills by between 25% and 40%.
Second, there is the spread of mutualism via the Post Offices. As Ed puts it, Labour closed 7,000 whilst in power. Not only have closures been stopped and the range of services available through Post Offices is being increased, but the service is being mutualised – again putting a long-standing liberal belief into practice.
Third, there are the changes being made to make workplaces more family friendly and to cut discrimination. In particular, shared parental leave is not only good for children and good for families, it will give gender equality in the workplace a big boost because – as one employer told Ed (tongue in cheek, I hope!) – “You mean I won’t just be able to employ blokes in future to avoid people going off work when they have a kid?”.
All three of these areas share the same positive theme – making changes that give people more power, more control and more choice. It is about making our country more liberal.
There is much other Liberal Democrats could learn from Ed Davey’s approach.