What do the Liberal Democrats stand for, and why vote for us?

Liberal Democrat colleague Alex Wilcock has an excellent long-running series about what the Lib Dems believe, curating answers from many people over the years.

He has just posed a version of the questions to this time’s party leadership candidates and along the way has also run my own answers:

Question One: People say all politicians are the same. Lib Dems have often seen moderation, working with others and compromise as virtues, to the point of the caricature that a Liberal is someone so fair they don’t take their own side in an argument. So what really motivates you? When someone asks you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in a sentence or two what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and why anyone should vote for us – what do you answer?

We want to give everyone the best possible chances to live their lives as they wish, to be who they want to be and to make their own choices. Both Labour and the Conservatives are far too keen to tell people how they should behave, or to pick chunks of society who they don’t care so much about and to put different parts of our society at odds with each with other.

(That’s my English doorstep answer, of course. For Scotland and Wales, I’d talk also about nationalists, and how we want to bring down barriers, not put up new ones between people on our common islands.)

Question Two: Two of the most heartfelt Liberal Democrat instincts are ‘Why can’t we all just get along?’ and ‘Stand up to bullies.’ Whether you call those ‘moderate and Liberal’, ‘caring and courage’, ‘love and liberty’, the party feels both, needs both, but they’re often competing as well as complimentary, so our balance between them changes with the times. Which do we need most to lead on right now?

As your own blog’s name correctly captures, we need both. Each is dependent on the other. Love and liberty each flourish when the other is present. I wouldn’t make a forced choice between the two, just as I won’t pick vowels or consonants are the most important types of letter. It’s when both come together that the best happens.

Question Three: Ask what the core of Liberalism is and the answer’s obvious: “It’s About Freedom”. So obvious, that was the title of the Liberal Democrats’ 2002 philosophy paper. Look at our other positioning papers and manifestos under Charles Kennedy – “Freedom In A Liberal Society”, “Freedom, Justice, Honesty”, “Freedom, Fairness, Trust” – Freedom led. Our constitution leads with “Liberty, equality and community”. But Leaders and campaigns since have made Freedom or Liberty invisible. Are we afraid it’s not popular, not relevant, or have we just ceded it to the illiberal Right?

I’m enthusiastic about the concept of freedom while being cautious about the vocabulary. The word as acquired strong right-wing overtones. If someone saw a leaflet saying ‘I’m for freedom’ and had to guess the politics of the candidate before reading on, I strongly suspect most people would assuming the person is right-wing, a libertarian even perhaps. If the word freedom seems right-wing, I also suspect the word liberty sounds like a word from the past. You’re more likely to hear it in a historical Hollywood movie than in ordinary conversation.

So I don’t worry too much about word counts on either, as long as the concept comes through clearly in what we argue for – such as the future benefits of a close relationship with the rest of Europe that minimises barriers, and so protects people’s freedoms.

Do go and read Alex’s post for more, including to many other and better answers too.


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3 responses to “What do the Liberal Democrats stand for, and why vote for us?”

  1. I have little time, so I will get right to the point. My perception is the lib dems have very few traditional values but are seen as a minor protest party for example support just about any liberal or minority issue ‘so the winds blows, whatever direction they travel this was and that’ I started my political life with them but soon went to the Tories as right or wrong you know what they stand for and at least they have principles.!

  2. Freedom, Liberty! Swap these words with similar ones that mean the same. That way on the doorstep you identify different from the right wing.

  3. Liberal philosophy encapsulates the non-extremist “best of both worlds” policies to ensure the greater good rather than unrepresentative divisive damaging see-saw extremist goverment that has plagued post-war Britain with its outdated lop-sided first-past-the-
    post voting system.

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