Two-speed liberalisation: LDN #143

Liberal Democrat Newswire #143 came out last week. You can now read it in full below, but if you’d like the convenience of getting it direct by email in future just sign up for it here.

UPDATE: To add to the culture wars paradox mentioned below, new polling shows that it is the liberal position that is the most popular when it comes to taking the knee.

Note: these figures are not for all adults but for people who watch the men’s English
Premier League very or fairly frequently.

After looking last time as the future liberals want, this time I’m taking a look at the long-term forces which are driving our politics, including the paradox at the heart of culture wars.

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In this edition:

The strains of two-speed liberalisation

There is something I have never understood about culture wars. Conventional political wisdom is that fighting them helps the illiberal right. It’s a conventional wisdom widely held by people of all political persuasions, even those opposed to the illiberal right. Culture wars are meant to pander to their agenda and get won by them.

And yet…

Each round of culture wars gets fought on more and more liberal grounds. Think back only as far as the last Conservative Party leader but one, David Cameron. The signature conflicts during his time – over adoption by same-sex couples and over same-sex marriage – were won by liberals. Not only won by liberals, but so overwhelmingly that the illiberal right is not pushing to undo them. They fought, they lost and they’ve given up on those issues. There is no caucus of right wing Tory MPs calling for Boris Johnson to make same-sex marriage illegal.

Nor is that the rare exception. It is the consistent pattern, both here and elsewhere, over repeated decades. There are many important struggles yet to be won, and significant hardship that people face as a result. As we recognise that, we can though also recognise the scale of what has happened.

Which leaves that conundrum. Why are culture wars seen as a boon for the illiberal right when the bigger picture is of them being in repeated retreat?

An answer to that is suggested by the excellent new book, Brexitland, by Maria Sobolewska and Robert Ford. Although they only mention ‘culture wars’ twice, the picture their detailed research produces is one of a country going through a sustained two-speed liberalisation. (Or perhaps a three-speed one, given their work divides the population into three key groups, but I will stick with two-speed for clarity of explanation.)

Long-term and sustained demographic and social changes are making our country more liberal. But not every part of society is becoming more liberal at the same rate. As a result, although overall we’re been becoming more liberal, the gaps between how liberal people are have also widened.

That therefore serves up the paradoxical mix of both the country becoming more liberal and liberalism feeling under threat due to the increasing gaps caused by two-speed liberalisation.

It also gives a point as to how to (fail to) win culture war debates. Many of those taking illiberal positions in them are nonetheless more liberal than they used to be or their parents were. Which therefore can trigger resentment if they are attacked for not being liberal enough – because they feel they have moved, and that they are more liberal. Hence they can react very badly to being accused of being illiberal, bigots and the like. Welcoming change, reminding people of how they’ve become more liberal and encouraging more of it is the route to take, nor scolding people for not having yet changed enough.

Reporting back to party members

Here’s my latest update from the party website:

I should start with a word of thanks – in fact, many words of thanks – to Kirsty Williams. She has announced that she will be standing down at the Welsh Senedd elections next May. As such a successful education minister in Wales, she is a daily demonstration of the difference that Liberal Democrats in power make. A consistently powerful voice for liberalism through all her many years of service, she has made such a big difference to so many lives. Thank you, Kirsty.

We need to get many more people like Kirsty elected in future. As the Thornhill Review into the lessons of 2019 showed, we’ve got a huge task to change our approach, our organisation and our internal culture in order to achieve the sort of success that we all want, and which our communities so need.

There is a sobering reminder of the scale of the change, and how we can all contribute to it, in the recent research from More in Common which showed that overall the public feels least warm to us, behind both Labour and the Conservatives.

There is a big task ahead of us. It’s one we can all contribute to, from the impression even an individual Twitter account can give of what Lib Dems are like through to what we do in our national messaging. It’s also a task we’ll only succeed in if we make the best use of talents and enthusiasm from all parts of our party.

Part of that is about continuing the changes at Lib Dem HQ in order to ensure we have the very best team and infrastructure to support people across the party. I talked last time about how we’ve now got a new senior team in place, with Duncan Gough starting as Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Even before he started, the team has managed to make hundreds of thousands of extra email addresses available to local parties, and there’s much more to come.

You can also see some of the changing approach to our national messaging in our recent party political broadcast (PPB), which several members took time to tell me was the best they can remember. (Whether it is a PPB or anything else good that you see, please do drop me a line. It is always good to be able to pass positive feedback on to staff who are working very hard on limited budgets.)

The toughest element of what we need to get right is the party’s finances. Coronavirus and the resulting economic disruption have both hit fundraising across the board. Many non-profits and charities have reported big hits to their fundraising this year, and we’re not immune to those challenges either.

The 2021 budget plans the Federal Board agreed at our October meeting did therefore involve difficult decisions. Our longer-term financial plan is to run down the surplus we had after the 2019 general election through this Parliament, allowing us to maximise our chances of political success in the crucial elections through this cycle and to gain the political momentum we then need going into the next Westminster general election. (For financial planning, it makes sense to think of the Westminster general election cycle, as this is the one that has the biggest impact on the party’s overall finances.)

We also have a tricky balancing act between spending on immediate success versus investing for the longer-term, such as in improving our use of technology and data and improving our record on diversity.

The CTO appointment is an important part of that. In addition, our Director team at HQ is now far more diverse than it was, on a range of different measures. That will mean we make decisions with a wider set of perspectives. We are also in the final stages of appointing a specialist to develop the practical, specific plan on diversity that we need.

When final touches are made to the budget, it will also include money for market research, so that we can apply another lesson from the Thornhill Review. That is, to always take into account what voters think. Even Liberal Democrat voters often have different perspectives and priorities from those most active in our party. To be successful at winning support, we need to start from understanding the people we are trying to appeal to.

The Board meeting also looked at the latest round of progress on improving our governance processes. We agreed to put to party conference ways to make it easier to improve our complaints process. We are also going to consult over whether to make the post of party Vice President, held currently by Isabelle Parasram, directly elected by party members. Currently, it is elected by Board members only. That could both improve the accountability to members of an important post as well as giving it greater status in the party.

Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have views on this, or indeed any of the other issues covered in this piece.

The dilemma for progressives: lessons from the US 2020 elections

I was joined again on Never Mind The Bar Charts by Rob Blackie to talk about the early lessons from the 2020 US Presidential elections for the Liberal Democrats. With Rob as a guest, no surprise that we talked a lot about messaging and political positioning. In particular, how do you win over people who have a different world view?

Listen to find out…

Other recent episodes to enjoy include:

🎧 Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here and sign up for an email notification each time a new episode appears here.

📱 Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions or ideas for future shows at @barchartpodcast.

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Liberal Democrat selection news

Selections are continuing apace for next May’s Scottish and Welsh elections, including in the last few weeks for East Lothian (Euan Davidson) and Vale of Glamorgan (Sally Stephenson). Richard Murphy has also been announced as the party’s candidate for Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner.

One person, however, who will not be standing for election next May is education minister Kirsty Williams.

Good news for Lib Dem local parties

In case you missed them the first time around, here are highlights from my websites since last time:

Local parties getting important extra data.

⭐ North Shropshire Parliamentary candidate joins the Liberal Democrats.

David Shutt passes away. See also The Guardian‘s obituary.

Two Lib Dems backed by new political fund supporting women running for office.

Labour MP found guilty of misusing Parliamentary resources – again.

Labour MP Apsana Begum charged with housing fraud.

🎶 I’ve Been Everywhere: the Covid-19 version.

What the voters are saying, part 1

Latest general election voting intention opinion polls - 15 November 2020

To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked or follow @PollingUnPacked on Twitter.

To see all the historical trends for voting intention polls back to 1943 see PollBase.

What the voters are saying, part 2

Council by-elections are continuing to tick along in Scotland, with another one in since last time:

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have lost a pair of councillors in Norfolk.

To get the full council by-election results every week when they resume, sign up for my blog posts digest and to be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.

Jamie Stone jokes about Joe Biden winning US President election

How society is going to work after coronavirus

“I’m looking at the future of London and how our economy is going to work, how society is going to work, beyond this pandemic. I don’t see any other candidates talking about that right now” – London Mayor candidate Luisa Porritt.

Marcus Rashford should get Freedom of Manchester for free school meals campaign, say Manchester Liberal Democrats. Christine Jardine has called for a national debate on legalising assisted dying. Layla Moran has been nominated for the Pink News Politician of the Year award. Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP is celebrating the election of a friend as President. The new Young Liberals Exec has taken up post.

Jim Wallace, former leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Deputy First Minister, will be the next Moderator of the Church of Scotland. Another former Lib Dem MP, Sam Gyimah, also has a new job – a non-executive directorship at Goldman Sachs.

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One response to “Two-speed liberalisation: LDN #143”

  1. Re: Culture wars

    “The signature conflicts during his time – over adoption by same-sex couples and over same-sex marriage – were won by liberals. Not only won by liberals, but so overwhelmingly that the illiberal right is not pushing to undo them.”

    Is that because it just as much a win for the same-sex marriage skeptics as it was the liberals (and there may be a significant overlap here)?
    I make the distinction between the “iliberal right” and “same-drx marriage skeptics” because I don’t think the former was the driving-force in the resisitance to the legislation.
    Rather, i’d suggest the battle Cameron had to win was to reassure the sceptics that a maximalist interpretation of equalities legislation would not [force] different relgisious groups to offer same-sex marriage where that would otherwise not be their preference.

    To make the point in more practical terms: it is superficially similar to the bed and breakfast controversy: “if you want to remain in the business of operating a bed and breakfast, then you [must] offer your services unconditionally with regards to sexuality”

    So, to return to the point, Cameron succeeded in thwarting the ambitions of the illiberal left – who would have preferred the same maximalist interpretation to be applied.
    Having done so… I – like you – haven’t heard any objection or strong campaign to revisit the matter.

    As far as Liberalism is concernced: this would be a victory against the illiberal left just as much as it is the illiberal right, but i think it is better understood as a victory for Liberalism against fundmantalism.

    The broad position of the ‘common ground’ being equally happy that no one is prevented from following their convictions, whether that is in having a same-sex marriage [or] being forced to offer one.

    Kind regards. Jbt

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