What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay eight

Those pesky Lib Dems. Why won’t they curl up and die? They’re up against a distorted voting system, a hostile press, and all our money. We’ve stolen their messages, their campaigning techniques, their votes and now most of their seats. Whenever they’ve threatened to break through, we’ve knocked them back. Thatcher beat their predecessors by letting Argentina invade the Falklands. Under Major we got people to stand against them as Literal Democrats. Blair and Brown promised electoral reform. We used the coalition to pretend to be Liberal Conservatives, while getting our friends in the press to smear their leaders, and unleashing the threat of English and Scottish nationalism. Now we’ve bullied the BBC into giving them far less airtime than any other party. Even the Daily Mail gets more panellists on Question Time. They should give up now.

We wiped them out in 2015. During the coalition we kept the Lib Dems busy rescuing the economy, protecting schools and hospitals, promoting renewable energy, breaking down barriers for minorities, and making our taxes fairer – in the face of opposition from our right-wingers. We just sat back and claimed the credit. We targeted their seats ruthlessly with scare stories about foreigners, Labour, the SNP and even UKIP. We got our friends in the polling agencies and the media to make it look like Labour might win. We fudged all the big issues like Europe and airports, and how we were really planning to cut the cost of welfare benefits, while parroting Lib Dem proposals on mental health, school meals and housing.

We refused to debate national issues with them unless UKIP, the Greens and two sets of nationalists were there too. And we distracted Lib Dem voters, through phoney ‘Labour’ or ‘Green’ leaflets attacking them for compromising their principles – by putting public before party and going into coalition with us!

But still they keep coming back – like yellow cockroaches, banging on about fairness and freedom, the environment, transparency, civil rights and democracy. As if we don’t care about all that crap too. Or at least we say we do.

And it’s frightening how quickly they can come back. It’s not just tens of thousands of new members, they’ve started winning council by-elections against us, sometimes with huge swings. They’ve won against Labour too and they’ve even beaten our SNP friends. They keep delivering their damned leaflets and their canvassers can open doors where Tories or Labour would be sent packing. By 2020 none of our safe seats can be regarded as safe. Just look at what happened in Canada where their sister party came back to win from third place.

So what’s their secret? They champion unpopular causes. They won’t scapegoat minorities. They won’t be bribed. They won’t flip-flop over policies. They’re not ambitious for themselves. They just want to build a fair, free and open society, in which nobody is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. And they really seem to mean it. They put their community and the environment and international cooperation ahead of selfish vested interests. They enrage our hardliners by preaching moderation, tolerance and proportionality. They challenge tyranny, but without wanting to replace it with a tyranny of their own. They seek power not for its own sake, or as a means to an end, but so they can give it away. They reject the easy career option of joining the Tories or Labour and just doing as they’re told.

Who do these selfless individuals think they are? Mandela, Gandhi, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Aung San Suu Kyi? Don’t they understand the realities of privilege, of patronage, of power? These people and their liberal ideas are dangerous. They must be crushed.

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay seven

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today?

(It’s About People)


To be a liberal is to champion people. Championing people is the eternal and universal truth that is the core of liberal values.

We exist to protect the rights of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or background against injustice from the state, private institutions or other individuals. To champion not only the human and civil rights of the people but also their workplace and consumer rights. Too many have fallen through holes in the social safety net.

Radical change is required not just to recast the net but to build the ladders to help people climb from poverty to prosperity. By championing people we seek to remove the barriers that stand in their way. Championing by giving a supporting hand to those with physical and mental ill-health; tackling poor education, discrimination and unemployment; safeguarding their independence with ownership of quality housing in safe and environmentally clean neighbourhoods connected with good public transport.

We exist to give people the power to shape their destinies and communities. We believe that when people are given opportunity they will shine, and that when each individual can shine society prospers most. Only when we are able to shine a light of hope for those that have none will this be achieved.

Knowledge is the greatest tool we have to improve our lives. Education should not end at school or university but should continue throughout life; this is essential not only to enhance self-enlightenment but also to build a workforce able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of society and technological innovation.

The internet has brought more life-changing knowledge to people’s fingertips than ever before. However the routes available to certifying that knowledge have not kept pace. With more jobs asking for qualifications unnecessary for the role, doors are closing when quicker, less costly paths should be opening, especially for those for whom family responsibilities or financial limitations make further education more difficult. To be a liberal is to champion people. This eternal truth was as evident for ‘The People’s William’, Gladstone, as it was for David Lloyd George as he delivered the ‘People’s Budget’ in 1909, and for those who voted for them. Liberalism flourished most when it was closest to its roots of championing people.

Our history sounds a message that rings as true for Liberal Democrats today as it will a thousand years from now. We exist to build a better future for people. During our country’s darkest hours William Beveridge had a vision for a brighter future that put the welfare and health of the people first. As liberals we dream big. Our dreams are radical. Every day we pave the way to make the dreams of a better future a reality. Our fast-changing world demands that we be pioneers of future solutions. As we look to tackle the problems of today we must be dynamic and adaptable to solutions and problems offered by emerging science and technology. It is unacceptable if short-sighted policies delay life-saving scientific breakthroughs or fail to plan for accessible retraining for those whose work is made redundant by new technologies. We recognise that the issues of the future need addressing together with today’s problems before it’s too late, whether that be averting ecological disaster, providing care to an ageing population or showing the fiscal responsibility to ensure the next generation is not saddled with our public debts.

To be a liberal is to champion people. This universal truth is evident as liberal values have resonated most around the world, from the declaration of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to countless victories of people over oppression. For the Liberal Democrats, championing people has no boundaries; it transcends oceans and borders.

We believe humanity is strongest when it celebrates its differences and is united in pursuit of common goals: tackling international crime and terrorism; halting potential pandemics; global warming and the defending of human rights as laid down by the UN. We believe that nations are better trading freely and fairly than they are trading blows.

As democrats we seek not to hand power to the mega-rich and giant multinationals. Nor do we seek to hand power to the state or to unions. We seek to hand power to the people. We stand for an open democratic system that is representative, focuses powers as close to the hands of the people as it can and is accountable at all levels from international organisations to local councils.

For too long politics has been broken. For too long millions of voices have gone unheard because they reside in the rotten constituencies of safe seats; for too long people have been tired of not being heard.

Until the political system is changed to become truly representative of the hearts and minds of the people it is not truly democratic.

We stand opposed to those that would deny freedom of speech. Censoring rather than challenging distasteful views allows prejudice, intolerance and hate to fester under the carpet. Only through constructive discussion can enlightenment be achieved.

Westminster isn’t the only place that can make Britain more liberal. Every day people champion one another through charity, volunteering and campaigning. As a party we must support those actively pursuing liberal values and seek them out to help their causes. For when people know we are on their side, they may yet realise that they too are a Liberal Democrat.

We are the party of the people, working to give power to the people, to create a better world and future for the people.

This is what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay six

[What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today?] Or tomorrow, for this must be about lasting values.

Above all, to be a Liberal Democrat is to serve liberty. Some are satisfied liberty is won if the state does not interfere in their lives, no matter how much over-mighty corporations or bullying conformity may direct them. For some liberty is an absence of rules, so everyone is free to sail around the world, though many are sunk in poverty and illness. For some liberty is enjoyed by nations or corporate bodies collectively. For us a nation may be independent, but if its people are individually unfree, there is no freedom.

To us freedom is individual freedom. It does not matter who or what prevents you realising your potential: whatever it is, it makes you unfree. Ultimately, it’s pointless to categorise freedoms – economic freedom, social freedom, intellectual freedom. It all comes down to what you can do and what you’re prevented from doing for any reason. The measure is personal liberation.

But we are social animals, not units in a game called the Market. We achieve self-realisation through and with others – through love and community. Free communities, to membership of which no one is forced, are essential to Liberal Democracy. Their strength is everyone’s strength. Without them, democracy withers: people lack experience of democratic politics in small groups that can be applied more widely and when oppression threatens, lack links and loyalties that can stand against it.

We believe in community. Until the 19th century, outside conurbations, strong communities based on geography and faith were assumed to exist. But greater social and physical mobility, a greater role for the state and commercial pressures have changed that. Community politics attempts to reinvigorate and empower communities to control their own destinies. If it fails, the individual is less free because many battles cannot be won acting alone and political controversies, however local, cannot be settled by isolated individual choice in the way we purchase cars. Though individual choice is liberating, the attitude that public affairs (things that necessarily involve the common good and different priorities) can be evaluated purely in terms of personal gain, undermines community and thence democracy.

But increasingly, communities are not only based on locality. There have always been other kinds of community – for example, a community of friars, or of stonemasons, or the Jewish community of England.

While Liberal Democrats must strive to liberate and empower local communities, to bring power closer to the people and to revive free cooperation in common causes, we must recognise that many communities now are not local and these too are important to self-realisation. These too can be encouraged by a range of measures from favourable laws for voluntary organisations to stemming unwarranted government and corporate interference in the internet. Thus fast broadband, for example, is a Liberal cause not only because of its economic consequences but because it facilitates people meeting and cooperating online.

It has become fashionable to treat ‘politics’ as a dirty word. But Liberal Democrats celebrate it as the process by which communities and states resolve issues that affect many people but require a single solution – the vacant land or the tax revenue will be used for this or for that. We do not want to reduce politics, we want to make it more democratic and closer to the people. A society without politics is a society enslaved.

In state socialism, the individual is called a citizen but is treated like a passive recipient of services, except that (s)he is expected to pay taxes and vote. The state knows best and does good to the service user. Oddly, that is also much the approach of traditional, hierarchical, moderate conservatism.

In ‘neo-liberal’ new conservatism, the individual is seen almost entirely as a consumer. (S)he makes purchasing decisions where possible; and where this is not possible, (s)he is still treated as a customer, as the fashionable terms ‘customer-centred’ and ‘customer orientation’ show. Where benefits necessarily are shared – a playing field, for example – calculations can tell us how much benefit the individual gets in return for money or effort.

Neither of these are Liberal Democrat approaches. To us the individual interacting in society is above all a citizen. (S)he makes requests and has rights, but (s)he also has responsibilities. Citizens vote, complain, suggest, question and cooperate to the common good.

We speak of ‘liberty, equality and community’, but the preamble to the constitution of the old Liberal Party said Liberals ‘in all things, put freedom first’. Community can sometimes be a life-limiting force, but strong communities are essential to liberty and self-realisation. And equality? How does it support or limit liberty?

Clearly some programmes aimed at achieving more economic equality undermine liberty: if the government plans and disposes most things, it will be making decisions for people and communities that they could make for themselves. High levels of taxation do reduce the room individuals have to choose their own paths, though so does the collapse of necessary public services, and progressive taxation should impact most on those who already have plenty of choices. That all people are equally valuable, though, is fundamental; and there is no place in Liberal Democracy for deference, snobbery or contempt for ‘losers’. Liberals throughout their history have striven to spread and equalise power as far as possible and this stress on equality of power distinguishes us from conventional socialists; but just as an economically more equal society cannot be achieved without more equality of power, equality of power will always be undermined if there are huge differentials of wealth.

We talk about equality of opportunity, but if people start from vastly different positions in terms of wealth, family connections and the rest, there can be no equality of opportunity. Equally, communities will be weak and divided.

Believing in cooperation, equality and diversity worldwide, we must be internationalists and environmentalists. Without these values, the future of humanity is grim. With them, there is hope.

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay five

As members of the Liberal Democrats, we often hear the claim that we already live in a liberal country. Liberalism is mainstream, we’re told, across our communities and our political parties. In fact, the argument goes, we live in one of the most liberal societies in the world.

After all, every major party supported gay marriage, the gender gap is narrowing, and even the old class system is slowly, slowly, so painfully slowly on the wane.

The state’s attempts to impinge on privacy are rebutted time and time again – or have been up until now – we keep spending on international development even when we’re hurting at home, and each Parliament is more diverse than the last.

We have much to be proud of, and rightly so.

But in a truly Liberal Britain, there would be as many women sitting round the directors’ table as men. The best pupils from our state schools and from our private schools would have the same chances at Oxbridge and beyond. Our police would look just like the people they work so hard to serve – as would our soldiers, and as would our politicians.

In a Liberal Britain, migration wouldn’t be a source of fear, it would be a source of pride. Immigrants would be celebrated for strengthening our economy, enriching our society and invigorating our culture. British values would amount to more than a ‘No Vacancies’ sign on the door, they would be globalist, welcoming, caring, just.

Companies that pay their fair share would be celebrated, child poverty would not just be measured but eradicated, and the terminally ill could choose dignity over suffering, in their own time, in their own way.

A Liberal Britain would not only take its fair share of refugees, but make the case that our neighbours should do the same. A Liberal Britain would lead internationally, championing multi-lateral nuclear disarmament, Security Council reform, the rule of law, and the supremacy of human rights. But a Liberal Britain would never use arms to spread its values, only to defend those who can’t defend themselves.

Above all, Liberal Britain wouldn’t scaremonger, wouldn’t pit Us against Them, and wouldn’t seek to profit from division and discord. A Liberal Britain would give everyone a fair chance, be unafraid to put trust in the goodness of ordinary people, and be unafraid to call to account those who abuse that trust.

We’re not there. We’re not even close.

As Lib Dems, we believe that Britain’s not Liberal enough. This is what we’re about. This is why we’re here. It’s time we made sure people knew it.

But at election time this year, we didn’t manage to do so.

There were many reasons that the general election turned out as it did. On May 8th Nick Clegg told us that fear was to blame, and he was right. But hope played just as important a part.

It was hope that took votes from the Lib Dems: Ed Miliband’s hope that shackling business would help the poor; the Greens’ hope that uncoupling ourselves from our addiction to economic growth would deliver social justice; the SNP’s hope that a fiscally empowered Scotland could abandon austerity.

Each of these visions is as misleading as it is inspirational.

The general election amounted to a choice between a pair of firm Tory hands on the reins and the whip alike, and myriad loose notions of where we ought to be heading – but never how to get there.

That gap represents a gulf in British politics, and one that has only widened since the election. There is no serious, inspirational, practical-minded party of principle in Britain’s opposition. There is no party that makes voters feel listened to, trusts its instincts, and speaks honestly, bravely and above all responsibly about how to deliver equality, liberty and prosperity to Britain.

This is natural territory for the Lib Dems.

It was the Lib Dems in government that softened austerity, and by so doing eased the brakes on the economy. It was the Lib Dems that defended civil liberties, championed employees’ rights, protected immigrant children from routine detention, and spared the UK’s three million lowest earning workers from paying income tax. It’s a record to be proud of, and the reason why I decided to become a member.

But no matter how strong those achievements, we are out of government because – just like today’s insurgent parties – we offered hopes that we couldn’t deliver.

The election result may seem bitterly unfair. But when seen through the lens of the anger, the disillusionment, the sense of betrayal – perhaps in one sense we deserved it. After all, we lost the most important thing we had: the trust of our supporters.

It is only by facing up to this hard truth that we can seize the opportunity in front of us. Until we do so, to be a liberal today is to be lost, directionless, unrepresented.

The Liberal Democrats haven’t provided the leadership that liberals across the country need. We haven’t carved out a ground that is ours, developed a distinctive vision, or convinced liberals that we’re the party for them.

Liberals see the country that gave birth to liberalism rejecting refugees and asylum seekers because ‘the country’s full’. They see the supposedly ‘liberal’ wing of the Conservative Party champion the old over the young and the well-heeled over the well-trodden.

Now’s the time to show Britain’s despairing liberals that we’re the party for them. Now’s the time to provide that leadership.

But we’ll only do it by painting a clear picture of the society we want to build. If we want to lead amongst liberals, we need to tell them – confidently and clearly – exactly what a 21st century Liberal Britain should look like, and how far we’ve strayed from that vision.

It’s time we meant sure than being a liberal meant being a Liberal Democrat.

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay four

To be a Liberal Democrat is to believe in freedom.

Freedom grounded in real life, starting with people as they are. Not ‘The People’. Not ‘Our People’. Freedom based on the unique worth and potential of every individual person, and the understanding that the person who knows best how to live their life is themselves.

Liberal Democrats feel in our guts that everyone should be free to live their own life, that pushing people about and telling them what to do or who to be is wrong. We feel in our guts that everyone should have a fair chance, that prejudice and lack of opportunity are wrong. We feel in our guts the need for a better future, that piling up today’s problems for our kids to deal with tomorrow is wrong. But politics isn’t just about gut feelings and protesting when things aren’t right. We must look at how things really are to work out how to change them, and change our own methods if experience shows us better ways to achieve our ideals. So Liberal Democrats are principle-led, but evidence-based.

Liberal Democrats believe freedom needs both positive help to make it real for everyone, and action to break down barriers to freedom such as poverty, ignorance and conformity. Education is the single most crucial way to combine both. A great education ensures everyone has the opportunity to realise their potential, whatever their background, whatever their choices. Every child getting the best education is central to them growing up with the freedom to live their own lives. If you’re for every person, and you want every person to have the ability to ask the important questions and make their own informed decisions in realising their own dreams, education is where it starts. If you want an economy growing and succeeding with innovation and creativity and where the most talented get ahead, instead of just the most wealthy, education, training and apprenticeships are where it starts.

A fairer society and a greener, stronger economy are interdependent. A Liberal Democrat government would encourage fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share; sustainable, both environmentally and financially; thriving within an outward-looking, optimistic society that’s open-minded, open-hearted and open to co-operating with other countries to tackle climate change, promote peace and increase prosperity for our whole planet’s future.

Flowing from the starting point that we should be for everyone and that everyone should be free, Liberal Democrats understand that individual people choose to come together in any number of complementary ways – families, jobs, mutual interests, neighbourhoods, nations, the whole human family – and that decisions can be made at any of those levels without excluding the others. That’s why we’ve always been both the most localist and the most internationalist party. Any political party defining itself by just one single identity or community and telling each individual that your birth or your faith or your cash or your class or your country is the only thing that counts doesn’t just diminish people’s lives and hopes, doesn’t just make society smaller, meaner and more divided, but is the mark of a party that’s so stupidly stuck in its own prejudices that it has no idea how real people’s real lives work.

Conrad Russell vividly described ‘standing up to bullies’ as what Liberalism is for. That’s why a Liberal’s gut instinct is to side with the underdog – whoever the bully is and whoever the underdog is at any one time. Any sort of power can threaten liberty, but any sort of power can defend it, too. Whether it’s the state, or big business or big unions, or just other people, any of them can boss you around and anyone can help stop you being bossed around. So Liberals wouldn’t label any of them ‘the enemy’ or do away with any of them – just as we won’t say any of them are right all the time. A government that bosses you around or that only protects one special interest or only picks on another is just a bigger bully, but when it acts fairly it can also help restrain bullies, from thieves and murderers to officious communities and bad employers.

So if the starting point is people, what’s the end point? Get real! If you start with people you never say ‘that’s it!’ Whether it’s a grandiose utopia that you’ll never finish building or a thousand mean little targets to tick, imaginary end points have two things in common. Believing the ‘ends’ justify the means, they throw real people under the bus, seeing individuals only as statistics or as problems. And they never work. A Liberal society isn’t a perfect society, because there aren’t any perfect people, and certainly aren’t perfect politicians – but an open, untidy society that develops constantly in response to the individuals who form it has the advantage of being about real life. Liberals don’t say ‘We know best’, because everyone’s best is different.

To be a Liberal Democrat is to be wary of grand plans and little prejudices. To say of human nature, ‘It’s complicated’. Anyone might be kind or selfish, creative or lazy, successful or failing. Other parties see that as a reason to control people, because they believe people who disagree with them can’t be trusted with freedom, and they think ‘their people’ will want to do what they tell them anyway. To fear pluralism, diversity, flexibility and individuality. Liberal Democrats have two answers to that (or the instinctive two-word answer ending in ‘off’). Our fear is more that if a government makes a mistake in its giant one-life-fits-all authoritarianism, it’s going to be a doozy. And our hope, based on realism, is that the more different ideas run free, the more brilliant, practical ones will succeed.

To be a Liberal Democrat is to embrace the contradictions – because people are contradictory. Because only one idea has room for how messy, contradictory and wonderful real life and real people are. Freedom.

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay three

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat?

It starts with you.

It starts with you and your family.

It starts with you and your family and your friends.

It starts with you and your family and your friends and your community.

It starts with you and your family and your friends and your community and your society.

It starts with you and your family and your friends and your community and your society and your world.

It starts with you and your family and your friends and your community and your society and your world and your future.

It starts with you.

It’s not about doing it for you. It’s certainly not about doing it to you. It’s about giving you the power to do what you want for yourself.

It means that we have to listen, to understand, to weigh the evidence. And then build the bridges that will let you get where you want to go, and knock down the barriers that are in your way.

You want a better job and a better life? That’s why we’ll give you access to education. Ill-health holding you back? That’s why we’ll make sure the health service is there for you. Crushed into inadequate housing, or no house at all? That’s why we should build properly affordable homes, and the schools, surgeries and amenities that go with them. A lack of opportunities? That’s why we need to shape an economy that works. Trapped by poverty? That’s why we founded the welfare state.

It starts with your family.

Liberalism is about bringing people together, however you want to define your family. We are on a route to equal marriage, to recognising, valuing, protecting and not interfering in all the different ways that people can make their lives together. If you need protection, we should care for you; if you need support, we should be there for you; but if you want us to let you be, we should let you be.

The freedom for you and your family to be yourselves, in whatever diverse, wonderful, ordinary or extraordinary way you choose to be, is enshrined in our constitution and in our hearts. Believe what you want to believe; love who you want to love; and do no harm.

It starts with your community.

Your community is where you make your life, whether it’s your neighbourhood, or your interest groups or your workplace or even your online spaces. That’s why we are the original community activists, that’s why we’re always there, asking you what you want, offering to help, putting pressure on those with power.

That’s why we support community regeneration, and neighbourhood action, and places for the young and the old and wherever you are in between, and local banking, and small businesses that are the bedrock of the economy from your old family trades to your new tech start-ups. That’s why we’re out there with that petition about that thing that’s bothering you. That’s why we need to be where you live, whether it’s helping out at the food bank or tending the flowers in the best-kept village or cheering on the (women’s) football team. We are there with you.

It starts with your society.

Because we know we don’t live in a fair society. And we will fight to stop it getting worse, not better. Because the people who have most power and privilege are gaming the system to get more, and leaving the rest behind. And that is not acceptable. The status quo is not acceptable. And that’s why we have to intervene, to change things, to bring fairness back, to give you the opportunity to make your own and your family’s lives better.

Your chances in life should not be determined at birth, by your DNA, by where you are born, or your parents’ bank balance, or your gender, or your colour or who you will love. You should have the freedom to make the life you want.

And so we are open to the movement of people, welcoming to others, because they make our society richer, materially and culturally. You should not be afraid for your job or services; so we should make sure there’s enough to go around.

But power doesn’t belong to us. Or to any politician. Or to corporations. Or to newspaper barons. It belongs to you. Our job, our only job, is to take power from the powerful and give it back to you.

It starts with your world.

Because your world is wonderful and we should cherish it. You and we are only the custodians of this Earth for a short time. If we consume too much of it, then you or your children or your children’s children will eventually be without. That’s why we have a duty to use this world gently and sustainably. That’s why we are the original green party. That’s why we’ve done more to create a green economy, to generate more clean, green energy, to save you more money with greener buildings than any other party. Ever.

It starts with your future.

We believe in the future; we embrace creativity and innovation. You shouldn’t have to fear the future, no one should be enslaved by poverty in old age and that’s why we believe in good fair pensions. You should have dreams for your children. That’s why we prioritise spending on their education, so that they will have all the opportunities you had and more, so that the future that they choose to build will be one with a stronger, greener, fairer economy. That’s why we protect the environment, so that you will have a future to enjoy.

We believe that your future can be better, that you don’t have to be enslaved by the failures of the past, that any future you want is possible. Together, we can make it possible.

It starts with you.

So what do you want to do about it?

What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today? Essay two

Liberal Democrats want to give more freedom to everyone to enable them to live their own lives. However, we also know that freedom for individuals is not enough, and that it must be combined with breaking down the unaccountable powers of the state, in the economy and in society, to enable individuals to fully use their freedom. We live in a world where there is more power to affect the lives of individuals than there ever has been, and by focusing on freeing people from historic controls we are cutting the strings and chains that tie them down, but ignoring the new ropes and cables that bind them even tighter.

To be a Liberal Democrat is to recognise that power has to exist, but that where it does exist it must be accountable. We are not opposed to the existence of power, and recognise that it is needed to build, maintain and develop the society we live in, but we recognise that power needs to be controlled. Freedom is not simply removing a power over someone, freedom is giving people the ability to participate in power.

Liberals understand that power comes in many different forms and that the power of the state is just one of them. Indeed, it may be the weakest power of all because the concept of state power being accountable to those it affects is widely accepted, even if not regularly seen in practice. As liberals, we can spend far too much time getting upset about the minutiae of the use and misuse of state power while ignoring unaccountable power in society and the economy.

As Liberal Democrats we often eagerly point to how we believe that ‘no one should be enslaved by conformity’, but without focusing on how we make that happen in reality. We need to recognise that just saying oppression and enforced conformity is bad is not enough. Identifying it should be just the first step, and we need to be prepared to discuss how we as Liberal Democrats are actually going to take on the unaccountable power and privilege that causes so much harm in our society, including within our own party. To be a Liberal Democrat today should be to understand that just telling someone they are free isn’t enough; it’s about standing with them to challenge the power and privilege that oppresses them.

Liberalism is internationalist at its heart, recognising that everyone deserves the same rights and respect no matter where they live, what language they use or who their parents were. People working together across national borders have achieved some of the greatest liberal successes of the last century, from eradicating diseases to ending apartheid, but we need to ensure that liberal and internationalist values remain for the centuries to come. There is a great power in people acting together through global institutions, and we need to ensure that power is accountable and effective to achieve future liberal goals across the planet, and even beyond it.

To be a Liberal Democrat today should also be to understand the danger of unaccountable economic power. We need to deal with the new concentrations of unaccountable power within the economy that have massive effects on people’s lives that they can do nothing about. Free trade was a means to an end, ensuring that the poorest in society would be able to afford to eat, but we have turned it into an end in itself, regardless of the effect it has on people. We talk of trade between nations and empowering individuals, ignoring the vast unaccountable powers of corporations and how they take away freedom and choice from individuals, concentrating economic power amongst an unaccountable elite.

Liberalism is about people, and we need to create a world where the economy works for the benefit of the people, not one where people work for the benefit of the economy. We need to fight for education systems that develop people as individuals, not merely as future workers; for social security that concentrates on supporting people, not subsidising employers; and for an economy that liberates people to spend more time doing what they want, where everyone’s abilities and contributions to society are welcomed.

Beyond the state, society and the economy, there is a further power that we must address: our environment. This is a different order of power, where climate change is capable of destroying everything our society is based on, rendering liberalism and every other ideology meaningless. And yet, it is vital that we understand that a liberal response to this crisis is necessary because only through liberalism and recognising the value of every life on this planet can we build a global response. Liberalism is international by instinct, seeing potential in every person, and that international instinct is also environmental, recognising that we need to protect our planet to ensure that it’s not just us who get the chance to live the lives we want, but all the generations still to come. Human survival is important, and we increase our chances of that survival by giving people reasons to believe in a better tomorrow.

To be a Liberal Democrat today is to recognise that liberals have made a start in tackling these unaccountable powers in the state, in society and in the economy, but it is only a start and there is so much more work to be done. The fight for liberalism is not a new one; it has taken many forms and many different names over the years, but at its heart it has always sought to break up power, to make it accountable, and to give all the chance to live the life they wish. To be a Liberal Democrat is to want to take power from the unaccountable and let people use it for themselves because that’s the only way we can create a world for everyone.