Renewing Liberal Britain

A couple of weeks ago I critiqued Jeremy Hargreaves’ take on what the Lib Dems’ narrative should be. But it isn’t good enough simply to criticise; far too few people are taking part in this crucial debate and so I thought it was time to try and work out some tentative ideas of my own.

So, here goes. My proposed narrative would be “Renewing Liberal Britain.” To use the archetypes spelled out in Neil Stockley’s article, this would seek to combine the “Great Island Nation” with the “Enemy Within”. The premise is that most of what makes Britain great can be summed up as liberal values: tolerance, democracy, liberty, questioning authority, sang froid (if you’ll pardon my French), entrepreneurship, concern for the individual and the underdog and an instinctive dislike of the mob. Those values are embraced by politicians from other parties who seek power (Blair, Cameron…) and dumped, just as quickly, by the same people, once they get in power.

In short, I’m proposing embrace and develop a liberal form of patriotism, one which doesn’t wrap itself in the Union Jack in the way that Gordon Brown has been doing of late. A deliberate, unapologetic and calculated exposition of how what one might call “drawbridge down” values aren’t simply more rational, but go to the heart of the British identity.

These values are under threat like never before. New Labour, having successfully co-opted them in 1997 with their themes of “Cool Britannia” and “things can only get better” have done more to undermine them than anyone else. David Cameron is now adopting the same 1997 approach, despite the fact that his party has always been the historical opponents of liberal Britain. Why should we believe that the self-appointed heir to Blair would behave any differently to Blair if he ever gained power? The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, are liberal Britain’s traditional champions.

Where does that leave the individual? The individual is at the heart of British identity. As Adam Smith liked to say, we are a nation of shopkeepers. The fight for individual rights and human dignity is the story behind the Magna Carta, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights, the Free Trade Movement and the creation of the Welfare State. But we’ve drifted. Britain has reached a point where there needs to be a new constitutional settlement. To be frank, Parliamentary Sovereignty has let us down and we need something a little more substantial to guarantee our rights and freedoms.

Anyway, it isn’t there yet and I clearly need to develop things further, but what do you think? Comments in the usual place, please.


  1. As it happens, I was thinking of blogging about Mat’s campaign shortly. Suffice to say, I agree with much of the sentiment but am deeply sceptical about the strategy. Can you say “Cameron’s co-optees”?

  2. 2 examples of the values thatmake me proud to be British.

    During the American Civil War Lancashire cotton workers demonstrated for the North (ie against slavery) despite the fact that the blockade was throwing them out of wrk (much more serious then than now).

    In 1880 Gladstone fought an election, opposed by the entire establishment including the Liberal great & good, on the issue of whether we should be concerned about massacres in the Balkans (Bulgarians massacred by Turks then). He won it purely on moral force.

    However if you are going to talk the patriotic talk on this you would have to walk the walk & bearing in mind the parties open support for KLA & Croatian Nazi genocide that seems unlikely.


  3. I’m ashamed to say that I had not read this before. Yes, I like it. Didn’t Mark Oaten have a go at some similar themes.

    Is it enough? no (but you know that).

    Is it the sort of rhetoric we should use? Yes.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.