Chris Neal retired from fixed income and derivatives broking in the City in 1999. He is now CEO of the charity GB Job Clubs and administers The Jericho Fund, a micro finance project.
Peter Joyce and Geoffrey Sell describe an Eton and Oxford educated party leader thus:
“A long-term opponent of statism, the view that social advance could only be brought about through the action of the state. His opposition to state action was partly based on the belief that this enhanced the power of bureaucracies, transforming those who received state services into the passive recipients of handouts, devaluing their humanity by depriving them of the ability to take decisions which affected their everyday lives. His firm belief in the importance of participation and the need for individuals to possess freedom of choice resulted in him viewing communities as the key social unit in which individuals could intellectually develop their full potential by sharing in the pursuit of common goals.”
“He found in small self-sufficient communities paradigms against which he measured the lunacies of central government and the welfare state… He deserves credit for placing on the political agenda issues such as how Britain should handle her relative decline in the world and how government should be brought closer to the people.”
I was struck by the similarity of the "Big Society not Big Government" message from David Cameron and those quotes from the Joyce/Sell Biography of the late Liberal leader Lord Jo Grimond found here.
I believe it highlights the flawed tribal nature of our politics. I feel truly sorry that the Liberals have abandoned such a rich political heritage for the politics of envy we now find entrenched in their 2010 Manifesto. They now espouse a misguided socialist agenda of taxing the rich and disincentivising enterprise with policies like the mansion tax and more than doubling capital gains tax.
Surely we have all learned the lesson from Labour’s mistakes of the 1960s and 1970s that to "tax the rich until the pips squeak" does not work. This is even more relevant now that we recognise the potency of global competition which even Gordon Brown acknowledges now that his claims to have ended “boom and bust” have been trashed by “global events”. Wealth creators can simply up sticks and locate in tax and regulatory friendly jurisdictions. We need to encourage enterprise as well as foster philanthropy and promote sound stewardship.
Nick Clegg says this in his foreword to the Liberal Democrats' manifesto:
“We’ve had 65 years of Labour and the Conservatives: the same parties taking turns and making the same mistakes, letting you down. It is time for something different. It is time for something better.”
If he truly wanted to do “something different” he would have stuck to core Liberal ideas and not filched discredited old Labour policies. With luminaries such as Richard Cobden and Jo Grimond in their past they have a rich vein of truly innovative and now timely ideas on which to draw. Sadly, enticed by the prospect of power, they have ditched ideas of gravitas and integrity for a more populist polemic.
If I were to summarise the 2010 manifestos for my 83-year-old father and ask him to identify the parties, he would probably identify the Conservative manifesto as old Liberal, the Liberal manifesto as old Labour and the Labour manifesto as – well, at best, it is a poor attempt to cobble together enough populist ideas to cling on to power.
Through it all is an electorate so disenchanted with politics and politicians that if they bother to vote at all, they will either vote tribally or be influenced by the televised debates where image not policy is King. Political selection now has more in common with TV shows like X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and in Lord Mandelson’s case Strictly Come Dancing:
On the plus side, this is just the right time for efficacious change. Our nation has been shaken for sure, we have seen the imperfections of the banking system and politics has been thrown into disarray by the expenses scandal.
Yet a wind of change is blowing life into the embers and new ideas are being debated. Whether they are part of the legacy of our rich political heritage reworked to suit our current circumstances or fresh ones is not important: the crucial point is that we need to leave tribal politics behind in order to progress.
“Big Society not Big Government” is progressive; higher capital gains tax, the mansion tax and so on are regressive. As nice as he may seem on television, once the electorate understand that the smiling Nick Clegg is going to squash aspiration and tax success in order to perpetuate big government, they should make the right choice.