Liberalism is about dissolving power

Reason number two for my support of the Lib Dems is their abiding concern with concentrated power.  In Vince’s policies it is about dissolving the power of banks and other monopolies.  In education it is about moving power down to where headteachers and local authorities can make decisions.  In electoral reform it is about ensuring that a small clique within one party that itself commands barely a third of popular support cannot just take the reins of the government, dressing it up as ‘leadership and gumption‘.

This is not just about Conservatives and their stubborn addiction to unfair politics.  Clegg explains it well in his foreword to ‘A Liberal moment’ (Demos pdf):

Labour’s basic approach to governance – to social, political, economic and environmental progress – is fundamentally flawed. Its starting point is central state activism, its defining characteristic is the hoarding of power at the centre, and its method of delivery is top-down government. These reflexes once had their day … But the situation today, almost exactly a century later, is almost exactly the reverse: state-centred, top-down solutions are wholly out of step with the demands of our age. We live in a more atomised society where people are no longer rigidly defined by class or place. Our society is no longer trapped by a culture of diffidence and hierarchy. The capacity of the nation state to act for its citizens has been dramatically diluted as globalisation has undermined its powers.

Eavesdropping on blogs and speeches, the Labour mentality is always to hoard and disburse resources from the centre, and then boast about what ‘we’ did for ‘you’.  Once this was merely jarring – post crisis it is unaffordable.

Published by freethinkingeconomist

I'm former special adviser (Downing Street 2017-19, BIS from 2010-14), former FT leader writer and Lex Columnist, former financial dealer (?) at IG, student of economic history, PPE like the rest of them, etc, and formerly in my mid-40s. This blog has large gaps for obvious reasons. The name is dumb - the CentreForum think tank blog was called Freethink, I adapted that, we are stuck now.

14 thoughts on “Liberalism is about dissolving power

  1. Great post.

    From Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill right through to great liberal thinkers of today, monopoly power is the great enemy of freedom. Whether it’s economic monopoly in the shape of one industry (be that mining or banking) hoding a gun to the rest of the nation, or political monopoly where millions are excluded from the democratic process to the benefit of the elite few, to social monopoly where the rich have the loudest voice.

    This is what being a Liberal is about – breaking down the barriers put up by vested monopolistic powers and opening up the possibility to fulfil our capabilities to all, not just the few. I’d add an addendum, where the State ensures that such monopolies are broken up, and that the dispersal of power is done down to smaller but democratically accountable units as opposed to Cameron’s Big Society nonsense, but then that’s just me… 🙂

  2. So liberals would be opposed to the Sate enforcing a blanket smoking ban but leaving the choice up to bar owners for example; against centralised state economic micromanagement & instead for free markets; for a free market in power generation rather than the State dictating adopting of the most expensive possible option; for national freedom & thus against engaging in war crimes to promote racial genocide. All good classic positions with which no honestly liberal person could disagree.

    And all wholly incompatible with support forthe Lud Dims.

    1. I don’t think it equates to being madly Panglossian about how markets actually work; I would be surprised if energy, for example, is going to work without some centralised planning. I have some sympathy with your smoking ban view.

  3. There is good reaason to believe it , in the next few years, will stop working precisely because government has prevented the market provideing new nuclear power & that we will have extensive blackouts as a consequence. You can already see various politicians blaming electricity producers for the rising price of the stuff when every one of them knows it is solely the politician’s fault.

  4. The problem I have with the Liberal Democrats is that even though there’s all this talk of how people are diverse and that the centralised state cannot treat people like fools – they have never been strong on ensuring that there’s more referenda so that people can actually vote on policies which become law rather than relying on the middle men to vote on what becomes law.

    The most recent example of this hypocrisy was their opposition to a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. At the time it was their policy for an “in or out” referendum, now dropped.

    1. When I hear Referenda, I think California, and the impossibility of raising property taxes to pay for public services. Are you sure?

      1. Perhaps the people who don’t want their taxes raised to pay fo bureaucracy that costs more & produces worse results than many other US states have a point. The fact that the “Liberals” are entirely on the side of the bureaucrats & think we are undertaxed with the state being 53% of the economy shows how very far from being liberals, in the traditional sense, they are.

        The decision to make a manifesto promise on the Lisbon referendum & as soon as elected, break it was unconsionable & means that there are no circumstances under which any promise from them can be trusted in future.

        (Giles yopu may be interested to know that I was the only person to speak at the Scottish LibDem conference directly against the smoking ban when it was introduced there first – that was obviously prior to my expulsion & probably not a primary cause)

      2. It was a referendum which has hobbled the state legislature of California from raising tax by simple majority, yes.

  5. Liberalism is indeed about dissolving power. Which is what makes the Lib Dem desire to feed as much of it as possible to Brussels such an oddity.

    The Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and Sweet Chestnut Purees regulations (2004 for the latest version and yes, this is part of the criminal law, breach is punishable by 6 months in jail or a £5,000 fine) define carrots as fruit.

    As a way of running a continent of 500 million people this is the very antithesis of “dissolving power”. The components of compotes can and should be usefully left to entirely market based mechanisms.

    Now if the Lib Dems were actually to be liberal they might be more worthy of my vote.

    1. I think there is a lamentable difference between internationalism in theory and how it has worked out in practise in Europe. So too with the UN. I guess the Lib Dems are optimistic that it can be improved from within, and the others are happier with what look like outdated and nationalistic ways of thinking. But in principle I have nothing against the idea that some powers have to be sent upwards to international forums, and some downwards to local one.

    2. Council Directive 2001/113/EC says:

      for the purposes of this Directive, tomatoes, the edible parts of rhubarb stalks, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and water-melons are considered to be fruit

      So the first point I want to make, is that carrots in general haven’t been define as fruit, but just under that Directive.

      But why are carrots ever defined as fruit? Well, the clue is in the title: “relating to fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and sweetened chestnut purée intended for human consumption”. There are such things as Carrot Jam and Carrot Marmalade.

      In other words, it’s just perfectly legitimate, bureaucratic legalese. Nothing to get excited about.

      In fact, if that’s one of the worst examples of EU-lunacy, then it can’t be that bad an institution, and someone getting worked up about it makes them sound like a bar-room bore.

      Now, FSA guidance says:

      The penalty on conviction for an offence under the Regulations is a fine not
      exceeding level 5 on the standard scale (currently £5,000).

      Click to access jamregguid_rev.pdf

      So, the first thing to notice is the fine is a maximum of £5,000.

      The second thing to notice is that it says nothing about a prison sentence of 6 months.

      However, it would be interesting to know under what circumstances the carrot part could actually lead to a fine. Perhaps you can conjure up a scenario?

      Thank you for making me look all that up. It was really quite yawn-inducing. Perhaps next time you start spouting eurosceptic propaganda, you’d care to voice a less boring type (like how the Channel has been renamed to the Anglo-French pond, or some other exciting bollocks)?

  6. In the name of European internationalism your party has engaged in war crimes, mass murder, ethnic cleansing, racial genocide, the sexual enslacement of children & the disection of living humans to steal their body organs. I am afraid I cannot accept that the excuse of international cooperation to enforce nazism is very liberal in principle it is just the paractice that is obscene holds water. On almost every front your party is wholly opposed to what the founders of liberalism understood by the term.

    1. Having now Googled your expulsion from the Liberal Democrats, I can kinda understand all this fury and passion. Have a nice election Neil.

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