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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The liberal agenda at the heart of government

I thoroughly enjoyed Radio 4's Analysis programme about The Orange Book, a 2004 book of essays by some leading Liberal Democrats. The programme contends that the Orange Book's ideas are now at the heart of the Coalition Government's agenda and will define centre-ground politics for many years to come. When did the BBC last have cause to report that any strand of Lib Dem thinking was at the heart of government thinking? Hooray! Had this course of events been revealed to the audience at one of the fringe meetings to launch the Orange Book at the 2004 Liberal Democrat Conference, many of us would have been both pleased and excited - and I say that as someone who was in the audience at one such meeting. The programme also gives a fair crack of the whip to those Liberal Democrats who are less enthusiastic about the Orange Book than others are, and also features some very interesting thoughts from the perhaps unlikely figure of David Davis. This is a timely, penetrating analysis by the ever-thoughtful Edward Stourton.


  1. It was interesting, but of course oversimplified, deploying the journalists' beloved but inaccurate Social Liberal / Economic Liberal distinction. I prefer David Howarth's essay on the subject in "Re-inventing the State". Social Liberalism was credited to Lloyd George with no mention of Hobhouse or Green. I don't think we got Beveridge and Keynes either. Ken Clarke's comments were also unhelpful predicting a split in the party.

  2. Plus it was oartially wrong about the SDP, as such analyses often are. I would argue that the Liberal Party had moved towards social democracy (of a sort) long before the SDP was created in 1981. After all, people used to joke that the Alliance worked so well because David Steel was such a good social democrat and Roy Jenkins was such a good liberal! A lot 'economic liberal' thinking (and thinkers) came into the party with the SDP. A certain type of social liberalism (with a social democratic tinge) gained strength for another reason in the 1990s: because Liberal Democrats were increasingly running local authorities and so started to view service provision from the perspective of service providers, as much as from the perspective of service users.