What is an Orange Booker?

by Stephen Tall on February 12, 2006

That was the fair question asked of my by James Graham in his comment to my posting below criticising the leadership contest for treading water. My reply was too long for a comment box, so I thought I’d give it an airing here:

You’re right of course the ‘Orange Book’ is a mixed bag – I was using the term as a commonly understood short-hand to refer to an emphasis on using market-based economics to deliver liberal public policy goals. …

My point here was not to complain that any one candidate has not been pro-OB. The point is that the party is ignoring this debate, which denies the opportunity both to those who are OB-ers and those who are not, to make their respective case to the party’s membership. A leadership contest should enable such a debate, not ignore it.

Ming, Chris and Simon have all (rightly) emphasised the fact that good quality public services require local accountability anddecent funding.

But none of them have addressed the bigger issue, which is more awkward: what to do when a bad decision is made locally, and what to do when the funding is insufficient (as it inevitably will be)? This is where markets are essential because they give you a robust evidential basis to make your decisions, and enable you to prioritise scarce resources to best effect.

So how can we as liberals establish markets? How can we correct the market failures there will inevitably be? And how can we make these markets work to deliver real social justice?

Those are the kind of questions a leadership debate should open up. We can all sign up to localism and decent funding. Let’s also have the courage to debate what we disagree on as well. This contest hasn’t provided that debate. That’s why it’s disappointed me.