by Stephen Tall on September 11, 2007
Three years ago, it was the infamous Orange Book which became the talk of the Lib Dem conference. This year it looks set to be Reinventing the State, published yesterday. (And which includes a number of the contributors to the original Orange Book, including Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Steve Webb.)
On Thursday, Lib Dem Voice will publish an article by David Howarth, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge and one of the book’s three editors, in which he sets out why he feels it is necessary to update social liberalism for the present day. Today you’ll simply have to make do with the press release, below, to mark the launch. And, if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the link to The Guardian’s report of Reinventing the State’s publication.
Lib Dems bid to capture social justice agenda
Leading Liberal Democrats are bidding to capture the social justice agenda. Reinventing the State, a new book to be launched at the party’s conference, is a confident assertion of the party’s centre-left social liberal credentials. It includes chapters from leading MPs such as Chris Huhne, Nick Clegg, and the party’s manifesto coordinator, Steve Webb.
The book argues that previous ideas of the state need to be reinvented “so that it delivers social justice and environmental sustainability through a decentralised and participatory democracy.” It argues that the state is central to this mission because “the need for collective responses to the problems we face remains overwhelming.”
In a crucial chapter, Duncan Brack, one of the book’s three editors (along with David Howarth MP and Dr Richard Grayson) argues that Britain’s highly unequal society is failing. Standards of health and well-being, rates of crime and anti-social behaviour are all worse than they would be in a more equal society. He therefore argues that Liberals need to recognise the essential role that equality plays in achieving freedom, and to make social justice a more explicit part of the Liberal Democrat programme.
David Howarth describes such an approach as being central to the social liberal tradition. He highlights “a commitment to a fair distribution of wealth and power, which in turn led to support for redistributive taxation and public services as ways of fairly distributing wealth and for democracy as a way of fairly distributing power.”
Linked to the theme of social justice is a belief that public services need to be brought closer to local people so that they can engage more closely in decisions that affect them. Chris Huhne argues that localism is the only way of ensuring that people get the local services they expect. He calls for “the decentralisation not just of management decisions but of political respon¬sibility to a human scale where voters can once again identify – and com¬plain to, or praise, or boot out – decision-makers in their community”. Richard Grayson puts forward radical proposals to bring the decisions on the NHS down to a county or city level, putting elected local people in charge in place of bureaucrats. He says “that does not mean reducing the overall size of the state, but relocating it.”
In the concluding chapter, Steve Webb and Jo Holland argue that the Liberal Democrat agenda “must be about the freedom to live life to the full, not simply the freedom to exist. In that vision, lib¬eral use of the state is an essential strategy for advancing freedom.”
** The book’s launch meeting will take place at Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, at 8.00pm on Monday 17 September, in the Regency Suite, Old Ship Hotel. The three editors (Duncan Brack, Dr Richard Grayson and David Howarth MP) will chair the meeting, and four of the contributors – Nick Clegg MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, Chris Huhne MP and Steve Webb MP – will speak.