Evan and David: showing what liberalism is all about

by Stephen Tall on January 22, 2009

There are times it’s good to be a Liberal Democrat. Take, for example, last December’s Private Members’ Bills ballot for the 2008-09 Parliamentary session. Four Lib Dem MPs were drawn in the top 20, with David Heath and Evan Harris in the top five. David announced the subject of his bill last week: ending fuel poverty.

And yesterday, as widely trailed in the media, Evan announced what he would devote his bill to – reversing centuries of discrimination against Catholics and women under the Act of Settlement and other enactments. Here’s an excerpt from Evan’s press release:

Dr Harris said, “It is wrong that anti-Catholic discrimination is written into the UK’s constitution”.

The Bill would end discrimination against women in the line of succession, so that any daughters of Prince William would succeed their father on the basis of their age, rather than their younger brothers doing so.

“It is not acceptable that our law continues to relegate women down the succession to the crown, at a time when no sane politician would argue in its favour”. …

The Government has indicated that it wishes see these changes take place but has failed to identify any legislative opportunity to do so in the current session of Parliament.

“Although the current discrimination does not have a wide practical effect, because this is still part of our constitution, it is an ongoing symbol of the lingering 2nd class status of Roman Catholics and women.”

So why do these two very different bills make me proud to be a Lib Dem? Because they show a profound understanding of what is at the heart of liberalism: a keen sense of justice and fair play.

While David’s proposals to end fuel poverty is a perfect combination of social justice and environmental action, Evan’s bill aims to right some basic wrongs, ending symbolic religious and sex discrimination by the state which applies to the most privileged section of society.

Can you imagine both of these bills being put forward by either Tory or Labour MPs, and supported wholeheartedly by their colleagues? Neither can I. And here’s why.

Labour ‘gets’ social justice in a way that most Tories just don’t. But for Labour the only inequalities which matter are economic, and Evan’s bill will be seen by many as an irrelevant indulgence; while for many traditionalist Tories it will be regarded as a presumptuously interfering and dangerous strike at the established church.

Not for Lib Dems: injustice can affect the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the uneducated. Anyone who finds themselves powerless to control their own destiny needs an advocate: that is what liberalism is all about. I’m delighted that, in their different ways, David’s and Evan’s proposals reflect the core of this party’s philosophy.