‘Renegades with a mission’ – the Sindy’s verdict on the Social Liberal Forum

by Stephen Tall on June 19, 2011

The Social Liberal Forum — a group of Liberal Democrat members who advocate ‘that a democratic and open state has a positive role to play in guaranteeing individual freedom’ — met yesterday for their first conference on a high note: their mobilising role at the party’s spring conference is widely credited with having strongly influenced the Coalition’s changes to the controversial NHS reforms.

Here’s how the Independent on Sunday, with an inevitable nod towards stereotypes, reports the gathering:

Welcome to the first annual conference of the Social Liberal Forum – the home of “proper” Liberal Democrats. Not the quasi-Tory, Oxbridge-educated, Orange Bookers such as Nick Clegg, David Laws and Danny Alexander. It’s the lefty lot who despise the Tories more than sandals in a downpour. Its director, Mark Blackburn, insists they are not “anti-coalition”, nor are they the nutty fringe of the party. “We are trying to make sure that mainstream liberal values continue to be shown in mainstream party policy.” By mainstream he means social democratic. …

Two sympathetic ministers had been booked. … [Vince Cable] insisted he had to be “remorselessly on message these days”, but demanded responsible capitalism (bash rich bankers), curbing executive remuneration (pay cuts for the mega-rich) and progressive taxation (tax the rich). … [Chris Huhne] had in his sights red-tape “zealots” who want to tear up all regulation, good or bad. … He said the Lib Dems had to find a place between Labour’s “obsession with micro-management and target-setting” and the “fixation with deregulation and scrapping rules” of “right-wing ideologues”. …

It is easy to dismiss them all as irrelevant eccentrics. But who else would read the Health and Social Care Bill and spot the contradictions and dangerous consequences? The SLF are determined to make their voice heard.

For those who enjoy debating political identities and the terminology that cloak them, Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England has challenged SLF to define how social liberalism differs from social democracy, provoking a lively comments thread, including a contribution from leading SLF light, and former Lib Dem MP, Evan Harris.

There was also an active discussion thread here on Lib Dem Voice a few weks ago, prompted by our most recent members’ survey showing that the three top labels which party members are hapy to use about themselves are ‘liberal’, ‘progressive’ and ‘social liberal’.