by Stephen Tall on July 7, 2012
Welcome to the fourth in our series here on CentreForum’s blog — Liberal Hero of the Week — as chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum.
The aim is simple enough: to showcase public figures who help promote the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book: economic, personal, political and social liberalism. We will be highlighting individuals regardless of their party affiliation, and indeed from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism then they’re in contention. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.
This week, I’m sharing the award equally between an organisation and an individual…
US Department of Justice
Responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice in the USA
Reason: for helping expose the rate-rigging scandal, and upholding the rule of law.
The last week has been nothing short of calamitous for the reputation of banks in the UK. But Barclays’ admission that they were involved in attempts to rig the LIBOR market — a supposedly reliable benchmark for calculating the prices of loans and derivatives contracts worth billions — has also undermined public confidence in the effectiveness of markets, and indeed capitalism itself. That is why this week’s Liberal Hero recognises the role of the US Department of Justice in exposing the scandal.
The editor of City AM, Allister Heath, wrote a powerful article this week emphasising the need for banks once again to become accountable for their actions, and to live by the rules of society:
Capitalism is not the law of the jungle. It is not the feudalistic caricature of the left-wing imagination, where the strong crush the weak. Quite the contrary. It’s a system governed by the rule of law, where property rights and contracts are sacrosanct. It’s not based on utopian assumptions about human nature. Lying and fraud will happen – but they are unacceptable violations. The State must perform its core role: to police and punish those who break the rules. It must never turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.
It is only fair to note that the DOJ’s investigation was mounted jointly with Lord (Adair) Turner’s Financial Services Authority. However, it is the DOJ which has the power to prosecute, while the FSA is limited to civil actions — which is why the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, with its patchy track record, has now become involved in the investigation.
Quite simply when it comes to enforcing the rule of law on financial institutions, the UK is way behind the USA. Successive governments have skirted the issue, either out of fear of offending their City supporters (the Conservatives), or by bending over backwards excessively to stay on side with the City (Labour). Kudos to the DOJ, therefore, for upholding the free ans fair workings of markets by clamping down on the banks’ flagrant abuses of their position of power.
Labour shadow home secretary
Reason: for promoting inter-faith discussion on the issue of gay marriage.
One of the most fundamental tenets of liberalism is to respect the right of others to lead their lives as they wish as long as they do others no harm. Not surprisingly, therefore, I have no truck with organisations such as Keep Marriage Special which aim not only to promote their own view of what defines love, but also to prevent others from celebrating their loving relationships as they wish. Unfortunately, their campaign is seen by many as the Official Religious View — and it is for her role in challenging that stereotype that we are recognising Yvette Cooper this week, after she hosted a meeting of religious figures who support legalising same-sex unions. Here’s how the BBC reported it:
Representatives from the Quakers, the Unitarian Church and Jewish groups were among those at the event. Labour says their backing shows a range of views among faith groups on the issue and not blanket opposition. … Labour says the debate should not be reduced to a battle between the Church of England and gay rights campaigners and the views of individuals and faith groups which support gay marriage must be respected as a matter of upholding religious freedom. … Paul Parker, the most senior figure in the Quakers, said his organisation believed there was “no difference” between a heterosexual marriage and a same-sex union since they demonstrated the same commitment between two individuals.
There are two crucial points here:
- First, if the state has a role in recognising marriage — and there is a very respectable liberal argument for saying the state should keep its nose out entirely — then this must be offered equally;
- Secondly, while it would be clearly illiberal of the state to attempt to ‘force’ a religious group to officiate at a gay marriage, it is just as illiberal for any religious group to prevent other religious groups (eg, the Quakers) from being allowed to officiate if they wish.
Kudos, therefore, to Yvette Cooper for using her ‘bully pulpit’ to champion those religious leaders respecting both the rights of citizens to be treated equally, as well as the rights of religious groups to determine their own view.
* Stephen Tall has been Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice since 2007, and also writes at his own site, StephenTall.org. He tweets @stephentall. Please submit your nominations for future ‘Liberals of the Week’ to Stephen by email or via Twitter. You can view our list of ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and ‘Liberal Villains of the Month’ in due course) here.