CentreForum’s ‘Liberal Hero of the Week’ #5 – Andrea Leadsom

by Stephen Tall on July 13, 2012

ImageWelcome to the fifth 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.

Andrea Leadsom

Conservative MP, member of the Treasury Select Committee
Reason: for championing consumer power and reform of the banking sector.

The last few months have not been happy ones for the Coalition. While Lib Dems have grown used to declining popularity since becoming the junior party in government, the Conservatives held out the hope of more, of winning a majority to govern alone in 2015. Instead George Osborne’s budget in March set off an omnishambolic chain reaction that has left the Coalition looking listless, drained, vision-less.

How can it get back on track? How can the Conservatives and Lib Dems re-create if not the cheery bonhomie of the Rose Garden, at least something approaching the energy and drive of the Coalition Agreement in order to banish its mid-term blues/yellows?

Andrea Leadsom earns this week’s ‘Liberal Hero of the Week’ award for sign-posting areas where the parties not only do agree, but which point in a liberal and popular direction. She ‘rose without trace’ during last week’s Treasury Select Committee quizzing of departed Barclays boss Bob Diamond by performing a function no other MP achieved that day: knowing what she was talking about and asking tough-mindedly perceptive questions. Her background is finance — she worked for Barclays itself for a decade — but she’s not starry-eyed about the banking sector. On her website, she calls for far-reaching reforms to open up banks to much greater competition, to the rigour of a free and fair market:

Banking employs over a million people in Britain. It generates over 10 per cent of our annual tax revenue. It is a vital industry that could lead us back to economic recovery, but this will not happen on the back of fraudulent and corrupt practices. Rather we need to re-establish banks as calm, measured and instinctively cautious guardians of the trust and confidence account holders place in them. Above all, we need to go back to first principles. Retail banking must be made genuinely competitive. The best way to shake the banks out of their complacency is to allow new entrants to enter the market, bringing with them the high standards of service (including IT that works…) which customers believe they should be able to take for granted.

Specific reforms she urges to achieve this liberal aim include parcelling up and selling on the currently state-owned banks into a number of smaller ones to create greater plurality in the system, introducing instantly portable bank accounts to help consumers change banks as quickly and easily as we do with our mobile phone providers, and a complete separation of retail and investment banking.

Those who’ve ever heard Vince Cable’s views on the banks will recognise the common ground. Here is the shared potential for the Lib Dems to come together in agreement with the Conservatives for a change (rather than simply claiming credit for blocking trickier policies, like local pay) and use the party’s first taste of post-war power to achieve lasting, liberal — and popular — change.

Honourable mention:

Melinda Gates, Co-Head of the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organisation, for co-sponsoring (with the UK government) the Family Planning Summit this week in London. It aims to start raising US$4 billion to provide 120 million more women with access to contraceptives by 2020 and encourage funding for research into new types of birth control. Her belief in freedom of choice for women has in this area trumped her Catholic faith, and she has been brave enough to publicly disagree with church teachings owing to her commitment to social justice. She demonstrates that liberalism and religious faith can be compatible, in stark contrast to the religious groups who have attacked her attempts to raise awareness of contraceptive needs in developing countries as ‘a blatant attack on morality’.

* 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.