LEADERSHIP POLL: Swinson ahead of Davey


Over the past week, I have been running an informal poll for the 2019 Liberal Democrat leadership election. I did the same in 2015, and came within 2% of the correct result, so thought I’d have another go this time round.

The results are now in, and before I go into them, I’ll just put a caveat here that although I have tried to do demographic weighting as accurately and diligently as possible, because I don’t have precisely accurate membership data (and have had to rely on the QMUL Party Members Project for information), the weightings may be slightly out. As such, this poll should not be relied upon as a formal, professional-standard poll, but its results should be relatively indicative.

I surveyed 846 participants between 24th June and 1st July 2019. This gives a theoretical margin of error of 3%. The results are weighted based on gender, age and joining period, as well as implied 2015 leadership vote based on stated ideological self-identification, corroborating the data with my 2015 leadership poll. This last weighting mechanism replaces a question about past vote (simply because more than half of members today were not members in 2015). Because it is a more experimental weight than the other three, I have also run the data without it: the results of that are under the headline section.

Full tables are available here.

HEADLINE: SWINSON AHEAD OF DAVEY

The headline figures are Jo Swinson on 54%, and Ed Davey on 46%. This is a narrower race than some were expecting, but still a relatively comfortable margin for Swinson. Along with Mark Pack’s survey putting her on 60% (albeit with a large number of undecideds), my poll seems to justify her status as favourite for this race.

NB: Even without the weighting by implied 2015 leadership vote, weighting only for gender, joining period and age, Jo Swinson still leads with 53% to Ed Davey’s 47%.

DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS

Perhaps most interesting are the demographic trends.

Men appear to be voting overwhelmingly for Jo Swinson, with 62% of them joining Jo, and only 38% going wavy for Davey. Women, on the other hand, are splitting in the opposite direction, contrary to what many expected at the beginning of this campaign. 57% of them are voting for Ed, while 43% of them are voting for Jo.

The other trend to note is one of age. A whopping 68% of 18-24 year olds say they will be voting for Jo Swinson – perhaps reflective of her much-publicised time involved in LDYS and her frequent appearances at Young Liberals Conference. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a massive 78% of those over 65 say they will vote for Ed Davey – which could be crucial, as over 65s make up the largest proportion of the party’s membership. If Davey manages to turn them out en masse, while youth voters stay at home, his big margin here could be the difference. The trend is the startling thing however – in each category, the older you are, the more likely you are to be voting for Davey. The only exception to this is under 18s, who Ed is winning handily – but this should be caveatted, because the raw sample is so small that it may not be accurate to draw statistical conclusions from it.

While there isn’t any reliable data available for sexuality to be able to weight based on it, some interesting trends do emerge from the raw data. Amongst heterosexuals, Ed Davey has the edge with 52% to Jo’s 48%. With those self-identifying as LGBTQ+, Jo Swinson is ahead with 66% to Ed’s 34%.

Finally, amongst the BAME community, Jo is ahead with 53% to Ed’s 47%, though again, and unfortunately, this should be caveatted due to a small sample size. The low number of BAME respondents to this poll was of deep disappointment to me, and shows that we need to continue to work to make our party reflect the wide diversity of the country we’re seeking to represent.

MEMBERSHIP TRENDS

Unlike in 2015, where my poll showed that Norman Lamb won a clear majority of those identifying themselves with the ‘classical liberal’ tradition, and Tim Farron won a huge majority of those identifying with the ‘social liberal’ tradition, the picture is much more mixed.

Those placing themselves in the left wing of the party make up 38% of the membership, according to my poll. And 64% of them say they will be voting for Jo Swinson, which is a big lead. There has been much discussion of the Coalition legacy at this election, and with two Coalition ministers fighting it out, the belief was at the beginning of the race that there was no clearly ‘left’ candidate. But for whatever reason, Jo is seemingly on course to win this essential bloc of voters.

Those placing themselves in the centre of the party are the largest share of the membership, making up 47% of the party. Ed Davey is on course to win 54% of these voters, which is another piece of evidence to suggest that the race will be closer than anticipated. Although this margin is much narrower than Jo’s popularity with the left of the party – and thus doesn’t make up for the size of her win there – if Ed can consolidate this lead with the party’s self-identifying centrists, this could be his path to victory.

Those placing themselves on the right of the party – the aforesaid ‘classical liberals’ – make up a smaller portion of the membership compared with 2015, with only 15% belonging to this group (cf. 22% in 2015). Among these voters, Ed and Jo are effectively tied – Jo ekes ahead with 51% of the vote, while Ed is on 49%.

In terms of joining date, Jo is winning with every group except those who joined pre-Coalition, where she is tied with Ed on 50% apiece. Jo’s lead by 65% to Ed’s 35% amongst those members who joined during the Coalition is particularly notable in the context of Ed’s decision to campaign hard on his record as a Coalition minister. Of post-Coalition joiners, the gap is at its most narrow amongst the 20,000 who joined in the 2019 surge, perhaps reflecting the fact that they are by a long way the most centrist group of new joiners (with a full 50% of 2019 joiners identifying as centrist rather than left or right of the party).

How do you solve a problem like Umunna?


Change UK have already split. We knew it was coming. But the formal breaking away of more than half of their MPs has raised the question of whether the splitters will defect to the Lib Dems.

Some would fit naturally into the party (Allen, Wollaston, Berger) if they wanted to come. To me, it is a no-brainer that they defect. This is because:

(a) I believe most of them are fundamentally liberals, but have just never described themselves as that due to prior party loyalties and whips;

(b) We shouldn’t turn down the prospect of a swathe of new MPs, increasing our voice in the media, in Parliament, and amplifying our message that we are the home for liberal, progressive internationalists in modern politics

(c) There is a serious prospect of our becoming one of the main parties, but this only happens under FPTP if you build broader coalitions within your party, which means ideological purity will lead to our failure.

Others would face some more serious ideological difficulties (Smith, Shuker). Serious conversations would need to be had about their positions, particularly Shuker’s, whose religion influences his politics away from the social liberal policies most Lib Dems get particularly fired up about.

But that leaves one problem case: Chuka Umunna. Some say he shows authoritarian tendencies; others say he is more liberal than his voting record suggests. This is a good opportunity to discuss an important point for the near future: where is the line between ideological purity and maintaining our identity as a liberal party?

To be very clear, I don’t want the Lib Dems ever to be anything but liberal first and foremost, and I don’t want just anybody to be able to defect if they fundamentally disagree with our views, even if they are pro-EU. For instance, I am staunchly opposed to the SNP and Plaid Cymru. So, to that end, we need to be able to distil down what the fundamental beliefs of the Lib Dems are, in order to be able to check whether someone is broadly aligned with us such that they could defect without diluting our identity. To my mind, there are a few areas.

  1. Internationalism. We are an internationalist party who wants to stop Brexit, prevent new borders being thrown up, and improve free trade and co-operation.
  2. Environmentalism. We believe in ending the climate crisis as a matter of urgency.
  3. Equality. We believe in equal rights for everyone, and are particularly firm in supporting the rights of those who are under threat the most in today’s society.
  4. Political reform. We think politics under FPTP is broken, and advocate for a change in the electoral system.
  5. Anti-authoritarianism. We’re opposed to snooping, to interference in our private lives, and in favour of reforming authoritarian laws like drug laws.
  6. Making people better off. We want to invest in public services, and think disadvantage and poverty are great ills which need to be tackled with everything we have.

Using this list as a vague guide as to our fundamental beliefs, and “what makes the Lib Dems liberal”, I personally think that Chuka Umunna (to go straight to the problem case) fits enough to be broadly compatible with us. He is pro-EU, has voted for environmental protections, supported all rights issues as a Labour MP, supports electoral reform, and wants to tackle disadvantage.

The understandable area of hesitation is on anti-authoritarianism, considering his recent proposal of a national civic service scheme, and a vote in Parliament in December against the legalisation of cannabis. There are two points of rebuttal to raise here. First, on the cannabis issue, voting records often do not belie a person’s real beliefs due to party whips (and indeed, post-Coalition, treating voting records as mirrors of a person’s true principle would be a surprising thing for us as Lib Dems to do). And on the issue of national civic service, the idea was phrased in a vague way and one which even he admitted would need refinement. He would need to be asked about this during discussions. It is certainly not something the party could support.

I want to labour one point in particular. If Umunna doesn’t defect, it is entirely his loss, and he will be beaten by the Lib Dems at the next election. As such, I will lose no sleep over it and won’t view it as a missed opportunity. This is not least because of our fantastic PPC in Streatham, Helen Thompson, who works with refugees and aid organisations, has been doing fantastic work for disenfranchised EU citizens, and through the dedication of her team in Streatham, won the equivalent constituency at the European Parliament elections.

But if Umunna does approach us to defect, and pending important and serious discussions with Helen and the Lambeth local party about how it would work, I don’t think we should dismiss him out of hand. While I don’t agree with him entirely, his policy set would not be particularly far outside the wheelhouse of the mainstream party, and provided he was properly briefed on the correct lines, and the situation made clear that defying our fundamental policies or not playing as part of the team would terminate the arrangement, the benefits of having a high-profile defection to us – with the media attention that follows it – would outweigh the issues arising.

Modelling the European elections


Plenty of people have been trying to model the European elections in an attempt to get a better handle on how to game the d’Hondt voting system. Several Remainers are part of tactical voting groups, where recommendations are put out, often hijacked by partisans of all sides. But unfortunately none of the approaches seem to be particularly statistically thorough.

I’ve created a model which is based off past election results and opinion polls, compared to how well the parties actually did in each region of England in those elections. More specifically, it works out how much each party underperformed or overperformed by in each region, compared to the national results, and also the opinion polls. It then takes an average of these under/overperformance quotients, weighted in different ways (eg the 2014 European u/o quotient is weighted more heavily than the 2016 local elections u/o quotient because they are the same type of election, while the 2019 local elections u/o quotient is weighted more heavily than the 2015 local elections u/o quotient because they were more recent).

The result of this is that I have a regional swing model which takes past evidence of how close opinion polls and actual results were in each region to calculate how each party will do in each region based off national opinion polls now (the only ones with proper weighting). This is not an exact science at all. It is based off a lot of educated guesswork and assumptions as to how opinion is changing over time. But it is based on real life results that have happened over the past few years.

As such, it enables me to see how close each party is to winning a seat, and thus make tactical recommendations, if I plug in a recent European election poll. I’m doing this based on the latest YouGov poll (they most accurately predicted the 2014 election, and the 2017 general election). I’ll briefly give some analysis of each region and the tactical recommendations below.

As a warning, you will notice that in a lot of places, the Lib Dems are the tactical recommendation. I know some groups on Facebook have been suspicious of this, but this is just what my model is telling me, based on compiling a lot of statistics and a lot of evidence. Unfortunately for the Green Party (who, as can be seen from previous posts on this page, I have a lot of time and respect for), it is just indisputable fact that opinion polls are quite consistently showing the Lib Dems very far ahead now nationally, and so this is reflected in the regional totals. There are, however, a couple of places where the Lib Dems (often on their third or fourth round) and Greens are so close that making a tactical recommendation would be misleading. In those, I lay out the numbers, and the decision is left up to the reader.

And finally, in these recommendations, I prioritise the number of Remain MEPs *overall*. For full disclosure, I am a Lib Dem member, but these recommendations seek to maximise the number of Remain MEPs to try to get the stop Brexit message out there. In some places, this means defending a final Remain seat where the Brexit Party is close to taking it. In others where Remain seats aren’t under threat, it means going on the offensive and recommending shifts in votes to win an additional Remain MEP. Currently, my model projects pro-EU parties winning 16 MEPs. If my advice is followed, we could increase that to 22 MEPs, almost double the number of Labour and the Tories combined.

Anyway, onto the recommendations and projections. (Numbers may not add up to 100% due to rounding, weighting, and minor parties)

 

East Midlands

Projections – BXP 42.3 // Lab 15.2 // LD 12.6 // Con 10.0 // Grn 7.6 // CUK 3.9

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. BXP – 3. Lab – 4. BXP – 5. Lib Dem

Analysis: The final seat here goes to the Lib Dems, where their undivided total of 12.6% beats out the Brexit Party who on their fourth round have 10.6%. This means that the Lib Dems beat the Brexit Party to the final seat. This also means that the Lib Dems are just 2% away from losing that seat to the Brexit Party, while the Greens are a larger 3.1% away from winning a seat. With that in mind, Remainers should vote Lib Dem.

 

East of England

Projections – BXP 40.3 // LD 16.6 // Con 11.0 // Lab 10.6 // Grn 10.6 // CUK 5.2

Predicted order of election:  1. BXP – 2. BXP – 3. Lib Dem – 4. BXP – 5. Con – 6. Grn – 7. Lab

Analysis: The final seat here goes to Labour, a pro-Brexit party. The nearest Remain party to their 10.6% share is the Lib Dems, who in the second round have a share of 8.3%. Meanwhile, Change UK have a share of 5.2% which will be entirely wasted based on these statistics. A movement of 4% to the Lib Dems would give the Remain parties an additional seat. Meanwhile, the Greens would require an extra 10% in the first round to gain a second seat. With that in mind, Remainers should vote Lib Dem.

 

London

Projections – Lab 22.1 // BXP 21.7 // LD 16.0 // Grn 12.6 // Con 8.5 // CUK 5.0

Predicted order of election: 1. Lab – 2. BXP – 3. LD – 4. Grn – 5. Lab – 6. BXP – 7. Con – 8. LD

Analysis: The final seat here goes to the Lib Dems, who pick it up on their second round with 8%. The closest competitor here is the pro-Brexit Labour Party, who on round three get 7.4%. It looks like London might just edge three Remain seats, and the priority should be in protecting that final one. The way to do so is to prevent Labour winning it, and so Remainers should vote Lib Dem.

 

North East

Projections – BXP 39.2 // Lab 22.4 // LD 13.9 // Grn 7.0 // Con 6.6 // CUK 4.3

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. Lab – 3. BXP

Analysis: The North East is horribly disproportionate due to only having three seats. The Brexit Party wins the final seat on its second round with 19.6%, with the Lib Dems being the closest competitors by a long way on 13.9%. Because there is only really one opportunity for a Remain MEP here, the focus should be on combining behind one Remain party because of how disproportionate the constituency is. As a result, my strong recommendation is that all Remainers vote Lib Dem to push them over that threshold.

 

North West

Projections – BXP 35.6 // Lab 20.9 // LD 15.2 // Grn 8.8 // Con 7.6 // CUK 4.4

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. Lab – 3. BXP – 4. Lib Dem – 5. BXP – 6. Lab – 7. BXP – 8. Grn

Analysis: The Greens win the final seat here, but are not massively at risk – their closest competitor is the Lib Dems in their second round on 7.6%. Additional votes for the Greens could push them above the Brexit Party, while additional votes for the Lib Dems could just eke them over the threshold to gain a second seat, taking the total Remain tally up to 3 MEPs. Tactical recommendations here are tough here as a result.

 

South East

Projections – BXP 37.9 // LD 20.1 // Con 11.8 // Grn 11.5 // Lab 8.9 // CUK 6.0

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. Lib Dem – 3. BXP – 4. BXP – 5. Con – 6. Grn – 7. Lib Dem – 8. BXP – 9. Lab – 10. BXP

Analysis: The final seat here is won by the Brexit Party in their fifth round, on 7.58%. The Lib Dems are the closest competitors on 6.69% in their third round. In terms of raw votes, this means the Lib Dems only require an extra 2.7% to beat the Brexit Party and win a third seat in the South East. Unfortunately, the Greens would need an extra 3.6%, which is more than the Lib Dems. The difference in percentages may be small, but in raw votes in this huge region, that could be quite a few. As such, the tactical recommendation is to vote Liberal Democrat to ensure a fourth Remain MEP (3 Lib Dem, 1 Grn).

 

South West

Projections – BXP 40.3 // LD 26.8 // Grn 15.6 // Con 11.0 // Lab 8.4 // CUK 2.0

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. Lib Dem – 3. BXP – 4. Green – 5. BXP – 6. Lib Dem

Analysis: The final seat here is won by the Lib Dems, who are at 13.41% in their second round. The closest competitor is the Conservative Party, who lag behind on 11% in their first round. There doesn’t appear to be a realistic prospect of gaining an additional Remain MEP here (three seems to be the practical limit based on current polling), so the only tactical thing to do would be to defend the final Lib Dem seat by voting Lib Dem. Like the North West, however, tactical decisions are difficult here.

 

Yorkshire and the Humber

Projections – BXP 40.6 // Lab 18.1 // LD 16.5 // Grn 7.2 // Con 6.6 // CUK 4.6

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. BXP – 3. Lab – 4. Lib Dem – 5. BXP – 6. BXP

Analysis: The final seat here is won by the Brexit Party, who are on 10.15% in their final round. Their closest pro-Remain competitor is the Lib Dems on 8.27%. Green and Change UK votes are currently wasted, meanwhile a small increase of the raw Lib Dem share by just 4% – around a third of the Green/CUK share at present – would secure the Lib Dems a second seat, and a second Remain voice in the region. The tactical advice therefore has to be to vote Lib Dem.

 

West Midlands

Projections – BXP 40.8 // LD 16.4 // Lab 16.2 // Con 9.4 // Grn 6.7 // CUK 4.0

Predicted order of election: 1. BXP – 2. BXP – 3. Lib Dem – 4. Lab – 5. BXP – 6. BXP – 7. Con

Analysis: The final seat here is won by the Conservative Party on 9.4%. Their closest competitor is the Lib Dems on 8.2%. The Lib Dems in raw votes would require an extra 2.54% to win the seat, while the Greens would need an extra 2.89%. It is exceptionally close here. Tentatively, the tactical advice is to vote Lib Dem in an effort to deprive the Tories of the final seat, but that isn’t for certain, and polling may change this in future.

 

It’s time for Remainers to get real about the European elections.


I thought about starting this post with a milquetoast introduction to the fact that elections were coming, but it’s time to get straight to the point. Remainers need to get real about the European elections. And, as a full disclaimer, I am a paid up member of the Liberal Democrats, so you might think that “I would say this”, but this post is aimed in particular at the Green Party, and secondarily at “tactical voting” websites which are using terrible, outdated evidence.

In plain English, even though the elections use proportional representation, the counting method is such that it is still very possible to split the vote. And naturally, Remain voters are anxious not to do that. So anxious, in fact, that they tried to lobby the parties with anti-Brexit positions to form a joint list or stand down for each other. And it didn’t work – not that the Lib Dems didn’t try.

So we’re now left with a conundrum. Who to support? This is where I think we need to get real.

I have a lot of respect for the Green Party. I have advocated alliances with them in Oxford when I was involved in the Lib Dems there. I worked with them to help get Layla Moran elected in 2017. I think they share a vast amount of policy with us, and broadly represent the same worldview. It is welcome that the Greens are supplanting Labour and beating Tories in limited places across the country.

But we need to be cold and ruthless and logical in swinging our support behind one Remain party at these elections, and I think the Greens are being disingenuous by claiming that it should be them. And before I explain why, I want to say: we have no time to beat around the bush anymore. So I am going to be blunt, and put the statistics exactly as they are. I mean no disrespect to the Greens, to whom I would probably give my second preference in any preferential election in England and Wales, in so doing.

Their main claim is that they have 3 MEPs compared to only 1 Lib Dem MEP, and this means that they are the strongest pro-EU party now. But this is ludicrous. It is absolute nonsense. We have to be honest with ourselves. This state of affairs arose from the 2014 European elections. To hammer home the point, this was five years agoduring the Coalition, when the Greens had more members than the Lib Dems, and we were at our lowest point in our history, ever, full stop. Two general elections later, and with the Lib Dems now having over 100,000 members compared to the Greens’ mere 40,000, and with the Lib Dems having significantly improved their electoral fortunes – for instance gaining over 700 seats just this week, absolutely dwarfing the Greens’ efforts both in terms of gains and raw councillor numbers – the situation is just not the same anymore. We cannot rely on evidence from before Brexit happened – before the seismic shock which changed politics – as justification for how we should act now, against Brexit.

What makes this contention even more outdated is precisely where they are saying they are stronger. In the South West – a Lib Dem heartland, where the party just hit it out of the park in local elections (see chart below). In the South East, where the Lib Dems just picked up a cluster of brand new councils – Mole Valley, Winchester, the Vale of White Horse. In London, where post-Brexit opinion polls clearly show the Lib Dems are doing best and outperforming the Greens.

Again, I want to underscore with as much clarity as I possibly can that I have enormous respect for the Greens. If we used a sensible system of proportional representation like STV, they would get my second preference. If it were an election at any time other than this, I would not be making this post. But this is not the time to be messing around. We need to make a statement.

People can vote for who they like. It’s their right as electors. And I’m sure this post will get a reaction from Green members who are understandably passionate about their own candidates. But I just want to present the evidence once again. Evidence from the post-Brexit era.

  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in every region in the 2015 and 2017 general elections.
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in terms of vote share and councillors elected in 2017, 2018 and 2019
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in the London local elections in 2018, including gaining majority control of an extra two whole councils.
  • The Lib Dems beat the Greens in the Scottish local elections in 2017, which are the only post-Brexit election conducted by proportional representation in mainland Britain so far. They got almost double the number of first preferences, and over treble the number of councillors.
  • The Lib Dems are ahead of the Greens in by-election victories
  • The Lib Dems have proven they are back stronger than pre-Coalition by gaining +704 council seats this week, concentrated in the South East and South West.
  • The average of polls conducted for the 2019 European elections has the Lib Dems on around 9%, with the Greens on around 7%. These were before the local elections, which showed a major Lib Dem set of gains.

Every single one of these things are facts. The only countervailing evidence is that most of these elections were done by First Past the Post. But there is not a single time that the Greens have beaten the Lib Dems post-Brexit, and nor is there a single region where the Greens are outperforming the Lib Dems. Remainers: we have to wake up. We have to accept reality. I know there are Greens who will vote Green no matter what, and all power to them. But at this election – this one time, where so much is at stake and so much can change if we send the right signal – we have to get behind the party which all the evidence shows is the strongest pro-European party out there. Please let’s get real, and force the main two parties to understand that we want them to stop Brexit.

 

 

It’s true: the Liberal Democrats are far more radical than Labour


At autumn conference this year, unnoticed by most as the farce of Brexit continued to dominate headlines and Lib Dem attentions, the party passed some of its most radical, progressive and exciting economic policy in years. In the nearly four years that I’ve been a member, I’ve spent a lot of my time criticising the party for failing to think properly about the economy beyond tinkering with the existing system, so it fills me with happiness that we’ve finally sorted ourselves out. In particular, I noticed this article get a lot of stick. How ludicrous, the critics say, that the dull, centrist Lib Dems can paint themselves as more radical than Corbyn and McDonnell! But here’s the thing – it might be uncomfortable for some to admit, but it’s true. And here’s why.

In some of my more formal essays on liberalism, I’ve outlined the necessity for liberals to be genuinely radical and creative with their economic solutions, and not just be content to operate within the same old systems which have caused such structural damage and disadvantage. I’ve argued that we need to systematically dismantle those structures of domination, and truly liberate people economically. These policies do exactly that.

The policy I’m perhaps most excited about is the realignment of wealth taxation. By abolishing inheritance tax and instead taxing intergenerational transfers as income, as well as taxing income from wealth in the same way as normal income, we stop the entrenchment of privilege across generations by huge transfers of wealth, while giving most people – the non-wealthy – a very generous allowance and exempting small gifts. A similar proposal was mooted by the IPPR, my favourite think-tank, and it’s fantastic to see it as formal Lib Dem policy.

But it’s also about what we can do with the money raised from this. We now have policy to set up the Citizens’ Wealth Fund, a sovereign wealth fund managed by independent financiers, to invest on behalf of the nation. Most excitingly, we want to use it to set up a citizens’ dividend, so every person can share in the growth of the nation they helped contribute towards. I am particularly interested in a supplementary idea, spoken about before by Vince, of turning this into a young people’s dividend, receivable on their 18th birthday, to really hammer home our message of intergenerational fairness. We also want to invest in lifelong education and reskilling, so workers are equipped for the modernisation of industry. We are the only major party talking about this.

But we’ve also come up with more: most notably, abolishing business rates and replacing them with a land value tax. This proposal would stop the absurd disincentive to investment and development that business rates currently provide, and would instead tax solely the basic land occupied. In this way, the burden of taxation also shifts from tenant to landlord, and thus provides a major shift of economic power.

Adding all of this together is a radical platform in itself. But combined with existing policy – most notably employee-ownership, one of our core pieces of industrial policy for over half a century and ingrained into our constitution, and a preference for new wealth taxation on property rather than higher income tax, our economic policy is by far the most reformative and fresh of any of the major parties. This is most notably true with Labour: the economic section of their 2017 manifesto merely called for some taxes to be tweaked upwards, a few nationalisations, and intervening to stop high street ATMs being taken away. They try to present themselves as radicals, but the truth is that their policies are pedestrian. The Lib Dems are the real reformers, and after Conference this year, that is truer than ever.

7. Liberalism and the Economy – Universal Basic Income


With a framework for the determination of liberal policy constructed, and the bridge between philosophy and policymaking complete, our attention can now be turned fully to policy. As explained in my initial essay, I intend to conduct a broad sweep of each general area of policy, drilling down to specifics over multiple parts. The first of these is the economy, which I intend to examine in multiple parts. This first essay will concern the basic organisation of the economy, which I argue should be capitalist, though acknowledging the current issues with the broken capitalism we have, and then argue for a universal basic income, to eradicate the greatest source of domination: economic uncertainty arising through poverty.

The system at large

The significance of the economy for the liberal project cannot be understated. As explained in a previous essay, it is the underpinning of everything; the single biggest determinant of one’s life chances and quality of life. It is essential, then, that the basic structure of the economy is set up correctly. The basic fabric should be fundamentally capitalistic: the capitalist economy at its most fundamental respects and responds to the choices of the individual, and thrives when our basic freedoms are most respected. But capitalism can be warped – without a proper flow of information, and without regulation, the power that capitalism rightfully deprives from the state in terms of economic control can be transferred almost entirely to private entities, where the domination is no less problematic. True capitalism – liberal capitalism – must regulate free markets to ensure sufficient information is given to consumers to be able to make informed choices, must ensure no entity grows so large that it gains dominative power, and ensure that capital – capitalism’s basic unit – is accessible by the masses. The problem in recent times has been that companies have been owned by an increasingly elite group of people, and free markets have been pursued as an end in themselves, rather than an instrument for the freeing of people. I intend to turn to solutions to this problem in the next essay, where I will argue amongst other things for a radical new employee ownership scheme and bold co-operatisation programmes.

Personal finance and the Universal Basic Income

But if our system is capitalist, then money is of high value. Those with it can do as they please, unstressed and unburdened by the disenfranchising problems of poverty, while those without it feel exploited by a system that doesn’t work for them, and allow them the fruits of society and the economy. Most importantly, and most relevantly for our philosophical framework, poverty means they lack the capacity to participate in society, and from there stem multiple societal problems – disaffection leads to crime, to lower educational standards, to healthcare problems, and so on. Take an example: a single parent having to juggle three jobs just to keep food on the table and a roof over the family’s head would very likely end up stressed, leading to health problems down the line, have no extra time to give to their children, leading to gaping educational disparities between rich and poor, and never own property, leaving them without economic security. This is economic precariousness. It is a burning injustice. And in such a situation, it is clear that a person cannot participate fully in society; they cannot be said to have equal freedom from domination. Fixing that economic precariousness that people find themselves in is crucial, then – it is a source of the highest domination in people’s day-to-day lives, and as liberals, we have to eradicate it.

How? Again, the philosophical framework is useful. If our philosophical priority is getting the poorest to a point where they can participate in society, and precariousness is the target of our action, then there is a very simple answer: unconditionally give everyone a reliable source of income to push them over that line. This is called a universal basic income (UBI), and has been trialled successfully in a few places around the world.

It is superior to the present welfare system for practical reasons: rather than creating a complicated bureaucracy of dozens of elements requiring form-filling, checks, multiple levels of processing, and everything that accompanies it, it is one single payment that everyone gets. For the rich, who don’t need the money, it gets taxed away, but for the very poorest, it completely removes economic precariousness as a source of domination, by knowing that whatever happens, they will have enough money to live off.

Objections to this policy are obvious: giving money to people who don’t work for it seems to be subsidising the lazy. But there are compelling reasons why this is not a persuasive objection. Firstly, in the present social welfare system, there are free-riders, as there will be in any comparable system. It is a constant section of the population, and giving the payment in one tranche and as one payment won’t affect that. And secondly, on a more philosophical level – the money proposed as part of a UBI would be enough to live off. What compelling moral argument is there for someone not to receive the bare minimum to survive? All members of society, regardless of what they do or don’t do, deserve that much.

Another objection is that it would encourage people not to work. But it seems to me that this lacks force as well: very few people are satisfied with earning the bare minimum to live anyway. Indeed, empirical evidence shows this to be true. A UBI pilot in Canada in the 1970s found that there was no change in employment rates, but people did stay in education longer, there were fewer hospitalisations, and mental health admissions sharply declined.

Poverty and economic uncertainty are two of the greatest causes of social and public health problems. Welfare systems are overcomplicated and enormously bureaucratic, leading to eye-watering costs, and also to people falling through gaps and being left in dire need but with no money whatsoever for periods of weeks or months. A universal basic income identifies this source of economic domination, and eradicates it immediately. It is a happy coincidence that it also respects the dignity of the individual, giving them money and trusting them what to do with it. For the philosophically minded, this in particular will satisfy liberal luck egalitarians – people are given money to enable them not to be dominated. But if they choose to squander it (which studies show does not really happen at all), that is the consequence of their choice. It therefore corrects the brute bad luck of being born into a poor family, but not the option luck of using the money badly.

Liberals should be deeply alarmed by the great injustice of poverty, and its distorting effect on society. Rather than tinkering around with minor tweaks to tax rates, personal allowances and other things which fail to attack the core of the issue, we should be unafraid to be bold in our ambition to eradicate economic precariousness for every citizen of our country. A universal basic income does precisely that, and, I would argue, is a liberal thing indeed.

6. A Brief Framework for Liberal Policymaking


In the previous essays, a philosophical justification for liberalism has been provided on the conceptual level, beginning with basic, universal philosophical principles, and working through their implications. It was determined that liberalism is what results from giving priority to equal freedom from domination and equal capacity to participate in society, and that, for anyone who values autonomy at all, this principle is superior to conservatism, libertarianism and socialism. But now that the concept has been identified, it is necessary for us to go a step further, and to stray into the territory of practical policymaking. This is the gap so infrequently bridged in liberal thought, with philosophers theorising in books and articles on the one hand, and liberal politicians working in near-isolation on the other. The aim of this essay will be to build that bridge, by establishing a generic framework for the generation of liberal policy, and thereafter, in following essays, I will examine its implications for each major area of practical policymaking.

Based on the philosophical groundwork, one principle above all – our supreme principle – must be fulfilled. Liberal policy, very simply, must free people from domination. But in order to drill down into precisely what is meant when this is said, we must first determine what domination constitutes. Fortunately, our auxiliary principle helps with this.

We stated earlier that the auxiliary principle was the creation of equal capacity to participate in society. The value of equal freedom from domination, we said, was to allow equal participation. It was from there that we derived the principle that our primary focus should be on helping the lowliest in society to be pushed over the threshold at which they can be said to participate properly – and thus on an equal footing. And so it is here that we can shine a light on the definition of domination. Because domination is not simply a current, existing interference with that freedom to participate: domination encapsulates potential threats to that freedom. Liberals want to liberate people from any conglomeration of power which could choose to act to limit a person’s capacity to participate in society properly, and on an equal footing. The best example is of the slave and slaveowner. The slaveowner might be benevolent, and in practice not interfere with the life of his slave. But does that mean that the slave is free? No, the slave is still dominated, and needs liberating.

So, in sum, all liberal policy must be designed to free people from domination, where domination is a threat – potential or current – to a person’s capacity to equally participate in society. So far, so obvious.

But there is a further requirement that liberal policy ought to fulfil: policy must be radical. If a source of domination is identified, then in almost all cases, that domination is structural. It arises out of the way society or its institutions have been set up and organised, and thus is systemic. If a liberal identifies such a source of domination, then the way to eliminate it is inherently to make a structural change. These are necessarily radical. It would make little sense to identify a problem which has its roots in the way the system is set up, and then to keep the same system in place, but simply to tinker with some of the finer details of how that system is executed. The domination would remain in place, because someone could simply change those details back – the system would still be susceptible to interfere with an individual’s capacity for equal participation.

Liberalism, then, is the ideology of equal freedom from domination, and as its auxiliary, equal capacity to participate in society. It views all people as inherently morally equal, and thus no more deserving or undeserving of the benefits of arbitrary qualities. It views freedom and equality as fundamentally social concepts rather than untethered, ethereal ones, and thus views democratic, societal equality as the root of all other equality which may follow from it. It is not egalitarian for its own sake, but believes first in the priority of the poorest until they reach a point of sufficiency measured by their ability to participate in society, tolerating minor inequalities and the reaping of some fruits of arbitrary talent by the talented if by doing so, the lot of the poorest is increased. And thus, any liberal policy must adhere to two core principles: it must identify a source of domination and eradicate it with reference to improving an individual’s capacity to participate in society – the liberational element – and it must do so without falling into the temptation to merely tweak the existing systems which are the source of the domination – the radical element. It is abiding by these principles that liberals can generate policy in all areas, underpinned by a consistent set of philosophical principles.

Party Reforms


It has been widely reported in a number of newspapers and other outlets today that Vince Cable is planning on introducing a series of radical reforms to the Liberal Democrat rulebook in an effort to re-energise the party and create a “mass membership movement”. Although some of the details appear to have been mangled in some of the reporting – most notably because journalists tend to have a chronically shaky grasp of how Lib Dem internal structures work (and Jennie Rigg of FCC has debunked them well in her blog here) – I want to tackle the principle of it, and explain why on balance, I think parts of this would be a bad move, regardless of how or when it’s introduced. I qualifiedly support a supporters’ scheme, but I do not support the party being led by a non-MP.

Supporters’ scheme

The first element of this would be the introduction of a supporters’ scheme, according to the reports, and it has been touted as being along similar lines as Labour’s, but requiring that a person be of twelve months’ standing before they gain the full privileges associated with it, which are implied to be leadership election privileges.

This strikes me as a half-good idea for one main reason: engagement. Membership of the party is £12 per year (or less if you’re under 26), which is the cheapest of the main parties, but the psychological barrier of “being a member of a political party” is, I would argue, more significant. The ordinary person who watches the news and has a set of opinions, but doesn’t like to associate themselves with “politics” or being “a politician” is often put off by the idea of party membership, seeing it as a step too far. The way I see it, the supporters’ scheme could be a way to bridge this gap, and give those people who are liberal and want to show support an avenue for doing so within the framework of the party. That way, we can keep in touch with them, engage with them, and hopefully persuade a few of them to end up delivering and campaigning, and maybe even joining as full members.

Where I depart from the idea, however, is the idea that we should give such supporters voting rights in leadership elections. The reason for this is not entryism (the Lib Dems are already very open to entryism with our unconditional one-member-one-vote system for determining conference policy, and entryism didn’t impact Labour’s leadership elections at all) but rather incentive: if supporters have the same primary rights as members, what is the point in being a member? My suggestion would be that supporters gain reduced or limited rights, such as half-votes at conference with special voting cards, or half-votes for internal committees, and so on.

Non-MP Leaders

The worst part of the ideas mooted, however, is changing the rules to allow a non-MP to become leader. It has been rumoured that this is a step to allow Gina Miller, the anti-Brexit campaigner, to become leader, but I’ve not heard any reputable person in the party give any credence to that. But regardless of who is being lined up for it, it should be fully resisted. And the reason for this comes down to what the party ought to be.

The Liberal Democrats are the youngest of the major parties in a very narrow sense, but are the formal successors to the Liberal Party, who are the formal successors to the Whigs, and thus, the Lib Dems are the modern representatives of a liberal tradition and movement going back almost 350 years, into the seventeenth century. And crucially, that tradition is a Parliamentary one. We introduced the welfare state, we expanded the franchise, we liberalised the economy, we equalised marriage – all through having MPs in Parliament as the supreme decisionmaking body for the country as a whole, and making that our primary goal. It is a goal that we should maintain. Having a non-MP as leader would shift this focus unacceptably.

From a public relations standpoint, it would also be undesirable. Having a non-MP leader would make it considerably harder to get name recognition in the media. We already struggle – having a confusing split between the person leading us in the Commons and the person leading us overall would exacerbate this. And worst of all, it would signal a lack of seriousness, a relegation to the position of pressure group or single-issue party, like the Greens or UKIP. We are neither of those things. We are the only liberal party in British politics. We have been in government more recently than Labour, and – I’d wager – it is unlikely that they will get into government before us again. It would be a betrayal of the 2.3million people who voted for us last year to pack it all in and abandon our Parliamentarism – especially if the goal of so doing would be to put someone like Gina Miller in power to defer to the Remain crowd, thus obscuring further our other policies.

So while the supporters’ scheme may have some merit and may be a good way to get more people involved in liberalism and the party, some of the specifics aren’t quite right, and the idea to allow non-MPs to be leaders is, to me, very much the wrong route. If we want a better pool from which to pick leadership contenders, then there’s only one option: we’ve got to get more Lib Dem MPs elected.

5. The Philosophical Justifications Continued: Why Other Ideologies are Not Sufficient


In the previous essays, a philosophical justification for liberalism has been provided on the conceptual level, beginning with basic, universal principles, and working through their implications if we were to give priority to our substantive form of autonomy, the equal freedom from domination. But in order to supplement our standalone justification for liberalism, it will be helpful here to make a brief digression from the derivation of a practical framework, and to describe why the liberalism thus far sketched is superior to the other major schools of philosophical thought. The ideologies thus treated will be conservatism, libertarianism and socialism, which are, I posit, the ideologies with the largest followings outside of liberalism.

Philosophical conservatism, writing in a British context, must be distinguished from the purely political “Conservatism” of the modern (and historical) Conservative Party, which I will refer to with the ‘c’ capitalised. It is the philosophical preference for tradition and custom, the preservation of institutions and hierarchies, and a limited role for the government in redistribution. It can take many forms, and is a school of thought which, due to its history, is particularly broad, but the majority of its adherents would agree that the majority of the tenets outlined above are common to most of those permutations of it. Why should this conservatism be philosophically undesirable? The greatest reason lies in the inherent conservative preferment for tradition and hierarchy, which leads to conservatives necessarily believing in a concept of what constitutes the good life, or the right way to live. Evidently, if a conservative believes that there is a strain of tradition which society itself should prefer, as opposed merely to the personal choices of individuals to follow a conception of the good life, those not adhering to that tradition, or whom the tradition excludes, will be disadvantaged by that society. Take, for example, the idea of an established church, one agreed with by many conservatives. The state preferment of that religion will lead to the state-promoted disadvantage of those who do not adhere to it. It will, in effect, lead to a barrier to participation in society for those who are not part of the religion. How can this be said to be desirable? A state which promotes a conception of the good life necessarily violates the principle of equal freedom from domination. A state promoting a conception of the good life must give advantage to those following that conception. Such an advantage must be in giving additional privileges, rights, or economic powers to those adherents. And so, the non-adherent will be damaged. How can such a non-adherent participate fully in their society if the state damages their interests? It must be the case that as a result of any commitment to equal autonomy, the liberal state cannot promote a conception of the good – which is frequently the most common unifying belief of the liberal: it is the doctrine that anyone should be free to act, so long as they don’t force that act on another, or harm another in so acting. For a state to promote a conception of the good life is to do those things. Thus it is unable to be maintained by anyone believing in autonomy. In this way, the core principle of conservatism is inimical to anyone who believes in the high valuation of autonomy.

Conservatism in its modern context is closely allied to libertarianism, particularly with respect to frameworks of economic distribution. Both hold that governments and states should not interfere in the property rights of individuals beyond what is absolutely necessary. The difference is that libertarians, unlike conservatives, do tend to believe in the neutral state as outlined above, and so show no preferment to a particular conception of the good. But even despite this, libertarianism is philosophically unsatisfactory for any person who believes in autonomy, because of its economic principles. A libertarian may well believe in total legal and theoretical freedom for all individuals, and that freedom may well be equal. But the core principle of liberalism as outlined in previous essays is equal freedom from domination, and that domination consists also in equal capacity to participate in society, respecting our inherent moral equality as persons. And, as a result of the belief in the untouched market, and the view that any economic transaction is valid so long as it is freely consented to, the libertarian fails to take into account the bigger picture and the nature of suppressive power. Paying full attention to mere freedom of economic transaction means that a libertarian crucially fails to account for the arbitrariness of talent and fails to account for redistribution to compensate for this, and thus fails to give people useful autonomy in participating in society, and empowers merely those with arbitrary talent. It may well be that an exceptionally poor person consents to working for poverty wages while the extremely skilled, intelligent businessman creams off huge amounts of profit, and to the libertarian, this is a perfectly acceptable situation. But autonomy requires respect for moral equality, which requires equal freedom from domination, which requires both the capacity to participate in society – which the poor workers lack due to their economic precariousness – and a state which doesn’t give advantage or disadvantage to the arbitrarily talented or non-talented – which is precisely what does happen when the state allows the unskilled poor, who are in their situation through chance or an arbitrary lack of skill or talent, to be so disadvantaged in society; or when the state allows the arbitrarily intelligent businessman, who is in his situation through his arbitrary talent, to have such advantage. Thus, I posit, libertarianism, and such an atomistic and non-holistic view of distribution, is inimical to anyone who values autonomy and its equal exercise, which liberals must be committed to.

At perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum, and perhaps most opposed to liberalism in recent times, is socialism, as part of the broader ideology of communitarianism. These essays are not intended to be histories of ideology, but it will suffice to say that modern democratic socialism in Western countries like ours could almost certainly be said to be in the broader tradition of eighteenth century liberalism – but, as almost all ideologies could be said to be in that tradition, the point is irrelevant for present purposes. Modern socialism, in many ways, arises out of the philosophical assumptions of utilitarianism, where the greatest happiness of the greatest number is prioritised. Socialism requires the central planning of a state in order to promote “the greater good”, even at the expense of individual interests, treating the interests of the community as prioritised over the individual. It is perhaps an intuitively appealing philosophy because of some of its practical political achievements, but it seems rather to be the case that it achieved the right ends for the wrong reasons, and that liberals would achieve the same ends for the right reasons. This view will be explored in later essays. But socialism is philosophically unsatisfactory for two chief reasons: its attitude towards autonomy, and its attitude towards egalitarianism. Socialism is an explicitly autonomy non-preferring system. As outlined above, it prioritises the community interest and the force of numbers because of its emphasis on the greater good. Clearly, any person who believes in the priority of autonomy will find this suspect. There may be many who do believe that autonomy is a trifling concern, but it is my belief that this position is entirely inimical to the facts of human nature and morality. We take autonomy as being a core requirement of morality, as outlined earlier, and value autonomy very highly when the threat of it being taken looms over us. None but the most hardline communitarians would disagree with this. And if it is so, then the philosophical entailments of a belief in the high value of autonomy – the respect for moral equality, and the principle of equal freedom from domination – must follow from it as well. Believing in equal freedom requires us to conceive of individuals who do have some set of rights and insuperable interests. And in this way, socialist considerations of “the greater good” where a greater number necessarily defeats an individual must be rejected. The second reason is a lesser reason, but important nonetheless – socialism economically prefers inherent egalitarianism rather than preferentialism. In the previous essay, a framework for economic distribution was outlined in which it was noted that liberals are not economic egalitarians for its own sake, because absolute equality of resource could nonetheless lead to the poor being worse off than they otherwise might be. In short, it was said that minor inequality could be tolerated if it led to an overall better situation for the poor. In this way, our distributional framework is one of preferentialism of the situation of the poor. But socialists frequently differ from this position, and believe in the absolute, inherent egalitarianism which we rejected. While absolutely not a liberal herself – indeed, squarely a libertarian with conservative tendencies – the Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it most pithily: “they would rather the poor were poorer so long as the rich were less rich”. While socialism is a multi-faceted ideology which encompasses many views and beliefs, this preference for absolute egalitarianism is present in many. It is another reason why it must be philosophically unsatisfactory to one who prioritises autonomy.

Having reached the end of the comparison of ideologies, two important features arise which should be noted. First, it was explained that priority of autonomy and belief in that priority is almost the default position for almost all people. It is the purpose of these essays to argue that that autonomy should be equal autonomy, and thus that liberalism is the best way to politically channel that belief. But it is also clear that any believer in the priority of autonomy should be put off by the logical entailments of other ideologies – conservatism, libertarianism and socialism most notably. Conservatism requires the non-neutrality of the state and thus the disadvantage of those who choose to live their lives individually, which violates the principle of respect for our inherent moral equality. Libertarianism is too atomistic in its distributional thinking, and again allows for the arbitrarily talented to exploit the arbitrarily disadvantaged. And socialism doesn’t respect autonomy at all in its lack of respect for the individual and “greater good” attitude. Having now shown that liberalism is the superior ideology for those who believe in the priority of equal autonomy in political thinking, in the next essay I shall begin to derive the framework, based on the liberal principle of equal freedom from domination, for practical policymaking for liberal politicians.

4. The Philosophical Justifications Continued: Structures of Distribution


It was determined in the previous essay that the ultimate goal of liberalism on a philosophical level should be to establish equal freedom from domination. But that state of freedom, while desirable in and of itself, can be of no use in practical terms if it is unable to be utilised. As we said, then, the practical expression of our freedom from domination consists in the capacity to participate in society equally to others. While this was a mere philosophical construct in the previous essay, this one will begin to make the descent from the high-level conceptual thinking we have hitherto engaged towards the terra firma of reality. How, we must ask ourselves, can we ensure the equal capacity to participate in society, and thus, the equal freedom from domination we have established as our primary liberal goal? While perhaps not sufficient on its own to constitute this equal freedom, it is clear that economic factors must play a major role in bringing it about. Man is not a self-sufficient being. He requires resources in order to survive, and in order to prosper. Without these resources, he simply will die, or, short of this, exist in such a state of penury and precariousness that the obtaining of resources will be his sole preoccupation. In such a position, he cannot be said to have the equal capacity to participate in society, and thus he cannot be said to possess equal freedom from domination, compared to someone with the requisite amount of resource. In this way, then, the distribution of resource – or, more simply, economic distribution – must be an important and fundamental part of our philosophical liberalism. In short, in order to begin to derive a framework for practically applying our liberal idea, we must provide an account for what distributive principles and structures are entailed by a commitment to equal freedom from domination.

Recall our earlier discussion of the moral equality of persons, and its entailment that arbitrary features about a person should not be the grounds for advantage or disadvantage being conferred upon them by the state. It was determined there that discrimination on the grounds of race is morally wrong for this reason; similarly, that conferring advantage onto children born into rich families would be a violation of this principle of respect for the moral equality of persons. But other, less intuitive factors are also arbitrary. Importantly, for discussing the distributional structures entailed by liberal equality of freedom from domination, it must be conceded that our talents are arbitrarily distributed. It is simple fact that some are born with greater intellectual talent than others, or that some are born better at playing the flute, or painting pictures. And, while these skills are all teachable and learnable to a degree, we can say that inherent “talent” is an ability to pick up these skills more quickly and develop them more proficiently than others. It is clear, for myriad biological and genetic reasons, that these talents are distributed arbitrarily. It would be absurd, for example, to say that a child “deserves” to be intelligent – what factor about them would give rise to that deservingness? The premise of the arbitrariness of natural talent, then, is perhaps an obvious one to comprehend, but what that premise entails is often more broadly resisted. This is because, under the principle of respect for the moral equality of persons, arbitrary features about a person should not be rewarded or punished by the structures of the state. So, just as someone should not be rewarded or punished for skin colour or their family background, equally, it follows that they should not be rewarded or punished for their inherent intelligence or talent.

This conclusion is difficult to accept on an intuitive level for many people, because it goes against the apparently honourable principle of meritocracy. How is it right, they ask, that people should be said not to deserve the fruits of their labour? To found a system of redistribution on this principle is surely to deprive people of what they’ve earned? Indeed, a further complication arises when one considers that proclivity to work – so a strong work ethic, or its opposites, laziness and fecklessness – is also an arbitrary distribution. To redistribute from the hardworking to the lazy seems opposite to all good sense. Fortunately, however, this is not necessarily the case.

A digression to the main discussion is here called for, and we must set straight an issue of priorities in constructing our distributional system. We have already established as its aim the liberal goal of equal freedom from domination, and thus, the necessary equal capacity to participate in society required by it. But while a standard tactic of the anti-egalitarian, it would be misleading to suggest that this liberal principle entails the state-driven forced equality of all in all respects. In framing our target principle, we talk of equal freedom from domination. That is, we talk of freedom from the barrier of domination – and this is an important subtlety to note, because it draws us away from the absolute pursuit of equality for its own sake, involving the undesirable imposition of equality in all respects. Once an individual has reached a point at which they can be said to have equal freedom, and equal theoretical capacity to participate in society, our goal is fulfilled. The liberal thus supports the elevation of individuals to a point beyond which that barrier can be said to be removed, rather than pure equality, promoted through an ideological commitment to equality for its own sake. And, this means that liberals are committed to prioritising a distributional system where the poorest are pushed over that barrier, rather than a purely egalitarian system for its own sake. To express this more simply, the liberal’s primary goal should be to ensure that the poor are elevated to a point where their poverty doesn’t negatively affect their ability to participate in society. This is an essential idea because it can, in fact, conflict with the principle of pure egalitarianism. The egalitarian will want all things to be equal no matter what. The liberal, however, will be pragmatic, and will tolerate inequality if it allows the poorest to be liberated from the barrier of domination, and to emancipate them into that equal capacity to participate in society which forms the central goal of his ideology. It can be seen now how this digression factors into the main discussion, but I will elaborate on it explicitly.

We have seen that talent and lack of talent are arbitrary. The state should not give advantage to the talented, or punish the untalented through its structures, and, so, the state should not allow a distributional structure where the untalented are left worse off. However, such considerations of “advantage” on its own terms are of secondary concern to the liberal. The liberal’s core principle is equal freedom from domination. It has been shown that, in distributional terms, equal freedom from domination requires each individual to be above a certain threshold, after which point that freedom exists, and a person can freely participate in society. And so the liberal’s primary distributional goal is to ensure that the very poorest receive priority, and are elevated beyond that threshold. In this way, it is the liberal position that the talented should be able to use their arbitrarily given talents, and to benefit from them, as that benefit will encourage them to use and cultivate those talents. Such use and cultivation will of its own accord create more resource through the growth of the economy, and thus improve the lot of the poorest, pushing them closer to that threshold. But, it must nonetheless be conceded that excessive benefit to the talented must still be redistributed to the untalented, so as the state does not condone a system where the arbitrarily talented are advantaged beyond the point where that advantage can fruitfully improve the lot of the poorest.

This is perhaps the most complicated move of the philosophical basis for liberalism which was promised to be painted, and so it perhaps requires a restatement in clearer language. Talents are arbitrary, and so by rights, people shouldn’t get more for being talented. At the same time, though, the liberal most wants to get people above the threshold where they can participate in society meaningfully, in order to secure equal freedom. So, as a result of this priority, the liberal is happy for the state first to encourage the talented to use their talents, by allowing them some of the proceeds of it, secondly to harness those talents in order to grow the economy and suchlike, increasing the value of the existing share of the poorest, and then thirdly, because the talents are nonetheless still arbitrary, to devise a distributional system where the excessive benefits of the talent – the benefits which are above those needed to encourage the talented – are themselves redistributed to the poorest. In this way, an inequality in distribution is tolerated in order to ensure the fulfilment of the principle of equality of freedom from domination, which is the liberal’s supreme principle. Fundamentally, the liberal cares above all that everyone can participate in society. So long as they can, minor inequalities in distribution which help to assure this are tolerated.

In this way, we have derived a distributional system based on the foundational principle of the liberalism posited thus far. It focuses its efforts on removing the barrier of incapacity from the poorest, and tolerates and allows for the talented to keep some degree of financial reward in order to achieve this goal. In aiming to achieve equality of freedom rather than equality directly of resource, we can thus call this framework “liberal egalitarianism”. It is this that I suggest should form the basis of liberal economic policymaking. Having now laid the requisite philosophical groundwork and given an exposition of the conceptual case for liberalism, the next essays will turn to deriving a comprehensive practical framework from these philosophical ideals, and then, in turn, deriving policy and practical ideas for Britain as it stands from that practical framework.