My liberalism - Simon Hughes

My liberalism

I decided that I was a Liberal during the general election campaign of 1966.  Living in the south Wales constituency of Pontypridd I had already decided that I wasn't a Conservative.  Conservatives always seemed to me to support the status quo rather than challenge it, and I heard and saw no commitment to bridging the economic and social divides of south Wales, in the cities, the mining valleys, or anywhere else.  I wrote to all the main parties asking them to send their election manifestos.  To be fair, all three major parties replied.  (This was an early lesson in how important it is to respond to political enquiries.)  Harold Wilson was the Labour Prime Minister in power and although Labour then, as always had some good policies, too many decisions seemed to depend on whatever could be negotiated between government and the unions.  The unions certainly appeared to be hugely - though understandably - influential, but there appeared to be a Labour bias not just in favour of the workers but also against small and big business and management.  Nearly everything appeared to be dictated by pragmatic solutions rather than principle.  The Labour manifesto did not change my views about those things.  By contrast, pretty well everything in the Liberal manifesto I found I agreed with.  The five dominant themes then have remained the dominant themes of liberalism and liberal democracy ever since.  Liberalism is internationalist more than nationalist.  Liberalism is environmentalist and requiring us to be stewards of our world to pass it on with as little damage as possible.  Liberalism is on the side of the individual and wants individuals and communities to have more power and government less.  Liberalism supports civil liberties and human rights of everybody on an equal basis.  And Liberalism doesn't have a prejudice in favour or against the public sector or private enterprise or voluntary activity.  Where public ownership is best, such as the National Health Service, it must be strongly defended; where private enterprise benefits citizens more, then this should be encouraged.  

So I became a convinced Liberal as a teenager, campaigned for liberalism from then on and formally joined at the beginning of my 2nd year at university - when the Liberal student representative knocked on my door. (Another reminder, if you don't ask people to join, they often don't!)  My liberalism has not wavered from that moment onwards.  And it is the liberalism of Lloyd George, Keynes and Beveridge - unswervingly social liberalism of the type that created the state pension and National Insurance and believing that laws should be made by elected representatives, not those appointed, or hereditary.  It is the liberalism of the mixed economy with the state intervening where appropriate to make for greater equality and redistribution of wealth.  And it is the liberalism of perpetual attack on the five giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalour and idleness and their later successors.  My liberalism is part of a European and global Liberalism which is seeing more people and more parties joining the Liberal family all over the world, gaining influence and taking power.  My liberalism is a liberalism of hope based on community politics and a belief that our communities are both those on our doorstep and those on the other side of the world.