Claire Tyler gave the William Beveridge Memorial Lecture at the Social Liberal Forum conference. The full speech can be read below.
May I start by saying what a great honour it is to have been asked to deliver this year’s Beveridge Lecture. I’m conscious that I’m following in some rather illustrious footsteps – Nick, Steve and Tim have all stood here before me – Tim – you set the bar very high indeed in your excellent and wide ranging lecture last year.
Joking aside, I think it is entirely appropriate to be revisiting Beveridge at a conference entitled ‘Rebooting Liberalism’. It’s neither regressive nor intellectually lazy to be looking to the past as we seek to move forward. Far from it – we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong intellectual tradition within the party and in seeking to both clarify and communicate exactly what we stand for, we could do much worse than draw on the ground-breaking work of one of the grandfathers of modern Liberalism.
Because, for me, one of the clear lessons from General Election is that, for the public to understand what we really stand for and what our purpose in politics is, we have to spell out much more clearly what being liberal means, both the sort of society we are seeking to create and the notion of individual empowerment –in short our values – and that’s where I am going to start today. We need to be braver in saying that a philosophical focus on the freedom of the individual isn’t the same as being pre-occupied with self or insularity. On the contrary it’s about enabling every single member of society to flourish and reach out to each other, strengthening social relationships and communities, demonstrating fairness and compassion towards others, rejoicing in difference and diversity and, at the same time, extending individual freedoms. In fact, I think we’ve already done a pretty good job of distilling our beliefs into three key words – liberty, equality and community – the very first line of the preamble to our constitution.
As far as communicating our values goes, I think we’re quite clear on liberty. We’ve made our mark as the party of civil liberties and universal human rights, making equal marriage a reality and blocking measures to curtail our rights to privacy online. We’ve also been traditionally strong on community – from the community politics of the 1970s and out thirst for local campaigning to being passionate advocates of devolution and localism. For us local activism and local government will always be the bedrock of our party – right now we badly need to rebuild from grassroots upwards –this will be a key part of our ” Re- booting”.
It’s our second value that I think we’ve had more trouble communicating – our commitment to the redistribution of power and yes wealth where’s it’s needed and the realisation of a more equal society. What I will try to articulate today is why these goals are so central to modern liberalism. That equality matters not just in and of itself, the overwhelmingly strong moral case that we are all born equal, but in how we advance the cause of equality too. Now of course, other values are hugely important to us such as our internationalism and stewardship of the environment but they outside the scope of this lecture which focuses, as Beveridge did, on social policy.
The full lecture is available through the Social Liberal Forum