What besides leading the campaign against Brexit have the Lib Dems ever done for Britain?
John Stuart Mill, a Liberal MP, was the second of his House to call for women’s suffrage, in 1832. He also warned against tyranny of the majority against minority groups, and advocated both for necessary individual rights to be protected as well as constitutional checks to enforce those protections.
John Maynard Keynes, a Liberal peer, saved capitalist economics by contradicting conventional thinking that free markets would automatically provide full employment. Implementation in the United States of his advocacy of public investment helped reverse the effects of the Great Depression and then again the Global Financial Crisis. (We could have had a bit more Keynesian intervention in the UK by our coalition government; something we’ve learnt.)
Much of the good that Labour rightfully lays claim to has Lib Dems to thank. The NHS was conceived by Liberal economist and later peer William Beveridge, of the Beveridge Report. In opposing his recommendations, Churchill lost his prime ministership to an ascendant Labour party that implemented them. Indeed, the welfare state was founded on the reforms of Liberal governments from 1868-1922.
These included reduction of regressive income taxes (repeated a century later in coalition) and the introduction of an inheritance tax (the party now wants a land value-based levy). As the party now proposes a tax on frequent fliers’ carbon emissions and recently implemented plastic bags taxes, it was the Liberal party a century ago that initiated sin taxes on alcohol and tobacco, and prohibited their sale to children.
In the same way that a Liberal government a century ago promoted education for all 5-12 year olds, free school meals, school clinics, and special schools for the deaf and blind, the coalition party initiated a pupil premium and free childcare, something Lib Dems hope to extend.
Beyond this, the party a century ago ended damages to be paid by trade unions during strikes, created the first job centres, initiated minimum wages and granted women’s suffrage in 1918. Continuing in that vein for equality, in coalition, Lib Dems ensured equal marriage. And let us not forget that it was Roy Jenkins in his two years as Home Secretary in the ’60s who broke ground by partially decriminalising homosexuality, ending capital punishment, liberalising abortion and ending theatre censorship.
But that’s all a given. What else have the Liberal Democrats done for Britain? Robert Maclennan conceived with Robin Cook devolution, a human rights act, and freedom of information legislation. In coalition, Lib Dems institutionalised equality between mental and physical health, expanded Britain’s renewable energy resources and in so doing created tens of thousands of jobs.
But beyond all that – delivering Britain’s best thinking on rights and on economics, establishing the welfare state and NHS, fairer taxes, pulling us out of a free market dystopia and preventing descent into communism, bringing us equality and putting us on the path to prevent climate crisis – what have the Lib Dems ever done for Britain?
* Imad blogs at imadahmed.com and Tweets @ImadAhmed. He is a member of Camden Lib Dems, Lib Dems in International Development, Liberal International and is pursuing a PhD in infrastructure economics at UCL.