Monday, October 29, 2012

'I am liberal' - Anonymous

'Liberal' means rejecting the norm in a non-confrontational way. 'A' liberal is a more gentle version of 'a' socialist, and should be enjoyed!

Monday, October 22, 2012

I am (and am not) liberal - Anonymous

I don't see that anyone with any intelligence and sense of reason would be able to honestly say that they are one or the other!

'I am liberal' - Elizabeth Banks (received in the post this morning!)

I think liberalism is a state of mind; openness, compassion, caring, respectfulness (a)  - - - - harder to put into practice than rigid dogmatic attitudes (b).

a) is inclusive; b) is exclusive. This is true in Church, State and Private Lives.

Monday, October 15, 2012

'I am liberal' - Anthony Seldon

I’m Liberal because I believe in the inherent goodness of human nature. We should maximise individual liberty because that will allow the human spirit to optimally thrive, and for happiness to be maximised. I am not a Liberal only towards those whose actions impoverish and restrict the right and freedom of others. My aim for society is to have no punishments because everyone understands that damaging others impoverishes all.  My aim as head of a school is to get rid of all punishment. But, in the real world, I recognise that some illiberality is necessary to enhance the liberty of all.

Anthony Seldon is  a political commentator and Master of Wellington College.

'I am liberal' - Rebecca Doctor

I think that as a 17 year-old in the school system, I seek to push all boundaries and make my own decisions; meaning that I seek the freedom that liberalism provides.

Rebecca Doctor is a young filmmaker and photographer from Hereford. Rebecca's Twitter feed.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Am I a liberal? - Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

I am suspicious of labels, whether political or ideological: as Bishop Tom Wright has said of the practice of categorising everyone politically as either “left” or “right”, labels foster “an inappropriate ‘package deal’ mentality where it is assumed that once you decide on one issue you are committed to a particular position on lots of others as well”. Labels also lend themselves to being used pejoratively, as when someone who believes in the importance to a healthy society of stable marriages and families is described as “socially conservative” even if he or she may favour higher taxes on the rich and re-nationalising the railways. Gladstone’s liberalism was essentially an expression of his revulsion from tyranny and oppression; but when he moved across the political spectrum from high Tory to Liberal, he retained what would today be regarded as many strongly “conservative” strands in his thinking, including a strong religious faith and devotion to the Anglican Church.

If to be liberal means to be in favour of liberty, equality and fraternity – of freedom, fairness and the brotherhood of mankind – then surely all Christians are, or ought to be, liberal; and so, I hope, am I. But what do the words really signify, and how far are the three aspirations compatible with one another? As the leaders of the French Revolution quickly discovered, the attainment of equality is impossible without coercion; and freedom of thought and conscience is bound to lead to sharp disagreements over what is or is not allowable behaviour, and thus - inexorably - to restrictions on freedom in one direction or another.

Currently, the emphasis is once again on the paramount importance of equality: racial or social discrimination of any kind is the great sin. But if those who believe abortion to be wrong in principle may not even refuse to assist at abortions because other people believe that abortion is a right to which everyone should have equal access, where does that leave freedom of conscience and belief? If fairness is crucial, why should some people be disapproved of (if not yet actually outlawed) for spending their money on giving their children a better than average education and yet almost encouraged to spend their money on expensive holidays and a luxurious lifestyle which others cannot afford? Of course it is unfair that some people should be able to get a better education than others, but should non-discrimination entail that, if some people can’t have it, no one should?

“In my experience”, says the philosopher Roger Scruton, “the most intolerant people are liberals: people who can tolerate any belief as long as it is not seriously held and who therefore demonise everyone who disagrees with them”. Sadly, those with whom liberals  disagree often seem to include those who have a respect for the Natural Law or who have a religious perspective on the human condition. Gladstone, I think, would be dismayed. Scruton may exaggerate; but there is enough truth in his aphorism to make me cautious about claiming to be a liberal today. 

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'I am liberal' - Twill

I think that everyone should be treated as equals. no matter what ethnicity, religion, sexuality or race. People shouldn't think any less of you.
Twill's Twitter Feed

Monday, September 24, 2012

Igor Markaida - 'I am (a) liberal'

Any attempt at a meaningful explanation of the term 'liberal' requires a great deal of care. The main interpretation of liberalism as 'negative freedom' brought the concept closer to free market ideology, generally pairing it to the ideas of liberal democracy and capitalism. Antagonistic political formats of the twentieth century, like fascism and communism, mixed with anti-colonial (and anti-neocolonial) sentiment, accentuated this relationship further. The limits of the liberal ideals were put to the test. The rise of mass-media driven politics didn't help either, causing complex concepts to lose currency among the myriad messages that the average citizen was (and is) object to on a daily basis.

The fact is that liberals themselves have often shied away from responsibility, looked the other side or passed the reins on to non-liberals when things got tough and their principles did not seemed to provide any answers. On an even darker note, it would be disingenuous to ignore the way in which "freedom of expression" has trumped on someone's "freedom from hunger", the liberal ideal as moral cover to free market abuse. Living on less than a dollar a day makes it a little difficult for one's thoughts to be free from figuring out where the next dollar is going to come from.

But, although many liberals retreated quietly from using the term themselves, there is no denying that Western societies are built on the foundational liberal principles. Even self-proclaimed non-liberals voice their concerns under the protection of these principles. Their influence can be felt also in organized religion and the attitudes of people of faith that have shifted their beliefs to softer positions to the more conciliatory discourse of the ''spiritual'. Although far from resolved, issues that were of great concern to liberals only fifty years ago (such as the rights of women) have increasingly been addressed and interiorized by citizens in these societies. And although we cannot pretend that freedoms and rights are not being abused on a daily basis, it cannot be denied either that they play an important part in every individual's self-narrative.

The difficulty to assess the liberal values and its role in the organization of society only reflects the complexity of today's social and political scenario. Traditional concerns give way to new ones: environment, cultural and ethnic diversity, disability rights, sexual orientation, privacy and intellectual property in a hyper-connected world … the list of challenges grows faster than our ability to confront them. Perhaps the liberal toolset only works at a particular scale. From the ground up, at individual level, the foundational tenets of liberalism still help us position ourselves among those around us, in a harmonious way. But could it be that these tools do not work at a larger, global, political level and we ought to be looking for some sort of post-liberal mechanisms?

Discussion and compromise, a stubbornness in refusing to deal in absolutes and an underlying faith on the potential of human ingenuity are what sets the liberal ideal apart. Liberalism promotes individual contribution to the collective endeavour, as an in-built safeguard against too much state intervention on personal affairs. Legitimacy validated by representation also contributes to a sense of fair play, of equal of opportunities. Individual freedom comes with individual responsibility.

If it aspires to be other than just an illusion, liberalism needs to stop seeing itself as a destination point and rediscover the spirit of struggle, of work-in-progress, inherent to it. It has to recover a tradition of dissent, and appeal to freedom of thought and expression, not only from the state, but also from corporations that monopolize media and public opinion, education, culture … If its principles are to be in any way relevant in the twenty-first century, liberalism has to show that it has the capacity to work within ideological formats other capitalism (as capitalism without liberalism has done in China).

Warts and all, I think I will remain a staunch liberal for a longer while.

Igor Markaida works as a freelance Communications Consultant

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I am liberal - Anonymous

'Liberal', for me, means respect for one's neighbours, belief in the rule of law and a profound willingness to protect the rights of my brothers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bishop Gregory Cameron - 'I am (a) liberal'

Finding value and meaning in the world has puzzled humanity for all its existence.  Humanity’s answers have been hugely diverse, bringing healing and hope, violence and harm.  Among these myriad voices, I believe also that God’s Spirit speaks to the world and to humanity, encouraging us to find the reality and meaning which he writes into creation.  Two approaches stand out – a dogmatic approach, which wraps itself in a mantle of knowing the truth and coercing or cajoling others into it, and an approach which is forever open to the wisdom and experience of others.  The first is ultimately sterile.  It inhibits authenticity and exploration and tentativeness and integrity, and becomes a play about power.  The second is about hospitality and generosity, about discovering the echo of the Spirit’s whisperings in unexpected places, about affirmation and growth.  The growth into such wisdom begins with a liberality of soul; this is why I am “liberal”.

Gregory K Cameron, Bishop of St Asaph, Trustee of Gladstone’s Library

I am liberal - Anonymous

Because I think 'we', and not just 'I'.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Nathan North - 'I am (a confused) liberal'

Would Gladstone even be regarded as a liberal today? He certainly became more liberal the older he got (his views moving in the opposite direction to how most people's change), but I think a lot of his views would put him in UKIP today or at least on the right of the Conservative Party. Perhaps it is unfair to take him out of his historical context and judge him by contemporary standards; but if he was a liberal, then he seems like a very conservative one - as opposed to a radical liberal, such as John Stuart Mill.

Nathan North studied Philosophy at London University and is currently a journalist in Poland.

'I am liberal' - Sophie Jessop

I am liberal as I am open-minded to change; change in the community as well as change within myself.

Miss Sophie Jessup, Caerphilly, Wales.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

'I am liberal' - Chloe Bramwell

I think liberalism transcends party politics: it means celebrating diversity and offering opportunities to all.

Chloe Bramwell was born in 1995 and enjoys indulging in liberation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'I am liberal' - Kaye

I think that all people are fundamentally equal and should be free to express their opinions. For me, being liberal is more closely related to equality than to permissiveness.

Kaye from Birmingham

Monday, September 10, 2012

Want to take part?

Then do! There's plenty of thought-provoking stuff already on the blog, and we'd love new contributors to offer new perspectives or engage with previous posts.

You can take part in any way you like: a written entry of between 5-500 words, pictures, links...You don't have to be 'a' Liberal, or a Liberal Democrat, or even politically inclined, to take part - 'liberal' will mean whatever the public say it means!

The blog will run and run, but all entries submitted before September 30th will be put forward for consideration in the Why I am (or am not) liberal book, due out later this year. Don't miss your chance to be published!

'I am liberal' - Eryl Thomas

Being ‘liberal’ means being tolerant, open-minded, egalitarian, compassionate: and nice.

Eryl Thomas is a North Wales solicitor with sadly few liberal qualities.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

'I am liberal' - William Goddard

Freedom to think, tolerance, constant curiosity: all liberal, and all important elements of learning and development.

William Goddard - retired academic; Vice-President, Learning Teacher Network; Trustee of Southern Educational Leadership Trust; active regional RSA Fellow.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am not liberal - Anonymous

I think that I have been made and/or influenced to think I should be liberal. I can think freely, but not express freely, for fear of being non-PC.

I am (and am not) liberal - Anonymous

I am not liberal in the sense of 'anything goes', but I do believe in liberty, justice, the essential human rights for all. All political parties should be liberal!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

'I am liberal' - Jasmine Hide

I think that really, everything should be nice in the sense of liberal being free(ish) and that people should feel OK to express themselves provided they aren’t hurting anyone.

Jasmine Hide is happy to have been selected and hopes that people understand what she's trying to say.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

'I am liberal' - David Peter

Liberalism defines the values and ideas of a civilised society.

David Peter is a former Liberal Democrat and one-time Powys County Councillor, now retired and studying with the Open University for fun!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

'I am liberal' - Mollie Lord

I am a liberal - we should be free to be the individual that we were born to be - AS LONG AS NO-ONE GETS HURT.

Mollie Lord is a therapist, who also reads philosophy at the Open University.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

'I am liberal' - Sarah Kettley

Process comes before abstract concepts - material before form; outcomes need to be grounded in the rich, contingent lives of people, not forced upon them.

Sarah Kettley, research in craft and design

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

'I am (NOT) liberal' - Tony Barrett

I think that with regard to:

SMALL THINGS (kids playing loud music on buses):  I am not liberal
MEDIUM THINGS (right to abortion):                         I am liberal
BIG THINGS (destruction of the planet):                      I am not liberal

Tony Barrett: Slightly depressed Green campaigner

Monday, August 6, 2012

'I am liberal' - Anonymous

An important aspect of liberalism is acceptance of the diversity within society, plus an acceptance that any civilised society has an obligation to support the less fortunate.

'I am liberal' - Christian Daw

There is an urgent need for all people to understand their inherent dignity. Liberalism affirms the self as sovereign.

Christian Daw is Head of Sixth Form, St. James Senior Boys' School, Ashford.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Want to take part?

Then do! There's plenty of thought-provoking stuff already on the blog, and we'd love new contributors to offer new perspectives or engage with previous posts.

You can take part in any way you like: a written entry of between 5-500 words, pictures, links...You don't have to be 'a' Liberal, or a Liberal Democrat, or even politically inclined, to take part - 'liberal' will mean whatever the public say it means!

The blog will run and run, but all entries submitted before September 30th will be put forward for consideration in the Why I am (or am not) liberal book, due out later this year. Don't miss your chance to be published!

'I am liberal' - Catherine Kennedy

I think that I am female and gay and deserve as much respect as anyone else...except the bankers. Screw them.

Catherine Kennedy is 23, overeducated and employed as a library assistant in Hampshire.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I am (and am not) liberal - Anonymous

All individuals should be able to make their own choices in life. Law and order, of course, need to be maintained in order to have peace on our crowded, multi-cultural society. However, cases should be individually assessed; the law is not a black-and-white answer.

'I am liberal' - Simon Mundy

A true liberal believes in the supremacy of the individual, and the requirement of governments and corporations to respect and require fairness: we are all each other’s servants.

Simon Mundy is a writer, cultural policy adviser and advocate for the arts. He has written over 20 books, directed festivals in several countries and broadcast for more than 35 years.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Monday, July 16, 2012

David Hannay - Why I am (a) liberal

These comments stem from my experience as a Scottish Liberal candidate three times in the1970s, when Galloway changed from Tory to SNP; and again as an SLD candidate for the first Holyrood elections, when I was second on the Regional list and also constituency candidate for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. I never lost a deposit and always increased the vote.

During those elections I stood for three things: Home rule within a Federal UK; Electoral Reform; and Industrial partnership. These are still very relevant, but are not always given prominence today. The following are comments on the current importance of these three policies.

Home rule: within the UK.  Federalism requires changes to Westminster and the House of Lords, with a written constitution for the whole of the UK.  This is unlikely to happen before the independence referendum.  The best option is therefore “Devo plus”, and it is important that this is clearly defined by the anti-independence parties (not unionist because there is no longer a union of parliaments). Essentially taxes should be raised as far as possible where they are spent, and this goes for local authorities as well. At the moment the situation is completely unbalanced with the Barnet Formula and Rate Support Grants. The crucial thing is for external affairs and defence to remain on a UK basis.  It is important that this third option is in the referendum, because it would be supported by the majority in Scotland. To have only a “yes/no” for independence is a huge gamble, insulting to the voters, and risks us all sleepwalking into partition.

Electoral Reform: STV is the best system but after the AV defeat, further progress is unlikely for some time. However, there are now four different electoral systems in Scotland, and it is small wonder that voter turnout is low. There is a case for compulsory voting.

Industrial partnership: Capital in firms being owned by employees is not unusual in places like Germany, and happens here eg:- the John Lewis Partnership. The idea that customers and/or employees should be shareholders is not new, for instance the cooperative movement. It is relevant to Scottish Water which should be mutualised rather than privatised.

There are other important themes such as citizenship and the importance of early years and parenting.  Also localism or subsidiarity is important with taxes being raised as far as possible where they are spent. There is a need to simplify the tax and benefit system for individuals by combining personal taxation with benefits so that a negative income tax could result in a living wage.

There are also two contemporary issues which pose particular problems for Liberals.

The first is population growth, both globally and nationally. This is the most important issue in so many areas such as global warming, sustainability, unemployment, immigration, but it is not politically correct to mention it, especially amongst Liberals.

The second is China with its aggressive industrial and financial power, coupled with an appalling human rights record.

Being a liberal means putting the wellbeing of individuals first before ideologies and dogma when deciding on policies. 

David Hannay is a retired GP who stood for election in Galloway three times in the 1970s, as well as for Holyrood in the first elections for the Scottish Parliament.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Linda Isiorho - Why I am (a) liberal

I am a liberal because Jesus said what you bind on earth will be bound in heaven which I take to mean that if I can accept and endorse a person or an action then it can be sanctified. For me, liberality is a foretaste of the full experience of the richness of grace that we will enjoy in heaven. And anyway, it is so much more interesting to say yes than to say no!

Linda Isiorho is: amongst the first women to be priested into the C of E; retired teacher; on Diocesan Board of Education; on Cathedral Education Board; volunteer chaplain to local fire station; running a Boys’ Brigade branch; avid reader; equality campaigner; research volunteer for Asthma UK; small time poet; Naked Angel – the wine cooperative.

Monday, June 25, 2012

I am (a) Liberal (mostly) - Henry Dodds, BSc Pure & Applied Physics

Science needs both more liberalisation, and protection from liberal interpretation.

Scientists live in a world of truths backed by data, carefully scrutinised by a knowledgeable peer group through the pages of scientific journals. Yet it is the process of peer review that is the source of concern. 

Firstly, the cost of simply subscribing to scientific journals, controlled by a publishing industry desperate to hang on to revenues, means that it's expensive for scientists to get exposed to the full flow of scientific thought in their chosen domain. In April 2012 Harvard University in the US encouraged its faculty members to submit papers to open-access journals; unsurprising when you learn that the university's subscription costs were running at $3.5m a year.

Secondly, and more worryingly, is the danger of groupthink, where the peer group ridicules any idea offered that deviates too far from the mean. The chances of anything too radical seeing the light of day is slim, not least because referees are likely to withhold support for anything seen as too outrageous. But how can science make great strides when shackled like this?

A wider problem facing science is an excess of liberalism by the media and pressure groups in misinterpreting scientific data, or skewing it to support a particular agenda. The tragedy of the debate about climate change is that the public understanding of this vital issue has been muddied and confused by sloppy and biased reporting that would never be tolerated on a non-scientific subject. 

Science is too important to be left to the scientists, yet too precious to be left in the hands of non-scientists. Work that one out, liberals!

Henry 's email

Monday, June 18, 2012

Re:defining liberalism returns from our roadtrip...

The recent lull in posts has been caused by our visit to the Hay festival. Not only did we have a great time, but hundreds of you filled in our 'liberalism' voting cards (see above). Voters could tick the box and had the option of giving a short reason for their choice on the back of the card. We'll be blogging many of these responses in the coming weeks.

Don't forget, re:defining liberalism needs YOU! Perhaps you filled in one of our cards and would like to give an expanded viewpoint; perhaps you couldn't make it to Hay but would love to give your reasons via email. We'd very much like to hear from you. Email your thoughts to, or post them to us at the address on our website:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

'Why I am (probably) not liberal' - Peter Kellner, Journalist, Political Commentator and Founder of YouGov

As Professor Joad used to say on the Brains Trust, (a popular, if somewhat patronising, discussion programme on BBC radio in the 1940’s), it all depends on what you mean by “liberal”. Here are three different ways in which the word has been defined in recent times:

1.       By supporters of the free-market right, to mean maximum economic freedom for businesses and individuals, with the minimum of state spending, intervention and regulation

2.       By civil and human rights activists and social libertarians, to mean the maximum possible personal freedom, especially in regard to sexuality, abortion, drugs, religion, free speech and the rights of defendants

3.       By Americans – by the Right as a term of abuse, by progressives as a badge of pride – to mean federal laws and spending to build a more equal society, and to defend the rights and advance the interests of less well-off Americans

I am definitely a liberal in terms of definition 3, and mainly one in terms of definition 2. I am not a liberal in terms of definition 1. So why do I say that, all in all, I am probably not a liberal?

For a start, I dislike labels whose meaning is either unclear or ambiguous. And in the contest to define “liberal” my sympathies are with the European mainland concept of a philosophy that puts personal autonomy ahead of collective decisions. To me, a thorough-going liberal is someone who wants the state to keep out of both private morality and business decisions.

On that definition, few people are true, 100 per cent Liberals – some libertarians, perhaps, but not many others. Quite a few people are economically liberal and socially conservative (the new Right in Europe and the US); lined against them are those who are economically interventionist and socially liberal (most of Britain’s left, including the Greens).

I belong broadly to the second group – except that I am queasy about taking an absolute position on the rights of defendants accused of terrorism. It’s not that I want them to lose their freedom without a proper trial, or to be convicted on the basis of secret evidence that can’t be tested: we lose the right to call ourselves civilised if we abandon habeas corpus and punish them too readily. But I do believe that we must balance the rights of suspects and the rights of the potential victims of terrorism – that is, all of us, or society as a whole.

And that is the point, for it has a wider application. Balances must be struck in all kinds of ways between the liberal rights of individuals and the collective rights of society. In strict terms, the minimum wage is an illiberal policy, as it interferes in the freedoms of employers and workers to negotiate pay. So is the ban on smoking in offices, pubs and restaurants. Speed limits curb our right to drive as fast as we like, and taxes curb our right to spend what we want.  Race Relations Acts and the laws of libel and contempt restrict our freedom of speech. As I support the minimum wage, smoking bans, speed limits, generous, tax-funded state provision, and some checks on what we can say in public, I am reluctant to claim to be a liberal.

Now, there are many people, including good friends of mine, who share these views and insist that they are good liberals. Their argument, as I understand it, is that liberalism has never been a purist doctrine, and that it is perfectly happy with restrictions on personal liberty where the benefits of collectively agreed restrictions outweigh the virtues of individual freedom.

The trouble is that this approach dilutes the definition of liberalism so much that it embraces virtually everyone except crooks, sociopaths and some recent bankers. Who, from the Thatcherite Right to Old Labour’s left-wing, would NOT defend their policies in terms of finding the right balance between personal freedom and collective rules? They would differ sharply about WHERE to strike that balance but not about the FACT that a balance is needed.

If “liberal” is to be saved from being diluted to death, it must revert to its proper, indeed noble, concept of a philosophy that values individual liberty above all else.  I want a society in which there are plenty of such liberals, perpetually questioning arguments for collective rules and challenging accretions of state (and, indeed, private) power.  They are vital irritants, ensuring that the proper quest for balance does not tip into authoritarianism.  However, I believe that many of the biggest problems we face today – from poverty to climate change – require collective action. So while I want liberals to question everything the state does, to probe the motives and measures of every government minister and corporate mogul, and generally kick up a fuss, I don’t actually want them in charge.

And if I don’t want them in charge, I can’t really call myself one of them.

Peter Kellner's YouGov blog

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

'Why I am a Liberal' - Alice Westlake, Artist and Supporter of the Womens' Movement

I am a Liberal because I desire earnestly the advancement of the people morally, intellectually, and materially, by the redress of all wrongs that fall upon the weak, and the removal of all obstacles that stand in the way of the true happiness of men.

The essence of Liberalism is to be continually pressing on towards those objects, and its existence is incompatible with a complacent satisfaction in things as they are, or even with a continued toleration of them.

From Andrew Reid, Why I am a Liberal (1885)

Monday, May 14, 2012

‘Why I am not liberal’ – Andrew Oldham, Poet and Author

Politics has always been a game of one, one candidate, one self and one ‘ism’ to represent the masses. I believe ‘isms’ are dangerous, childish and profoundly the playground of those who are fantasists. They are not radical, they are for dreamers, they are a catch all, a white wash to what is, and always has been more complicated situation, what it means to be human. I do not see myself as a Liberal, I do have Liberal beliefs but then on any given day, in any given moment of anger, irrationality or love I can say that I have socialist and conservative ideals. A liberal in a car jam can quickly descend into right wing thoughts after the second hour of being stuck behind a white van beating out dance music. Likewise, a Conservative can strike a deal with a radically opposed viewpoint to gain power as can a Socialist. We are then back to the politics of the self and the selfish. The problem we have, and has always had, is that we still believe that politics is black or white, left or right, for or against and we roll in the ‘isms’ to substantiate a political system that is flawed. I think we have to stop planning our politics for the short term, for four year policies, the bust and boom economics and the desire to please all whilst pleasing no one. Politics can teach us something, that all of us have a desire to survive in the worst of situations even when grasping at straws or spin doctors. All of us have to take responsibility to plan for the long term. To plan not as individuals, not for the self, or for nations (which is flawed, as geology shows us that there hasn’t always been an England) or as voters (though so few of us bother as we seek only the self). We all have to embrace the very thing we have yet to embrace, our humanity. I am not talking about some wishy-washy, touchy-feely idea but to really begin to understand our collective strengths and weaknesses, from the ability to pull together against adversity to our ability to breed too much. Until then we will continue to pigeon hole ourselves in ‘isms’, call ourselves Liberal, Conservative or Socialist when we should be humans, more than the sum of our whole parts, more than the self or the politics of the self. Maybe then we can develop social and political models that will aid our development not for four years, not for one hundred years but for millennia to come. If we want to continue to be intelligent, then we have to think about our long term beliefs and where we are going to be a thousand or a million years from now as a species. Until then, we won’t even be able to label ourselves even as human.

Andrew Oldham’s poetry has been published in The Times, Transmission and Ambit. His first poetry collection was Ghosts of a Low Moon (Lapwing, Belfast 2010). A forthcoming pamphlet, The Anchor will be published by Glass Head Press in 2012. His poetry has been broadcast on BBC Radio Four's Poetry Please. Andrew's website can be found here.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

'Why I am Liberal' - Cathy Galvin, Journalist

Soon a For Sale board will appear outside the 1930’s house where I grew up in Coventry. It’s difficult to know how to value a home. To my father, who died last year, the house was his legacy to my sister and I. Sitting in the back room after tea once a week, we would watch as he opened a little red tin and divided his weekly pay-packet from the tractor factory where he worked in to different compartments: building society, bills, food, clothes, holiday.  Occasionally, when he was on strike, the little tin lay empty but it triumphed in the end: he clocked in and out of the factory and the bills were paid. The house is now ours. Almost.

Leave its bay-window behind, walk for fifteen minutes and you confront the architectural scars of the City Centre - what remains of a great medieval metropolis shattered when two-thirds of its buildings disappeared in the blitz, stitched bluntly back together with 1950’s modernist bravado. It’s difficult to know how to value a city. This blend of old and new was once thrilling to those who flooded in to work in the booming factories.  After the horrors of two world wars, it represented a dignified post-war settlement. “The principle of Liberalism is trust in the people, qualified by prudence, “, the great Liberal Prime-Minister Gladstone offered in 1885. In Coventry, the decent liberal values of hard-work and egalitarianism finally rose, phoenix-like, from the indecent ashes of war. Almost.

While my Dad was counting his pennies, I’d either be doing my homework or day-dreaming. It’s difficult to know how to value a culture. I read the Daily Mirror. I read the New Statesman. I read poetry. I knew from family history the tyranny of the English oppression of the Irish, the English oppression of its own working-class. “Get yourself an education, then you can go and clean toilets”, was the puzzling mantra from my Irish maternal line. My Mum was, indeed, a cleaner. Her money added a few nicer touches to the house. My Dad was wary about all this aspiration. Working wasn’t about gaining materially, it was about buying a life safe from both the authorities and the vagaries of market forces. He sensed it could all disappear so easily.  Yet I believed in an inevitable political and social progress.  We had peace and democracy. My sister and I would be the first in our family to study at university. Children, fulfilling work, sexual freedom, economic independence. I had it all, as would my daughters. Almost.  

As the For Sale board goes up, I have to wonder. What do we own in the end, those of us whose parents were allowed the promise of a better life while it was convenient to offer it to them? Those whose grandparents were shovelled in to a mass grave when Coventry was bombed? This city is worth little now that its industry has gone and the semi-detached houses even less.  My progress allowed me a place as a senior editor at The Sunday Times for many years but now I am redundant, I know how fragile that was.  I was not entitled.

For Sale boards dot our collective consciousness: we, who thought we owned the benefits of houses, hospitals, schools and universities, are invited to sell up before things get even worse but someone else is benefitting from what we are giving away.  My place in the world appeared to come from the top-down: governments embracing liberal values ensured the likes of us were given the security of the welfare state, pensions and work. In fact, it came from the bottom-up: men and women fighting for generations for the right to a decent wage and the vote.

Liberalism has to be more than a luxury bestowed with largesse. It is freedom from debt and bondage. It is guaranteed by the people, not the market or the state. In our little semi, it tasted sweet. Now my children must buy debt simply to be educated. Is some kind of bondage to a floundering economic next? Their legacy, should they choose it, is the knowledge that neither austerity nor progress are inevitable and that everything must be fought for.  As early as 1839, the workers who published The Chartist Circular in Glasgow stated this:  “For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it. “

Let’s pause for a moment and relish those thoughts, before we sell anything else. 

Cathy Galvin's Twitter

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why I am (or am not) liberal....

This is the question we want you - whoever you are, whatever your political affiliation, and wherever you're from - to answer. Tell us why and how you are liberal. Tell us why you are not liberal - perhaps there are flaws in liberal values that make you uneasy? It's up to you and we'd love to hear from you.

All submissions will be published on this blog, with a selection being published in a book in late 2012/early 2013. Please send your thoughts to, with either 'Why I am liberal' or 'Why I am not liberal' in the subject line.

'Why I am liberal' - Nicholas Murray, Biographer and Publisher at Rack Press

It must be, after the experience of this Coalition government, a small “l” but the word, often used as a term of disparagement in the United States, is one that still resonates in Europe where it is almost always a term of praise. 

It is the spirit which animates, in Gladstone’s century, works like John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy and its work is still not done because its antithesis – authoritarianism, hierarchy, power-worship, is still very much with us.

It is in two areas that liberalism matters to me (since I have little interest in economics): freedom of thought and freedom to live in the way one wishes.  The liberal wants to permit, to allow, to grant freedom, believing that the very concept of toleration is in itself a social, moral and intellectual good.  Pluralism, toleration, multiplicity, are, by contrast, what the illiberal mind finds odious.  The authoritarian or the dictator is stirred by visceral feelings of hatred, resentment, anger at the proliferation of what it cannot control. The illiberal mind wants there to be only one way: its way.

Liberalism, by contrast, wants to see freedom, diversity, multiplicity, the absence of unnecessary constraint.  It trusts people to work out their own salvation.  The illiberal mind, often fuelled by religious or sectarian or race hatred is maddened by the prospect of free minds exercising themselves according to their own principles and values.  The dictator is for this reason a ridiculous figure, a strutting absurdity who knows nothing beyond the limits of his or her own mind.

Liberalism is tolerant.  It does not see any virtue in imposing only one way, in declaring some lifestyles, preferences, beliefs, practices to be impermissible.  Liberalism, however, is weak – it can be seen to vacillate – when it merely tolerates and does not engage with what it knows to be wrong.  Some beliefs and practices must be challenged and contested, but not with illiberal weapons of repression.  Open debate, vigorous advocacy, dissent, challenge, dialogue are the tools of liberalism.  Censorship, bullying, suppression, closure of debate, are the tools of its enemies.

I am a liberal because I want to live in a free society and live in my own way, in so far as this is compatible with social responsibility and respect for others.  I am a liberal because I believe in human freedom, in the fathomless resources and creativity of the human spirit when it is unconstrained and can follow the laws of its own being.  To be free is to be fully human.

Nicholas Murray's blog
Nicholas Murray's website

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

'Defining Liberalism' - Alan Durant, Author and Poet

My main area of interest in defining liberalism is in the role education – in a wide sense, not just the curriculum – plays now and in the future. How will we in the books we write, the lessons we teach and the examples we set encourage and inspire a new generation of compassionate, independent-minded liberal thinkers – men like Gladstone, not monsters like Anders Breivik? I first came across William Gladstone as part of my A level history course, but I was a teenager, he a Victorian and the teaching uninspiring so then he passed me by. Like him, however, I have a Christian faith (followed with fluctuating intensity since adolescence) and my political and ethical views have always been liberal.

I write for and work with children of all ages – from toddlers to teenagers – often in a multi-racial context. Schools are a microcosm of society and, at a time when radicalism of the young is rife, it is essential that the liberal voice should be heard – particularly in the light of recent events around the country and at a time when political Liberalism in this country appears to have lost its way. In a world in which religious conflicts have become more acute and intransigent and fundamentalist terrorism ubiquitous, traditional liberal values such as tolerance, empathy and the willingness to listen to the views of others without prejudice, are of greater importance than ever, but also increasingly at threat. Young people need to see that liberalism is alive and (vigorously) kicking.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

'(Re)defining Liberal Values' - Stella Duffy, Novelist

I write this from Brixton, the morning after looters smashed in my local shop windows. The morning after ‘Gay’s the Word’ was the only shop in its street to suffer violence. The morning after a weekend of sadness for London. I see young (mostly) men attacking property in their own neighbourhoods. I see our politicians on holiday and not coming home to address the problems. I see that their neighbourhoods are well away from any signs of unrest.

I am a white, living-middle-class, raised-working-class, Labour-voting, feminist, lesbian, woman. And not one of these labels even begins to speak for me.

I want change and an equitable society, and I don’t want a violent revolution to get there. I see no evidence that any revolution anywhere has ever worked.

I believe in dialogue and discussion and hope, and I don’t care if that sounds airy-fairy or hippy, I care that we get on with talking to each other and making a difference. I do that by being out to a group of 100+ fourteen-year-olds in Enfield when I taught writing for my niece’s boyfriend’s school. I do that by working with a local community for a pre-Olympics arts project on the south London council estate where I was born. I do that by speaking out, sometimes to my own detriment, always as honestly as possible.

I don’t have an academic take on liberal values – I do have heartfelt commitment to positive change and hope. I believe they are the same thing.

Stella Duffy's blog

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

'Redefining Liberalism' - Gill McEvoy, Poet

As a poet I know the sustaining and enriching quality of closeness to the natural world. I try to observe nature as it is, cruel but also awe-inspiring in its inter-related balance. Everything depends on everything else, as we do. Take away a plant, you take away an insect, take away an insect you remove a bird, etc. Agricultural practice no longer curates our world but exploits it. In my writing I try, as the poet Charles Tomlinson does, to harvest my observations to create poems that draw the reader into the grace, delight and reality of the natural world. Nature is itself, and in its extraordinary and delicate balance I see the hand of God. For me liberal values towards peace, tolerance and dignity begin with cherishing and respecting our planet.
            We have cut ourselves off from our spiritual roots by damaging in irreparable ways the very earth on which our lives depend. Without a spiritual sense we cannot live in the ‘peace and dignity’ that Gladstone advocated in his 1850 speech on the Don Pacifico affair. Without spiritual depth it is hard for us to be tolerant, to respect the rights of others to be who they are, to live in peace and dignity. In the Big Brother world we now inhabit where phones, computers can be hacked, Google has its satellite eye on us, surveillance cameras are everywhere, it is not surprising that material preoccupations, the least sustaining aspects of life, have taken the place of spiritual reflection.

Poetry Workshops with Poem Catchers
Gill's blog

'Why I am (or am not) liberal...'

This is the question that we want you - whoever you are, whatever your political affiliation, and wherever you're from - to answer. Tell us why and how you are liberal. Tell us why you are not liberal. It's up to you and we'd love to hear from you.

All submissions will be published on this blog. Please send your thoughts to, with either 'Why I am liberal' or 'Why I am not liberal' in the subject line.

Monday, April 23, 2012

'Redefining Liberal Values' - Ian Parks, Poet and Writing Fellow at De Montfort University, Leicester

As a poet, I see myself as embracing liberal values in the broadest sense. I believe that poetry is, in itself, a form of liberal expression, in that it can articulate ideas of freedom, social equality, respect for diversity, and a celebration of the human spirit, in a language that has the potential to be non-political in the narrowest sense. My poems have appeared regularly in The Liberal magazine along with articles dealing with contemporary issues and I feel very strongly that poetry has a social function to perform at the beginning of the twenty-first century. At a time when the language of liberalism is being appropriated by both the marketplace and the political elite, poetry has the qualities that can help restore that language to its proper place, encouraging as it does receptiveness and open-mindedness on the part of the reader. I also feel that poetry appeals with the best in the human spirit. An admirer of the poetry of W. H. Auden, I would, however, strongly disagree with his conclusion that ‘poetry makes nothing happen’. Poetry, I think, has the potential to work powerfully in the political sphere although its trajectory might not be easy to trace. I feel that poetry has a part to play in an ongoing debate about what it means to be human, to participate in a free and open society, to appeal to the generosity of spirit which is so firmly rooted in the Liberal Tradition. It has a part to play also, I believe, in the redefining of liberal values.

'On being a Liberal Writer' - Naomi Alderman, Novelist

What does it mean to be a liberal? There's something about generosity, I think, in the word itself. "Liberal with her praise." "Sprinkle olive oil on liberally." "A liberal application of money." Something about giving more than is strictly required and doing it gladly. That seems to me, when I ask myself, to be what I think of when I call myself a 'liberal'. I believe in being open, not closed. In looking, therefore, forward not back, because a generous attitude is also one which thinks that things certainly could be better in the future, that we will not find the best things only by conserving our meagre stock of ideas and achievements, but by passing them around in the expectation that others will do the same.

And there's something too about being liberal with one's definition of humanity. I have believed for a long time in the expanding "circle of us". When Gladstone was born, his father made money from the slave-trade, and the circle of "real human beings" extended no further than adult Christian white men with property. Slowly we've moved that circle outward, expanding it liberally. Not just men with property, but all men. Not just white men but black men. Not just men but women. Not just Christians but also all faiths and none. Not just able-bodied, but also those who are disabled. Not just straight but also gay. Not just cis-gendered but also transgendered. That is what it means to be liberal. To open up the doors of power and influence. To make sure that we invite people in, because we know that our humanity is damaged when we start seeing other people as less-than-people. 

It makes us weaker than the forces on the other side, of course. If you are a fundamentalist, if you're prepared to threaten people with exclusion from the circle if they don't toe the line, you'll get more loyal troops. But we're still right, and they're still wrong. I hope that the expansion of that circle is irreversible. Once you see someone as a person, maybe you can't go back to seeing them as half-a-person. 

A friend of mine suggested to me recently that in 200 years time the "adult" part of the circle will be expanded. That children will have the same rights of property, self-determination and voting as adults. "Impossible," I thought, "absurd. How would they... they couldn't even..." But the thought is delicious; that we have further yet to go, that we will find greater and broader definitions of "full people" than seems imaginable to us today. That is what being a liberal is too: being willing to change your mind. Being delighted by the idea that you might be proved wrong. 

15th April 2012
(originally published at

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Conservative MP Louise Mensch, interviewed in The Guardian (2011)

As part of the selection process she was asked to write an essay entitled: Why Are You A Conservative? Her first sentence was: "Because conservatism delivers liberal ends." 

Decca Aitkenhead, 'Louise Mensch: 'We're not all ogres', The Guardian, 30 September 2011

'Redefining Liberalism' - Kate Charles, Novelist

The vile person shall no more be called liberal, nor the churl said to be 
For the vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.
The instruments also of the churl are evil: he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right.
But the liberal deviseth liberal things; and by liberal things shall he stand.

Isaiah 32.5-l.8

Recently I took part in a public read-through of the entire King James Bible, and declaimed this passage from Isaiah. I’d been mulling over what I might say in this statement, so it struck me quite forcefully.

My fiction writing is very much in the context of the Church of England, sitting squarely in the middle of the liberal tradition. I’m almost afraid to admit this in the current climate of extremism and dogmatic certainty within the Church. So much of what is happening today – insistence on an Anglican Covenant, defections to the Ordinariate, witch-hunts against those who are ‘different’ – goes against what I stand for, and continue to believe. Perhaps it is time to re-define liberal values in terms of the historic Church of England, before the word became a pejorative inevitably prefaced by ‘woolly-minded’. Liberalism should be something to be proud of, not to demean.

Kate Charle's website 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

(Re)defining Liberal Values: Sue Vickerman, Poet

I cannot redefine liberal values. By the year 2011 there is so much truth to be had – at the flick of an ‘on’ button, the click of a mouse – that it is over-facing. Engagement with social, moral and spiritual questions has perhaps never been more tricky, because there is no starting point. Or rather, there are many adoptable starting points, but which has credibility? Global credibility? Is the interaction between theology and politics the rarified subject-matter of a special-interest group? A hobby group? Is it a side-alley?

Without a starting point – a fixed frame of reference, the quest for truth (for meaning, for values) is an almost impossible journey, with arbitrary, shifting footholds. We are standing on the globe itself. How wobbly is that? Trying to stand on a sphere. A turning one. Unanchored, we have to somehow define a context – our own context at least – before we can even start to think about how to behave, and what is good. And we need to accept that in other contexts, our moral definitions may not apply.

I am a Quaker attender of Methodist heritage who will claim to have divested myself of all the baggage of my religious upbringing until someone tries to sell me a lottery ticket. This activity I will reject, as though it were inherent in my very genetic make-up to do so, until the end of my days. There are things I was taught. If I had a child, I would be teaching her too. And the teachings would come from somewhere...


NOTE: For a 21st century liberal woman’s discussion of art, poetry, life, love and living alone, see Suki’s blog on

Monday, April 16, 2012

Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery (Prime Minister from 1894-95)

'BECAUSE I wish to be associated with the BEST  MEN in the BEST WORK'
Published in Reid, Why I am a Liberal (1885)
How tempting to imagine he was thinking of Oscar Wilde...

David Cameron, quoted in Jesse Norman's 'The Big Society' (2010)

You can call it liberalism. You can call it empowerment. You can call it freedom. You can call it responsibility. I call it the Big Society.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Re:defining Liberal Values - Greg Miller - Poet and Janice Trimble Professor of English at Millsaps College, Mississppi.

How do I understand ‘(re)defining liberal values’? An education in the liberal arts is an education in how to live life as a free person, and liberal values are central to the liberal arts: openness and inquisitiveness distrustful of cant and received opinion, not merely a toleration but also a hunger for perspectives different from one’s own, and vigorous support of a civic order that encourages conversation open to discovery and transformation. For John Milton, the very act of deferring blindly to authority – whether that authority be a church, the state, a tradition, a party, a text, or any human ‘assembly’ including schools or universities – can make one what he called a ‘heretick in the truth.’ We have to exercise our minds and spirits just as we must exercise our bodies if we are to be strong, vigorous and free. In our historical moment, to redefine liberal values requires attentiveness to the realities and complexities of national and world economic disparities; educational opportunities – across class, gender, and race – can be instrumental in transforming political, economic and personal realities and possibilities, but education alone cannot make us free. Insecurities, particularly following the attacks of 9/11 on New York and Washington, D.C., have fueled the irrational behavior of individuals and nations. Traditional civil liberties are at risk in many historic democracies. Central to redefining liberal values is a study of how best to promote peace between peoples and nations, defending, through international law, minorities and vulnerable peoples – groups and individuals – throughout the world.

5th July, 2011

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

As we begin our two-year project, a word from our founder...

Scan of W.E. Gladstone's original words

'The Principle of Liberalism is trust in the people, qualified by Prudence; the Principle of Conservatism is mistrust of the people, qualified by Fear'
W.E. Gladstone, 'Why I am a Liberal' in Andrew Reid (ed.), Why I am a Liberal (Cassell & Company, 1885), p. 13

Thursday, March 1, 2012

why I am (or am not) liberal . . .

We at Gladstone’s Library are re-working Andrew Reid’s classic Victorian publication, Why I am a Liberal (1885), a publication that asked a selection of the great and the good exactly that question for the benefit of the reading public.

Reid’s contributors included poets and writers (such as Robert Browning and Edmund Gosse), MPs and Prime Ministers (Joseph Chamberlain and W. E. Gladstone), journalists (George R. Sims), historians (Professor E. E. Beesly), travel writers (Lady Brassey), clergy (Rev. Newman Hall and John Clifford), political thinkers (Thomas Hare), secularists (George Jacob Holyoake), suffragettes (the artist Alice Westlake, as well as her husband John Westlake Q.C.) and what we would now recognise as human rights campaigners (Millicent Garrett Fawcett and Henry Ward Beecher). Fifty-five contributors – in Reid’s words, ‘the best minds of the Liberal Party’ – all told their readers why they were a Liberal.

While we want to follow Reid’s selection of contributors, and we think his question deserves a contemporary audience, we also want to strip the question of its capital L. ‘Liberal’ no longer means ‘a member of the Liberal Party’. As such, it seems more appropriate that we seek responses regarding Why I am (or am not) liberal. We think the small ‘l’ and the space for dissenting voices makes all the difference.

In order to answer this question, we are writing to leading British thinkers and writers to ask them to contribute between 5-500 words on this very question. Why are you liberal? Why are you not liberal?

We will also be asking the general public to contribute. This year’s Hay-on-Wye festival will see us distributing postcards asking the public to tell us why they are (or are not) liberal. It will also be a six month exploration at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden.

Contributions will be published in an online format and are likely to be collected for publication in book form. If you’d like to be part of our project, we ask that you confirm in writing to Louisa Yates ( by 1st June 2012. Please indicate which question you would like to answer: ‘Why I am liberal’ or ‘Why I am not liberal’.

Contributions should be submitted by 1st November 2012. Your contribution should be between 5-500 words and can be in whatever form you like: prose, poem, crossword puzzle...