Tag Archive: liberal values

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Liberalism and Politics

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By Emma | No comments yet.

Last night I had a fascinating discussion with an old friend about the current tensions between classical and social  liberalism. We weren’t discussing this in the context of the crisis of the Lib Dems which is different but related, but the implications for policy implementation. It was an interesting discussion about the kind of liberalism we would both want to see a Labour government implement and what the tensions were between freedoms, protections and responsibilities – both of individuals and of the state towards its citizens.

We discussed topics as diverse as the prevalence and necessity of CCTV, ID cards, mental heath provision and intervention, state education and healthcare. We didn’t always agree on where the limits of the state should or shouldn’t be, but it was an interesting and illuminating discussion.

The problem with our discussion – as we both acknowledged – is that it existed entirely on the Authoritarian/Libertarian axis and frankly that’s not where most people live. We are both women with a relatively comfortable lifestyle, but both of us raised financial concerns throughout the other conversations we had that evening. We both voted labour in the election based on economic factors. My friend is far less tribal than I am, and weighed up voting Lib Dem, but didn’t.

Most people don’t care about or vote on issues on the Libertarian/Authoritarian spectrum. We vote on economic issues. We vote according to our understanding and interpretation of the world and its daily influence on our lives and those of the people we care about. Unless you are at a point where the level of your wealth does not affect your daily life, these are the issues that are going to affect you. Are you and your family safe? Are you all warm and well fed? Are you protected in case of harm? Do you have work? These are the real electoral battlegrounds, and only one of these areas areas (safety) would be affected by policies on the lib/auth scale (though there are arguments to be had about which way threats to safety lie).

There are excellent arguments to be had about the balance between security and civil liberties. I don’t believe any of those reasons are about electoral advantage or democratic representation. We can see this in the fact that The Lib Dems core vote has proved to be so small as have seen their collapse in the polls and authoritarian parties have had even less success. Their contributions to the coalition – such as they are – have nearly all been on Lib/Auth issues, and on economic issues, the classical liberalism that gels their right wing with the Tories has held sway. If the oft cited argument of Lib Dems that they are above the Left/Right axis were true, their support would not have failed to anything liek the extent that it is doing. It also would not have been a financial issue that became the emblematic token of that failure, but a failure on their own axis.

I regularly advocate for Labour to be more liberal on issues around crime and justice and related issues like terror laws and drug laws. I believe this is a matter of values and that Labour should be socially liberal while rejecting classical liberalism as largely anathema to equality which must be our highest value. I am frequently shouted down by those who believe that authoritarianism is a better reflection of the value of protection of communities that is also a part of our core beliefs. I accept those arguments and that tension. Those debates need to be had to find the right balance.

I believe that a more liberal Labour party would not lose votes. I don’t believe it would gain us many (we could probably gain a few disaffected Lib Dems but might lose a few soft Tories), but it wouldn’t lose us votes either. I also believe that the corollary is true. Very few people really vote for parties on civil liberties/security issues unless they genuinely feel at threat. While this has been a factor in recent elections, it was only when people felt economically threatened that they changed their voting patterns in meaningful ways. So when Labour talk about this issue, we need to do so in the reality that we neither side are raising electoral advantage but competing visions of state activism. If we can do so, we would have a much better and more productive debate.


On Burkas and Feminism

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By Emma | No comments yet.

I consider myself a feminist.

I don’t however identify with the stereotype that the tabloids and lazy media (and some radical feminists) perpetuate. I don’t hate men. In fact I love men – one man in particular. I also believe that men and women are different. I am not as physically strong as most men. Most men don’t have as high a threshold for pain as I do. I enjoy sex and I enjoy sex with men. I don’t feel violated (or if so, only in a good way!) I feel a participant in an act of fun/lust/love (delete as appropriate).

For me, feminism is about recognising and celebrating the differences between men and women, and then working within society to ensure that the genders are equal. Equal in representation at all levels. Equally educated. And over their lifetime, equally compensated for their work, or the work done in and around the home in supporting a family.

Feminism is about raising the game for women, not lowering it for men. I believe in a positive form of feminism, where women are enabled to the level that men enjoy in society. Feminism can also not be separated from class, and the class struggle. A working class woman will enjoy a far lesser degree of choice or opportunity than her middle class equivalent. She will also remain poorer, and the gap between the two will increase dramatically once they reach retirement age. Only about 16% of women qualify for a basic state pension as opposed to 78% of men, and these will – by and large – be middle class women, who are more likely to have a private pension as well.

So Feminism is not about attacking and hating men, but celebrating and helping women.

I don’t think France’s banning of Burkas is the right move, because i think it would simply criminalise behaviours rather than try to rationalise them.  

As a feminist, I believe veiling women is simply wrong. It speaks to a woman’s lesser position in society, and tells of her position only as an object of sexual desire for men, and the need to cover her up for the sake of those men.

However, I don’t believe I have the right to tell another human being what to wear or not wear, so I wouldn’t legislate to tell a woman she could not wear a veil, but I would ask us all as society to examine our attitudes towards women, their clothing and their bodies. Women have every right to show their faces, and if anyone believes there isn’t a certain amount of cultural pressure within section of the Muslim community for women to be veiled, pressure coming largely from community leaders – nearly always men – then they are being naive.

But where does my belief in spreading liberal values end and cultural hegemony begin? Should the pressure to accept and live alongside communities who’s beliefs are so different from my own on issues of gender politics mean I should accept the position of women within section of Muslim society? Should I understand that they do things differently? Should they understand that I do and respect my beliefs?

Ask 100 people where to draw the line and  I suspect I would get 100 different answers. I also suspect that about 15% would be sure we should spread liberal values by whatever means necessary, 15% would believe we shouldn’t interfere in other cultures whatever the cost, and that the other 70% are – like me – groping around for answers somewhere in the middle.

I don’t know the answers, but what I do know, is that these questions are possibly the most important that will be asked in the 21st century, and that if progressives don’t ask them, others will impose answers upon us.

For now I will continue to campaign as a feminist for better rights for women within all communities, so that those women who do reject the veil are free to do so.


In my last post I expressed a desire to move on from the hardnut policies on crime, security and justice. Because it is political expedient, because the timing is right and simply because it’s the right thing to do, we need to move away from the knee jerk reactions we have seen from Jack Straw and Alan Johnson on prison reform and the dropping of Section 44. I am however encouraged by Ed Miliband’s view that we shouldn’t “try to out-right the right on crime”. I hope other leadership contenders will start to think in the same way, and support reforms where they could make a real difference, while continuing to push and scrutinise to ensure these aren’t just budget cuts that forget the more important rehabilitation role in the rush to reduce spending and state involvement in people’s lives. he’s right that it’s electoral advantageous to us to do so too – win/win!

So I applaud Ken Clarkes moves to reform the justice system in favour of better rehabilitiation and will push for this to be done in the best possible way.

However, other reforms I find both deeply insulting and upsettingly baffling. The most obvious is the granting of anonymity to rape defendants.

I accept that there are liberal arguments about the anonymity of all defendants, but this is not that (There are also good societal arguments that we need to bring forward corroborative evidence which can only be done without anonymity). This is one crime, a crime with an already appalling conviction rate – largely because the burden of proof and distrust already falls disproportionately on the victim. There are many excellent arguments against this here.

This proposal was in neither coalition party manifesto, and therefore has no democratic legitimacy. It singles our a group of victims already significantly less likely to report the crime and adds an additional sense of belief that they are lying. It also makes it harder for victims to come forward to support each other.

Were the coalition interested in strengthening the protection of all accused of crimes I would listen, but this is not that. It’s a nasty small-minded attack on the rights of women. In the words of Tory MP Louise Bagshawe “singling out rape in this way ministers are sending a negative signal about women and those who accuse men of rape”.

Well if this government want to ride roughshod over the rights of women, maybe it’s time we started to play dirty too? So here’s my question: What’s the urgency, and who has what to hide?


1. Will you restore the vote to conference, and if so, what measures beyond this would you take to make our party more democratic?

2. What will you do to ensure that the Labour Party Leadership and cabinet reflect the diversity of our membership and of Britain?

3. How should  a left-of-centre party, in opposition to a Right-of-Centre coalition conduct itself in opposition?

4. If you were forced in this contest to be defined by one key policy proposal, what would it be?

5. How do we articulate a progressive and (small l) liberal vision of an active and pro-active state?


I was at the Fabian’s Next Left conference on Saturday, and anyone who saw me there will know that I am supporting Ed Miliband for the leadership of our party. I think he is an ideal candidate, warm and engaging, thoughtful and not afraid to push back on a question – or to say I don’t know, but then make sure he does find out. I thought the speech he gave was inspiring and principled (I actually welled up to hear a Labour politician talking thoughtfully about class, something we have tried to ignore for too long). Ed’s record at DECC was exemplary, and through my work with SERA and my interest in climate change issues I am aware of how far he brought us and the passion he has for taking Britain into a new era in a compassionate, fair and progressive way.

The issues that arose at the Fabian conference got me thinking about what we need in a leader and what I would want the whole slate to commit to or think about.

So here are some questions all our candidates should answer, some specific, some on direction and principle, that will help to focus the debate, and the answers and discussion of then would help us to renew as a party, a movement and as an electoral force.

1. Will you restore the vote to conference, and if so, what measures beyond this would you take to make our party more democratic?

2. What will you do to ensure that never again will we have a position where there are no female candidates in the contest for the Labour Party Leadership?

3. How should  a left-of-centre party, in opposition to a Right-of-Centre coalition conduct itself in opposition?

4. If you were forced in this contest to be defined by one key policy proposal, what would it be?

5. How do we articulate a progressive and (small l) liberal vision of an active and pro-active state?

For me I think these cover the areas of vision and leadership, without tying them down to policy specifics that they may decide would be best discussed through conference and other bodies.



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The views stated are those of Emma Burnell and the other occassional contributors.
They are not the views of any employer or organisation with which these individuals are involved.
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