arlier this summer I was asked to give the Social Liberal Forum’s annual William Beveridge Lecture (Sir William Beveridge was a Liberal who along with fellow Liberal, Maynard Keynes, laid the groundwork for the creation of the welfare state and the economic policies that enabled it in the post-war period). As the first non-Liberal to be asked to give the address, I think it most definitely a function of the unprecedented times we now find ourselves in.
And that ultimately was the premise of much of this speech. That given the unprecedented multiple, existential ‘cliff edges’ we now find ourselves upon, both nationally and internationally – the rise of authoritarian nationalism, deepening climate and ecological collapse and the growing ‘crisis of democracy’ – now is surely the time to re-examine the 20th century political silos that both socialist and liberal traditions have placed themselves in?
Although mentioned, party political alliances are not the central thrust of this speech. Rather this is a deeper look at the overlaps and commonalities between the roots of the liberal and socialist traditions. Thus laying out some of the parameters for what is an increasingly necessary socialist-liberal realignment. It also sought to challenge supporters of both traditions and push them outside of their respective comfort zones.
As well as touching on a broad and inclusive definition for what constitutes 21st century ‘progressives’ it also discusses the need to re-evaluate and reflect on some of the critical failings of The Enlightenment – the values of which were the genesis of both liberal and socialist traditions. Values, which in some cases, need to be reconsidered, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the implications this has for a more inclusive progressivism.
For some, this speech will undoubtedly be difficult reading. For others it will reinforce lines of thought they have already been considering. Either way the ideas raised will challenge orthodox thinking on how to achieve power, lasting change and shape the world around us far more successfully than we have for many years.
As one commentator noted to those about to read the speech, “If you do left politics in Labour, you’re already making this compromise.”
Hold that thought.