Social Issues / To What Extent Are The Ideas Of Liberalism Evident In British Politics?

To What Extent Are The Ideas Of Liberalism Evident In British Politics?

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Autor:  anton  08 December 2010
Tags:  Extent,  Liberalism,  Evident,  British,  Politics
Words: 1007   |   Pages: 5
Views: 334

In order to answer this question we must first look at the different strands of Liberalism. If we look back to the 17th century with the ideas of Hobbes and Locke we can see the building blocks that began classical liberalism. They made advances to the traditional view that everyone had natural rights, to determining that not only this but people should also have equal rights and equal potential. From here classical liberalism stood for individual liberty with the state playing a minimal role. They believed that inequality within society is part of nature and that allowing a state too much power to interfere would disrupt this balance. However, this led to a large rich poor divide within the country, to the point where the deprivation forced the Liberals to rethink their ideals.

The New liberal thinkers began exploring how best to alleviate poverty without affecting the state’s natural inequality. They began exploring the ideas of a welfare state where freedom and opportunity are increased through state promises of a decent standard of living and a right to work, as well as compulsory education and the increased role of local government. The moral philosopher T. H. Green said during the 19th century that we are not truly free if we do not have a sense of caring for others. This was the first step away from the individualism of classical liberalism, and is still very much evident in today’s politics. In modern British politics Liberalism is a very important factor which we can see evidence of in the 3 major parties, although there are differences as to which strand of Liberalism they agree with. Despite the fact that the Liberal Democrats have not had electoral success for almost a century, Liberal views are still at the forefront of politics today.

Firstly, all three major parties are fighting for social justice in their most recent manifestos. The Labour manifesto for the 2005 election states: “Let’s make the values of social justice…not just for some time but for all time.” This agrees with the New Liberalist David Lloyd George who believed in a strong welfare state to eradicate poverty and unemployment. The old view in classical liberalism that social injustice was just part of nature has now been banished as mainstream politics veers more and more towards an egalitarian way of thinking with the increasingly important phrase “politically correct”. The Liberal Democrats state that each and every child should be “given the opportunity to unlock their potential”; a statement which clearly maintains the tie between the current party and their Liberal roots.

Charter 88 is an organisation which is campaigning for reforms to create a more democratic parliament. They have over 80,000 supporters, and their views are very much in line with those of the Liberals: they would have the House of Lords abolished and instead have an elected body (an extension to the first steps taken by the 1911 Parliament Act), they want a reform to the electoral system, and they are opposed to ID cards. However, none of the major parties count it as anything more than an organisation to be aware of, as none of them acknowledge it in their manifestos of openly agree with it. At least one of the three parties agrees with one of the ideals that Charter 88 holds. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are opposed to ID cards which they see as infringing civil liberties. The Liberal Democrats are the only party which are promising to enforce a reform to the electoral system if they gain power in government.

The 1911 Parliament Act, which was put through during a Liberal government, was very important in determining the power of the House of Lords over Parliament. Today, House of Lords reforms are still very much at the forefront of political debate, showing that this topic which was raised by the Liberals is still extremely relevant today, as the Charter 88 shows.

The new Liberal ideas also look at increasing the role of local government in order to put their equal opportunities into practice. Today, all three major parties still support this. Labour has been pioneering devolution in recent years, although the Conservatives are still in favour of a centralised government, devolution has been widely praised for bringing government closer to the people who now have much easier access to politics that ever before.

In terms of the economy, Libertarianism is linked with monetarism: the belief that inflation should be kept to a low because it causes other economic ills, such as unemployment. In practice we see this in Thatcher’s views on the economy during the 80’s as she promoted laissez-faire economics which exemplified her focus on individual responsibility and freedom, very much in line with classical liberalism.

I think that liberalism does play a highly influential part in British politics today, although it will always be the case that other factors will need to be considered. For example to current Labour governments stance on security through introducing ID cards goes against the trust the liberals would have given to the individual and the freedom which by right we should all have. We should also bear in mind the type of people that are running the country for us – how can a group of people who are mainly white, over 40 year old males make coherent decisions on behalf of a society which is 50% women with a high percentage of ethnic minorities and very differing age groups? Would a liberal agree that this is a truly democratic way to run society? On the other hand, as they believe that state intervention should not go beyond a certain point of establishing equal opportunities these factors should not make a difference in how we each live our lives of individual responsibility.

To conclude I believe that liberalism does a stronghold over contemporary politics and that the majority of its views have become ‘the norm’ over all the major political parties, but that it will always be the case that other factors will change this balance.



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