by Jon Cruddas MP

David is an assiduous observer of political trends and in his essay, ‘A Postliberal Future’ he brings together with great skill his own analysis and the various strands of thinking that grew in and around Blue Labour, and which emerged out of critical engagement with it. The most significant of these being One Nation Labour which Ed Miliband established in his 2012 Conference speech.

I will make three general comments.

The first is that the original idea of One Nation emerged out of the Condition of England question and the moral and political response to the first phases of the Industrial Revolution in the 1840s. Ed Miliband’s One Nation politics which is concerned with the condition of the British people has deep historical roots in our country.

Britain, the first country to industrialise, has been one of the first to experience deindustrialisation. As we leave behind our industrial economy and society there is the excitement about the future taking shape around digital culture and new technologies. At the same time there is widespread concern about the cost of living and how the country will pay its way in the world. As new ways of life develop there also exist anxieties about the loss of old ways of life, about immigration, welfare and moral character.

Industrialisation created the labour interest that gave rise to the Labour party. It was characterised by intense agitation for working class democratic representation. Today the cultures, identities and social institutions that were built by the labour movement are a shadow of their former selves. Political association and popular cultural activity is richer and more varied than it has ever been, but it tends to happen elsewhere. There is no popular clamour for representation within the current political system, just disillusionment with it.

New Labour and its Third Way philosophy driven forward by a Clinton-style election machine was about renewing social democracy. The political project of One Nation Labour with its One Nation philosophy built around the party as a political movement is about rethinking it. It is a politics that values our traditions as a guide to a transformational politics of national renewal. Our focus on the cost of living crisis is about opening the door to the larger debate about how we build a new economy and then again, about the kind of civilisation we are and want to be in the future.

Which leads to my second comment. Globalisation and deindustrialisation have increased the cultural, social and economic divide between the governing elites who tend to subscribe to universalist and often abstract values, and large parts of national populations whose values are more conservative and rooted in the places people live. Across Europe social democratic parties have become rootless and marooned within the elites and the state. They have lost connection with significant parts of the electorate who were once their working class supporters.

Many of these voters are concerned about identity and belonging and are open to a radical politics that protects and conserves the values, cultures and places that matter to them at the same time as stressing fairness and reciprocity. Ed Miliband’s One Nation addresses this dilemma in being a politics that is both conservative and radical. One Nation is about national renewal which begins locally with people’s families, the work they do and the places they live. It is a journey back home, to our best traditions that root us in society, to our patriotism, and to a moral world of character and virtue; not doing good but making good.

My last point is that One Nation is a politics that puts people first, and a commitment to this politics is widespread across society. Over the last eighteen months coordinating the Labour policy review, I have listened and talked to literally hundreds of people from business to community organisations, from those running national organisation to those using public services. The desire to be part of building a better country, and to have a moral politics rooted in the local and familiar, and respectful of people, is widely felt.

One Nation is a politics that is building a coalition of interests. It is for more democracy and popular participation, not more state administration or more market transactions. It is both pro-worker and pro-business, for equality and for quality. It will tackle the cost of living crisis by reforming the economy so that it creates innovation and wealth, and works for all working people. That means reforming the state so that government devolves more power and responsibility to people. It is about a model of citizenship that promotes a sense of belonging and obligation to the country, and it is about a society that encourages the virtues of character for individual resilience, self-discipline and wellbeing. David’s essay sets out this politics.


Jon Cruddas is MP for Dagenham and Rainham and coordinator of Labour’s Policy Review. He is on Twitter @JonCruddasMP

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by Catherine Fieschi

This is a very timely essay. In part because it attempts to answer the question: what kind of political moment are we in? And it comes close to giving an answer: we are in a moment of transition, in which—as so often—we are using an outdated lexicon to cover a reality that has moved on and no longer quite fits the conceptual cloth we’re used to.

There are echoes here—in the references to the apparent exhaustion of the left/right divide, in the recognition of the disconnection between liberal elites and ordinary citizens and voters—to the work I have done for many years on populism. Populism could indeed be taken as the consequence of not taking postliberalism seriously enough. But there is the danger when making the postliberal argument of falling into a kind of ‘noblesse oblige’: it’s a fine line between recognising that a ‘global life’ isn’t the only good life, and acquiescing with a status quo based on an impoverished and impoverishing parochialism.

It strikes me that some of liberalism’s aims are more valid and more needed than ever: autonomy, emancipation and a valuing of openness and cosmopolitanism—in the sense of curiosity about difference and the pursuit of a measure of ease in its presence—are the key to adaptability, resilience and psychological comfort. Alongside family, friends, communities, of course. But the latter will be re-invented in such ways that do not neatly fit the cherished notion of neat little concentric circles.

The big problem therefore is not the challenges to liberal ends or the redefining of its ideals, so much as the exhaustion of the means liberal elites have at their disposal. Postliberalism may be the right way of characterising our political moment but we need to acknowledge that the issue is not just that much of the liberal elite lead lives that have nothing in common with most people’s but rather that it is no longer able to deliver on the goods at the heart of the promise. And for most people this failure is glaring.

This has consequences of course—it’s not just a matter of a lack of deference or a lack of trust, but a deep loss of legitimacy. If expertise – which is the traditional source of power and legitimacy in our post-Weberian states – is neither obvious, nor, any longer, the exclusive prerogative of these elites, then we must ask what constitutes the basis for legitimate governance for the 21st century. And where re-invention will come from. This is what post-liberalism entails—not so much new ideals, as radically new ways of pursuing them effectively. People have moved on, but not so much regarding what they want, as whether they believe they can get it through the same old means.


Catherine Fieschi is Director of Counterpoint. She is on Twitter @CFieschi

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by Oliver Kamm

The term ‘postliberalism’ has a reassuring ring to it. The prefix suggests that the expansion of liberty in Western democratic societies is an accepted part of political debate, which needs to be supplemented with other values and wider conceptions of the public good.

In his essay, David Goodhart insists that this is indeed his position: ‘The 1960s and the 1980s were not mistakes, they are just not enough.’

Unfortunately, the evidence for his proposition that ‘post-liberalism overlaps with social liberalism at many points’ is slender. The stance Goodhart advocates is less innovative and idiosyncratic than he thinks. It isn’t post-liberalism; it’s illiberalism.

Goodhart starts from a misconception that ‘liberal philosophy … is rather shy, even relativist, about what constitutes the good life’. Liberals aren’t relativists – at least, I’ve never met one who holds this self-contradictory position. We’re pluralists. We have pronounced views on what constitutes the good life, of which the most important characteristic is the ability of free citizens to choose the good for themselves. That doesn’t stop us making judgments about lives spent in mindless hedonism (or, for that matter, spent in religious contemplation, which strikes me as a greater waste of time). We just don’t want to compel other people against their own inclinations to do what’s good for them, preferring that they make autonomous choices.

On the importance of autonomy as a liberal ideal, at least, Goodhart is right. It’s this that justifies, and requires, economic redistribution to ensure that citizens of a free society have the means to exercise choice. Yet post-liberalism doesn’t think of citizens this way. Goodhart quotes approvingly an observation that ‘children thrive when they’re surrounded by a love and conversation, through a mix of autonomy and dependence’.

I confess to finding this chilling. It’s blazingly obvious to anyone with experience of children that they respond to love and conversation. But what sort of politics imagines that the bonds of family – indeed the dependent relationship of parent and child – are a model for relations between strangers in a modern welfare society? A society that treats adults like this is authoritarian by nature, and even the soft authoritarianism of exhortation and social sanction is liable to shade into the abrogation of liberty. What defence would post-liberals make of the right of a novelist to attack and deride people’s deepest convictions? If your goal is a caring and compassionate society, in which mores are respected and communal values upheld, you’re not likely to be a stickler for the liberties of those who don’t want to be part of it.

Goodhart’s depiction of post-liberalism is infuriatingly vague – he expounds at length on what it isn’t, rather than what it is – while his claims about liberalism are consistently tendentious. His claim that ‘liberalism is uneasy about group attachment’ is a characteristic stereotype. No liberal known to me takes the view he attributes to us. A liberal society is not only entirely unfazed by a multiplicity of group attachments but ensures that those attachments flourish. It does so by ensuring that these are private rather than civic attachments. What we have in common is not ethnicity or faith but common citizenship under the rule of law.

Goodhart alludes to the New Liberalism, stressing positive rights, of the early years of the last century, whose theorists, appropriately enough, espoused exactly the type of thing that I’m warning against in the misnamed postliberalism. In Social Evolution and Political Theory (1911), L.T. Hobhouse advanced the startling proposition that for ‘the determined idler’ the remedy is ‘a labour colony … where he must learn to work and gain his discharge as soon as he can prove himself efficient enough in mind and body to stand the stress of industrial competition’. Note that the labour colony (let’s call it a labour camp) is intended not for the criminal but for the merely indigent.

Britain has in the past half century become a freer, fairer and more tolerant place. The reforms of the laws on penal policy, divorce, abortion and homosexuality in the 1960s were minimal steps with far-reaching consequences in expanding personal liberty and dispelling avoidable misery. Advances in racial and sexual equality, openness to immigration and to Europe, and a decline in deference have changed the face of British society. Yes, change is disruptive; if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be change, and there are always some people who are disadvantaged by it. But the most direct way to preserve the communities that post-liberalism fondly imagines, or wishes to recreate, is to restrict the opportunities of people to escape them.


Oliver Kamm is a leader writer and columnist at the Times. He is on Twitter @OliverKamm.

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by Sunder Katwala

You could call it post-liberalism’s difficulty with the hyphen. It has had an ambiguous and often antagonistic relationship with liberalism. Yet perhaps it should be understood as offering a possible future for liberalism, rather than a rejection of it.

The opening premise that the social liberals won the 1960s and the market liberals won the 1980s is broadly accepted, by most of the winners and losers of those arguments about markets and personal freedoms. So the chronological claim is clear. This is an idea for an era that follows an era of liberal dominance. A critique of liberalism? Certainly. Reversing it? Not at all; this is a (common) misunderstanding. The aim is to accept, indeed to build, on liberal foundations, yet to clip its wings too.

The inherent ambiguity in getting this balance right has also reflected differing views within this within the postliberal tent. Postliberalism began as a disposition before it has sought to develop a sense of its own programme.

Its two prominent partisan strands, Red Toryism and Blue Labour, have often sounded more interested in finding out whether the clock might be wound back than the more pragmatic centrism of the Demos strand. Phillip Blond’s book Red Tory casts liberalism as illiberal and even totalitarian. Maurice Glasman made the weather with Blue Labour as a similarly antagonistic project.

As this essay shows, David Goodhart is, perhaps by some distance, the most liberal thinker of the three, being the only one of them who would claim the label, though his recent focus on articulating a moderate migration scepticism was framed as a heretical argument within his own Islingtonian liberal tribe. Goodhart is exploring the limits of liberalism, while broadly viewing the liberal foundations as pretty secure, occasionally using the phrase ‘just liberal enough’ with an envious eye towards Denmark.

What risks getting lost in this antagonistic relationship with liberalism was something important: what liberalism itself might want to take from ‘postliberalism’ if it wishes to expand the coalition for liberalism. Postliberalism might offer liberals some important signposts as to how to secure majority consent for Britain’s liberal future.

Britain’s future could well be more liberal, not less, in the long run. The urgency with which the populist challenge is put partly reflects this. The more liberal views of younger Britons make them decisively anti-racist, more open to cultural diversity and so less anxious about immigration. (They are also more suspicious of collective welfare provision too, with the folk memory underpinning the 1945 settlement ancient history for them).

Generation could be overtaking class as a social and political cleavage. A ‘one nation liberalism’ might be well placed to navigate a sensible ‘postliberal’ triangulation between traditionalist ‘bring backery’, a politics of nostalgia which can sour into backlash and grievance, and a millennial, somewhat libertarian instinct of the victors which has almost nothing to say to those who feel unsettled by change except that they had better get used to it, and that they will eventually die out anyway.

Unlocking the potential, in a democratic society, for a liberal future requires a liberalism which is better attuned to the anxieties which people feel about the scale and pace of social and economic change, and which understands better why, in a highly individualistic and often fragmented society, there is often a stronger appetite to choose to do things that bring us together.

On many social questions – such as drugs policy and crime – postliberalism may well reflect a deeply entrenched status quo position, while challenging the liberal challenge to it. When post-liberalism is for contributory welfare, slowing the pace of immigration, and more focus on integration, it again reflects the political and public mainstream.

On economics, it could prove considerably more disruptive and radical, though this is surely the area where the shift from a market-sceptic disposition and symbolic measures to a programmatic governing strategy would require most heavy lifting. And it is not clear what postliberalism’s instinct to balance the individual and the community means for the balance of spending and taxation in seeking to reduce the deficit. That is still likely to be, along with the nature of Britain’s engagement with the European Union, the dominant domestic political question of the next Parliament.

A ‘one nation’ liberalism could be designed to bridge divisions that are less polarised than we fear. Britain can be both a confident and an anxious country, but its appetite for the type of culture wars, such as those between red and blue state America, remains limited. The story of British politics and society is not of an ever-increasing polarisation, but often of convergence. Rather than wars over ‘family values’, we have the extension of the right to marry.

The public are concerned that we manage immigration and integration better but there is a clear anti-prejudice majority that can protect this public debate from those who wish to stoke up anti-migrant tensions, as long as reasonable anxieties are engaged, and not themselves dismissed as irrational prejudices.

Amidst a noisy clash between increasingly assertive secular and reinvigorated faith perspectives, most people uphold the freedom of belief and the freedom not to believe – a core principle in a society of many faiths and none will be maintaining an insistence that freedom of speech depends on respecting the free speech of others.

Might this be the final post-liberal paradox? And might it yet persuade liberals that the project seeks less to dethrone and bury liberalism, but rather to secure it?


Sunder Katwala is Director of British Future. He is on Twitter @sundersays

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by Geoff Mulgan

There is much here that I agree with and not much I don’t. It deals head on with many of the most taxing issues of modern politics. It challenges the often glib liberalism of a relatively young, highly educated, urban elite that has a disproportionate visibility in the media and blogosphere.


So what’s to disagree with or to challenge?

First, nomenclature. Why post? Why liberalism? The oddity, and the achievement, of liberalism over its two centuries has been its capaciousness. Under its tent you can find believers in the minimal state and the interventionist state; extreme free markets and active regulation; social and cultural individualism and state-sanctioned conformism. All have at times called themselves liberal. This can be seen as a virtue and a vice – but perhaps it’s just a reminder that some aspects of liberalism are really just the mainstream ideas of modernity, the emerging instincts of largely secular, open, developed societies.

So why the post? And why not use the term which covered almost identical arguments 20 years ago – liberal communitarianism, a deliberate oxymoron designed to acknowledge the complex needs of modern urban societies?

Second, what’s missing? Many of the topics covered here are fairly high on the political agenda. They are the landmines which modern politicians often stumble on. But they may not be the biggest political challenges. Yes you need a coherent account of society if you want to be a plausible ruler. But you also need a coherent view of economics. In particular I believe that you need three things that are strikingly missing from much current political debate, and from this account.

The first is a clear view of where wealth and economic opportunity come from.Some of this is not so hard to identify – the roles of knowledge, entrepreneurship, growing sectors, and amplifying the energy and ideas of what I call the ‘bees’, the creators of modern capitalism. It also involves understanding the ‘coupled systems’ of markets and states, rather than the stale, but still endlessly repeated arguments between people who ascribe virtue only to the market or only to the state. This shouldn’t be so hard for a modern liberalism to articulate, but at a time when business investment in new ideas has first stagnated and then fallen sharply, it matters a lot to get this right.

The second challenge is a clear view of how to rein in predatory behaviour, the locusts. A large proportion of rules and institutions that constrain freedom are really there to stop predators – predators who might mug you in the street, beat you up in your kitchen, exploit you at work or rip you off when you’re saving for your pension. 19th century liberalism mutated from belief in the minimal state to activism both because it recognised the importance of public goods and it because it realised it had too little to say about the predations of capitalism.Modern liberalism too needs sharper things to say – about big banks, about the new digital monopolies and about the asymmetries of the modern labour market that leave millions insecure and powerless.

The third challenge is to show how the majority can take part in progress and growth. This is currently the most glaring gap in western politics. In private political leaders acknowledge how little they have to offer to a large part of their population who face stagnant incomes and shrinking opportunities, whether they are mayors of big US cities or ministers in cash-strapped European nations.In my view the answers lie in radically remade education systems, the growth of new types of economy (like the sharing economy) and monetary systems.The piece mentions the problem but offers no solutions. My answers may be wrong. But any platform which wants to be taken seriously can’t afford to be mute on this issue.

The piece also has relatively little to say about public services. I certainly agree with its thrust towards more relational approaches – and set these out in more detail in my work on the ‘relational state’. Part of their justification is that relational methods can make public services more effective, as well as better able to go with the grain of how real communities work on the micro scale. The work of the Centre for Social Action is showing this in practice – backing many projects that mobilise public time and energy to complement the work of professionals in delivering public services. In a Europe where 45 per cent of GDP lies in the public sector there is simply no choice but to accelerate innovation, experiment and improvement, otherwise the public services which do so much to hold societies together will surely atrophy.

So two cheers for post-liberalism. It’s good on what how we can live together; strong on the dilemmas and possible answers of 21st century societies. But it’s missing economics and political economy. And it almost certainly needs a better name.

Geoff Mulgan is Chief Executive of NESTA and was the founding Director of Demos. He is on Twitter @GeoffMulgan

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by Mark Rusling

Recently, I was travelling on a bus in Leyton, east London. A man was talking to his fellow-traveller behind me. He had moved to the UK very recently from Poland to find work, and he was desperately lonely and unhappy, complaining of an insular Polish community and an unfriendly British one. Reading David Goodhart’s essay made me think of him, as Goodhart’s thesis touches the positive and negative sides of the Polish man’s story – opportunity tinged with regret. 

In so doing, it takes on both sides of the liberalism which has dominated political discourse since the 1960s, on the right and left.

It does so knowing that anybody who argues with liberalism from the left will face a coordinated, sustained fight-back from the defenders of the social advances we have made from the 1960s onwards. Social liberalism’s keepers of the flame have a point – the gains have benefited us all, in this country and worldwide. Liberalism was heard at the height of the Cold War when President Reagan called on President Gorbachev to ‘tear down this wall’. And a Britain that was pretty cold for anybody who wasn’t male, white, able-bodied, middle-aged and straight has been warmed up by liberalism, bringing enormous advances in human happiness.

Goodhart’s essay rightly acknowledges these gains as real. But that is not to argue that liberalism has bestowed only gifts, and has taken nothing away – we have to recognise both edges to liberalism’s sword. The Polish man on the bus owes his new life and opportunities to liberalism but he can also give liberalism credit for his new loneliness. He is not alone: liberalism smashed glass ceilings, but it didn’t clear up the shards left on the floor afterwards.

I grew up in York in the 1980s – a small, stable, reasonably prosperous town. I am currently a councillor in Walthamstow, east London, in a ward with stable middle class and socially-housed populations but in which 20 per cent of the residents move every year. One person’s close-knit is another’s stultifying, but York had the kind of relationships between neighbours and groups which are much more difficult to build in a community in a state of constant flux. The residents’ associations in my ward are in the stable areas – both those with £400,000 flats and those with social housing estates; they are not in the areas where every other flat is rented privately on a six-month contract. Community and solidarity don’t appear by chance and they are difficult to build when your neighbours never stay long enough for you to learn their names.

This is why I agree with Goodhart when he argues for a postliberalism which ‘sees people as embedded in relationships and wider groups’. Those wider groups take on many forms but, for most people, the workplace and the family will be two of the most important.

His call for dignity and respect in all jobs is enormously important. The national focus on immigration and headline GDP growth has led to national politicians neglecting the pay and status of the people carrying out the 8m lowest-paying jobs. The mean wage increased as the median stayed stuck and an hour-glass economy started to develop. Resolving this means paying workers at least a living wage and it means that we see full employment as being the aim of the economy, not just a happy by-product of GDP growth.

When financial services and construction contribute roughly similar chunks of our GDP, but construction employs seven times as many people as financial services, we should sit up and take note. Dignity also means that we have to get serious about income inequality if we want everybody to have the same chance to define what they want to do with their life, and the same chance to be able to do it.

But respect is about more than just money. My father’s generation was the first in my family not to go out on the trawlers from Hull. Many men of his age who would have gone out on the ships have found themselves in call centres and in other retail and service employment. These new roles are certainly safer than going to sea and they might even pay more, but do they offer the same sense of self-worth as the industries and ways of life that they replaced? I wonder. Orwell was right that decency in work matters, but I worry that this respect is ever harder to foster in a world in which not only have fewer people at the top ever done an ‘ordinary job’, but fewer even know anyone among their friends and family who work in one.

For me, it is in the relationship between people and place that postliberalism needs more definition. Goodhart mentions the statistic that 60 per cent of the population live within 20 miles of where they lived when they were 14. This doesn’t surprise me – it applies to most of my family in Hull. It means that, for at least 60 per cent of the population, people equals place – family and friends are in your home town and the place where you live now.

Place matters to most people, whether that place is local, regional or national. We might accept the concept of a Facebook friend, but a Facebook society does not work. Goodhart is right to search for a progressive sense of nation, but in my view ‘almost everything that matters’ is not ‘still rooted in national institutions’ – not now, and not in the past. Local will trump national for most people, which is why we should care about the withering of local democratic institutions encouraged by governments of all colours for at least 30 years.

A renewed focus on place would lead the postliberals to address the broken link between the country getting richer and many of its citizens not doing so; or the businesses that they work for getting richer and the employees seeing few of the gains. It would also help us to take on the growing feeling that political decisions are too often taken at the wrong geographic level. Decisions over our privatised railways and energy companies are taken in company boardrooms or ministerial offices abroad, when most of us believe that those decisions should sit at the national level. Policies over housing, welfare, employment and skills are set nationally, removing local initiative and discretion. Immigration is seen as a national issue – how many new people should come in? – rather than a local one – how do we integrate the people who are already here, whether they were born in Manchester or Mogadishu?

GDH Cole famously described his socialism as a ‘broad human movement on behalf of the bottom dog’. At its best, so is liberalism. Poles, Lithuanians and Czechs, as well as women, gay, black and disabled people in many countries can be thankful that, despite the gains still to be made, they live this side of the liberal revolution. But, at its worst, liberalism worked against the bottom dog. Close-knit communities were broken open and economic liberalism defined public life by a relentless quest for acquisition which ignored most people’s desire for relationships – with each other and with their place.

Not everyone on the broad left will agree with this essay, but I suspect that the Venn diagram between liberals and postliberals has a larger shaded middle area than either group will allow for. Our aim should be to bank liberalism’s gains and correct its excesses, keeping a focus on equality while restating the importance of people and place.

Mark Rusling is a Labour and Co-operative Councillor on Waltham Forest Borough Council. He is on Twitter @MarkRusling

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by Jenni Russell

Five years ago I wrote an essay for Demos – Politics as if people mattered – pleading for the political parties to start thinking about people as complex human beings whose sense of self, purpose and satisfaction could not be separated from their place in the social web, rather than as economic actors whose chief need was to be free to pursue their self-interest at all times.


I said we needed a new politics of meaning. It wasn’t the snappiest phrase, but I was trying to encapsulate many of the issues I had been addressing as a columnist – chiefly, how to give people leading ordinary lives a sense of purpose, connection and meaning in a competitive, fast-changing and unpredictable world.

I had been arguing for some time that Labour had been quite wrong to assume that what people wanted above all was greater efficiency and economic growth. They didn’t. They valued networks, neighbours, the familiar and the small-scale. Local shops, surgeries, post offices, swimming pools and parks were what made life manageable and rewarding if you were a parent with children, or someone who was sick or disabled, or elderly, or without a car. The elites, with their wide horizons, bigger incomes and satisfying jobs rarely understood why local realities mattered so much to the majority.

I had been critical too of Labour’s emphasis on meritocracy and social mobility, since it made anyone who wasn’t succeeding feel that they were not only a failure, but that they deserved their status. The fact that British society was so unmeritocratic while pretending that it offered equal chances was the cruellest trick of all.

I wanted politicians to think much more about psychology, sociology, family structure and people’s need for social and civil networks than they had ever bothered to do in the past.

I wrote then that:

A politics of meaning will constantly pose the question of how to make all of us feel that our existence has value and significance. It will draw on research like Robert Putnam’s work on the importance of civil society, and Wilkinson and Pickett’s studies into the devastating social and psychological impacts of relative inequality. It is likely to mean much greater localism, so that people have more power over decisions affecting them. It will discourage politicians from authoritarianism or from empty-gesture announcements, since the criteria will always be: how will this affect what the population currently values about their lives?

It will be naturally but not exclusively concerned about the bottom half of society, since richer people have greater agency and status to reassure themselves. It will ask how all children are to grow up with a sense of purpose, how we motivate and give pride to the teenager currently destined for a life on the minimum wage, how we address the desperate loneliness of a wealthy widow, how we integrate excluded minorities. It will recognise and respond to the furious displacement that people feel as their known worlds disintegrate in the face of immigration and economic collapse. The protest votes that we have seen this week, like those for UKIP and the BNP, are cries of anguish from people who are saying; we don’t want to feel so powerless, and we don’t know where we fit in. It’s a plea for meaning, for mutual dependence and for responsibility.

We want to be free and autonomous individuals, but our fundamental human needs for recognition, connection and a sense of stability remain. A politics of meaning could start to deal with those conflicting desires.

A great many people – academics, journalists and politicians – have in recent years been trying to think their way to a better solution to our social and political problems than the current left–right state–market divide. Philip Blond’s Red Tory, Maurice Glasman’s Blue Labour and Jonathan Haidt’s absorbing attempt to get liberals to understand and respect the importance of tradition, authority, religion and belonging in his book The Righteous Mind are only the ones that spring most readily to mind.

Now Goodhart is making similar arguments under the banner term of postliberalism. I fear it’s not a snappy term either, but he is right to be reinforcing the case for a politics that understands that competitive liberal individualism doesn’t sufficiently value the connnections between people that make life matter. His interest in this springs from his writings on immigration, and the realisation that the importance of culture and history are too often overlooked in politics. I hope this latest contribution to a wider political debate is widely read.


Jenni Russell is a British columnist and broadcaster. She is on Twitter @jennirsl

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by Dave Skelton

Politics is craving a big idea. Sizeable elements of the political world seem more interested in tactics than what is sometimes derided as ‘the vision thing’. Voter turnout has dwindled and the gap in turnout between rich and poor has gone from being a gap to a chasm. Many on the left and right seem more exercised by nostalgia for philosophical battles in the past than a desire to create big new ideas that fascinate, inspire and provide hope. 

David Goodhart’s essay on postliberalism is a fascinating attempt to fill this void. Proposing that the social liberalism that dominated the 60s and the economic liberalism of the 80s were too reductionist, he, rightly, argues that they ignored the importance of belonging and institutions like family, local community and nation.

The left, with the exception of figures like Jon Cruddas, continues to misunderstand the importance of nation and patriotism, failing to remember that some of the most patriotic postwar politicians were figures like Ernest Bevin, Clement Attlee and Michael Foot. Similarly, the left too often ignores the importance of family and, crucially, father figures in establishing stability.

Goodhart is right to criticise some economic libertarians on the right, whose adherence to laissez-faire Gladstonian liberalism often neglects factors such as community and economic security. The uncritical response of some on the libertarian right to the evidence-free zone of the Beecroft Report emphasised that economic reductionism forgets about the dignity of labour and that one man’s ‘regulation’ is another man’s right to spend time with his family. Reducing the centre-right to laissez-faire economics ignores the deep and complex thinking of conservatism, driven by the importance of community and intermediate institutions and the centrality of institutions and social bonds.

Over recent decades, the right has been on the wrong side of the argument about low pay; the left have been on the wrong side of the argument about the importance of family, as well as the impact of uncontrolled immigration. Governments of the left and right have failed to build enough housing.

Elements of the essay also illustrate the big political prize to be gained by the party that is able to articulate a vision that reflects the social and economic liberalism of the 60s and 80s but isn’t hamstrung by debates that have little relevance to most of the electorate. Take the Conservatives in the north as an example. If the Conservatives more forcibly acknowledged the social consequences of economic decisions made in the 1980s, as well as acknowledging the importance of celebrations of community such as the Durham Miners’ Gala, they would be more likely to gain a hearing in parts of the country where voting Tory has become counter-cultural.

The right does need to focus more on issues that really matter to people – being serious about poverty, low pay, housing, consumer protection and stronger communities being just some examples. It also needs to talk more about how it would empower people and create jobs outside of its heartland.

Postliberalism is a fascinating contribution to the debate. It should perhaps praise more the importance of social liberalism in genuinely liberating many groups from racism, homophobia and sexism and economic liberalism in helping to make Britain, as a whole, more prosperous and stronger on the world stage. There’s probably more analysis than solution here as well. Goodhart does, however, illustrate the need to go beyond tired ideological debate that means little to most people not directly involved in political discussion. The party that best defines a new vision that combines economic and social liberalism with the need for belonging, patriotism, security and community will gain considerable electoral dividends.


David Skelton is Director of Renewal, dedicated to broadening the appeal of the Conservative Party. You can follow him on Twitter @djskelton

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by David Willetts MP

David Goodhart’s essay neatly captures the dilemmas and inadequacies of modern liberalism. He rightly recognises we are not going to reverse the twin liberal victories of greater personal freedom and greater economic freedom. But they are not enough. They do not add up to an account of a fulfilled life or a healthy polity.

We all depend on the intermediate institutions which give life so much of its meaning. We are held together in networks of mutual dependence. This was the communitarian critique both of Rawls and of libertarian fantasies of some free marketeers. His celebration of the particular links to the work of the late, great Elinor Ostrom.

In these pages is an honest and accurate picture of our own country and what really matters to our fellow citizens and why. He rightly reminds us that we have obligations to our fellow citizens that are fundamentally different from the country-blind universalism of the modern rights-oriented legal movement.

This excellent essay goes on to suggest possible policy implications too. The welfare state has to respect the special claims of people who are shared members of our national community. We need to value solid vocations and trades not just academic routes to professions. And family commitments matter. There is a productive policy agenda here.

I would just add three observations to his wide-ranging piece. First he talks about the glue that holds us together and attributes this to Britain’s long ties of history and culture. That is true but it underestimates what we now know about the circumstances in which reciprocal altruism develops and communities thrive. Advances in game theory, evolutionary biology and neuroscience give solid foundations to the intuitions in his essay. They also give us hope that as we understand what makes a community, we can sustain it better. Institutions are the heart of the matter. They are the places where we interact with people sufficiently for mutual trust to emerge.

Secondly there is one major omission. The essay ignores the contract between the generations as the social contract which has most traction in a modern diverse society. It works across many ethnic religious and cultural divides. Most of us want our own children and more widely the next generation as a whole to do better than us but have a niggling anxiety they may not. It is the most important single source of the ‘social glue’ he describes: it is intergenerational exchanges which are by far the most potent forms of reciprocal altruism. It yields policy conclusions very much aligned with those he sets out. The Pinch was my attempt to set out the modern social contract between the generations.

My final point concerns the location of this ‘postliberalism’ in the political debate. There is a neat symmetry in implying that the Right is all about the individual and the Left all about the state. The truth has always been more complex. Labour embraced social liberalism early on and more recently endorsed a thin contractual picture of citizenship derived from the rights lawyers without a sense of its roots in a historic community. Conservatism has always been more than free market economics. I remember Margaret Thatcher telling me off for describing our philosophy as ‘laissez-faire’ – she insisted it was ‘ordered liberty’. Quintin Hogg neatly described liberalism as ‘very nearly true’ and that captures the Conservative perspective

Both parties have long tried to combine non-market and market, individual and state. As with coffee or whisky, it is the distinctiveness of the blend that matters. And here David’s postliberal looks to me awfully like a modern conservative. This may be a source of some embarrassment to him, but he can take it. We Conservatives have to move towards him by making it clear we recognise that, however important for economic performance, the market is not the be all and end all. Then David’s postliberal and a modern Conservative can have a fruitful and committed future together.


Rt Hon David Willetts MP is the Minister of State for Universities and Science.

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