Intro and history
- Liberalism is the social and political philosophy that centres on equality and liberty.
- Key ideas that are founded around liberalism are minimal government intervention, toleration, individual liberty and civil liberties as well as equality and freedom.
- Whilst its roots are in the 16th century, liberalism didn’t really emerge until the 17th/18th century after the events of the American and notably the French revolutions.
- Key thinkers during this time included John Locke, Montesquieu and Hobbes who argued for minimal government intervention and a government by consent.
- Despite being referred to as the third party since and after 1922 liberalism as a political philosophy has continued to play a significant role in influencing not only the values and policies of the liberal democrats but also the other mainstream political parties.
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Core liberalism and post war consensus
- Liberalism is associated with free market, freedom, liberty and constitutional reform and in the progressive format of liberalism there is an expanded role for government so as to achieve equality of opportunity for the nation’s citizens.
- There are obvious links between the core values of liberalism and the ideas possessed and promoted by the other mainstream political parties.
- Progressive liberalism seems to have had more of an impact than the ideas of classical liberalism especially in the economic and social policies of the Attlee governments of 1945-1951.
- The significance of such liberals as Keynes and Beveridge are seen through the welfare state built in the time after the second world war which although was largely accomplished by the Labour party was significantly designed by two liberals; John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge who wrote the Beveridge report.
- It has been said that much of the potential agenda of the post war consensus period was indebted to liberalism.
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- UK politics from the mid 1970’s onwards was impacted and influenced by liberalism, particularly classical liberalism.
- The foundation of the New Right which came to be known as Thatcherism was heavily influenced by the economic and social policies of classical liberalism with a desire to end the nanny state and to restore individual responsibility in the social sphere.
- Thatcher adopted a stance of neo liberalism especilly in her economic policy being infuenced by that of Hayek and Nozick.
- This was seen to reflect a strong commitment to liberal individualism and personal freedom.
- There was a desire to create a low inflation economy managed by supply side methods so as to create and promote a thriving free market and a strong enterprise culture.
- Here there was the influence of thinkers such as Adam Smith, a supporter of industrialisation, who said that the free market without any government interference would produce maximum prosperity for the whole nation.
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Liberalism and new labour
- New Labour’s pronouncements and programmes particularly during Blair’s leadership showed the economic impact of liberalism with the acceptance of the market, the reverting of clause IV and programmes such as Private Finance Initiative finding public infrastructure projects with private capital.
- Labour’s numerous constitutional reforms could also be said to owe more to liberalism than they do to socialism through progressive liberal ideas reflected in programmes such as the Third Way.
- Brown’s political agenda reflected what essentially progressive liberalism in the social policy sphere is. His neo-Keynesianism in the economic sphere was seen through his quantitative easing.
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Liberalism and Cameron
- Cameron’s attempts to rebrand and reposition the conservative party since 2005 through an advocacy of strong government in such public policy fields such as education and health would also appear to be significantly influenced by core progressive liberal values and objectives in his quest to achieve a fairer and more inclusive society.
- In addition his social policies appear to owe more to social liberalism than to social authoritarianism.
- Especially during the coaling 2010-2015 the liberals had a massive effect and influence over the conservative party in that they helped to get through the equal marriages act as well as blocking the data protection act and compromising on the top rate of taxation.
- Obviously in a coalition negotiations would have to be made but is clear the influence the Lib Dems had over the conservatives at this time.
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- Liberalism is often categorised as the bedrock of British politics and has influenced and continues to influence not only party politics by the entire political culture of the UK.
- Despite this, the Liberals have not been solely in power since 1922 and from then were known as the third party until their unfortunate demise and near wipe out in the 2015 election where they struggled to even retain 8 seats and can no longer been seen to be making much to any impact in the political world with SNP now being the third party.
- Tim Farron is attempting to continue with both classical and progressive liberal ideas of redistributive tax and equality of opportunity but the current Lib Dems cannot live up to the assertion that they are a dominant force or ideology in British politics.
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Similar Government & Politics resources:
‘Liberalism is compatible with both conservative and social democratic thinking.’ Discuss. (30 marks)