Liberalism remains hugely influential in British Politics, moulding the value systems and policies of all the mainstream political parties.’ Discuss.
The prime focus of Liberalism is freedom and liberty; the type of liberty they strive for depends, however, on which of the two types of Liberalism is being referred to. Firstly; classical Liberalism, believing in negative freedom and progressive Liberalism leaning more towards positive freedom. I would argue that Liberalism does still have an influence in British politics; however I would not go as far as to say that it is ‘hugely’ influential.
Firstly, I would outline that the Labour Party is possibly the least liberal in their political approach. Their manifesto does not set out many liberal policies due to their economical stance. The fact that Labour is traditionally a moderately socialist party, concentrating on equality within society and for this reason, they would steer away from the free-market and limited government intervention approaches that liberals may take to politics.
The limited government that Classical liberals see as ideal would not appeal to the Labour party as they strive for the equality of their citizens and would feel that they need to impose policies, such as their policy on housing set out in their 2010 manifesto ‘No stamp duty for first-time buyers on all house purchases below £250,000 for two years, paid for by a five per cent rate on homes worth more than £1 million.’ This policy shows a socialist side to New Labour, highlighting a ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’ ideology within Labour politics.
However, progressive liberalism may be seen to have had more of an influence on Labour Party politics. The fact that the Labour party believes in imposing policies of equality on society implies that they value positive freedom. Policies put forward such as the Equality Bill; which has been justified as a consolidation measure bringing different strands of anti-discrimination law together while implementing EU directives; highlight the controlled aspect of the Labour party’s equality regime.
It could be argued that in the past, aspects of Liberalism, although neither truly Classical or Progressive, such as Neo-Liberalism have had a significant influence on British politics as well as the policies and value systems of the Conservative party in particular. During Thatcher’s time in office, she highlighted an ideal of a pragmatic means to progress. The Thatcherite Conservative party saw Neo-Liberalism as an obvious way to adapt to the constantly changing nature of modern political thought. Tony Blair’s New Labour could also be seen as a Neo-Liberal third way government, on both a social and economic scale.
The current Conservative party however, seem to be significantly less affected by Liberalism. Arguably, the free-market ideals that Cameron appears to hold are seen as Neo-Liberal; however, it is apparent that in the current coalition government that Britain is currently led by, this free-market and Neo-Liberal philosophy has been limited to the catch-all demands of mainstream politics.
This is apparent in Conservative economic policies such as that put forward in their 2010 pre-general election manifest: ‘A five per cent pay cut for Ministers followed by a five-year freeze, and a 10 per cent reduction in the number of MPs.’ This policy in itself shows how Cameron’s Conservative party are trying to appeal to the masses in controlling the pay of ministers. This does not necessarily denote a free-market approach to the economy and does not play into the meritocratic values that have been seen in the Conservative party in the past.
It could also be argued however, that more prominent economic policies put forward in the Conservative manifesto pre-2010 have shown that Cameron’s Conservatives are moving toward the Neo-Liberal, Thatcherite ideology that the Conservative party once had. Although this may not have been the case when Cameron first became the leader of the Conservative party in 2005, aspects of his party’s general election manifesto in 2010, such as: ‘Reduce welfare dependency’ and ‘Stopping tax credits to families with incomes over £50,000’ have proven to have shown the party’s shift back towards Thatcherite economic politics. These policies show a move back towards meritocratic society and a distinct step away from the ‘something for nothing’ culture that has emerged in modern Britain.
Finally, the Liberal Democrats; both by name and by nature; are arguably more influenced by Liberalism than any other mainstream political party. Progressive Liberalism can be seen clearly in certain aspects of their recent policies, on education for example: ‘Cutting class sizes to ensure children get the individual attention they need.’ This is a fine example of how the Liberal Democrats would like to impose positive liberty and freedom on its citizens; cutting class sizes would increase individual attention and therefore arguably create more freedom and liberty for pupils in the long-term.
It could also be argued however, that the Liberal Democrats are no longer such a liberal party, but more of a third way political party; much like the Conservative and Labour parties who have shifted towards the centre of political ideals and values in order to also become more ‘catch-all’ and appeal to the masses.
In conclusion, I would argue that broadly Liberalism is not hugely influential in British politics as a whole and does not necessarily mould the value systems and policies of all the mainstream political parties. However, I would argue that liberalism still remains influential in certain specific parts of each party’s policies and value systems; therefore remaining an influential force, to an extent, in British politics.