Why I am a social democrat (by George Kendall)

Originally published on LibDemVoice on 17/09/15

Social democrats know that to fight poverty you need a vibrant economy. It is the goose that lays the golden egg, and it flourishes with freedom, but it stagnates in a factory farm.Social democrats don’t just do poverty reduction as a minor act of charity, it is central to what drives them. But a true social democrat won’t just throw money at the problem, they will look for what works.

For a short period, I worked in the field of international development. When listening to those who had worked in the field, I was struck at how hard it is to be effective. How easy to introduce schemes that make you feel good, but when the funding runs out, you have left poverty just as it was, and a legacy of disillusionment, with rusting white elephants as testimony to good intentions but bad planning.

I’m acutely aware that the same is true in British politics, that helping people out of poverty requires more than just good intentions. It can’t be done on the cheap, and so, to fund it, you need a strong economy.

This means that among the allies of the poor are those who pay the taxes to fund the programmes that can help them.

I never joined the Labour party, I joined the SDP in 1981, but I always knew that kindred spirits in the Labour party were fighting for these same ideals. I wished them well, but I couldn’t join them.

I saw in Labour a party divided, between those driven by thoughtful compassion, and those driven by anger. I remembered too well at university a Labour member grabbing me by the throat, and I always feared that Labour was vulnerable to a takeover by dangerous people, perhaps with good intentions, but too much anger, and not enough rigorous thought.

I’m afraid my fear has been vindicated. Jeremy Corbyn and John MacDonnell may mean well. But I do not trust the movement they lead. There is too much anger. There is too little careful thought. There is too much ready condemnation of those with different views.

I stayed with my party as it merged with the Liberals. I’m still uneasy about calling myself a Liberal. However, I am proud to call myself a Liberal Democrat, and when I talk to those around me who call themselves Liberals, they care just as much about poverty as I do.

We’ve had an awful time in Coalition. Shackled to our traditional enemies when the money had run out. But there’s no doubt in my mind that what drives my party is a desire to help the weakest succeed in life.

I suspect there are some Labour social democrats who are now looking for a new home. If you’re one of them, have a look at the preamble to our constitution, have a listen to Tim Farron, and I think you’ll realise that, even if you’ve lost one home, there’s another waiting to welcome you.

The Liberal Democrats have a daunting responsibility. Before, there were two parties which could be said to be led by social democrats, and there used to be a strong tradition of one nation conservatism that cared about the poor.

But since the cynical regressive budget in June, and the election of the new Labour leader, we are alone.

We are still badly bruised from an awful election result. As the sole standard bearer of social democracy, we need your help. Please join us.

Written by George Kendall, who is convener of the Social Democrat Group, which is being formed to celebrate and develop our social democrat heritage, and to reach out to social democrats beyond the party.

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