Summer Read #2 – The Orange Book

Yes I know that my Lib Dem friends reading this will be pretty appalled that I’ve never read this book before as it seems to be the manifesto of the economic liberalism promoted by David Laws and his colleagues however I simply never got round to it. However at the moment I am constantly being asked by other Lib Dem members whether I am an ‘Orange Booker’ or ‘Beveridge person’ so I thought I’d better get the book.

In terms of using economical liberal principles to deliver socially liberal goals I do not have a problem. The Orange Book seeks to reunite the key strands of Liberal traditions (economic, political, personal and social) into a coherent whole and it does a good job of this. As a life long fan of J.S. Mill I felt that many of the chapters in the book on areas such as citizenship, localism and negative v positive liberty resonated with me. I also truly believe that a Liberal society is one in which people should be free to make their own mistakes.

At the same time my heart also tells me that there is something slightly cold about many of the conclusions reached by some of the Orange Bookers. I understand the positive role that choice, competition, consumer power and the private sector can play but I tend to judge the successful use of them as to whether we end up with a more equal society at the end of it. Some of the recommendations lead me to worry that while the intention is to delivery socially liberal goals with economically liberal principles the actual outcome might be very different.

The chapter of the book I enjoyed most was Ed Davey’s essay on Liberalism and Localism. Countries such as Sweden and Germany are much more decentralised than the UK and are also much more equal. I can understand why the Labour party was so keen on centralisation while in government as they genuinely saw it as the best way to increase equality. They were proved wrong and so I am glad that Ed Milliband has been speaking very passionately about localism of late.

Anyway I enjoyed The Orange Book although I must admit it made me feel a little cold. It is probably not the flavour or Liberalism that would make me jump out of bed in the morning and go out campaigning as I felt it lacked an inspiring vision. It all makes perfect sense don’t get me wrong but there is just something in the pit of my stomach that wonders whether its ideas would deliver a fairer country.

So I can not be accused of bias I have also been reading ‘Reinventing the State’ which puts the case for Social Liberalism and I’ll write a blog post on that soon.


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