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Winning Essay What does it mean to be a Liberal Democrat today?

March 14, 2016 2:00 PM
By Edwin Burrows in Monmouth
Originally published by Rutland and South Lincolnshire Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrats LogoIt's About People

To be a liberal is to champion people. Championing people is the eternal and universal truth that is the core of liberal values.

We exist to protect the rights of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, sexuality, ability or background against injustice from the state, private institutions or other individuals. To champion not only the human and civil rights of the people but also their workplace and consumer rights. Too many have fallen through holes in the social safety net.

Radical change is required not just to recast the net but to build the ladders to help people climb from poverty to prosperity. By championing people we seek to remove the barriers that stand in their way. Championing by giving a supporting hand to those with physical and mental ill-health; tackling poor education, discrimination and unemployment; safeguarding their independence with ownership of quality housing in safe and environmentally clean neighbourhoods connected with good public transport.

We exist to give people the power to shape their destinies and communities. We believe that when people are given opportunity they will shine, and that when each individual can shine society prospers most. Only when we are able to shine a light of hope for those that have none will this be achieved.

Knowledge is the greatest tool we have to improve our lives. Education should not end at school or university but should continue throughout life; this is essential not only to enhance self-enlightenment but also to build a workforce able to adapt quickly to the changing needs of society and technological innovation.

The internet has brought more life-changing knowledge to people's fingertips than ever before. However the routes available to certifying that knowledge have not kept pace. With more jobs asking for qualifications unnecessary for the role, doors are closing when quicker, less costly paths should be opening, especially for those for whom family responsibilities or financial limitations make further education more difficult. To be a liberal is to champion people. This eternal truth was as evident for 'The People's William', Gladstone, as it was for David Lloyd George as he delivered the 'People's Budget' in 1909, and for those who voted for them. Liberalism flourished most when it was closest to its roots of championing people.

Our history sounds a message that rings as true for Liberal Democrats today as it will a thousand years from now. We exist to build a better future for people. During our country's darkest hours William Beveridge had a vision for a brighter future that put the welfare and health of the people first. As liberals we dream big. Our dreams are radical. Every day we pave the way to make the dreams of a better future a reality. Our fast-changing world demands that we be pioneers of future solutions. As we look to tackle the problems of today we must be dynamic and adaptable to solutions and problems offered by emerging science and technology. It is unacceptable if short-sighted policies delay life-saving scientific breakthroughs or fail to plan for accessible retraining for those whose work is made redundant by new technologies. We recognise that the issues of the future need addressing together with today's problems before it's too late, whether that be averting ecological disaster, providing care to an ageing population or showing the fiscal responsibility to ensure the next generation is not saddled with our public debts.

To be a liberal is to champion people. This universal truth is evident as liberal values have resonated most around the world, from the declaration of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to countless victories of people over oppression. For the Liberal Democrats, championing people has no boundaries; it transcends oceans and borders.

We believe humanity is strongest when it celebrates its differences and is united in pursuit of common goals: tackling international crime and terrorism; halting potential pandemics; global warming and the defending of human rights as laid down by the UN. We believe that nations are better trading freely and fairly than they are trading blows.

As democrats we seek not to hand power to the mega-rich and giant multinationals. Nor do we seek to hand power to the state or to unions. We seek to hand power to the people. We stand for an open democratic system that is representative, focuses powers as close to the hands of the people as it can and is accountable at all levels from international organisations to local councils.

For too long politics has been broken. For too long millions of voices have gone unheard because they reside in the rotten constituencies of safe seats; for too long people have been tired of not being heard.

Until the political system is changed to become truly representative of the hearts and minds of the people it is not truly democratic.

We stand opposed to those that would deny freedom of speech. Censoring rather than challenging distasteful views allows prejudice, intolerance and hate to fester under the carpet. Only through constructive discussion can enlightenment be achieved.

Westminster isn't the only place that can make Britain more liberal. Every day people champion one another through charity, volunteering and campaigning. As a party we must support those actively pursuing liberal values and seek them out to help their causes. For when people know we are on their side, they may yet realise that they too are a Liberal Democrat.

We are the party of the people, working to give power to the people, to create a better world and future for the people.

This is what it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.

Edwin Burrows, is a member from Monmouth. He only joined the party in May after the election, and the spring conference will be his very first. He says that although for many years he had campaigned for liberal causes, after the election he felt that he needed to stop sitting on the sidelines and get involved. Tim Farron has awarded him his prize.