The Blog

Five Policies to Save the Liberal Democrats

My party's future is entirely unsure, early signs that the 'fightback' may be inevitable have slowly faded and the party must now live up to its name as Britain's largest liberal party. Our survival isn't guaranteed but it's desperately needed - and this is the platform to start it from.

The Liberal Democrats are at a very low point, accruing just 8% of the popular vote in 2015's General Election and just eight seats with it.

Half-hearted self-reassurance in the form of the 'Lib Dem Fightback' came and went as a brief membership surge did little to transform our polling fortunes.

In fact, since May, the party has slipped even lower in the public's opinion, at a time when Labour are a car crash and the Tories are imposing the cruellest governance in recent memory.

Frankly, these figures are nothing short of appalling. Perhaps, it's time my party took on some constructive criticism and stopped trying so hard to straddle the centre-line between Labour and the Tories and started to revive its radical liberal traditions. Starting here...

1) Extending Civil Liberties

It seems obvious but civil liberties are a fundamental part of any liberal's ideology. Whilst the Lib Dems have been unshakable in their defence of civil liberties with opposition to the Snooper's Charter and the introduction of Same-Sex Marriage, we haven't been daring enough to support two extensions of personal freedom that have a huge amount of public support; drug legalisation and euthanasia.

The challenge for liberals is to defer to the ability of every citizen to make their own moral decisions about what to do with their own body, whether we personally agree or not. The war on drugs, as we already know, is not working, it is essential that we legalise, tax and restrict access to drugs such as marijuana. People should make their own choices.

On euthanasia, the party has a less than proud record, with parliamentary support historically split. But public opinion is very open to the idea of the legalisation of passive euthanasia at the very least. Again, proper provisions must be in place, but the right to end one's own life with dignity is a very liberal principle that the party must champion.

2) Taxation reform

There are fundamental concerns across the country about taxation. Council Tax is widely deplored and detested by the electorate, so seeking a replacement may be a vote winner. A Land Value Tax (LVT) could be employed, and serve as an incentive to utilise the empty properties that litter the nation too. LVT will also lessen the chance of tax evasion, as seen by corporations like Google - you cannot hide or disguise land.

Similarly, it could drive down the costly welfare system which has also been criticised by voters in recent years. Costly benefit payments could be replaced by the introduction of the Negative Income Tax (NIT). The government should replace most means-tested welfare payments with a single NIT. This would guarantee a minimum income for citizens whilst incentivising work. It is also estimated by the Adam Smith Institute, that it could save the government up to £6bn in administrative costs.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats should seek to abolish the Sanitary Tax which unfairly punishes people who have periods for their involuntary bodily functions. It is not fair that they have to pay for sanitary products. We must provide greater ease of access to these products without the unfair financial barriers.

3) Federalism

The Lib Dems recently released a party political broadcast, claiming that "the best politics takes place outside of Westminster", it's time to put that in to practice.

The party should seek to devolve as many issues as feasibly possible to the lowest level of government where effective. This way power can be as close to the people as possible, where it should be.

Additionally, this could also quell the rising separatist and regionalist trends of politics in the UK seen with the rise of the SNP and the creation of parties like Yorkshire First.

4) National Health Insurance

Healthcare that is free at the point of use is a fundamental right of each and every person - that principle is in no danger. This policy idea wouldn't change that but would change the NHS as we know it.

The NHS is struggling, hindered by overly-romantic language that allows its complacency to continue. The health system, which is really a treatment system, offering little preventative care whatsoever has become overcrowded, underfunded and inefficient.

By providing a National Health Insurance that will provide free coverage for every citizen but allow them to use private services and not just the NHS, we can create effective competition that increases healthcare standards across the board.

All too long, this lack of competition has come at the cost of low-earners who cannot afford to go private and must accept whatever standard of care the NHS can give them. As William Beveridge, a Liberal Party member was in the late 1940s, the Lib Dems must be radical on healthcare in the 2010s.

5) Electoral Reform

Perhaps the area of policy most easily identifiable with the Liberal Democrats has also become habitually unspecific. The AV Referendum was a disaster and the Lib Dems should pick a system, preferably the Additional Members System or Single Transferable Vote and campaign with that in mind.

Additionally, big-spending must be removed from politics to ensure elections are fair. Tory donors for example give far larger cash amounts than most donors to other parties. A yearly donation cap per person could go some way to ensure a more level playing field.

Further to this end, despite breaking party ethos to use the unelected band of Lib Dem Lords to gallantly fight the planned Tory tax credit cuts, the party must take a clear policy stance on the unelected upper chamber. There are cases to be made for both proportionally elected Lords and complete abolition, the party must pick one and run with it.

My party's future is entirely unsure, early signs that the 'fightback' may be inevitable have slowly faded and the party must now live up to its name as Britain's largest liberal party. Our survival isn't guaranteed but it's desperately needed - and this is the platform to start it from.

Chris Whiting is Communications Officer for Liberal Youth. This blog contains his views, not necessarily his party's