Liberal Hero of the Week #24: David Cameron. (For balance, our Liberal Villain is George Osborne.)
Welcome to the 24th in our series, Liberal Hero of the Week, chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. ‘Liberal Heroes’ showcases those who promote the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — highlighting individuals regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism then they’re in contention.
Conservative Prime Minister
Reason: For supporting equal marriage for religious institutions.
Credit where it’s due, that’s kind of the motto for my choice of ‘Liberal Heroes’. And credit definitely is due to David Cameron for his unequivocal support for equal marriage — not simply state-licensed equal marriage, but also giving those religious institutions that wish to the right to conduct equal marriage ceremonies, too. Here’s how PinkNews reports the Prime Minister’s comments:
David Cameron has confirmed reports that he is to back same-sex marriages for religious institutions. Speaking after an event in Redditch on Friday afternoon, the prime minister said: “I’m a massive supporter of marriage and I don’t want gay people to be excluded from a great institution. But let me be absolutely 100% clear, if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it. That is absolutely clear in the legislation. Also let me make clear, this is a free vote for Members of Parliament but personally I will be supporting it.”
Two key liberal principles are at stake in the campaign for equal marriage. First, the state should not discriminate against individuals or groups within society which wish to have the same rights as those granted to others. Secondly, religious groups should be free to conduct their own affairs as they choose without interference from the state. David Cameron’s statement is true to both those principles.
Nick Clegg had long since declared his support — in July, his backing for the policy was described by the Telegraph as ‘an open breach with Government policy’! — but it is David Cameron’s which deserves special mention. Because while a Lib Dem leader might be expected to get it in the neck from his activists if he didn’t go full-tilt for equal marriage, the reverse is clearly true for the Conservative leader. The Telegraph today warns that up to 130 Conservative MPs might vote against the proposals. A flavour of the opposition he is likely to face is provided by Tory MP for Peterborough Stewart Jackson:
“Gay marriage bill will be massacred in the Lords and govt can’t use Parliament Act as it wasn’t in manifesto. Arrogant Cameron knows best.”
Well, on this issue he does. Which is why he’s this week’s Liberal Hero.
Along with the carrot of ‘Liberal Hero’, there is sometimes the need for a stick. ‘Liberal Villains’ identifies those who are doing their utmost to stick liberalism into a reverse gear. And to show how even-handed I can be here’s our latest award-winner…
Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer
Reason: for his attack on those ‘living a life on benefits’.
There are lots of reasons I could’ve chosen George Osborne as my Liberal Villain. His decision to continue Labour’s thoughtless slashing of the capital budget in 2010, contributing to the British economy’s slowdown, for example. Or his failure to properly address tax fairness in this country, when we should be shifting the tax burden away from income and into unearned forms of wealth such as property or negative externalities like pollution. But the reason I’ve chosen was his demeaning attack on welfare claimants in this week’s Autumn Statement:
Those with the most should contribute the most, and they will, but fairness is also about being fair to the person who leaves home every morning to go out to work and sees that their neighbour is still asleep, living a life on benefits [my emphasis]. As well as a tax system where the richest pay their fair share, we have to have a welfare system that is fair to the working people who pay for it.
Do such people exist, so-called ‘welfare scroungers’ living the high-life on the back of my taxes? I expect some do and that it’s a sad, meagre form of existence. Perhaps George Osborne sees more of it in his Cheshire seat of Tatton than I do.
But there are three fundamental points here which Mr Osborne’s snide caricature ignores. First, many of those sleeping in the day will have been working nights. Secondly, whatever the sins of the parents they do not deserve to be visited on the children. And thirdly, until the Conservatives are prepared to cut down on the benefits of (for example) wealthy pensioners this kind of rhetoric is as hypocritical as it is intellectually bankrupt.