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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Lib Dems call for pro-market move
David Laws MP
Mr Laws has called for a return to the principles of Liberalism
A group of prominent Liberal Democrats have called for the party to shift to a more pro-market, less regulative agenda in a new book.

The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism features a series of essays by frontbench spokesmen and would-be MPs.

They call for choice and private sector innovation in public services and the "repatriation" of some EU powers.

Welcomed by leader Charles Kennedy, the book is being seen by some as a move to the right to attract Tory voters.

But Lib Dem Treasury spokesman David Laws, who co-edited the book, told BBC Radio 4's World at One the arguments were "not about making a pitch to Conservative voters".

"It's about making a pitch to all of the voters in this country," he said.

This is part and parcel of the party strategy to go after Tory seats rather than going hard after the Labour party
Lord Greaves
Lib Dem environment spokesman in the Lords

The Lib Dems had to be a party which could be attractive to voters from both the other political parties, Mr Laws argued.

In the book he says his party must revisit and reclaim "some of the traditional building blocks of Liberalism" if they are to play a "creative and constructive role" in British politics.

"It is time to consider whether the Liberal Democrat Party of today is true to its Liberal traditions, and, if not, what we should be doing about it," he says.

The Lib Dems, he argues, have defended civil liberties against "a succession of illiberal home secretaries", but they have rarely defended liberalism "against the nanny state".

Free market

He also suggests the Lib Dems need to recognise that high crime levels posed a great threat to liberty than "the over-zealous activities of home secretaries".

This approach means confronting the truth that while prison does little to prevent crime by reforming offenders, it does protect "the law-abiding majority".

Mr Laws also calls for more competition and choice in public services such as health.

Vince Cable MP
Mr Cable calls for a tougher approach to European institutions

He says some Liberals wrongly shunned economic liberalism when Margaret Thatcher embraced a free market approach because they no longer thought it compatible with a "social liberal agenda".

On the European Union, Mr Laws says the party's commitment to internationalism has overridden its commitment to decentralised government.

He goes on to call for the negotiation of an EU constitution which "clearly defines and limits EU powers."

In another essay, senior Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable argues for a "tougher, more sceptical approach to European institutions and legislation".

The Lib Dems' "unimpeachable European credentials" that enabled the party to "to speak out forcefully against illiberal damaging European measures", he says.

"They should do so not on the grounds of British exceptionalism but to save Europe from itself," he adds.


Welcoming to book's publication, Mr Kennedy said: "New and creative political thinking is the sign of a self-confident political party which is not afraid to look anew at the challenges facing Britain.

"Not all of the essays in this book reflect existing party policy - but all of them are built on traditional Liberal principles and values."

Other policy proposals made in the Orange Book
New approach to health care based on a national health insurance scheme
Greater use of market disciplines in environmental policy
Reform of the United Nations
An overhaul of Britain's pension arrangements

Lord Greaves, Lib Dem environment spokesman in the Lords, has described three of the MPs involved in the book - Mr Laws, Mr Cable, and home affairs spokesman Mark Oaten - as "pseudo-Blairites with little following in the wider party".

He continued: "This is part and parcel of the party strategy to go after Tory seats rather than going hard after the Labour party."

Lib Dem deputy leader Menzies Campbell said the fact the authors had "set out their stalls" did not mean their ideas would be accepted as policy.

The book is set to be debated at a fringe meeting of the Lib Dem Party Conference in mid-September.

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