This exchange (posting and comment) at Jo's Jottings highlights the (to me) strange reluctance of at least some Liberals to endorse the idea of choice in public services.
I joined the Liberal Party in 1985, as a result of reading Jo Grimond's journalism, which demonstrated a sophiticated understanding and critique of Thatcherism. I was a bit surprised to find that few of the Liberals I met agreed with Grimond and most seemed to share Labour's knee-jerk reaction against and refusal to engage with what was happening in British politics during the 1980s.
Troubled by this I asked my new 'Radical Liberal' friends what exactly it was that kept them out of the Labour party. Well, they explained, although we hate the Tories as much as Labour do, Labour are patrician, controlling and corporatist in their approach to public services. We want to empower the citizen and give them more control. They pointed to the way Liberals in Liverpool had encouraged self-build housing co-operatives and had worked with the voluntary sector to provide new homes. They contrasted this with Labour's attachment to monolithic council estates and their general wish to see people perpetually dependent on and grateful to the council.
Strangely, though, as soon as Labour began to embrace the voluntary sector, consultation, citizen engagement and the notion of choice in public services, some Liberals turned against and disowned such ideas and began to adopt Labour-style paternalism.
For that reason I found the re-launch of the Beveridge Group earlier this year a depressing event - because the speeches seemed more an uncritical defence of the public service ethic and public sector professionals than an attempt to empower citizens and give them more say in how services are delivered. In response to my (admittedly rather pointed) question asking whether the group was not a bit patrician and Fabian in its approach, Paul Holmes accused me of not wanting there to be a group promoting social liberalism in the party.
But his comment missed the point. My problem with the Beveridge Group and other 'anti-choice' Lib Dems is not that they support social liberalism, but that they don't.