10 years after it was first published, the Orange Book finally got its launch party yesterday.
One of the book’s co-editors, Paul Marshall, told the conference that the publication had been so controversial at the time that the authors were not allowed to have a launch event at the Liberal Democrat Conference! The other co-editor, David Laws MP, told in his keynote speech how he was savaged by colleagues at a meeting of Lib Dem parliamentarians, shortly after publication.
The conference saw three sessions and Laws’ speech, with a range of speaker covering the need for economic liberalism, public service reform, and the importance of internationalism. Disappointingly, there was only 1 female panellist, economist Vicky Pryce, and one female chair, The Economist’s Emma Duncan. There really should have been more effort made to have women in the debates. There were few in the audience either, and classical liberalism is hardly going to broaden its appeal if it is just a conversation between white men.
One of the most though provoking moments came from a conservative, Times writer Tim Montgomerie. He pointed out that economic liberals need to think about reducing the demand for the state, not just the supply of it. He couched it in social conservative terms, such as traditional family values, but the point is a valid one. Liberals need to support people in not needing the state, not just reducing it as a means in itself.
It’s fair to say not all the ideas went down well though. For example Paul Marshall’s proposal to ban public sector strikes in health and education, did not seem to have enormous amounts of support.
Health Minister Norman Lamb made a very impressive speech, and condemned Labour as they “haven’t even begun to think about getting value for their pound” in public services. He said that the “consequences” of an Ed Miliband Labour Government “could be devastating.”
With the positioning of Ed Miliband, and the rise of UKIP, it has felt more important than ever to have an agenda of liberal ideas. The Orange Book might yet prove to be as important in 2014, as it was in 2004.