Liberal values and the growth of inequality

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Jonathan Freedland cites compassion for victims of war, the peaceful resolution of international disputes, Enlightenment values and a free press as the hallmarks of liberalism (Don’t fall for these dishonest attacks on the ‘liberal elite’, 24 December). But what of free trade and free markets? Low tax, the small state and deregulation? These too are hallmarks of liberalism in its “neo” form.

Liberalism stands for the freedom of the individual and the sanctity of individual liberties – as well as the openness and plurality that Freedland prefers to celebrate. The right of the individual to freedom from regulation or restraint is the notion that has driven globalisation, market fundamentalism and our present, unfettered, toxic form of capitalism. And those are the forces that have stripped many of the Trump voters in the rust belt and Brexit supporters in the north of England of their security, their dignity and their hope for their kids. Clinton (both), Blair, Cameron, Obama, all social liberals, all drank the neoliberal Kool Aid. The failure of progressives to sever social liberalism from its economic counterpart has led us to this crisis (Clegg, take note). Brexit and Trump are in many ways the fruits of liberalism.

Equality of opportunity is the liberal touchstone. Well and good. But the chance for the bright, energetic – or lucky – few to get ahead has done nothing to stop the corrosive growth of inequality. What we need now is a commitment to a much greater – and universal – equality of outcomes. Is that a liberal value?
Rod Wood
Nottingham

Jonathan Freedland casts much-needed light in the gloom of Brexit, Farage and Trump; most of all on Theresa May’s ridiculous reduction of “remainers” to a small metropolitan elite of “citizens of the world and of nowhere”. And yet, there is a danger of a different kind of reductionism. Having trudged the streets of one post-industrial city, Stoke, over recent years, and gathered stories from many people about decline, racism and radicalisation, we have, still, much work to do in understanding why Farage, and Brexit, have played so well. If this is largely to do with the economy, it is because people often feel dismissively stereotyped by metropolitans as passé, “northern”, “failures” and “basket cases”.

Note might also be made of how elements of the cultural elite are responsible for a huge and mainly negative representational shift of working-class life over many decades: from Alan Sillitoe’s cussed, rugged but respected characters in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning to the pornography of Benefit Cheats. Alongside all of this, we should also remember the political abandonment of whole estates by an elite called New Labour.

Stockbroker Farage appals me too, but his appeal, like that of the BNP or EDL, is partly explained by processes of abandonment and stereotyping by elites in the City, in politics and in parts of the media. And I guess some of those might think of themselves as “liberal”.
Professor Linden West
Faculty of Education, Canterbury Christ Church University

Jonathan Freedland is right to recognise that all sorts believe in that better, more egalitarian and compassionate society where rights and responsibilities set out in a balanced way resonate. The trouble is that many of our ilk (yes, Guardian readers and in particular liberal-minded lefties) wouldn’t last five minutes when talking to so many who voted leave. The left needs to use sensible language again, as Steve Richards implies (Take back control – the slogan the left should make its own, 20 December). We need literate, lateral thinkers who encompass the equivalent of the politics of Crosland to Crossman, who ensured my party was (almost) the natural party of government under Harold Wilson.

Labour can do that again if it creates a proper coalition putting emphasis on more but not absolute economic equality, asking the better off (not just millionaires) to pay their dues in return for a Beveridge-style settlement that reduces means tests and workfare and pensioners having to sell homes to pay for care, raising living standards with more full-time employment rather than this zero-hours, triple-job, low-wage economy. Dare I suggest higher VAT on luxury goods to combat global warming?
Cllr Andy Beere
Labour, Banbury, Oxfordshire

My wife is much respected in her science field and has a PhD. I have been a consultant headteacher and now work for a university. I am a life-long reader of the Guardian and we both voted to leave the EU, figuring the country would be better governing itself with its own politicians and own laws and a worldwide trading base. We strongly feel that, long-term, this a better option for our grandchildren. When will the Guardian start representing our views in the same way it does for so many minorities? After all, according to Jonathan Freedland, we represent a minority of 9% – of Guardian readers.
Malcolm and Nicky Rivers
Isleworth, Middlesex