It’s fair to say that Jeremy Browne’s book Race Plan has caused a fair bit of controversy in amongst Liberal Democrats in recent weeks. Liberal Democrat Voice has covered it extensively with reviews by both Nick Thornsby and Stephen Tall and an article by me based on Jeremy’s many interviews and the press coverage they generated. I hadn’t read the book, so it couldn’t and never claimed to be a review. I was completely upfront about that and about the basis of my comments.
Jeremy has very kindly taken the trouble to respond to the pretty intense debate that those pieces generated. It’s good when people do that and it would be great to see more of it. My feathers are slightly ruffled because he in relation to what I had to say, he mostly resorted to a few cheap shots rather than substantive arguments:
This is the essence of Caron Lindsay’s review. I say “review”, although that is not strictly accurate, as Caron makes the commendably honest admission before she gets into the detail of her case against the book (“written by someone who comes from an exceptionally privileged background for those who come from an exceptionally privileged background”) when she says “I have not read this book”.
Maybe it is just easiest to suggest that she does (and others who have made similar observations without being handicapped by actually knowing what the book says). She will find that it is a feast of egalitarianism. From the introduction onwards (“It means liberating the talents of all our people, not just protecting the advantages of the privileged minority, to enable our country to realise its full potential”) the book endlessly and restlessly explores this theme: page 88 (“The educational outcomes for children from low incomes families are a national scandal”); page 90; page 93; housing on page 125 (“The millions of people who own homes owe it to subsequent generations not to pull the housing ladder up after themselves”); the budget on page 132 (“The real victims of government financial mismanagement … the elderly, the sick, the poor and the vulnerable”); page 134 and 135; welfare on page 143 (“A comprehensive welfare state is a hallmark of a civilised society”). And it goes on.
Caron’s review is illustrated by a sign which says ‘It is forbidden for Eton boys to cross at this point!’ As Eton is not mentioned once in the book, I did not go to Eton, and I have never even visited the school, I am probably missing some elitist in-joke. But I do remember from my time at school how difficult it is to write a review of a book without reading it.
It wasn’t about the picture or whether I had read the book, it was about whether this book was well-timed, whether he was right to suggest that his ideas were “authentic” liberalism and about whether his ideas were practical for the poorest. My argument in essence is that reducing the size of the state and expanding choice gives an inherent advantage to those who are already privileged.
Here’s the comment I left in response to that: