In a previous article I was scathing about this government's approach to education - a regressive insistence on churning out compliant automatons while employers demand creative, self-directed and specialised workers. But in their approach is a logic - that learners all need to be calibrated to a common criteria. This plays out in a national curriculum - literally, everyone learning the same things at the same point in their lives - and comes with the values (uncritical obedience and an unwavering respect for authority) that are required of any system that tries to achieve this.

I no longer believe that should be our goal.

It would not surprise you to know that, as a Liberal, I believe everything starts with - and comes back to - individuals. But education should not just be focused on the individual based on an abstract idea - we need to ground it in the practicalities and intent of education.

So let me convince you of an alternative goal: a much expanded "national curriculum", that every learner progresses through at their own pace and in their own order - and that no one person should ever come close to completing.

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As a child of the 80's, the environment was constantly on my mind. We had the hole in the Ozone Layer, letting in the sun's rays and giving people cancer. As a Cub Scout, I helped manually crush drinks cans for the apparently new concept of recycling. There was the growing Greenhouse Effect, of course, and in fevered dreams I imagined a mushroom cloud bloom over Chernobyl. Between the Cold War and Climate Change, youthful thoughts about the future were sometimes bleak to say the least.

For the youth of today, things are far worse. Ignore for a moment the looming Cold War with China, Russia and a new wave of 'illiberal democracies' and take a look at the environment. What we once called Global Warming and then called Climate Change is now the Climate Emergency.

School children and other young people are showing signs of 'climate anxiety'. Mental health is suffering because of this crisis. There is some evidence that climate scientists are suffering from 'despair' and feelings of 'hopelessness' and that, surely, cannot be a good sign.

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For the Liberal Democrats, the polling-heights of 2019 and the lows of 2021 can easily be chalked up as the before and after effects of Brexit, which has come to dominate so much of our political discourse. But with the Greens rising as a challenger to the mantle of progressive third party during the local elections, a moment of reflection must come for the party’s messaging.

Bollocks to Brexit

In 2019, the Liberal Democrats showed the public a hard, clear and distinct view towards Brexit in their vocal and unified opposition to it. In many ways, the anti-Brexit stance was a perfect embodiment of Liberal values and what the Liberal Democrats had been striving for as a party;  rejecting nationalism, encouraging international cooperation, maintaining local devolution, committing to and expanding personal freedoms to live and work where you want.  Voters could build a subtractive picture of who we were with little effort on our part; even if you didn't know what we were for, you certainly knew what we stood against. By sticking to our principles, the party enjoyed the highest rating in the polls it had seen in nearly a decade, and a considerable boost in membership.

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Since Brexiters told the country to BeLEAVE in Britain there has been a strong line on a particular type of patriotism in British politics. Boris Johnson has exemplified this as Prime Minister and Labour, in desperation to win back the 'Red Wall' constituencies, has attempted to 'embrace the flag' and to match Johnson's brand of patriotism. Liberals on the other hand are known for internationalism, welcoming migrants and eschewing borders in a bid to find a way to connect and work with our fellow man/woman no matter where they were born. But, does that mean Liberals can't be patriots?

At its heart, patriotism stems from a shared experience, shared values and shared priorities that we naturally develop when we grow up together, work alongside each other and live, love and die together. It's the stuff of trades unions, co-operatives and ... Liberalism.

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On Wednesday an opposition political banner was taken down in Stanway, Essex, on the orders of Kevin Bentley, the Conservative deputy leader of Essex County Council. Kevin says he "reported" it but didn't specifically "order" for them to be taken down - in the same way that your boss might tell you about a problem but not specifically demand you fix it. This silencing of opposition is.. well, fascist in nature.

Don't squirm - that's the word for it.

It's also not the only instance - the Scottish Conservatives also slipped "14 words" into a Tweet about IndyRef, a famous dog-whistle designed to signal support for white supremecy that has been repeated uncritically by news outlets.

If there were any indication that the Conservative Party has now embraced populist nationalism, with all the fascist-inspired excesses that come along for the ride, this should be what awakens us to it.

But why are the Tories embracing fascist ideas?

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You often hear it said that the Liberal Democrats have lots of policy but no overarching narrative. That charge sticks because for too long it has been true. The party has allowed a dangerous vacuum to develop where a succinct articulation of its core philosophy should be. The preamble to the party constitution is a thing of beauty, but we need something even more direct.

Our proposal is that the Liberal Democrats should define a liberal society as one in which every single person has enough power, wealth, knowledge and freedom in their own hands to be able to shape their own destiny, working in community with others. The key characteristic of a liberal society is therefore the widespread distribution of economic, social and political power; its fundamental enemy the excessive and unaccountable concentration of such power in either the state, the private sector, or both.

This is why, writing elsewhere and drawing on the title of Paddy Ashdown’s 1989 book, we have begun calling for a Citizens’ Britain. Whereas some seem to see this concept as a call only for more citizen engagement in policy-making, we see it as an idea with far wider purchase and around which a new, post-Brexit, post-Covid Liberal political project should cohere.

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