A number of policy related discussions have recently caught my eye, and my ire it has to be said, because they seem to involve people proposing state interventions in some area or another, along the lines of "something must be done" without first examining and understanding the real cause of the problem they are trying to ameliorate. And often as not the problems can be shown to have been caused by previous state action or legislation. And that getting rid of that previous action or legislation rather than piling on yet more legislation ought to be the first response.
To my mind it is crucial that a party that claims the mantle of "liberalism" get to understand this, and that the first reaction when something apparently needs "fixing" ought to be to examine the causes of the problem rather than just come up with another jolly wheeze for further state intervention. Even if you do not take your skepticism of the state and state action as far as I do, that is to say to want to eradicate the entire edifice as soon as possible, I do not believe you can call yourself a liberal if you do not seek to reduce the state's involvement wherever possible, and most especially when it is the state's actions that are causing the problem you are looking at,
If Lib Dems all made honest and sincere attempts to do this before proposing some new intervention we could probably save many hours of argument between so called social liberals and so called economic liberals and whoever – because we might be more inclined to believe that those proposing something had ensured that it was the minimum intervention necessary to achieve the solution to some social problem.
And this is not a problem restricted to web discussions amongst various groups of "ordinary members"; it is a systemic problem in the party, indeed in politics as a whole, from the highest levels of policy making to the "man on the street" demanding that "something must be done". Furthermore, rigorous application of this inherently liberal principle would be, quite frankly, a unique selling point at least amongst the bigger political parties in the UK and could be presented as a properly radical alternative to the more knee-jerk interventionism of the other two statist parties.
If we believe, as Nick said during his leadership campaign, that the majority of Britain are instinctively liberal, someone ought to be giving them genuinely liberal alternatives and at the moment Liberal Democrats are failing them as much as anyone else. We will often, I suspect, find that the state created causes of many contemporary problems come down to only a few sorts of rights and privileges the state continues to uphold – because nobody dared to try to get rid of them, preferring instead to try to "legislate them away" each time a new adverse and perhaps previously unforeseen effect turned up. That in turn should tell us something; point us to ways of solving whole rafts of issues with one major change and hundreds of repeals of the wasteful legislation that has in intervening years been used to try to ameliorate those issues.
Only when we have eradicated those parts of the state system that cause us so many problems will we truly be able to see whether what results is a "fair" and "just" society and whether there is need for a little redistributive effort here and there to ensure people's quality of life. It was once called the "doctrine of the level playing field" and was long forgotten as the activist state decided that all it needed to do was to introduce yet more new legislation for each problem that arose.