2010 was the year the Lib Dems grew up

December 31, 2010 § 1 Comment

Still soaring ahead, despite a tough year.

How many Lib Dems, even in their wettest of wet dreams, at the start of 2010 would have dared to believe that by the end of it (indeed, the middle of it) we’d be full partners in the first Coalition Government since the 2nd World War?

Who would have thought that a Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister would have addressed politicians and diplomats, from around the world, at the United Nations headquarters in New York?

You’d have probably been derided as an overoptimistic fool if you’d have envisioned a year where countless Lib Dem manifesto policies have been put into action:

From the pupil premium, to taking many of the lowest paid workers out of tax altogether,  to action on Climate Change, to delaying a decision over replacing Trident and on and on.

Who’d have believed, at the start of the year, that our Leader would have lit up the election campaign with his peerless performances in the first ever TV leaders’ debates in a UK general election?

We Liberal Democrats…all of us!…should be proud that all of this…I say again, all of this, has come to pass.

This has been a remarkable, historic year for our beloved party.

Have we faced difficulties? Yes, of course.

Have we made some very tough choices? Most certainly.

Will we have upset some people? It was inevitable.

But I would argue that this was the year our party-22 years old in its modern form-finally grew up.

It left its impossibly idealistic teenage years way behind it and is beginning to realise that hard, raw politics is about-like it or not-having to be both idealistic and pragmatic…it’s about the ‘art of the possible.’

As Barack Obama recently said in an interview with Jon Stewart on the brilliant Daily Show:

“Yes we can, but…”

Well if the most idealistic (at least in terms of rhetoric) politician of our age is having to qualify people’s hopes and expectations then we shouldn’t be surprised that Clegg and Cameron are having to do the same here.

There’s no doubt at all that the tuition fees issue has been damaging for our party and for our party leadership-and I disagreed with it-but, in a sense, it was the decision which showed just how much the Liberal Democrats have grown up.

Look, for decades we could be as idealistic as we wanted, we could promise the world, because-in our heart of hearts-we never expected to get anywhere near being in Government.

Now, that is all changed. So, yes, its a tough old learning curve for our party and some people may never forgive us…whether it be for joining a Coalition with the Tories or supporting a policy we had expressly campaigned against…but, I tell you, in time we’ll get the support of plenty more people who used to consider voting Lib Dem to be a waste or used to think we were a joke of a party.

Today, whatever you think about some of the decisions being taken by Lib Dem Ministers and Secretaries of State, you can no longer claim, with any credibility at least, that we are not to be taken seriously.

So, no doubt there are more tough days ahead but we should be proud of how far we’ve come this year.

Happy New Year to all of my readers!


Hughes’s new role makes Farron even more important

December 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Simon Hughes...knows his role!

I am a huge admirer of Simon Hughes.

He is one of our best known MP’s and beloved by most if not all of the ‘ordinary’ party membership, having held a number of roles within it, including Party President and, currently, its Deputy Leader.

Simon is a politician of principle, but also recognises the pragmatic choices politicians sometimes have to make, though they may be rather more ‘head’ than ‘heart’ decisions.

It was announced yesterday that Mr Hughes has taken on a sixth-month role as the Government’s Advocate for Access to Education, especially higher education.

As a powerful advocate for the rights of less well off pupils/young people I’m sure he’ll do a great job in this role…visiting schools and colleges across the land to lobby students to continue their education/training, in the hope of ensuring each of them is able to fulfill their potential and make the most of their God-given talents.

As someone who benefited from the widening out of access to higher education in the past decade or so, I wish him well in this role.

However this news does, inevitably, lead to one specific question: Was Simon Hughes promised this role if he pledged not to vote against the rise in tuition fees in the recent vote in the House of Commons?

I’m not passing comment, I’m merely asking the question.

Asked by reporters yesterday, Hughes said he’ll still be able to speak out against Government policies as he is not ‘a member of the Government.’

Well, o.k., but he can’t possibly be able to speak quite as openly-at least on education policies-as he has been doing in recent weeks and months, surely?

Which makes Tim Farron-our new President-all the more vital, in being a constructive voice of criticism (where he disagrees with Government policy) and of championing backbench opinion and our voice, as ‘ordinary’members/activists/candidates/councillors.

I was very proud to be a small part of Tim Farron’s campaign team in his recent bid for the party Presidency (I championed his cause here in the East Midlands); I supported him for a number of reasons but primary among them, was his ability to support the coalition and be very vocal about our progressive achievements in Government whilst making clear, where necessary, when Lib Dem policy differs from current Coalition policy…and making sure the genuine, socially liberal voice of our party is heard.

With Hughes largely tied up with his news responsibilities for at least the first-half of 2011, Tim Farron becomes an even more important Lib Dem Voice, in lobbying the party leadership, in connecting members/activists with Government ministers, in making our cause loud and clear in the media.

It is a testament to the strength of our party that we have two such talented MP’s on our parliamentary back benches.

I wish them both well in 2011.

Why all progressives should back AV

December 29, 2010 § 5 Comments

It's time for fairer votes.

2011 is going to be a vitally important year for me, my party and for our whole political system.

For me because I hope I can persuade enough people to vote me into being a local Councillor representing Barwell ward on Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.

For my party because I hope we can continue to be part of the Coalition, governing in the national interest…and delivering a fair deal for the people of Britain.

And for our whole political system because we have the chance, if we’re brave enough to take it, to vote in a much fairer, much more democratic, electoral system for the Westminster parliament.

It amazes me that there are still a number of so-called ‘progressives’ who can’t see the benefit of the Alternative Vote system for Westminster elections.

It is for those of us who are part of the formal ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign (I’m a member of the Leicestershire branch) to use the next four and bit months to persuade as many people that this will be good for our country; using one to one interaction, evidence, the media and so on.

So, why is it important that we vote ‘Yes’ in the AV referendum in May next year?

Here are three, simple but profound reasons:

* MP’s will have to work harder to be elected.

MPs will need to secure at least 50% of the vote to be certain of winning, not just in the 1 in 3 that can currently put them in power. They’ll need to work harder and go further to get — and keep — your support. They’ll have to appeal to more people in the communities they seek to represent, because doing just enough won’t be enough any more.

* A vote that really counts.

Forget tactical voting – just pick the candidate you really want to win. But if your favourite doesn’t win you can still have a say. It’s as easy as 1,2,3…

* Tackling jobs for life.

Too many MPs have “safe seats” or jobs for life, and the expenses crisis showed us just where that culture can lead. Now you can help end that culture of complacency.

For progressives there is an added reason as to why should vote yes to AV:

Just think back to our wilderness years in the 1980’s, when the Left was split which meant the regressive and reactionary policies of Margaret Thatcher were allowed to be implemented; not because there was a Tory majority in the country, there hardly ever has been.

But, because, the Left’s vote was split between Labour and SDP/Liberals…meaning many Tories got in on a minority of the vote.

If we’d have had AV and we progressives had been able to list our prefered candidates in order, it is highly likely that in the majority-though, I accept, not all-of occasions Labour voters would have put SDP/liberal candidates as their second preference and vice versa.

That would have meant a greater number of progressive MP’s elected to Westminster…which would have meant the Tory majority guaranteed in the 1980’s by First Past The Post would have disintegrated; meaning the devastation caused to so many of our communities would not have happened.

And those who lamely argue that AV leads to unstable government, I provide the following argument to the contrary.

Australia has had AV for its federal elections since the 1920’s and only twice…that’s twice…since then has it led to a hung parliament (the latest time, of course, being earlier this year.)

So, it is clear from the example of our cousins down under that AV leads, most of the time, to stable government.

Progressives who vote to keep FPTP are like turkeys voting for Christmas.

We progressives need to come together and argue the case for change.

How can any real democrat be against a system that would mean politicians having to earn the votes of more than half of their electorates (at least) to gain a seat in our prestigious parliament?

Those backing FPTP need to ask themselves if it is really acceptable for people to be elected to Parliament with only 30% or so of those who cast a vote in their election…meaning a majority voted against them?

And those who say this referendum doesn’t go far enough need to pull themselves together and realise that if there’s a ‘no’ vote on this in May, then it’s highly unlikely there’ll be another chance to vote for a fairer voting system in at least a generation.

It is time to vote for change.

To vote ‘Yes’ to fairer votes!

Why Labour should regret Blair’s shafting of Ashdown in 1997

December 28, 2010 § 6 Comments

Tony Blair-to blame for Labour's 2010 election defeat?

It’s etched across their faces.

Labour Members of Parliament-and, especially, former Ministers-have still not recovered from the party losing office.

They’d begun to believe that their’s was the ‘natural party of government.’

Perhaps, despite their protestations, they had become so used to ministerial cars and red boxes that they thought they would be in their ownership forever.

Whatever the truth of it, you can tell from many of their public pronouncements that Labour MP’s are still in a kind of shock.

They seem to be opposing many Government policies not because they genuinely are against them but just for the sake of opportunistic party political point scoring.

And Labour’s lacklustre leader, ‘Red’ Ed Miliband has been making overtures to Lib Dem members to join his party;as if we’ve suddenly forgotten about the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, the gap between the richest and poorest in this country growing wider during their time in office, and their demolishing of many of our treasured and long fought for civil liberties, etc.

This all seems a bit desperate on Labour’s behalf.

They rather resemble headless chickens; clinging onto the last vestiges of life, pecking and clucking around without any great purpose or sense of being.

The tragic thing-at least for Labour members-is that this could have all potentially been avoided.

One of my favourite reads has been the memoirs of our former leader-and one of my political heroes-Paddy Ashdown, especially the volume covering the run-up to the 1997 General Election and its aftermath.

In the book Ashdown documents the secret talks between leading Lib Dems, including former party President, Robert Maclennan, and leading Labour members including the late Robin Cook, the former Labour Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons.

At the time it seemed the Labour negotiators-with the support of the party’s then Leader Tony Blair-were genuine and really ‘up-for’ a potential realignment of the Left of British politics…the re-uniting of the Labour/Liberal movements whose split in the early part of the 20th Century largely enabled the Tories to come through the middle and govern for the majority of its years.

Of course there were very loud internal voices against a Left realignment, including from that party heavyweight John Prescott, but the party’s modernisers could see that this could be a great thing…it could have potentially seen the Tories unable to govern again, if everything had panned out.

But then came the election, Labour won a landslide and the talks between the Lib Dems and Labour resulted in nothing, other than a Lib Dem presence for a couple of years on a Cabinet Committee on constitutional reform.

Even despite Labour’s massive majority, if Blair had had the courage of his alleged convictions, he could have still worked with Paddy Ashdown and other Lib Dems to form a Coalition Government.

Just imagine Ashdown as Deputy Prime Minister, Ming Campbell as Foreign Secretary and Charles Kennedy as the Scottish Secretary.

With Lib Dems in government at the time I’m sure some of Labour’s worst ‘crimes’ could and would have been avoided: the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, the various attacks on our hard-won civil liberties, and, yes, the decision to introduce university tuition fees.

But the fact is Blair, despite his modernising rhetoric, did not have the will to take on the party die-hards in his parliamentary ranks (which David Cameron-to his credit-did, with the Tories, thirteen years on) and he dropped like a stone the idea of a historic realignment of the Left of British politics.

Ultimately Blair wasn’t a Kinnock; Neil Kinnock drove the Militant tendency from his party in the 1980’s, making it far more electable. Blair, in a far easier task, wasn’t prepared to take on the likes of Prescott and demand that they fall in line behind a Lib/Lab Coalition.

This might not have seemed like a problem at the time, but-thirteen years on-Labour could still be in office had there been better relations between Labour and the Lib Dems and had more modernisers been sent into the dramatic negotiations in the five days after the General Election in May this year…instead of the likes of that arch-Brownite Ed Balls.

They cannot, with any justification at least, now cry wolf because David Cameron and the Tories did what Labour and Blair failed to do back in 1997.

I believe Coalition Government could become a regular feature of our politics-indeed, I’d welcome it; so, if Labour are to stand any chance of getting back into power they need to stop trying to mock Lib Dem Ministers and coup Lib Dem members and, instead, start enabling better relations ahead of potential negotiations after the next General Election in 2015.

Ed Miliband should set up a working group to this effect-perhaps led by that arch moderniser Lord Mandelson.

Labour has no one to blame for them being out of office but themselves.

Facing up to that may just be the wake-up call they need to kick-start a long journey back to power.

“He who dares, wins!”

December 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

He dared...do we?

“And so this is Christmas and what have you done? Another year over…a new one just begun.”

So, famously, sang John Lennon many years ago.

‘Happy Christmas: War is Over’ is an iconic festive song, but today I’d like to write about another iconic part of the Christmas experience and what the Lib Dems could learn from him.

No, not Jesus.

Derrick ‘Del Boy’ Trotter.

Let’s face it, no Christmas is complete without watching at least one episode of the brilliant BBC sitcom ‘Only Fools and Horses,’ is it?

And, if possible, more than just one.

I’ll certainly be turning to comedy repeats channel .G.O.L.D. to remind myself of some of Del Boy’s pearls of wisdom.

“Rodney, what a plonker.” “Bonnet de duche,” etc.

But, perhaps, his most well-known and lasting catchphrase is:

“He who dares wins!”

I believe we Lib Dems could learn a lot from that.

We need to remember why we’re in politics in the first place-to be a radical, socially progressive party of Government.

We’re doing much that fits that bill, but we’re not getting the credit for it.

We need to be much more daring in how we promote ourselves, in the media, on the stump, and on the doorstep.

This is no time to be timid. We need to stand up straight, shoulders back, chest puffed out…proud to be Liberal Democrats.

So, I wish you all a Merry and peaceful Christmas with family and friends.

But, then, it’ll be time to take our positive, progressive message out on to the streets.

To ensure we’re not Rodney the ‘plonker’ but Del Boy, the one who dares and, eventually, wins.

Why some of the ‘wets’ in the Lib Dems need to grow a backbone

December 23, 2010 § 3 Comments

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

This has been a tough old week for my party, no doubt about it, but to read some of the comments of fellow members of the party you’d think it was on the precipice of complete destruction.

There’s been suggestions that we need to be pulling out of the Coalition now, today, this instant.

Talk that we’ve done our bit, but we’ve had the frightners put on us and must exit-stage left-as soon as possible.

Some local activists/councillors believe that we must exit Government to ensure they have a chance to win/retain their seats.

What kind of selfish clap-trap is that?

Let me ask, how on earth would Lib Dems at a national level wilting at the first sign of pressure help local activists to convince their potential electorates that the party is capable of running anything other than perhaps a flower stall?

I recently became a local candidate for the party and I acknowledge that some of what is going on at Westminster isn’t always helpful, but If I don’t win you won’t find me blaming Nick Clegg or Vince Cable.

We, as local campaigners, activists and candidates, need to be taking the fight out on the doorsteps, talking to people, telling them about the good things Lib Dems are doing both locally and nationally.

That’s certainly what me and my colleagues will be doing in my patch of Barwell and Hinckley and Bosworth.

We’ve seen time and again that good, positive, local campaigners-with a progressive policy agenda for their area-can win elections regardless of the standing of their party nationally.

I deplored Margaret Thatcher’s administration; her and her Government decimated whole communities and seemed not to care.

But on one thing, we Lib Dems can learn from her:

She put the ‘wets’ in their place, told them to grow a bit of backbone and stiffened them up (so to speak) for the task ahead of them.

We too need our ‘wets’ to find a bit of resolve, a bit of backbone, a bit of belief in the good Lib Dem Ministers and Secretaries of State are doing in Government.

If we pulled out of the Coalition now, we may never be trusted with a place in Government again.

I have to ask my fellow Lib Dems: are we a pressure group or are we a political party?

If we’re a pressure group we should stop standing for election and just concentrate on lobbying.

If, however, as I believe, we’re a political party then we should stop this internal navel gazing and get on with the job our electorate want us to do.

To make us free, fair and green.

Lib Dems, our press and gutter journalism

December 22, 2010 § 2 Comments

This is a difficult post for me to write.

For years I worked in journalism, as a Broadcast Journalist with a group of radio stations in the West Midlands.

I still (for no payment) write a weekly column for my local newspaper, the Hinckley Herald and Journal, and broadcast on the local community internet radio station.

However, today I am ashamed of my former profession-not because of my track record but because of the actions of the ‘undercover reporters’ who believe it is o.k. to pose as the constituents of MP’s, record what are supposed to be private conversations and then leak them out into the full glare of publicity.

In my opinion that is a gross distortion of what journalism is supposed to be about.

Good journalism is about holding the powerful to account, in public open debate; not in secretly trying to get any tittle-tattle going to try and embarrass one certain political party, to further your own-or your owners-agenda.

Whatever the rightness or wrongness of what the Lib Dem Ministers had to say, the fact is that, to my mind, this kind of reporting is just about the lowest form of gutter journalism.

I’m all for a free press-of course I am-but not at the expense of Government Ministers, MP’s or, indeed, anyone in elected office, being able to talk frankly and freely to those who elected them and who they are in power to serve.

Undercover journalism may, in certain specific cases, be justified if there is alleged wrong-doing or criminality on behalf of a public figure.

But that was quite clearly not the case here.

I would allege it was about a certain paper-with its own agenda and priorities-trying to embarrass one political party and to cause damage to it within the Coalition.

These ‘journalists’ and their Editor’s may have won a partial victory, but not a full one by any means.

Vince Cable is still in office and will, after-perhaps-a period out of the spotlight,-come back to press for what he believes in.

The Lib Dems remain full partners in this Coalition and will continue to be so.

And Vince Cable and Nick Clegg will be remembered long after the names of these non-entity ‘reporters’ have been forgotten.

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