It was twenty years ago today…

January 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Later this year it’ll be twenty years since my Mum and Dad split up and, subsequently, divorced.

I’ll never forget that late Summer’s day, just a fortnight before I was due to start high school (great timing, dad) when my father came home late from a night shift, went upstairs to pack his things, came downstairs to where me and my Mum were sitting in the living room and told my mother he was leaving her.

He’d met someone else.

Though I tried to remain strong for my mum-as, by default, I was now ‘The Man’ of the house, and though I never let on to anyone at school what had happened (neither did my Mum-she later told me-until the first parent’s evening when she informed my Tutor, Mrs Boobyer…no sniggering, please…that she and my dad had split up…I’m chuffed to say my Tutor informed her that she would never have known and that I was a pleasant child and doing well in my school work), the split up was chewing me up deep inside.

I started wetting the bed due to my anxiety at what the future held for me and my family.

With Dad only paying the most basic maintenance and Mum not earning very much from her factory work, we also didn’t have much money.

But Mum wouldn’t let that stop me from following my dreams.

She encouraged me to go to the Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade twice a week and Hinckley Swimming Club twice a week (I was fit once, you know!?)

I did alright at school; not a star pupil, but not an underachiever either. I guess I was average.

I went to FE College and then on to Nottingham Trent University, from where I graduated in 2002 with a BA (Honours) in Broadcast Journalism.

This is a very truncated version of what happened to my family in the 90’s and early 00’s.

Back when Dad and Mum split up, separations let alone divorce-were not to be discussed in polite society.

Divorce, especially, was still pretty rare…well, compared with today anyway.

Though I always stayed in contact with my Dad, often more at my request than his, Mum was my rock and my guide.

A few years ago my Dad’s second wife sadly passed away and, at his time of greatest need, I felt it important to be there for him even though-to be frank-I felt like he hadn’t always been there for me.

Now, as my Mum and Dad are shortly to enter their 70’s, I realise just how much I love and owe them both, especially my Mum.

Me and Dad are now closer than ever before and he recently told me how proud he was that I was a Lib Dem Candidate in the up-coming local elections.

That meant a lot to me.

I never thought I’d write such a personal blogpost, even one which just skims the surface of the myriad of emotions I’ve felt down the years, but I felt it needed to be written.

Some people have levelled at me that, as a Lib Dem in 2011, I must be a yellow-Tory; a right-winger hiding in left-wing clothing.

That I, somehow, don’t know what it feels like to be struggling in modern Britain.

The truth is, I know too well. From my parents separation and divorce, to years of struggle, to finding some success as a radio reporter, to then being made redundant (in 2009) and facing a period of unemployment, before re-inventing myself as a community organiser and aspirant politician.

In many ways, despite the hardships, my life has been blessed.

For whatever has happened in my life,  my Mum has always been there…offering love and support and providing a safe, warm and (for the most part) happy home.

So, people, who use clichés and stereotypes to attack Lib Dems such as me need to realise, we know all too well what it’s like in the ‘real world,’ we live in it each day of our lives.

That is why I, for one, support a socially liberal agenda, that aids social mobility, that makes work pay, and that helps the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

That is why, even with the tough choices and compromises, I support this Coalition Government.

I’ve come along way since that shy eleven year old, whose family faced an uncertain future, back in 1991.

I made it through the rain.

I believe this Government will help others walk from rain to sunshine too.

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I still agree with Nick!

January 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nick Clegg...serving, in the national interest.

I watched Nick Clegg’s appearance on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One yesterday morning with great interest.

It’s been a hugely difficult few months for the leader of our party who, at times, has looked physically ill with the strain of it all.

So, I was interested in watching his first sit down, set-piece TV interview of 2011.

Though I don’t agree with every aspect of Coalition Government policy-for example I’m against the trebling of tuition fees-broadly speaking, I still agree with Nick.

I still believe there was no other realistic option for us last Summer, but for us to go into Coalition…albeit with a party that have been our primary opponents over the past twenty or so years.

It’s all too easy to believe the press hype and the Labour lies.

They suggest that we’ve sold out, we’re yellow tories…you know the old lines that get trotted out.

For those of us who are very much social liberals, that is a clear nonsense.

I am very much a Beveridge liberal; I believe in protecting public services, in keeping them free at the point of use, in ensuring that we help and protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.

And, that is what this Coalition Government is doing.

Would I like to see a more socially liberal agenda? Yes, of course.

But let’s not forget what we have already achieved: taking the poorest working people out of tax, re-linking pensions to earnings, action on climate change, delaying a decision on replacing trident, the pupil premium, help for part-time students, and on and on.

By any stretch of the imagination they are a host of progressive measures.

In his interview yesterday, Clegg was absolutely right to point out that the Government-and him in particular-needs to be constantly explaining what they’re doing and why, for fear that if they don’t some of the smears and lies of our opponents (both in Parliament and in the media) will become the received wisdom.

We’ll certainly take no lessons from Labour with their record of taking us into an illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq, trampling on civil liberties and leaving us with the worst budget deficit in modern history.

Our opponents don’t like it, but we are taking the tough decisions and choices that are needed and are serving, in the national interest.

Blair finally loses his grip on the Labour Party

January 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

'New Labour' is dead.

To think, I’d begun to believe the most interesting political event of today was the big TV re-match between beefy Adam Boulton in the Right corner and alpha Alistair Campbell on the Left, on Sky News this lunchtime.

Then came tonight’s unexpected announcement of Alan Johnson stepping down as Shadow Chancellor, to be replaced by Ed ‘It’s not Brown’s, it’s…’ Balls.

There’s already been much comment on this tonight…and I should imagine tomorrow’s newspapers will use up innumerable dead trees analysing it to the enth degree.

I, however, have just one point to make…the Shadow Cabinet re-shuffle Johnson’s decision has forced marks the final death knell of Tony Blair’s grip on the Labour Party.

RIP New Labour 1994-2011.

Reading the roster of ‘Red’ Ed Miliband’s new line-up must be, for Gordon Brown and his acolytes, like the wettest of wet dreams.

All of his minions are there and in very prominent positions: Balls, Shadow Home Secretary; Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary; Yvetter Cooper-Mrs Balls-Shadow Home Secretary…and on and on.

The few Blairites, such as new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne (who I used to have to interview back when I was a radio news reporter in the West Midlands) stick out like a thumb which is that saw it’s practically devoid of life.

Labour is now unashamedly Brownite.

The Honourable Member for Kirkcaldy has finally crushed Blairism…very unlikely for it ever to rear it’s sparkly eyed, false smiled head again.

And, thus, Labour has surely made itself unelectable for at least a generation.

What a sorry pass for a once great party.

We’ll take no lessons from Labour on social mobility

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Andy Burnham-He may have 'pretty' eyelashes, but he's engaged in ugly politics.

As I write this I’m watching the Education Maintenance Allowance debate in the House of Commons on BBC Parliament and am becoming increasingly annoyed at the rank hypocrisy of Labour MP’s.

If it wasn’t so serious, it’d be laughable.

The issue of EMA’s is very important and what that needs serious reflection and serious debate; not the ‘nothing to do with me, Jack’ attitude from the deficit deniers on the Labour benches.

Andy Burnham flashes his pretty eyelashes and puts on that ‘man of the people’ voice and blames the Coalition for all the cuts they’re making, including on EMA’s, without reflecting in any way, shape or form on his role-as a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury-on leaving the country with, as a Labour successor of his in that position famously pointed out-‘no money left.’

Labour members speak about their passion for increasing social mobility-something I am myself passionate about-whilst conspicuously failing to mention that, under the thirteen years of their Government-the gap between the richest and poorest grew.

So, their attempt to increase social mobility palpably failed.

This kind of rank hypocrisy is becoming a regular Labour trait.

Remember the issue of tuition fees-from their shock and horror at the Government’s announcements you’d have thought Labour hadn’t, when in Government, been the ones who introduced them in the first place and go on to introduce top-up fees.

The intention and hope of this Government is, instead of having one universal payout, which goes to those who don’t need it as well as those who do, that help is, in fact, targeted to those who need it most.

Liberal Democrats in Government, with their Conservative colleagues, will be looking to ensure that is the case.

But if Labour are ever be trusted with the Government of our country again, they need to stop this rank hypocrisy, admit the failings of their own most recent Government, and come up with some policies of their own.

Until then, they are nothing more than a laughing-stock.

A tale of two liberal parties…and an important question for the Lib Dems!

January 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I hope you’re sitting comfortably, dear reader, for this is a tale which has needed to be told for quite a while…a message that needs to be heeded by the British Liberal Democrats; a warning from history, if you will.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I support this Coalition Government and a overwheling majority of its polices; I’m glad that Liberal Democrats are a full part of this Government, serving in the National Interest.

But, our party leadership must be careful in how they plan our strategy beyond the likely next election in 2015.

Warnings come to us from another liberal policy in our own continent and from another down under.

Let’s start with the Australian Democrats; the Aussie’s own version of the Liberal Democrats.

Formed in 1977 as a centrist, socially liberal political party it found quite a bit of success, indeed during two successive Labor administrations the Democrats held the balance of power; helping legislation pass when they thought it was good the country, stopping it when they believed it was bad for the country.

However, by 2008, the party had lost all of its representatives in the country’s Parliament.

It is now a shadow of its former self, albeit a principled one, having to try to re-build itself…and, of course, we wish our Australian sister party well in that.

There are lessons for us to learn however from the Democrats fall from favour; they came under increasing attack for seeming to be-at one and same time-a party of the Right and of the Left and, though, we might see that as sensible (after all we Lib Dems accept the need for markets, in helping to create growth whilst also having very strong principles in terms of the need for a fair, green and decent society) but many Australians clearly wanted a more obvious store about what they were all about.

Of course, there were many other factors’ in the party’s downfall, but that was clearly a primary reason.

Now, let’s take a look at the fortunes of a liberal party a little closer to home.

The FDP in Germany is a party which supports human rights, civil liberties and internationalism but, over the years, has markedly become a centre-right political party.

It has been the junior partner in formal Coalition Governments for most of the past fifty plus years, on one occasion joining with the country’s main left-wing party, the SDP (1969-1982) but, mainly, with the country’s centre-right coalition, the CDU/CSU (1949–56, 1961–66, 1982–98, and since 2009.)

It surely must be seen as one of the most successful liberal parties in the World.

Now, of course, the peculiarities of each country means that direct comparisons are hard to make but we, as British Lib Dems, do need to be asking ourselves how we build on being in Government to ensure that we can deliver liberal policies for the people of Britain not just until 2015, but beyond.

Do we need to signify on which part of the political spectrum we fall (whilst being prepared to be in Coalition with either the main left-wing or right-wing parties), for example do we need to be more explicit in saying-for example-that we are on the centre-left in terms of social policy but on the centre-right in terms of economic policy?

Are we going to be like the Australian Democrats or the German FDP…or can we find our own third way?

I’d love to know your thoughts.

Lib Dems right to focus on ‘Alarm Clock’ Britain

January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

David Laws...to head-up new task force.

I welcome the news this morning that one of the Liberal Democrats’ brightest stars, David Laws MP, is to head up an internal party unit, looking at how policies effect low and middle-income families and to ensure that we Lib Dems, as a distinct, independent political party, have a good crop of policies heading into the next General Election, likely to be in 2015.

Of course no one is suggesting that it is only low and middle-income families who get up early or who work hard…however, the difference between many of them and those who are better off, is that the better off have a choice…many of those on low incomes do not; their job dictates how early they have to rise, they often go and do jobs that no one else wants to do, for little recompense.

According to reports, the focus will be on those who earn between £6,475 and £37,400, which is around 70% of the population, including myself…and I’m towards the lower end of that scale.

Of course Government has to be there for all of our nation’s citizens but, I say again, that the difference between the people in this wage bracket and those who earn more is the lack of ‘choice.’

Life isn’t all about how much money we earn and the acquisition of ‘things’ but, having enough money to lead a comfortable existence, gives people ‘choice’; about their child’s education, about their healthcare, about actually having some time to be with family and have some fun, rather than constantly be worried about their financial predicament.

So, if the Lib Dems are now focusing on this ‘Alarm Clock’ Britain, I very much welcome that.

If we come at this in the right way, it could result in us having the best, most radical and progressive set of policies come the time of the next election.

What the Arizona shootings have to teach us about the dangers of extreme political rhetoric

January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sarah Palin...is her rhetoric a danger to the US?

To watch, on the BBC News last night, President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama lead the United States in a minute’s silence in memory of the six people-including a six-year-old girl-who were victims of the Arizona shootings in Arizona on Saturday night, UK time.

Among the many others who were hurt, indeed very seriously hurt, was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives-the American version of the House of Commons.

She was meeting with her constituents at a local store when the attempted assassination happened.

A deeply harrowing occurence.

There has been much discussion, on both sides of the Atlantic, since then, on what kind of role the ever-increasingly right-wing rhetoric coming out of some of the States’s radio talk-show hosts and TV commentators might have had in influencing the young man alleged to have committed the act.

We may never know.

However, whatever the facts in this case, there is no doubt that political rhetoric can be both soaring and inspirational (see the speeches of the aforementioned Obama and, one of his predecessors, John F Kennedy) but it can also be used to spread and perpetuate hate.

Just look at some of the rhetoric of the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck…there’s a fine line between giving your point of view and, whether it is your intention or not, encouraging those on the extreme to take actions which are utterly unacceptable in pursuit of their political aims.

There’s a second concern here in that we’ve made our politics (more so in America, but it’s also a creeping trend here in the UK) much more personal than perhaps it used to be.

Some may have laughed when they heard that an effigy of Nick Clegg had been burned during the whole student fees row.

After the attack on Congresswoman Giffords, who would now argue that this kind of personal attack is anything other than utterly abhorrent?

And if you think, we’d never see an attack on an MP here, just remember the recent attack on Labour MP Stephen Timms (who was stabbed at one of his constituency surgeries.)

So, what to learn from this?

Well, though I’m sure it won’t happen any time soon, I do believe that America needs to look at its gun laws and needs to make them far more stringent.

All of us, politicians, activists, citizens, campaigners, need to always make sure that our language is moderate and that we treat each other with respect.

And, finally, we need to make our political debate about policies not personalities.

I hope Gabrielle Giffords makes a full recovery and can continue to represent her constituents.

Her shooting must give us all a very serious pause for thought.

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