Lib Dems must punch above our weight…but beware a knock-out blow!

April 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Canadian Liberal MP Justin Trudeau celebrates after winning a charity boxing match

I wonder if you, like me, follow Canadian politics and, especially, the fortunes of The Liberal Party of Canada?

If you don’t then you probably won’t be aware that recent years has sadly seen a decline in its fortunes.

For most of the last Century, the Canadian Liberals were that country’s Government.

However, the past few years have not been kind for them and in Canada’s last General Election, held in May last year, it returned just 34 seats in the House of Commons…losing, for the first time, it’s place as being either the Government or the Official Opposition.

Rather reminiscently of the situation here, The Liberals are now Canada’s third party.

They are currently led by Interim Leader Bob Rae MP, following the resignation of previous head honcho Michael Ignatieff after the disastrous election result.

There’s lots of talk that when the contest for the next Leader takes place (which, for some reason I’m yet to quite understand, won’t be until next year), the torch will pass a generation to 40-year old Justin Trudeau MP.

Mr Trudeau is the son of legendery former Liberal Leader and Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau, (who was PM from 1968 to 1979.)

Being the son of a former Prime Minister already gives him a spotlight, but Mr Trudeau also has good looks and relative youth to go with his strong political lineage.

Indeed, he recently showed off his physical prowess and youthful male virility in a charity boxing match.

He took on and beat Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.

This rather puts Tony Blair’s beating aged European leaders when cycling at an international summit a few years ago in the shade!

If he does become his Party’s next leader I’m sure Mr Trudeau will realise that as his Party no longer has the Parliamentary strength it once did, it must find new, innovative ways to reach out to the electorate.

It must literally punch above its weight.

It’s something we Lib Dems here in Britain have been doing for many long years and, especially, since entering into Government.

With 57 MP’s we are clearly dwarfed, in terms of Parliamentary numbers, by Labour and the Conservatives.

But, we Lib Dems are nothing if not fighters, both in community politics at a local level and at Westminster.

We’ve managed to get in the occasional powerful jab…whether it be raising the lower end tax rate or re-linking pensions to earnings…but we need to be very aware that one of our larger rivals may be ready to knock us out with a killer punch.

One such shot across our bows could well be the proposed changes in terms of how Government and related agencies can snoop on our electronic communications.

We must resist such illiberal moves at all costs.

For if we don’t, we’ll not only become a less liberal and free country…as a Party we’ll lose our Unique Selling Point.

And that, I suggest, could really leave us face down on the mat.

Facing the ten count.

‘Why I’ve joined Liberal Left’…my latest blog post for ‘Left Central’

March 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

The following is a link to my latest blog post for ‘Left Central.’

It sets out why, this week, I’ve joined ‘Liberal Left,’ a left-wing caucus within the Liberal Democrats.

Here it is:

“Drop The Bill!”…the speech I wanted to make at Lib Dem Spring Conference!

March 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

This weekend I’ve been at Liberal Democrats’ Federal Spring Party Conference, in Gateshead, Newcastle.

As many (if not all) of you will be aware, the main issue for most members surrounded the Coalition Govt’s Health and Social Care Bill…trying to get my Party to withdraw its support for it was certainly top of my priorities.

What follows is the speech I’d hoped to give if the anti-NHS Bill motion had been debated (which, sadly, as we all now know, it wasn’t) and had I been called to speak (your comments on it are welcome, remain polite though please):

“CONFERENCE, I’m proud to be a Liberal Democrat-proud to be a member of a Party that remains ‘political,’ that is adult enough to accept and even welcome the fact that we won’t always agree with each other on everything.

Indeed as both Liberals and Democrats it’d be odd if we did.

So, I acknowledge that not everyone will agree with me when I say:

This is a bad Bill.

Bad for us as a Party, yes, but much more importantly than that bad for the NHS and, therefore, bad for our nation.

Let me be clear, I welcome Liberal Democrats in Government.

I’m proud that it’s Lib Dems who’ve taken the lowest paid out of paying income tax altogether-with more to come.

That it’s Lib Dems who’ve re-linked pensions to earnings.

And that it’s Lib Dems who’ve ensured help for children from underprivileged backgrounds via the Pupil Premium.

I welcome these measures and many more besides.

But, we can’t let these undoubted achievements-and our love our Party-blind us to the fact that we are also doing some things that make many of us deeply, deeply uncomfortable.

From parts of the Welfare Reform Bill to the Free Schools and Academies agenda.

And, at the top of the list, the Health and Social Care Bill.

I love the NHS.

It is one of our greatest national institutions.

I’ve used it all my life and so have my parents and so did my late Grandparents.

Indeed, I’ll never forget the kindness with which an NHS Community Hospital cared for my late Grandmother, Bessy Hulbert, in her final days.

She was ninety years of age and extremely frail.

The very dedicated NHS staff, the doctors and nurses and others, looked after her with care and affection.

Though, by that time, her life couldn’t be saved, she had care and dignity in her final days.

That was the NHS at its best; free-at-the-point-of-use, the best care being provided, yes, by a State-run service, where what’s important is the care you receive, not your ability to pay.

As Dr Evan Harris has pointed out-even with the relatively minor concessions that we’ve managed to ring out of the Tories, The Bill ‘fails to provide the required safeguards against existing NHS services being destabilised by competition.’

As he also makes clear, ‘The remaining problems are significant. (From) the failure to hold in check the drive towards the privatisation of commissioning to making the Bill worse-after the so-called ‘listening exercise’-by requiring GP’s to promote both choice-and thus competition-and ‘innovation,’ above the deep-seated problems of unfair access to healthcare and gross disparities in health outcomes.’

I agree with him when he says, ‘no Liberal Democrat should support a Bill with that order of priority.’

This motion makes clear that either the part of The Bill that makes reference to private competition be withdrawn from The Bill or our Party-from the Deputy Prime Minister down-should withdraw its support for it.

Our Party Leader often, correctly, talks about doing the ‘right thing.’

Well, today, we have a chance to do the right thing.

To stick up for doctors, nurses, other NHS staff, and most importantly patients.

And tell our leadership to tell the Prime Minister to Drop The Bill!’

‘left-leaning Lib Dems need to be united…’ My first piece for Lib Dem Voice!

February 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

For my first post for Lib Dem Voice, I’ve written about how the Party’s left-wing need to be united, pragmatic and positive:

We must not be afraid to be Liberal!

September 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Tim Farron: "We need to stop apologising"

I LOVE our party and am very proud to represent it at a local level.

I’m proud of our unique belief both in personal liberty and freedom and in the need to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

We do believe that there is such a thing as Society.

I’m equally proud of our record on things such as equality policy, both between men and women and for people in the LGBT community.

Though there is much further to go on that agenda, not least in seeking genuine equality: same-sex marriage, the opportunity for straight people to have a civil ceremony and the ongoing battle for equal pay for women and for fairer representation.

I pay tribute to the work of LGBT Lib Dems (Delga) and to that of the brilliant Equalities Minister, Lib Dem Lynne Featherstone.

But I sometimes feel that some Lib Dems at the top of our party are almost a bit embarrassed by it…as if the membership is treated like a relative no one wants to speak to at a Christmas get-together.

They seem to function almost despite the party, not because of it.

This should never be the case.

Many of us joined the Liberal Democrats, having previously been members of other parties, precisely because we never felt at home anywhere else and we’re proud of the mix of personal and social liberalism our party (and only our party) espouses.

I’m reminded of the phrase used by our Fantastic President Tim Farron a year or so back, “We are Britain’s last remaining  political party…up against two utterly soul-less marketing operations.”

Despite us now being in Coalition with one of those, I still think that Tim is right.

We should be proud that we have strong internal debate in our party…yes, that sometimes we inflict defeat on our party leadership at Conference time (I’ve no doubt it’ll probably happen at some point in Birmingham later this month) and more often than not the collective wisdom of our membership is correct, but equally we campaign harder and better than any other political party.

The old adage is, most of the time, right: Where we Work, we Win.

So, as Tim said in his Spring Conference speech earlier this year (which I didn’t see in person but have since seen on YouTube) it’s time for us to stop apologising.

We should never be sorry or embarrassed to be Liberal Democrats.

We can be sorry for some of the tough decisions we’re having to make in Government because of the legacy left to us by the last, disastrous Labour Government.

But we must never be anything other than proud of our beloved party and the overwhelmingly positive and progressive difference it is making in Government.

I’m proud to be Liberal Democrat and I always will be.

The day I met Nick Clegg

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nick Clegg in Hinckley (photo taken by me)

I met Nick Clegg today.

He came up to Hinckley and took questions from party members/activists/Councillors.

Clegg seemed on fine form; on top of his brief and confident that, despite the rough time our party is having in the polls and the press, the Lib Dems have a very strong message to tell people.

He answered questions on a range of issues, including pensions, tuition fees, NHS reform, planning, and so on.

In a key line, he told those of us gathered (at the excellent newly refurbished Atkins building in Hinckley-funded in part by the Lib Dem-ran Borough Council) that, at the next election, there’ll only be one party advocating cuts…Labour.

By then, it is hoped, the nation will be in a much better economic state and we’ll have come to the end of the Coalition’s cuts and the Lib Dems will be able to go to the electorate saying ‘elect us and we’ll invest in public services.’

Nick also admitted that, whilst there are some Tories he finds it easy to work with, there are some he finds it impossible to work with.

Myself and my fellow local Lib Dems left the meeting feeling cheered, invigorated and ready for the political fight ahead.

The Lib Dem’s symbolic bird will soar once again!

There is no need to re-name our party

March 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

I'm proud to be a Liberal Democrat

So, according to a report in one of the Sunday papers, there is talk among some Lib Dem insiders (whoever they are) that because, at the moment, ours is not exactly the most popular political party in Britain, we need to re-name it and give it a new symbol.

I personally believe no such re-branding is needed.

Let’s start, firstly, with our symbol. The soaring bird. The phoenix, you could say, rising from the flames.
Yes, I know, it came about as a pictorial representation of the creation of our party (in its modern form) following the Liberal-SDP merger.
But I believe it symbolises much more than just that.
It is, for me at least, a symbol of hope, of opportunity, of a belief that we can pursue a better way and a better world.

So, personally, I’d be against the binning of the soaring bird symbol for something else.

I would, even more strongly, be against the re-naming of our party.
Although we may not, currently, be very popular-in terms of national polling-the fact remains that we are a well-known brand.
People understand what we Liberal Democrats stand for, even if we’re currently having to do things which might be at odds with our party policy because we’re in a Coalition with the Conservatives.

From reading his diaries I know that Paddy Ashdown (one of my political heroes) once tried to remove the word ‘Liberal’ from our party name twenty some-odd years ago.
He failed then and I believe any similar attempt would fail now.
We are ‘Liberals’ first and last; whether we’re social liberals or economic liberals we are, all of us in our party, liberal.
The ‘Democrats’ part of our name is also very important, as that is exactly what we are.

So, we need to remember all the good things we’re doing in Government, remember our long and proud history, hold our heads up high and tell the World:

We’re proud to be Liberal Democrats.

A great weekend for Nick Clegg!

March 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Nick Clegg at conference yesterday

I’ve been quite amused by the portrayal of this weekend’s Lib Dem Conference from much of the Westminster-based media.

It has shown just how wrong they are.

You see, if you were to rely on the Political Editor’s of our major national newspapers and broadcasters for a judgement on the Lib Dem’s federal Spring Conference in Sheffield (which I wasn’t able to get to, due to work and other commitments), you could be fooled for believing that it was ‘war’ between the party leadership and its membership.

The membership delivered ‘a blow’ to the leadership on NHS reforms.

What rot!

I’d like to propose a theory which, to my knowledge, no one else has suggested:

This weekend has worked out perfectly for Nick Clegg and has starkly proven the differences between the two Coalition parties.

In other words, it has been a perfect Conference ahead of the May local elections.

On Friday, Clegg gave a wide-ranging interview to The Independent newspaper…including, I’m very pleased to say, him publicly stating what we all know-that David Cameron has been talking ‘drivel’ in his opposition to a change to the AV voting system for Westminster elections.

Then yesterday, the party asserted its centre-left credentials by supporting the Harris/Williams amendments on the NHS and Clegg spoke out against any privatisation of our National Health Service.

Though, officially, it was a defeat for the leadership actually it worked out perfectly for Clegg…it gave him a reason to set out his stall in stark contrast to the privatising tendencies of the Tories.

Then, this afternoon, Clegg gave a tubthumping speech-from what I saw of it…the BBC cut away after ten minutes!-giving us a reminder of the many things we’re achieving in Government.

For me his best line was: “We’re not left-wing, we’re not wright-wing…we have our own label: Liberal.’

Clegg proved what a brave, passionate, dedicated leader he is.

We’re lucky to have him…and so is the country.

A victory for common sense!

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Lib Dems...we love the NHS!

As you may be aware, I’m not at Federal Conference in Sheffield, but I’ve been keeping up with developments today, via Twitter, and am pleased to hear that members overwhelmingly backed the Harris/Williams amendments re the proposed reforms of the NHS.

I’m equally pleased to hear that Nick Clegg has himself said that the NHS must not be privatised.

In a Q&A session at conference the Deputy PM commented: “Yes to reform of the NHS…no to privatisation of the NHS.”

I’m very pleased to hear my leader say these words…but this must be more than just rhetoric.

This must mean a change to Government policy.

I, of course, know that-as part of a Coalition Government-we must accept that not everything we want to see implemented will be done…but, equally, rank and file Lib Dems must not be treated as awkward relatives.

Therefore, we must see some changes to Government policy on the NHS as a result of conference passing the amendments this afternoon.

Today’s vote, along with previous ones, such as that opposing ‘free’ schools, shows that social liberalism still beats strong in the heart of the overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrats.

This is an important signal to our voters to stick with us during these hard times.

We need them now more than ever before.

I back the Harris/Williams amendments on NHS reform

March 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

Author of amendments

Because of work and other commitments I’m sadly not attending the Lib Dems Spring Conference in Sheffield this weekend.

If I was there I would certainly be voting for the excellent amendments being put forward by former MP Dr Evan Harris and by the always-excellent Baroness Shirley Williams in terms of the Government’s proposed changes to the NHS.

I don’t take voting against the party leadership lightly, but I feel that this issue-of the future of our beloved National Health Service-is of such immense important that-were I in Sheffield-that is what I would find myself doing.

There is no doubt that we always need to be reviewing our NHS and checking that is serving the people of this country well.

The NHS, with its beginnings in Liberal thinking, though it was brought into being by Labour-is deeply ingrained in the heart of our party and we must tinker with it only when we feel it is absolutely necessary and, even then, with extreme caution.

The Coalition Government has put forward a root and branch reform of how the NHS runs and whilst some recommendations are to be welcomed, it’s true that I have my concerns about other parts of it…which is why I back the following changes sought by Harris and Williams:

* No decision about the spending of NHS funds to be made in private and without proper consultation, as can take place by the GP consortiums proposed by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.

* Restoration of the NHS as the prefered provider, only allowing new providers where there is no risk of “cherry-picking” that would destabilise the existing NHS.

* NHS commissioning retained as an entirely public function, rather than the subcontracting of commissioning to private companies.

* Continued separation of the commissioning and provision of services to prevent conflicts of interest.

* And, healthcare commissioning to be carried out by locally elected health boards or local authorities, with the ability to vary a fair local tax in order to invest in local healthcare services.

I agree with each of these eminently sensible amendments-which don’t seek to stimy reform, but to make sure the reforms don’t change the very nature of the NHS.

These amendments also set out a liberal vision for the future of our Health Service.

I’d urge all Lib Dem members who are going to Sheffield to support the Harris/Williams amendments.

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