Monday, February 27, 2006

Back to Normal

I spent yesterday afternoon delivering........back to normal then. Excitement or despair on Thursday, followed by a couple of days pontification and navel gazing in Harrogate and then I guess we're back to the run in to local elections. Maybe we should have a leadership election every year........perhaps if we get Huhne or Campbell we will.....certainly livens things up a bit!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hack's Crap

What is it about the press in this country that they think they have the right to make decisions on our future? Maybe I am naive, but there was a time when reporters reported. Now it seems they have the right to decide for themselves what is good for us............and clearly "good" equates in LibDem terms to "one of our own!!

So, I am just back from an enlightening night out with my two pet Tories. They are on a mission to persuade me to defect to their benches - without realising that given my background in military intelligence - I am on a mission too! But it was an enlightening few hours, and I am now booked for a half hour with that dapper Mr Letwin next this space!

It is very be continued..............

Friday, February 24, 2006

London Hustings...........

My usual reason for being in Friends Meeting House is a Stop the War gathering or a Unison conference.......this was.......a bit.....different (not quite so much heckling for one thing)! I have to say it reminded me of my very first hustings, standing against SWSO candidate Tony Greenstein (who anyone of my vintage involved in NUS - circa Dave Aaronovitch, Trevor Phillips and Sue Slipman - will remember). But I think the word they used to describe me was..........fascist!

I took my friends Yasmin (she of the contraversial play "Bells" fame) and Vyv.....who had never been to hustings in their lives before, and who both, I am glad to say, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Yasmin (who Simon managed to succeed in persuading to join the party in 15 minutes where I had failed miserably for the last 15 years) not only wants to join but is planning to come to conference next week.........

So what of the event, once we got past the slight interuption. It was my third hustings, fourth if you count Meeting the Challenge (well who knows when we will get such an opportunity again - unless we get a caretaker Mr Campbell or Mr Idon'tknowifi'mamillionaire Huhne - whom I predict wouldn't last five minutes), so I was particularly interested in whether the questions would winkle out any of the hidden agendas.

The differences did emerge over Iraq, why on earth does Ming not see the reality that we are part of the problem and not part of the solution? Our forces have frankly been totally discredited and sold down the river by this government (and I say this as an ex soldier who has served on active service), we are certainly putting them and the Iraqis at greater danger by leaving them there.

My particular concern I have to say is where the party goes in its approach to public services - the only virgin territory left for the piranhas in the private sector hungry for new blood. Of course that is one of my main policy reasons for supporting Simon, only he will fight to maintain public services in the public sector, frankly Ming shows little interest and is unlikely to put up any sort of a fight, and despite all his protestations that he somehow straddles orange book and social economics I was totally unconvinced by Chris's rhetoric - the subtext is deeply worrying. Tristan, tell me why I am wrong?!

So next week it'll all be over allegedly.........but with all the twists and turns of the last few weeks, maybe there'll be that final, unexpected, sting in the tail?!

And life will return to................normal?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

10 Short Days.............................

In ten short, or maybe long, days.................we will be at Spring Conference - celebrating, or commiserating depending on who wins the leadership race. The fact that some people are voting for "whatsisname - the new one" is deeply worrying. I know I am hardly a Chris Huhne fan, but surely even he would prefer people voted for him because of what he stood for rather than because he was unknown? Or maybe I'm just naive, we all wallow in a vain hope that somehow, however how untried and tested the product is, it has to be better than what we've got...........maybe that is what Chris is banking on. However, I don't think he will win, despite the desparate efforts of his friends in the city and media.

Anyway, as I sit here listening to the Gypsy Kings and pondering my strategy should Mr "I'm not sure if I'm a millionaire" Huhne does end up as our leader.......I am comforted by the thought that regardless of the polls we electorate are a fickle lot, especially in the Lib Dems!

Monday, February 20, 2006

I've had a bit of stick from Tristan (thanks!) about what he sees as tokenism with regards to Simon's declared intention to appoint two deputies, one a woman. Of course, whenever we seek to address inequality there is a danger of it being seen as tokenism, and I agree that is not what we want. However, I have to say that where there is some recognition of the importance of proportionality it does change things.

For many years I was active in Unison where proportionality is a policy which has clearly lead to the union being far more representative. Proportionality applies across the board, including ensuring low paid workers are represented. If politics is about anything surely it is about representation of the people by the people. For too long our representation has been of the people by the elite. Yes, we need the best candidates, but who defines best and invariably chooses those candidates........white men who how ever subconsciously choose in their mould. Even now some seem to have been seduced by the charm and seductive packaging of Mr Cameron into thinking that this is what we need as a leader, Blair mark III. We make the mistake of thinking that if someone is intelligent and articulate they are also wise and able to connect with the reality of people's lives, sometimes perhaps we should be prepared to sacrifice a little intelligence, charm and spin for a dollop of wisdom and gritty reality!

But thanks at least Tristan for agreeing with my analysis that Ming didn't seem to have fully grasped the issue and Chris kept putting his foot in it. Even if you don't agree with Simon's proposals at least he has a track record of initiating debate and moving things forward, and he is the only one who seems to appreciate the urgency of the situation.

So, I have to say I would go a lot further than Simon, introduce proportionality across the board and have not only co-deputies but co-chairs of all our committees!

Sunday, February 19, 2006


"We've got a black member who hasn't come today, he's blacker than you." That was a comment made to a friend of mine at a regional training event yesterday. He was the only black face amongst a bunch of activists, around 70% male 30% women and 85% over 50(fraid that included me)! Thankfully it wasn't enough to put him off (although this was the first event he had been to outside our local party) but it crystalized for me why it is so important we take the issue of diversity in our party much more seriously.

When I talk about equality in my work with young people I use an analogy - if I want to run a swimming trip its not good enough to say anyone can come if I haven't taken a number of things into account - can they swim? are they comfortable in a mixed gender swimming group? do they have a disability which means special access arrangements need to be made? etc. And it seems to me it is no good just saying anyone can join the party if we don't honestly reflect on and seek to remove the barriers, firstly to them joining and secondly participating. Its like blaming women for not getting called to speak because they don't put their hands up, it could be for a whole range of reasons, not least because when we do, we still don't get called!

The issue of fair representation is one exercising all the major parties at the moment. I remember years ago hearing a woman speaking about Labour's all women shortlists on the Today Programme. She reflected that it was all very well but it would still only work for middle class women and that the barriers for working class women that there had always been, would remain.

Reflecting Britain isn't a good idea because we're liberals, its a good idea because frankly it is the only way we are ever going to engage the electorate in politics which touches the reality of their lives.

The Reflecting Britain hustings last week threw a spotlight on the candidates credentials in this area. Only Simon came up with radical proposals that may well be painful for some but would begin the shift in perception so necessary if we are to attract and retain a diverse membership. Ming sadly didn't really seem to have fully grasped what the issue was and Chris put his foot in it a few times, betraying his poor - no sorry - non existent, track record in this area.

So congratulations to Rabi, Suzanne and everyone else responsible for starting this important initiative, whatever the outcome of the leadership election it is vital the momentum continues to build.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beyond the packaging - Leadership - what do they bring?

Ideas, Leadership, Experience

Authority, Credibility, Unity

Energy, Passion, Experience

So there we have it - but where's the evidence - and what does it mean?

Chris has ideas, great, I have at least 100 before breakfast, does that make me a leader? They may well be good ideas, but good for who? Do they include the filched New Labour ideas of privatisation and the marketization of public services? Are they ideas that the membership will run with?

Chris has leadership. Yes, he has some business experience, but leading a party is a very different kettle of fish than leading a business, we're a bolshy lot Chris and you can't sack us!

Chris has Europe. Thats great...........for Europe. We all have experience, and it has to be said he is a clever bloke, but how quickly can he gain the experience to lead a party in Westminster?

Ming has authority, yes I would see that. He's definitely a bit scary for those of us who thought QC was a shop (only teasing!) and has been magnificent on foreign policy, but does he really cut the mustard on domestic issues?

Ming has credibility, certainly. But how far does that credibility stretch? Yes, for us political junkies he is a bit of a god..............but I wonder how he would do out with me on a detached youth work session, or really connecting with a mother who has just been told she is to be prosecuted because her schoolphobic daughter is truanting. Ming, I love what you say about wanting everyone to have your opportunities, but to connect with the reality of most people's lives you need to loosen up a bit and recognise that not everyone has been blessed with your intellectual prowess, stable family life and incredible natural talent.

Unity - well I think we are quite united as a party aren't we? Frankly there is little that divides us, apart from on the interpretation of liberal economics. However, unity is an aspiration, not a given. And Ming, you have to deal with the reality that some of us still see you as a shadowy backroom boy in the assassination of Charles - whatever we thought of his leadership.

Well, having already nailed my colours to the mast, of course I will be totally biased in my analysis of Simon!

Yes Simon has energy, no one can doubt that -he must have a speed gene where the rest of us have the one that sends us to sleep!

Yes Simon has passion, coupled with compassion, this certainly gives me confidence that his motivation will not be his own grandisement but rather the future well being of this nation.

And experience, relevant experience, as an incredibly effective constituency MP (we have still to measure Chris's prowess in this department) and leading parliamentarian.

So contest really????? Eh???!!!

Does it matter a jot who our leader is?

Last night's group meeting provided the perfect backdrop for a debate in the pub afterwards about whether it makes a blind bit of difference who our leader is..............after all........its us members who make policy, isn't it?

I have to say, I do think it makes a difference who our leader is, yes we may have some say in making policy (whenever we succeed in getting our motions accepted on to the agenda), but whether we like it or not, as far as the public are concerned we are largely defined by our leader. In a soundbite, shorthand, instant gratification age, leaders are a window on our party. If you are considering voting Labour, would Blair's leadership play no part in your thinking? And why have the Tories felt the need to change theirs so often if the man (and of course it is inevitably a man) is superfluous to voting intentions?

Yes it matters, it matters to the electorate and it matters for us as members. In this LibDem army it is the activists who are on the frontline, fighting to take the ground, ward by ward, constituency by constituency. We need to know that we have a leader who is fighting - not only alongside us, but as hard as us. We need to know that leader has a battle plan, knows where he (or a she in a different reality) is taking us. We need to know that when the going gets tough he will stay the course and take on whatever "enemy" stands in the way of our victory. We also need to know that the reason he is in the battle in the first place is because he believes in what we believe in, shares our values and will not sacrifice those values in the pursuit of power. So I for one have cast my votes (Hughes, Campbell) with those thoughts and beliefs at the forefront of my mind.

Beyond the packaging - Policy

As you can deduce it has taken me over a week and a few days in the country to consider this thorny issue.............POLICY????

I have to be honest, having attended 3 hustings, one Any Questions, watched Question Time, I am a tad frustrated that none of the questions have been forensic enough to begin to really identify where the policy differences are (except perhaps on Iraq). It's not a bad thing that there is clearly so much common ground between all the candidates, and reassuring that there is so much more that unites us as a party than divides us.

However, one of the key issues for me is how we ensure our public services remain public rather than becoming a milch cow for the shareholders of the likes of Vesper Thorneycroft and Capita. It is an outrage that the government has ensured an American company Carlyle has seen the value of its shareholding in Qinetiq increase 840% with its floatation. To quote from George Monbiot's excellent article in the Guardian this week "Carlyle, whose board is graced, among other eminences, by former prime minister John Major, bought its stake at auction in 2002 when the stockmarket had floundered. It paid £42m for a 31% share, which at close of play on Friday was worth around £351m. Last week, it flogged over half its shares. Its chairman, who paid £129,000 for his stake in the company, is now worth £27m, and its chief executive £22m." Unimaginable wealth, courtesy of the British Government selling off what belongs to us. Selling off what also belongs to the poor, the homeless and forgotten in this country in order to line the pockets of those who already have more than enough. And Lord Drayson's comment that it was a "good model for future privitisations" should send a collective shudder down all our backs.

Sorry, I got distracted........(!) My point is that in order to challenge this injustice we need a leader who is committed to policies which ensure our public services remain public. I believe that not because I am a Luddite ostrich, but rather because I believe it is a nonsense to suppose that a private company is going to be interested in anything other than making a profit, and where does the profit come from? If I can give a topical example. Some years ago, when I was Branch Secretary of my Local Authority Unison - the school meals service was sold off. This was heralded as a great example of Tory prudence, saving £1million a year. Early on I met with one of our stewards to see what difference it had made. "Well" she said, "The main thing is we now only have 30p per meal as opposed to the 33p we used to." I thought that was to be expected, however she then added "But we have been told we have to pay the full rate for food and the discounts will be deducted later by the company". The net effect of this was not only did she have less money to spend, but that money only bought two thirds of what it used to. In real terms her budget had been cut to 20p a meal! But guess what, all this information was hidden under "commercial confidentiality"!

So, whilst Simon has made his position clear on the future of public services, Ming and Chris have been a little more ambiguous - I would like to hear more on these important issues.............but clearly the hustings don't appear to provide the platform.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Is it really this easy? Must be a catch!

So, I have bitten the bullet........or the bloggit and dipped my toe into the world of bloggin.....Why? You may well ask. Mainly because when I get in at night I am usually ready to fire off a few well aimed letters to all and sundry, few of which reach their destination, so this seems like a useful alternative. I can vent my spleen, bang on about everything and nothing, and no-one's there to say I can't!