Friday, February 23, 2007

Trident.......Loos Rule and what really happened at FPC

I've decided to come up with my own rule in response to Chatham, whoever he is (and it must have been a he, lets face it!) My rule says, that we are all adults, despite, in my case I have to admit, the odd bit of evidence to the contrary. Also, those of us who are in the party, are, I trust, all Liberal Democrats. Now, how we interpret our Liberal Democraticness, may, it has to be said, on occasions, differ. But, in the midst of any differing, my rule says, lets not lose sight of what unites us, even though we may be in for a bumpy few days debating what divides us.

Alex Wilcock has suggested that those of us who were at FPC give our views about what happened. Well here goes. The first time we had a presentation about Trident and were warned not to speak to the press about it, I think may have been my first meeting. No proposal, just facts, were presented. Fine so far. We were invited to ask questions, but not to express opinions. In between times, Ming came out with what was to be the majority position from the working group. That was the first we knew of it. At the next meeting, at which Ming was not present, concerns were expressed about the process and it was agreed that a paper would come back to a future FPC for discussion (watch this space?!)

It was at the following meeting, when the majority and minority report were presented, that David Grace, as a member of the working group was present. At that meeting, still being a little green around the gills, or should that be behind the ears(??!!)...oh no that's wet........... I have to say I was struck by the pomposity of some contributors to the debate. Describing the majority motion as "responsible" immediately casts aspersions on the "irresponsible" minority motion. What frankly scared me rigid was the idea, expressed by some, that this was the compromise position.........time will tell, but I fear that those taking this view will sadly be proved totally wrong and misguided. For me it was the perching precariously on the fence position.

Following the meeting, one of my fellow FPCers, for whom I have a great deal of time, tried to explain to me the benefits of compromise. As someone who was used to having to negotiate and compromise he felt this was a noble endeavour. Actually, as someone who has negotiated and compromised at a national level on behalf of my trade union, I think I may have a little experience in this field too..........and my view is very clear. There are some things we can compromise on (let's say percentage pay increase this year) and there are some things we cannot compromise on (let's say..........reintroduction of the death penalty). For me and I am sure, many others, Trident is in the "I can't compromise" bracket. Now, my motivation for taking that position may be different from others and for those who take the "lets take a decision not to take a decision" view, they may be equally convinced that what they are doing is the right thing to do. But, they need to understand, for those of us for whom subscribing to a position which trumpets saving the planet whilst hanging on to the very thing that is designed to destroy it, there is no wriggle room whatsoever!

And so to the thorny business of Mr Chatham. As I have said before, no one should ever assume.........I asked the question about FPC precisely because I had never been given any terms of reference which spelt out the terms of engagement, I actually asked a parliamentary member of FPC who also wasn't clear. I know for a fact that David Grace respected the Chatham House Rule regarding the working party because he discussed it with me with regard to one of the senior witnesses. And that makes sense. We cannot ask people to come and speak frankly to working groups without a degree of anonymity. However, FPC is an elected body of our party - accountable to the members who put their trust in us to represent them. As I have made clear, I would not report what individuals had said (unless I had their permission), but without a clear statement to the contrary I can understand why David felt he was at liberty to do so.

So, please, can we move on? To those on FPC who were named I would say, yes, challenge David and or Liberator if you were misquoted, or believed you should not have been quoted at all, but please remember your first accountability is to the members who elected you. Did you really say anything you would be ashamed to say to them, or will not say if you speak in Harrogate? Yes, lets be clear about the terms of reference of FPC, but lets also not forget our alleged liberal principles............or am I being unreasonable?!


expriest said...

"As I have made clear, I would not report what individuals had said (unless I had their permission)"

Linda, you say this above but previously in the post you report what Ming did.

Is it one rule for the leader and one rule for everyone else?

Yes, you are right, for some the issue of nuclear weapons is black and white, and not a matter for compromise. You are clearly in that category.

But please remeber, that as a Liberal Democrat who clearly respects party procedure, that the existing policy position set in 2002 by a vote of conference was to retain trident.

In that vote Conference rejected an amendment to cut Trident by 30%!

So the FPC motion is even more progressive than a position rejected by conference just a few years ago.

The FPC is in effect asking conference to think again about rejecting that amendment in 2002 which was supported by the peace and security group and by CND.

Maybe that is what is mean't by compromise - moving towards the position of the Peace and security group - and allowing time for the public to catch up with us.

What you must realise here that by our procedures, you are the one who disagrees with the party not the other way round.

As someone who disagrees with the current party line set by conference in 2002 your job is to convince the party of your position.

The debate at conference will be very interesting indeed - especially as the effect of the minority report amendment would be to maintain Trident at its current level (ie more powerful that the detterent that the FPC is proposing) for the next 20 years or so costing billions to maintain over that period.

If you really can't compromise, why are you supporting that position?

Linda Jack said...

dear expriest

No, I did not report what Ming said, what I said was that "in between times Ming came out" as we all witnessed on TV and an event I commented on at the time as the proposal had not yet come to FPC!

Ed said...

Two issues are getting mixed up here. The first is the outrageous situation that any debate in an elected party committee (especially one about party policy) should effectively be held in secret. If the obligation to follow Chatham House Rules is written down somewhere, someone ought to be figuring out how to delete it. If its merely a convention, well then I say that as a good Liberal Democrat you should frankly give it the finger!

The second issue is the party's policy on Trident. Whatever the position of conference in previous years the Governments announcement of a Parliamentary vote on renewal created the need for a response. It's just a shame that the leadership gave the impression of having decided party policy without consultation with the party - especially since the policy they opted for was such a risible cop-out.

expriest said...

Hi Linda,

please accept my apologies re: CHR and Ming. I had totally misread what you wrote. I'm sorry that I suggested you broke your own rule. I promise to read more carefully.


expriest said...

Hi Ed,

The leadership had to respond to the Gov's White paper.

Two choices, go with what the working group had decided even though it hadn't been approved by FPC or conference.

Or make it up as they saw fit.

I for one am glad they did the former, and I'm glad that all the press releases made clear that this was a proposal not party policy and had to go through the FPC and conference before it was confirmed.

You may disagree with the policy, but in the circumstances I think they did the best they could to stay within party processes.

Linda Jack said...

Dear Expriest

You are forgiven.......tho I have to confess to on occasions having broken my own rules........tho not that one!

Ed said...

Hmm, you spotted the whole in my argument, expriest - I can see that the parliamentary party needed to come up with a line in response to the Government's announcement. :-)

I guess I am just disappointed because I would have hoped they would have asked themselves first whether the line could be matched to liberal principles and second whether it could be defended seriously in public.

PS - it's a bit disingenuous to take the line that it is a proposal not a policy given the way the media was likely to view it.