Friday, November 30, 2007
To be honest, it shouldn't matter a jot. If we think our leaders should all be blessed with Oxbridge 1sts to be worthy of the job we miss the point completely. I certainly don't think the fact that Cameron and Brown have 1st does anything to commend the award at all! One may need a certain level of intelligence in order to lead, but one also needs a hell of a lot more in terms of people, managerial and generally human skills.
For those to whom it does matter, I have checked and Nick got a 2:1 from Cambridge (and Masters) and he won the Cambridge-Minnesota Scholarship Award, studying for a year in the US, and also has a postgraduate diploma from the College D’Europe in Bruges.
While training as journalist he won the prestigious Financial Times David Thomas Prize for new writers.
So no, he doesn't have a 1st, frankly to me that makes him more attractive, probably spent his student career like me, learning in the school of life as well as the hallowed halls!
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I did get one text from someone who was there who thought Nick was good and Chris was "poor" on BME issues.
So, I will just have to be patient I guess.....
I hope people in the Eastern Region will vote for me because they will trust me to be a voice for them, to raise that voice when necessary and to ensure that they have a representative who listens, is approachable and will be visible on their behalf, regardless of their party politics.
So, me, I'm not proud, I'll take my votes where I can get them and enjoy the irony!
Monday, November 26, 2007
So, the second part of this tragedy? Frankly that we have lost one of our pitifully few BME parliamentarians. It throws into sharp relief the scale of the mountain we have to climb. I am glad that Nick Clegg has been talking about an academy, but frankly - its not about developing talent, we have it in spadefuls already! So, to Nick and to Chris - a new and more urgent challenge - you have to act and you have to act now. What are you going to do that will make a difference, not tomorrow, next week or next parliament - that is too late - what are you going to do today?
The general position of the broadsheet press over the LibDem leadership contest is that it is rather dull, with few differences between the candidates. However, they have been caught napping. The candidates are polite and courteous to each other. And so they should be. But this has fooled the quality press. Whilst both candidates been careful not to deviate too much from existing LibDem policy, (which they both have collective responsibility for), the alternative futures that they represent could hardly be more diverse.
Chris's extended state interventions to address housing shortages, the environment, and poor state schooling displays his social democratic roots and background in the Labour Movement. By contrast Nick makes a fundamentally different assumption that it cannot automatically be assumed that the policy formulations of politicians are reflected in full and successfully, by the civil servants who implement them.
Nick implies that the state bureaucracy suffers from capacity problems and adapts very slowly to changes, but perhaps more importantly that the state is rarely a neutral implementer of politician's magic solutions. He suggests that the state has its own interests separate from the public's, and says that measures that rely more on the combined actions of the general public are usually more sustainably successful at solving problems than heavy state solutions. These two factors, Nick implies, conspire together to support the ˜law of unintended consequences".. hence politicians should be wary of yet more state interference and ever more complex policies which bureaucrats in turn translate into higher civil servant employment and ever-increasing micro-managing regulations. Nick's more liberal democratic approach can be seen in his attack on the thousands of absurd laws and regulations which dog our lives. His policy on police reform contains justifiable skepticism about the willingness of rigid police management structures to reform themselves and open themselves up to greater accountability.
Nick's proposed bonfire of anti-human rights legislation introduced since 1997 also puts him firmly in the liberal democratic tradition. Nick is also stridently Pro-EU, but it critical of the opaque bureaucracy and hopelessly optimistic hand-waving policy approach of the Council of Ministers and senior Directorate staffs in the Commission. This contrasts starkly with the approach of European social democrats and their pork barrel approach to spending. But Nick is clearly critical because he wants the EU to work better - to make subsidiarity more than a vacuous slogan, to narrow the EU's scope and get it to do less but do it better. This is not because Nick is against the EU or because he wishes to appease the Eurosceptic UK press. He genuinely wants the EU to work more effectively for the public's benefit. When he worked as an MEP Nick was responsible for piloting through pan-European telecommunications legislation which shifted power in favour of the European consumer a more worthy cause than helping to boost the profits of telecoms companies in return for cooperation over security issues.
On the vital issue of the NHS, Nick is the only leading politician in the UK with the courage and maturity to ˜tell it like it is“ the NHS is an example of Big Government Gone Wrong. Despite the state's spinning and appeal to our sympathies for NHS staff, the general public in quietly up in arms about the chaos in the ever-restructuring health system, there can be no doubt. Nick supports governance reform instead - backing wholeheartedly LibDem official policy of breaking up the NHS into regional groups, with depoliticisation and separation of services from regulation at its core.
By the time we get to the general election in 2009, the British public will be terminally fed up with Gordon Brown's slinkering and tinkering. The clamour will be for less but more efficient and more open government and less insidious surveillance. In addition, by 2009 the full implications of the Tories' punitive approach to the poor, and their inexorable anti-EU drive, will be clear for all to see. This is the reason the public are likely to turn to us for more open and better government, and an opportunity to end the ˜if it moves, regulate it" regime of Big Gordon and his hopelessly out-of-their-depth top Cabinet team. But we need to respond with more liberal democratic approaches and less grand assumptions about the ability of big government to solve all the problems the state tells us we have.. That is why Nick and his more liberal democratic approach seem to me to be more likely to get the Liberal Democrat Party into the business of government, in the UK.
Prof Paul Reynolds(Writing from Phnom Penh where I am advising the leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party the LibDem's pro-democracy sister party in Cambodia)
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
So, Chris kicked off and talked about Gordon and Dave having given up on big ideas and that his Manifesto was his statement of intent – that liberal political ideas should set the tone in the future of politics. He referred to the debacle of the HM Customs fiasco, a demonstration that we can't trust the government with the ID scheme. He acknowledged the good job Vince was doing over Northern Rock. His analysis was that with the housing market heading for a downturn we wouldn't have an election until 2010. He challenged us to leave our comfort zone and assured us that he was a better economists with better economic views!
He is not a professional politician and wanted to do things differently - no heir to. Blair - not lead a 3rd Conservative Party. He was motivated by a desire to cherish our natural systems, to talk about people. He emphasised his commitment to the EU. He was promoting a society that was free and fair and full of opportunity. He touched on the military and Trident (as before) emphasised that child poverty had to be dealt with, as did the erosion of our civil liberties. It was now not that we were asked to "lay down our lives to defend our liberties", but rather to "lay down our liberties to defend our lives". He cited the ludicrous proposals to extend detention without trial contrasting it with the US where you can only be held 2 days.
On climate change he insisted we were steeling our children's future, it was like gambling away the family home. He saw this as a central part of his campaign – to preserve a planet for the future. He reminded us that we lead the Tories on the environment.
He again pitched for us to be taking risks – be bold. We were on the move as a party – with a higher profile and radical proposals - more radical than for a generation. His vision was of changing the whole system of government.
Nick reminded us that the whole country is listening and watching to us at the moment (though I couldn't help thinking that at the time the whole country was listening and watching the football!). He urged us that we should do what we do at our best - reach out to those who share our values. He talked of the plastic anger of Tories and that we desperately need a different kind of politics. We were still a nation of inequality, despite a so called progressive government, one that vilifies young people.
Nick said he was angry about the unaccountability of the current system. He wanted a Britain that was more liberal to live in, where we cherished our civil liberties. Our party should have a progressive role. He emphasised the need to start where people are, which is not normal political practice.
Nick highlighted his 5 big challenges
An epidemic of powerlessness – people felt voiceless. He told the story of the a young woman who came to his surgery in tears, she had had 6 letters about her housing benefit all saying something different, and of a woman who had moved to the ground floor flat and all she wanted was to move the telephone for her disabled husband, yet she couldn't get anything down. He talked about the feeling of helplessness, we had rich consumers but powerless citizens.
Creating a fairer electoral system – He said people should feel powerful every day not just on polling day. That we needed to deal with issues like the Sheffield health inequality in Sheffield where your life expectancy in the poorest ward was 14 years less than in the richest ward. He touched on the pupil premium and the need to devote time and energy in the early years.
Tackling Fear – Nick touched on the power of fear – people being imprisoned in their homes and their minds and the fact that the most fearful are the poorest. He talked about the need for a civilised prison system, the fact that 1 in every 10 prisoners were psychotic, that we were imprisoning between 3000 and 4000 young men a month who were reoffending at a rate of 92%
Environment – We had great policies but we had to think about how to take people with us. We can't hector people - must inspire and motivate.
Globalisation – Nick's final challenge, as he put it, the "churning force of change" which offered both benefits and uncertainty. The danger of a what's the point response of apathy and cynicism which lead to the rise of the BNP and other right wing parties who hate the world. He stressed that we were rooted in internationalism and must reject that view.
Nick closed by bemoaning the tediousness of Labour and the Tories who have no answers to contemporary problems. He wanted us to make a breakthrough in two elections, he was proud of our future - third place was just not good enough.
Then it was on to the questions.
What one single signature policy would they have - equivalent to the 1p for Education?
Nick - The pledge to raise spending on education through the pupil premium.
Chris – Education was the key – he wanted to raise spending on all children to private school levels, not just the poorest. He touched on the unfair funding in FE.
There was a chance then for supplementaries, so yours truly took the opportunity to ask both candidates to consider that for children living in poverty there were other issues to consider, if you lived in substandard, crowded housing, education may not be the highest priority.
Chris emphasised that the party had a commitment to equality that we had a chance to take people out of poverty first.
Nick mentioned the JRF research that highlighted families where they can't even afford a warm meal. What worries him though is that money pours in – in regeneration classic systems but doesn't always do any good. He talked animatedly about a project he had visited in Marsh Farm (where I once lived) where the community had taken the initiative, taken over a factory and were setting up their own economy. They had discovered that £59 million a year was going out of the estate and had taken matters into their own hands. These were the sort of schemes we as a party could champion from on high.
More on questions soon.............................
Thursday, November 22, 2007
So, as you can imagine I was delighted that she spent the whole of the journey home totally animated by the hustings and her verdict that Nick was the one who could communicate with young people. Now, as someone who readily admits to having previously been turned off learning, she freely admits to not being overly academic...........the word she didn't get tonight was "bureaucratic" . Her difficulty with Chris was that she didn't understand what he was on about and as she says, "I know I have turned off when I find myself daydreaming, I try to stop it but I can't, I found myself daydreaming a lot when Chris was speaking". In contrast she said she listened to every word Nick said, she understood what he was saying and as she put it "Chris seemed to be talking to the audience, Nick was talking to me".
I took my Blackberry with me for a very good reason. When I take my notebook I only understand every other word I write, but the Blackberry is usually foolproof...........except tonight when I have exceeded my limit and can't email myself my notes. For that reason I will leave writing up my notes until tomorrow as I am far to tired to start re-transcibing. Suffice to say it was a really great evening. Both candidates did well from my perspective (as an anorak), it was also great to see such a huge turn out.
On the way out I took the opportunity to get this pic of Nick with Lara. He had already let me know how off putting it was having me pounding away on my Blackberry while he was speaking so he asked Lara what it was like having such an obsessive blogger as a momma. She was gracious as ever, she told him that all her friends thought she was very lucky to have me as a mum..............but that she had found me very embarrassing when she was younger! Nick was his usual charming self, telling her that he thought he would have liked to have me as a mum too. Hmmmm, I know I am old, but not really quite old enough to be Nick's mum!
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Given my work commitments I come to my comments on the meeting with Nick late and with the benefit of having read James, Millenium, Paul and Mary first. But it seemed to me that all of them were impressed with Nick close up precisely because of his honesty, openness and humanity.
For those who wonder about my backing Nick over Chris, they would only have had to be in that room with him on Monday to understand why. As already beautifully articulated by my fellow bloggers, he is someone who is immediately engaging, who is genuinely interested not only in people but in their ideas, who is both passionate and compassionate and whose fundamental motivation is anger about injustice and the poverty that blights lives and opportunities. If he doesn't agree with you he will not slap you down with his superior intellect or knowledge, he will listen carefully and also accept if there are issues where you might have a point. On one occasion having travelled back on the train with him from Birmingham and used the opportunity to bend his ear (particularly about public services) I sent an apologetic email, hoping his ears weren't bleeding as a result! He sent a gracious reply "not bleeding, ringing with new ideas" - that for me is the measure of a leader. S/he will listen to the office cleaner (me) as well as the members of the board (party grandees). For this reason I have confidence that he will respect the sovereignty of the party on policy making and will not be the kind of leader who does a "back me or sack me" sort of stunt every time it looks as if he isn't going to get his own way.
However, it is precisely this open, honest, warm character which we at once embrace and criticise. And frankly Paul, I wouldn't put much store by Danny Finkelstein of all people, like he really wants us as a party to succeed.............er..........don't think so.
So what about the substance of what Nick said on Monday? Some of the key things for me were:
- I appreciated his answers on what moving out of our comfort zone meant, giving me a sense of his ability to think ahead to what the big issues are that we need to be addressing. He touched on three key themes which he saw as those big issues, POWERLESSNESS, SOCIAL STAGNATION and the POLITICS OF FEAR. Also highlighting the ENVIRONMENT and GLOBALISATION as important issues for us to consider, whilst recognising, for example, that only 6% of the population think the environment is important. This for me is one of the key tasks of a leader, to start where people are, with their concerns, like powerlessness and fear for example and then to offer a prophetic voice, showing the way forward and making the connections with those other macro issues, like the environment which will increasingly impact on people at a micro level. When pushed by Paul he went further to talk about his fear that the Parliamentary Party is too Westminstercentric and politicians need to be more outward facing.
- Others have touched on this, but I really liked what he said about policy, I get frankly sick to death of hearing so called well informed commentators banging on about us not having any policies - we have plenty, sound, well crafted and innovative. As Nick rightly pointed out, it isn't policy that is the problem it is getting our message out! For him our focus must be strategically as opposed to policy driven. This is the issue for me that we need to be considering as we choose our next leader.
- He demonstrated an astonishing grasp of foreign affairs and I feel confident that as leader he would be more than a match for both Labour and the Tories. I particularly appreciate his willingness to take on our obscene relationship with the US and his view that we are in essence a "vassal" state.
- He put to bed once and for all the misinformation on School Vouchers and also showed how important his thinking has been in shaping current party policy on the Pupil Premium. He dealt effectively with the other bit of misinformation about his view on Health Insurance - his views are clearly in line with party policy - as he puts it taking control away from Whitehall and giving it to the Town Hall.
- I was particularly taken by his response on what he would ban. A really difficult call for all of us who see ourselves as liberal but still think we need clear boundaries on some things. His answer will have rung true with virtually every parent in the country - the impact of advertising on children. My kids are grown up (allegedly!) now, but even when they were little it was bad (but mum, why aren't you using Ariel, it washes whiter? etc), but it has certainly got worse - the relentless targeting of children as young as two. An example of why as liberals we have the caveat of freedom when by exercising your freedom you don't impede another's.
- And on diversity, for me probably the biggest challenge of all that we are facing as a party, he made clear his commitment to an academy, one for which he already has donors lined up. I have to say I think this needs more work on it - this should be more of a bottom up than a top down strategy, but I trust that will come. But also he acknowledged that there may come a point (he will give it two terms) when we will be forced to do more in terms of positive discrimination.
So to the swimming trunks, with hat tip to my good pal Andy Strange..........maybe therein lies the clue. Being open and honest is something we all say we want people to be, but there are times when perhaps a little more covering up is appropriate, we don't quite want it all to hang out! I am absolutely the world's worst commentator on this point, I struggle with it myself sometimes (!) and I worry about people who are so wonderfully controlled you wonder if they have even an ounce of passion beating in their breast. So, what is the answer? Do we want someone who is extremely controlled, intelligent, articulate, silvertongued leader, who doesn't communicate with the electorate.............or someone who is a little less controlled, intelligent, articulate, passionate and real who can communicate outside the party bubble?
This is a serious question and to those who think the most serious question is policy I would ask you to reconsider. Frankly there is little to choose on policy between them and the party makes policy anyway. Secondly, we could have the most beautifully crafted policies in the universe, but if all they will ever do is sit on a dusty shelf with no hope of being implemented because our influence as a party has dropped to zilch - what would be the point of that?
I am prepared to accept that whoever wins we are not going to have a leader who shares all my policy priorities and have to be prepared to sacrifice some of what I want for the greater prize of a revitalised and more relevant party. We have to stop talking to ourselves, I share Nick's sense of urgency about this. I don't see that same sense of urgency in Chris who has focused on playing to the activist gallery rather than showing his ability to reach out further and who has seemed to make the biggest plank of his campaign trying to demonstrate why Nick shouldn't be leader as opposed to why he should!
Monday, November 19, 2007
My view ...........What is not to believe about what Nick has said? Now, here is a challenge for me, I will be gracious, possibly Chris hasn't quite understood, I am sure it is just a little misunderstanding. Perhaps he was unduly influenced by the power of the media. Perhaps he should go and listen again to what Nick is saying, apologise for questioning his integrity and help to get this campaign back on an even keel. What is without doubt is Nick's passion about the future of all our children, the iniquity of the continuing and widening gap between rich and poor and the commitment to do something practical and innovative about it. What is there to disagree with there?
But the breakfast meeting meant that I was in the vicinity at exactly the right time to be able to join fellow bloggers to interview Nick Clegg in Portcullis. It was great to meet Mary Reid for the first time, but especially great to meet my old sparring partner Paul Walter, who dear reader, I once suggested should hang me from the nearest lamp post! James, Richard, Millennium and especially Alex I already knew........which brings me to the "shame" bit of my story. Alex had bemoaned my attacks on Chris earlier today (which I had actually read being up at such an ungodly hour!). Actually, he demonstrated to me why he is such a good "Daddy Alex" no doubt that rascal Millennium has taught him some good parenting skills. He built me up by telling me how lovely I am in person..........then socked it to me by saying how unbearable my blog was! I felt suitably chastised and I hope you will notice a new approach in my mus/zings. Unfortunately there are times when I use my blog as a bit of a therapy........this is not a good idea. Also, I know I am a bit of a fighter so sometimes I start shouting the odds without appreciating that some people who are much nicer than me may be upset. This I don't want to do. Of course, it may make my blogs even more banal and tedious, but let's give it a go eh?! (All feedback gratefully received, especially as I will soon be a resident blogger on a Haymarket publication and heaven help me if I upset Michael Hesseltine!).
So, a second breakfast of Krispy Creme's and Nick Clegg - the perfect combination!
Mary Reid, Paul Walter and James Graham have already given some feedback on the proceedings. So I will focus on the issues which particularly interested me. Of course, it should be born in mind that my opinions may be influenced by the rosy glow from the specs I was wearing at the time...........
Sunday, November 18, 2007
So, the only person on the programme from Team Huhne was Lynne Featherstone. Now I have a great deal of time for Lynne, but why did she compound the problems for Chris by again repeating the lie that Nick supports vouchers? Is it that Team Huhne think if they repeat something often enough people will start believing it?
And then there are Friends of Chris - they have been strangely silent since this morning, their last post being "Huhne's Got Momentum" - hmmm yes, but maybe not in the direction they had intended!
I have to so agree with Meral's point about how different things would have been had there been a woman candidate present earlier today.
Anyway I am just listening to a wonderful edition of With Great Pleasure presented by Tony Benn - it is moving and uplifting and has reminded me just why I am in politics and why our political ideals are worth fighting for. A reminder of the prophets who challenged the kings, the Sermon on the Mount, the Diggers, the Levellers, the Suffragettes, a lovely piece by Oscar Wilde about the value of disobedience, Gandhi and still more to come.........well worth a listen after a difficult day.
To quote Colin
" Firstly Chris denied having seen the document, I am not sure I believe him, having already dealt with the Chris campaign I know for a fact that he had to give the final approval on something they sent out to me, logic dictates that the same would be true of this. Chris then tried to paint Nick as a calamity by saying he was all over the place on a number of issues.
Chris came across as a bully and by not means showed himself or the Party in a good light. Overall it seemed obviously that Chris is fighting internally whilst Nick looked, and sounded, like he wants to fight the opposition."
Sorry, I am a bit cross............I will sign off now before I say something I may regret. The sad thing is that regardless of who wins the leadership battle, Horrible Huhne's legacy may take a while to recover from in the wider party and that is a disservice to all of us.
Firstly, to lose control of your PR team once (as in the Chris Clarke outrage) could be seen as an accident, to do it twice, as demonstrated today with a "Calamity Clegg" press briefing going out from his office without his knowledge, smacks of a little more than carelessness. If it was deliberate it was thoroughly nasty, if it was truly an accident it shows total incompetence - not a quality I want to see in a leader.
Secondly, a point picked up by my son, who up until now has not been following the election. His response, "It looked as if Nick Clegg was talking about why he should be leader while Chris Huhne was talking about why he (Nick) shouldn't, rather than why he (Chris) should". He added "Nick Clegg has my vote" (be assured my children are not ever influenced in the slightest by my preferences - so I was delighted!)
Thirdly, Chris opened a window onto his personality which gives me the most cause for concern. How on earth does he think he is going to get his parliamentary team around him when he displays attitudes like that? No wonder so few of his European colleagues backed him last time!
So, a man clearly desperate, a man who it seems to me can never ever lead any team, and a man I personally now dread becoming our leader. Let's hope this dismal performance will have cooked his goose once and for all.
Because of the Euro rules I have refrained from saying anything about Europe on this site, but be assured, once the leadership elections are out of the way, I intend to say a lot more.......you have been warned!
Saturday, November 17, 2007
So was I impressed by this latest presentation? No. Chris starts by saying he is radical and he is unafraid to be the little boy pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes. He is still banging on about Trident (he clearly didn't take James Graham's advice, unlike me!) but still hasn't explained why the little boy ran away from the clotheless Emperor when we debated Trident at conference? If this was such a defining issue for him, I ask again (til I am blue....or red (laughter please!) in the face - why oh why did he keep quiet at Spring Conference? And to bill this post as being about defence is rather stretching it - defence is a much bigger issue than just Trident and body armour in Iraq. He could have mentioned the Military Covenant, he could (as Nick has) have called for a strategic defence review, withdrawal from Iraq, fairer compensation, reform of military inquests. But no, he carries on banging on about Trident - the irony is he is trying to appeal to members like me who are against Trident without appearing to understand that it's the nuclear bit of Trident we don't like, not the big expensive bit!!!! Smacks a wee bit of desperation to me.
So Chris, maybe time to put Trident to bed? Or maybe to really demonstrate your risk taking radical credentials - and call for its immediate decommissioning? Or maybe you will risk a little girl pointing out you have no clothes!
However............I would like to make it clear..............I AM STILL BACKING NICK!!!!
So for Lib Dem Friends of Chris, to interpret my honest appraisal of Chris's performance on QT as an endorsement, frankly, beggars belief! Because I am critical of some aspects of Chris's campaign and abilities, doesn't mean I don't appreciate that he is a good candidate - he is just not the best! So maybe "OK " does it for his Friends, but I am looking for a good deal more than "OK" - I am looking for "Outstanding" - that is why Friends of Chris - I AM BACKING NICK - comprendez???????
.......Mr Clegg is the more likely of the pair to bring this potential to fruition. He is no Conservative in disguise but a convinced Liberal, a political shade that may trouble some social democrats but which sits at the heart of the party's identity. He is articulate, energetic and capable of presenting the Liberal Democrat case in a way that neither of its last two leaders were able to manage. He also has the support of the majority of his parliamentary colleagues - including those, such as Steve Webb, who are to his ideological left. He can speak with a fluent, engaging intelligence. There is reason to hope that under Mr Clegg's leadership the party would find a new vibrancy, challenging Mr Cameron and Gordon Brown. If this newspaper was to cast a vote, it would be for him.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Well, no, I don't think Colin is deluded in deciding to back Chris any more than I think Jo Hayes and other pals are. I just think they are wrong - I suppose that is stating the blinkin obvious, but if I thought they were right I would have joined them. The truth is we all care passionately about the future of our party. We got it wrong last time and we are all a tad nervous about getting it wrong this time. And frankly, as I have said before, however much faith we have in our chosen champion, the real test of leadership potential is in leading! If I honestly thought the Huhne package had all the right ingredients to do that job I would certainly be backing him now. But, whilst I have to acknowledge his undoubted qualities - they, for me, do not offer the right combination of ingredients to put us back in the batting (sorry there I go mixing me metaphors again!). Its a bit like making chicken stew and thinking no one will notice if you leave the chicken out.
So what ingredients do I think Chris lacks but I see are important for a future leader? Firstly, his ability to engage with the electorate which is far more than doing OK on QT, he has to be able to engage on every level, not just the intellectual. So for me, he lacks the right communication skills. Secondly, he doesn't come over as particularly passionate. At Rugby I remember him saying he was passionate about 3 things, I can't for the life of me remember what they were, his tone, body language etc were all telling a totally different story! Thirdly, he doesn't come across as particularly compassionate, or a particularly good listener, I read somewhere today someone said that on QT when listening Nick Clegg nodded as if he was really listening, whilst Chris looked like a stuffed glove puppet. Fourthly, he doesn't strike me as a particularly good team player. To lead a team you have to be able to engage everyone, even those who didn't back you as team leader. I have heard such vitriol from some of the parliamentarians who clearly know Chris a lot better than me, that I think there are real dangers in him seeking to take his parliamentary team with him. And whilst, of course, this is a one member one vote election, our parliamentary party has a vital role in our future destiny.
So no Colin, I don't think you have lost your marbles, or are deluded.........maybe..........misguided is the word!
It is well known that I don't agree with Nick on Trident, but perhaps someone could explain to me why I should agree with Chris? His argument appears to be purely financial - don't replace Trident and use the savings on properly equipping the forces. When I discussed this issue with one the Navy PR guy earlier in the week, he was very clear - they didn't buy this argument because as far as they were concerned, Trident was a small part of the budget and in any case they did not expect any savings were it scrapped, to come back to them. So, whilst of course I agree it is a total waste of money, I cannot for the life of me get what Chris is saying differently from the party policy position? Sit on the fence, wait and see, then - if necessary, replace with something nuclear. Does it matter whether it is a smaller alternative to Trident _ it is still deadly isn't it? Why does no one challenge both candidates on how they can be anti Nuclear Power and pro Nuclear Arms - er.............on the grounds of, cost...........and safety? And Chris made much of Trident being part of his platform last time, but has STILL NOT GIVEN AN EXPLANATION OF WHY HE WAS HIDING WHEN THE TRIDENT DEBATE TOOK PLACE?????????
But, I do have to give credit where it is due. I had joked with someone who thought Chris had a better voice than Nick, yes, it's beautiful, sends me to sleep! Last night was the most animated I have seen Chris, he came across a lot better, at last his body language matched his rhetoric, so credit to him for that.
Reading the posts from yesterday I think Nich Starling has a good analysis of the performances of both candidates, even if I wouldn't share his conclusion! I posted last night on the basis of snippets that were getting through to me from someone who was there. When I watched the debate it further reinforced for me why I support Nick. If we have a choice of who should lead us, we all have our own image of what we want that leader to look like, generally, we all look holistically (although of course there are some who are swayed by one issue or characteristic). We need to respect that in each other and the fact that that combination, not only of what we look for, but what we see, will differ. I have had some interesting private debates about the leadership with one of my friends, who is sitting on the other side of the debate from me at the moment. We both have very similar ideas, but find that we see the candidates who meet our ideals completely differently! I think this is demonstrated in the way different bloggers have responded to last night - contrast Bernard with Caron (funnily enough Caron it was Chris's tie I was horrified at! Maybe an indication of what I have just said) for example.
So, here is my own rationale for backing Nick, taking into account QT last night as well as his track record, with the caveat that of course it is a hugely personal analysis.
Earlier on this year I was somewhat taken to task for expressing a view that Ming was perhaps "over promoted" and hadn't captured the imagination of the party or the country, despite being a brilliant shadow Foreign Sec. So for me one of the key issues in who we get to lead us is that they can capture the imagination of the party and more importantly the country. We are very good at talking to ourselves. I can remember coming out of Ming's conference speech, getting a call from a pal who was raving about how good it was. However, my feeling was that whilst I absolutely agreed it was an excellent speech, we were rather like a religious rally where everyone leaves imagining that the whole world is with them..........but the reality being that all too often they are inhabiting a bubble.
So top priority for me is this - Who can communicate our message?
The problem with last night it seems to me is that with the emphasis being on what divided the men in terms of policy (as important as that is) we didn't get much of a chance to see who got our overall message across best. Whether we like it or not, Nick is the one who captures the imagination, the one everyone clammers to hear speak at fringe meetings, the one the media warms too. And much as I may share the loathing that the media plays such a key role in all of this, we ignore that role at our peril. Having said that, if Chris can keep up the level of animation he managed last night he would do a lot better, but all too often I find myself drifting off wondering if I have any milk in the fridge when he is speaking. If he can't keep a political anorak engaged, will he be able to engage those who are totally disengaged from politics altogether?
Second priority for me is Who will best represent me?
Now, I am not talking about policy (that is my next priority!) I am talking about who do I feel best reflects my beliefs, feelings, passions. Who can I trust to be a champion for the values I espouse and the beliefs I hold? Who will be unafraid to get their hands dirty, to take risks, to say what everyone is thinking and daren't say, even if it is at personal cost? For me this again has to be Nick. As demonstrated last night, he is motivated, not by personal gain, but by anger at the poverty that blights lives and stunts opportunity. He talks about the grotesque way in which this government demonises and criminalises young people. He is passionate about the defence of our civil liberties and our human rights. I have never heard Chris speak with such passion about these issues. Nick is someone whose whole persona oozes not just charm but compassion - the compassion which has lead to his anger. I am sorry, but I personally don't see that in Chris. That is not to say he doesn't have many personal qualities, in fact I was thinking the other day I think I would be quite comfortable if he were my doctor, he does have quite a reassuring manner. But we've done "safe pair of hands" and look where that got us?!
Third priority for me Who will share my policy priorities?
Now, this is third for a very good reason. Policy, dear reader, is the domain of the members in our party. Sometimes, emotional blackmail makes it hard for us to vote against our leaders of course, however, sensible leaders see the writing on the wall early enough to avoid embarrassment!
I am not a "policy wonka" as Nick would describe them, despite being on FPC. This probably frustrates those who are more wonkish about policy making, but I hope I fulfill my mission to goad, challenge and offer more of a "big picture" perspective.
I have a number of policy aspirations, some of which I sit on my lonely windy hill in FPC and have to accept I am on my own, some of which I am happy see many others in the party share. Working on the Crime Policy Working Group was a great reassurance to me of why I am in this party, we are a truly liberal party and there is far more that unites us than divides us. This has been evident in the leadership contest up til now, everyone trying desperately to find what divides the candidates. So - a few examples - I differ from both candidates on these issues:
- Trident - I want to get rid of it now.
- Tax - I want a 50p top rate and a raising of the threshold so that no one on the minimum wage pays tax.
- LVT - We said we would look at it, we really haven't.
- Youth Services - it's no good just investing in formal education you need to invest in informal education too.
- Post Office - totally opposed to our current policy.
- Role of the private sector - for me its not about whether you devolve decision making down to a local level (which with some caveats I agree with) and then wash your hands of it, it's about having a clear steer on where the private sector can add value (I am not Luddite about this - my argument has always been there is a role for them, in local government we didn't make our own paper, why would we?) but the private sector also has an overriding objective to make a profit for its shareholders. It has to do this before everything else. Frankly if you have to create a false market accompanied by a whole raft of expensive and bureaucratic regulatory legislation, where the customer actually has no choice at all - it is more about lining the pockets of big business than creating a better society (thereendeththelesson!).
So, for me, since neither of the candidates share all my policy objectives, this issue has moved lower down the list. Whoever wins the leadership, I will relish those battles further on along the line!
Last night was important - clearly for many members it will have helped them decide, for others, they may be more confused! For some, like me, it has just helped reinforce their position. But, one think I hope we can all agree on, it has contributed to making this a more interesting contest. Oh, and no, Chris didn't persuade me to change horses!
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tonight's showdown on Question Time has been billed as the make or break hustings for both candidates.............For the vast majority of our members who can't get to party hustings, this will be perhaps their only opportunity to make a judgement on who they will support.
So - who is making the running so far?
Well apparently Huhne didn't get off to such a great start when Dimbleby attacked him for
his Cameron Stunt Double jibe.
And on Trident Nick said "This Trident debate is getting tangled. I voted against it, I want to see it gone, we ALL do, but I do not just want to disarm the UK, I want to disarm the world. I'm sorry it's one of the realities of life, you HAVE to take these multilateral talks seriously. It's not whether I want to get rid of Trident, it's how to get rid of them best."
Nick then raised the US ballistic defensive missile "Son of Starwars" as an issue of far more importance than what we do about Trident in 7 years time.
Well, of course I agree with Nick about Son of Starwars, all power to his elbow in shaking the sleeping giant of public inertia on this issue, but Trident, that I will return to!
Clegg emphasised his commitment to internationalism, the fact that he has led negotiations and has an array of skills which can and will be utilised as an effective party leader.
On economics he said " I am a bit too British to roll out my CV to all of you. Journalist, lecturer, aid projects in some of the poorest countries, but that is not the point, it's not what it's all about. What has brought me into politics is anger that there are kids who don't have a hot meal every day. If you are born in the poorest part of Sheffield you have 14 year's less life expectancy than those living in the richest part of Sheffield. I am ANGRY that we were drawn into an illegal war. I am angry that kids leave school not able to read and write, this is what drove me into politics in 1997 and it is what still drives me today."
The word on the street is that Nick completely won this one. And no wonder - if anyone still has apoplexy at my supporting Nick, this tells you why. For me he is a kindred spirit, someone who honestly believes we can shape a different reality for ALL our children. Someone whose anger has lead him to fight in the arena where he has the best chance of making the most difference. Someone who has my wholehearted support.
To be continued...........
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Following the presentation I got to ask a question about Trident which was answered by a nuclear sub-mariner, who assured us that this didn't influence his view that Trident was a jolly good thing! As is always the way with these things, once you have asked your question you don't get to come back at the reply (I did try it once at a meeting with the Israeli ambassador at the NLC - Robert Woodthorpe-Brown was not amused!). But, another nuclear sub-mariner, who Mick informed me was responsible for Navy PR at the MOD - collared me afterwards to ask if my question had been answered. As you can imagine, we were not going to agree! At one point he asked me what I did, when I told him I worked for the FSA he said, well I wouldn't presume to tell you about financial services so I don't think you can presume to tell me about nuclear deterrents! Oh heck, that's me told then. That's the last time I mention the "T" word! Er............right.......
"Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces. In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service. In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation. This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action."
However, given the result I am delighted to have the confidence of the Eastern Region to the extent that they have elected me into second place, particularly given my commitment to be radical! I guess it is a bit like an unplanned (but welcome) pregnancy. It's a bit of shock at first, but the excitement and anticipation is no less than had it been planned! So, my plans have changed. It will be a tough battle (but I think my pals will agree I am nothing if not a fighter), one worth fighting and one worth winning. We have to get our message out about Europe and I believe the people of this country deserve MEPs who are prepared to tackle some of shortcomings as well as celebrating the benefits we have all gleaned from being part of the EU. I can assure you that is a role I will relish!
So given the free publicity Mr Dale has given me, I thought he may like to go the whole hog and become my Campaign Manager? After all, if I can get a result like this doing so little, imagine what I can do when I really put my mind to it?!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
So, since all this started in the summer when as friends will know I was dealing with a very poorly sister and had little time to prepare my campaign, I took the advice of my dear pal Colin Ross. "You can't win Linda" says he "so you may as well do radical!" I took his advice, with no PC at the time I cobbled together my manifesto in my local secondhand bookshop, found I couldn't convert it into PDF so ended up with an effort that left off a crucial word.........my "starburst" which should have said "Linda Jack - 1st in the East" ended up as "Linda Jack - 1st in the......." leaving it to the imagination of the reader to fill in the gaps (thanks Ms/r Anonymous I am sure you will come up with a suitable alternative!). So I was not expecting to do very well.
However, I am convinced that we can win another seat in the East, especially with the right leader (!) so I had already decided, that if by some miracle I did get number 2 I would do my darndest (is that a word Mr Graham?) to ensure that happened. I am really really lucky to have Andrew Duff (our very own 2 brains!) as our number 1. He must be the most knowledgeable MEP in the country let alone the party, on European issues.
So - the campaign starts here.............who in the East is signing up to help me?
Friday, November 09, 2007
"The other name that will always come to mind now whenever I think about the mistreatment of our troops will be Graham Knight, who is currently involved in investigating what happened to his son Ben, who was one of 14 servicemen killed when an RAF Nimrod spy plane exploded over Afghanistan just over a year ago.
Amid all the many horrific occurrences of cost-cutting and penny-pinching by those in charge of the armed forces, the scandal of the Nimrod is surely one of the worst. The Nimrod was first introduced in 1969 and should have been taken out of service in 1995. But as a result of a cost-cutting, that has been put back to 2010.
Three years ago, the MoD asked the Nimrod manufacturer BAE Systems to check whether it was safe to continue in service. By now it was heavily used over Iraq and was required for even tougher treatment over Afghanistan. BAE Systems recommended that a fire detection and suppression system be installed in the bomb bay. The MoD decided it wouldn’t work, which begs the question as to why BAE Systems would have recommended it. The bottom line is – as ever – that it would have cost money.
A couple of months later, an elderly cooling pipe in the bomb bay burst open and sprayed super-heated air onto one of the fuel tanks at the root of the starboard wing. The investigation used a Rolls Royce test bed to find out how hot the air would have been at the time the pipe burst. It found it would have been between 310°C to 424°C. The spontaneous ignition point of Avtur, the fuel used by the Nimrod, is 260°C. It was fortunate the pipe burst just as the aircraft was coming back into land.
In the conclusions at the end of the investigation’s report, the station commander at RAF Kinloss, the Nimrod base, warned that “the unexpected failure” was an ever present problem in an aircraft that is now 12 years past its out-of-service date.
The possibility of a cooling pipe leak was not the only possible failure on the Nimrod. It used an antiquated air-to-air refuelling system initially installed in 1982 as a quick-fix to get the aircraft down to the Falklands. This was being used repeatedly in Afghanistan to keep the spy plane in the air. As a result there had been a large number of leaks from the fuel pipes, some of them involving large amounts of fuel, leaking out of the aircraft.
On September 2, 2006, the “unexpected failure” predicted by the Kinloss station commander occurred. The pilot of XV230, the first Nimrod to be introduced to the RAF in 1969, reported a fire in his bomb bay during an operation over southern Afghanistan. He tried to get the aircraft down to Kandahar air base, dropping from 23,000 feet to just 3,000 feet in 90 seconds. A Harrier aircraft followed XV230 down and saw the starboard wing explode first, followed a few seconds later by the rest of the aircraft.
The Board of Inquiry is still to report, and although we know that its initial findings were that leaking fuel ignited causing the explosion, we are only aware of most of the narrative I have given you because Graham Knight refused to sit quietly and wait for someone to give him a sanitised version of why his son died. It has been a recurrent theme of recent years, parents trying to find out why cost-cutting and incompetence killed their children. These are only the most famous.
Geoff Gray on the loss of his son – also called Geoff – at Deepcut;
Rose Gentle on the death of her son Gordon in a Snatch Land Rover in Basra;
Reg Keyes on the loss of his son Tom when six Royal Military Policemen were left to be massacred by Iraqis in Majar al-Kabir without any means of calling for help;
And now Graham Knight, looking for the truth about his son Ben.
It is something that should shame us all as a nation that we should treat these people and their dead children so shabbily given everything our servicemen and women do for us."
Frankly whatever our view on the military or the war with Iraq, I hope we can all agree that if we ask our innocent and sometimes naive young people (and I can say that having joined the forces at 17 - very wet behind the ears) to go and fight our battles, the least they can expect is that we do all in our power to ensure the only threats they are exposed to are from opposing forces, not our own penny pinching, negligence, incompetence and sheer complacency.
What I wanted to say was having read Charlotte Gore's post at that ungodly hour this morning (radio 5's fault coz they got the time wrong) I was interested in her comments about her doubts. It highlights for me one of the human dilemmas we have about leadership. Our expectations are often impossibly high - we recognise our own frailty but don't want our leaders to give us even the faintest suggestion that they may not possess all the attributes of Superman or Superwoman!. So, of course, whether it is Nick or Chris who takes over at the helm in December - neither will have it all. Both will need the support and input of others in the parliamentary and wider party. Also (as I think I may have blearyeyedly commented on Charlotte's blog) it is our party who make policy not our leader.
Of course the role of the leader is to lead, to have a vision and a sense of direction, but not to have to come up with every jot and tittle of policy. Leadership is tough, particularly in our party - like herding cats - whoever we ultimately choose we have to do so with a certain amount of faith.
So, credit where it is due, I am pleased to see that Chris Huhne has acted swiftly and trust learnt the lesson. It is in all our interests to have a robust hard fight in this campaign, but without resorting to the kind of lies peddled in Chris Clarke's endorsement.