Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tory Central Office in a Spin..............

Well, Bedford may be the centre of the universe, but this evening it may well be the seedbed of the demise of the Tory facade of being electable. News comes to me from a very reliable source that one Cllr Peter Hand, lately of Nadine Dorries office, has resigned as a councillor on both the County and Borough. Not only that, but he has set in motion a domino effect. Two more candidates have resigned and others are due to follow.

This is serious, not only for the Tories locally, but it could cause national embarrassment, hence my intelligence that Central Office is already involved. The word on the street is that activists and candidates are a tad peed off with their candidate Richard Fuller. Now, it is not unusual for MPs to represent constituencies they don't live in. Some live relatively near, 10, 20 miles, others rather further away......Richard Fuller has taken virtual representation to the nenth degree, he thinks he can represent Bedford from.....New York! I am not sure if this is the underlying issue for Bedford Tories. I actually get along with Richard rather well, he is always charming, chivalrous and engaging, so I have to admit to being rather surprised that he has allegedly become unpopular with his own kin. This turn of events is even more surprising given the formidable current leader of the Tories on Bedford Borough, Nicky (she who must be obeyed) Attenborough. Now for Nicky to lose control so spectacularly is astounding and paves the way for us to be the largest group on the new unitary authority in June.

It has to be confessed that Peter Hand, along with Andrew McConnell, is one of my "Tory Boys" - I may not share his politics, but I like him enormously. So, despite that fact that I have no truck with the Tories, I think they have shot themselves in both feet by peeing off such a talented and promising young man. This exposes the fault lines in the party in Bedford.........but I am very sure these fault lines extend far beyond Bedford.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Back in the warned!

Phew, at last I am feeling almost back to normal (OK James Graham et al I know you may consider that a contradiction in terms!). Being reminded that I am no spring chicken and unable to shake of bugs the way I used to (cue violins)........but I have managed a trip Belfast and back and have regained enough energy to return to throwing in my 10penneth on matters political once again. Not being arsed isn't something I am often prone to, but that would be an accurate description of how I have felt for the past three weeks.

So, what to chat about? Now there's the thing. We are rapidly approaching silly season, time for the next chapter of my fairy story methinks. I suppose what has been exercising me somewhat is how we muscle in on what has been a Tory Labour ping pong game with us still struggling to get a shot in. With, of course, the notable exception of Vince. But we can't build a credible alternative government without a team where all are pulling their weight. We have no choice but to do what Nick Clegg said we would do, be radical and To be honest I am a tad disappointed with our front bench, imagine if they all had the "Vince" factor, how formidable would we be then? OK, Vince is a man whose time has come, there is no doubt, but there are issues across the portfolios where we could be offering intelligent, reasoned and heavyweight analysis and ideas. We can't just blame the media, this is the media after all, who can't get enough of Vince. It is surely time for a shift in policy towards ideas that contrast sharply with both Labour and Tory, to offer the people of this country a truly radical alternative. To start with, of course, we will lose support, but in my view pruning is essential to strong growth. Can't we seek to build something along the lines that Labour did so successfully early in the last century, that was prepared to start small, to challenge, to draw clear lines in the sand, to give ordinary people something they could not only believe in but trust. I honestly believe we can, but it will mean some sacrifices. It may mean some of our MP's lose their seats because we are no longer fudging the issues we fear will alienate some of our supporters. But for me it is the only hope for us to ever truly become the force in British politics we all know we could and should be.

OK, well, indulge me, I haven't had a good rant for a while!

Well, that's it, my starter for ten, for the mo. Vintage readers will remember however the nightmare I had when I moved last time, well, all being well I am on the move again at the end of the week, so may enter into another period of enforced purdah. I will say no more about it until I am safely deposited in my new place, having had two fall through already, I am trying not to get too excited.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Taking a leaf out of Obama's book - Yes WE CAN!

He may not have managed to take the Henley seat, but Stephen Kearney is using his vast experience of community development to help us build this party.

Tonight Bermondsey and Old Southwark Liberal Democrats have Stephen and Julia Olson as their guest speakers following their AGM (8pm at the South London Mission).

During the late 1980s Stephen and Julia set up a charity that creates networks of individuals who take a role in changing the way public services are delivered and changing the priorities of politicians through social action. In 1993 they trained in Citizen Organising with Ed Chambers and Ernie Cortez from the Industrial Areas Foundation in the States, the same organisation that trained Barack Obama to be an organiser. Tonight they will be speaking about how they could apply their unique organising process and training to equip the most energetic "agents of change" in the Liberal Democrats, to transform and shape British politics in the next 5 years.

I am sorry, that since I am only slowly emerging from my duvet chrysalis I will miss it, but I know Stephen and Julia are committed to sharing their knowledge with the wider party and I am excited about the impact they can and will have on our grass roots organisation.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hiding under the duvet - the end of Looz Muze?

I am shocked to note I last posted almost two weeks ago. I have a good excuse, having been unable to make the short journey from my bed to my PC - no emails, no Facebook, no Lib Dem Blogs - no Looz Muze...........perhaps the world is a shinier place with me hiding under the duvet coughing for England! But, I was given some wise advice a couple of weeks ago by a fellow blogger (who will remain nameless but a prize for anyone who picks up the clue!), who felt I should consider putting my blog to bed - not allowing it even the occasional cough or splutter, confining meself to anonymous comments on LDV et al whenever I found my knickers in a twist about this that or the other.

Well, I enjoy a challenge, it will be a bit like being on a diet - will I reach that unobtainable goal - or will I give in and indulge in the odd Blogger's Pavlova of light and airy musings toned down with a dollop of opinionated cream? It will be a difficult process for me - I will have to vent my spleen elsewhere.............hmmmmmmmmmmm

Anyway - I have until the end of the year to put in a few more tuppence worths. I intend to make the most of it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

What's the difference between the LGA and the GLA?

As already reported - I have had a bit of a week. It started on Sunday when I met with a fellow blogger (guess who) who advised me that my blog had to die. On Monday I went to a Polish reception at the LGA................except that no one at the LGA knew what I was talking about! I called Fiyaz and Meral, no reply, Nick and Simon, no reply. Now what? A flash of inspiration - Nick's office must know where he is speaking. Yes, they did. It was City Hall......GLA not LGA.............

I jumped in a cab with no money and asked if he would accept a card, yes, but could he swipe it? Er.........declined. Next card? Declined. The cab driver, Darrell, kindly dropped me at Westminster and told me to take the tube to Tower Hill and cross the bridge. Could I find the bridge? No. I set off in the wrong direction and jumped in another cab telling him he would have to go via a cash point. Then the traffic was so bad I said I would jump out and walk.

I finally arrived, an hour later, just as Nick Clegg was finishing his speech. Thankfully Jeremy, sorry Jonathan Fryer was there to record the event. I did get to hear Simon (is there any country in the world he hasn't visited?) Hughes and enjoy supper with Fiyaz, Iman and Jeremy er Jonathan, afterwards.

The following morning I went into panic mode, my Blackberry was missing! All you Blackberry owners will understand my distress (by the way do read Who Moved my Blackberry - hilarious!)........but I had been in work less than half an hour when Darrell called. He had found my Blackberry in his cab. Thankfully it displays my name and where I work, so he had kindly phoned the FSA and asked for me. What a darling, he then made a detour in the evening to drop it off at the Sanctuary pub where we had all gathered after FPC. How lucky am I???!

A Sizemic Shift in the Lib Dems goes Unnoticed?

Well, having had a week and a half (more later) I have scoured Lib Dem Blogs for any reporting of Tuesday's FPC.........the most exciting night of the year and it goes uncommented on??! Bring back Alex Wilcock - that's wot I say!

A couple of weeks ago I was en route to the member's dining room with a pal when I bumped into Steve Webb - he congratulated me on my re election to FPC and commented about how many "lefties" had been elected..........hmmmmmm. So, little miss big mouth is no longer in a minority in shouting the odds about Trident, Tax Cuts et al?

Tuesday evening was elections night. Elections were held for a number of FPC positions, most importantly vice-chairs to Nick Clegg. The MP vice chair, Danny Alexander, was elected unopposed, but there were 4 contenders for the 2 ordinary member positions, current v-c, fellow blogger and Looz Muze chaperone - Jeremy Hargreaves, ex head of Policy - Richard Grayson, former v-c Ruth Coleman and former chair of the Security Working Group, Julie Smith. The result was a clear win for Richard Grayson and a tie between Jeremy and Julie - leading to a run off. While we were awaiting the result of that contest, we held hustings for FPC rep to ELDR Council. Two candidates, myself and Julie Smith. Julie has been the incumbent for the past couple of years but I had decided to stand on the basis that we both offered something quite different. Julie is an expert in European Politics and clearly brings a knowledge and expertise to the table that I never could, however I felt my strength was in representing the progressive wing of our party, as well as bringing a desire to ensure we really begin to connect with people on European issues. So I was really pleased to win the nomination, although felt bad that Julie, who I had expected to get v-c, ended up with nothing. But, I think both Richard's and my elections demonstrate that shift in the composition of the FPC, a perspective confirmed when I was chatting to an MP this morning (who will remain nameless!) I asked if I had told him about my election, no I hadn't, but he had heard about it - someone else had commented on the fact that a "non establishment" candidate had won.

So we have an interesting year ahead on FPC. It will no longer be quite so easy to push through controversial policy. As my dear readers know, I am still a Cleggophile, but that doesn't mean I agree with all his policy priorities. I trust he will read the runes and consider how we as a party can arrive at more of a consensus on those issues that divide us, rather than it always boiling down to an adversarial battle of wills and manufactured challenge to the leadership.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

"What next for Lembit"...........Big Brother?

Having been away for a few days I caught up with the Lib Dem Blogosphere this evening and noticed the speculation about what next for Lembit. This following the day that I awoke to the news that Brian Paddick was to star in I'm a Celebrity. I scoured the posts, expecting them to be full of the news, but very few picked it up and with none of the vitriol clearly reserved for Lembit.

Given the fuss about Lembit's alleged appearance in Big Brother and the concerns that his celebrity status somehow made him a joke, I had, it has to be said, expected more comment about Brian's decision.

Actually, my view is that the success or failure of Brian's decision rests entirely with him. As an ardent anti-war campaigner I had really hoped that George Galloway's appearance on Big Brother may have resulted in opportunities for him to get a powerful anti-war message across. Instead, sadly, he totally punctured his credibility and will forever be remembered not for his anti war stance, or incredible, he will be remembered for making a complete **** of himself. So Brian is taking a huge risk. Maybe the money is reward enough for that risk. Maybe he is banking on being elevated to the Lords where he no longer has to run the gauntlet of having to persuade the great unwashed of his worth. Maybe he doesn't really care. Whatever. Despite his infuriating statements about not being a politician et al, I wish him well and hope he will take the opportunity to get across at least something about why he is a Lib Dem and why he believes it is our policies that can ultimately really make a difference to people's lives.

So what about Lembit? Well, the same surely applies? Frankly, given the kick in the teeth he has been given by the party, I wouldn't blame him if he decided to take up the offer on Big Brother. At least then he would have the chance to talk directly to the electorate, rather than spend his time talking to the converted like most of the rest of us.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lembit's support for Ros

In between house hunting (North Herts fell through) babysitting and charging down to Portsmouth for a meeting, I am late to the post presidential debate. Well done to Ros, regular readers will know that I had a difficult decision about who to back and I have no doubt she will do a great job of representing the activists and implementing the recommendations of the Bones commission. Also it is great to see a little more gender balance within the hierarchy in the party!

For those who missed it I wanted to reproduce Lembit's statement following Ros's victory -

"I congratulate Ros for her clear victory. If Barack Obama had employed Ros Scott as his campaign manager, he'd have won by even more than he did!

As a seasoned local government campaigner Ros has reflected and represented the needs of the Party. Her insights are things which she can now put into practice. I know she will do her absolute best to achieve exactly this.

Chandila Fernando ' the Troubleshooter! ' has impressed a huge number of people with his strategic look at what the Party does well and how it could do better. His outspoken mission to introduce a more professional and externally orientated approach is tremendously valuable and we need to see how best to implement his suggestions.

I thank my team for a clear, honest and genuine campaign. We got on with the job of putting forward our proposition, and what we intend to do for the Lib Dems. We kept it positive and we 'kept it real.' The best way I can pay you back is by living up to your political expectations as we pursue our inspiring agenda within the Party.

As Ros embarks on her role, she can be assured of one thing: my absolute and unconditional support. She will be President and let me make this clear: I'm in her team now.

Personally, it's been a hard year, not least because of the death of a very close friend, David Hamer in August. It knocked me back a lot, especially over summer and there's no point pretending it didnt. It's also made me stronger. I feel more centred, more focussed, more ready to contribute in the public square than ever before. So for me this result is a knock back, but its not a knock out. I will continue to use my skills to my best ability to push the boundaries, and do what I try to do best - taking politics to people who aren't political but who do care.

And in this spirit I'll be working on four areas of policy I feel I have something unique and distinctive to contribute, and on which, since I am not President, I am now free to campaign. These are: promoting serious political engagement in the field of international terrorism, the prescription of hard drugs to recorded addicts, a reassessment of our attitude towards nuclear power and a commitment to positive campaigning. I will also use my profile to engage people in civic society. But no more of this today, because today is not my day. It is the day for the President-elect.

Till January 1st we continue to be guided by President Simon Hughes. He's a great inspiration to the membership, and a great friend to me personally. You've done good mate, and I'm proud to have been your Second in Command.

So now we've got President Obama in America, and President Scott in Britain! Democrats are on the move. He'll make it happen over there. She'll make it happen over here. And as you do Ros, I'm with you all the way."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Time to let peace break out in our party?

Just back from the ELDR congress in Stockholm. Great company, great food and outstanding debate. There is something so much more grown up about European politics. A system based on the need for consensus, hasn't resulted in stalemate. The ya boo politics we have grown up with in this country, the need to "beat" the opposition, sadly even extends into the shenanigans in our party.

I travelled with Paul Reynolds, an economics professor and a good friend..........but politically sitting almost diametrically from me. We had lots of debates where neither convinced the other, but we began to think about what consensus might look like. As Paul sagely observed, if we could begin to crack some of the nuts on policy that so divides our party, we could be so much more effective. Those almost 50% of us who opposed Trident and the tax position on "Make it Happen" have been slapped down by this system. Ming Campbell was wheeled out to swing the Trident debate because it was played up as an attack on his leadership, similarly the great and good were wheeled out to sway the doubters in "Make it Happen". Wouldn't it be good if our elders and betters were more concerned about developing policy we could all live with, rather than having to prevail all the time?

OK, I can already hear the cogs wheeling in the heads of my detractors and of course there will be issues where we can never reach that point, but isn't it time we considered that as a last rather than first resort?

The issue that of course is foremost in many minds for the next conference is of course tuition fees. If we thought Trident was bloody, this I fear may all end in more than tears. I know that the working party has gone back to try and find a solution and I would so strongly urge them to do so. But, I am not convinced that will happen. And of course, as someone who likes a good argument and a bit of drama at conference, there are many who would be disappointed if we lost all that.

However, what was clear in Stockholm is that it is still possible to have robust debate but there is an underlying and overwhelming respect for the notion that where possible we need to be able to take everyone with us. An example was on the issue of a European Army, a concept many are wedded to, however, the congress was willing to accept that this was something that many member states were not ready to consider and pushing for it would cause some of us real problems. This approach did not make the debate any less passionate, but I would argue enabled the result to be far more effective.

I am reminded of the time, many years ago now, when I was speaking on the same platform as Malcolm Wicks about his bold new idea for the "Connexions Service". I had serious concerns, which I expressed. On the way to the conference I had been very busy looking up to see the street names to check I was heading in the right direction - I was wearing a skirt with a split in the front and consequently, not looking where I was going, ended impaled on a bollard! This became a great metaphor to finish my speech "It's all very well knowing where you want to get to, but you need to be careful how you get there". We can be so obsessed with our ultimate goal that we can leave others and even ourselves, impaled on the invisible bollards - with absolutely no chance of ever arriving at our dreamed of destination.

The Opik Obama Connection.................

Responding to claims in the weekend papers that the campaign to stop MP Lembit Öpik becoming President of the Liberal Democrats “has turned nasty,” Lembit said: “I think we need to calm down a bit here. It seems some fellow Lib Dems have mixed up which Presidential election this is. Well, I’m not running for the Whitehouse! We’re talking about the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats which is important, but it’s not about the leadership of the free world. In that spirit, I wish Mr Obama every success, and I’d like to think that, if he wasn’t so busy at the moment, he’d do the same for me!”

So, what is the connection? Both running for President, both with unusual names beginning with O, and elected, both will be the first Presidents of their respective country/party with a surname beginning with O........something quite symmetrical about that don't you think!!!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Lembit...........Winning Here!

Greetings from a very wet and cold, but beautiful Stockholm.

Well, the nights are closing in (faster here where it starts getting dark about 3), there are only 54 shopping days to Christmas and only 8 days until we know who will be taking us into 2009 as party President.

Today current party President Simon Hughes made his usual superhuman effort to attend ELDR Congress, having flown over this morning to arrive before 9 and returning this evening. In my time on IRC I have seen him make similar efforts to ensure the party is formally represented both at ELDR and LI congresses. He joined two MEPs but no MPs, a point well observed by Jonathan Fryer.

SImon has taken his term of office extremely seriously. Despite the moans about party membership (an issue I have touched on before and one which we all have a responsibility to own), Simon has, in my view, done a brilliant job. Encouraging the least to the greatest, always giving people time and tirelessly fighting to make our party more representative of the people we seek to represent, calling candidates in by elections to wish them well. No one can and should overlook the importance of those little acts in building and strengthening the party faithful.

So what of Lembit? When he wins next week (and there can be little doubt now that he will), what will he bring to the "party"?

I personally believe he will build successfully on the foundations Simon will leave him. He has the same extraordinary ability to engage with anyone, whether the great and the good, the not quite so great and the not quite so good.......and those who most of us are happier to walk past and ignore. I have seen this in action, out campaigning for Stephen Kearney and out on the streets of London where he dealt with a homeless young woman with such skill and compassion it was an education to observe. That ability to communicate I believe will mean he will be a lynchpin in our future campaigns. He will be the one who "speaks human" who communicates our message in a language those outside our party can understand, who will offer a real prospect of increasing our membership.......a prerequisite to us really "making it happen" and making a reality of our favourite slogan "Winning Here"!!!!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Opik Issues Home Truths..........

Lib Dem Presidential candidate Lembit Öpik MP has issued some "home truths" to members admitting how the events of 2008 "almost stalled my life" and promising to put his "heart and soul" into the job.

It comes as voting in the contest enters its final week. In a personal email to Party members, due to be sent out next week, Lembit addresses his detractors head on "And with some humility, I can tell you I've learned to see why some folk are concerned about my Presidency. Some fear I'll be unpredictable, a wild one, or too involved in a profile outside politics. Or they think I'm too much of a joker, or a political lightweight. Or they believe I want to be President for my own self-promotion.

"To tell you the truth, I've been frustrated and angry with people for thinking these things about me. But looking at it now, I realise that the right response is not to be angry, but to be a bit more empathetic to these concerns and to appreciate why some feel this way, and try to accommodate that very natural caution within my equally natural enthusiasm and effusive optimism about the human race.

"If I win the election, I'll work with you to get the best out of all of us, and to value the differences between us for the common goal and vision we share. For me, it's the vision of a Lib Dem Government. It's a journey we can only make successfully if we make it together. But it's also a journey we can only complete if we're a bit braver, and embrace each other's unique contributions.

Lembit goes on to outline how he believes he can form the perfect team with Leader Nick Clegg.

"Nick's perfectly capable of leading our Party towards Government. And I've got the ability to make our Party ready and capable of making that voyage across a stormy sea. It's a great partnership of inspiration, flamboyance, courage, teamwork, warmth and action. I can see that working very well and I hope you can too.

"In a way, I can't help regarding this election as a test. It's a test of our collective courage. A test of whether we really do value different styles and approaches, or whether conformity is a primary limitation."

In a final plea for members to back him Lembit says:

"I'm not going to get everything right, and never pretended I could. But I've got a passion for this role, just as I have a passion for life. If you feel like joining me on an exciting adventure for a few years, go and get your ballot paper and sign up by voting for it.

"It'll be a heck of a ride. And afterwards, I'm sure you'll look back and be amazed how far we got, and be glad we made the journey."

The deadline for the receipt of ballot papers is Friday 7th November 2008.

More information about Lembit's campaign can be found at

101 things you never knew about Lembit .........the end!

92 Lembit believes the President’s primary duty is to the Membership.
93 Lembit believes flooding will be the greatest single environmental threat to the UK over the next 10 years.
94 Lembit is a common first name in Estonia.
95 Lembit has no middle name.
96 Lembit’s longest speech in Parliament has been 56 minutes.
97 Lembit had 14 fringe meetings and other speeches in the 2008 Bournemouth Conference – believed to be the second most of any MP.
98 Lembit wants to reduce the voting age to 16.
99 Lembit’s highest break on a full size snooker table is 65.
100 Lembit knew Benazir Bhutto; he says her assassination “leaves a tragic political vacuum which nobody has yet filled.”

101 Lembit once chaired the ethics committee to oversea production of the BBC programme The Experiment, which researched human dynamics in a prison environment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

101 things you never knew about Lembit......Part 4

77 Lembit is Pisces, but, like his friend Patrick Moore, prefers astronomy to astrology.
78 Lembit’s favourite political film is “Bulwarth,” starring Warren Beatty. its message is “you’ve got to be a spirit, not a ghost.”
79 Lembit is an active member of the Holocaust Education Trust, and has campaigned for funding for UK school visits to Auschwitz.
80 Lembit supports Leicester City Football Club, but has never asked if they support him.
81 Lembit is President of the British Hangliding and Paragliding Association.
82 In 2008, Lembit successfully gave evidence at the Old Bailey to secure bail for two constituents charged of terrorism offences.
83 Lembit supports holistic health methodologies and has opposed legislative changes which risk banning many of these practices and medicines.
84 Lembit has worked on Lib Dem membership recruitment techniques and training materials since 1991.
85 On 19th June 1996 Lembit successfully landed a single-engined Piper aircraft with a malfunctioning engine at Newcastle International Airport.
86 In levels of recycling and green energy production, Lembit’s Montgomeryshire constituency is the greenest in the UK.
87 Lembit wants to increase the external focus of the Party, so it spends less time absorbed in internal processes and more time on outcomes for communities and Britain as a whole.

88 Lembit has argued for the next Euro Election campaign to be fought on European, not domestic, issues.
89 Lembit’s favourite colour is azure.
91 Lembit believes the Royal Family plays an important and irreplaceable role as figureheads IN the UK and ambassadors FOR the UK to the world.

92 In 1997, the two dots on the “O” in “Öpik” caused a computer processing malfunction in Hansard, which left everyone after “O” off the voting

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

101 things you never knew about Lembit Part 3.........

62 Lembit was labelled “Saviour of the Universe” by Esquire magazine for his work on highlighting the threat of asteroids to life on earth.
63 Lembit appeared on the front cover of the April 2003 edition of Harmonica World magazine and is a proficient harmonica player.
64 Every year Lembit performs a sketch with Stephen Pound MP and Nigel Evans MP to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Support.
65 Lembit has met with successive Prime Ministers on subjects ranging from animal welfare to Motor Neurone Disease.
66 Lembit has worked with the “Youth at Risk” organisation to transform the way young offenders and potential offenders are treated by the legal and support systems.
67 When working for Procter & Gamble, Lembit introduced the first environmental labelling for any major UK consumer brand (Fairy Liquid). 68 Lembit nearly chose a career in teaching.
69 Lembit feels that addressing his old school as the guest speaker on Prize Day was one of the greatest honours of his career.
70 Lembit was offered a sponsorship to study Aeronautical Engineering at Queens University Belfast.
71 Lembit used to lead the Press Centre team for the British Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference.
72 Lembit co-chaired part of a conference in 2008 investigating the health effects of radiation associated with mobile phone technology.
73 Lembit has worked on a cross Party basis to reduce the risk of litigation for voluntary organisations – the Government introduced legislation as a direct result of this campaign.
74 Between 1994 and 1996, Lembit created the Fast Reaction Early Decision (F.R.E.D.) process for cross Party consultation in the event of a hung parliament. The procedure is still in place today.
75 Lembit has always supported the case for a “positive campaigning” approach in preference to “negative campaigning.”
76 Lembit cites “ignorance and conformity” as the greatest threats to a progressive liberal society.

Monday, October 27, 2008

101 things you never knew about Lembit cont.........

Yesterday we reached 52.........but taking on board the criticism that my blogs are too long........I will dish up the rest to you in bite size pieces ;-)

53 In 2003 Lembit marched through London with 2 million other citizens in opposition to the impending Iraq War.
54 Lembit’s favourite political structure in the UK from an aesthetic perspective is the Stormont Assembly Building in Belfast.
55 Lembit’s predecessors in his Montgomeryshire constituency include Alex Carlile, Emlyn Hooson and former Party leader Clement Davies.
56 Lembit has never appeared on Celebrity Big Brother.
57 Lembit has attended over 165 meetings of the Federal Executive across 17 years, and chairs it when the President is not available.
58 Lembit has been a member of every major Federal Committee apart from Federal Conference Committee.
59 Although not a mountaineer himself, Lembit is considered informed enough by the specialist press to review mountaineering books.
60 The first vehicle Lembit ever drove was a combine harvester.
61 Lembit’s first political speech was in 1975, on the subject of the Icelandic Cod War.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Lemby" answers his critics...............

There has been a deal of criticism of Mr Opik, over the last few weeks, so what does he have to say about it~ I took the opportunity this weekend to give him an opportunity to answer the questions that seem to be causing unnecessary angst......particularly in certain quarters!

There appears to be a bit of a panic amongst the great and the good in the party about you becoming President, why do you think that is?

Yes, I agree. There appear to be individuals who have actively been trying to dissuade people from voting for me. I’ve asked some of them why this is but it’s not easy to get a particularly coherent answer. The best interpretation I can make is that they’re afraid of how I’d do the Presidency because of my “non-political” activities. This looks like it’s based on my public profile and my relationships. One senior member said he was afraid I would be “distracted” by my personal life! People who think like this don’t seem to value my ability to reach out beyond the usual boundaries of political life. Non-political citizens know who I am, and they engage in dialogue with me because they see me as a person first and a politician second. Or do they mean I’d personally be distracted from my work? I wonder if they apply the same “distraction” concern to people in political life who are, for example, having babies, which must be extremely distracting? I think the criticism hasn’t been fully thought through, but I don’t want to be too critical here. It’s a natural human response to be cautious of the unusual. I’m unusual in that I’m recognised as an MP and as a character. Ironically, I often think my own political narrative – socially libertarian and economically left wing - is actually clearer many of those who are wary of me. But the main reasons aren’t philosophical. They’re psychological and, on reflection, I hope they’ll get more used to my style even if they don’t fully understand it.

In terms of Presidency, I’m not the banker option – but perhaps an inspirational one? My results in my own constituency and in helping the Party develop through training and sheer hard effort would tend suggest that my operating approach does work well.

So what would you say to allay their fears?

I’d suggest those who are concerned about me need to lighten up a bit and celebrate a colleague who can really engage with the GENERAL public. When Ming Campbell was Leader, I invited him to come out with me to public events to see how I operate and what I actually do. I make the same offer again to everyone: come out with me for an hour and you’ll see at first hand how I engage, what people think of my public image - and the resulting contact this leads to. Aside from this, I’ve also been successfully contributing to the Federal Party structure for over 17 years. Ask others on the committees I’ve served on and you’ll realise I’ve been working effectively in this environment for longer than most of us have even been in full time politics. The fact I haven’t spent the last decade blowing my own trumpet about all this is surely a positive thing.

Some activists have been complaining about your media profile, in particular the media's obsession with your private life, do you think they are right to be upset, if not why not?

It’s not for me to decide people’s right to be upset. I am after all a Liberal! However, in terms of complaints about my media profile, I’d ask them to explain what exactly is the issue here? Where’s the data – even circumstantially – that any of this has done harm? The only evidence I’ve seen suggests I’ve helped rather than hindered the party’s progress. Why else in 2005, when I already had a “celebrity” profile, did I get the largest majority in my constituency since 1962? Was it a fluke? I don’t think so. I think it was a combination of high recognition, popularity and effective political action. And why did the Party have a lift in the polls when I figured heavily in the media for non-political things over Christmas a couple of years ago? It may not be due to me, but there’s no data to suggest I’ve harmed Party fortunes in any way. However, if there’s objective data to prove otherwise, I’d like to see it. So far it’s been unsupported assumptions and maybe even some prejudice. I think it is a great shame if we enslave ourselves by this kind of thinking, as conformity is the greatest enemy of liberalism and directly contradicts the preamble to our constitution which is on the back of every membership card.

Other activists accuse you of being "policy lite" what would you say to them?

Activists who accuse me of being “policy lite” miss the point of the Presidency. This job is NOT – and MUST NOT BE – about policy making. A President who does that is competing with the Leader’s role, and this mustn’t be allowed to happen. So the question is not salient to the role I’m standing for. However, because I like to answer questions directly, there’s plenty of policy if you want to look at it. What about the 10 years contribution I made to the Northern Ireland peace process, especially in terms of supporting integrated education, cross community dialogue and the devolution settlement. Or my 6 year campaign to get a full independent inquiry into the deaths at Deepcut Army Barracks? Or my successful campaign with former Conservative MP Andrew Rowe to set up the UK Youth Parliament? Or my efforts as Business Spokesperson to revisit our policies on energy policy? Or my work on Housing which led directly to our policy of allowing local authorities to borrow billions to buy up vacant properties? Or my positive involvement in the devolution project for Wales? I suspect those who say I’m policy light haven’t really had a proper look at what I’ve actually achieved, in real terms, in the political sphere. It’s all there, and I recommend a quick look at my contributions in Parliament. Nobody who looks at all that can seriously harbour the claim that I’ve not been one of the more active and successful Lib Dem MPs when it comes to policy development. Let me stress again however that my Presidency will be characterised by running the Party, not directing policy which is simply not the President’s job.

Do you think you may have made some mistakes in terms of your decisions to be on particular TV programmes?

Not really. If we as a Party are scared of the popular media, we’re done for. I’ve never seen any evidence that any of my appearances has compromised the Party. As I’ve said before, if anyone can show me any evidence of it, then I’d invite them to do so. So far, nobody has. I’m glad to see Nick Clegg reaching out to alternatives media outlets as well. I’m certain this is doing him a lot of good and I hope other colleagues follow his lead. Vince Cable’s participation in Strictly Come Dancing indicates I appear to have started a fashion which will finally add some colour to our image. Oh, and I’m not appearing on Celebrity Big Brother! The story seems to be borne out of a bit of mischief. I observe that there was quite a lot discussion about my impending appearance even AFTER I’d clarified that I wasn’t doing it. Hmmm… a bit of a sense of humour breakdown in some quarters methinks! One person even thought I’d been on Big Brother before – very odd.

James Graham complains that since you claim to have such great campaigning and communications skills, why have the Liberal Democrats in Wales stagnated in the last two assembly elections ?

No, the demarcation between the MPs and AMs in terms of leading the various election campaigns has been very clear in Wales since the Assembly was set up. In the Parliamentary General Election for which I WAS responsible as Leader, we doubled our seats from two to four. That was the result of superb local campaigns and I applaud what was achieved. A 100% increase doesn’t really qualify as stagnation, especially when the UK overall increase for the Party was only a fraction of this.

Do you think it was an error of judgement to support Charles?

No. I will never regret supporting Charles Kennedy when he was attacked for his drinking. I do regret to this day the way he was made to resign by the action of colleagues. In my view, we should have worked with him and supported him, especially given his candid and honest statements about it at that time. I judge people by results, and Charles delivered the best results we’d had for 8 decades, and had tremendous popularity. Had Charles been allowed to continue, I believe we could have de-stigmatised the question of alcoholism in the UK. That could have helped millions of people. That was an opportunity missed. Charles remains a great friend to me personally, and he has my loyalty as a colleague to this day.

Why didn't you stand against Simon Hughes in 2006?

Simon beat me for the Presidency in 2004, and I judged that my best contribution would be as Senior Vice President – Simon’s Number 2 basically. We work well together and I felt the right thing to do was to actively sign Simon’s nomination form in 2006 as a vote of confidence in his Presidency and for an effective team. He’s popular, hard working and I think the membership has enjoyed his incumbency a lot. I’m a democrat and I was happy to go along with what feels like a consensus. For me to have stood against him in 2006 would have been both pointless and vain glorious.

You have been criticised for being behind the curve by not having your campaign ready in Bournemouth why was that?

My best friend, David Hamer, died on 6th August 2008 with no warning, aged 46. I’d also had some other very difficult personal news shortly before this. I had to deal with these emotional body blows first. This meant I didn’t have so much stuff organised at the Bournemouth conference. I’d also managed to contract something like bronchitis at the time, which I’m sure was a direct result of the emotional distress I was experiencing. These things happen and you can’t really plan for them. I’m glad I got through it as fast as I did. A lot of people have been hugely supportive over this period. I’m really grateful to have had this support – I can’t put my thanks into words really. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t have so many leaflets and all that at Conference.

There is a view that you are a bit of a publicity hungry one man band - is that fair?

Er, yes. Like any MP, I want to be out there and reported. In comparison to colleagues I do get lot of publicity – some welcome and some not. But that’s the world we live in. As with other high profile national figures, it’s inevitable because more people will have an opinion on individuals they know than those they don’t. The one man band idea is hardly in line with the way people in the Party know me to work. I actually prefer working in a team than on my own. It’s the way I get the best out of myself in fact. Having a personal profile beyond politics is rewarding. People who accuse me of being “publicity hungry” need to explain what they mean. As a Party, we’re not very savvy about non-political coverage. I’d like to help change this. I hope we’ll collectively build the Lib Dems into a Party painted in Primary Colours not pastel shades, and that means going outside the confines of the usual reporting – and doing it as a team.

101 things you never knew about Lembit...........

............well, you may have known some of them.............but not all!

1 Lembit is a keen astronomer, and his Grandfather was a world renowned professional in the field, and is mentioned in Bill Bryson’s book “A Brief History of just about everything.”
2 In 2004, Lembit was awarded “Hardest Working MP in Wales” by the Western Mail
3 Lembit has the highest recognition levels of any Liberal Democrat amongst under 30 year olds.
4 The largest assembled audience Lembit has addressed is 120,000.
5 Lembit’s first word was “vaata!” which is Estonian for “look!”
6 Lembit has not had a cup of coffee in 9 years.
7 Lembit was runner up for National President of the National Union of Students in 1987 AND 1988 and served on its National Executive.
8 Lembit was the Global Human Resources Training & Development Manager for international firm Procter & Gamble.
9 Lembit achieved 21 points on BBC’s Mastermind in 2005.
10 Lembit was the first MP of Estonian heritage ever to enter British Parliament, and is fluent in Estonian.
11 Lembit was awarded GovNet Alternative Politician of the Year in 2008.
12 In September Lembit was identified by independent think tank Liberal Vision as the most Liberal MP in the Party.
13 Lembit caused the British Government to hold an inquiry into the handling of the deaths at Deepcut Army barracks, and continues to campaign for a full independent inquiry, believing that the recruits were murdered.
14 Lembit is one of the most recognised politicians in the Liberal Democrats.
15 TWO of Lembit’s former female staff have gone on have full time careers in politics – Fiona Hall MEP and Jenny Willott MP.
16 Lembit’s car has covered 379,000 miles – most of them on Party business!
17 Lembit went to school at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution.
18 Lembit used to go swimming in the North Sea for health reasons when he lived in the North East, but gave up when he contracted pneumonia as a result of this activity.
19 Lembit has played chess competitively, and won over half his games.
20 Lembit broke his back in 12 places in a paragliding accident in 1998, and nearly died, but has made a full recovery.
21 Lembit has trained numerous activists in public speaking and many of his trainees are now Prospective Parliamentary Candidates and MPs.
22 Lembit has written 497 consecutive weekly articles for the Shropshire Star.
23 Lembit expressed his intention to stand for President in 2000. He did stand in 2004, losing to Simon Hughes, after which he said he would stand again in 2008. He is keeping that promise now.
24 Lembit is one of the best pinball players in the United Kingdom.
25 Lembit was President of the University of Bristol Union in 1985.
26 Lembit is a professional training designer and has worked on 4 continents.
27 Lembit believes in positive campaigning and has repeatedly warned of the dangers of running other politicians down – because in his view it is a viscous circle that darkens politics as a whole.
28 Lembit’s best friend, David Hamer, died unexpectedly at the age of 46 on 6th August this year. Over the summer he was devastated by this loss.
29 Lembit has spent a total of four and a half years in Leicester.
30 Lembit has the most libertarian voting record in the Lib Dems.
31 Nobody has exceeded Lembit’s parliamentary majority in Montgomeryshire for 46 years.
32 Lembit was Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats from 2001-2007, during which time the Party doubled its number of MPs in Wales.
33 Lembit believed Charles Kennedy should not have been forced to resign in 2006 - and publicly defended him until the very end.
Lembit’s brother died suddenly at the age of 37 in 2005.
35 Lembit has played harmonica with a band supporting the hit group Razorlight at an environmental concert this year.
36 As chair of the all party Baha’i group Lembit has helped secure the release of dozens of Baha’is from prison in Iran.
37 Lembit has appeared on Question Time and on Any Questions at least once a year on average since he was elected to Parliament.
38 Lembit has been a successful election agent in many local government elections.
39 In October 2008, Lembit signed up 6 new members in Glasgow in under 3 hours.
40 Lembit has had an environmental audit of his house and is implementing its recommendations.
41 As Senior Vice President, Lembit is Number 2 to President Simon Hughes and has chaired the federal Executive effectively on a number of occasions.
42 Lembit’s favourite book is “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”
43 Lembit worked actively to help Estonia set up its post Soviet police and security services in 1990-2.
44 Lembit was Youth Spokesperson in 1997 and was one of the two key MPs who helped found the UK Youth Parliament.
45 Lembit was Vice Chair of the English Liberal Democrats in 1995.
46 Lembit has two Japanese motorcycles dating back to the 1970’s.
47 Lembit has attended every single federal Party conference since 1990.
48 Lembit was a speechwriter for former Party President Robert Maclennan.
49 Lembit participated in a special edition of a Panorama programme called Referendum Street as part of a pro-Euro currency team. They won the referendum.
50 Lembit is Vice-Chair of the All Party BBC Group – and its longest serving member.
51 Lembit believes people to be fundamentally good, and says this underpins his view of politics and the future.
52 Lembit is left handed (and as my dad always says, only 10% of the population are left handed, but 66% of geniuses are!) be continued.............

Mandelson and Osborne.......much to choose?

A must read this morning.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Can you be a gay Muslim? Fiyaz Mughal reflects.......

Our party may be fewer in number than others, but what we lack in quantity we more than make up for in quality. To my mind one of our great assets is Haringey Councillor Fiyaz Mughal. Fiyaz not only carries out his duties as a councillor, but also beavers away, often unnoticed, promoting interfaith dialogue and working with others to tackle extremism. He kindly sent me this reflection on a meeting he attended earlier this week -

On Monday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the IMAAN annual conference in Euston. Imaan is a group that focuses on informing and campaigning on issues affecting gay and lesbian practising Muslims and I was invited on the basis of my interfaith work and as an elected politician who happens to be Muslim.

I am proud to have spoken since for me, there is no contradiction in being gay or lesbian and wanting to practise Islam. Many Muslims make reference to the Sura (chapter) on Lout ( Lot ) in the Quran, yet there are numerous examples and references to respecting individualism and in protecting the integrity and honour of people. Islam also makes clear that people are different and that difference is a gift from Allah (God) or the Almighty. I therefore see no conflict and whilst this may be unsettling to many, the very fact that someone classifies and wants to be identified as a Muslim means that they should be respected as so.

On Monday, I saw many young Muslims who practised their faith and who also felt at ease with their sexuality. In fact, I heard about how Islam teaches them to be truthful and for many, they will not marry simply to live a double life so that they are not seen as 'bringing shame on their families.' They would rather not ruin the life of a woman and live a lie as their faith gave them a strong moral compass. This resounded with me greatly.As a heterosexual man who happens to be Muslim, it is very clear that a space is needed for these young men and women. Not only do they suffer from homophobia, they also suffer from Islamophobia outside and within gay and lesbian communities. This double whammy is not lost on them and in fact, it makes that space for their voices even more important. I for one will support their work and within Haringey, I am sure that there is a large gay and lesbian Muslim community, bearing in mind that Muslims make up over 40,000 residents in the Borough.

Kearney on Opik............

No one who went to the Henley by election can fail to have been thoroughly impressed with Stephen Kearney. His decision to get more involved with the party I believe will contribute enormously to our future success. So I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview him about Lembit's role in the Northern Ireland peace process.

You have been a close friend and colleague of Lembit's including during the time he was NI spokes, can you tell us a little about his role in the peace process?
Lembit has never really got credit for all the work he did in the peace process, simply because, by the very sensitive nature of the talks, it was not the sort of thing you could broadcast without harming the negotiations themselves. He used to discuss these things with me privately, and I was amazed at the level of influence and trust he had at the centre of the events which led to the Good Friday Agreement, and later the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know he set up a number of the key meetings about 8 years ago. Also, he spent a huge amount of time just talking, in large part to the organizations that used violence themselves. He could do that because he was under the radar in a way the ministers weren’t, and that helped everyone.

What were the particular qualities and skills Lembit brought to the table?

Lembit has an infinite ability to listen to people holding unreasonable points of view. He has an almost idealistic belief that if you engaged with someone long enough, they've got to see sense. I say idealistic, but in truth it is an approach that works for him. There are people who most of us would have regarded as dangerous and violent but actually he saw the good and worked through that to encourage them to come in from the cold. Mo Mowlam had the same quality, and that's probably why the two of them worked so well together. Lembit's also a good communicator. He chaired meetings brilliantly with a clear process that people were comfortable with. That structure helps to keep the heat down when things get tense. The other thing is his optimism. He ALWAYS said the peace process would work, even when the Tories and others were saying it was lost. He was right, they were wrong. Another of Lembit’s qualities is his compassion, empathy and understanding of people’s needs. These special qualities helped him to deliver effectively in his role as Northern Ireland Spokesperson.

How do you see those qualities and skills being utilised as party president?

There is tension ahead for our Party, especially if there's a hung parliament. I don't know of anyone else in the Party who's better equipped to keep the show on the road if things get sticky in that sort of situation. It is astonishing that some of his opponents can't see that. They are ignoring his achievements and experience in Northern Ireland, that equip him for the role. Some of Lembit’s colleagues choose to ignore this fairly obvious fact. I fear that they believe what they read in newspapers which is worrying and surprising. Lembit's natural ability to reach out and engage isn't a skill you can learn or buy. He's just got it and as President he'd basically have the space to connect us up to people and organisations who should be working with us but aren't. When I was the Henley By-election candidate, I saw him do exactly this in the constituency. It was an impressive to watch and made a difference to my vote.

Nearly everyone I talk to about Lembit's role in Northern Ireland is surprised, he has said so little about it, why do you think this is?

As I say, he never wanted to compromise the peace process itself and he felt if he started blowing his own trumpet instead of focusing on a literally life saving initiative, he'd be acting in bad faith to his brief. It confounds the accusations that he seeks publicity for the sake of it. I do know Lembit has felt somewhat frustrated by his colleague’s apparent refusal to recognise the work he did there, even though it's clear Lembit is held in huge regard at very high levels of the Government. I remember a couple of years ago he tried to highlight his work at Shadow Cabinet, but he felt that there was no willingness to listen. Lembit used to say the portfolio was one of the most "real" and also one of the most "invisible!" All the same, you don't have to look far to see him re-applying those same skills in other areas. The deaths of young recruits at Deepcut Army Barracks is a good example. He is tenaciously pursuing the truth on behalf of his constituents.

I wanted to focus on Northern Ireland because so many of us knew so little of Lembit's role in forging the peace process, what else would you highlight as examples of his unique qualities?

His work in helping to develop a better devolution settlement in Wales. His relationship with Peter Hain when Peter was Cabinet Minister for Wales was strong, and delivered good results. Lembit is also a Trustee of RE:generate. He has been at the forefront of planning the development of the charities work to alleviate poverty and engage people much more actively in volunteering and public life. In the last two years alone the organization has recruited over 125,000 members in Zambia. The trust is supporting people to develop social enterprises that are direct responses to the concerns people have. We have supplied water strategically to villages that are being the most enterprising in terms of tackling their own issues. 40,000 people are now connected to drinking water supply for the first time. This is the first and most important part of the local projects development strategy. The team in Zambia has purchased land to develop a hotel, conference centre and retail units. Profits will go towards developing social enterprises and action all over the country. They have been donated 3500 ha of farm land where they intend to develop a holistic farm of best practice that will link agriculture and food security with our process of capacity building that will lead to the development of a wide range of social enterprises – projects and businesses that are responses to concerns. Lembit is part of the team that that has achieved this. Lembit produces for communities and that is why he is popular.

Can silence be construed as consent?

There is something disturbingly illiberal about a liberal party where elements of the great and the good......alongside elements of the not quite so great and not quite so good........appear gagged.

This was effectively demonstrated earlier this week (as picked up by Pandora in the Indy Monday) with Charles Kennedy's surrogate endorsement of Lembit. Now, for reasons that may or may not become clear, he has felt unable to openly endorse Lembit, so in a move, perhaps calculated to be interpreted as such, his brother-in-law, the rather dashing James Gurling, has done the deed for him.

Now yesterday I was doing a bit of ringing around. Simon Hughes refuses to even hint who he will support because he is outgoing Pressie (I did try, honest!) so join me in guessing........ And I am waiting to hear back from Mssrs Laws and Foster. Today I will try and ask Paul Keetch and others.

And then there are the swathes of other Lib Dem MPs who remain in purdah. Hmmm, that shy Ms Burt, that enigmatic Mark Williams, ..... Are we to truly believe NONE of them have made their minds up?

Mark my words, there is more to this than meets the eye. The powers that be appear scared witless. Yes, a Lembit presidency may be a risky roller coaster ride - but at least it would be a ride......we would be going somewhere! And Nick Clegg rightly made much of the fact that as a party we had to be more radical and take more risks in his successful leadership campaign.

My fear above all is that in the emerging political landscape our party becomes an irrelevance. A party rather like the pristine copper kettle, cleaned and polished and kept on the back shelf for only a few to admire. Perfect in every way, but of only ornamental use. I want a kettle that is battered and dirty from frequent use, fulfilling its purpose, not to sit on the shelf and look perfect with all its committees aligned and its rules expertly compiled, but to go do what it was made to do, refresh and sustain!

I am backing Lembit, not because I don’t think Ros won’t do a brilliant job of smartening up and polishing the kettle, but because I believe he has the edge in communicating with the people we seek to represent. He also has the strategy to underpin what we want to do, engaging and motivating the public, connecting with them at grass roots level, linking with their real concerns

And Lembit will not be a one man band. I understand he is already assembling a post election team, utilising talent from across the party, including those who have backed other candidates but would be prepared to support and work with him as President.

So, to those genuinely undecided, to those hiding in the shadows, to all those who want our party to be far more outward have a choice.

Choose wisely.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"Taking Home the Bacon" - Looz Moovz!

Long suffering and long standing readers will remember my move last year to my old people's home. It resulted in months of problems with internet access (shout out to Duncan Borrowman for all his support in those dark days!), many worries, many months without water in the kitchen..........and the latest........two weeks without heat or hot water. If anything it has given me a real insight into the problems that tenants can have, so I am jumping for joy that I hope to be out of here within the month!

The great news is that I will be moving in with my daughter, her partner, her daughter and my son - we have been out looking at houses today in a village in North Herts (to be near the airport where my son has just got a job). I think we have found somewhere that will be a perfect family home and I am really thrilled. Somewhere where we can actually invite people for dinner, have room to swing a cat (not that we would of course!), be close to most of the family and hopefully be more able to support my sister. dilemma........what to do about the bacon?! Last night I had been wondering about this. My daughter's partner is Muslim. I figured I could live without pork........but bacon????? On the way home, discussing arrangements if this all works out, including fridges, Lara who had clearly been thinking about this too, said "We'll have to have a separate shelf for the bacon". That's that sorted then!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

20 Questions to a Presidential Candidate - Looz Views

Thanks to all the candidates for answering my 20 questions. For me their answers seemed to get under their skins a little more than their manifestos do - a view supported by our own Laurence Boyce, who commented "Thanks Linda. This exercise has been more useful than all the other stuff I have read. And I really like these answers. I'm voting Chandila!" Now, I have to confess that having read Chandila's answers I put him more in Laurence's camp than mine!

There is no doubt Simon Hughes is a hard act to follow. He has not only had a consistent public profile, he has been a steadying hand on the tiller in what have been difficult times for our party. At a time of a resurgent(ish!) Tory party, and a Labour party regaining a little of its confidence, we HAVE to be in your face as a party. We MUST be heard and seen - the President will have a crucial role to play in this. This is why I am supporting Lembit.

Candidates answers are here: Ros Scott, Lembit Opik, Chandila Fernando

So - my reactions? Since I got some friendly advice recently about my blogs being too long I will tackle this in bite size pieces - firstly an overall comment, then in more detail later on (if I don't get bored half way through!).

On policy - I was rightly taken to task by both Ros and Lembit for asking the policy questions as this is not the responsibility of the President but the Leader. BUT, I asked those questions for a very good reason. Whether we like it or not, our President DOES have a role in party policy. S/he sits on FPC and feeds into the policy making process - INCLUDING HAVING A VOTE! S/he regularly gets asked about party policy, whether on Newsnight, Question Time or in the media - and as demonstrated in the Trident and Make it Happen debates, gets wheeled out by the leadership when things look a bit dodgy! Now, much has been made of the President being the voice of the membership - as members we expect our voices to be heard NOT just in terms of structures and systems - but also in terms of policy - don't we? But despite this, all three gave answers that gave a clear steer on where they stood on policy issues.

On priorities - All 3 say similar things, a mix of inward and outward looking, but I would like to see more flesh on the bones. What for example does "modernising" mean? Some of us have bad memories about what that meant for "New Labour"!

On our narrative - I would be interested in Neil Stockley's take on this. The variety of the answers perhaps gives a clue to why we find it so difficult to come up with a clear story.

On political heroes - I was delighted to see that 2 of the 3 were women. For Lembit, Benazir Bhutto, for Ros, Sylvia Pankhurst, for Chandila, Nelson Mandela.

On being stranded on a desert island - For Ros it would be David Puttnam and Mark (of course!), for Chandila William Haque and Jenny Willott (interesting combination!) and for greedy Lembit, Stephen Pound, Nigel Evans, Tim Farron and Greg Mullholland - may turn into I'm a politician get me out of here!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

20 Questions to a Presidential Candidate - Chandila Fernando

And last, but by no means least - Chandila Fernando. Chandila has demonstrated, like his sister, a professional, fresh and sparky approach to campaigning. He is for sure a rising star in the Lib Dem firmament!

1. What motivated you to get involved in politics and does that still motivate you now?
Its in our family DNA and totally addictive. My headmaster at junior school said " Mrs Fernando your son is physically present but his mind is on your husband's election campaign.."Politics is a way of life and no matter where I go or what I do it will be a part of me.

2. Which political figure, living or dead, do you most admire and why?
Nelson Mandela as he is the embodiment of what a politician should be, ambitious, inspiring, humane and a 21st Century Visionary.

3. If you could introduce a new party policy, what would it be?
"Abolish inheritance tax."

4. If there was a party policy you could overturn, what would it be?Europe, its unclear and mixed.I would simply say :" we believe in Europe and the single currency is an integral part of this. The credit crunch has shown that all markets are interlinked.

5. Have you done the “political compass” exercise and if so where do you sit?
In the centre with a passion for lower taxes, smaller government and greater personal freedom for the individual.

6. What will you bring to the position of President?
A fresh face, new ideas, energy, leadership and enthusiasm with a radical agenda for change :)

7. What will be your priorities if elected?
1.Modernize the image of our party and change the way we communicate and operate
2.Generating activist feedback and responding to it
3. Push forward the idea of registered supporters and transform the rules for party membership

8. What is your view on the marketisation of public services?
Broadly a good idea but the current examples are inconclusive.

9. What is your view on our policy on Trident?
I am against it.

10. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in this country, what would it be?
Crime and Policing, transform the relationship between people and the police.

11. If elected how will you advance the cause of Libdemmery?
I live eat, breathe and dream politics, Libdemmery is the icing on the cake.

12. As a party, despite our values, we still seem to find it impossible to reflect the diversity of the country we seek to represent, how will you redress this?
I could be part of the answer but this needs more radical ideas and less token type gestures .

13. There has been a lot of debate, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, about our narrative. What should it be?!
Politics is about people and their hopes, dreams and concerns so, we as libdems should see ourselves as the voice of reason in the eyes of the voting public.

14. What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the world?Poverty.

15. With a resurgent Tory Party, how would you ensure that as a third party, our voice was heard?
I am totally different in the way I talk and will, I believe in time get noticed for it.

16. If elected, what do you most look forward to about the role?Inspiring people and communicating our message

17. As someone more on the “left” of the party, why should I vote for you?
I have in my heart the passion of an activist and the courage of a lion to take on the establishment.

18. If you were stranded on a desert island, which politician – from another party – would you be happy to be stranded with and why?William Hague, highly intelligent and funny.

19. If you were stranded on a desert island, which politician – from our party – would you be happy to be stranded with and why?!
Jenny Willott, pleasant and engaging. Would be easy to talk to her and listen to what she has to say about life..

20. If elected President what will you do to help elect a second MEP in the East of England? (Or anywhere else actually!!!)
Work hard with candidates but most of all, identify new campaigning techniques !!We must do things differently or we will get the same results or worse !!!!

So that's it. If you haven't already made up your mind I hope our candidates' answers to these questions may have helped. Even though I have made my mind up, I certainly found all their answers interesting and enlightening.

20 Questions to a Presidential Candidate - Lembit Opik

Having already posted Ros Scott's answers, here are Lembit's. I have made it clear, despite the siren calls of his detractors, that I am supporting Lembit. I think he has an extraordinary ability not only to connect with our membership but with the wider electorate. If we are to achieve Nick's stated aim of doubling our number of MPs we can't do that without both increasing the membership and engaging with the electorate..

1. What motivated you to get involved in politics and does that still motivate you now?
My family's whole life has been changed by international politics, and members of it have died as a result of it. This, coupled with my childhood in Northern Ireland means I was surrounded by political issues from a very young age. I continue to believe that politics done badly destroys lives, but politics done well can redeem civilisations. These grand ideas inform my political life; accepting that much of it is at a very local level, I nevertheless believe that our local collective efforts can make a national, and even international difference.

2. Which political figure, living or dead, do you most admire and why?
I admire principles, achievements and values rather than people. If I had to choose one person it would be my acquaintance Benazir Bhutto, whom I had the honour to know before her tragic assassination. She summarised all that's best in an honourable life and an honourable approach to politics. Her patience when being tested to the extreme, her courage, her persistence and her warmth were exceptional. I admire her and miss her.

3. If you could introduce a new party policy, what would it be?
The president is not responsible for developing party policy. As such, it would NOT be my intention to introduce or medal with party policy as Pres, because this cuts across the work of others, including the leader. In the spirit of completeness, I'd take a more generous approach to student funding if I were into policy development, but I stress this is NOT how I'd approach the role.

4. If there was a party policy you could overturn, what would it be? Again this is NOT the President's role. Personally, I've not liked our position on fox hunting because it strikes me as illiberal, but I cannot overemphasise that the President really shouldn't be meddling in policy development, and I would not do that.

5. Have you done the “political compass” exercise and if so where do you sit?
I think I remember doing it! However, I'm left wing and libertarian. This is confirmed by the fact that an independent organisation in September 2008 identified me as the most liberal MP in the Liberal Democrats. I’ve pretty consistently been identified as such fro most of my political life.

6. What will you bring to the position of President?
Experience to organise the Party; I've been on the Federal Executive which the President chairs for 17 years, as well as most other committees in the Lib Dems. Also, I've been the senior vice president fro 5 years, which is the number 2 position to the current President Simon Hughes. Nobody has more experience as me for this role. I also bring inspiration, because I seem to be able to build people up to a high level of energy by visiting and working with the local activist party nationwide. I can motivate people to turn that energy into specific action and achieve membership growth and win votes. And I’m determined - with the staying power to see things through. Organisation, inspiration, motivation, determination - these are the qualities I offer.

7. What will be your priorities if elected?
1. Ensure that the party projects its message clearly
2. Make the Party structures ready for Government
3. Support our Leader and never compete with his role
4. Achieve positive membership growth by 2010
5. Be the voice of the membership - a voice the Party HQ can't ignore

8. What is your view on the marketisation of public services?
I'm opposed to it. I don't object to using the free market to an extent, but public service provision must remain under the governance of the State.

9. What is your view on our policy on Trident?
A waste of money, and a status symbol rather than a relevant deterrent. We can use the money in other, less escalatory, ways.

10. If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing in this country, what would it be?
A zero carbon Britain - meaning zero carbon industry and transport and the creation of enough zero carbon housing - including retrofitting old housing - to accommodate everyone with no carbon footprint.

11. If elected how will you advance the cause of Libdemmery?
See 6 above. I'll be the "chief engineer" and "morale officer" to make our Party sufficiently robust to make it to and in Government. This Party will be professional and present its policy proposition in Primary Colours not pastel shades. People will know what we stand for, and our image will be a refreshing alternative to the two old parties.

12. As a party, despite our values, we still seem to find it impossible to reflect the diversity of the country we seek to represent, how will you redress this?
I already work to bring women and ethnic minorities into the political mainstream. People forget my ethnic background, but I know what racism feels like from the inside. There’s no magic solution, it just takes time and effort and mentoring and determination. I've proved I can do all this fro diversity before and can do even more as President.

13. There has been a lot of debate, in the blogosphere and elsewhere, about our narrative. What should it be?!
Our political narrative is obviously liberal, and to an extent left wing - i.e. redistributive with a protection from the state regarding the economy. That’s not the problem. We' could be more sparkly at portraying it. This is what I mean by replacing pastels with primary colours. It's presentational and attitudinal. We need to shine brightly instead of glowing quietly. That's something a strong president can help address.

14. What do you consider the most pressing issue facing the world?The environment above all else. Not everyone can see that yet, but if we wait till it's manifestly and blatantly the biggest issue, it will be too late.

15. With a resurgent Tory Party, how would you ensure that as a third party, our voice was heard?
See above. In essence, let's find the courage and if my answers sound repetitive its' simply because I think a small number of core issues hold us back. Fix our clarity, boldness and energy levels and the rest follows.

16. If elected, what do you most look forward to about the role?Turning us into an evidently professional, responsive and characterful party which people not necessarily all that interested in politics - i.e. the majority! - warm to.

17. As someone more on the “left” of the party, why should I vote for you?
Because I am too, but that's not the point. the president's political angle is much less important than the President's ability to connect with members and provide a strong voice fro that membership to the leadership. That way, the Leader knows what the party thinks and can more effectively formulate the best political agendas for our journey towards government.

18. If you were stranded on a desert island, which politician – from another party – would you be happy to be stranded with and why?
It would have to be Nigel Evans AND Stephen Pound. The three of us do a lot of non-political charity work together, and I think we'd make it through till help arrives.

19. If you were stranded on a desert island, which politician – from our party – would you be happy to be stranded with and why?!
Tim Farron AND Greg Mulholland. We have a close bond and we'd probably work well enough together to rescue ourselves!

20. If elected President what will you do to help elect a second MEP in the East of England? (Or anywhere else actually!!!)
I'd be with you campaigning, and with you building the national image of the Party. we need both to win and I can deliver both.