Thursday, March 27, 2008

Our own Presidential Race - Ros or Lembit?

Autumn conference will be abuzz with yet another Lib Dem contest. This time the race to find a new President of the party when Simon Hughes stands down. Ros Scott has been the quickest of the mark, but Lembit Opek has also made clear his intention to stand. This, I have to confess, gives me a big problem. I had always intended to support Lembit, but that was before I knew Ros was standing, or even knew a lot about her. Since then what has most impressed me about her was the inspiration she was to my daughter when she spoke at a Gender Balance day in Cambridge a couple of months ago. If she can inspire one young woman like that she can inspire many and we need inspirational leadership in our party. Of course, I also have the added dilemma, as a woman who bangs on about representation at almost every opportunity, it would be great to see a woman as President.

Then there is Lembit! He is another inspirational character and incredibly supportive of greater equality and diversity in our party. There is no doubt that as President of the party he would attract publicity, although of course it may on occasions be a bit of a roller coaster ride!

Maybe it's time to start promoting job shares?

So, I have a dilemma about who I should support, a dilemma deepened by my concern that neither particularly have a reputation for being from the radical wing of the party. Regardless of my vociferous support for Nick Clegg, it has always been tempered (as he well knows) by a fear that we drift into orange waters. If we are to build this great party we need to increase the membership and if we are to do that we need a distinctive voice and a distinctive story. Nick brings this.........until the point when we start sounding like the other two Tory parties. There are many of us who are nervous about the elevation of the notion of choice above quality and an apparent love in with the private sector and a blind faith in their ability to deliver where pubic services can't - perfectly illustrated by David Laws' approach to education.

We have a natural connection with so many unaffiliated or disaffected political activists in the country. We need a President who can reach out to these people and show them they have a home with us. Those who care about preserving our liberal traditions, who support a more liberal approach to criminal justice, who care about ending child poverty, who care about creating a future for all our children that is sustainable and peaceful, who would prefer to spend the money from Trident on these objectives. But who worry about our perceived Tory tendencies. Democracy is not just undermined by unfair voting systems, it is also undermined by the power of unelected bodies, be they quangos, the media, or the boards of private companies.

So, given my dilemma, I have been taking soundings over the last few days........and on the basis that I could attract at least .001% of the vote, am considering standing myself, not because I could win of course, (I know, Paul Walter et al.......who is she?!) but because I want to ensure the debate includes the full spectrum of views from within the party as well as maybe spice things up a wee bit? To get a commitment from the front runners to be radical, to make diversity in the party their number one issue, to be prepared to be brave and bold. And dare I say it, a serious examination of discipline (or lack of it) in the party. I got into a little debate the other day with someone who shall remain nameless. This person did not want to stand for an office because they did not want to be bothered with a fight they knew they couldn't win, my response was "It's never stopped me!" And frankly democracy at whatever level is completely meaningless if it doesn't include a choice, otherwise why would most of us ever stand anywhere?!

Anyway, I have six months to pontificate.......and listen to my detractors and supporters this space!

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