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!!!!