Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Nadine Dorries AWOL for PBR (but don't worry, she has a security guard)

The observant among you will have noticed that Nadine Dorries revealed last week that she was going to take this week off to take part in a Channel 4 reality show. No expense spared she is being shipped off to a high rise in London - apparently being issued with her clothes when she gets there. To quote Nadine "Security will be with us the whole time, even when sleeping." Wow, I know MPs are a pretty unpopular bunch, but I had no idea they were quite that unpopular!

Apparently "One of the objectives is for me to experience the problems that the residents have to face on a daily basis and for residents to challenge and get to know an MP." That is odd. I would have thought the most important MP for residents to get to know would have been their own? And I am sure if she ends up in a Lib Dem constituency she will find that the residents probably do know their MP!

"The programme is being screened at prime time in February in four one hour programmes, one night after the other." Ah.......that explains why she has taken 6 days off from her parliamentary duties. I have to say I mentioned this to one of our London MPs, Lynne Featherstone this evening. Lynne demonstrated why she is in the running for "best MP" and Nadine is not. Lynne had also been asked to take part in this programme but had flatly refused - how could she possibly take 6 days out, particularly when the house was sitting? So my question, on behalf of the constituents of Mid Beds has to be - why was this more important than doing what she is paid to do - represent them? Now, had she wanted to take time out during the seemingly endless recesses - fair enough. But now? In the week of the PBR? In the week when parliament is debating the Energy Bill, Child Poverty, Disability Benefits for the Elderly, Local Government Financial Settlement and Council Tax...........?

"If I said I wasn't scared, I would be lying." Yes, very scary mixing with poor people.

"I will be swapping my ivory tower in Westminster for a tower block in London – the kind of accommodation that houses many thousands of people across the UK. These are people who may be in a constant state of being overwhelmed with the sheer scale of problems they face on a day-to-day basis." Yes Nadine, and even in leafy Mid Beds, there are people with the same problems. The problems of the inner city are well known and well documented. Less so the very real problems of rural deprivation and what can be even more stark social and physical exclusion. Having taught and been a youth worker in the constituency, I am well aware of what that can mean for communities. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate for you to have carried out the same exercise in your constituency?

"My objective for the week is to survive. To learn as much as I can. To leave something behind, even if it's only friendship." Surviving - SURVIVING?!!!! Heavens dear, what on earth do you think you are going into? People who live in high rises in London are not an alien race. They are people just like you and me, with hopes, aspirations, fears. Some are nice and some are nasty. Some are loving and some are not so loving. Much like the rest of us. This is not "I'm a Celebrity get me out of Here" - now that would be scary and I for one would certainly not survive!

"I must not slip into the C4 trap of creating good TV. I'm only too aware that they will attempt to exhaust and challenge me in an attempt to provoke an adverse reaction which would look good on the telly." Hmmmmmm

"I've told my girls not to worry. The only violence likely to occur is if C4 try to prise my mascara wand out of my hand. Security will be necessary then! Big time." If ever someone betrayed their prejudices this was it.

Well, I do genuinely hope some good comes out of this "I'm a Celebrity get me in There" stunt. Maybe it will change Nadine, maybe, just maybe, she will see the consequences of decades of Tory indifference and Labour ineffectiveness. Maybe, just maybe, she will realise that the only hope for our country lies with the Liberal Democrats. Maybe, just maybe, she will decide to become a full-time campaigner for change. But, I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tickling the Hard Underbelly of the Tories

Last week I was speaking at the Harpenden Branch AGM. They had given me 25-30 minutes (brave souls!) to talk about the current political landscape. I outlined my personal take on where all the "main" political parties are - noting that during the expenses scandal the media started chatting about the "3" main parties!

My starting point, it has to be said, is values. If you understand someone's values you are more likely to be able to predict how they will behave in any given circumstance. I often quote my old pal Raj Lehal - who would say "we need to be tight on values, then we can be loose on everything else, but all too often we are tight on everything else and loose on values". And it seems to me this is one of the dilemmas that plagues politics at the moment. When power at all costs becomes the driving force, values take a back seat aka Blair and now Cameron. The problem is, that the grassroots activists of most parties will likely be far more wedded to their values.

Blair brilliantly took advantage of the Labour movement's shared value of collective responsibility and was able to persuade his activists to suppress their values for the "greater good" - taking power (those who couldn't stomach this - and there were many of them - upt n left).

Cameron has clearly learned the lessons of Blair. To take power he has to persuade his party stalwarts to suppress their values - for "the greater good" of taking power. The problem he has, it seems to me, is the nature of the values so many grass roots Tories share. No collective responsibility for the Tories, oh no - these are the spawn of "there is no such thing as society" approach let's not forget.

Now I have to say I have been surprised and delighted to hear what some senior Tories are saying, for example on a more liberal approach to youth justice, (articulated again today by David Burrowes at a conference I attended) but I wonder if these proposed policies will ever see the light of day. And of course there are other senior Tories who are already beginning to attack their leader on what they see as thoroughly unconservative approaches to, for example, climate change (more about this later).

A couple of years ago I attended my first Tory party conference. It was one of those moments......(what's the opposite to an epiphany?), when all your prejudices are confirmed. Despite the sheep's clothing it was clear, at every fringe I attended, that the grass roots were still largely nasty party wolves.

This year it was no different - my only claim to fame was having a question I asked at the World at One debate broadcast on the programme (I guess I just have to do the same at the Labour Party conference to get a full house - or would it be a hat trick?). They were debating cuts and were getting on my my question was about willy waiving (never imagined Radio 4 would broadcast that!) and how much was going on in relation to cuts - what - I wanted to know, would the panelists cut and why? Martha K bless her pushed the point with Louise Bagshaw who ended up confessing that she would have to cut rural bus services. I also ran into our erstwhile presidential candidate, Mr Fernandez, who is now an approved Tory candidate. He, you may remember, answered my question - if there was one thing about this country you would change, what would it be? - by saying he would abolish inheritance tax - why was he ever in our party in the first place????! But - let's not forget, for a long time, this was the only declared Tory policy there was.

So, make no mistake - when it comes to the point of actually having to put mouths where money is - the Tories will struggle. Not only the activists, or even the is likely the frontbenchers who will publicly air their differences. Dave says he is a liberal, and who am I to doubt?

When I arrived at that Tory conference two years ago Brown was riding high. We were anticipating a snap election. The Tories were up for dumping Cameron. But then Brown screwed up - in Iraq - over the election - and Cameron found himself suddenly the darling of his party. The man they really didn't like suddenly became far more attractive.

So, they have had a season of success - but will it last? The fissures are already beginning to appear and some of them are fairly deep. Look at what happened in Bedford, in Norfolk. There is no doubt there is a hard underbelly of true conservatism - the leadership have done well to more or less suppress it for so long - my contention is that all we needed to do is tickle it over the next few months - and we may provoke them to display their true colours. That is our challenge - at a local and national level. Now surely is the time for Nick Clegg to change the focus of his fire. The weeds whose roots have already died can be left to expire of their own accord - the attack has to be on the new and vigorous growth - even at PMQ's. We have the best opportunity for a generation - how we play this could be the difference between heralding an era of real change and progress, or a return to the dark days of reactionary conservatism.

Friday, November 06, 2009

(Nearly) 20 Questions to a Postie

The news yesterday that the Postal strike has been postponed was indeed good news, I do hope this can be properly resolved, though I find it extraordinary that Adam Crozier will not go to arbitration - if he thought his case was that sound I would have expected him to jump at the chance. But it is important to remember this dispute is not just about the terms and conditions of postal workers it is about the whole future of Royal Mail and our postal services.

Some of you may remember my outburst at conference a few years ago during the debate on the privatisation of Royal Mail. I hadn’t intended to speak (no really!) but someone said something stupid about the public not really caring who delivered their services and that was it. I attached myself to the end of the queue for interventions and said my piece. I hadn’t realised just what impact I had had until pal Martin rang up late that evening to say he had been looking for me in the hall when the! 0 o’clock news went to Lib Dem conference and instead saw me waving my arms around, shouting about thinking there was clear blue water between us and the two Tory parties and that this had muddied the waters and turned it a murky shade of orange.......... my view hasn’t changed.

So, as you may imagine, I am firmly behind the battle of the great Postmen and Postwomen are fighting up and down this country as we speak. Now this is partly because I have had two siblings and my mum working for the Post Office over the years, but also because I have a fundamental, pragmatic belief, that public services are best kept in the public service. My brother has agonised over whether or not he should go on strike – as a Christian he believes in “turning the other cheek” so this hasn’t been an easy decision. My views are more along the lines of “the workman (or woman) is worthy of his/her hire” – and the Old Testament is full of prophets renting their clothes and railing against the exploitative bosses.

But my brother has been frustrated that the whole story hasn’t come out. I am a big fan of Billy Hayes, but I don’t think he has really explained to the public what the threat to them is. I am delighted that the rather adorable Brendan Barber has been able to get the mini breakthrough we have seen – my one experience of being involved in negotiations with him was when he chaired a meeting to try to resolve an inter union dispute I was involved in which ended in abject failure, but then of course inter union disputes are usually far tougher to resolve than the bog standard union v management fare.

So – what does Postman Pete think?! I sat down with him on Sunday (interesting to note that he lives in a forgotten backwater of the Mid Beds constituency on the edge of Luton, where he has never hears anything from his local MP Nadine Dorries - maybe she doesn't realise she has constituents in Luton though)

How long have you been a Postman?

Nearly 29 years, mostly in Stopsley (Luton)

So it can’t be that bad?

Actually I love the job, meeting the public feeling part of the community and building relationships. When I started I was very shy (may have had something to do with having 4 older loud sisters), but the job helped me become more confident. People say that it makes them feel they are still in a community when they see me every day. Also the majority of postman and women look out for people – for example, I had to break into house once, someone was stuck in his bathroom (actually a Tory Councillor!), he was shouting for help. I told him to move away from the door and ran into it; unfortunately he hadn’t listened to me and ended up with a few bruises! Another time I was delivering down Morthouse Green in Luton. It was when Calibras had just come in, and I saw one rolling down the hill, I asked the woman standing nearby “is that your car?” It was. She was so shocked she couldn’t move so I ran, jumped in and pulled up the handbrake before it ran into a wall! But a lot of that goes on, people looking out for people. Sometimes we are the only human contact isolated people have. I am often finding keys left in the door, I once found bottle of champagne in a garden, another time a wad of money – I knocked on the door and a man told me it was the savings of an elderly woman over the road he was supposed to be paying it into her account for her, the funniest thing was that the then came running after me to give a pound reward.

So what’s changed?

Firstly the hours. Going out later, which isn’t so bad. We now do one delivery not two, this has lead to us being asked to do others work – we’re not against absorbing extra on Mondays and Tuesdays when mail is lighter, but it’s more difficult later in the week. The biggest change is opening the market to private companies, which was Mr Blair’s leaving present to us, we were the first country in Europe to do it and all the other countries were supposed to follow suit, but saw what a mess we made of it and thought better of it.

So who do you blame for the current crisis?

I don’t blame private enterprise, I like to see little companies doing well, but you have global companies like TNT making profits off the postman’s back.

Why do say that?

Because TNT can pick up 100,000 items and charge 26p an item and just drive to one of our mail centres, offload it then we have to process it, deliver it and because of the regulator we can only charge them 13p per item.

So isn’t privatisation the answer?

Yes, if you are a big fat cat because they are the only ones who will benefit.

So won’t they be able to cut costs and benefit the public?

No, what the public doesn’t realise is that the cost of a letter could go up more than 400%.

What evidence do you have for that?

You only have to look at all the other services that have been privatised like gas and water, and I would expect that if you in rural areas you may only get one delivery a week, or be charged far higher rates.

So how do you think the present situation can be resolved?

There needs to be compromise on both sides and a real desire to get that compromise.

So what should the union do?

At the moment we are trapped by an antiquated them and us attitude between management and union, both seem to forget that this is a public service. The union needs to be a bit more diplomatic and be prepared to compromise.

What should management do?

Stop bullying people and pushing the workers around. Have a bit more respect and realise that they are also supposed to be serving the public as well as the postmen and women and should not just be a puppet for the government’s secret agenda.

What about the government?

Leave us alone and think about the public in all of this. And also they should repay our pensions after allowing Royal Mail to take 13 years garden leave. I have paid into my pension for 29 years and now the money may not be there to pay me when I retire.

So what do you want to say the public?

Firstly I’d like to apologise to the public for the inconvenience. Most of us really don’t want to go on strike because we end up losing money and we care about the service. Secondly if you really want to see the service improve, lobby your MP to allow us to compete without one hand tied behind our back and to stop privatisation.

You say that, but money is going down the drain to an unprofitable business?

That’s the whole point; this is a service not a business. You don’t hear people complaining about the police service being unprofitable!

So finally, anything else you want to say?

Well personally I fear we are becoming more like an inverted Robin Hood society where the rich get richer off the poor people’s backs.

Also, this is a community job, a public service; therefore it should always be in the public sector.

And if the government do go down the road of privatisation the public should not be surprised at the price of posting a letter going up 400%

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Nadine Dorries and the Mystery of the First Home

OK, I admit it - I am a bit of an Agatha Christie addict. When I broke my leg I amused myself by watching endless episodes of Poirot. I like nothing more than a good mystery, with just enough of a hint of the solution to keep you guessing. In Nadine Dorries' case - its not so much guessing, it's more - do you really think we are that stupid? Like the culprit with the smoking gun crying "it wasn't me guv" - the hole she has dug for herself just gets deeper.

Wednesday night I missed the News at 10 piece about her. Here is this poor unfortunate MP travelling home to her SECOND home and complaining about it! She travelled all the way to her constituency - arriving home at gone 1am. Yes, she gets on the train in the morning with her constituents but they don't have to come home at the same ungodly hour as she. I do have some sympathy, I also often find myself arriving home at gone 1am which isn't that pleasant, especially this time of year on cold and dirty First Capital Connect trains, but I don't have an alternative.

Now, maybe I am missing something. There are some MPs whose second homes are near Westminster - this is because their first home is in their constituency, so that when they have a late sitting they can hit the sack relatively quickly. There are other MPs whose first homes are near Westminster. This is because their second homes are in their constituencies and so that they can not only hit the sack relatively quickly, but have their families with them when they are carrying out their parliamentary duties. Frankly, I don't care which way they do it, but whichever way, there is a logic.

Not so with Ms Dorries. To hear her bleating about getting home so late, when the only reason she gets home so late is because she has (unless she has changed the arrangement since it all came out in May) chosen to designate her first home as being absolutely nowhere near either her constituency or Westminster, beggars belief. Does she take the good people of Mid Beds for complete fools? Does she think they will all just accept that it is OK for her to take advantage of an antiquated system that effectively allows her to have a holiday home? She has apologised, but what has changed? If she is so concerned about arriving home late at night she could do what others do. Jacqui Smith got rightly lambasted for designating her sister's home as her main home - but at least she could argue she spent more nights there (which I thought was the definition). Nadine Dorries firstly tried to keep secret where her first home was, even admitting that she only spent the odd weekend and holiday there. By no stretch of the imagination is that a first home. So, to coin a phrase, you can't have your cake and eat it. If you want to get home at a Godly hour, then you need to use the second home allowance as it was surely intended. Otherwise as the saying goes - put up or shut up!.............Although, from the perspective of her prospective opponent maybe that is bad advice - carry on dear, carry on!!!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Turn on Parliament Channel Now!

Firstly - isn't it great to see young people in the chamber? Secondly isn't it refreshing to see some colour rather than the grey suited monochromistic mush? Thirdly - interesting and well argued debate (on tution fees at the mo).

OK, so there are issues about just how representative UK Youth Parliament is - however, this opening up of the chamber is long overdue. Last week I was with the Youth MPs from Speaking Up - a pilot representing young people with learning disabilities - let's see them in there, there is another one for young offenders, let's see them in there. I hope this is just the beginning.

Update - it looks like the only Lib Dem MP there is David Heath - lots of Labour and Tory, yet we are the party with the best youth policies........where are they?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Battle of the Bloggers?

I am just home from being selected as PPC for the 'safe' Tory seat of Mid Beds and the prospect of a fairly boring contest against Ms Nadine the blogging Queen :-) (Joke Nadine, joke!). As I pointed out to my fellow members, following the extraordinary events of this year, there is no longer any such thing as a safe seat - so from my on girl, game on!

Chair of the selection committee Brian Golby began with a little anecdote about me when I was Unison Branch Secretary, a story I hadn't heard before. As a county councillor he had been on an appeals panel at which I had been representing members, apparently as I left the room one of the Tories muttered, "I'll be glad to see the back of that bloody woman" - in Brian's eyes that was an accolade! I reminded him that at that time the joke was that the union was the only effective opposition to the disastrous, worst performing county council in the country.

The Tories are peddling a myth of "real change" - er............when we have effectively had 30 years of Tory government. OK, the party may have changed, but the values never did. Frankly Tory "real change" should read same old same old. Not change, just a return to the dark days of Thatcher's Britain.

The people of Mid Beds deserve better, they deserve - and now have - a real choice. As Lib Dems we offer that choice. Real - same old same old - change...........or a genuine Fresh Start for Britain.

Watch this space :-)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nick Robinson and the BBC - The Sound of Silence?

Tonight I am back in Bedford with pals celebrating the election of Dave Hodgson as Mayor of Bedford - a momentus occasion by all accounts - but one that has apparently completely passed the BBC by. I was a little miffed by this, Cameron, riding high in the polls, on the cusp of a landslide victory in May, snubbed by the electorate of not one but THREE constituencies in traditionally Tory Bedfordshire - er..........story? I couldn't understand why this did not make national news and fall under the normally forensic analysis of the BBC's excellent political team - in particular the great Nick Robinson. I perused his blog expecting at least a passing reflection on today's results - but - ZILCH. Now, granted, I may be doing the man a diservice. He may be on holiday. But many many more political editors, correspondents, etc scurry around the BBC airways at a rate of knots - did none of them honestly find this result of any consequence? However, one of my pals gave me at least a hint of why Mr Robinson may be a little shy to comment on this story. Apparently he was vice chair of the Young Conservatives when Richard Fuller (Tory PPC for Bedford) was chair. This may explain why he considered David Cameron's visit to Bedford a few weeks ago worthy of reporting on News at Ten...........but also why the far more important mayoral result this evening did not command the same attention - tho of course if the Tories had won I have no doubt it would have featured long and loud! What's all this nonsense about the BBC being a hotbed of left wing dissent?!

Cameron - hope you have the kaolin and morphine in!

This evening there is a story in Bedford's local paper telling the sorry tale that the Tories predict defeat in the Mayoral tomorrow. Earlier this evening, a source "close to the party" called to tell me the same - even before the polls closed the Tories were off to console themselves with Pizza.

Last week at Tory Party conference, any local activist I bumped into was far from buoyant about the prospect of a Tory mayor - despite the huge effort central office has clearly put in to support his campaign. I understand (though this will have to be confirmed) that there were 7 central office staff on permanent Bedford duty.

Sadly, this election is unlikely to command much national attention or analysis, but it must be remembered - Bedford Borough is more than a constituency, in fact it straddles three. It is clearly important to the Tories to win, otherwise why would we have seen such huge investment - and the rolling out of leading lights, including this week, Cameron himself?

What this has done, is expose the true underbelly of the party. Having a primary that sidelined local activists did nothing to engage them in the fight, but more importantly, it exposed the very real thread of racism that still blights the Cameron and Pickles unrealistic vision of a more "liberal" party.

Tomorrow I fully expect us to trumpet the election of Dave Hodgson as Bedford Mayor - Cameron should be afraid - very afraid. This is not just a little local difficulty, it is very real evidence of the reality of the hill Cameron has to climb. When the chips are down he has to deal with a party that has never understood the concept of collective responsibility and who, when push comes to shove are likely to show their true blue colours. Bedford is likely to be an emblem - one to spur us on to believe we can and must be the real alternative to Labour - and one to remind the Cameroonies that it is not just their Labour opponents they have to fight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Fresh Start 4 You(th)

Last week I took over from Laura Willoughby as chair of the Youth Policy Working Group. Laura has been fantastic, and I feel a bit of an impostor, coming in at the 11th hour to take the work of the group forward, it is a bit like putting the roof on the house and then being able to take credit for the whole house! So big thanks to Laura for everything she has already done, and I hope I will finish the work in a way that she will be proud of.

We had a consultation at Harrogate, but we have also been keen to involve a wider audience than just party activists. As a result we have launched a Facebook site, where anyone can have their say - A Fresh Start 4 You(th). This site will also be advertised in next week's Children and Young People Now so that we get some input from those who work with young people as well as the young people themselves.

One of the highlights of conference for me was the launch of the Coalition for Young People's manifesto (which Simon Hughes drew attention to in the Fresh Start debate). What was particularly gratifying was that so much of what they were calling for was already part of our thinking. Everyone there was delighted to hear from Lembit Opik and Simon Hughes about their personal commitment to support the campaign and I was happy to report that both David Howarth and David Heath had publicly supported the raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 14 (see powerful argument for why we should by Richard Garside here).

We have a lot of Fresh ideas from young people, those who work with them and Lib Dem activists - some will be easy and cost effective to implement, others will need a financial commitment. My argument is, and will always be, we invest to save! If that fails I will have to drop my objection to the idea of talking about "aspirations", after all, we can surely all aspire to all sorts of things now I guess?

So this is your last chance to put in your ten penneth - we need your response asap and at least before the end of October. Even if you have nothing to say, please pass on to those you think may have something to say, particularly young people.

Nick Clegg made it clear in his speech yesterday that the future of our children and young people will remain one of our most important priorities - let's ensure that we take this opportunity to ensure our youth policies have the potential to undo 30 years of Tory and Labour neglect and cynicism.

I look forward to hearing from you!

An Open Letter to Andrew Neil

Dear Mr Neil,

I usually try to watch you at every opportunity, although there are, it has to be said, times when I find myself screaming at the telly, this evening was one such time! After your conference analysis and speculation about fantasy splits, I am left questioning whether not only is something rotten at the heart of British politics, but also at the heart of political journalism. I have a good friend, who, despite writing for Tory newspapers, I know to be someone of great integrity. He is a first class, award winning investigative journalist - his only motivation is getting to the truth - even if that truth is unpalatable for him personally, even if it means he has to admit he has been wrong.

Tonight, it seemed to me, you were betraying the very values you say you seek to uphold. Your quest seemed not so much for the truth about what had been happening at conference, but rather a desperate scramble to create a whirlwind in an eggcup. And in so doing you displayed either complete ignorance of the political process, or a cynical attempt to manufacturer a non story. Or am I being unreasonable?

Now, if I were being charitable I would put it down to the fact that you, like your other BBC political pals, have been steeped too long in the corrosively undemocratic processes of Labour and the Tories. You have bought the lie that in order to be good leaders, politicians have to become little dictators. And that in order to be loyal foot soldiers, their minions have to always keep in step, keep their mouths firmly shut and obey orders on pain of death. This may be true for Labour and the Tories - but what that does is ensure that their members, having no opportunity to be involved in shaping policy, have no alternative but to mount a mutiny and depose their leader in order to change that policy. Today's Labour Party is a case in point. If they had still had a democratic, consultative, inclusive policy making process, would they be in the mess they are in now? Would they need to be plotting to get rid of Brown? Would Brown have made so many unbelievably ill judged mistakes? Would their attacks on him have had to become so personal? (And mark my words, the same fate in time will befall Cameron).

In parties that claim to be defenders of democracy whilst denying their own members that same access to democracy, the problem is they ultimately spawn despotic rule. Leaders surround themselves with advisers who shield them from the great unwashed and who will say whatever they want to hear, ultimately creating the perfect conditions for rebellion.

So, Mr. N, in our party, it is a little different - our discipline is not imposed from on high, it is a collective responsibility. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to adhere to our procedures, each and every one of us has a responsibility to pull back into line those who step out of line - even if they are leaders - that is what makes us different, that is what ensures we are democratic - TO THE CORE!!!!

Because you don't understand that, you don't understand what was going on this week. As one of those who signed the letter to the Guardian, that was what this was about - no more and no less, reminding the leadership that they, like us, have to go through due process. Of course they need wriggle room, they need to respond on the hoof in exceptional circumstances, they don't, however, need enough room to swing a cat. Our first loyalty as members of the Liberal Democrats is to the people we seek to serve, our second to our party and our third to our leaders. Loyalty and respect in the Lib Dems is a two way street.

So, I have left this conference, more confident than ever that we will enter the General Election with the best possible manifesto, a manifesto that because it has gone through due process will see our party unite behind it. We will also enter the General Election with a united parliamentary team, united because those who momentarily took their eyes off the ball have been gently reprimanded by the management (aka the party) and will, having learned their lesson, regroup around our values and the vision for that better, more equal society, we all entered politics to fight for.

A youth worker friend of mine always used to say - we need to be tight on values then we can be loose on everything else, but all too often we are tight on everything else and loose on values. What you have failed to recognise this week is that we are tight on our values, any looseness has been around the "everything else". For that reason, this wasn't a chink in the armour, it was just a rattling of a few loose chains!

So Mr Neil, we love you dearly, we enjoy your banter and we don't even mind being the butt of your jokes, what we object to is your coming across a puddle and telling us it's a lake, or perhaps as its the Lib Dems we are talking about, coming across a pothole and telling us there has been an earthquake................

Honesty - its what the electorate have been crying out for amongst the political classes - surely they are entitled to it amongst the political hacks as well? Or is that just too much to ask for?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Stark Reminder of Tory Britain

I am just back from Bournemouth with more than enough to say about the week - boiling over with opinions on renationalising the railways, tuition fees, mansion tax, "splits" in the party et al. But I have just had a visit from my niece - who had found a poem, written by my Dad in 1992. As some of you know, I lost my Dad in January, so we are all still missing him terribly, "Elegy on Tory Britain 1992" not only left me tearful remembering him and his deep compassion, but also angry, being reminded of just how bad things were and just how much we have forgotten. Herewith an edited version - putting aside how well it does or doesn't scan - I hope it will have the same impact on you - a timely reminder of just how we must all redouble our efforts to prevent another disasterous Tory Government.

Elegy on Tory Britain – 1992

What have you done to our country
You morons with favours of blue?
How can we believe what you tell us
When it all proves to be untrue?

You came in off the backs of the jobless
Labour’s not working you said
Now you’ve trebled the number of idle
And doubled the price of bread

We’ll cut all your taxes
And let loose a spending spree
(but you omitted to tell us
That you’d double VAT)

You’ve stripped all the country’s assets
To fatten your obese friends
Now we’ll all pay excessive tariffs
To swell their dividends

Yes “Privatisation’s the answer!”
To make our country wealthy
Put thousands more in the dole queue
And make party funds far more healthy!

While unemployment grows and grows
We’ll soon stop that from mounting
We won’t create more jobs – not us
We’ll just change the way of counting

What have you done for industry
With your pompous arrogance?
You’ve created industrial wastelands
By your crass incompetence

And what about our resources
The oil, the coal and the gas?
You’ve squandered all the revenues
And closed the pits alas

What about Black Wednesday?
We have Lamont to thank
For gambling our hard earned money
Then blaming the Bundesbank

What have you done for the homeless
The debtors and re-possessed?
Destroyed their self reliance
And their dreams of happiness

We’ll bring law and order you told us
Then doubled the figures for crime
The shame in these statistics
Is that you're not all doing time!

What about education?
We’ll soon put that to right
After 13 years of trying
Kids still can’t read or write

We’ve increased the standard of living
You arrogantly bleat
For the jobless the homeless the bankrupt
And those sleeping in the street

The family is important
You said with swelling pride
Except for the cabinet ministers
Who found a bit on the side

And what of our country’s NHS?
It’s safe in our hands you claimed
As long as you’re fit as a fiddle
Not sick or ill or maimed

We’ll close the wards, reduce the beds
And cut the waiting list
We just won’t put you on it
You never will be missed……..

You let loose mammon’s vandals
To save the money mad
With hideous blocks of concrete
To destroy the towns we had

What have you done to the countryside
In this green and pleasant land?
The ancient woods and meadows
With your philistinic band

You let loose the monstrous juggernaut
Nuclear waste and chemical sprays
Poisoned the land and air we breath
And defiled our pastoral ways

Profits before people
Has been your clarion call
To hell with the proletariat
The devil take them all

But time will bring your comeuppance
As you plot and plan and wheedle
You’ll all be too gross and overfed
To get through the eye of a needle

Yes your bones will rot in Hades,
For what you have done to our nation
No doubt the sins of the profligate
Will lead to eternal damnation

Denis Jack - 1992

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Esther Rantzen's first major political speech - exclusive

Today, despite suffering my latest babysitting injury (who babysits the babysitters I ask?) I hobbled on my crutches down to Love Luton Hate Racism in St Georges' Square. Blessed with glorious weather, the point of the refurbishment of the square (courtesy of the former Lib Dem administration it has to be said) was clear. A fantastic community space in the middle of town useful in order to cock a snoop at the racists who have tried to hijack our town for their own nefarious ends.

A great turn out, a fabulous atmosphere and a succession of excellent music. I was honoured to have asked to have contributed my 2 pennyworth - and included my granddaughter Sumaiyah (alongside crutches, or crunchies as she calls them) to demonstrate what "British" looked like now. We had been asked not to use the opportunity to slag off the BNP (very hard!) others found it harder than me, though I did my best to avoid the temptation.

About an hour after my spot, the moment we had all been waiting for, the celebrity we had all been promised, the woman who would not only take Luton by storm, but more importantly, the Palace of Varieties itself..............Esther Rantzen. We spotted her early, resplendent in red and white spots - heading diplomatically for the Love Luton Hate Racism stall - this woman is a consumate professional! Deftly she changed into a bright red Love Luton Hate Racism T Shirt, outclassed only by the large floppy, I'm a celebrityesque, red hat - wow - she knows how to work a crowd. With pomp and not a little ceremony she was introduced as an I'm a celebrity star - my pal quipped "I'm not a celebrity - how do I get out?" The atmosphere was electric - her first official political engagement - would she use the opportunity to declare her abhorrence of fascism? Would she join us in celebrating the vibrant cultural diversity that is Luton? Would she tell us what she would do for us hapless constituents were she to be elected as our MP - would we see her more than we are seeing the invisible Ms Moran at the moment? Would she tease us by outlining just a few of her political policies? And if forced, would she let us know who she would form an alliance with in a hung parliament?

Errrrrrr.................NO. None of the above. What we got was a 30 second rendition, telling us she loved Luton, she loved the music, we all loved the music, we all loved Luton (I may be doing her an injustice, she may have said she loved Luton again)........not even a whisper about hating racism. My sister in law perceptively observed that it sounded like a drunken rendition of a wedding speech. So that was it. Interestingly enough, I had attended a pre meet last week where there was some debate as to whether or not she should be invited. The consensus was that as a Jewish woman she may have something to say about the rise of fascism in this country.........yeah right :-) However, in her defence I do have to say she wasn't being paid - and - she truly demonstrated the difference between celebrities and politicians - one is all smoke and mirrors and superficial packaging - the other is...........OK point taken! And she did look fantastic, a real encouragement to those of us of a certain age that we should have a good few good years in us yet a while...........

So massive congratulations to all who made this such a fantastic event, very special and I trust the first of many similar. That Luton will be renowned for its diversity, rather than as the racist would prefer, its division, is something I trust this great event will contribute to. And Esther, if you really want to make your mark in the political space - this is somewhere you could truly use your celebrity to positive effect. Join us in promoting unity and defeating racism. Join us in making Luton a beacon of hope and unity in an increasingly polarised society. Join us in challenging the fascists and defeating the despair that gives them oxygen. This is a cross party objective and a cause to which you will be welcomed with open arms!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bedford's Mayor Branston dies

News reaches me for the second time that Bedford's first directly elected mayor, Frank Branston has died. I say the second time, since I first heard he had died 11 days ago. The news had ironically also made the newspaper he founded, the Beds on Sunday, but was swiftly taken down - something, had he known about it I am sure Frank would have found very amusing! But he didn't recover from a heart operation and now his death will force a byelection in Bedford, probably on 1st October. Last week it was a real shock, when someone is such a larger than life character it is hard to imagine the world without them.

Frank hated the Lib Dems almost obsessionally, and yet following our becoming the largest group in May, he was obliged to include Lib Dems in his cabinet. But for some reason, I always had a good relationship with him. When he was first elected mayor he asked me to join his cabinet, even promising to create a special youth portfolio for me. For someone who was passionate about making a difference to the lives of young people in Bedford, this was hugely tempting, but of course I would have had to resign as a Lib Dem. Frank was shocked when I said that I would have then to resign and recontest my seat - but I can hardly shout the odds about others not doing so and not doing so myself.

Frank was a non practising Jew, but took an interest in Israel Palestine and attended meetings we arranged through Elijah Trust with Elias Chacour and others. He shared our concern about the situation and privately donated to one of our partner groups as well as supporting other similar charities. He also wrote an unpublished novel, "Millenium Man" about an apocalyptic plot to precipitate Armageddon, in the 80s which he lent me - It was excellent and still incredibly topical - having had other novels published I couldn't understand why he hadn't published this one too.

I always enjoyed the banter with Frank. A couple of years ago I discovered that he had been responsible for a piece about me in Beds on Sunday describing me as "cuddly Councillor Jack". I vowed to get revenge and was able to do so twice. Firstly during a heated budget debate when things had turned quite nasty I started by describing him as a round brown bear of a mayor - certainly turned the temperature down; later, in the run up to the last mayoral elections in 2007, I referred to him as now being a polar bear mayor, an endangered species, likely to be extinct after the next election - a comment which was also picked up by BOS resulted in this amusing pic.

There is no doubt that Frank was an imposing character, often difficult and sometimes downright rude, but underneath all that was a man who I have seen show genuine compassion, who could be very funny, who was an impressive writer and was also very much a family man. My heart goes out to his wife Marlies and his daughters.

Tomorrow we must begin the campaign for a Lib Dem Mayor in Bedford, today is time to remember a man few of us will ever be able to forget!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Party is not the Plaything of the leader - Clegg

Nick Clegg was on particularly good form in Luton last night. He did what he does best, connected with the audience, demonstrated his great listening skills and came across as the great leader he is. The fact is that when people get a chance to meet him "up close and personal" he does the business. Most of the time he reminded me of why I supported him to be leader and why I have confidence in the fact that on so many issues we are completely on the same page. I resisted the huge temptation to ask a question publicly about the previous day's comments (this was a meeting for him to meet the public not the activists) and after all I get plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

However, I was delighted to hear him say, in response to a question about the cliquishness of political parties, that what was crucial was the internal democracy within the party and that "the party is not the plaything of the leader". As you might expect I thanked him for this after the meeting had finished! This lead to a 1 minute.........or possibly a 2 minute argument, curtailed by his aides who were keen to get him off to the station, ending with him telling everyone that it was OK as we often argued! But it did result in him agreeing that it was wrong that activists had not been forewarned of what he was going to say (I trust something will now be done to rectify this) but also asserting that if I went home and read every word of the pre manifesto, I could not disagree with what he had said. Well, as he was whisked away I couldn't say what I wanted on that score. Firstly, I did not agree with every word, but it was ever thus, something I have to accept as a consequence of the democratic process I support. Secondly, we had had the debate on FPC and agreed that we were not going to talk about aspirations. Thirdly, he did not say anything about equality and fairness, something many of us believe should be our usp as we head towards the next election and I write this whilst listening to Jim Naughty in Denmark talking about wellbeing and how a lot of this is down to being a far more equal society and one that really invests in its public services. Surely the electorate deserve that choice at the next election rather than yet another pale blue imitation of the Tories when it comes to public services and tax policy?

Tim commented yesterday that he thought Nick Clegg had more legitimacy to say what he wanted as he was elected by the whole party and FPC was not. However, FPC members are elected by conference reps who are elected by everyone, also regardless of Nick's views, picking a fight with FPC and potentially conference, is not wise - as Matthew commented yesterday "It would be a mark of Nick's maturity if he could rise above this, and use the opportunity to make clear we are a democratic party whose leader welcomes the support and advice given by those who voluntarily give their time and money to it. Presenting the party in this way and so re-awakening the idea of participatory politics rather than leaders-in-Westminster politics will help turn back the anti-politics mood which the MPs' expenses issue stoked up and which could get so dangerous if it carries on building up."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's the point of FPC? Ask Nick Clegg!

On FPC we have spent a good deal of time debating the pre manifesto. A couple of weeks ago we had a marathon 4 and 3/4 hour jobby. We are no spaniels eagerly rolling over for our tummies to be tickled. Most of us have been elected by our peers on a clear mandate, one we abandon at our peril. Of course, we all want to be helpful to our elders and betters, but, none of us ever forget - this great party of ours still retains a legitimacy that the other two Tory parties have abandoned - namely democratic decision making. But, I wonder, for how much longer? How long until we have moves to sideline FPC and more importantly conference? How long before time for debate is reduced even further to make room for fripperies that ensure we don't ever again debate anything as controversial as fairground goldfish and abolishing the monarchy? And all in the name of giving our parliamentarians "wriggle room" - space to say what they want to when they want to without let or hindrance from them tiresome activists!

I raise this issue as I was slightly taken aback this morning to here Nick Clegg talking about "aspirations" and reducing the shopping list of policies as he launched our pre manifesto. Most alarming was hearing him apparently threatening to abandon two of our flagship policies, abolishing tuition fees and free care for the elderly. Was this what FPC agreed? NO. Is it likely that this will be agreed by our SOVEREIGN DECISION MAKING BODY - FEDERAL CONFERENCE? NO NO NO!!!! So why did he do it? I hope to get the chance to ask him tomorrow when he comes to Luton - watch this space :-O

Saturday, June 27, 2009

PPCs, Bloggers and the Lib Dem constitution :-)

Today is set aside for me to write my application for the job of my dreams (tho success would mean my sharp exit from politics), to sort out my paper work, try and find a mortgage to avoid yet another threatened eviction, write a motion on detention of children and resubmit my petition for divorce (in one week's time it will be incontestable). But, as ever, I have to confess to having been distracted by my fellow bloggers!

Charlotte Gore started the debate, do candidacy and blogging mix? Swiftly followed by Stephen Glenn and Darrell Goodliffe, both of whom I agree with. Charlotte, we may be opposite ends of the Lib Dem political spectrum, but my response would be go girl! Whatever comments you have made you have made seriously, they are your views, they demonstrate your political commitment, if you have made them I have no doubt you can robustly defend them - why then worry about having to do that if you are a PPC? And, I have to wonder, is this one of our bugbears as women, would our male counterparts have similar worries? Seriously, it worries me that as Lib Dems, with a constitution that among other things asserts that "no one should be enslaved by conformity" it ill behoves us to condemn those who don't conform to every jot and tittle!

In the current political climate people are looking for politicians with real integrity, who are motivated by a belief that society could be different, who will not conform simply to advance their careers and who have thought through where they stand and why. When Nick Clegg was elected his mantra was "risky and radical". Oh that we would truly embrace that!

A few years ago I attended a media course for PPCs - which I have mentioned before, being as I was the only woman. During the course our tutor cautioned us about the dangers of blogs. All eyes turned towards response..........what makes you think I'm not careful?! OK, I sometimes blast off about this or that that has wound me up - but, to quote my favourite book "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks"....! :-) I cannot and will not water down my views so as not to frighten the horses. I will only alter my views if someone presents me with a logical argument, or presents me with new evidence to demonstrate that I am wrong. And, at the risk of falling into "I told you so" smugness, I have been proved right on for example raising the tax threshold rather than the 4p reduction, on Trident, on my lonely stand on troops out of Iraq (thanks to the 6 people who backed me in that debate!). I also think my support for Nick Clegg has been well and truly vindicated over the past few weeks. And in the future I expect to be proved right on my stand on privatisation of Royal Mail, Afghanistan..........amongst other things!

So to all you fellow bloggers out there who may think being a candidate or MP and blogging don't mix - take your lead from those such as Lynne Featherstone who have made an art of it. I certainly don't recall her ever pulling her punches on issues she felt strongly about.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nick hero!

Well. For those of us who campaigned hard against Trident, today's news is just the best! The frustration so many of us had about the debate, the resultant motion and the fudge we ended up with, has now been replaced with pride and relief. Throughout his leadership bit Nick often made reference to our need as a party to be "risky and radical" something that on FPC I take every opportunity to remind him, here is a demonstration, if one were needed, of his preparedness to do that.

However, I do trust we will have a motion to conference, however happy I am with Nick's decision, the fact remains that our official party policy is made by conference and I can hardly bleat about other policy being made on the hoof and not expect that Nick ensures he has the backing of the party. It is one of our USPs that our membership still has the final say on party policy - long may it remain!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Lib Dems...............we're not racist but.........

............have you ever heard us say that as a party? NO. For one good reason. The only parties who preface what they have to say with "We're not racist but............." are the racists! They know that what they are peddling is racism dressed up in an excuse for democracy, they know that when anyone hears what they have to say they are likely to think it is they try that simple device. If you are not racist, why on earth would you need to tell anyone? Its like me saying "I'm not tall but............." If its true its stating the flippin obvious! We don't need to say we're not racist because we don't say anything that any sane person could mistake for racism.

In this election two parties have been claiming they are not racist. UKIP (whose rhetoric in one of the hustings I attended differed little from the BNP) and the BNP. Ah is not racist to warn people about being swamped by foreigners, especially if they are Turkish. Ah is not racist to refuse to allow non whites to join your party. It is not racist to talk about forbidding "mixed" marriages. It is not racist to blame non whites for all our ills. what exactly would they regard as racist I wonder?

What happened last night was deeply shocking, but we all have to take some responsibility for it. Today I heard that when someone was asked why they had voted BNP the response was that it was because they listened. Listening means engaging, engaging means more than bombarding folk with paper. Let's listen carefully to what the electorate said last night, let's fight everything the racists stand for, but let's more importantly, start really listening to what those who are most marginalised are saying to us.

We maybe have the luxury to bang our drum about civil liberties, human rights, equality, the environment and all the other things we rightly consider hugely important, but if we do so without acknowledging that some of our fellow citizens are more concerned about whether they will have a roof over their head, a job, or food on the table tomorrow........we will totally miss the boat and betray one of our declared aims..........that no one should be enslaved by poverty. At the moment the BNP and UKIP are saying what people want to hear, they are affecting to feel their pain, they are offering, albeit, dishonest and simplistic explanations and solutions, they are stealing a march and we ignore that at our peril.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hazel're havin a laugh!

Hazel Blears beaming - victorious? Wearing a "brooch" that says "rocking the boat" with a cat and dog in it. Allegedly when you push the boat it starts rocking and the dog starts laughing. Is there no end to this woman's ingenuity???????

I am sorry. As a similarly vertically challenged, erstwhile auburnhaired, middle aged woman, I do have something in common with the woman - but I sincerely hope that is where it ends. She comes across as a self indulgent, self congratulatory, self obsessed excuse for a politician. She has the nerve to chat about connecting with the electorate - tho how that is possible from an ivory tower beats me. If she honestly thought paying back her capital gain was going to wash with anyone she merely demonstrates her palpable LACK of connection with her electorate - and I have no doubt they will show her just how disconnected she is at the next election.

Sorry Haze...........but the Cheshire grin is as ethereal as it ever was. You are toast girl and trying to take down your leader with you, however discredited he may be, only makes you look more pathetic.

As I listen to the palpable anger on the doorstep about totally dishonourable members - it is you who sits near the top of the list of those I blame. Sorry Ms B - you have not only lost connection with those you affect to represent, you have also sullied the good name of your own activists who put you there, but more disturbingly, the thousands of activists from all parties who have had to endure 3 weeks of insult and disdain, through no fault of their own.

A few months ago I heard the story of a 17 year old young woman, having left care and living on her own in a flat on £40 a week, £20 in food vouchers. She had begged to have just £10 in food vouchers and £30 in cash since she would "rather be hungry than cold". THAT is why I do what I do, THAT is why I am disgusted that this Labour government has presided over a rise in child poverty, THAT is why I see all we have had is another 12 years of Tory government.

Did George Orwell have any conception of how prophetic he was? Oh yes - the pigs are having a high old time - while the Boxers of our society are left to be driven to the knackers yard.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Cleggites Vindication

I can't begin to imagine the pressure on a party leader over the last three weeks. Rather like being the hapless 3 coconuts on a coconut shy - the challenge is to be the last man (and of course they are all men!) standing! So, what kind of coconuts do we have? We have the old, beleaguered specimen - slightly calcified, attempting to appear heavyweight to avoid attack - Mr Brown. Then we have the fresher looking specimen - untouched, perky, but lightweight - the fact that the inner coconut "water" has dried up or has never even been there, invisible to the human eye - ah yes - Mr Cameron - clearly incredibly easy to unbalance, if anyone is willing to take a shot. Then we have the third "coconut" also under fire - but more resilient. Smaller yes, but heavier. Full of the "water" of values and convictions that the others either have lost or never had in the first place - Mr Clegg.

OK - I am drifting off into sycophancy again (!) but I am SO impressed with Nick. This crisis is a huge test for anyone, but he has totally kept his nerve, continued to challenge and remind everyone that it is our party that has consistently pressed for the reform now so desperately required.

When we elected our leader 18 months ago our considerations were around policy and who could best lead us into the next general election. None of us had any notion of the political maelstrom our chosen leader would be required to navigate - I for one feel totally vindicated that we chose the right man.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

European's the economy stupid!

I was delighted to see how high our European website is coming in Google search when you type in European Elections - and a bit of reassurance that there are still some people out their who recognise that this election is about more than dirty moats, homeless ducks and "growing" families! A friend suggested to me last night that when people on the doorstep were complaining about expenses I should say - oh no, I certainly don't begrudge MPs their bath plugs, after all they are the only people who can afford the hot water to go in the bath now!

This is such an important election, while the nation is approaching hysteria about what is going on, at the same time we are in danger of prioritising the "haves" over the increasingly high number of "have nots".

The credit crunch has become yesterday's news and yet as we speak many of my fellow Lutonians are worried sick about Vauxhall closing completely. When I was a child nearly everyone had a relative who worked there. My dad did until I was about 8, my uncle a fiery shop steward - nicknamed "Red Ken" in the era of "Red Robbo" did until he died. And across our country ordinary people, who don't have the luxury of "allowances" to build extensions or buy their food, are paying the price for 30 years of Tory government (sorry, but I don't make a distinction between pre and post '97). So the need to work together in Europe to develop better banking regulation, greater consumer and worker protection and to support the development of skills and employment has never been more urgent. How the Tories can see that their isolationist position will be in the best interests of the people of this country beats me.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Celebrity" challenge to Nadine Dorries

Yet another "celebrity" has jumped on the "let's kick out the MPs" bandwaggon. David Van Day, late of I'm a Celebrity get me out of here (which may be what he would be saying if elected!) is apparently to challenge Mid Beds MP Nadine Dorries - I would put a link to her website but it has been shut down by the Telegraph. Interestingly Mr Van Day has been a Tory candidate before.

So it looks like the good people of Bedfordshire are to have the option of sending both Esther Rantzen and David Van Day to Westminster to represent us. There is a danger of the Palace of Westminster truly turning into the Palace of Varieties - perhaps they will end up hosting the Royal Variety Performance - no need to go anywhere else!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rennard Quits

Like many of you I was taken unawares by the following email that just popped into my inbox - more comment later -

Dear Linda,

First, I'd like to thank all members for everything that you are doing to help our candidates in the European and local elections (if you have local elections in your area). I am sure that they appreciate your support at a difficult time in politics. If you are standing yourself, then obviously I wish you the best of luck!
My reason for writing is that I have decided to make the current election campaigns my last as Chief Executive. I discussed this with Nick some time ago and I have given notice to the Party President that I will stand down as Chief Executive at the end of the Summer.
I want to be able to work more flexibly in future whilst of course continuing to help our party advance. I believe that I will be better able to do so without the administrative burdens of being Chief Executive and running the party's day to day organisation.
For family and health reasons, I have needed to change the way in which I work. My wife Ann has supported me enormously in all my work. But since she retired a few years ago after more than 35 years teaching, we wanted to have something of a more normal life outside the Westminster bubble.
This has become more important to me as I have struggled to maintain good diabetic control with the rigours of a very demanding lifestyle. This has proved to be increasingly difficult whilst carrying out the role of Chief Executive at HQ and around the country.
I decided that this Summer would be the best time for me and for the party to make a change. I am letting the party know this now, so that it can take the necessary steps to appoint a new Chief Executive in the Autumn.
My major work as Chief Executive in recent years has been to help create new structures for the party organisation and help to recruit an extremely strong professional team to work for it. The role of Chief Executive has therefore changed significantly since I undertook this role six years ago.
By the Summer, we will have had crucial local and European elections and I believe that we will do well in them. I am also confident that Nick Clegg will prove to be the most successful Leader that we have ever had. I am immensely proud of the roles that I have played so far in securing the steady advance of the Liberal Democrat cause. Our values and beliefs have never been more important than they are today. I will, of course, continue to support the General Election campaign, but not as chair.
Finally, I would just like to thank all members personally for all the support that I have had whilst working for the party and I look forward to continuing to work with you in future.
With all best wishes,
Yours sincerely

(Chris Rennard)

PS I thought about letting you know this after the current round of elections, but having taken the decision and informed the Leader and President, I wanted you to hear directly from me and to fully understand why I have been trying to make lifestyle changes and will make an even more significant one later this year.
Nick Clegg has issued the following statement:
Commenting on the decision by Chris Rennard to stand down as Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg said:
"It is impossible to exaggerate Chris' immense contribution to the Liberal Democrats over the years. Without Chris' unique skills as one of the country's most astute and effective political campaigners, I doubt that the party would now have the largest number of MPs in decades.
"More recently, his work as Chief Executive of the party has been invaluable in steering the party through some turbulent times and significantly professionalising the organisational aspects of the party.
"I am especially grateful to him for the invaluable support he gave to me when I first became party Leader. At all times, he has been utterly loyal, hard working and dedicated to the wider good of the Party.
"He will be sorely missed as Chief Executive by the many people in the party for whom he has been a huge inspiration for years.
"Whilst I understand Chris' reasons for moving on as Chief Executive, I am equally looking forward to drawing on his immense wisdom and insight into politics in the years ahead."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nick Clegg - Why break the habit of.......a few lifetimes?

Well done to Nick Clegg for putting his head above the parapet on the issue of the speaker. Ok it may be a few hundred years since we lost one, but that is no excuse for allowing him to limp on. It is abundantly clear the man has lost complete contact with the real world, despite his much lauded origins. Somewhere along the way he drew up the drawbridge in his own little moated ivory tower! He is clearly part of the problem, not part of the solution - the reason probably why he doesn't see it himself and recognise that it is time for change.

Nick has called for a reformer to take the job. I think this is going to be the toughest issue for the Commons - who is a reformer who has the integrity, authority and commitment to take on the role? I would have opted for Ming, but I fear he would no longer command the authority he once did. Despite the fact that the worst possible solution would be to have another Labour speaker, I guess that is the most likely outcome. I am at a loss to think of any Tory MP who meets Nick's criteria although of course I would identify a number of our MPs (further revelations notwithstanding) who would fit the bill.

Whatever the outcome tomorrow - Michael Martin has been fatally wounded, the question is not if, but how soon - he goes. I trust he will not have spent this weekend buying ridiculously expensive bookcases for his Hansards given his pending retirement!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sweeping the Sty Clean

Having been on the road so much lately I fear my mental blogs have never seen the light of day, but, as you can imagine, they have been myriad :-)

Like so many of you I have had to endure the daily tirade of justifiable criticism on the doorsteps of the East of England. My normal response to "you're all the same" doesn't really cut the mustard........the electorate are tending towards the biblical view of sin - size doesn't matter! Hobnobs, sanitised moats, flipping, pruning 500 trees - all send the same message - our politicians are taking the proverbial.

I am delighted that the FE is meeting on Monday and according to our President, Ros Scott - they will be considering this issue. I have, like many, written to her asking for an urgent inquiry into whether any of our parliamentarians have brought the party into disrepute. Frankly, regardless of the fact that as yet it appears none of them have engaged in flipping, claiming second home allowance for homes 100 miles from their constituency or when they don't appear to have a first home; the fact is some are tainted and have in my view brought our party into disrepute. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to meet those tirades on the doorstep with - well, you know none of our MPs would do such a thing......hmmmm. Offences may be minor but surely buying something for your second home - however justifiable and having it delivered to your first home, needs rather a lot of explanation. An internal party inquiry would allow that to happen.

Watching Question Time this evening I had such a horrible sense of politicians having been metaphorically cut off at the knees. Their stature, all of them (even the wholly innocent) is diminished. Their words sound like tuneless clanging cymbals - tinny, discordant, unbearable to listen to.

We have an opportunity on Monday to show some real moral leadership. It really isn't good enough to hide behind the fig leaf of our transgressions are not as bad as your transgressions. Cameron acted swiftly but frankly didn't deal with the underlying dishonesty and opportunism of his colleagues, just asking them to "pay it back". And surely any profit someone has made on a second home, not just the tax, should be repaid? Aah, I am sure that many accused of benefit fraud because they forgot to inform the authorities of a change in circumstances would be more than happy with such an arrangement.

What makes the sty stink more is the climate in which all this is happening. We already have one in three of our children growing up in poverty, this is bound to rise. Many many families are having to deal with the stress of redundancy, repossession and unbearable debt. Those they should have been able to rely on to represent their interests it appears have been more interested in representing their own.

We have to be calling for a general election now, regardless of how many MPs we may lose or gain. Even after we have swept this sty clean - it will be a long long time before our fellow citizens regain their trust in the political system - and that is a tragedy for all of us, but most disturbingly of all, for democracy itself.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Margaret Moran - A curse on all your houses!

On Monday my first task will be to telephone my MP's office to make an appointment to see her next time she deigns to visit her constituency. Now, even if she is in the town I reckon my chances of an appointment are pretty slim. I have a friend who has been trying for ages to get an appointment to discuss asylum seekers and finds she is never available.

But I will try, after all.......I do have something in common with Ms Moran - we are both "women of a certain age" born in the same year, but clearly not with the same mindset. Frankly - if she "needs a family life" maybe she should do what most ordinary people do - either move her employment or ask her partner to do so. Her shrill mealymouthed explanation of why she can flip all over the place is frankly sickening. She was elected to represent the people of Luton South - I really cannot understand how she can possibly do that whilst living 100 miles away.......or maybe I am missing something???????

Those of us who aspire to political office have to accept it comes at a price. It doesn't mean you can't have a family life, nor should it, but it means you have to be prepared for adjustments that mean you just can't have your cake and eat it. Politicians - I thought - were supposed to serve the people - being their representative, advocate, a voice for the voiceless, committed to making life better for the many not the few.

So - I want to go and have a chat with Ms Moran, I would like an honest explanation of her behaviour - woman to woman. What sticks in my gullet is the fact that she wouldn't have been there if other women hadn't been prepared to be imprisoned and died for the privilege. She is the embodiment of everything that makes me sick. She has not only sullied her own name, but mine too. While I have devoted most of my adult life to trying to make life better for my fellow citizens, she has totally undermined my efforts by her cynical exploitation of her position. When I knock on doors at the moment and meet those who are too disillusioned to vote or worse, those planning to vote BNP, it is her and those of her ilk I blame. Now, this is not to deny that she has done a lot of work campaigning on domestic violence, I appreciate that, but please Margaret - does the word integrity mean nothing to you? Frankly, your pathetic explanation for your totally inexcusable behaviour is astounding. If you want to salvage any vestige of that elusive quality integrity you should go - and go now.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Paddy Ashdown - Please NO!!!!!!!

I am up uncharacteristically early since I woke to the news of Paddy Ashdown's clandestine chats with potential "Blairite defectors" from Labour. Apparently there is concern that some local parties are becoming "too left wing". Deja vu - except that the Labour Party of the early eighties - when Derek Hatton roamed the land - is quite a different animal from the Labour Party of today. I left the Labour Party then to join the SDP because I was uncomfortable about the direction the party was taking - yes - too left wing even for me! I was probably one of Richard Hussey's "stranded liberals" who actually has ended up feeling far more at home in the Liberal Democrats, despite some of my disagreements at the margins. Richard has given a thoughtful, thought provoking analysis of the prospect of us sweeping up a load of Labour discontents. However..............

I have to confess I am not really an "evangelist" for the party - I actually don't believe everyone should join. Whenever I talk to people about joining or defecting I will always make the point that they need to consider first whether or not they share our values. For too long we have been happy to welcome anyone regardless of their values - and it often ends in tears. What really worries me is that it is the Blairites that want to join our party. The Blairites - the architects of the Tory Party reincarnate, the warmongering, civil liberty denying, anti public service characters for whom frankly, I have little time.

Funnily enough yesterday I met with a Labour Party member to discuss tackling the BNP in the European elections, but also debated the possibility of a realignment of the left. In the evening I chatted to a friend from STWC about the vacuum on the left of British politics and his view that as Lib Dems we were in danger of missing an open goal.

If those who are considering defecting from the Labour Party are doing so because, as the Telegraph article suggests, the 50p rate is a drift to the left - I would remind them that this was a Lib Dem policy - and frankly I wouldn't mind betting will be again. At a time when cynicism about politics and politicians has never been so pronounced, when the plaintiff cry on the doorstep is invariably "you're all the same" - the time has surely come for us to put clear blue water between us and the other two Tory parties. If the Blairites are going to defect anywhere I would suggest that their natural habitat would be with the Cameronites.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nick Clegg - Our hero!!!

For the last 15 months or so my frustration has been that the nation has really not grasped the essence of Nick Clegg. He has been characterised as "Cameron Lite" - a bit like mistaking Handel for the Spice Girls. One speaks from a depth of conviction, a preparedness to stand by those convictions regardless of the consequences .........the other from the shallowness of expediency, popularism and the need to secure as many votes as possible, for the least amount of effort in the shortest amount of time. Clegg is prepared to nail his colours to the mast, however unpopular his position - Cameron on the other hand plays a cunning hand of poker - never revealing his hand, but somehow executing the exquisite bluff that leaves the unsuspecting believing he has actually said something!

So today I was delighted - at last - not before time - the nation is beginning to see what our man is made of, what many of us have always known - that we have a leader who will fight for what he believes in - popular or not. He has undeservedly had his light somewhat hidden under the remarkable "bushel" that is Vince Cable (!) but at no time has he shown the slightest irritation or pique. He has clearly demonstrated his underlying motivation - not for his own grandisement - rather of his undeniable commitment to the achievement of a truly liberal and just society. The motivation and commitment that leads Nick to champion the just cause of the Gurkhas will lead him to demonstrate what separates him from the shallowness of Cameron and the arrogant discordant disconnect of Brown (if Clegg is Handel and Cameron is the Spice Girls - maybe Brown is Stockhausen - (with apologies to Stockhausen fans!) admired by a few but unintelligible to most of us!)

Oh dear, this is sounding a tad to sycophantic - don't worry Nick/Tim/Matthew/Greg et al..........normal service will resume before you can say Jack Robinson.........or is that Linda Jack?!