Thursday, September 24, 2009

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?

1 comment:

teekblog said...

Cracking post Linda - although Neil was far from alone in making genuine democracy look like a violent uprising, many in the media made the same mistake/error/deliberate attempt to undermine the Party.

Democratic debate and genuine discourse is the only way to ensure that not only is the leadership held to account, but that the very best policies, tested in a crucible of opinion, make it into our manifesto - you're right, after years of Lab/Con top-down authoritarian politics, it looks as though political commentators are plain confused by the sight of people actually talking things over and debating issues!