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