Friday, May 28, 2010

Simon Hughes, the 1922 Committee and the Future of Lib Demmery

As predicted, Simon Hughes has just launched his deputy leadership campaign. He unsurprisingly has the backing of Vince Cable.

Of course I am delighted he has thrown his hat into the ring and although I am a great fan of Tim Farron (I would see him as a future leader) at this time I think we need someone of Simon's stature and standing in the party to help provide the ballast and temper the undoubted euphoria felt by many on the right who seem a lot more comfortable cuddling up to the Tories.

Simon, I think unfairly, was the fall guy for the party on Question Time and Any Questions last week and did a sterling job of trying to justify some of the justifiable and frankly, in my view some of the unjustifiable outcomes of this coalition (55% and abstaining on nuclear power come to mind). As deputy leader I have no doubt he would be fiercely loyal in public and constructively critical in private. For those of us who are deeply troubled already by the way we seem to be rolling over to have our tummy tickled, Simon will be an honest broker - ensuring that those caught up in the excitement of being part of government don't forget that not all of us share their enthusiasm and are worried about our concerns not being taken into account. James Kirkup has a thoughtful (if possibly mischievous) piece in the Telegraph. He questions whether the election of Simon Hughes as deputy leader would spell 1922 type trouble for Nick Clegg, but then, rightly in my view, surmises that it is probably what Nick wants. Too right, it is not only what Nick wants, it is also what he needs, to help keep those of us on the left of the party a wee bit happier - although he should remember (as I texted Simon a couple of days ago to remind him ;-}), even his election will not be enough to keep some of us in line! For goodness sake, we are liberals for a reason aren't we? Dissent is part of our lifeblood, not only that, as I pointed out at Autumn Conference, dissent and scrutiny is vital if we are to avoid screwing up completely. As Nick Clegg rightly pointed out in Birmingham, we are in danger of becoming vaguely North Korean in our amorous uncritical embrace of the coalition. To continue in this mode is surely a tad unhealthy?

It seems to me that whatever happens in relation to the deputy elections, now would be the perfect time for our Lib Dem backbenchers to form their own '22 committee - 2010 committee? Frankly I think the future of our party depends on it - the activists are the backbone of this party and in my view those of us (and we are in the majority) who would see ourselves as social liberals, are the backbone of the party and the only hope of us not turning into a shapeless meaningless mush, easily digested by the carnivorous Tory party! If we are not careful, the question "what are the Liberal Democrats for?" is in danger of becoming a reality. And this is why I have argued so strongly that however devastated some of us are with what has happened, we have to stay and fight. And if we don't win this fight, I fear we may ultimately see a split in the party and possibly a realignment of the liberal left.

At the moment, those who were clearly so successful on our negotiation team, appear to think they can walk on water. Despite not agreeing with him politically I have a lot of time for David Laws - he is a principled liberal - I will never forget the way he stood up to Tory attempts to poach him (although arguably they got what they wanted in the end!). He is incredibly intelligent, competent, trustworthy and honest. But it should be remembered, intelligence and wisdom are not necessarily co terminus. His kneejerk decision to axe Future Job Funds apparently on the basis of some dodgy advice from a penpusher in DWP, is worrying. Our manifesto was clear in its commitment to tackle the outrageous level of youth unemployment and yet one of the first messages we send out to young people is that their future is not a priority for us (and I was with several leading representatives of the youth sector yesterday who were horrified). So I think it is even more important for David and others of our representatives in government to listen to the party without whom they wouldn't be there.

Which brings me to my next point. As a democratic party, we have clear lines of accountability and decision making in relation to policy making. The FPC is responsible for developing policy and Federal Conference is responsible for determining policy. It is essential that we retain our distinctiveness as a LIBERAL and DEMOCRATIC party - I am worried that these democratic systems we have in place are being undermined by what is happening, it is surely more important than ever that we continue to make policy that truly reflects our values, and not only that, expect our MPs to support and champion in in the chamber rather than being prepared to sit on their hands, pick and choose according to their own personal preferences, or worse totally ignore it. As Lynne Featherstone rightly pointed out, we had a negotiating team who were "male and pale" although the pale was more of a murky orange! This means they have TOTALLY ignored our manifesto pledges on families children and young people. I have lost count over the last couple of weeks the number of calls I have had from the children and young people's press and CEOs from the sector very worried about this glaring omission. But lets embrace with open arms the nonsense that is Academies - oh and "Technical Academies" ah........sounds a lot like a return to Grammar and Secondary Modern to me.

OK, rant over, happy to hear arguments about why I have no reason to worry about the future of the party I love, but more importantly, the future for the country that I love and those people in this country who I fear will continue to be marginalised, neglected and ignored. "We're all in this together"............yeah right.


The Druid said...

Dont you think, in light of your penultimate para, that Simon's "male and pale"ness might not count against him in the deputy leadership contest?

Honestly, I can see it being a woman.

Linda Jack said...

Well, as I've said elsewhere I don't see an obvious female contender from the left - Jenny W would have been a possibility but with her imminent maternity leave I can't see her putting herself forward. Jo Swinson has ruled herself out, Lynne Featherstone would have been a great candidate, but it seems the imperative is to get someone who is not in government. However, if Simon is elected he is probably the most committed of our parliamentarians to equality and diversity within the party and I would hope he would see this as an opportunity to challenge the status quo.

Catherine said...

"I am a great fan of Tim Farron (I would see him as a future leader)"

Really? I can't pretend I know a great deal about him and I'm sure he's a nice man and everything, but I must admit I'm concerned by his stance on social issues. After hearing that he's standing for Deputy Leader I checked out his voting record and (for a Lib Dem) it's pretty poor on gay equality in particular. I'm sure he's a terrific campaigner and constituency MP, and I'm open to having my mind changed, but on what I've read so far I don't know how I'd feel about being led by him...

"unjustifiable outcomes of this coalition (55% and abstaining on nuclear power come to mind)"

Why 55% particularly? We had fixed term parliaments in our manifesto and and most countries with fixed terms have higher than 50% thresholds for dissolution as standard. It's not like we're changing the threshold for a no confidence vote.

I'm ambivalent on nuclear power, though I know it stirs strong feelings and respect that. Though I would argue that given what climate change is likely to do to the developing world anything that lowers carbon emissions is worth a shot. At least the government isn't subsidising nuclear, which is an improvement on Labour policy.

The policies I'm most unhappy about are Academies, workfare and possible marriage tax breaks. On Academies we have both Labour and the Tories against us, so realistically we have to accept that we can't stop it at the moment (at least Sarah Teather can fight to keep them reasonably accountable). On workfare ditto - it was started by Labour and the Tories are just as keen. And on marriage our MPs can abstain, though personally I wish they could vote against, and anyway it looks like it might be shelved for the moment (fingers crossed).

"those of us (and we are in the majority) who would see ourselves as social liberals"

I can't honestly say I've ever met a Lib Dem who *isn't* a social liberal. It's the level of economic liberalism that different sections of the party tend to disagree on. Nick Clegg and David Laws are probably two of the most socially liberal people you could meet. Nick is the first ever major party leader to say openly he doesn't believe in god and supports full gay marriage equality (not to mention that his own marriage looks like a shining example of truly egalitarian partnership). And David reportedly said that one of the reasons he joined the Lib Dems not the Tories was because of Section 28.

"But lets embrace with open arms the nonsense that is Academies"

Agree 100%, but let's not forget who started them in the first place...

I agree with you about Simon though - I think he'd be great as DPL. I do wish there was a feasible woman candidate, but most of them are ministers now and we were unfortunate at the election that many of our excellent female PPCs were defeated. Jo Swinson would've been ideal IMO, but she's ruled herself out (maybe thinks she's too young?).