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