Thursday, July 23, 2009

The axe of friendly fire

Sometimes in politics, one doesn’t agree with the leadership. I did not agree, for example, with our decision to abandon the pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Nor the decision not to oppose David Davis at his self-declared by-election.

It was on the coach home yesterday that I opened the Evening Standard to see the headline that the Lib Dems were considering axing key pledges – and my heart sank to the floor. Free tuition fees – higher state pensions – all vote-winning eye-catching polices but were now ‘up for review’. In my mind’s eye I had the image of voting papers turning to dust.

It is difficult enough being a Liberal Democrat and getting your argument across to people without your leaders then saying that the message we have all struggled to project might not go ahead after all.

A criticism of the old Liberal-SDP Alliance was that it had no policies or beliefs. With the Liberal Democrats it is the opposite – not only are there too many policies, but they change so fast it is difficult for us members to keep up. I disagreed with the policy to reduce income tax by 4%, as I thought you could not make such a drastic cut coming into government. As I put my case to my local party, the policy was dropped – admittedly for a more sensible one.

I accept the argument that we must be responsible and honest with the electorate (although the other two parties do quite well without this) but with less than a year to an election, we cannot say to the electorate – ‘this is our programme but we might axe bits of it’. It makes us look confused and indecisive and provides ammunition to our opponents.

Faversham Lib Dem barbecue on Sunday. A good time to gauge some opinion from my colleagues over the burgers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back to business

Back to the fray as we had our first Sittingbourne Lib Dem meeting since the county council elections. This time to talk tactics regarding 2010 – when 16 of Swale’s 47 council seats are up for grabs. We are defending one while the Tories are defending 11 and Labour hanging on to four. The Conservatives will be hoping to increase their current majority of nine.

One complicating factor is that these elections may be the same day as a general election which will mean a higher turnout and that voters will have national issues more in mind. On the other hand, if Mr Brown decides to cling on to the very last second, he can go the full distance and have an election in June 2010.

I shall hope to be a candidate myself but whoever wins these 16 wards will only have a year to get comfy before getting back on the pavement – as the Council will be ‘all out’ in 2001 with all 47 seats being re-elected. This is a result of a Labour government granting a Conservative council request to alter the voting timetable with the aim of severely handicapping the smaller parties – especially the Lib Dems, as we don’t have the deep pockets of our two bigger colleagues. However, having said that, the Tories did very well in the county council elections despite doing hardly any work. So maybe less is more.

Of course, of all parties, Labour and the Conservatives have the cosiest relationship - as they have, for them, the perfect political system – where they can take turns to hold unrepresentative power and keep out anyone else who wants to get involved, while we go from one economic crisis to the next. It would be interesting if we were ever to introduce democracy.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Our MP has resigned

The big local news this week has been the decision by Derek Wyatt, our Labour MP, not to stand at the next election. He has been MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey since 1997, although he only held on in 2005 with a majority of 79. He has said it is for family reasons following his divorce and I think the fact that he has to defend a tiny majority against what looks like will be a nasty Conservative campaign was too much.

Like most MPs he got hit by the expenses scandal and his decision to take the second home allowance and not live in this area. He put his foot in it by saying this was because he found the commute from Sittingbourne to Westminster very exhausting. I quite agree, Derek, as I have been doing it for five years - as do hundreds of others!

By all accounts Derek Wyatt has been a good and hard working constituency MP, but unfortunately for him he has the word 'Labour' attached and hence is associated with our dire government.

On the eve of the county council elections, the Conservatives did a mail shot detailing Derek Wyatt's expenses - a rather unnecessary and negative attack in my opinion. The Tory candidate has promised not to claim the second home allowance - that will be interesting.

It is almost certain that the Conservative party will pick up this seat at the next election - then we in Sittingbourne will have a Tory borough council, a Tory county council and a Tory MP under a probable Tory government. Won't we be the lucky ones?