Monday, December 20, 2010

And that was 2010

This is my last blog entry of 2010 – and what a year it has been.

My own highlight was running for parliament – from selection in January, through the campaign, to standing on the stage for the result. This was very hard work but also great fun – and I am already looking forward to my next campaign – whenever and wherever that might be.

The general election was of course the main political highlight of 2010 – an airbrushed Cameron poster, Bigot-gate, Cleggmania, the usual twists and turns of any election, but resulting in some firsts. The first hung parliament since 1974, the first coalition government since 1945, the first Liberal Democrats in government, the first leaders’ debates, the first Green MP, the first BBC exit poll to be spot on etc.

Nick Clegg must be the political man of the year. How many people have been ‘more popular than Churchill’ and had an effigy burnt within a few months of each other. From the debates, to becoming Deputy Prime Minister, to the tuition fees row, it has been an eventful year for our Nick – the most eventful for any Liberal leader since Lloyd George.

The pace shows no sign of slowing in 2011. The Oldham by-election, the voting referendum and council elections, the impact of the cuts, the continued speed of the government’s programme – it is all very interesting for the political fan.

Blog-wise, my most read entry was ‘My Welsh Assembly Campaign – Part One’ (29 November) possibly because the title brought me to the attention of some people in Wales. My entry ‘When the going gets tough, the weak go running’ (18 September) also got a good readership – plus the sequel (9 October).

The most commented entry was ‘It must be with the Tories or without’ (11 May) when I said we should not enter a deal with Labour. This got a mention on the BBC news web site but, alas, I missed my chance to go on The World at One. (I was in a meeting when they called).

My own favourite entry was ‘We’ve lost the Generation Game – but can the next contestants win?’ (20 October) – on which I join others in reflecting about how the last generation have let down this one. I have further thoughts on this which I might put in another entry.

In all I have blogged 67 times this year – and not only about politics. Radio shows, England’s world cup flop and the second world war have all got my attention. But of course the political landscape and my own small part in it is the main theme of this blog – and as ever all the views are mine alone.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts of 2010, that you will continue to spare me your time in 2011, and in the meantime I wish all of you, whatever your politics are, a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Welsh Assembly Campaign - Part Two - Preparation

Before I progress with my tale, I should clarify something which seemed to cause some confusion elsewhere. I was not successful in my application and so will not be representing the Liberal Democrats at the Assembly elections next May. But I still hope to help in some small way.

My application did cause some comment in the Welsh media. One called it ‘entertaining’. I will say this to the nationalists. Ceredigion is a beautiful part of the country with some wonderful people – you do not have to be born in Wales to appreciate that fact.

To return to the story, things were progressing well. I was successfully interviewed to join the list of Welsh approved candidates, my application was approved, and I was invited to the hustings – now to prepare.

To address the obvious question which would come my way (and indeed did). Why would the good people of Ceredigion elect an Englishman to represent them in the Assembly of Wales? I would argue that just because someone comes from Wales does not guarantee good representation (Plaid Cymru’s recent failure to back the Welsh language is just one example) and that you should consider the candidates, the parties and the policies on their own merits. (I had other arguments along these lines).

The theme of my campaign was to emphasise how Ceredigion can play an active role across Wales and the UK to generate recovery. Whereas Plaid Cymru wish to drill through Offa’s Dyke and have Wales sail off into the Irish Sea, in my view I did not think that isolating Wales was the answer to Ceredigion’s problems.

Ceredigion has a high number of public sector workers and small businesses – it had suffered during the recession and with cuts on the way could suffer further. So the regeneration of business and the development of the private sector to create jobs was my top priority. I had some ideas and proposals towards this objective.

The other themes I planned to talk about were suggestions re: maintaining the provision of health and education services, boosting tourism, and the protection of rural communities. I also hoped my campaigning against tuition fees might win over a few student votes (NB: the hustings were before the recent Welsh government’s announcement on fees).

If selected, I was planning to wage an active campaign throughout the area using traditional methods such as canvassing by door and telephone, and regular high street stalls in the towns, as well as new social media methods such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, web sites etc.

This all went in my manifesto. I then wrote to all the local party members and prepared my speech. Looking back I am thinking I should have telephoned the party members too (there were a lot of them!) so that’s a lesson to learn for any future applications.

After arrival, I visited two of my favourite Aberystwyth pubs – Rummers and The Scholars Arms, got an early night and then the next day it was off to Aberaeron, an attractive village about 16 miles down the coast. Admittedly I had not been to Aberaeron for some time but it was refreshing to see that it had hardly changed.

I read somewhere that David Cameron had impressed his hustings audience by speaking entirely without notes. Both Cameron and Nick Clegg have done this several times more recently of course and so, while I am not in their league in public speaking terms, I thought I would give this method a go.

So after a quick sandwich, a final rehearsal of my speech, and last minute items of research, my preparations were complete. I arrived at the hall ready to give it my best shot.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Can we stop digging please?

Let’s face it – the tuition fees issue has been a disaster. We have handled this very badly. The only consolation is that our poll rating can’t get much lower. Amongst students our poll rating has fallen from 45% at the election to 15% now – and even that’s higher than we might expect.

Unfortunately we are still digging .. and it’s time to stop.

I have great respect for Vince Cable. He has been a great Treasury spokesman over the last few years and is proving to be an astute Business Secretary. He did a brilliant speech at regional conference. But as I said earlier, he and I differ on this one point in that I felt we could have done more for students.

So I was astonished to read that the Lib Dem MPs are seeking a 'common position' for all 57 MPs which might involve Vince abstaining on his own policy! There can’t have been a precedent for this. Equally Danny Alexander, who is proving to be a good Chief Secretary, got into a mess in justifying this view on BBC’s Question Time. This doesn’t help things, chaps.

There is no problem with one party voting different ways, as the others have done occasionally, so the solution is clear. The Liberal Democrats which are part of the government should vote in favour of the policy under collective responsibility. The MPs who are not in the government should honour the pledges and vote against. If the opposition get their act together (unlikely) we may send out a clear message even if we don't defeat the plan.

The government of Wales have decided to freeze the tuition fees and make up the difference from their budget. I welcome this but remain suspicious of mischief making. Wales is run by Labour and Plaid Cymru and there is a general election in five months. I think their crafty plan is to use this against the Lib Dems, see them off at the election, and then afterwards, should they still be in power, they will then put the fees up anyway and blame the Westminster government. Hopefully I will be wrong.

Initially I was impressed by Aaron Porter, the NUS President, in his campaign. But after seeing his recent TV appearances I am now concerned he is becoming a Labour stooge. He is right to condemn the government’s proposals but wrong to target the Liberal Democrats so ferociously. He should remember that we are split on this issue and hundreds of parliamentary candidates (including myself) have signed petitions calling on the government to think again. He should also remember Labour's record on fees.

Had Labour won the election this year, and Gordon Brown still in Number 10, would Labour have rejected the Browne report, considering they set it up and their previous enthusiasm about fees?

And surely no-one seriously thinks a Conservative government would have given a better deal? In that case there would have been no cap, and fees of up to £15,000 and beyond.

So although we have let them down, the fact remains that of all the major parties, the Liberal Democrats remain the most student-friendly party. We abolished fees in Scotland, we are still committed to abolishing fees throughout the UK, and the vast majority of the members still back that view. Many of us intend to keep the campaign going and hopefully, in financially better times and a budget towards the end of this parliament, we can make a start on lowering and abolishing fees.

I would like to see our new president and party leadership in close discussions with the NUS to establish where we can go from here. But if the NUS think they will get better deal by wiping us out and putting one of the others in, then they might be in for a shock.

However we have done ourselves no favours by continually working away at the hole we are in. Let’s stop digging and start thinking.