Thursday, April 21, 2011

We need a different 'Lib Dem Voice'

It is ironic that the party which has a long reputation for distrusting its leaders, and is most democratic about letting members choose its policies, should also be the one where there is so little debate about its recent activities. Over the last year there has been much for party members to discuss but in the excitement of government this all seems to have been forgotten.

For example, the 2010 general election was a failure for us. We had a great bounce with the debates and a lot of interest in our policies, but we were unable to deal with the inevitable media smears, failed to get across our message, and in the event made a net loss of seats for the first time since the party was founded in 1988, also losing some good MPs like Susan Kramer and Julia Goldsworthy.

We should be asking ourselves what went wrong and discuss what lessons we should learn for next time.(After all, the Labour/Tory strategy of just waiting for your turn is not open to us).

At this stage we should be discussing how we can make our presence felt in the coalition, get our message out there, the fact that we are not a ’human shield’ but a party of government with over 60% of our manifesto being put into practice.

One of the best blogs I read is ‘Conservative Home’ – here there are a series of well written articles often presenting good arguments. And of course the ‘nasty’ party is not afraid to turn on its own – nobody gets more flak than David Cameron. I disagree with most of what is said, of course, but admire the way the discussion is carried out.

'Labour List' also puts forward some interesting views about how the party should move on from its defeat and the New Labour era, and provide an effective opposition to keep the government on its toes as well as formulating an alternative strategy ready for the next election.

'Lib Dem Voice', on the other hand, with some exceptions, is quite dull. Some carefully chosen writers putting out selected articles which more often than not closely follow the party line and just act as cheerleading rather than frank debate.

Equally the party’s official newspaper, ‘The Liberal Democrat’, while often a good read, also contains very little debate about the party’s future and strategy and instead trumpets the triumphs of the coalition. All very laudable – but we were going to vote for us anyway.

Whereas any Conservative and Labour leadership critics stay within the party, and often have entertaining conferences as a result, Lib Dems who are unhappy with the leadership’s actions seem to leave more often than not – and this can’t be healthy for the party. For example, how I can continue the fight against tuition fees if those who agree with me have left us and so I am now in a minority? It can't help if members feel they can't convey their unhappiness to the leadership and their party colleagues.

We need another 'Lib Dem Voice'. We need somewhere where we can have frank discussions about what we should be doing better, what went wrong at the last election, why our poll ratings are in single figures, how should we approach the next election, how can we make the coalition work and our own role within it, and, above all, where we can criticise our party’s leadership and have a proper debate and exchange of ideas?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Battle of Murston

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately. This is due to a number of factors. I have been very busy in the local election campaign, work has been very busy because we have implemented a new database, on which I have taken a lead role in its development and training. Worse of all, I then get ill – of all the times to get unwell, mid-April is the most inconvenient. Having said that, I was once ill during Christmas and that wasn’t much fun.

Having now recovered I have resumed my election campaign in my efforts to be elected to represent the good people of Murston in Swale Borough Council. This ward has attracted much attention from the local parties – not because it will decide the election (the Conservatives will remain in firm control) but because it is Swale’s only three-way marginal, will be a good test of how the three parties face up to each other, and forms part of Labour’s strategy to wipe us out.

Indeed Labour had an ‘action day’ last Saturday and I met two groups of Labour people as we were wandering about. They seemed to recognise me and we exchanged cheery hellos.

Murston is situated towards the east of Sittingbourne – in fact, true Murstonians consider themselves a separate town. The main issues we have worked on include the problems of incorrect road signs, small roads and insufficient parking, a new estate nearby, relief roads, and crime and anti-social behaviour. I have enjoyed meeting many people over there in the last two years and hope I can work for them in the council chamber.

There are five candidates on the ballot paper for this double-seater ward. We have a good team of an experienced local councillor, with a good personal vote, and our parliamentary candidate (me). Labour are putting up an ex-Lib Dem (who went over to the dark side in 2009) along with his son. The main surprise is that the Conservatives are only putting up one candidate – the other defending councillor. Maybe there was a mix-up in their nomination papers rather than some subtle strategy.

Overall, in Swale, in two of our three seats, Labour are the main challengers, while in the third, Labour are aiming to pick up enough Lib Dem votes to allow the Tories to win. Can’t blame them for targeting us, of course – if the tables were turned we would do the same – and as their resources are enormous compared to ours, then they probably have good chances of closing us down. It is up to us to continue to work hard so that whatever happens we can say at least we did our best.

Meanwhile the AV campaign continues. Sadly I think we are going lose this as the combined power of the establishment, the mass media and the Conservative party looks like it will be too strong. The argument about every MP getting over 50% of the votes has been lost amidst a fog of bulletproof vests, the BNP and coalitions.

The No groups’ tactics, not to defend FPTP but to make the issue confusing, seem to be working. After all, what Murdoch wants, Murdoch gets – including every PM for the last 25 years. But the battle must go on. Maybe there will be some surprises to come.