Sunday, December 23, 2012

Review of 2012

This is my last entry of 2012 so I am using it to review the year gone by.

The highlight of the year was the London Olympics. I took two weeks off to follow TV coverage, visited various events on five occasions, and thoroughly enjoyed it all.

The highlight of my five visits was taking my wife to Wembley Stadium to her first ever football match, where we saw Team GB Ladies defeat Brazil 1-0 in a great atmosphere. We also met some Brazilian supporters at a volleyball event in Earls Court and the colour and enthusiasm they showed on both occasions convinces me that the next Olympics in Rio 2016 should also be a success.

The low point of the year was the death of my best friend, Adam, in October after a long battle with liver disease at the age of 42. We had been good friends since meeting at university in 1988 and even now it is hard to comprehend that someone younger than me has gone so soon. As someone told me, remember the smiles. And with that spirit, I think back to the good times and to many Christmas and New Year events which we enjoyed together with other friends over the years.

Politically, it was not a great year for me but then chances were limited. There were no local elections in my area, although we had a council by-election in March which got me back into the campaigning spirit. I aimed to be an MEP candidate for the Liberal Democrats in London and, while enjoying the six week campaign, was disappointed to fall short of the final list.

Blog-wise, my most read entry was back in January with ‘Be loud and be proud. The Liberal Democrats are the party of the poor’ which, having thought about it, makes a rather misleading headline – it should mean that the Lib Dems are the best representatives of the poor, and not the fact that the party is very poor itself – although that is not too far from the truth.

I argued that by taking a million people out of paying tax completely, cutting taxes for every basic rate payer, bringing in the pupil premium to invest billions in under-performing schools, and restoring the pensions to earnings link – all of which are measures that would not have happened under a ‘pure’ Conservative government nor a Labour administration – that it is to the Liberal Democrats that the poor can look to for support. To add to this, we can point to the fact that we are vetoing over-the-top Conservative measures to cut the benefits bill. The bill needs to be cut but fairness should be the watchword. I hope we can do more to get this message across.

My favourite entry was in July when I talked about the ‘war of two coalitions’. In my view, it is a fact that the Conservative and Labour parties have an unofficial unwritten alliance to ensure they keep all the power between them, and that other parties (of whom are growing support all the time) should be kept in their place. This is chiefly why both parties are so angry with the Liberal Democrats rather than each other for daring to get into government.

This point is further strengthened by the year’s biggest political disappointment – the failure of the House of Lords reforms. Labour decided to betray their great forefathers and ally themselves with the right wing Tories in order to protect privilege and patronage in the Lords against democracy – a once in a century opportunity – which just displays the emptiness and vanity of the modern Labour party. Who would ever have thought that the Conservative party leadership would be more reformist than that of the Labour party?

As for the Liberal Democrats, I am pleased to see us pursuing our policies on tax, education and the environment. I am concerned that our ‘differentiation’ strategy has started too early – we are only halfway through the parliament and I would much prefer both parties getting on with the job. We don’t need to lower ourselves to the yah-boo spoilt-child level of Peter Bone, Nadine and the others on the Tory backbenches.

If the Conservatives can exert some discipline and keep their loony element quiet then it is quite possible the two parties can work together up to and through the next election to sort out the economy, bring in social and political changes, and keep Labour out. This, however, would be up to David Cameron. If he continues to show weakness and fails to exert discipline, it may not be long before Ed and Ed are in Numbers 10 and 11 – and then we are all in trouble!

Come 2014 we can think more about differentiation. But I want to see more co-operation and productivity in 2013. If we are worried about the council elections, we should remember that Labour did very badly in 2009 – so we will take a hit and Labour have a good result regardless.

My last act of the year in my blog is to thank you all for reading, whatever your views and whichever party you support. Without the Olympics or the Diamond Jubilee, 2013 will undoubtedly be a quieter year but I am sure we will all have just as much to talk about.

I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who will save the Church from itself?

One of our most treasured institutions in English life is the church, and, in particular, the Church Of England. Religion and faith is deeply rooted within our national conscience. Go to any English village or town and you will see, in pride of place, a church – sometimes it dominates the area, other times of more modest size, but in nearly every case it will be a main centrepiece of the community, an organiser of social activities, a place of celebration at Christmas, a place of solemn reflection on Remembrance Day, and always a place of worship and thanksgiving.

I write as a regular attendee at my local church. I am actively involved in event organisation and fund raising, I sit on the Church Council, and I edit the church newsletter. On Sundays, when I can, I go along to pray for my friends and family, enjoy some fine hymns, and partake in the service.

So it grieves me when I see the church and its leadership regularly shoot themselves in the foot, completely unaware of how their actions, or inactions, may make a difference to the future of the existence of the church itself.

Everyone who loves the church should bear in mind two simple facts and commit them to memory. These facts are (i) each year, the numbers regularly attending church have been steadily reducing – congregations get fewer and fewer in size, and (ii) the average age of those who regularly attend church has been increasing. Even at the age of 45, I am one of the youngest in my congregation. Apart from the children, who may have been dragged along, the vast majority of those present are pensioners – and there are very few young adults.

Should these two trends continue then, sooner than we think, congregations will die out and disappear altogether. And churches all over England will become empty disused buildings.

Why is this the case? Why don’t people go to their local church? Some tell me they are simply too busy, others that they like a lie-in on Sunday mornings after a busy working week, and others, not unreasonably, think churches are full of old people and they would feel out of place. But the most common reasons are that people say they ‘don’t feel religious’, although these people celebrate Christmas and see their kids in nativity plays or, the issue I wish to deal with, they simply do not see the relevance of the church to themselves and to today’s world. It is part of the old corrupt British establishment of politicians, financiers, businessmen, people who are only in it for what they can get out of it, and of complete disinterest to ordinary working people

Now I defend the institution as much as I can but feel the Church is its own worst enemy and this viewpoint is only confirmed by two massive blunders in recent months. Blunders which continue the battle between church and society (and history has shown that when the church battles with society, it is usually society that wins out).

The first blunder refers to female Bishops. There is still some way to go but, in the modern age, women have made great advances in all areas of society and that is something we should welcome. You would have thought the General Synod would almost unanimously have voted to allow women to be ordained as bishops – after all, why not?

The Synod did indeed vote for this measure by a considerable majority, but in the House of Laity it fell a few votes short of the necessary two thirds requirement. But people at large are not interested in the finer details and procedures of church decisions – all they know is that the church has considered the issue of women bishops and held out its hand with a big NO!

The second blunder, in my view, refers to the, perhaps more divisive issue, of same sex marriage. In the week that we learn that fewer couples are getting married than ever before, the church considers the government's proposition of same sex marriage and once again it is the hand with the NO! To be fair, some would consider allowing same sex marriages in their church, but the government decided on a complete ban on the Church of England while those of other faiths and religions have the option of ‘opt-ing in’ – a clear case of religious discrimination. Had the church shown a more positive and enthusiastic response, then the situation may be different.

In my view, the institution of marriage is a wonderful presence. I have been happily married for ten years. If two people wish to publicly commit themselves to love and protect each other, under the eyes of God and regardless of their gender, that is something we should welcome and encourage. Opponents say that marriage should be solely between a man and a woman, and I have sympathy for that view, but in the modern age, many couples are of the same sex.

Statistics show that married couples live happier, healthier and longer lives. If more people were married, the world would be a happier place. I believe that the institution of marriage would be protected not undermined by same sex marriage. As more heterosexual couples see the happiness that marriage can bring, they may well take the plunge themselves. Allowing and blessing more unions would reverse the current trend towards marriage dying out.

So what do people see of the church? They see the Archbishop of Canterbury and an array of old men dressed splendidly in fine robes, preaching to us about charity and sacrifice but not showing signs themselves of either, of an old boys club living in a long forgotten world where women know their place and the presence of homosexuality is not acknowledged.

Now, like most people, I am no religious expert. I am in no doubt there are many who would defend the Church’s view with quotes and passages from the Bible and the study of theology. I respond by borrowing the phrase of the Occupy London movement – what would Jesus do?

If he were around today, would Jesus prevent the full inclusion and participation of women in his church? Would Jesus close the door to gay people who wanted his blessing in their unions? Of course not – Jesus, and God, loves everyone. It is the Church of England who apparently does not.

We are deep into the 21st century, and as we go further on, and as society continues to change, however much many may not like it, the Church of England is crying out for the modern and forward thinking leadership that is necessary to make it relevant once again to people’s lives and the modern world. Will we see that leadership come to the forefront soon? Will the Church find the backbone within to save itself from extinction? Will anyone save the Church from itself? We can only watch, hope and, yes, continue to pray.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Five - Over ... and Out!

It was a cold morning on Saturday the first of December as I made my way to the Liberal Democrats headquarters in Great George Street, London. Today was the count to establish all the MEP candidates for England – London were to choose eight of which I hoped to be one. I had enjoyed the campaign over the last six weeks and meeting London’s Liberal Democrats, but now it was over and time to see how the London members had voted. There was a distinct ‘exam results’ feeling – with that mixture of helplessness and apprehension that all former students are familiar with.

The count for all of England’s regions was to take place that day but fortunately London were first on. Most of my fellow candidates were there and, with those from other regions waiting, we all hovered in the kitchen and corridor. Topics for discussion included the recent Croydon North by-election, the Thames Christmas cruise, and the Middle East (The EU-Israeli agreement being the most common subject of my email in-box).

A slight delay in the announcement occurred due to a computer problem, which meant the candidates for the next count started arriving and the area got very crowded. It reminded me of the old joke about Liberal MPs in a taxi when I started thinking how many Liberal Democrat European candidates can you squeeze into a corridor?

Finally, the call went out for the London candidates, we entered the presentation room and sat along the long table like they do in The Apprentice. Who will be fired?

We were treated to a whole series of charts but it was the first list that decided it. The eight candidates were listed in front of us – and my name was not there. As the programme worked through the spreadsheets to explain how the eight were put into order, my heart continued to sink.

We Liberal Democrats are used to disappointment, and I get my fair share (as any regular reader of this blog can testify), but it is still not easy. I’ve worked in London since 1994 and know the city very well. However, I was aware from the start that I was not too well known, lacked a local party base, and hence the odds were against me. Of course I was not expecting to come near the top – but was hoping to get on the list as a marker to campaign towards and promote myself. Sadly, back to square one.

This was my first campaign of this type carried out over six weeks, I did enjoy it, and I’ve learnt quite a bit to take away. If I am still in London next time round, I intend to have another bash – and by 2017-2018 who knows what the political climate will be like?

The main consolation was meeting the eight people on the London list – a highly impressive group of people with a formidable list of achievements and experience. Despite being rivals, everyone was courteous and friendly and the campaign was held in a great spirit. The air of positivity and cheerfulness as we discussed European issues, as well as the various email exchanges and discussions with the members that I met, made a great comparison to the gloom and doom we get so much of from the Tories and UKIP.

I am glad we have such a strong Liberal Democrat team to present to Londoners and I hope they do well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Four - Some Sleepwalk, Others Tour

This week I had the novel experience of agreeing with Ed Miliband. This event does not happen very often but while reading his interview in the Sunday Telegraph and his speech to the CBI, I found myself nodding several times (instead of nodding off – my usual reaction to his speeches). He put it very well, referring to sleepwalking towards the EU exit and about the danger of Britain becoming a nation of low wages, low skills, ‘an off-shore low value economy’. I am sure these words were music to CBI ears.

There was no mention of an in-out referendum, of course, but it now seems that the Eurosceptics in the Conservative party are losing interest in that. There have been articles in the media, on Conservative Home, and a speech yesterday by David Davis, with all sorts of ingenious suggestions on carefully worded referendums (referring to renegotiation and repatriation etc) with the intention of luring the British people by stealth into voting to leave the EU without their realising it. Such shameless tactics do not explain why the Tory Eurosceptics are so terrified of asking a simple in-out question when they are convinced the people are on their side.

Another novel experience is feeling sorry for David Cameron as he heads into tough talks with the EU leaders on the budget while his own army are pointing their guns at his back. But seriously, it is getting to the stage where the Conservative party as a unit are becoming a major threat to Britain’s national security and well-being.

With Euro issues on the front pages again, my campaign has continued across London. I attended the AGM of the Beckenham Liberal Democrats where there was an impressive presentation by Merlene Emerson, the Chair of the Chinese Liberal Democrats, on an all-party visit to China and Tibet. I have attended a quiz night in Sutton which had a high turnout and good fish and chips. And I went to the AGM of Hammersmith and Fulham Lib Dems where we were addressed by Norman Baker MP, our Transport Minister, on fighting the Tories and he answered questions on general transport issues.

At all these events, I discussed European issues with many of the members to hear their thoughts and views. And the comments and questions by email have kept coming.

What is interesting is that, even in Lib Dem circles, much about Europe is misunderstood. More than one person has asked me about Abu Qatada – which of course is a reference to the European Court of Human Rights, a separate body to the European Union.

There is also far less enthusiasm for the EU than the media would have us believe amongst Lib Dems. Although there is general agreement that we should retain our membership, there was much disquiet about the budget, the amount we pay to the EU, and the level of immigration caused by open borders. However, there was also concern about the dangers of David Cameron leading us into the slow lane and, to repeat Ed Miliband’s point, that the PM is thinking more about the concerns of a few dozen MPs rather than pursuing the country’s interests.

My fellow Euro candidates have also been busy – we are frequently bumping into each other in our tours around the capital. Just over a week to go before voting closes. I have an inkling of how the result is shaping but will just say for now that the turnout will be bigger than that of the Police Commissioner elections! The campaign continues!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My MEP Candidate Hustings Speech

Below is my speech given to the London Liberal Democrat Hustings for MEP candidates on Sunday 4 November.

My message to the voters of London would be twofold. Firstly, the European Union is important to our country’s prospects and well-being. There is a lot of negativity about the EU and I expect you have found, as I have, that on the doorstep, the EU is rarely mentioned and it’s importance is little understood. I would explain the benefits in simple language. Trade – investment – growth – business – jobs.

Secondly, the Liberal Democrats are the only major pro-European party. We have seen yet again this week how the Conservatives are more interested in fighting each other and that Labour change their position, when they have one, on a weekly basis. Only the Liberal Democrats put the UK at the heart of Europe and would put the UK’s interest first. I want this message on the streets of London. From Enfield to Sutton, from Hillingdon to Havering, when it comes to Europe, the Liberal Democrats are on your side.

So why me? What have I got to offer?
  • Eighteen years experience of working in London in both the public and private sectors
  • Ten years experience of living in London although I am currently a commuter
  • Vast experience of leading, organising and participating in teams – in both political and non-political activities
  • Parliamentary candidate at the last general election getting one of the highest Lib Dem increases in Kent
  • Fifteen years experience of being in positions of helping the public through my employment history – helping, advising and dealing with people from all backgrounds
  • Academic qualifications in European history, politics and law
  • A regular writer and campaigner using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and media
  • A genuine love for our city and its people and the enthusiasm to conduct a good campaign across the city to get our message out.
 And what is my vision for Europe?

If elected as an MEP, I would see my role in both promoting London within Europe, and promoting Europe within London.

I want Londoners to recognise the opportunities there are across the continent for our people to visit and learn and for businesses to expand.

We often hear about people from Europe coming to the UK, usually in a negative sense, but we never hear about people from the UK going to live and work in other countries. Those that do find it a worthwhile experience.

As MEP I would aim to visit as many schools in London as I can, to encourage the study of languages and encourage our younger people to give serious consideration to other parts of the EU. Once people see things for themselves, once they get away from what the Daily Mail is telling them, I have found that people are enthused by Europe and the different cultures and experiences on offer.

And I would promote London as a place for world businesses to invest. The Olympics was a chance, which has so far been missed, to promote, not Boris, but instead our wonderful city as a home for business. I want to welcome world companies here, to invest, and develop.

As for the EU itself, I would campaign for the extension of democracy. I want to see an elected President – which I feel was a chance the EU missed. You may remember Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were considered for the job. If the candidates campaigned across all 27 states, that would increase knowledge and legitimacy of the EU’s process. I would also like to see our Commissioners elected instead of being a consolation prize for failed politicians.

And, yes, an in-out referendum. I think this continual dithering and speculation is harmful to our interests in Europe. While we argue with each other, the other EU governments are getting on with things. Let’s have the referendum, let’s win it, and then we can commit ourselves towards campaigning for the type of EU we want to see.

Those are my policies in simple language. An active positive pro-EU campaign, jobs and business for Londoners, a city to advertise to the world, an EU which is streamlined and democratic and something of which we can be proud to be a leading member.

If you select me as your candidate, those are the principles I would be working hard for – select me and I will not let you down!

Monday, November 5, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Three - Fireworks, Hustings and Socialists

On Saturday 3 November, I met some Lewisham and Beckenham North Liberal Democrats for a firework supper. There I chatted to several members while munching a delicious lamb curry before we all went up to Blackheath. This was the first time I had seen the Blackheath fireworks and I was mightily impressed by the colours and display on offer. I was also surprised by the thousands of people who had come out on a cold November night to be present.

It seemed rather brief, about 20 minutes, but I was later informed that this was because one of the two councils next to the park (LB Greenwich) had withdrawn their funding and hence the organisers had to cut their costs. However there were no complaints from the crowd who all appeared to be in high spirits and enjoying the spectacle.

Sunday 4 November was the Members’ Meeting – the Hustings for all the London European candidates which was held in Euston Road.

We each had to do a five minute presentation followed by five minutes of questions. My speech seemed to go down OK and I was glad to have timed it perfectly by getting the 30 second warning as I entered my final paragraph. I will publish this shortly but touched upon my policy for the campaign, my attributes as a candidate, and my vision of the EU.

While the EU is far from perfect, there are many positive benefits of UK membership which we do not push enough. The Liberal Democrats are the only positive pro-EU party, the only party to put the UK’s interests first at the heart of Europe, and this is what we should say again and again.

There was a question on education, and another on why I am running for London, before I was floored by two on the Middle East. How do I propose to solve the Arab-Israel conflict? (answer in thirty seconds!?!) and do I agree with the EU’s policy on Iran? (thinks: what is the EU policy on Iran?)

Much of this day was spent in a hallway chatting to the other candidates while waiting our turn, and this experience only emphasised my comments from an earlier entry. We are blessed to have such an effective and capable line-up of candidates to put before the party’s members. However, this makes it a lot more difficult for me! But whatever happens, the end product will be a very strong team of eight to campaign for the Lib Dems across London and that can’t be bad.

It was interesting to eavesdrop on the Socialism 2012 rally being held in the same building in a large and packed hall. They had a number of speakers who each shouted loudly about a general strike and each getting a very warm reception. The bits I heard were complete nonsense, of course, and it is safe to say that Ed Miliband would not have been very welcome, but I’ll say this for the socialists, the souvenir stands were fascinating with some very interesting publications and papers on display. Tempting as it was to buy a couple of books, I thought better of it.

After the individual presentations, there were panel sessions whereby the candidates were each asked submitted questions. My only criticism of this process was that the chairman asked the questions instead of the questioner. I understand the need for questions to be approved but I felt that if the member read out their own question, and we could answer directly to him/her, it would have increased the interaction in the room, instead of the audience listening to the top table all the time.

Overall, a tough but enjoyable day. The London Liberal Democrats have all been sent their voting papers and our manifestos and have three weeks to think about it – so the campaign goes on.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Two Speeches For Two Events

On Friday 26 October at 10.50am, Adam Rowe, my best friend since our days at university together, died at the age of 42 after a long battle with liver disease. We have known each other for 24 years and it has been heartbreaking to see how he has struggled with his health over the last few years.

So, in case you were wondering why my blog has not been updated, despite being in the middle of a campaign, then this is the reason. It has put things into perspective.

This week I have been preparing for two speeches at two important events. On Sunday 4 November, the candidates for the London Liberal Democrats MEP nominations will all be attending a hustings. I have been preparing my presentation and there will be questions and discussions afterwards.

I generally enjoy these sort of things – such as participating in the debates at the last election. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear the presentations of other candidates (which I would have found interesting as they are a talented bunch) so I am looking forward to the panel discussions. Although I have plenty of ideas, I am always keen to hear others.

The other speech I have been preparing is with a considerably heavier heart. I have been asked to speak at Adam’s funeral on Friday 9 November at Kettering Crematorium.

Two different types of speech for two different events. One speech is to promote myself, the other will be to pay tribute to a lost friend. One speech I shall try to deliver with positivity and passion, the other I shall try to deliver without breaking down.

I hope both will be received well.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Two - Contacts and Conference

An enjoyable and busy first week to the campaign despite an initial setback. It had been my intention to send out an introductory email to all London Lib Dems as soon as the starting pistol had sounded. Unfortunately I did not know that Hotmail limits the numbers of people you can email each day to 300 with the admirable aim of combating spammers. After kicking myself for not having thought of that, I am now sending them out in batches, so it will take several days to reach everyone.

I have already received some generous invites to AGMs and social events from London local parties in my aim to meet as many London Lib Dems as I can in the weeks ahead. A special mention to Sutton who hit the right buttons with the words ‘fish and chips supper’ and ‘quiz night’ – no hesitation in accepting that one. Generally, weekend events are no problem. Those in the weekday evening depend on my ability to get the last train home – but I am working things out so far.

My email messages have resulted in a few interesting questions on a variety of topics which I am always happy to answer.

Yesterday I attended the London Liberal Democrats Regional Conference in Croydon and had an interesting day there.

The day included a Question and Answer session for the European candidates – unfortunately with only 40 minutes and nine of us present, there was just time for three questions: on our message to the voters, EU partnership arrangements, and what would we change. I gave what I thought were concise answers putting my views across. That my message is to promote the EU and the fact that the Lib Dems are the most-pro-EU party, and hence most pro-UK party - that partnership arrangements strengthen this argument, especially with states such as India where we have historic links and more likely to invest here to give access to the EU market, and that the thing I would change would be to make the EU more democratic with an elected President and elected Commissioners.

I’ve been criticised in the past for giving answers which are too brief, but once you’ve got your point across, I fail to see any reason for going on. At least, this will be an asset if I am ever invited to do BBC Question Time.

A more detailed scrutiny of the candidates, and more time for us to put our views, will be available at the hustings on 4 November.

There was also a chance to do some work for the parliamentary by-election in Croydon North, which was an excellent idea when you have so many Lib Dems present at the right time and place. Our candidate is Marisha Ray, who I had a brief chat with. She is a very impressive candidate, has done some great work in London over the years and I hope she does well.

Sadly we have to admit that we are unlikely to win the seat. It is an ironic fact that the party with the most impressive candidates has the greatest difficulty in getting them elected and vice versa. Just one look at the Conservative backbenches strengthens this point.

The rest of the conference saw speeches and reports, a fascinating guest spot from the writer Elif Shafak, and the chance to network where I had the chance to talk to some local party delegates and the other candidates. All in all, a very satisfactory day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part One - 'For London, For Europe'

I am delighted to announce that I have been successfully placed on the shortlist for the London Liberal Democrats’ candidates, European Parliament elections in 2014. It was a tough selection procedure and interview but the campaign has now started.

There is some serious talent on the shortlist, which just shows the depth of quality we enjoy in the Liberal Democrats amongst our candidates. Alongside members of the academic and financial profession, my role as an administration manager in local government seems very humble. It will be a difficult campaign but I will give it my best shot, and hope I can encourage as many of the good Liberal Democrats of London to give me their consideration.

If you are looking at my blog for the first time – then you are very welcome. As you can see from previous entries, I always have plenty to say on plenty of topics.

I have worked in London for 18 years, and for almost every one of those working days, I have been helping and advising members of the public. Whether it is guiding nurses through their training requirements, or advising people on their complaints against local councils, I have enormous experience of talking to and helping ordinary people. Knocking on thousands of doors over the years has further developed my people skills.

Must also mention my organisational skills – leading a team to provide a service to professional colleagues, participating in local campaigns such as road safety and anti-social behaviour, local party campaigns, fundraising/organising church activities, editing and writing the newsletter in my role on the parochial church council – and of course running in the last general election where, despite a tiny local party, we increased our vote. I enjoy being busy.

I want to be a MEP, for London, for the Liberal Democrats. I can help and advise, I can run campaigns, I can organise, lead and participate in teams, I am always insufferably cheerful!

And what about Europe? As a keen student of European history, and traveller to a number of states, I have a great interest and love of the continent and the role Britain could play there. I have a degree in European history, a Masters degree in international politics and a law degree as well to add to my interest and knowledge.

I have written a number of articles on this blog on the topic – but in a nutshell
(i) the EU is a bureaucratic monster in dire need of cost cutting reform
(ii) we in the UK need to be more active in the EU both to further our interests and work towards these reforms
(iii) there should be more democracy within the European Union (see my last blog entry)
(iv) I find the Con-UKIP-media Eurosceptism view frustrating and holding the UK back – for this reason I favour an in-out referendum – I believe it can be won and would then neutralise the anti-EU brigade
(v) the Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European party – and pro-Europe means pro-UK – we should not be afraid to say so.
A simple slogan – job and business, jobs and business, jobs and business.

As an MEP I would campaign primarily for the interests of Londoners, but also to increase democracy and drive down bureaucracy within the EU.

Now the campaign has started, I have begun to receive invitations and hope to meet as many London Liberal Democrats as possible, including at the regional conference at Croydon next week. And those I don’t get round to meeting, I hope will be in touch on and give me their consideration.

Keep reading here and follow me on my campaign over the next seven weeks.

Away we go! 'Keith Nevols – For London – For Europe!!'

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Ways To Bring Democracy To The European Union

We sometimes hear of the ‘democratic deficit’ with reference to the European Union – and how the EU is insufficiently accountable to the voters within the 27 states. Indeed, in the UK, the only chance we get to make an EU-vote is every five years for our MEPs, and even that result is usually based on national rather than European factors.

Increasing democracy would be a revolution to the European Union, and may even improve its image within this country, so here are three suggestions to make a start.

The European President
This is an item I originally blogged about in September 2009, when such people as Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were being suggested in the new post of President of the European Council. This position fell to Herman Van Rompuy, now in his second term of office.

My argument is, when this term expires, in November 2014, it should be the voters who decide the President. This was a missed opportunity to bring the European Union closer to the people but should not be missed again. Candidates, including Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Blair if they wish, can campaign in all 27 countries – we will get to know them and their views, ask questions, just like any other election campaign, and then vote using either STV or the Supplementary Vote system. The winner will not be someone we have never heard of who has emerged from nowhere.

When I have put this argument before, people have said ‘ah, but everyone will vote for their countryman, and the Germans will always win.’ Well, I am not convinced that everyone in the UK will vote for Tony Blair, or every German for Angela Merkel.

Whatever the details, some sort of election is better than an ‘appointment’ of arguably one of the most powerful men in Europe.

The Commission
The UK has one Commissioner on the European Commission, essentially the executive body of the EU. Traditionally this post has been seen as a consolation prize for failure in UK politics – hence previous holders have included Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock, Chris Patten and Leon Brittan.

These too could be elected by each individual state. We could have a national debate about which person would best represent us. Unfortunately, party politics being what it is, each party will probably have only one candidate and the winner will always be a Tory or Labour person – but again this is better than a system by appointment, and at least we could all name our Commissioner.

Members of the European Parliament
Each state had to select a system of PR to elect their MEPs - and the UK chose the party list system. This is the system whereby you get a huge ballot paper with lists of candidates, and you choose the ‘party’ (NB: NOT the individual), which, at the end of the day, gives you a group of MEPs of various parties. This gives enormous powers to the parties as it is they who choose the order of their respective list.

My proposal is to exchange this to the Single Transferable Vote – STV – a system which allows you to choose the individual to represent you, not the party. So instead of one X, you can give thought to placing 1-2-3 and so on, candidates of the same party will be competing against each other, individuals from different parties can be chosen, and this gives the voter complete control and flexibility.

Of course, Liberal Democrats don’t need lectures about fair voting systems – but, apart from Scotland, STV is unfamiliar to the people and an information campaign would be required. Once people have got the hang of it, it may then be possible to bring it into local council elections in England and Wales.

Using these techniques, the British voter will be able to select the individuals to serve as President, Commissioner, and their MEPs within the European Union. Other countries can do likewise. And the result will be a President, a Commission and a Parliament completely democratically chosen and regularly accountable to the voters, and people with a greater say and familiarity in the European Union's affairs.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Some thoughts for Europe

The European Union is a subject which excites politicians and commentators more than it does voters. While the Conservative party regularly has civil wars on the issue, and UKIP enjoys growing support, I have found the issue is very rarely raised on the doorstep, and it is a fact that turnout at European elections is often very low and results depend on national factors rather than European policy.

However this is not to say that the topic is anything but important. The EU’s fortunes are a vital part of our nation’s fate – our biggest trading partner and creator of many of our laws. Depending on your point of view, the EU is an essential trading block in a growing inter-dependent world or a German plot to subsume Britain into a European superstate.

There are things on which Europhiles and Eurosceptics agree. The EU is vast, inefficiently administered and over-bureaucratic. Having a parliament building in Strasbourg, with regular movement of staff and resources, is an unnecessary waste and expense. The EU is in dire need of cost-cutting reform. And, in my view, this is how we should be using British muscle – in mobilising those of like minds throughout the EU to this point of view.

When I put this view, I am often told, usually by sceptics, that there is no point. The EU will never change – it is on a non-stop course to full political integration because that is what the Europeans want, and are not interested in alternate views.

They are partly correct in that British views are often disregarded – but that could be due to the fact that successive governments have constantly taken a distant or cooling approach to the EU. We always go along, never take the first step. We opt out of things, maybe even veto or delay, but generally drift along with an air of disinterest. Have you heard of the UK government taking an act of initiative within EU corridors?

Sharon Bowles, Lib Dem MEP, and doing an excellent job as Chair of the Economic and Monetary Committee, once said that others had sought to remove her from this position – not because of her views or talents – but simply because she was British. Our businessmen in Europe may find a similar problem – the general assumption that Britain is a lame duck which will one day go off into isolation. Equally a company thinking of moving to the UK (and creating jobs!) has to have this prospect at the back of their mind. This is something David Cameron and the Tory media never think of – how their hostility to the EU has a knock-on effect on our influence.

So should we leave the EU? As I said, the EU is far from perfect – would our withdrawal improve it? Would our retreat from our major trading partners during a recession help our own economy? Are world powers more likely to invest in the UK if we have detached ourselves from this trading bloc? Could the UK, on its own, profit in a world of growing economies such as NAFTA and the BRIC nations? Is the EU really a German-led plot to succeed where the Wehrmacht failed and that all the other nations are conspirators along for the journey? If the EU is so evil, why is there a queue of nations wanting to join and, apart from the UK, barely a whisper from anyone about leaving?

Having said that, I would favour an in-out referendum as argued in an earlier entry. Our progress and contribution in the European project is being held back by the internal threat posed to our economic security from the Eurosceptics – so once the referendum is won (which I believe it can be) the anti-EUs will be neutralised and then we can all campaign for the type of EU we want to see.

Another expression we often hear – particularly in Conservative circles – is ‘repatriation of powers’. This is the view that the EU have taken away many powers that national states used to exert and that the state should have them back. This is a good phrase but of course deliberately vague. There have been cases, for example, where European laws have trumped UK ones – for example, the EU have often forced workers’ rights onto reluctant UK governments of both colours. It was not a UK government who granted measures of flexible working or paternity leave. By definition, ‘repatriation of powers’ is a backward step, when we should be looking forwards.

The biggest issue in Europe today, both in and out of the EU, is the Euro crisis. Again the UK, a major player on the continent, and with one of the world’s biggest economic centres of power and expertise in the City, could make a contribution to the issue. It is in our interests, after all, for a stable and prosperous Euro. However, the government have put us on the outside of the debate, with a glass on the wall listening to what others are discussing. I was particularly alarmed by David Cameron’s suggestion of the EU having two budgets – one for the 17 countries in the Eurozone and one of the 10 outside, which would move the EU into internal conflict and possibly permanent separation – at a time when all 27 should be drawing together.

We need the UK to engage positively with our EU partners, to throw our weight into solving the Euro crisis, to continue to co-operate and work together on cross-border problems such as the environment, terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime. And to fight for the type of European Union we want to see – a streamlined organisation developing a completely free trade zone for mutual economic security and prosperity.

This is a clear issue on which we in the Liberal Democrats disagree with our national coalition partners. Where they stand on the cliffs of Dover and stick two fingers up in a south east direction, we instead stretch out our right arm to grab a hand. Where the Tories say ‘give us back our powers’, we say ‘let us all be powerful together’.

We are the most pro-European major political party – I think that is a fact we should trumpet out loud. We will be called traitors and quislings by the media, but I have found that people generally accept the importance of the European Union and the need for us to be involved – especially during difficult economic times. In terms of businesses, large and small, and jobs, continued and growing interdependence is vital.

It will not be long before we are campaigning for the 2014 European parliament elections. At the last elections in 2009, UKIP did well, mainly because the vote took place during the expenses scandal when perceptions of the three parties were very low. This time, unless there is another scandal, we should see the established parties regain some ground.

The Labour party will continue to campaign on their policy of having no policies. The Conservatives will try to be pro- and anti-European at the same time. UKIP will be, well, UKIP.

I hope the Liberal Democrats fly the flag high for Europe. Fight the elections on European issues. And continue to send a growing and talented band of MEPs to fight for our country’s interests. After all, someone has to!!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Reshuffling Thoughts 2 - The Liberal Democrats

It was Sir Humphrey in the great Yes Minister who said ‘a party with just over 300 MPs forms a government and of these 300, 100 are too old and too silly to be ministers and 100 too young and too callow. Therefore there are about 100 MPs to fill 100 government posts. Effectively no choice at all’.

Indeed when you look amongst the 300-odd Conservative MPs, once you take out those who are constantly rebellious, politically immature, too old or just simply bonkers, there is not a lot left – so David Cameron’s task when putting the government together is not as difficult as it seems. No Lords or EU rebel got promoted so that’s a third of the parliamentary party for a start.

For the Liberal Democrats, however, the opposite is the case. Where you have fewer MPs (the ‘cream rises to the top’), coupled with a limited number of ministerial places, there is simply too much talent to go round. The Lib Dems are blessed to have so much quality on its benches but cursed in that it cannot be put to full use in the government’s service. So while it is pleasing to see David Laws, Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson enter the government, it is sad to see Sarah Teather, Nick Harvey and Paul Burstow depart.

One view of this is to share out the responsibility. When the election comes, half of the parliamentary party will have had ministerial experience which will stand well both for any future plans the party may be involved in (another coalition?), or, to take the worst case, their individual career development outside parliament.

But the crux of the matter is – David Cameron’s question was who to bring in, Nick Clegg’s was who can we afford to live without?

Of course, if the Lib Dems had 300 MPs then doubtless we would have as many donkeys as the other two parties. But, pound for pound, it is clear that the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party is the most talented grouping in parliament.

So what of the reshuffle? Firstly, there was some dismay in Lib Dem quarters at having no-one in either the Foreign Office or Defence. To be honest, this does not concern me too much. As I said last time, I think William Hague is doing an impressive job and Nick Clegg can speak for the party if required. As for defence, again Clegg could cover but the argument for an alternative to Trident can be continued outside the department.

Secondly, no change in the cabinet. The only other role Vince Cable could be considered for is Chancellor of the Exchequer which will not happen. Danny Alexander is doing a fine job, Michael Moore has not done anything wrong and Ed Davey is on the right lines. The addition of David Laws in a roving role will be interesting (although I am not sure what that means – will he be a consigliere like Ken Clarke?). David Laws is the only Liberal Democrat to get regular kind words from Conservative Home – although this could be a double-edged sword.

There were rumours that Lib Dems (possibly Laws) would be given the Health department – and administer the Tory NHS reforms – an idea whose flaws are rather obvious.

It is at the junior levels that we now look and we see that concentration is being made on areas we hold dear. In Education (Laws), Health (Lamb), Business (Swinson) and Agriculture (David Heath), we have a more prominent and strengthened role - both to push our own views and check the Conservative ideas. (To be fair, not all Tory ideas are bad - but there are some which need, shall we say, another view).

My main concern has been Lynne Featherstone’s move to international development, which will reinforce this amongst the government's priorities, but the loss of the equalities brief – a role in which she excelled – could be very harmful, and implies that Cameron may again be placating his backbenchers, especially on same sex marriage.

How do the Liberal Democrats now fit into the government as a whole? Overall, I would be optimistic. There is influence in most of the key areas of the government and I would hope to see greater Liberal Democrats prominence as a whole. In a recent survey by Lord Ashcroft, 51% wanted to see more Lib Dem influence on the government so let us hope this will go partly in that direction. (There are many on the Tory Right who argue that Lib Dems have too much influence – an argument not borne out by the facts).

I want to see our ministers, new and old, come forward with proposals. The main priority is growth and the economy. The only Conservative idea is to cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor, which history has shown does not work. Liberal Democrats can think broadly and have greater initiative – balancing the need for a growing economy with a liberal sense of justice and fairness. It is up to us to free the government from the shackles of the Tory Right and push forward our plans.

Now the reshuffle is over, let us hope that the desperate yearning for a coalition collapse, that we see every week in the media and on the Conservative backbenches, will subside and the new administration can be left to get on with it. There is after all no shortage of work to do.

FOOTNOTE: However, as I prepare this entry, an interview has arisen with Michael Fallon, newly appointed business minister, in which he makes clear his views that we should salute ‘wealth creators’ (Tory-speak for ‘the rich’), and make it easier to sack people (the most famous and ridiculous part of the Beecroft report). One has to question the wisdom of the two leaders in allowing such potential tensions in a department as important as business.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Reshuffling Thoughts 1 - The Conservatives

‘A move to the right’ seems to be the overwhelming view amongst the media of this week’s government reshuffle, alongside its weekly speculation of the collapse of the coalition. Personally I think this is a bit simplistic – but the reshuffle has proved to be more interesting than I thought it might be.

Firstly, we must note what David Cameron could not do. Obviously he could not sack George Osborne. There is little doubt that Osborne has to date been a considerable failure in the post, but to abandon him now would be admitting the failure of Plan A. There is also the crucial role of taking the flak. John Major found that, after sacking his Chancellor Norman Lamont, he had lost a shield and all the subsequent criticism came directly his way. With Osborne in post, George can act as an air raid shelter for the Prime Minister. (My preference for Chancellor would be for the radical solution of giving Vince Cable the post – he is easily the best qualified candidate – but I accept that won’t happen).

No problem with William Hague in the Foreign Office – he seems born for the role – but Teresa May has been a disaster in the Home Office. From ‘cat-gate’ to borders to immigration, the blunders just go on and on. One could argue that Home Secretary is the most difficult government job, but Ms May seems completely incompetent in the role. Cynics observe she is only there because of her gender – I don’t think this is the case. However it is getting harder to believe that David Cameron genuinely thinks she is the best person for the job.

So despite two of them deserving to go, David Cameron could not move the big beasts. What about the medium sized beasts?

Reading through the changes I got the impression that Cameron felt the need (but not the desire) to placate his backbenches. As we have seen again and again, many Conservative MPs lack the maturity and the discipline to play a responsible role in backing their own leadership. They pick and choose which bits of the coalition agreement to support, and expect everyone else to keep to the agreements. (It is interesting to note that reportedly several Conservative MPs turned down a job in the whip’s office in order to be free to attack their own government!) So this is where the ‘move to the right’ comes in.

Arguably the most interesting move is Chris Grayling taking over Justice. The move of my fellow High Wycombe Royal Grammar School Old Boy to replace Ken Clarke is a clear change of direction. While some Lib Dems were unhappy with this move, I await developments with interest. I think Grayling will find it frustrating that he can talk tough but actually, due to the limitations of coalition, his position, and human rights, he can actually do very little. In the meantime, from now on, everyone we can’t deport, he will have to share the fault with Ms May.

Grayling has been in the London news lately for a scheme whereby youth unemployed will do unpaid work in return for their benefits – and this has got quite a negative response. I wonder if Cameron has ‘over-promoted’ him, both to keep him away from trouble, but also to neutralise a possible future leadership rival.

And what about Ken Clarke? Having him as a Minister without Portfolio sounds like he will be some sort of ‘consigliere’. I think Cameron appreciates the advice of his most experienced Minister but again is placating to his backbenches by removing any responsibility – a shocking and disrespectful way to treat someone of his stature.

Another stand out move is that of Jeremy Hunt to Health. Not long ago, he was on the edge of resignation, so to then get promoted is quite an achievement. One wonders if one motive of this is to start moves at making up with Murdoch with the next election in mind. How will Mr Hunt do with Health? After all the upheavals of the NHS restructuring, it may be a quiet department where he can settle down and be off the front pages for a while.

And the third Heathrow runway is back via Justine Greening’s move (and of course Boris bursting onto the scene – because it has been all of twenty minutes since he was last in the headlines). If the government were now to back the third runway it would be the biggest of all U-turns, but my guess is that the way is now open for a review to be carried out which will not report until after 2015 – a review that would not have happened without a favourable Transport Secretary.

Those are some early thoughts on the Conservative side of the reshuffle. Next, some thoughts on the Liberal Democrat reshuffle, how we can fit into all this, and how we can move forwards through the second half of this parliament.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Forget coalitions - we want 100 MPs!

Picture the scene: It is the Liberal Democrat party conference 2025, and the party are in high spirits. The leader stands on the stage and makes the welcoming speech to the faithful.

‘Not so long ago, it was said that the third party of British politics could travel to parliament in a taxi. Well, look how we travel now.’

At this stage a long line of London black cabs drive in and the occupants disembark.

‘Conference, I give you 100 Liberal Democrat MPs’ – as they all line up on the stage in front of an audience cheering and applauding warmly.
The word ‘coalition’ was never mentioned in British politics during the 1980s and 1990s – yet since 2010, we have heard nothing else. There is a general obsession with two topics – when will the UK government Tory-Lib Dem coalition end – and what will the next coalition look like after 2015?

There has been much speculation about the result of the 2015 general election – if it is another hung parliament, which way will the Liberal Democrats tread? Will we stay with the Tories or jump off with Labour? Indeed, will the Lib Dems become regular kingmakers?

It was a correct decision to go into coalition after the 2010 general election – but I have to ask – is the status of junior partner the height of our ambitions? Do we just want to tag along in a series of coalitions? It is right to be open to working with those of like minds – but are we not forgetting that we are our own party, with our own policies, principles and beliefs? And, the biggest prize of all, do we not all desire to see a Liberal Democrat Prime Minister walking into Number 10?

With whom would we enter these coalitions? We know the Conservative party cannot be trusted – their backbench MPs delight in the fact that their leader cannot speak for them. But how would we stand with Labour, who at the end of the day will always work with the Conservatives if it meant frustrating Liberal Democrat ambitions? The bottom line is that we will do badly out of either coalition option.

Whatever the result of the 2015 election, and assuming we are not the biggest party, I would like to see us back in opposition – not in blind opposition, but voting with the government if we agree with them and campaigning against on matters we do not.

Meanwhile we build and we build. We’ve taken knocks in the recent local elections, and we have more to come – and, let’s be frank, we will lose some MPs in 2015. But I want us to use the period after that to rebuild and reinvigorate our party, our local government base, and our support – and then from 2020, a full-on offensive in certain target constituencies and see how far we can go.

I expect many reading this piece will argue that, under first-past-the-post, we will never get 100 MPs. But look at this page - As you can see, as well as our 57 MPs, small swings towards us in target seats will result in more victories coming our way. A swing of 3.5% from the Conservatives gives us 18 seats. A swing of 2% from Labour gives us ten more. Ambitious? Yes, of course. But why not? If we can go from 20 seats in 1995 to 62 in 2005 – trebling our parliamentary party in ten years – why can’t we keep going?

So my request to the party is to stop talking coalition and start talking Liberal Democrat. Let’s aim for those 100 MPs. Let’s get more Liberal Democrats into parliament!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Morning After: My Thoughts

It may seem strange that a victory of 462 votes to 124 on the Bill for an elected Lords is coming across as a defeat – but let’s make no mistake. A defeat it is. Because of Labour’s lack of support for a programme motion, which would have set a timetable, the Tory rebellion would have been big enough to defeat the motion - and hence the Conservatives can now simply talk the Bill out.

Labour wanted it both ways – they supported the Bill to reform the Lords and then colluded with the Tory rebels to ensure that it would never happen. In trying to wear two hats, and hence two faces, the new modern Labour party is defending the privilege and patronage of the House of Lords. The Con-Lab coalition, referred to in my last post, is as strong as ever.

As for the Conservatives, clearly David Cameron has lost all discipline and authority in his party. He can no longer bring anything for certainty to the table. There is no point in a second coalition agreement as Cameron cannot guarantee that he can deliver. If he had shown some leadership ages ago, and removed the whip from one or two troublemakers, then the rest would have fallen into line. Instead he is now a lame duck leader. A teacher unable to control the children. In football terms, he has ‘lost the dressing room’.

Our greatest contempt should go to those Tory ‘rebels’. As I put in an earlier post, the Lib Dems have given and sacrificed much to provide a stable government in difficult economic times for the good of the country, and have held their noses as they have voted for Conservative policies. In return, the Tories and media have just thrown abuse and insults at Clegg and the party – like a spoilt child always wanting more.

The Conservative parliamentary party are simply too immature to be seriously trusted with any power and responsibility – and Cameron knows it.

In a way I feel sorry for David Cameron. We will be rid of the Tory backbenchers in 2015. He is lumbered with them for eternity.

So where do we go from here? Firstly, despite my harsh words, it is my view we should not end the coalition. The main reason for the coalition – to provide stability and work towards reducing the deficit – remains. In one aspect, the rebels are correct – the economy is the most important issue and we must continue to work together with the more adult Tories to get that right.

However, we should reject any coalition after 2015. If either of the other two get a majority, then good luck to them. We should back them if we agree and fight where we do not. Otherwise we should be prepared to work with any other party but on a much looser basis. We cannot continue the coalition with the Conservatives, when as demonstrated David Cameron is unable to keep his word, and nor should we enter coalition with Labour, who would clearly prefer to work with the Tories.

In opposition, we should use that time to regroup and rebuild, and continue to scrutinise whoever forms the government. We can then come back revived and refreshed in 2020.

But this is three years away and there is still much to do. For now we should keep going, keep winning the arguments, keep both eyes on the Tories, and keep pushing forward with the main objective to do what we can to make this country a fairer society by 2015.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The War Of Two Coalitions

Over the last two years, it has become clearer and more evident that our political landscape is a struggle between two coalitions. We have one coalition which is open, temporary, business-like and at times unsteady. And there is another which is very firm, strong and long-lasting, and possibly will out-live all of us.

The first is the current Conservative-Liberal Democrats coalition (‘Con-LD’). This currently runs the government and was the result of an indecisive general election. Its’ main purpose is to secure a stable administration during difficult economic times and put into place a deficit reduction programme and other measures agreed in a coalition agreement. It is due to run for five years and come to an end in 2015.

However, it becomes clearer each day that its’ main opponent is the formidable Conservative-Labour coalition (‘Con-Lab’). This is a far stronger coalition, in place since 1945, and infinitely more difficult to break down. Its successful objective has been to work together to secure the two party hegemony. This coalition is, of course, secret and unacknowledged by either party.

So where is the evidence for this contention – that in any dispute with a third party, the two big old failed parties will close ranks? This is as follows.

Firstly, since the 1970s, the ‘others’ have secured at least a quarter of the votes. The Liberals in 1974 and the Alliance in 1983-87 got 25% alone, and were rewarded with a tiny fraction of seats. To the horrors of the Con-Lab coalition, 35% (over a third) of voters chose someone else in 2010. We are now clearly a multi-party democracy.

Any sane society would seek to reflect this change of circumstances by putting into place a fairer electoral system. Instead the Con-Lab coalition have robustly defended first-past-the-post – a system which grossly over-inflates their vote, and makes it possible, as we saw in 2005, that one party can dominate parliament with 35% of the votes – barely a fifth of the electorate.

As the Soviet empire fell, and as democracy spread throughout eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, it is noteworthy that no new democratic country has adopted the first-past-the-post system to choose their representatives.

True, we had a referendum on changing the system, into which the Tories and the media pulled their enormous resources. Despite Ed Miliband’s support, did we get a full throttle, active campaign from Labour – or instead a mixed, half-hearted effort more interested in working with the Tories and against Nick Clegg rather than take this historic opportunity?

Secondly, since 1945, the rules of party funding continue to bias the two big parties. The Tories have big business and Labour have the trade unions. The Liberal Democrats and others have quiz nights and car boot sales. So the Con-Lab coalition can dwarf anyone else in terms of putting resources into campaigning. (Party funding is currently being reviewed but does anyone think there will be actual genuine change?)

Thirdly, before the current Con-LD coalition, there was one example of third party co-operation since 1945 – the Lib-Lab Pact of 1977-78 of which I wrote earlier. The Liberals' reward was to be proportional representation for the first European Parliament elections in 1979 – yet when it came to it, Labour betrayed the Liberals and voted with the Tories to ensure first-past-the-post.

And finally, we come to the most recent example – House of Lords reform. This is a once-in-a-century opportunity to finally have a second elected democratically-accountable chamber. Labour should be enthusiastically supporting this principle. Instead they plan to ally with the Tory rebels to ensure the reforms are talked out.

The ghosts of the great socialists of the past must be disgusted that, after all the struggles it took to get socialism established in this country, their beloved Labour party are now backing privilege and patronage over democracy. Keir Hardie and Michael Foot must be rolling in their graves.

It is suggested that the Liberal Democrats may block the boundary changes. Tories need not worry. If there is any doubt, I think Labour will vote to push them through. The changes may harm Labour and benefit the Tories – but they will harm the Liberal Democrats most of all – and, in my view, Labour would be happy to see years of Tory government, and the country suffer as a result, if it meant the extinction of the Liberal Democrats.

Of course, there are certain people on both sides prepared to defy the Con-Lab coalition and work with others. To his credit, David Cameron has proved willing to work with the Lib Dems, has become the first Prime Minister to sacrifice his right to call an election at will, and is to an extent promoting Lords reform. For Labour, Ed Miliband and Peter Mandelson have discussed willingness to work across party lines. Whether each can defeat the establishment within their own parties is doubtful.

This brings us to the question – how can we break this coalition? How can we end the Con-Lab coalition which has been in effect since 1945? Well, the answer is – I don’t know. The Con-LD coalition will end soon but the Con-Lab deal is as strong as concrete. The only hope is with the other parties – Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Green, the Nationalists, the English Democrats etc.

If we can see more and more votes taken away from the big two, if we eventually see more progressive leadership from either big party, if we see our multi-party democracy continue to grow and develop, then maybe – just maybe – we will get genuine change in this country. Although how many of us will be around to see it is another question.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is it time for the Liberal Democrats to play hardball?

It was a correct decision to enter coalition with the Conservative party after the May 2010 general election result, and indeed we have got many of our policies into place. However, in that time, Liberal Democrats have also had to take a lot. For example:

  • We have signed up to a deficit programme that we knew was wrong and would not work – as has proved to be the case. Not only is public spending still not reduced, but the country is in a double dip recession.
  • We have had to let the Tories cut taxes for the wealthy and block our attempts to close loopholes, while simultaneously seeking ways to cut benefits on the vulnerable.
  • We have had to trust the Tories with reforms to the National Health Service – as far as I know, no-one has trusted the Tories with the NHS since the 1950s.
  • We have had a major segment of our support, not to mention overall trust, destroyed by being compelled to accept, and then sell, the tripling of tuition fees.
  • We have had to stand by and watch our country’s leader in Europe fighting not with the country’s interests in mind, as Merkel and Sarkozy/Hollande had with their respective states, but with only the interests of 100-odd troublesome Tory MPs.
  • We had to accept a referendum to switch the voting system to one that we didn’t really want anyway – the rejection of which has put bringing in fair votes further back.
  • We may (to be confirmed) have to accept the reintroduction of a two-tier education system which was announced to the Daily Mail before our ministers.
  • We may have to accept boundary changes which will benefit the Tories while undoing a lot of the good constituency work we have done over the years.
  • We have lost hundreds of councillors around the country – and in some areas of the north and Scotland we face extinction.
Now, of course, much of the above we could foresee in advance. We always said we would pay the price in government and, by god, are we paying! But if you read Conservative Home, the media and listen to certain Conservative MPs, you would think that the nasty Lib Dems are stopping the Tories from doing all the nice things that people want. Absolute nonsense! On the contrary, Peter Bone, Nadine Dorres and others should be thanking Nick Clegg every day – they owe him a lot. He has sacrificed so much to put them on the government benches.

It is inevitable that we will continue to lose hundreds of councillors over the next two years – and it is also quite possible we will lose over half of our MPs. We have accepted that as the price of doing the right thing. But I think it is now about time that the Tories took some share of the pain. When we get to 2015, we should ask ourselves – what are our lasting achievements to make the country a fairer place?

This week is an essential piece of political reform for which we have waited 100 years. The House of Lords vote – to put into place a manifesto promise by all three parties to move towards a partially elected House of Lords (and this is 80% instead of 100% - yet another concession to the Tories). True to form, it is understood that dozens of Tory MPs will attempt to block the measure. Labour may well be opportunistic and join them and hence the plans are likely to fail.

We have two possible cards to play. Firstly, if the polls are correct, an election now would see the Tories back down to their 2005 level. Of course, we might suffer too but then if you are going down, who better to take with you than a Tory? Secondly, and less drastically, we could say goodbye to the boundary changes bill (although many Tories would welcome that) – if one party can break their word, then why can’t the other?

Of course I hope everyone will be adults – Tories included. I hope we see Lords reform, the boundary changes and, most important of all, the two parties to recognise the efforts of each other to provide a stable government which will, eventually, find the right way to growth and recovery.

But in a coalition both sides must give and take, and if many of the Tories continue to behave like spoilt children and take and take without any giving, then it may be the time for us to take as well.