Monday, 31 December 2012

These are a few of my favourite things... of 2012

It's been an interesting year. I don't think I can do as well as my friend Kirsty Newman (@kirstyevidence on twitter) with her 12 days of evidence post but I will attempt to list some of my personal highlights and work I have appreciated this year:

Top 5 other blogs

Top of my list has to be Dan Hodges on Julian Assange case - his usual forensic analysis coupled with articulate insight into why the Left tie themselves up so much with him

In addition: 

Stephen Tall on the Leveson recommendations

Prateek Buch with one of the best posts of the year on the size of the state

Hopi Sen on expecting our politicians to be perfect

Tim Montgomerie making the conservative case for equal marriage

In addition you can hear Stephen Tall, Hopi and Tim on this excellent edition of Westminster Hour

My year

In September I wrote this, Gloria De Piero MP asked why people hate her? and Hopi Sen wrote the piece above about expecting politicians to be perfect.

I received a lot of feedback on my post, some from some quite surprising places! However, it's clear across parties there is a need to connect better with voters.

One of the best parts of this year has been both forming new and having closer friendships, and some of my best memories come from there this year - from Stone Roses in Heaton Park through the Reading Festival, Lib Dem conference, hiking and camping in Wales and finally finishing the year with a Frank Turner concert with my boyfriend.

Top 5 Blog Posts

My top five (as in most read) blog posts on this blog this year:

Growth - read about 4 times more than it's closest rival!

Emotions and the Art of Politics (well almost)

Open Up Lobbying Manchester - an activist's perspective

Don't Menschn the kids....

Relationship Breakdown between the Electorate and Elected


I'd like politics to have more in it about relationships. I'm not sure why but British politicians seem to have a lot to say about marriage, or supporting single parents / hard working families, but not a lot about how we relate to each other. Which, is quite weird when you think about it, given politics is about people.

As I research this, I realised more and more how much more I need to know, and am considering both college courses and further forms of research as a result..... I'm also keen to develop my campaigning experience, enjoy both Lib Dem conferences next year, buy a new car, and complete my first marathon. I hope to have as many readers of this blog next year, and maybe a few more.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

450 out of 1000 children in UK will see parents separate

I was going to write a review of the year but that'll have to wait, besides it's taking longer than I thought. In the meantime.....

This article seems to belong in the Torygraph but actually appears in the Independant!

It talks about how 450 in every 1000 children in Britain today will see their parents separate 

Having had some experience of this, my own parents are divorced, I have both personal and political opinions on this. An acquaintance also once commented that she was far better off due to tax credits after she split from her partner and some other evidence backs this up. - illustrating that the tax credits incentivise people to split up - I doubt this comes into why people split up in a lot of cases, but it can't help. The figures are before maintenance as well.....

The article goes on to wax lyrical about marriage, which although I'm pretty much in favour of marriage for me personally, I don't think it's the only answer. Plenty of people want to stay together, commit to each other and have children without marrying and I think that's just fine, for them - as long as that's what they both want. As a friend pointed out, marriage doesn't necessarily mean commitment. And committing to each other doesn't necessarily have to mean marriage, tho in my mind they are linked.

What a lack of interest in marriage may signal is a lack of interest in commitment tho, and that is a different matter. The idea of committing to having children but not staying together to me seems backwards, but I do make effort to try and understand it. I guess because the drive to have kids is so strong, and the drive to work with someone else to build a life together can be..... less strong. It involves a bit of setting aside what you want. It involves loving an adult, and an adult can both make their own decision to leave you, and also argue back - it's a lot harder than loving a family member. 

It's really, really, really hard to form another relationship if one or both people have kids tho, but I do know some people who've managed it. It involves all sorts of dynamics that we haven't really evolved to handle, and that psychotherapists are only just coming up with now.

The startling thing is we are so much worse than the other OECD countries..... that goes against a lot of the received wisdom that

a) this is just because human beings aren't meant to commit or be monogamous
b) children are just as happy when parents separate because "they adapt"
c) people in more advanced countries are more likely to separate
d) If the other person doesn't magically "make you happy" you must look elsewhere and not within

If personal growth, maturity, commitment  love, trust, respect and honesty could be taught, how much better would we get on? What's the research on this? Do people take responsibility for making a relationship work? Do they take responsibility for themselves and own their feelings and understanding of each other - or is it all left to some mythical person who may not exist to "complete" them?

I'm worried that in effect we contract out our emotions to be based on some ideal person, don't understand the impact our parents have on us and our search for a partner, and also, more and more, the 1 in 3 men under 35 that live at home, an consequently don't really learn to co-exist with anyone they aren't related to, and who therefore are extremely unlikely to leave them - meaning the worst of behaviour goes unchecked ergo difficulty in relationships in the future......

One problem has begat another - initially people were staying in loveless marriages either because they couldn't get divorced for financial reasons and/or social stigma. Now we have people leaving relationships after a few years and children growing up being shuffled from house to house, which isn't really ideal either. I'm sure most people do the absolute best that they know how under the circumstances and I wouldn't presume to judge them, but I'm also wondering how many people would access therapy if it was available at a reasonable cost....

On a squeezed income, which families are going to go without food or heating to pay the £40 a week most therapists ask for? Relate offer subsidized sessions, but are very over-subscribed. 

Is it time we asked ourselves what type of society we want, whether we can try and give parents tools to try and stay together and whether that would cost more than the tax credits we are paying out at present to support children in separated families. Are we really happier this way?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Marriage. Equal or not, what do we think?

So because it's relevant I started talking about marriage this week, both on twitter at my account @Bubbalou and on Facebook on various statuses and groups.

As with many things there were as many opinions as people. I had to examine my own beliefs and why I think the way I do. It's relevant to the equal marriage debate: the primary focus is rightly the equality issue but I wanted to focus on marriage, and not just because Tory MPs are embarrassing their party by coming out with nonsense like "[David Cameron will] have civil disobedience and an estrangement of faith  communities"

Key themes that came from talking about this the last couple of days:

Commitment - one comment was to the effect of "staying together even after you don't want to anymore" is not a good idea. I don't really see it that way. When/if/as I have met a person I think I can spend the rest of my life with, I think I'm ready to make that commitment. I don't think that's necessary for everyone.

Some people may be as, or more, committed than I am without marriage. Some may be less within a marriage. I do however think that's important enough for me, to be a bit of a deal-breaker if my partner didn't feel the same way.

Children - I believe married life is what I want as a background to my children's lives. This took a lot of time to think about. Mostly I think it's because that's how I grew up. My parents divorced after I left home, and none-with-standing whether I think that is or was a good idea or not, I think it's wise to at least start with that aim in mind, staying together forever, if you are planning on having kids.

I understand how step-families can work, and was part of one for a short time, so again not wanting to judge. I also think with effort, commitment (there is that word again!) and communication, this can work, much like many other relationships.

I'd like to avoid splitting up if possible. There are many reasons, but one is given mostly how much hard work it seems to be to bring up kids, I'd like to have a partner to help me through that as much as anything - and I'd like that to be one who lives in the same house.

"Outdated" values - this was a fascinating point which came from a debate about whether I would, or others would, prefer a married candidate as a PPC (Prospective Parliamentary Candidate). Clearly as a liberal with meritocratic aims - I would choose on the basis of merit. However, I would expect most voters would prefer a married candidate and this (preference 
from voters) was viewed as "outdated" by at least one person.

I don't think my preference for marriage is outdated - I think what is outdated is thinking that's the only way to live.

Feminism - some commented that as a feminist I might be against the institution of marriage as it had been one of the ways the patriarchy controlled women. I don't find this a compelling reason against marriage, and neither does Caitlin Moran, I'm thinking as she got married.

However on the flip side, this is interesting research here for men and here for women, is fascinating tho and blew my mind. Men can get paid up to 44% more for being married - the article I've linked to is interesting as it suggests that it may be that married men are simply more conscientious, ambitious, and cooperative - or as another friend put it, "conformist".

It takes two people to get married, and it's probably safe to conclude that not everyone who'd like to be married is, as they may not be with anyone at all, someone they don't want to marry or they may have compromised on this desire in order to be with a specific person or have children with them.  I found this whole conversation fascinating, especially as a Lib Dem, mainly talking to Lib Dems for this exercise, that we are very in favour of equal marriage (as we should be!) but some of us may be ambivalent about the actual institution of marriage itself.

Which is much to our credit. It's good we can campaign for others something we don't necessarily want for ourselves. And good that most of the people I talked to were happy that I could choose marriage - one or two commented that they think it's for mugs and are against the concept as a whole, even for other people. That I can't really get on board with - if people want to get married, let them.

So yes, Louise Shaw is OUT for Equal Marriage, and marriage in general.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Relationship Breakdown between the Electorate and the Elected

Hopi Sen has presented me with a problem, he's said what I was thinking.

"....politics has been as much a struggle to prove to the voter that our politicians are smarter, stronger, fitter, better looking and have better hair than the other lot. Politicians? They were never sick, never confused, never half asleep, never just plain knackered. Always ready with the right answer, like some preternaturally perfect schoolboy genius.
 Worse, to convince voters that they were all-encompassing and all knowing, politicians had to convince themselves and all those who mediated between them and the public, from spin doctors to news editors that all this was true. They couldn't admit to flaws, couldn't admit to errors, couldn't admit to messing things up, to not being sure. That meant they could never be fully human. "

Hopi's style of pragmatic campaign experience plus clear-thinking appreciation of the issues facing Britain today appeals to me, almost as much as the fact-laden, timely posts from Stephen Tall or the new kid on the block, Mike Bird, who I find very good at pointing out elephants in many Liberal Democrat rooms.

The only thing that holds me back from full on Hopi appreciation is that he doesn't support the correct party, of course. Anyway, how to develop his point so as to have something new to say?

Lately, and for a few different reasons, I've been thinking about politics as a relationship between the electorate and politicians, as it is one. 

I've been doing a far bit of reading into books such as "The Road Less Travelled". Some of these do talk about the ingredients for a dysfunctional relationship: putting people on pedestals, unrealistic expectations, looking for other people to solve our problems and in the end, bitter, apathetic, arguments causing destruction and hurt.

This was on my mind when Stephen Tall and I had this twitter exchange (below left) the other day, after he tweeted about the reaction to the poor turnout in the PCC elections.

Some relationships don't work - which we accept and move on. Some could perhaps be fixed with effort on both sides and enough commitment. It's not quite clear what the British electorate wants - Dan Hodges thinks it's better public services but ignores the slice of the electorate that also wants lower taxes. EU nuts bang on about being out of Europe being our only salvation, but I'm always rather suspicious of anyone promoting panaceas 

Which brings me onto not believing the hype. I think this is the comedown from falling in love with New Labour in 1997. They shape-shifted and left us with a dour Gordon Brown rather than shiny Tony Blair, something I still don't think Labour really understand about their defeat - it's a bit unforgivable really.

Rather tolerantly, the British public gave Cameron a go, only to find he's a bit ....lacking in the domestic partner stakes as well, lack of commitment to any policy it seems, as well as to his pre-election (read pre-relationship) promises about Big Society, and all being in it together.

But, lets turn to us, the electorate. Far from being a battered partner, or a trophy one, we're an equal partner in this relationship. What are we actually asking from our politicians? 

I think we may well be projecting. Projecting, at the emergence of a new face - all our desires and ambitions for us as a country. Some know this and manipulate it, step forward Tony Blair and the New Labour project. Some look at it and attempt some of the moves in an attempt to seduce us, but without the commitment, retreat back to their old stomping ground quickly enough - why hello Mr Osborne.

And then, at the end of things, the destructive tendency appears. Our issues must be down to single factors, like immigration, or "benefit culture" or the EU. And demagogues like George Galloway arise like seductive, dangerous femme fatales (there doesn't seem to be a male equivalent!),  to tempt the supposedly pliable electorate away from the dysfunctional relationship (only to of course, drop commitment to their interests when the objective has been achieved, but I digress).

We then project our worst feelings about ourselves onto these self-same politicians - lying, deceitfulness, shame. When, as is often inevitable the cracks appear we go "see? Knew they were a bad un" - and the cynicism, apathy, anger and disconnect loom ever larger.

To fix it? To fix it we need commitment. We need both sides to want a better future. A lot of the left still seem to have hatred of Tories at their heart, which doesn't really take them closer to coming up with ideas. The Tories I find very selfish and concerned with their own interests above all : short sighted on Lord's reform, AV, using welfare reform to establish their vision of what a family should look like. Labour, too focused on re-distribution rather than equality of opportunity, like we are.

I still think I'm in the right party. I still think a lot of what we're doing is correct. I'm not sure the electorate wants a relationship with any of us right now tho. 

Hopi ends:

"Then maybe, just maybe, we can discard the worst, applaud the best and encourage the vast majority struggling along in the middle. If we do that, perhaps we can like politics for what it is, and not be asked to love it for what it could never be."
Therefore I think he's proposing we are friends with our politicians, rather than lovers. Maybe that is indeed, a good place to start. 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Politics as Sales

I had some great feedback from my last post here on Persuasion and Influence

Someone asked me what happens next :

"If one is good at persuading and getting ordinary people on board, the elite will put obstacles in the way, because they don’t want to change the status quo."

This is a reasonable point.

And the person went on to say  

"It’s almost impossible to reach out to the establishment at the same time, successfully.... without some conflict? And conflict is always risky..."

The way I've seen it having worked in in the corporate world a while is to know that somebody  usually wants to "buy" what you’ve got to "sell", be that a product or an idea (or a policy?), especially if the product/idea/policy is good enough. The trick is finding them, and asking enough people to find them. This is where contact helps, and of course that means knocking on doors.

But you don’t get anywhere in politics or sales, or indeed life, if you

a)     believe the customers are all cheap or in political terms the voters are all idiots

or, on the other side of the fence
b)    believing the sellers are all crooks looking to rip you off or  the politicians are all liars looking to get your vote and then do what they want

Humans are humans, neither angels nor demons. 

Someone in “the establishment” probably wants to make things work, but is as lazy, and bored, and judgemental as the most of the rest of us humans (i.e. probably a bit, but not all that much). it takes someone banging at their door to make them take notice.  

That takes courage. Courage to ask questions. Courage to make things happen. Courage to make mistakes, yes, and learn from them. That’s something that maybe the corporate world lets you do (not too often!) and learn from them, more than perhaps the political world does. 

There are horrible mean people in the world - but look around your experience, aren't they around about 1% of the people you meet or come into contact with? It depends where you spend most of your time, but I do believe most people are not stupid or mean - they occasionally do stupid or mean things however.

Back to conflict always being risky. 

I don't know why, but when I'm trying to get things done - I think it's a good sign. Conflict generally means someone is threatened, and if someone is threatened, you're generally onto something. And sometimes, if you listen, they might be right! 

I do however, see conflict as a sign to step back, and try another tack. What I have learnt is not to be a bull in a china shop, just when someone raises objections, to look at why, what the reasons behind the objections are, and, like a sale, attempt to meet them.

Politics as sales came up again when someone debated with me about hating the "I don't do politics" line. 

 I don't hate it. I find out why they feel that way, and what matters to them (education, tax, roads, jobs, whatever) . I call it politics-not-politics.

Anyway, talking to people who "don't do politics" -  I guess I think of it like a sales conversation. They will have views, as everyone generally does have an opinion on the way the world is run at some level, the part we play as activists is to find them out and work out if the Lib Dems can help them, i.e. we can't help a BNP supporter for instance, and then demonstrate how the Lib Dems' policies can help them with their needs.

At the end, if and when they are bought into what we can do for them, we can maybe point out we just had a political conversation.

It's all about our attitude.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Persuasion, Influence and Why We Should Care

Persuasion and Influence, the first a sublime novel by Jane Austen, the second a very interesting reflection on the psychology of persuasion. Both to be recommended. 

They, are also, two of the most important tools for a politician, alongside charm and reputation, in my view.

And yet, so many get it wrong.

Case for the Prosectution, m’lud, is Terence Blacker's piece on statistics from a study that he doesn't deign to link to, This is a man who probably at heart, starts with a good point 
" When those educated up to degree level were presented with the question, “Politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me cannot really understand what is going on”, a mind-bogglingly 36 per cent concurred. The figure rose to 65 per cent among those who left school at 16

But he concludes in the wrong place, 

It is difficult to explain this degree of cheerful ignorance with any degree of charity." 
due to a complete lack of… well, heart. If you're put off by the tone of the article, then I don't blame you - it’s cynical, sneering, elitist and mean. Oh and contains a dig at X-factor culture which is just lazy. I don’t watch it but I do think it’s OK for people to enjoy it, as they aren't forcing me to watch the thing.

He's not completely wrong, there is clearly an issue, but it’s an extremely uncharitable way of looking at things. I’d prefer to describe the issue as:  if 36 per cent of people (at degree level no less) find politics and government too difficult to understand, is it worth considering that perhaps it is?

Perhaps, in addition, it benefits the people at the top/in the civil service to keep information to themselves or obfuscate the details to serve their own interests, and to preserve the status quo. Business, for instance, has HAD to become more open and transparent due to the pressures of competition, the modern inter-connected marketplace and campaigns like the Plain English campaign. Government has FOI,  but no other real motivation to increase understanding of it's inner workings. 

Step forward, Sir Humphrey:

James Hacker: It is very popular with the voters, Humphrey. Gives them a chance to help us to find ways to stop wasting government money.  
Sir Humphrey Appleby: The public doesn't know anything about wasting government money. We're the experts.

Maybe, dear, lovely ray of sunshine Terence might like to look at ways he personally can improve understanding of the issues rather than sneering at the graduate unwashed. 

In addition, we could also look to teaching the right things at school, it's my view that we currently prefer to teach to tests because it’s easier. It would be better to teach the Dialetic method, or how to examine an argument and deconstruct it. 

It's probably a combination of both of these issues above.

Another issue I have with Mr Blacker's article is I believe, as I've expressed in previous posts, that it is very dangerous  to your emotional health to ignore your emotions. I personally think the best judgement is a combination of thinking AND feeling. 

A little bit of a confession: I have been an elitist snob myself in the past. However, I have learnt from sales and the emotional intelligence work that I've done in my career,  that it’s much easier to persuade (and get what you want) if you find out what people are interested in, don’t consider yourself above everyone else and relate what they want to what you want, so as to establish a win/win situation. 

If you'd like an example on how to persuade properly - follow Hopi Sen's post here. I disagree with him because I believe raising the tax threshold is a better way to give low paid workers more money than the living wage - but Hopi's approach and not Terence Blackers, m'lud, is the way to construct an argument.

Anyone who believes in capitalism should get this from watching any salesman worth their salt. So, I find it interesting that the right wing are often the most sneery and divisive between themselves and the vast swathe of everybody else "not like them".

Yes, the "right-wingers" logic can be better, though logic is not everything, but it’s rather counter-productive, gets people's backs up and is in a way, why the left-wing, sometimes with less logic, get such a foothold – because they care.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Skyfall (SPOILER WARNING).....

This blog is unashamedly about politics and I pretty much keep it on topic. And today is no different - tho the title has to be a bit vague, because (SPOILER) if I say it's about select committees and inquiries you'll have a bit of the clue of the plot of Skyfall - and as it's rather good I wouldn't want to do that.

Back in July I wrote this about Parliamentary Sub-Commitees . It seems I'm not alone a certain revulsion for their current incarnations, and both Skyfall and The Thick of It recently have referenced inquiries and select committees as being akin to the medieval stocks. Indeed, Judi Dench's character, "M", comments on being told she has to appear at an inquiry that she'll be "in the stocks at midday?.

The Thick of It - which apparently only us politicos watch - my Labour friend commented to me in the pub the other night that "nobody else watches it", produced a tour de force the other week, however viewers might find their sympathy seems to be more with the panel than in the Skyfall version of an inquiry - a rather brazen and ego-centric minister asking questions of our statesman-like Judi, perfectly characterising the frustrations and power play often evident in these things.

Have inquiries jumped the shark? With open parody in The Thick of It and big budget movies like Skyfall,  it could be said they've gone rather too far. And as I argued back in July, nothing ever seems to change as a result of them. 

It's a shame, because as Skyfall, Malcolm Tuckers leaving speech about how his job has changed and Dan Hodges correctly identify, the world has moved on. Information is still power, but information, seems to have changed phase. It's more like water than solid blocks of information now - it moves faster, leaks and leads back to a source a lot more easily. With a more open world, a more interdependent one, I, ever the pacifist would like to argue a more stable one - perhaps world peace is closer, or perhaps further away.

So, open parody of a fine idea, to understand and root out deception and get to the truth, suggests that inquiries and committee hearings etc have lost some respect. I think that may be because they've been allowed to get out of hand and become more about the people asking the questions, and as Rachel Cooke describes - their schadenfreude than the answers they are apparently seeking to find.

I guess we'll have to wait for Ed Miliband to call an inquiry into this tho. 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Politicans' relationship with voters

"When I say the word 'politician', what do you think?" the first golfer, named Peter, replied: "Liars"."Selfish," added David."Privileged and arrogant," said Paul. "Devious," said Barry. "Insincere," said Steve. Daphne, the only woman in the group, was not much kinder. "Self-seeking," she said

Through observing this important work that Gloria is doing, I thought that it does have relevance to some of the findings from this series of posts. Though the scope could get wider here, it occurred to me that through these words, we seem to a problem with a breakdown in a relationship. It sounds almost as if these voters split up with a partner they really didn't like very much!

So this started me thinking about the relationship between a politician and a voter. All human interaction forms relationships in my view, the differentiating factor being the length or depth of the relationship.

How should we appropriately define a relationship in this context? Wikipedia tries here. It's not completely the same as a relationship with a significant other, of course but a number of the same concepts can be applied

Commitment: This is an interesting one - the voter is clearly able to change party - that's the point of democracy. However, the politician is encouraged to commit to promises, pledges, manifestos and other written contracts. Very interesting - somewhat one-sided you might say!

Consistency: Consistency is a natural human need that we all have and can be exploited. We seem to want ourselves and others to be consistent. Politicans will know all about this.

Balance: I think the voters at the moment hold a lot of resentment towards the politicans as the perception is, as Gloria De Piero's research above shows, that they are "in it for what they can get" - a rather unbalanced relationship, and the effect is voters are voting with their feet - going anywhere but the polling station.

Shared values: Ah, the holy grail of a political party. This one I think the three main parties articulate quite well, probably because we've been at it quite a long time. However, it is highly volatile. As a Lib Dem, I am passionate about fairness - so I'll be holding up our politicians to a microscope to see how fair they are - but an individual policy or action may put that in jeopardy - even if their general attitude to policy is pretty fair.

In order to perceive if someone has the same values as you, you can only judge on actions. That takes time. In this sense the voters actually have an advantage - the politicians try to judge on intention - polls, however the public judge on action - which is pretty wise. Of course as politicians we can judge on action, in hindsight, after the votes are counted. But then, it's a bit too late to  reference their values or, indeed change their actions. 

Respect: Hopi Sen has also written a very sensible blog post on Labour's lost voters, and why they are wrong. It's actually more respectful in a relationship to be honest, tell the other how you feel (respectfully!) and what you are prepared to do/not do, and then you are both well situated to talk further and perhaps come to a compromise - otherwise you might have to go your separate ways. But, by chasing every vote, rather than drawing our boundaries and saying, in effect "No, I am not prepared to do what you want - and here's why" we may be setting ourselves up for a dysfunctional relationship with the voters - one without boundaries
Trust : And so I come to trust. It's often said that once the trust is gone, that's it. However in both interpersonal relationships and other ones, trust can be restored - it takes time, and references back to both shared values and consistent action. I think there is a breakdown in trust. I'm not sure how it can be regained, but perhaps we need to know better who we are as politicans, politicos, activists in order to better understand our relationship with voters and trust therein.

And to those voters who aren't "wrong" but who have lost faith in the political process anyway? I think it's more that they don't see the point anymore, like a failed relationship.

But, these days, post 1997 and the time the country fell in love with the Labour party, and packed it's bags and left in 2010, who's left to pick up the pieces?

Friday, 19 October 2012

I'd like to help you son, but you're too young to vote Eddie Cochran sang in Summertime Blues

I'm gonna take my problem to the United Nation
Well I called my congressman and he said quote
"I'd like to help you son, but you're too young to vote"
I'm very pleased that 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in the Scottish referendum in 2014. Most pleased because it might cause the same pressure in our own General Elections, tho I know this isn't automatic, given the Scottish and Welsh commiment to more proportional voting systems hasn't filtered down to UK Parliament. 

I am not the most enamoured with Alex Salmond, and I'm sure this is a political calculation on his part rather than the whole hearted support of the extension of suffrage that I believe in down to 16 year olds. The case has been put well by Liberal Youth Scotland, amongst other people.

But to add to that, I'd like to say that the younger the voting age goes, the better (clearly up to a point, and I think 16 is a good age. Yes, older people vote more, and that is to the detriment of younger people who are not participating in making decisions that will affect them far longer, assuming they live longer. But with an aging population, it's more important than ever that the younger generation vote, and that more of them are able to do so.

I support Votes at 16. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A deadening of feeling....

Just watching the excellent Ian Hislop's "Stiff Upper Lip : An Emotional History of Britain" and had a bit of a PING moment.

He refers to Wellington, in his chart of how we ended up such an emotionally repressed nation - in part as a counterpoint to the dreadful French of course - but this is fascinating

Wellington "I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. Not only do you lose those dear friends with which you've been living, but you are forced to leave the wounded behind you. Of course you do the best for them, but how little that is. Every feeling is deadened"

And, as Hislop goes on to say - "it was that very deadening of feeling that Wellington decided was essential, if you were to answer the calls of duty, or public service."

This is especially evocative as a symbolic moment in Wellington destroying his violin - the playing of which he was very good at - by throwing it in the fire. He felt it would get in the way of him winning battles.

How many of us as politicos are throwing away what we consider our "violins" in order to "win battles"? How many of us are deadening our feelings in order to move onto the next doorstep, or to win this election or that one? Does it help?

And crucially - does it help the voters relate to us or do they think we're more out of touch and not like them than ever? 

Maybe that might get the attention of politicos more than focussing on the damage it's doing their own emotional health. Never let it be said I don't know my audience. ;)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Growth - an update.

"The UK economy returned to growth in the third quarter, according to the British Chambers of Commerce.
Based on its survey of 7,593 UK firms, the BCC says the economy grew by 0.5% between July and September, after three consecutive quarters of contraction.
The BCC said it did not agree with the Office for National Statistics' "gloomy estimation" that the UK has been in recession for the whole period."

I like being right. 


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Lib Dem Conference 2012 (or the Children of the Revolution)

So a picture is worth a thousand words? OK, no blog post on Lib Dem conference, just this....

Oh, alright then. Words too then.... Don't say I'm not good to you.....

I love this picture for personal reasons because it contains a number of my very good friends, and also one or two new ones that I like very much as well. It was taken on Tuesday night of Lib Dem conference and kind of sums up a lot of the good things about the week, for me - spending time with those I like and trust, meeting more like-minded folk and having fun.

It also evidences one of the dominant themes for me and other was the new generation at this conference. This was also because of a number of lobbyists, party staff and exhibitors around and about the place.

So what did I do - policy debates, training, fringes on liberty, manifesto forming and how to differentiate from the Tories. I also noticed a lot of my friends and acquaintances were being asked to speak to the media, BBC News, Sky News etc.

In fact this is a trend I've noticed amongst the main blogging sites - tho perhaps it's always been there it seems particularly recently that I've noticed bloggers and commentators pop up on the news. My perception is that when Labour were in power they did a lot of this commentary themselves, rather than leave it to bloggers or whatever Paul Staines is. Now the Tories seem a little more circumspect, and we don't have as much resource as the other two to spend on media appearances, I feel we are hearing a lot more from bloggers.

Back to #ldconf - twitter was key as well, not only for directing people to where you were in the auditorium and greeting me with mnfggggfffff tweets first thing in the morning (you know who you are), but to announce to the world how Nick Robinson and Michael Crick "enjoyed" their first Glee Club and tweet photos as evidence of same.

I also caught it referenced more than once by different MPs, including one grudgingly admitting that he was "on twitter" tho he was sure he didn't know what to do with it.


I think my favourite fringe has to be the one run by Lib Dem Voice - Manifesto 2015 - including Kelly-Marie Blundelll from the SLF and Charlotte Henry from Liberal Reform

It was good to hear both sides of several issues and I wanted both sides to get their teeth into a meaty subject like health or education. I advised this to Helen Duffett and my ideal would be to see a bit conference hall debate and possibly even a vote at the end. 

The most interesting debate was the one on the Justice and Security Bill or as Henry put it as he ushered us all to the hall "Secret Courts". This was also where the group above formed and expressed much liberal indignation about this idea, and listened to impassioned speeches from Jo Shaw before t

Low points: 

The housing motion was described by my debate companion Andrew Tennant as a "fabulous motion" and I agreed, but slightly confused to find conference delegates voting for it as well as the motion against planning reform ahead of it. I'm wondering where we are supposed to build this housing - perhaps Lib Dems are in favour of castles in the air?

In conclusion, I had an awesome time at Lib Dem conference, I'm sure I'll be back, and tho very tired and having lost a few pounds (bizarre as basically living on chips as Kel said) - I do want to do it all again soon. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

Emotions and the Art of Politics (.....well, almost)

I think a lot of activists have had the experience of being shouted at on the doorstep and I'm among them. There is an awful lot of rejection in politics. It's part of the strange nature of a job that you may do very well, but be thrown out of through issues outside your control.

As I look around my friends and acquaintances in this party and others, I see a number of politicos are driven. Driven to change and make things better and/or driven to look good and receive validation from others. As is often said (mostly by my mother!), a psychologist would have a field day with both of those motivations. But it kind of works,for the objectives of the party anyway, which I see as working hard for communities,campaigning and winning elections.
Putting aside the physical cost of an election, which again a few people brought up when I mentioned the emotional cost, I’d like to consider the emotional or psychological cost of:
·         Losing (or even winning) elections
·         Overt rejection and dismissal on the doorstep
·         Fractious relations between party members

The initial clash I see is that the drivers for getting elected seem to be either to make things better or receive validation in terms of votes. This appears to be a huge contradiction against the quite huge possibility of rejection and people shouting at you on doorsteps, in the street or occasionally in your social life (this does depend on who you choose as your friends really, but I’ve known it happen!). To reconcile the two, one needs to be emotionally healthy, or else runs the risk of becoming overly intellectual, as per the protagonist in Crime and Punishment, and divorcing themselves from their feelings. This may cause a person to become less in touch, less charismatic and more aloof - not terribly good for getting elected or indeed internal party relations!
But I’ve never been to a training course about how you may like to preserve your mental health whilst in politics, or really received any advice other than “move on to the next doorstep”. I was thinking about this earlier this week. It’s quite a puzzle. I also hear things such as politics apparently :
“….. attracts weirdos”
“… full of little Hitlers”
“….can bend you out of shape”
“…can take over your life”
I’ve started to wonder if this is really the case, or more likely, it’s a combination of politics attracting egotists and “fixers” but also the process bending more than one person out of shape due to the nature of the activities themselves - and crucially - no where "safe" to let go of this negative energy received.
 We voluntarily stand on doorsteps and do get shouted at. We do it for a number of different reasons, but I think it might be worth while working out what we do with any negativity we receive.
With this in mind, I asked my twitter followers involved in politics (to my account @LouiseShawLD) how they dealt with negativity. I didn’t make it clear whether I was talking about voters or fellow activists, which wasn’t intentional but also brought some interesting observations.
Some of these were:
  • Shout / rant/ blog with internal party people OR internalise it
  • Calmly argue with voters
  • Rise above it  / get smug / counter misinformation (online), shrug it off
  • Use it as a learning curve. Voters must be approached with positivity. Online - find evidence against / come up with witty retort.
  • Vent/rant
  • Someone told me I should include crying, as “it happens”. Very true.
  • It depends on the person :  Negativity from those close to this person - they would seek to find out why and try and change their mind. With strangers he would be more likely to be polite and disengage.
  • Political things - venting. Real life stuff - internalising.
  • Use it to get better, rise above, realise it's their issue
I'd like to go into the subject of crying a bit more. I suspect some male readers will recoil at the idea crying might be a good release mechanism. I’m not an expert but would say that it is better than suppressing or minimizing emotional responses. It is certainly very important. The media can be extremely cruel on election night, looking for defeated politicians about to shed a tear, but that aside, it maybe the one of the most emotionally healthy responses to overt negativity or mis-treatment.
And from my own perspective – I used to internalise but now will rant to some of my good friends that I can trust, or vent by turning into a blog or journal entry.
It seems there are as many different reactions as there are people and also there is a lot of differentiation between differing groups of people and context – those close to us, and strangers; activists and voters; online and “real life”.  I fully appreciate everyone that’s replied to me for their time and thought, which has brought me to this understanding.
Now, into solution mode:
I wonder what we, as a party, could gain from learning about Emotional Intelligence, and learning to feel our emotions, the negativity we receive (and the positivity!) or support each other within this.
When we feel something, it’s important to feel it, hold our opinion lightly and engage with the other person to achieve communication. It’s not really about suppressing or running away from our feelings as that will tend to come out in other ways which can have a detrimental effect on a person.
The other thing that’s brought on this analysis is I recently volunteered for the Samaritans and even at their first" intro" session they stressed the value of emotional health and both feeling and dealing with negative emotions. We can, and I think especially the British can, run away from our emotions and attempt to intellectualise them.What’s fascinating about my replies what just how much differentiation there is between people.  What I think is relevant to politicians and activists is just how much of a difficult experience working in politics is, and how we need to support each other.
I don’t think we should all start crying on doorsteps, but I do think it’s worth reflecting on how we, as activists, might want to be more emotionally supportive of each other, allowing or providing opportunities for activists to vent and rant and move on from any negativity received.
It may be that some people are already doing this within their groups/local parties, if so, please share…

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Reshuffle Kerfuffle...........

It seems Linda Jack and Zadok Day agree - not sure I've ever seen that before. And I disagree with them both. Laws at Education is a great appointment.

Education is very important as I've blogged before - I actually think, given a terrible Hobson's Choice between the two, that I would improve Education over Health. Fortunately we don't have to make that choice.  David Laws has good ideas. David Laws has ideas the other parties don't always agree with. David Laws likes free schools. As do I.

I'm not a Right Wing Lib Dem tho, however much some members of Liberal Reform would like me to be. I do see the sense in good policy and I also believe in devolving power. That's why I actually disagree with party policy on free schools, and I think that's fine. Linda Jack protests against  David Laws holding a different view from the party and that's her objection to the move.

Zadok's is different in that he believes it's a bad use of Laws' talents and that he'll be "wasted at education". I'm not so sure. He's clever, good at negotiations and can make a decent argument. Yes, he's tainted by a frankly stupid move over expenses but he's hardly Peter Mandelson.

In fact my overall impression of this reshuffle is I don't think the Lib Dems have done that bad. People I know are screaming blue murder, about us not having anyone at FCO or MOD.

But, in the interests of pragmatism it doesn't look that bad to me. Norman Lamb, who was only prevented from going into Health because Lansley didn't want him here, is now there. The excellent Jo Swinson has been promoted.

The most baffling response I've seen is the RW Lib Dems response to Laws going into education, as if there was only one place for him to be. If we accept that he's our greatest asset, then surely he should be able to turn his hand to anything - besides he does have a background in education.

It is a little troubling that we still don't know what's happened to Lynne Featherstone or what the Tories plans are on equal marriage - in fact that's quite saddening. But a minister at DEFRA is precisely what we are good at and in fact it's something Lib Dems have complained about in the past, that we don't have anyone there.

Yes, there are huge stories such as what the Tories are doing promoting Hunt to Health Secretary. But, in a strange sort of way, I'd rather they had the big stories. We are good at what we are good at.

I don't think we are big enough to have people in each department - I think it's been hard for us to spread ourselves among the departments we have done. I think the right people have been promoted, and I think the right departments have been targeted.

People that know me may be surprised that I'm not in a reactionary sort of mood. In fact I'm reasonably pleased with the appointments and I also think we've done better strategic moves than our future opponents..... coalition partners have. Plus, I think enough twitter screaming about Hunt will mean the quiet return of Laws shouldn't get the flak that it may have done otherwise.

Am I being stupid? Blindly loyal? Out of touch with the party? Or does a call to look to the positives, analyse the results as they come and stop thinking we are doing EVERYTHING WRONG, not ring a bit true....

I guess we'll see. Either I'm growing up politically or I've been possessed by a equable spirit that  has squashed the reactionary soul inside me, but I really think the best course of action would be to wait and see... We seem too keen to jump on any action we do as a party and condemn it or wonder why we didn't do it this way, or that way. And both "wings" are guilty of that.

And, as for the "watercooler test"  - i.e. did anyone in my office remark on it ? No, not a peep. One for the political birds, or nerds, it seems.