Saturday, 21 July 2012

How to improve the Lib Dems? Just Do It.

I asked a group of LibDems recently what they would do to improve the party. 

Some great suggestions flowed which I won't reproduce here as I haven't got permission. But to use my own example - I think we need more work on strategy, and also for the membership to feel more engaged with this work. 

But what I do see is need for reform in a lot of places - and I would like LDs to step up and actually do their bit rather than moaning about it - so if you think there is a need for more strategy - write one and bug everyone in authority in the party about it till they do something about it to make you go away. If there's a problem with communication between the leadership and the membership, set up a blog/twitter account and use it!  If you are concerned about selection bias, then collate information and put forward a motion to conference about it. The list goes on.

We're pretty smart people, and we can often see a way forward. I'd like the next generation of Lib Dems, and the generation above that (mine) to start and continue to exert influence in this party respectively. I think the results could be pretty exciting.

Just Do It.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Parliamentary Sub-committees - Ritual Humiliation?

After watching the early evening news and watching another hapless soul dragged in front of a huge panel of MPs and humiliated, I was moved to tweet

"Why do we now drag incompetent people in front of parliamentary sub committees for ritual humiliation, what actually happens as a result?"

This was because I feel like I've been watching sub-committees all year, what with Leveson, LIBOR scandal and now this G4S. And I'm also struck by how it feels a bit like putting someone in the stocks, throwing rotten veg (insults and pointed questions) at them and us all somehow feeling better for the process. Leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth as well.

With Rory Stewart's observations that we do things differently here - and are less focussed on outcomes - in mind, there must be something better? I think I touched a nerve because there came three very good replies.

Danny Langley (@danny_langley) commented 

"Good question. Answer = half decent telly, making backbench MPs looking briefly powerful. Win for media, win for MPs."

Which answers the question as to why.

Lee Chalmers (@leechalmers) added:

"Not a damn thing as far as I can see. But it lets us off the hook from taking real action."

Which is what I was thinking - where do we really go with this? It's like we ask the question, prepare a report, put it in the bottom drawer and seem satisfied with ourselves that the "guilty" got their come-uppance.

Finally, came this from Paul Ankers (@Ankersman) 

"fail for country. The interviewees either swat them away or kill themselves. Keith Vaz looked like a bully too"

So, I was reminded therefore of Dr David Kelly - surely the most tragic result from a select committee battering - and really an inditement of this whole process, and makes it look a bit shabby really. And that the bad taste becomes revolting thinking that someone actually died
as a result of one of these things

 Plus of course the way the Murdochs and Cameron blithely assure us they don't know or don't remember vast swathes of their experience.

It's great to see Parliament have some power and as above probably gives the back-benchers a bit of an ego-boost - but a) what are we trying to achieve and b) is this really the best way of doing it?

Edit : Late addition - Archie Bland in the Indy has penned a decent article on the subject here

Monday, 16 July 2012

Social Liberal Conference 2012

I took a day trip to London this weekend. An insanely early train from Stockport got me to London about 8am - rather early, so I wandered round talking pictures of fire station pubs and The Old Vic, amongst other things.

When eventually everyone else arrived, including two of my favourite Lib Dems, Kat Dadswell and Daisy Benson, the first event was the inaugural Beveridge lecture from Nick Clegg. He went through the five giant evils that Beveridge wanted to slay :

  1. Squalor
  2. Ignorance
  3. Want
  4. Idleness
  5. Disease

and added another - Environmental / Ecological impact as, his reasoning was, the impact from environmental effects falls dis-proportionally on the poor when compared to who's generating the pollution or C02. This was an important point and worth considering. 

On a personal level I was stunned to see people who tweet more than me - realising that perhaps I'm on the right (i.e. left) side of the bell curve of twitter addicts :)

We then moved on to a quite bizarre session, for me, with Ed Davey and a lady who mostly seemed concerned about the money supply and who was lending to whom - I think her upshot was we should go back to wooden sticks with notches on them because we couldn't trust banks. I think - it was a bit confused. And very distracted by a tweet from Kavya Kaushik who said Ed Davey reminded her of Wayne Rooney, thereby meaning me and Kat couldn't see anything else for the rest of his talk - unfortunate.... We're very serious people really! 

After all this silliness I made my way to a breakout room where I was really happy to have Daisy Benson in my session and also meet Duncan Stott who I've spent a while admiring his tweets and posts on Lib Dem Voice. It was great to actually meet in real life, and also Kel Blundell who was chairing the session. It was on Well Being through the generations. Lee Chalmers was on the panel, and kicked off with talking about Maslow's Theory of Needs and how to try and meet them all for everyone. Duncan had key questions on this with regard to community, as in how can you foster a sense of community to help wellbeing?  I believe it was Prateek Buch who came back on this to advise politics can help with this - and I totally concur with that - campaigning and talking to people is one of the best ways to get to know your community -  others around me agreed.

The next session was on housing - and Alex Marsh has posted his excellent speech on his blog here , and I was chosen for a question so asked how we as Lib Dems can combat NIMBYism when campaigning locally, so as to meet the policy objective of more housebuilding.

Martin Tod was brave enough to respond to this question and advised that in Winchester, they had used a consultation to ask about longer term plans for the area, lead people to think about their future, their kids future etc. Several people advised me afterwards that it was a good question and I think this could be key for Lib Dems, matching our often well-intentional policy ideals (such as more housing) with our local campaigning / community politics mindset.

If we can crack it, then we may have both vote winners and a better society. Isn't it worth doing some of the intellectual heavy lifting and trying different approaches to figure out how?

After this session, we had a final session in the auditorium. One of the moments from this was Evan Harris making a point about people being proud to be Liberals and or proud to be the Social Democrats and then Amy Darymple breaking in to say "Some of us are too young to be either". 

I and several others tagged in this post clapped and agreed with her. She's right. We are Liberal Democrats. And Proud.

Clearly after that drinking ensued and the rest shall remain private, but a great day and good to spend some time getting to know people better, and meeting people I've known online for a while. Great day - I will be back!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Why I am a liberal # 3 - Joining the Lib Dems

I joined the Lib Dems because a friend said I should. She wasn't a Lib Dem but on the run up to the 2010 election I had a daily argument with a group of my friends who read the Daily Mail about not voting Tory, or Labour either and what the Lib Dems had to offer.

This is interesting because apparently more Lib Dem voters read the Daily Mail than any other paper.  I had read that sentence a few times cos it's easy to misconstrue. I personally believe this has more to do with the Daily Mails circulation, (very high), than any predilection for LibDems to hold nonsensical, kneejerk opinions, but plenty of people who read nonsenscial, kneejerk opinions vote Lib Dem.....

Anyway, I digress, I spent so long trying to convince my Daily Mail reading friends that the Lib Dems were a good option, one of them told me "why don't you go and volunteer for them then?"

After the election, and after a while looking at the local party website I decided to e-mail the Parliamentary candidate. A few emails later my first meeting was arranged by the neighbouring local party. I remember it, and wonder at myself before I got involved in this nefarious, loyal, cynical, idealistic, hardworking, doubledealing, fascinating and interesting world of politics. I remember being startled at being asked if I'd thought of standing. And in an immense hurry to get everything done NOW. 

I've made friends, which isn't surprising as people are on my wavelength in this party. I'm surprised at how loyal people are, which is lovely by the way. It's not at all as I thought it would be - but it's approx. 2 years, many friends and 1 million leaflets after joining, and I'm embedded in this party, my blood runs a bright sunshine colour, and I can't imagine not being a part of it. 

What's your story?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Why I am a liberal #2 - The War on Terror

I was asleep when the first of the Twin Towers got hit in 2001. I was working nights that summer and I was asleep, to be woken up by my boyfriend at the time, shaking me awake and telling me that I "better watch this". We all, as I suppose everyone did, for hours watching the events unfold, which I'm sure I don't need to detail again. We didn't know what to think or say, so said very little.  It was the next couple of years, when my fledgling liberal nature started to agitate itself to the edge of the nest and take a look over, and test it's wings.

I'd voted Lib Dem before, but more out of dislike for "the other two" than anything else. 

I probably had more sympathy with Labour, well not that really but I was swept along with the euphoria of 1997, which by 2002, certainly for my generation had settled down to ambivalence - tuition fees, abandoning Assisted Places, sleaze and corruption, New Labour's love affair with the affluent - the critical thinking amongst me and my peers were wondering  "are we SURE they are any better than the last lot?" 

I'm pretty much a pacifist or liberal in the internationalist sense, and I was then as well. So, as I saw Bush and Blair start to build the case for war, and felt in my gut there was something profoundly wrong with what they were doing - the sense of unease only grew when Colin Powell brandished his test tube at the United Nations, when we were suddenly told about the infamous 45 minutes, when Blair seemed so anxious and full of zeal. He seemed desperate to convince us this was the ONLY thing we could do (I never like being presented with just one option), and the implausibility of being attacked by Al-Queda but having to attack Iraq in return.... that I realised how small the individual actually is in our world. 

And there was one party, only one party that opposed the Iraq War. I voted for it whenever I could. I still do. I think I always will.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Localism and Nimbyism

"....The Lib Dem brand of localism is incompatible w/ liberalism (social, economic or miscellaneous)"

This is what James Shaddock (@jpshaddock *) said on twitter last week whilst in conversation with myself and  and Mike Bird (@birdyword).

We were talking about how people accept the need for cuts, as long as it's not to *their* issue or as James said

"frankly alot of what Lib Dems call localism is just nimbyism"

Now, I know a lot of hardworking local campaigners and councillors, and I've spent a fair amount of time trying to get them elected or re-elected and I think a lot of them do a great job -  keeping stations open to serve local residents being one I agree with. 

But I've also heard over the years  about campaigns to stop things in people's wards I was rather shocked - don't we exist to promote freedom and fairness? 

How can we articulate a clear vision of liberalism if we oppose (for instance) gentlemen's clubs and half-way houses in our wards? "But that's what we have to do to get elected" - how can we square this circle?

Sometimes the quieter people have the opposite view.... sometimes there is a subtely to the argument that gets missed. Sometimes we'd do better to listen to the people without the sharp elbows, for they need representing too - and of course, the evidence.

* which means I think of him as JPS Haddock.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Why I am a liberal #1 - The Criminal Justice Act

A while back, within the context of another debate, I realised one of the reasons I am a liberal was the Criminal Justice Act.

Mostly brought on by The Prodigy,

which the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice is part of the reason for this blog’s name – they were instrumental in opposing the Bill as it was then, and through my obsessional consumption of the NME at the time, it was brought to me in full technicolour that it was bad to stop people dancing, and to a very idealistic 15 year old in a newly minted Pearl Jam T-shirt*, it made perfect sense. I wanted to dance, it wouldn’t do anyone else any harm, and who wanted to stop us again ? And why?

From Wikipedia

Their Law, a song by The Prodigy and Pop Will Eat Itself, was written as a direct response to the bill. A quotation in the booklet of the Prodigy's album Music for the Jilted Generation read "How can the government stop young people having a good time? Fight this bollocks." Hell Yeah!

Of course all my youthful idealism came to nought and the bill was passed, but the nascent liberal was born.

At least part of this was probably feeling that the Tories were mean kill-joys and that Labour were busy telling us things could only get better. Of course Labour would be more cuddly, nice and they would let us do what we wanted if we didn’t harm anyone else (hmmmmmm) – that’ll be post #2 then….

What about you, what was the first thing that inspired your liberalism?

* '9 out of 10 Kids prefer crayons to Guns'. Since you’re asking.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

We continue..... My Centrist View

Pete Tong used to present the Essential Mix on Radio 1. In fact I think he still does. There was a time when I would listen to it religiously, and I've always loved the way he would say "We continue...." quite happily as my favourite mixes moved through their two hour allocation...*

Invoking this, I'm thinking the words "we continue" as I reflect on these two posts:

Ellie Sharman warns against moving to the left:

Then Alex Marsh posts a more than adequate riposte here: 

In short, we've had both sides. Again - we had this erupt in the blogosphere when Liberal Left and Liberal Reform were formed a few short months ago.

And still we continue. We won't outlaw anyone. We don't do that sort of thing. But this does contribute to people not knowing what we stand for - we even have a lot of trouble convincing people we are about freedom tbh and for those of us wont to quote the preamble to the constitution at voters - that's all very nice for our rather intellectual selves but what does it mean to people in their daily lives? What can they rely on us for?

This liberal/libertarian  vs Social Democrat argument interests me but I'm not seeing any conclusions nor a desire to within the party. How about we put the almighty David Laws' ideas on the NHS for instance, to a debate, but rather more like a summit where we have to form a consensus and then vote? Wouldn't that give us more powerful policy that's been ratified by the party rather than arguments about who the Real Lib Dems  are ?

We're all smart people. I do think we are the smartest political party or I wouldn't be in it. Can we reconcile the apparently irreconcilable? And moreover, do we want to?

But I'm sure that we'll continue.... 

*My absolute favourite is Daft Punk, 1997, since you ask.

Monday, 2 July 2012

In defence of politics & political manoeuvres

 I've recently read this rather thoughtful piece by Dan Hodges over at the Telegraph, and I thought about it in context of what I've been saying this last week on here. He first quotes Gordon Brown's view on LBJ's biographies:

“These books challenge the view of history that politics is just about individual manoeuvring. It’s about ideas and principled policy achievements.”

Hodges argues against this as so:
"Which isn’t what they’re about at all. There is an orgy of individual manoeuvring: stolen elections, stitched-up votes, enemies politically silenced, policies bought, favours sold. "
I'm possibly not as cynical as I find Hodges to be here, as I think the individual manoeuvres in politics are a means to an end, which is putting into practice your ideas. However, he's got a point, as he often has.
I used to mistrust politicians as I thought, like a lot of people that they "all lie". Through actually being involved with politics, in the last two years, and counting politicians amongst my friends I've seen things from a different side. 
Plus I've seen the alliance building that you have to be good at to be effective. It's also important to learn to use information, and yes, probably understand how to serve your own interests - or you could be manipulated. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is if you let it consume or overcome you.
I was given Machiavelli's "The Prince" as a present, funnily enough a friend of mine also received this as a present recently and was a little startled - and asked should they be insulted? I wasn't when it happened to me, I thought it was useful book - useful to understand machinations, even if you don't want to participate in them yourself.
That's why I find Gordon Brown's statement above a bit disingenuous. He, of all people, party to the Granita pact to divvy up the power between himself and Blair. Although it was a smart move for the Labour party and a good piece of politics - pretty much a win / win - it's not really about "....ideas and principled policy achievements.” But it may have changed history. Hardly insignificant.

Hodges goes onto to say it's about
"charting the constant conflict, and trade-off, between personal ambition and political idealism. And how the area between the two is a much darker shade of grey than popularly perceived."
A couple of days ago I said there were two types of people in politics, those who wanted to make a difference and egotists. Now, maybe, I'm moderating my view. I guess it's a little murkier... people want to get things done, and to do that they need power. To get power you have to play games, of a kind, and the naive suffer. Again, your character and your values are what matters, as in referring back to them to understand what to do next.
In the Lib Dems, we are alright at tolerating other people's view in general (just don't mention the Middle East!) and have had our fair share of alliance building machinations, both then and now, I'm sure. One thing tho, being a politician is certainly not an easy life. So I still maintain it's a good test of character.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Politicos and arguments.... 3 of 3

Final post in the series inspired by this article on Lifehacker

"All of the research in the world won't help educate you on a controversial issue or statement if you don't look at the evidence and try to draw your own conclusions from it...............Read up on opinions for and against. Do the basic arguments make sense? Are the arguments simply ad hominems (attacks against the other side) or is there actual evidence backing up the claims? And what does the other side have to say about those claims?"

These are important considerations.

I'd like to see lots of debate practice in schools and understanding of how to put an argument together, that of gathering evidence, establishing cause and effect, and proposing a view, but being able to either incorporate opposing views or discounting them properly rather than "he's an idiot so I'm not going to listen to what he has to say" - I've had to work on listening to Owen Jones for instance because  I've disagreed with so much of what he's said in the past, my brain does want to take the short cut

Actually this is documented - our brains like to form patterns and make shortcuts because they have evolved to do that. But, it's not terribly logical and we should be on our guard for it in politics

I find that more and more I am disappointed that debate in this country is so poor. "Tories eat babies" seems to be dominant meme amongst the left, and "The left are stupid morons" seems to be that on the right and neither side listen to each other. In part I am a centrist because the other two annoy me so much with their shorthand for each other, and because I believe in the power of the  Dialectic Method  - that of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis - that through pitting the arguments against each other and removing what isn't true and keeping what is, we end up with better ideas and policy.

And all this goes part way to describing  why I think the Lib Dems are the best *bleeping* team in the world.