Saturday, December 31, 2005

Deep in the heart of the family

I'm taking advantage of a rare quiet moment to make this entry. The past few days have been a blur of parties, with members of my family appearing and disappearing in a flurry of hugs and kind words.

Having recovered from my hangover, I was functional by the time of the wedding, where I was honoured by a request from the groom (Sean, my second cousin) to give one of the readings, an excerpt from Genesis concerning the creation of woman as a helpmate for man. I was deeply touched that Sean should think of me on such a big day for him and, despite some nerves (speaking to a Party Conference will never seem as terrifying again), I'm told that I did quite well.

Michelle (the bride, and a wonderful addition to our family) looked lovely and her dress was simply gorgeous - stop me if this is sounding like a Brides magazine write-up, won't you? - ornate but not fussy, in what looked like ivory rather than white. Sean wore a smart suit and the two of them looked incredibly happy and relaxed. Father Reuben, an old school friend of Sean's, officiated and gave a simple, if heartfelt, sermon.

The reception that followed was another fun affair, and I had a good time, talking to family and friends, occasionally visiting the dance floor (look, if I can jump off of a bridge in front of an audience who are staring at me, an occasional sashay onto the dancefloor can't hurt...).

Yesterday, I took our guest (Laurie, a friend of Clint and Kalina) into town to do some shopping. She had been given a couple of stores to look at, and I was able to find both of them (eventually). We rode the bus into town, as I thought that she should have a real Indian experience. The shopping itself went well, and I bought some useful things in the paper goods store, including some pretty but simple thank you cards (I want to make a greater effort towards the old-fashioned courtesies I value so highly) and two lovely books for use as private diaries. We managed to get a train back to Santacruz before hopping into an auto-rickshaw for the short journey to the hotel.

A quick shower and a change of clothes before crossing over to Juhu for another party, hosted by Richie and Vanessa. Richie is my father's cousin, and their children, Dylan and Arlene, have been one of the surprises of this trip. Dyles (as Kim encourages me to call him) stayed at my parent's place on the way home for the wedding - he's studying in Newcastle for a year - and it was nice to catch up with him after so many years. Arlene is the youngest of the cousins and so we take the phrase "she's the baby, you gotta love her" to heart. It was a somewhat more intimate affair, and there was time to talk politics, crack jokes and generally chill out. And that's something else I'll have to try and do more of in 2006...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Does anyone have an aspirin?

It's Wednesday afternoon, and I feel like death...

"And why is that?", I hear you ask. Perhaps the hangover induced by drinking too much and not getting back to my lovely safe, dark (key word, that one) hotel room until 4.30 in the morning is the clue. It all started with the seemingly harmless sentence, "You're coming back to Santacruz with us, Mark.". No explanation as to why, but then, with my family, you learn not to ask too many questions.

In Santacruz, I am informed that I'm off for a night out with Sean (my cousin, who's getting married tomorrow), the rest of the cousins, as well as friends and family. Needless to say, given that most of them are ten years younger than me, there was drinking and clubbing involved, although eight hours of it was a little more than my delicate constitution can handle. It was a lot of fun though, even if I'm paying for it now...

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A little contemplation on this Christmas morning

It is said that Christmas is a chance to count your blessings, sheltered as most of us are in the bosom of our families. And yet, it is only when things go awry that most of us realise just how lucky we are.

2005 has not, on the face of it, been a stellar year for this particular faceless bureaucrat. My divorce came through two days before the General Election, although it would have had more impact had it not taken me more than six weeks to find out. On the other hand, I have been fortunate enough to have family and friends who have indulged me and put up with my occasional mood swings and eccentricities.

There have been triumphs too. I have tried my best to fulfil a clutch of political roles and those who I have worked with appear to think that I have some credibility, which comes as a pleasant surprise. Their support and understanding has been another of the year's highlights.

I even jumped off a bridge (with a bungy cord attached, I hasten to add) and began to rediscover the true Mark - not such a bad person to know, I flatter myself to believe - someone who had been in self-imposed exile for ten years.

And so I realise how lucky I am. Given the unpleasant and/or unfortunate things that have happened to others this year, as well as those who are without the supporting scaffolding of friends, families and workmates, life could be so much worse. The realisation of such good fortune inspires me to continue working for a better, more inclusive, more open society, which is surely what liberalism is all about.

And so I will aim to work as hard, or harder, than I did this year, and continue to count my blessings, even when life proves to be more than unusually trying. The fortunate amongst us owe it to those less fortunate, don't we?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Faceless bureaucrats: a faceless bureaucrat salutes you!

It's been an odd day.

I started by setting off for the Indian High Commission to get my visa for the forthcoming family wedding in Mumbai. Just as I was leaving Peckham, I realised that I had left my passport at home (duh...). So I went home, collected the passport and headed for India House, at Aldwych. I get to the window, form completed, money and photographs ready, only to be told that my passport, good for another five years, cannot be used as there are no blank pages left (that'll teach me to travel, won't it...).

What to do? No choice but to head to the Passport Agency at Victoria, with dread in my heart. It's three days before Christmas, millions of people are leaving the country, I'm bound to be there all day, aren't I? To my immense surprise, I turn up, am given a form to complete, which takes about two minutes, given an appointment within five minutes, hand over the forms and am told that my passport will be ready in four hours. Oh and yes, I don't have to hang around, just pay for it and come and collect it any time between 4.30 and 8.45. I hand over my credit card to give them £104.50 and off to my office. At 8.30 I return. The passport is ready, there's no queue and I'm on my way.

Haven't these people heard of making life difficult for the public? Why is the building well-maintained, efficient and comfortable? Why are the staff pleasant and helpful? I bet that there hasn't been a prominent article to say how good they are, yet there were plenty when the new computer systems went sour a few years back. But I forget, the public sector is horribly inefficient (as the Daily Mail keeps reminding us) and the whole thing should be contracted out to an Turks and Caicos Islands registered company owned by former Tory Ministers and 'employing' young children in a sweat shop somewhere in Burma...

Anyway, many thanks from a faceless bureaucrat to my fellow inmates in the UK Passport Agency...

A token ethnic minority male writes...

I found this picture the other day and thought that my family might like to see me in best faceless bureaucrat mode. Notice how I am cunningly part-hidden by the microphone. On the far left is Baroness Sarah Ludford, a member of the European Parliament, next to her Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park and on my right, Lynne Featherstone, MP for Hornsey and Wood Green. In the middle is Mandy Wells, our former Regional Conference Chair. So what am I doing there?

Well, Mandy said that she needed an aide and, given the others on the platform, she wanted a token male. Having been married, I knew exactly what to do...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Everywhere I look there are young people

An evening out with Dylan and Kim last night for a few beers and a chance to catch up. Until the weekend, I hadn't seen Dylan for fifteen years and my, has he grown up? He's in England studying for his Master's exams (he's in the merchant marine) and was spending a few days in London on his way back to Mumbai for the wedding of the year (I can say that because Leon gets married in 2006 and Clyne in 2007). Given that he was about twelve last time I saw him, it was good that he was so easily recognisable (he looks very much like his father, Richie).

He and Kim are particularly close - they're about the same age - and they chatted away whilst I occasionally got a word in edgeways and revelled in my 'old man' status. However, you know you're getting old when your ability to keep up with the beers begins to fade.

Luckily, I'll see Dyles in Mumbai in less than a week, as well as hordes of the other strands of the family. There'll be a string of parties (bad for the waistline, great for the spirit), and I'll have a chance to stretch my imagination a bit, in anticipation of a pretty tough year ahead. And it will be warm...

Friday, December 16, 2005

So much to do, so little time...

To be honest, I'm bored with the ongoing Liberal Democrat "leadership crisis". So, until someone declares against our glorious leader, I'm not going to comment any further - unless I feel like it, or there's a 'y' in the day, or something...

I'm busy enough anyway, letters to write, meetings to arrange, a house to tidy, ironing and laundry to catch up with, leaflets to deliver, you name it, it needs doing. The problem with a hobby like politics is that you need someone to help you with the rest of your life, and I'm not even an elected official. Lynne Featherstone was right, if truth be told, when she said (if I recall correctly) that you need someone to help carry the load, whether they're paid or otherwise. Alternatively, you need a ruthless degree of focus, which I don't have, or at least can't maintain for more than about fifteen minutes!

Of course, having a deadline helps, and mine is next Sunday evening, just nine days away. If it's not done by then, it'll wait until 2006, as I'm away, attending a family wedding. It has got to be more fun than the day to day torture of "responsibility".

Time for bed though, I think...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Just in case you hadn't noticed...

All of this talk about Charles Kennedy's leadership is truly fascinating. No, I really mean it. I'm intrigued that discussions are apparently going on all over the place, suggesting that he should either get better or get out.

And yet, there are a few minor problems here that perhaps need to be dwelt upon. Ming and Simon have publicly sworn fealty, I've not yet been in a room where any group can agree on who should run if a contest were to take place and, perhaps most important of all, the electorate (oh yes, them...) haven't seen sight nor sound of any bandwagon.

Now given that my vote is as valuable as that of any of the MPs and, as a constituency Chair and Regional Executive member, I might have some very minor influence on the votes of others, it might not be unreasonable to expect my opinion to be of interest. It clearly isn't... yet.

I must admit that I've never voted for a winning candidate for the leadership (I voted for Alan Beith against Ashdown, and David Rendel last time) so my support might not be seen to be a terribly good omen, but I have to admit that Charles has come as a pleasant surprise. When it really matters, his gut instincts have been sound, liberal and easy to support. Yes, he does appear lazy by comparison to his predecessor, a man whom, if memory serves, is able to kill with his bare hands... but is David Cameron any better? Who knows? So why rush to ditch a leader who, even when not performing at his best, is seen as much more likeable than Blair, much more human than Brown and much more honest than any Tory you could mention?

I conclude with a message for any plotters out there. Please don't. Off the record briefings aren't big, they aren't clever, and when you're exposed, most Party members will vote for someone more transparently decent. I know that I will...

Confused of South London writes...

I've spent an evening watching a politician talk about liberty, responsibility and fairness. All things that a Liberal Democrat would applaud, you might think, and you would indeed be right. The only catch is, the politician in question is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (and kind of my boss), the Right Honourable Gordon Brown MP, PC.

He made all of the right noises in terms of principles, and you can see how many Liberal Democrats tend towards a preference towards Labour as opposed to the Conservatives. Unfortunately, and I do mean that, I find myself wondering how a desire for liberty can be squared with support for the abolition of jury trials, ID cards, holding possible terror suspects for ninety days without charge, greater centralization of power and more besides. And how do you encourage people to take more responsibility for themselves in an increasingly coercive, nanny state? And as for fairness, what a remarkably woolly word that is. Does anyone expect a politician to call for less fairness? Fairness for who? Fairness how?

To give Gordon credit, his references covered most of the great political theoreticians of the past three hundred years, poets, writers, economists and the effect was marvelous. Yet look more closely, and it was a blur of concepts without substance. I still find myself wondering what he actually stands for, apart from not being Tony Blair.

An opportunity lost, Gordon, an opportunity lost...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

When friends and reality intervene...

It is with some surprise that I concluded yesterday that I have a job to do, and that there is a debt to be repaid. And so, gentle reader, it is with some puzzlement that I announce that I am a candidate to be Regional Secretary of the London Liberal Democrats for 2006.

A number of people far wiser than I have counselled reflection and been far nicer about my actions than I perhaps deserved. Their support and advice has been very welcome and, in the midst of an approval interview yesterday, it dawned on me that if I have the skills attributed to me, I should use them for a wider good (heavens, that sounds pompous but what the hell...). This is of course presuming that a better candidate doesn't emerge... I have advised my friends, including the Regional Chair, that I am to throw my hat (it's from Ecuador and is black with a black and white band) into the ring.

It has come as something of a relief, if truth be told. I've always believed that whilst you shouldn't dwell on regret, a degree of honest doubt cannot be a bad thing. Yet when honest doubt becomes a distraction, then it is time to revert to principle. My principles are founded on the liberal concept of an informed, participatory democracy and so I must, in my slightly eccentric and perplexed manner, fight for them with my weapons of choice - a set of coloured pens, a notepad and a hunger for knowledge.

And so we await the verdict of the London jury...

Friday, December 09, 2005

A penguin is a bureaucrat's best friend

I have to admit that I'm rather looking forward to "March of the Penguins". Having been to visit penguins in New Zealand (fairy and yellow-eyed), and being the sort of person who loves to watch them in zoos, the idea that a movie about them could become a hit is perfectly understandable.

Of course, the idea that they all look the same is obviously attractive to a bureaucrat (it's difficult to assign blame when you can't tell which is which!) but I would really enjoy spending quality time with them.

Troublingly, it appears that some people can't even watch a documentary without assigning their rather narrow-minded philosophy to it. The film apparently "promotes monogamy" and is "an affirmation of Christian values". Funnily enough, penguins aren't Christian and I've never seen any at the Catholic masses that I've attended (of course, they could all be Protestant... and, now I think about it, some of the nuns that I've met...). And as for monogamy, how could anyone tell? There are thousands of them, and they all look the same. How could anyone tell if one or two of them sneak off for some illicit non-monogamous sex?

It's just a movie! They're just penguins! They don't have a moral code, or at least, if they do, they aren't about to tell us what it is. At least they don't make reality programmes like "I'm a penguin, get me out of here!". I take it back, they clearly do have a superior moral code...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Where Valladares rules the Earth...

For some obscure reason, my beloved Local Party elected me as Chair for 2005, and this remarkably coincided with our best General Election result in living memory (and our Honorary President has a very long memory...). This encouraged them to re-elect me for 2006 and, as a result, I found myself in a very trendy bar in East Dulwich this evening, meeting some of our members for our regular monthly get-together.

I actually enjoy these events because we talk politics, not necessarily strategy, and I have a chance to meet people who don't spend their entire time doing nothing else, i.e real people. This evening, one of our newest members came along, and I hope that we managed to make him feel welcome.

Our campaigning appears to be going well, and more and more people are getting involved but I'm conscious that we have to keep people motivated in the face of a remarkably unsubtle Labour campaign. They clearly have very few activists, little in the way of a positive message and absolutely no scruples, so we're going to have to stay focused on what the purpose of local politics actually is, i.e. making life better. I've got a great campaign team and my job seems to be to keep out of their way, whilst making sure that they have everything they need to fight and win. The next five months are going to be very interesting!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Did anybody see that tax rise?

My specialist field is corporation tax and I was, to put it mildly, somewhat surprised, to see the Chancellor announce that he was;

(a) abolishing the non-corporate distribution rate (introduced in 2004), and:

(b) abolishing the starting company rate of 0%,

both effective from 1 April 2006.

From an administrative perspective, it will make the tax affairs of a large number of small and medium-sized companies much simpler. On the downside, companies with profits below £50,000 will be paying more corporation tax.

For example, a company making £8,000 in profits would pay no tax at all in the year ending 31 March 2006, but in the year ending 31 March 2007, the same company will pay £1,520 in corporation tax. A company making £25,000 would expect to pay £3,562.50 in the year ending 31 March 2006, but £4,750 in the year ending 31 March 2007.

I have a nasty feeling that this isn't going to be popular and, whilst there has been some compensation in the increase in first year capital allowances (50% instead of 40%), I sense that we won't have heard the last of this...

A mystery sketch

Gentle reader, I have a mystery for someone out there to solve. I know that it's a bit of a long shot, but my younger brother suggested that I put it on the blog on the basis that "you never know". So, does anyone recall who wrote this...

(Mark and Rachelle sit at the breakfast table. Mark is reading the paper. There is a knock at the door. Rachelle goes to answer. Returns with armful of post.)

Mark: (from behind paper) Who was that dear?

Rachelle: Just the postman.

Mark: (in a bored tone) Much post then?

Rachelle: No, much less than usual. (she starts looking through pile of post) Look, here's a letter from Jacques Delors. The Environmental Commission have rejected our plans for a new living room carpet.

Mark: Oh, really?

Rachelle: Yes. They consider it environmentally harmful. It doesn't match the curtains.

Mark: (bored) Oh dear. I warned you not to employ Dan Press as an interior decorator.

Rachelle: And here's another one. Let me see... "Under the terms of Commission Directive 34.2 (iv) of 1990, it has been held that your wallpaper exceeds the guidelines laid down by the Council of Ministers for bad taste, and must be replaced within thirty days."

Mark: Well, we'd better do something about it then. Who do you suggest we call for assistance?

Rachelle: Well, there was that nice architect we met in the wine bar the other evening.

Mark: Oh yes, I remember. But didn't he design Lelystad? Might that not still be a little too adventurous?

Rachelle: Maybe you're right. Still, there's always Madeleine Sjostedt.

Mark: Yes, no one could ever accuse her of having bad taste.

Well I think that it's funny, although there are a number of in-jokes and dated cultural references. Would the author(s) please come forward?

An afternoon north of the river

To Hornsey, for an afternoon at Baroness Northover's lovely home, drinking mulled wine and eating the occasional mince pie, plus a little plotting and scheming. It was good to see a few other "out-of-towners" amongst the assembled members and activists, and I was able to discuss the prospects for Lambeth with Darren Sanders, who fought Streatham in the General Election (Streatham won, but it was a close run thing...).

Lindsay was a lot of fun, telling me about her adventures as Returning Officer for the Parliamentary Candidates Association, which sounded like a lot of fun, albeit the sort that you laugh about afterwards. Jonathan Fryer was in good form too, as was Lynne Featherstone, who continues to resemble a normal human being despite having been an MP for six months.

Then off to Barnet, to visit my younger brother, Kirk (the tall, dark, handsome one), his wife Mandy and their three children (Natasha, Imogen and Lucas). It's Natasha's birthday today and I wanted to drop off her present in person. They live in High Barnet ward, where the by-election campaign is reaching fever pitch. I'm assured that despite this, they'll be voting Liberal Democrat...

Friday, December 02, 2005

My pension or my life?

Will this government please make up its mind about my pension?

Naturally, I work in government (where else did you expect to find a liberal bureaucrat?) and I've been watching the public debate about my financial future with some interest. First the government proposes that I work until I'm 65, which I have no problem with, if truth be told. Then I'm told that nice Mr Johnson has agreed that, after all, I can collect my pension at 60. All hell breaks loose, led by those nice caring people from the Daily Mail (who, were they to be found burning in hell, would be lowering the tone of the neighbourhood...).

So the government gets wobbly (and that's a surprise, isn't it?), and our next Prime Minister, sorry, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announces that he isn't so sure. The Minister for Work and Pensions announces that the government has no plans to revisit the position (shorthand for, if we can break our word and get away with it, you bet we will). Pressure builds, as the CBI attack the government for backing down from a fight with the big, bad civil service unions (you are joking, Digby, aren't you?).

Alright then, I'll cut you a deal... I'll stay on until 65, longer if I'm fit and still enjoying it, you amend my pension to compensate me for the extra years. You'll probably still make money on the deal, I won't be roaming the streets mugging young people in hoodies and stealing their sweets money, and by spending my time in a nice, heated government office, I won't be using valuable fossil fuels heating my home. Just treat me with a little respect, as without me, you wouldn't be able to raise the funds for those nice little nuclear submarines you'd set your heart on...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Which part of "resignation" is so hard to get?

I'm a mite puzzled (and yes, I know, there are those of you out there who are convinced that this is my semi-permanent state). I tendered my resignation as Regional Secretary on Thursday. Today I get an e-mail regarding a future meeting and a request to gather certain information from the very person I tendered my resignation to. Hang on a moment, I think, haven't I resigned? Doesn't that mean that I'm not Regional Secretary? Or am I in some sort of weird parallel universe where the word resignation means "a courteous way of saying that everything is fine"?

On the plus side, talking to a couple of more sensible colleagues, I finally found someone who understands the concept of resignation as a point of honour. Stand up Maureen de Beer, former Chair of London Region. Has our politics decayed to the point where a long memory is required to countenance the idea that someone might resign because it is the morally right thing to do? Does this explain the disenchantment of the public with politics?

This does leave me with the question of my future role on the Regional Executive. Clearly, a firm grip of corporate governance issues might be helpful, and I need to spend more time on candidate issues, so that seems like the obvious route to go down. It might even be fun to do without a little thankless responsibility from time to time...

Monday, November 28, 2005

When candidates are a necessary evil

An evening spent at headquarters, looking at candidate review forms from the General Election (and you thought that they just got filed...). The London Candidates Committee held its eighth meeting to examine the respective review forms from the Local Party and their candidate(s).

Some of them have obviously been completed with care, others less so. Most candidates appear to have reached the same conclusions as the Local Party in terms of the success (or otherwise) of the campaign, although occasionally you see a difference of views that is surprising. I have to admit that the one I completed for Dulwich & West Norwood (I'm the Chair... still...) took longer than it ought to have done (the dog ate it, honest, Mr Orrell...). 

It was quite easy though, as we did much better than I had expected - 24%, a 9% plus swing from Labour, and pushing the Tories into third for the first time ever. Jonathan Mitchell, my predecessor as Local Party Chair, did very well, despite the limitations of an under-resourced campaign. And you can hardly fault the candidate given such an outcome...

Even the MPs fill these forms in, and interesting reading they make too. Having never fought a campaign where my candidate has won at any level below a London-wide list (and if we didn't win those, we really ought to give up), it's fascinating to see what their expectations are in terms of local organisation and integrated campaigning...

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Happiness is a warm pair of socks

Having successfully assassinated another household gadget, this time the washing machine (made whirring noises, no sign of the drum moving), I spent a peaceful Sunday morning tidying the house, filing and generally pottering about whilst awaiting the delivery of a replacement from Comet (if you're reading, gentlemen, your website is actually pretty good - and a home cinema system would be a nice gesture in return for this shameless plug).

Amazingly, they came within the time window, disconnected the old machine, brought in the new one, connected it up, tested it and were gone. Time to do some laundry, I thought, as I really needed some clean socks. It'll make a good test... and now that I have a gadget that comes with a dryer too, I won't have to spend time moving drying laundry around. It's amazing how such little things enhance your life... Anyway, the machine did its thing, producing me twenty pairs of clean, dry and warm socks. Let joy be unconfined!

Another thing that I've discovered is that I actually quite like a nice cup of tea. Yes, I know, "he's English, with an Indian father, of course he likes tea". Funnily, having been married to an American for fourteen years, I'd switched to coffee and hadn't really given tea a backward glance. I suppose that spending more time with my mother (who really does like her tea) has had an impact.

In contrast to the warmth inside, outside is "a mite parky", with a cold wind blowing. We've been lucky in London, no snow (unlike Brussels) so far. I noticed that John Hemming is talking about gas prices and I have to admit that the link between high oil prices and cold winters doesn't augur well for the months to come. Luckily for me, I've always taken the view that putting on an extra layer is just as easy as turning up the thermostat. And of course, with the new washer dryer, I can clean the extra clothing quickly!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Shoot first, ask questions later?

I may have done something very stupid, gentle reader, and all in the cause of honour and integrity... so here is a cautionary tale for anyone who feels that politics should be the preserve of those who believe in such things.

In a burst of enthusiasm after the election of the new Executive Committee, I issued an agenda for our next meeting which included elections of the remaining Officers and of the standing committees, based as much on my (occasionally flawed) memory as any reading of the Constitution, and called for nominations.

One of my fellow Officers responded overnight, indicating his disquiet at my breach of the Regional Constitution and noting that these positions should not be elected until the first meeting in 2006 (I paraphrase slightly...). I opened my e-mail at 9 the next morning and read his comments with alarm.

Pausing only to pour a metaphorical glass of single malt and light a metaphorical cigar, I drafted an e-mail to the Chair, tendering my resignation...

Having read Brian's e-mail, and researched the events of November 2004, I must accept that he is quite right.
Under the circumstances, it seems clear that my position is unexpectedly untenable and, given the way I do politics, it is appropriate that I accordingly tender my resignation as Secretary, effective forthwith.

I then retired to polish my metaphorical pearl-handled revolver and load it before returning to send the e-mail (the metaphorical equivalent of putting the gun to my temple and pulling the trigger - I like this metaphor, it has a real sense of theatre about it). And all this by 9.30...

The remainder of Thursday was spent, quite frankly, in a bit of a daze but I had begun to reconcile myself to the whole experience by the evening, only to get a telephone call from a member of the Regional Executive whose opinion I value highly, advising that someone else had resigned from another part of the Party for reasons rather more heroic (i.e. unnecessary) than mine. I explained to her why I might not be the best person to talk him round but agreed to call him and try to persuade him to change his mind. The two of us have a number of similar issues and I hope that I was in some way persuasive.

To cut a long story short, I came home from English Council this evening with the thought of confirming my error so that, at next weekend's Executive Committee, I could explain my reasoning if required to do so. And that's where this story takes a rather quirky turn... I read the Regional Constitution, which states that both the remaining Officers and the standing committees should be elected at the first meeting of the Regional Executive after the Annual General Meeting.

So, I have now resigned on the grounds that I have committed a breach of the Regional Constitution, even though I actually haven't. Unfortunately, it is my view that a gentleman, having tendered his resignation, cannot then withdraw it, as this would make a mockery of the principle of honourable conduct in public life. As a faceless bureaucrat, if you don't live up to your principles, you bring little else to the party and so I am impaled on the horns of my own ethical code. Has anyone got one of those Swiss Army knives with the gadget for extracting sharp, pointy things from self-inflicted wounds?...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Darlings, I love you all!

I appear to able to do no wrong at the moment. Best of all, I've achieved my first resolution for 2005, i.e. to get re-elected to all of the positions I won in 2004!

Given the opposition, I'm rather proud of the achievement, and perhaps I've made some impression, although being an arch-enemy of Nasser can't hurt. So, I'm back on English Council and the London Candidates Committee and all that is left is whether or not the Executive are willing to endure my eccentricities as Secretary for another year. That can wait until next week though...

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, I had to buy a new washer dryer, as my old washing machine bit the dust. I can hear the machine trying to spin the drum but nothing happens. I guess that the cost of trying to repair it would make buying a new one a better option so I went online and ordered one from Comet. They'll deliver it, install it, test it and take the old machine away on Sunday morning. It'll be interesting to have a dryer, as Rachelle didn't seem to approve of the notion. My life will be easier, that's for certain!

Monday, November 21, 2005

And the winner is...

Me! Yes, in a thrilling election result (well, thrilling for me at least), I have been gloriously re-elected to the London Region Executive Committee. And quite comfortably too, having been elected on first preferences and in third place. It would seem that I did something right this year, although I'm a little puzzled as to what it might be.

Once the results are published (it would seem that Secretaries get an advance copy...), I'll report further.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Didn't we have a luverly time, the day we went to Southwark!

Regional Conference day broke bright and sunny, if rather colder than I would have asked for. Given that I couldn't even work out what I was going to wear, it didn't augur well for a successful day but I managed to get there pretty much on time, only to discover that some idiot had "leaked" the agenda to the Evening Standard and spun my motion to represent an attack on the Party leadership.

This rather spoiled my day, I must admit, as attacking the leadership is never particularly clever, unless you're going to openly explain why you're doing it. And even then, it should only be done when the leadership has actually done something wrong.

So I fretted my way through the day, completely failing to address the question of what I was going to say in my speech (full marks for emotion, nul points for common sense). I managed to draft a vague, if unfinished, outline, delivered it in a rather wooden manner and awaited the backlash - which didn't come... Yes, there were those who felt that the motion wasn't radical enough, a point I had already acknowledged, but the thrust of the motion was overwhelmingly accepted. The attempt by my presumed nemesis to refer the motion back was derailed by my rather unsubtle intervention preventing him from reading out the reason for his request (gentle reader, the art of winning debates is sometimes about reading the rules for debate).

You are asking what the result was, aren't you? Well... the motion, with two accepted deletions (I may be a cautious bureaucrat but I'm not stupid...), was passed with possibly one vote against. The next step is to take it to Federal Conference, where the fun will truly start. There are those who will wonder why I'm doing this, and I have occasionally wondered myself, but it is fundamentally the right thing to do and so I will proceed with it. I'll return to this point in the future, no doubt...

Otherwise, it was a really good conference, with some excellent debate and some great speakers. Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, was actually quite funny, in spite of making a series of very cogent points about the loss of civil liberties inherent in the Government's proposals on terrorism and security. Having never seen her before, I was pleasantly impressed as some people in positions such as hers can be a bit pompous and lecturing.

And now back to work, there's so much to do!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Make merry, for tomorrow we may die...

It's early in the morning and I'm fighting Cincinnati (he's red, he's a cat, and American sports fans will get this...) for control of my computer keyboard (and he's bigger than I am - or at least his personality is).

Today is the Regional Conference of the London Liberal Democrats, an opportunity to catch up with old friends, make new ones and exchange "war stories". I get to speak, on a motion of my own devising, and, although I thought that the concept of enhancing opportunities to play a full part in our campaigning for all was "a good thing", I'm beginning to wonder if I didn't make a mistake.

I seem to have made a mortal enemy in the "Mole Valley Mauler", Nasser Butt. He's attacked me in print, called for me to be voted off of the Regional Executive, questioned my motives and been generally rude and churlish. What I don't understand is, why? Oh well, on the basis that any publicity is good publicity, I can only be flattered by the notion that I am important enough for someone to think that they can enhance their credibility by attacking me. Besides, I enjoy the cut and thrust of the debate, if truth be told...

Oh, and of course, polls close tomorrow in the Regional elections. I wonder what will happen? More news as it happens!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

English Council is coming, the turkey's getting fat...

Curious really, that English Council takes place over the Thanksgiving weekend. In years gone by, I would have spent the day slaving over a huge turkey (and, for the record, I'm remarkably good at roasting turkeys - a political skill, I presume). This year, I will worrying about achieving my goal of ensuring that London Region has its full complement of representatives at English Council.

The advantage of being both the Regional Whip and trusted is that I get to nominate the substitutes and I've taken the chance to attempt to rebalance our delegation, initially 16 men and four women. Unfortunately, two of the four women already on the delegation have needed substitutes so I've had little impact thus far.

On the plus side, ten women have run for places this year, so hopefully things will be a little better in 2006. Whether or not I will still be Regional Whip is of course dependent on getting re-elected to the Executive Committee and that could be a bloodbath, as the opposition is pretty strong. Given that most of the people that I've been able to impress this year (why are they impressed?) need to vote themselves back in too, I may struggle but, fingers crossed, I've done enough.

Then, of course, I have to be re-elected as Secretary and Regional Whip at the Executive Committee meeting that follows on 3 December. Which reminds me, I need to construct an agenda...

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Happy Birthday to me!

Yes, another birthday rolls around, 41 this year (oh God, I'm dying, aren't I...).

Yesterday in North London with my family, giving and receiving presents. I'm not hugely enthusiastic about birthdays, having always seen them as just another marker towards impending death (cheery soul, aren't I?). On the other hand, it is nice to spend time with my parents, younger brother, his lovely wife and their three amazing children plus, as a special short-term bonus only, my cousin Kim, recently arrived from Wellington, New Zealand.

I spent quality time with the family creative brains trust, looking at ideas for an advertising campaign. With my father in media, younger brother a graphic designer and Kim having worked for an advertising agency, I sometimes wonder what I add but am told that I evaluate ideas pretty well. So, do what you do well and enjoy the rest, I say. Doing things as a family is something I never realised I had missed but, throw a bunch of Valladares's together, and some sort of weird chemistry takes place... and fun ensues.

Family is great!...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Vote for me... oh, you already have...

Amazing! I get home, jetlagged out of my mind, spend the day at the office before going to the Annual General Meeting of my beloved local Liberal Democrats to be re-elected as Chair without opposition. I then come home and find that I've been elected to the English Candidates Committee! I'm stunned but it proves that the llama worked (see my earlier posting on this subject).

Now, if I survive the elections for the Regional Party less than two weeks from now, I've defended all of the positions that I won last year and gained a new one.

The meeting this evening went really well, with Susan Kramer, MP for Richmond Park speaking eloquently on what it is like to be a Member of Parliament before answering a range of questions on key issues. She was every bit as good as I had hoped she would be. Caroline Pidgeon, our council Executive Member for Education was very enlightening in terms of what we're doing in the borough, and there were interventions from Belinda Knowles, our ward organiser, Jonathan Mitchell, our Parliamentary candidate this time, and Richard Thomas, our council Executive Member for the Environment.

It was great fun and I managed to stay awake throughout... despite the jet lag. Things are looking good!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bush must die?

Welcome back to Buenos Aires, where revolt is in the air...

The Summit of the Americas takes place in Mar del Plata, about an hour's flying time from here and, naturally, the leader of the free world will be here. Unfortunately, given the evidence of posters, t-shirts and cartoonists, George W is none too popular. Whilst wishing death upon him and caricaturing him as a Nazi are somewhat excessive, he hasn't evidently made a lot of friends down here in what is an increasingly radicalised continent.

Meanwhile, the sun shines down on a city I would happily stay in. And yet, behind the glamour of Recoleta and Puerto Madero is a country where half the population are supposedly below the poverty line, where people sleep in shop doorways and where hawkers roam the metro system. If you are well-off here, life is good, very good. Otherwise...

Tonight I fly to New York, for more quality time with family. Having family members seemingly everywhere is great, as it gives me an excuse to travel and someone to look forward to seeing when I get there...

Monday, October 31, 2005

Just a typical Sunday in Bogota...

Sundays in Bogota are surprisingly pleasant. Someone in city government obviously got the crazy idea into their head that allowing people to reclaim the city was a good thing. And so, one of the main arteries in the centre of the city is dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists only. It works, and creates a really pleasant atmosphere for a gentle morning stroll. Clearly the locals agree, as the pavements are crowded with families walking their children and/or dogs or, as in one interesting case, their parrot, which was squawking away, sitting on a small wooden perch.

I took the opportunity to attend Eucharist at the cathedral, which was traditional in tone and style (I'm not the most devoted Catholic but I'm guilty about it...). The cathedral itself is remarkably well kept.

I even managed to get some shopping done, before heading back to the hotel to pack, have some time in the steam room and an hour of massage before my journey to the airport. So now I must leave you, waiting in Sao Paulo for my onward connection to Buenos Aires. Life's a bitch, isn't it?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gold, gold, and it's all... not mine...

I had said that I wasn't impressed with Bogota when I passed through the first time and, I must now confess, I was wrong.

On arrival, I set off for the Zona Rosa in Northern Bogota and discovered a world of nightlife and action. If I were fifteen years younger and forty pounds lighter, I could really have an entertaining existence, assuming of course, that I could rid myself of my persistent introversion!

Yesterday I visited the Museo del Oro, a collection of ancient gold artifacts. It really is amazing what they were able to do 2,000 years ago although some of the headwear would require neck muscles of steel to be worn with any degree of comfort whatsoever.

This evening, I head back to Buenos Aires and sea level. Altitude has been a problem for the past week but it has taught me to maintain my diet and exercise regime. I can't see a downside to that in any event.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Gol... Deportivo!

Another perfect day in Quito, although I'm struggling with the altitude.

This evening saw my first look at football Ecuador-style and I have to admit that I wasn't that impressed. Along with 1,511 others, I turned up at Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa to watch Deportivo Quito play bottom of the table Liga de Loja. Obviously, Deportivo decided that they would help the team from Loja by playing to their opponents level but, despite this, took the lead midway through the first half.

Just before half-time, a nasty collision saw both Deportivo's goalkeeper and a central defender prostrate on the floor and unable to start the second half. This clearly encouraged Liga de Loja, who looked quite dangerous and were rewarded with an equaliser. I'm sure that the four away fans were delighted... Despite an increased sense of urgency, the home team got no closer that hitting the woodwork and the game ended 1-1.

I'd thought that the crowds in Peru and Bolivia last year were disappointing but clearly South American fans only come to the big games, and this clearly wasn't one of them...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

I'm in the middle of the world, Ma!

Just so that you have an idea as to where I am, here's a map of Ecuador. I'm in Quito, in Andean Ecuador.

Today, I went to Mitad del Mundo, the place just north of Quito where measurements were taken that proved that the Ecuator was where it is. To mark the spot, a large monument has been built with a globe on top and, to make matters easier for those without a compass, a handy line has been marked so that you know which side of the Equator you are on at any given moment. I'll post a picture when I get back.

Monday, October 24, 2005

In the Avenue of the Volcanoes!

Welcome to Quito, capital city of Ecuador! As you can see from the picture, the city is at the foot of one of the many huge volcanoes which form the primary geographical feature of the area.

Quito itself is at about 9,000 feet and getting oxygen into your lungs is not that easy. As long as you don't overextend yourself though, it is manageable.

I arrived here from Bogota, having flown from London to Buenos Aires via Washington on Wednesday, then Buenos Aires to Bogota via Sao Paulo on Saturday. The flights weren't too bad but it was good to reach South America.

Buenos Aires was unseasonably warm and sunny, temperatures reaching 32 degrees and I fell in love with the city all over again. The food is wonderful, especially the steaks, and add great wine, good beer and a lifestyle that is not too fast and not too slow, and one could see oneself living there quite happily. Add the football and the fact that if you don't like the government, it seems that you are perfectly within your rights to riot in the streets (not that I would ever do such a thing...), and what more could you ask for? The fact that I don't speak Spanish is a setback, I admit, but I'm sure that, given time, I could do something about that.

I wasn't anywhere near as impressed by Bogota. Perhaps when I go back and am not as tired, I'll see its better side...

Monday, October 17, 2005

And so what's this to do with getting elected?

The rather charming creature to the right is a llama. The picture comes from my trip to Peru last year and, curiously enough, the setting is Machu Picchu (which is, in best pantomime tradition, behind you).

I had to produce a manifesto recently at rather short notice and needed a picture. Problem, I didn't have one of me. So, advertising brat that I am, I used this. Let's be honest, a picture of me won't stop the page from being turned. However, a picture of a llama will confuse the electorate long enough to engage their curiosity. That's the aim at least. Let's see if it works...

Welcome to my universe...

Apparently, blogging is the new rock 'n roll, or something like that. I'm probably a bit old for that and besides, I was always more into Schubert than anything else.

The idea behind my creating this blog is to provide a way for my family to keep track of what I'm up to, my political colleagues to find out what, if anything, I'm thinking of and for anyone else to find out what a English bureaucrat actually does when he isn't drinking tea.

So, I hope that you enjoy the ride...