Friday, January 27, 2006

Gallantry in the face of the enemy

I managed to catch 'Question Time' last night and was surprised to see Simon Hughes there. I know that he was scheduled to take part but I had expected him to withdraw given the sort of day he had experienced, an act which most people would have understood and accepted.

So I was impressed to see him attend and speak cogently on his own situation, especially given the presence of John Redwood, whose sanctimonious attitude made me want to hurl, sitting next to him. And that woman from the Institute for Ideas... what is she on? It was reassuring to note that Simon drew as much applause for his various comments as any other panellist, a sign perhaps that the impact of his 'outing' by the Sun will be short-lived and insignificant.

I'm still not supporting him for the leadership but will freely admit that I was impressed by his approach. Good luck, Simon, and God bless...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Reflecting Britain - are you with us?

I've been made aware of the new 'Reflecting Britain' web site, created by James Graham and sponsored by Jo Swinson and Sandra Gidley, two MPs whose opinions I respect.

Given the scheduled debate in Harrogate, it would seem that everything is falling nicely into place to really make some meaningful progress on diversity issues within the Party at last, and I'm truly delighted. And now I await the response of the leadership candidates... we're watching, gentlemen...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chris Huhne - a faceless bureaucrat declares...

I have to admit that I'd reached a decision some days ago but had held back from declaring my support because I've always had my doubts about endorsements - it's the puritan Returning Officer in me, I guess - but having seen the flood of endorsements now hitting the ether, there seems little point in being more 'purist than thou'. I've given some thought to my decision and here. distilled into a few words, are my reasons for voting the way I intend to.

My first preference will be for Chris Huhne. He is, to my mind, the intellectual heavyweight of the contest, although no disrespect is intended to Menzies or to Simon. I had the pleasure of working with him twice in my capacity as Returning Officer for the South East England Euro selections in 1998 and 2002/03 and was impressed by what I saw. He talks about ideas and does so with flair, enough passion to indicate that he means it and a touch of humour. I'm an economic liberal with a social conscience and his philosophy ties in closely with mine.

My second preference will go to Ming. In the past, I've voted for Alan Beith and David Rendel, as I tend towards the tried and trusted. I like the gravitas that Ming brings to every role he has taken on and feel that, if I can't have Chris, I could have faith in him to lead the Party reliably.

That means that my third preference will go to Simon. That isn't meant to be a condemnation of him as a candidate for Leader - if I didn't want him at all, I would only give two preferences - more an acknowledgment that I feel that we come from different elements of the Party. It is harder to do this given that I live in Southwark, albeit the leafier southern end of the borough. Simon has done wonders in the area, and loyalty to him amongst my members is very strong (and rightly so).

I think that we have a very strong field, diverse and credible, and it will be a tough choice for the members...

Monday, January 23, 2006

It's time to do good, as Granny Weatherwax might have said...

I had wondered what had happened to my diversity motion, you remember, the one that caused me so much angst in November. And now I know. The good news is that it's been accepted for debate, and, even better, given a 45 minute late morning slot.

And now for the politics. Who proposes it, who summates, how to lobby for support and who to talk to are the key issues now. There is evidently a desire for action across the wider Party, and the fact that the motion has been given a fairly prominent slot must be a good thing. I'll need to talk to a few people in the coming days, I suspect.

It also appears that there won't be a compositing process, as my opponent's submission was rejected by the Federal Conference Committee. I don't know why, although I'm sure that someone will explain eventually...

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Frustrated of Dulwich & West Norwood - an update

Amazing! I post a comment complaining about the lack of contact and get five comments, one from a member of a candidate's campaign team! It all makes me wonder who else is reading this blog...

The input regarding the difficulties in obtaining contacts is entirely valid, and I can't help feeling that we should enable all of the teams to have sufficient data to be able to contact as many members as they wish. After all, isn't that exactly what we encourage in parliamentary candidate selections?

At the same time, I'm hardly difficult to find. I'm the Local Party Chair in a constituency partly in the same borough as that of one of the candidates and yet even his campaign team (who do have my e-mail address and telephone number) haven't tried to contact me. I would have thought that Local Party Chairs are the very people to track down as we tend to have some resonance with our own members. We might be amenable to calling some of them to lobby for support, thus enabling the core campaign teams to focus on areas where they don't have a local contact.

The campaign team that did reach me suggested that I might like to register my support on the campaign website. Whilst they haven't asked me for my support, I must presume that they will approach me eventually...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'm still waiting...

The campaign has been up and running now for a week and I'm still to hear from any of the candidates, their supporters or, for that matter, anyone else, asking me how I'm going to vote and whether I'll campaign for them amongst our members (Dulwich and West Norwood has about 0.2% of the Party's national membership).

Surely it must get more interesting, mustn't it? Or perhaps not. I've been disappointed in selection contest after selection contest that the amount of personal contact has been negligible and have to admit that if this is an indication of the desire to win amongst the candidates, perhaps an abstention is the way to go. I accept that this is a bit of a cop-out but perhaps it sends a message to anyone who wants my support. If you can't be bothered, or aren't organised enough, or can't persuade supporters to campaign on your behalf, are you really capable of leading the Party and winning elections? I'm hoping that at least one of our "Fantastic Four" can prove this cynical soul wrong but, until then, I'm keeping my counsel on how I'll vote.

Having said that, if anyone from Mark Oaten's team is thinking of calling me, you'd better be a bit more persuasive than your candidate is...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Secretary is (re)born

Yes, bureaucracy fans, I'm back as Regional Secretary, having been gloriously elected without opposition! Clearly, the electorate didn't read my manifesto... thank you once again to those who have been so supportive in recent months.

I have all sorts of plans for 2006, including resuming the Executive Diary, improving reportage to the Local Parties and working with our formidable Regional Administrator, Flick Rea, to improve the way we communicate with the broader Party. It is also my ambition to have more fun this year, or is this impossible within the context of faceless bureaucracy?

The Executive Committee looks to be a very interesting one this year, with a number of strong and vocal personalities already emerging. If that means that the Officers are kept on their toes (myself included), it can only be a good thing in terms of corporate governance, effectiveness and medium/long-term strategy.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

And now the fun really begins...

And so, alas, we have to say goodbye to Charles Kennedy as our glorious leader. I freely admit that I didn't vote for him for the leadership when he won, but I grew to respect his political judgement, something that I had been suspicious of when he was declared the victor. On the key issues, his instincts have always been liberal, and I've been comfortable with the direction the Party has gone in during his tenure.

As a junior and extremely minor member of the hierarchy (I sit on an English level committee, English Council, the London Region Executive and chair my Local Party), I presume that I can expect to hear from the candidates sooner rather than later, unless this turns out to be a coronation rather than a battle.

I am a truly uncommitted elector at this point, and really want to see what is on offer before I commit one way or the other. By that I don't mean "what's in it for me?", rather "what will you do for the party to help it win?". I have felt that those standing behind Charles haven't always had the best interests of the Party at heart, instead tending towards seeking control, even dominance, over the wider Party and the democratic structures that maintain it.

But if you are planning to run for leader, and are sad enough, or keen enough, to be measuring opinion across the Party, please note that, as a Returning Officer within the Party, I like a clean contest. Anyone who deviates from the moral and ethical standards I hold dear can expect little sympathy...

So let battle commence!

Shopping the faceless bureaucrat way

I had seen a waistcoat that I quite fancied in the Indian Village Industries Emporium, and decided to go and buy it yesterday. So I caught the train, and, on the way across town, I dropped in to the Khadi Village Clothing Emporium, as recommended by my father. It's a Government of India enterprise, proof that socialism works... sometimes. Imagine if you will a 1940's department store, with tiled floors and everything behind counters, with people there to serve you, but only if you approach them, none of this "can I help you?" nonsense.

There I spotted a waistcoat which I fell in love with, raw silk in cream with threads of all the colours of the rainbow interspersed across it. I had to have it. So I try it on, find that it fits to my satisfaction and ask to purchase it. An invoice slip is written and I assume that this is instead of an invoice. But no, I have to take it to the cash counter, where I queue to pay for it. They then give me part of the invoice slip, which I am to take to the packing desk, where I exchange it for a package with my item in it. As Kalina, my cousin's wife said, it's just like Bulgaria before the fall of communism (she's Bulgarian, so I'll take her word for it...).

All in all, a quintessentially Indian experience. And I love the waistcoat...

A close encounter of the elephant kind

It had been a long, hot day of shopping and Laurie (our guest from Boston) and I were heading back to the hotel by auto-rickshaw from Santacruz station. We were chatting about the traffic when I noticed that the next vehicle in the line was in fact an elephant. You don't see a lot of elephants in Santacruz, and so I took the opportunity to get out of the rickshaw and stroke the elephant (they're a real weakness of mine). I particularly like the hair on the trunks, which is like springy piano wire. Now I admit to being a little heavier than I would like, but an elephant is still quite a big thing and to find myself standing in the middle of a busy street, face to face with an elephant is pretty intimidating (the idea of being crushed like a bug isn't an appealing one).

Luckily, Laurie was also able to stroke the elephant which then followed us down the street. Elephants are, of course, expensive to keep, so it is appropriate to give the elephant money, which it 'holds' in the curled tip of its trunk. My only regret is that I didn't have a piece of fruit (bananas - with the peel on - are apparently favoured). Oh well, such is life...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ibiza - Mumbai style

"Oh yes,", I can hear you thinking, "the old buzzard has finally lost it. What does he know about Ibiza? And what is he on?"

Good questions, both of them. My cousin Dylan tells me that the music in the club I've just got home from (it's 2 a.m. here in Mumbai) is similar to that at the Ministry of Sound in London, and who am I to disagree? I have to admit that the sensation of feeling your lungs vibrating is an odd one and when I fully regain my hearing in about three days time, I'll be grateful, but I'm having an absolute blast!

The club itself is on the second floor of the bank building, with a rather fancy restaurant attached. With urinals filled with ice, and young men applying their makeup in the bathroom, it's slightly different to my normal environment but no less exciting for all that.

My only regret about all this is that I have to come home...

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Party leadership controversy - an update

Meanwhile, back in the swamp, debate over the Party leadership continues, with questions about the succession stirred by maneuvering by senior Party figures following recent disappointing election results.

Following a conference on the west coast, the Party is seen to be beset with disunity and fixated with internal politics, whilst failing to portray itself as a radical, campaigning force on the domestic stage.

Yes, it's the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), whose congress here in Mumbai has turned out to be an absolute shocker, following the conviction of six of their MLAs (Member of the Lok Sabha) in a "cash for questions" sting - we like to think that we keep up with modern political trends here - a botched leadership transition, and a total failure to come up with a policy platform upon which the Congress (I) government can be challenged.

Of course, as they're a fairly appalling bunch of Hindu nationalists, I think that it's hysterically funny but it does put our internal 'problems' into perspective...

Faceless bureaucrat - live and unplugged...

I appear to be determined to act somebody else's age this week. Partying, nightclubs, dancing, excessive drinking and now... karaoke! Yes, I hear the sniggering in the audience but being surrounded by your younger cousins tends to suppress the inhibitions lovingly built up over many years.

So what did I sing? "Yellow Submarine" of course... catchy tune, easy words, tempting for everyone else to join in and drown you out. Worked a treat...

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Why I'm running for Secretary, by Mark Valladares (aged 41 and a bit)

My New Year's resolutions made (and no, I'm not telling you what they are!), it's time to turn my attention to actual achievement.

Having decided that I would run for Regional Secretary, following the kitchen sink drama that was my resignation in late November, I should at least state why I'm doing it and what I hope to deliver in 2006 if elected.

Good administration matters. Not good administration simply from the viewpoint of a bureaucrat, neat, tidy, and in line with the rulebook but good administration that honours the liberal principles I stand for. Clean, transparent documentation that informs everyone quickly, efficiently and honestly, without spin or varnish, whilst maintaining appropriate confidentiality. Provision of information that allows every member of the Regional Executive to play a full part in the successful running of the Region, and conveys a message to the Local Parties that says what we're doing and why.

Linked to that is respect for each and every person that I deal with. I won't always agree with them but they have a right to their opinion and, equally important, a right to express it. By making meetings more effective, we create time for proper, meaningful debate and discussion and we make the Executive stronger, more effective and more relevant both at constituency level and at the State and Federal levels.

I also believe in widening involvement. I have tried to encourage those who were unsuccessful in the recent Regional elections to think about serving on one or more of our standing committees. These people are interested, and willing to commit their time, energy and experience to the Region. Let's bring them on board!

Finally, I stand for diversity. The Regional Officers last year were not reflective of the community we hope to represent, unless we want our vote to come predominantly from white males. I would like to see more women as both Officers and on the Regional Executive as a whole, and a greater black and minority ethnic presence. My motion to the Regional Conference wasn't a gesture, it was a statement of intent.

So, in summary, doing it well matters. Doing it right matters even more. I accept that many will never understand my passion for this but bear with me, the more you see, the more you'll understand...