Thursday, August 31, 2006

And it's goodnight from me...

It's official, and minuted accordingly, and I will cease to be Chair of Dulwich and West Norwood Liberal Democrats on 31 December, despite the possibility of running for a third term.

I hate being Chair. It's not that I don't like the people I have to work with, nor the endless committee meetings (although they are endless, tend to start at times that cause me to leave work earlier than is convenient and make me feel vaguely influential yet powerless) but the leadership aspect that really gets to me. I'm not a leader. I'm uncomfortable with power and tend to give it away to others at the first possible opportunity. However, I'm apparently quite a nice person and can therefore get away with a degree of well-intentioned amateurism.

Yet I enjoy being a bureaucrat, so I will be running for a different position at our Annual General Meeting on 30 November. I can't say what that is as it would be unfair, and somewhat improper, but it will be a job that I can do, will enjoy, and won't cause me stress.

In the year after I separated from my ex, I lost thirty pounds and felt quite good about myself physically (a bit fragile emotionally, but that's a different story). In the two years since then, I've put all the weight back on, feel pretty good emotionally but am mildly concerned about my physical condition. Perhaps that indicates that politics can be bad for your health, particularly if you sit on committees rather than doing real work (that's meant to be ironic, by the way...).

So I need some time for myself. Not too much, you understand, but enough for me to have a life (I love chamber music and cricket) and perhaps develop some other interests. I might even do some housework!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Postcode lottery - or a new localism?

Let me make one thing clear - I share the view that infertility is a terrible thing, blighting lives and denying people the opportunity to do something many take for granted, i.e. raising a family. Unfortunately, the debate today, whereby women are encouraged to complain about the lack of access to IVF treatment in their area, raises a question, the answer to which is going to be unpopular, whichever way you cut it.

It is claimed that access to IVF treatment varies depending on where you live, and this is clearly true. However, this is based on choices made by Primary Care Trusts, something that, as a liberal, I support. It should be the right of a Primary Care Trust to cut its limited cloth according to what is felt to be best for the community as a whole. In some areas, cancer is a priority, in others care for the elderly. You cannot prioritise everything.

I am fascinated by the suggestion that service and access levels should be the same across the country. If you asked these same people to comment on the increasing centralisation of government, they would be the first to complain about interference from Whitehall. Ah, the joy of contradiction... so, we can obviously expect the Conservatives to be in favour of standardised access...

So, should we seek standardised access to healthcare on a national basis, or do we encourage Primary Care Trusts to reach out to the communities they serve to determine what is most desired in terms of service and access levels? The answer, in my mind, is a combination of the two. There should be nationally set guarantees of minimum levels of access and service, with Primary Care Trusts free to invest in additional, top-up services based on the perceived needs of their communities. But this all hinges on proper community involvement - they're our services, we should engage in the debate.

I was, I admit, somewhat annoyed by the comments made by a woman interviewed by the BBC, stating that "I've worked all my life and I've paid my NHS contributions, so why can't I have IVF treatment on the NHS? It's due to finances, oh yes, and my weight...". She's two stone overweight (her claim, not mine), and such circumstances increase significantly the risk that IVF treatment will fail - wasting NHS funds and denying someone else access to treatment. If healthcare is to be rationed due to limits on the amount of funding (your choice, Mr and Mrs Public, you can pay more tax if you want...), then clinical factors are the best and only fair criteria to apply when deciding the appropriateness of treatment.

I don't have children myself, never wanted them, and don't particularly like them (although I make an exception for my own family - they're all angels...) but admire anyone who has the desire and patience to bring them up themselves - it isn't easy. But there are children out there in need of adoption, and they deserve an opportunity too...

Monday, August 28, 2006

I coulda been a contender - Part III

At least I've amused Susanne. I got over-enthusiastic and changed my template, thus removing all of my changes and removing all of my personalisations, ha, ha, ha...

So, I've redesigned the links section, and for those of you who have been namechecked, if you have any fundamental objections to your tagline, please don't hesitate to let me know...

I coulda been a contender - Part II

The telephone rings, and it's Susanne, noting that my links column is a bit untidy. A quick tutorial later, and it looks pristine...

Thanks, Susanne!

I coulda been a contender

News of the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Award has reached this sleepy corner and, as someone without a hope in hell of winning it (no, really, not false modesty), I have taken an interest in the views of those indicating their personal favourites.

I am consequently reminded that my own humble blog isn't really connected to the outside world, mostly by my London Region colleague, Susanne Lamido, who is forever encouraging me to add buttons and do more with this blog. So I'm spending the afternoon adding buttons and links so as to provide more links to people who either have similar views or are just plain interesting. There is no need to reciprocate, think of it as due homage...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Diversity and equality - haven't I seen this somewhere before?

And so we now have the motion for debate at Brighton, somewhat later than originally promised but at least available for challenge. After a fairly shambolic process whereby a working group hand-picked by the Party President failed to meet until early July and the initial paper to the Federal Executive came from who knows where (I know of at least one member of the working group who claims not to have seen it until it was introduced at the Federal Executive meeting), a somewhat wet motion has been generated.

In the David vs. Goliath (aka Simon Hughes) contest that has taken place thus far, the score is tied after two rounds, with David winning the first contest, defeating Goliath's appalling proposals at Blackpool, but Goliath snatching a late winner in Harrogate after David made most of the running.

I fear that Goliath is going to win the decider too, as the motion is entirely reasonable if almost entirely lacking in detail. Rumours of slush funds for ethnic minority and female candidates imply that the initial idea (providing support for such applicants to create a level playing field) appears to have been subverted to the notion of bribing Local Parties to select them (say it ain't so, Simon, say it ain't so...).

The commitment to fighting for proper representation of all sectors of our community is extremely laudable, and it is nice that we make it, but I was hoping for something more concrete.

James Graham has, elsewhere in the blogosphere, indicated what he believes to be wrong with the Federal Executive and there does appear to be a tendency to use it as a place to park issues where the leadership doesn't agree with the membership. And this, sadly, is one of those occasions where a number of people who are quite knowledgeable on the subject of candidate selection throw their hands up and say, "Simon, you really don't get it, do you?". Because, Mr Hughes, you don't...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Return to the madding crowd

Alas, I am back in London after two weeks of quiet contemplation to find remarkably little piled up awaiting my attention (apart, of course, from five cats craving food, water and love). The calling notice for elections to the Regional Executive has arrived, so I have the task of coming up with 100 words to explain why I should be re-elected.

Last year, I came up with the following...

"Whilst truth, beauty and good administration are not necessarily synonymous, as Regional Secretary, I have tried to uphold all three in 2005. A better run Regional Executive makes for improved decision-making, greater transparency and involvement and better governance. In turn, you benefit from a more joined-up, more enabling Regional Party.

There is much still to do though and, if re-elected, I intend to utilise my quirky sense of humour, flair for systems and fanatical love of order to take the Regional Secretariat to new heights. “Vorsprung durch verwaltung” (projection through administration), as we say in Dulwich and West Norwood…"

Amazingly, I was re-elected so how do I follow that?

The e-mail is under control somewhat and whilst I do have some papers to type up, they won't take long. So a weekend of shopping, laundry and ironing awaits this bureaucrat. Can't wait...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Now what is it that I do exactly?

Strange things, holidays. I'm used to zapping from place to place, spending just long enough in one place to have to reorganise my packing before catching another plane. Restricted to one, albeit lovely, place, I'm beginning to forget about thinking - it's all becoming rather hard work.

It is at moments like this that I begin to transform into 'armchair philosopher' mode, and start to dream of things as they might be. I actually have time to start designing my future, the sort of fun project that can keep me harmlessly amused for hours. Having said that, I really do need to plan rather more than I have for a while, as I am horribly overstretched and really bad at delegation (and I mean, really bad...).

So, is there anyone out there who wants to be Chair of Dulwich and West Norwood Liberal Democrats, Secretary of London Region or any of the other myriad jobs that I currently hold? Would you be happier doing them than I am? Would you be better at doing them than I am? Would I have more fun if you were doing them (you don't have to answer that question)? Answers in a bottle, thrown into the ocean, please...

P.S. Don't worry, I'm not losing the plot... more rewriting the old one...

I wasn't Alfredo Stroessner's love child

This week saw the passing of General Alfredo Stroessner, former Paraguayan President and hard man, in a Brasilia hospital, aged 93. He is one of history's rare cases of a dictator who actually appeared to like the idea of being re-elected, although it would be fair to say that he was far from being a democrat, ensuring that there was no chance of his actually being defeated. It is perhaps an indictment of his regime that he was finally removed from power at gunpoint by his own son-in-law!

Paraguay is one of South America's more tragic countries, with a history of insane, corrupt and/or psychopathic leaders interspersed with the occasional brutal and pointless war. However, things have improved and the country has stabilised, with elections that aren't completely corrupt and a democratic opposition that is allowed to function. The Authentic Radical Liberal Party has a noble tradition of opposition to the former regime and was well respected on the international Liberal circuit. I hope that they have been rewarded for their persistence.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

There really isn't any escape, you know...

A conscience is a terrible thing. It makes you want to sit by a swimming pool on a sunny day and read the Selection Rules for Parliamentary candidate selections so that you understand them. It makes you spend time thinking about internal communications strategies instead of focussing on your evening card school.

On the other hand, it prevents you from feeling guilty about not doing these things when you promised that you would. Besides, lying in the sun all day can get terribly wearing... although it is raining as I 'write'. Invitations to meetings, details about Annual General Meetings, plotting, scheming, arranging the assassination of political enemies, all the usual day to day stuff, doesn't stop just because you do. Besides, it's easier to do it properly than try to catch up on your return.

And it is nice to have time to stop and think. There are so many other things going on in my life, and I'm so bad at saying, "You know, I really don't have time to do that, perhaps you ought to find someone else?", that the absence of telephone calls and work really helps me to put things into proper context. Also, given my family's comparative lack of interest in politics, they have an alarming tendancy to ask questions like, "Why is that important?", or, "Why can't someone else do that?". My response? "Good question, don't know, perhaps I ought to find out..."

Ah well, back out into the unreal world for a few more hours...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

En vacances avec la famille Valladares

Curiously, although perhaps unsurprisingly, I'm away again, this time deep in the Indian Ocean on the island of Mauritius. It's a long story, so I won't bore you with the details, although fortunately, our flight left before London's latest terrorist scare (but only just, it would seem).

This time, I'm with my family, mother, father, kid brother, his wife, their three lovely children and my cousin, Kim. Apparently, this is something that they've been doing for years and now that I'm single again, I can come too (I'm assuming that Rachelle and I were too busy before - and in fairness, that was a pretty safe assumption).

Kim and I have been doing some comparisons and we reckon that Mauritius is a lot like Goa, and Fiji is also similar in many ways (large Indian population, sugar cane, island in the Southern Hemisphere...). The resort that we're staying in is very nice, and because we were there last year, the staff recognise us - a nice touch, I think.

Far from the beaten track though we are, Mauritius is very connected to the outside world. Tonight, there is an anti-war demonstration in Port Louis, the capital, although I won't be doing any reportage on the event, and the African Athletic Championships are taking place between our resort at Flic en Flac on the west coast and Port Louis. It's the last day of competition tomorrow so I may yet drop in.

Otherwise, this is an idyllic spot to spend some time. The pace of life is fairly gentle, the island is big enough to have variety but small enough to allow exploration of its furthest corners, and the climate at this time of year is well nigh perfect (highs in the low eighties, occasional showers to freshen the air, and gentle breezes, especially here in the central plateau (this message comes to you from Curepipe, the country's second city).

But enough blogging for the time being, I'm off in search of a haircut (it hasn't been done since Fiji and I'm looking a little ragged). There might even be a cold beer involved...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Second thoughts, or a change of heart?

Two weeks ago, I found myself entangled in a debate about how we should select our candidates for the London Assembly. I had taken the viewpoint that we should seek to engage our list candidates more effectively, not, on the face of it, a terribly unreasonable concept.

The proposal has been somewhat controversial, as I indicated a fortnight ago. There has been some enthusiastic lobbying from certain parties (and not only the ones you might expect, either), and I must admit that I have been swayed. Ironically, it isn't particularly due to the lobbying, more the simple fact that the initial proposal doesn't actually achieve what I want.

So I have a dilemma. If you are campaigning in a list system, how do you encourage those candidates high up the list, and thus almost certain to get elected regardless, to campaign actively across the Region? Can you, or should you, use the selection system for punitive purposes? Alternatively, should you, or can you, create a structure to monitor the performance of your elected representatives, so that you can measure their success against quantifiable targets? If the latter, who should do this, and what authority should they have?

Taking the question of manipulation of the selection system first, I had initially thought that you could use it as a tool to encourage those likely to be elected from the list to campaign in somewhere other than the heartlands, at least for some of the time. However, there are two obvious arguments to the contrary. First, if candidates high up on the list have no incentive to campaign actively across the city, on what basis might you assume that they would have an incentive to campaign in their constituency? Secondly, and this is quite important, Liberal Democrats are philosophically opposed to manipulating the electoral system to get something socially beneficial. We prefer to address the underlying causes of underachievement to lift overall standards. So I am now minded to avoid manipulation of the list places.

As for performance monitoring, there is an argument that this is the role of the electorate at large, and I agree to some extent. However, it is possible for someone to be a very good elected representative and yet, from the perspective of the Party, be a disaster. In order to benefit from the support, reputation and activity of the wider organisation, a candidate should accept a degree of supervision (and I use that in its widest sense) by senior members of the Party. Most local councillors have to go through a process of reapproval before being allowed to stand, and in such instances, they are weighed against a set of agreed, preferably quantifiable, criteria. Any who fail don't get to run again, at least, not as a Liberal Democrat. All political parties have to answer the same difficult puzzle, but for Liberal Democrats, opposed as we are to coercion, it is particularly tricky.

I'm guessing that this question will exercise a number of people in coming weeks, if only because I'm intending to put it on the table. Fortunately, I'm catching a flight this evening to somewhere far away, so if there is a desire to put a horse's head on my pillow, someone will have a long way to come to do so!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The last of the well-intentioned amateurs

Taxi for Mr Valladares! Taxi for Mr Valladares!

I have to admit that my sense, after yesterday's briefing session for Returning Officers on the impact of the new Selection Rules, is that we're all going to have to become a lot more professional in order to function successfully in our somewhat expanded role.

Don't get me wrong, this is a thoroughly good thing. Unfortunately, as most of my best friends will admit (and a number of my enemies, for that matter), time management is not, and never has been, one of my great strengths. I'm easily distracted unless my heart is really into something, and in the past I've managed to get away with an element of disorganisation because democracy really matters to me.

So I have a choice, get with the programme (more structure, morning sessions with a punchbag and set of Selection Rules, duelling with live candidates, that sort of thing), or perhaps find some other way to contribute.

I've actually just been appointed to run a selection somewhere south of Watford and west of Slough, so I'll actually get a test run, so to speak. If it works out, and I enjoy it, I'll stay on. If not, I'll have to seriously think about taking a back seat for a while...