Monday, May 31, 2010

Something I had never expected, being amused in Stowmarket

I have, in the past, remarked on the lack of a obvious cultural life in Stowmarket. So, you can imagine my surprise when my stepdaughter, Sally, invited us to the inaugural Comedy Club at the Regal, Stowmarket's premier entertainment venue.

Compered by James Redmond, formerly of Hollyoaks and Casualty, comedians Ali Cook, Diane Spencer and Robin Ince had the responsibility of trying to make Stowmarket laugh.

Ali Cook does a comedy magic act, and the magic is pretty good, at least from the perspective of a sceptic like me. Alright, some of the references to obscure(ish) sexual acts might have been a bit cosmopolitan for mid-Suffolk (at least he avoided the obviously tempting sheep gags), but he was good enough.

After the interval (very impressed by the bar prices, I must say), Diane Spencer told jokes about her former career as a drama teacher in Yeovil, her acting career in New Zealand TV adverts and kept the momentum going.

However, the best was saved for last, our headline act, Robin Ince, whose stream of consciousness, delivered at high speed, mixed politics and children, the sadness of those women who moon out of the windows of stretch limos and much, much more.

The Regal is a great venue for a comedy club, just big enough to be economically viable, but small enough to feel fairly intimate and allow the performers to work the audience. The next comedy night will be on 29 August and, if you're in Stowmarket, or even close by, I would recommend it. For more information about films and live shows at the Regal, click here.

Liberal Youth: Facebook pages for the candidates for Chair

I do feel that I should do something to publicise the various candidates for the Liberal Youth elections so, over the next day or so, I will publish links to websites, Facebook groups and Twitter feeds, so that you can find out more about them. Hopefully, they will use these media to encourage turnout and engage members so.

We'll start with the candidates for Chair...



Soon, the candidates for the Vice Chair positions...

Liberal Youth: building a better democracy one ruling at a time

I'm feeling rather better today, for reasons which will become clear later. The primary beneficiaries have been the various Liberal Youth candidates and, hopefully, the membership at large. So, here's a summary of recent events;
  • I have issued an e-mail to all candidates advising them of the key election rules, as defined by Article 9.15 of the Liberal Youth constitution.
  • I have issued stern warnings to three candidates for breaching them, as well as reminding all candidates of the implications of doing so.
  • I have proposed that links to the various websites and social media used for candidate campaigning be advertised on the Liberal Youth website - they'll also appear here as they reach me.
  • I intend to allow each candidate one e-mail to those members for whom an e-mail address is held.
You see, there are rules to be upheld. Nonetheless, this is a democracy, and members should be encouraged to vote, to question candidates and generally engage in the campaign. Besides, this is meant to be fun too, n'est-ce pas?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Liberal Youth: an organisation in the market for a new Returning Officer

As regular readers will be aware, my term as Liberal Youth's Returning Officer has been a challenging one. With a host of resignations leading to co-options and by-elections, the role has been rather more time-consuming than I had envisaged originally.

After the last round of annual elections, and the criticism I took from a number of sub-optimally informed individuals, there were those who questioned my judgement in staying on. My response was that Liberal Youth needed some stability, and that having a battle-hardened Returning Officer might help achieve it.

However, I have now changed my mind. Firstly, with a new Executive Commmittee due to take up their positions on 1 July, this is an opportunity for them to decide upon the type of Returning Officer that Liberal Youth needs but, secondly and more personally, I'm not enjoying it - it has become a bit of a chore - and that can't be a good thing.

So, with effect from 1 July, I will be another ex-Returning Officer of Liberal Youth (I understand that there are quite a few out there). May the Gods give strength to my successor, as I retire to Suffolk to spend more time with my new office...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Commemorating the 'Miracle of Dunkirk'

Sometimes, just sometimes, being the Presidential consort gets you to some unexpected places. And today, I find myself on the 'Maersk Dover', with a vehicle deck full of vintage military vehicles, veterans of the Dunkirk evacuations and representatives of military charities, the Royal British Legion and the War Graves Commission.

This is, in its way, a rather poignant event. The youngest of those who lived through the horror of Dunkirk are now in their late-eighties and early nineties, and there probably won't be many such gatherings in the future. However, those who have made it are a remarkably spry bunch, and Ros has taken great delight in chatting with them.

Of course, there is pageantry, with the Parachute Regimental Band, a speech by the Lord Lieutenant and the newly-elected MP. Photographers are on hand to take shots of saluting or waving veterans, and there are flags to be waved.

On arrival in Dunkirk, our ferry will moor in the Eastern Dock to await the flotilla of Little Ships, and there will be the formal ceremony of commemoration. It should be rather special...

Academies - no taxation without representation?

As a relative newcomer to the world of local government, I am still of the perhaps romantic view that, as a councillor, I would have the ability to influence change in, and delivery of, services. So, when I see any proposal which appears to take responsibility away from local government, I am wary about what happens next.

'Academies for all' does worry me. Yes, I accept that some Local Education Authorities need a good kick up the backside, but they are at least democratically accountable. What hasn't become clear to me is how a school, newly independent from 'the Council', will be dealt with if it fails. Who will be accountable, what is the penalty for failure? And, most importantly of all, who will make the decision to intervene?

You see, as a taxpayer, I fund the education system, and I want my money to be spent wisely. And whilst I don't have children of my own (I can't take any credit for Sally and Jamie), my community relies on our schools to produce well-rounded, well-educated young people. If none of my elected representatives is responsible for anything other than ensuring that the school gets its regular funding cheque, what means do I have of conveying an opinion?

I could, I suppose, become a school governor. However, that option isn't open to most people, and would make me part of the democratic deficit, not necessarily part of any accountability solution.

I'm not opposed to the concept of local empowerment. In rural areas like mine in mid-Suffolk, giving villages more influence over how their schools are run might act to reinvigorate their sense of civic society, helping to reverse the slow decline in local services that threatens their future. However, I strongly believe that, where public money is spent, there must be a way to allow proper scrutiny, the rewarding of success and the penalising of failure.

As a Liberal Democrat, how the Coalition deal with questions of accountability and democratic engagement will provide an indicator of the future prospects for the administration. I shall watch the squaring of this particular circle with interest...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Liberal Youth: the first ruling - external media

In an attempt to make life more interesting, there has been a bid to break into the media by a candidate. As a result, a member of the Editorial Board of Liberal Democrat Voice has sought my view on publication of pieces by candidates.

This is my response...

The advantage of Liberal Democrat Voice not being an official party organ is that I can't insist upon its neutrality. Therefore, I won't say that you can't publish it, leaving it to you to judge whether or not publication would be consistent with your editorial policy in respect of internal party elections.

I am advised that the piece will be published shortly, and that all candidates will be free to submit articles for publication, subject to Liberal Democrat Voice's editorial policy.

Perhaps I should place this decision in context. I believe in offering candidates the fullest opportunity to campaign, as by doing so, they can give the election, and Liberal Youth, a higher profile beyond simply its own membership. This will, hopefully, increase member participation and enhance the credibility of Liberal Youth within the wider Liberal Democrat family as a positive force for new ideas and new ways of thinking. And that can only be a good thing...

Liberal Youth: England, my England!

With much thanks to Richard Gadsden, I am now in possession of a copy of the Constitution of Liberal Youth England. The most immediately salient point is this;

11.5. The Returning Officer for the Federal Organisation shall be entitled to be the Returning Officer for all elections; if he or she does not wish to be the Returning Officer for this Organisation, then the English Executive shall appoint a Returning Officer.

So, if I understand this correctly, and I have a nasty feeling that I do, it's up to me to organise an election for the position of English Convenor. Without further ado, I can announce that the candidates are;
  • Thomas Hemsley
  • James Nelson
I'll be talking to Katy Pritchard in the Liberal Youth office about how we can do this and ensure that only eligible voters can take part...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Liberal Youth: I think that, maybe, I'm certain I have the final list of candidates (probably)

It has been a long, and occasionally bewildering, road for this Returning Officer. I have to admit that, after the General Election campaign, I was weary in a way that I have never been before, and somewhat disorientated, not perhaps the most optimal state for taking on the organisation of a Liberal Youth election.

Luckily, with the accession of the coalition, my life has calmed down a little bit, and I have found myself rather enjoying having to deal with a bunch of charmingly enthusiastic young people, most of whom are polite, appropriately (but not overly) respectful and keen to make their case. One presumes that I was like that when I was their age but, somehow, I doubt it.

So, before we start on the details of when, how and where, one last candidate to announce. It is clear that I must, in future, insist that all nominations come to one place, as I found this one in my work e-mail...
  • Rosie Rutter is the final candidate for the position of Vice Chair Membership Development
And with that, I hereby declare the nomination phase of the 2010 Liberal Youth annual elections to be at a close.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A short diversion from talk of elections and constitutions

I'm on my way home to Creeting St Peter for a Parish Council meeting, where I get to meet up with my Conservative County and District Councillors. What that means is that I won't be doing Liberal Youth stuff for a few hours but, more importantly, I get to return to being a Parish Councillor for a little while.

I know that, by the standards of most politicians, being a Parish Councillor barely counts. However, politics doesn't get any more basic than grass-cutting and planning consultation, and if people don't engage with regard to their own village, they're hardly likely to travel to Needham Market or even Ipswich, to tell their representatives what they think.

And so I value the opportunity to talk about bus stops and grit bins, of fly tipping and damaged fences next to footpaths. But I must dash, the community bus is waiting to take me home...

Liberal Youth: eats, shoots and leaves - yes, it's another round of corrections and amendments!

Oh yes, the tidal wave of 'general stuff' continues, which is I suppose what happens when a whole bunch of enthusiastic people are let loose on an organisation. And yes, that's a good thing... So, here are the most recent changes;
  • Chris Richards is not a candidate for Vice Chair Communications
  • Jason Alecock is an additional candidate for the position of General Executive Member
  • Charlotte Harris is an additional candidate for the International Committee, and is duly elected.
There is still one last query, I think, but we'll see how that ends up...

Liberal Youth: what do you mean, we have some winners?

Article 9.4 of the Liberal Youth Federal Constitution states;

"Elections for positions under 6.1 a) - e) above shall include RON as a candidate.  If RON is elected, the Returning Officer shall call a by-election by all member ballot within 28 days of the previous election."

I therefore believe that, in the absence of RON (these are positions under 7.5 d) and 7.7 d)), those nominated for the Conference and International Committees are deemed to be elected. I congratulate the successful candidates;

Conference Committee
  • Alan Belmore
  • Ramon Chiratheep
  • Sarah Harding

International Committee
  • Harriet Ainscough
  • Callum Leslie
  • Jack Stephens

That's two less elections to count...

Liberal Youth: no organisation is complete without committees

Ah yes, committees (puts on that voice that Homer Simpson uses when he's thinking about beer), the things that either make things happen, or stop them, depending on your taste and level of cynicism.

My role as Returning Officer is to organise the election of four members of each of three committees, Conference, International and Policy. As it stands at the moment, with one outstanding query, the successfully nominated candidates are;

Conference Committee
  • Alan Belmore
  • Ramon Chiratheep
  • Sarah Harding

International Committee
  • Harriet Ainscough
  • Charlotte Harris
  • Callum Leslie
  • Jack Stephens

Policy Committee
  • Duncan Crowe
  • Sarah Harding
  • Richard Morgan-Ash
  • James Nelson
  • Stephen Rule

I don't think that I've missed anyone else...

Liberal Youth: there'll always be an England... but not yet...

I had been wondering about my role in connection with the position of English Convenor. And, at 1.47 a.m. this morning, I have come to a conclusion...

As best as I can tell, Liberal Youth England must elect at least a Convenor and a number of members of the Party's English Council. Having not seen a copy of any constitution that Liberal Youth England might have, I can ascertain no more than that. So, if someone can demonstrate that they have any authority in this area, and can provide me with a copy of their constitution, I might be able to help. Therefore, for the time being, there will not be a contest for the position of English Convenor.

Sorry about that, ladies and gentlemen...

Liberal Youth: checking, and double checking, pays dividends. Yes, there are more candidates!

I've been going back through the mounds of e-mail to double check my lists. And lo, there are some more names to add;
  • Kieren Moss is a candidate for Vice Chair Membership Development
  • Nicholas Doropoulos is a candidate for General Executive Member
It might not be over yet, I've still got one or two late breaking stories to resolve...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Liberal Youth: we're living in a federal world, and I am a federal RO...

I'm sure that it would have sounded better if Madonna had sung that, but you can't have everything. However, the federal nature of Liberal Youth presents me with an interesting dilemma.

I have received a nomination for the position of English Convenor. It meets all of the requirements except one - I'm not the Returning Officer of Liberal Youth England. The constitution of Liberal Youth states that I shall organise elections to fill vacancies provided for under Article 6.1 (a) to (f). None of these are the English Convenor, and therefore, I'm loathe to interfere with the constitutional settlement of Liberal Youth by running such an election.

It is quite curious. There is a Scottish organisation, well-established and active, as I saw in Perth a few months ago, campaigning on issues of personal liberty. There is a Welsh organisation, perhaps not quite as high profile but still visible through Freedom Central. However, the English state organisation, rather like the English Party as a whole, is rather less obvious. Does it meet, does it have a focus for its activity, can it be defined as being something distinctive from Liberal Youth federally? Who speaks for Liberal Youth England?

I can see that this might be a tricky one...

Liberal Youth: will you be there when your ballot paper arrives?

Young people present an interesting challenge to membership databases. They are, in relative terms, highly mobile, and in the case of students, prone to having two addresses, one for term time, the other during the holidays.

It has been brought to my attention that, with ballot papers due to go out fairly soon, there may be those who will be somewhere other than the address held by Liberal Youth HQ. If you are affected, please contact Katy, the Liberal Youth Administrator as soon as possible.

Also, please retweet this to anyone who might be interested...

* hat tip to Richard Morgan-Ash for getting in touch to warn me about this...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Liberal Youth: and that's why you publish the names in advance...

One of the things that you can be certain about is uncertainty, and publishing the lists of candidates tends to demonstrate that theory. So, we've had some corrections...
  1. Matthew Folker isn't running for the post of Vice Chair Campaigns but is running to be Chair.
  2. Elizabeth Gawen isn't running to be Vice Chair Communications, but is running to be Vice Chair Campaigns.
  3. Sean Barnes is an additional candidate for General Executive Member.
  4. I'm trying to clarify the position of another candidate who apparently has a Facebook group but hasn't actually lodged a nomination form.
More news as we have it...

'Liberal Bureaucracy' by the numbers - April 2010

I've been rather occupied elsewhere, and it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't produced my monthly report. So, here goes...

April was, I have to confess, a bit disappointing, partly because I was so busy travelling around with Ros on the campaign trail, I didn't have much time to blog. I'll warn you now, the May figures are going to show a major improvement...

Anyway, here are the numbers. Well, on the positive side, readership was down, with just 2,255 visits in April, compared to 2,602 in March (down 13.3%, or 10.4% adjusting for the uneven number of days), and (only barely) 2,257 in April 2009 (down 0.1%).

Income from advertising has rebounded a bit, increasing to 31p, up from a penny last month, but is massively lower than last April's £4.01. As a result, my first cheque from AdSense is now expected to arrive in June 2015.

Oh yes, an additional feature to add in, my Wikio ranking is 188 (General), 102 (Politics), so I'm lurking just below the point when Mark Pack needs to mention me in his monthly Wikio report...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Liberal Youth: you can never have enough General Executive Members, can you?

The drama continues here at Bureaucrat Towers or, to be more precise, the 20:00 service from Liverpool Street to Norwich, calling at Colchester, Manningtree, Ipswich, Stowmarket (change here for Creeting St Peter), Diss and Norwich.

Since you left us, 'Liberal Bureaucracy' has been dealing with one candidate whose e-mail says he is running for one post, and his manifesto another, a candidate with a Facebook page but no valid nomination (as far as I can tell) and the receipt of a lot of sympathy (no tea so far, but I have beer...). I'm also exchanging e-mails with a member who seems determined to demonstrate his lack of self-awareness and courtesy (congratulations, you've succeeded... but I have beer... and a Melton Mowbray pork pie...)

But you don't want to hear me complain, do you? Or maybe you do. Anyway, here are the valid nominations for the position of General Executive Member. Bear in mind that there are eight vacancies...
  • Jason Alecock
  • Sean Barnes
  • Sophie Bertrand
  • Fergus Blair
  • Stuart Brown
  • Oliver Constance
  • Duncan Crowe
  • Nicholas Doropoulos 
  • Sarah Harding
  • Charlotte Harris
  • Jade Holden
  • Ben Jones
  • Nathan Khan
  • Douglas Oliver
  • Matt Platts
  • Mo Saqib
  • Catherine Smith
  • Terence-Jonathan White
Of course, there are still the Committees and a question about the post of English Convenor, but I'll get to those tomorrow, I guess...

Liberal Youth: four Vice Chairs, there’s only four Vice Chairs…

Strangely, when sung to the tune of “Guantanamera”, that just doesn’t quite scan. On the other hand, “Guantanamera” is apparently a Cuban patriotic song, one of the things that I have learned today. But I digress.

It’s been a long road to get here, as I’ve already noted. With a membership that appears to be quite hard to pin down, there are issues about whether or not people who think that they are members have received a calling notice. Of course, one needs to bear in mind that, without a birthdate on the membership record, Membership Services can’t inform Liberal Youth that you qualify for automatic membership…

However, subject to confirmation, and with the usual caveats (I am clarifying the position of at least one potential candidate at the moment), the list of nominees is as follows;

Vice Chair Campaigns
  • Haider Ali
  • Jack Cartwright
  • Matthew Folker
  • Elizabeth Gawen
  • Chris Wiggin

Vice Chair Communications
  • Elizabeth Gawen
  • Charlotte Henry
  • Jonathan LeVan-Gilroy
  • Chris Richards

Vice Chair Finance
  • Damien Shannon
  • Tom Wood

Vice Chair Membership Development
  • Robson Brown and Ed Sanderson (jobshare)
  • Kieren Moss
  • Rosie Rutter
  • Andrew Wilson

Liberal Youth; let the trumpets sound, we have a contest for Chair!

Having been awake until deep into the night, wading through a seemingly never-ending Liberal Youth e-inbox, and having cross-referenced the content of my private e-mail account... the one that you weren't really supposed to use, ladies and gentlemen... I think that I can announce the candidates for Chair of Liberal Youth.

Of course, the usual caveats apply, subject to confirmation, excluding any nominations routed to the Returning Officer by yak, that sort of thing. However, as it currently stands, there are five declared and duly nominated candidates. Their names are as follows;

  • Matthew Folker
  • Richard Heinrich/Phil Jarvest (job share)
  • Adam Parsons
  • Martin Shapland
  • Richard Wilson
I should take this opportunity to wish them all the very best of luck with their campaigns.

More news on other contests as we have it...

Liberal Youth: your Returning Officer isn't waving, he's drowning...

I'm spending a second night, opening e-mails, downloading attachments and acknowledging nominations. Never let it be said that being Liberal Youth's Returning Officer is easy...

It must be said that this year's elections are rather better contested than last year's, something that augurs well for the future of the organisation. Oh well, back to the e-mails...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Liberal Youth: just when you thought that it was safe to go back in the water...

What do you mean, it's time for the annual Liberal Youth elections? Didn't I just do that? Oh no, I forget, that was just a by-election for virtually the entire Executive Committee, not the same thing at all...

Hmmm... and nominations closed last night. I'll announce the provisional list of candidates later but, before I do, this is what I hope to see;

A more thoughtful contest

I was astonished at the level of casual unpleasantness last time, between candidates, their supporters and even supposedly innocent bystanders. Occasionally, some of that came my way. I certainly had to spend more time than was ideal trying to pour oil on troubled waters. So, before sending that combative e-mail, or kneejerk text, ask yourself this question, "How would I feel if someone sent this to me?". Better still, sleep on it.

You see, there is a likelihood that you will have to deal with that person, or their friends. In any event, they can make your job, and therefore the work of the organisation, that bit harder.

A touch of respect for the volunteer Returning Officer

I have a life. I also have a marriage, which I value over Liberal Youth. Ringing me at 11.53 p.m. to check that your manifesto has arrived does not impress me, and tends to disturb those around me. Remember, those of us with jobs and a life generally tend to be asleep by then. I'm also prone to grouchiness if my sleep is disturbed.

I have a job too. Ringing me when I'm trying to do it is unhelpful. Do I ring you in the middle of your exams?

For the time being, that's all that I want to say. I'm sure that there's more but, until later... 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

So, you want to be a member of the House of Lords?

It appears that the whole Liberal Democrat world and their mother want to be one of our new Peers. Meanwhile, I'm ruled out on the not unreasonable grounds that my wife is on the Advisory Panel that creates a shortlist of recommended candidates for the Leader to consider. Bitter? Actually, not really, as appointing me would rather smack of desperation in any event.

We find ourselves in rather uncharted waters, following suggestions that between 50 and 100 new Liberal Democrat peers are required, although James Graham has graciously trawled his hard drives for the relevant information, so I won't repeat it. However, I'd like to disagree with him somewhat in terms of his conclusions.

I tend to think that our system of electing a list of potential candidates is, in itself, flawed. The quota required to gain election is small, and I suspect that any group of individuals could ensure that one of their number, no matter how unlikely or unsuitable, could find a place on the list. Indeed, with Facebook, Twitter and other social media, I suspect that e-savvy candidates could be rather over-represented.

No, I'd look to a process of nomination, based on the stated criteria, whereby members of the Party nominate individuals they believe are worthy of inclusion, and let the Advisory Panel decide. After all, we could find some candidates that we might not have expected.

Naturally, there will be a number of ex-MP's who will expect to be accommodated, but they're mostly white, male and middle-aged, so they won't do much in terms of diversity. There will also, I fear, be a number of individuals who have been many things yet done relatively little, clamouring for honours too. The Panel will doubtless have to withstand some pressure here.

There are some risks too. In populating an enlarged second chamber, there is a risk of stripping out some excellent potential MP's and MEP's, as well as denuding our lists of a disproportionate number of women and BME approved candidates.

So I wish the Advisory Panel the best of luck. I sense that they may be grateful of it...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I refuse, I refuse, I defy inhibition, escape definition...

About a year ago, following the expenses scandal, I politely told the blogosphere to get lost, in that I gave up commenting on internal party affairs. Well, now I've changed my mind. Given that there will doubtless be keen interest in the affairs of the coalition, it is perhaps more important than ever that someone gives some thought as to how the Party is redesigned to face the challenges ahead.

And there are many challenges ahead. How do we make policy in government, especially when that government is a coalition? Do fixed term Parliaments allow us to rethink how (and when) we select candidates? Indeed, who leads the Party beyond the Government? And don't even start me on diversity... yet.

There will be those who see my writings as a stalking horse for others in more influential positions in the Party. Relax, my friends, they aren't. But as a Regional Officer, I want a roadmap towards the next General Election, I want to be able to plan effectively. I'm probably not alone...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts from the Train: the future of Liberal Democrat blogging?

And so, the deal is done, and a bunch of people that I know are running the country. It has been a very unsettling week or so, with all of my political assumptions having been challenged as talk swung between coalition with the Conservatives and coalition with Labour. It turns out that talking about collaborative government means, at some point, you actually have to decide who to collaborate with, and on what terms.

From my unusual vantage point, I can testify to the stresses and strains that those negotiations generated, and am astounded by the steadfastness demonstrated by the negotiators, the Party leadership and the senior management team in Cowley Street during those five days. When the history books are written, one wonders just what will emerge.

But now 'Liberal Bureaucracy', like any other Liberal Democrat blog, faces an unexpected challenge. How do we relate to a new government, particularly now that our Members of Parliament are part of it?

At times like this, there are advantages to writing like a civil servant, in that this corner of the blogosphere is relatively vitriol-free. I prefer to address ideas rather than people, playing the ball rather than the man. And generally speaking, my fellow Liberal Democrats are of a sunny mien. Oh yes, there are exceptions, but we can't all be alike, can we?

There will be challenges. Given the imbalance in the relationship between the two partners, there will be government policies that we are uncomfortable with, sometimes deeply uncomfortable. Occasionally, a Liberal Democrat minister will be delivering them (it's that pesky collective responsibility thing again...). The danger will come if we choose to unleash any pent-up vitriol on our own side - the media are going to be on the lookout for splits as times get tough. And yet we don't want to becoming cloyingly on-message loyalists - that just isn't us.

So, interesting times ahead for us all. Good luck and God bless in the brave new world...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yes, celebrate our success, but respect those who dissent

I am pleasantly surprised that opinion amongst the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is, broadly speaking, supportive of the coalition agreement - we are almost proud of our contrariness sometimes. Yes, there are things that we won't like as individuals, but overall, I think that the package is pretty amazing.

However, there will be some losses, as those we think of as friends decide that they just cannot accept the price of the deal. Rob Fenwick, whose role in founding Liberal Democrat Voice can never be appreciated enough, has decided that he falls into that category.

I cannot pretend that I am not saddened by his decision, and that of any other member who has chosen to give up on the Liberal Democrats. As a relatively small party, there is a sense of family amongst us. Yes, we squabble sometimes, but we generally respect our differences and shake hands afterwards.

So, I would like to express a hope that those people who have left, and those who oppose the coalition at our Special Conference, are not a target for abuse. Those that choose to go are still our fellow liberals and, one day, we might be able to welcome them back with open arms. Those who oppose the coalition but stay on board have genuine reasons for dissent, and their stance should be respected.

At our moment of triumph, let us not be enslaved by conformity, or even the desire for it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

As the mechanical vultures hover over Westminster

From my office, high on the thirteenth floor of Euston Tower, one can see the Palace of Westminster clearly. Today, my view is enhanced by the sight of two helicopters flying over the area, seemingly waiting for someone to emerge from an office somewhere, get into a car, and sign a deal between two political parties. And whilst it looks increasingly likely that this will happen, it is clear that it isn’t actually nailed down until the Federal Executive and the Parliamentary Party in the Commons says so.

It’s been a tough few days, though, as the negotiations have progressed, stalled, reopened and then progressed again. Nerves have been shredded as all parties reach the conclusion that they don’t want to be the ones responsible for any failure, yet don’t want to be seen to be condemning their party to the wilderness. Yes, there have been debates in the past, but this is the big one, the decision that may decide the future of the nation. No guillotine, no rules, no ‘negotiating for dummies’, just a game of high-stakes poker. Let nobody pretend that this will have been easy.

For what it’s worth, I’ve always taken the view that politics is about taking decisions, about making your community the best place it can be. The more people you can find to agree, the more likely you are to achieve the desired changes. And sometimes, that involves working with other people, people who don’t entirely share your world view. The only question is, do you have enough in common, are you both willing to compromise sufficiently, to achieve your goal(s)?

If indeed a deal has been concluded, subject to approval, I can only hope that it offers enough Liberal Democrat policy to make the sacrifice of our individuality worthwhile. If it does, I will be supporting it.

We probably don’t have long to wait, one way or the other…

Might I remind our Conservative friends that coalitions are built on mutual respect?

As someone who has taken the view that one should await the details of a deal before getting too excited, I have also taken the view that insulting your potential partners or, worse still, attempting to coerce, threaten or blackmail them is probably unwise. Perhaps I'm being naive, but it seems like good politics and basic courtesy.

And before I carry on, I am fully aware that some of my colleagues have become a bit excited. There is no doubt that some Liberal Democrats are just as tribal as their Conservative and Labour opposite numbers. There is one key difference though, in that there is the impression that there is a choice of 'dancing partner' for the Liberal Democrats. It doesn't excuse knee-jerk unpleasantness, but perhaps explains it.

On the other hand, there is emerging an unpleasant sense of bile coming from some of the ultra-loyal Conservatives. They don't like us, and I acknowledge that. However, they might want to consider whether or not such an approach is likely to achieve a greater bond between our two parties. I'm particularly depressed by Iain Dale's response though, especially given his earlier support for some kind of formalised arrangement between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Iain, that kind of comment isn't helpful, especially the Molotov/Ribbentrop quip.

However, I am surprised of the lack of awareness in terms of the external view of our Party, Liberal Democrats strongly support reform to our voting system? We've only rattled on about it for years! So of course there is every likelihood that any deal would require a commitment to voting reform.

And if we are to be a component of a stable administration, it is essential that we bring as much of the Liberal Democrat 'family' with us as possible. We are painfully aware of our history, and of the fact that, after merger in 1988, we lost members to a variety of other parties.

As Archbishop Cranmer has noted, we're also a democratic party. That democracy has its costs, but it is a reflection of our aspirations and of how we think politics should be. Yes, that's a bit 'boy scout', but many Liberal Democrats would prefer a rather gentler, more intellectual, less confrontational style of politics.

So, to any Conservatives out there, just ponder before you reach for the venom. Is your anger really constructive?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Brown goes – is the progressive coalition now on?

With the dramatic announcement that Gordon Brown has called upon the Labour Party to initiate a leadership contest that he won’t be taking part in, the political landscape has suddenly been turned upside down. As, Terry Pratchett wrote in ‘The Fifth Elephant’, “And suddenly the world was tap-dancing on quicksand. In that case, the prize went to the best dancer.” Given how fast-moving the situation is now, the big question is, who is the best dancer?

It was clear from an early stage that whilst many Liberal Democrats favoured a deal with Labour, the idea of leaving Gordon Brown in 10 Downing Street was unthinkable. To be blunt, he isn’t collegiate, he isn’t consensual, he’s a bit of a control freak. In short, he rubs liberals up the wrong way.

So, what happens now? Is it possible to negotiate terms with a political party without an effective head, and what will that party look like after a leadership contest?

I’m guessing that I’ll be seeing rather less of my wife than I might have hoped…

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Whilst the world fusses about coalitions, something much more important is happening - a Liberal Youth co-option

I have to admit to having neglected my duties as Liberal Youth's Returning Officer of late. And, given that the election of Alan Belmore to the position of Chair created a vacancy of the position of Vice Chair Finance, there is a co-option to be organised.

There have been three applicants;

Adam Parsons, Paul Walmsley and Tom Wood 

I will be organising that co-option over the coming days, before turning my attention to the annual elections for Liberal Youth.

It'll take my mind off of the other negotiations going on around me...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Teaching our rivals how to negotiate

The past day or so has been astonishingly educational and, regardless of the outcome of the various negotiations, I think that we can be pretty proud of the way in which things have been handled.

The Parliamentary Party and the Federal Executive appear to have carried out their responsibilities without leaking or public dissent, despite the pressure that they are under. The media have been kept up to date with events, so that the public are reassured as far as is possible, and nobody is making outlandish or outrageous demands. It all seems to be pretty professional.

Our potential partners appear to be having problems though. I have already addressed the issues that Conservatives are facing, but it is equally true that there is no obvious process by which Labour activists are being engaged. There are reports that senior Labour figures are attempting to influence Liberal Democrats, and there are a number of calls for a coalition of progressive forces. However, there isn't a clear sense that these are official moves, or that they even represent the view of the Labour Party as opposed to individual initiatives.

How will Labour sell a coalition to their own members and activists? Given the fairly poisonous nature of the relationship between the two parties in local government, and the views expressed by the likes of Frank Dobson that Liberal Democrats are basically untrustworthy, it looks like a tough sell.

With Gordon Brown going home to Fife, a valid question is "just who is in charge of the Labour negotiating team?". Indeed, who is actually qualified to negotiate on behalf of the Labour Party? And whilst, for the timebeing, that may not be immediately important, the time may come when it becomes critical...

How worried should you be if you're a Conservative activist?

When news of the triple lock reached the consciousness of the political correspondents, some twelve or so years after it came into existence, there was a certain amount of hilarity. A recipe for delay and dithering, we were told. The markets would never wear it, others suggested. The idea that there should be some consultation was thought to be rather absurd.

And so, here we are. I have to say that the process is moving along quite smoothly so far - forget the actual decision, we're a fair way away from that. Of course, despite the meetings of the two negotiating teams, there is no formal proposal on the table yet, but that isn't something under our control, of course. The media are happily reporting on how Liberal Democrats are being consulted, how we are a democratic party.

And the Conservatives? Hmmm... David Cameron has apparently indicated that he wants a deal by the end of the weekend, yet the Conservative Parliamentary Party in the Commons is only due to meet on Monday evening. There appears to be no corresponding process of consultation, no means by which members can express their concerns except crossing swords via the medium of ConservativeHome. Given that it is owned by Lord Ashcroft, it has some influence perhaps, but it can be ignored.

And, if 86% of Conservative Party members polled would prefer the formation of a minority administration as opposed to a coalition with another party, I suspect that figure would be even higher if the words 'another party' were to be replaced by 'Liberal Democrats'. Admittedly, I suspect that those who read 'ConservativeHome' are less than entirely reflective of Party membership, but they are all that we can really 'see'.

It is reported that Lord Tebbit is demanding a full ballot of Conservative Party members (so much for the notion that a quick decision is needed to settle the markets...), and his views will resonate with the Conservative blogosphere.

They feel a sense of betrayal, a sense that this was an election that they could, and should, have won easily. Some of them blame David Cameron, some Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton. Some of them think that the campaign was not right-wing enough. They want to be heard, and a failure to give them that opportunity could be very damaging to the future unity of the Conservative Party.

Far be it from me to engage in schadenfreude, but it looks as though the authors of the Southport resolution creating the triple lock bequeathed us a process for just this sort of political development. I suspect that our political rivals only wish that they had been so prescient...

The 'triple lock' - how many Liberal Democrats does it take to accept a proposal?

Alright, research done...

There are fifty-seven Liberal Democrat MP's, and therefore forty-three of them will have to vote in favour of any proposal for it to be agreed. So far, so easy... The apparent mystery is the Federal Executive. So, here is your 'cut-out-and-keep' guide to the Federal Executive...

8.1 There shall be a Federal Executive, which shall be responsible for directing, co-ordinating and implementing the work of the Federal Party. It shall consist of the following:

(a) the President, who shall act as its chair;

(b) the Vice-Presidents;

(c) the Leader;

(d) two other MPs elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons;

(e) one Peer elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the House of Lords;

(f) one MEP elected by and from the Parliamentary Party in the European Parliament;

(g) two principal local authority councillors elected by principal local authority councillors of the Party from among their own number;

(h) one representative of each State Party, elected by its internal procedures (State Parties may appoint a substitute member should the elected member be unable to attend a specific meeting of the Federal Executive);

(i) one more person than the total number of voting members elected or appointed under paragraphs (a) to (h) above elected by the Federal Conference (casual vacancies shall be filled in accordance with the electoral regulations) except that persons who, at the date of close of nominations for election under this paragraph, are MPs shall not be eligible to be candidates for election under this paragraph.

Filling in the gaps, there are three Vice-Presidents and three State Parties, so that there are fifteen elected under paragraph (i). Therefore, there are twenty-nine members of the Federal Executive, twenty-two of which would need to vote in favour of accepting any proposal.

When 24/7 news fails... watching the reporters

As a bit of a Party Constitutional hack, I watch BBC News 24 and Sky News with some frustration, interspersed with an occasional urge to shake an errant correspondent by the throat and scream, "Why don't you actually find out how this really works?".

I'll start with the 'triple lock'. There are those, mostly outside the Party, who ridicule the idea of requiring a 75% approval from the Parliamentary Party and the Federal Executive. Think about it, without such a level of approval, it is unlikely that any deal can be made to stick in any event. A party leader has to be able to bring his or her troops with them, and whilst there are likely to be those who could not stomach any particular deal, 100% agreement is impractical.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the apparent inability of the media to work out where the power actually lies within the Party. They recognise Nick, they recognise the negotiating team (Messrs Alexander, Huhne, Laws and Stunnell). Occasionally, they recognise those who actually have nothing to do with the core process and seek their views - entertaining because they don't have access to the key data. Beyond that, I have spotted other key players entering and leaving meetings completely unremarked upon. I won't name them, as it might impact on their ability to do their jobs, but I am reassured that they are there.

Interestingly, the Party structure is not necessarily easy to divine if you're an outsider. If, on the other hand, you're the sort of sad person who has a copy of the Party Constitution on his laptop, you're a bit better informed. It's a bit long, and a bit complicated, but twenty-five years as a faceless bureaucrat helps. But because I'm a caring person, I'll do a little research...

A message from the Party President

Dear Mark,

As the final election results come in, it is clear that no party has been granted an overall majority by the British electorate. There have been disappointments, as there have been for all of the major parties. The Conservatives have not won the majority that they thought was theirs at the beginning of the campaign, Labour have lost scores of seats across the country.

We took seats from the Conservatives in Chippenham, Eastbourne and Wells and staged some remarkable swings to capture Redcar and come so close to winning in Ashfield.

We have waged the best campaign we have ever fought, engaged more voters (nearly 7 million) than ever before, and in Nick, we have a leader who has won the respect, admiration and trust of the British people. These are priceless assets. We must remain unwavering in our determination to deliver the change that this country so badly needs.

Our aim now is to stick to the principles on which we fought the election and seek to ensure that a future government reflects our priorities of fair taxes, a fair chance for every child, a strong rebalanced economy that delivers sustainable jobs and political reform.

We are a democratic party (unlike the other two old parties) and our internal processes will always reflect that. At the same time, our process will not stand in the way of the need for decisive action in the interests of the whole country. I promise to keep you informed.

We have all worked hard and for that I thank you - my travels around the country showed me just how much everyone has put in. We have achieved this not only due to that effort, but also by sticking to our fairness message. In order for us to maximise our chances of delivering our fairness agenda we now have to keep this discipline up, avoiding speculation as to what happens next.

Baroness Ros Scott

President of the Liberal Democrats

Friday, May 07, 2010

I have a feeling that my campaign is not yet over...

The voters have spoken, and whilst the Conservatives are desperately trying to claim that they should form a government, the raw numbers tell us very little.

Ros is in Cowley Street, as one might expect, awaiting the arrival of Nick. What happens next is as much a mystery to me as it is to anyone else at this stage. We wait and see.

Meanwhile, I may be brushing up on my cooking and teamaking skills...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Manish Sood implodes, live on your TV screen

I have just watched one of the more bizarre episodes of this General Election campaign, as the (for now, but surely not for much longer) Labour candidate in North West Norfolk, Manish Sood, has demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt his unfitness for public office.

When I read the story this morning courtesy of Political Betting, I assumed that this was a case of a candidate caught making an indiscreet comment by a political opponent, perhaps out of frustration. That is, until he appeared on Sky News, where he launched into a rant about the inadequacies of a large swathe of his Party's policies and the rudeness of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, Members of Parliament and the members of North West Norfolk Constituency Labour Party.

To be honest, his outburst made you wonder how on Earth he had been approved, let alone selected and, even more pertinent, how he had managed to make it to the Tuesday before polling day without this happening. You might, indeed, find yourself wondering if he had forgotten whose side he was supposed to be on.

it appears that Labour Party activists in North West Norfolk had had doubts too, and had made moves to seek his deselection. Unfortunately for them, but more importantly, the entire Labour Party, the National Executive Committee refused to consider the issue. One wonders what their grounds were, and I suspect that any internal investigation will look closely at that aspect of the 'Sood Affair'.

As anyone who has held any position in the candidate approval and selection apparatus of a political party will tell you, it is impossible to weed out all 'rogue candidates'. The process is highly dependent on volunteers, on one-off assessment processes and on good communication between the constituency party and the centre. It leaves all political parties vulnerable to those thankfully rare candidates who deliberately (and sometimes maliciously) withhold information that might impact on their approval, or who lie about their record or achievements when campaigning for selection. The safeguards only tend to kick in after the event, when the damage is done...