Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rewriting the rulebook with your own blood

For a recovering bureaucrat, one of the biggest challenges is coming upon a situation whereby you need to create some guidance, some instructions, for a necessary task. As a cautious soul, for what else would you be as a bureaucrat, the temptation is to be thorough, to reduce risk, to make it easy to manage.

I was reminded the other day that our Regional Vice Chair, a truly wonderful person who has been an inspiration to me in so many ways, a soulmate and a friend, had persuaded the Regional Executive that I should chair a small working group to review our internal election procedures after last year, when we managed to get quite a lot spectacularly wrong, without noticing. I don't blame the Returning Officer, as he was poorly briefed, but it wasn't pretty.
But anyway, I was busy, and never got round to doing anything about it. No, that isn't quite true. Actually, it was more that I wasn't really very engaged.

So, having been reminded that time was running out, I set to work. First, a set of fifteen constitutional amendments, removing references to the late-(un)lamented Regional Assembly and extending the length of term of office for the Regional Executive from one to two years. So far, so good.

The next step was to draft some Returning Officer guidance. Our Regional Constitution, never knowingly read, does have some interesting quirks, but having one two-page document which lists all the things that must be done and/or arranged is a help.

And lastly, election rules. Oh yes, we must have some, mustn't we? Actually, no, we don't. We use the massively over-bureaucratic Federal Party Rules. Not any more...
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ed Joyce stands down from Lembit's campaign team

After the events of the past twenty-four hours, that is the headline that I would expect to see shortly. And why would that be?

I'm a Returning Officer with a lot of experience, especially of elections where there have been teams campaigning in support of a preferred candidate. In such circumstances, there is a golden rule - you, the candidate, are responsible for the acts of your campaign team, and will be held accountable for them. Normally, of course, this is an issue where selection rules have been broken, or opponents defamed.

Defaming third parties is not, as a rule, a problem, unless such behaviour is likely to bring the Party into disrepute, so the blaming of Mick Bates for Lembit's defeat in last year's General Election wouldn't generate more than minor regret from the perspective of a Returning Officer. After all, sacrificing your friends for personal advantage is not a breach of the Selection Rules, even if it is morally and ethically suspect. But when the candidate has to disassociate himself from such a claim, there is an issue.

Lembit claims that he did not read, and therefore was not responsible for, his manifesto, and would not have referred to Mick Bates in such a manner. Therefore, someone else wrote it and, given the record of Ed Joyce in referring to Mick in derogatory tones, now denounced by Lembit so publicly, implies that Ed is responsible. So, on that basis, having embarrassed the candidate, Ed should do the decent thing and withdraw from the campaign.

If he does not, then I call upon Lembit to remove Ed from his campaign team, on the grounds that, if he doesn't do so, he effectively condones such cowardly attacks on people he claims as friends. Unless, of course, Lembit believes them to be accurate, in which case he has lied to the Press. And which do you think would be more damaging in the long run?

Oh yes, and Ed, will you now be publicly apologising to Mick Bates?

And finally, there is a question for Lembit. If you are willing to allow your campaign team to 'slag off' your friends in a manifesto which you don't have time to supervise, or even read, that is to be issued to Party members across the nation's capital, does that demonstrate that you are a fit person to carry the Party's banner in a high-profile campaign?

I'm not a member of the London Liberal Democrats any more, but this would have done little to convince me that my Party was safe in his hands...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

And the band played Lady Gaga...

Never let it be said that life is dull in mid-Suffolk, and yesterday proved that point once and for all.

Until 2005, Ros was the County Councillor for the Bosmere Division, which covers Needham Market and a string of villages to the south and west, one of which is Great Bricett, the home of what was RAF Wattisham, and is now Flying Station Wattisham. When the RAF left, and the Army arrived, Ros worked with them to build strong links with the local civilian community, many of whom worked on the base, or lived in close proximity.

One continuing activity is the annual ceremony of 'Beating Retreat', where representatives of the local community are invited to a cocktail party and, this year, an intended close look at one of the Army Air Corps Apache attack helicopters. So, on with the suit, as Ros and I drove across from Creeting St Peter to attend the event.

There was a awful lot of networking being done, with most of mid-Suffolk's senior politicians in attendance, plus the Chief Constable, and plenty of interesting people to talk to. Admittedly, Wattisham's most famous resident, some bloke called Harry, I'm told, didn't appear to be joining us, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Unfortunately, the somewhat unfavourable weather meant that we missed out on the hardware demonstration, but we were entertained by the Band of the Parachute Regiment, who played a rather eclectic set, including a Lady Gaga number (at least, Ros tells me they did, and as I don't do much in the way of modern culture past 1925, I'll take her word for it!). Naturally, the National Anthem was played, although there was no singing along - I guess that the Suffolk gentry don't do that sort of thing.

And then we headed home...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thinking about thinking - can you really blog in two places at once?

For the past week or so, the legendary Auntie Helen Duffett has been doing her best Beau Geste impression, making it look as though the Lib Dem Voice team have been at full strength. Let me let you into a secret... they aren't. Whilst Mark 'Hawaii Five-0' Pack has skived off to the Canadian prairies, and Stephen 'where did you get that hat' Tall is buried under a mountain of work, the remainder of the LDV team are keeping things going.

Which one of these is Mark Pack?
My small contribution has been to write a few pieces to help fill the gaps - think of it as propping intellectual corpses against the battlements to convince casual readers that thinking is being done. And I can tell you, it's done nothing for my blogging here in Creeting St Peter. Indeed, I begin to understand why the Lib Dem Voice team have, for the most part, stopped blogging in their own right.

Which leaves me with mixed feelings. As I said to Auntie Helen the other day, perhaps the team needs some fresh blood, a few people to share the load. After all, so much of the Party's activities are dependent on a few enthusiastic people, and burnout, either mental or political, is a constant risk. Don't think for one moment that I'm volunteering my services. At the moment, I'm enjoying my freedom too much and, in truth, I'm more minded to scale down my activity within the Party rather than taking on new tasks. I enjoy being a parish councillor, I enjoy not having to 'do my duty' to my Region, or a committee.

But people come, and people go. I've seen newcomers burst like comets into the Liberal Democrat blogosphere and beyond, some slightly mad, a few dangerous, some too good to be constrained by the narrow confines of a friendly audience. A few of us remain from the relatively early days of Lib Dem Blogs - not many, I admit, but a few.

So, don't hold back from offering help if you can, but please don't be offended if they don't accept it. It is a team, and they're kind of comfortable with each other - a rather good thing, I think. But do submit the occasional piece for publication, and maybe you might get the call...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Seen elsewhere - bringing you to the View...

I may have mentioned that I've written a few pieces for Liberal Democrat Voice of late. Here are the links, and a little introduction for each;

Is the English Party's addiction to bureaucracy stifling your Local Party? A recovering bureaucrat is beginning to suspect that the answer is one that he's been denying for years. But then, what use or ornament is the English Party leadership anyway?

Apparently, this is really important to Liberal Democrats, and for all progressives with a desire to reform our politics. And yet, nobody appears to be paying attention unless the media tell them too...

What's the point of policy if nobody cares about the details and even you can't be bothered to explain it particularly?

If you enjoy any of these pieces, feel free to comment, either here or at Liberal Democrat Voice...

Friday, July 15, 2011

I need a new PC*, what should I get?

I am the not so terribly proud owner of a PC, purchased for me some years ago by my ever generous father. It is, as often happens, beginning to slow as it nears senescence. And so, obviously, I need to replace it. And that's where the trouble starts.

I don't know very much about this. In fact, if you asked me to explain how it all works, I'd have to call in an eight year old (I deeply suspect that Imogen, my seemingly angelic niece, knows more about this than I do). However,  Ros pointed out that I know lots of geeky techie people (that would be you, gentle readers). "Why not ask them?", she suggested.

So, can you help? I need enough computing power to surf the internet, do a little gentle word-processing, use Serif PagePlusX4, play some strategic war games, plan the invasion of Lithuania, you know, the usual stuff. It can't be too complicated, because Ros doesn't read instruction manuals (and I don't understand them).

How much memory do I need? Which brand is best, most reliable, least likely to explode? Do any of them look 'cooler' than the others? Can I get them in purple, or lime green (alright, that might not be as important as the other issues).

Answers in the comments section, please... in English, preferably...

* Yes, I know that the iMac is superior (apparently), but I don't need anything that complex or expensive. They are awfully pretty though...

House of Lords Reform: I'm only a little conflicted...

There are moments when your interests are contradictory. "I'm hungry," one might muse, "but I'm on a diet.", for example. In my case, it is, "I believe in reform of the House of Lords, but my wife is a baroness.".

That in itself is bad enough. However, I am a member of the Management Board of 'Unlock Democracy', an organisation which leads the campaign for Lords reform. And I have a secret - I'm not entirely convinced by the draft Bill. Set aside my personal interest for a moment though, as I take you through three of my concerns.

One fifteen year term 

In reality, combined with a disqualification period in which a former member of a revised House of Lords cannot run for a seat in the House of Commons, one fifteen year term rules out the elderly (would you vote to select someone unlikely to see out their term?), and anyone in their thirties (would you effectively put your career on hold to do it?). For the young, there is still time to go on and do something else, and for those in their late-forties onwards, a fifteen year term would see you pretty much through to your pension.

The Lords Spiritual

Why keep them? Their voting record is generally poor (the Bishop of Leicester, for example, who has been a Lord Spiritual since December 2003, has voted in just 0.67% of all divisions). They are less and less representative of the country's faith communities (what, no Roman Catholic?), and their continued membership distorts the stated aim of improving the balance between men and women in Parliament.

Timing of Elections

The intention of holding elections to the House of Lords at the same time as for the House of Commons means that the elections for the former, intended to be more reflective and analytical, will be overshadowed by the one with the power. Why not hold them at different times, perhaps elected new Lords two years after a General Election?

But why not read the draft Bill yourself, and see what you think?...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Group blogging is the future. Didn't they say that about the steam engine?

From this rather tranquil corner of the blogosphere, the suggestion that group blogging is the way forward is an interesting one. And whilst we've suddenly had a mini-burst of new collaborative websites, I find it hard to get too passionate about any of them.

The Huffington Post has recruited a number of bloggers of my acquaintance for the launch of its UK version, including Matthew Harris, an old friend and rather more pro-Israeli colleague from my former days in North London. Like Global Post, which set up a couple of years ago, the means of selection seems a bit vague (I suspect that it was entirely predicated on the personal preferences of whoever got the job of recruiting them). However, the model has worked in the US, and we'll have to see how it works here.

If I was to be critical (and why not?), I might note that the 'huge headline, big picture' first view is a bit... well, tabloid in style. Unless the headline is well-written, it doesn't grab the reader and make them want to see more. It is, of course, a work in progress, with the links for Northern Ireland being merely a rehash of the links for the national press. And they'll probably remove the News of the World from their list of links in due course...

Not all of the links seem to work, and there are still too many items of little interest to a United Kingdom audience, and the front page is a bit big - I would rather use the dropdown menus to find things than have to scroll down... and down... and down... But I'll probably look in from time to time. I might even put in a link from this blog if I feel that it has value.

Meanwhile, Iain Dale has launched Dale & Co., a collection of 96 101 106 115 (and counting) contributors. I like the design, cool, crisp, not too heavy on the advertising. The list of contributors is varied, but not necessarily the sort of people I'm desperate to read. And as for Colleen Graffy, I'd contribute to any campaign to have her deported (ghastly person that she is) as a threat to the peace of the nation.

My gut feeling is that it will do well. It benefits from the goodwill generated by Iain's original, and rather lamented, blog. I didn't always agree with him, and disagreeing with him was generally a pretty good way to generate traffic, but he did write well. Handing it over to his personal assistant was rather condemning it to a long and lingering death (I'm sure that Grant Tucker is a charming young man, but his opinion is of no real interest to me). In addition, his networking skills across the political divides, his credibility as a publisher, and the cachet of his link love makes him an ideal person to front a collective blog.

It isn't original, in that it owes much to Lib Dem Blogs, being as it is (effectively) an aggregator, merely laid out with rather more design and financial muscle. After all, if one of the contributors doesn't contribute for eight weeks, will anyone notice? It allows the allstar cast to blog when they feel like it, avoiding the tyranny of having to feed an increasingly ravening beast.

And, last and almost certainly least, The Commentators (I really can't be bothered to link to this), with its new UK Political Editor, Harry Cole, who has found time from his hectic schedule of drawing wildly inaccurate conclusions from extremely partial (in both senses of the word) fragments of the facts to add his undoubted weight to the enterprise.

To be frank, the fact that Harry is involved is enough for me to predict that it will take on a twilight existence, lurking in the shadows of credibility. Guido Fawkes's enterprise has not been the same since Harry got involved, and I don't see this being any different. Until Harry learns that you can't assume that everyone is a lying, cheating scumbag except your informants, who are of course seekers of the truth, so help me God, he will be flawed.

But I have a reservation about all three. Call me old fashioned, but I like to develop a relationship with a blogger. I like to gain a sense of how they think, divine the philosophical background to that, to respond to a personality, if you like. And yes, there's no reason why these three contenders can't achieve that intimacy in due course. After all, the newspapers have achieved that over decades.

And, in the unlikely event that either the Huffington Post or Dale & Co. come knocking at my door, I'd be suitably flattered (I'm not holding my breath!...). But until then, welcome to my world. It's small, it's intimate, it's entirely mine. And perhaps it is all the better for it...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alright Mr Littlewood, enough with the dodgy polling...

I see that the Institute of Economic Affairs has published another book, "Sharper Axes, Lower Taxes", and that young Mr Littlewood has seen fit to grace the readership of Liberal Democrat Voice with another promotional pieceNow I'm not going to disagree with him entirely, although I do see that he has attracted almost  total opprobrium for his rather extreme stance. However, I cannot let his use of polling go uncommented upon.

You see, claiming that the public support reducing spending by £215 billion, without actually outlining what that might mean, is a bit of a con. I take that back, it's an enormous, gold-plated, glitter-encased fib. So, perhaps we should test the theory. 70 % of those polled preferred the IEA plan to that of the Coalition, it is claimed. But, were they told that the following form part of the plan;
  • the introduction of further user fees for the NHS
  • the introduction of mandatory health insurance, set at £1,000 per annum
  • charging parents approximately 25% of the average cost of their children's education
  • scrapping 'Sure Start'
  • cutting £1 billion from the funding for science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees
  • the abolition of free bus passes, free TV licences and the winter fuel allowance for the elderly, as well as their married couples' tax allowance and their higher rate of personal allowance
  • abandoning the link between the state pension and earnings
  • raising the state pension age to 66 in 2015
  • scrapping most of the Royal Navy, including the nuclear submarines, both aircraft carriers and the fleet of Type 45 destroyers, reducing the strength from 35,000 to 20,000
  • abandoning most of our battle tanks and heavy artillery
  • cutting seven out of eleven Royal Engineers regiments, five out of seven REME battalions
I need go no further, methinks.

Now, you can argue that some, or all, of these things are a good idea. I suspect that many wouldn't, but that's rather a side issue. The brutal fact is, that when polled, those siding with the IEA certainly weren't told what the plan actually entailed, merely how they would benefit if it was carried out. You certainly didn't tell them that their granny would lose her winter fuel allowance, or that they would have to pay for a lot of the services that the Government currently provides from tax revenues. And that would be why, exactly?

I'm sorry, Mark, but that is deception of the worst sort, and if you want to go out and do some polling on your recommendations one by one and come back with the same results, then I'll take you seriously. Until then, keep taking the tablets (as long as you're not asking the NHS to provide them for you)...

Another day, another redesign...

I'm bored. Even a EuroMillions win has failed to enthuse me. Alright, it was £2.80, but it was a win. Which reminds me, I really must call in somewhere and collect my winnings...

But I digress, something that I'm quite good at (he says, as another bunny rabbit takes off across his line of vision...). Yes, it's another redesign, following a fortnight of non-blogging and more existential doubt and uncertainty, during which time I cancelled my Twitter account (yes, @honladymark is no more), gave up on Facebook (no, I don't care about the fact that you have a shiny new chicken in cyberspace, there are real farms, growing real crops and breeding real animals within a gentle stroll of where I'm typing), withdrew from virtually everything I was involved with (including The Trunk - could someone sign me back in? Please?).

However, the noble Baroness thinks that I should keep up the blog, as it provides a platform for my writing. Odd really, because she remains unconvinced by the whole 'look at me, aren't I important!' school of blogging and, after all, expressing my opinions is only really more of the same. Given that the explicit joys of bureaucracy seem not to attract much interest, and that I am seen as 'the guy who writes about constitutions and the internal minutiae of a minor political party', perhaps it is time to move on.

Of course, there are other ways of doing this. I could retreat to micro-blogging, by which I mean blogging on a subject which really only directly impacts on a very small audience. And, indeed, I have. The Creeting St Peter Journal has changed to an online newspaper, covering anything and everything that affects my village, and whilst the readership is even smaller than the population of the village, it brings me a certain frisson of pleasure.

So, what to do with this blog? No longer at, or at least, next to the heart of the Party, I don't have the access to the powers that be that once I did (but ironically couldn't report on). I don't even attend English Council (self-preservation does occasionally kick in...), nor do I serve on a Federal or State level committee. I am a minor functionary of a Regional Party in a corner of England not exactly known for its beating Liberal heart. I presume that my Local Party know where I am, but I promise not to disturb them if they promise likewise (odd really, given that my stepson-in-law is the Local Party Chair...).

I am happy, however. Perhaps I'm simply burnt out after six rather crazy years, in which I travelled the world, and then the country, ran things, moved house (twice), got married, ran seriously for public office and exercised (occasionally) vast amounts of restraint, discretion and tact.

So, expect... well, nothing and everything, I suppose. I'll try to drop in regularly, and the BlackBerry is set so that I can post things as they come to mind on my rather short commute, or at lunchtime, or if I get bored with playing on the Nintendo Wii, or if I run out of paperwork. When you put it like that, perhaps things are returning to normal...