Friday, September 28, 2012

Lib Dems Announce PCC Candidate

Norfolk Liberal Democrats have announced that James Joyce will be their candidate for the election of the Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner on November 15th.

James Joyce is currently a district and county councillor. He represents the Eynesford Ward on Broadland Council and the Reepham Division on Norfolk County Council. Since 2005 he has represented the latter body as a member of the Norfolk Police Authority but he will be stepping down from this position in order to contest the election.

Commenting on his adoption, which follows a ballot of all Liberal Democrat members in Norfolk, Mr Joyce said:

"I am delighted to be chosen by the Party to stand in this election. Most Liberal Democrats have some reservations about the new process of elected commissioners but we are determined to make the system work effectively."

"We are fortunate to live in a "low crime" area. Norfolk is acknowledged as one of the safest counties in England with 50 crimes per 1000 residents against an average of 66 crimes per 1000 across the country. Making sure that this position is maintained is essential."

"Like all public bodies the Police are under financial pressure, they need to do more for less. Driving out inefficiency is and has to remain a key objective. Back room savings must continue to be turned into front line visibility."

"Maintaining appropriate communications with the public will be vital if the new structure is to function properly. In my work as a member of the Police Authority I have always been a passionate supporter of Community Policing. Responding effectively to community needs will be my first priority."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An unexpected moment in the spotlight

I am not a regular speaker at Liberal Democrat conferences, and when I do, I normally stick to issues of bureaucracy. Not always, but as a rule I don't really do policy.

However, the more time I spend as a parish councillor, the more aware I become of the issues that affect small villages and rural communities. And, confronted with a conference motion that called for all residential roads to be made 20 mph zones, my interest was attracted, especially as my fellow colleagues on Creeting St Peter Parish Council are rather keen on the idea.

There was a catch though - this was to be imposed on all residential roads, regardless of the circumstances, and the concept of a residential road wasn't actually defined. In theory, that sounds good, but if you're a resident of Earl Stonham, on the A1120, or one of the villages on the A12 north of Woodbridge, you might not be so keen. Indeed, my own village has greater need for footways (the 'proper' term for pavements), as we have none.

Call me old-fashioned, but I rather like the notion of local communities deciding upon their needs, equipped with a range of options, rather than one blunt implement. And so, I decided to put a card in to speak, for it wasn't likely that many people would oppose the motion.

I didn't expect to get called. After all, there were a lot of cards in, and I'm not an particular expert on the subject (I am the Vice Chair of our local Road Safety Committee, but I've only held the post for a month or so). However, I found a comfortable seat near the back of the hall, and waited. I didn't have to wait long...

Luckily, I didn't have a long speech...
This motion gives the impression of reflecting life in the suburbs and country towns, where main roads are, for the most part, kept apart from residential areas. And, as a child of the suburbs, I understand the motivation of the movers. However, I now live in an area of the country where small villages predominate.
The concept of a residential road in a built-up area can be quite different to that of a residential road in a village. In some linear villages, the main A-road is a residential road, and in Suffolk, for example, the A12 and the A140 run through the middle of a number of villages. It may not be viable to build by-passes, yet a 20 mph limit would cause congestion, increase pollution and affect commerce.
As a Party, we believe in localism, in bottom-up community action. And yet, the motion as it is before us, denies that. It imposes one solution on communities regardless of size, regardless of circumstance, regardless of need.
I therefore support Amendment 1, which at has the effect of empowering communities, allowing them the freedom to develop solutions that reflect their needs and aspirations.
So, Conference, please endorse amendment 1 or, if you cannot, reject this motion as well-meaning, but flawed.

Nothing fancy, but it did the job.

I was surprised when it was picked up by the BBC in their live feed,
Delegate Mark Valladares says the motion is "well-meaning, but flawed" because it imposes one solution on communities "regardless of their size... circumstance... [and] needs". He says amendment one will allow communities the freedom to develop their own solutions.
But perhaps even more surprised to return to the office this morning to find that BBC Radio Suffolk had namechecked me. Indeed, they rather generously broadcast a chunk of my speech, and then returned to the debate during the breakfast show.

Perhaps I ought to do this more often...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Feeling the love for Navnit and Ann Dholakia...

Instead of being at the BOTYs, I was accompanying Ros to a surprise event, a dinner to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the election of a Liberal to Brighton Council. That young Liberal candidate was Navnit, now Baron, Dholakia.

Navnit is a very special figure to me, as his experiences are similar to those of my father, and when our paths first crossed fifteen years ago, we hit it off immediately. We would, thereafter run into each other occasionally, but ten years later, he was to play an unexpected role in events that changed my life forever.

I had not been seeing Ros for very long, when she went on a delegation to Taiwan with, amongst others, Navnit. He very kindly gave me a very good character reference, and the rest is history. To this day, Navnit jokes that ours was an arranged marriage, and that he was the one that arranged it.

And last night, the room was full of people whose lives have touched, and been touched by, Navnit and his wife Ann. From his early days in Brighton, through his work on penal reform, policing and equalities to his fifteen years in the House of Lords, there were people who had been there, had experienced that.

There were speeches from Tim Razzell, Chris Rennard and Raj Loomba, highlighting his contributions in a range of fields, but it was Navnit's response, talking of his early experiences after coming to this country from Tanzania, of casual racism, of being part of a mixed-race couple, which exposed a passion and a vehemence that I had not seen in him before. It did, however, encapsulate exactly why I admire him so much.

I should also mention Ann. Ann has been by Navnit's side throughout, and always has a kind word or gesture. She fulfils a role that I recognise in a way that many might not, that of support, helpmeet, and the person who, in quiet moments, is there with advice or information, who understands what you are going through. It was nice that she was recognised.

Afloat on a sea of affection, the evening almost ended too soon. But some of us are getting old, and you have to pace yourself.

I should not close without mentioning Chris Maines and Paul Elgood, whose kindness in arranging the event cannot be overstated. The brochure for the event, with pictures and stories from a range of people, brought back some great memories, so many thanks to them.

Slightly embarrassed of Creeting St Peter writes...

There is, occasionally, a moment when someone says something, and it triggers a memory which would have been much more useful a few hours earlier.

So, when last night someone mentioned who had won the Liberal Democrat Voice 'Blog of the Year' Awards, it did cross my mind that I had intended to be there... tonight. Hmmm... not one of my more glorious moments. Admittedly, I was at one of the most enjoyable events I've ever been to at a Liberal Democrat conference, but nonetheless...

And, to make matters worse, I'd been nominated for an award, that for the best blog by a Liberal Democrat holding public office. Yes, a cute, furry parish councillor, up against a county councillor, an MP and a Minister. At least I didn't win, which is something of a mercy.

The award was won by Alex Folkes, whose reporting of events in Cornwall, around his home town of Launceston and on the Unitary Authority. Alex is a worthy winner, and losing to him comes without any sense of failure on my part.

So, three nominations, and still no award to match Ros's for best use of social media in a campaign. Ah well, maybe next year...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The sun is shining, and I'm on a train heading south(ish). It can only mean one thing...

Welcome to the 10.03 service from Billericay to Liverpool Street, the fourth leg of my seven leg journey from home to Conference hotel.

Yes, engineering works are a feature of today's odyssey, in this case starring a rail replacement bus between Witham and Billericay. However, all has gone well so far which, I hope, augurs well for the week to come.

As part of the Liberal Democrat Voice team, I'll be chipping in with reports and the like, but I'm hoping to keep up with my own impressions here on the blog.

So, don't go away, the next few days could be interesting...

Nick Clegg is sorry... but is this tactics or strategy?

I admit to some surprise at the nature of this week's mea culpa over tuition fees. It seems like an odd time to choose to do so as, whilst it fits a domestic Party schedule, it doesn't necessarily come at an early enough point for public opinion.

That said, many activists of my acquaintance were consistently of the view that it was the breaking of the pledge that was wrong, rather than the pledge itself. The policy was, after all, costed, and had Liberal Democrats formed a government, we might well have been able to honour that pledge.

On reflection, it would appear, however, that when making the pledge, no consideration was made of the fact that we might be the junior partner in a coalition subsequently, and thus unable to have confidence that our pledge was deliverable.

But an apology is a good thing. At least, I think it is...

However, what good is an apology without follow up? As I have noted previously, we campaigned for a new type of politics, one that most Liberal Democrat activists believed in, whereby you treated the public like adults, and hoped that they would respond.

In government, we haven't always been true to that. Not as unfaithful as our opponents would have you believe, but we've 'played the game'. I will admit that I am uncomfortable with that. So, hopefully, this is a fresh start for Liberal Democrats in power, with a more open dialogue. It takes two, or more, to make this work, however. The media fixation on conflict and discord plus the cynicism of politicians, serve to encourage a reversion to spin and bluster.

It will not be an easy road back for the Party, but given that the longest journey starts with a single step, it would be nice if we started rebuilding our credibility with the British public this week.

A postcard from Ypres... lest we forget

I'm an amateur military historian, not so much of guns and bombs, but of political imperative, of the influence of nationalism and domestic politics, indeed why so many supposedly smart people sent so many young men to their death.

The 'In Flanders Fields' museum, in the reconstructed Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall), in the heart of Ypres, itself a focal point for much slaughter on both sides between 1914 and 1918, offers a fascinating insight into the personal tragedies of trench warfare, of citizens fleeing a war zone, and of the industrialisation of warfare. Equally powerfully, it provokes thought in those so minded to dwell on such things.

It is, I suppose, traditional that we remember the sacrifices of those that died to preserve our freedoms. So, once a year, we solemnly respect the minute's silence, even though we have no living relative who served, and only family folk memory of those that did.

And I find myself wondering, from time to time, why we remain, in some quarters, so keen to send our young men to some far away place, to die for, what was it exactly? Don't get me wrong, I'm not a pacifist, and I fully accept that military intervention is necessary, if unwanted.

It is, however, the case that we do spend an awful lot of defence, which very few people complain about, and Conservatives like, and relatively little on International Development, which has rather fewer friends. In fairness, the Coalition has continued our progress towards the 0.7% of GDP target for spending in this area, protecting it from cuts, something that we, as Liberal Democrats, should take some pride from.

Making friends does not come cheaply, whilst making enemies is rather more expensive, so we should be making the case in support of our aid program, as an investment in our future, as a means of promoting trade and goodwill, and we need to be smart about how we spend our available funds.

Bilateral programmes of education, or scientific research, infrastructure projects in developing countries, these are means of helping poorer nations to get on, thus creating markets for our exports and trading opportunities for those countries with their neighbours.

In this way, mutual interests develop, likely to make leaders hesitate before initiating conflict, or sponsoring terror elsewhere.

And best of all, there will be less young men and women dying in foreign fields for a political imperative...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Is this the best way to go about lobbying?

In my various capacities, people occasionally want to talk to me. Mostly, it's about things that are internal to the Party - people wanting advice, or support in terms of candidate stuff - as I don't have what I would describe as significant influence. So, when I received an e-mail asking if I would be available to meet the Vice-Chairman of the National Association of Local Councils, as well as its Senior Policy Officer, for a briefing on what they are doing, I was naturally intrigued.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceSome research had clearly been done, as I was noted as being a Parish Councillor and a 'leading Liberal Democrat blogger', and, apparently, NALC was "particularly keen to catch up with you personally at conference to outline their current work in promoting the development of locally democratic and accountable community level councils, and in using the powers granted by the Localism Act and the ideas set out in the Open Public Services White Paper to empower local communities".

So, I replied, saying that I would be delighted to, subject to diary commitments. Yesterday, I received an e-mail acknowledging this, and asking for my mobile phone number and a short biography. The phone number I can deal with, after all, things happen. But a biography? For people who have approached me asking to meet? Why am I supposed to justify myself like that?

I admit that it has somewhat 'put my back up', in that having been approached by a group to meet them, I am expected to go to such trouble. It leads me to suspect that their lobbyists don't really 'get' politicians, which is problematic, given who it is that NALC are trying to influence.

Ah well, we'll see how it goes...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ELDR Council Delegation - is encouraging potential opposition really a good idea?

Very few of you, I hope, noticed a piece on Liberal Democrat Voice last week, encouraging people to stand for places on the Party's delegation to ELDR Council.

I wrote it because I was asked nicely, and because there are people out there who might be good for the role. Unfortunately, it's a role that I want to keep, partly because I enjoy it, partly because it seems that I might be quite good at it. And, by encouraging competitors, it makes it less likely that I'll be re-elected. This would be bad, right?

Yet, I think that it's the right thing to do. We are, as a delegation, a bit short on BAME members (that would be me), and poor at reporting back (present company excepted). I'm not entirely convinced that we are, for the most part, that well connected to the heart of our Party, or truly representative - we're a bit bourgeois and middle class (I admit to being both). So, some fresh blood might be good.

I'm not always sure how I fit into the delegation. Most of my colleagues are political, international, multilingual - I'm an English speaking bureaucrat with a love of travel and an interest in history, although I find ELDR Council extremely congenial. Like my Parish Council, it is easy to comprehend yet difficult to truly understand, and you have to approach it in a way that respects tradition and practice, always aware that it was there before you, and will be after you're gone. The debate is usually measured, and clarity is valued over passion (I'm not always great at the latter).

What I bring is a bureaucrat's eye to an organisation that is administrative, rather than political, collaborative, rather than combative. It is gentle - most of the time - and I value that.

And so, I'll be running for re-election. I'll supply a manifesto, one that will follow on from that of two years ago, and Conference delegates can vote on my record. Hopefully, that will be good enough...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Across the border and back for €7...

I just couldn't get into Liege, candidate city for Expo 2017, so I'm back on the train again. Alright, it isn't a particularly glamorous train, a mere year younger than I am, but it does the job.

But despite its age, and its rather firm second class seats, it's a surprisingly cosmopolitan service, as we're on our way to Maastricht (don't tell any Conservatives, the place has a strange effect on them). Interrailers from Canada, students fretting about the courses availlable to them as part of their International Relations degree (and fretting in English too), a woman from Somalia chatting with a friend on her mobile, all this appears perfectly normal.

I've visited the Netherlands on many occasions, but never actually reached Maastricht, and whilst I don't have a lot of time here, probably two hours, it should be long enough to see if I'd want to come back.

Someone else's train, someone else's countryside

Ah yes, Belgium. Famous for its linguistic divide, its inability to form a government from time to time and for its beer. Ah, beer...

But I am here for none of these things, I am here to work. And, although my meeting doesn't start until 11.00 on Monday morning, I am carrying out some important research work first. Yesterday evening, I explored the area around Place Jourdan (alright, I admit, there may have been a little beer involved), with the Hon. Jamie, and today I am off to Liege, possibly to examine European shopping.

As a member of the ELDR Financial Advisory Committee, it is important that I have a sense of such things. The beer is merely refreshment.

It must be said though, that the countryside between Brussels and Liege is very nice, quite like Suffolk with its gentle, rolling landscape, its patchwork of green and brown. And Liege-Guillemins station is described as looking like a glass and concrete manta ray. You don't see those every day...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Music for a quiet evening in...

I understand, from reading some of the work of my fellow bloggers, that providing some indication that I have a life beyond politics is a good thing. You know, hobbies, favourite movies, that sort of thing.

And indeed, I do have a hinterland, whatever that is. My taste in music is, like my religion, catholic, ranging from Mahler at one end, to Madison Avenue at the other (what do you mean, you don't remember Madison Avenue?). And whilst we're on 'M', what about this from, and I know that it's hard to believe, 1998...

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Cabinet Reshuffle 2012: how it affects Suffolk

With only two of the county's MPs surviving the 2010 General Election, and with five newcomers to the House of Commons, it wasn't terribly surprising that we were unrepresented within the serried ranks of Government Ministers at first.

Tim Yeo is, to put it bluntly, past it, with no likelihood of preferment, given that there were rumours before 2010 that he wouldn't be running again. David Ruffley, who might have been preferred had it not been for the Coalition, suffered from well-reported health problems, and the added stress of ministerial office might have exacerbated those.

The newcomers were a mixed bunch, with the three held seats going to outsiders, much to the chagrin of local Conservative activists, none of whom were considered worthy of the sinecure that is a safe Conservative shire county seat. Indeed, very few were considered to be worthy of inclusion in a shortlist to be put before local members. On the other hand, the target seats went to two candidates with excellent local credentials.

So, now that they've bedded in, they fall into the category of 'bright young talent', and therefore, potential new ministers.

Matthew Hancock was always likely to get on, as an acolyte of George Osborne, and his former chief of staff. West Suffolk was not his first choice of seat, having applied for selection in Macclesfield where, apparently, he was pretty awful in front of the members. Clearly, George bringing him to the Treasury is a way of instilling greater loyalty, and his future is very much tied to that of his sponsor.

Daniel Poulter's promotion to become a junior minister at Health is more of a surprise. Not because he lacks talent, as I happen to think that he is one of the more thoughtful, collegiate members of the 2010 Conservative intake, but because the idea of appointing someone who knows what he is talking about seems rather unlikely. If I were a health professional, I would be reassured by the presence of a practising surgeon within the Department of Health - he spends part of his recess at the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston.

Still no job for Peter Aldous, Therese Coffey or Ben Gummer, but as two of them will have tough battles for re-election in 2015, and Therese Coffey is a woman, no great surprise there.

So, Suffolk is closer to the centre of government following the reshuffle. It would be nice if it felt like that to the average voter...