Saturday, May 31, 2014

The race for the Party Presidency: some questions for the candidates

Alright, I've given the matter some consideration, and whilst John Tilley gave me food for thought (despite rather missing the point to my mind), I've come up with four questions to put to the candidates at this stage;
  • What do you think the role of the President should be in the year of a General Election?
  • What do you think should be the relationship between the President and the Party Leader?
  • What do you think should be the relationship between the President and the voluntary party, i.e. the activists and volunteers?
  • Name three personal attributes that would help you perform the role of Party President and why?
I will be asking the candidates to keep their answers fairly short - I don't want to take up too much of their time, and I'm sure that they're planning campaign strategy and thinking about what they want to say to members. I will also wait until I have all of their answers before I start publishing them, so as not to disadvantage anyone.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The race for the Party Presidency: efficiency isn't likely to be a problem

Well, that was quick!

Yes, within the day, every one of the four candidates has kindly replied, and all are willing to answer my questions.

Now, given that there is a review underway into the recent election campaign, I don't want to put them in an uncomfortable position, so I'm planning to focus on the role of the Presidency. However, I do want this to be useful to members and activists so, if you have a suggestion (or even more than one!), use the comments space below, or use Twitter, including @honladymark, so that I see it on my timeline.

Party Presidency: now there are four, how are they getting on?

For obvious reasons, I take an interest in the Presidency of the Liberal Democrats, and today's not entirely surprising announcement that Liz Lynne, the former MP for Rochdale and then MEP for the West Midlands, has thrown her hat into the ring, has given me some food for thought. Not because I'm planning to support her - it's far too early for me to make a decision and we have little idea what the various candidates will campaign for, or what vision each might have for the role and for the Party.

It is particularly interesting that all four candidates, Pauline Pearce, Linda Jack, Sal Brinton and Liz, are women, which is a first (assuming that no other candidate emerges), although we have had two previous female Presidents - both excellent, even if I only married one of them.

Each of them has a Twitter presence;

and I'm sure that they'll all maintain a strong presence on social media, something which is increasingly useful in an internal party election where membership data isn't available to their campaign teams.

And, inspired by Jennie Rigg's efforts to get answers out of candidates for office in 2012, and Linda Jack's own questionnaire to presidential candidates in 1998, I've written to all four, asking them if their campaign has a web presence yet, and if they would mind answering a few questions from me, which I would aim to publish here.

I'm of the view that the role of Party President is rather more complex than a lot of people think - it's certainly harder, especially in a General Election year, and if I can encourage people to think about what they would like the next President to be and do, and provide encouragement to the candidates to articulate their visions for a party in need to everything from a bit of TLC to inspiration through leadership, I might be of some small service.

We'll see what happens...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Liberal Democrats: what is the point of playing the game just like everyone else?

Four years ago, Liberal Democrats fought a General Election campaign on the basis that we would be different - not just in terms of ideas, but in terms of the way government was done. In a country weary with a Labour administration which seemed perpetually to be on the edge of internecine war, and with the recent experience of an expenses scandal that had almost overwhelmed the House of Commons, the idea of a new, more open, more transparent way of doing politics resonated with some people. It didn't have to be like that.

And, unexpectedly for many, a hung parliament came to pass, and Liberal Democrats took their place within a Coalition administration. I had some optimism that, even though the reform agenda was going to be difficult to implement, we might be different about the way politics was now done.

I have to say, I'm a bit disappointed.

We tend to try to placate the media, even though most of them didn't like us, and possibly never will - we ruin their carefully cultivated binary coverage of X against Y, left against right. And we know that - we say it often enough. So, why not instead talk about our ideas, the areas of difference with the Conservatives, not in terms of "we're stopping the evil Tories from doing Z", but, our policy is to do J and we'll talk to other parties to see if we can reach some mutually acceptable compromise. That's the transparent, liberal thing to do. No, you can't provide a running commentary on the negotiations, but you can lay out the framework within which the discussions are taking place, and report back on the outcome.

But, it does depend on avoiding the cloak and dagger stuff. Did you really not see that document before it was published? If so, say so, if not, don't. Don't agree to something and then pretend that, no, you actually don't. Don't get yourself in a position whereby one Parliamentary Party says one thing and the other another. It's all too easy for people to work that out - remember how useful the internet is for looking up stuff? Like past speeches?

Anonymous briefings from 'senior Liberal Democrat sources'? They can go too. If you intend to say something, say it, don't try and hide behind 'deniability' - we'll respect you for it. Engage with your opponents, don't just exchange unpleasantries. I know that Labour don't have that many answers, but why not ask them to outline their alternative? Listen, they might have valuable input and, if they do, give them some credit.

In short, run our end of the Coalition like you would if you were running the show on your own, even if the Conservatives aren't willing to do likewise. Because the media will make it up anyway if they want to shaft you. They'll look for slight areas of uncertainty or difference of emphasis and, if they can't find them, they'll invent some. They really don't like us.

We talk a good game about collaborative government, where different political groups come together for the common good. If we don't practice it, who else will?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Liberal Democrats: staring into the abyss, or just another day in coalition

It's been another not particularly great day to be a Liberal Democrat, with one of our Parliamentarians acting in the manner of a kamikaze pilot aimed at the ammunition store of an aircraft carrier, and more unhelpful, if well-meaning, interventions from people who might be better advised to confirm that their journey is really necessary before setting off.

But, for good or ill, in a democratic, loosely controlled, political party, these things are going to happen - it is our strength and, simultaneously, our weakness. We're not control freaks (well, most of us aren't) and we tend to believe in devolving power to the most appropriate level - generally away from the leadership, in my experience. You see, the idea is that people take responsibility for their own actions to some extent, an concept that Liberal Democrats do admittedly honour in the breach from time to time.

In return, the expectation is that people will reflect before they rush to condemn, that they will balance the various consequences of their action before taking action.

So, regardless of your view on the future of the Party, and I'm not particularly interested in the input of those who want to give it a good kicking - you really don't have the interests of liberalism at heart - why not reflect upon whether or not your approach is likely to lead to greater unity. You see, we're all in this together, and whilst we can have an argument about what to do next - new leader, new policy, new message, new relationship with the Conservatives, whatever - we're going to need as many people as we can muster to keep the flame alive.

In other words, play nice, because there is nothing to say that a political party has to survive come what may. And when you find that politics returns to two authoritarian political forces, neither of which really believes in personal liberty or is willing to stand against the siren voices of a reactionary media, you might regret a few of those more unnecessary acts of provocation.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflections on the NHS... and why we might be our own worst enemies

Yesterday, I blogged about my recent minor surgical procedure, noting how well everything went, how kind and caring the nurses were, how efficient the surgeon was. And it got me to thinking about the NHS, not something that I've had much cause to do in the past. You see, as a very infrequent user of the healthcare system - I've been pretty fortunate to remain in good health - it is the sort of thing you take for granted. It will always be there, it will be free (well, freeish), and it will cure you if you're ill, and save you when you get broken.

Its status as a national institution is such that it was showcased in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, and was protected from cuts by the incoming government - David Cameron promised that, you will recall.

SInce then, the NHS has come under pressure. Yes, the budget has been ring-fenced, and has kept pace with inflation. However, funding a national hearth care system is more complex than simply ensuring that it has the same amount of money in real terms. Inflation in the healthcare sector is traditionally higher that it is generally, and you can't manage demand in the same way that you might otherwise. And, as we find new and exciting ways of prolonging life, whilst more and more of us adopt lifestyles that make us more vulnerable to illness, injury and disease, the demands upon the system change.

You can deal with that in a number of ways, I guess. You can simply increase the funding available, you can charge for some services, you can seek organisational savings or you can just axe some services altogether. You might attempt a combination of some or all of these. But, the problem is that if you raise taxes, the opposition attack you. If you charge for services, or reorganise, or axe services, likewise. And, if you're a politician, you might conclude that it's all too difficult and give up.

Unfortunately, like any successful organisation, the NHS has to change to face the changing circumstances as they emerge. How many expensive pieces of kit can you have, and where do you put them, how do you incentivise your staff to be more efficient whilst maintaining service coverage, how do you address the demands of local residents, who have differing priorities in different parts of the country? All of these things require thought and the ability to adapt, and yet we protest about change, condemning it as meaning the end of the NHS as we know it when we know that, after every supposedly radical (and widely opposed) change in the past, it has still been there, still dispensing healthcare to all at a cost far lower to the public purse than it does in places like the United States.

But, if we continue to have opposition parties blindly oppose change whilst not engaging with the creation of a vision for the future of such a critical public service, we risk preventing changes that could save the NHS for decades to come. Instead, we need political parties and campaign groups to come together to create a shared view of what we need as a country, rather than treating the whole thing as a football to be kicked from one end to the other whilst the rest of us look on.

We will probably need to be pretty creative about the future shape of the NHS, we may even have to make some compromises in order to secure the broad principle of free at the point of access healthcare, but with an aging, increasingly unfit population, we're going to have to do something...

@LibDems4Change - can we leave them alone, please?

The launch of LibDems4Change last week has offered an interesting insight into the internal democracy of the Liberal Democrats, and not a very edifying one, if the various comment threads of Liberal Democrat Voice are any reflection. Attacks on 'Orange Booker subversives' or 'anti-Coalition irreconcilables' indicate that there are those on either side of the argument that simply don't get it.

This is my party. I have supported it through my voluntary efforts for nearly thirty years, carrying out a series of almost entirely thankless tasks for a mostly unappreciative organisation because of my belief in the importance of a liberal voice in a vibrant civic society. I do not do it so that others within can demonstrate a lack of tolerance that shames our claim to believe in an open, tolerant society where people work together to make our lives better.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceSo, LibDems4Change have an absolute right to act as they do, even if I don't agree with them. They don't have to justify their approach, other than to make a case that allows them to win the argument. Those who believe that now is not the time to replace Nick Clegg can likewise argue their position.

But the nastiness is uncalled for, and unhelpful. If we can't treat each other with a bit of respect, why should others believe that we are serious about collaborative politics?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pampering my inner walrus

It was Christmas here in Creeting St Peter today, or at least, time for me to enjoy my gift. Yes, I know, Christmas was some time ago, but we're busy people, and we still haven't actually had the balloon ride that my parents generously gave Ros last August. And so, we set off this morning to Elveden Forest for a spa day.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, I do liken myself to a walrus, and that isn't perhaps the sort of thing that a walrus would like, but actually, I do rather enjoy being pampered, and I do like a good spa. I've found time for pampering in as far flung places as Bogota and Ho Chi Minh City, and even though my self-image problems persist, I can deal with that for a while, in a good cause.

The other advantage of being at a spa is that you're cut off from the outside world. No iPhone, no iPad, just gentle steaming, massage, the odd dip in the pool, perfect when your political party has taken a merciless kicking in a national election and your party leader is being called on to resign.

It was, I must confess, very pleasant. And, it seems, we aren't yet in the market for a new leader...

My own personal NHS experience, and not one that I'd seen coming...

I had, since the New Year, been suffering from a series of cysts in and around my eyes, and although my left eye had healed up, my right eye had become more and more ugly. Prescriptions of increasingly powerful antibiotics had done little to solve the problem, and it was eventually decided that I needed to be referred to the eye clinic at Ipswich Hospital, which might involve surgery.

My situation wasn't life threatening, or even particularly inconvenient, but as weeks passed, I developed a red growth which protruded out from under my upper eyelid and increasingly into the line of sight. The four weeks in which I was told I could expect to hear from the eye clinic with an appointment came and went, and Ros became increasingly concerned, especially as I might then have to wait another eighteen weeks to actually be seen.

And so, rather grudgingly, I returned to my GP to see what might be done. He examined my eye and concluded that it might be necessary to chivvy the eye clinic along, and after a brief exchange of telephone calls, he assured me that I might hear soon.

Two days later, my phone rang. It was the eye clinic, who advised that they had had a cancellation, and could I come in tomorrow morning? Naturally, I said I could and so, the next morning, Ros dropped me off at the entrance to the Outpatients Department at 7.40 a.m. on her way to Harwich for a meeting.

I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the first person to arrive at the Opthalmic Day Care Unit, and was welcomed by a nurse, who confirmed my identity and asked me to sit in the waiting area whilst she organised paperwork. But before long, she led me through to the patient area, where she asked a few more questions, explained what the process would be, and set me up for events to follow.

I wanted a black eye patch...
Before too long, the surgeon, Ms Murthy, called me in for a brief examination, explained what the problem was, and what would happen, which involved the injection of an anaesthetic directly into my eyelid. it would, she said with rather more candour than I might have expected, be pretty painful for five to ten seconds, but that after that I wouldn't feel anything. I was then returned to my seat whilst other patients were dealt with.

Soon enough, I was asked to move to a new seat, on what looked like it might be a motorised wheelchair, where my blood pressure was taken (123/83 for those of you who understand these things) before I was wheeled into a prep room where the chair was, by dint of motors, converted into a surgery table (I was impressed, I must say). I chatted with the nurse who applied some anaesthetic drops and talked me through the next few minutes and then the action started.

Ms Murthy made sure that I was comfortable and I didn't even see the injection needle coming. And, whilst I knew that she was inserting something into my eye, I've actually had more painful experiences giving blood. But, with one eye closed and the other unseeing temporarily, she went about her work before telling me that there would be a smell of burning whilst she cauterised some minor blood vessels in the eyelid. I have to tell you, the smell of burning bureaucrat is not particularly unpleasant.

And then it was all over. I was returned to the patient area where I was offered tea and biscuits whilst I recovered from the procedure - not that I had much to recover from. The nurses were friendly and kind, I was checked to see if i was alright, and they then gave me my discharge letter before calling a taxi company so that I could get home.

This was my first experience of surgery apart from the removal of wisdom teeth nearly ten years ago, and I have to say that I was impressed. The attention to detail and kindness of the nursing staff, the skill of the surgeon, everything worked, it wasn't soulless or uncaring - all in all it was an experience that reassures you that, when you need the system to work, it generally does.

And it led me to think a bit...

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dear Anonymous...

I have a rule here, in that;
I do moderate comments, rejecting those I deem to be offensive, libellous or otherwise unacceptable. Anonymous commenters can expect to be either ignored or abused unless I agree with them. After all, like any publisher, I maintain the right to uphold certain standards. However, dissent with my views shall not, in itself, cause me to reject a comment.
And, generally, I stick to it. However, today, this comment arrived for moderation (I moderate all comments for self-protection as much as anything else);
The sooner this liar goes the better. He is dishonest and loves a cover up. He is not an action man and backs off doing anything positive ... The voters see him as a loser and if the LD party doesnt change him now they will lose the 2015 voters just like they did in the 2014 local election this week.
It is, self-evidently, an ad hominem attack, clearly made by someone who doesn't like Nick Clegg. However, it is, as so many of these are, anonymous. So, dear anonymous reader, here is my response.

Your blanket smear of a human being, albeit a politician, adds nothing to the quality or tenor of public debate, made worse by the fact that you demonstrate that you don't have the courage of your convictions by failing to put a name to your tirade.

Regardless of what you or I think of Nick Clegg, he at least has had the decency to put himself up for election, explain what he hopes to achieve and offer you, the voter, one of a range of choices that you may take or not, as you see fit. He made the decision four years ago to go into government, at a time when all the potential courses of action were likely to be unpopular, and give it a go. You, on the other hand, have decided that you want to behave in such a manner as to drive any normal human being as far away from the political arena as possible.

There is, my anonymous correspondent, a price to be paid, in that, by your behaviour, you help to ensure that politics becomes an arena for those that want power for power's sake, or that have a skin so thick that they can handle the abuse or, worst of all, hold views so extreme and with such venom that you ought to be rather worried - you may very well be the sort of person that, eventually, is on the receiving end of that venom.

Politics is, in this country, and probably elsewhere, an increasingly unpleasant business, in which an ever smaller number of increasingly unrepresentative individuals hold more and more sway as ordinary people give up their involvement in civic society - the number of people who join political parties is almost catastrophically low in relative terms.

So, my anonymous correspondent, thank you. Thank you for demonstrating that there is an element of the public, hopefully small, that should count its blessings. Because if the sort of behaviour that you believe is acceptable were to become standard, you had better believe that you would be living in a society where your choice to be so abusive would make you either a member of a rather unpleasant regime, or a victim of it.

But have a nice day, nonetheless...

@ALDE Party Council: the lull before...

It was three weeks ago that the ALDE Party Council met in Vienna, with nothing in particular in the agenda, but a lot of anticipation for the European elections to come. You see, for most of our European sister parties, the FDP excepted, the prospects were not so as troubling. The Dutch were optimistic, as were the Danes, most other parties expected little change in terms of the number of MEPs, and talk was of the threat of extremists to the future working of the European Parliament.

Naturally, as a directly elected member of our Party's delegation, I was keen to contribute, and so after a pleasant stroll across Vienna, I headed for the policy working group. I was late, but got there in time for the only meaningful discussion, joining David Simmons in a successful effort to bring together the disparate views of D66 and VVD (Netherlands), the FDP, Italia dei Valori and the Liberal Democrats into a stance that we could all endorse.

Lunchtime saw a fringe meeting entitled "Innovation for competitiveness and sustainable growth: towards new business models?" which, at rather short notice, Ros had been asked to chair, and it was interesting, as speakers talked about how what could and might be done to encourage the rather smarter economy that Europe will need in the future.

But we then moved onto the serious business of Council, except that there wasn't that much, given how much depends on the election results. How influential will liberals be? How many will there be? Who will be the next President of the European Commission? Indeed, the only real decision taken was to accept the membership application from our hosts, NEOS - the new Austria, who were hopeful of success in their efforts to bring Austrian liberalism back to the European Parliament. In fact, the meeting ended so early that we had rather a lot of time to kill before the evening rally to launch NEOS's campaign.

I suspect that the next meeting, on 13 June, in Brussels, might be more interesting...

Saturday, May 24, 2014

@libdems4change: Clegg must apparently go, but whither the Liberal Democrats?

Last night, I received an e-mail from a group calling itself "Lib Dems 4 Change", asking for my support for a letter calling upon Nick Clegg to resign as Party Leader. Apart from the interesting notion of "Lib Dems 4 the Status Quo", I found myself recalling that we have been here before.

Indeed, it is hard to remember that, not two years ago, I wrote about similar calls for Clegg to go, asking two questions, against which I now measure the latest attempt to defenestrate an unpopular leader;
  • what are you changing the Leader for?, and;
  • so, if not Nick, then whom?
This time, the organisers of this round-robin missive have at least answered part of the first question, in that they state that Nick will act as a lead weight upon our prospects next year. That may, or may not be true - I for one hear less anger about him now than I did in 2011.

However, they don't really indicate what should be being done instead. Are we to pull out of the Coalition? They don't say. What they say is;
We consider it vital that at the 2015 General Election the Party should be led by someone who will receive a fair hearing about our achievements and ambitions for the future.
I would love that. I would also love a National Lottery win, a trip to visit lemurs in Madagascar and my own private train, but none of these things are in our immediate future, I suspect. Can the organisers of the petition name a single leader of our Party who has received a fair hearing from the public and the media since Lloyd George (and he wasn't exactly loved by the Press either, as I understand)?

This government is doing a whole bunch of unpopular things - cutting benefits and finding ways of running government more cheaply are never, ever, going to be easy or popular, and any new Leader will be confronted with the same hostile media, the same cynical public and the same recent political history. Why on Earth do they believe that simply changing the Leader will make a significant difference?

Or is it simply that the organisers hope that, in the event of a leadership contest, a white knight on a charger will ride over the hill and lead us to a glorious recovery in public opinion? I'm an optimist, and even I can't see that one coming, especially this close to a General Election. The public may be fickle, they may be ill-informed, even contradictory sometimes - often, indeed - but I don't see them suddenly saying, "I hated that Nick Clegg, but X seems like a nice bloke/girl, I think that I'll vote LibDem after all!".

So, applying the Sherlock Holmes rule - after ruling out every other alternative, whatever is left, no matter how unlikely, must be the solution - I can only assume that they believe that they can defenestrate a leader and replace him with one that will pull us out of the Coalition.

Now, I am reminded that those who vote in Liberal Democrat Voice polls are not necessarily representative of the party membership as a whole, but in none of their regular polling has there been even a sizeable minority in favour of ending the Coalition. In other words, unless Liberal Democrat Voice-reading members are wholly unrepresentative of the Party at large, the campaign organisers for Lib Dems 4 Change are merely attempting to bypass the membership by building momentum for Clegg to resign of his own volition.

There is a process by which ordinary members can require a leadership contest, which I would encourage Lib Dems 4 Change to utilise, if they really believe that they represent the grassroots of the Party. But until then, I'm sorry but I won't be signing the letter any time soon...

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The pandas of Schonbrunn

Not long after the pandas arrived at Edinburgh Zoo, Ros went to see them with her sister. It's a long way to Edinburgh from mid-Suffolk, but Ros was really keen, having never seen a panda up close before. Sadly, her effort was in vain, as one of the pandas was off display through ill health, and the other was on a high platform, meaning that you could only see its shoulder and one ear.

Yang Yang, a very unusual panda indeed
I had, in doing my pre-trip research, realised that the zoo at Schonbrunn, in Vienna's western suburbs, apart from being the oldest zoo in the world (opened as an imperial menagerie in 1752), has pandas, and so I decided that Ros should get another opportunity to see her panda. And so, with the business part of our trip over, we set off under grey skies to see them.

Tiergarten Schönbrunn, to give it its proper name, is a surprisingly nice zoo given the limitations of space, with decent sized enclosures and seemingly happy animals. And, it feels Viennese in terms of its architecture and layout. But our priority was, of course, pandas, and we headed straight to them.

Mother and son
The pandas have been there now for more than a decade, so perhaps the excitement that Edinburgh has experienced has worn off a little, but for those starved of pandas, we were quite excited. And we weren't disappointed...

Young Fu Bao has mastered climbing already
For the zoo is only one of four zoos in Europe that have pandas, Long Hui, who is male, and Yang Yang, the female, and the only one of the four which has successfully bred naturally. Indeed, they've produced three cubs, Fu Long and Fu Hu, who now live in China. Apparently, the deal is that if cubs are produced, China gets them after two years.

Best of all, on 14 August last year, young Fu Bao was born, which meant that he was still there!

Ros was, naturally, delighted, although she now wants to see them in China, something that I can't really object to. Now, all I need to do is work out when, and how, we might get to Chengdu...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Moravian food for the soul

And so, as noted on Liberal Democrat Voice, Ros and I had gone to Vienna to attend a slightly odd meeting of the ALDE Party Council. Odd, because it felt a bit like a contractual obligation which it is kind of is. But that's a story for another post.

Having arrived in Vienna after a fairly uneventful flight, we had arranged to have dinner with the ever enchanting Jonathan Fryer, and Iain Smith, who I first met as a Young Liberal Democrat in, of all places, Aarhus, in 1989. He went on to rather better things, as an MSP and, to be honest, he's aged rather better than I have. The only catch was that we hadn't really given much thought other than where to gather, the courtyard of our hotel.

After a small libation, we headed out, only to be confronted, across the street, with a Moravian beisl, a quintessentially Austrian concept, a bit like a neighbourhood kitchen - cosy, informal, but with authentic, could have been cooked by someone at home, sort of food. And so, we decided to give it a try.

There were, as one might guess, bread dumplings involved - I love bread dumplings - meat and decent Czech beer, all combined with easy conversation and stories of politics and travel.

All in all, a very gentle introduction to Vienna. However, there was work to be done...

"You're not singing, you're not singing, you're not singing any more..."

* blows dust off *

Gosh, it's gone a bit quiet here of late, hasn't it? Anyone would think that my life had become rather dull, or that I was knee deep in campaigning for the European elections. And they'd be wrong.

You see, I don't campaign much these days, mostly because of my job, which is inconsistent with public campaigning, and partly because it's quite difficult to do any in rural Suffolk, even if I wanted to. I am busy though, administering things and generally pottering about.

So, bear with me whilst I fill in some of the gaps....

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Europe in my head, England in my heart...

I'm in Vienna, following a successful ALDE Party Council meeting, and reflecting on the European campaign at home. In my travels around the city, I've seen a lot of posters for the Social Democrats with the key message, "Europa im Kopf. Osterreich im Herzen.". It's a message which resonates with me, as it reflects a perspective that makes sense.

One of the key charges made against people like me by UKIP activists is that, by supporting United Kingdom membership of the European Union, I am somehow betraying my country. It is a simple message, easily delivered and very effective, regardless of its validity. And, whilst I wouldn't claim that all Liberal Democrats take the same view, I guess that many are proud of their country and believe that pooling sovereignty in some matters is in its best interests.

I am an Englishman by birth and, a bit of me likes to think, by the grace of God. I want my country to be influential and a force for good in an increasingly complex world, and I wouldn't be the least bit unhappy if other people looked up to us as an exemplar. I am accordingly, the sort of person who believes that, if we treat our partners in the international community with respect, we can win them over, if not entirely in our favour, at least to a mutually acceptable extent.

And, I guess, that's where I part company with UKIP. They believe in spending money on ships and guns, whilst I want to invest in poverty reduction across the globe and the building and strengthening of international institutions - out of interest, what are those aircraft carriers for, exactly, if you don't believe in interfering in foreign wars? I happen to think that investing in peace is, in the long run, cheaper than preparing for war.

They believe that the United Kingdom can go it alone in the world and, whilst I can't deny that it is true, I also believe that we are better off engaged in the debate about continent-wide standards that makes it easier to sell into our major markets and likely to extract better trading terms with other nations as part of a powerful trading block. These things have the potential to make us wealthier than we might otherwise be.

These are disagreements, based on our differing philosophies, and whilst I believe that my view offers better prospects than that of UKIP, they have the right to believe that the reverse is true. That, after all, is the essence of politics.

But where I fundamentally object is the claim by some UKIP supporters, seemingly inspired by America's 'Tea Party' contingent, that they want to take back their country. Given their views, I can only infer that theirs is somewhat different to mine, an exclusionary one where anyone who differs from them is wrong or bad. Funnily enough, it isn't their country and it isn't mine either, it's ours - mine, theirs and everyone else's. And that's how I demonstrate my love of country...

* If you're Scots, Northern Irish or Welsh, or identify as British, feel free to remove the reference to Englishman and replace as you see fit.