This blog is a political blog from a left-of-centre perspective. This is not specifically a party political blog, but does have a Lib Dem orientation. Constructive enagement with radical liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and greens is particularly welcomed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

'Big Tent' Tories

Early on Tony Blair decided that the way to electoral success was to be perceived to adopt the centre(-right) ground figuring that enough traditional supporters could be retained for the electoral arithmetic to pilot him to Downing Street. The tribal nature of party politics meant that a majority did stay on board, especially prior to the Iraq war, despite having in straight policy terms arguably greater affinity with the Lib Dem policy programme, as the GE voting intentions expressed in the traditionally pro-Labour 'New Statesman' suggested.

It seems like David 'call me Dave' Cameron is attempting the same tactic. Sod principles and core values, lets pretend to be New Labour-lite. Make announcements, but crucially not policy itself, that **suggests** a shift to centre politics. This is surely premised on the belief that the Torygragh vote has no-where else to go and that UKIP and [God-forbid] the BNP are not only unpalatable choices but FPTP voting makes voting for them a wasted vote.

Will the Tory press let him get away with this ? Still it's good to see right-wing commentators like Simon Heffer and Melanie Phillips and their ilk foaming at the mouth. How far can he go before the grassroots and parliamentarians revolt ? What happens, as may be starting to happen, that the opinion polls aren't drastically improving the Tory position ?

The public should be remined of the volte-farce that is Cameron's current pitch based as it is on his prior authorship of the dismal, reactionary list of grumbles about modern society that was the 2005 Tory GE Manifesto.

For the Lib Dems I think it's a case of presenting a Liberal case opposed to the other two authoritarian parties, remaining steadfastly independent and playing to their strengths of civil liberties, progressive taxation, environmental concerns and diffusing power from the centre et al.

Time to start puncturing that tent !

Good calibre candidates in Lib Dem contest

Irrespective of preference one thing is clear from the Sky TV debate and the Lib Dem leadership campaign thus far. In Hughes, Campbell and Huhne there are three heavyweight contenders to choose from, each with their own emphases and merits. I would be happy to support the party under any of these three men.

As for the campaign from what I can gauge from my armchair, Huhne has been the most impressive in terms of talking policy ideas. Hughes may have offered a 'hostage to fortune' with his 100 seat tally measure of success and Campbell remains a formidable politician, despite the PMQ mishap last week and a campaign that has yet to ignite fully.

Now I am not steeped in liberal tradition / heritage myself but I think I tend to instinctively arrive at liberal conclusions. I remain deeply unconvinced by Mark Oaten's 'liberalism'. His thrusting personal ambition I find as unappealing as his politics. The word 'Tory' just seems to come into my head when I see or hear him speak. I'm probably being grossly unfair, but that's how it seems.

To date, Huhne's is the best and most positive policy driven campaign , even if I remain firmly resolved to support Simon Hughes. The party needs intellectual ballast and for all the criticisms, at least we have had idelogical contributions to the debate about what liberalism is and where it should go from the 'Orange Book-ers'. Where are the much needed counter arguments from those staunchly opposed to that outlook ?

More contributions to the debate about the direction and future of liberalism from differing perspectives, from people far more eloquent than me, are much needed. Hopefully the Lib Dem leadership contest can constructively flesh out differing ideas in this context. As of now, well done Chris Huhne !

Monday, January 16, 2006

Now Snooping on MP's ?!

If MP's vote for MI5 being allowed to snoop on them then this really is a 'turkeys voting for Christmas' scenario ! Although, it'll probably just happen [and happens] without recource to parliament. Traditional Labour voters must be sick to the core at how civil liberties are being trashed by Blair. Will someone from the Lib Dems [and elsewhere] put the ball in the net as an open goal looms.

Speaking of goals a 3-0 win for my first sporting love; Nottingham Forest on Saturday, lets have some away wins and less defensive football please Mr. Megson. Leicester City in the bottom three of the ridiculously named 'Championship' too. Not a bad sporting weekend ! More of the same from my local club - Torquay United - would be nice versus Birmingham tomorrow. C'mon the Gulls !

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blair 2 Lib Dems 0 ! - Respect !!

Like him or not - and I positively don't - Blair is undoubtably a clever politician and a good PMQs performer. Why Ming led on the question of caretaker head teachers yesterday is utterly beyond comprehension. If Ming was hit back straight over the wicket for 6, then Hughes went for four runs too, being easily swatted away by Blair. The equivalent of 12th man back in the pavilion or the BBC Studios as they are sometimes called, the dastardly Oaten, must have been chuckling wildly !

Seriously surely the PM's Respect agenda offered the chance to hurl a 'bouncer' at Blair ? Yet more summary powers to the police, more moralising, more state attempts to 'police' so called 'failing' families and individuals. Civil liberties trashed again ! Surely here was a Liberal (and liberal)issue par exellance ? It almost makes one nostalgic for the almost benign by comparison 'Back to Basics' campaign of the Major years !

Blair seems to prefer summary justice to the rule of law as many Iraqis no only too well. What's next ? A tariff for misdemeanours ? A fiver for dropping chewing gum in the street, £10 for stealing from the school 'Tuck Shop' and £50 for supporting Mark Oaten for Lib Dem leader. Oooops, made that last bit up all by myself ! Policy on the hoof Oaten-style, just like his tax pronouncements yesterday. Silly me, I though Conference decided such matters !

Speaking of RESPECT, isn't George Galloway making a totally fool of himself in the 'Big Brother' House ? Anyone who calls his own book " Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington: The Brit Who Set Congress Straight about Iraq" is beyond vanity. This, of course, is the man whose support for the Palestinian cause [just] often seems to veer towards thinly-veiled anti-semitism [unjust]. This is the man whose saddest political event was the downfall of the USSR and satellites. He's a wanabe 'tinpot dictator' who sits comfortably with the terrible Trots of the SWP in RESPECT. What the large Muslim vote in his constituency make of him absconding to go into the BB House to promote himself [again] will be interesting to learn. I'd say it's a toss-up betweem Andrew Rosindell (Tory / BNP-lite), Bill Cash and 'Gorgeous George' as the Commons' most repulsive member.

RESPECT is such a shotgun marriage anyway between Trots, anti-abortion Catholic MP Galloway and the muslim community in East London. They ought to be called BIZARRE not RESPECT ! Rant over !

Good day to all !

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Grand Coalition of Tories and 'Labour' - No Chance !

Sorry James of the usually excellent quaequamblog! The Tories are SOUNDING more centrist, but all they are doing thus far is ditching the more unpopular policies and replacing them with nothing at all. Whilst this might eventually translate into policies that ape Blair a coalition will NEVER happen in my view, no matter how close the parties come in policy terms.

As the 'Brian Sedgemore' of Torquay with 15 years' experience of membership of the Labour Party I can tell you the tribal antipathy that activists have for the Tories would never allow for a FORMAL coalition. Whatever Labour people disagree on, the spectre of, and contempt for, Ramsay Macdonald is widely shared. No Labour leader will want to become the 'new' Ramsay Macdonald !

Certainly the one example of coalition at a local level between Labour and the Tories, in Rochdale, has generated real hostility there. More recently you'll recall Labour activists shared our distaste for the closer co-operation between Lib Dems and Labour that characterised the Ashdown years. Although, of course, this is countered by power sharing in Scotland and Wales.

For my part I changed my politics to a degree, but Labour changed there's even more. I used to be portrayed as ' hard left' in my Labour days, but this was a crude stereotype. Whilst I shared with the left a commitment to social justice and a bias to the poor in terms of policy priorities, I did not and do not adhere to top-down centralism. I never will be told what to think or act politically !

Other issues where I depart from 'New Labour' othodoxy can be summed up as such :

commitment to green issues and inclusive grassroots co-operative practice with power devolved to the lowest practicable level (eg credit unions, time banks, mutuals, town/parish councils, community associations)

firm believer in electoral reform (STV)

opposed to the state 'policing' of families (asbo/parental orders)

believe in free university tuition (as experienced by most of the Labour cabinet)

entirely believe in upholding individuals' civil liberties (anti-terror legislation, trial by jury, 'house arrest',equality before the law). I distrust the potential power of private monopolies and the state equally.

internationalist in outlook (pro reformed and more democratic EU and UN)

Accept that open and COMPETITIVE markets usually provide well the consumer goods and services we expect, but am less convinced about private engagement in public service provision such as schools, hospitals, probation service et al. New Labour has a dogmatic private good, public bad philosophy.

It could be that I am just a contrarian, but these days I feel much more in tune with the Lib Dems nationally than Blair's Labour. In reality I have more in common with instincts of social liberals, be they in the Lib Dems, Labour or Greens. I still see myself as being firmly left-of-centre, albeit in an unorthodox collection of ideas and influences. Maybe others don't see me as being very Liberal who knows ?!

I am, however, alarmed at the influence at the top of the party that the Orange Bookers' have. There isn't room for a third right-of-centre party ! Let Labour and Tories become indistinguishable. Let's hold our nerve and resist a lurch rightwards. Most of all I still despise the Tories, at least in the Thatcherite-like form I have politically grown up with. Unlike some in our party I'd find it hard to accept any post-election deal with an unreformed Tory party.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Tony Banks

It is with real sadness that I heard today of Tony Banks' passing. His commitment to sport, especially football, was exemplary. He was a witty parliamentary performer and of the left, although not dogmatic. The contrast with his current nonedescript conterpart - Dick Caborn - could not be more pronounced.

I have great admiration too for his unstinting support for animal welfare which was consistent and sustained.

Further, anyone with such a positive disregard for the unelected and unaccountable House of Windsor is OK in my book. Being powerful by accident of birth is surely an anathema to all progressives ? Thank you and RIP Tony.

Still on football, a big 'up' to Torquay United for their gutsy display and excellent result against Premiership Birmingham City. Steve Bruce knows his boys are lucky to still be in the FA Cup. I certainly enjoyed my afternoon at Plainmoor ! A trip to St. Andrews could be in order methinks ! My bank manager will probably say no though ;-(

C'mon You Yellows !

Time for **Members** to decide

The real villains of the piece in respect of the Lib Dem leadership debacle are those spineless MPs who have briefed against Charles Kennedy since the last GE. The behaviour of significant numbers of the parliamentary party in recent days has been very disappointing.

As I predicted a few days ago, I expected the [mostly right-wing] media to promote a favoured choice and to unduly influence the election of the new leader to be. When this is added to the unseemly attempt to shoe-in Ming Campbell as leader by the influential parliamentarians I begin to bristle. The last leader went without recourse to the membership and the Westminster 62 seem to want to stitch up the appointment of Ming in a undemocratic 'coronation'.

Since when has it been received wisdom that Ming is overwhelmingly the obvious and only viable and electable choice ? This is not to denigrate Sir Menzies Campbell. He is an able Commons performer, a deft media operator and is respected beyond Lib Dem circles. The clever, patrician, 'too Tory' like persona grates a bit with this chippy, rather 'gobby', 'disadvantaged' or poor and opinionated left leaning party member, but I am probably in a minority on this.

More seriously, as the Tories to my utter incredulity found out, a vigorous and open leadership election with differing visions for the party offered can only help reinvigorate political debateand party renewal. We have many capable putative contenders and I'd like to see the diverse strands of liberalism represented in that debate and subsequent election. So c'mon step forward Mark Oaten or a.n.other 'Orange Booker', ditto Simon Hughes, and of course Ming. We need to show the public we are the most democratic of the main parties and let OMOV decide the outcome. Just saying so doesn't make it so !

As someone who has mostly worked with, for, and personally been of limited personal means, the social liberalism and overt commitment to social justice issues by Simon Hughes makes him my preferred choice. Further, as a Christian, I'd feel happy with someone with a progressive Christian ethos leading the Lib Dem 'parish'. Step forward please Rev. Hughes !

I can live with Sir Menzies Campbell. I'd be distictly unhappy with someone of the ilk of Oaten or Laws. But, as a democrat, I'd abide by the majority decision, but still vigorously argue for what I believe in.

Frankly, if endorsed by the party membership I will respect the democratic mandate of whoever wins, be it Ming Campbell or anyone else. Most of all it is essential that we all endeavour to unite behind whoever wins. The last week has surely been one of the most dismal post merger. It is time the members were heard rather than the 'hot air' coming out of SW1.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dead Man Walking

Sadly the 'Dead Man Walking' description of Charles Kennedy seems true. It is the loss of support of senior colleagues in such great numbers that will 'do for' Kennedy in my view, rather than his issues with alcohol, which could and hopefully are being addressed.

CK's announcement seems like an attempt to flush out his oppenents in a put up or shut up appeal, yet again ! He's hoping to be the only name on the ballot, but it is more likely that a vote of confidence motion supported by a significant part of the parliamentary party that will make his position entirely untenable, if it isn't already.

I believe it is vital to have an open leadership race where the vision for and direction of the party can be fleshed out. For once, the last Tory leadership election provided them with that springboard, we must do the same, albeit in more trying circumstances.

One of the most interesting bi-products of the Cameron victory is surely, as James rightly argues on his blog at is that the Orange Book fundamentalist free-marketeerism is surely dead in the water too. If Cameron can rule out insurance funded health care then to move to the right of him would be electoral suicide and cannot be allowed to happen. David Laws' pet project looks utterly doomed now thank goodness.

Ideally too a leading proponent of Orange Bookery can be trounced in any contested election. To move right when even the Tories are SOUNDING more centrist would cause long-term damage to the party. I certainly would not stay in a party to the right of the Tories for whom I've had a visceral loathing for my entire political life !

It would however be interesting to hear who party members would like to see run [and win] should the leadership contest be an open one, as it must be.

If there is a change I think on balance Charles Kennedy has led the Lib Dems well. I, for one, prefer his collegiate 'Chairman Charles' approach to the gung-ho style of Ashdown or the presidential style of Blair and his Tory clone Cameron. The history books cannot deny that the party has moved forward at Westminster, Scotland, Wales and is very much more a national party and one capable of appealing to suburban, rural and metropolitan communities alike. The GE result whilst ostensibly good in historical terms left me feeling a little disappointed, but certainly good enough to retain Charles in situ.

Charles has, overall, kept the diverse Lib Dem coalition together well and his standing with the public has been a real asset. My greatest unease is that he maybe didn't deal with a clique of individuals whose off the record media pronouncements damaged both him and the wider party. Sadly such people seem to have no wide measure of support, be it in the party membership or the wider public and should have been slapped down earlier.

My greatest fear is that the right-wing press will 'promote' a candidate as the 'natural' successor [ala Blair] and we elect someone who is out-of-step with the political instincts of party activists. To a much lesser extent, the tone of Cameron also seems not in accord with the base prejudices of the Tory core support, but so desperate to win are they that he has a brief opportunity during his 'honeymoon' period to hide the nastiness that was inherent in their last manifesto, penned by no other than the chameleon Cameron himself. A weird few weeks in British politics for sure !

Belated New Year Greetings to all.