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, February 21, 2006

Guardian/ICM Poll

ICM / Guardian weekend poll (1002 adults) :

Tories 37%
Labour 34%
Lib Dems 21%

Tories need 7% swing to unseat Labour who would be the largest party assuming uniform polling across the country [which never happens].

So much for the 'meltdown' in Lib Dem support much predicted by Marcus Wood (Torbay Tory PPC). He really is the 'Mystic Meg' of Torbay politics !

And, that's before the election of the new leader and the impact he might make ! This, of course, comes on top of overturning the 11,000 Labour majority in the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election.

Just need to start puncturing the Tory attempts at being all things to all people now. The evidence of flip-flopping on direction becomes more evident by the day, viz neo-cons when in Washington and moderate 'liberals' (sic) at home. Yeah right !

Friday, February 17, 2006

Our Voters Want Simon for Leader !

Party members are incredibly insular and concerns of party members often conflict with that of its voters and potential supporters in the country. Simon Hughes is the figure that resonates best with our voting public as the recent YouGov poll indicates.

Martin Turner of Lib Dem Christian Forum sums up my own views succinctly when he states that Simon is a man of

" conscience and integrity, vision, charisma and clarity, he is inspiring, loyal, generous and experienced..."

Chris Huhne seems to be impressing many members [including me] and indeed he has injected policy issues into the campaign more assertively that the other contenders. However, he comes across as so wooden and lacking in charisma. His literature mentiones attributes like being a 'one man think tank'. Now this might excite politicos but I believe that the wider public are more interested in the wider canvas of which themes and issues the party wish to project and be indentified with. This latter approach, has enabled the Lib Dems being indentified with opposition to the Iraq war, for progressive taxation, the environment, civil liberties, electoral and constitutional reform et al. It was the direction of the party and the issues it chose and the way they were communicated by Charles Kennedy that retained and attracted new supporters alike in recent years. Communication is key.

Watching News24 yesterday I was reminded that however well-intentioned and politically clever, I just cannot see Chris Huhne coming across well to the wider public. Sorry, but he is grey in every sense of the word. Labour members loved Michael Foot, the public didn't. Ditto Kinnock. Tory members chose IDS, but predictably the British public rejected the 'quiet man'. In their hearts Tory grassroots would probably have preferred Davis to Cameron, but for once the 'nasty party' realised in their desperation to win that Cameron might be the better bet.

We need to learn from these experiences. Where's the passion from Huhne? No Hughes-like feeling of anger at social injustice, ability to insire the foot-soldiers, no 'heart-on-the-sleave' politics, nothing from the heart at all seemingly.

And, worse still, although David Cameron is something of a political chameleon and policy-lite, his 'easy style' and broad themes he has addressed has given the public the erroneous impression of a changing Tory party. Perception as much as reality matters in politics sadly. I just can't see Huhne doing the same and communicating in such a media-savvy way.

One plus point from all the leadership debates is that we are more united on basic principles that maybe many thought. The differences are more about nuance and how we achieve the goals we have in common. It has, though, led to some dull-ish debates. On News24 yesterday we had predictable questions on Iraq, hung parliaments, Kennedy et al. The responses by now are so well rehearsed !

Cliches of the campaign ? Worst offender ? Ming Campbell ! Ming's '..bridge to the future' .. his being a 'gut liberal', the need not to have three management companies running Britain...declarations of his energy, and his being on the centre-left of British politics - or on the right of the old Liberal Party as 'Lord' Greaves puts it.

Chris' favourite : not being a second class Labour or Tory person and repeatedly boasting of how successful his business life has been.

Simon ? the ' I'm in the mainstream of the party ' ...the I'm not too radical really stance.

To be honest I'll be glad when the result is announced. I've had enough of it now. My thoughts are turning to the 'leadership contest' about who is who the new manager of Nottingham Forest FC. Now that is REALLY important ! After my gibes of yesterday I can't believe that the clown that is Gary Megson is to return to the circus. I had the same sense of relief as the day Thatcher was dethroned. Onwards and upwards from here !

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Simon Hughes as Leader

If Simon is unsuccessful in his bid to lead the Lib Dems might he consider a career change ? Nottingham Forest FC could do with his leadership potential, motivational skills, charisma, good PR with supporters and 'big name' appeal to boost morale. Most of all, just as Lib Dem **voters** recognise, he is a man one associates most of all with winning.

It's been a long time since Forest fans could declare 'Winning Here' with any confidence. We need a new manager to replace the clueless and tactically rigid incumbent, Gary Megson. A 'caretaker' manager, such as the much admired and widely touted Ming Campbell will not do, for we need to develop a longer term radical strategy, especially to win difficult away games.

0-3 to Oldham. In the bottom half of what is effectively Division 3 and only one away win all season and that not as difficult a 'fixture' as Dunfermline.

C'mon Simon be the 'real alternative' ! The Reds need you more than the Yellows !

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More of this to come ?

From today's Daily Mirror :

2002 and the 'moderate' David Cameron votes against paid leave for Fathers. 2006 proud Dad Cameron off on two weeks paternity leave.

Like I've said before judge Cameron on his actual voting record - nothing moderate or progressive to be found there !

Friday, February 10, 2006

Comedian in Charge of Torbay ?

Just done a quick Google search on our Tory Executive Mayor and the first listing for Nick Bye is under BBC Comedy ! How appropriate ! That explains why we've got comic cuts leadership at the Town Hall !

Great win in Scotland !

As Simon Hughes is fond of saying 'where we work ... we win' ! The Dunfermline and West Fife result is one in the eye for pollsters and pundits alike.

A morale bost after a wretched time locally [Torbay] and nationally for the Lib Dems.

Without looking at the figures in detail, and recognising it is hardly fertile Tory territory, did ' Dave's ' Tories increase their share of the vote much ?

Question Time Debate

A bit less dull than earlier encounters and the evening buttressed my ready to be posted ballot paper choices.

I was always going to vote Hughes as his politics is closest to mine and he is the least fearless in talking about redistribution of wealth (and power). Chris Huhne, has made the running on policy issues and his position on Iraq, green taxes, taking more people out of taxation and reluctance to replace trident all score well with me. Choice No. 2 and he has certainly registered on my political radar unlike before the contest. Huhne's bank manager-like persona and lack of charisma may not resonate well with non-politicos.

Ming is the establishment candidate. Erudite, urbane, patrician-sounding and 'safe'. In policy terms I think he'd position the Lib Dems in a way that would make us less distinguishable from Labour and the Tories.

So Hughes 1, Huhne 2 it is !

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Letter to The Herald Express 060206

Marcus Wood, Tory candidate for Torbay at the 2005 general election enthusiastically endorsed the harsh and illiberal Cameron-penned manifesto last May. Now, he rushes into the local media lauding the supposedly 'one nation' conservatism of the self same David Cameron. In doing that alone, he displays an astonishing degree of political gymnastics. So which specific policies that you stood on just last May do you now repudiate Marcus ? A straight answer please Marcus !

When policy is decided only in the leaders office and is influenced by focus groups, rather than decided democratically by members at party conference, it leaves would be candidates like Marcus looking incredibly silly as policy direction is decided on a whim ! Both William Hague and IDS both courted the centre ground of politics initially but soon tacked back to the right to shore up the core Tory vote when the polls refused to move much in their favour. If this happens again Marcus will need to show yet more political 'flexibility'.

Conversely compare the record of consistency over many years of our incumbent MP. Adrian Sanders has a voting record in accordance with Liberal Democrat manifestos and a genuine Liberal philosophical belief in progressive taxation, enhancing civil liberties, protecting the environment and diffusing power from the centre. Add to this a formidable record of service to constituents then it is clear that Adrian Sanders has earned respect across the political divide in representing his native constituency.

Despite having a high profile in the media since he arrived here I still do not know what Marcus Wood's personal politics are. He has a long way to go before he can gain the trust of people in the bay who want honesty and consistency in their elected politicians. Marcus belatedly needs to explain what he is for, what kind of conservatism he genuinely represents, other than the political opportunism offered thus far by him. Denigrating Adrian Sanders and playing 'follow my leader' does not offer any kind of coherent political alternative. Over to you Marcus !

Why did we not get there first ? Tory 'spin'

To give credit where it is due David Cameron's stated intention, but not of course policy, is that use of the royal perogative should be trimmed and any PM's 'war powers' should be curbed are both first class ideas.

But, why are we allowing Cameron to get there first ? Good politics DC ! On the other hand it'll have the Torygraph readers foaming at the mouth - not a pretty prospect ! Alienating your core support doesn't seem a clever tactic, but they've got nowhere else to go politically, as Cameron tries to construct a 'new' Tories big tent stretching to the centre ground.

However much of this supposed change of tone is nothing more than spin. Cameron says he's opposed to more grammar schools, but wants 20% selection by aptitute which will deliver the same result through the back door. How equality of opportunity is enhanced by supporting tuition fees in higher education needs some explaining too !

On Europe, the Tories kept pretty quiet on that most troublesome of issues for them during the General Election. Now it seems the Tories are going to choose either isolation in Europe or an alliance with extremists. With the EPP-ED group, comprising moderate centre-right opinion from Europe's leading Conservative and Christian Democrat parties, you'd think the Tories would seek influence within that group, especially as it is the largest political block in the Euro parliament. Er, no ! The avowedly eurosceptic Tories seem to prefer the latter option, of isolation or extremism.

'The Guardian' and 'The Independent' speculate that potential European partners could included the virulently homophobic and muscular brand of Catholicism influenced Law and Justice party from Poland or, incredibly, the post-fascist Italian National Alliance. So much for moderate centre-ground politics !

As Jimmy Cricket would say....and there's more. ! Listening to Theresa Villiers on a recent Radio 4 broadcast of 'Any Questions' she suggested the Tory 'opposition' to ID cards was primarily down to worries about cost. So it's not about principle and civil liberties then ?

I have to say I was genuinely pleasantly surprised that the Green policy commission was to have two excellent and committed environmentalists 'on board' in the shape of John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith. However, it doesn't auger well in that before they've set to work on the policy forum Peter Ainsworth, Tory spokesperson on the environment, is calling for a 'massive road building programme'.

Clearly there has been some shift to the centre of British politics, but much of the policy pronouncements are far less progressive than they seem. There's still a large element of 'same old Tories' when you scrutinise what they say. As hinted at above and in earlier posts how long can he keep the core vote onside ? Media reports suggest significant sections of the parliamentary party are become extremely aggrieved at the policy-on-the hoof and [public] trashing of Thatcherite orthodoxy.

One final point. I have the Tory PPC for Torbay in mind here. Marcus Wood enthusiastically endorsed the harsh and illiberal Cameron-penned manifesto last May. Now, he rushes into the local media lauding the supposedly 'one nation' conservatism of his leader. In doing that alone, he displays an astonishing degree of political gymnastics. So which specific policies that you stood on in May do you now repudiate Marcus ? When policy is decided only in the leaders office and is influenced by focus groups, it leaves PPC's like Marcus looking incredibly silly ! Now when you have party conference making decisions, informed by a shared political philosophy such as Liberalism, any significant policy changes are better carried because they have been authorised by the wider party membership. This avoids the kind of mess the Tories are getting themselves into !

Monday, February 06, 2006

Of Tweed and Cardigans !

There has been some progress made by the Gender Balance Task Force and Ethnic Minority Lib Dems in beginning to make the Lib Dems reflect the composition of the UK today. Certainly the increase in the number of younger members of the parliamentary team outshines that of our rivals.

But.... the party still seems to be the domain of nice middle-class business and professional people. More Labour-inclined friends still see the Lib Dems as middle-aged cardigan or tweed bedecked people from, and largely representing, principally small market towns, suburban Britain and coastal resorts.

I am scheduled to attend Spring Conference, my first Lib Dem conference, so I will be able to see how true this glib assertion is. Anecdotal experience, mostly from the cities I've previously lived in, certainly put me off from joining the party sooner. The party needs to be able to speak with, to and for the less well-off like myself, otherwise talk of a fairer and socially just Britain is just that, talk !

Anyone got a cardigan I can borrow ?!

Dull Lib Dem leadership contest ?!

Is it me or am I the only one to find the Lib Dem leadership contest less than riveting ? In one sense the drama of the Tory contest is missing for, despite what the media might say, the differences between the candidates is largely around nuance and emphasis. All three candidates have a political core understanding underpined by a shared Liberal philosophical basis.

In terms of policy discussion Chris Huhne has been the most enterprising and has raised his profile within the party hugely. Simon Hughes has started to articulate his belief in redistribution, greater fairness and more equal society and the 'social liberal' perspective he is the standard bearer of. However, whilst his sexuality is entirely irrelevant, the 'misleading' answers to questions about this have hurt his campaign in my view. The 100 seats target too, was in my book a hostage to fortune. I like his politics by far the best of the candidates and his charisma and passion would resonate well in the country at large. Furthermore, he has the ability to reach out to urban constituencies in the way I doubt his rivals can. His ability to 'win' is evidenced by winning and holding on to the seat he holds in South London, not typical Lib Dem territory.

Ming ? I didn't much like how MPs sought to crown Ming by way of a coronation and his subsequent campaign for me has been leaden-footed. The 'bridge to the future' line only draws attention to the potential 'short-life' leadership he might offer. For my part, I don't want to be dogged down either side of the next election by discussions about will he stay or will he go or who follows Ming ? The hints of dropping the 50% tax rate, his weakness on environmemtal issues and uncertainty about his role in the political 'assassination' of Kennedy all make me disinclined to support him. The sureness of touch and much mentioned 'gravitas' and self-declared 'energy' all seem strangely missing.

And, in urban seats, particularly those where we have the potential to challenge Labour, I can't see Menzies Campbell striking a chord with people in our great cities. My prejudice perhaps, but he looks and sounds like a decent patrician Tory. Similarly, whilst policy is key for activists, personality does matter to the general public. Chris Huhne sounds like my bank manager, albeit slightly friendlier. Is he the Lib Dem version of John Major in public perception ? How many non-politicos could put a name to a picture of Huhne ?

The debates between the candidates have been pretty dull affairs along the lines of Good point Simon...I must agree with Ming there variety. All very reasonable but dull and with no Mark Oaten to snarl at !!

In conclusion, I will still vote for Simon Hughes for his politics are easily the closest to mine. Huhne's appear the furthest away from where I am politically I'd guess, but his attempt to politicise the campaign, to raise policy, to be honest about differences where they exist has earned my respect. He will have my second preference vote. Ming as 'official' caretaker leader doesn't wash with me for I am not as enamoured by some of the younger MPs, touted as potential successors, as either the press or he is. That said, I can live with any of these three Liberal men in a way that I would have considered leaving the party if Oaten had prevailed.

Vote Hughes !