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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Conference Blues......Reds and Yellows....

For someone watching the party conferences at home - well the Lib Dem one and the 'big hitters' from Labour's jamboree at least, the following thoughts come to my mind.

The Leader's Speech : always straight afterwards you get interviews on radio and TV with party reps / delegates and predictably they tell you how brilliant it was ! This is even when the evidence is very much to the contrary, Bloggers do likewise and try to 'spin' these events just like their professional counterparts. The lack of candour is very irritating !

Can you imagine the day when a party hack from the respective conference says Tony / Gordon / Ming or 'Dave' got it wrong and admits the speech was less than inspiring ? Even, I've seen him (and sadly currently only 'him') give better never passes the lips of these part-time politicos. Why these responses are televised is anyones guess, but I'm sure the public sees right through this oiliness !

So clearly Ming 'rallied the troops' and 'delivered substance not spin' and has 'stamped his leadership on the party and his is a party of 'liberal values' - strange that from a party called the Liberal Democrats !

Tony is, of course, 'the great communicator' and 'the author of three New Labour victories alonside Gordon'. Labour delegates have amnesia and forget about Iraq, Lebanon, trust schools and Academies, nuclear power, ID Cards et al . Swept up by the atmosphere of conference they fall in love with Tony again, oooh for at least five minutes, especially with the media in tow.

Best examples of this are major trade union leaders. At the TUC, the likes of Woodley, Prentis, Simpson and their ilk come to bury Blair, but come Labour conference it's talk of our great 'Labour government' and 'labour movement'. Bill Morris once of the TGWU was a master of this double-speak.

The Tories ? I confidently predict their convention attenders, for it is hardly a policy making conference, will say something along the lines of ... that 'Dave' gave the speech of 'Prime Minister-in-waiting' - join the queue behind Gordon Brown at least you upstart ! No doubt his speech will be 'inspirational' and maybe will express 'traditional Conservative values but in a modern setting' or maybe Tony Blair has said and done that already ?! Maybe he'll say 'go back to your constituencies and prepare for government' - hopefully with the same success David Steel had to that clarion call.

We'll definitely hear how 'modern', 'united' 'liberal' and 'green' they allegedly are too. All utter hogwash naturally. Oops nearly forgot that oxymoron 'compassionate conservatism' !

Speaking of being united, usually party activists say how united they are, 'reinvigorated' and ready to take that 'positive message' out to the country and challenge the policy-lite other parties. In print media Liberal Democrat News so often reverts to the "...only the Liberal Democrats..." can make our economy sound, get a No 1 record for 'Posh Spice', save the planet, restore Nottingham Forest to the Premiership or whatever. Like only Lib Dems have good ideas ?!

Conversely, following a fractious conference, senior personnel will in rare and reverential tones talk of the 'sovereignty of conference' and that how their annual borefest is democratic, unlike the other parties, naturally. That's having tried to twist arms and circumvent debate to get conference to vote down the newly-adopted but unwanted policy !

In short, memorable if not always great speeches have happened at conferences of all the main parties. However, I look to Labour, Greens, the miniscule Liberal Party as well as the Lib Dems for a source of progressive ideas and as an alternative to political conservativism. No-one has a monopoly on good ideas.

A summary of the Conference 2006 season so far [and this without any reference to Torquay United's minor league rivals Exeter City !] ;

Lib Dem Conference - a good week, some quality debates and the tax proposals are genuinely radical. Content-wise a good speech from Ming - a 7/10. But the delivery and lack of obvious warmth and passion marks him down a little. The 'image building' PR attempts in respect of Ming truly were nonsensical and counter productive.

Chales Kennedy had a horrendously difficult task in trying to say something interesting whilst not deliberately upstaging Ming. Now, whilst he's good on TV I don't think he's the great public speaker many Lib Dems would say. What I saw / heard from Charles was rather worthy but dull, as inevitablty it had to be.

Nick Clegg ? I'm not as great a fan of him as many. A bit Blair-like. Well delivered, some soundbite grabbing ideas and scored well with both Lib Dems and the public alike I should think. Well, the public, as in the political anoraks that watch the conferences on the box ! 8/10 for delivery and 7/10 for content. Trouble is his persona comes across as a kind of liberal or Liberal younger Blair ! To have Blair and his Tory clone Cameron is quite enough. Maybe his relatively youthful [in political terms] 'poshness' is distracting me.

Labour ? A memorable speech by Tony Blair brilliantly delivered. It was like a 'Greatest Hits' package with all the duff stuff conveniently left out. Blair at his best and worst. He connects well at this level, especially to the public. There were flashbacks to the Blair of '97 and not the shop-soiled goods of 2006. 9/10 for delivery, content 7 if you're a Labourite, otherwise 6/10.

Gordon Brown ? Shameless attempt to deny his weaknesses. Ergo, his claim to want to empower local authorities and send power downwards. You've had nine years to do this, instead the author of much domestic policy has proven to be a great centraliser. Sounded pretty much like 'more of the same' to me, but minus the insincerity and sleaze, as befits a former son of the manse. Usual, OK but dull, from the Chancellor. I'm not really sure he is the person to renew NuLab.

The Tories ? Next week lets see more of Norman Tebbit, Edward Leigh. Andrew Rosindell and the incomparable John Redwood, to remind us how awful they were and still are, beyond 'Dave's' slick salesmanship.

Oh how I love and hate the party conference season !

Radio Bloke and Anti-Scottishness

I was listening to Radio 5 Live a little after Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour Conference the other day . Afterwards they ran a vox pop on how acceptable GB would be as leader of GB. The hostility to his Scottishness, some of it appearing explicitly racist was alarming.

Ironically no-one seems as bothered or mentiones Sir Menzies Campbell's Scottishness ! Talking to people I know I think the tennis player Andrew Murray's alleged comments about supporting 'anyone but England' seemed to start this ball rolling [again]. Of course, whilst there seems to be anecdotal evidence of an increasing level of anti-English racism directed at the English in Scotland and a grain of anti-Englishness is in the psyche of some north of the border, but for the first time in my life, I am seeing / hearing some of this being reciprocated quite openly. A United Kingdom ?

At the same time, I hear on the news this morning, that RC's are allegedly six times more likely to be subjected to sectarian abuse than their Protestant counterparts in Scotland. I am however pleased that this hasn't been lazily blamed all on the 'Old Firm' of Rangers and Celtic as is often the case.

A Scottish perspective would be interesting on this, hopefully we might listen to each other and understand each other better. Gordon Brown, as for Ming Campbell too, should be judged on policies alone. Liberal values of tolerance and celebrating difference are much needed.

More on Ming ! - Not Moron Ming !!!

Generally pretty positive conference vibe. Ming Campbell scored well on content but still looks a bit stiff and lacking in pesonal warmth. He looks uncomfortable, which in a televisual age distracts some from the message he seeks to relay. I say this having watched on TV.

The 'Blair Babes' style picture with mostly younger female Lib Dems on Brighton seafront again seemed very un-Ming. Play to his strengths and not resort to media-oriented spin.

What did nark me was the smug 'we are a party of substance not spin'. Surely this was undermined by media manipulation in pushing the new tax proposals for all they were worth prior to the conference debate ? Ditto attempts in the media to ramp up Ming's 'image' as leader. All that ex-Olympic runner stuff is utter crap ! It just draws attention to all his yesterday's [and some of ours no doubt].

He is who he is. Accept that or move on !

At least the bloke is consistent politically unlike others we could mention !

A List Meritocracy Cameron-style

The latest tranche of Tory A-List hopefuls sees 11 out of 14 being London based. The head honcho [Shireen Ritchie] of Dave's attempt at inclusivity emanates from Kensington and Chelsea Conservative Association [KCCA] and was formerly Chairman (sic) of KCCA and a councillor there. Of 150 hopefuls in total we've got :

Timothy Coleridge (K&C councillor)
Margot James (K&C councillor)
Joanna Gardner (K&C councillor)
Elizabeth Campbell (K&C councillor)
Mary Macleod (Deputy Chairman K&C)
Mary Weale (K&C councillor)

Add to this : Melanie Mclean - who lives in the seat
Angie Bray GLA - whose Assembly seat includes K&C.

Consider this, KCCA provides more candidates for the A-List than the whole of Lancashire and Yorkshire combined. The Tories control Worcester, Walsall and Coventry councils - why aren't we seeing more of those councillors popping up?

As one commentator on Conservative.home says with deep irony: "Yes, having 5 K&C councillors plus the deputy chairman of the association on a priority list of 150 overseen by the ex-chairman of the association is merely a coincidence".

I'm mostly using the words of Tories up and down the country. It's all spin and a sham from Cameron.

Good to see the Tories want to reflect modern K&C..... sorry Britain ! I guess they've swapped the male city bankers / lawyers et al for their female counterparts. Great to see a smallish London borough produces such a swathe of 'talent'. Hats off to Davie C once more !

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pre- Conference Thoughts

Watching Sunday AM with Andrew Marr yesterday I can only but agree with Stephen Tall that Ming was 'top notch'. It was the best interview I have seen him give since becoming leader and one where his advantages came to the fore : he was authoritative, measured and well briefed.

Now I didn't vote for Ming as even my second preference let alone vote for him as leader but I do sense he is growing into the job. The Ming of now, seems far removed from the hesitant and nervous Ming of those first few weeks.

That the MORI poll in the 'Sunday Times' of 3 September deems him the most trusted of party leaders, ahead of Cameron, Brown and Blair is something we should play up. Whilst others cast around for political policies of expediency [step forward Mr. Cameron], Ming has been true to his 'gut liberal' and 'creature of the centre-left' instincts.

As a consequence I am much more of a 'Ming-er' than I was and am 'at ease' with his leadership. Further, I am postively willing him to give a conference speech that will resonate well beyond the Brighton hall.

Tax ? I'm still open-minded, although still swing towards Evan Harris' amendment. But, I can live with and campaign on either outcome. Good policy will result either way !

On a differing tack I was delighted to be ranked at No. 28 in the Top 100 Lib Dem blogs. It is an encouragement and I am surprised to be ahead of a number of a number of well-established and quality blogs. And, I was amused to see Marcus Wood (Torbay Tory PPC) rated at No. 77 in the Tory listings !!

Moreover, I hope Iain Dale's guide to UK Political Blogging will encourage bloggers - old and new - from across the political spectrum. Frankly the quality to be found on the likes of, Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated / Liberal Democrat Voice and Labour Home / Bloggers4 Labour all give greater insight to party thinking [especially at the grassroots] than that offered by the 'spun' offerings of the national media.

Great idea and a useful resource - Well done Iain !

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Westminster Hour and Tax

Yesterday along with three other Torbay Lib Dem party colleagues I took part in a pre-conference discussion for the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Westminster Hour'. Now I haven't done a radio interview for about 10 years and even that was in a community worker role. Prior to that I did do some media work as a councillor but virtually 'retired' from active party politics for most of the last decade.

It was so much easier being an armchair critic, but my opposition to the prospect of having an elected executive mayor in Torbay was the catalyst for action. The loss of both the referendum on the mayoralty and the Tories winning the position has compelled me to become active in politics again.

Anway, so I was pretty nervous and probably spoke way too much. Generally questions were straight forward and centred upon Ming's performance as leader, Charles Kennedy, political positioning of the party and, yes, tax. Amusingly the interviewer told me afterwards he forgot to ask about the so-called Orange Book Mark 2 - can't remember the title. Is it generally available yet ?

I have to say whilst I think we batted away most of the questions OK I guess we were, in part, a little 'off message' on tax. Whilst I think the consensual view was that we are open-minded and persuadable, I don't think any of us is fully on-board yet in respect of the new proposals from the Tax Commission.

I am open-minded and persuadable but :

a) the new policy seems more complex and difficult to 'sell' on the doorstep
b) the Tax Commission proposals are being spun heavily by the party hierarchy. I feel like we are being railroaded into adopting this new policy. I thought it was the other parties at their conferences that played follow-my-leader. Conference is sovereign. Persuade rather than coerce me !
c) elements of the new plans are ripe to be misrepresented by our opponents.
d) the 50p top rate is transparently progressive, clear and popular.

Liberal Legend ( says :

"Were you not paying attention during the General Election? Did you not see the campaigning style of our opponents? Don't you think that having a top rate of 50% puts off aspiring 20 and 30 something professionals....." and on Evan Harris " ...I had hoped he would have seen sense over the taxation proposals..."

Well firstly what arrogance about Evan seeing sense ! His view represents a notable tranche of party opinion and it is right that we have a full debate at conference. And, the writer above living in the SE of England, might find perspectives different here in the West Country. We've sadly too few aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs in range of the 50% top rate tax ! Rather more are on fixed incomes (retirement / benefits) and overwhelmingly closer to the minimum wage than even the national average wage ! Furthermore, as for the 'Chelsea Tractors' how do we distinguish between those that need them for their livelihoods in rural areas and those in urban areas that buy them as a gas guzzling status symbol ? Moreover, outside of metropolitan areas, punishing motorists whilst public transport is often poor, is a potential vote loser.

Don't get me wrong I do support the green agenda. Likewise there seems to be some real merit it the tax proposals being suggested for adoption. I hope conference will enable me to feel we might be replacing a good policy with an even better and allegedly more redistributive one.

Rant over !

Oh, if I / we come across terribly be nice, think of it as a 'learning curve' I'm on - hopefully one not too steep !