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.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Too 'Left Wing' for the LD's ?

During the 2007 local elections and in a recent online exchange elsewhere it was put to me - by a couple of Labour supporters that I should fight for what I believe in from within the Labour party.

'Red Flag' - curiously enough argued with me on a Tory PPC site - that :

By the way Barry your left wing views challenging New Labour should be from with[sic] Labour not from inside that minor party of yours ! Lib Dems too right wing for you surely ?

Now in a previous debate some Lib Dems took issue with the my use of the terms right and left wing, but I hope my response gives Red Flag and others the answer as to how I see myself politically. I replied :

BTW 'Red Flag' whilst I have no problem with being broadly seen as being on the 'left' - much to the chagrin of some LD's - I think the liberal / authoritarian axis is equally important.

Therefore, I can agree with the socially liberal free-marketeer David Laws often more easily than 'left wing' social conservatives / authoritarians like George Galloway. So, on their own the terms 'right' and 'left' wing hide nuances of difference, and as such, could hide the very core values and emphases that separate me from the 2007 Labour party.

[Dis]agreements on policy is one thing and these wax and wane over time. It is core values and principles that are key. Contrary as ever, I'd describe myself at the moment as a Liberal Democrat rather than Liberal per se. I am socially liberal, politically liberal, personally liberal but economically more social democratic oriented, especially in relation to the state and public services.

On core areas I can agree with the LD emphasis on civil liberties, decentralisation, environmentalism, fair taxation, electoral reform, internationalism et al. I did many months ago flesh out some of the policy differences with Labour, so will not do so again. However, I probably share a greater affinity with the typical Labour members' commitment not just equal opportunitiies, but to more equitable outcomes too. This puts me at odds with a number of Lib Dems in blogoshere !

In short, to paraphrase the LD constitution - no-one should be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity - but what real freedoms exist if one lives in inadequate housing, suffers from poor health or is on a subsistence level income ? Choices ? What choices do such people have ? There is still a role for the state, at least as 'guarantors' to protect the most vulnerable in society.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Carling Cup 'fever' hits Leicester - and Leicester only !

Leicester City come to the City Ground tonight talking up our derby game with them. I don't know how many times you have to tell the typical Fox fan but the biggest East Midlands derby is between the 'Trees' and the Rams - Nottingham Forest versus Derby County. 25,000, including 5,000 Forest fans turned up for a pre-season friendly a few weeks back, that tells you the intensity of our rivalry with them. I'll be surprised if  anything like that many attend the City Ground tonight, despite the influx of the Fox faithful.

True, hardly any other team will take 5,000 away fans to a second round CC tie this evening - no other set of fans are daft enough ! Still after 35 years without a win at the City Ground, the poor Foxes, despite being a division higher, are making a big deal out of a visit to a 'third division' club.

For me personally, having lived in Leicester for many years I want to see City soundly beaten and normally I view the fixture with relish. If it had been a league game or FA Cup tie I'd be up for the game, but an early round CC tie isn't worth the trouble and expense. That the worst element of the City following will be present and a busy night ahead for the Police is in prospect hardly has one clamouring for a ticket !

As it is, a defeat might just push Colin Calderwood closer to the exit door and that would be not a bad outcome. OTOH, it'd be quite nice to make it 36 years without a win on Trentside for the Foxes, but my overall feeling is one of indifference.

One the plus side, the 'Brazil of the West Country' (copyright A. Sanders MP) top the Conference table today after a well earned point at Forest Green Rovers. One point separates the top nine teams ! It promises to be a hugely difficult division to get out of. With Torquay having a squad containing 16 new players this season a play-off place would be a creditable achievement for a new team under new management. Come on you Gulls !

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Inheritance Tax and the Tories

For a party that talks of 'fair' taxation I hope the Lib Dems [and Labour] will leave any commitments to slashing / abolishing Inheritance Tax to the Tories. Jackie Ashley's views in 'The Guardian' today chime with my own. She says :

"While it's true that fast-rising house prices have brought many more people into the ambit of inheritance tax - Scottish Widows thinks up to 40% of households may eventually be hit - this remains a powerful engine of social fairness. Only 6% of estates pay the tax at present, and it puts a modest cap on the accumulation of wealth and power in some families.

At a time when the super-rich can avoid so many taxes, it means that the wealthier families cannot simply transfer all their advantage to the next generation. If family homes are sold to pay inheritance tax, rather than passing to the next generation, that releases more properties on to a market desperately short of housing. Is it really fair that those whose parents were lucky enough to have enjoyed rocketing property prices should simply pocket all the advantage? In a country where social mobility is an increasing problem, inheritance tax helps. You would have thought a Labour government could be a little more vigorous making the case for its defence".

In my view the Tories are lurching all over the place is search of a narrative that keeps on board the traditionalists but has wider electoral appeal. The Economic Competitiveness Report and their Tax proposals suggests the dinosaurs of the right are increasingly confident and vocal. Luckily for the rest of us their ideas are unlikely to win over anyone but the already committed Tory. More of this and [happily] defeat number four awaits the Tories ! They're losing the plot again ?! Hague, IDS, Howard all realised that a shift to more moderate political ground was necessary and all tried to do so briefly, but the their party wouldn't let them, nor were the leaders convincing as 'moderates' - too much 'past form'. Is Cameron following suit ?

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John Redwood's 'Red Tape'

Aghhh.... in the couple of weeks or so since my last posts 'The Vulcan' has returned centre stage. The only good thing about his return is that it illustrates that the talk of the Tories fighting from the 'centre ground' is just that. talk. What Redwood calls red tape that stymies business, I see social policy that protects people at work.

'Highlights' from the Redwood produced report include :

* loosening health and safety regulations
* making it easier to sack those in post
* opting out of the social chapter and undermining EU attempts to ensure all workers get 20 days holiday per year PLUS bank holidays
*opting out of the 48 hour working time regulations.

Of course, the £14bn tax cut proposals is prefaced by the caveat of 'as the economy allows' for this and other tax cuts. Is Cameron's position so weak that he has to shore up his position by supporting such a rag-bag of right wing proposals ? That George Osborne 'welcomes' the Redwood led report tells you how little the Tories have really changed.

Inheritance Tax ? See next post !


How Representative are Lib Dem bloggers ?

A recent comment on my blog described the political balance of the Lib Dem party this way :

'orange bookers' are under-represented among the party activists, but more numerous than the 'beard and sandals brigaders' among the ordinary members and the Lib Dem voters. How would you explain otherwise, that Ming was elected as leader rather than Simon Hughes? And the parliamentary party is divided roughly between 1/4 'orange bookers', 1/4 'beard and sandals brigaders', and 1/2 'unconcerned centre'.

Now it is my **perception** that the centre of gravity as expressed by online Lib Dem bloggers over-represents those who put an emphasis upon 'economic liberalism' and a more explicitly free market political orientation. The wider party, I believe, is broadly centre and centre-left, but is the party dynamic changing and the 'Orange Book' tendency more influential than I thought ? I certainly don't see much in the way of such ideological zeal in my local party here in Torbay. How typical is this ?

Other parties ? Well ConservativeHome certainly indicates that the unelectable swivel-eyed brigade is alive and well in the Tory party. Maybe the debate between the 'modernisers' [those seeking to get elected at any cost so we'll say anything we hope might be popular] and 'traditionalists' makes for interesting reading ! Let's have more of John Redwood to remind the wider public as to how out of touch they are !

Labour ? Fairly restrained and debate not as sharp as on the Tory and LD offerings. Where's the left perspective comrades ?!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Communalism, party choices and liberalism !

Some time ago significant numbers of former Labour members came across to the Lib Dems from the Labour party, in both Birmingham and Derby if memory serves me correctly. Similarly a number of leading figures in the Ealing and Southall Labour party moved from that party to the Tories, with another coming to the Lib Dems. Am I alone in viewing with suspicion the bulk transference of party allegiance ?

Historically, and well beyond the Asian communities of this country, we've seen diverse communities vote [ or join] in overwhelming numbers for a particular party. In Scotland the so-called 'Catholic' vote has been a bedrock of Labour support in the central belt, with the Tories 'Unionist' outlook gaining much support from working class Protestants well into the 1960s at least. More obviously, and for more understandable reasons, voting patterns have been polarised in the north of Ireland.

All this makes it difficult for smaller parties to break the Tory / Labour hegemony.

However, did the en-masse defections alluded to above enhance democracy in any way ? Are we really to believe that collectively in large numbers these individuals became liberals, socialists or conservatives overnight ?

Did personal sleights and failure to be selected for particular 'seats' drive any of these defections, rather than political conviction ? When I lived in the London borough of Brent in the early 90s it was like a game of musical chairs in the council chamber at one time !

Hmm... yet all parties parade such 'captures' with glee !

That said, being in a political party can be a difficult choice. Tribally I was part of the Labour fold for many years, despite being at odds with many policies, especially now their authoritarian policies and lack of internal democracy [ to say nothing of the bloody war in Iraq]. I used to joke that the only remaining 'democratic centralist' regimes left after the fall of European communism were to be found in North Korea, the Vatican and under the 'Dear Leader' Blair in London.

The radical message of the Greens seems outwardly appealing, but their wish to 'impose' solutions to the threatening environmental crisis is alarming. Add to this their near non-existence here in South Devon then joining them would be a pointless exercise.

The Lib Dems ? The progressive strain of modern liberalism influenced by Keynes, Beveridge, Asquith, Lloyd George et al is attractive. Likewise, the emphasis on issues like fair votes, civil liberties, decentralisation, progressive taxation, green issues and democratic conferences all are facets that I like about the party. Having an excellent MP and being the only party able to challenge the Tories locally is also a key factor in their attractiveness.

Being a party of contrarians and being a group of people who can be swayed by debate is more attractive than the ' sellouts and betrayals' mentality of 80s and 90s Labour I knew. The 'culture' of the Lib Dem party is much more encouraging.

I was asked about my 'liberalism' at the candidate approval panel for the 2007 local elections. I said prefer the hybrid party name of Liberal Democrat to that of being a 'Liberal' and can claim the former title. Whilst being personally and socially liberal, I would not describe myself as an economic liberal ! In economic terms I remain social democratic in my leanings, albeit with a greater emphasis being put upon decentralisation and local accountability. Crucially, I still have a passion for equality, not just with regard to opportunities but with regard to outcomes too. From how I see things, none of the main parties seeks this now, not even Labour.

On the downside the 'Orange Book' element and the strident economic liberalism of some is far from where I am. Many Lib Dems in blogoshere represent this strand of liberalism, although I believe them to be over-represented online in terms of the wider political balance of that party.

The changing positions on tax and Trident are ones I'n not enamoured with. Certainly a 'hung parliament' and any deal to propel David Cameron into Downing Street would almost certainly mean me heading to the exit door.

As it is, I've found it easy enough to fit in to the broad church that makes up the Lib Dem party, even if that means me being the Brian Sedgemore of Torbay ! Fundamentally though, in my time, it is Labour who have changed more than the other parties and it is Labour's policies and values that have changed more than my own !

There are many figures across the parties holding left-of -centre views I admire irrespective of party label, hence the introduction at the top of this blog. One thing that has sustained this left-leaning writer is the longevity of my antipathy to the values and policies of the Tories [and hatred of racist elements like the BNP].

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Ming - It's about results !

Let's be clear I put Ming in third place out of three in the Lib Dem leadership contest. Ming comes across [to me] as personally wooden and politically unconvincing [other than on foreign affairs].

Can I see Ming engaging with and inspiring voters on say, a Rochdale council estate or in central Torquay, to hold seats we have, let alone increase our representation at Westminster ? I am doubtful. If I, as an activist am unenthused, then this bodes ill for connecting with the wider public.

BUT, being a party leader is akin to being a football manager. It is 'results' that count. As the 'political season' has yet to run it's course and it's conclusion may not be too far away it would be illogical - and unfair on Ming - to change course now. 'Matches' with Labour and the Tories thus far have produced about acceptable performances, so it's a case of 'supporters' getting behind Ming Campbell and team right now and leaving a fuller and more thorough judgement to  when the 'league table' shows the outcome of the next Westminster elections.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Herald Express Letter 010807 - Casino Referendum

According to Marcus Wood, Adrian Sanders MP should abandon his principles and integrity by adopting a position in favour of a second casino for the Bay.

If he were to do so, would Marcus talk about a 'U-turn' and call him unprincipled and opportunist?I did contact our MP to ask what the balance of opinion was from correspondence received from constituents and was told that a bare handful had written in favour of a new casino development and that two of those are senior local Conservatives.

I accept that the casino has its supporters, but I'm convinced there are far more opposed to a second casino. Either way, trying to push ahead with such a divisive proposition is not the way to engage the public with regeneration plans for the Bay.

The mayor has powers to enable him to run a referendum on this issue and for the people of the Bay to have their say. This is surely necessary as James Purnell, the requisite government minister, in his letter to local authorities regarding casino applications states that national government places 'a great emphasis on the importance of local consultation and local accountability'.

Why are local Tories apparently refusing to let the people decide? Are they afraid of the outcome of any putative referendum?

Despite being an opponent of the casino on ethical grounds, in addition to being also unconvinced of the economics of the matter either, I am as a democrat happy to accept the settled will of the Bay's populace.

As for Marcus, as ever, he has more to say about the Lib Dems - and Mr Sanders in particular - than he does about trying to sell the ever-changing Tory vision of the future.

After the social moralising evident in their recent tax proposals and the contradictions in their position(s) on grammar schools, no wonder explaining Conservative policies comes second to attempts at political point-scoring locally.