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.

Monday, November 26, 2007

We need Huhne and Clegg rather than Huhne versus Clegg

I see in yesterdays piece by Nick Clegg in the 'Independent on Sunday' that Nick says that his leadership rival Chris Huhne will feature prominently in any Clegg-led Lib Dem party. Rumours of personal antipathy between the two men have hardly been quelled by the leadership campaign, but the party needs to utilise fully the talents of BOTH men, irrespective of the leadership vote.

I'd hope that Chris would be equally magnanimous in victory too in finding Clegg a key role. Has he said anything on this subject ?

To be fair, Clegg's performance on 'Newsnight' a few days ago was rather better than either the Plymouth hustings or 'Question Time' appearances. We need therefore, Huhne and Clegg in tandem, much more than the needlessly divisive 'heat' of the leadership debate.

In closing I'm still voting Huhne but looking beyond the 'froth' of the current contest.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

'Woolly and Waffly' Clegg and the Plymouth Hustings

John Rentoul in todays 'Independent on Sunday' describes Nick Clegg's performance on BBC TV's 'Question Time' programme as 'woolly and waffly' and having attended the combined Devon and Cornwall plus Western Counties Regional Conference which included the Plymouth hustings one arrived at exactly the same conclusion.

Critics have likened Clegg to a kind of Liberal version of a Cameron clone. The alleged 'great communicator' proved to be heavier on style than substance at Plymouth. The lack of passion displayed on QT was replaced by a contrived 'passion' and a conversational-style address akin to that of Cameron at the Conservative conference. I cannot remember ANYTHING of note that he said just one day later !

Now, those who've read my blog before will hardly be surprised to know that my leadership election vote was never going to go to Nick Clegg. However, at the close of nominations, I fully expected that Clegg would emerge as leader after the vote. As such, I attended the hustings with a view to assessing the next probable LD leader. Frankly I thought he was woeful on the day. From QT and Plymouth evidence it's 2-0 to Huhne ! I am hugely disappointed in Clegg. Moreover, the other two members of our party from Torbay were similarly unimpressed by Nick and one of those was genuinely undecided beforehand.

Likewise another party member I spoke to on Friday was swayed towards Huhne after the QT head-to-head. This was someone, who like many, had previously felt that Huhne might appeal more to party activists like himself but that Nick might have the greater currency amongst the wider, largely apolitical, public. THE QT debate has probably swayed his vote away from Nick. Those of us worried about a more 'marketised' or continental style NHS or a voucher scheme policy for schools heard little to allay those anxieties from Clegg. Sadly I was also wary of Nick's potential positioning on economic and 'nuclear' issues. I still am ! An opportunity missed I'm afraid.

To be fair, as Nick himself alluded to, being a liberal Home Affairs spokesperson is probably the toughest call of all for a LD and Nick has been very effective. This makes his lack-lustre campaign all the more mysterious.
Let's hope, if Clegg is the victor in the leadership contest, he will prove as successful as some think he'll be in halting a potential swing to the Tories, especially in Lib Dem / Tory contests. Happily, though, for Nick I nearly always back losers in leadership contests !

As in the last contest which (as a Hughes supporter) I'd concede that Huhne ran the most energetic and thought provoking campaign but lost the contest in terms of votes, I have a feeling of history repeating itself again ! As before, the Huhne vote may prove to be much higher than expected when the race began. Anyone else at Plymouth on Saturday have a view?

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Europe and the Tories - Yet Again No Answers ? - H.E. Letter 141107

The text below is the unedited version of a letter to the 'Herald Express' seeking clarification on the Tories' European policy. In what is becoming typical fashion, Marcus Wood Tory PPC for Torbay, preferred to attack the LD's than answer any points raised in my earlier letter(s).

Here is the letter published on 14 November 2008 :

Marcus Wood in his riposte to my earlier letter about Conservative Party policy on Europe chooses not to answer any of the points raised about the EU, but opts instead to attack the Liberal Democrats!

Contrary to his implied assertions I do indeed support a referendum on our membership of the EU as this would enable those of us of middle age and younger to have a say for the first time on this country's relationship with the rest of Europe. So why can't the Conservative Party's candidate support this position? Or is he afraid that were he to break ranks he would end up like the recently sacked candidate for Rowley Regis who spoke his mind?

Having brought about ever closer European integration via the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty without referenda whilst in office, is it not hypocritical to demand such when in opposition now ? A direct answer from the Conservative Party's mouthpiece in Torbay would be welcome, and possibly a first since he moved here to fight the Torbay seat and pursue his career in politics!

Thirdly, if leaving the moderate and influential centre-right EU grouping - the EPP - is the correct course for the Conservative Party, why wait until 2009? Again a straight-forward question deserving of an answer from someone who wants the votes of local people.

Finally, I want to put on record that Adrian Sanders MP did support a bay wide referendum on having an elected mayor, even though he and other Lib Dems like myself knew it would risk ending up as we have done with a more expensive model of local government. That, as Mr Wood learnt at the least General Election when he received fewer votes than the previous Conservative losing candidate, is democracy.

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Is Tory PPC Capable of a direct answer on Europe ? HE Letter 141107

Below is my THIRD letter on the subject of the EU and, in particular, to ascertain our local Tory PPC's position on European affairs. The usual response is to talk of something else. The 'something else' is usually his unhealthy obsession with the Lib Dems and to denigrate our MP and party !

THe published text is as follows :

I am appalled at the sideswipe at Councillor colleagues by Mayor Nick Bye. It is ironic that he questions the payment of £8,000 per year to backbench councillors when I believe few would contend that the £90,000 per annum paid to the mayor and his deputy represents 'good value' for taxpayers.

Allow me to put things in perspective. Prior to the last local election I surveyed over 30 councils, mostly unitary authorities, only to find that allowance paid in Torbay is broadly the average paid nationwide. The idea of a gravy train authority therefore doesn't stack up, bar the leadership's allowance, of course.

Further, as a candidate in the May 2007 elections, I can clearly say that had I been elected I would have been hit financially, due to loss of earnings and the likelihood of limited future advancement within the company I work for. Moreover, balancing full time work, family life and council commitments would have been very difficult, but I stood for council as I love the bay and sought a better way forward than the one the mayor and his fellow Conservatives were and are offering. Add to this the way coucillors are continually vilified in the media it is a wonder that anyone stands at all !

Having been a councillor on a hung council 'up country' years ago and having lived all over England and in areas that have been run by all 3 main parties, most councillors of all parties become such as they seek to represent their areas to their best abilities. Since those elections I have continued to work with the hard working Councillor Cindy Stocks in Ellacombe and remain active in the ward. Money is definitely not the motivating factor. I do so in my spare time.

Two of the councillors referred to by Mayor Bye, Jenny Faulkner and Robert Excell (one Lib Dem and one Conservative) both work hard for Tormohun. Indeed, under the present local government structure in Torbay, they are right to put casework before Town Hall meetings, as the ability of councillors to influence the all-powerful Conservative mayor's agenda or 'vision' is minimal.

Frankly, I am fed up with the pontificating of this egregious Mayor. He might like the council to continue to be unrepresentative of the bay, reflecting the aspirations of the few rather than the many, but a more diverse council is needed. That the council is in danger of being the preserve of the monied or retired classes is entirely unhealthy in my view. Yet again it is Bye whose judgment is wrong and his criticism misplaced.

Slurring the reputations of Torbay councillors is unwarranted. It is you Mayor Bye that brings Torbay Council into disrepute. However, take heart, the good people of Stoke on Trent after a referendum have thrown out the Mayoral model of local governance. My guess is that given a further referendum here the result would be the same as that in Stoke. Our day will come too to be rid of this undemocratic structure and maybe then it would be worth councillors attending most meetings again !

Yours Sincerely,

Barrie Wood

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LIb Dem Leadership Race....zzzz....

Two ex-public school, middle aged, middle-class and [in party terms] men hardly offering competing and contrasting visions for party direction leaves me feeling slightly bored. Differences thus are exaggerated and minor details aside it's down to personalities. On the margins, I feel that on public services and the environment I feel happier with Huhne than Clegg.

Last time around the favoured media candidate was Ming Campbell and the received wisdom was that he was a 'safe pair of hands'. Now we are to be impressed by the 'youthful' and 'telegenic' Clegg. What on earth is telegenic ? I remember Blair being described as such, so someone possessing such an attribute might not be so appealing at all. Further how can anyone be described as 'youthful' at 40+ ?!

Saturday sees a hustings at the SW REgional Conference - hopefully I'll be more enthused then.

As for a party seeking to be one of diversity and reflective of the modern day UK the narrow range of candidates in terms of perspectives and backgrounds is very disappointing. Am I alone in feeling relatively ambivalent about the LD leadership contest ?

In fairness both men are very competent and well able to reflect and project liberal ideas. I look forward to 'getting behind' the victor. For those Clegg minded, your man looks to be the winner as in most political / union / student votes in my life I never seem to vote for the winner !


The most risible Tory PPC response ever ?!

Marcus Wood, nominally the Conservative PPC for Torbay, but selling himself on a "I'm not the Lib Dems' ticket replied to my second letter on European issues [see Herald Express letter 031107] in these terms :


11:00 - 07 November 2007
In response to Barrie Wood, Tory attack on EU reform treaty stance is a bit rich (Your View, November 30.

I was so looking forward to reading his defence of the Liberal Democrat position on this matter. What a pity then he seemed intent on simply attacking David Cameron instead.Like so many issues, the Lib Dems are all over the place when calling for referendums.

In Scotland the Lib Dems oppose giving citizens a referendum on independence; while in Wales they demand a referendum on having more power.

In England they are busy demanding a referendum on a written constitution, yet they vehemently oppose giving us a say on the new EU constitution which would take precedence over it.

Locally, our MP did not support a Bay-wide referendum for the really important issue of having an elected mayor, yet he loudly demands a ballot of the people on the wafer-thin question of whether we have one casino or two.

The fact is the Government are reneging on a promise it made to give us a say on the constitution. They can be sure of getting this through Parliament, even though several uneasy Labour MPs may rebel, because the Lib Dems will back them to a man.

The Lib Dems' own 'core statement of principles' says: "We believe sovereignty rests with the people and authority in a democracy derives from the people".

But perhaps they should add the words "provided the people are going to give us the answer we want".


Torbay prospective Parliamentary candidate

You'll notice no mention of European policy at all. No defence of Tory policy or a considered response to Sir Menzies Campbell's call for a referendum on EU membership. The other Mr Wood's stock in trade is to denigrate Adrian Sanders MP in particular and the Lib Dems in general. Such a debating 'style' would be poor at Student Union level, but from a would-be Tory MP it is profoundly depressing and worthy of ridicule.

Does anyone else face truly woeful political opponents ? Having lived around the country I've been represented at Westminster by members of all three main parties and have had respect for 'the competition' but in Torbay, with the headline chasing but achieving nothing elected mayor and a Tory PPC as bad as this I despair of the alleged 'new' Conservatives !

For a critical, but non LD view of Torbay, go to :

For the uninitiated Charlie Windsor bears 'striking similarities' to Marcus Wood and the ego-centric mayor [Nick Bye] has 'everything in common' with the character 'Dr Pangloss'.

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Herald Express Letter 031107 - Tories and Europe [Again] !

Whatever the merits or otherwise prove to be with a finalised EU Reform Treaty the position taken by Marcus Wood and the Tories is one of political chutzpah of the highest order.

Labour's stance, that of parliament deciding, is a coherent one, albeit potentially politically unwise. They take the view that in a representative democracy elected parliamentarians vote on the issues of the day.Further, those adopting this approach would say we have little tradition of voting by referenda.

The EU we have today was, of course, shaped principally by the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty, both signed by Tories when in office and without recourse to a public vote. Was the Tory approach at the time misguided then Marcus?

Now out of office the Conservatives demand a European referendum. Consistent the Tories are not in demanding from others what they didn't offer themselves.

Like most of his contributions to these pages Marcus Wood's letter of October 31 contains another dig at the Lib Dems.

He entirely overlooks the fact that Sir Menzies Campbell put forward the most radical proposal of all for a Euro referendum, namely that of our very membership of the EU itself. Does he support the current Liberal Democrat position? If not, why not? Surely the voters of Bay have a right to know.

He is also quiet on another inconsistent Tory European policy. David Cameron promised upon assuming the leadership of his party to withdraw them from the European People's Party, the dominant and hugely influential EU group of moderate continental Conservatives and Christian Democrats.

A majority of Tory MEPs were aghast at the idea of being on the fringes of European debate and having little influence. Now it is said they'll withdraw from the EPP in 2009. How principled is that u-turn?

Being at the periphery of the EU, influencing no one and with Cameron at odds with his European colleagues and demanding a referendum from the government, having not offered such when in power themselves, leaves the Tories looking opportunist, erratic and ill-serves the British electorate.

I look forward to an explanation from Marcus.