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, October 22, 2008

Public Services and 'the parasitic classes' - A classic quote !

Here is Tristan Mills' view of public services :

So called public services don't serve individuals, they serve the parasitic classes who live off the sweat of others.

Huh ? Do we inhabit the same planet as well as the same party Tristan ?!


Liberal Vision (Again) - Pressure Group ? Faction ? Entryists ?

Let's be clear, I have an inherent dislike of closing down debate and respect there are many libertarians who pose questions and raise issues that otherwise would go unheard in the Lib Dems. In that context, they firmly belong within the broad church that is, and should be, the Liberal Democrats.

Now my formative political years were spent (like Messrs Littlewood and Fernando) in, ahem, another political party. My time as a Labour member and councillor saw the rise of the 'Militant' faction within the party. Despite being on the 'left' the damage this group did to the wider left and to Labour in particular is now a matter of record. They had a separate agenda, a different ideological base and ran parallel to the party they resided within. They were not too keen on their own internal democracy either. To my mind Liberal Vision [LV] share some of these 'entryist' and factional tendencies.

Mark Littlewood argues that they are no different from any other organised group within the party (minus internal democratic elections of course), such as ALDTU, Women Lib Dems, DAGGER et al. But, there is a difference the SAO/SO groups all sign up to the preamble of the party, rather than the pick and mix approach of those who support the politics of LV.

As I said in a previous post, LV is I believe a subsidiary of Progressive Voice and has a remarkably similar narrative to the UK Libertarian Party. Just take a cursory glance at the policy proposals of the UK Libertarian Party and compare them to the proposals of Progressive Vision.

As for the policy thrust of LV, consider this currently unpopular truth. It has been a progressive centre and centre-left agenda influenced by liberal and social democratic thought that has delivered over the last three elections (1997 / 2001 / 2005) for this party the greatest number of parliamentarians for us since the 1920s.

Although critical of an over-bearing state the Lib Dems and it's predecessors have never been afraid to legislate and be 'interventionist'. The welfare state has a Liberal DNA running right through it. The LDs, since it's foundation, has been a progressive tax party to fund improved public services. Now it seeks to be the party that offers a quasi-Thatcherite helping of tax and spending cuts. This looks like an opportunist attempt to stem the Tory tide across a swathe of southern English seats.

The party, rightly, continues to be interventionist. Presently it has offered distinctive positions on policy debates relating to issues as diverse as 'nationalisation' of banks through to minimum prices for alcohol (although I strongly disagree with this very illiberal proposal - booze for the wealthy only - what a vote winner !!!).

LV has little to say to the poor, little to say on the environment. Further as Thomas Gilbert remarks on Lib Dem Voice many Lib Dems have fought against the small government, low tax agenda for years. Mr. Littlewood and others like him wants us to spin around 360 degrees and offer the electorate something totally inconsistent with what the Lib Dems have offered since the formation of the party, thereby putting at risk the coalition of support built up thus far.

Even so far, the mild shift in emphases doesn't appear to be working. But to suggest that’s because we’re not moving far or fast enough to the right, that we are not radical enough is nonesense to my mind. This line of argument reminds me of Tony Benn and others arguing that Thatcher's victories over Labour were because they were not sufficiently socialist enough ! He also saw the disasterous Labour performance of 1983 as several million votes for 'socialism' ! Pity those of us less well off who had a torrid time under Thatcher, at least we could console ourselves with the fact that an impotent Labour Party had turned to the left. Let's not allow the Lib Dems to repeat elements of that kind of experience through our own internal battles and striving for a vote-losing LV inspired narrative.

Luckily the shrill voices of many libertarians and classical liberals online may not match the reality in the constituencies. I know of no-one active within my local party (Torbay) that would subscribe to the ideas being promoted by LV and others. Is this the same for others ?

One of the things I've most enjoyed about the 4 years or so of LD membership, some of them active and some not, is the lack of organised factionalism. However, it might be necessary, and with some reluctance, for the 'left' of the party to come together, become organised and challenge the classical liberals / libertarians in the party. An open, democratic organisation, maybe modelled on the lines of the Compass grouping within Labour, might be a useful starting point. The Beveridge Group, if it opened out beyond the 'great and the good' might do this, but otherwise we need to do it for ourselves. What do people think

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chandila, Liberal Vision & the LD Presidency

One vital criteria that I believe is important for the postholder of Lib Dem President is ideally that someone should be respected across the party, politically and geographically, and have the ability to be the bridge that brings together the voluntary party and it's senior elected parliamentarians.

Chandila Fernando says many things including the downgrading of party membership in favour of creating party 'supporters'. The US parties already have such 'fan clubs'. Their role is limited to being hired hands at conventions, leaving decision making and policy to the 'great and the good'. This is not a model I can accept for the Lib Dems. Chandila might have experienced this kind of 'engagement' whilst in the Tory party, but this is not how the Lib Dems do things.

His personal hobby horse, Liberal Vision [LV], is an 'interesting' organisation, with Chandila as Director and Mark Littlewood as Chairman(sic). Neiher of these people are elected to these positions by anyone. Indeed on Liberal Vision's FAQ page is the following : "It is an unincorporated association which is run as a “benign dictatorship”. If you expect internal democratic elections, AGMs, committee meetings and minute taking, this may not be the organisation for you." Being a democrat I am instinctively wedded to democratic mandates for officers, that goes hand in hand with membership of an organisation.

Linda Jack asked and Chandila answered : As someone more on the “left” of the party, why should I vote for you? I have in my heart the passion of an activist and the courage of a lion to take on the establishment." What he ought to have said is that I'm a uber-libertarian far removed from the ideas you hold Linda ! It is worth looking at LV. They are a wholly owned susidiary of Progressive Vision, whose politics and ethos are uncannily more akin to those of another party - the UK Liberttarian Party - than the values, practices and policy positions of the Liberal Democrats.

What I am not saying is that such people should be 'banned' from the party. As a liberal, even a 'left wing' one, I am instinctively against banning things or people. Libertarians bring a differing perspective to the party. Many are long-term committed Liberal Democrats and long may that be so, no matter how much I heartily disagree with them. However, uber-libertarians, such as Gavin Webb, surely would find the UKLP far closer to their strident libertarian outlook ?

You may say that the President is a party figure head and non-political. But that person has a key role [and vote] on the Federal Executive, therefore personal political positions are of some importance. Clearly Chandila is ambitious, but his proposals for limiting the usefulness of party membership and the lack of a democratic structure in the organ he does run mean for me he is entirely unsuitable to be LD President.

He might 'overlook' his politics in running for election. I do not. Why be so shy about your libertarian credentials Chandila ? Further, Chandila is said to have left the Tories when Michael Howard came to the Conservative leadership. Presumably then he had no quarrel with Hague, IDS and Major ? None of these are paragons of liberal virtue. Be honest Chandila, tell us what you are about ?!

I may stand corrected, but it is hardly inspiring to know that even his LV colleague, Mark Littlewood, is voting elsewhere ! The poor quality website, the divisive politics, the re-branding marketing speak all show clearly that Chandila is not the man for the job. So who am I voting for ? It'll be a vote for Ros Scott, a safer mainstream option, with a good track record in the party. That may not sound overly exciting, but after it's fair share of upheaval at the top of the party in recent times a unifying figure I think would be the best choice.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Conference in rude health ?

This Autumn I attended my first Liberal Democrat conference. I enjoyed many a fringe meeting, attended a couple of training events and a fair few of the debates in the hall. The thoughtful nature of the debates, irrespective of outcomes, revealed the party to have a lot of talented people within it's ranks.

However, being the curmudgeonly sort that I am, I have nagging doubts as to how vibrant and important conference is.

1) Can anyone tell me when the party leadership last 'lost' a vote at Conference ? That should happen at least occasionally at a democratic conference. The much talked about 'tax debate' was swung (I believe) by the great and the good - that being largely senior parliamentarians being wheeled out to ensure representatives voted the 'right' way. Don't get me wrong it was a high quality debate and, as a democrat, I accept the result of the vote.

Now this wasn't a one-off either. The part-privatisation of the PO debate was similarly 'won'. I suspect a debate on 'choice' [for some] in school provision could be next. Anyone want to bet David Laws wont seek to further undermine the comprehensive ideal and promote Academy Schools as the way forward ? If Lib Dem News and conference fringe meetings are any guide, albeit an unscientific one, there is no great appetite for re-organisation of the school system, be that via Academies or 'free schools'. More importantly, there is no great demand in the country for such. As ever, especially if you live in a small town / rural area, the key is a good school in your own locality. Now there's an unfashionable idea to strive to realise !

Sadly David Laws seems to be one of the few 'fans' of Lord Adonis....

2) Again thinking of the taxation debate, but also a fair few others, there was relatively little activist participation. Instead it seemed more like a stage-managed display of the leading parliamentarians, PPCs and Euro PPCs. Too harsh ? The diversity of the party and the country as a whole seemed rather under-represented at Bournemouth.

3) Possibly most important of all there were so very few debates / motions resulting from local party and / or conference representative submissions. Take away FE / FPC inspired debates, there was little much evidence of a politically engaged party in the country. Again, possibly harsh, but is there an element of truth to this ?

4) What a clever ruse to have the Bones Commission Report scheduled first up when many delegates are not in the Conference hall. Further, why was the debate only consultative in nature ? Oh what irony, the proposals to centralise a decentralising party !! There may be good reasons, but to a non-seasoned LD conference-goer I'm not sure what they are !

5) I think there should be a sliding scale of conference fees levied. Frankly when added to accomodation costs, for a family man on a limited income like myself, the cost is prohibitive. For the previous two years I've been elected to be a conference representative from Torbay, but cost has ruled out participation. I'm sure I'm not alone in such circumstances. The move to start conference on a Saturday is a good one and allows more people to participate. Reducing costs for those on low(er) incomes might help achieve a more representative conferences too.

Don't misunderstand me. I did enjoy Conference overall, but in conclusion, whilst our Conference may still be soverign and votes do matter, it isn't quite the demonstration of a vibrant and engaged party that we'd like to pretend. Anyone else feel this way ?

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Liberals - A party of the left ! Lib Dems a party of ?

Yes it's true ! Darell Goodliffe ( and myself should be pleased ! Sadly, it is the continuing Liberal Party ( that has decided to indentify itself as a 'party of the left' following it's Annual Assembley two weeks ago in Wolverhampton. Whilst the Liberals are 'officially' a party of the 'left', the Lib Dems are now a party of ...?

Whilst there are many positions where I agree with the Liberal Party, their influence and reach amongst the electorate is limited to Exeter / parts of Devon, Liverpool and Worcestershire and not many places elsewhere. It is intriguing in todays me-too centrist / centre-right consensus politics to see a party explicitly declare themselves as 'radical' and of the 'left'. But as a public voice of liberalism and liberal ideas - forget it !

In the time I've been away from Lib Dem blogging we've had the spinning to the Torygraph by Clegg about our tax cutting agenda, prior to policy approval by Conference. That it needed the wheeling out of 'big guns' to win the vote for Clegg (and on a narrower majority than the press declared) tells me all isn't lost for the Lib Dems yet. Last December I wasn't convinced by Clegg and I'm still not. Prior to the taxation vote, that Clegg's biggest publicity was for not believing in God and for the laughable GQ interview says it all. That he thought the state pension was around £30 a week just shows out of touch he is. I remain semi-attached to the Lib Dems. Being the best of a bad bunch is hardly a call to arms is it ?

Whatever else the tax positioning does / doesn't do, to me it smacks of opportunism and an attemp to outflank the Tories in the south of England. And, no, I do not put tax cuts above the continuing need for further improving public services as a party priority.

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Lazy 'leftie' LD blogger returns to the fray !

Well I've got the motivation to write once more. In it's previous incarnation this blog twice featured in the ' Blogs of the Week' award of Lib Dem Voice and nestled comfortably twice in the Top 100 Lib Dem blogs. It's good to know that people read this blog (and often disagreed with me).

Why did I stop ? In short, I was and remain ambivalent towards a Clegg-led Lib Dems. As someone, who like Sir Menzies Campbell, was happy to descibe my politics as centre-left, the drift to join the me-too centre-right consensus leaves me cold.

Being the best of a bad bunch is hardly a call to arms. Locally it is the wretchedness of the local Tories that keep me active. Having a good MP (Adrian Sanders) and a good council group leader (Cllr. Steve Darling) with good social liberal leanings helps too. But enthused, hardly !

My crystal ball says that the next trimming of policy will come at Spring Conference where David Laws will ask that we further embrace greater 'choice' in schools provision and academies in particular.

Anyway, this curmudgeonly contrarian is back once more.