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, March 27, 2009

Torbay Tory PPC in a Pickle ? Herald Express Letter 270309

A letter to the Torbay local paper follows. Ironically this is after recent exchanges within it's letters pages between Marcus and Labour about integrity and funding issues in politics ! This is, of course, the unedited and as yet unpublished version.

Marcus Wood, from the Torbay Tories, has frequently been on these pages seeking to uphold integrity and honesty as a virtue in politics, whilst excoriating others to do likewise. So what does he make of Eric Pickles' statement that he needs a second home near Westminster, paid for by taxpayers, despite his Essex constituency being arguably less than 30 miles from London. Eric, lambasted by a BBC Question Time audience, protested that he had broken no rules, following the moral outrage from those present. This comes hot on the heels of Caroline Spelman,the Conservative front-bench shadow minister having to repay £10,000 in expenses after breaking parliamentary rules by using taxpayer-funded expenses to pay her nanny.

Further, the largely Belize based tax exile Lord Ashcroft, through Bearwood Corporate Services, donated in 2006 £5,000 to Marcus Wood’s campaigning funds in Torbay and The Guardian (November 28 2006) reports that Lord Ashcroft has already promised to ensure that the Tories spend more in marginal seats well ahead of the next election. This, of course, will seek to circumvent spending restrictions immediately before an election. How much more Ashcroft money has been pumped in Torbay Tories' coffers since ? Illegal ? No ! But morally defensible and anyone's idea of clean politics ? Surely not. Stop pontificating Marcus and address the failings of your own Conservative party before slating others.

Labour too, through obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act, sought for MP's expenses to be exempted from it's provisions. This was rightly described as 'outrageous' by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, with that party's MPs bound by a three line whip to vote against the measure at Westminster.

Unlike the large trade union donations received by Labour or big business interests backing Labour, there are no huge vested interests financially backing or influencing the Lib Dems. As Nick Clegg said "At a time when families are having to count every penny, it is outrageous that MPs are seeking to hide how they spend their money". The choice at the next election in Torbay will be one between a party and candidate of transparency and one whose rhetoric is not matched by actions. The choice is yours !

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A lone Liberal voice critical of the EU ?

This year sees the EU parliamentary elections and I'm not intending to be active at this time.

Now, I am not some swivel-eyed anti-European little Englander with nasty nationalist tendencies like many in the Tory party, UKIP or the BNP. I accept a good number of EU directives have had a positive impact upon this country, but as an institution it's centralising and undemocratic nature seems contrary to liberal values. That failed and unelected British politicians like Kinnock, Mandelson and Patten have had more say in the direction of the EU than elected parliamentarians seems an absurdity to me. That power is removed further away from the people it alleges to represent and decisions taken are often at odds with the political compass of individual member states jars with me greatly. Ever more qualified majority voting will only exacerbate matters.

Previous referenda where the political establishment has been defeated (such as in Ireland) only leads to further polls to 'correct' such outcomes. Yuk ! In short, to me, liberalism and the EU seem strange bedfellows.

Apart from Nick Harvey (I think) are there any other well known figures who are agnostic or sceptical as to the direction of the EU within the Lib Dems ? Anyone else on Libdemblogs feel this way too, or am I in a minority of one (again) !


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Free Schools - repackaged / dumped / in the long grass ?

Ok, I admit it, I've taken my eye of the ball. The earlier days at least of Nick Clegg's leadership were characterised by attention seeking media pronouncements. One of these was much loose talk about 'free schools'. Last September at Conference I went to a NUT fringe to find David Laws in a slim minority in his defence of Academy Schools and seemingly selection.

Now I see David Laws as being just about the last Lib Dem I'd like to be trapped in a room with, so having him as Education (or is that 'just' Schools) spokesperson made / makes me feel uneasy. Do I need to feel nauseous ? What happened to the 'free school' idea ? Has it been re-packaged, dumped or sat in a policy siding somewhere ?

I need to know !!

Clegg ? I still largely pretty unimpressed and hardly enthused, although the content of the Spring Conference leader's speech appears better than I've seen him deliver previously. It doesn't help him in the compare and contrast stakes that Dr Cable is listened to with a genuine respect, inside and outside the party, that Nick can only dream about.


Illiberal Liberals and Faith Schools

Much has already been said on this subject so my posting will be short.

How can many in a supposedly decentralist party wish to impose from the centre a list of diktats on faith schools ? Those of a secularlist bent have plenty of schools that reflect that ethos, so why seek to deny choice to those of us who support the Christian values (but not scriptural indoctrination) of the best faith schools ?

If one is so concerned about equality of opportunity for all our children, might one focus attention on the absurd advantages the independent schools enjoy, not least including charitable status and attendant tax breaks.

Being pragmatic, something I'm often not, getting in a tangle over faith schools only risks alienating huge swathes of people which doesn't make electoral sense.

For my part, diversity within the comprehensive system remains the least worst option. Access to 'good' schools for those in our poorest areas remains the achillies heel in our quest for a more equitable schools system. Certainly here in Torbay, St. Cuthbert Mayne, unlike alternative non-denominational schools, does not select according to aptitude. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and a variety of learning needs, but are bound together by the Christian ethos of that school.

Irrespective of your opinion of faith schools, in general the mention of religious belief is a subject that often 'smokes out' the intolerance of illiberal Liberals. A recent LDV contributor Laurence Boyce's interpretation of Islam being a prime example. And no, I may be a Christian, but I am not a fundamentalist, I'm not homophobic, don't moralise about sex and hopefully don't fit the negative stereotypes such a label engenders in some minds. Here's an idea, lets be little more liberal.... on this and other issues.


Borrowing a line from 'Socialist Worker'

Years ago the SWP paper 'Socialist Worker' on it's masthead used to say something to the effect that they supported neither Washington nor Moscow but were for international socialism. To paraphrase them, we should promote the politics of liberalism and not be fixated by potential deal-making at Westminster with either Tory or Labour.

We shouldn't (as things currently stand) do a deal with either larger party following an inconclusive GE result. Labour may offer the politics of the inept, but in terms of ethos and any shared ideals they are closer to me (and us I hope) than the politics of greed, self-interest and vacuity that typifies the Tories.

I would leave the Lib Dems if they entered into a national coalition with the Tories. I've spent all my life opposing the Tories and that's not going to change. As I argued a couple of years ago, Labour are our competition for the progressive centre-left vote, the Tories are the political 'enemy'.

And, in Torbay, success is dependent on squeezing the Labour vote and appealing to former Labour voters originally from the big cities and now resident here. A Tory Lite LD party in government would be disastrous for local campaigns here in Torbay. Extracting liberal policies from the largest party would be the way to go (on a policy-by-policy basis) in my view.

Promoting a more liberal Britain is where we need to be. Fatuous discussion over who is the more ghastly, Labour or Tory doesn't achieve this. I've always hated the Tories, but what's to love about Labour these days either ?