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.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fantasy Politics of Torbay Tory PPC - Letter to HE 260909

Marcus Wood (no relation) writes the following in today's 'Herald Express' newspaper. It should be noted the Macus' preferred modus operandi is to mercilessly attack the Lib Dems at every opportunity, whilst coming forward with no ideas as to why to positively vote for him. Here's his latest missive with my unedited reply (as yet unpublished)

PEOPLE are growing weary of gladiatorial politics and want to know that their elected representatives can work together for the common good where necessary.

That is why we should celebrate that a Conservative mayor, working with a previously Lib Dem county council and a Labour Government have been able to make such good progress on the Kingskerswell bypass in recent years.

It was disappointing, therefore, that Nick Clegg turned his back on some promising signs of cooperation earlier in the year. While David Cameron offered Lib Dems the hand of friendship and cooperation Nick Clegg was saying that David Cameron was a 'con' and a 'fake'. Even more worrying is that according to a BBC poll, Liberal Democrat party activists are overwhelmingly in favour of keeping Labour in power if there is a hung parliament, regardless of voters calling for a change.

Many progressive liberals despair that rather than being an agent for change in Britain, the Liberal Democrat party has allowed itself to become a road block to progress. I don't expect all these people will become a card carrying member of the Conservative Party overnight but we will be urging them to vote for something exciting and progressive; I will be asking for them to put their trust in David Cameron and our party to deliver on those things that we all want to see, scrapping ID cards, the surveillance state and guard our freedoms, maintaining support for the NHS and overseas aid while working to reduce the national debt and bring down the tax burden on the lowest paid. And above all, returning some honesty and integrity to the political process in Britain.

At least 50 Lib Dem councillors have joined us since David became leader. Added to that are nine former parliamentary candidates, and Saj Karim in the European Parliament; and last week they were joined by Cllr James Keeley, until recently the Liberal Democrat candidate in Skipton and Ripon. These people have decided that the best way of getting this country headed in the right direction is to support us, and I know there will be thousands more joining us this time.

Working together for what is best for society is not just down to the politicians though. Once or twice in a lifetime the national situation is important enough that doing what is best for the country outweighs tribal loyalties; the next election will undoubtedly be such an occasion.


Parliamentary Candidate for the Torbay Conservatives

My reply is as follows :

Marcus Wood of Torbay Conservatives urges liberal progressives to vote for something 'fresh and exciting' in form of the Conservative party under David Cameron.

Most would consider the description of liberal conservative as an oxymoron in itself, but let's look at the evidence before us. As a supposed agent of change it took David Cameron three years to withdraw from the moderate centre-right EPP group within the European parliament. In doing so he moved his party away the influential governing parties of France and Germany. The Daily Mail (23 June) , a paper not noted for liberal sympathies, declared that the Tories new Euro allies "will include 15 MEPs from Poland's Law and Justice Party, which banned gay marches in Poland for being ‘sexually obscene’. One of its MPs said President Obama's election would mean ‘an impending catastrophe, the end of the civilisation of the white man'. The third largest grouping is nine MEPs from the Czech Republic's ODS, whose founder Vaclav Klaus has declared climate change a ‘global myth’. Their Latvian allies include some members, who see the Latvian Legion – the Latvian units of the Waffen SS – as brave patriots who fought against Stalin's Soviet Union. Not very much that is either liberal or progressive here.

Domestically as Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader said last week, Cameron says he says he wants to fix the broken society, yet he's promised tax breaks to the very rich. Further, the Tory leader claims to wants new politics, yet he won't even own up to whether or not his big donors pay full British taxes. As for political reform and the ending of safe seats via a fair voting system, or moving towards an elected House of Lords, the self-styled 'liberals' within the Conservative party support the status quo.

Progressive liberals can be agents for change, as the Liberal Democrats amply illustrated at their Autumn Conference. Policies agreed include a redistributive taxation policy that would lift four million out of taxation altogether, a genuine commitment to decentralisation and a programme of action to address youth unemployment. Add to this a pupil premium to aid schools in more disadvantaged areas, smaller class sizes and the recent reaffirmation of opposition to the expensive and dangerous development of nuclear energy sources. This is the progressive liberalism of the Liberal Democrats. Marcus, trying to claim this mantle for the Tories, is engaging in fantasy politics.

This paper has regularly carried partisan attacks made by Marcus upon the Lib Dems in general, and Adrian Sanders in particular. Therefore, the call by Marcus for the abandonment of tribal loyalties can only be seen as hypocrisy of the highest order.

Nationally the Tories talk of change, but they can't and won't deliver it ! Witness their present rule of Torbay as evidence of this ! Voters in Torbay that do want a fairer, greener, liberal and more equal country can help move us closer to goal by casting a progressive vote in favour of the Liberal Democrats at the next General Election.

Barrie Wood

Thursday, September 24, 2009

'Good Conference' or 'Bad Conference' ?

The media would have the public believe that Autumn Conference went badly for the Lib Dems.

Well that's according to establishment figures like Andrew Neill. Frankly, despite the discomfiture of the leadership, it showed from my position on the TV sofa, that the party is a thinking party, has grown up quality debates and occasionally reminds (as it has done before) us all that Conference has to agree to policy changes (rather than the week long cheerleading that goes on at other party conferences).

In my eves I see a victory for debate and democracy and accountability. Any bruises felt by Clegg and Cable are entirely of their making. Despite what some may think I do not fetishise challenges to the leadership. As a former community worker I am ever mindful of the need to take people with you. A pity Nick Clegg preferred macho posturing in the media last weekend instead.

Instead of the doom laden froth of 'savage cuts' and ill-defined attacks on the public sector seeking core Tory votes, that are never likely to come our way, it's the fantastically progressive and redistributive taxation position that we should be taking out onto the doorstep.

So, it seems to me, that Conference was far from the 'disaster' than the political class would have you believe. I missed being there this year, but 2010 will be different !


The verdict on Nick Clegg - Good ? Bad ? Indifferent ?

The Autumn Conference speech yesterday by Nick Clegg with vacuous references like the notion of a ‘progressive audacity’ was not one to excite me as a Lib Dem, let alone those outside our ranks. As Darrell Goodliffe says it's as meaningless as the supposed 'Third Way' of Blair and Clinton.

Last Autumn we had the imprecise detail as to how much of the £20bn of alleged ’savings’ would be redirected towards tax cuts and we had Nick’s inability to say what the basic level of the state pension was. This September we’ve had the irresponsible and alienating talk of ’savage’ cuts and trying to bounce the party on tuition fees. His political antennae is questionable, again.

Conference is meant to rally the troops and engage with the wider public. Did it achieve either outcome ? Most of the public are aware that times of austerity are coming, but as Steve Webb said the leadership overdid the gloom and doom. It is us who will pay for the greed of the banking sector and the artificial credit-led boom that turned sour.

The explicitly progressive taxation positioning clearly outflanks the other parties is what should have been shouted from the rooftops. Our commitment to reforming and cleaning up politics should resonate, following the MP’s expenses furore. Likewise, distinctive policies, such as the pupil premium, civil liberties stances, supporting the Ghurkas et al, are all good stories to tell – not an emphasis on getting into a dutch auction to see who can be harder on the public sector.

Critics portray Clegg as Cameron Lite. The faux sincerity of his body language apes Blair. Just because the media establishment tell you someone is good doesn’t automatically make it so. Didn’t the political class marvel at Cameron and Blair previously ?

Frankly, it’ll be a tall order to retain the number of seats we already have at Westminster next year. That a third of the populace have never even heard of Nick Clegg says it all. Further I remember vividly how God awful he was at the Plymouth leadership hustings. Disappointingly I’m no further impressed despite Nick having had time to ‘grow into’ the job of leader.

Sure he’s had his conference successes too. After the shaky start, I think he did crucially manage to get across how different we are from the Tories (and, of course, Labour).
That Labour is so electorally impotent and their haemorrhaging vote is going pretty much everywhere but NOT to the Lib Dems is a real reason for concern. How do those more impressed with Nick explain this current phenomenom ?


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Not Joining the Greens after all - Mea Culpa !

Hi All,

Well the Progressive Politics blog isn't dead after all !

It is fair to say that the Green Party does have some impressive figures elected to public office, most especially the persuasive and media-friendly Caroline Lucas. I rather like Jean Lambert and Peter Tatchell too. However, it is also fair to say that the local Greens and I are as unimpressed with other as could be. I'll leave it at that. I'm not in the business of personalising differences.

In short, the Euro elections are a difficult time always for me to be a Lib Dem. The ALDE group is from my standpoint fairly rightwing and the stance the Lib Dems take on the EU is not one I agree with. There seems to me little that is very open, accountable or democratic about this centralising monolith that takes power ever further away from communities. I very much struggle with the idea of voting LD at Euro elections. The Euro critical stance of the Greens does resonate more with me.

Mostly in politics it is unusual to take stock and to question where you are at politically at any given time. It is true (in the conventionally accepted use of the term) than I am to the 'left' of most Lib Dems. It is also true on a number of lifestyle issues such as restricting alcohol sales by use of minimum sales values that I can find myself in agreement with more libertarian minded friends. I'm not keen on banning or restricting things from consenting and informed adults, with the exception of the sport of hunting. After all who can speak for the sentient beings being hunted to exhaustion and savaged by wild dogs ?! Anyway I digress ! To this end, I got supportive messages to stay in the LD fold from individuals who (on economic issues at least) are at the other end of the Liberal spectrum from me. If only some of the debates online were mirrored in 'real life' local parties the Lib Dems might have a clearer and consistent ideological approach.

In short, the 'time away' has made me realise that philosophically and policy wise there is much I can agree with the Lib Dems on. Locally my perception of the Greens is of a middle class bunch of idealists, who appear **to me** politically naive and whose intervention into Torbay politics is likely to give the Tories a political kiss of life in the bay. The idea that my actions might make the election of the ludicrous Tory PPC (Marcus Wood) any easier and that a first rate Lib Dem MP (Adrian Sanders)would be ousted by such is not a political project I can sign up to. In terms of effectiveness I'm not sure as to what level the potential leaders of the soon to be formed Torbay Green Party actually understand of existing GP policy, as opposed to their desire to 'do something' for the environment.

Speaking of the MfSS, the Green Party policy document,lets just say there are aspects of it that are not very 'left' and certainly not very liberal. Yes I know some of you warned me, but there you go. Mea Culpa ! I got it wrong ! This restless radical is always looking and assessing ideas, sometimes you embrace new ideas and sometimes one makes politically disastrous choices.

Now it is true that I am not a party tribalist. I value politics that seeks greater inclusivity, strives for greater economic, social and environmental justice. I value (in theory and practice) liberal as opposed to authoritarian 'top-down' politics. Of course, these means I have common areas of both agreement and dissent with those from traditional Labour, the Greens, the continuing Liberals and the Lib Dems. The latter, to their credit, have previously been fairly accommodating politically of my political contrariness !

So with the August deadline approaching for payment of subs to the Greens to validate membership I chose not to engage further with that party. Their progress in the bay and wider South Devon will be interesting to watch. Naturally some Greens will say 'what a tosser' (!) and Lib Dems may now be wary of me, so for the time being I remain outside of the party, but open to re-engagement with it. In the interim, I'm getting my tin hat ready to face the political flak :-(


Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Blog Address / Final Prog Politics post

Can those who have followed my Lib Dem oriented blog please note that having left the party I shall now blog at

Lib Dems are welcome to subscribe, as will be radical social liberals, social democrats / democratic socialists and Greens.

Thanks to those who've read my Progressive Politics blog. This will be deleted within the next seven days or so.

Kind Regards,

Barrie Wood


Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye to the Lib Dems and LD Blogs

Last week I tendered my resignation from the party and, ergo, this means I need to remove myself from LD blogs too. This doesn't necessarily mean being active in a party political sense elsewhere.

During the recent European elections I voted Green. In short their radical environmental and social justice agenda sat better with me than the Liberal alternative. I was, and remain, firmly left-of-centre in my political outlook. I am influenced by a mixture of red / green / liberal thought. What I am not, is an economical liberal.

Upon arriving in Torbay I initially voted LD to 'keep the Tories out' here, but this was helped by having an excellent Lib Dem MP (Adrian Sanders) and a party who have offered a range of policies attractive to someone tribally Labour leaning previously. These have included the Iraq war position, 1p on tax for education, supporting a 50p tax rate to help revitalise public services, support for constitutional reform, awareness of the importance of our environment and a passionate commitment to civil liberties. How prescient the latter has proven to be under an authoritarian NuLab regime. My past professional experience as a community development worker and with it the desire to diffuse power and disseminate knowledge, clearly means that the decentalist philosophy of Liberalism is an attractive creed.

I joined the Lib Dems about four to five years ago. I have been able to fit in mostly with the local party and there are many good people within it's activist / councillor base. I even stood disastrously for the party at the last local elections in 2005.

Lib Dems boast of their democratic conference. Well it's true to a point but don't kid yourselves Lib Dems ! I went as a representative from Torbay to the 2008 Autumn Conference in Bournemouth. Am I supposed to be impressed by the 'sofa chats' instead of debates, the COG discussion without members being given a vote (for example) ? Whilst I don't fetischise rebellion, the 'tax debate' and the wheeling out of the great and the good, especially of the likes of Farron and Hughes to support the leadership view, was reminiscent of NuLab style political fixing.

Many other debates saw the wannabe politicial class at the podium time after time. Councillors and PPC's by the score being 'showcased'. How different is that from the bigger two parties.

It is seems like quite some time since conformist conference actually voted down a leadership supported position. It's a long way from the vigorous debates of Liberal Assembly of yore. As it is, positions adopted in recent times such as the badly presented £20bn cuts in public spending, the removal of the policy on the 50% top tax rate, the putative part-privatisation of the PO, the bizzare position taken initially on Trident, as well as inching towards a more economically liberal tone, have all alienated me. The increasing presence of the (from my point of view) the loony libertarian fringe only heightens my disquiet. Tristan Mills of the Liberty Alone sums up this headbanging tendency, with his 'NHS is oppressive' line. Try that one out on Torbay doorsteps Tristan ! It could a contender for the shortest political suicide note in history.

Worse still. as evidenced from debates / online discussion of church schools and their character illustrated how illiberal some Liberals can be. The unpleasant invective and bile from Laurence Boyle typifying this. I suspect there will be another challenge to the status of church schools again in the coming years.

With regard to public services I don't support moves to a so-called 'choice' agenda. In schools and hospitals what people want is a well resourced public services as close to their locality as possible. In the provision of most everyday goods and services the market works well, but I baulk at the profit motive in delivering much of our public service provision.

Even where the market has demonstrably failed, such as the services provided by rail franchise holders, are the Lib Dems calling for public ownership ? Sadly no. The party of the environment ? Well, better than the big two, but Lib Dem policy pronouncements are marred by inconsistencies and they have a tendency to say one thing at national level and do something else at local level. The Green Party gives the following examples :

"For example, Norman Baker LibDem Transport Spokesman has been saying a LibDem government would stop spending on road building; but his colleagues in Lancashire are still supporting the Lancaster Northern bypass."

"The LibDems have spoken in favour of congestion charging nationally, but against it in Edinburgh, Manchester and York."

"They want a zero carbon economy by 2050 - in principle. But they have opposed windfarm proposals in Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon and Worcestershire."

"The LibDems have opposed the expansion of Heathrow, but have been happy to expand Birmingham, Carlisle, Exeter, Liverpool and Norwich airports. They were wildly enthusiastic about Manchester airport's second runway - except for the LibDems in Stockport, which lies under the flightpath.

Before anyone jumps in, yes I know the Greens in Ireland, in coalition with Fianna Fail, have agreed to things no Green party ever should. I'm sure in some local authorities, such as Leeds in the past, there may be some interestung tales to tell too. So, I'm not going easy on them either !

Locally, and this may not be typical, the LD party seems pragmatic and strangely largely unideological. As well as shoring up the long-established Liberal core vote, there is always a pitch to Labour supporters to 'lend their vote' and to 'keep the Tories' out in the bay. But I know in some northern seats the emphasis, when challenging in Labour held marginals, is somewhat different. Without a firmer ideological anchor the inconsistencies in Lib Dem approaches will continue to bedevil the party.

Of course, the Euro elections have just concluded. The Lib Dem message of Europhilia is strange to understand. LD's call for democratisation at Westminster and decentralising of decision making to localities, yet conversely are hugely enthusiastic about an undemocratic institution that takes power further away from the people impacted by decisions made there. Worse still, in recent years, 'failed' UK politicians like Kinnock, Mandelson and Patten have had huge levels of power and influence, without any kind of electoral mandate. That institution is, of course, the European Union. I;m not a fervent withdrawalist. I'm internationalist minded. I can't, however, share Lib Dem enthusiasm for the illiberal EU. The EU 'critical' stance of the Greens has much greater resonance with me.

More recently, whilst approving of the shift on Trident made by Nick Clegg, is it for reasons of political and financial expediency, or a heartfelt change of opinion ? With a large minority of Green Liberal Democrats members in a survey last year (I think) stating that nuclear power may need to be utilised to meet our energy needs, it seems that to stay in the party might mean further 'trimming' and 'adapting' too many of my own views in order to support the party. When you start to notice these things more and more, then clearly there is a problem. I don't want to 'trim' any further !

Whilst in the Lib Dems I've put on the back burner ideas like actually challenging the limits of economic growth, looking at localising economies, the promotion of mutuals and co-ops, pushing for a strengthening of trade union rights, looking at radical changes to our work / life balance and areas like a universal Citizen's / Basic Income schemes. In a time of increasing unemployment and financial challenges, why am I not hearing more from the Lib Dems about LETS schemes, credit unions, time banks and local currencies ? If I've missed something please do tell me !

To conclude I now feel free to join the wider green left family. At present without being actively aligned to any party I have political freedom. That this is in tandem without any obligation to deliver any more inane Focus leaflets ia a major bonus !! Now also seems right to step aside as the candidate approvals panel will soon vet putative Torbay Council Lib Dem councillors. I was unsuccessful last time. In 2011, in the face of a much reviled local administration aqnd the prospect of probably being one year into a Tory government, the chances of Lib Dem electoral successes will be much higher. It is better to resign now with integrity than to seek personal political advancement under a banner I no longer feel so comfortable with. If only the libertarian fringe would do likewise, but that's another story. I shall follow the Lib Dems progress with interest. Under Clegg I fear you'll just tread water. With Labour having jettisoned progressive politics, there is a huge political space to fill. Modest centrism is not the answer. well not for me at least !


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Who do you admire in other parties ?

Often the tribal nature of party politics means one is blind to the talent that exists in other parties. Therefore I thought it might be interesting to consider who I admire in other parties. This is off the top of my head so I'll probably miss some obvious choices.

Labour :

Tony Benn - a great public speaker and debater. I loved his line upon leaving parliament when he said something akin to I'm leaving Westminster so he could get more involved in politics. A real democrat too.

Alan Simpson - one of the more thoughtful (and Green) figures on the Labour left.

Robin Cook RIP : a democrat, reformer, debater, a wit and committed to social justice. A pity he became too close to more conservative elements within his party like Kinnock and Smith and Blair at times.

The Greens :

Caroline Lucas : always comes across as reasoned and persuasive in the media.

Derek Wall : a slightly eccentric eco-Marxist. He's usually interesting even if you disagree profoundly with him.

I'm not too sure about their views / responses to 'overpopulation' though.

Liberal party :

Cllr Steve Radford :
although fantastically over-obsessed with the EU. What on earth he is doing on the illiberal left list that is the (non-elected) NO2EU Euro list is a complete mystery.To have held his seat for so long in Liverpool as a representative of a minor party is some achievement.

The Tories ? : Tribalism has to start somewhere and I still viscerally loathe the Tories, so will proffer no name. I will say though, that in areas beyond Torbay, I have met Tory councillors whose motivations and community commitment is as great as those from any other party. Years ago in the NW, I did have a sneaking regard for Peter Thurnham, who was to later to defect to the Lib Dems ! I like Ken Clarke's bloke-ism, his man of the people 'persona' and go a little easier on him as he's a fellow Nottingham Forest fan !!! See, I tried being nice about a impossible task !

UKIP / BNP et al : don't be silly. I'm not a mean-spirited, vengeful, scared-of-change right-winger ! Absolutely no-one at all, ever !

Any thoughts readers ?


Please help a disappointed Labour activist / councillor !

Recently I swapped emails with a first class Labour councillor, someone of integrity, values and purpose. In it I asked :

Can you tell me of ANY progressive achievement from the Government since the last election ?

The reply below is very revealing :

A few new nurseries have opened, a little more money has gone into schools and hospitals and, er.. that's about it. The PLP has shown no vision whatsoever (except, it seems, when submitting allowance claims...). It's been too often sidetracked into areas like Immigration and "welfare reform" instead of the radical policies which would have transformed many lives for the better. The recall of Mandelson was the day the next election was effectively conceded to Cameron. Things have only gone downhill ever since.

It is true the number of achievements at local council level have been rather better and that my friend is someone I could happily vote for, but is that all Labour have to show for 2005 onwards. Can others, in a non-tribal fashion, suggest ANY other positives. Of course, not being the Tories is one plus but....

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Offering advice to fractious Torbay Tories : Letter to H/E 290509

Your report on the fractiousness within the ruling Tory group on Torbay Council and the alleged Masonic influence at the Town Hall it is deeply worrying. Whilst freemasons within Tory ranks may declare their Masonic allegiance an 'irrelevance', surely that is for bay electors to decide if such influence is malign ? That those critics of Carroll, such as Cllrs Oliver and Carter have been removed from committees they are well qualified to serve on makes one concerned that the needs of the party leadership are being put before the interests of the bay.

There is a solution available to disenfranchised Tories to ensure their voices are heard as committee vacancies are allocated proportionally according to party numbers. They could be take the politically brave and honest step of forming an Independent Conservative Group. I ask those councillors who've already spoken out and those who have yet to go public, is your loyalty to a Carroll-led Tory group or to the electorate and the best interests of Torbay ? Surely either Carroll or they have to go from the council group as the reported level of mistrust, if correct, appears beyond repair.

This is the unedited and likely unpublished version !

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