Thursday, 10 January 2013

Halfway to 2015 - advice for Lib Dem committees

Over at Lib Dem Voice I wrote an article giving some advice to the new Lib Dem Federal Party Committees on what their focus should be for the next 2 years.

Radical policy, explaining the ‘why’ behind ‘what’ we want to do and allowing conference to be geared toward giving our MPs ammunition for the battles ahead.

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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Chasing GDP growth is destructive - we need an alternative


Our economic system is built around the indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It measures how much we have produced as a country over a period of time. It does this by adding together the market value of what we have produced. As a result, an increase in the market value of what we have produced signifies that our economy is growing. But should it?

In the grand scheme of human history, GDP is relatively new. It was created to allow the US to better understand how to develop schemes to tackle the Great Depression and to measure the overall effectiveness of these schemes. It was never intended to be the dominant feature of economic policy, indeed on page 6 of the final report presented to the US Congress on national income, it's inventor stated:

"...no income measurement undertakes to estimate the reverse side of income, that is, the intensity and unpleasantness of effort going into the earning of income. The welfare of a nation can, therefore, scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above."

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Sunday, 4 November 2012

Black history month - a token gesture?

Have it, don't have it - as currently set up it seems a bit irrelevant to my generation. That was my message to the audience at a Hackney Lib Dems debate last Tuesday.

I was joined on the panel, Chaired by Simon de Deney by Cllr Lester Holloway, Anuja Prashar and Pauline Pearce (a.k.a. the Hackney Heroine), along with an audience passionate about the subject.

The debate ranged from identity, the void which exists in history taught in schools on British colonialism and the overall aim of Black History Month in the UK.



Photo courtesy of Patrick Thomas

I suggested that I knew more about US black history than I do British black history and that I wasn't alone in that. A very good point was made that we have but one history and that aiming to fill in the gaps in individual knowledge would be a good starting point. This would help toward building respect and understanding, as well as helping each individual on their own journey of discovery.

We all have a role to play.

Keen to ensure that this wasn't just a one off debate where we all complain about what is wrong. I'm looking to see if we can organise another discussion next year to move the debate on and on a personal basis get involved next year to see how I can help make it more relevant to my generation.

Well done to Hackney Lib Dems for organising it.

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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Time for Liberal Democrats to stop saying “No”

Originally posted on LibDemVoice

If you Google “Lib Dems say no”, this is the result you get. Beyond the recent headlines on new runways you will see that this phrase is widely used in our campaigns. In the same search, click on Images to emphasise the point. One would be forgiven for thinking that this phrase is printed on our membership cards. This phrase is deeply  conservative and does nothing to help with our problem of explaining what the Lib Dems stand for, something I recently argued we urgently need to do.

At the next election an opportunity to set that vision our will present itself. The issue at the next election won’t be about whether or not we should reduce the deficit; it will be about how we reduce the deficit. The lack of an answer to that question is in my view a large part of why the election of 2010 was so inconclusive and actually quite bad for Liberal Democrats.

As we approach 2015 the Conservatives will set out their approach and pitch for a Conservative majority government. We know what that pitch will be as we have put a stop to the more draconian elements of it during our time in government. Similarly, Labour will be attempting to set out their own platform which will critique the government and no doubt offer little by way of clarity or a compelling vision. The Lib Dem approach must be about more than just saying NO to both.

There are genuine problems with how things are done in areas such as welfare, immigration, health, pensions and housing. While our 2010 manifesto should be commended, for some it didn’t offer solutions to the perceived problems in these areas, but merely set out Lib Dem policy. The two need to be married so that policy addresses more clearly the problems we face as a country.

In 2015 we should be seeking to address these problems head on, with radical Lib Dem policies set in emotionally compelling and ideologically driven language. Alongside this we should be bold enough to challenge perceptions where they are inaccurate. 2015 will be no time for ducking a fight; phrases based on fairness stir no one’s soul and inspire only committed activists.

Conventional wisdom suggests that we must avoid the big issues to avoid upsetting Lib Dem voters and waverers. Surely it would be more upsetting to fight a tepid and uninspiring campaign which galvanises no one. Such wisdom also suggests we should be oppositional to capitalise on anger. As we discovered in 2010 where the air war goes truly national, our by-election approach to campaigning simply doesn’t work. The public will be looking at how we solve problems which exist in London, Truro and Wigan in one brush. 2015 will be similar. Public anger should be directed toward a solution not simply surfed for political advantage. We should leave those sorts of games to Labour.

An extensive study into policy platforms and positions during elections shows clearly that parties of government which adopt an extreme or radical position on an issue, do better than those which adopt more modest ones. By extreme I mean ideologically extreme and not a move toward the extremes of the political spectrum. I’ll explain this study and the opportunity it presents for us in 2015 in a future post.

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A message from Paddy on party strategy over a decade later

Original posted on LibDemVoice

Back in September 1999 Paddy Ashdown gave his farewell speech to the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Conference. The speech set out some challenges for Liberal Democrats as we approached a new century. What is interesting to note, reading it almost 13 years later, is how prescient his speech is when looking at the credit crunch and the current Eurozone crisis:

Here is the inescapable fact. Power is now moving, increasingly, beyond the confines of the nation state and is rapidly making many of its institutions irrelevant.
He continued,
We must start taking global governance seriously. The nation states, their governments and their politicians are going to hate it. But the longer they leave it the more powerless they will become; the more chaos will be caused and the more painful the transition.
Paddy also delivered a criticism to Conference, which many in the Lib Dems should take note of,
Many of our most long-standing policies are actually being implemented. Many more have stood the test of time. But in some areas we are, I fear, running the risk of becoming rather lazy and complacent in our thinking. If we Liberal Democrats will not think afresh, then we risk falling into the easy trap of leftist, oppositional politics. And that would mean making ourselves irrelevant again for a generation.
I believe now is the time for us to rediscover our progressive radicalism and set out a bold new course for the country. Some in the party seem content with simply telling the electorate of Lib Dem ‘achievements’. A list of policy measures ‘delivered’ which lacks a coherent Liberal Democrat narrative behind it.

Yet that strategy ignores the basic rule in politics, people don’t vote to say thank you, they vote for what you will do next.

Our achievements should serve as springboards to bolder measures and not simply be seen as ends in themselves. There is no time like the present to start thinking afresh – the country is waiting.

But our message has to be distinctive, not just ‘we want to help the poor’ or ‘we believe in fairness’ – which other party do you know that doesn’t say the same thing? We need to go right back to first principles and answer: Why do we want to help the poor? What does Liberal Democrat fairness look like?

Knock on any door in the country and ask, what does the Labour party, Tory party or even Green party have as their vision and you will get an answer, ask the same about the Liberal Democrats and it becomes a bit more difficult. Our ambition for the next few years should be to remind ourselves of the answer to that question and start to explain our achievements based on that vision.

You can read the full speech here.

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Friday, 23 December 2011

on conservatism, socialism and liberalism

This has been posted several places before, but I know I will want this for future reference. Nick Clegg delivered the annual Demos lecture earlier this week, setting out his vision of the 'open society'. You can read the full speech here.

The bit that really struck me, which many of my non-Lib Dem readers may find interesting is this neat summary of political ideology:

It is clear that one of the most important differences between the three traditions is in our attitudes towards change. Open society liberals are progressives: we believe that the future can and ought to be better than the past.

Conservatives, by definition, tend to defend the status quo, embracing change reluctantly and often after the event.

Socialists see themselves as progressives, with a vision for a better future. The problem is: they have a fixed blueprint for what that better society looks like. Like the conservative right, the socialist or left-wing social democrat view is that “we – either the elite or the state – know what is good for you”. Liberals pay people the compliment that they know what is good for them, without ideological instruction.

So liberals are optimistic about the potential of people, collectively and individually, to lead good lives and shape good communities. And we value diversity, as societies experiment their way forward. Open societies are raucous, noisy, and sometimes unpredictable – but that is a price eminently worth paying for our freedom. The open society is not for those who want a quiet life.

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