Thursday, 31 July 2008

Political activism...preserve of the freakish few??

. Liberal Democrat Voice asks this question based on a piece in today's Daily Telegraph which says that the Labour Party's membership has hit record lows. Stephen Tall notes the high watermark of 400,000 at the height of Blair's power in 1997. Obviously there is a problem peculiar to the Labour Party here; at the time Blair did represent to many the kind of Obama-like figure that Stephen laments the lack of and the Labour Party was seen as a the torchbearer of the countries desire to throw out the hated Conservative government. However, it is worth noting from my own personal experience that 400,000 still did not convert into swarms of activists although there was obviously more then than there is now; Labour has disappointed so many of those hopes and dreams that the decline of it's activist base is to be expected and it whispers of impending electoral doom.

Moving on Stephen notes a similar decline in our own party and speculates that the same has happened to Conservatives. The growth of apathy and in some terms active antipathy to the three main parties and apathy is indeed alarming. If you want a stark warning about the potential consequences then you need look no further about the success that parties like the British National Party achieve by presenting themselves as the 'non-political' party. Stephen cites a decline in respect for politics, "emasculation of local decision-making" and lack of party democracy as the main factors in this decline.

However, I think there are other factors that need addressing and I think one of the main ones is that we as activists have lost the ability to talk as rounded human beings who do other things beside politics. Speaking personally, politics and activism is part of my life, not just a hobby like stamp-collecting or train spotting. I think there is a definite tendency amoung activists to isolate ourselves and almost see ourselves as freakish and politics that is something best kept quiet about; in that way the decline is as much the fault of activists as the parties or other factors. Political life needs to reflect the world around it and be part of it in it's totality, that way we will draw more people into activism and make it relevant to their lives. Why should we wait for an Obama figure to do it for us (talented though he is), why can't we make it happen for ourselves.

I'm back.....

. Just a short post to say that having moved expect blogging to move up a notch as I am back with internet capability......

Monday, 21 July 2008

Who am I??

. ....nobody if Total Politics is to be believed. Inspired by a couple of Lib Dem bloggers crowing about their inclusion I looked wide-eyed and expectantly only to find nothing. Incidentally, I think it is quite a creditable stab at a magazine and personally like the brashness of the design and functionality of the website (not that I am angling for inclusion) but I did struggle to find a copy even in London (well Kings Cross station to be precise) so maybe wider distribution?? Anyways, I have submitted my blog and expect inclusion forthwith ....


Disgusted in Peterborough

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Labour's desperate scramble

. Interesting piece on Times Online about the upcoming Glasgow East by-election. It reports how English Labour MP's are being 'drafted' to rally the faithful. Labour's desperation is clearly reaching fever pitch; especially if it is true that;

"Labour believes that it holds a lead over the SNP of between 1,000 and 1,500 votes, far less than the 13,507 majority that the party chalked up at the 2005 general election."

If Labour loses Glasgow East then it can clearly lose anywhere. Luke Akehurst feels that it could be a turning point which it may well be but of what kind?? If the SNP chalk-up a surprise victory then the marginal improvement that Labour has been making in the polls will almost certainly be halted. The official line will be to write it off as a 'little local difficulty' or else try and present it as a peculiarity of Scottish politics but the underlying meaning will be to reinforce the message that was given at Crewe and Nantwich that the core Labour vote has simply had enough.

Labour's essential problem is this; although there have been recent signs that David Cameron has been opening up the 'demon eyes' line of attack with some of his recent pronouncements Labour's core vote is becoming increasingly less sure that 'it's' government is listening or is indeed best placed to represent it's interests. While it might still be weary of the Conservatives (rightly so in my view) it is weary of Labour too; this presents the Liberal Democrat's with a clear opportunity to offer a home to these voters.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008


. Liberal Democrat Voice carries a report from The Times that Nick Clegg is planning a radical overhaul of our constitution. The first thing that struck me about the report is that it was a little light on specific details and contained many 'motherhood and apple pie' buzzwords like 'streamlining' and 'effectiveness' mostly coming from Clegg's 'allies' in the report. Expect plenty more of those when these proposals are being pitched to the membership.

On that level it is a bit hard to comment specifically. It seems to me that The Times is indulging in a little bit of mischief making in suggesting that these could be a result of a tussle between Clegg and Lord Rennard. Given that we know little in detail there may well be eminently sensible and democratic grounds to oppose the proposals aside from personal antagonism.

Of course, any party has to grant it's leader the space to actually lead; that should be taken as a given. However, political parties are based on a co-operation and any leader is ultimately a mere representative; not a dictator who is there to pursue his own personal policy aims. It may well be that decision making needs to be 'streamlined' but the devil is in the detail and it is ironic that this 'streamlining' seems likely to occur through the addition of something on-top of the committees.

If the leader has to have space to lead then there also must be space for creative dissent and mechanisms through which members can exercise clear control over policy. It is, as with alot of things, a question of checks and balances; the acid test of these proposals should be whether they maintain that balance; there is no point winning more seats is the party doesn't grow as a whole and it's structures must reflect that fact, we wait and see if these proposals are the way forward to achieve that goal.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Clegg to fight election on tax cuts - BBC

. Interesting piece on Nick Robinson's politics blog. According to Nick;

"Nick Clegg told a Journalists lunch today that he'd fight the next election on a "radical tax cutting programme for people on low and modest incomes" and he's lined up to spell out more detail in a document on Thursday."

Such a programme would, of course, contrast nicely with that of the Conservatives who seem determined to 'not rule out tax rises' but seem determined to cut inheritance tax. Something that is unlikely to benefit low or middle income families though of course the devil will be in the detail of the savings found to cover these cuts. Also, the question has to be is if the burden will be shifted to 'green taxation' which if it does include things like road tolls could affect the families benefiting from the cuts elsewhere.


Cameron's mixed signals

. Various things continue to keep me away from blogging (expect normal service to resume next month sometime) but I can't resist a very belated guffaw at David Davis's very hollow victory in his by-election/vanity crusade. All that being said, I was wandering around Politics Home and was more than a little amused to find on it's afternoon web update two stories about David Cameron; one claiming he was moving further away from Thatcherism and one (directly below it) claiming he was moving deeper into it's dark embrace.

Stumbling and Mumbling argues that Cameron's call for a 'US-chapter-11' style bankruptcy law is a "flat contradiction of standard neoliberal economics" and therefore a decisive break from Thatcherism. However, Paul Waugh in the Evening Standard argues the exact opposite; he seizes on comments Cameron made during a speech on 'morality' in Glasgow. Cameron said that;

"The Labour Party for a long time said only it could deal with deep poverty, because it understood about transferring money from rich to poor. I think we have reached the end of that road.

We have now got to look at what are the causes of the poverty we see in our country. The causes are family breakdown, worklessness, drugs, alcohol, failing schools and we need quite conservative solutions to deal with these problems."

Waugh says that many Conservative MP's will be "delighted" with Cameron's comments. I rather feel that the latter comments are more indicative of Cameron's true nature but he is smart enough to realise that you simply can't win elections by making those kind of statements your central message let alone your sole determinant of policy. However, despite his rhetoric about wanting to support 'hard-working' families there is no doubt that the central thrust of Cameron's Conservatives is still against poorer people and in favour or richer people (allot of noise about the 10p band but the flagship change is a reduction in inheritance tax). In other words, the Conservatives remain the party of vested interests. Our job has to be to get under the skin of the Tories and expose these contradictions.


Saturday, 5 July 2008

Glasgow East - Labour in chaos

. Labour has failed to select a candidate in Glasgow East after the favourite, Local councillor George Ryan, pulled out citing family reasons. Another local councillor, Steven Purcell, is expected to take his place.

Although Glasgow East is the safest Labour seat in Scotland, with a majority of 13,500, the prospects of anything other than a smooth victory must surely be unnerving Downing Street after losing Crewe and Nantwich and the fifth place humiliation of Henley.

Could Glasgow East turn against Labour and deepen the crisis of Gordon Brown's leadership??


Friday, 4 July 2008

Conservatives 'seriously split' on green policies

. Interesting piece by Andrew Rawnsley on Politics Home. It's panel the PHI100 feel that there is a serious schism in the Conservative Party over green policies. It cites the example of Tim Yeo, the Tory chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, who said that the Conservatives were broadly in support of Government plans to raise green taxes who was contradicted by Chris Grayling, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, who distanced the Tories from those remarks.

1% of the panel think that there is unanimity within the Tories over the environment. The rest think they are split to varying degrees with 43% saying that there was an 'unbridgeable divide' over the importance of green issues. However, 56% that while these differences exist they would not cause 'serious problems' for David Cameron.

One panellist said;

"There is still a rump of the party that is viscerally hostile to eco-politics, which it sees as lefty."

while another said that the divisions could be as big as those over Europe. Interesting that potential hair-line fissures are now appearing in areas of Tory policy...will this damage their changes of forming a coherent narrative??


Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Rolling a hard 6....

. So, I am back and the weekend seems to have passed relatively peacefully. Blogging might be a bit patchy now as I make preparations to move...sometimes in life you have to pick up the dice and aim for a hard 6 as I am often fond of saying.

Somewhat in that spirit I enjoyed Nick Clegg's piece in the Guardian. It reminded me of why I chose to join the Lib Dems. In it he affirms a third way of sorts but it has significantly more substance than that; he rightly distances us from both Labour and the Conservatives.

Criticising Labour's statism he rightly says that it's model of social democracy has failed; centred as it is on empowering the central state. I think leftist Labourites; even ones that consider themselves socialists, as one of the responders to Cleggs article does, should have a home in the Lib Dems. I consider the doctrinal 'spat' between liberalism and socialism to be of the nature as of between feuding siblings.

As for the Conservatives, he rightly says that it is wrong to seduced by them. Conservatives by nature are fickle friends of progress; if they do have a progressive position its more likely to be as a result of a defence of what is or tempered by a concern to wage what has, at times, been naked class war against entire communities without providing them with the support necessary to adapt to changes.

He rightly says that our party is the best home for progressives but in my view it is important for our party and activists to work cross-party especially around a hub like Liberal Conspiracy. I was struck by one responder which said that;

"For those on the centre/left this is probably the most depressing time in British politics in my lifetime."

They are probably right and I dont think anybody should be under any illusions about that; nobody should doubt that this is a bitter fight for progressive politics.