The Dissenter's Voice

The ocassional comments, opinions, rambling and rants of a liberal dissenter in New Labour's Britain

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The wizard of Oz

Australia: Only place in the world I like seeing Labour beating Liberals.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Choice

I wrote a couple of days ago that the way someone fights a leadership campaign will tell you lot about what sort of leader they would be.

Today´s Politics Show has told us a great deal. The ballots go out in a few days. Party members now have a clear choice, they can vote for a negative, inward looking left leaning campaign or they can vote for a positive one that seeks to win new converts to our cause by updating our enduring liberal values for the 21st century.

For me the choice is clearer now than ever before. It´s Nick Clegg

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Time to be bold

So now we know.

We have two leadership candidates who are articulate, passionate and credible. Both, in their differing styles are able to make the LibDem case effectively and persuasively. For me that has never been it doubt, though I must admit I find Nick´s ´human friendly´ style more engaging, however, this election isn´t just about presentation it´s about direction - inwards or outwards.

Chris has certainly had a good campaign so far, despite running on a remarkably conservative programme he has managed to paint himself as radical champion. Chris has been very effective so far in playing to the internal LibDem gallery, a natural temptation in a leadership election. However, although being popular amongst the activist base might work to win a leadership election is not enough for the party to fulfil its potential. If we are to break out of our rut in the polls then we need persuade new groups of people who don´t think of themselves as LibDems to support us. Deluding ourselves that they don´t support us because they simply haven´t heard enough of what we´ve said before is the road to no where. We need to make ourselves more relevant to their lives.

I believe that Nick Clegg understands this in a way that Chris´s campaign indicates he does not. However, Nick needs to start articulating the need to change more clearly or the momentum of this race will shift away from him. Nick has fought the frontrunner´s traditionally cautious campaign so far. He has set a positive optimistic tone and laid out the principles by which he wants to lead the party, that´s all well and good. However, what he hasn´t yet done is to define clearly the scale and urgency of the task ahead of the party, or the danger of closing in on ourselves and ignoring it.

We can´t afford to forget the political reality in which we find ourselves. David Cameron has firmly parked his tanks on our lawn, while Gordon Brown is busily trying to win back those Labour supporters lost during the Blair years. We are being savagely squeezed in the poll, averaging between 12%-16%. This is simply disastrous, even if we were to gain a couple of points from this level, we would still lose 20 or more of our MPs, a third of the Parliamentary Party wiped out. We desperately need to pull the liberal diaspora scattered across British politics to back to us. The idea that the way to do that is more of the same, simply restating our programme a little more sharply, a little more clearly is absurd. We need a leader who understands that, and is not content for the party to standstill, while it is overtaken.

Just over half way through the campaign Nick now needs to strike a bolder, more aggressive note. Having spelt out a positive message about himself, he now has to explain how his approach differs from Chris´s. He needs to define the choice the party now faces. Chris´s left-leaning campaign has largely set out the battle lines for him. He should now engage. Simply put, do we carry on talking to ourselves, rehashing our last 3 manifestoes, with a new coating of competency or do we reinterpret our values so that they are relevant to the world as it is today rather than the 1980s?

Nick´s campaign has seemed a little hesitant to engage on this ground for fear of being accused of being rightwing, however he now needs to throw away the caution. The choice is more than a simple one of left and right, it is between looking back, staying with our comfort zone and moving forward to reclaim into the liberal mainstream of British politics. If Nick now moves decisively to define that choice I believe he will maintain the momentum in this election and win.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The left turn is a dead end

The leadership election is getting interesting.

The contest started with the two contestants sitting on Andrew Marr’s TV sofa appearing to be agree with each other on virtually every issue. However as the contest has evolved the differences have started to emerge. Differences not just over policy but also over campaigning style and strategy. How someone campaigns in a leadership election might not seem terribly important at first but actually it tells you a great deal about how that person would lead the party if they were elected, how they would try to define the party and themselves if they won.

We are lucky, both our leadership candidates are real talents and can hold their own against the best Labour & the Tories have. The difference between them though is that Chris Huhne has decided to run to the left, outlining a platform which appears designed to appeal to the small selectorate of LibDem activists, while Nick Clegg looks to be trying to challenge the party and reach out beyond it to the wider electorate.

Why do I say this? Well, Chris has draped his campaign in the mantle of radicalism. However he has chosen to appeal to the comfortable verities of the party’s traditional policies. His latest campaign email for instance has a familiar feel - it calls for greater funding for health and education and the devolution of more power to local councils.n Chris´s programme is in the words of one of his vocal blog supporters ´meaty´ - it is not however particularly radical. Promising to spend more money on services, which will be more local but still run by middle class bureaucrats rather than the people who use them is not a revolution.

His policy on Trident is a calculated attempt to rub up the party´s errogenous zones - however it is not much more than a restatement of the policy of a smaller, cheaper, more independent nuclear deterrent that has been party policy in one form or another since the 1980´s. Chris´s genuinely radical big idea - the green tax switch - has been party policy for the last year, beyond that the new ideas are actually pretty thin on the ground.

What´s being proposed isn´t a liberal revolution it´s social democratic managerialism, but it is comfortable, it appeals to the party´s self image without forcing it to ask any hard questions of itself or its direction. It´s message is an insular one, that the party simply needs to restate its exiting policies more clearly and competently and we will all soon reach the `liberal´ nirvana. Bumping along as we are in the mid teens in the polls, that is a dangerous misconception.

What worries me more even than this though is the accompanying `dog whistling´ the subtle and not so subtle attempts to portray his opponent as some kind of lightweight, crypto-Tory, all spin and no substance. Chris´s own remarks about ´opposing the education vouchers & US style health insurance supported by some of our MPs´, and ´not wanting to be the third Tory party´ are clearly covert and unjustified digs at Nick, while his more outspoken supporters have directly attacked Nick in a way that will delight our opponents, but I suspect appall many of our members. Chris needs to calm it and them down before it gets out of hand.

Perhaps Chris is pursuing a sort of Lib Dem equivalent of Nixon´s famous Southern Strategy, swinging to the left during the leadership election only to swerve back to the centre if elected. Perhaps, though that would hardly be the most open and frank way to win an election. If though the appeal to the left is to be believed then Chris´s campaign is in danger of taking the party of in search of electoral fool´s gold. Positioning ourselves of the party of the statist left would be to abandon our natural liberal territory to parties that speak the language but not understand it. It would all but guarantee that the gains so pàinstakingly won over the last 20 years are wittled away. And it would deny the party the opportunity to reach out and connect with people who share liberal values but have never yet thought of themselves as Lib Dems.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Blair Must Go

Sir Ian Blair’s position as Metropolitan Police Commissioner is untenable. He must resign.

Jean Charles de Menezes was killed as a result of Police ‘shoot to kill policy’ which was implemented as a result of a catastrophic series of failures and incompetence. In their desperate flailing to defend themselves the Police leadership has smeared Menezes’s name by the Police and Sir Ian’s attitude throughout has at best been high handed, insensitive and arrogant.

Despite his being identified as a potential terrorist subject and having had several opportunities to do so the Police totally failed to attempt to detained Menezes from the time he left his house until after he walked to the bus stop, got on the bus, got of, entered the tube, went through the ticket barrier and then entered a packed tub train. He was then shot in the head 7 times despite being pinned down in his seat by a police officers.

The Special branch time who were ordered to kill Menezes say that they never gave a fully positive identification of him as a terrorist, while the Police Commander who gave the order, Cressida Dick says that they did. Someone in the police is lying.

The Police’s main defence was that Menezes was somehow responsible for his own death by his reactions on the day, and that these were caused by his having taken cocaine. This bizarre and appalling tactic is the direct result of Blair’s decision to contest this case against the advice of at least three of his senior colleagues.

Beyond the awful personal tragedy of Menezes’s death there is the disastrous impact on racial and community relations in the local area. At the time of the shooting I was a Councillor in Lambeth, my ward was a mile or so away from the scene of the shooting. I had only recently stood down as the Lead member for Community Safety, having worked for 2 years with the excellent local Police building community relations in a Borough, whose heart Brixton, has long been a byword for tension between the Police and the local community. That work was nearly destroyed by the shooting and the Met leadership’s subsequent actions.

In the immediate aftermath Blair’s reaction was to give wholly inaccurate information to the public and press about the details of the incident and to phone the then Home Secretary and trying to persuade him not to all the independent Police Complaints Authority to investigate the case. Ever since he has been obstructive and unhelpful, he has personally chosen to confront rather than console.

Not only has he has presided over the death of an innocent unarmed man killed in the most brutal & shocking manner. He has shown no sign of comprehending the nature of the public outrage. He personally decided to contest a case which further darkened the met’s reputation and now lead to £500,000 of Police funds being lost. He has totally failed to accept any responsibility as the head of the organisation that has now been found guilty in a court of law. His refusal to resign is not just an embarrassment it is an insult to De Menezes and to Londoners as a whole.

He must go.