Well it is Sunday and I noticed this posting from Sandy Walkington. Sandy is the Lib Dem PPC for St Alban's and a YL contemporary of mine. He last fought the seat in 1983.
Sunday, 28 February 2010
Well it is Sunday and I noticed this posting from Sandy Walkington. Sandy is the Lib Dem PPC for St Alban's and a YL contemporary of mine. He last fought the seat in 1983.
The Southport Visiter has the story of Zac Aley signing for Blackburn Rovers. As the manager Liam Watson said:
“He deserves everything he gets, he is a nice kid and Haydn Preece and Allan Smart (head of youth development) deserve a lot of credit – as do the club. Not many clubs would have been willing to put a 17-year-old on contract.
I know nothing of Steve Beasant or the Lib Dems in NE Lincs (altho in common with many in Southport we were delighted to see Gainsborough Trinity defeat our arch rivals for promotion-Fleetwood Town) but I am gratful to him for brining to my attention a letter that Chris Huhne has written to the Electoral Commission. It is self explanatory, please take a couple of minutes to read it.
The Electoral Commission
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Friday 26th February 2010
Dear Ms Watson,
I am writing to you today to request formally that the investigation being carried out by the Electoral Commission into donations to the Conservative Party by Bearwood Corporate Services Limited should now come to a conclusion - in good time before the forthcoming General Election, widely anticipated to be held on 6th May 2010.
Bearwood Corporate Services Limited, since 28th February 2003, has made donations to the Conservative Party totalling £5,056,798.15. It is the most significant single donor to the Conservative party. As you will be aware, for a company to be eligible to make donations to a political party it has to be registered in the UK and carry out business here. A failure on either count would amount to a breach of the law within the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act. It is widely known that Bearwood Corporate Services Limited is a company owned by Lord Ashcroft, a Conservative Peer in the House of Lords and the Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, who himself has made donations to the Conservative Party since 26th March 2001 totalling £111,726.09. Lord Ashcroft no longer makes donations to the Conservative party in an individual capacity, because to do so donors have to be listed on the electoral roll. He has so far refused to reveal whether he is registered to vote in the
Given the sums involved and the no doubt crucial role that these will play in the upcoming General Election campaign of the Conservative Party, I believe it is imperative for the maintenance of public trust in the system of funding of political parties that this investigation is concluded before a General Election is called. You will no doubt agree that it would be wrong and undemocratic for one political party to benefit from funds that may yet be judged inadmissible by your investigation. If this were the case, the Conservative party would be found to have relied heavily on offshore finance. Indeed, should the Conservative Party secure a majority following the General Election using donations made by Bearwood Corporate Services Limited, and your investigation were to conclude after the General Election that these donations were illegal, this would raise serious concerns about the legality and validity of the entire election result.
Furthermore, I believe that this investigation is already one of the longest ever conducted by the Electoral Commission. It was launched in October 2008, and yet, almost 18 months later, no conclusion has been reached. I of course accept the need for complete accuracy and thoroughness in any enquiry the Commission carries out, but I also urge you to take account of the implications of any unnecessary delay for public trust and confidence in our political system. I also note that the Electoral Commission is not a court of law, but a regulatory body. Clearly, you could not announce the outcome of this important inquiry only a week or two before polling day, so surely you should do so now. It cannot conceivably be in the public interest to allow this matter to drag on in the dark with the general election so imminent. I am afraid that this long delay, with no indication even of when you will decide, risks undermining the reputation of your Commission as an effective regulator. It is crucial for you now to rule on this matter so that the nation does not face a tainted election.
I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary
Friday, 26 February 2010
There is a marvellous moment in the West Wing when C.J. Cregg shimmies around the office singing ''I'm too sexy for my ....'. Her suppressed joy is caused by the mega false move of one of the President's foes. CJ cannot believe their luck. The magnitude of their opponents cock up is breath taking.
Wednesday, 24 February 2010
At long last the final act of our campaign to get a Town Centre Library for Southport comes to cabinet on 4th March. The report is public and can be found here Item 24.
I have lived most of political life ‘in the balance’. Two of the three Councils on which I have served –Cheshire County Council and Sefton MBC have been held up as models of good practice for no overall councils. (We shall draw a veil over Congleton). I am at present involved in drawing up new conventions to cope with the ‘strong Leader ‘model that Labour has foisted on us.
Some of the lessons learnt ‘in the balance’ do now seem to be widely accepted by the party; chiefly the need for ruthless targeting of both policy and seats. I am one of those who think the policy matters much more than getting a position- no matter how grand the title. Clarity about what we want to achieve is the key to success.
I remember Grimond arguing that a lot can be achieved in opposition and if you look at how the Danish People Party have coped with the balance you can see that they have managed to call the ‘policy’ shots as well as making electoral advances.
I am also aware that some of the conventions that have been developed by local government are flawed . In our all party cabinet 'robust challenge' is arguably missing. If the Leader of Party X-or any cabinet member is useless how on earth can you sort that out if s/he responds to justifiable challenge by effectively bringing down the administration and causing chaos. A while back David Marquand published an essay in Political Quarterly defining some clear political traditions. One which he dated back to Militon and characterised it as having three great themes of English popular politics: republican self-respect as opposed to monarchical servility, engaged civic activity versus slothful private apathy, and government by challenge and discussion rather than deference or conformism. A Guardian editorial of the time asked 'Do we live up to those traditions today as well as we could or should? Wordsworth got it right: "Milton, thou should'st be living at this hour. England hath need of thee.' It is certainly an on going challenge to ensure that new conventions we develop to cope with 'balanced' parliaments allow the tradition of Militon to flourish!
Nevertheless I have become convinced that the rules by which we resolve a ‘balance’ situation are important as they colour the behaviour of the civil servants and are reflected in the media. The conventions that guide newly balanced authorities were drawn up in a time of single party government and reflect the underlying prejudice that a single party majority administration is the best option. New conventions need to be developed to cope with the new situation or the danger is that we will get the blame for what will be portrayed by the media –and our opponents-as a dogs breakfast.
So let us for a moment leave aside the political manoeuvring and look at the Constitutional conventions that govern the situation. Most of these conventions were arrived at with the implicit belief that minority government was weak and that coalitions are a nasty foreign idea. They place significant power in the hands of a Prime Minister of a minority Government who it is asserted is allowed to have a dissolution of parliament at a time which is tactically advantageous to him. Many of us remember Harold Wilson holding a second 1974 election and there being no pressure on him to negotiate.
It is not hard to imagine a series of weak minority governments limping on from dissolution to dissolution as happened between 1929-1931. These minority governments would do not command the support of the people. The Labour government of 1924 got 30.5% of the votes cast and a good deal less of the electorate as a whole. In 1929, and again in 1974 the minority Labour government got 37% of those who voted -roughly where Cameron is today
It will of course be argued that the Parliaments of 1924, 1929 and 1974 were 'one offs' and the British soon settled down the 18 years of glorious one party rule under Mrs Thatcher –as Southport's only Labour Councillor is wont to say (without any irony intended).
There is of course an alternative point of view; namely that we are in the midst of a transition from alternating single party rule to multi party politics.
Last night Michael Braham and I were discussing when it was the Liberal Party in Southport stopped declining. We agreed that the by election in the early 1950s was the low point and that after that we began to claw our way back gaining second place in 1959. Arguably the party's revival came a little later with the Hereford by election and on through Torrington and Orpington. The point is that at the time of the 1951 General Election well over 95% 0f the electorate voted Labour or Conservative. Since then the revival of the Liberal Party and the emergence of Nationalists and Green etc means that only 67% 0f those who vote support Lab/Con. The people have moved to multi party politics but the constitution frustrates their will through the electoral system and conventions which puts power in the hands on minority government incumbent Prime Ministers.
So let us briefly look at the constitutional conventions that exist to see how they re-enforce two party politics before we explore the changes needed for the constitution to catch up with the people. In the process it will become clear why the Queen might want to buy some ear muffs to cope with the anger and annoyance of some people who might find she frustrates their will .....not a happy place to be for a constitutional monarch.
A lot of this is predicated on how Lloyd George resigned in 1918, what Mr Byng did in Canada in 1926 and what George VI's private secretary wrote in a letter to the Times in 1950, let alone the circumstances surrounding Disreali's resignation in 1868 or the struggle between General Smuts and Prime Minister Hertzog in South Africa in 1939-such is the way the British Constitution is assembled.
They key document that encapsulates the position as it is understood today is the letter Sir Alan Lascelles wrote to The Times in May 1950. In is he laid out the circumstances where a Prime Minister could ask for a dissolution of parliament and the occasions when the monarch could say no. In brief he felt that monarch should say NO if:
Parliament was still able to do its job and was 'vital and viable'
a General Election would be detrimental to the national economy
s/he could find another Prime Minister who could gain and be reasonably certain to keep a majority in the Common.
This became known as the Lascelles Doctrine and if I were the monarch I would follow Queen Victoria's example and head to Balmoral or Sandringham and refuse to speak to anyone. Can you imagine the scene ( which could happen) where Gordon Brown manages to land up heading the biggest party in Westminster-even though he has less votes that the Tories- and he goes to the Queen and he says that he cannot get his business through and wants another election. The Queen is then meant to turn to him and say No -it would not be detrimental to the national economy to see the back of you.
Then imagine stage two. The Queen then calls on Cameron to form a government even though he heads the second biggest party. With all the smarmy swagger and PR gloss he can muster off he goes to the Commons and gets defeated on an amendment to the Queen's speech. Does the Queen then grant the dissolution to Cameron she denied to Brown? (That is what happen to Mr Byng in Canada when the Progressive party's leader- they were the third party-wrote to the second party leader promising their support only to find his parliamentary party refusing to follow him. Shades of what might have happened to Heath and Thorpe)
But consider a third possibility that Brown hangs on a few months and fearing a putsch from Miliband-no make that Harman the story although fictional must be credible-goes to the Queen and asks for an election not in the interests of the national but to save his own neck.
But what if the Queen called for Harman, how would the electorate feel about another leader-after Major and Brown- that they had not voted for, being Prime Minister?
Bill le Bretton has written a posting over on Lib Dem Voice discussing the aftermath of 1974. I recall the time pressure. All the commentators were going on about the uncertainty that the result had created and although Thorpe's ill judged talks with Heath were fully justified in the constitutional sense-ie the incumbent PM had the right to try and form a government which could command support at a vote of confidence-nevertheless the media and the many politicians were all implying that it was taking too long.
In a time of multi party politics government will not be instantly formed and we need conventions to support that. In fact even under the present system the gap between one government falling and another being formed can be weeks. If my memory is right it was getting on for a couple of months between the Callaghan government losing the vote of confidence in 1979 and Thatcher taking over.
Peter Riddle writing in the Times rather confirms this point asserting that ambiguity over how to act in a time of 24 hour rolling news and ‘rapid capital movements shifting exchange rates’ is not acceptable.
Our key problem is that because the incumbent PM does pretty well have the right to call an election when s/he wants it adds to the instability. Consider the position in local government where-like it or not- we have a fixed term and have to get on with it, the Leader of the council in Sefton cannot have a dissolution of the council just because he thinks it is an auspicious time to hold an election. It is also clear that fixed term parliaments in Scotland and Wales have resulted in solutions being found and new conventions being developed.
In this context the role of the leader is significant. Anyone watching the Chilcott Inquiry will be aware how great the concentration of power is in the hands of the Prime Minister. No matter what we would ideally like for a parliamentary democracy the truth is that power does not lie in parliament or with the cabinet it lies with the PM. It is also clear that will not change under Cameron-one of the lessons he has taken from Blair is to establish a close knit group around him that are in control and who owe their position to his patronage and not the electorate.
Arguably the process began with Lloyd George’s WW1 government which certainly got its act together. Interestingly Lloyd George was the first PM to ask for dissolution of parliament when he went to the king in 1918, before that governments asked.
The public’s view of the Prime Minister has changed. He looks increasingly like an executive president. The electorate is affronted when someone other than the person who led the party in the election takes over the job. I think this will become more pronounced in the coming election when we have televised debates between the leaders. Will not the people feel even more alienated from the system if a cabal in parliament chooses the Prime Minster and it was someone other that the person who participated in the debates?
Looking back how would today’s voters view the 1922 backbench revolt against Lloyd George? For good or ill the country voted for a government led by the successful war time leader, what right had a bunch of disgruntled backwoodsmen to remove him from office and replace him with Andrew Bonar Law-the Unknown Prime Minister-without immediately seeking a fresh mandate. Once again we may want to say that we live in a parliamentary democracy but the reality is different.
The government, with the Tories acting as cheer leaders, have pushed the idea of executive Mayors onto Local Councils. Earlier this year we were forced to choose between a ‘strong’ leader and an elected Mayor. This is plain barking in a council like Sefton which has been ‘hung’ since the mid 1980s. We have developed new conventions to cope with the situation. Thanks in large part to the skills of the Leader Council Lib Dem Tony Robertson we manage to hang together in an all party cabinet with the positions distributed proportionately. The new system requires that the executive power is in the hands of the Leader. Now we have to face the West Wing question. Who takes over if the Leader is away? You will recall in an early series they had not sorted out the answer to that question and could have got themselves in a truly messy position. The recently deceased Gen Haig once memorably announced that he was in charge when Ronald Reagan was away from home. We are drawing up conventions in Sefton now to answer this question. The present strength of the parties on the council are:
Lib Dem 28
Tory 16 + one suspended
The convention we have at present is that the deputy Leaders of the council are the Lab and Tory Leaders. This is pretty meaningless at present as it conveys no executive authority but under the new system to political Leadership of the Council pass to the Labour Party if the Leader is ill disposed?
Anyway that is a battle for another day. The concern here is what happens if the electorate gets a leader other than the one they thought they were voting for?
Our political conventions need to keep pace with the changing realities. PR, fixed term parliaments and a recognition that there will need to been time taken to construct a government are clearly key ingredients. I wonder whether in addition we need to have conventions that put checks on the power of the Prime Minister and his key advisers. We could always elect the PM and make his cabinet subject to confirmation hearings….
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Monday, 22 February 2010
Friday, 19 February 2010
It is so good having my colleague David Tattersall writing a blog. He is the Lib Dem cabinet member for the Environment on Sefton Council and he has a very important story on the future of recycling in the borough
Top NW political journalist Jim Hancock tipped Tim Farron to hold his seat with an increased majority when spoke in Maghull recently. He cited Tim as the sort of Liberal who will be very hard to shift.
Thursday, 18 February 2010
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
I had been asked to introduce him and I was trying to recall when I first met Michael. Like any Young Liberal -ten years after Michael- I had heard of him very early on. He had worked in the Local Government Department at the old LPO -a projected sponsored by Richard Wainwright. He then went to Leeds and became a City Councillor-the first for several generation. It was in this role that he began reflecting on his experience and writing. This was at the same time as Young Liberal and other in the Party were developing their ideas about Community Politics.
In 1974 I was Political Vice Chair of NLYL. In common with many I was less than impressed with Thorpe's leadership and the lack of ideas and policy that were being developed. Encouraged by Richard Wainwright I set out to publish some political pamphlets and I approached Michael to write one. In the end we did four; Michael on the Popular Front and Liberals, Jo Grimond on Democracy, Thoreau on Civil Disobedience and Peter Kropotkin's Appeal to the Young. Michael often joked that they sounded like a firm of shady solicitors: Kropotkin,Meadowcroft, Thoreau and Grimond.
Another decade on in the midst of the Alliance the Policy Committee decided that we needed a debate in the Party about the future of Liberalism and William Wallace and I were dispatched to Leeds to ask Michael to write another pamphlet. I think that was the first time I met with partner Liz Bee.
For many of us the bruising time spent working in the Alliance especially after 1983 when Owen took over from Jenkins as leader of the SDP took its toll. I remember the soundtrack to those times as played by Michael's jazz band-Granny Lee's All Stars which featured -from time to time Archy Kirkwood on guitar as well as Michael. I still have a copy of the record they produced at that time.
Well there was no jazz on Saturday night but plenty of time to catch up and meet folk. It was pleasing to see so many people come along and Pat Sumner and her team deserve our thanks for all their efforts.
You can read more about Liz and Michael on their website
Liberal England: Colin Ward 1924-2010
Monday, 15 February 2010
Friday, 12 February 2010
'What about Joe Benton, the Labour MP for Bootle, who wrote to Liverpool Crown Court in December 2008 on behalf of Christopher Brown, a constituent who was charged with firearm offences after selling guns online'
Thursday, 11 February 2010
The big Southport Lib Dem dinner on Saturday night will commemorate the first of the two 1910 elections and our eminent speaker will concentrate on the campaign in Southport. Over the last few weeks I've tried to fill in a bit of the back ground and the national context. It is time to sum up
From the outset the Liberals had difficulty with passing legislation through the House of Lords, which was still dominated by the Conservatives. The crunch came when the peers rejected Lloyd George's 1909 People's Budget, which introduced a supertax on high earners, and taxation of land values, to raise revenue for social expenditure and naval rearmament. The battle with the House of Lords was one of the defining points of twentieth-century British politics. Two elections were fought in 1910 on the issue of peers versus people; in both, the Liberals triumphed but lost their overall majority and were able to form governments only with the assistance of Labour and Irish Nationalist MPs. In 1911, with the King primed to create hundreds of new Liberal peers if necessary, the Lords capitulated and the primacy of the House of Commons was definitively established.'
A long standing and respected local chair of a constituency is removed by the Tory high command after falling out with the candidate. An everyday story of the Conservative party as the tight knit central command of the Conservatives sweep away local autonomy.
I thought this bit from the Telegraph was interesting as it reveals the reaction of many Tories
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Monday, 8 February 2010
Anyway back to 1910 and the de Forest election which is the subject of our dinner on Saturday night. Tickets still available from Rachel on 01704 533555. Keith Durham, the Agent, is writing to the Guardian complaining that Women Tories were threatening a trade boycott of Liberal businesses in the town. I must admit from what I have learned of the 1910 Election that was a mild misdemeanor by comparison to some of the dirty tricks the Tories got up to!
The sun has set on a golden age of regional broadcasting. I doubt we shall see the like of Granada again. One adornment of that past age was the political reporting of Jim Hancock. Like so many other things in life none of us was aware of the importance of his and his colleagues work until we woke up to a world without the range of quality regional political journalists we once had.
Jim -who worked on Radio Merseyside with Richard Clein-spoke about regional broadcasting and the blackhole in Manchester(Salford) into which it is all disappearing.
He also went to to speculate about the General Election. The clear game plan of the Tories is to present the election as a simple choice between Brown and Cameron. The implications of this is that Lib Dems would be squeezed. If this scenario proves to be correct then all the infighting and back biting that is consuming Southport Tories will be ignored by the electors as they vote in a quasi presidential election.
The challenge for Lib Dems is to stop the Tories simplistic campaign. In Britain we still elect members to Parliament and local electors are entitled to choose the person they think will best represent them. In this they may weigh the character, ability and policies of the candidates. Lib Dems have a proven record of successfully resiting the 'squeeze'. Jim fully recognised this and cited Tim Farron as a Lib Dem who will hold his seat and may even increase his majority.
He is not alone. The FT reviewed Chris Huhne's chances recently:
'Like many Lib Dem MPs, Mr Huhne has dug in, building a reputation in the national media and as a local campaigner. He says he has dealt with 13,000 pieces of casework since the last election. “I might not always be able to help, but people know I’ve tried,” he says. The party has a ruthless local organisation and almost complete control of the local council – a factor often underestimated by the national media.
Mr Huhne argues that the absence of a strong local Conservative councillor base in his constituency seriously reduces their ability to campaign on the ground. “There is only so much you can do with an air war,” he says, referring to national media campaigns.
That is not dissimilar to our position in Southport.
I noted that even top Tory bogger Iain Dale has recognised that incumbent Lib Dem MPs have have an ability to hang on to their seats even against the odds.
The other matter that may impact on the 'squeeze' will be the leadership debates. In common with many of us Jim hoped that that the debates would not be stifled by the outcome of negotiations between the parties and that a Question Time format would be adopted.
It is clear that the Lib Dem vote strengthens during a General Election because of the equal time requirements for reporting. Having Clegg (and I'm told) Vince Cable having equal billing in prime time debates can only help us.
The final consideration that Jim raised was the scale of the challenge the Tories face to get an overall majority. It is more difficult that is generally assumed. Lib Dem Voice published some recent analysis of the number of seats the Tories would gain :
New prediction: Conservative lead of 6% but Labour largest party with 299 seats (27 short of an overall majority)
December prediction: Conservative lead of 9% with 315 seats (11 short of an overall majority)
November prediction: Conservative lead of 10% with 322 seats (4 short of an overall majority)
The academic team who have compiled the prediction say,
The race remains too close to call under reasonable scenarios, either favorable to the government or the opposition. The election of a hung Parliament cannot be discarded at this point.
the full story is at:http://www.libdemvoice.org/exclusive-general-election-prediction-too-close-to-call-17831.html
Now, the evening was not all serious discussion as one or two future posts will demonstrate. In this section it is appropriate to report that the Leader of the Council had a penetrating question to ask our guest.
'Having worked with Richard Clein have you any stories to tell us about him................. '
Sunday, 7 February 2010
Friday, 5 February 2010
No one who knows John is the least surprise that he has behave properly throughout the MPs expenses scandal. It is sad that everyone else has not acted in the same way.
Lib Dem Voice has a analysis of the MP's who have had to pay back cash. It is well worth reading, amongst other interesting findings:
Amount to be repaid per MP based on the total number of MPs per party or grouping in the House of Commons:
Lib Dem: £681.67
Thursday, 4 February 2010
I was taken with Cllr Sir Ron Watson's (Dukes Ward, Con) quote published in the LGA magazine recently. I don't wish to cause trouble in the Southport Tory group (altho I am confident that Sir Ron can look after himself) but given our local Tory leadership want to leave the LGA and have set their face like a flint against facilitating Sir Ron's involvement, just mentioning LGA and Sir Ron in the same sentence is likely to see him relegated to what Tory dissidents call the 'naughty step'.