Sunday, 28 February 2010

Old Testament verse

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.

It is worth a read. He takes for his text from Isaiah chapter 32, verse 8: “The liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand.” Unlikely though it may seem the last person I heard quote this verse was Tony (Lord) Greaves- who looks more like an old testament prophet than Michael Ramsey who is the subject of Sandy's reminiscence .

Youth policy pays off

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.
Southport is the first club in the country to achieve funding from the Learning Skills Council to deliver a full time youth development 16-18 programme mirroring the Football League. It is nice to be able to say something positive about the LSC-altho I still think that it is one quango whose work can be better done by Local Authorities. Zac has left Southport with BTEC and NVQ qualifications in addition to FA coaching certificates. There is more about the scheme on the Clubs website

If Zac goes on to make Premiership appearances for Blackburn then I understand that the fee for the club will break Southport's transfer record.

Time for a decision on the 'dirty money'

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.

Jenny Watson
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
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 UK, or indeed whether he is a full UK taxpayer.

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.

Chris Huhne

Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary

Friday, 26 February 2010

West Wing moment

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.

Now I am not here reporting that Councillor Shaw broke out in song last night but it would be fair to say that a smile spread round the room. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised any longer at our opponents self destructive tendencies , but this is largesse on an extravagant scale....

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Southport Temporary Library Service

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.

We collected over 7000 signature on a petition and we are clear that we have the support of the people of Southport

Welcome to Kew Ward blog

It is great to see Kew Ward Lib Dems launch a blog under the editorship of Mike Booth. A quarter of a century ago I was a Kew Ward councillor myself and I am delighted with the way the team have kept up the hard work for Kew. Maureen Fearn is still one of the trio of Councillors and will be made Mayor of Sefton in a few weeks

The photo shows Fred Weavers, Maureen Fearn and Mike Booth

We need to create new wisdom for a new age....

With another opinion poll showing that the Tories are failing to make the sort of headway they need to secure an outright victory political folk are once again discussing how the British Constitution will handle the situation.

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
Lab 21
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

Another Merseyside MP stands down

The Labour MP for Liverpool Walton Peter Kilfoyle is standing down at the General Election. I always thought he was lucky to win the by election back in 1991. The media was obsessed with the Militant candidate and set it up as a battle between Militant and Labour. The truth was that Militant were never in with a serious shout and it was always a battle between Paul Clarke and Kilfoyle. Paul polled very well but could not overcome the media's simplistic portrayal of the campaign.
The toll of Labour candidates standing down around Liverpool is reaching epidemic proportions. Bootle's Joe Benton is sandwiched between two withdrawn candidates and rumours persist that he is about to join them. I am told that if he delays his departure until after the writ is moved the national exec gets to appoint the candidate. In that case I'm told it is bye bye to the chances of local Labour council boss Peter Dowd. I wonder who the powers that be would want to parachute into one of the few really safe seats? I heard a wicked rumour the other day that Joe's reward for delay may be a seat in the House of Lords and who I was asked might want to move in the opposite direction.

Upper Aughton Rd -progress at last

This is one of those issues that we never seem to get sorted. A Housing Association-Servite-bought a site in Upper Aughton Rd Birkdale a decade ago.

(I should make clear that altho the site is in Birkdale it is in Kew Ward-in fact the boundary runs down the middle of the road. The real boundary between Southport and Birkdale is a few yards further north at the appropriately named Boundary Street)

Anyway Servite sat on this land and did nothing. A clear argument for Land Tax if ever I heard one. Last year Servite disposed of the site and sold it on to another Housing Association. Richard Hands and I went to the Leigh HQ of this new owner and were promised action. One of the milestones was to be a planning application submitted by Christmas 2009. Christmas came and there was not application. My heart sank, the residents contacted me, I contacted the Housing Association who sent me a reassuring letter. I have received lots of reassuring letters about this site but never any action.

Today is a red letter day. The Housing Association has submitted a planning application for18 new homes.

Radio 4 follows our lead

After weeks of reporting on the January 1910 election Radio 4 followed our lead this morning on the Today programme. Their website gives a flavour of the historical comparisons:

2010 is not a bad year to be a political junkie - there is to be an election whose outcome seems both uncertain and important, with a new House of Commons which will contain a large new batch of new members. Some have been looking back to the early seventies for historical comparisons but the real date we should have fixed in our minds is perhaps 1910. Author John Antcliffe and political historian Anthony Howard discuss the impact of the last huge influx of new MPs.

There were, of course, two general elections
held in 1910. The House of Lords had refused to pass the Peoples Budget of 1909 and Asquith was trying to persuade the King to pass the Parliament Bill to limit the power of the Lords to block key legislation passed by the Commons. Before the January election Asquith approached the King to ask him to create a enough Liberal Peers to swamp the Tory majority in the Lords if they blocked the Commons will again. The King-Edward VII-was unwilling to do so unless there was a General Election.

Of interest in Southport is that it was known that Edward VII was more than happy to give the Liberal candidate (de Forest) a peerage. There were many rumours about the parentage of adopted de Forest. The significant favour that Edward showed him by, for example, inviting him to Royal birthday parties and to stay at Sandringham when he was a young added credence to the suggestion that he was Edward's son. (de Forest packed a lot into his early years and was the youngest Liberal candidate ever in Southport-that is until I came along in 1983 and stole his record being a year younger)

Edward died in 1910 and was succeeded by his son George whose childhood birthday parties de Forest had attended. George let it be known that if he did create 250 new Liberal Peers de Forest would not be one of them. You may draw your own conclusions.

George insisted on trying to get the constitutional impasse solved by holding a secret constitutional conference and only after that had failed and the Lords had again refused legislation did he grant Asquith a dissolution. I wonder if PR would suffer a similar fate?

This is relevant today as we contemplate another hung parliament. The right of the Prime Minister to have parliament dissolved and to hold another general election is a fraught constitutional matter governed by quaint sounding precedents like the Lascelles doctrine.

We shall return to these conventions not least because they may become central to the political debate after the election but also because I am involved in drawing up conventions for the council. It will be interesting to compare the impact of one or two important constitutional innovations that happen in local government and the devolved parliaments which if adopted by Westminster would improve the situation quite markedly. The key reform in this respect would be fixed term parliaments-but I doubt that is top of anyone's list.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Land, the land-Southport and the land tax

The final part of the story of the 1910 General Election, Michael Braham and I discuss the part that Land Tax played in the campaign

Tories play the race card

Two videos to round off the examination of the first 1910 election. In the first Michael Braham discusses the character of the colourful Liberal candidate-rumoured by some to be the illegitimate son of Edward VII !

Friday, 19 February 2010

Southport recycling

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

Tories vote for First Class travel on Fire Authority

One of the things that so hacked off Nicholas Winterton was that councillors got first class travel. I was about to dismiss that as ill informed fantasy when word reached me of the Tory and Labour budget on Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority.
My on the spot reporter-no other than Jack Colbert wites:
Libdems put forward a budget at today's Merseyside Fire Authority's meeting. Yes, you guessed it, Labour and the Tories voted against it and voted through 3.85% increase- the biggest Fire Authority increase in the Country!!! We put into the Libdem budget to reduce councillors allowances by 10%., stop first class travel etc - the Tories said we were being political!!
The Lab Con coalitions across Merseyside in Fire , Transport etc need close examination. I remember the torrent of abuse Les Byrom got on Tory websites when his expences were published. They really ought to look at some of their colleagues on these bodies.
photo Jack with Sir Ron Watson at the LGA conference

Tory HQ burns down in Kendal

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.

This evening we learn that the Tory HQ in Kendal burnt down last night. Conservative Home has the story. It is interesting that one of the comments on the story reads 'bearded man in sandals seen running from site...' which really tells you a lot about the folk there

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Forget the spin this is the Tory Party

Winterton's outburst on Radio 5 today is no surprise. He wants to travel first class. He means that he shouldn't have to mix with '"a.. totally different type of people."
Let us remind ourselves about these rightwing Tories who have been licensed to spout their nasty thoughts for more than a generation; their visits to the all white regime in South Africa, their opposition to the Northern Irish peace process, their obsession with denying lesbian's rights, their moralising and snobbishness. Finally Michael Howard sacked one of them for telling racist jokes. The catalogue of shame would take too long to write down but still they keep the Tory whip and year after year the support of Tory members.
The expenses scandal finally did for them. Read about it in the Daily Telegraph and here and here and here-Mrs Winterton is not such a Lady as she would like us believe.

Can I say that the bit that gets my goat is the crass and repeated failure of the media. There was no secret that the Winterton's held extreme and nasty views but they were treated with kid gloves by the local media. Their journalists and editors must of heard them tell the same racist 'jokes' but they kept stum. They were treated with fawning deference. Thanks to the internet age I doubt we shall not see their like again in elected office.

Bedford park improvements

A couple of short videos looking at the improvements at Bedford Park in Birkdale

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

A view of the de Forest dinner

I see John Pugh has written up his thoughts on the Southport Lib Dem dinner that Pat Sumner and her team arranged. Birkdale FOCUS will be doing a report later on and Michael Braham has agreed to do a video about the event at which key was the main speaker.

Pat Sumner -unsung heroine

In Birkdale Focus's series on unsung heroines step forward Pat Sumner. Pat heads up the Southport Lib Dem's fundraising team and damn lucky we are to have her. The planning and execution of Saturday night's do was typical of the thorough way she works and how she manages to bring other people in to help. Congratulations to Pat.

Political pamphlets and jazz and the Alliance...

Michael Meadowcroft spoke at the Southport Lib Dem dinner and talked about his time as a Southport YL from 1958 onwards. You can view a video of his talk here

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

Photos from Royal Clifton de Forest dinner

de Forest
If you click on this photo you should reach an album of photos from the Southport Lib Dem Dinner held on 13 Feb 2010

Michael Meadowcroft remembers Southport Liberal 1958 onwards

Liberal England: Colin Ward 1924-2010

Liberal England: Colin Ward 1924-2010
Jonathan Calder reports the death of Colin Ward. He did much to bring the works of Kropotkin to a new audience. He wrote, along with David Crouch, the classic study on Allotments-their landscape and culture and as Jonathan picked up at the time it was his commentary on the Kropotkin's Factory Fields and Workshops Tomorrow that encouraged and informed a new wave of allotmenteers .
His book 'Tenant's Takeover' influenced ideas in housing for a generation.
Anyone struggling to imagine how you can create a fair and free world without the threat of oppressive state power will find Colin Ward of great interest. He champion mutualism before it was fashionable. A while ago I noted that Tory David Willets had been on Radio 4's Start the Week quoting Kropotkin and alluding to the work of Ward.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Sefton plus feedback

I was having a look today at the Formby First website which belongs to Sean Brady an independent Parish Councillor in Formby. (One day someone will have to explain to why the Sefton Borough Councillors for the patch loathe the Formby Parish Council. Their contempt is scarcely cloaked)
Sean was the Labour candidate in Southport in 1983 when I fought the General Election here. He was very effective in that role and even though we squeezed Labour down to 8% his efforts stopped us gaining more. In 1987 a less impressive Labour candidate let the vote slide further 6%. Paul Brant, who was also a good Labour candidate, got it up to over 16% but slipped back by about 4% in 2004

Anyway I was interested to see Sean blogging on the performance of Sefton plus. I greatly welcome citizens doing as Sean advices. The key additional thing for me is to see how the information collected by Sefton Plus is fed into ward Councillors and departmental improvement plans. I am working on this and I hope that we will see something soon.

Unsung heroines

Here are two of the hard working 'unsung heroines' who are so essential to the operation of political parties. Seated is Edna a long standing member of Norwood Ward. Standing is Vera who among her many other contributions is a leading light in the Women Lib Dems.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Selling guns online

Was I the only one who was a little gobsmacked when I heard Bootle MP Joe Benton being called in aide by Alec Salmond when he was defending his deputy Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament this week? The issue was that she had sent a letter to a court on behalf of a convicted fraudster. The official record shows (

Col 23793)

Salmond saying:

'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

'Britain for the British' Tory claim..

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

The Liberal History Group has some excellent stuff on it's website and I reprint some below but I do urge you all to visit their site for more information. Here is the first snippet:

'The Liberal government of 1906-15, under Prime Ministers Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, proved to be one of the great reforming administrations of the twentieth century. Led by towering figures such as Asquith, Lloyd George and Churchill, it broke the power of the House of Lords and laid the foundations of the modern welfare state. Labour exchanges were introduced, old age pensions were paid by the state for the first time, and the national insurance system was created - all with the aim of removing the shackles of poverty, unemployment and ill-health so as to allow people to exercise choice and realise opportunity.

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.'

We also need to add to the mix the impact of religious conviction/prejudice. The Liberal candidate was of Jewish dissent and a Catholic. The Tories played the 'race card' see the insert on the right. Funnily it is not that long ago that a Tory backbencher upset by the number od Jewish people in the Thatcher government called for more ''thoroughbred /true blooded englishmen to be promoted'.

This is also the era of the campaign for Votes for Women which was never far from the front pages and moves to introduce temperance legislation

Tickets from Rachel on 01704 533555

Tory chair sacked in row with PPC-sound familiar?

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.
It is interesting that the methods used appear to be different. In the case of Southport the chair was just removed and an outsider imposed. In Westminster North (is that the home of Lady Porter?) an emergency meeting was held. Judging by the local journalist who gained entry Pickles was throwing his weight around.

Is this another case of the north south divide?

Undoubtedly what has annoyed many Southport Conservatives is that the chair was not given a proper opportunity to answer the allegations made against her-and many think that they would not have stood up to proper challenge. No word of a fall out between the chair and the candidate had leaked out and yet she was removed without the membership being consulted and when an AGM was due. That shows real contempt for the membership.

All this tells us a lot about the media. Joanne Cash's photo is on most front pages and acres of newsprint have been devoted to the story. Well Southport is along way from Westminster and we can't expect the poor dears to travel.

I thought this bit from the Telegraph was interesting as it reveals the reaction of many Tories

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Jim Hancocks and AV related matters

I will shortly write up a bit about Jim Hancock's visit to Sefton when he gave a very interesting talk about his time in the media. Jim established himself as the premier NW political correspondent and nobody has taken his place.

One of the issues he seemed keen to take the temperature on was Lib Dem views on the Brown initiative on voting reform. Much has been written about this in the last few days. When Jim asked me on Friday night my mind went back to the late 1970's. There had been two general elections with close results and there was much discussion of what we should do if the same thing happened again in 1979.

Like many I was impatient with this as you can't campaign to get the balance of power. You are as likely to get it with 3 million votes as you are with 7 million. Nevertheless if by serendipity it gets handed to you how do you react?

Clearly there are many policy initiative one would wish to put on the table. One would be a reform of the voting system. At the time I recall Michael Steed arguing to me that because the process of introducing STV would take a while and we might find ourselves fighting another General Election under first past the post. He suggested that a short Bill could be introduced to bring in preferential voting straight away. Such a move altho a long way short of STV would nevertheless be a guarantee of good faith as would an instruction to the boundary Commission to start work on multi member constituencies thus transforming AV to STV.

At the time I wrote all this up and it appeared somewhere. Sadly my filing system is not as well organised or as comprehensive as some folks and I cannot lay my hands on it.

Finally a word about multi member constituencies. I think we are being a tad faint hearted in selling the positives of this aspect of STV. Take a City like Liverpool with several MPs. It is preposterous to argue that voters are attached to the Central or Walton, or the Broadgreen seaCheck Spellingt. I doubt very few punters even know where the boundaries are -they often run down the middle of a suburban street. The attachment is to the city.

Even in rural constituencies the boundaries are often wholly unrelated to communities. I fought Congleton twice. All the principal settlements looked outside the constituency. Congleton looked to Maccelsfield, Middlewich to Northwich, Sandbach to Crewe. The towns had little in common with each other-but they all saw themselves as Cheshire to which they did belong.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A white man and an englishman-Tory smear...

Just to clear this is 1910 and the nasty attack on the Liberal candidate by the Tories. It isn't even subtle. Our man is white and English -yours is foreign -well wait till Saturday and I will reveal more about the disgraceful Tory smear. Tickets for the dinner to commemorate the first of the two 1910 elections are still available from rachel on 01704533555
Michael Meadowcroft, a former Southport YL, will also be speaking.

Southport Tories threaten boycott of Liberal businesses

I mourn the loss of the Southport Guardian. Just imagine what fun we would all be having today !
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!

Jim Hancock at Sefton Central

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:

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

The Golden dozen

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice Birkdale FOCUS has from time to time been included in Lib Dem Voice's Golden Dozen chosen from blog post during the previous week. They feature the seven most popular stories according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (31st January – 6th February 2010), together with a hand-picked quintet, usually courtesy of LibDig

This week Birkdale blog get three mentions-so thanks to all who contributed. The first posting owes much to David Bartlett of Dale Street Blues for his article about Vince's visit.

The second posting is again from Vince's visit when he reminded us about the abuse Charles Kennedy and others suffered at the hands of the rabble on the Tory backbenches when he opposed the Iraq War

And finally, and in a way most pleasing, was the nomination of Mark Pack for the most popular posting ever on the Birkdale Focus telling the story of the vicious civil war inside Southport Tories. Since writing that posting more mayhem has overtaken our Tories with more resignations from key members. I also understand that amongst those who have resigned in the past week are some of the best leaflet delivers they had-and lets be clear they struggle to hand deliver a leaflet. It is clear that Central Office money is being used to plug the gap and pay for delivery. I wonder if it is Ashcroft's 'Dirty Money'?

Anyway, thanks to all who contributed .

Icons in transformation

I mentioned a few days ago that I had visited a quite amazing exhibition of Icons at the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Ludmila Pawlowska has combined traditional Russian Icons with her modern interpretation.

You can see more about the exhibition on the Cathedral's website.

Friday, 5 February 2010

John Pugh expences

John Pugh-who is one of the MPs with the smallest claims for expenses-does not appear on Sir Thomas Legg's list of MPs who have to pay back expenses.

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:

Labour: £1,279.13
Conservative: £2,330.68
Lib Dem: £681.67
Others: £940.88
Overall: £2,971.91

Vince predicts gains in North

The Daily Post has the story of Vince's speech in Liverpool last Saturday. Southport was well represented.
The video is from Vince's meeting at Southport Town Hall.

More to follow.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Police respond to claim of violent crime increase

The Tories has got themselves into a right pickle over violent crime I gather they have put out figure for every constituency. Yesterday we had a Southport Area committee at which the police to answer questions. I took the chance to ask them whether there had been a 79% increase in violent crime in the town.
No. There has been a significant reduction.
Crimes that were not recorded as violent in 2001 are today. The inspector reeled of a long list of crimes that were not recorded as violent crimes then that today.
First rules of stats :compare like with like.

Memo to Brenda: rip up that press release that Mr Grayling sent you.

Not wishing to cause trouble, but

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'.

Anyway back to Sir Ron's quote :
'I do believe, however, that robust political debate is healthy, and this has always been a feature of my life as a Conservative councillor on Merseyside.'

We had a Southport Area committee last night (Mrs Porter was absent) so I asked Sir Ron about his work on the Standard Committee for England. Let us be fair Sir Ron and I both wish to see the whole New Labour structure demolished.

He repeated the quote he gave to the LGA (above) and told us a story of a thin skinned councillor who pursued their complaint against another member. Let us be clear the incident was 'minor' in almost anyones book. The word s used were 'stronger' than anyone has used in Sefton for many a long year and I share Sir Ron's view that: 'robust political debate is healthy'

Nevertheless I got to pondering if I knew anyone on Sefton who would have made similar protests . You've got it.