Thursday, February 12, 2015

Internal Democracy or Autocratic Pronouncements?

All of those of us who were elected to FPC last year were elected on the basis of their manifesto. It is not unreasonable therefore for the electorate to expect us to stick to our guns and do what we said we would do. 

I said "The run up to the next election this is a crucial time for the party. It is essential to have members on FPC who are prepared to challenge and to work hard to ensure our manifesto is the best it can be. We need strong and bold commitments, especially those on the front of our manifesto that could turn out to be our red lines. Our key pledges must seek to reduce inequality, protect the planet for our children and resist the continuing attack on our civil liberties and human rights. Our approach to the economy has to demonstrate how we balance the need to reduce the deficit with the responsibility to care for the most vulnerable. That is why I support the calls within the party for a living wage and against unfair welfare cuts. That is why I particularly welcome Nick Clegg’s commitment to parity for mental health care. That is why I am committed to policies that protect our civil liberties and human rights, that invest in green technologies and measures to tackle climate change. That is why I am for a manifesto that has a commitment to our children and young people at its heart." 

It was clear on Monday night that many of us felt the same about the need to include civil liberties on the front cover, and there was a strong call to include housing. A lone voice admittedly, I called for a living wage to be included. But, let's be clear, the die was cast long before we assembled in Committee Room 17 on Monday night. Let's not look at framing a manifesto that is anchored in our values, no we must look to our private polling, to attracting the mythical voters in the centre rather than seeking to build on our core vote and attract back those who were once attracted to a party seen as to the left of Labour. And frankly, to get something out before our pesky internal democracy could interfere. Let's be clear, our internal democracy is the lifeblood of our already wounded party, to ignore it is not only rude and arrogant it is also foolish. 

The battle now is to see what we can achieve on the balance between tax rises and spending cuts, to do what we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society, to do what we say we exist to do - or is that too much to ask?



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Questions to the Presidential Candidates - Response from Daisy Cooper

Having asked all the Presidential candidates a series of questions I have had a reply from Daisy Cooper - her answers follow: 

Q: "You have been putting forward some bold ideas for reform of the party, however, you have been part of the FE omnishambles - what guarantee do we have that you will be able to carry out your reforms of our internal systems and structures."
 
If I'm elected as President, I will have a mandate to pursue the ideas which I have set out during my campaign. It’s also clear from the manifestos of those running for election to FE that there is a real appetite for reform. I will work closely with FE sub-groups that I will establish (with co-opted members where necessary) and bring all proposals to Conference for debate and decision.
 
Having just finished my first term on FE, I understand the challenges it faces.
 
The FE is hamstrung in its mandate to “direct coordinate and implement” because it has almost no levers for doing so. There is currently no “whole party strategy” against which FE can monitor progress, but there should be. FE appoints the CEO but does not have the power to manage her/his performance – it should. The CEO her or himself must have the power to take decisions for which s/he can be held accountable.
 
There are no criteria against which FE members are elected. We could consider introducing a system in which FE candidates run for election for one or more portfolios – such as membership, campaigns or governance – in order that they can demonstrate their suitability for scrutinising these areas (currently members choose the basis upon which they want to run for FE pursuing their own interest, not necessarily what the party needs).
 
I also think FE has learned a number of lessons including seeking expert constitutional advice where necessary; working more closely with FCC on conference procedures; and allowing more time - and being more transparent - about any up-coming decisions or motions.
 
Q: "Which current coalition policies which have been supported by our parliamentary party but are at odds with party policy would you be prepared to challenge the leadership on?
 
For me, tuition fees and the bedroom tax are the two big ones. On tuition fees, we should never have broken our promise. In my view, the bedroom tax was the biggest mistake we've made in government as the warning signs were there, both inside and outside the party, and for whatever reason those views were not heard or listened to. As President, I would be a lightning rod for members' views, particularly on these critical issues where the parliamentary party are considering voting against party policy.
 
On the NHS and secret courts, I believe there were others in the party with greater detailed policy knowledge to challenge our parliamentary colleagues. As such, I would have used the authority of my position as President to facilitate meetings and communication with the leadership.
 
 
Q: "Given that only around 25% of our current membership would support another coalition with the Tories - who would you prefer to be in coalition with? (and wait and see is NOT an option!)"
 
I genuinely believe that giving either "Labour" or "Conservative" as the answer will damage our party and our prospects.
 
I'm one of those within the party that wants us to have a distinctive radical manifesto to promote on the doorstep - I do not want to fall into the trap of talking about what we have in common with the other two parties, when we should be saying why and how we're very different to both.
 
In the event of coalition negotiations, we should start with the arithmetic but quickly move to our values (you'll recall that at the last general election we talked only about working first with the party that "had the most seats or votes").
 
Notwithstanding, I think that the announcements at the Tory party conference in September - particularly on further cuts to welfare and further tax cuts for the rich - will make it VERY difficult for us to consider a formal coalition with them. The Labour Party has proposed very few policies and is yet to show any interest in coalition either.
 
 
Q: "And finally - I have outlined my ideas for reforming and rebuilding the party - if elected are there any of my ideas that you would be prepared to consider?"
 
I know that you've suggested a range of measures, including term limits for Federal Committees, wider electorates, and more creative use of technology. You've also suggested that our fundraising communications need to be better coordinated, and less frequent.
 
All of them are likely to have advantages and disadvantages. I'd happily put all these ideas on the table for discussion, initially by FE sub-groups, and then for debate and decision by Conference.

I like Daisy's approach to reforming FE - and if elected I hope she gets her ideas through. I also appreciate her honesty and agree with her analysis about where we went wrong, particularly on Tuition Fees and the Bedroom Tax. Where I part company with her is on her reluctance to state whether or not we should enter into another coalition with the Tories, in my view this would decimate the party. If the SNP can be honest about this why can't we? All we do by refusing to comment is reinforce a public perception that politicians are duplicitous. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

.Responding to Jennie Rigg - and a little postscript to the Presidential contest....

Firstly many thanks to Jennie Rigg for asking internal party committee candidates some excellent, searching questions which will help us all to decide who to vote for, if we haven't decided already! So, my answers are here and you can see many other responses on Jennie's blog. 

Now for the postscript......

One of the things I was saddest about in not being able to continue in the Presidential race was letting down those who believed in and supported me. My friend Rebecca (who I met when she used to be a producer for the Daily and Sunday Politics) made me a brilliant promo video which was filmed by my son, Ravi. Please do have a look! It was really humbling hearing what people had to say about me - although now feels a bit like an obituary ;-). I would recommend Rebecca and Mill Town Films for any work you may need, you can contact her via email - info@millltownfilms.com - if however it's a music video you are after - check out Ravi on Youtube at The Limelight TV. Thanks again to both of them and all my supporters for giving up so much time on my behalf. 

 



My Thoughts on and Questions for, the Presidential Candidates

Now I am out of the race many of my supporters have been asking me for advice on who they should vote for. Up until now there hasn't been much differentiation coming from the questions being asked, although all credit to Rock the Boat for their excellent questions which resulted in some sharp differentiation between the candidates. 

I honestly believe that all the candidates, as we would expect, have strengths and weaknesses. As someone said to me after the hustings in Glasgow "it would be good to have a little of all of you!" 

I know Sal the best, having worked with her for many years and admiring her determination and commitment to the party. I have no doubt that as President she would be prepared to tackle many of the organisational challenges we are faced with. We probably agree on more than we disagree, but like others I worry about her independence and her ability to challenge the leadership when needed. On both FPC and FCC I can't remember her ever taking anything other than the leadership line on contentious issues. She has though defied the whip on occasions in the Lords and has been a real champion on educational issues. So my individual question for Sal is: Your loyalty to the leadership is laudable, but how will you ensure you can be a voice for the membership in circumstances where the leadership and the membership disagree? For example, if you had been on the Coalition negotiation team, how would you have dealt with the tuition fees issue?

Politically I am definitely closest to Daisy and her energy and clarity about her position on various issues over this campaign has been impressive. As President I have no doubt she would be prepared to challenge and consistently be a voice for the party membership. However, my question for her is: You have been putting forward some bold ideas for reform of the party, however, you have been part of the FE omnishambles - what guarantee do we have that you will be able to carry out  your reforms of our internal systems and structures?

Before this campaign I didn't know Liz at all. Over conference I got to know her better and she clearly brings not only political but important life experience to the role. I know she has real compassion for those who have been hit hardest by many of the welfare reforms we have been party to so I would hope she would take a stand on this particular issue. But, particularly on our Daily Politics slot, I thought she tended to fudge the answers, something we know the public hate. So my question for Liz is: How will you ensure that you are a strong and independent voice for the party, prepared to challenge and also answer questions directly if asked?

And  additional questions to all the candidates. 

Which current coalition policies which have been supported by our parliamentary party but are at odds with party policy would you be prepared to challenge the leadership on?

Given that only around 25% of our current membership would support another coalition with the Tories - who would you prefer to be in coalition with? (and wait and see is NOT an option!)

And finally - I have outlined my ideas for reforming and rebuilding the party - if elected are there any of my ideas that you would be prepared to consider? 

Replies can be posted in the comments below. 






Why I'm Standing for FPC

As some of you know, now I am no longer in the race for Party President I am standing for Federal Policy Committee. I have said more about the changes I would like to see to our policy making process here. But I also believe it is essential that FPC includes members who are prepared to challenge and is not just made up of lawyers and academics! I have a lifetime of working in diverse communities, of experience on the ground of the impact of government policy and a life long commitment to the values we espouse in the preamble to our constitution. As we go into the next election it is essential we have a bold and radical manifesto. I am delighted that Nick Clegg has committed to ensuring that parity for mental health is on the front of our manifesto - and trust FPC and conference will support that. But we need something much bolder than just raising the income tax threshold (a measure which only actually helps 15% of the poorest in our society).

We knew that the decision to go into coalition with the Tories would cost us support - but some of the mistakes we made have compounded that. Recently I have spoken on a variety of external platforms and the question that always arises is tuition fees. Even among those who are not students it is symbolic of what the electorate see as complete betrayal. We promised to vote against - with few honourable exceptions, we broke that promise, we have a mountain to climb in terms of regaining the trust of the public. Although we say we have no red lines in terms of the basis for a potential future coalition, the reality on the ground is that what was on the front of our manifesto became the basis for red lines. So one of the biggest mistakes we made last time was not having tuition fees on the front of the manifesto. Then, FPC should have had a say (which it will now) in terms of the coalition negotiations, that would have ensured more consideration of policy issues and more thought about what the consequences were likely to be if we supported policies that were in direct contradiction of both our stated policies and our values. In particular, remember that line in the coalition agreement that said 'we will protect the most vulnerable'?

So, the temptation for the party will be to have a fairly vacuous front page to which the reaction from other parties will have to be 'what's not to like?' 

My view is, that given the reality of our situation, we must take risks. We must have a manifesto that is radical and progressive, that reflects our aim for a free, fair and open society, that seeks to redress the dreadful inequality that blights our country. So my front page would keep Mental Health parity and would include commitments to a minimum wage, massive investment in housing and a reform of national insurance that would mean those on low pay and those employing paid less (which could help close the gap between the minimum and living wage) and those most able to pay, paid more. And while I totally support subsidised travel for young people, there is far more we could do, particularly to improve the life chances of our most vulnerable young people. So I will also be looking to improve our offer to young people, to retain the Independent Living Fund, to scrap the Bedroom Tax and to do what we can to reverse the other changes to welfare that have impacted hardest on the most vulnerable. 

I hope you will give me your first, or a high preference. You can rely on me to ask the difficult questions, to put my head above the parapet when necessary and to fight for the socially liberal policies we all believe will make life better for everyone.






Thursday, August 21, 2014

Post? Rennard

Yesterday I blogged on Lib Dem Voice  my response to Lord Rennard's readmittance to the party. I've been interested in some of the responses I elicited......hence the - Post? since I have been rightly challenged about the notion that we are anywhere near 'post' the affair.

There are those who argue he has not been found guilty of anything - that we have had due process - that we should all just accept the outcome and welcome him back into the fold. But the fact remains for all too many, in particular the complainants, it is not resolved. And one has to ask, if he has been truly exonerated, why has the leadership made it clear he will take no leading role in the upcoming general election campaign? This is a completely unsatisfactory outcome for everyone, including Lord Rennard. Although, I have to say, if I had been accused of something I vehemently denied I would have asked for a hearing in order to be able to confront my accusers. 

We can't change what has happened, but we all have the power to change the future. Yes, the rules were ridiculous and completely out of step with modern workplace practices, but the genesis of this was people not being prepared to listen or act when concerns were raised. So, let's start listening  to people even when we may consider their perceived grievance as trivial. Let's recognise that the worst of all worlds is to try to brush anything under the carpet. Yes deal with it quietly or in confidence, but deal with it - and never ever tolerate pressure being put on people to keep quiet out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Introducing Linda Jack on...............

For some time I have been writing a blog for youth sector magazine Children and Young People Now, Linda Jack on........... which is one of the reasons I have neglected this blog. As many of you will know I am passionate about young people and have always done what I can to ensure that we have policies in the party and the country that properly take account of their needs, hopes, fears and aspirations. For that reason I was proud to chair the party working group that came up with our youth policy "Free to be Young" (which it should be said, includes pics of my children - see if you can spot them!). 

Today I've been reflecting on the cabinet reshuffle as it relates to the youth sector. But I have used the blog to reflect on a range of youth issues both as part of the sector and as a Lib Dem, including the need for qualified teachers, raising the age of criminal responsibility, benefits and young people, tackling race inequality in education and employment and many other issues that impact on young people and those who work with them. 

One of our most urgent priorities as a party, I believe, is to re-engage with the young people for whom we have been and always should be, their natural champions. We can do that by reflecting our understanding, expressed in our policies, of the issues that often impact on them unfairly. This is particularly for instance if they have a disability, are from BAME communities, are looked after, are in the criminal justice system, are homeless or living in poverty, are dealing with bullying, particularly with homophobic or islamophobic bullying. I trust this blog, while sometimes challenging our party, goes some way to continuing to demonstrate that we do still have a commitment to our young people and will, I trust, produce a manifesto that demonstrates that. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Can You Help?

Do you work with young people or know others who do? If so, do you have ideas for activities to help young people manage their money more effectively? If yes, please visit my latest Children and Young People Now blog and get in touch if you can help. Thanks!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

DAY 204 IN THE BIG BROTHER HOUSE... The Rennard Saga continues


Someone on Facebook just commented in relation to the ongoing Rennard story “Day 204 in the Big Brother House” – never a truer word spoken in jest. An issue that could have been resolved years ago, quietly and behind closed doors, has turned into a soap opera/reality TV debacle. The Liberal Democrat stone has been turned and revealed to be more of a Pandora’s Box. 


So now we have the slightly surreal spectacle of our undemocratically selected peers appealing to their democratic right to determine a matter which has serious implications for the whole party. 


I welcome the statement from Alistair Webster 
clarifying his position, but he too has been inadvertently drawn into a situation which should never have arisen, had our procedures been more robust and more in line with current employment and voluntary sector practice.

On Radio 4 Today yesterday I argued that Lord Rennard had 3 choices, to apologise, to call for a hearing, or to leave the party he loves and has devoted his life to, in a parlous state. I think the opportunity to apologise is rapidly diminishing – it will need someone with the wisdom of Solomon to come up with a form of words acceptable to both sides. 

In spite of everything I cannot believe that the man who has done so much to build our party would want to contribute to its demolition. Which frankly leaves only one realistic option, one, which if it were me and I genuinely believed I did not have a case to answer, I would relish. Appoint someone to chair the hearing who has the confidence of both sides and go through a formal process so that both sides can ultimately gain closure. 

There is now the spectacle of each side upping the anti, today we hear that Lord Rennard will take legal action if the whip isn’t restored, members of FPC are arguing that his position on that committee is now untenable, the women concerned are talking about taking civil action. What is disappointing is that we are losing sight of the values we all claim to share, a belief in creating a fair, free and open society in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community. We all believe that the Liberal Democrats are the only party who can deliver that, let’s live our values and get back to fighting for what is fundamentally important for this country and the people we seek to represent.