Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Vote Mark Valladares for ALDE Council Delegation

I'm also running for re-election to the Party's delegation to ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) Council...

It’s been twenty-five years since I first got involved in international politics - the Berlin Wall was still standing when I started! Four years ago, you were kind enough to elect me to the ELDR Council Delegation. And, as I had promised, I have continued to report back as best I can, using my blog, and Liberal Democrat Voice, (www.libdemvoice.org) to do so.

ELDR may now be ALDE, but my approach to the role hasn’t changed, so that members can find out what is happening amongst the European liberal family.

Still there, still working hard...

Since my re-election two years ago, I have, amongst other things;

  • Ÿserved as co-Returning Officer for ALDE’s internal elections
  • Ÿworking with our sister parties to reach consensus on policy issues,
  • Ÿsuggested ways of making ALDE more accessible to smaller parties in more difficult political environments, and;
  • developed an ethical framework for ALDE’s fundraising as a member of its Financial Advisory Committee
The expertise I’ve gained in political administration - I’ve held most posts possible at Local Party level, and been Regional Secretary in two Regions - has been valuable when analysing accounts and considering how best to organise activity, and I’d really like another two years to continue doing
so on your behalf.

Away from European politics, I am a professional administrator and, in what spare time remains, Treasurer of my Local Party (Mid Suffolk). I blog at www.liberalbureaucracy.blogspot.com, where you can find out more about me, or, if you have any questions, please e-mail me at markv233[at]aol[dot]com.

Vote Mark Valladares for International Relations Committee!

It is that time when ballot papers start to hit doormats and inboxes, and whilst you're probably inundated with people seeking your support, I hope that you'll find time for another supplicant... 

Twenty-five years ago, I found myself in a hotel in Aarhus, Denmark, attending a seminar on youth culture, my first international event as a Liberal Democrat.

I was hooked and, within the year, I had been elected as the International Officer of Liberal Youth’s forebears. I travelled the world, or at least Europe, and enjoyed nearly every minute of it. But life got in the way, as it usually does, and I had to focus on my career and my family rather than on politics.

Luckily, I then found myself involved in the international wing of the US Democratic Party, and got a birds-eye view of politics US-style over a five-year period covering the second Clinton administration, including volunteering at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Since then, I have become involved in our European work as an ALDE Council delegate and learned a great deal about international relations, and how political parties in different countries work, and now, I would like to apply some of that knowledge as a member of the International Relations Committee.

It isn’t just about meeting and greeting foreign dignitaries, it’s about suggesting policy to our Foreign Affairs teams in Parliament, organising our input into Liberal International and ALDE and so much more. I think that my background in international politics, combined with the work I have done in various organisational roles for the party, will enable me to make a valuable contribution to the work of the committee.

I’m not your usual suspect - I don’t live in London, I’m from a mixed British/Indian background, and I report back what I do as a committee member. If that appeals to you, then please give me your first preference, or as high a preference as you can otherwise.

You can find out more about me via my blog, or e-mail me at markv233[at]aol[dot]com.

Monday, October 27, 2014

And at the end of it all, I'll be at home...

So, I have made it to London City Airport after a day of taxis, trains, a tram and an Embraer 190SR. It has been fun, especially the train rides and, whilst the last leg of my trip involves Abellio Greater Anglia, it has been worth the effort.

The Eurostar Italia service from Rome to Milan was very efficient, even at 291km/h, with a welcome glass of prosecco, a small but perfect sweet treat and surprisingly good espresso, but the Swiss Railways EC316 was a step up in terms of sheer enjoyment.

The veal schnitzel Zürich style was served with spätzel and a rich cream sauce, and accompanied by a merlot from Ticino, we wound our way up through Chiasso, Lugano and Bellinzona before tunnelling through the Alps and gliding back down into German Switzerland. The train glides through the curves as lakes, mountains and waterfalls compete for your attention. There were even cows with bells at their necks - I find that strangely reassuring somehow.

We had made most of the journey thus far in sunshine, but it was decidedly gloomier north of the Alps. Despite that, there was still plenty to look at as we skirted lakes and weaved through towns. And, at precisely 16.28, as scheduled, we pulled into Zürich's Hauptbahnhof.

I had planned to take the S-Bahn to the airport but, as I reached the station building, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a tram with Zürich Flughafen on the destination board. Time to go, I thought, bought myself a ticket and settled down for a gentle forty-minute ride.

I'm still not a big fan of airports, but I will say this for Zürich, it is easy to get to, with intercity trains, S-Bahn, buses and trams all connected up - so very Swiss and thus so very efficient. Of course, I did a little shopping - that seems to be what airports are for these days - some chocolate for Ros and I, and a bottle of cherry eau de vie for those cold winter evenings.

And now, I guess, I ought to head for home. Lisbon (again) next, then Tallinn. Where next after that, I wonder...

#goingtheprettywayhome - more adventures by train...

Flying is all very well - efficient, direct for the most part, functional - but, in truth, short haul air travel is about as exciting and glamorous as an average morning commute. And so, given half a chance, I will seek more inspiring ways home.

Today, I am on my way from Rome to mid-Suffolk so, naturally, I should be on my way to Fiumicino for my flight. Instead, I am on the Frecciarossa to Milan...

It's very nice here. The welcome glass of prosecco is a plus and there's some pretty scenery outside - hilltop towns, fields full of sheep and general pleasantness. Meanwhile, Milan is getting closer at about 240 km/h. This is, you might say, not the classic Greater Anglia experience...

And, of course, there are direct flights to London City from Milan. Which is possibly why I'm booked onto a connecting Euro City train to Zurich...

I am, I admit, fortunate in many ways. I have, due to my working a arrangements, time enough to travel and, whilst I am hardly rich, I do have sufficient resources to travel in relative comfort. And, given that I am not getting any younger - an odd, yet frequently used phrase - it would be a pity not to take such opportunities when they arise.

So, glass of prosecco in hand, Monteverdi's Vespro della Beata Vergine on the headphones, I head from the passion of Mediterranean Europe to the cool efficiency of the Swiss Confederation. I'll see you on the other side...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A little night music... the Liberal connection

I did promise one more go at Psalm 122, and whilst Purcell was all well and good, Edwardian England required something a bit bolder, a bit more splendid. And Hubert Parry was just the man to produce it...


You may recognise a few of the flourishes that appear in his perhaps more famous work, the setting of William Blake's "Jerusalem".

I suppose that, in a properly diverse world, it will never be sung at Federal Conference again, which to the mind of someone who looks back with some nostalgia at the old Liberal Party, is a pity, as it does stir the blood...

And where, exactly, was the cat? I like cats...

To London on Wednesday for a social occasion, as the Parliamentary Party in the Lords, newly buttressed by its new members, was invited with significant others, spouses, grandchildren etc. to 10 Downing Street by someone described as the Deputy Prime Minister but who I tend to think of as 'that nice young man who was so impressive when I was his Returning Officer in 1997'.

I don't come into London so much these days - ghastly place, crowded with expensive beer, where you can only get decent cheese at Borough Market (and have you seen the prices?) and where people seem to think that standing right in front of the doors when you're trying to get off of a tube train is so obviously clever (I increasingly have to resist the urge to wave a walking stick at them angrily, even though I don't possess one... yet). But the prospect of meeting some old friends and, just possibly, some celebrity glitter, was enough to lure me onto a Greater Anglia train.

Sadly, Freya was off somewhere - she probably isn't Liberal Democrat friendly - but it was a fun evening anyway. There are no pictures - mobile phones are taken from you at the entrance - and you are pretty well supervised but the chance to catch up with the Family, as I lovingly think of them, made the effort well worth it.

The 'perfectly charming young man' spoke to an audience who were respectful in the way that grandparents can be towards great-nephews and the like sometimes but were rather more there to catch up with old friends, check out the soft furnishings and mark the nibbles for quality and quantity. And for the spouses, it's a chance to catch up, ask after each other's grandchildren and what they've been up to since last we met. It is surprisingly gemütlich, for want of a better word.

But, just as we were talking about quilting and swapping stories about late, lamented colleagues, it was time to be herded gently back towards Whitehall and back to our normal lives.

I'm sorry I missed you, Freya. Maybe next time?...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A little night music... take two.

Yesterday, I brought you Monteverdi's version of Psalm 122, and wasn't it good? The words may not have been terribly familiar to you, especially given that it was in Latin - and no, I don't speak Latin either, it not having been a core subject at my North London comprehensive school.

Ironically, in English, they are rather more familiar, although not in their most famous setting for more than sixty years now, for Psalm 122 has been sung at the entrance of the monarch at every British coronation since that of Charles I in 1626. So, here is Ian Esswood, counter-tenor, singing Henry Purcell's 1685 version...


But I'm not entirely done with this theme yet, as there is a liberal twist to follow...

I, candidate, who are about to place myself in the hands of Federal Conference delegates, salute you

It is that time again that comes around every two years when I take a deep breath, fill in a nomination form, agonise over the drafting of a manifesto and file it all in the hope that enough friends, colleagues and complete strangers will see it within themselves to put their faith in a mildly bemused bureaucrat to perform some service or another to the Party.

Historically, I ran for things that no sane person did too willingly - I served five terms as a Regional Secretary and was opposed just once - but now find myself wanting the sorts of roles that others, often more assertive than I, want too. Self-promotion does not come easy, which given the successful career that my father has built in the advertising industry, is perhaps counter-intuitive. But, being a nice person is not enough, I need to give people reason to vote for me over the other guys/girls/sea otters.

And so a Valladares manifesto goes through a number of iterations, filtered through the eyes of people better at this sort of thing than I am - Ros, for example - until a document exists that reflects me well enough. I then file it with the Returning Officer and wait.

Campaigning is not easy - you have no access to the electoral register and must rely on the network of friends and acquaintances, of contacts made through years of Returning Officer gigs, committee meetings and those small acts of kindness that are hopefully remembered when the manifesto booklet is studied. My blog helps, as does my reportage on ALDE activities for Liberal Democrat Voice, as I seek to report back on my activities as one of the Party's representatives. I have, radically, done things, and so have a record to run on.

It is, nonetheless, with a sense of trepidation that I await the verdict of the electorate, especially as I would really like to win - ALDE has been a valuable experience personally and, I like to think, I have played a part in helping it to work effectively and in its policy making, seeking compromises that bring different sister parties together in establishing a shared, liberal vision for Europe.

No doubt my opponents will all want to win too, and will offer up their skills, knowledge and experience. I hope some of them win too, just not so many of them that I don't...

Dwelling on an imagined past - a bureaucrat on the shore

At some point, way back in my family's history, someone important boarded a wooden sailing ship somewhere in Portugal and set off into, if not the unknown, something a bit riskier than a trip along the coast. They probably weren't historically important - indeed, I have no idea who they were or whether or not they even existed - but if they did, they are likely to have had a not insignificant role in the life of this rural, liberal bureaucrat.

That's a bit cryptic, I guess, so perhaps a little context is in order.

My father's family is from the Catholic, East Indian community of what is now Mumbai, but which was, until 1662, a Portuguese colony consisting of seven or so swampy islands inhabited by fishing communities. It was sufficiently important to have at least one church, however, and there has been one on the site of the Valladares family parish of St Michael's since 1534. Naturally, being a prosletising faith, especially in that era, the colonists sought to convert the locals, aided and abetted by Jesuit missionaries.

They were clearly successful, for when the British decided that Bombay was to be the commercial capital of Western India, a relatively well-educated Catholic community was ready and willing to fit in, one that my ancestors were part of.

Yes, the connection is a bit tenuous but a logical one nonetheless, and it for that reason that I always feel a curious sense of wistfulness when in Lisbon, where Ros and I were the weekend before last. Ros was there to work, naturally, whilst I was... well, just there, really, tagging along for the ride.

And, although I hadn't been there for some years, Lisbon feels comfortable. I can walk the streets and absorb the atmosphere of city life, ride the wonderful rickety trams as they make their switchback journeys up to the castle and the Alfama district, I can slip discreetly into the great São and light candles for my late grandmother and for my father in the hopes of preserving his health and strength, I can eat bacalhau and drink some of the fantastic and relatively unknown wines from the north of the country. It seems like the sort of lifestyle I could have handled had life turned out differently.

But enough mawkishness.

One of the advantages of this trip was that I got to scope out the city in preparation for my return visit in less than four weeks, for the ALDE Congress is taking place there next month and, as an elected member of the ALDE Council, I am expected to attend. It is, I admit, not an onerous responsibility given my relationship with the city. I've found a hotel that works, restaurants worthy of repeat custom and have a good idea as to how the public transport system works. I even know where the sea otters are...

There is, however, the small matter of a trip to the Eternal City to deal with first...

Friday, October 24, 2014

A little night music...

I have always had a fondness for classical music and, thanks to a former neighbour, Ian Harwood, I discovered a previously untapped love of (relatively) early music. Ian was a lutenist, and an inspiration to many in the world of Elizabethan and Jacobean music. And it was his passion for the work of the likes of Henry Purcell that acted as a bridge from there to the works of one of music's great pioneers, Claudio Monteverdi.

And so, as a distraction from the rather chaotic, often unnecessarily harsh world of politics, I offer you L'Arpegiatta, performing the Vespro della Beata Vergine - Vespers for the Blessed Virgin.



At 24:15, you'll find Psalm 122: Laetatus sum, which some Catholic readers in particular might be familiar with. Have a listen, I'll be back tomorrow with another take on it...

It's time for another absurd microstate... Welcome to country number 56, the Vatican City

I find myself, slightly unexpectedly, in Rome this weekend.

I have, curiously, never here before, and whilst I only have two days to look around, I intend to 'collect' another of the great Catholic sites, the Vatican - I've already been to Lourdes and Jerusalem (I've walked the Stations of the Cross). For a self-described failed Catholic - I feel vaguely guilty about it but not actually guilty enough to do anything - I've been in a surprising number of Catholic Churches across the globe, and what sort of liberal bureaucrat could miss the home of the world's greatest religious bureaucracy?

And yes, I guess the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and gelato will all put in an appearance before Sunday, when my time here comes to an end.

For on Monday, I have a plane to catch... in Zurich. It's a long story...

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Sometimes, the art of good bureaucracy is broadly defining just what isn't there...

Today has been, in turns, frustrating and mildly exhilarating (actually, can you be mildly exhilarated?). Frustrating because, courtesy of Liberal Democrat Voice, I have been reminded that younger people can be reactionary, ageist and intolerant just as convincingly as older people. I've also spent forty-five minutes waiting for British Airways to answer what seemed, on the face of it, to be a pretty simple request, only for it to be made to appear like the height of optimism.

On the other hand, people close to me have had good news regarding their careers and, perhaps most surprisingly, I appear to finally have a grasp on my new(ish) job.

It would be harsh to say that I haven't been entirely happy in my current role. Bemused and slightly unsettled, yes, unhappy, no. After many years of bureaucracy in an environment where certainty is hard-wired into process, and backed up with legislation, I had grown deeply comfortable with the idea that, confronted with a new situation, I could come up with a definitive answer. As a liberal bureaucrat, that feels right, in that a rules-based environment is one in which good administration can flourish, as long as those rules have built-in safeguards and offer everyone equality before the law.

My new job, however, which I can't actually talk about, is more of an evaluating one. I am presented with a lot of data, and a range of operational tools with which to analyse it. It may, or may not be, complete, it may, or may not be, accurate. There is, if you like, uncertainty - definitely not in my comfort zone.

And so, it has been necessary to adapt. That's easier said than done - I'm not as young as I was, and increasingly set in my slightly idiosyncratic ways, and I respond less well to direct philosophical challenges than perhaps I once did. It has not come easily. The challenge, if you like, has been to put it into a context which sits comfortably and yet allows me to be as effective as I can be.

But, this week, things have fallen into place. In our half-yearly performance assessment, my manager declared her puzzlement that I see my work as a logic problem, feeling as she does that there doesn't have to be an exact answer - often, there can't be. What you can achieve, she believes, is a position where you have an argument that stands up to rigorous, independent scrutiny if necessary.

That makes sense, I think, but appals my inner control freak. And so, I have dwelt on what she said, and carried out some analysis on some of the data sets requiring my attention as a means of developing a modus operandi that sits more comfortably. Interestingly, I'm not sure that I agree exactly with her analysis, but have realised that there is a way in which I can achieve a similar result.

You see, if I can establish all of the areas of certainty, I can then define the area of uncertainty in terms of a series of expressed doubts, which can then be queried by means of interrogation and, if necessary, testing of hypotheses. There is, if you like, an internal logic which might not provide for exactitude, but does produce an 'exactly about' outcome which feels fair and reasonable.

It was, if you like, that light bulb moment, a realisation that this feels right and good and philosophically sound, not something that most people would associate with bureaucracy, but then, perhaps, I'm not your typical bureaucrat...

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A different take on the Shipping Forecast...

Ah yes, the Shipping Forecast, a boon to mariners of all sorts, and a curiously beguiling element of the Test Match Special experience on Radio 4 - listeners on long wave have the commentary interrupted for it occasionally.

Ros and I have, as part of our routine, the occasional dinner at the Pier Hotel, Harwich - Ros has business in the town in her role as a member of the Board of the Harwich Haven Authority. One evening, I had retired to use the facilities and, whilst in there, was surprised to hear a voice, even though there was nobody in there.

Listening more closely, it appeared to be the Shipping Forecast, which seemed appropriate, given that Harwich is very much a naval town. But then I listened more closely...

And so, courtesy of Brian Perkins, here is Les Barker's version of "The Shipping Forecast", from a 4-CD set entitled "Guide Cats for the Blind". Take it away, Brian...