Tuesday, June 30, 2009
In fairness, at least George is telling us the truth (probably). it could be that he'll only cut 8% of the budget on the Janus principle (if you tell someone you going to cut their arms and legs off, they'll be grateful if you only cut their legs off...). On the other hand, he might feel that we'll say, "Only 10%? Oh well, that's not too bad.", and it will be too late to stop him lopping 12% off of the education budget.
Ed Balls is denying that there will be any cuts at all, and that George is going to be to the education budget as Freddy Krueger was to the population of Elm Street. It seems likely, therefore, that one, if not both of them, is lying.
Throwing money at education hasn't had a huge effect on the education standards of our young people, although money did need to be spent on the infrastructure following years of Conservative neglect. Strangely, salaries for teachers and lecturers don't appear to have increased much either. The big growth industry is testing, which distorts what is taught and how, discourages innovation and initiative and costs a lot of money.
You can't just slash spending though. New buildings funded through the Private Finance Initiative still need to be paid for, and in a world where industries that require muscle relocate to countries where muscle is cheap and, in some cases, dispensable, you need a more highly educated workforce to take advantage of the new opportunities.
The debate appears to be centred wholly on how much it costs, rather than what you want to achieve through education. Indeed, what role should the state have in educating our children? Should it dictate what our schools, colleges and universities produce in the way of skilled graduates? If it doesn't, will the market step in to fill the breach?
What we need is a real debate on what we want from our primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors. What we're going to get, I fear, is a choice between more state interference from Labour and an opting out of responsibility from the Conservatives. There is an opportunity for a genuinely liberal response if we have the courage to take it. Unfortunately, we're only going to get a soundbite with which to do so...
The increasing prevelence of smartphones, and the falling costs of data upload make the use of Facebook and other social networks more and more tempting, especially as you can thus reach people in places where they go voluntarily. It will also allow for more targetted campaigns, more localised or small scale ones, making advertising more accessible for small businesses.
On the other hand, if spend in this sector is going to increase by 45% per annum, other sectors will see a relative decline in revenue, as already witnessed in the newspaper and commercial television sectors. This could mean increased casualties in the regional press and in marginal television stations, costing us some of the choice and variety that currently exists.
The irony is that we may see a polarisation between visual, stationery mediums like poster advertsing and small scale, nimble mobile advertising. The knock-on effects could be many. For example, do you need actors to populate adverts, when a still frame will suffice? And if you need less actors, will they be available to perform 'real' drama on stage, as opposed to lowest common denominator television?
On balance, I remain to be convinced that my life will be enriched by mobile advertising...
Monday, June 29, 2009
- Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service - Millennium Elephant
- Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal - me (someone will get the joke)
- Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, First Secretary and Lord President of the Council - Mark Thompson
- Chancellor of the Exchequer - Alex Foster
- Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs - Cicero
- Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor - Judge James Graham
- Secretary of State for the Home Department - Lynne Featherstone
- Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Nich Starling
- Secretary of State for International Development - Lord Avebury
- Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Fraser MacPherson
- Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families - Costigan Quist
- Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change - Alix Mortimer
- Secretary of State for Health - Mary Reid
- Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - Stephen Glenn
- Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster - Baroness Rigg of Brighouse
- Minister for the Cabinet Office, and for the Olympics and Paymaster General - Alex Wilcock
- Secretary of State for Scotland - Caron Lindsay
- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - Steve Webb
- Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Charlotte Gore
- Secretary of State for Wales - Peter Black
- Secretary of State for Defence - Menzies Campbell
- Secretary of State for Transport - Jonathan Wallace
- Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - Sara Bedford
- Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service - William Ewart Gladstone
- Leader of the House of Commons and Lord Privy Seal - Lord Steel of Aikwood
- Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, First Secretary and Lord President of the Council - David Lloyd George
- Chancellor of the Exchequer - Vince Cable
- Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs - Lord Russell Johnston
- Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor - Lord Thomas of Gresford
- Secretary of State for the Home Department - H H Asquith
- Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Lord Redesdale
- Secretary of State for International Development - Sarah Teather
- Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Lynne Featherstone
- Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families - Baroness Seear
- Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change - Lord Ezra
- Secretary of State for Health - Baroness Neuberger
- Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - Lord Alderdice
- Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster - Baroness Scott of Needham Market
- Minister for the Cabinet Office, and for the Olympics and Paymaster General - Menzies Campbell
- Secretary of State for Scotland - Jo Grimond
- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions - Steve Webb
- Chief Secretary to the Treasury - Susan Kramer
- Secretary of State for Wales - Clement Davies
- Secretary of State for Defence - John Pardoe
- Secretary of State for Transport - Lord Bradshaw
- Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport - Bob Russell
I'd also need a few people to fill other key roles;
- Attorney General - Lord Hooson
- Chief Whip - David Heath
- Deputy Chief Whip (Treasurer of HM Household) - Jenny Willott
- Chief Whip (House of Lords) - Lord Addington
- Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) - Earl Russell
Not enough women, although my next effort might be a little better...
There has been much debate this week following Charlotte Gore's posting about why she couldn't be a PPC. I was, as someone who has been involved in such things for a fair time now, intrigued.
The Party does have a fairly diverse cast of potential candidates. Adherence to the totality of Liberal Democrat policy has never been a requirement, indeed, most assessors will tell you that the candidate who blithely claims to support all of our policies either wrote them or hasn't read them. Generally speaking, if they oppose an area of policy for reasons supporting by a sufficiently liberal argument, I'm pretty relaxed. After all, being a liberal means having a healthy sense of scepticism about the 'correct' answer.
Being a libertarian or, at least, being on the libertarian wing of the Party clearly doesn't exclude you from being on the approved list, nor does it prevent your chances of being selected to fight a seat. Being a self-confessed white witch doesn't either. Having a past as a glamour model doesn't and being a Eurosceptic can not only allow you to be approved and selected, but can enable you to be elected to Parliament and chair the Party's Joint States Candidates Committee in the days when it had genuine authority.
There is no doubt that having an easily accessible back story can have its advantages and disadvantages, and there have already been incidents where a blog entry has been used against a candidate. With the freedom to publish comes responsibilities and consequences, and if you want to take a stance that, in retrospect might be used against you, you must be prepared to face those consequences in an election environment. Your opponents will be looking for wedges that either separate you from you Party or better stil, from the electorate.
However, all that said, opinions that 'mainstream' Liberal Democrats might shy away from are not necessarily vote losers. Pruning back the welfare state, for example, is likely to be quite popular, especially at a time of low unemployment. Attacking the smoking ban in pubs and clubs, and other elements of the nanny state would be liberal (argue that amongst yourselves) if not necessarily Liberal Democrat.
So it actually comes down to having the right skillset, and being willing to adhere to much, not all, of Liberal Democrat policy. If Charlotte thinks that she has those skills, the ability to speak coherently and cogently in public, the ability to work as part of a team, a sound knowledge of policy, some campaigning ability and a willingness to self-declare as a Liberal Democrat, there is no reason why she shouldn't apply for approval.
Of course, being a candidate isn't for everyone...
Friday, June 26, 2009
However, it seems that, in Tasmania, poppy growers have been having problems with crop circles. Until now, that is. Observation has uncovered the guilty secret of wallabies. Apparently, they get into the poppy fields, eat the heads of the flowers, get high and hop about in circles until they pass out.
This introduces an interesting potential solution to the heroin problem in Afghanistan. Introduce wallabies and let them either eat or crush the opium crop. A cute, low cost and ultimately edible solution to the problem of cutting the income supply to the Taliban.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
We take for granted the wonders of modern technology with its ability to capture every movement and every nuance, yet I would suggest that Jacques-Yves, like David Attenborough on land, was a far greater television naturalist. Without the massive advantages that miniaturisation of equipment and various tracking aids now brings, he was able to capture a view of the world that we had never seen before. Brave, dashing and tough, he went to places that we could only dream of and did proper science too, none of this "isn't it cute" and "we were so sorry to discover that it had been eaten by hyenas" that you tend to get now.
He also inspired a generation of oceanographers and impressed upon the rest of us the importance of preserving nature long before it was fashionable to do so.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, so long, and thanks for all the fish...
Interestingly, the list includes such techno-luminaries as Michael Dell and John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, and whilst both are, as one might expect, more connected up than most, neither of them blogs.
There are those who believe that blogging is the future, a place where any individual can communicate directly, and there is an element of truth to this. Indeed, there are those who believe that those in positions of authority should blog, the view being, almost, that we have a right to know.
One of the primary reasons why CEO's don't blog is linked to issues of information release. Various elements of corporate law control the release of market-sensitive information, formalising the process so as to protect investors and ensure, as far as is possible, a level playing field. Of course, we know that such a level playing field doesn't exist, but no CEO is going to risk being prosecuted for something on a blog. Besides, given the desire of some people to read between the lines, seeing inferences that probably aren't there, why take the chance?
Another factor is one of time. Most of us have time - whilst our lives are hectic, we aren't worrying about thousands of jobs, or vast investment strategies. Blogging takes time, and the more precise and accurate you have to be, the longer it takes. For most of us, dashing off a posting takes only as long as it takes to have the idea and type it into the template. There are few consequences of error, unless you defame someone.
It is noticeable that, as with American CEO's, politicians at the summit of British government don't generally blog. When they do, they don't tend to talk about sensitive internal issues. After all, if what they say is being parsed for meaning, they're going to be extremely cautious about what they put in print and, as I've already noted, that takes time. Having seen Nick Clegg in action in a variety of situations, I know that he doesn't have much spare time, and that which does exist is devoted to his family - yes, politicians have lives too. I presume that David Cameron is in a similar position.
So, whilst some full-time politicians will use blogging as part of a 'corporate' communications strategy, it may not be the window into the political soul we might have hoped for.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
My new friend at Suffolk County Council, Paul, e-mailed me a map of the village, with the locations of the bus stops marked upon it. My first thought, "There are bus stops?". So I look at the map and read the e-mail, noting that Suffolk has a number of unmarked bus stops - like the ones in Creeting St Peter... You see, it is presumed that, because you live in the village, you know where the bus stops. Fiendish, eh? And, of course, if you don't live in the village, you'll not care. It's designed to confuse us city types.
The good news is that the County Council are undertaking a programme of signing and roadmarking of bus stops, and providing raised kerbs for ease of access in line with their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act, and I appear to be the right person in the right place at the right time.
I've already worked out what I'd like next...
This is a picture of Cathy, who drives the Taxibus serving Creeting St Peter. Cathy and I were talking yesterday about improving rider figures for the service and concluded that a bus stop might bring the service to people's attention.
Conveniently, I was coming home to attend a Parish Council meeting and took the opportunity to raise the issue. The Parish Council were pleasantly enthusiastic, and it was decided to put the matter on the agenda for our next meeting, with the expectation that some research would be done.
Having raised the issue, it seemed only right that I should do the research myself, so I have taken the opportunity presented by my train journey to call Suffolk County Council and find out more. Ellie answered my call and efficiently took down all of the details, promising to pass them onto the appropriate department. She's even going to send me an application form for a bus shelter, although heaven only knows how we'd pay for one...
I even have a reference number to quote if I want to chase up progress (1501446), so we'll see how it goes.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
The Code of Conduct declaration is signed, as is my acceptance of office, and the first Valladares to hold public office is formally launched.
It's really kind of humbling...
I suppose that I should be included in that number, as someone who entered politics through an interest in democracy and how it works - I was the Deputy Returning Officer of my Students' Union at the University of East Anglia before I joined the local Union of Liberal Students branch. Indeed, I retain an involvement through my membership of the Management Board of Unlock Democracy (the place where James Graham works his campaigning magic).
However, I'm not going to address the many issues floating around for debate at the moment. Instead, I'm going to mull over the phrase 'peace, love and understanding' as it pertains to where we are.
There has been a lot of anger, initially provoked by the expose by the Daily Telegraph of the weird, wonderful and occasionally fraudulent expense claims of various Members of Parliament but amplified by some of the reactions of those so embarrassed. However, the seeming desire to throw the kitchen sink and smear a number of innocent bystanders made it look as though our Parliament was predominantly crooked rather than fairly foolish.
It is all very well creating that sense of anger, but just when sensible reform might have dealt with the issue, that blanket sense of anger made things rather more difficult. Being a Member of Parliament now gives you the social standing of a racist leper, leading to abuse not only of Parliamentarians but of their spouses, partners and children. I hear stories of individuals who are talking of giving up, decent people with no stain on their character but tainted by the cry of 'they're all crooks'. Indeed, why put yourself through that when even the people whom you've served faithfully turn on you? There are doubtless Parliamentarians of all parties who are reconsidering their decision to run for another term, people who will be a loss to their communities and to our country.
In turn, those people who form the talent pool of the various political parties will be wondering if they really want to do that to themselves. Their husbands, wives and partners will be somewhat less enthusiastic and thus less supportive (and never underestimate how vital a supportive family can be for a politician). Women in particular, who tend to need more encouragement under normal circumstances, will be more reticent about putting their names forward.
It is time that we had a proper debate on what is necessary to support and maintain a representative, inclusive and effective democracy, and I am less than convinced that forcing Parliamentarians to don hairshirts is the right first step. What do people actually want from their representatives? What would be needed to provide that service? Is scrutiny more important than debate? Should we provide better research support for our policy makers? Indeed, if this costs more, is it appropriate or necessary to cut the number of MP's? Do we need to change the working week, allow for remote participation, timetable votes formally so as to avoid the ludicrous necessity for MP's and Peers to hang around in case a vote is taken? All of these things have their implications for 'terms and conditions'.
Unfortunately, until we get beyond the desire for punishment, we will be unlikely to get real change that deals with anything more than the headlines. Given that Sir Christopher Kelly's recommendations have been signed up to without any knowledge of what they might be, there is a real risk that a chance for genuine, positive change will be lost for a generation. It would be terrible if, having created the opportunity, it was squandered by a political class interested only in saving their own skins in the short term whilst sacrificing future generations.
I hope that the Daily Telegraph is proud of itself...
Monday, June 22, 2009
This morning? Drop Ros at the station, stroll into the centre of Mid-Suffolk's metropolis, stroke the ginger cat that is sitting patiently outside 'Milpets', Stowmarket's number one shop for your petfood needs, walk to Pickwicks for breakfast (yes, there would be pork involved). Check 'Lib Dem Blogs' to see what's happening in the world of Liberal Democracy, pay for breakfast. Walk back to station, stopping to stroke cat (still waiting patiently for 'Milpets' to open, it seems) and noting the number of ducks in the churchyard, buy copy of 'The Times', catch train. Read newspaper in comfort, listen to music on laptop, write blog entry, watch countryside (sheep, horses, cows etc).
Meanwhile, Cincinnati sleeps and dreams of hunting antelope on the savannah...
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Monique was no disappointment, and I admit to being somewhat smitten. She's feisty and opinionated but absolutely charming, and we enjoyed a lovely evening of conversation, whilst all around us, the personae dramatis of North West liberal democracy spoke and mingled. I had the opportunity to catch up with an former Young Liberal Chair, Jane Brophy, now our PPC for Altrincham West & Sale, and her husband, John, whilst stellar blogger Costigan Quist was there doubtless gathering more material for his 'must read' blog (just make sure that the Quistlets don't get at the Grand Marnier, my friend...).
John led the auction, which raised valuable funds for the Region (why doesn't London do this?), and with a number of speeches plus a presentation to Keith Whitmore to mark both thirty years as a councillor and his new role chairing the new Integrated Transport Authority, the successor to the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. With a vote of thanks from Andrew Stunnel, and a raffle prize for the irrepressible Mark Hunter, it was a very pleasant evening indeed. I should also highlight Shan Alexander's work in making it all possible.
John and Monique were most kind in putting us up for the night in their gorgeous home, and we enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading for Wilmslow for this morning's expedition back to Suffolk. We boarded the train to find that Virgin Trains are experimenting with a weekend breakfast service in First Class, so I had another round of bacon and eggs. I'll skip lunch...
However, there was a difference - the venue. The rather puritan sense that we shouldn't enjoy ourselves too much has been replaced by an understanding that our councillors now actually run things and are a professional corps of people delivering real services and spending real money. That means running professional conferences at proper venues, and the Mercure St Paul Hotel in the middle of Sheffield certainly met the requirement.
Spending time in the blogosphere as I do, it is easy to forget that, amidst the spleen-venting and posturing of some of my colleagues, that many of my friends and acquaintances across the Party are now councillors. It was nice to see so many of them in one place, although all I was doing was greeting old friends and smiling. They, on the other hand, were working, and their professionalism is amazingly reassuring.
I'm old enough to remember a time when we had far fewer councillors, and the prospect of many of my friends getting elected, let alone be in power, was unlikely, to put it kindly. And yet, so many of them are Executive Members, or Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, without having sold their souls to reach that august level. In turn, they are doing the things we always talked about, making a real difference in the lives of real people.
We all occasionally have moments when we wonder why we bother, when defeat or hostility or plain stupidity makes giving it all up seem attractive. And then you turn up in a place like Sheffield, see your friends, and you realise that it really is worth going to that meeting, delivering those leaflets and going that extra mile...
Friday, June 19, 2009
Of course, this is much easier when he is unwise enough to venture onto Millennium's manor - actually, 'unwise' doesn't really cover this, try 'recklessly foolhardy' - where his excuses were never really likely to find a warm welcome, especially when he starts by laying into everyone's favourite fluffy pachyderm.
However, it nevers pays to be rude to someone, so I've very graciously marked him on his claimed values and beliefs, providing some advice on where I felt that his performance was less than optimal. After all, we do want people to improve, don't we? And a little constructive criticism can only be helpful...
However, where I have respected my bosses (and that doesn't mean agree with them on everything), I tend to perform better. I enjoy an intellectual challenge. and a manager who thinks before they act tends to convince me that there is some strategic awareness and an understanding of the broader picture. I may not always agree with their decision, but if it is well argued, they can count on me to back them up.
Since I arrived in my current post, I haven't necessarily seen eye to eye with my manager. It isn't that he's a bad person, or that he doesn't try. It's just that I don't sense that the bigger picture is something that he wants to consider. There is little sense of a strategic view, although I am unconvinced that he is encouraged to take one, and I've felt rather isolated in terms of where I fit in.
However, we've had a bit of a chat lately, and I took the opportunity to bare my soul in terms of where and what I think the issues are. Given that the general workstate is pretty bad - nine weeks of post on hand and little immediate prospect of improvement - it's probably best that I leave him to worry about it. Instead, I'll focus on our weak points and try to secure some improvements for our customers, keeping him informed as to what I'm doing and why. If he's got a problem, he can say so, and if he needs me to do something, he can ask.
And perhaps everyone might be a winner, after all...
However, now that we've seen what the Parliamentary authorities were planning to publish, you begin to appreciate why someone might feel tempted to 'disinfect using sunlight'. As an attempt at transparency, yesterday's publication was as opaque as a lead-coated window, and risks incensing public opinion further.
That said, Parliamentary advice is that you shouldn't publish details of your home address for security reasons. After all, in an age where respect for the individual is in such short supply, and the relationship between the public and politicians is so poor - a problem which arose long before 'Expensegate' - do you want to provoke people to harass MPs, Peers or even councillors in their own homes? And we've seen that happen - who were those people pictured outside Chris Rennard's house in Stockwell recently throwing a beach party? Regardless of what MPs may have done, I'd rather the law deal with them than encourage or endorse vigilantism.
At the end of the day, MPs are people too, with a right to privacy when they are not performing their public duties. If we whip up public opprobium to a point where people withdraw from politics because they aren't willing to put their families in jeopardy, we may find ourselves worse off in the long run.
There must be a way in which we can ensure proper, rigorous inspection of MP expenses whilst protecting privacy. The challenge is to meet that goal...
The only problem that I've encountered is getting to the station. It's about three miles to Stowmarket, and there are no buses. And no, that doesn't mean that there are no buses running past the house. There are no buses within a mile of the house, and we're surrounded by fields. Those fields have crops in, so you have to go round them.
There is talk of a little 'hoppa bus' running on a figure-of-eight route centred on Stowmarket but until then, I'm reliant on taxis and the occasional walk if I'm up to it. Thank heavens the sun is shining...
Thursday, June 18, 2009
The left have never been very good at disguising their intentions for long. And when 'Liberal Conspiracy' emerged, claiming to be a place where the progressive left could;
1. Have a intelligent conversation about liberal-left ideas and values;
2. Campaign for liberal-left policies and causes; and,
3. Help people get organised,
I was fairly suspicious. Firstly, given the record of the Government over the past twelve years, liberal is not a word that sits comfortably with the notion of 'Labour supporter', as most of the founders claimed to be. Yes, there were a few liberals I could recognise as such, Alix Mortimer, Jennie Rigg and Mat Bowles, people whose views I respect and who brought credibility to the project.
However, I waited patiently for the signs that this was just another attempt to rebuild the 'big tent' of progressive forces under the banner of the Labour Party. You see, they just can't resist. They don't understand that we are members of another political party because we don't agree with them. Yes, we might want some of the same things, and we aren't Conservatives, but that doesn't make us willing playmates.
And so it is with 'Liberal Conspiracy'. Publishing articles attacking our campaigning techniques, or articles presuming that all participants should naturally be supporting Labour makes our continued involvement self-defeating. And so my decision to pull out pending clearance from Jennie or Mat that I should give them a second chance is now a permanent one. My only wounding rejoinder is to remove their link from my blog, which I will be doing in the next five minutes.
Just one message for Sunny Hundal as I close the door behind me though. You really messed up there, another blow for the cause of those, like myself, who are willing to work across Party lines to change this country for the better where we have common ground. It's so much harder to persuade the partisans when the pluralists are so badly let down, so often...
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The atmosphere at Euston Tower is a bit tense at the moment, with targets coming under pressure and delays in dealing with correspondence increasing. The result, more telephone calls, more reminder letters, more aggravation all round. Accountants are hassled by their clients looking for refunds, or the withdrawal of penalties, and they ring us. We tell them that we have arrears and, whilst we're doing that, we're not doing any productive work, which means that we have less time to address the backlog.
Luckily, I'm pretty cheerful. I take an honest approach and explain, as far as I am able to, where we are and what is possible. I'd rather not have to do so, but you pay our salaries, so we try to respond to you. If I'm happy, I'm also more productive, so work with me on this one.
So I'm more likely to try to be helpful, and you get a slightly less awful level of service. I never promised you a rose garden, but I might use a pair of tweezers to remove some of the thorns...
However, living in inner London means that you gain that extra valuable time to do things that are fun. Alternatively, you can organise events to see other people. Ailsa Newby, wife of our Treasury spokesman in the Lords, had decided that spirits needed lifting, and so threw a Party for the Parliamentary Party in the Lords. Frankly, it's been pretty depressing with all the talk of enquiries into expenses, never knowing when your name will come into the frame, especially when sections of the media are happy to stitch you up by wilfully misrepresenting the facts, as Jo Swinson and Alan Reid have discovered.
So an opportunity to relax was eagerly anticipated although, given the way Lords business is managed, the ability to escape the Palace of Westminster is sometimes compromised. And, indeed, that was the story of the evening, with key votes on the Political Parties and Elections Bill taking place. Regardless of the likelihood of success, our team made sure that they were there to at least make a point, so it was particularly pleasing that votes were won to bar tax exiles from contributing to political parties, and to cap donations at £50,000 per annum.
At least a phalanx of Peers were able to join us before sunset, in time to follow England's defeat down the road at the Oval. Ah well, life can't be perfect... Thanks, Ailsa, for a lovely evening...
My more economically liberal friends probably rail against the idea of state broadcasting but, given the slide in standards at both ITV and Channel 4, and the increasing number of digital channels that churn out a stream of repeats, we should perhaps be grateful that someone is still producing original material. Unusually though, I'm going to make common cause with them over the issue of state support for the production of ITV regional news programmes.
The proposal that a slice of the £3.6 billion that is assigned to fund the BBC be used to encourage ITV to retain what regional news content it still has and expand provision seems to be meddling with the market. If, as my free marketeer friends suggest, the market will supply what consumers want, it is apparent that consumers don't want local news via their television set.
There is a good reason for this. The original set up of ITV, with smaller regional franchises strongly rooted in their communities, encouraged the franchise holder to reach out to those they served. The umbrella organisation that linked them all ensured that stations like Border or Grampian benefitted from the ability of larger stations to produce mainstream drama, whilst they concentrated on the odd nationally franchised show like Mr & Mrs or How!. Regional news reached down to smaller communities and addressed their concerns in an accessable way.
However, as efforts were made to boost profit levels, the amalgamation of regional franchises led to an inevitable loss of local facilities. Regional studios went quickly, in favour of coverage from one centralised location. What hope for coverage of Northamptonshire if the regional news is produced in Norwich? Why watch the news in Braintree if the coverage is of events in Ely? As for coverage of sub-national politics that isn't London dominated, seek in vain.
It was my fond hope that the digital revolution would lead to a blossoming of very local broadcasting, produced at low cost by volunteer community broadcasters. Indeed, such experiments took place in places like Aarhus, Denmark, as I saw for myself twenty years ago. Unfortunately, the rise of the internet put paid to that. The ability to produce material at home, using a webcam and a laptop, means that you don't need to go to a studio to broadcast. With decent broadband, I could probably create Radio Creeting St Peter and broadcast spoken word programming to my heart's content were I to be so inclined.
I would leave the BBC to produce regional news content, using their range of options, television, radio and internet, to reach people, and leave the commercial sector to its own devices. Perhaps sometimes, if only sometimes, it's better not to buck the market...
Monday, June 15, 2009
George Osborne writes in today's Times that he has been studying the methods used by Canada in the mid-nineties to consolidate the economy. He's young, and perhaps doesn't understand how the Canadians got to such a state. Of course, a better memory and a stronger grasp of history does help. So, for the benefit of George Osborne, perhaps a refresher course might help.
First, just who was in Government in Ottawa between 1993 and 2000? Let me see, ah yes, Jean Chretien. You remember him, didn't like George W Bush very much, rode a bicycle, led the, on the tip of my tongue, yes, I remember, Liberal Party of Canada, sister party of the Liberal Democrats. Not the Conservatives, who were in opposition.
Second, why were the Liberals in power? Ah yes, the 1993 Canadian election, when the ruling Conservatives went from having a majority to being the opposition. Actually, to be accurate, they weren't the opposition because the Bloc Quebecois had more seats in Parliament than they did. As did the Reform Party... And the New Democrats... In fact they only retained two seats, lost their Party leader and were cast into the political darkness for the best part of a decade.
So I say to George Osborne, bring it on, young man. We'll run the country whilst you go away and write some policy. We won't wait up in anticipation...
It's the little things, the comments by Paul Krugman recently that suggest that Britain is best placed to emerge from recession, the reported drops in industrial production and exports from countries such as Germany and Japan, the rebound of sterling against a basket of currencies. And yet the Government may still snatch defeat from the still forming jaws of a strategy that might, just might, allow them to avoid the kind of defeat that threatens them now.
Of course, on the economy, Liberal Democrats still have a good story to tell. Much of Labour's response to the crash was presaged by calls from the inestimable Dr Cable, and his personal credibility remains high. Indeed, when it comes to learning the lessons, you would still fancy Vince to do a better job of implementing the kinds of measures that would reduce levels of systemic risk than his rivals (George Osborne? No, I think not, I really do).
What prevents Labour from claiming the credit is fear and history. Fear of calling the recovery too early, fear that it might be a false dawn. History, in that Norman Lamont's claim of 'green shoots' was so summarily shot to ribbons that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to use the phrase without vast qualification.
And yet they need to start attempting to requisition the credit soon. If we are doing better than our rivals, Labour need to tell the public that before the Conservatives inherit an improving economy by default. Our task is to lay claim to having set the agenda for dealing with the economy and, if we succeed, we may stymie a Labour recovery whilst limiting Conservative gains.
Could a hung Parliament be our reward?...
No, I haven't gone off in a huff, it's simply that I wasn't able to do the job to a standard that I felt was appropriate. Given that I spent little time in Brent, and that I wasn't available to give much time to local campaigning or attend fundraising events, it seemed only fair to go, so that someone else could take over.
Brent Liberal Democrats are a great campaigning force, and I'll be sorry to leave them, but I have a strange feeling that something else will spring up to take its place in my life...
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Julia (Bosmere), Penny Otten (Thedwastre South) and John Field (Gipping Valley) are all much liked, and it was a lovely evening with food and wine, whilst we played boules in the garden and took photographs of the Mid Suffolk team.
What I find so enticing is that everyone is so nice to each other, and there is little of the intensity that urban politics has. Don't get me wrong, it isn't that they don't care, far from it. However, their devotion to their community comes before partisan politics, and I think that they are the better for it. Ideologues are looked upon with suspicion in these parts, and building a reputation over time tends to be more successful in District and County elections.
We even got to play 'guess the name of the kitten', although we had to leave before a result could be declared...
On a sunny day, Norwich is a lovely spot to be in, and delivery is quite easy. So, a bundle of leaflets was grabbed and off to Mile Cross to deliver them. I've picked up a fair bit of colour in recent weeks, so a hat was required, but the walk was pleasant enough, and it's always good to get a flying start, even if the date of the by-election is a matter of conjecture.
I don't doubt that I'll be back in Norwich North at some point, and look forward to seeing you there. You will be there, won't you?...
There is still, I'm pleased to say, a regional element to 'The Politics Show', and I found myself in the green room at 'The Forum', a comparatively recent addition to the Norwich skyline, built after the main library caught fire and burned down. It's all glass and open plan, so you can, for example, peer into the BBC Radio Norfolk offices whilst you lunch at Pizza Express, or sip your latte.
Naturally, there is no audience for 'The Politics Show', so I was parked in the gallery whilst the stars were prepped, sound checked and briefed. The gallery is, much to my surprise, where the technical stuff happens, so I could pick from a vast array of screens to see what else was happening, listen in on the studio conversation, and wonder how they were going to hide the wires from the presenter's microphone.
Not a bad show either. I thought that the Lib Dem spokesperson showed up very well, whilst David Campbell Bannerman from UKIP was more polished than I had expected. Chloe Smith, the Conservative candidate (note - not the prospective candidate) for Norwich North, made up the trio in the studio, whilst
Richard Howitt joined in from the studio in Cambridge.
Next stop, campaign HQ in Norwich North...
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I enjoy these events, especially as people go out of their way to be welcoming. The food is usually good, and this evening was no exception - homemade vegetable soup, the pork, lemon meringue pie, coffee and chocolate coated almonds. The conversation was entertaining, as we discussed how to deal with altitude sickness and how to get your laundry done in La Paz. I got to hear a great speech from the star turn and even won a raffle prize, a bottle of Slovak slivovitz, which I will doubtless treasure in the years to come.
Next week, I'll be at a fundraising dinner for the North West Region in Chorlton cum Hardy, the presumed brother of the friendly dragon who got on so well with the Wheelies. So I part with the words, "Goodbye, little old lady!".
Friday, June 12, 2009
Recently, however, our local branch stopped stocking it, and as supplies ran low, we began to fear that someone might have to organise an expedition to find a new option. Indeed, this morning, the last of our stock was drunk.
In hope rather than expectation, we called in this afternoon at the Tesco Extra in Royston. A glance at the shelves failed to find anything, and Mrs Faceless Bureaucrat wandered off to pay for our other items. In despair, I scanned the shelves again and, lurking on a shelf at the end, a miracle! Boxes of Captain Scott's Strong Blend. So I bought four boxes, enough to keep us going through the summer.
A nice cup of tea beckons, and not only that, the healthy glow that comes from helping to support the conservation of Scott's Huts in the Antarctic, as 5p of the cost of each pack goes to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
I may be gone some time...
Well, when the dust finally settled, Labour had held one seat and lost one to the Conservatives, leaving the final position in Suffolk;
Conservatives - 55 seats (+11)
Liberal Democrats - 11 seats (+2)
Labour - 4 seats (-16)
Greens - 2 seats (+2)
Independents - 2 seats (n/c)
UK Independence Party - 1 seat (+1)
Yet another shocking result for Labour, reduced to four seats in Ipswich, and wiped out everywhere else in the county.
However, my sense is that he, and his colleagues are yet to master the concept of timing. For example, had he approached the Liberal Democrats in 2007, having just got the top job, and offered a deal on a more proportionate voting system, could we, would we have turned him down? Now, he looks desperate and opportunistic. Our ability to support him is restricted by not wanting to look as though we are propping up a discredited and desperate government.
Of course, he then allowed himself to be deterred from calling an election in 2007 by a populist call for the abolition of inheritance tax from George Osborne (probably the only thing the latter has got right as Shadow Chancellor). It was astonishingly foolish given all of the economic indicators and the advantages of his honeymoon period, but indicative of a man who finds the evaluation of risk very difficult.
He clearly isn't alone in lacking a sense of timing. The shambolic drip, drip, drip of cabinet and junior minister resignations created a sense of crisis without building the kind of momentum that would actually make Gordon go. There was no sense of co-ordination, no shared message, nobody willing to stick the knife in and thrust deep. You couldn't imagine senior Labour figures of the sixties and seventies being that amateurish, in truth, and if there's one thing worse that a leadership coup attempt, it's a failed one.
So now we see an attempt to rush reform of the House of Lords through, with not enough time to use the Parliament Act, and with a doubtless hostile second chamber unlikely to lift a finger to help. Even if our Peers vote with the Government, and both Parties keep everyone on board - not that likely, I suspect - the massed ranks of the Conservatives and the Crossbenchers will have more than enough votes to block it until the General Election. Given that the Conservatives have declared reform of the Lords to be a third-term issue, it would be remarkable if significant change could be achieved.
At least they've achieved a level of comic timing, because they're surely going to get plenty of laughter...
Thursday, June 11, 2009
So, I call them and am rapidly lost in their automated call assignment system. Lengthy messages explain all the wonderful things that they might do for you (this is an 0845 number, so you're paying to listen to Sarah's dolcet tones), but take you in loops when you final get a chance to dial 1 for option Z.
Eventually, I get through to a real human being. Her name is Charlotte. She tells me that, in fact, the address cannot be changed as it is 'as the local council registered it'. So, I would need to persuade Mid Suffolk District Council to re-register the entire street. This sounds unpromising, indeed, unlikely. So, I ask Charlotte what I can do. After some to-ing and fro-ing, she advises that she can do it over the phone for £7... each. Less than entirely impressed, I indicate a sense of frustration, carefully ensuring that I make it clear that I am not unhappy with Charlotte who is, after all, only following her instructions. Luckily, I have the appropriate form, and can complete it at my leisure this evening.
Technology is a wonderful thing in so many ways, but it does tend to cause people to fall back on the 'system' and the rulebook rather than try to find ways of serving the customer. The bureaucracy increasingly want standardised responses to administrative processes. By doing so, and by punishing those who seek to reach beyond the process map, they extinguish initiative. We all suffer from that lack of will, that suspension of the creative thought process, and life is made a little more maddening as a result.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
I'm on a number 27 bus at Edgware Road station. A very crowded bus, it is true, but I have a seat, and time to read my e-mail, catch up with the world and reflect on the day ahead.
It is a sign of the times that the bus queue outside Paddington Station had a police presence. Not just one, but a line of them. They clearly aren't expecting the 'Dunkirk spirit' to shine through... Yet, for the most part, people are being courteous and patient, trying to find a means of getting around without recourse to the Tube. "Does this bus go to X?", is the buzz phrase this morning.
Luckily for this faceless bureaucrat, patience is built in to the code of conduct. I'll get to work eventually, and taxpayers will get served - assuming that they can get through on the phones, we may be a bit short-handed...
The lesson is that I really ought to be doing more things that I enjoy. This may involve beer in moderation, it may even involve some non-political stuff. However, I need some challenge in my life, so I'm going to attempt to be nice to people for the next 100 days.
Politics seems to be more aggressive these days, and the urge to shoot first and ask questions later appears rather harder to resist. Debate tends towards an attack of another's position rather than an exposition of one's own. Anonymity is a cloak used to disguise those who slander and abuse by means of vile invective. Individuals engage in the sort of aggressive exchange that they would never take part in face to face, apparently in a sense that, because they are at the other end of a computer screen nobody gets hurt. Curiously, people do get hurt.
We'll see how long I can keep up this pledge, especially as I hear the sounds of another scuffle on the Liberal Youth forums...
Saturday, June 06, 2009
So, 33 councils out of 34 declared, Liberal Democrats down just four seats. Not bad, not bad at all, I'd say. In places like Suffolk where the default position is to vote Conservative, we fought hard to hang on to everything we had and, where the Conservatives had to really work, they struggled, losing seats to us and to the Greens.
But, to save you looking it up, the missing result is Suffolk, where the ballot boxes in Chantry, one of the Ipswich divisions were sealed, and a recount ordered for Sunday evening. Chantry is a two-member ward, previously held by Labour, and I'm assuming that it is very tight indeed.
More news as we have it...
The strangest thing is that the city seemed drab and quiet on a Saturday morning - more like a Sunday in Whitehall. However, I have done my duty and am now on my way back to Creeting St Peter, and to celebrate, the sun has appeared. Sometimes, the Gods are sending a message...
It fell to me to break the bad tidings when she actually arrived, as I was pretty convinced that she had lost. And, as in 2006, when I called the third seat in South Camberwell for the Greens long before they did, I was right. The final result in Upper Gipping:
- Andrew Stringer (Green) - 1818 votes
- Caroline Byles (Conservative) - 1323 votes
- Mark Valladares (Liberal Democrats) - 262 votes
- John Cook (Labour) - 183 votes
So, the only seat to change hands in Mid Suffolk went from the Conservatives to the Greens.
Overall, across Suffolk, with two-seat Chantry ward (held by Labour previously) still to declare - they couldn't declare yesterday and we won't get a result until Monday apparently - the state of Suffolk is:
- Conservatives - 54 seats (+10)
- Liberal Democrats - 11 seats (+2)
- Labour - 3 seats (-15)
- Greens - 2 seats (+2)
- Independents - 2 seats (one of which sits with the Liberal Democrats) (n/c)
- UKIP - 1 seat (+1)
We gained Hardwick in Bury St Edmunds from an Independent who had left the Conservatives previously, and St Helen's in Ipswich from Labour. That makes us the official opposition in Suffolk...
Friday, June 05, 2009
As it turned out though, the anti-us vote split three ways, with Suffolk Together and UKIP both taking significant shares of the vote but killing off any prospect of Conservative gains. Julia Truelove held the seat formerly held by our Party President by more than 400 votes, and John Field winning by over 500 in Gipping Valley.
So, no gains and no losses for us, no Labour vote of any note, nothing for UKIP. But there was one change in Mid-Suffolk...
Thursday, June 04, 2009
So, with orange and white cat over my shoulder, I strolled down The Lane (original street name, that one), to thank the presiding officer and assistant for their efforts today. Cincinnati purred his approval too, and we had a quick catchup.
The final number of votes cast in Creeting St Peter was 76, 35.4% of eligible voters. There are 14 postal voters on the register, so turnout will probably reach 40%.
Now that equates to approximately one voter every twelve minutes, which might not sound very impressive, but the presiding officer asked me to note their view that voters here are really polite and friendly, and that they've enjoyed being here. Violet, the church warden has made sure that their day is comfortable by sweeping the hall, making sure that the toilet is properly supplied and that the kitchen is spotless, and they are very grateful.
We take much of our democracy for granted, but without the presiding officer and other poll workers, turnout and thus participation would be much lower, so many thanks to both of them for their efforts today.
I say 'usual' because, breaking with tradition, we have a second polling station at the offices of the District Council, a fact which has caused a few voters to turn up at the wrong polling station. It just goes to show that you shouldn't mess with tradition...
Unexpectedly, the 'evening rush hour' hasn't been as busy as I had expected. We'll still have done good business though, and it warms the heart to see so many people say that it's their moral duty to vote when I thank them for doing so.
Given that they're defending the seat, are they worried about us?
There are no other tellers, no Labour, no Conservative, no UKIP, no Suffolk Together, just us. And, as a teller, this is a very nice place to be. The voters seem only too willing to let you take their electoral number, indeed they positively offer it to you, so I assume that they're used to seeing a Liberal Democrat. Actually, knowing the two District councillors, Mike Norris and Wendy Marchant, I know that they are.
One of the pleasures of this job is that you get to meet a cross-section of the town. Better still is the chatter, as people meet and talk, old friends catch up and talk about their gardens, or the weather, or their holidays. So unlike London...
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
So, taking my Suffolk street map, I set off for Creeting St Peter Church, using the old burial path before heading for Mill Lane. So far, so good. It was at this point that my difficulties started. I could see the sign, pointing over a wooden footbridge, but no obvious way of getting there. I ploughed through the tall grass and made it to a rather overgrown bridge, surrounded by nettles. On crossing the bridge, I found myself rather without options, so I skirted the edge of the field, found another footbridge and headed towards Grove Farm, where my map indicated a path towards the Gipping where I intended to join the River Path. Yes, you guessed it, no luck there either.
Backtracking a bit, I headed south towards the river and found the River Path, which took me through a field of highland cattle (most of whom were to cast a wary glance in my direction before wandering away).
The Gipping Valley River Path is a very pleasant stroll, and I followed it for about a mile before crossing the river at Ravens Farm, the railway at the level crossing and arriving at Mike and Sheila Norris's house to collect a couple of walks worth of leaflets to deliver.
All told, a very pleasant afternoon, and a chance to do something for Bosmere Liberal Democrats.
Monday, June 01, 2009
And, perhaps, that is why we commute, that transition from country to town and back. For the young, or for the wealthy, commuting is to be avoided. For the young, the bright lights and noise and bustle are the very acme of modern life. Clubs, bars, music venues, and all of the things that represent escape from the humdrum - all of these are there. For the wealthy, the convenience of location trumps the cost of finding housing in one of the most expensive cities on Earth.
I am a child of the London suburbs. Kingsbury, where I grew up, was part of the Metroland developments of the 1920's and 1930's, a place that went from farmland n 1930 to fully-fledged suburb n just two years, thanks to the arrival of the Underground. For me, London was a place you took for granted in your teens - it was always there, its cultural riches and opportunities to be taken one day. I know that I certainly did, after all, there was so much else to be done.
But, eventually, relative poverty or parenthood drives most of us to the suburbs. Suburban life is not what it was, and as ring after ring of suburban growth accreted around London, the point of them began to be lost. They were meant to be that transition zone between the town or city and the countryside, yet who could honestly say that Thornton Heath or Queensbury, Abbey Wood or Hanwell really achieve that. And so we move out further, in search of community lost, of a place to grow and raise children, to Kent and Surrey, Hertfordshire and Essex, forever being chased by the sprawl.
Unusally, I didn't fall into the usual pattern. Childless by choice, my life led to another suburb, this time south of the river. And, if events hadn't intervened, I might still be there but, as is so often the case, things change and I now find myself turning into a country dweller, on the far edge of what might be considered commutable. Admittedly, few would consider mid-Suffolk to be commuter territory, and the dislocation between Creeting St Peter (population 261) and central London is an acute one.
But perhaps the relocation enables me to re-evaluate my relationship with the 'big city over the rainbow'. I may be more likely to take in a show, visit one of its many great museums, enjoy the restaurants, my club, the walk along the Embankment. Whatever comes to pass, life may never be the same again...