Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ming gets it wrong, wrong, wrong

I've been watching through some of the coverage of Party Conference on the bbc iplayer* and have just happened upon an argument between Ming Campbell and Evan Harris on Tuesday's Daily Politics. (It' about 30 minutes in, after Nick Parsons).

Ming is talking complete rubbish.

It is clearly true that sometimes Leaders have to react to events.

But is equally clear that Nick Clegg's comments about whether or not the abolition Tuition Fees will be in the manifesto is not something that has just cropped up - it was fully discussed just a few weeks ago in Federal Policy Committee and the Fresh Start paper reflects the settled view of that committee.

Ming's attitude in this interview highlights why he lost support so rapidly when he was our leader and demonstrates an unfortunate tendency of some of our leaders - that they expect loyalty from the party without realising that loyalty runs both ways.

I hope that Nick Clegg will come to realise that what can, I'm sure, sometimes feel like a frustrating democratic process within our party, is, in fact, a great strength.

I also hope he won't be listening too much to former leaders like Ming.

*(although not my speech in the Fresh Start debate as that seems to have been lost)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

That's more like it

Yesterday, in the Fresh Start for Britain debate, I argued that we need to avoid being too doom and gloom and that we need to spell out clear, simple and principled reasons to vote Lib Dem.

Continuing my conference media blitz I gave a brief comment to the World at One this afternoon (about 15 mins in) and also agree with the comments Steve Webb and Malcolm Bruce made too.

Nick's speech this afternoon has done exactly that.

The message that should have been coming out all week: Rebuilding a sustainable economy, making Britain fairer and fixing our broken politics, came across loudly and clearly.

I hope he keeps this tone up.

Media tarting

My speech during the Fresh Start debate yesterday attracted a bit of coverage. (And it is probably on Iplayer somewhere)

There was clip on PM yesterday evening and I'm told I was quoted in the Guardian, although I can't find it.

I've also been interviewed for the World at One which should be on around now.

Sincere thanks to everyone who has made a point of saying that they enjoyed the speech.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Sunday Conference round-up

A slightly more relaxed day on Sunday after a busy Saturday. Much time spent wandering about and catching up with folk, including people I haven't seen for a while from my days campaigning in Leicester and my time in youth and student politics.

It has been a lovely few days weather wise and it has been nice to sit and chat.

Much of the talk is about the big tax and spend decisins the party is facing and particularly about tuition fees.

I did get along to the ALDC members' reception where we heard from both Vince and Nick. I also attended a very useful briefing for party trainers with Hilary Stephenson and Shaun Roberts. It is good to see that a lot of thought is going in to how we widen the reach of party training.

Finally it was off to the Blog Awards, hosted by those nice people at Lib Dem Voice.

It was very nice to put names to faces, including award winner Mark Thompson.

An attempted early night didn't go quite to plan as I bumped into party Chief Exec Chris Fox and Yorkshire & Humber Campaigns Officer Dave McCobb. Dave has been doing a lot of work with the Lib Dem team in my home town of Redcar and I had a very positive chat about their recent progress.

I'm still finding it a bit odd having all this time to chat to people but it's very enjoyable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Campaigning after Rennard

My co-panellist at last night's fringe, James Graham, has a report of the meeting over at Comment is Free.

Nick's bonfire of the bureaucrats

Nick has this morning set out a clear plan to slash the cost of Government and is 100% right to do so.

Westminster, Whitehall and the numerous unproductive layers of regional red tape, quangos and agencies are bloated and major savings can and shuld be found.

Nick's plan will save £1.82 billion - a substantial amount and well worth having as a contribution to the savings we need to achieve.

Equally importantly the plan will reduce the army of civil servants and bureaucrats whose main role is to stifle innovation, interfere in local decision making and waste significant amounts of time of those trying to deliver public services around the UK.

These proposals also give the lie to Mr Cameron's rather half-hearted proposals which seemed to amount to making MPs pay a little more for their beer and sandwiches.

Vince right and wrong

The big issue facing the party is how we deal with the crisis in the public sector finances and balance the undoubted need to cut the structural deficit with our commitment to a fairer and greener society.

Vince Cable MP last week published a pamphlet setting out his thinking on the issue.

As one would expect Dr Cable takes the issue seriously and argues that we should too. He believes that we may need to reduce Government spend by as much as 8% of GDP over five years and that we need to set out very specific plans about how we will do this.

This would inevitably mean massive cuts in Government spending which would have a major impact on the country.

He rightly argues that Labour's plans undersetimate the scale of the problem, that they rely too much on reducing capital spending rather than current spending, and that they are over optimistic about likely growth levels.

So far, so good.

He then moves on to argue
The emphasis for fiscal consolidation must fall on controlling public spending, not higher taxes: to commit to additional tax revenue raising from the outset undermines any commitment to setting priorities in spending.

This doesn't make sense to me. Reducing the deficit can be done by reducing spending, increasing taxes, or a combination of the two.

In no way does a decision that some taxes might have to be raised 'undermine' equally clear decisions to cut areas of spending.

Dr Cable then goes on to argue that 'salami-slicing' public spending will not work, and that we have to go back to square one and examine all publci spending.

In this I also agree with him. The only way we will find the savings we need to balance the budget is by going through the entirity of Government spend and check that it is well-directed expenditure. Effectively we need to be absolutely clear about what our priorities are and be willing to stop spending money on things that are low priority or ineffective.

Most of his suggestions in this regard (and they are only suggestions) make sense.

A lot of money can be saved by doing Government differently and by decentralising power. Money spent locally tends to provide better value, encourage innovation and garner higher public support. There is massive Government expenditure on advertising, agencies, quangos, unaccountable regional government etc. etc. We should take a slash and burn approach to the lot.

Similarly we know that much of the increased expenditure on several big services such as the NHS and education has not produced the improvements it should have. This surely means there will be savings to be found.

I am a little less happy at the lack of detail about some of the suggestions. I don't think it is helpful to suggest that there are major savings to be had from freezing the overall pay bill or in public sector pensions without a clear idea of how we acheive it without hitting the lower paid staff who our tax policies are, with the other hand, meant to help.

But at this stage I go back to the question of tax.

We have to look at savings, and prioritise what we think Government should do, but at some point some of the potential cuts may be worse than increasing some taxes. What we should do is balance the two. We should identify areas where some taxes could rise and compare the pros and cons with some of the cuts we might have to make.

Doing this does not in any way reduce the seriousness of our approach to pruning spending.

Areas we should look at include strengtheing green taxes, taxing very high incomes (a popular policy during the last two elections when the financial position was much sounder) taxing the bonuses that bankers continue to pay themselves despite everything etc.

We should also look at whether there are any specific taxes that might be used to fund some key spending commitments that might otherwise be dropped. (Graduate Tax anyone?).

In terms of how this plays with the public, well I think we will be given credit if we have a clear plan that adds up. I think the public knows that the Labour Government have got us into a VERY DEEP HOLE and will expect to see parties responding in a serious way that adds up.

However I do not think that there is any future for the Lib Dems if we present ourselves as being determined to slash public spending without even considering raising taxes to protect some services as part of the package.

Nick Clegg's rhetoric is rightly starting to mirror Obama in arguing that, despite the hole we are in, we can still be optimistic and still build a fairer, greener and freer society. This is key to our message. We have to have figures that stack up, but we have to do it for a purpose and we have to provide our potential supporters with hope for the future.

A busy first day at Conference

I'm finding this conference an odd experience. It's my 23rd Autumn Conference (Well the first was technically an Assembly, but you know what I mean) and the first since 1993 that I haven't been working for the party.

For the last few years my conference diary consisted of numerous training sessions, meetings with seats and the occasional fringe on behalf of the Campaigns Department. There was at least one where I never actually made it into the Conference Centre at all.

This one's different.

My conference diary has lots of gaps in it and I've got time to be sitting here in the hotel bar (Like Ms Rigg we have free wi-fi in my hotel but the signal is only strong enough in the bar and lobby - so I am writing this while litsening to dreadful piped music that even the older guests (of whom there are many) must find a tad slow).

Yesterday was the busy day diary wise. It started with a training session which I was co-training with the formidable Jeanette Sunderland from Bradford. We were training a small but high quality group of activists about 'Capacity and team building' which I enjoyed, particularly as Jeanette did most of the work.

I was left with an abiding feeling that I really wouldn't want to be the Labour MP on the end of the campaign Jeanette is planning for Bradford East.

I then attended a meeting between my former colleagues in the Campaigns Department and Regional Party Officers which was led by our excellent leader of campaigns Hilary Stephenson and then the other leader turned up and talked to us about the big policy issues facing the party. He seemed relaxed and on good form and answered questions clearly.

I then headed for the conference centre and into the hall. As a member of the Federal Policy Committee I thought I ought to be there to hear our report to conference, which was so exciting that it attracted not a single question.

Then the debate on the Real Women policy paper (which has been exciting the 'bloggosphere' a lot) was underway.

I sat, slightly nervously,, as I had earlier put in a card to speak against the amendment proposed by Bernard Salmon.

I thought the debate was very good, with most of the speeches being of a very high quality and covering a wide range of issues. Jo Swinson introduced the paper with a very strong contribution and I particularly enjoyed Laura Willoughby's speech about women's sport and suspect she is right about the reasons why the boys were keen for her to stop playing rugby ;-)

Just as the debate was heading for the end (and I had assumed I wasn't going to be called after all) the Chair, Sarah Boad, asked me to stand by.

Whenever I am about to speak I get butterflies in my tummy although I have learnt from experience how to handle them. This is partly because I've not actually spoken to the full conference hall very often, although I have done lots of training, speaking at fringe meetings etc.. This was only my fourth speech in a debate.

I never write full speeches as I tend to end up concentrating too much on the paper rather than the audience if I do. I prefer to write down bullet points and then make it up as I go along from them. I find this makes it easier to react to the audience (who, on this occasion, were very kind). I'm not a great speechwriter in a technical sense although I did chuck in the 'list of three' at the end whch worked well and led to a level of applause that took me a little by surprise.

More importantly I did have what I felt was a strong case to make and I was delighted when the vote was so strongly in favour of the motion but against Amendment 2.

After a bite of lunch I then met with Katy Riddle who is about to leave Winchester to become our Campaigns Officer in South Central Region. This means she will be supporting me in my role working for Oxford West & Abingdon and Wantage constituencies in the run up to the General Election.

It was then off to the Premier Inn (Everything's Premier but the price, and , on this occasion, the wheelchair lift) for the fringe meeting 'Campaigning After Rennard' organised by those nice people at Lib Dem Voice.

I was on the panel along with Lynne Featherstone and James Graham with Mark Pack in the Chair.

We each gave our thoughts, with a fair amount of common ground, and then there were a large batch of pertinent questions.

Then it was time for dinner and we headed a few doors down to the Indian for a lovely curry with Alex, Helen, Andrew and Costigan.

After that I headed back to the hotel (via dropping in on a few former Campaigns colleagues for a brief chat).

A busy day, but a fun one.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Goat + Tricycle = Happiness

True happiness is finding out that the distance from Liberal Drinks at Conference to my Hotel is 'staggerable' :-)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Is this Nick's Moment?

I've just had a quick skim through A Liberal Moment - Nick Clegg's pamphlet for Demos which sets out a pretty robust argument for a liberal approach to the current economic, political, social and environmental crises.

The pamphlet sets out a convincing case for the Lib Dems being the holders of the progressive flame.

The first part is a reflection on what happened to british politics at the start of the last century and looks at what lesson might be drawn.

Much of the material is familiar - at least to anyone who ever takes any notice of what Nick says - but it is good to see Nick's developing themes set out together in and easy to read package.

All in all a well timed contribution setting out a strong case for the party.