...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 2452: It’s about Freedom; It’s about Trust


This morning we debated “By the People, for the People”, a wide-ranging policy paper that seeks to put the over-mighty government back in its box, covering the need for a convention to write a Written Constitution; to defend the Human Rights Act, and further to entrench it into that Constitution; to abolish the unfair and arbitrary powers of Royal Prerogative; for reform of the voting system to ensure everyone feels represented though bringing in single transferable vote; to further empower people though Citizens Juries and Petitions; and finally to finish replacing the House of Lords Club with an elected Senate.

Golly, what a busy paper. Obviously with so much to do, it all gets a bit WOOLLY about some of the details.

The whole business of the Constitutional Convention – Lord Goodhearted called it “the Magna Carta for the Twenty-first Century” – is expected to take five or six years, which does not seem like it will keep people INTERESTED in the process when they need to be CONNECTED to it.

Ms Diana Wallis, endorsed by Mr James, also pointed out the shortcomings in the idea of Citizens Petitions – I AGREE, a petition that ends up being considered by “a committee”, a committee that can just say “no, ta” is not going to make people feel very empowered. Apparently the European Constitution (remember that) would have offered the power of Citizens Initiatives, like a kind of Private Members Bill for citizens, that would initiate a proper legislative process rather than just referral to “t’committee”. (Guess what – the Conservatories specifically wrote that bit OUT of their redrafted treaty!) Mr James also called on the Federal Policy Committee to develop further the proposed “Citizens Juries”, rather than let them be Mr Frown-style glorified FOCUS GROUPS.

An intervention from the floor asked about the wisdom of making the senate terms twelve years long – a period that would leave any young person at a desperate disadvantage in getting a job afterwards, and therefore almost certainly guaranteeing a senate of people over fifty. (Mind you, the word “senate” IS related to the Latin word “senex” meaning “old man”.)

The “English Question” was skated over – saying it will be left to the convention to decide. A couple of speakers DID say that an English Parliament would be a BAAAAD thing, while another warned that if we don’t answer it, then the sleeping giant would wake up waving the flag of St George. “Fee fie foe fum, I smell the Blood of an Englishman,” indeed!

The paper DOES make good points, though without reaching a conclusion. Mr Balloon’s idea of English Votes for Ingsoc Laws (E.V.I.L) does not even begin to address the problem – an English Rump of Parliament won’t help when the problem is the lack of an English EXECUTIVE. The Westminster Government would still have to implement the Rump Parliament’s laws. Even if it was of a different Party. That way CHAOS lies. But giving England its own government would be even worse – that government would represent 90% of the population of Britain and the very first thing it would do would be to lay claim to tax raising powers. Which of course it the problem that the current devolution has too – the Scottish and Welsh authorities ability to raise taxes is a bit limited and most of their money is decided by the Barnet Formula (which was supposed to be a temporary measure until Scottish Devolution was settled by the referendum… in the 1970s!)

Lord Tyler had opened by dismissing the other Parties pathetic and feeble ideas for reform: Mr Frown’s idea of devolution is to give regional titles to Ministers; Mr Fatty Clarke’s democracy task force has gone as far as suggesting the merger of the Commons Modernisation Committee with the Commons Procedure Committee. Big fatty deal.

On the other fluffy foot, Lord Tyler’s early remark “Mrs the Queen might be placed in an invidious position” produced SOME scorn from my daddies. “There are more important things to worry about than embarrassing Mrs the Queen,” we thought!

Nevertheless, there was much that was good in the paper and the debate. Particularly our strong support for the Human Rights Act. Lord Goodhearted, again, referred to how dreadful it was that Lord Blairimort spent so much time trying to UNDO the one really good thing that he had done. Mr Martin Todd poured scorn on a government that talks of the “respect agenda” but has no respect for its own citizens. And Mr Jonathan Marks QC said it was “a disgrace that the Conservatory Leader should campaign to wreck the Human Rights Act just to appease the pig-headed bigotry of some of his followers.”

Mr Dr Crispin Allard put the case for voting reform: the government’s tinkering with voting methods – all postal voting, all text voting, all homing-pigeon voting – these are gimmicks that address the symptom without addressing the cause: people are not voting because they do not get representation! Not only would single transferable votes boost representation for all people, especially for minorities, it would also end the old party patronage of safe seats for the favoured place men.

Mr David Heath summed up the debate and finished it with a reminder to us that we ARE the Party that CARES about giving power back to the PEOPLE, not to unelected aristocrats or appointed quangos or the Prime Minister’s cronies. And we should be PROUD of that!

The motion was passed, unamended.

Further putting Liberal Democracy INTO ACTION, we held the important hustings to choose our candidate to beat Mr Ken in the London Mayoral election.

Obviously, I was in the audience…

an elephant at the hustings
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…to see the three candidates presentations because I am a LONDONER. Obviously, the most important question to ME is who will change the name of that big tent back to “Millennium Dome” like it should be, but there were other questions that are more important to other people too.

I have to say, it is a VERY difficult choice! All of our candidates were VERY GOOD. Unlike the Conservatories, our hustings were PACKED OUT and the reason is obvious – unlike the Conservatories we have three very excellent people all of who delivered excellent presentations. No one in the audience was left thinking: “oh dear, that one’s the Boris”.

Instead we had an impassioned address from Ms Chamali Fernando, emphasising her energy and how she would stand out against Mr Boris and Mr Ken. It was a hard act to follow, but follow it Mr Fiyaz Mughal did, and he had SO MANY IDEAS that he quite ran out of time! Finally came Mr Brilliant Paddock who opened with his delight to be able to say “fellow Liberal Democrats”, followed with a joke about being undercover in the Met for all those years – with a gold uniform under his blue uniform. Where Ms Chamali had impressed and won over people’s MINDS, Mr Paddock won over their hearts AND their minds.

There followed questions and answers, hosted by Ms Susan Kramer-vs-Kramer who did so brilliantly herself when she was our first Mayoral candidate.

all stars
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What clearly emerged from all the candidates was that what the Liberal Democrats want is a mayor who is mayor for ALL of Greater London, not just zone one, not just Mr Ken’s cronies. It is SHOCKING that after eight years there is still a borough that Mr Ken has not bothered to visit. We want proper policing solutions, different solutions, local solutions to deal with the different problems for all of London’s different and varied boroughs. We want to spread the benefits of the London Olympics to all Londoners, to the ones who put in their effort and passion as well as the ones who have the talent to qualify – and to make sure that we get proper value for money.

Perhaps the most difficult question was what to do in those wards and boroughs where Liberal Democrats are thin on the ground. Mr Paddock was the only one to answer (I think the others ran out of time again). He had already said that he was keen to to be a leader for the wider Liberal Party to gain as much strength on the London Assembly and raise our support across the capital, but reminded us that it was difficult and that we would have to reach out to those areas though the capital-wide and indeed nationwide media. Which, of course, he has already shown he is able to do.

The last “Questionable Time”-esque question was “You can’t fix everything, but what would you go to the barricades for?”

I think that Mr Fiyaz had saved his best performance for last, as he was very powerful in advocating his passion to defend our Civil Liberties, to oppose the government’s DNA database, and their police-state blanket stop and search laws, and their I.D.iot cards.

So, I am left with a VERY DIFFICULT choice: all three of our candidates are super. Ms Chamali has youth and passion and stands out from the crowd; Mr Fiyaz has seems to know EVERYTHING! And Mr Paddock is a media star who has experience and true Liberal HEART.

I have had a STICKY BUN and come to my decision. But (unlike Daddy Alex) I do not want a visit from Don Liberali’s men, so I am going to let you make up your own minds too!

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