...a blog by Richard Flowers
Showing posts with label By-elections. Show all posts
Showing posts with label By-elections. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 4442: B'Eastleigh By-Election – The Fox and the Newshounds


We're told repeatedly – usually by the MEEJA – that ordinary people LOATHE "professional" politicians.

And yet, the Liberal Democrats are condemned – by the SAME meeja – for our poor handling of the Lord Rennard allegations as "amateur hour".

Well HOORAY for amateur hour, I say, if it means that these allegations are uncovered and investigated.

I've been SHOCKED and NAUSEATED by people (Hard Labour AND Conservatory and EVEN Lib Dem) trying to make POLITICAL CAPITAL out of this.

'Cos I suspect that the Conservatories and Hard Labour are NOT better at taking harassment seriously, but ARE better at COVERING IT UP!

I've heard Hard Labour's John Mann on the The Today show showing off that he'd reported the Liberals (sic) to the police, an interview all about blaming Captain Clegg where Mr Mann failed to mention the VICTIMS even once.

I've read typical passive-aggressive hand-wringing from the likes of Hopi Sen who confesses to having heard "rumours" from within Hard Labour – and by his silence admits done NOTHING about them – but still opportunistically condemns Captain Clegg (or rather the Lib Dem "leader" – I guess he cannot quite bring himself to finger the current leader given that the allegations appear to date back five to ten years).

I've seen Nick "mate of Dave" Robinson rolling his eyed and blowharding about Cap'n Clegg "changing his story" when it is REALLY the MEEJA who have changed what they reported. The Cap'n was still in Spain on Friday when the meeja were coming out with one story; he made a statement, when he got back, that didn't match their line so obviously they blame him for not keeping to what they'd written.

And of course the Daily Hate Mail and the Tell-lies-o-graph have been having a ball, giving no-good Conservatory Chair Grant "Ms" Happs all the covering fire and plausible deniability he could wish for.

(I should add here that Chanel Four News – and the BBC radio World at One – do appear to have reported responsibly, and it is good – and surprising! – to see the Grauniad's Michael White and Pollyanna Toytown raising questions about the timing and ferocity of the attack from the other print meeja.)

Did Cap'n Clegg take action? We DON'T KNOW – that's for the inquiry to find out. Although there's every appearance that the Cap'n DID do SOMETHING, sending Danny Alexander to "have a quiet word" and removing Lord R "on health grounds". Similarly, Ms Jo Swinson has made a statement about what she did and – reading between the lines – it appears that she too did what she could, constrained though she was by the need to respect the complainants' requests for anonymity.

Inadequate? Perhaps. But in the absence of concrete allegations, natural justice – innocent until proved guilty – says we should not just fire people on the basis of rumour. A more serious question would surely be WHY concrete allegations either were not made publicly or did not reach the appropriate office. Nor should we bite the head off the Party Leader on the say-so of people who themselves say they knew of the rumours but self-evidently did less about them than the Cap'n and Danny. We've ALL got to ask ourselves some serious questions and we've got to change the culture of the Party so that it matches what a lot of us believed it already was!

It seems to me that there is a problem with WHISTLE-BLOWING processes generally, and not JUST limited to the Liberal Democrats.

Anyone blowing the whistle faces two problems:

The first is the obvious fear of being labelled a "trouble-maker" (and there are worse names too, as we all know!). The evidence certainly seems to point to whistle-makers not prospering, down to a great deal of victim-blaming or just old fashioned revenge. Who's going to volunteer for that? All the more kudos to the women who HAVE now had the courage to come forward.

The second is that, unlike in real life, once you report something it seems like there are no shades of grey. As we've seen from the way that some in the meeja have happily blurred the distinction between the Lord Rennard allegations and the appalling facts of the Jimmy Savile case, you can go from "everything's fine" to "you're a MONSTER" with NO intervening steps.

(And the flip side of this is that the offender, if called upon their behaviour, is forced into massive and hurtful denial. Instead of "I'd rather you didn't stand so close" / "I'm sorry, I will try to do better and to learn from this mistake" we jump straight to "SEXUAL IMPROPRIETY!" / "I NEVER RAPED YOU!")

That makes whistle-blowing a REALLY BIG THING and, perversely, a MUCH HARDER thing to contemplate doing. If, for example, you know that you've been hassled inappropriately, but you handled it and you're not distressed are you going to be happy raising the issue knowing that your only option is the NUCLEAR option? Or are you forced to suffer in silence and maybe allow him (or her) to get away with it until the next time when they do something worse?

One possible solution to this might be to set up an INDEPENDENT organisation that will do the whistle-blowing for you – a kind of CHILD-LINE for GROWN UPS, if you like. Not just for the Lib Dems, but for any Party, or indeed companies or other groups like trades unions or the scouts or the WI; it might be especially useful for smaller companies without HR departments.

The person with the problem might find it easier to talk to an independent organisation that hasn't got power over them. This organisation could have staff trained to make sure that all complaints are listened to with sympathy and advice can be offered with compassion. And then they would be able to approach the right people at a senior level and talk frankly to them because they have no need to fear reprisals. It would allow people to – in a first instance – blow the whistle anonymously so that a problem could be addressed at a much earlier stage and without it having to be a full melodrama. If the problem DIDN'T get resolved, THEN you could move to full accusation and investigation.

But there's a more important issue.

Institutional changes might help correct one flaw – the instinct to protect an important figure, or at least to ignore it and hope it goes away – but not the societal reason beneath it: that people are AWKWARD and UNCOMFORTABLE talking about SEX and don't know how to deal with it.

Frankly, I'm afraid that there is a "NEW PURITANISM" abroad, seeking to supress ANY expression of sex or sexuality in the name of protecting people.

If we cannot talk about this – and CLEARLY we CAN'T – then the problem IS going to get ignored and it IS going to get WORSE!

This comes from the same culture where it is (bizarrely) HUMILIATING rather than LIBERATING to ask a political leader how many people he has slept with.

It's clear from the way that – salacious headlines aside – the meeja have concentrated on the alleged cover-up as though THAT is more important in and of itself. It is important but only in as far as it encourages and perpetuates a culture that says sexual harassment is "okay", that turns a blind eye to assault and rape. Sex is NAUGHTY! Sex is BAD! Sex, above all, is NOT TO BE SPOKEN OF!

The Liberal Democrats are supposed to be the Party that says the sex is ok! (And then blushes furiously!)

Conservatories think ALL sex is bad; Hard Labour think it should only be allowed when practised in the prescribed fashion (probably on the orders of Harriet Harman).

But WE'RE supposed to be the ones who say it's fine to fancy, to flirt, to snog, to (deep breath) shag.

This is about how grown-ups, adults, deal with sex – no, not even that, but sexual suggestiveness. Obviously this is about INFORMED CONSENT. That's why we have an AGE of CONSENT, so that there's a clear dividing line between children who don't understand and grown-ups who do. But where to draw the line between grown-ups is much more difficult. You can't just BAN everyone from making risqué remarks.

If you treat adults like children all the time, pretty soon you won't HAVE any more children!

Power relationships make it more complicated still.

The popular media image would certainly be the "stranger in a dark alley" is "worse" than an "unwanted grope". But is it? As a wise Auntie points out to me: consider the situation where, if you want to keep your job (to which by its very nature there are limited alternatives), you are forced to spend the next ten years working with the knowledge that that "unwanted grope" could happen again at any moment. Or worse.

We need to be more about EDUCATING people on where those lines are, and how to not get the signals wrong, and empowering people to explain when the line IS stepped over and to be accepting of being told that, and to be forgiving when people make a first mistake so that we can stop it becoming a "pattern" of mistakes, to becoming actual evil.

Today is by-election day.

Hundreds and hundreds of people have spent their time and their money supporting Mike Thornton, explaining why he would make a good and hard-working local MP... just as Mr Huhney-Monster (for all his other, more egregious faults) was a good and hard-working local MP... and with justification pointing out the shortcomings of his Conservatory rival the hardly-to-be-found Ms Hutchings. And it is terribly sad for all those people that the coverage in this last week has totally ignored the issues and the candidates.

It is to be hoped that the people of Eastleigh WILL decide on the issues and the candidates and will NOT be swayed by the meeja storm that the press have whipped up – flagrantly against the spirit of Leveson – because that would be a victory for the WORST kind of DIRTY TRICKS!

Along with every single Liberal Democrat that I've talked to or heard from, I'm appalled by what, if the allegations are proved, would be (yet another) failing by my Party. After covering up Charles Kennedy's battles with alcoholism, this looks all too like another conspiracy of "don't rock the boat"-ism.

But I'm also reassured that the Party is NOT putting electoral convenience ahead of moral necessity. Whatever may or may not have been swept under the carpet in the past, there is a clear determination now to lift that carpet now and clean our house properly.

Winning the B'Eastleigh By-Election is DESPERATELY IMPORTANT... but NOT as important as building a Party that DESERVES to WIN.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 4436: Is the Maria Hutchings (No) Show a Taste of Tory Tactics for the 2015 Election?


Here's a cynical thought for a fluffy toy: the Prime Monster is making a lot of FUSS about the BBC "empty chair-ing" his Conservatory Candidate in the B'Eastleigh By-Election; is this a DRY RUN for the Prime Ministerial Debates?

We know he's expressed "doubts" about facing Cap'n Clegg and that Milipede bloke in 2015. Could he have decided – with this by-election slipping from his fingers – to write-off his chances here and instead test the waters, and the BBC's mettle, for a Prime Ministerial no-show in the debates?

Would they really have the BALLS to Empty Chair him?

Turns out, that they probably WOULD have the Balls.

(No, not MR Balls – they'd have HIM for the Chancellor's Debates!)

And now the PM is testing the waters with his "Blame the Beeb for our failings" posturing.

"The candidates are more important than you," he says.

Well, actually, your Balloonship, the VOTERS are the most important, and your candidate ought to be up to facing them in an open hustings.

Your excuse that Ms Hutchings was unable to attend because she was with you at the time will not wash ...because the hustings was organised first.

"Maria Hutchings regrets she is unable to attend due to a SUBSEQUENT engagement."

It also turns out that the event with you wasn't until 45 minutes later. At a location 10 minutes' walk away. As attested by the journalist who attended both.

Now you might want to DISMISS this as just the HURLY-BURLY of a by-election – I'm sure that the Conservatory Chair-person the accident-prone Ms Shapps (not his real name) will try – but we need to make sure that they DO NOT GET AWAY with this.

DEMOCRACY requires that voters are INFORMED and that representatives are ACCOUNTABLE.

And the VOTERS aren't DUMB. They can TELL. It might SEEM like the SAFE option to keep your candidate out of the FIRING LINE... especially if she's getting a reputation as a LOOSE CANNON... but it's really not.

Daddy Alex tells me of when HE was standing for election in STEVENAGE, and the Conservatory was Mr Tim Nice but Dim Wood. When HE didn't turn up for a public hustings and my Daddies always said he could not have done himself more HARM by showing up than he did by CHICKENING OUT!

Mr Balloon changed his diary to give Ms Hutchings her excuse. What if he changed it again? And again? Should all the other candidates all be held hostage to fit his convenience? And if – as seems to be the case – he doesn't think his own candidate is FIT to FACE the public, should he get to stop all the other candidates from facing the voters' questions? No, the answer is clearly not!

If he IS field-testing his responses for the General Election we HAVE got to let him know that he has FAILED!

The BBC were QUITE RIGHT to use the Empty Chair on the Missing Maria. And if it comes to the Prime Ministerial Debates and Mr Balloon is another no-show, I hope that they stick to their guns and do it again!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Day 3715: The Murdoch Shilling


So, Mr Rupert Stavro Murdoch gets to gobble up BSkyB thanks to the decision of one his biggest lackeys fans: the Hulture Secretary, Mr Jeremy Spoonerism*.

Be fair! In return, Mr Jeremy got a promise from Mr Murdoch that he will not interfere with the Sky News… Just like EMPEROR PALPETINE promised he'd never interfere with what DARTH VADER was up to.

But only an ABSOLUTE IDIOT would believe that Sky News will be REALLY fair and balanced and… and…

…and Daddy's done WHAT? Again? Oh bottom!

So, that Barnsley by-election then…

Run Sky VT…

*And congratulations to the Tell-lies-o-graph and (for shame) Mr Dr Vince for, between them, getting the decision taken OUT of Mr Dr Vince's hands and handed over to Mr Murdoch, er, Jeremy.


Daddy didn't actually get a PENNY much less a whole SHILLING for doing this!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 2868: I really don't know which result would have been worser!


So, the Glen-clothes by-election has, apparently, given Mr Frown his MOJO back, while the Liberal Democrats have fallen into fourth place and lost our deposit.

There's quite a lot to be UNHAPPY about there.

It appears that the Labour are actually BENEFITING from the financial disaster that they themselves are – in large part – responsible for. It looks like people are willing to OVERLOOK Mr Frown's piloting us onto the economic rocks, because he's poised so heroically unflappable stood there on the bridge. Either that or he's frozen with indecision again, still it looks good.

But is it NECESSARILY that bad?

Looked at another way, perhaps if Mr Frown thinks that the polls are moving his way again, he might just be tempted to return to Plan A and hold a general election sooner rather than later. And the sooner he holds one, the sooner we have a chance to spare the country the impact of Ms Jacqui Spliff and her I.D.iot cards! That's something I can't wait for!

Mr Frown's options for an early general election are quite narrow. It's already too late to go for one this year: any three week campaign will take us into December and annoy voters by getting in the way of their Christmas plans; likewise no one wants an election during the great January hangover, so February is probably the earliest. That's a month of cold short days, not good for campaigning, and if you've already waited until then, what's another couple of months to April?

(However, having already moved the local election to coincide with the Euro elections in June PRECISELY to avoid holding elections two months running, May seems a little unlikely.)

An April general election can be PORTRAYED as a "normal" "every-four-year" "business-as-usual" "we-always-intended-this" election; it can come shortly after a give-away budget that shoots as many Conservatory foxes as Sooty can draw a bead on; and it minimises the time for bedding in of any actual policies that the Conservatories might come up with (unlikely as that seems).

So the Labour victory in Glen-robes might not be all bad.

And, as an added bonus, we HAVE managed to avoid another SMUG moment from Alex Salmon, the fishy leader of the Scottish Nasty Party, and dealt a blow to his hopes of floating off Scotland. No, he doesn't want to PRIVATISE it, he just wants to move closer to Iceland… and then SINK.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 2749: Halting Price and Howdoo


Well Done to Mr Davis David for winning his seat back with only five-hundred-and-sixty-three votes FEWER than the Liberal Democrats got at the last proper election.

In fact, the total turnout was only about a thousand higher than Mr Davis David's own vote last time. So it's POSSIBLE – in spite of (or because of) the long string of LOONIES and less serious candidates – that Conservatories were the ONLY people out voting.

It is a bit SAD, though, that Mr David's magnificent gesture has become rather muted thanks to the Labour giving him quite another sort of Great British Gesture.

"Vanity" says Mr Tony McNutty, the Labour Minister for Bravely Mouthing Off From the Sidelines rather than Facing the Test of Public Opinion.

The FT claims that Liberal Democrats, by not standing, allowed the Labour to duck out too.

But this is obviously to overlook the fact that there probably wouldn't have BEEN a by-election if we'd said that we would stand.

The Greens, with only just over a TENTH of Mr David's total, did not make much of a fight of it. And anyway they were standing on a platform of "he's not Liberal ENOUGH!"

The announcement of the result has not made much of a SPLASH. Not least because, without the Liberal Democrats standing this is a very safe Conservatory seat. "Mr Davis David elected" therefore isn't even in the "dog bites man" league of newsworthyness. And besides, the Labour have very successfully moved the news agenda on from "42 Days" to a whole NEW raft of policy disasters and backbench rebellions. Er…

So while it is quite TRUE that Mr David has a big new mandate to campaign for civil liberties, will he be in any position to capitalise on it?

Mr Balloon has described Mr David as "a strong figure" (the bas…bad-word) who may "contribute in the future" (to the foundations of a motorway overpass).

So clearly, Mr B has plans for Mr David to be side-lined up for head of one of those "commissions" that go away to think about policy and don't come back are given SERIOUS consideration when they have proposals to ignore consider. This will leave Mr Balloon free to indulge in some BACK-SLIDING on this issue (or more accurately a return to form for the Thatcherite Poster Boy) in line with his new policy of TACKING to the RIGHT.

As Mr Clogg puts it:
"The Conservatories are a long way from being defenders of liberty."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 2734: 1066 and THAT's ALL


Colour me stunned, the Conservatories held the safest Conservatory seat in the country.

Yes, I am disappointed not to get brilliant Mr Stephen into parliament, but this is a good sign for the future. i.e. we've still got one!

Despite HYSTERICAL coverage from the Grauniad trying to distract attention, and their results list giving the Conservatories a majority of 74% by overlooking the Liberal Democrats entirely (how strangely TYPICAL of the tribally NewLabour Grauniad), the Liberal Democrat vote held up pretty well against the Conservatories at full flood.

So the big story was the Labour receiving just 1066 votes and losing their deposit.

Ignoring the effects of CHURN for the moment, what has happened is this: the Labour have lost about ELEVEN percentage points. Two points went to us – hooray! Two points were scattered among the usual Monster Raving and fringe candidates. The Greens and the UKPNuts were pretty unchanged. But somewhat distressingly, the rest of the Labour vote appears to have split pretty evenly between the Conservatories and the BNP.

Statistically, because their vote share gained MORE than ours did, this is described as a swing from Liberal Democrat to Conservatory. And Mr Balloon has been bragging about it. But it's not a very IMPRESSIVE swing you have there, Mr Balloon.

The Conservatory lead in vote share over us went up from 27.5% to 29.1%, an increase of 1.6% which I believe is a SWING of only 0.8% - possibly enough to net him Romsey and Cheltenham from us in a general election.

And don't let's kid ourselves that he won't be trying – and spending those Ashcroft millions too – to take those seats.

But frankly, with everyone's vote DOWN except the people who didn't stand at all last time, it's just as possible that the whole Labour vote simply stayed at home, and that ALL of the BNP support came directly from the Conservatories, say.

The only lessons we can really learn from this by-election and from the one in Crewe and Nantwich is that the Conservatories are doing well at the moment, but whether in second or third, whether it's a Labour seat or a Conservatory one, the Liberal vote is actually pretty solid, and no matter where you are, nobody wants to vote for Mr Frown.

This must be a HUMILIATING first anniversary as Prime Monster for Mr Frown, for the Labour to come behind the British Nasty Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the British Nasty Party.

Of course they are trying to put a brave face on it, trying to put the blame on the current state of the British economy (author, a Mr G Frown… oops).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 2716: We Can be Britain's Baracks – Why you should be in Henley this week! aka Millennium Elephant meets Stephen Kearney (who is BRILLIANT!)


It has been QUITE a week hasn't it, what with the 42 days, the madness of Mr Davis David and the Euro No in Ireland… and unfortunately it has also been a busy time for Daddy Richard which is why it has taken so long to write up my interview with the frankly BRILLIANT Mr Stephen Kearney, Liberal Democrat Candidate to… well I COULD say "replace BoJo the Clown" but it's about time the people of Henley, Thame and South Oxfordshire had a PROPER MP and Mr Stephen could be it!

So get yourselves to Henley. Or to Thame. Or to any of the pretty little Oxfordshire villages in between. Get out there and do some delivering, or canvassing, or just talking and listening to local people because they deserve an MP of the quality and charisma of Mr Stephen.

I was lucky enough to meet him in the Liberal Democrat HQ in Thame, along with Daddy Alex and Daddy Richard and Ms Linda and Ms Helen. (And best wishes from Citizen Alix who was in BED… had to go to her mummy's birthday later!)

Meet the Candidate (He's Brill!)
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Our interview, by chance rather than design, takes us through Mr Stephen's fascinating story from his beginnings and growings-up to his inspirations and hopes for the future.

So, after a TRADITIONAL round of DOUGHNUTS and talking with your mouth full, during which we pried Mr Stephen's middle name from him – it is Andrew – I picked on Ms Linda at random to start us off with a question.

What Ms Linda wanted to know is what inspired him to stand.

This took Mr Stephen back to his ORIGINAL motivation, from his childhood. As a teenager, one of those young people hanging around with nothing to do, he was lucky enough to get involved in a project called – funnily enough – Focus. Their youth worker was interested in outreach work, and met young people and encouraged them to make use of a building that the town had allocated to the project, to set up theatre groups and community café. And almost more importantly allowed them to manage it all – to be everything from managing directors to cleaners – and to make their own mistakes and learn from those mistakes. It taught him to be reflective about what went wrong, and WHY it went wrong.

He's taken forward those lessons always to be thoughtful about what we do and the impact that it has. That leads to an understanding that links people's personal growth with action, and how our actions at a local level influence policy. That is why he got involved in setting up the charity Regenerate.

They met people in their own communities and encouraged them to grow out of the difficulties in their own lives, encouraged them to take action and then looked at how that action could influence the Labour, the Conservatoires and the Liberal Democrats.

The party that listened most, over a good twenty years, was the Liberal Democrats, working with people like Alex Carlile, Lembit Opik and Simon Hughes.

He was quite frank that in the Nineties NONE of the Parties impressed them, but he was particularly angry about the Conservatories and what they tried to do to the voluntary sector, trying to get charities to deliver public services on the cheap, something – he feels – that they are trying to do AGAIN!

However, it was the encouragement of Mr Alex and Mr Lembit, and of the local chair in Henley, that drew his interest in Party Politics more and more into working with the Liberal Democrats, so that now he is convinced that he wants to spend the NEXT twenty years moving us from the third force in British politics to being the party of government.

Next Ms Helen introduced herself with a laugh – this is FUNNY because Ms Helen has been working as a case worker in Henley for the past FORTNIGHT!

Why, she wanted to know with genuine wide-eyed wonder, did he choose to leave retail management (for the WHSmug company) and go to agricultural college?

This, said Mr Stephen, goes back again to his youth, and the youth-working teams having close ties to the Young Farmers and the Church and so on. At what HE calls the very young age of eleven (and I will have you know that eleven is ANCIENT when you are eight [R:seven] like ME!) he got to spend time working on a dairy farm. He found he was completely in his elephant element, being given responsibility all the time. It was all HANDS-ON experience, from taking a little tractor every day to deliver the churns of milk to the top of the drive to being sent to help a cow who was calving! Er how? Well if you don't try you won't find out!

And so all the time that he was working with WHSmug, and training and managing their branches, that was all very town-based and so he was always going back to the farm, and eventually he left WHSmug to go and run a farm – he was helped by a lady that he knew, who coincidentally enough is a member of the Liberal Democrats, to join her son in buying a small pony farm. And a couple of years into that he decided that he wanted a proper agricultural education.

During his time at college he was spotted as bright and energetic by one of the big agricultural companies and got offered a job in his year out. All of his friends were very jealous! But ten years in he found that he had become very disillusioned, because of the practices of agri-business in international trade, particularly in respect of our treatment of small farm collectives in places like Malawi. With our resources and business intelligence we were the ones who were able to drive the prices and keep them out of the business.

But fortunately for him he had been doing a lot of voluntary work already, and so he was able to come out of the business and within a couple of years had set up Regenerate.

So, is standing in Henley a logical progression, asked Helen.

Of course, it's a hugely rural constituency, Mr Stephen replied, and we have a lot of problems in the rural community at the moment, whether it is the cost of housing; or the lack of facilities for young people to develop into the community and stay IN the community; or the price of oil and indeed DEPENDENCE on oil. The Liberal agenda around LOCALISM is inevitably going to be the only way forwards.

And he believes that his wide range of skills, from working in business to agricultural training to all the development work in the charity, will be really useful in getting to the root of the problems. He can work with a whole range of enterprises locally to ensure that business and commerce becomes more SUSTAINABLE.

He strongly believes that Members of Parliament have got to "up their game", and Liberal Democrats have to lead the way. And by "up their game" he means listen really deeply to the community, create networks of people around them that they support and empower them to take action to solve their problems themselves.

Then it was MY turn. I wanted to ask about what Mr Clogg calls "broken politics". With the Conservatories once again mired in an expenses scandal it would be all too easy to point and laugh. But that is a SHAME, especially since we all know people – from ALL Parties – who went into politics with nothing but the best intentions. So how would HE go out and make people feel better about politics?

On the SPECIFIC question of expenses, Mr Stephen noted that in all of our jobs if we want to make an expenses claim we put in the receipts and if we don't have receipts then we don't get the money. If we can do that in our jobs, why can't MPs do that in Parliament? Well, whatever the rules are, he'll lead by example and bring the discipline of thirty years of work to the office of MP.

But what was much MORE interesting was his whole approach to the JOB of being MP.

He wants to use the job to work with people within the constituency in order to develop what he calls "listening teams", who will work with him on a regular basis in his MP's surgeries. When they hear about the things people want to be tackled, he will work with them to explore those concerns in more detail, and look for leaders WITHIN the community who can work with us to tackle what needs to be done. If you build a network that goes far and wide and reaches much deeper into the community than one person ever could you can work with people to create initiatives that will tackle their concerns. But they won't be OUR clever ideas; they'll be the ideas of people with skills and talents and motivations and it will be the solutions they want themselves.

His is a very LIBERAL idea of trusting people and empowering them; not imposing a one-size-flattens-all solution from the centre.

People are already out there doing things but how do we join it up? Because when it's joined up we're in a position to be very accountable. Mr Stephen says that each week when he gets back from Westminster, on Friday morning he would meet with keys leaders from the community teams that have developed to tell them what he has been doing for the constituency for the last four days in Parliament; but in return, he would be asking them what THEY had achieved during the week on the agendas that they had set for themselves.

This combination of REFLECTION and ACTION helps to build solid teams; he knows this from his experience in business and voluntary sectors. Once a month, he suggests, he would want to do a social event specifically designed for the team to discuss their successes and failures. (And it's quite all right to make a mistake – he recalls the old proverb: "show me someone who's never made a mistake and I'll show you someone who's never made anything!")

Inspired by all this, Daddy Alex focused in on Mr Stephen's specific plans: if elected what's the first thing he would do… and if NOT elected what's the first thing he would do?

Mr Stephen thought this was a key point. One of the problems that politicians have, he said, is that although they have some solutions as expressed in our policies, they don't have an action strategy to put them to work. I hate to come back to the Conservatories but Mr Balloon is THE prime example of this, always carping on about what is wrong and never offering any solutions.

So, if he DOES win, Mr Stephen will first want to sit down with his team and with key people in the Party to get the guidance and support that he'll need to take him through the first days of a totally new job: being an MP.

He'll want to talk to the local Party too, to start to work on plans for not merely holding but DEVELOPING the seat.

And he'll want to set up a programme of meetings in the community, in order to start to meet people and field the questions that they are bound to have, and to trigger setting up of the networks of listeners as soon as possible.

If he DOESN'T win, then he felt it was important to start by giving feedback to the press about what we feel and how we intend to carry on from here. And then talk tactics and strategy with the local Party about the best way to go on to win the seat at the General Election. And, if he's lucky enough to be selected to carry on as PPC, then he'd want to work on the same listening groups, so that we can get a full picture of their concerns and find the key issues and really develop the Party as the way to deliver solutions, or rather to empower people to deliver THEIR OWN solutions.

Having been once around the table, we returned to Ms Linda who asked what Mr Stephen LIKES and DISLIKES about Lib Dem policies? She confessed that SHE had a particular interest in Trident but she wasn't trying to lead him in that particular direction (she said, while trying to lead him in that particular direction!).

Mr Stephen did not rise to the bait. What HE loves about our policies is the very strong thread of environmental protection running through all of what we do; that is KEY he said, as opposed to the short-termisms of the other Parties.

He is very proud that we are really fighting the surveillance society; he is extremely concerned that the Labour are building the paraphernalia of State Oppression. If "fluffy" people like the Millipede Brothers (hmmm, more OILY than FLUFFY, I would say!) are naïve enough to believe that they ARE doing this for nothing but the best reasons (and Mr Stephen doubts that) then if we get a right wing Government in place (or ANOTHER right wing Government) like the Conservatories who PRETEND not to be right wing but they are, we could lurch into a State that is most UNCOMFORTABLE for the British people!

He believes that British people treasure their freedom, and when it goes there WILL be a reaction.

Ms Linda interjected with a query about our policy on ROAD PRICING and isn't that CONTRADICTORY to our opposition to the surveillance society?

Mr Stephen thought that it was as simple as finding a way to pay ANONYMOUSLY for our use of the roads, and we have the technology to do that.

Daddy Richard insisted on helping Mr Stephen out here, by saying that it is quite simple to have black box in your CAR that picks up a signal with the price point as you drive down the road, rather than the other way around where the road detects AND TRACKS your car. That way it is the individual CAR that knows how much it has cost, and not some Government computer. Then when you go to get your tax disc, you can take along, say, a smart card from your car's road-meter and that tells the person at the till how many road-miles you have racked up WITHOUT telling her or him WHERE they were or where you WENT! It's not difficult to think up a system where the information is PERSONAL and ANONYMOUS… and SECURE from being lost on a train by the Government!

Mr Stephen agreed. We need to avoid shooting ourselves in the foot here, he said. People are crying out for some real LEADERSHIP, they want environmental solutions that make sense. And as Liberal Democrats we need to speak with one voice. We can't have some members of the Party starting to think that others are not opposed to the surveillance society, because all of us are. Anyone turning up at conference in FAVOUR of the surveillance society… well, they probably ought to be looking for another Party.

Lured back to talking about Trident, he said that his response to someone saying "we should immediately get rid of Trident" would be "We should immediately get a PLAN to phase Trident out over a proper time scale." That's not a "politician's answer", or being "woolly"; it IS about showing LEADERSHIP. There are, for example, parts of the country that are very dependent on the nuclear industry, and it would be wring to say let's just get rid of that and leave a big hole. Rather than just abandon them we need to develop a transition so that that same skill set that is turned to innovations in the atomics can be put to making Britain a centre of excellence in alternative energies.

He is against nuclear weapons, but he is also against destabilising the local communities or destabilising the world too. Pressed on whether he would REPLACE Trident, he restated the Party policy of a fifty percent cut, but added that the remaining fifty percent is going to be no good if it's all gone past it's best before date. It's about a REASONABLE timescale, and he has to admit that that is sadly going to be about twenty-five years. We have a goal; let's take our time to get there safely!

After that we needed a brief pause to pass refreshment to Ms Miranda, Mr Stephen's agent, who was so lovely in helping me set up the interview, and we briefly discussed the Feng Shui of doughnuts. No really. It was a twisty spirally one with a rustic look to match what we'd been saying about Henley.

Ms Miranda just wanted to add what an exceptional candidate Mr Stephen was, how unusual it was to find someone who understands so much about teams and who is so interested in making the teamwork work, with bonding events and socials.

This is Agent Miranda (She's ALSO Brill!)
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Anyway, then Ms Helen asked what got Mr Stephen involved in setting up the UK Youth Parliament?

Mr Stephen started by taking us back to the work he was doing with Regenerate, working on the street with young people, and they were funded by, among others, Children in Need and Comic Relief.

In investigating the wider community's problems, a lot of what they heard was that people wanted something doing for young people, because there wasn't anything for young people to do. And in keeping with the philosophy of helping a community to solve its own problems, those people who said that were generally the ones who went out to talk to and listen to young people.

They would ask what young people were concerned about, what they loved about their community, things that they were frustrated, worried, angry, sad about and their vision for the future.

And one of the key projects that started to emerge was the young people wanted to have more of a voice.

What Regenerate would do was teach them and train them to put their point of view across by sitting them in front of their member of Parliament asking them a whole range of questions, but not letting the MP off the hook! The MPs answers would be scored as they went along and if they hit a dud, they would have to try again!

(Apparently you should ask Mr Alex Carlile about this! He says it's one of the hardest interviews he's ever had to do, in his political life or his legal life!)

The young people would learn how to hold politicians to account, starting to do a power analysis of local areas, reading the papers, checking out what was going on and deciding on actions they were going to take with local councillors or the mayor or the Member of Parliament.

In doing this they started to run into other people who were doing the same, and gradually it drew together into forming the start of the Youth Parliament.

But it was important not just to appoint people. That way you end up with how the Youth Worker thinks is good, or who the Head Teacher thinks is good. What you need to do is get out there and meet people in order to find who would be able to build up the networks and REALLY become the representative.

It all links up with the things that he had already told us, the things about listening to people and about building networks and empowering people to find their own solutions.

Tying in to this, Helen asked what he thought the voting age should be. Obviously he answered sixteen. Any lower? asked Helen. There's a school of thought that suggests fourteen, she added. But Mr Stephen stuck with sixteen. It's a good age, he said, and it's also the age of consent, but what SHOULD be happening between the age of ten and sixteen is a really GOOD political education. The Labour's ideas of citizenship – the "games that they play" as Mr Stephen put it – falls really short of the mark. He gets very angry with people who say "sixteen is too young; how on Earth can young people make a decision like that?" His reaction is to say: "How on Earth have you ALLOWED a situation to arise where young people CAN'T make that sort of decision?!"

So, and this answer links back again to my question about "Broken Politics", let's get political education back into people's lives and get them EXCITED about politics when they get to voting age.

So, speaking of people who are EXCITED about politics, I asked what he thought of Senator Barry O in Americaland.

That, said, Mr Stephen, is a very good question. Because what is interesting about Mr Barack… apart from all the OTHER things that are interesting about Mr Barack… is that in the Nineties he was trained in political organising by the same people who trained Mr Stephen!

A lot of the things that Barry O has done relate to the things that Mr Stephen had already described to us that he does and wants to do.

This was FASCINATING. Of course, the media love to tell the story as though Barry O has come from nowhere and done this all on his own, but that is obviously NONSENSE. The FIRST thing you have to do after taking the training, is to go out and find ten people and train them, and then have them find ten more each…

Over a ten-year period, what the Illinois Senator has done is listened in communities, and built a team of good people to listen in communities, and build up a climate of goodwill and trust. And THAT is why people believe that change can come.

And Mr Stephen believes that change is coming in Britain too. He thinks that British politics is really STALE. But the fact that Barry O has used these techniques to build a successful and ACCOUNTABLE power base means that he thinks we can do the same in this country. In fact, he's sure we can.

He returned to Daddy Alex's question, what he would do if he didn't win. He said he'd go to bed and the next day carry on with this work.

He thinks it's terrific what Barry O with a massive team behind him has achieved, and he thinks that if we in the Liberal Democrats can put it to work here we can have a MASSIVE impact.

What is wonderful is that the Liberal Democrats INSTINCTIVELY understand this sort of work: it is Community Politics… the Next Generation! It is the "Rolls Royce" version, to use Mr Stephen's words.

People are already fed up with the Labour; they will get fed up with the Conservatories, who will behave just the same. And the Liberal Democrats will be in Government in the next ten to fifteen years. And Mr Stephen is absolutely determined to see that that happens and to be a part of it.

There are key people in the Liberal Democrats who obviously UNDERSTAND this work, and Mr Clogg is clearly one of them. So we all can, and we will, be Britain's Barack Obama.

Daddy Alex saw how this connects with the Federal Policy Committee discussing just the day before a totally-top-secret-that-he-wouldn't-even-tell-ME-about "narrative document". A lot of the discussion that we did not discuss was around whether we as Liberal Democrats use "negative" language – attacking Labour and the Tories – or more positive – like Barry O's "yes we can" message. And yet in a closely fought election like the one in Henley, all the candidates will be saying broadly similar things about the economy and schools and pies made with locally grown apples. Supposing, then, that we meet a punter on the doorstep saying "oh, you're all the same", in a sentence or two… how should we summarise our message?

Mr Stephen would say: "We are going to build trust, respect and relationships within communities. And we're going to take action WITH communities."

Which isn't just good but actually IS a sentence or two!

Mind you, he went on to add that they had been brainstorming strap lines for Focus leaflets the night before. Having to come up with a PUNCHY sentence to describe our team it was: "we are Principled, Practical, Purposeful Politicians who put People at the heart of our work." And that's not bad either.

Having met him and talked to him, even for just an hour, I really have to say what an absolutely CORKINGLY splendid chap our candidate is. Intelligent, thoughtful, charismatic and passionate, he is EXACTLY the sort of person who ought to be a Member of Parliament and if people voted based on CHARACTER rather than Party then he would walk it.

Apparently the Conservatories have picked a real PLANK as their candidate, someone who has managed to keep up the BoJo GAFFE tradition by campaigning against developing on the Green Belt whilst lobbying FOR it.

But frankly that should not matter, because Mr Stephen is just so much better anyway!

GO to Henley. This is NOT a foregone conclusion, no matter what the Westminster Village Idiots in the media might be telling you. Get some momentum behind him and GET MR STEPHEN ELECTED.

Britain needs him!

You can also meet exciting locals and help them with the campaign... e.g. here I am explaining how the computer printer works to Mr Dr Evan Harris!

Mr Dr Evan Harris (You guessed it: Brill!)
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Friday, June 06, 2008

Day 2712: Bye Bye BoJo


BoJo the Clown has officially "taken the Chiltern Hundreds".

That's actually just Parliamentary SLANG, the Parliamentary language for saying: "I quit". The Law (by which I mean the Act of Settlement) says that you cannot be an MP and hold an "office of profit" (of which there are two) working for Mrs the Queen. I know that the ACTUAL office of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds is held by Lord Blairimort at the moment, and BoJo has ACTUALLY taken the other one… the Telegraph Hundreds-of-Thousands.

(Okay, he's REALLY the Crown Steward of the Manor of Northstead, if you REALLY want to know, the office previously held by the entirely un-twisty-turny Mr Peter Mandlebrot.)

Before leaving, BoJo was CHASTISED by Mr Speaker of the Housemartin for turning a question to the Prime Monster into an ADVERTISING FEATURE for all of the SPLENDID things that his flunkies he has achieved since going on holiday to Turkey taking up his mayoral duties.

By terminating the deal for fuel with Venezuela he has increased travel costs for the poor; and by banning alcohol on the tube he has provoked a drunken riot at Liverpool Street. A Conservatory record of delivery that the Bullingdon Club would be proud of.

Incidentally, Prime Monster's Questions was also where Mr Balloon chose to try out his rather horrid new HAIR-DO.

The Grauniad suggests that his old left-to-right-to-left parting may have been a sign of FLIP-FLOPPING and he has now found his MIDDLE WAY, while the Metro this morning thought that Mr Balloon was trying to look more like Mr Clogg!

You will have to judge for yourselves:

Liberal Democrat – Hair Apparent
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Conservatory – Split down the Middle
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BoJo's much delayed decision to do as he promised means that there WILL be a by-election in Henley, Thame and South Oxfordshire after all.

TRAGICALLY, the Conservatories have decided NOT to establish a REVERSE-DYNASTY by ruling out BoJo's daddy, StoJo the Clown.

Instead they have picked Tubbs from the Local Shop Mr John Howler, already accused by the Greens as being more gaffe prone than BoJo over his over-egged claims to be the only local candidate for local people.

(Funnily enough, getting caught telling a FIB is one of the job interview ELEPHANT-TRAPS that the ALIEN SPACE LIZARDS on the Apprentice fell into on this week's penultimate show!)

Liberal Democrat Stephen Kearney has already been working hard in the constituency, and is being helped by many Lib Dems including Mr Clogg and – more importantly – this Sunday: ME!

I shall be interviewing Mr Stephen for my diary and then lending a fluffy foot with the deliveries.

Come along and help out too!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Day 2699: Wrecking Crewe


Let's get one thing quite clear from the get go: the Conservatories AREN'T "back". They never went away. It's just that for the last ten years they've been called NEW LABOUR.

Lord Blairimort decided that the Labour couldn't beat the Conservatories, so he chose instead to be "The Conservatories, but NICE".

Well, Mr Balloon has got "The Conservatories, but NICE" in solid silver spades, and Mr Frown is looking distinctly NASTY PARTY.

So the result in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election isn't the start of something different. It's a vote for more of the same with FRESHER SOCKS on.

What seems almost the MOST extraordinary thing is the calls from supporters of the Labour saying "we must now set a radical agenda" or "we must rob the rich and give to the poor to prove that we care" like it's EVER GOING TO HAPPEN.

The problem with so-called "left commentators" is that they like to think that they are the "good guys". They're utterly incapable of getting their head around the fact that they supporting a nasty brutish and only if we're lucky short fag end of an authoritarian, warmongering, super-rich-rewarding, poor-taxing FREAK SHOW: a bunch of Conservatories dressed up in the undead body of the Labour Party.

But – clean footwear aside – do the OTHER Conservatories REALLY have anything to say to earn the right to step into the DEAD MAN'S SHOES?

Last night on Questionable Time, Auntie Maude was representing the Conservatories – saying it was impossible to guess what the by-election outcome might be, which suggests a certain amount of DIVORCED FROM REALITY-NESS – and a member of the audience challenged him, saying that the Conservatories had no polices.

"Well, that looks like a man who wants sending all of our policy papers…" chuckled Auntie Maude smugly "…our paper on penal reform, our paper on education and, er, er, the others as they come out…"

I am NOT KIDDING! See for yourself; it's probably still in the BBC's IP layer. (What IS a layer of IP?)

Or there's Master Gideon Oboe – did you see him at the by-election? Apparently all Conservatory MPs were told they had to visit at least three times. "I've been here four times," squeaked young Oboe, "just two more and I'll have done my three… that's right isn't it?"

In the aftermath of the results he was talking about "Mr Balloon is putting together a new ruling coalition."

Presumably we can look forward to the Conservatories, the Daleks and the Cybermen together at last.

Mr Balloon is calling it the "end of New Labour" which might be a BIT previous, what with there being two years until Mr Frown ACTUALLY loses the next general election. What's MR Balloon going to say THEN? "This is the end of New Labour… er, again!" probably.

It's NOT the end, it's not even the BEGINNING of the end, it's a bit somewhere in the middle that you're going to leave on the side because it's not very nice.

Governments have recovered from WORSE foot-in-mouths that this. It's just that the Labour do not seem to know how or even to WANT to!

How did WE do? Well, obviously we didn't WIN. Our vote was down from the general election, but we weren't squeezed to irrelevance.

Our candidate was Ms Elizabeth Shenton and she did jolly well to keep up our support AND stand up to some bullying from the BBC's Mr Paxo in a Newsnight debate, having a go at her about being "parachuted in".

Oh, I know it's espirit d'escalier but I DID think of a better answer. Ms Elizabeth SHOULD have said:

"Well, Mr Paxo, the local party selected me to fight this campaign. Why were YOU parachuted in? Aren't the local BBC journalists good enough?"

Friday, July 20, 2007

Day 2391: Ealing Comedy


You don't HAVE to be mad to leave £8.3 million to the Conservatories

I have to admit, it was a GOOD NIGHT to be Mr Frown. The Labour managed to hold on to both of their safe seats in the by-elections, which ten years into government is easier said than done!

As Liberal Democrats I think that we must be both HAPPY and a little bit DISAPPOINTED with these results.

Congratulations, Mr Nigel!
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I am HAPPY because we came SECOND in both of them – in the north, the Conservatories came third; in the Sourth Dave Balloon's Conservatories (no relation)… also came third.

In Ealing Southall we moved into a clear second position; in Sedgefield (whatever Mr Grant Mishaps thinks) we avoided the third-party squeeze and overtook the Conservatories to establish ourselves in a good second place there too.

Clearly when it comes down to it, WHATEVER part of the country you come from, the LIBERAL DEMOCRATS are the REAL OPPOSITION.

My daddies didn't manage to take me up to Sedgefield, but I DID meet Mr Nigel, our candidate in Ealing Southall, and he was bright, enthusiastic, hard-working and a JOLLY GOOD SPORT, not above shaking hands with a fluffy baby elephant. (I am sure Mr Greg in Sedgefield was just the same.)

So I AM disappointed that they did not win.

I had thought that we were in with a OUTSIDE CHANCE – though my daddies said that it was a bit of a long shot.

Clearly, Mr Frown has learned that the BEST TRICK is to arrange to have the by-elections VERY QUICKLY, so that the Liberal Democrats do not have a chance to really get to work. The longer we have to talk to people, the more people get to hear our message, and the better we do.

Plus he has learned the Mr Blackadder lesson: if you want to win a by-elecition, get rid of Lord Blairimort before you start.

What about Mr Balloon, though? Has the BUBBLE BURST?

Conservatory responses to the results seem to range from

"Our vote share went up, but the Liberal Democrats failed to win! This is a disaster for the Liberal Democrats – finishing ahead of us just proves… er… stuff. And doing minisculely better than Mr Something of the Night just goes to show that our campaign was a success, I tell you, a SUCCESS, a TOTAL BRILLIANT SUCK-CESS!"
to the, er, less moderate

"We have FAILED in our PURITY! The GREAT SHE-GODDESS is ANGRY WITH US! Slay the pie-faced Eton milksop! Construct a GIANT WICKER THATCHER and drive the wets INTO THE FLAMES!!!"
Where did it all go wrong? Was it…

his election GURU getting caught ASTRO-TURFING!

his campaign team getting nicked FLY POSTING!

his election monitors being investigated for ILLEGALLY LEAKING POSTAL VOTES!

…or his CANDIDATE turning out to have just popped in from donating almost five grand to LORD BLAIRIMORT!

Unlike last year's by-election where the Liberal Democrats came within 700 votes of winning the SEVENTEENTH SAFEST Conservatory seat in the country, Mr Balloon cannot blame the Local Party for picking a RUBBISH CANDIDATE. No, Mr Balloon picked THIS rubbish candidate all by himself!

Choosing a famous-face local; staging the defection of six, sorry, five councilors; driving around in convoys of loud-speaker cars – none of these stunts helped, because the people of Ealing saw them for what they were. Stunts.

Just trying to match the Liberal Democrats for the NUMBER of leaflets delivered does not count as a grass roots campaign.

Proper LOCAL CAMPAIGNING means listening to the local people, finding out what they want and finding a way to deliver that.

That is why Liberal Democrats CONNECT to people.

Of course, that does mean that you have to leave the office from time to time, and spending a bit less effort OBSESSING over the Internet and trying to manipulate opinion by posting comments as a SOCK-PUPPET. Perhaps one day the day will come when the blogosphere really IS as important as we all think we are… but that's a long way off yet.

Everyone online seemed to get TERRIBLY excited about Mr Mishapps and his silly deceptions… and yet the story never broke out into the "real world". Which is a shame because "MP caught out as big fat fibber" is just the sort of story that would give us the chance to fight a by-election in a Conservatory seat if any of the deadwood press had caught him out that way.

The fact is that Conservatories can call for tough laws on identity theft and at the same time (fail miserably to) pass themselves off as someone else only because the "proper" media do not think that the Internet counts.

(You will notice that leaking fibs to a "proper" newspaper has got the police investigating them!)

Still, the school holidays are here and with the political SILLY SEASON. Mr Balloon has a month-and-a-half now to crawl out of the limelight and try and stick his wounded project back together. And you can be pretty sure that he will. He will be back in the Autumn with another new RELAUNCH – too early to tell yet whether it will be more of the same policy-free NuLabour-lite stuff or the traditional LURCH TO THE RIGHT of the Conservatory Leader-in-Trouble.

Or he COULD try and come up with some policies…