It's GREAT being back on the Blogger of the Year shortlist! I get to talk to Captain Clegg and no one says it's a FIX because Daddy does the muffins!
So, straight down to business: TUITION FEES – the Liberal Democrats are COMMITTED to abolishing student fees; Captain Clegg is PERSONALLY COMMITTED to abolishing student fees. But, it would be illogical, maybe even dishonest, to say we need a FRESH START for Britain and everything must be reconsidered, and then NOT reconsider the HOW and WHEN of being able to abolish 'em.
So TIMING is what is up for debate, and we will do it according to our PRINCIPLES, and the ones laid out in Fresh Start are:
- A sustainable green economy to build jobs for the future
- Support for young people so the life chances of a generation are not blighted
- And, and this one's not about the money, a reinvention of politics
Wicked Uncle Costigan asked whether we need to be QUITE so dramatic: hasn't the country managed quite prosperously with quite high levels of debt in the past?
There were two reasons why we can't carry on like that any more, explained Captain Clegg: firstly, it's the KIND of deficit we are running, and secondly, it's the kind of financial WORLD we are now living in.
The Hard Labour Government are running a STRUCTURAL deficit. That means that they are not just borrowing to get them over a STICKY PATCH, debt that will be repaid later, but they are ROUTINELY borrowing, running up debts in the good years let alone the bad ones. We've not seen an imbalance of this order since the country was paying for World War Part Two! That is just not sustainable, and sooner or later the World's financial institutions, the loan sharks that the Chancellor Sooty is now in hock to, will just pull the rug from under us: pulling cash out of the country, causing spiralling interest rates and making the pound crash which in turn means more expensive imports and energy driving up inflation.
And this is where we come to the second thing, because in a World where the seats of high finance are highly interconnected by swift electronic connections, it takes just a push of a button to pass judgement on the UK economy and LITERALLY just a push of a button to remove huge wodges of capital from the UK. In the aftermath of the Credit Crunch Crash, the World financial markets are a much more UNFORGIVING place, and we – implicitly, though Captain Clegg didn't need to mention it – outside the Eurozone do not have the protections of being a "reserve currency" any more.
We are at the EARLIEST and therefore most UNCOMFORTABLE stage of the debate over cuts, and it's the time when we – all politicians, all the rest of us – have to make decisions that are bold, savage if you must, as to where and how we will put things back on an even keel.
The Liberal Democrats are CONFRONTING these choices; the other two parties are ducking them
Captain Clegg also suggested the sorts of choices he would be looking at: capital projects, investing in new jobs now and new infrastructure for the future, these, Captain Clegg suggests, are the very LAST things that should be cut – obviously the BACKWARDS Labour Party has them FIRST on its list. Equally important is investment in young people to make sure that they HAVE a future.
As it happened, we were joined by two young people, guests from the vinspired volunteering project, Ms Asha Khan and Mr Nuno Rodrigues, here to get to experience the CRAZY WHIRL™ of Party Conference. They wanted to know why volunteering isn't more considered by interviewers for job or university. They were concerned that there is almost a STIGMA associated with volunteering, like "you couldn't get a proper job?"
Captain Clegg was interested to hear that they thought that way. He thought that there was much, much MORE volunteering going on, and expressed a worry that it was almost becoming almost a necessary "box to tick" in order to embellish a CV rather than in order to get the benefit of experiences and give something back.
It seemed to me that what we need is some way to RECOGNISE the achievements and experiences that you gain from volunteering in order to show employers or universities the added value you have gotten for yourself, and Ms Linda said that for our youth policy we are looking at some form of accreditation.
Something to watch for the future, then.
Mr Stephen of the Glenn tells us about the Linlithgow project to make the town CARBON NEUTRAL, supported by money from the Scottish Parliament. How can we keep getting across the message that, even with cuts, we can make the environment IMPORTANT, he wants to know.
For Captian Clegg it's about the NATURE of the recovery. Like the Old Chinese Proverb (he says) this IS an opportunity. All the chips have been tossed in the air by the financial collapse; we have the chance to set them in a new pattern before they resettle.
What about, interjects Ms Ali G, WEALTH TAXES? Could they be a part of our package for redistribution and rebalancing of the economy? Captain Clegg is tempted to go off piste for a moment, and there is a sharp intake of breath from his party minder, Special Agent Hanney. But then, the Captain thinks better of it. Maybe because he once spent three months on crutches having come a cropper while working as a ski instructor. Something to watch out for next week, though. Wink!
Instead, he talks about how the economy was UNBALANCED before: a small financial ELITE captured control of policy and the Hard Labour Government capitulated to their desires. It meant lending and borrowing were let run out of control, spiralling to a ridiculous bubble and INEVITABLY a monster crash.
To avoid that happening again, we need to find a Balance to the Force. Er, economy. It means reconfiguring it to grow SUSTAINABLY, and to DISPERSE ownership and control, the very ESSENCE of Liberal thinking. Take POWER generation, for example: Captain Clegg wants us to think more about the Denmark model where micro-generation and distributed power make everyone part of the solution rather than a few big,
Meanwhile, on the subject of distributing powers, Mr Dr Pax, aka Count Packula, Prince of Markness, joining us for the first time (and about time too) asked about internet piracy, downloading, file-sharing – legal and illegal – and Lord Mandelbrot's plan to sever any file-sharers from the Wibbly Wobbly Web.
Well, how's he going to do that? asks Captain Clegg. Is he planning on personally going round snipping the wires?
Every attempt to control the uncontrollable has failed, he points out. And he says that he admires the technology, finds it beautiful BECAUSE it defies control.
But it's an important point, and many people live and breathe these things. It seems like no one is going to mention the Pirate Party, but that is clearly the underlying point here, and we should be making it clear that the Liberal Democrats ought to be the NATURAL HOME of the very people likely to vote Pirate. Arrr!
It's a key question of corporate power versus freedom of individual access.
You do have to strike a balance, because people have to earn a living – and it's all very well for bands that have already made it to put out material for free when they are already made: it's easy to be the great libertarian when you have loads of money in the bank, he suggests.
But Auntie Jennie talks about bands nowadays that use the net to BYPASS the record companies, and get their material "out there" for free, making a living from their live performances, and Captain Clegg nods approvingly.
I'm reminded of the question that has been asked before: how many OTHER jobs are there where you expect to get paid for the work you did twenty years ago, even if you don't turn up for work TODAY?
Of course, that OVERSIMPLIFIES matters: one of our vinspired guests , Mr Nuno, had already told us he was interested in film and he and Jennie agreed it's DIFFICULT to put on a live movie. Movies cost millions of dollars to make but it is worth it so long as they take tens of millions of dollars. (SOME movies cost TENS of millions of dollars to make and take HUNDREDS of millions of dollars… and SOME movies cost HUNDREDS of millions of dollars to make and take £4.35 and a LOT of egg on the producer's face, but that's not important right now.)
Dr Pax then pointed out that sometimes there are NO legal routes to view something, if video or movies are not commercially available anywhere. For example, entirely HYPOTHETICALLY, if you've missed a stage of the Tour de France (that is FRENCH for "Tour de France") or want to watch it again, you can ONLY go for illegal downloads. Or possibly illegal UPloads (it depends on who's going to catch the blame for sticking it on Hoot Tube).
Auntie Jennie asked if we were not, perhaps, a little slow in having a response to the MPs expenses scandal, but Captain Clegg wonders if this is true. He recalls having a conversation with the other Party leaders, Mr Frown and Mr Balloon, even before the main scandal in the Tell-lie-graph broke, where he said basically the biggest problem is the profiteering from the second house allowance and the only way to deal with it is to get MPs out of the housing game altogether. Of course, they weren't interested; if they HAD been, the scandal might have unfolded in a completely different way, with Parliament visibly cleaning itself up AHEAD of the revelations.
But, I suggest, perhaps the problem here is that we were ALREADY on board with the urgent need to reform politics. Mr Balloon gets to make headlines because he is a "man bites dog" – a CONSERVATORY saying we should cut back MPs perks is news; a Liberal Democrat saying it is so much business as usual.
It's no use wringing our fluffy feet about the MEEJA, though, as Captain Clegg muses when Ms Ali asks how we are to win the "air war". We've just got to get bigger, too big for them to ignore.
It's worth, he says, at the start of conference, reiterating a few FACTS:
- At the last election, one in four people voted for Liberal Democrats
- We now control ALL of the big cities outside of London
- We have a better GEOGRAPHICAL spread than EITHER the Conservatories OR Hard Labour
- And we are, and have been for a while now, leading in the "battle of ideas": we were right about borrowing being out of control; we were right about the need to mend our broken politics; we were right about the environment; and we were right about Iraq.
At the moment, a lot of the meeja expect the Conservatories to win the next election. Goodness, by now even Hard Labour expect the Conservatories to win the next election. And so there's a lot of "sucking up" to Mr Balloon going on, giving him FAR too easy a ride. This week Captain Clegg, and Mr Vince and Mr Huhney-Monster, are all planning on turning up the heat on Mr Balloon, really making a start on EXPOSING him and the Conservatories as FAKES.
This is the new stage for his leadership: he's spent the first year, year-and-a-half making it completely crystal clear that we are on the side of CHANGE. There will be no more deals with Hard Labour, they are finished and everyone knows it. Hard Labour are so exhausted, their ideological bearings have gone, their political compass is busted, they are no longer in tune with the times and history is passing them by.
He's written a pamphlet about it – the Liberal Moment. Daddy and I read it during the night; it is jolly exciting!
Wicked Uncle Costigan had read it too; he seemed a little put out at having to peruse ninety pages the day before Conference started, and asked: "why now?"
Well in part it is because he wanted to get away from the hurly-burley of Westminster politics to sit back and really THINK about the changes that are coming and are necessary.
But it's also about getting your philosophical undercarriage SOLID. If you base your principles on solid thinking then you policies will be sound too and stand the test of an election campaign.
Can you put our philosophy over to the meeja, though? asked Wicked Uncle Costigan.
Of course not, said Captain Clegg, and laughed.
Someone ELSE who has read the Liberal moment is Ms Pollyanna Toytown of the Grauniad, and she seem MOST put out at the idea that her precious Labour Party might be falling by the wayside of history.
All this talk of the meeja had, obviously, sent Daddy Richard into one, crossly protesting that this week had seen another brilliant pamphlet, this one from Mr Dr Vince, spelling out directly billions of pounds of the kind of savings that will be necessary to straighten out the economy, but had it got any coverage? No, because all that day and the day before and the day after the meeja had been on and on over whether the Prime Monster would bring himself to use the word "cut".
So, to him, even being attacked by the Graunaid, by Ms Polly was BETTER; it showed we WERE there.
Cheekily, Mr Dr Pax asked: "so, what IS your opinion of Ms Pollyanna?"
"Well, she's very nice in person," said Captain Clegg, generously. But he went on to say that she is stuck with a "rather rigid view of what it means to be a progressive", that she hasn't (yet) accepted that there is a LIBERAL, individualist, freedom-based tradition of progressive politics in Great Britain as well as a statist, centrist one. She has her convictions, which is in some ways admirable, but surely it is time to see that the statist approach she is so attached to has led to MORE inequality, not less, to the trashing of Civil Liberties and international law, to the locking up of more young people than any other country in Europe and led the economy to the brink of disaster.
Hard Labour now represent the BETRAYAL of progressive politics.
Having read his pamphlet (like I said) what I saw as the problem now was that, even with its heart shot to pieces, Hard Labour still has two strengths: support of the Trades Unions, money basically, and tribalism, the tendency of too many people to vote Labour just because they are against the Conservatories.
To the first point, Captain Clegg was philosophical: it's just a fact of life you have to accept. Of course, some of what the TUC has to say is excellent; some of what they had to say this week was even Liberal Democrat policy!
But what he WOULD flatly reject as BAD for politics is any vested interest bankrolling a political Party. It happened with the BANKS and look what happened when THEY were able to control the regulation agenda, indeed still are. It totally hollows out people's trust in politicians.
What we must do is constantly bring it up to EMBARRASS the other Parties until they properly reopen the issue of funding and tackle the corrupting influence once and for all.
But on the second point, he asked "tribalism? Is that still true?" referring to the fall from 1957 when 98% of people voted for one or other of the Red/Blue Parties to 2009 when in the local elections barely 60% of people chose to vote Red/Blue.
In fairness, I recognise this THEME from "That Liberal Moment"; talking about how in the 1920s where the old Liberal Party lost ground to the then New Labour, they didn’t regain it but surrendered it entirely, and there's some evidence that the reverse is happening now, with many areas with NO Labour representation at all any more.
Labour's time is OVER; the debate must be between the Conservatories and the Liberal Democrats.
So this is the new phase for the Liberal Democrats. We've WON the case for CHANGE; NOW, it is time to make the case for the KIND of change that we want, whether it is to be the REAL change that Great Britain needs or the PHONEY, SYNTHETIC change of Mr Balloon, who is talking about the environment and then palling up with climate change deniers in the European Parliament; who claims to be progressive and then puts forward tax cuts for millionaires as his only policy; who promises to cut the budget deficit and merely starts by increasing the price of SALAD.
What Captain Clegg REALLY objects to is the Conservatories sense of ENTITLEMENT. We all know that they think it is their go, Buggins turn in the endless see-saw of Red/Blue status quo.
Power ought to be EARNED, he says, not just INHERITED.
We could carry on talking all day, but there is a cough from Special Agent Hanney.
Is he frowning at us, asks Auntie Jennie? You can't feel threatened by someone with a beard like that, says Captain Clegg.
So we do group photos and then I produce BIRTHDAY CAKE for Mr Stephen who is having a BIRTHDAY!
Happy Birthday Mr Stephen, and have a great Conference everyone.
PS:Here's what other people had to say:
Mr Dr Pax
Wicked Uncle Costigan
Mr Stephen of the Glenn
and keep an eye out for Ms Ali G