Conference, listen to what Jill Hope has just said. We can do so much better than this. Have we ended poverty? Have we defeated ignorance? Have we banished conformity? We have so much more important things to do. This paper invites us to base our policy development, our next general election, on the idea of "quality of life" or "wellbeing", a concept so nebulous, so warm and fuzzy, as to be almost meaningless. It says, in the first line of the paper, and it's repeated in the motion, that "most people's aim is to have a good quality of life". If that's the case, then this is a simple truism. All policy should always be based on wellbeing; I mean who would vote for a worse quality of life? I'm not even sure it is true. I think most people aim to make ends meet, or to see their kids all right, or to go to the gym more. I aim to write a book. You can say all these things are about "quality of life" but you spread the definition so wide that it can mean anything . And if you try to mean everything, you end up meaning nothing. Yesterday, we debated Facing the Future, a paper that grudgingly mentioned wellbeing in the introduction and then forgot all about it. Today we have a quality of life wish list. A string of nice policies tied together by woolly thinking . How does this fit with our existing policy? New regulations for business - do we say which ones we will be replacing under Vince's one in one out rule? More interference in the curriculum, more government telling teachers what to teach. And more bureaucracy, a whole new quango, just to collate data, not to do anything with it. The paper breaks down quality of life into individual wellbeing, community and environment. I've got a phrase for that. It's Free, Fair and Green. And Liberal Democrats, we do that already. If you want to improve people's quality of life: plant some trees. Or write music. Or fund the BBC properly. But don't give up the core of who we are. ALL Parties would say they intend to improve quality of life. We differ on how, and for whom. And it is our choices that define us. It's not that there are not good things in this paper. Who could be against shorter commutes, or support for volunteering, or better mental health care? Indeed, as I said, who is going to disagree with improving wellbeing. But it seeks to shift our focus away from Freedom onto "being nice". I can see how, in a coalition with the Nasty Party, we would want to shout out to people "but we're the nice ones". But at a time when we alone stand against the cruelty of unrestrained Tory capitalism… …and against the folly of Labour's profligacy and mismanagement … we don't need to redefine ourselves. We just need to be ourselves! I know we crave comfort from the pain caused by this world of austerity. But our ideas need to be inspiring, not just comfortable. I was listening to Paddy Ashdown last night, and he reminded me that Liberalism isn't easy, it isn't warm and fluffy. It can be difficult to trust people to make their own choices, rather than promising to make it all all right. Joe Grimmond didn't tell us to march towards our comfort zone; he told us to march towards the sound of gunfire. Liberalism is like a flame: it warms you, protects you, lights the way. But it can burn. It's not a soggy security blanket. We don't believe in leading people by the hand. That's the other lot. We believe in empowering them, trusting them and getting out of their way. It's not about wellbeing. It's about Freedom! Conference, please reject this motion.To our surprise and quite a bit of relief, we were not the only ones against the motion. Ms Jill Hope, who daddy mentions, was first to oppose it, telling us how SILLY we were going to look on council estates and up tower blocks talking about "well being" when they want jobs and houses and the lifts to work. And Ms Christina Baron who highlighted how ridiculous it was to be setting up a new quango, the Institute of, or perhaps for, Wellbeing. We managed to fight them to a count, and it was quite close: a hundred and fifty-eight to a hundred and twenty-two. But the real shame was that my other daddy, Daddy Alex was not called to give HIS speech, 'cos it would have been a cracker and I think he could have won the day for us! Have a read of what he would have said and decide for yourself. Even so, it is to be hoped that such a NARROW SQUEAK for what should have been an EASY policy paper, and for what IS such an IMPORTANT one, will give the Party pause and maybe they will think again. And if not, we'll just have to get Daddy Richard to stand for FPC again.
...a blog by Richard Flowers
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Day 3915: The Big Conference Speech aka Quality of Mush
Tuesday: Well, the meeja might possibly give more attention to what Captain Clegg has to say, but for me there was a MORE IMPORTANT speech this week, cos it was my Daddy Richard's FIRST TIME! Many people do not realise that Daddy Richard has never spoken at Liberal Democrat conference before. It's probably because he is so ANCIENT! Okay so he has spoken at the BOTYs a couple of times. If you count flapping his mouth like a landed fish when I won my award in 2010. But never a proper speech. Until today! Here's what he had to say: