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Winning the Peoples’ Vote

June 13, 2018 Leave a comment

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It looks like the most plausible way for Britain to remain in the EU is for a Peoples’ Vote on the terms of Brexit, and with the newly-publicised allegations about involvement between Leave campaigners and Russian politicians, this may happen sooner rather than later. To be clear, this isn’t my preferred outcome – I’d rather Parliament got its collective head out of its arse and took responsibility for acting in the interests of the country. I’m also not convinced that we can have a meaningful Peoples’ Vote in the right time frame, certainly not without extending Article 50.

But how do we win a Peoples’ Vote, if one happens? It will be critical to do so – this is real double-or-nothing territory, and the same establishment forces will be out to trick people into thinking that leaving the EU is the simple solution to the complex problems we face.

Firstly, it will be most important of all to hammer home that the leave campaigns lied. Even more so if it turns out they cheated. This is by far the most important thing to sway soft Leavers and the ones who want us to “just get on with it”. Use quotes from leave campaigners after the referendum was won, about how the £350 million for the NHS was retracted the very same night, and so on. Put Farage’s quote of “I never promised it would be a huge success” over a photo of him looking smug on billboards around the country. Highlight the company movements and job losses over the last two years. The campaign slogan – “They fooled us once…”

Secondly, that won’t be enough. The Leave campaign identified real fears people have, and blamed them on immigrants and the EU. It was an easy sell after decades of tabloid stories. We need to address those fears and allay them, not play to them. We need to campaign on, for example:

  • We have more say over our fate in a global economy as a member of the EU than outside it
  • Freedom of Movement benefits us all, but how those benefits aren’t being felt equally in the UK due to our tax and employment
  • Under-funding of the NHS and social services makes it easy to blame over-stretch on migrants, when it’s the Government’s fault in the first place
  • UK fishing quotas are greater under the Common Fisheries Policy than they would be outside, and fishing licenses are allocated to large foreign-owned fleets by the UK Government
  • There aren’t enough houses and we need to build more, and migration can help us with that
  • Migrant workers undercutting locals is a failure in labour laws, not immigration policy
  • We can better fund asylum services and allow asylum seekers to work while their claims are being processed, and have restored exit checks for visas, to reduce abuse of those systems while still retaining freedom of movement within the EU

We should advocate actual reform of the relationship between the EU institutions and the UK Parliament, such as direct election of the UK’s EU Commissioner, and having them be questioned by the UK Parliament; supporting the “lead candidate” system for the President of the European Commission; and of course using British Proportional Representation for elections to the European Parliament.

And it’s clear from these points that we can’t present a nationwide united front for the Remain cause. One of the problems with the Stronger In campaign is that it had to come up with messages that were acceptable across the Remain landscape, which meant fairly generic messages being handed out by an army of amazing enthusiastic volunteers. We couldn’t effectively challenge the blame placed on the EU by the Leave campaigns, because it meant criticising decisions made by political parties under the Stronger In umbrella.

Come the Peoples’ Vote, and we need to fight it as political parties and other campaign groups. We need to show a diversity of options for the UK Government to pursue to deal with the problems we face, which are caused by the UK Government and not by our membership of the EU, and which Brexit will make worse.

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The Next Elections we need Newbies to Win

October 23, 2016 Comments off
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Liz Leffman, helped to a storming second place by our newbies.

This week, the Lib Dems stormed to a strong second in the Tory heartland of Witney, leapfrogging from fourth. Thousands of volunteers from across the country piled down to David Cameron’s former constituency, and sent a shockwave through British politics. Life-long Tory voters, disgusted by Theresa May’s lurch to the hard-Brexit right, supported our hard-working local candidate.

As important as the ground-breaking result however was that many of the Lib Dem volunteers who pounded the streets, hit the phones or reached for their wallets in this campaign were new members, since the 2015 General Election and the EU Referendum. Turning members into activists is vital to the success of any political party, but more so to the Lib Dems who don’t have much budget for paid staff operations. The activists in Witney learned from the best, whether it was Candy Piercey, John Aylwyn, Neil Fawcett and many others on the ground, or the phone bankers trained by Claire Halliwell and James Baker at ALDC in Manchester, or many more.

Between now and Christmas, pretty much every local party in the Liberal Democrats will hold its Annual General Meeting, at which it will elect its volunteer committee to run local affairs for the next year. It’s really important that we empower our newbies to get involved at this level, rather than just see themselves as footsoldiers, and support them in their endeavours – they will bring fresh ideas and energy to the local party, hopefully some often-needed diversity, and enthusiasm. And most importantly, they will help break down barriers between the local party executive, and the membership. We need every local party in the country to be actively engaged with its membership, bringing liberal values to local communities as best we can. If we can’t manage that, keen liberals will drift away from the party and find themselves homeless and disengaged.

So if you are a new member of the party, please do stand for election at your AGM, whether it’s as an officer with a specific portfolio, or as a member of the executive, and make sure your local party engages all its members and plays its part in bringing about Our Liberal Britain.

The Usual Suspects

March 3, 2016 4 comments

Stagnant Power

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Local party execs sometimes remain very stable…
(photo by Okinawa Soba, Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0)

The Liberal Democrats is a party with a huge amount of internal democracy. However, that democracy is rarely held to account or challenged ,at all levels. Local parties stagnate, with the same small clique rotating the officer positions. One thing that’s vital as part of the Lib Dem Fightback and our influx of new members is making sure we get new voices and fresh ideas represented on our elected bodies, and empowered to make decisions.

Of course, most of our members didn’t join a political party to form committees, hold meetings and take minutes, so local parties need to push to find ways to engage members – that means understanding their points of view even if they’re not all at a meeting. This can involve members’ surveys, or social events where you can get to know people.

The Usual Suspects

Movie Poster for "The Usual Suspects"

Never mind your local party exec, meet the people who do the real work.

However, politics is the art of exercising power, and there are plenty of positions, both official and unofficial, where Liberal Democrats can hold and exercise power with no accountability to the membership. These positions are often held by the Usual Suspects – the fixers, the people who Get Things Done.

Take for example the person who has the authority to nominate candidates – this is arranged centrally by LDHQ and is a position of significant power. Or the person who ends up organising local authority candidate training and approval in a hurry, and just emails around enough of their mates to make sure the bases are covered rather than looking to a wider pool. Or the person who volunteers to represent the party to an external body such as a community group, but never reports back to the membership or executive. Or the party staffer who ends up accountable to no management chain, let alone to the members on whose behalf they supposedly operate. Or, in my own situation, the person who hosts various IT systems on which a party body relies.

I’m sure that pretty much everybody in such positions is well meaning and effective. However, as liberals, we need to maintain transparency and accountability as a principle, before something goes wrong. A lot of the scandals within the Lib Dems (and outside it too) boil down to unaccountable people becoming too important to criticise. Beyond that, the Usual Suspects are also more likely to match the pale, male and stale image of our party, and that can derail attempts to improve diversity.

The Objective

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Members old and new at a Manchester by-election, after opportunities to stand and help were advertised widely.

Everybody acting on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, whether at a local or national level, whether a volunteer or paid staff, should be in some way accountable to the membership, either directly or via a relevant elected body. Members should know who they are, what their powers and responsibilities are, and to whom they are accountable.

We should maximise liberty by promoting choice and taking actions to limit individual power. That can include having multiple people trained and authorised to do a job, making information widely available (whether it’s canvass data in Connect, or details of local community groups for candidates) and making sure that opportunities to volunteer or get involved are as widely advertised as possible. By advertised, I mean with enough background that a newcomer will feel empowered to get involved – whether that’s providing training before a campaign session, or letting people know in advance what to expect when they turn up to a Pizza and Politics night, and knowing whether there’s some kind of social activity once the Focus is delivered. Imagine you are a shy newbie who’s never been to an event like this before.

Ultimately, it’s about making sure members are empowered to achieve what they joined a political party to achieve. That might not fit in with the larger strategy that one of the Usual Suspects has come up with, but there has to be a balance between individual enthusiasm which keeps people motivated, and the worthy but dull admin work or leaflet delivery cult approach that ultimately wins us elections. And why should the larger strategy be decided by the Usual Suspects? The overall picture for our organisations should be clear, communicated to members, and open to debate and suggestions for improvement!

And yes, this is all easier said than done. A lot of these situations come about in the first place due to lack of motivated volunteers. But we always need to try and make them better, because stagnation will ultimately fail. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, even within the Liberal Democrats.

Categories: Uncategorized

Breaking from the Past

January 24, 2016 Comments off

If you haven’t seen Tim Farron’s first Lib Dem leadership speech, you should. It’s good in general, but I want to concentrate on something said in the first ten minutes. He came to praise his predecessor Nick Clegg, not to bury him. He explicitly said that he was proud of Nick’s achievements in Government, proud that the Liberal Democrats had gone into Coalition to do our best by the country, and that the tough five years for us as a party was nothing compared to the tougher five months for the country under a majority Tory Government since May 2015.

Since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he has said nothing of substance about his predecessors. The general impression is that Labour is a brand-new party, completely separate from the days of Miliband, let alone the days of Brown and definitely the days of Blair. Any criticism of Labour’s record, both in Government and in Opposition, is met with “Yeah but that was before Corbyn”. I don’t believe that that dismissal is valid, even if we ignore Corbyn and McDonnell’s terrible, meaningless U-turn on the Fiscal Charter (exposed neatly by John Humphrys’ interview with Diane Abbott around 2:42), and the inevitable further cock-ups and rebellions to follow. Most of the Labour MPs under Corbyn’s leadership were MPs under Miliband, and many under Blair and Brown (including Corbyn himself). They have their own power and ability to influence the party’s direction. There is a long-term threat to rebels in terms of deselection and replacement in 2020, but a party is always more than just its leader. Especially if, as Corbyn says, he wants a less Presidential style of leadership – and the Parliamentary Party still has a lot of Blair, Brown and Miliband about it.

The same sort of people who put Labour above reproach are the ones who claim that the Lib Dems are “still Tories” because Farron hasn’t actively disassociated himself from the Coalition – despite never having served in the Coalition Government – because he hasn’t disowned Clegg. We must remember that today’s Labour party is not so different from yesterdays’, or the day before that, and continue to hold Labour’s feet to the fire for their failures in Government and in Opposition.

Categories: Uncategorized

Be Excellent To Each Other

May 8, 2015 2 comments

Many Lib Dems up and down the country are feeling crushed today. Many have lost their jobs, or know people who have. We knew this election would be hard, but the results for us are worse than the worst expectations. There are now only 8 Liberal Democrat MPs in the House of Commons.

This result is less than 24 hours old. It is a big thing to process. Professional journalists get paid to form opinions quickly, not necessarily correctly. Anybody who is claiming to have a simple reason for this result is either getting paid, stupid, pushing a particular agenda, or some combination of the above.

Liberalism is not a dogma which dictates right and wrong; it is a philosophy by which right and wrong can be identified. It will take us time to contemplate, discuss and reach consensus on the right way to move forward from this. In the immediate term, the best thing we can do is look after ourselves, and each other.

It’s important to satisfy the basic needs of your human body. Some people haven’t slept since the results were announced. Before we can even think straight about things, we need to sleep, eat, and recharge.

I’ve spent some time today reaching out to Lib Dems both local and further afield. I’ve heard a suggestion that we should have a Special Conference anyway just for group hugs. We are not alone, and while our Parliamentary representation is diminished, our membership is not, and neither is our passion and commitment to Liberalism. Reach out to each other, go for a coffee or a pint, do something fun.

As those great Liberal philosophers, Bill S Preston Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan said: Be excellent to each other.

Categories: Uncategorized

Quick Pointer for Bi Visibility Day

September 23, 2014 Comments off

Today is Bisexual Visibility Day. I haven’t had a chance to write something specially for it, but please see my post from last year – little has changed!

Categories: Uncategorized

Making Lib Dem Voice More Useful

August 1, 2014 5 comments

ldv-sanitiser-screenshotLiberal Democrat Voice is an independent website run by volunteers which accepts article contributions and allows discussion on a wide variety of Lib Dem-related topics. I don’t read every article there in depth, but it’s basically essential reading for Lib Dems, even if you just skim the headlines to get a sense of what’s new.

Unfortunately like most news websites these days, the comment section has become a regular shouting match for derailment and disruption rather than discussion on the topics at hand. There are two particular categories that irk me; one is Mens’ Rights Activists who try to derail any post on equalities with their “but what about the white cis straight mens!” nonsense. The other is the anti-Clegg faction who will spam every post on the site with calls for Nick to resign. In my opinion these people are getting in the way of debate, not contributing to it.

greasemonkeyI have finally got sufficiently fed up with this to do something about it, and written something which will filter out particular users’ comments from LDV posts. This should make LDV more useful and less rage-inducing. By filtering out the predictable comments from the predictable people, I should be able to get more out of the LDV comment section. It’ll reduce my temptation to feed the trolls and post things that make me look bad, like the comment in the screenshot. If others use it, it’ll hopefully increase the signal:noise ratio further.

There’s a plugin for Firefox and Iceweasel called Greasemonkey which allows the user to install small programs to edit webpages after they’ve loaded. There are equivalents for Chrome, IE, Safari and other browsers as per the Wikipedia link provided. I have started work on a simple killfile for some of the LDV commenters I find particularly disruptive, which you can download here. Once you’ve got Greasemonkey installed, that link should load my script and start running it on Lib Dem Voice pages. It’s only a first draft at the moment, and I expect future improvements if I can be bothered, but your Greasemonkey should pick them up when I do.

And to make the obvious liberal point: Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom to be heard. These posters are not violating LDV’s comment policy, but I do not want to, and do not have to, read what they have to say.