Wednesday, 31 October 2007

It's a no-brainer!

Well, nominations have closed and there are just two candidates. When deciding who has the necessary leadership skills, don't just listen to what they say, look at what they've done. Deciding whom to vote for is a no-brainer!
When I asked what Nick Clegg offered that could compete with Chris Huhne's vastly greater experience of the wider world, I got no answer. So I am backing the candidate who didn't go into the public sector but instead chose to get out there and cope with the wider world - not looking at the water but swimming in it. And I look forward to seeing Chris Huhne wipe the floor with Gordon Brown and David Cameron, because he is the man to do it.
Here are the reasons why:
Proven team builder with ability to best use the talents of others? Chris Huhne, definitely yes - look at his successful business record. Nick Clegg, not proven.
Proven formidable debater and media performer? Both candidates are good but Nick Clegg can be pushed on to the back foot, and then he tends to start talking too fast. Over many years I have never seen or heard Chris Huhne flustered; his intellect, coolness under attack and mastery of his brief make him a formidable debater. And his media knowhow is tremendous because he was a journalist for 19 years.
Proven grittiness of character to overcome adversity? Chris Huhne, proven - his first job after university was as an undercover foreign correspondent in India. Nick Clegg, not proven. He has not yet done anything that made such demands on his character or resourcefulness. But at 40 he has plenty of time.
Chris Huhne is passionate about the environment, and as the Lib Dems' environment spokesman has been highly praised. With his help, we are now the party with by far the best environmental policies of the main parties. I believe people will recognise how important that is, and our distinctive policies will prove to be winners.
During my years on the Federal Policy Committee, of the two candidates Chris Huhne has made by far the greater contribution to policy ideas. Specifically, he rejects the current procrastination and fudge that passes for Lib Dem policy on the UK nuclear deterrent. What would Nick Clegg do when the decision could not be delayed any longer? I have no idea. But Chris Huhne's stance is typically thoughtful, based on cost and benefit to the country. He cannot conceive of a justification for the huge cost of a replacement system as powerful as Trident, and he acknowledges the implications for UK foreign policy of being dependent technically on the United States. Therefore, for him, the choice is between a minimum nuclear deterrent and none.
That is the way we should make policy - with rational, open debate based on evidence.
We are fortunate that Chris Huhne has chosen to use his formidable talents in public life when he must have many alternative opportunities. This leadership election offers a great opportunity for the Lib Dems. This time I hope we take it.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Vince Cable boycotts Saudi state visit

I welcome the news that acting Lib Dem leader Vince Cable MP is to boycott this week's state visit to Britain by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, due to Lib Dem opposition to the Al Yamamah arms deal. It is reported that Vince has declined to meet King Abdullah or attend a banquet by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

What troubles me

I resolved not to make up my mind on the leadership contest until after nominations close, because one shouldn't be hasty (as an Ent would say) but it is constantly on my mind because the politics of the future are not just going to be about party "positioning" (that ghastly word) but about averting disaster, and our party could be crucial in forcing through big changes. Today I was musing on the training I once received in good recruitment practice. First you define the qualities required for the job and then you look at the candidate's track record, which is the best evidence of those qualities. And the higher in the organisation the job is, the more important it is that he/she must have those qualities. Pretty obvious really.
So we should define what qualities to look for, and then look for them in our dynamic duo's CVs. I think we should be choosing a proven team builder, able to best use the talents of others, and himself or herself a formidable debater and media performer, with the grittiness of character to overcome adversity, the vision to see what needs to be done and the boldness, even daring, to go for it. And what troubles me about Nick Clegg is that his CV just doesn't measure up. He is too inexperienced, particularly of the world outside Parliament, and has never as far as I can see had to overcome adversity. I am looking to Nick's campaign team for an explanation of what he offers that can compete with Chris Huhne's vastly greater experience of the wider world, because at the moment, I just don't see it.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Not a herd animal

I have every sympathy with Cllr Peter Tyzack whose letter to last week's Lib Dem News pleaded: "This time can we not have a procession of party grandees telling us who we should be supporting". But some grandees are falling over themselves to do just that, as if trying to start a stampede. Judging from their track record in late 2005-early 2006, they do not have the monopoly on wisdom on this subject. The febrile atmosphere of the Palace of Westminster doesn't help. And who knows what deals have been done to secure their support? No, I am not a herd animal, and I find this procession irritating rather than anything else. I have been trained to base decisions on evidence, and that is what I will do - in due course.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Comparing Gordo, Dave, Nick & Chris

I've been collecting for comparison a few relevant facts about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and the current Lib Dem leadership contestants. Here are the results so far.
Date of birth: Brown 20/2/51. Cameron 9/10/66. Clegg 7/1/67. Huhne 2/7/54.
First degree, university and year of graduation: Brown history Edinburgh 1972. Cameron PPE Oxford 1988. Clegg social anthropology Cambridge 1989. Huhne PPE Oxford 1975.
What they did between graduation and becoming MPs: Brown 1972-1982 postgrad student of history of Scottish Labour Party (PhD - eventually! - 1982), 1976-1980 politics lecturer, 1980-1983 journalist/editor, Scottish Television current affairs dept; elected as MP 1983. Cameron 1988-1992 Tory research dept; 1992-1993 special adviser to Tory Government ministers; 1994-2001 PR man at Carlton Communications; elected as MP 2001. Clegg 1989-1990 postgrad student of political theory, University of Minnesota; 1990 trainee journalist in New York; 1991-1992 trainee in European affairs, Coll├Ęge d'Europe, Bruges; 1992-1993 political consultant in London; 1994-1996 worked at European Commission; 1996-1999 adviser to Sir Leon Brittan (vice-president of European Commission); 1999-2004 MEP for East Midlands; elected as MP 2005. Huhne 1975-1994 foreign correspondent (including a spell undercover in India), later financial/economics journalist on various newspapers including Guardian, Independent, Independent on Sunday; 1994-1999 founded then ran economics consultancy firm in London; 1999-2005 MEP for South East England; (dates unknown) wrote some books; elected as MP 2005.
My conclusions so far: (1) I have found no evidence to back the claim that Gordon Brown was a distinguished economist; (2) David Cameron's CV is the perfect CV for a shallow and glib careerist; (3) I want to know what strengths Nick and Chris respectively propose to bring to the job of wiping the floor with the other two leaders.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Impressions of Berlin

I have been away in Berlin at the ELDR (European Liberal, Democratic and Reform) Party Congress, where delegates of parties from all quarters of Europe met. 100 out of 270 Members of the European Parliament, and 10 of the 27 European Commissioners, belong to the ELDR's bloc (though ELDR's geographical scope is wider than that of the EU). This is new and important: previously in both Parliament and Commission there was a deadlock between socialist and conservative blocs, and I suspect those blocs are at a loss what to do about such a major rearrangement of the pieces on the chessboard. The future may be exciting.
This was my first visit to Berlin, and the city struck me as a particularly fitting place for the Congress because of its central position not only geographically but also historically: if we needed a reminder of the importance of keeping on fighting for liberal and democratic ideals in Europe, this place is one, for evidence of its dark past is everywhere. Remains exist of the concrete wall (torn down in 1989) erected by the communist East to keep in its own citizens from escaping, but I found earlier features still more chilling, such as underground torture chambers from the Nazi period which have been found near the base of a section of wall that remains standing. In 1945 the city was in ruins but not all government buildings fell: apparently what is now the tax office is where Himmler conducted the business of implementing the Third Reich's plans of conquest and genocide, which so nearly succeeded and were stopped at such huge cost. This grim place was created by imperialism, militarism, fascism and communism, and all of them ended in havoc and misery.
One oddity is the North Korean Embassy, well inside what was formerly East Berlin, near the building where I stayed. It is a huge oblong white building with high railings and many windows. Outside it are some rather dreadful photographs of their leader and grand parades of the masses in Pyongyang. Apart from them, it has a blank look. The place resembles some unfortunate water creature stranded when a lake dries up.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007


I gather my blog of a week ago was quoted on the TV and radio news. I have declined all offers to talk to the media because I did not wish to add to what was said in my blog. Moreover the cacophony was already deafening. But I write this to make it clear that to the best of my knowledge and belief, the Channel 4 News reporter's suggestion today of a conspiracy by Chris Huhne supporters was utter rubbish. Ming resigned the leadership for his own reasons and because he put the cause we are all working for above himself. That is the kind of man he is - the best kind.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Despite all the hot air

I attribute the phrase "idle chatter of the occasional dissident" used on Saturday last to an over-zealous speechwriter, but it troubles me for several reasons. First, it is a misdescription, because the concerns I expressed were of the utmost seriousness and purpose. Second, the term "dissident" is inaccurate because the current controversy is not over substantive issues. Third, "occasional" is unduly dismissive, as other activists have told me they agree with my last blog, although I only speak for myself. More importantly though, the phrase implies a mindset that perceives the leadership and "occasional dissidents" as on opposing sides. But as I see it, we are on the same side. And dealing with the various wings of the party is not like a forensic contest. Nor is it like maintaining military discipline: that is not possible, as we are not a conscript army, but volunteers. Most of us - the poor bloody infantry, one might say - willingly give time and effort and money and this goodwill is precious. An appropriate leadership style takes account of these factors.

Ming's negative approval ratings are a fact that must be dealt with, and if I am wrong in thinking they cannot be improved, that would be excellent but despite all the hot air expended over the issue in the last few days no one has come up with a solution. So it is necessary either that someone comes up with a solution, or that our MPs take appropriate action. With an excellent leader all of us win. With a less than excellent leader we all lose.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Time to take stock

I think it is time for our MPs to take stock - to take a good hard look at the situation in which we find ourselves. It is up to them, in particular, for at least three reasons.

First, under article 10.5 of the Federal Party constitution, no one can stand for leader unless proposed by at least ten per cent of our MPs.

Second, it was a group of our MPs who forced Charles to resign, which under Article 10.2 triggered the leadership election back in the winter of 2005-2006.

Third, a good proportion of our MPs proposed Ming, and when other candidates entered the contest, argued in Ming's favour that he would be a "safe pair of hands", and persuaded the membership to choose Ming, though not by an overwhelming majority.

In short, a heavy responsibility lies on our MPs.

I am just an activist with no real say in all this - just as I had no say in whether Charles ought to go, and had limited information on which to cast my leadership vote (though I had more information than average, because I had sat on the Federal Policy Committee for so long: at least I knew the candidates a little). But if I have any influence at all, I want to use it now to say this.

The truth is that in the hard world of national politics Ming has had 18 months to gain acceptance as a potential Prime Minister by the general public, but he has not gained it. And I do not believe he is going to gain it by doing a bit of work on his approval ratings. We can argue until we are blue in the face that it is ageist to criticise Ming, but it is not a question of his age. It is a question of his energy levels, of his charisma or lack of it, of whether people are at ease with him, whether they feel he understands the country's problems and their own problems, above all whether he has the mix of qualities to run the country well, the toughness to withstand the sustained stress and pressure of the job, to be good in a crisis or in the series of crises that it is part of the job to cope with. It is a question of the whole man, the whole image, whole myth, even, of a human being considered by others as their potential leader.

I was among the loyal activists who wondered why, if Charles was unsuitable, the Parliamentary Party had not said or done anything to prevent him from being re-elected unopposed earlier in 2005. And I wondered why, if Ming was more suitable, he had not stood for the leadership either earlier in 2005, or in earlier leadership contests.

To go on indefinitely working for our success I need to be sustained by the belief that we have a leader who is a potential Prime Minister.

Is it not time that our MPs moved to propose someone new?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Free Burma

My thoughts are with Aung San Suu Kyi who, 17 years after being duly elected as the rightful leader of Burma, is still under house arrest, and with her long-suffering people who have since 1962 been living an Orwellian nightmare, tyrannised by a bandit usurper regime that continues to plunder the nation's wealth and enjoy a luxury lifestyle while the people starve. The regime could not survive without support and protection from neighbouring governments, who have blocked UN action. Those governments have the blood of Burmese victims on their hands. Self-interest rules while the innocent and powerless suffer.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Don't forget the Tory gerrymandering

I am caught up in the general frenzy about the general election Gordo could be about to call: besides attending last weekend's special Federal Policy Committee meeting to draft a general election manifesto (my fourth, I think), just in case, I have two constituencies to look after. In one of them - Cities of London & Westminster - the electorate has in the past repeatedly delivered a mountain of Tory votes. The other constituency is Labour-held and with redrawn boundaries 75th on the list of Tory target seats. In both seats the legacy of England's greatest gerrymandering scandal, carried out in the late 1980s by Shirley Porter and her allies, is as permanent as the housing stock that they socially engineered. In a nutshell, they moved as many poor people out of Westminster as they could in order to ensure Westminster Council remained under Tory control. The result is wards extraordinarily sharply divided into rich and poor. The Tories don't deserve either seat. Labour doesn't deserve them either: the gerrymandering plot was devised and implemented in reaction to the activities of the hard left London Labour Party.

Does the electorate care? Does it even remember? There has been precious little sign of it in past elections even after the gerrymandering scandal had been exposed. And in Cities of London & Westminster the Tory association for the constituency alone gave the central party over £40,000. If the electorate wanted to deliver a message that the parties must clean up British politics, rather than the usual moan of "You're all the same," etc, which I am sick of hearing, it could start by not delivering that mountain of votes to the Tory next time. Now that would be an interesting election.