Lib Dems

Independent/Labour/Lib Dem coalition to run Southend Council


southend civic centre

Earlier this morning , at a press conference, it was announced that a deal has been reached between the Independent, Labour and Lib Dem groups to form a coalition administration on Southend Borough Council, under the leadership of Ron Woodley.

News this may well be, but to anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention it won’t come as a surprise.

Read on…

Whips and chains


southend civic centre

My apologies to anyone whose non-specific Googling has brought them to this page. This blog is, of course, about political whipping. Which is less kinky than what most of you clicked the link for. Sorry.

For the uninitiated, a party whip is responsible for keeping the party in line, and making sure that all of the representatives of that party follow the line set by the leadership. It’s a fairly thankless task, but it’s the cornerstone of stable governance under the political party system.

And, on Southend Borough Council, the Independent Party Group make a point of not using a whip. So, for that matter, do UKIP. They flaunt it on their campaign literature as some sort of badge of honour. If only it were that straightforward.

Read on…

All the Fun of the Fayre


1st Twyford Scouts' and Cubs' contribution to the St Mary's Christmas tree fayre (left) and 1st Twyford Beaver's tree for the group's centenary last year

Tonight was spent by myself at the traditional Twyford Christmas street fayre. This is the first year I have properly experienced the phenomenon, since last year myself and Ashleigh arrived from Brighton on the train as it was in full swing, and only passed through on the way to the car- picking up some food on the way.

This year I was in the thick of things. As the newest addition to 1st Twyford Scout Group’s ranks of leaders, I took my place at the barbecue, ready to get cooking! In actuality I didn’t do any cooking, instead taking partial command of the central station, taking cooked sausages and burgers from the grillers on each side, and passing them forward to the front-of-house people.

The end result was that I stink of smoke, and spent much of the evening shouting for either burgers or sausages (or, for one fraught stretch, onions). But we sold out at about ten to eight (the fayre ran 6 ’til 9). I’m not sure how much we made for the Scout Group, but we certainly fed a lot of Twyfordians.

The early finish gave me a chance to really have a peruse through the festive stalls. There were a lot of different things, and a lot of samples. The folks at the Bird in Hand pub do a particularly fine mulled cider. I was also able to wander up to St. Mary’s Church, to see the Christmas trees display.

The church had invited lots of local clubs, organisations and businesses to make their own Christmas trees for a display over the weekend. I must say, it makes for an oddly heartwarming visual representation of a community. The Scouts contributed our own; a pioneering-style contraption, suspended from a gallows-like arrangement. The decorations were put together by the Cubs, and the Beavers’ impressive effort from 1st Twyfords centenary last year was also on display.

If you’re at a loose end in Twyford this weekend, you could do worse than going and taking a look.

But of everything I saw, nothing can quite equal what I beheld at the local Lib Dems’ stall. I know times are hard for everyone, and we all must all seek whatever ways we can to make money- but whatever other problems we face, at least Twyford & District Labour Party can say we’ve never resorted to selling adult books!

Liberal by name, liberal by nature *

*There was, of course, an identical sign at the other end of the stall, proclaiming “children’s books”, but sometimes a photo is just too funny not to take. I hope that my Liberal rivals will take this poke in the jocular fashion it was intended.

Wokingham Borough’s Library Shambles


The shambles I witnessed at Wokingham Borough Council tonight only motivates me to fight harder for a local democracy that works for local people

Well that was certainly illuminating!

I am just now back from Wokingham Borough Council’s full council meeting, at which the petition to save library services from privatisation was presented and debated. Those readers who followed my twitter feed (using the #WokinghamLibraries hashtag) will know something of the debacle, but I’ll relate it in full here for everyone else.

The libraries debate came at the end of the meeting- though it was pointed out to me that it needn’t have, and that maybe the Mayor chose to leave it ’til the end in order to try and empty out the public gallery. Regardless, it didn’t work. Myself and Roy Mantel were there, along with Greg Bello from Woodley Labour, and various Lib Dems and other interested parties.

The Tories’ argument against the petition was chiefly that they were not, in fact, privatising the libraries. Their reasoning varied slightly, but seemed principally semantic. The word that they used throughout was “outsourcing”. This, we were told, was not privatisation as they would not be selling the buildings.

Now, this doesn’t hold water to my mind. I didn’t campaign in the Remenham, Wargrave & Ruscombe by-election to protect the library buildings, I campaigned to save the services. This is, as I understand, what the petitioners wanted. The argument that it isn’t privatising if you still own the physical assets is nonsense- the train franchises don’t own the trains and rails, but does anyone describe the railways as being “outsourced”?

Beyond that there was some quite spectacular rhetorical-nonsense-on-stilts, particularly from my old friend Keith Baker, who remarkably managed, in the course of a brief speech, to interpret a petition against the Tories’ plans as a ringing endorsement.

But the real fun came at the end of the debate. You see, once the speeches had been made, the council had to vote on a proposal. It fell to Councillor UllaKarin Clark, executive member for internal services, to put one forward. But unfortunately she was almost immediately told that it didn’t meet the requirements.

And then it all went a little bit mad. The Lib Dems, credit to them, had prepared a proposal in advance, and had it written up and ready to distribute throughout the chamber. Whilst Prue Bray, Lib Dem leader, tried to make herself heard, the Mayor pointedly ignored the opposition whilst the executive quickly tried to write a new proposal on the floor of the chamber.

Eventually, sanity prevailed; the Lib Dems’ proposal (that the executive reconsider their decision) was made, and voted down by the Tories (to cries of “Shame! Shame!” from the public gallery). Then, a slightly amended version of the same proposal was moved by a Tory councillor (that the executive reconsider their decision after the tendering process is completed), and passed unanimously.

The end result is that I’m not sure what has happened. Prue Bray is claiming victory on twitter, which is frankly a little optimistic in my opinion. The Tories run such a monopoly in Wokingham that they can do what they like, and something as ideological as the privatisation of the libraries is very definitely something they’d like.

But what I take away from this, the first council meeting I have observed, is the image of the council in chaos after Cllr Clark’s first proposal was found unsuitable. Such rampant disorganisation, from a major organ of local democracy, was a disgrace. The executive should have known what the borough constitution required of them, and their utter lack of preparation and competence is shocking- regardless of what the passed proposal means, I certainly don’t trust the library service in their hands.

I’m not sure who it was who said that are two things that you shouldn’t watch being made, but judging from tonight I’d have to agree. What an utter shambles!

Boundary Changes and Fat Ladies


There has, for good reason, been a lot of excitement today about the results of the boundary review. Which isn’t surprising, given the implications for parliamentary politics in this country. What is a little surprising is that the review itself isn’t supposed to be released for another day.

It was always going to leak- traditional media might have agreed to an embargo, but the online political commentary scene doesn’t behave as if so beholden to the authorities. So it was Guido Fawkes who revealed the reports in full.

I haven’t read them all, focusing first on the ones which touch me directly. Maidenhead constituency will acquire two wards from Wokingham; Sonning and Coronation. Neither are exactly Labour hotspots, but there is certainly potential on Sonning. But overall the changes are fairly small fry. They won’t upset the cosy balance of Theresa May and John Redwood. And they won’t make my future task in campaigning easier.

Brighton, on the other hand, seems to have been completely carved up. The three constituencies of Brighton Pavillion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove are to be no more. Instead, we have Brighton Pavilion & Hove, Brighton and Hove North, and Lewes and Brighton East. Which is just unsightly, frankly.

BrightonPoliticsBlogger, who is a better blogger than I, believes this is orchestrated to ensure two Conservative constituencies after 2015, and to constrain the Greens. On the face of it, I find it hard to disagree, and if enacted it would be reasonably disastrous for Labour.

But the thing which people seem to be forgetting, is that this is far from final. The review has yet to be approved by parliament, and the doing so may not be as easy as people (and the government) are assuming. Let’s not forget, the plans will cut the number of MPs from 650 to 600. I know the Conservatives are being told that this will hurt Labour the most, and the Lib Dems have bigger issues to contend with (such as widespread disdain). But when Tory backbenchers are faced with having no seat after the next general election, they won’t be so happy with it.

I have it on good authority that during the filibustering of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill in the House of Lords earlier this year, Labour peers were privately offered support for their delaying tactics from Tory backbenchers. David Cameron can whip his MPs, representing safe seats, to support the breaking up of the NHS, the trebling of tuition fees, and all manner of regressive and unpopular cuts. But when it’s their own number that he puts on the chopping block? He may find them slower to swing the axe.

It is, as they say, not over until the fat lady sings. And there’s a worrying tickle in her throat.

Tin-Foil Linings


 

The Barnsley by-election results beg even more an answer to the question, "What is the point of Nick Clegg?"

This morning is wonderfully sunny in Brighton, and I think for left-wingers and Labourites across the country, the whole day will have that character.

 

I am, of course, referring to last night’s by-election victory in Barnsley, which saw the frankly impressive Dan Jarvis elected to replace the disgraced Eric Illsley. Dan’s success isn’t in any way surprising, in a safe Labour seat (though I do think Dan would have done well in any seat), but what is especially heartening is the fares of other parties. I’ll reproduce the full results below, as they’re just so damn amusing:

  • Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724 – 60.8%
  • Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953 – 12.9%
  • James Hockney (C) 1,999 – 8.25%
  • Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463 – 6.04%
  • Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266 – 5.23%
  • Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012 – 4.18%
  • Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
  • Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
  • Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60

Turnout 36.5%

(Source BBC News)

Yes, you read that correctly. 4.18% of the vote to the Liberal Democrats. Sixth place. Glorious, no?

I know it isn’t funny, that they came below the BNP, but on many levels it is. I might be worried if it wasn’t such a safe Labour seat, but there was never any chance of UKIP or the BNP winning, so why not enjoy them sticking the boot into Clegg and friends.

At any rate, the yellow vote has utterly collapsed in Barnsley, dumping them below the 5% threshold which sees them lose their deposit. Any government party can expect to fare less favourably in a by-election (God knows that Labour had enough bad ones), but this is landmark. Already Lib Dems are making excuses that the turnout was low, that their voters simply stayed at home. Possible, but it’s far more likely that those who voted Lib Dem at the general election are so disgusted with the party’s behaviour since entering office, that they politically withheld their vote, or switched to Labour (the only left-wing, progressive party left in British politics).

It’s a humiliating endorsement for the Lib Dem leadership, that they were so heavily punished in an area that will be most damaged by the cuts which have, by and large, yet to come into effect. This is the start of something that the government are denying; that people are not going to sit and accept ideological cuts to the poorest in society. With the local elections coming up in May, and the Lib Dem’s large council base, the party must be really starting to worry.

Still, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Or, perhaps more aptly in this case, a tin-foil lining; at least they beat the Monster Raving Loonies… There there, Clegg.

The Fight to Save EMA


EMA is the latest target in the government's ongoing war on the poor and students

As I write this, a debate is going on in the House of Commons. It might not at first seem an important debate in the same way that, say, the debate on raising tuition fees was. But in this writer’s opinion, it absolutely is. The debate I’m referring to is, of course, the debate on the future of EMAs.

EMAs, for the uninitiated, are Education Maintenance Allowances. This is a payment of up to £30  per week given to further education students from poor backgrounds, to encourage and assist them in studying further. A fairly simple measure, I think, and one of the best policies that the last Labour government instigated.

The current issue being debated is the scrapping of that scheme. The government seems to be continuing its war on students. So many of the cuts that have so far been announced are going to hit young people the hardest. From the headline measures such as tuition fee rises and the cancellation of the BSF programme, to more behind the scenes cuts like the closure of the hugely successful Connexions centres. All of this whilst the bankers, who caused the economic woes that we’ve suffered recently and are still feeling the effects of, get off scott free.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied around lately by Tory supporters about EMAs. The most common seems to be that it bribes 16-18 year olds to go to school. My suspicion is that this comes from relatively well-off people.

I attended the Henley College, in Henley-on-Thames, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. I myself didn’t qualify for EMA, but plenty of my fellow students did, and for those students it was less about bribery than it was about enabling them to attend. For a college with the wide geographic range of students like Henley College, transport was an issue. At further education level, there is no free provision of transport. And it can get damned expensive (God knows that mine was). For many students, EMAs were a lifeline which enabled them to actually get to college in order to study.

Aside from that, there are other costs in associated with studying beyond GCSE, which are difficult to meet if your family cannot foot the bill. Food, stationary, equipment. All of it costs money, which EMAs were designed to meet and help with. Taking that away, restricting it in order to save money at the expense of the poorest sectors of society, cannot be justified as anything other than a regressive move.

I could write about this all day, but instead I’ll finish with a couple of quotes:

Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.‘ -Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in an interview with the Guardian in March 2o10.

I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them … it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.‘ -David Cameron, Prime Minister, at a “Cameron Direct” event in January 2010.

The Lib Dems betrayed students and broke their pledge on tuition fees. Now the Tories are doing the same with EMAs. There is no difference, it’s just as regressive, just as harmful to the futures of students, and should be resisted just as hard.

The True Enemy


Cameron, not that sad excuse for a man Clegg, is the real threat to the UK

There’s been a lot of political anger floating around the internet this week. This blog has carried a fair bit of it too. In the wake of the tuition fee travesty, and a host of other assaults on social equality and justice, the Lib Dems have borne the brunt of it.

It’s hardly surprising. The Liberal Democrats are the ones who are keeping the Tories in power. The majority of Coalition policies being enforced are directly contrary to everything the Lib Dems campaigned for in the 2010 Election. (Interestingly, it’s fun to take a look at the Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, and try to spot the parts that are actually to be implemented. It’s like a political game of “Where’s Wally?”). People feel deceived by the Lib Dems, and the excuses that “Oh, we didn’t know how bad a state the country was in” and “You have to compromise in coalition government” are wearing thin, because yes they did know how bad it was, and for a compromise they seem to have gotten very little out of the deal.

People’s anger at the Lib Dems is entirely justified, let me make that clear. They lied. They’ve gone back on promises. But although they should carry their share of the blame for the economic and social vandalism that’s taking place at the moment, it’s important I think for us to remember that they aren’t alone in this. The main power, behind the yellow scapegoats, is the Tories.

And the Tories never lied about it. Not really. They said that they’d changed, that they weren’t the nasty party any more, but I don’t think any of us seriously believed that. For the most part, they were disgustingly up front about what they intended to do to our society, and the Lib Dem’s involvement has only given the opportunity to be more vicious.

It’s easy to attack the Lib Dems. They’re cowards. They’re weak. But the real power here, the force that it slashing public services, that is playing fast and loose with the economy, that is making the poorest in society pay for their misguided ideas, are the Conservatives. Whenever they’re in power, Conservatives cut. We saw it under Thatcher just as much as we’re seeing it now, and I can guarantee you that the Tories would still be cutting and cutting hard even without a recession and deficit as an excuse.

We (the people who believe that what is happening is wrong) can focus all our fire on the Liberal Democrats. We can tear them down as cowards, traitors to their principles, opportunists, liars. We can make sure they never win a seat again for the next generation. But the real danger is, and always has been, conservatism. Liberal Democracy is conservatism in a yellow jacket and a smug sense of superiority.

The next election will, whatever happens, be a straight slog between the left and the right. Labour and the Conservatives- the Lib Dems are effectively finished now. What is shaping up is an ideological battle the like of which we haven’t seen since the fall of Thatcher. And we, the left, need to start getting ready for it now if we’re to really win. We need to be tackling the Tories head on, not just rubbishing the Liberal Democrats. We need to make sure we remember who the true enemy is.

[Many thanks to Kieran Patel, for spotting my embarrassing mistakes]

An Open Letter to Liberal Democrat MPs


Dear Sirs/Madams

Today, as you are no doubt aware, is a hugely important day. It is also the biggest test of your moral fibre that you will undergo, I suspect, in this Parliament.

This is the pledge, clear and unambiguous, which you all signed. It meant something then. Does it not now?

You have been considered the “party of students” since the Blair government introduced tuition fees in 1998 (Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, c.30), and since then you have campaigned relentlessly on this. I’d point out that in elections following this, you gained 17 seats (before the 2010) election, something in which I posit your student-friendly stance played a large part in.

 

And at the election in May, you took it one step further. Every one of your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates signed the NUS’ “vote for students” pledge. Maybe I should remind you what it said:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative”

It’s a remarkably clear political promise, don’t you think? And for every one of your party’s candidates to sign it sent a powerful message to students: ‘Vote for us, and we will fight for you. We will oppose any attempt to raise fees as our principle concern’ And it worked. You might have lost seats at the 2010 election, but I can assure you that you were viewed by students as the best choice, and they voted for you en mass, precisely because of your pledge.

Now, I understand that coalition means compromise. I understand that you weren’t going to be able to get all of your policies. But what sticks in the craw is that despite the fact that you were elected on this promise (I’ll be honest with you, only the real hardcore of Lib Dem supporters, and people with an active interest in politics care about electoral reform- most of the general public just don’t care) you didn’t press for it.

Your party has meekly and quietly accepted the rise in tuition fees, and I would highlight this passage in the coalition agreement:

If the response of the Government to  Lord Browne’s report is one that Liberal  Democrats cannot accept, then arrangements  will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs  to abstain in any vote.

I honestly don’t see how this is a victory. What it says, is if the government decided that they were going to raise tuition fees, Lib Dems would still have to break their promise, only through abstention rather than actually expressing their views. You have been, in other words, gagged. The agreement you signed was not to not vote for an increase, but to vote against an increase.

The end result of this will be that prospective students will be dissuaded from university by the prospects of massive debts. It makes no odds that you’re giving token gestures to make the repayment less harsh, people will still look at £27,000 worth of debt and think “No thank you”. Hence a great many capable, brilliant, but poor students will be put off the higher education that could be the gateway to their future success, and the country will lose out as a result. We benefit nothing from higher education becoming the purview of the rich and privileged.

If you look outside Parliament this afternoon, you will see thousands of people there protesting. If you go to any of the major university towns and cities, you will find their centres besieged by protesters. They aren’t there because “they don’t understand” the measures. They aren’t there because the NUS has misled them. They are there because these measures are massively unpopular, and yet you who promised to oppose them are lining up behind the Conservatives on this. Motions have been proposed to delay the vote, in order to give time for a proper investigation into the impacts, and the possible alternatives. You have even voted against those.

Today, as I said above, is a hugely important day, for you especially. This day, and your response to it, will be long remembered. Some of you will vote for the increase, and be remembered as turncoats and spineless opportunists. Some of you will abstain, and be remembered as cowards who let others walk all over the promises they had made. Some of you will vote against the measures, and be remembered as heroes.

It’s not often that a chance to be a political hero comes along. I hope that you will make the correct choice.

 

Yours faithfully

 

Matthew S. Dent

Student

I’m Backing Balls


Ed Balls is the man with the passion, oratory skill, and technical understanding to best stand up to the unfair Con-Dem coalition, and make Labour values and principles effective in opposition

So here it is. On 1st September 2010, the ballots will start to go out to Party members for the voting stage of the Leadership contest. And in anticipation of this, I’m declaring my support, and my first preference vote for Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.

When the candidates were announced, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Ed to be my first choice. I didn’t know all that much about him then, he was a figure in the Labour cabinet, Minister for Education, and that was about all I knew.

Since the election, however, he has proved himself to me as a gifted politician, and a man dedicated to the ideals of social justice upon which Labour is founded. After fighting tooth and nail in the General Election almost five months ago to win a difficult seat, and after choosing to fight for the leadership, he has thrown himself into opposition.

Ed understands the dangers of the coalition policies. He understands the terrible risks that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are taking with the economy, placing an unfair burden on the very poorest in society. He recognises the need not to simply focus on his leadership campaign, but that the the fight back has to begin immediately.

In the five short months since the Coalition entered government, Ed has fought them on all the important issues. He has embarrassed and exposed the elitist hypocrisy of the Coalition education policies. On BBC Question Time, he outshone Business Secretary Vince Cable. And he has come out swinging against the cuts that risk our fragile economic recovery. He has put the fear of Labour and of the people into the Coalition front bench already- imagine what he could do as party leader.

This leadership election is massively important, and I would not presume to tell anyone how to vote. All members of the party should take equal responsibility, and take the time to research the candidates to make their own judgements on who is best. We are in a fortunate position, in that all of the candidates are fine politicians, who would bring their own advantages to the party. This puts the party members in an unenviable position of trying to decide which of them is best.

As I’ve already said, I think that is Ed Balls. He has the fire in his belly to fight for the people of this country, who now more than ever need Labour to be standing up for them. He has the economic understanding to be able to outmatch the Coalition’s atrocious ideological mishandling of the economy. I’d highly recommend to anyone considering how to cast their vote, that they read his “There is an Alternative” speech from earlier today. Ed knows what he’s talking about, and is ready to stand up for what is right.

If you’re not yet a Labour Party member, but care about this country and the future we face, then you can still join and cast a vote in the Leadership election, up to September 8th. I urge you to consider this. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be overstated, particularly given the contradictory alliance of Tory and Lib Dem that is currently doling out injustices and irresponsibilities. That strength starts with a strong leader.

If you’re interested in joining the party, then take a look at the Labour Homepage. If I’ve caught your interest in regards to Ed Balls, then please take a look at his campaign page, and see first hand what I’m talking about.