If the reports in the Telegraph are true and that the Prime Minister is to retreat on a commitment to Lords reform then we are officially in a bit of a pickle. Naturally many have already reacted by claiming that the Tories desire for boundary changes will also sink with Lords reform, but I do not think we should take such a route. I believe that if Cameron truly cannot commit his party to Lords reform then we should not respond by simply “killing off” the boundary changes that have been proposed. Not only would it be a wasted opportunity, but it would also in my eyes be a rather pitiful consolation prize.
I do not want to dwell on the boundary changes but, in my opinion, any reform that looks to cancel out the obvious inequalities in the current setup is a good reform. It is a system that can hand Labour a majority with the most minimal of leads in the popular vote, whilst other parties would need a rather sizeable lead over Labour to grasp a majority. The Tories, for example, need something along the lines of a 10% lead in the popular vote to even dream of a small slither of a majority!
But what we must take from Cameron’s weak backtracking is a truly great opportunity. An opportunity for the party to make big ground on another important policy area. I think fast-tracking our income tax threshold policy is a clear and obvious winner. This would not just be good for nice Focus headlines, but truly wonderful for the millions of low earners out there who need help in time of economic uncertainty. The cost of living, despite the indicators of inflation, is still tough for a lot of people and it is they who would really benefit from the tax allowance rising to £10,000 as we are committed to do anyway by 2015.
I am not saying that acceleration of income tax policy is necessarily the way to go but it is certainly something to consider. I believe Cameron knows he will have to tread lightly amongst our party as tensions rise in light of such revelations (whether true, or not), so we should use this not as time to get angry but to get active and be as opportunistic as possible while we have the time. Lords reform may possibly be dead, but our desire to achieve for the millions in society is not.
Today to the surprise of pretty much no one, Lord Oakeshott reacted to the dysmal projections made by the ONS by calling for the replacement of George Osborne. He proposed that Osborne should be replaced by Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Skills and Innovation Vince Cable. Cable himself on this evening’s BBC Newsnight interview even loosely approved of the idea that he “probably would” make a good Chancellor whilst, importantly, acknowledging that he is still committed to the current set up.
Now I am not here to attach myself to the very anti-Osborne rhetoric of Oakeshott as I do respect a lot of what he has done as Chancellor, whilst acknowledging that he has never had any experience in an economic field. Osborne has certainly given our party a lot of space to be creative within the Budget for the last few years which has enabled us to promote Lib Dem policy, especially on taxation, to the top of the agenda. However, I do believe in such worrying economic times and with the recent projections of the economy shrinking, it is time we had a Chancellor with the experience necessary to help us pull the nation through these tough times.
That is why today I am calling for George Osborne to go and for Vince Cable to replace him as Chancellor. I know many will simply laugh off such a suggestion (even people from our own party) but I believe with an issue as important as the economy we need to put ideological barrier aside and back a man who has a proven track record in economics. As we know both Cable and Osborne vaguely follow the same track (Cable is always quick to back the direction of Osborne), so we would not necessarily see a drastically different road taken but at least we could sleep at night knowing that the ship is being steered by a man who is highly trusted by people from all sides (because lets not forget, the public still actually like Vince!).
So what I say is ignore the symbolism of having Vince at the head of the Treasury and consider that it may well be the very best thing we have to offer. And when I say we I mean this Coalition and I know I am not alone in this thinking.
If you’re reading this and you don’t know me then I’ll let you know where I stand briefly. I support Lords Reform. In fact, it has been an issue that has been central to my views for many years and something I have blogged on in the past for Lib Dem Voice. Like many Liberal Democrats I have been stunned by the actions of a number of Tory and Labour MPs in the past few days that may well have condemned the much needed reform to the second chamber for another 100 years. However, this is not what I want to talk about today.
When I found out the outcome of the vote on Lords Reform and realised that any change would be pushed back on the agenda, I did not lose my passion, but I did shift my focus and energy. Lords Reform made me instantly see that it is not on the small (or even large) victories in the Commons that would help us win the trust back of the public, but the hard work and graft we have become so famous for in many pockets of the country. So the next day I decided to head straight out onto the streets and start delivering Focus after Focus. We even took time, to speak to a local resident about the issues he and his wife are affected by in his local community. It was a day that really showed what matters to people in tough times like these.
Now do not get me wrong, I am certainly not recycling the anti-reform rhetoric of there not being time to Reform the Lords, but we must remember we cannot waste time sulking when we can use that time working. For it is the work on the streets and on the doorsteps delivered by hard working Lib Dems (whether elected campaigners or not) that is really needed in times like this and not the political bickering over how upset and betrayed we are over Lords Reform, because NEWSFLASH: the Tory and Labour party will ALWAYS play politics in this way. So we should not rise up to it at a time like this, when we could be fighting the real battle which is on the doorstep where people must see we still are the party that represents the hard-working, principled values of the average man and woman.
So wipe those tears, save your anger for round 2 of Lords Reform (whenever it arrives) and get out there and let the real work begin!
Now, before this seems like I am making excuses for a drop in membership by painting a picture of all thinks bright and rosey like the very rose garden the Prime Minister and Nick Clegg stood in on that historic day, I’m not. In fact, I would argue that our membership levels are exceedingly healthy in some areas based upon the history of parties in government and the basic figures we ACTUALLY know about (which are of little availability to the public eye, but probably more than the Independent claim to have access to).
So, if you haven’t figured it out by now, this article is pretty much a response to the link above where the Independent are reporting a seismic slump in membership of the party. The reaction from Labourites has been comical to say the least. In the midst of all the meaningless hysteria it has actually reaffirmed something in my mind. Which is that our members are not just a number. Most importantly as well, it is not about the quantity of our members but the quality. The dedication, the efforts they put in and the relentless campaigning in the face of some of the most vicious media attacks on our party ever.
Now, we could play politics here and cite the fact that no party survives Government without a small hit to its membership. Just take the Labour party (the ringleaders of the attacks on us), who in 2007 had membership slumping to, what some said was, its lowest since their formation in 1900! We have lost a fifth while they could barely hold onto 40% of their post 1997 membership, at a time when Gordon Brown was actually considered “popular”. Also, you need to remember that 2007 was the year the electorate expected a snap election and another Labour majority. Not exactly the kind of difficulties we are currently facing! But we must not, and should not, dwell on such petty remarks, no matter how tempting they may be to pursue. All we need to do is remind ourselves of the liberal heroes who have stuck with us. They still exist up and down the country. I have seen and met members who go well beyond their basic Focus delivering duties. Young Lib Dems who travel the country to help out in seemingly unwinnable by-elections, candidates who brave the rain and terrible weather in safe Labour seats, the organisers who commit their lives to the party and the campaign teams that help us, occasionally, romp to victory even in the most uncertain of political times for the party.
So where I am going with this is to a very simple message. Let us not dwell on the slump, but emerse ourselves in the pride that those whohavestayed bring us. They make Government worth it because they are the ones pushing that message on the doorstep. Because lets remember, we do not have a Daily Mirror or Torygraph to do our spinning and cheerleading. We only have each other..
…and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Now I know this isn’t something that, as Liberal Democrats, we should be asking ourselves but maybe it might be worth asking the average voter this question. We used to be the party generally associated with PR and far too often just seen as a place for protest voters. But since the coalition this has changed dramatically. People now view us as ‘that party in coalition.’
When policy is coming out of coalition it is clearly very difficult to put our name to legislation when almost all policy is part of a collaborative effort with the Tories, even if it had originated directly from our manifesto. So the big question for 2015 is gonna be what do the Liberal Democrats stand for? It is very rare that you find a voter who will instantly think “ah yes, you’re the party of the pupil premium!” Sadly, we still have a very long way to go and things won’t get easier if we don’t begin to establish where our true priorities would lie in a Liberal Democrat majority government. PR wasn’t and simply isn’t enough. This blog post is not an answer to this problem but its more of an acknowledgement that we should not forget that a lot of people still don’t actually know what we really stand for.
Something to think about in the light some pretty dysmal results.
Last night I had the pleasure of attending Sky News’ London Mayoral Debate. The setting was on a very high floor in the overwhelmingly huge Heron Tower, the tallest building within the City of London. Being practically skyrocketed up in the elevator felt like being transported to another world. A very political world. Amongst the excited excited audience the usual journos were lurking in the backgrounds no doubt planning their personal ways of spinning the result even before a single word is said from the three men invited to debate. We think politicians are bad for their spinning, but its certainly not without the help of their friends in the media.
The debate itself, I expected, was to be a carbon copy of the Newsnight debate we had seen a few weeks back. However, with an eager audience who were openly invited to stand up at any time and make themselves heard, there was a certain edge to the proceedings where you never quite knew what could happen or what someone might say. Kind of like Question Time on crack, but held in some weird detached political bubble overlooking London. The questions came thick and fast with topics covering housing, poverty, crime, the London riots and transport. Some very eager bike enthusiasts nearby even got to ask the question they had been planning on road safety for cyclists. However, what really surprised me most that night was the reaction from the audience. We, as Lib Dems, already hold a certain fondness for Brian Paddick (well I hope you all do!), but too often Lib Dem candidates are too quickly dismissed by the public for their allignment with the party. This was not the case as even Adam Boulton himself conceded that if the debate was to be judged on claps from the audience then Brian was the clear winner. Amidst the usual bickering between Boris and Ken, Brian managed to articulate his points clearly and passionately making some risky claims that really took many back (blaming the death of cyclists on Boris was a risky move that paid). Whether it was road safety or Brian’s knowledge of the police and crime issues, he commanded the platform he shared and managed to hold off the ramblings from two, quite frankly, political giants.
All in all Brian pulled off what Nick Clegg did back in 2010, although I doubt viewers would be so quick to fall at the feet of our candidate after a few debates this time around. But asides from that, it seemed that Brian really managed to step up his game in a way that will be hugely beneficial to the London Liberal Democrat campaign. If Brian’s performance wasn’t enough of a boost then the latest Mayoral poll will certainly add to it. Just a week or so ago we were fearing that the Green candidate Jenny Jones was on the verge of becoming the third candidate with Brian polling as low as 5%. However, we now see that support has risen to 11%, over double what he previously was polling. The momentum is there and if Brian can put in another strong performance in the ITV debate on Tuesday (which will no doubt have a much higher viewership) then London could really be in for a surprise on May 3rd.
To find out more about Brian’s campaign then go to his website http://www.brianpaddick.com
Oh and if you’re the tweeting type then remember to use the hashtag #paddickpower
ANOTHER thing, watch this fantastic video: