Why I’ve never felt more at home with the Liberal Democrats

I often get people coming up to me and explaining why I should leave the Liberal Democrats and why I should “see the light” and join the Labour/Conservative party etc. A few years ago, in my political naivety, I may have been open to such suggestions as I was very much finding my way. Politics was new to me and if anything joining the Lib Dems was a reactionary decision against the old gaurd of politics and wanting to feel independent. Of course the polcicies mattered, but in all honesty I always like the feeling of being an outsider and cheering on the underdog.

But if I had to make such a decision to join a political party again today, my reasoning for doing so could not be anymore different. More surprisingly, for many, the party of choice would be no different for me either. In the past I very rarely had to defend my political views and neither would I ever really be questioned on why I was a Liberal Democrat. Today it is a very different situation. The party I am a member of is in a Coalition Government with the Conservatives, something I and many others may not have imagined as a prospect when first joining the party. By being a party of Government, when you were previously a party of what seermed never-ending opposition, you experience a higher level of scrutiny over policy. Of course this is a given, but as a member of the Lib Dems I have also had to defend the party on many occasions. But whilst at first I questioned a lot of the decisions being taken in Government, the reality of needing to defend my party on more than one occasion enabled me to learn a lot more about the party itself and about what the values the party stood for so I was in a better position to defend and discuss. Because of this I have been on quite a journey with the party which has helped improve my relationship with it. I have travelled from being a naive and young political chancer to now seriously seeing the party I am proudly a part of as the true party of fairness.

Another thing which Coalition does is toughens you up and puts you in an environment that seems almost unnatural. But, it certainly gives you the experience you need. It has made me more active within the party as well. I now, unlike before, see the importance of campaigns and attending conferences. The latter especially is something very important to all Liberal Democrats. Because unlike the Labour and Tory parties, the internal democracy of the party is something that the members can actively engage in and not just stand aside and watch. To be in a party where you feel like you potentially have influence over policy and its direction is very empowering and something you certainly would not get in the Labour party and certainly not with the Tories.

In essence, as times have got tougher, so have we. I know I have as I have now grown an armour that can easily fend off the lazy comments that are thrown at me by Labourites who think I’ve “sold my soul” or the Tories who think we’re somehow poisoning the coalition. I want those Lib Dems to read this to take one thing and that is that together we will always be stronger. We are a party that is founded upon fairness and democracy, something which may often be lacking in society. If we utilise what we do have and not allow it to slip away under a barrage of negative press and comments then we can really make a change for the better.


Why 2012 is so important

2011 was a tough year for the party, no doubt. But that is not to say it was a year that did not prove beneficial to the party. It proved to be the best learning curve possible as we saw the true impact of Coalition on the Liberal Democrats. We were tested to the very core and were on the backfoot on more than one occasion. With the Alternative Vote referendum we were made to pretty much solely fight the ‘Yes’ campaign on our own (due to a lack of strong support from Labour) whilst the local elections and Scottish Parliamentary elections proved too big a mountain to climb. The party lost many wonderful councillors, MSPs and even suffered further embarassment (if that is to be the appropriate term) with the crushing rejection of the Alternative Vote from the electorate. But as I said, this was all part of a big learning curve for the party. What one would hope is that any successes or failures seen in 2011 are taken on board and are used to fuel a much needed comeback in 2012.

In ways it feels that the party has fallen as low as it can in terms of public support and it would seem like the only way is up. Although this may not be the case, we need to make sure it certainly is. One thing we must accept is that 2012 will not bring the economic prosperity this country craves and that is something we must accept early on. The party and indeed the Government need to be wary of any positive outcomes that arise as it will be too easy to get complacent and revel in the successes of Coalition Government (you certainly would not blame a party who have gone through what the Lib Dems have for doing so!). Apart from the economy there definitely are areas of success that the party should highlight further. 2010 and 2011 were not great years for promotiom of party achievements. Something went wrong along the line and this has to be changed in 2012. We can not as a party allow the Conservatives to capitalise on popular Lib Dem policy in the same way we cannot allow the press and Labour to portray a message that we are not pulling our weight in Government.

If anything the aforementioned idea of celebrating Lib Dem achievements seems almost a no brainer. It is a shame that we even need to remind the party to share its successes with the wider world but there is clearly a lack of such opportunism. I think if the party solve this one issue of communicating with the electorate better it may solve many of the arising problems that we have already seen in Government so far. Not just a small consolation poll boost but genuine progress in rebuilding the bridges of trust and belief between the party and the people. Further on from this the party also needs to sustain its brilliant by-election record by translating these into major victories in the local elections as well as the much anticipated GLA and London Mayoral Elections; elections that will provide fantastic opportunities for Liberal Democrats to assert themselves as a party that is still very much independent and that can be trusted to govern.

But whatever else 2012 brings, I want to think that come this time next year we can remember 2012 as a year that was worth celebrating. And not just because of the Olympics.

Merry Christmas and have a brilliant new year!

Joshua Dixon.

Winning public support on the EU could not be more simple

It should not be a secret as to how we can win public trust on the European Union. In fact, it should be something we commit to doing so more often. What I am talking about is the not-so-secret way of winning the debate on the EU. The way we do it? Simple, we talk about it. Not what you expected, is it? You expected a detailed plan devised to bring down Nigel Farage and his band of Eurosceptic troops whilst Nick Clegg would seemingly be crowned “King of the Eurostate”. Well ok, you probably didn’t expect that either but to take things on a more serious route it is extremely worrying that there is such a lack of dialogue inside and outside of the Liberal Democrat party on the EU. It is as if we don’t even believe our own arguments. We are in a very good position. We are not a party that suffers with huge splits on many issues, particularly on the EU. The Conservative Party have the most obvious splits with many backbenchers calling for absolute withdrawal of Britain’s membership of the EU whilst Tory frontbenchers fly the flag of the EU (although the media would like you to think otherwise based upon a pointless veto). The Labour Party, especially under the Blair’s leadership at the height of New Labour, are seen to be a predominantly pro-EU party. However, there are still Eurosceptic voices present within the Socialist and more traditional strands of the Labour party. Finally, we have our party. We stand firmly as a party that openly believes in stronger ties with the European Union. However, that is how we leave it. We simply leave ourselves to be known as the party that loves the EU. What we should really regarded as is that we are the party that fights for the EU and stands up for it under the scrutiny of the media and the public.

It is no wonder that with such soft support towards the EU that petitions on the Government’s e-petitions website are popping up almost every day with thousands adding their support to withdrawing British membership. This simply is not good enough. I mean, there are signs of an EU inspired spirit of sorts inside some prominent Lib Dem figures. When the issue is raised they do perfectly well of playing a very safe Europhile card to warn off the ‘sceptics. However, we are not using our knowledge and passion for the EU to the best of our abilities. One thing the Euroscpetics do very well at (which UKIP members have almost mastered) is being able to drop any political issue or incident at the doorstep of Brussels. This is a tactic we should reverse and employ ourselves. When they say jobs, we give them 3 million reasons as to why the EU has provided the UK with so many jobs. When they say crime, we tell them of how EU nations stand united in tackling continent spanning crimes. When they tell us about Education and Opportunity we tell them about the Erasmus scheme allowing students to travel to EU countries and experiences other cultures whilst also expanding knowledge. Those are just three reasons alone. But if you take the time you can find a benefit the EU brings to almost any area of UK society.

All I hope now is that the party is getting the message. The unpossible is becoming the possible and the Eurosceptic parties are slowly winning the argument with the public which is not just dangerous, but it also threatens our very own membership and relations with the EU. The party must assert itself more and not be so fearful of praising the EU as it has slowly become somewhat of a taboo subject. Its a fight we never thought we would have to fight, but too long have we and others been complacement. We well and truly let our guard down. Not again. Not on our watch.

The opportunity for Lords Reform must be taken

In 1997 the Labour Party manifesto outlined that under a Labour government the House of Lords would be reformed so that the right of hereditary Peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute…. It was not until after the 2001 General Election that a public consulation on Lords Reform took place. Over 1,000 people took part and there was much debate sparked in Parliament. However, even after all this buzz there were no concrete measures taken to reform the House of Lords. Even when a vote was put to Parliament in 2003, the Commons and the Lords voted to ensure that any Peers would be Appointed and not directly Elected. To show how overdue Lords Reform is you only need to recognise how long it has been talked about. Even as far as back as 1911, under the Parliament Act, the Liberal Party underlined a need for reform and that the Second Chamber itself should be “constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis“. Although it was noted that such changes could not be achieved with any great immediacy, would I not be right in saying that 100 years is more than long enough for the sort of reform talked about by the Liberals in 1911?

Without stating the obvious, it does not take much of a mind to realise that the political landscape is very different to 1997, let alone 1911. But if now is not the best opportunity for Lords Reform, that actually shakes up Parliament, then when is? Public trust in politics is not in great shape and we need to give the electorate a lifeline to show that finally the men and women behind the suits that stand on a platform of “democracy” are actually listening. The Coalition agreement is the first step. It outlines that there are intentions to work towards a mainly, or wholly, elected Upper Chamber. My take is that although there is a desire to see a fully elected House of Lords, we should not turn away from the opportunity to see a “mainly” elected Upper Chamber. As Nick said recently, 80% is better than 0%. It must not be ignored that there will be great opposition to this. Even when looking at the 1997 Labour manifesto, on the issue of Lords reform, the party had to reitterate that they were opposed to abolishing the monarchy! To think that such ridiculous claims have to be refuted, it is worrying that Lords Reforms may well be halted by ludicrous arguments and the overhanging worry that the Lords themselves may oppose such moves. But this is no reason to back down. If the case is put clearly and loudly, the people will unite behind this. The Prime Minister is said to have given his backing so it seems that there is only a matter of time. Quite frankly, we owe it to the electorate if we wish to uphold the foundations of a liberal democracy.


Tories take 6 point lead in new ICM poll

So the Feltham & Heston by-election is finally over and we can all stop speculating. What happens now is the typical spin you expect with by-election results. Labour are very careful in ensuring that the message they intend on delivering is that the result was a damning judgement on the Coalition and the path they are taking in Government. The Tories however are trying their best to underplay the fact they made no ground in the seat, even though it may be the sort of seat they need to win in 2015 if they want to secure a majority. Finally the Lib Dems and UKIP can both breathe a sigh of relief after both parties retained their deposits, especially the Lib Dems who were tipped to finish fourth. I think this is the best opportunity for me to congratulate Roger Crouch, the Lib Dem candidate, on his efforts. It was never going to be an easy contest but he showed that he wanted to work relentless for the constituents and proved many critics wrong who predicted the party would finish dismally behind UKIP.

My own personal take on this by-election is probably a little different to the Tory and Labour view. I think Labour should be relieved that they cemented Feltham & Heston as a Labour safe seat, but the low turnout of 28.8% makes it harder for the party to affirm the result as a message of condemnation to the Government. The Tories, like I said before, should be disheartened by the fact that they made no ground, even though this sort of seat is one they need to win back if they wish to reach a majority number of seats in 2015.

Now although the by-election showed no particular effect from the newly formed post-Veto ground of British politics, tomorrows Sunday Telegraph/ICM poll certainly does. The poll shows a two point rise for the Conservatives (40%), a two percent drop for Labour (34%) and the Lib Dems sticking on 14%. ICM are renowned for their consistent method and proved, in 2010, that they were one of the most accurate pollsters in predicting the outcome of the General Election result. The poll adds yet another blow to the Labour camp, but more worryingly, to Ed Miliband who has received a lot of criticism lately for not capitalising on Cameron’s EU-veto and for performing poorly in this weeks Prime Minister’s Questions. It can only raise more doubts over Ed’s ability to lead the Labour party into the next General Election and to present them as a party ready to govern, with him as Prime Minister.  The Conservatives will be looking to capitalise the poll lead as a confirmation that the British public view Cameron’s veto as standing up for Britain against the EU. What may be worrying however is that the poll also found that 59% of people expect a referendum on Britain’s EU membership at some point between now and by the end of the next Parliament. Although many Tory voters are Eurosceptic, the Prime Minister has made it clear that he thinks Britain’s best intentions are served within the EU and not out; thus providing yet more opportunities for UKIP to capitalise on the worries of the voters. The Liberal Democrats can take comfort in the fact that their ratings have not been affected by Cameron’s recent moves within the EU, but with 25% of voters opposing a referendum the party really needs to make ground on pro-EU voters who may react a little more hostile towards the recent moves by David Cameron.

So whatever conclusions you make from recent events it is clear that all three major parties need to really consider how to overcome the recent downfalls, whatever they may be. Labour need to sort out their ever present problems with the leadership, the Tories need to ensure they sustain their lead whilst the Lib Dems need to make sure they start to make ground on lost voters and ensure they win the PR war on the big issues like the EU.

Election night: Feltham & Heston Parliamentary by-election & council election coverage

Thank you and goodnight.


01:44: So there we have it. Labour hold the seat with a convincing majority and an impressive swing of 8% from the Conservatives.

RESULTS: LAB: 12,639 CON: 6,436 LID DEM: 1,364 UKIP: 1,276


01:03: Declaration expected within 15 minutes.


00:52: Sources say that Lib Dem candidate Roger Crouch may well have scraped 3rd after and may well have also saved his deposit. This would be a great relief to all those worrying of a UKIP surge.


00:43: Conservatives have taken both seats in Coombe Vale by-election. Result: Con 1340, 1308. Lib Dem 908, 778. Lab 526, 502. Green 122, 108 UKIP 70 CPA 94, 76. Con HOLD. via @HelenDuffet on twitter


00:35: Reports that the turnout in Coombe Vale is at 43%.


oo:31: Results from Frisby on the Wreake: Ind 212 Con 187 Lab 89 Ind 62 (IND gain from CON).


00:28: A little late off the mark but the Tories have lost a council seat to an Independent in Frisby on the Wreake.


00:24: Liberal Democrats now very likely to finish 4th in F&H by most reports.


00:14: Alok Sharma (Conservative MP) pretty much concedes Conservative defeat on Sky News. Nigel Farage jokingly then concedes defeat to much laughter from those around him.


00:04: Nigel Farage has arrive at the F&H count ready to give TV interviews. Will he be pursuing a celebratory viewpoint? Maybe he knows something we do not.


23:52: CORRECTION: Turnout was at 28.8% in F&H.


23:50: The BBC News Channel has officially started its coverage of the F&H by-election.


23:46: Sky News’ Jon Craig has claimed that turnout in F&H by-election is at 31%. Also rumours of an increased Labour majority but it is still too early to know of that yet.


23:42: Expecting an official turnout shortly…


23:25: Early indications that UKIP vote is very strong in F&H. Worrying for Lib Dems. Also, early indications that turnout in Coombe Vale will be a little more promising than the one seen in F&H.


23:17: Updated estimate that the F&H result will be declared at around 2AM (although this could easily mean a lot later). Will try to find out information in regards to the Coombe Vale by-election.


23:07: No surprises in the fact that many Labour activists are whispering rather loudly that they are confident of winning the Feltham & Heston by-election.


22:58: After some messy calculations, taking into account that postal votes will be making up 30-40% of votes in F&H, my prediction is that turnout will be between 22-30%.


22:50: The 7,018 postal votes returned suggests a drop of 3,127 from the 2010 election. However, it is being said that these Postal Votes could be making all the difference tonight.


22:42: BBC 5 Live claim that the result for Feltham & Heston could be in before 1AM. Is this a further indication of low turnout? Or just a mere guess. I have a feeling we may be waiting a little bit longer.


22:35: Rumours that turnout in Feltham & Heston could be very very low. This would be very worrying as all parties put a lot into the campaign. Will the Lib Dems gain from this as a party traditionally very able to get the vote out? Labour must be grateful for the early postal voters if this is true.


22:10: Rumours are that Postal Vote turnout is at nearly 62%. This will be good for Labour as many of the votes will have been cast pre-Veto.


22:00: The polls have closed and now we await the results for the elections that have taken place today. Early indications from various sources are that the Tory vote has held strong but that Labour has done a decent job of getting the Heston voters out.


I will be updating throughout the night with my coverage of the elections. I’ll be trying my best to get all the info possible to be as informative and on the dot with results as possible!

The results of greatest interest to me, of course, are the ones where the greatest Lib Dem fight has been placed. The first that comes to mind is the hard fought by-election in the Feltham & Heston parliamentary constituency which is being fought due to the death of the late Labour MP Alan Keen. Our candidate Roger Crouch, a solicitor, has fought a strong campaign with the help of Lib Dem MPs, councillors and party members. Although the seat may appear to be a straight tussle between the Labour and Conservative candidates, it is clear that this is important for the Lib Dems to show they can buck the trend of polls and see off a strong UKIP presence in an ever-Eurosceptic Britain. I will also be closely looking at the council election of Coombe Vale which sees the chance for TWO Lib Dem candidates (now known as the “KingstonDouble”) to take two council seats off the Tories.

Why Liberal Democrats must lead the debate on financial education

As many will be aware, the recent e-petition to make financial education a compulsary part of the school curriculum reached the magic 100,000 mark that makes it eligible for debate in the Commons. I believe that the campaign, headed by Martin Lewis, is integral to what the Government should be doing to ensure that they not only set an example themselves on sensible financing, but ensure that future generations have access to a responsible and balanced education on the importance of financial awareness. It is no overstatement when Martin Lewis states that it is a “national disgrace” that we have become such a “financially illiterate” nation. Such a path without financial awareness is too risky when we are expecting young students to be saddled with debt caused by student loans which were introduced 20 years ago.

I know I am not alone in the party when I raise this issue. At this years Liberal Youth Autumn conference me and other party members showed great concern in the fact that todays youth is about to embark on a lifetime of financial illiteracy, especially in a climate of great economic uncertainty. It is a great disservice to those who may not be prepared for what lies ahead. It is also the responsibility of the Government to prepare those in education, who have up to now seen Governments act recklessly with public finances. Whether you are of the view that this a problem laying at the door of the last Labour government, or a problem that has been creeping up for generations, it is undeniable that the Government needs to act fast and right the wrongs of an economic legacy setting the worst possible example to the next generation. Regardless of economic theory it is plain wrong to allow the youth of today to think that spending what you do not have and endlessly borrowing is a sound way of dealing with personal finances. The idea of financial education leads onto many more areas where are modern day curriculum is failing to prepare our youths for the world as an adult with responsibilities. There is a great lack of political education, even with the presence of Citizenship in our curriculum. I believe there is no doubt we should pave the way for a new curriculum that educates young people on what politics is and how it relates to them, because at this time it is not surprising to see such high apathy amongst young voters (even in the tuition fees era). I believe there will be a time for this in the future to discuss Political education in the curriculum, but for now we must face this first hurdle.

As a party that has too long only been able to lecture others on the mishaps of previous Governments, it is now the time where we act. It may not be easy to priotise financial education in the current curriculum, but if the Government sends a clear message then there is nothing stopping considerable changes that will not just educate our young but also, potentially, safeguard their futures as they can finally become equipped with the necessary knowledge on how to be the financially aware individuals we should all strive to be.

If, like me, you agree that this is an issue that must be addressed urgently then I sincerely hope you lobby your MP on the issue and make your support for the debate and its intentions clear. Do this not for the party, but for the future of our youths