Author Archives: James Graham

What part of Yes do you not understand?

We don’t normally republish lengthy pieces from other people’s blogs, but in the case of James Graham’s review of Don’t Take No For An Answer by Lewis Baston and Ken Ritchie, which doubles up as a detailed post-mortem on the AV referendum, we’re happy to throw those rules out of the window because of both the post’s excellence and the importance of the issues to future campaigning and hopes for electoral reform.

So here is a slightly revised version of the post which first appeared on James’s blogYou can also read Mark Pack’s (much shorter!) review of Don’t

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 21 Comments

Opinion: Liberal Democrats must not compromise on fairer taxes

Today, the Social Liberal Forum has published an open letter to Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander expressing our concerns prior to the emergency budget which will be unveiled next week. By coincidence, Simon Hughes, Malcolm Bruce and Lord Oakeshot are reported in the FT today expressing similar sentiments on capital gains tax.

The SLF letter covers a lot more ground than CGT including socio-economic inequality, income tax and VAT. But it is a fundamental issue which, more than anything else, will determine the future direction of the coalition. For the past month, Tory backbench MPs and the rightwing press …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 53 Comments

Opinion: Could low voter registration cost the Lib Dems seats?

The Hansard Society’s latest Audit of Political Engagement has added to the view that there is likely to be another risible turnout at the impending General Election. The study finds that only 54% say they are certain to vote.

The Hansard Society have offered some ideas about how to boost turnout. They suggest that more should be done to target groups such as the ‘disenchanted and mistrustful’. Apparently, a quarter of adults, mostly young and working-class, fall into this category of voters who distrust politicians but not yet entirely hostile.

But a report from the Electoral Commission would suggest that efforts to get these …

Posted in Election law, General Election and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 7 Comments

Looking beyond the Lib Dem ghetto

The Lib Dems have always selected their candidates by “one member one vote” (OMOV). It has always seemed the most logical and transparently fair system, and it is certainly better than having candidates hand-picked by an inner cabal. It still does a fairly good job at selecting candidates for the House of Commons, although as membership levels drop that is becoming less true. But it has been quite inadequate for selecting candidates for larger constituencies, particularly for the European Parliament and London Assembly.

Here’s the fundamental problem: a significant proportion of our members are concentrated in our held and target constituencies. Target seats become target seats because they have a larger pool of activists from which to draw. In turn, in order to become winning seats they have to recruit more activists. The more tightly we focus on target seats, as the Lib Dems certainly have for the past two decades, the more the gap between target seat and what we sometimes euphemistically call “development seats” widens.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 24 Comments

Jo Swinson’s expenses: why you should write an email today

I’ve been very gratified by the entirely positive feedback my articles about the Daily Telegraph and Jo Swinson yesterday have received.  This is entirely in keeping with the broadly sympathetic reaction Jo has received on both the blogosphere and on Twitter.

That the story has had such a positive backlash is of course a good thing.  The trouble with such stories however is that they often grow in the retelling.  I’ve already cited how the BBC and Guardian have contributed to this.  What if a candidate opposing Jo in the general election campaign were to base a dirty tricks campaign …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 3 Comments

The database state and the true cost of Labour’s free lunches

During the Unlock Democracy debate at the Convention on Modern Liberty last month, Justice Minister Michael Wills defended the growth of the database state by arguing:

“We’ve heard a lot of about datasharing today. But that datasharing, that so many here today say is an unacceptable intrusion of privacy by the state, can actually help thousands and thousands of children who are eligible for free school meals but don’t get them at the moment… Look, it’s all very well for you to sit here. You’ve probably all had a hot meal in the last week. One

Posted in Big mad database and Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 7 Comments

@LibDig Pig Number Thirteen

Welcome to the thirteenth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

You can now get twitter updates of stories which appear on libdig – simply “follow libdig” to sign up.

This week has a very clear theme – and I don’t mean Tony Hart:

1. ID cards database breached by nosey council staff (Computer Weekly). Submitted by me: ‘”They haven’t even fully launched it yet, but our worst fears are being confirmed (see the NO2ID Take Jane page.)”

2. Publication of ID cards reviews would jeopardise support for the scheme, claims government (Computer Weekly). Submitted by me: “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH! FREEDOM IS SLAVERY!”

3. Morph ‘flashmob’ at Tate gallery (BBC News). Submitted by me again: “Does using the internet to come together to make plasticine models give you cancer?”

4. To politicians, we’re little more than meaningless blobs on a monitor. Bring on the summer of rage (Guardian). Submitted by Alix Mortimer: “Yay! @charltonbrooker, welcome to our world.”

5. Bagehot’s notebook: Shami’s frog and Tory splits (The Economist). Submitted by Martin Tod: “Bagehot’s review of the Convention on Modern Liberty: ‘My main conclusion, however, was this: the Conservatives are heading for a big and not-too-distant bust-up over this whole agenda’”

6. ‘Obscene’ Gravity must be repealed, says Harman (Daily Mash). Submitted by Will Howells: “Ordinary families are dreading September and the prospect of millions of ripe, juicy apples bouncing off their hard-working skulls.”

VIDEO OF THE WEEK

No popular video this week, so I’m going to bombard you with more civil libertarian propaganda:

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | Leave a comment

Opinion: Is Lord Ashdown the IT industry’s patsy?

Yesterday’s Guardian carried this story:

Privacy rights of innocent people will have to be sacrificed to give the security services access to a sweeping range of personal data, one of the architects of the government’s national security strategy has warned.

Sir David Omand, the former Whitehall security and intelligence co-ordinator, sets out a blueprint for the way the state will mine data – including travel information, phone records and emails – held by public and private bodies and admits: “Finding out other people’s secrets is going to involve breaking everyday moral rules.”

Omand’s frankly terrifying report has been published by …

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

@LibDig Pig Number Twelve

Welcome to the twelfth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

You can now get twitter updates of stories which appear on libdig – simply “follow libdig” to sign up.

We had an encouraging increase in both digs and diggers this week – honestly, it almost makes me compiling this list each week worthwhile. Not much of a pattern this week, so without further ado:

1. Brian Gould: I disown this government (Comment is Free). Submitted by Nigel Ashton: “‘I have watched Labour compromise its principles, embrace greed and take the UK into war and recession. Torture is the last straw’, says former Labour leadership contender Bryan Gould.”

2. Straw hit by internet fraudsters (BBC News). Submitted by Will Howells: “Hahahahahahahahahaha. Ahem.”

3. An Immodest Proposal (The Life and Opinions of Andrew Rilstone). Submitted by Liz Williams: “Andrew Rilstone skewers the hypocrisy of tabloid-style morality.”

4. Racism 101 for White Cartoonists (In Contempt):  Submitted by Liz Williams: “How not to draw a racist cartoon (and how to recognise one when you see it).”

5. Watchdog probing Tory donations (Yahoo! News). Submitted by Andy Williams: “The official elections watchdog has launched an inquiry into donations to the Tory Party made by the company of wealthy party backer Lord Ashcroft, it was disclosed.”

6. Frank Field: Tear it up. Labour’s New Deal isn’t working (Times Online). Submitted by David Heigham: “That title from a Labour MP says it all.”

7. Ken Macdonald: Give us laws that the City will respect and fear (Times Online). Submitted by Iain: “Ex-DPP talks sense on crime.”

8. David Brooks: The Big Test (New York Times). Submitted by David Heigham: “Maybe the Obama regime is like a competent version of New Labour – but still thinking that imagimative central government can do everything.”

Top Video

No popular video this week, but this one entertained me:

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | Leave a comment

@LibDig Pig Number Eleven

Welcome to the eleventh edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

You can now get twitter updates of stories which appear on libdig – simply “follow libdig” (http://twitter.com/libdig) to sign up.

This week, predictions of a dark future: a police state run by Noel Edmonds and Labour Spin Doctors in which everyone is forced to morris dance five times a day. Or something.

1. The sorry state of Labour on the internet (jackthurston.com). Submitted by Mark Pack: “Excellent post from a former Labour insider, even if he overall doesn’t rate the potential of the internet as highly as I would. (Oh, and he has one or two things to say about Derek Draper.)”

2. Sleepwalking towards a police state (Obsolete). Submitted by Helen Duffett: “Surveillance does not equal security (but does make for a proper freaky bus stop poster).”

3. Charlie Brooker on Noel’s HQ (Screen Burn). Submitted by Alex Foster: “Noel Edmonds as dictator. A scary thought.”

4. Ex-spy chief Dame Stella Rimington says ministers have turned UK into police state (Times Online). Submitted by me: “If anyone else used language as strong as this they would be denounced for being too alarmist.”

Video Of The Week

Morris: A Life With Bells On is an ultra-low budget film with no distribution deal.  The producers have taken the unusual step of promoting the film online in an attempt to spread word of mouth.  It worked for Mark Pack (although I’ve always had my suspicions about Dr Pack’s pig-bladder tendencies): “Morris dancing meets the internet in a bonanza of all that is very best of British. Or something like that.”

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | 1 Comment

Lib Dig Pig #10

Welcome to the tenth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

You can now get twitter updates of stories which appear on libdig – simply “follow libdig” (http://twitter.com/libdig) to sign up.

1. Henry Porter: The horror of the ID card system (Comment is Free). Submitted by me: “Welcome to your future: a world were bureaucrats screw up your data and then you have to sort it out.”

2. Er, “help”. Legal Chill from LBC 97.3 and “Global Radio” over Jeni Barnett’s MMR scaremongering (Bad Science). Submitted by Mark Pack: “LBC vs Ben Goldacre. This one is likely to run.”

3. George Monbiot: Just what exactly do you stand for, Hazel Blears – except election? (Comment is Free). Submitted by me: “He’s mad as hell and not taking it any more!”

4. Barack Obama is tired of your motherfucking shit (April Winchell). Submitted by Will Howells: “The child in me is so, so happy.”

Top Video

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | Leave a comment

Lib Dig Pig #9

Welcome to the ninth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

It’s a pretty random list this week:

1. Charlie Brooker to focus on news in BBC4 Screenwipe spin-off (Media Guardian), submitted by Stephan Tall: “’Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker is to take a satirical look at the news media in a spin-off from his BBC4 show Screenwipe.’ Yay :) If you missed the 2007 Screenwipe news episode, you can glimpse its brilliance here: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=5RRmE0_n0K4

2. Brian Coleman’s interests – the wordle’s out (vickim57), submitted by Alex Foster: “Fat cattery via Wordle ”

3. Manchester ‘could pilot ID cards’ (BBC News), submitted by Nigel Ashton: “Manchester could be one of the testing grounds for the government’s ID cards scheme, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has said during a visit to the city.”

4. Confidence In Blog Postings Over Time (SlideShare), submitted by Iain: “It’s like there’s someone in the room with me. ”

5. Chart Porn: Create Your Own Original Star Trek Story (io9.com), submitted by me: “40 years too late sadly.”

Top Videos

We didn’t have a video this week. So as an alternative, I thought I’d pick out a random vlog. This one has a certain inspired genius, don’t you think?

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | 1 Comment

Lib Dig Pig #8

Welcome to the eigth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

I thought I’d try a slight change of format this week: less snark, more links. Also, to encourage you to explore Lib Dig more, I’m including the name of the person who submitted each item along with a link so you can see what other things they’ve been “digging.”

So without further ado, the top links this week are:

1. Revealed: Labour lords change laws for cash (Times Online). Submitted by me: “We’ve won (at least for now) transparency for MPs’ expenses – it’s time we had greater transparency in lobbying!”

2. The Coroners and Justice Bill – destroying data protection (Program Your Own Mind). Submitted by Helen Duffett: “Lee Griffin opens up the Trojan Horse that is the Coroners and Justice Bill.”

3. Why is the Labour Party spamming bloggers? (Bloggerheads). Submitted by Alix Mortimer: “Tim Ireland gets spammed by a government breaking its own data protection rules (Chicken Yoghurt is on the list too).”

4. Libby Purves: Try this for comedy: prison policy run by clowns (Times Online). Submitted by Alex Foster: “An all too brief look at Labour lunacy on prisons.”

5. Twitter meetup spawns global charity event (TechCrunch). Submitted by Alix Mortimer: “One for Twitter fans.”

6. How I Made a 1,474-Megapixel Photo During President Obama’s Inaugural Address (David Bergman – All Access). Submitted by Will Howells: “Hyouge panoramic photo.”

Top Videos

What would happen if a 50km asteroid crashed into Earth, submitted by Alex Foster: “Don’t bother campaigning, the end of the world is nigh.”

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | 1 Comment

Lib Dig Pig #7

Hearty apologies to James Graham who faithfully submitted his copy for Lib Dig Pig well in advance of his deadline despite his hellish week.  Unfortunately an editor who shall remain nameless didn’t press the right button and it languished in LDV’s “Unpublished drafts” folder until much of the content had been superseded by current affairs.

Welcome to the seventh edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

This is going to be a spectacularly brief Lib Dig Pig as I am hellishly busy. Thankfully, you’ve made my life easy by, erm, digging my day job. Yes indeed, this week’s edition is: all about me.

Well, actually it isn’t. What it is really about is what an execrable Government we have right now and the urgent need to do something about it. It is with that in mind that your joint story of the week is the Guardian’s revelation that Harriet Harman had sneaked out the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order last Thursday while everyone was fuming about the Government’s decision to build the Third Heathrow Runway (including John McDonnell, but we won’t link to his story as his mace-swinging antics didn’t get enough digs).

David Hencke – already a bit of a hero of mine – deserves full credit for breaking the story. If he hadn’t we might still be playing catch up. As it happens, a number of organisations were able to launch campaigns against this move over the weekend, including Unlock Democracy – which you also dug this week.

If only the great MP’s expenses cover up was the only example of EPIC FAIL in British politics. The other big story you dug this week is Henry Porter’s call to arms for civil libertarians everywhere to participate in the Convention on Modern Liberty.

Related to that, you dug the Independent’s coverage of the same issue and event and, ahem, the launch of the Carnival of Modern Liberty on Liberal Conspiracy.

Sadly, the FAIL even extends to the European Parliament, as your video of the week demonstrates:

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | Leave a comment

Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty

Cross-posted from Liberal Conspiracy.

Much as I support the Convention on Modern Liberty, I am very conscious of the fact that there are two dangers inherent to an initiative such as this. The first is that all it leads to is talk and a thousand people sitting in a hall munching on sandwiches. Linked to that is the danger that all it leads to is despair; that the problem seems so big and so intractable that people simply end up withdrawing altogether.

It is crucial that the Convention leads to positive action

Posted in Op-eds | Leave a comment

Where drinking meets thinking…

The Liberal Democrats have recently kickstarted the process for its next general election manifesto – which might be needed at any time between June 2009 and May 2010. Chaired by Danny Alexander MP, the process kicks off formally this weekend with a one day conference taking place at the London School of Economics.

2009 marks the centenary of the People’s Budget and the 101st anniversary of the Pensions Act (effectively the birth of the welfare state). With this in mind, the team behind Reinventing the State, a series of essays published in 2007  are keen …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

Lib Dig Pig #6

Welcome to the sixth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t yet a Lib Digger and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

This week’s Lib Dig Pig is brought to you by the theme of technology-gone-bad: a bad thing in Labour’s hands (except when they are taking the mickey out of the Tories) and something the Daily Mail doesn’t seem to approve of very much.

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Lib Dig Pig #5

Welcome to the fifth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

I didn’t write this column for the Christmas period, so have three weeks to catch up on.

This week’s Lib Dig Pig is brought to you by the theme of identity. Governments, banks and companies are rather careless when it comes to protecting your identity, politicians seem to be rather confused about their own and Mac users seem to think their’s is something they can buy in the shops for £500. Without further ado, here are this week’s slices of fried gold…

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | 4 Comments

Lib Dig Pig #4

Welcome to the fourth edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

The rules for inclusion here are simple: they must have been “dug” for the first time in the last seven days and they can’t be Lib Dem-related or come from a Lib Dem blog. The top rated article of each category will be listed here, along with three runners up. For the purposes of this column, my votes will be discounted. Finally, I may bend or break any of these rules as I see fit (this is absolutely terrible and I am dreadfully sorry about it).

Themes for this week’s Lib Dig Pig: internet censorship, oil (lack thereof) and why the Queen hates liberals.

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Lib Dig Pig #3

Welcome to the third edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

The rules for inclusion here are simple: they must have been “dug” for the first time in the last seven days and they can’t be Lib Dem-related or come from a Lib Dem blog. The top rated article of each category will be listed, along with three runners up, will be listed here. And finally, for the purposes of this column, my votes will be discounted. Finally, I may bend or break any of these rules as I see fit (this is absolutely terrible and I am dreadfully sorry about it).

This week’s Lib Dig Pig is brought to you by Karen Matthews, Twitter, Jacqui Smith, Peter Cook and John Barrowman (well, part of John Barrowman anyway).

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Lib Dig Pig #2

Welcome to the second edition of Lib Dig Pig, being a roundup of non-Lib Dem oriented gems on the internet, as voted by Lib Dem members using Lib Dig (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk).

The rules for inclusion here are simple: they must have been “dug” for the first time in the last seven days and they can’t be Lib Dem-related or come from a Lib Dem blog. The top rated article of each category will be listed, along with three runners up, will be listed here. And finally, for the purposes of this column, my votes will be discounted. Finally, I may bend or break any of these rules as I see fit (this is absolutely terrible and I am dreadfully sorry about it).

What trends do we see this week? Well, it is clear that most Lib Dig users are a godless bunch of science geeks who enjoy drinking themselves into oblivion. So they are pretty representative of the wider party then. This is what you voted for this week:

Posted in Best of Lib Dig | 1 Comment

Lib Dig Pig #1

Having shouted the loudest over the summer for someone (not me, you understand) to set up something like Lib Dig, it is inevitable that Lib Dem Voice would ask me to write a round up of the weekly digs. So here is my first attempt.

For those who don’t know, Lib Dig is a “social bookmarking” tool which allows Lib Dem members to share with other members (and the world) items on the internet that they feel deserve to get wider exposure.

Each week I will highlight the best of the non-Lib Dem related interwebs out there, as voted by LibDig users (if you aren’t one, and are a Lib Dem member, sign up here: http://libdig.co.uk). The rules for inclusion here are simple: they must have been “dug” for the first time in the last seven days and they can’t be Lib Dem-related or come from a Lib Dem blog. The top rated article of each category will be listed, along with three runners up, will be listed here. And finally, for the purposes of this column, my votes will be discounted (you can see my personal LibDig feed by going here: http://libdig.co.uk/users/4/james.graham/1.html).

Without further ado, here are this week’s top digs:

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Why don’t liberals talk about morality?

First a confession: I understand what is going on with the global wunch crunch far less than I’m comfortable with. The world’s leaders seem to be making up as they go along, adopting a throw everything at the market until something sticks approach. Gordon Brown’s plan looked like it was going to pay off at the beginning of the week; now it looks like we are rapidly heading back to square one. None of it makes sense to me; I find it highly ironic having people complain about the “complexity” of Georgism earlier this week when it is kindergarten …

Posted in Op-eds | 38 Comments

Blog awards: Campaign for Gender Balance announces short-list

The Campaign for Gender Balance has announced the shortlists for its Blog Awards, with the winners to be announced at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Liverpool (7th-9th March).

The shortlists are as follows:

BEST BLOG BY A FEMALE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT:

* Charlotte Gore
* Linda Jack’s Lindyloo’s Muze
* Lynne Featherstone’s Parliament and Haringey diary
* Meral Ece’s Meral Musings
* Alix Mortimer’s People’s Republic of Mortimer

This shortlist will form the basis of two awards – …

Posted in Online politics | Tagged | 13 Comments

Opinion: Should we have primaries in Britain?

With the US primary season now in full sway, the question about whether or not UK political parties should hold primaries will inevitably be debated once again. Tory MEP Dan Hannan makes the case for over on the Telegraph Blogs.

In fact, primaries are now practiced in the UK by the Conservative Party, although only in a limited way – it is just one of the ways a Conservative Association may choose to select their candidates and the system more closely resembles a caucus system similar to the one used in Iowa as opposed to a full open primary system in that participants must attend a public meeting in order to vote.

It has had mixed results. Indeed, their much hyped open primary process for selecting their candidate for Mayor of London, which did more closely resemble a full open primary, ended up a bit of a damp squib. Only 20,000 votes cast in total. I don’t know the exact number of Conservative members in London but I would guess that means only 1 vote was cast for every 2 members in the capital. Given that the primary was open to non-members, that hardly looks like a hugely successful exercise in mass-participation.

Why has the Conservative experience been so patchy?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments

Opinion: Time to listen to the people

Last week, the Liberal Democrats unveiled their latest policy paper on UK governance. As a member of the working group that drew up these proposals, I strongly endorse them. The paper covers a broad range of issues, from reforming the Commons itself, committing the party to developing a UK constitution (and spelling out how we’d do it), endorsing the single transferable vote for electoral reform and calling for a fully elected second chamber (no more fudge about predominantly elected chambers).

I do however feel that there is something missing from these proposals.

Posted in Conference | 10 Comments

Opinion: Is diversity worth paying for?

Ming Campbell hosted a reception on Tuesday night for female Westminster researchers, encouraging them to consider becoming approved candidates.

This is surely welcome, but Ming’s moves in this area are all too rare for a leader who stated during his campaign for election that:

“It is clear that a positive and dynamic campaign is needed within the party to actively seek out potential women candidates, and support and encourage them through approval and selection.”

Does one reception in 18 months count as dynamic?

Whatever happened to this campaign? Well, for some time now the party has had a Campaign for Gender Balance. It has achieved a lot, getting scores of women through the approval process and helping them get selected for winnable seats, but it has always been encumbered by a lack of funds. In the last year, this grant has been cut still further. Now, with the campaign’s organiser leaving, the project is once again under threat as the party’s Federal Finance and Administration Committee (FFAC) has to formally approve the appointment of a new member of staff.

Last time the Campaign was in this position, the FFAC took eight months to approve it, despite this being at the key post general election period where the most progress in terms of finding getting strong female candidates in place could have been made.

Once again, compare the reality with Ming’s commitment during his leadership election:

“I believe that we must tackle the problem of under-representation, and the way to do so is with positive action. That action needs to be resourced, and I am personally committed to that. Detailed budget-setting is done by the party’s finance committee, but if funds cannot be found from existing budgets, I will personally lead fundraising efforts to make sure this essential activity is funded.”

When is the fundraising due to start, Ming? You’ve had 18 months.

There is something very wrong with a party where the strategy agreed by its full conference is subject to the whims of a few faceless bureaucrats in a finance committee each time a member of staff quits. (I write as a former faceless bureaucrat myself.)

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

Why Lib Dems should support the Citizens’ Convention Bill

Today, Unlock Democracy has launched its campaign for a Citizens’ Convention Bill. The Bill will be presented to the House of Commons today by Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Julia Goldsworthy MP, and it is set for its second reading debate this Friday.

The idea behind this Bill is simple: there is now broad, cross-party support for the principle that Britain’s democracy needs to be renewed, and that the people themselves must be at the centre of any new reform.

Gordon Brown launched his leadership bid pledging to “build a shared national consensus for a programme of constitutional reform.” Sir Menzies Campbell subsequently called on Brown to establish “a broadly-based Convention” which “should involve not just the political parties but also members of the public.”

Last week, the Power Inquiry launched its new campaign calling for just such a process in a statement that was signed by 101 individuals and organisations, including – among others – Baroness Shirley Williams and prominent Lib Dem supporter Claire Rayner.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Should we become a nation of contented losers?

Direct democracy could not merely complement representative democracy, but could save it from its worst excesses. Claims that it leads to ill-considered, rightwing populism are just plain wrong.

The great thing about being a Liberal Democrat is that the party practices what it preaches about democracy. While the Conservative Party made a big deal out of the fact that at its last conference it encouraged people to cast non-binding votes on topical issues and even hosted a version of Dragon’s Den with Ann Widdecombe in the chair, the Lib Dems had a passionate, principled debate on tax (which the Tories rubbished, and then quietly stole a number of key policies from). Labour has debates at its conferences, but they are held in such disdain that the results of them are dismissed even before the votes have been cast.

I would contend that it is this internal democracy that has kept British liberalism alive over the past few decades. It gives us all a stake in the party which in turn buys the party enormous reservoirs of loyalty and goodwill. Even when we as individuals disagree with the direction the party is going down, we are comforted by the fact that it was as a result of a democratic process, and subsequently that it is possible to change.

At a wider level, we are deeply committed to establishing a similar model of participation and democracy in the British political system. The current system is deeply flawed, and the party has done much to highlight the evidence: we are one of the most centralised countries in the world and have an electoral system that ensures that a party with just a third of the vote can secure 60% of the seats in our primary legislative chamber.

Party policy has always been very robust in its approach to constitutional reform. However, if there is a criticism to be made, it is that we tend to instinctively reach for a solution that involves directly elected politicians and lawyers, rather than give the people themselves more of a direct say in government. Too often, our rhetoric about Community Politics has not been matched by our actions. To be fair have existing policy in favour of mild forms of participation such as increased use of citizens’ juries and increased use of (non-binding) referendums, but we have been wary of purer forms of direct democracy.

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Deputy precedents

For the past year, I’ve been observing a self-denying ordnance. Back at the end of September 2005, I submitted a complaint to the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Appeals Panel suggesting the Federal President’s decision to appoint a series of “deputy presidents” was ultra vires. Since then, I’ve been resisting the urge to mention the matter publicly.

A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Appeals Panel published its conclusion, following the receipt of the President’s response at the end of October this year, which can be found here. For the record I am content with the conclusions of this ruling and don’t wish to take the matter any further.

Superficially, this looks like a bit of a score draw. On the one hand, the Panel has upheld the substantive part of my argument that the President doesn’t have the power to unilaterally create such posts. On the other hand, the Panel has concluded that the Federal Executive, which does have the power, effectively authorised the creation of these posts, and thus from that point on they became legit.

However, given that my main objective in seeking this ruling was to assert the authority of the FE, I consider this ruling to be a ringing endorsement. There remain, however, a few implications that the party needs to seriously consider.

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | 5 Comments



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