Author Archives: Paddy Ashdown

Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my party on the eve of Conference: Four dangerous ideas

So, here, as promised are four dangerous ideas for the future. Please be clear. I am not necessarily proposing these. Just asking why we are not even discussing them?

Dangerous idea 1

We are guiltily obsessed with student fees. The fact that we don’t need to be, because the principle is right, does not make life easier (how I wish we had called them a Graduate tax!). But now with the student loan debt rising, do we not also have to consider how we get better value for what students pay? If we have a tertiary education system which cannot be paid for without loading more and more debt on our young, should we not be looking at the system, not just at how they pay? We persist in the medieval practice of taking students to medieval ivy covered buildings, to receive their education in the medieval manner from minds, too many of which, when it comes to delivering education, are stuck in the middle ages. Yet distance learning was pioneered in Britain at the Open University when communicating with your tutor meant stuffing your academic paper in an envelope, licking it, sticking a stamp on it and putting it in the local post-box. Today the whole planet is into distance learning. Many of our own Universities make tons of money providing distance learning degree courses to students all over the world. But none of them are in Britain! If we were to convert at least part of our tertiary education syllabus to distance learning we might reduce the cost of degrees without diminishing their quality, give students more flexibility, force lecturers into the modern age, widen access and create a superb platform for adult education all at the same time. Why, beloved Lib Dems, do we allow medieval vested interests to preserve our ivy covered tertiary education system exactly as it is, loading more and more debt on students and preventing us from doing what much of the rest of the world is doing already? Just asking.

Dangerous idea 2

We have long understood that property owning rights are one of the foundation stones of democracy. Yet each of us, gives away our most intimate of property free and daily to the most powerful corporations, who make millions and millions from it.I am talking of course, about our personal data. Why do we Lib Dems not assert the citizens right to own their own data and to have control over how it is used? Why about proposing a law – perhaps a European one – which says to Messrs Amazon, Google, Starbucks etc, that they can use our personal data for their commercial purposes, but only with our permission and if they give us a share of the profits. Can you think of anything which would more alter the relationship between these masters of the commercial universe and the customers whose information they exploit for such enormous profit? Can you think of anything which would more empower the citizen in the market pace? Isn’t that what we Lib Dems are supposed to be about? So?

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Paddy Ashdown writes…An essay to my Party on the eve of Conference

I am getting old. Like most old men I have a tendency to be grumpy and claim that things aren’t as good as they were in the old days. Please bear this in mind when you read this.

I was trained as a Commando officer so I don’t know any other means of tackling a challenge than fix bayonets and charge. I don’t really do subtlety. Please remember that, too when you read on.

I am an enthusiast, and have a tendency to paint in large shapes and bright colours. What follows is Gaugin, not Canaletto. Please make allowance.

When you read this please finally note that I have been a committed and passionate Liberal since a canvasser knocked on my door forty-five year ago and explained what we stood for. That day, I put on Liberalism like an old coat waiting for me in the cupboard and I have worn it ever since with pride – come what may.

In all those long years I have never glanced to right, left or centre for a better political home for my beliefs than our Party – and that remains the case still. So please understand, if the words which follow offend, they are written with love.

So, now you have been warned, here goes.

There are good things – really good things – to celebrate as we gear up for Bournemouth. We have a multi talented Leader who deserves our whole-hearted support. We have 12 MPs in place of 9 before the last election. We still retain thousands of new members and we are winning local Council by-elections at a good rate.

But – didn’t you just know a ‘but’ was coming? – nevertheless, the biggest danger for our Party at the seaside next week lies in glossing over the existential challenges which now face us. Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and re-kindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

Consider this. We are the Party who, more than any other, represents the progressive centre in our country (I prefer centre left, but I am not in the business of dividing here). That space has never been more empty, voiceless, vacant and uncontested than it was in the last election. And yet far from filling that gap and mobilising those in it, our vote went down to an even lower base. Not in my life time have their been conditions more favourable for a Lib Dem advance in a General Election. But we went backwards.

Now, with Labour and the Tories spinning way to the extremes, Britain is polarised as never before and the vast sea of people who share our beliefs, find themselves voiceless and silent.

Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be. Many belong to other Parties and many, many more do not belong to any party – or wish to, with party politics as they are.

Politics in Britain is unsustainable in its present state. The moderate, majority voice of our country, which usually determines elections, cannot be left so unrepresented. If we cannot, or will not be the gathering point for these, the new left out millions, then who will and what are we for?

Twice before in our recent history, others have moved onto our ground– once with the SDP and once in the early days of New Labour. Both times we reached out to these new forces and prospered as result. These days we look hostile to this possibility. We will be at very grave danger indeed if this should happen again in the near future and we stand aloof.

Our reluctance on this front does not just threaten our future. It also contributes to the disfigurement of our national politics. If we are to fulfil our historic role at a moment when liberalism is more at threat than ever in my life, then we have to be less tribal, more inclusive and more willing to engage others than we have sometimes seemed in recent years.

What does this mean?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 102 Comments

Paddy Ashdown responds to questions to More United

Yesterday Caron Lindsay posed some questions for the More Reunited project. Here is Paddy Ashdown’s reply.

Caron, these are serious and weighty questions and deserve a proper answer.

Please forgive the long posting.

You ask:

How does this work in a First Past the Post system?

If they are going to fund every candidate who signs up to their principles, surely they could end up funding every candidate in a seat. There are some, if few, moderate Tories who could qualify. However, what if the manifesto of the party a candidate is standing for is in direct conflict with this. Someone might back electoral reform but their party probably wouldn’t and in government wouldn’t legislate for it so they would never get the chance to implement it.

In a First Past the Post system, funding more than one candidate could mean that none of them wins. They might allow their local members to decide which one to back as I said on Marr, but that could be open to manipulation by the parties.

In the case of two Candidates in the same Constituency, the members of MoreUnited.uk (NOT the members of their parent Parties!) in that Constituency will democratically decide which Candidate to back (think of how that would work in our target seats where Lib Dems join the organisation).

This works in an FTP system by electing more MPs committed to getting PR and so getting rid of FTP……

************

I am irked that there is no mention of liberty and freedom. I’m voting Lib Dem regardless, but if I wasn’t, I’d be darned if I was going to vote for a Labour candidate who might subscribe to the principles of More United but would then go and vote for things like control orders and 90 day detention. The absence of a civil liberties test worries me.

There is not a policy here which does not ooze Liberty and empowerment from  every pore.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 74 Comments

Paddy Ashdown writes… Why Vote Yes: Take Courage – make change

This is the second in our series, Why Vote Yes, where prominent Liberal Democrats explain the importance of voting Yes in May’s referendum on the UK Parliamentary voting system.

Yesterday, Charles Kennedy described A chance for change we cannot miss. Today, Paddy Ashdown writes:

Fellow Liberal Democrats – I’ve been in politics for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with people of any age getting involved, from a teenager to a centenarian. We can all make a difference.

But when almost every politician at the top of the “No” campaign was already a dinosaur by the time I was first elected to Parliament in 1983, you have to wonder about the freshness of their arguments.

Think of the changes Britain has seen during my lifetime – and theirs:

We’ve joined the European Union. We’ve established a Parliament in Scotland and an Assembly for Wales. We’ve voted in proportional representation elections for both – a far bigger change than AV – and the sky hasn’t fallen in.

And government, always the last to change under Tory and Labour alike, has often been the last to wake up to the incredible social changes that have changed Britain for the better.

So when those old Labour and Tory hacks gang up to tell you to be afraid of a long-overdue but frankly much smaller change, it tells you far more about their fears than those of the British public. Of course they’re against change. They want to hang on to the present system because it makes life easier for politicians. Well I am more interested in a system that makes life better for the voters!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 18 Comments
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