Author Archives: Jeremy Hargreaves

Opinion: The things to watch out for in Brighton

I’m off this morning to Lib Dem Conference in Brighton. It seems to me that this has the opportunity to be one of our most interesting and engaging conferences for a while.

There are some really quite interesting discussions which it’s quite difficult to call which way they will go. It has been a criticism that I and others have made in the past of conference that sometimes too much of it could be predicted in advance and isn’t saying anything too much new. But that certainly can’t be said of this year, which contains plenty of new and strong thinking.

So some of my predicted highlights for the week are below. If you’re not coming to conference you might want to watch out for some of them.

But if you won’t be there, I wouldn’t trust too much to what the mainstream media will tell you about the conference, because I can tell you now what they will be saying.

They will be saying firstly that the Leader’s authority is on the line, pending a possible defeat on the conference floor on something, and secondly that everyone is talking about how the Lib Dems will position themselves in the event of a hung Parliament after the next General Election.

I know this because this is what the media have said people are talking about conference at each of the 13 previous conferences I have been to. This will not be true. These discussions are not on the agenda and will not be seriously discussed. But it is a standard feature of Lib Dem conferences (and for all I know the other parties’ ones too) that those who have spent the week at them come to home to find media coverage describing an entirely different event than the one they have been at.

The media also have their own news priorities which rarely coincide with a full and balanced approach to reporting this event. A journalist unwittingly put it very well to me last year when he said in answer to a question about what story his paper would be running the following day, “Well if Ming loses the vote tomorrow we’ll be writing about that; if he wins it then we’ll be running on what’s happening in Lebanon”.

So if you have find yourself hearing a reporter say that “all the talk in the conference bars tonight is of…” then trust me, it isn’t. I can honestly say that over the years I have devoted my fair share of effort into researching what people are talking about in the bars at conference, and I can tell you quite clearly that whatever it is on any particular night, it jolly well isn’t what the media are reporting it is.

So, what are my particular tips for interesting debates next week:

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | 2 Comments

Help shape party policy online

One of the features of our party’s policy is the amount of consultation that goes into preparing it.

Every party member has the opportunity to feed in their views before proposals are drawn up for taking to Conference. This has always included publishing a consultation paper before every new policy paper, and consultative sessions are held at party conference and often elsewhere too.

But over the last year we’ve moved consultation into the electronic world too – so each working group now has its own site where any party member can comment or contribute.

So the two new consultative papers that the party has recently unveiled are now online: on future policy on Europe, and on Further & Higher Education. In each of these areas a working group is working towards bringing a policy paper to conference, either in spring (FE/HE), or at autumn next year (Europe).

Posted in Conference and Online politics | Leave a comment

Brighton rocks: conference previewed

Last week the party published the preliminary agenda for Autumn Conference in Brighton.

A major policy paper will set out proposals for tackling poverty and reducing inequality – an issue that Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell personally has identified as something he wants the party to tackle as a priority. There’ll be a new paper refining further our proposals to make the tax system fairer – including a headline proposal to cut income tax by 4p in the pound. And there will be a new paper on local and regional governance in England.

Also still to come are policy papers on tackling climate change and on better governance of the UK.

Posted in Conference and News | 8 Comments

Opinion: My Tony years

Tony BlairWhen Tony Blair announced his resignation, everyone seemed to want to give their assessment of what the Blair years had been like for Britain – giving history’s first judgement of the legacy into which he’s put so much effort. 

Many sought to measure his achievements in numbers: numbers of teachers under Blair, the change in waiting lists for hip ops under Blair, the spending on international development, the numbers unemployed under Blair. 

But they didn’t tell me what I want to know about the Tony years.

For although I’d voted Lib Dem in the misty early morning of the 1st May 1997, before doing the 7am stint telling, I shared in the excitement of the new regime that weekend – like almost everyone who wasn’t a Conservative, and, one sensed, even quite a few who were. 

I hoped that the new government would do something about what I thought was wrong about Britain after 18 years of Conservative government. 

What was I looking for from Tony?

I wanted a government which would not be weighed down by sleaze and a relentless stream of ministers and MPs apparently interested mainly in just feathering their own nests.

I wanted a political system which actually made sense – where a party’s strength in Parliament depended on the number of people who voted for it. I wanted a system which accepted that some decisions were best taken at a different level than a monolithic Westminster, in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Europe, or locally – and a House of Lords which had at least some legitimacy in its composition rather than being just a random collection of aristocracy. 

I wanted a government which wasn’t anti-European. And which would act to prevent governments making war on their own peoples, as had just happened on Europe’s doorstep in the Balkans.

I wanted him to do something to stop British education falling behind other developed countries. I wanted the government to stop just relentlessly cutting things, and instead invest in education, in health, in teachers, doctors and nurses. 

I desperately wanted the government to do something to make British society less unequal – to do something about the huge and growing gap between the obscene salaries and remuneration packages earned by some, and those who were too poor enough to play a real part in British society at all. And I wanted it to do something to tackle the sheer social tension bequeathed by Thatcherism and a government which seemed keen to show in every way it could that it believed there was no such thing as society.

And most of all, I wanted the people who ran the country to show some sign that they believed they were doing it for the benefit of the whole country, and particularly those who needed its help, and not just for the benefit of themselves. 

So has Tony given me what I wanted?

Posted in News and Op-eds | 7 Comments
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