Author Archives: Mark Blackburn

Christmas Competition: Why be a Liberal Democrat?

That’s a good question at the moment, one I’m constantly asking myself. To be clear, I’m looking at this question from the holistic point of view, that is – why be a Liberal Democrat at all? I’m not going to give you a list of reasons justifying membership.

Considering the current shambolic state of our nation, the appalling failure of our Government and the ineffectual weakness of the supposed Opposition (the not-much-confidence motion, I ask you), it is almost inexcusable that we, the party of Remain, should be still scraping along the bottom in the opinion polls. Even our improving by-election performance now seems to be stuttering, though the party machinery tends to turn a blind eye to this. I can understand that; motivation and encouragement are important.

However, it’s time to face up. We’re so close to being a busted flush, and below the radar significant money and effort are being put into furnishing a phoenix to replace us, rising from the ashes of Brexit. Please, don’t think I’m disloyal or lobbing bricks in from outside – I love this party, I’ve spent thousands of pounds and thousands of hours running local parties, supporting campaigns and fighting for it and its predecessor as a council and parliamentary candidate over the past forty-five years. That’s why I want to save it.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged | 43 Comments

David Blackburn OBE 1931-2017

My father died last month. Not the way I’d want to start a piece for Lib Dem Voice, but that’s the fact of the matter. And after mulling it over for a while (and being very occupied with everything such a bereavement entails), I thought it would be relevant to write about him here.

Like his father before him, and his son after him (me), David Blackburn stood as a Liberal (Democrat) Parliamentary Candidate. He fought Brentford and Isleworth in West London in 1974; I remember campaigning for him as a 16 year old and I still have the press cuttings. He was a very successful car importer and as a result was a significant party donor too. Wealthy enough to send me to boarding school where I was the only Liberal in a Tory hotbed.

I wasn’t just a Liberal because my dad was. I was keenly interested in politics and soaked up all the literature. I passionately believed in what I read. There were parallels in the seventies with conditions now – economic challenges, a growing threat from the far right. My father was deeply pro-Europe and stood for the European Parliament as well – the slogan on his election address states ‘Make Britain Great in Europe’. Quite possibly a stronger message than any we used in the referendum! His literature appeals directly to young people, and “oppose(s) all forms of discrimination and demand(s) equal opportunities for women”. These values ran and run through my blood.

I’m proud to say it goes back even further than that. I admit to being something of a hoarder (to the frustration of my wife) and I have my grandfather’s election literature too. He stood in Islington East before WWII and in Chippenham and Calne just after the war; his manifesto speaks of a ‘National Housing Policy’ to build affordable homes, protecting leasehold tenants and among other issues proportional representation! Plus ca change. After he’d had a stroke and while I was studying at the LSE, I used to visit his flat and we’d talk politics and read his books together; it was he who taught me about Beveridge and the five evils.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 9 Comments

Agenda 2020 Essay #10: What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today

Editor’s Note: The party is currently running an essay competition for members of the Liberal Democrats, to submit 1000 words on the theme “What it means to be a Liberal Democrat today.” The deadline for contributions is 2nd November. If you would like us to publish your submission, send it to [email protected]

Completely by chance, I’m writing this in the very house David Lloyd George lived and died. I’m here on a retreat for a few days, but had no idea of the history of the house when I booked. Almost one hundred years ago he became leader of the Wartime Coalition. Yes, another coalition, and then as now, not good for the Liberal Party. More importantly for my purpose here, he was the one of the architects and founders of the modern welfare state, worked closely with Keynes to formulate economic policy, and in his final vote in the Commons in 1943, condemned the government for their failure to back the Beveridge report.

It wasn’t easy to be a Liberal then, and history shows the decline of the party during that period and subsequently, though Lloyd George maintains a reputation as one of our finest Prime Ministers. Certainly, it isn’t easy to be a Liberal Democrat now. Some write us off, only 8% of the vote, only eight seats in the House of Commons. Still, that represents over two million voters, more than the SNP, a considerable franchise.

Consider also that the 2014 British Social Attitudes Survey found more young people than ever have liberal attitudes. So the recovery of a Liberal Democrat party isn’t a hopeless case. But as what sort of party? As one standing for vague centrism, more economically competent and less scary than Labour, but kinder than the Conservatives? No, we’ve seen where ‘equidistance’ got us in May. We were so busy trying to straddle the middle ground our legs got further and further apart until the electorate kicked us firmly where it hurts. We must also avoid the revisionism which blames it all on nasty Lynton Crosby frightening our voters away at the last minute, complicit with the SNP threat to the Union. Doubtless this exacerbated our disastrous performance, but the situation was pretty dire already – 10 of our 11 MEPs lost in 2014 and thousands of councillors over the last five years.

Posted in News | Tagged | 3 Comments

Opinion: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it

Only four days after the cataclysm, already there’s a rosy (garden?) hue about our ignominious performance – martyrs to the cause of the Coalition, country before self-interest, fallen heroes. History will be kinder to us than the electorate. If we are ever going to recover from our nemesis, this is a very dangerous mindset.

Of course it was always going to be tough being in Coalition with the Conservatives, and a price was always going to be paid. But as Lord Steel said right after Nick Clegg’s moving farewell speech, it wasn’t the Coalition itself that destroyed trust in us and …

Posted in Op-eds | 40 Comments

Jessops – is administration a euphemism for obliteration?

Sadly, yesterday another retailer went into administration, this time Jessops, the high street camera chain. For the time being it continues to trade but the jobs of its 2000 employees in 200 stores are under threat. Surprisingly, Christmas can be a bad time for retailers – rents are due on Christmas Day and if the expected bumper sales don’t materialise, the money may not be there to pay them.

Obviously it’s not going to get any easier for ‘bricks and mortar’ store chains with the continuing increase in online sales, but there’s a more fundamental problem – apart from the massive …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 20 Comments
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  • User AvatarPeter Watson 22nd Jan - 10:50pm
    Huh? Cool photo though.
  • User AvatarIan Shaw 22nd Jan - 10:04pm
    Yes Jo keep going, politics needs you, the Lib Dems need you and people need you. You were a big part of me leaving the...
  • User AvatarJohn Peters 22nd Jan - 9:50pm
    Are policy papers meant to be publicly accessible? If not, why not? I tried following the https://www.libdems.org.uk/policy_papers link but it requires a login to the...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 22nd Jan - 9:09pm
    @ Julian Tisi "But hold to your view that it was all the fault of the coalition if you wish." I don't wish, Julian, I...
  • User AvatarAlex B 22nd Jan - 8:49pm
    There's nothing selected which would debate how to improve our economic performance. Like improving our technical education for a starter. Or Brexit apart making it...
  • User AvatarHywel 22nd Jan - 8:34pm
    "Which means numerous leaflet and letter deliveries, thousands of door knocking attempts and hundreds of engaged activists are necessary to force our messages into people’s...