Author Archives: Michael Meadowcroft

Michael Meadowcroft has been campaigning for Liberalism for sixty-two years! He has served in just about every capacity in the party and in elected offices, including MP for Leeds West, 1983-87. He then spent twenty years working in new and emerging democracies across the world

The Guardian losing Liberal readers


Many Liberals have abandoned The Guardian in recent years mainly because of its increasing Labour bias. Part of this is the party’s own fault by not being sufficiently intellectually rigorous but that is, of course, self-fulfilling – a lack of media coverage leads to a more enfeebled Liberal politics.

My aim in pressuring the current editor, Katharine Viner, is to make the paper more pluralistic, not least because it would a shame to abandon the only national paper that does not have a proprietor, and one which I have read just about every day since 19 October 1960 – the day after the News Chronicle died.

The paper gives us a weekly dose of socialism from Owen Jones, regular pro-Labour columns from Polly Toynbee and even the saintly and ever recyclable George Monbiot cites his support for Labour. But there are no contributions from recognisable Liberals. In the face of this why should Liberals buy the paper? I certainly do not object to these columns, indeed, I am committed to pluralism, but I want to see a more balanced coverage from a newspaper that boasts about its place on the progressive wing of politics.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 59 Comments

Leadership

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I received my first message since his election from Ed last Thursday. It was an appeal for money so no change there! It also used this very annoying computer program which inserts my first name at various places. If it is supposed to make me feel that the leader has composed a letter personally for me, it fails miserably. No doubt every one of the 118,000 members knows full well that it is a standard letter to all of them from a computer programmed to add first names. I wish our headquarters would stop treating us as infants and stop this practice. I shall simply delete every such missive in future.

I intend, of course, to support Ed fully in his immense task but, like a number of other contributors to Liberal Democrat Voice, I have my concerns having watched his acceptance speech. I felt that Caron Lindsay’s posting on Sunday hit the nail on the head. A new leader’s acceptance speech is a huge opportunity to make his or her political position and agenda clear in a few pithy well prepared sentences. It will always be carried by the news media. Ed missed the opportunity and his speech was extremely trite and mundane.

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The hidden Liberal Democrats

Editor’s Note:

Actually, we owe Geoff Payne, the Chair of Federal Conference Committee, an apology for this one. He is actually one of the most accessible of the party’s officers and spends huge chunks of his life responding to members’ questions on email and social media and we’ve done him a disservice here so it needs to be put right. 

This article contains the assertion that party officers (with the example given of the chair of the Conference Committee) do not have their contact details visible on the party website.  In fact, that is not correct.  The Conference Committee page on the party website contains  contact details for its chair.

 

And you can contact President Mark Pack here. 

It is very odd that a party that preaches transparency and accountability hides the e-mail addresses of its key party officers. Any member who wishes to write to the Chair of, say, the Conference Committee cannot do so direct. I am not suggesting that home addresses or telephone number should be made available, unless the individual concerned is happy to do so, but I cannot see any reason why e-mail addresses should be hidden. As far as I know, the e-mail addresses of all elected Councillors are available on each Council’s website. What is more academics – who are often very secretive – have their e-mail addresses public on their academic institution’s website. If these non-Liberal bodies can practise transparency, it is odd that the party does not practise what it preaches and makes it possible for members to contact elected officers and committee members.

I hope that no-one suggests that it is adequate to insist that members write via party headquarters. It may be that, legitimately, a member wishes to comment on a matter of alleged poor administration in which case it would hardly be appropriate it for the communication to go via the party office.

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The Election Review reviewed

I found myself unexpectedly disappointed by the General Election Review.

Given the presence of a number of respected and experienced colleagues, I anticipated an analysis that spoke to the acute disappointment with the national campaign felt by the hundreds of barely functioning constituency associations which had struggled to raise the cash deposit and in many cases had just managed to pay for the one Freepost leaflet, but there was no solace in its winsome words. Couched in elegant prose one has to read between the lines to discern any critical comment.

Anyone would think that the party had fallen slightly short of its expected performance as opposed to botching the best electoral chance it had for decades as the only party fully supporting a European stance that was riding high in the pre-election polls. This was my seventeenth general election and in terms of missed opportunities it was the worst HQ election campaign – particularly, as I read, HQ could not, for once, plead poverty.

The party is in a parlous state. A majority of constituencies are “derelict” in the sense of not being self-starters and only being capable of presenting paper candidates at local elections. Leeds may not be typical but as England’s third city it should be noted that only one of its eight seats has a functioning constituency party – and having finished in third place despite being a “target” seat, I now fear for that one’s future. We have councillors in only three of the thirty-three wards – and this in a city which we ran as the dominant party in coalition from 2004 to 2011. There is no citywide Liberal Democrat body and no candidate panelling. And without an end to the increasingly disastrous twenty-five years targeting policy and a deliberate two year revival strategy, seat by seat, nothing will change. But there is nothing in this Review and its recommendations that appears to recognise this situation let alone address it.

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Principles of Liberal Democracy

Up to 2012 the Liberal Democrats’ citywide organisation for Leeds was responsible for the panelling of the party’s prospective city council candidates. It placed approved candidates on the panel of candidates for the city, from which the wards could select. There was a rigorous process with a candidate pack of information on the city council and on what it entailed being a Liberal Democrat councillor.

There was also a short statement of the party’s basic philosophy, expanding on the preamble to the party’s constitution. Unfortunately the City Council Liberal Democrat group ended its financing of the organisation out of the levy on councillors’ allowances and for the past eight years there has been no citywide party organisation and, more crucially, no panelling of prospective candidates.

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The uneven path of British Liberalism – from Jo Grimond to Brexit by Tudor Jones

Tudor Jones has updated his 2011 publication setting out and analysing Liberal thinking so that now his purview runs from 1956 to 2016. Everything in the review of the earlier volume applies to his extended work. There is no better single-volume reference work on sixty years of Liberal thought, and Tudor Jones’ analysis of the numerous and diverse publications during that period is both rigorous and reliable. 

The additional chapters in this new volume cover the years leading into the Coalition of 2010 and the disastrous electoral consequences of that Coalition. Tudor Jones deals with the policy issues raised by the Orange Book and its answering volume Reinventing the State. He points out that the reputation the Orange Book acquired for expounding a Liberal economic doctrine was exaggerated and was more tone than detail. He traces the development of a shift from the Ashdown ending of equidistance between Conservative and Labour, and his effort to achieve an arrangement with Tony Blair, with an almost imperceptible move towards being more friendly towards conservatism, a trend, he says, that was not unacceptable to Nick Clegg.

Posted in Books and Op-eds | Tagged | 11 Comments

The Guardian – a pro Labour propaganda sheet

I have read the Guardian just about every day since 19 October 1960 – the day after the death of the News Chronicle. From time to time it has, of course, been critical of Liberal positions but, by and large, over those sixty years, it has been the only fair and independent voice amongst the national newspapers. Alas, this is no longer the case. Under Katharine Viner, the current editor, it has become it has become a blatant pro-Labour paper. It carries weekly pro-Labour columns from Owen Jones and the openly Labour activist, Polly Toynbee. Their partisan columns are regularly supplemented by Gary Younge and Paul Mason. There isn’t a single Liberal columnist. As you might imagine, I have taken all this up with the editor.

Then, last Monday, 18 November, it carried a bizarrely tendentious column entitled “The Lib Dems helped wreck my 20s. Young voters beware.” I immediately wrote answering the column. A number of pro-Liberal Democrat letters were published but, significantly, all were apologetic about the past and none rebutted the arguments.  For the sake of arming colleagues, the text of my letter read:

It would be difficult to image a more tendentious article than that by Rhiannon Lucy Coslett, (The Lib Dems helped wreck my 20s. Young voters beware, 18 November). She completely disregards the circumstance at the time of the 2010 general election, just two years after the  banking collapse with the British economy in a precarious state following the taxpayers’ bailout of some £500 billion. The election produced a hung parliament and the stability of a coalition government was needed. Any possibility of a government including Labour disappeared when it stated it would not enter into a coalition that included the SNP. Labour’s decision ensured that the arithmetic was not there for a different coalition.

Certainly there were Liberal Democrat policies which were inevitably unpopular but Ms Cosslett ought also to look at policies which greatly assisted poorer members of the community. For instance, raising the basic tax threshold took over a million poorer people out of paying any tax at all. And the Pupil Premium was a considerable help to schools working in poorer areas.

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Push the Guardian!

The Guardian is much too partial to Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. It has no “known” regular Liberal contributor but it has completely partisan Labour columnists, such as Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee. I do what I can by way of letters but more of us need to put pressure on the paper.

Last week the paper carried a completely one-sided diatribe on the Liberal Democrat role in the 2010 Coalition government. I immediately sent a letter in reply. A number of letters were published, some vaguely supportive of Liberal Democrats but there was no full rebuttal.

Liberal Democrat Voice readers should see, and, I hope, feel able to use the material in my unpublished letter, herewith:

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The 2016 referendum result is unsustainable

How ironic that the future of a second referendum on Brexit now depends on the European Union saying “no” to Theresa May. What a farce the House of Commons has become. The key weakness in the current campaign for a second vote has been the failure by just about every parliamentarian to demonstrate the illegitimacy of the June 2016 referendum. MP after MP has parroted that “we must respect the result of the referendum”, “it would be a denial of democracy to have another vote”, or that the referendum demonstrated the “will of the people.” Nonsense! Even our own party sold the pass: immediately after the vote was declared, Time Farron, our then leader stated that “we must respect the result of the referendum.” Why on earth should anyone respect such a flawed and manipulated process? Certainly the four million people who signed a petition within a week of polling day did not.

As I wrote at the time, the party, with its steadfast sixty years of campaigning for a united Europe, should have put itself at the head of this campaign. With political leadership and assistance it could conceivably have gathered much more momentum – and, as a by-product, have greatly increased our lamentable vote at the 2017 general election.

Whatever the outcome of Theresa May’s crawling to EU negotiators over the next fortnight, unless the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum is undermined it will be difficult to achieve a second vote. It is not difficult to demonstrate the serious flaws of the 2016 vote. Just to take one aspect, if the House of Commons Library’s briefing paper, the Supreme Court and the then European Minister, and now Theresa May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, are on record as stating the referendum was only advisory, I am inclined to believe them.

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Obituary: Peter Boizot MBE (1929-2018)

Peter Boizot had four great passions: pizza, jazz, Peterborough and Liberalism! With all four he was liberal in his support, both with finance and in enthusiasm. He had great entrepreneurial acumen so that his delightfully naive belief that what he was enthusiastic about would also create paying customers often proved to be the case, making him a very rich man. He was not at all embarrassed by being rich as he simply regarded wealth as a means of supporting his passions and financing new ideas.
 
His innate liberalism also showed in ways that others would regard as eccentric. When businesses started up in other parts of the country or abroad copying the Pizza Express style and menu, rather than suing them he regarded it as a tribute to his success and as an encouragement for their customers also to patronise his restaurants. Having introduced a string quartet in Pizza Express on one evening a week, his accountant produced figures to show that the extra cost meant they were losing money, Peter ignored the evidence on the grounds that music and food went well together and that it would encourage repeat visits. Also, rather than give cash to beggars encountered on his way through Soho to his restaurant, he would offer them employment.
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Review: A very English Scandal

I was glued to the screen for the three instalments of “A Very English Scandal” – not least because I was at party headquarters during the later years of Jo Grimond’s leadership and am the last remaining active member of the small cabal that tried, somewhat quixotically, to prevent Jeremy Thorpe becoming leader in January 1967. I was also a party officer in the later stages of his leadership. Our opposition to Jeremy at the time had nothing whatever to do with his homosexuality, which simply did not figure in any discussion. It was entirely to do with his lack of political depth and his capricious authoritarianism which was difficult, and at times unpleasant, to accommodate. I was glad that there was coverage of Thorpe’s principled stand on anti-colonialism which was always commendable. A lot of the reminiscences since the film stress his undoubted communication skills and his showmanship but, alas, these are not key attributes of leader. Also, it is clear that there was the most remarkable compartmentalisation with the Norman Scott saga being contained entirely within the parliamentary party separate from the problems we had to cope with at headquarters. My obituary of Jeremy Thorpe can be found here. 

Taken as a whole the programmes covered the period well. There was inevitable compression of the material which sometimes gave a skewed perspective, and Russell Davies’ “dramatic licence” led him to treat some of the rumours and speculations of the period as facts. The one serious misrepresentation is that of Emlyn Hooson who is portrayed as a sly politician always seeking an opportunity to topple Thorpe in order to take over the leadership. He certainly wanted to be leader – he stood against Thorpe in January 1967 – but I know of no evidence that he took any action with a view to causing his resignation for selfish purposes. I went back over all my files and publications and there is no such indication in any of them. In fact, Emlyn’s leading role in discrediting Norman Scott at the now infamous meeting with Scott in February 1971 had the effect of entrenching Thorpe’s leadership. Emlyn was, in fact, a man of considerable intellect and principle.

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Why targeting has damaged the Party

Editor’s Note: This article previously made reference to the alleged actions of an unidentified member of party staff. This reference has been removed on the request of that member of staff. Lib Dem Voice has apologised for its original inclusion – we have always sought to avoid such references on the site but our small team of volunteer editors overlooked it on this occasion

 

My fellow colleague kicked off a fascinating debate on how the Party might progress on Sunday. Amongst the comments was a contribution from Michael Meadowcroft which, according to one of our readers, deserved to be expanded upon. It’s a bit longer than our normal pieces, but I hope that it will be thought-provoking. Mark

I have a fellow feeling for Paul Holmes as another of the handful of Liberals who have gained seats from Labour, but it is perverse in his situation for him to defend targeting. I have acknowledged that it arguably works once in the ruthless way it has been carried out for twenty-five years with the diminishing and lethal returns we saw last year. It is a risk to execute targeting even once but the result in 1997 arguably justified its inception. It is the continuance of the strategy that has been disastrous. Indeed the evidence of its failure is visible in that the same seats have to be targeted election after election because we have been unable to build self-supporting organisations in those seats. How then can we rely only on this strategy to win a wide swathe of seats towards a majority in the House of Commons?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 90 Comments

The Government does not have a clue on a solution to the Irish border problem

Being an earnest seeker after truth I downloaded the full Joint Report of 8 December in order to discover just how the Prime Minister proposed to accomplish the trick of leaving the single market and the customs union whilst still having no physical border between the European Union, ie the Republic of Ireland, and the UK, ie Northern Ireland.

I searched in vain. There are no practical plans whatsoever in the Report. All there is are statements of intent on “the unique circumstances on the island of Ireland,” relying “to a significant extent on a common European Union legal and policy framework,” on being “committed …. to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border,” and “will propose specific solutions,” “will maintain full alignment,” with the necessary EU rules and “will establish mechanisms to ensure the implementation and oversight of any specific arrangement to safeguard the integrity of the EU Internal Market and the Customs Union.” It has the worthy aims of “what” they want, but nothing of “how”.

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The Leeds Yellow Book 2015: Essays on a Liberal Future for Leeds

Leeds yellow bookNew liberal ideas for our city and region: that is what is offered in The Leeds Yellow Book 2015: Essays on a Liberal Future for Leeds.

The Leeds Yellow Book 2015 is a collection of essays by Liberal Democrats and Liberal Democrat supporters offering fresh thinking and ideas for our city on how to ensure that everyone in Leeds and the Leeds City Region, no matter how they started out can make life better for themselves, their family and their community. The essays are focussed on Leeds but can be applied to any city or region.

The Leeds Yellow Book 2015 has been drawn together and edited by Michael Meadowcroft, former Leeds Liberal MP and Honorary Alderman of the City of Leeds, Liz Bee and Ian MacFadyen.

It is available priced £8.50, including postage and packing, from Beecroft Publications, 0113 257 6232 or [email protected], or from Amazon, www.amazon.org.

It may seem brave or foolhardy to publish a book of Liberal Democrat essays at this time. It is neither. It is an act of faith in a liberal future for Europe, the United Kingdom and the great City of Leeds. To win people’s trust and confidence once more, we have to offer clear visions of how our country and our city can be governed for all the people on Liberal Democrat values, principles and policies. We have to offer fresh ideas. The Leeds Yellow Book 2015 offers fresh ideas.

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Opinion: Why I joined the Liberal Democrats

Twenty-first century politics are a mockery of the rigorous and committed process that is required if our society and our communities are going to have a chance of surviving the challenges that dominate the agenda today. I happen to believe in politics and in the innate ability of men and women to work together in political organisations in order to create a secure and sustainable environment within which their life chances can be enhanced. To achieve that we need a far better quality of politics than we get from the two major parties today.

Spin, image and focus groups have dulled the public appetite for involvement in the political process – even at the most basic level of voting – and the electorate sees politicians as cynical chancers who will embrace any tactic that will give them a chance of power. Over the past twelve years new Labour has abandoned any semblance of an ideological anchor in progressive politics.

There was a time, before Blair, when, even if one did not agree with its proffered solutions, Labour could be trusted to have an instinctive response which would differentiate it from the Conservative right. Helping the poor, empathising with the developing world, being gentle with refugees, defending civil rights, building houses to let and espousing comprehensive education, could all be expected to be part and parcel of Labour’s agenda. But today all this has gone and the pragmatic dissection of its honourable past means that nothing is too illiberal or too harsh for Labour.

I discovered my personal Liberal millstone very early on. Once identified, we happy band of instinctive Liberals have no choice: it’s a lifetime of commitment and struggle. I joined the party way back in 1958 and after very few years it was a case of finding jobs that would keep me in politics. Over the thirty years to the merger I reckon to have done just about every task within the “backroom” and in the “frontline”, and to have written on just about every subject. It’s all on my website. Faced with those who lacked confidence in the potential of their Liberal beliefs, the task was to provide them with the material with which to triumph in debate and on the hustings.

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments
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