Author Archives: Richard Kemp

Draining the British Swamp

It’s not been a good week for British politics has it?! Our Ambassador to the USA was forced to resign because Johnson wouldn’t publicly support him for doing the job we paid him to do. Labour anti-Semitism was exposed in great detail on the Panorama Programme with a response from Labour that attacked the messenger and tried to excuse their behaviour by saying that the Tories are just as bad. The Tory Leadership contenders have been exposed as either liars or fools.

Then there was the Brexit MEP who thought we should do a ‘Belgrano’ and sink foreign shipping craft within …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments

What happens the day after the next General Election?

In my last article for LDV I spoke about the end of two-Party politics. Since then we have had three more opinion polls with Lib Dems ranging from first with 30% to fourth with 19%. What doesn’t change is the fact that 4 Parties, Lib Dems, Brexit, Tory and Labour are bunched fairly closes around the 20s with the Green Party on 8-10%. I do like the 30% Lib Dem one though. Many people must have gone to bed dreaming of that magic moment of being declared an MP when they saw that.

Although I am not ‘Mystic Dicky’ with a …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 40 Comments

Is two party politics dead?

We’ve now had four opinion polls in a row which have put the Lib Dems in second place behind Brexit and in front of both Tory and Labour parties. This is not a flash in the pan! Real votes have been cast in real elections. Of course, in the Euro-Elections we came second and gained 15 seats. In local elections yesterday we made major advances in 9 out of 10 wards contested and a gained a seat from Labour for a mediocre third place.

Does this mean a real change in the way that the UK does business? I suspect it does. With one exception – the election in 2017 there has been a move away from two-party politics. In the 50s 95%+ of the population voted Tory or Labour. The Liberals were a Celtic fringe Party and the Welsh Nats Scots Nats and the Green Party did not even exist.

Lord Wade who had been a Liberal MP in the 50s and 60s conjectured that there were basically three political spheres in all societies. A right-wing sphere; a left-wing sphere; and a centrist sphere. In the UK those spheres were most populated by the Tory, Labour and Lib (Dem) Parties. Even the nationalist parties can be located within these spheres as their Parties in or out of government make decisions which can be judged and verified.

 The big secret is that for much of that time there has been a huge overlapping of those spheres in this Country and to some extent that cohesion between the spheres still exists although it is weakening. All three big spheres overlapped for 60% of policy making but any of those spheres could in part, as per a Venn diagram, have two spheres overlapping instead of three. Thus, on some issues there would be agreement between Tory and Labour; others between Labour and the Lib Dems and others between the Lib Dems and Tories. The fact that this worked in a binary system of government is largely because of the overlap reduced tensions and differences.

The past three years have seen much change. The spheres have pulled apart as the Parties that were in two of them have pulled their spheres further away from the Centre. The impetus for both the Parties in them is Brexit. In the case of the Tories a new Party is pushing the Tories outwards. In the case of Labour, the Leader of the Party is pushing the Labour Party outward. Both Parties by moving outwards are leaving behind a proportion of people in who now feel more comfortable in the relationship with the centrist sphere or Lib Dems as we are now known!

I think that this has two possible outcomes because people in the UK are reasonably comfortable in the broad central area where the three spheres overlap. We are not, by nature an extremist country. For most people ‘muddling through’ and ‘getting on’ are the way that we have done things.

Posted in Op-eds | 27 Comments

Change UK – the big question is for the Liberal Democrats

Like many Lib Dems I have been more than a little disappointed with Change UK. Their launch was poorly executed; their decision to fight the EU elections ill thought out; their battle bus so badly designed that even I could have done better.

Perhaps most wounding of all was their leaked memo which showed that their number one priority was to get rid of us by pinching our members; PPCs; councillors; donors and votes. That was so naïve. It was never likely to happen and certainly will never happen give our surge in members; MEPs and votes.

The response from most Lib …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 120 Comments

Radical policies and persuasive, angry voices – the next steps for the Lib Dems

When I joined the Liberal Party in 1967, I did not do it because I wanted a career in politics or a safe seat. Just as well really as I would have been doomed to eternal disappointment. I joined because I wanted to ‘march to the sound of gunfire’ as Jo Grimond wanted us to. I wanted to see radical alternatives to the tired establishment Brylcreemed and three-piece suited men of the Tory and Labour Parties of the time, most of whom defined their view of themselves and society through the prism of the two world wars that shaped the 20th century.

Politics then was quite different than it is now. It was much more genteel and respectful and of course, did not have the 24 hour a day exposure of modern media. But it was far more tribal than it is now. (95% plus voted for the main two Parties. Liberals, if we were lucky got to a whole 3% in the opinion polls, the Green Party didn’t exist and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalist Parties were thought of as a fringe of Celtic extremists.

We started to move upwards then because we dared to be different. I joined the Young Liberals who were often described as the ‘’Red Guard’ and in some ways were more influential than the Party itself. We campaigned then for gay rights, when no-one else did, we campaigned to join the European Economic Community from day one. On these and others issues we began to create a distinctive niche in politics which was not centre ground in terms of lacking a radical edge but it was centre ground in the context of not being on the loony extremes of either the Labour or Tory Parties.

What also made us distinctive was our approach to the business of politics. We started to pound the pavements. We started to make policies discussed in remote Town Halls and the even more remote Parliament in Westminster relevant to the day to day life of people we aspired to represent.

Since the sixties there have been many surges in Liberal and then Liberal Democrat fortunes. In 2015 and 2017 we went down further than in most of my 52-year political lifetime. In 2015 we were within a few thousand votes of losing our Parliamentary Party (with the exception of Alistair Carmichael in Southern Scandinavia!) If that had happened, we would have become an irrelevance. We would, quite simply have died.

I am not going to recount the last 4 years but I simply want to say that it was the thin orange line of Lib Dem Councillors that held the line. Yes Vince and our team did great things in Parliament but it was resolute and bloody stubborn councillors that both held the line and then began slowly to move us forward leading to the great rush in Lib Dem votes and councillors at the beginning of May and what everyone hopes (except our opponents who dread) will be a great advance when the EU votes are declared tonight.

There are three key lessons to me.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 36 Comments

This is Vince Cable’s Election

Yesterday we were privileged to welcome Vince Cable to Liverpool. It will be one of his last visits as Leader as he intends to step down to allow a contest for a new Leader to take place in June.

I want to put on record just how much I think the Lib Dems owe to this man as we face what is probably the most amazing electoral turnaround (in a positive sense) in our history.

In 2015 we came close to becoming irrelevant. Under Tim Farron we weathered that storm and that was no mean feat. We got our membership base up and steadied the ship. Instead of facing the loss of even more councillors and activist we dug in and strengthened our position in local elections. We did marginally but surprisingly well in the General Election of 2017 increasing our number of MPs from 9 to 12 and crucially getting back into Parliament three heavyweights: Vince himself and the probable contenders for his job next month, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. Tim did us well despite a General Election stumble over one aspect of his beliefs. We should continue to thank him for that.

Then Vince stepped in. He knew he was a caretaker and we knew that he knew! We were content with that because the Lib Dems needed settling down before a leadership election not least because the two probable contenders needed time to re-establish themselves.

Vince brought five things to us:

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

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory!

So, we had the big debate about a supporters’ scheme on Saturday. I personally found it rather sad that the biggest attendance for a debate on the eve of the biggest round of local elections in England should be for an internal matter with no resonance with the public.

So why am I sad that the vote went, with one tiny exception of the minor vote on membership of policy groups, my way? Because I believe it showed just how badly our Leader is supported and the bungling incompetence of the Federal Board and HQ.

So, for the benefit of those that …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 25 Comments

Why there will be no Kemp4Prez stickers at Conference

A reasonable number of people will know that before Christmas I was asking them about whether or not I should stand for the Party Presidency when it comes up for election later. A smaller number know that as a result of those discussions I have decided after Christmas that I will indeed be a candidate.

However, whilst I am not keeping it a secret, I am not yet starting a proper campaign. I am not acting this way because of indolence. In my 52 years in the Party I have never left an election to chance or thought that I would breeze in. The reason I am not doing anything yet is because I believe that there are three things even more important than filling this important post.

The first and most obvious one is that we either have to resolve not to leave Europe or work out how to deal with the consequences of having left. Of course, this all might have changed in the interval between you reading this and me writing it! Brexit will cast a long shadow over both our Country and politicians because of he way that it has been handled. Well done our First 11 for the splendid way they have thought and acted and our second 100 in the Lords have acted superlatively well but we will all have much to do in the coming few weeks and months whatever happens.

Secondly, we have the English local elections coming up on 2nd May and nothing but nothing should distract us from maximising our vote and maximising our number of councillors. This should be a national election and I would appeal to Scottish, Welsh and London colleagues to support campaigning near to you as you have no elections yourselves. Nothing will put us in a better position in the media than more councillors. Nothing will enhance our position with the “Independent Group” than us having even more bottoms on seats in Council Chambers.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Will they all froth off?

The real advantage of having been around a long time (52 years as a member and 36 as a councillor) is that you can usually say, “I’ve seen it all before”. There are two things about the emergence of the “Independent Group” which are different to the huge surge of support for the SDP when it was created. Firstly, there are no big names amongst them. Most people outside their own constituencies probably couldn’t put a name to a face if shown the magnificent 11. Secondly, this time there are splits in both the other Parties not just one.

It’s very tempting for journalists to see things only through the Westminster prism. Numbers matter there in terms of votes and majorities. Big press conferences and breakaways are good news stories but not necessarily real politics. The numbers that really matter are the numbers on the ground and in particular the number of councillors. Political Parties are very like armies. We have Colonels and Generals in Parliament. We have the poor bloody infantry who knock on the doors and stuff the envelopes. The glue that holds them together and makes sure things happen are the NCOs. In our parlance, Councillors.

Surges in membership for political parties are nothing new for a variety of reasons. In addition to the SDP we often get local surges as people support the people locally who they think might win and have influence or who, quite simply, might find them an easy seat. The SDP surge has actually been outperformed by the huge increase in Labour and to a lesser extent in the Lib Dems since 2015. But the real question is, “how many stick to actually make the Party, new or old, work?” Many of the people who will excitedly sign up when the Independent Group becomes a Party will rapidly find that politics is not very exciting at all. Much of it is necessary but boring work interspersed with the stuff they have seen on the telly. They will be like the froth on the top of a cup of coffee that quickly disappears after the fresh bre begins to cool.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 53 Comments

If Labour splits what do the Liberal Democrats do?

So, some Labour MPs are rumoured to be preparing to leave their Party post Brexit debate. There are talks of six heavily involved and perhaps twenty in total. From my own observations I think that is highly credible but not necessarily guaranteed. There can be no doubt that nationally there are huge fissures in the Labour Party. What precisely those splits are is difficult to discern.

That is replicated in Liverpool. Its only partly a joke when I say that if my seven colleagues and I were in the Labour Party here I would probably be the leader of the largest …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 56 Comments

My Solution for Party HQ Issues – Let ALDC run it

Over the past few days, there have been all sorts of stories leaking out of the Great George Street bunker about the appalling and depressing state of the finances of our Federal Party.

All of which begs the question, “Why are we in Great George Street at all?” I have no idea what the rent is or the rates are on that building, but I know that it is situated in one of the most expensive areas for real estate in the whole of the UK. I also know that London is the most expensive place for employers in the UK. As you might have guessed my solution to the Party’s finances is to move most of our HQ out of London.

Of, course, some elements of Party HQ need to remain within the Westminster Village. I am sure that we need to keep The President’s and Chief Executive’s office; the press office and research inside or close to the Whitehall bubble. However, for the rest, they could be run from anywhere. Conferences; membership; IT support; campaigns; compliance; finance etc. can be delivered for the Party from anywhere in the UK. Rents would be half (at most) of what is paid in the central London area. Employment would either be cheaper or in relative terms, we could pay our staff more.

This may seem treacherous thinking, but it is not new in our Party. Local Government and publications etc. used to be run from Party HQ, but they have been ‘farmed out’ for more than 25 years. If we are looking at other Parties Labour devolved a lot of their staff to the North East almost 20 years ago.

Posted in News and Op-eds | 24 Comments

An open letter to the Lib Dem Federal Board ahead of tomorrow night’s meeting

Dear Board Members,

In a very friendly way I am writing to suggest that you should not at this stage agree to have a special Party Conference in early January to discuss amendments to the Party Constitution.

I am saying this not only after many discussions with Lib Dems in the North West and my own City of Liverpool but also in places as far apart as Taunton and Cambridge and with fellow Leaders from Local Government.

I have some key questions for you before you make the decision. I am expecting the answers to these questions to be publicised:

Firstly, do you not think that this will interfere in our work for the biggest round of local elections in England? The idea that early January is handy because it is before we start is risible. We started our campaign for next May, last May. We have been out every weekend and a lot during the week since August. This will take activists out of the front line at just the time we need them to be fighting for us and pushing our way into more power and more influence via more votes.

Secondly, do you not think that it sends all the wrong messages. Some people may think that the UK is going to hell in a hand cart and all we can do is talk about ourselves at this crucial time. That is how it will be portrayed.

Thirdly, do you really think that there is a great thirst in the Party for all the changes? 

I personally believe that there is much support for a Supporters organisation. It builds well on what we do locally. I’d love to involve more people in our policy discussions both locally and nationally; I’d love to have a larger pool of people advocating on our behalf; I think it great to have people giving us information about local and national issues. There are some things that need sorting out but these are details. The Federal Board can make these decisions and we can get on with them. In fact, we already are!

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 46 Comments

Whither or wither moderation after Party Conference

I’ve been a bit busy since I left Brighton. Two health conferences; a meeting with a Minister; full Council and picketing the Labour Conference have kept me fairly occupied!

But the inevitable train journeys and waiting times have given me the time to reflect on what I saw and heard in Brighton.

Firstly, I heard no-one who described themselves as a moderate. Good, because neither am I! The fact that we are neither loony left or loony right does not make us moderates. We are a Party with fundamental principles that would cause a much greater upheaval in our society and in …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Party membership – let’s get real

All the political parties seem to be having trouble with membership issues at present for different reasons.

Both the Labour and Conservative Parties have problems with factionalism and racism which Liberal Democrats do not. We have little factionalism and are happily united behind Vince, but membership is not big enough and not active enough. However, membership nationally is way over twice what is what in 2012 and in Liverpool is at its highest since the Party was formed more than twenty-five years ago.

Our problem is that not enough of the members are really active. In Liverpool, we have made massive progress …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 33 Comments

Devolution to the English Regions is not just a good thing – it’s absolutely essential.

The problems of the UK will never be solved while the whole of the Country is dominated by Westminster and Whitehall. I have believed that for all the 51 years I have been a member of our Party (or its predecessor!) I believe it now and that is why I am more than a little disappointed with the policy paper and motion being sent from the FPC to Party Conference. It just isn’t strong enough, urgent enough or angry enough!

Whilst still a Liberal member I was asked on Radio 4 to respond to the parody often created then of the average Liberal member being a long-haired, real ale drinker in sandals. My parody is somewhat different. I said then and I say now of our Party we protest with a campaign song which goes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual Change”

“When do we want it?”

“As soon as possible please if that’s all right with you old chap”.

I’m afraid that is just not good enough for me. For almost all political life I have been a campaigner in Liverpool. I have held all sorts of positions when we controlled the Council and for my first 22 years as a Councillor represented some of the poorest communities in the Country. I have always been aware during that time that the needs of the poorest of our communities have been held back by policies devised by nice people, often well meaning, in Whitehall and Westminster but who have absolutely no ideas what it is like to live in a ‘Toxteth’ or a ‘Sparkbrook’.

Policies are created to look at the needs of those who live in the London Evening Standard catchment area – and not even the poorest bits of that.

The centralisation of power in London has dragged many of the brightest, most capable and most articulate away from using their talents in the great Northern Cities and Towns. This has reduced our capacity to create good jobs in good businesses. The creative talents of the North fuel what has been an overheating economy of the South East. This is not good for the South-East. Staggering house prices; long commutes and a poor environment are the price paid for that overheating.

At Conference we will be debating a motion supported by a policy paper that I have had a hand in creating. The motion is looking at the way that the UK is governed with a particular look at the way England is governed. It’s not that there is anything in the paper that I disagree with. It’s just that it’s all a bit anaemic. It’s just not angry enough about the Stalinist control that Westminster and Whitehall have over ‘the provinces’.

Arguably, England is the most centralised state in Western Europe. Bureaucrats in Whitehall and politicians in Westminster micro manage communities throughout the country. They do it by the creation of laws and Statutory Instruments and enforce their rule through a series of inspectorates and regionally based bureaucrats such as Children’s Commissioners.

This is rigorously enforced by the financial controls that Westminster imposes. The theory of localism and do what you think is right is supplanted by ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Liberal Democrats think that this centralisation is wrong. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions over policies and spending should be made at the lowest possible and practical level. These levels will be different for different types of activity. 

A more muscular liberalism would want urgently to break the power of Westminster and Whitehall over issues of a domestic nature which should rightly be decided by those who have a clear understanding of the nature of problems and can devise local solutions.

  • The lowest level would be the neighbourhood perhaps 5,000 people
  • Then the district around 100,000 people
  • Then the Town or City – between 250,000 and 750,000 people
  • Then the County or Conurbation – between 750,000 and 2,500,000 people
  • Then the region which, following the devolved governmental system could be up to 5 million people.

I recognise that this will mean systems that look different in different parts of the Country. This is right. The way you provide services in a heavily rural area should look very different to the way they are provided in a heavily urban area.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 59 Comments

Cllr Richard Kemp writes… RIP Sir Trevor Jones

 

Sir Trevor Jones
Sir Trevor Jones died on 8th September in hospital in Chester. He was an inspiration to a generation (and more) of Liberal and then Liberal Democrat activists after he saved the Party from a near death experience in the 1970 General Election. This Welsh descended scouser linked his deep liberal traditions and principles to the marketing techniques which had led him from being a seaman to owning the biggest and oldest ships chandlers in Liverpool.

He was the second Liberal councillor in Liverpool and worked with Cyril Carr to take control of the Council in 1973. He joined because his business was going to be razed to the ground to build a inner city ring road. Not only would his business be affected Bur scores of others I a city which even in the 60s was desperate for jobs.

Liverpool was the first major council to be Liberal controlled for more than 40 years. He never forgot his antipathy to demolition and as Chair of the Housing Committee produced his “Big Thick Book” a proposal to end the demolition of communities which would have brought the end to all but 5,000 terraced homes in the city by 1995. Instead the BTB produced the biggest housing renewal programme in the Country and subsequently the biggest housing cooperative programme in Western Europe.

Posted in News | Tagged | 14 Comments

The Local Government slot: winning with localism

It’s very possible to get a bit glum at the moment isn’t it? All the talk is about cuts and the health service reforms with our opponents blithely ignoring the facts that they were a principal cause of the deficits and that they would have had to deal with the growing problems of the NHS.

So when I am down a bit I think of the many good things that have been done by this government and work out how I can take full advantage of them both politically and for my community.

Chief amongst these is the continued drive for localism. …

Posted in Local government | Tagged and | Leave a comment

Opinion: Planet Earth to Grayson

Oh Dear, oh dear. I have just read Richard Grayson’s Observer article and to say it is lacking in reflection and analysis is an understatement.

I touched on this on my own blog site yesterday but perhaps I could expand a little.

Ed Milliband was a supporter then a member of a highly illiberal government. Let’s not forget how bad the Labour Government was when it:

  • Entered into an illegal war in Iraq
  • Allowed the banking crisis to fester in spite of warnings
  • Developed expensive bureaucracies to deal with problems
  • Allowed the social housing stock to decrease by 37,500 in their time in government
  • Attacked

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 62 Comments

Richard Kemp writes… We can’t go on like this

My comments at the Lib Dem Conference that we need to strike a new balance between the parliamentary and councillor wings of the party has clearly struck a chord with councillors.

The immediate reason for my outburst was the way that the police debate had been approached by the Parliamentary Group – well, to be fair, we should not blame them all too much. This paper was discussed under ‘any other business’ at a shadow cabinet meeting. Most MPs had not seen it until the week before conference. Although conference delegates had seen the resolution when the agenda was published, …

Posted in Conference | 5 Comments
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