Author Archives: Richard Kemp

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 | 32 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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