Author Archives: Simon Titley

Opinion: Britain is more liberal than you think

Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony for the London Olympics has deservedly won widespread praise. He managed the difficult trick of presenting a vision of a Britain in which the British can feel proud, without resorting to any of the tired old clichés. There was not a bowler hat or a red double-decker bus in sight, and nobody mentioned the war.

One measure of the ceremony’s success is that the only high-profile critics – apart from the Iranian state media – were Peter Hitchens, Toby Young and Tory MP Aidan Burley, who …

Posted in Op-eds | 39 Comments

Opinion: which twin is the Tory?

Earlier this month, my home town of Lincoln hosted its annual Christmas market. Lincoln was the first city in the UK to host a German-style Christmas market. Since the first market in 1982, it has grown from just 11 stalls to more than 250. This year’s was the most successful yet, attracting a record 335,000 visitors to the city and contributing millions of pounds to the local economy.

The Christmas market is the most visible product of Lincoln’s twinning arrangement with the German wine-producing town of Neustadt an der Weinstrasse. Besides the market, the twin-town relationship has …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 29 Comments

Opinion: Stone Age communication not as cheap as you think

There is a report in the E-Government Bulletin about the campaign organisation WebThrift’s claim that councils are wasting money on web services.

Peter Barton at Lincolnshire County Council turns WebThrift’s claim on its head. He estimates the cost impact of turning the web OFF at the council: click here for details.

What is WebThrift’s real agenda? Who could possibly benefit by the isolation of people from local government?

* Simon Titley is a Liberal Democrat activist who helps to write and produce Liberator magazine.

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Opinion: You say you want a revolution …?

Jeremy Hargreaves recently launched Engage, the Liberal Democrats’ “new policy network”. Its goal is to give party members “the chance to talk about ideas, about policy and politics.” A welcome objective – but is this the right way to go about it?

The trouble with this initiative is that it emphasises process rather than politics. The ‘instant policy discussion kit’, in particular, reminds me of the sketch in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in which a couple of middle-aged American tourists enters a restaurant and is offered conversational topics instead of food. Whenever did we lose our spontaneity?

Jeremy rightly highlights the lack of debate in the party but this problem goes beyond the narrow question of involvement in policy-making. Healthy political debate should be the lifeblood of the party. It supplies vitality and a sense of purpose to inspire and motivate our members and supporters. It supplies rigour and vigour to our ideas and policies.

But debate is also the lifeblood of democracy because politics is ultimately about making moral choices. You can’t revive politics without having real debate about those choices, which means argument about competing ideas, not a heavily managed process.

Advocates of ‘consensus politics’ stigmatise debate as ‘yah-boo politics’ but it is a myth that people dislike political argument. Substantial argument is what differentiates parties and politicians, and provides people with a real choice. It is the absence of argument and thus choice that has driven down participation and voter turnout, because it makes politicians sound the same and politics seem irrelevant. And when the mainstream parties (of which the Liberal Democrats are now one) can’t be differentiated, it is the parties on the fringe that stand out and benefit from our reticence.

The mere fact that ‘Engage’ is deemed necessary tells us that something has gone horribly wrong. Political debate has declined because, since the 1980s, our political life has been hollowed out and drained of ideological content. If ‘Engage’ plans to address this state of affairs, it must first understand how and why de-politicisation happened. There are several reasons, many of which are common to British politics and not specific to the Liberal Democrats:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Opinion: Going forward

Do you like jargon? Are you a regular user? If so, prepare to have a brick thrown through the window of your soul.

You don’t have to be a Grumpy Old Man to find jargon, buzzwords and clichés irritating. Back in 1996, I attempted to do something about this problem in the public relations agency in which I then worked. I took the unorthodox view that there was no excuse for professional communicators to use such language. Jargon got in the way of effective communication because it made us sound pompous, silly or unintelligible. Disciplining ourselves to use plain English would make us better communicators.

To illustrate the problem, I translated the beginning of the Book of Genesis into PR jargon:

1. At the outset, God’s agenda was to basically focus on his core deliverables, namely two leading-edge products, (a) heaven and (b) earth.
2. However, the earth lacked an overall concept, and had a low profile in terms of its key audiences. Obviously the Spirit of God had to step back and benchmark the existing waters before his game plan could get the green light.
3. And God’s key message was that light was a strategic objective, and it was covered-off.
4. And God’s perception of the light was that it was fit for purpose. However, his desired goal was that light and darkness should be differentiated in the marketplace.
5. So God branded the light ‘Day’, and the darkness he branded ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Light’. And the evening session and morning session made up Day One.
6. Then God set out with the object of factoring-in a firmament to interface with the existing generic waters, to bring to the party two segmented brands.
7. So God tasked himself with the job of rolling-out a firmament, to supply a proactive vehicle for launching his two distinct waters products, and it was up and running.
8. And God branded the firmament ‘heaven’. And at close of play, the prioritised actions for Day Two were ticked off.

(From my essay, ‘Let’s run this up the flagpole and see who salutes’).

The problem is still with us and I have my own pet peeves:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 39 Comments

Opinion: The BNP membership list and the lessons for Lib Dems

A few days ago, a dissident member of the British National Party posted his party’s membership list on the internet. The publication of this data provides us with some interesting information about the demographics of BNP membership.

The Guardian (20 November) published an interactive map showing the concentration of BNP membership by parliamentary constituency.

On BBC2’s Newsnight (19 November), its political editor Michael Crick drilled down further. Newsnight commissioned polling company Ipsos-MORI to analyse the BNP membership list. The top five places where BNP members live are Halifax, Blackburn, Blackpool, Leicester and Romford. There are hardly any members in Scotland and few in the rest of London outside Romford. The membership is 80% male.

The places where BNP members live was also analysed according to the ‘mosaic’ system used by marketing companies to break down the country into different social categories. The highest concentration of BNP members is in the ‘Ties of Community’ category, defined as “close-knit communities, small industrial towns, terraced housing, strong Labour voting”.

The second concentration is in the ‘Blue Collar Enterprise’ category, defined as “council estates, not well-educated, self reliant (often bought their council house), ‘Sun’ readers”. The category where BNP membership is weakest is ‘Urban Intelligence’, defined as “young single, well-educated, Liberal views, prosperous”. The biggest concentration of BNP membership in terms of social class is C2 (skilled working class), more concentrated there than among the lower D/E classes of unskilled working class and unemployed.

The demographics of BNP membership come as no surprise – older, uneducated, white males form the bedrock of support for far-right parties throughout Europe. But what this profile also illustrates is that, in demographic as well as ideological terms, BNP membership is the polar opposite of Liberal Democrat support.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 32 Comments

Liberator’s Party President questionnaire

The new edition of Liberator magazine includes a questionnaire of all three candidates for the Liberal Democrat presidency.

We asked the following six questions:

Q.1 – What relevant experience will you bring to the presidency?

Q.2 – The presidency has three functions that do not necessarily sit well together – representing the party to the leadership, acting as a figurehead at functions, and chairing the Federal Executive. Which of these will you be best at, and which worst?

Q.3 – Will COG (the Chief Officers Group proposed by the Bones Commission) make the party run more smoothly or will

Posted in Party Presidency | 20 Comments

Opinion: A million doors or a moral vacuum?

Fifty years ago, the Labour MP for my home town of Lincoln was Geoffrey de Freitas. In those days, Lincoln was a very safe Labour seat and Geoffrey de Freitas was a very wealthy man.

In common with many MPs of that era, de Freitas did not maintain a home in his constituency (a practice that at least had the merit of incurring no controversial expense claims). Indeed, he spent little time in his constituency at all. On the rare occasions he paid a visit, he and his wife would get in the Rolls Royce and drive north to Lincoln, his …

Posted in Op-eds | 15 Comments

Liberalise or die!

The June edition of Prospect magazine includes an article titled Liberalise or Die by Richard Reeves and Philip Collins (no, not that Phil Collins).

The authors argue that the Labour Party must abandon its centralising Fabian tradition and become liberal. No mention of the fact that a perfectly acceptable liberal party already exists.

The article has already earned an angry reposte from John Harris in Monday’s Guardian.

Well, chaps, what do we think?

Posted in Op-eds | 29 Comments

Opinion: What should the new leader do in his first 100 days? #6

Five Lib Dems have so far taken up the challenge to tell Nick Clegg what he should do in his first hundred days: Paul Walter, Linda Jack, David Morton, Mary Reid and Mark Valladares. Now we turn to Simon Titley…

The previous contributors to this series have bombarded the new leader with laundry lists of demands without setting out clear, objective criteria for their choices.

And that’s the problem. Everyone will want a piece of Nick Clegg. He will face persistent and conflicting demands from the party, from parliament, from constituents, from the media, from lobbyists, from …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 8 Comments

The subprime crisis explained

The economic crisis caused by the selling of subprime mortgages is a complex issue that few understand. Luckily, the Long Johns have provided this explanation:

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Opinion: Vince Rocks (And So Can You!)

Vince Cable has deservedly won much praise for his recent performance as acting leader of the Liberal Democrats. He has set a high standard for next week’s victor to match. The danger is that we will treat Vince’s performance as an entertaining interlude before normal service is resumed. Instead, we should analyse and understand the generic lessons that the next leader (and other leading Lib Dems) can learn and apply.

There are essentially six things that Vince has got right:

1) Moral clarity – Politics is ultimately about making moral choices. Vince’s statements make it clear that he has a sense of …

Posted in Leadership Election, Op-eds and PMQs | Tagged | 8 Comments

Strictly Come Voting

Those of you who subscribe to Liberator magazine will have already seen it – but for the rest of you, Liberator’s question-and-answer session with the two leadership candidates, published in our November edition, is now available online.

We asked both candidates the same six questions on the same terms, enabling you to compare and contrast their answers.

Posted in Leadership Election | 4 Comments

Opinion: Will you take the ‘Bunker Pledge’?

A recent post on LDV speculated who would be in the new leader’s shadow cabinet. A more interesting question is who will occupy his kitchen cabinet.

Every political leader has one – a group of staff and unpaid advisors acting as an ‘inner circle’. At best, such groups provide leaders with a sounding board and confidential advice from people they can trust. At worst, a bunker mentality develops, with the inner circle isolating the leader and feeding him information selectively.

Ming Campbell was not in the job long enough for this to become a serious problem but all his predecessors, at …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 18 Comments

Opinion: Who Decides?

In the Liberal Democrats’ leadership election, for all the strategic analysis and policy debates among the cognoscenti, it is the ‘armchair’ members who will determine this election.

This majority will rely on the mainstream media to make its choice rather than the party’s internal media and grapevines (bear in mind that the average age of party members is about 60 – this is not the Facebook generation).

The electorate is the whole paid-up membership of the party, 72,064 at the time of the previous leadership election in 2006, a figure that had fallen below 69,000 by the end of the year. …

Posted in Leadership Election and Op-eds | 11 Comments

Recent Comments

  • David LG
    @Geoffrey Payne I believe the 50 seats figure was for if Farage enters the race. The MRP polls I mention (two this year so far) will be based on polling data fr...
  • Katharine Pindar
    @Peter Martin. I feel your pain, Peter, in that no party is committed to redistribution, since I also would like to see the ratio in industry between workers' p...
  • Geoffrey Payne
    @David LG, look again at the first paragraph, it does mention 50 seats! With our voting system it is a bit of a lottery trying to predict how many seats we will...
  • David LG
    I really don't care for the pessimism of the first paragraph. Most recent MRP polls have us winning around 50 seats already, and the only reason it's not higher...
  • David Raw
    Yes, indeed, Mary Reid, I most certainly do, and after nearly sixty years of doing that I hope you will allow me to reply to that. It's not what's stated on...