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 a 200-mile exclusion zone. What about the think tank Chief Executive who thought that the way to deal with the Irish border problem was to bully or bribe the Irish Government? Both ideas that are so absurd that you have to pinch yourself to see if you are awake or having a nightmare!

Before I seem ‘holier than thou’ we must acknowledge that there are problems in our Party as well. We have 110,000 members and not all of them will have the exact beliefs and life style that we would like. I can only say that I hope we deal with these issues not by evasion or bluster but by due process.

I believe that such corruption as there is in British politics is caused by the fact that too much power is too few hands which are too remote from the people who have lent them that power in an election. By corruption I mean the arrogance of power in which men, and yes, it is usually men, feel that they can do what they like because they can get away with it. Chief amongst those is the arrogance and bullying of women.

Behind that is the belief that they are just the people to deal with things. A self-confidence based on testosterone and in many cases a privileged background which tells them that they are ‘just the chaps’ to deal with the situation because they know how to lead and that people of the lesser sort (you and me!) should just bally well get behind them.

I believe that the problem lies in the fact that we are a deeply centralised country, probably the most centralised in Western Europe. That centralisation means that the stakes are high for those who wish to grab hold of the levers of power to further both their own interests and the interests of the clique which surrounds them.

I believe that there are three ways in which we can tackle these problems.

  1. Reduce the power of Whitehall and Westminster and make more decisions in the regions of England and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The stakes would not be as worthwhile if the centre of power was more diffuse.
  2. Produce tighter controls over lobbyists. There is nothing wrong with lobbying per se. I am a lobbyist on behalf of local government and our work to improve conditions for our constituents.
  3. Get more women into politics (like Jane DODDS!!) Put simply I believe that if more women were at the top of the power hierarchy there would be less of these problems.

For these reasons and more I believe that we need to create a strong and radical partnership in the centre of British politics to promote governance changes that will sweep away much of the poor and misguided traditions of British politics that have built up over the past 400 years.

This will not be easy and will not be achieved by the Lib Dems alone although I believe that we should be at the heart of implementing actions such as these. There are millions of people who support our objectives but who despair of the state of the body politic. That is our weakness but also our strength. Convince people that we want to ‘drain the swamp’ and we can gain support for our Party and then deliver those desperately needed changes.

* Cllr Richard Kemp CBE, Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

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29 Comments

  • Michael Cole 15th Jul '19 - 1:53pm

    Richard,

    Electoral reform.

    Without this, none of these things will happen. Or at best, progress will be painfully slow.

  • John Marriott 15th Jul '19 - 2:19pm

    My old dad used to say to me; “Two things you should never talk about in a pub are politics and religion”. Interesting advice, especially on the first topic.

    Politics for many people is something that other people do. It starts in schools, most of which seem afraid to tackle issues with a political bent. When I taught in West Germany in the 1970s, political parties were not only allowed to send representatives into schools but also to man a stall in the playground at break time (most schools then only operated in the morning six days a week). You just try that over here and most heads, conscious of numbers, would probably have a fit because of concerns about how some parents might react.

    Cllr Kemp might have spent most of his life nobly fighting his cause; but there is a life outside the narrow corridor of political debate, which most people, if they can just manage actually to vote every so often, do not wish to go down. What we need to do is to create an environment where political debate can be opened up to include a greater cross section of the population than is currently the case. That should not mean compulsory membership of any party. What it should mean is showing much more respect for other peoples’ opinions instead of having a closed mind. As I have said before, many people seem to want to lead their lives in black and white. We need to encourage them to try to live their lives in colour.

  • Paul Barker 15th Jul '19 - 3:07pm

    The first step is getting a Libdem in Number 10.
    There may be a General Election in The Autumn, we have to go into that Campaign committed to the immediate revocation of Article 50 & a confirmatory Referendum within a Year. No more Extensions !
    Our chances in that Election would be greatly improved if we are leading an Alliance of Progressive Parties, including The Green in England & Wales & perhaps Plaid Cymru.
    Building such an Alliance would certainly be easier under the leadership of Jo Swinson.

  • I have a great deal of sympathy with Richard’s point concerning decisions being made at a local level; my main concern is that in England at present we seem to have a wide variety of different solutions, in some cases with what appears to me to be a variety of different levels of authority .

    In my view this needs to be simplified, we need regional authorities across England with the same powers, and with, in my view County sized unitary authorities as the only other level of government in a region.

    The regional authorities would have powers the same a devolved nations and they along with the nations would be the basis of a reformed secon chamber in parliament…

  • Katharine Pindar 15th Jul '19 - 6:31pm

    ” Get more women into politics” is your third listed aim, Richard, which I am sure many will agree is a worthwhile aim. Now I have read, appreciated and commented on your recent spate of interesting articles, but unless I am much mistaken, I don’t recall you commenting on the articles of others here. Might I respectfully suggest, of a busy councillor and leader of his LD group who nonetheless finds time at least this summer to contribute to LDV, that you might like to read and comment occasionally on the articles contributed by women on this site?

    They are not so numerous as to overtax you, but other women might be encouraged to write and possibly become more involved in Lib Dem activism if it were seen that more leading men were prepared to attend to what they have to say. Just a thought, since I have myself felt much encouraged to do more by the many welcome comments on my threads by fellow members.

  • “Reduce the power of Whitehall and Westminster and make more decisions in the regions of England and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The stakes would not be as worthwhile if the centre of power was more diffuse.”

    It would have been nice to see the LibDem MPs adopt that approach to Northern Ireland and gay marriage and abortion. Gay marriage has been provided for in the rest of the UK for less than six years, but it seems that LibDem MPs want to therefore claim it to be a “human right”. The claims by Jo Swinson, Layla Moran and Christine Jardine were made notwithstanding, and perhaps in complete ignorance of, the European Court of Human Rights decision only three years ago in Chapin and Charpentier v. France which unanimously (and not for the first time) held that the European Convention on Human Rights does not include the right to marriage for homosexual couples.

    The Moran/Swinson/Jardine approach to devolution seems to be that it’s fine for the Celtic fringe countries to take decisions themselves except to the extent that the London commentariat don’t like the decisions taken (or not taken). That shouldn’t be the LibDem approach to devolution.

  • I find this article encouraging particularly the section challenging the Lib Dems about accepting people of a variety of beliefs. I have almost always voted Lib/Lib Dem (including at the last two general elections) because I like their economic polices, proposals for electoral and constitutional reform, remaining in the EU and approach to tax and public services. Unfortunately, because I would also be described as a “social conservative” I had to give up my membership a while back, as I know from views expressed on this site that I would not be welcome. I suspect I am not the only person who has this dilemma, rendering them politically homeless as things stand at present. Having said that, I’m sure I will continue to vote Lib Dem as we desperately need a realignment of political groupings and the two (main) current alternatives fill me with foreboding

  • “”””Put simply I believe that if more women were at the top of the power hierarchy there would be less of these problems.””””

    We’ve had 2 women at the very top of the hierarchy (Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May). Have they been great for the country and it’s poltical culture?

    What we need at the top (and indeed at all levels) are talented liberals. Doesn’t matter what gender they are. Doesnt matter what race they are. Doesn’t matter what sexual orientation they are. Doesn’t matter what their ability status is. If they are talented they will be able to listen and be empathic. If they are liberal they we can put some trust in them to deliver the best for the country. 2 very big “ifs” though

  • “In my view this needs to be simplified, we need regional authorities across England with the same powers, and with, in my view County sized unitary authorities as the only other level of government in a region.”

    I agree with you. However, the 2004 North East England devolution referendum was defeated by 78% to 22%. That was almost the exact opposite of the 1998 referendum on establishing a London Assembly which was carried by 72% to 28% with 60%+ majorities in all but one borough (Bromley only 57% majority).

    The wording voted on was “If an elected assembly is to be established, it is intended that: the elected assembly would be responsible for a range of activities currently carried out mainly by central government bodies, including regional economic development; and local government would be reorganised into a single-tier in those parts of the region that currently have both county and district councils.”

    After that defeat, the other proposed referendums for the North West and for Yorkshire and the Humber were dropped indefinitely.

    2004 is only 15 years ago. When people in the north of England complain about decisions being made in Westminster for the benefit of London and the South-East they should be reminded that they only have themselves to blame.

  • Colin Keppel 15th Jul '19 - 11:27pm

    “…the problem lies in the fact that we are a deeply centralised country, probably the most centralised in Western Europe.”

    Besides its other adverse effects, perhaps this colours the view too many Britons have of the European Union. Their belief may be that the EU is or aspires to be a giant version of the over-centralised Union which they experience at home. They cannot imagine either Union can be any different. They are stuck with the British, but they can reject the European Union.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Jul '19 - 7:17am

    Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
    Keep the secret ballot.
    Keep votes for women.
    Keep the NHS
    etcetera.

  • Denis Loretto 16th Jul '19 - 7:58am

    @Richard C
    What does “social conservative” mean?

  • David Evans 16th Jul '19 - 8:17am

    I agree with James Pugh. The most under-represented group in the House of Commons isn’t women. It is good Liberal Democrats.

    That is what we have to put right.

  • Rif Winfield 16th Jul '19 - 9:16am

    Richard,
    The essence of Liberalism is tolerance. All else flows from that attitude. As Liberals, we are tolerant of everything except intolerance. And we only judge other people by that precept.
    Regards,
    Rif

  • Denis
    I understand “social conservative” is a catch all term to describe people who don’t subscribe to progressive views on one or more social issues. In my case, I have old-fashioned views on abortion, believing the 24 week limit is now too high. I appreciate that I will probably be blocked on this site for having said that, especially as a man. Otherwise, I subscribe to virtually everything the Lib Dems say, as I said.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '19 - 9:43am

    @Rob Cannon
    You are right about the 2004 vote; but that was poorly handled by Prescott and Co. I would, however, agree on having regional government and Unitary councils and have said so in LDV on several occasions. BUT I would keep Town, Parish and Neighbourhood Councils and offer them enhanced powers. That’s more or less what they have in the other three nations that make up the U.K. (that is, when the Northern Irish can get their act together!).

  • There is a deeply ingrained myth that Prescott and Labour were offering the NE meaningful regional assembly. They were not. What they were offering was a toothless talking shop and on top of that wholesale reorganisation of local government. I am not at all surprised it was rejected. But to see it as a rejection of real devolution is a serious mistake. I was (and am) campaigning in Yorkshire for a serious Yorkshire Parliament with real power, that reduces the role of central government and takes powers away from the national parliament. That was not put to the people of the NE (nor any other region) and if it had been I suspect the result would have been rather different.
    As an aside, I want our party to offer real devolution at the next general election and then implement it when we get into power. I want no more referendums.

  • Peter Martin 16th Jul '19 - 10:22am

    @ Mick Taylor,

    The LibDems often claim to be an evidence based party. Is there any evidence that the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are better off with ‘their’ National Parliaments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast?

    I think I know the answer to the last one. But what about the other two?

    The Westminster Govt is where the real power in the UK lies. They are the currency issuer. They can make things happen – if they want to. The danger is that the responsibility for making the NHS, the education service, the transport network etc work effectively is devolved but not the necessary power to make that possible.

    So for example a Welsh voter can write to his MP about the poor state of the Welsh NHS, or whatever, and receive back “Its not my problem. Write to your assembly member”!

  • Denis Loretto 16th Jul '19 - 11:49am

    Looking back to Richard C who is worried about being rejected by the Liberal Democrats because he considers the 24 week limit for voluntary abortion too high, I hope he is wrong to be worried about this. Abortion has always been regarded as an issue of conscience outside party whipping etc. We who have what one may call highly liberal views on this issue should be glad that a large majority of MPs, the public and Lib Dem members currently share those views without taking some absolutist position wheteby we demand that any vote on it in Lib Dem circles or anywhere else must be 100%. So stick with us Richard.

  • Peter Martin. I want real devolution with both the power and the cash to do the job properly. And yes, there will have to be a lot of publicity given to who does what, but our aim should be to bring power as near to the people as possible. It is clear that our present system leaves large numbers of people feeling that they are forgotten.
    Let’s not forget, we are almost alone in the democratic world in not having elected regional bodies with real powers and where local government that has been stripped of most of its real functions and its ability to tackle local issues.
    And yes, talking to people in Wales during the B&R by-election they do feel that it’s better to have decisions made in Cardiff rather than London and they know who to contact about problems.

  • Part of the solution is creating a more stable tripartite structure to our governance where parliament, government and the judiciary have more distinct roles overseen by a new constitutional settlement determined by the people.

  • Sue Sutherland 16th Jul '19 - 4:12pm

    Richard I’m not sure what you mean about 110,000 members not all of whom will have the “exact beliefs and lifestyle that we would like.” Isn’t that what being a Lib Dem is all about? That none of us have the exact beliefs and lifestyle of any other member? That we are proud that this is so? That this is why members are involved in policy making and have the final say at conference?
    I thought that difference is celebrated in our party so our joy at having such a large membership is not that we can have replicas of ourselves but that we have even more difference to discuss, celebrate and, yes, argue about, during the process of making policy.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Jul '19 - 4:37pm

    Rob Cannon. What you say does not in the slightest detract from my experience in Wales. I suspect that if it was now suggested scrapping the Welsh Assembly that those proposing it would get short shrift. The devolution referendum was a long time ago.
    I believe in devolution as a principle too. What we gave to do is sell it first to those in the party who still think that the NE Referendum stands for all time and then to the electorate.

  • John Marriott 16th Jul '19 - 4:39pm

    @Peter Martin
    Those of us who support a Federal State – and knowing your views on the possible direction of travel of the dreaded EU, I am, of course referring to a Federal UK – accept that certain competences will rest with the Federal Government, in our case, in Westminster.

    I believe that you mentioned health. Well, in Germany, there is a Federal body a bit like the pre 1974 NHS, that liaises directly with hospitals and GPs. Healthcare over there is financed by government (around 74%), with the rest by the private sector. Citizens largely pay into insurance schemes run by ‘Krankenkassen’, which are topped up by employers.

    Although education is the responsibility of each state (‘Land’), any educational reform affecting the whole country has to be agreed by all Ministers of Education in the delightfully named federal body called the ‘ständige Konferenz der Kultusminister’. For example, 6th Form Reform, agreed in the mid 1970s, took nearly ten years to implement in all the West German ‘Länder’, with socialist (SPD) majority Länder leading the way and more conservative (CDU/CSU) ones taking more time. But they all got there in the end.

    The purpose of this ‘lecture’, which some may find boring – but surely no more so than some contributions we get on LDV – is intended to illustrate that a Federal State can work perfectly well and be sensitive to regional variations. So why don’t we try it?

  • Sue – thanks for that, I have to admit I was wondering much the same. I can stretch to the idea that a Liberal party will have core beliefs – i.e. that someone must support liberalism in the general sense – though even there we have some conflict between those who lean more towards social or economic liberalism. But ‘exact beliefs’ seems a little controlling, and the idea that someone’s lifestyle must be compatible to me seems directly contradictory to the idea of liberalism. I hope I’m just missing something (is this some kind of euphemism for illegality, abuse or corruption?), but fear some do have a narrow idea of what constitutes a liberal.

  • I’m not sure that someone concerned about abortion limits is a social conservative, Liberals have concerns (including of course Lord Steel, the architect of the original bill). I know members with concerns about that who are perfectly welcome. I’d think a US style social conservative (ala Jeff Sessions or Anne Widdicombe!) might find it more difficult to work within the party (hopefully!).

    Of course, my problem with conservatives of any sort (other than maybe financial ones) is in understanding when is it that the norms they want to preserve was? In strict terms if an extremist govt tried to say reverse gay marriage, they would be being the radicals and we (in defending it, the status quo) would be literally being social conservatives. If someone thinks they want to bring back the social norms (a fictional term meaning a figleaf for hatred and bigotry) then they are being reactionary, surely, not socially conservative. Hence we can (and do) have left wing MPs who are socially conservative!

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