Tag Archives: engage

Ros Scott’s Party President’s report (August ’09)

July is usually a busy month in Parliament, as there is a rush to complete things before the long Parliamentary recess. This July has been no exception, and there were some long sessions, particularly in dealing with the Parliamentary Standards Bill, a rushed piece of legislation which has needed a considerable amount of work in terms of amendments, in order to make it workable.

As an aside, I have been in discussion with the Electoral Commission on the question of another piece of legislation, the Political Parties and Elections Bill. I am concerned that the burden of bureaucracy placed upon Local Party Treasurers is disproportionate to the amounts of money involved, and am pleased that my suggestion that Local Party Officers be included in the consultation process has been adopted by them.

The work of the Select Committee on Communications, which is currently carrying out an inquiry into the British film industry, does have its upsides – this month in the form of a visit to the Harry Potter film set. It is entirely coincidental that Daniel Radcliffe, whom I met on the visit, publicly declared his support for the Liberal Democrats the following week.

The end-of-term reception for Liberal Democrat peers, hosted by our Leader there, Tom McNally, was graced by the presence of a number of our candidates in target seats, who were in London attending valuable training in support of their ongoing campaigns, as well as by members of our teams in the Commons, the European Parliament and the London Assembly.

I think that it is important that I continue to find time for non-Presidential work.

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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:

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