Tag Archives: party reform

Why a “Movement for Moderates” needs radical Lib Dems at its heart

Moderation is in crisis in Britain. Extremists have taken over our politics, while those who aim to speak up for the moderate majority find themselves with little influence over the levers of power. 

The problem for moderates today is that there can be no return to the old post-war consensus, built on the notion that ever-increasing prosperity would gradually trickle down to everyone. That theory died in the financial crisis 10 years ago. No one today can drum up any enthusiasm for ‘third way’ centrism, even when tempered with a solemn promise that it’ll be kinder and more sensible than the alternatives. 

Today, Britain can only be healed by a new social contract, one that leaves no one behind and gives hope to every individual and community. This requires a huge shake-up in how we organise the affairs of our country, but the only plans on offer so far are founded on extremist dogma. Those of us who want moderation to thrive again must put forward our own compelling vision for change. That’s what Lib Dems can offer — a radical, progressive plan to reshape Britain. 

So don’t be misled about the nature of this Movement for Moderates. Lib Dems propose real change, inspired by our almost maniacal devotion to the dispersal of power and privilege, in both the private and public sectors. Our programme sets out to disempower the autocrats and extremists — and to unleash the forces of moderation — by giving communities and citizens the means to control their own destiny. 

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Some thoughts on Vince’s party reforms

I have kept reasonably quiet about Vince’s reforms since his announcement on 7th September because I wanted to let others have their say.

My sense at Conference is that people were interested in what he had to say. Everyone had things they liked and things they didn’t. They were all going to respond to the consultation with varying degrees of pleasure and pain. This is how it is supposed to be.

I do want to slightly disagree with my fellow Federal Board members who have been talking to Politics Home about the process, though. They complained about being “bounced.”

Now, I don’t think that’s fair. Certainly, back in June, there was an attempt to slip in something about a Supporters’ Scheme into the motion of the Federal Levy and Subscriptions to be discussed at Conference. The Federal Board then said “Hang on a wee minute, here.” The Federal People Development Committee was given the job of looking at this in more detail. The Committee’s amazing chair, Miranda Roberts, one of the most competent and patient people I know, has written about that process here and here. The process of holding the leadership back had thus worked.

In between times, after articles had started to appear in the press over the Summer, Vince spoke to a special meeting of the Federal Board in July about what he was thinking about. At the end of August, Federal Board members were asked to contribute their views about his ideas. He hadn’t told us fully what they were, but given that his 7th September speech reflected most of the press coverage, well, you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist.

So, on the last day of my holiday, I had to drag myself out of bed at the crack of bloody dawn to write down my views for Vince. I actually forgive him, because I was able to take this amazingly atmospheric photo of the bay outside the holiday cottage as the sun rose.

By this point the only bit he hadn’t told us was what he was going to say about the future of his leadership. But then that didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out either.

I wrote him an essay of epic proportions which I might actually post on here one day.

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Tim Farron MP writes…Vision before vanity

Former leaders probably shouldn’t write articles in the run up to a party conference, but here goes…

Let’s start by turning the clock back eleven years.  In September 2007 we arrived at our conference in Brighton with Ming Campbell as leader, expecting an early election.

Gordon Brown had just succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister without a fight.

Actually, there had been quite a fight as the Blair / Brown psycho drama had played out over the course of a fractious decade in Downing Street.  But there had been no electoral contest as Gordon took the top job.  David Miliband had bottled it, and John McDonnell had tried and failed to get enough signatures to get on the ballot paper.

Perhaps this one horse race struck many in Labour as not being terribly healthy and whilst they might not have sympathised with McDonnell’s hard-left views, they felt – on reflection – that it would have been better if he had got enough signatures to ensure that Brown had to experience some democracy before stepping into Tony’s shoes.

I suspect that McDonnell’s experience led to many Labour moderates choosing to sign the nomination forms of Diane Abbott in 2010, and of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015… A word to the wise: never back someone if you don’t want them to win.

Whatever we Liberal Democrats might have said at the time about his lack of democratic legitimacy, there really wasn’t an enormous clamour for Brown to seek his own mandate having taken on the role a few months earlier.  After all in 2005 Blair and Brown had very much been presented as a joint ticket.

Nevertheless, Labour looked good in the polls.  They were ten points ahead of a fairly wobbly looking Cameron and Osborne (who looked like a kind of very wealthy, poor-man’s Blair and Brown, if you see what I mean…).  Brown fancied his chances of crushing the Tories and so the weather was set fair for an October 2007 election.  Westmorland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrats had 40,000 flying start leaflets printed, 25,000 target letters stuffed and a thousand poster boards pasted up ready…

But – two weeks after our conference – on the same day that the England Rugby Union team surprisingly defeated Australia in the 2007 World Cup semi-final, Gordon Brown delivered his own surprise.  He backed down, there would be no early election.  A decision that trashed his reputation and ultimately led to his defeat in 2010… and to the formation of the coalition.

Gordon’s decision to march his troops back down the hill was to make a difference to the Liberal Democrats in 2010, but it also affected us there and then in 2007.

Ming Campbell had taken on the mantle of leading the party in the sad turmoil after Charles Kennedy’s resignation in early 2006. Ming chose to step down following Gordon Brown’s announcement that there was no longer the prospect of an early election. Ming gave immense service to the party by putting his own ambition to one side in the party’s interest.

In the Autumn of 2007, the party needed an Acting Leader to take the helm.  Up danced our Deputy Leader Vince Cable. Having been PPS to Ming, I became Acting PPS to the Acting Leader – I was the lowest of the low!  But I got to see first hand the cross-party respect that Vince built, not only for his deft handling of PMQs (who could forget his observation that Gordon Brown had transformed from Stalin to Mr Bean?) but also for his integrity.

Fast forward eleven years, and as we gather again in Brighton this September, Vince is back at the helm of the party, and has shown the same selfless strength that Ming showed in 2007.    

As we approach the third decade of the 21st century, the structures of all political parties are still locked into the Victorian model.  Reform is greatly needed. Not everyone will agree with the proposals that Vince has put forward for reform, but the fact that he has put the cat among the pigeons and opened up the debate should be seen as visionary and vital.

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Mods and Libs – who are we?

Some enterprising organisation at our conference, my money is on Liberator, will be selling ‘I’m a Liberal not a Mod’ badges, although I’d be careful not to wear one outside the Brighton Centre for fear of upsetting the Scooter fanatics.

That old rocker Vince Cable has certainly captured the attention of the Party with his March of the Moderates vision, but before it is dismissed out of hand by those who see dangers from opening up decision making powers to non-members, it’s worth looking at how some of this vision is already working in practice, and why fears that Lembit Opik …

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Vince: I’m not stepping down (but…)

Vince was on the Today programme this morning mainly to talk about the revelations that HMRC advise against giving honours to tax avoiding celebrities – something that he thought was right in principle.

However, he was also asked about his ideas for reforming the party and, specifically, how much longer he would be leader.

I’m not stepping down. I’m making a speech next week putting forward some reforms to the way the party functions.

So far, so good.

But then he was asked a direct question about whether he would be fighting the next election.

Yes, if there is one in the near future.

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Vince Cable writes: Lib Dems will be at the forefront of political realignment

It is a year today since I became party leader, and a great deal has happened since.

Thanks to the efforts of so many of our members and campaigners, we had the best set of local election results of the three main parties in England in councils gained and the best overall for us in fifteen years.  We have every reason to hope that next year will be better still – we are already preparing.

The by-election in Lewisham East was our best against Labour for a decade.  Local council contests each week continue to reinforce the positive message our surveys are giving us.

Whatever toxicity attached to the Lib Dem brand after the Coalition has substantially dissipated.  Large numbers will vote for us if they think we have a chance of winning and if there is an effective campaign

As well as winning elections, we are setting out big ideas to change the country.  A few weeks ago, I detailed an ambitious but realistic approach to house building, describing what could be achieved without the impediment of ideological prejudice.

I have also launched a series of initiatives to confront the issues thrown up by the new digital economy and deal with the ‘data giants’; a group is looking at how best to support lifelong learning for people whose future is potentially subject to the upheavals of technological change; another will soon look more broadly at the impact of new technologies like AI and how best to respond to them.

On the core economy, I have set out a revised approach to fiscal and monetary policy which builds on, but does not destroy, existing structures.  We have carried out serious work on land value taxation, which will come before Conference in the Autumn. And I have described how in practice we create a corporate structure which is best described as ‘responsible capitalism’.

On public services, Liberal Democrats continue to lead the argument about the mechanics for funding health and social care with the advice of leading figures in health policy. The Federal Policy Committee has recently set up a new health working group to take forward their work, and to continue our leadership role in mental health policy pioneered by Norman Lamb. Layla Moran, our education spokesperson, has published proposals to address the concerns of parents, teachers and schools, which we endorsed at conference.

The politics of Brexit is moving slowly but substantially in our direction.  Where our calls for a final say on the deal for the public were once derided, more and more people are now joining with us in that campaign.  A highlight of my year was addressing the 100,000 people amassed in Parliament Square for the People’s Vote march.  We remain the leading political force arguing that whatever the parliamentary wranglings over detail, the best course for Britain is to stop Brexit altogether.  Giving the people a choice at the end of this dismal negotiating process is the best way to obtain an exit from Brexit

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Vince talks to Voice Part 1: Open primaries

Twenty minutes after Vince finished speaking yesterday, I was sitting in a room with him,  his wife Rachel Smith eating delicious egg sandwiches.

We only had a few minutes to chat, but we covered a fair bit of ground.

I did the geeky party hack thing and started by asking him about his ideas for the party. I mean, he was talking about open primaries, wasn’t he, when he said this?

Our sister Liberal Party in Canada, under Justin Trudeau, leapt from third to first in a ‘first past the post’ system every bit as unforgiving as ours.

I have turned to them for advice on modernisation on how we can apply their successful model here.

The Canadian liberals engaged all their registered supporters – their voters – as well as their members in leadership elections and candidate selection.

They became a new party; a movement.

Building on our own traditions, we must address how we in the Liberal Democrats can become a movement for those who are alienated by the Conservatives and Labour.

He reckons it’s worth a try to connect with more people:

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Recent Comments

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    > And who are those mysterious people who are going to do unsuitable jobs ? UK residents! Whilst I oppose Brexit, if we do go...
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    I'd add a third, either an environmental one putting more emphasis on combating climate change or going beyond Labour's idea of employee share ownership to...
  • User AvatarMichael 1 25th Sep - 12:43pm
    For clarity, the pecentage thinking X is among the important issue facing Britain at the moment. https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/issues-index-august-2018-public-concern-about-eu-and-brexit-remains-historically-high-levels EU/Brexit etc. 57% NHS/Heath etc 40% Immigration/immigrants 20%...
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    Never understood why going for PR in the Upper House (with greater powers) is not a good way forward. Stops tactical voting and provides for...
  • User AvatarPeter Hirst 25th Sep - 12:39pm
    What's this new big idea? eu citizens to have the same immigration prospects as those from elsewhere. It doesn't need a degree in politics to...