Tag Archives: politics

If you were PM….

An interesting quiz popped into my inbox from those nice people at Unlock Democracy.  You have to imagine that you are PM – after all, that job may well be up for grabs in the near future.

You are presented with a series of policy dilemmas – would you rather do x or y? Actually, in some cases, I was a bit “NEITHER” or “NOT QUITE LIKE THAT” or “BOTH” but that is part of the fun.

It has a serious point:

Every day decisions affecting millions are made by a handful of ministers, while the rest of us struggle to have a voice. By taking the quiz and sharing it afterwards, we can spread the word about the need to bring power closer to the people.

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A masterclass for young people interested in politics

This caught our eye on Twitter. It looks like a fabulous opportunity for young people who are interested in politics to learn about political leadership skills.

There’s more information on the Patchwork website.

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Tribal politics and liberalism – the fight to the death

I have a slightly irrational aversion to holding up diamonds, wearing rosettes and beginning sentences with the phrase “Only the Liberal Democrats”. In fact I canvass now with a badge I had made which says on it against a yellow background “Bloody Politicians”. 

I really,really do get the importance of branding etc but I do think that the future of Liberalism depends on the death of tribal politics.

We are living in strange times where political discourse is often reduced to the exchange of insults, declaration of tribal belief and parodying of alternative perspectives. As Nick Robinson tweeted<

Much but not all of this is done through social media. Political debate ,as opposed to the political exchange of fire, is harder now to engage in. Voters are increasingly endorsing populist-right and left- politicians who offer simple solutions, ignore complexity and play successfully on emotions and fears.

Polarised politics though has certain key definable features we need to understand and as importantly worry about emulating.

It characterises political opposition in terms of a moral gulf. Those who back a different position are knaves, fools or both. They are not just people who have arrived at a different opinion. There can be no dalliance with the enemy not just because they are wrong but because they are necessarily evil. So we have the coarsening of political discourse, mindless abuse of opponents etc 

A second key characteristic is to deny or minimise the possibility of shared truths between political opponents. One side has to have got all the facts right and the other side all the facts wrong.Intelligence is only ever used by opponents to mislead and confound. 

These two key characteristics act to reinforce each other. It cannot possibly be the case that one’s political opponents have looked at the same facts one sees and arrived at different conclusions, possibly sharing some similar core values to oneself. That’s a liberal mirage.

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Trump could be a good thing

What were you doing when Donald J Trump became the 45th President of the United States?

I was walking my dog. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it live. I just don’t know enough swear words.

Tim Farron wasn’t watching it either.

He made a video, though. And it was pretty uplifting.

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If – that awkward little notion

If Britain does undergo ‘hard Brexit’, what do we do next? If said ‘hard Brexit’ results in a consistent and high-reaching economic growth, what do we say? “Unlikely”, “highly implausible”, “outright impossible” might be the instinctive or well-thought through response of an expert (of the armchair or academic variety). But humour me. If something happens contrary to our expectations, how do we respond?

It’s a relevant topic, given the year we’ve had. The idea that the referendum would result in Brexit was surprising (though, for me personally, not shocking). The idea that Donald Trump would be elected President of the US really was shocking. In both cases, the presumption of many was that they could not lose; that a variety of factors and self-evident prepositions resulted in an inevitable conclusion. I do not want to raise here why your or my presumptions were right or wrong, but how we should respond when we are mistaken.

It seems to me that the underlying condition that arose in 2016 was how headstrong everyone became. Every political hue became convinced that everything they asserted was undeniable, unless you were a blithering idiot (or deplorable). Facts became relative, and forecasts became cast-iron; unless of course, I disagreed with them. When did we lose the respect for our rivals, saying “this is what I propose, but I accept you have an alternative”?

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Book review: Made in Spain, by Miriam Gonzalez Durantez

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez Made in SpainI was delighted to get Miriam’s part memoir part cookbook for my birthday last week.

I love cookbooks and have a stack of them not in the kitchen but by my bed. My favourite sort have a lot of commentary and background as well as just recipes. That’s part of the reason I’m such a huge Nigella fan. She puts a lot of herself into her recipes and writing.   The two women have cooked together before and Nigella’s “Gorgeous recipes” endorsement on Miriam’s front cover is a very useful thing.

The book is worth it for a mini rant on stock alone, but it has so much to offer. The food is appetising – although I might use a bit more garlic than she does – with gutsy flavours. I can see myself making a fair few of these recipes, although I’d have to figure out how to use less oil. From a vibrant gazpacho simple pasta with bacon and peas taught to her sons when she broke her elbow during the 2010 election to a delicious lamb stew to the most wonderful sounding dish with potatoes, garlic and saffron, to lemon curd muffins, to olive oil chocolate mousse, there are dishes that could make me very happy. You never know, I might just cook some and compare her photos with mine.

Her recipes are interspersed with personal anecdotes:

I was first introduced to guacamole when I helped to negotiate the EU-Mexican trade agreement.

is quite a claim to fame!

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Listening, not just hearing

I have had several requests through facebook from voters on both sides of the EU issue on how to find a healthy, positive way forward. As deeply upset as many of us still are, it is difficult to think in positive, helpful terms when there still so much anger about this referendum taking place at all.

But I have put some thought into this and wish to share some ideas. In conflict resolution and mediation, lot of weight is placed on listening. This is a deep kind of listening, not one in which words are heard and then our point of view put forward, ‘but, but, but….’ Having done a fair bit of EU speaking and hustings, I am familiar with the riposte and parry required in refuting arguments and arguing a case.

Deep listening is understanding what is behind the words a person is saying. Many have suggested that much of the ‘leave’ vote was an anti-establishment vote, not an anti-EU vote. Tim Farron has pointed out that worries over housing, lack of school places and an under-resourced NHS were salient factors in the ‘leave’ vote.

I would further suggest that fear is behind many of the views of those who voted against the referendum. We live in a global world, a shrinking world, one that is quickly changing with technological advances. Those who voted leave, among them the majority older people, I suggest would like a return to a simpler world of pen and paper, not email, where everyone knows everyone in the village and stays there their entire life. But that is not the world young people live in – we train in different cities and countries, we work around the UK and in the rest of the world, we fall in love and have relationships which transcend borders. Younger people understand and embrace a fluid, global world. Many older people are frightened by it.

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Seeking an antidote to poisonous politics

Why does poisonous politics keep winning in Britain? A glance down your newsfeed will tell you that, for many, it’s because people are stupid. Let me put this plainly: it’s not.

We all vote with our hearts, however much we may protest otherwise. Brains too rarely come into it, clever or otherwise.

The voters who take solace in the myth of us vs them are just people who feel afraid. People who feel disenfranchised, powerless, ignored. And until we can offer them anything that speaks to their concerns, nothing is going to change.

I believe liberalism is the answer. But saying liberal things in our little liberal bubble will only serve to unite us against them in disbelief. Instead we have to engage: we have to try to understand.

Liberalism is about trusting people. So if you trust people, what are you forced to conclude? That politics has failed us. That society has failed us.

Don’t hate the people that Vote Leave manipulated: find a way of bringing them back into the fold.

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Three ways our democracy is being undermined

The articles that have appeared after the BBC’s referendum debate in Glasgow have given a lot of prominence to that one man who blamed the state of political discourse for his confusion as to how to vote.

This was too interesting not to comment on.

The audience was divided into leavers, remainers, and undecideds.

Leave and Remain both have their own ‘Project Fear’. Leavers tout a cultural crisis in the form of mass migration. Remainers raise the spectre of economic catastrophe.

Fear Projects, whereever they come from, are a concerted attempt to sway the public with threats dangerous enough to repeat frequently in scarce media time.

On the face of it my generation ought to be the most engaged generation there has ever been. Social media has turned every one of us into campaigners and journalists: we auto-report our lives and volunteer our opinions publicly. We are also happy to parrot or share anything we agree with.

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Faith values in politics can be a force for good?

You don’t need to be a church going person to learn and practice positive faith values in the society. The separation of church and state is a phrase that’s often used in reference to politics in the context of religious faith. In the US, the distinction between religion and politics is often blurred – you only have to listen to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio addressing party loyalists to see just how intertwined the two are. But here in the UK there’s something of a taboo about conflating the two. In fact faith values in politics can be an immense force for good, just as they can outside politics.

Here in the UK, unlike our cousins across the Atlantic, we have an established church and our head of state is also the head of this church. This dual rule has been much reduced since the days of Henry VIII. There was once a time when the UK politics was presided over by a monarch who was both president and pope. Gradually their role faded, and religion was replaced by political philosophy as the driving force behind British political ideology. It has led to something of an institutional silence by our political leaders to use the language of faith in political discourse. Think of the reaction that Prime Minister David Cameron received when he stated that he was prepared to ‘do God’ and take his faith into account when carrying out his duties. He was lauded and criticised in almost equal measure. But ‘doing God’ – or allowing your religious beliefs to impact upon your political outlook – does not need to be a negative thing. In fact, faith can be an immensely positive in politics and the society as long you interpret it correctly and of course you don’t try to force it on others. 

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Opinion: Politics? It’s child’s play

Toys debate politicsPity, poor Tristram Hunt. On the campaign trail the other day he made the classic mistake of asking a young child how he was going to vote.

Child: “UKIP”

Hunt: “Oh why is that then?

Child: “Because they’ll get all the foreigners out of the country”

To adapt the old adage: Never do politics with children and animals!

For a candidate kids are a minefield but as a parent I’ve been struck by how interested my kids (one pre- teen and one mid primary) have been in this their “first” General Election. They even staged their own election debate with toys which of course I enjoyed as much as they did!

There isn’t much help for parents attempting to introduce their kids to politics and political history.

Even really young American children have reading books about the Founding Fathers, Lincoln and the Roosevelts. Imagine the laughing stock a British parent would be if she went into a bookshop and asked for: “Gladstone and Disraeli for toddlers” or “Learn to read with the Tolpuddle Martyrs”

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Two Lib Dems standing down: Ming on competitiveness, Iraq and backing Clegg, Teather on “political self harm”

The Observer is interviewing some MPs who have stood down from Parliament. Ming Campbell and Sarah Teather are featured today.

Ming says his proudest moment in his 28 years in Parliament was deciding not to support the war in Iraq:

The second Gulf war, that’s the most significant political thing I’ve been engaged with. We took the decision – not an easy decision – that we were going to thoroughly oppose it, and there were some sleepless nights for me and for Charles . All it needed was a company of American marines to discover two tanks of anthrax – our position would have been wholly undermined. So it was a big risk, but we thought it was right and we thought wasn’t legal.

Ming comes from a different place politically than Nick Clegg, and he hasn’t had a government job. What does he make of our leader?

I’m a great admirer of Clegg, he was my pick and he’s astonishingly resilient when you consider some of the stuff that’s written about him. Forming the coalition was a very brave thing to do – it’s no secret I had some reservations – but if you’re in the ex-leaders club your duty is to follow your leader. If you’ve been through the fire and brimstone yourself, then you really have a duty to ensure that your successor is not subject to that.

Sarah had some pretty astute observations about modern politics which should make us all think about why it’s so deeply unsatisfying. She had been asked if we should worry about the number of women standing down:

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Charles Kennedy MP writes…Our challenge for 2015 is to make positive case for UK political reform

 

As the BBC Radio Scotland self-promotional message has been reminding us at regular intervals throughout the holiday period 2014 certainly was “Scotland’s Year.” The best of times, the worst of times. From the sporting triumphs of the outstandingly successful Commonwealth Games and the hosting of the victorious Ryder Cup through to the referendum and ending on the tragedy of the Glasgow bin lorry crash we have never been out of the news.

The ever-perceptive journalist and commentator Iain MacWhirter (like myself, essentially, a federalist – unlike myself a Yes voter) reckons that the referendum represented the moment at which Scotland became “psychologically independent.” It is an interesting reflection and one which will be further tested as soon as May in the looming Westminster general election.

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What does Alex Salmond think he’s playing at?

 

When he saw the writing on the wall and was desperate to get people to vote Yes, Alex Salmond made a last ditch appeal on the Andrew Marr Show the Sunday before the independence referendum. He said that people had a once in a generation or even a lifetime chance to vote for independence and they should take it.

Now, it was fairly clear to me and I expect most other people that he absolutely didn’t mean what he was saying. There was no way that the entire nationalist movement was just going to give up and take up crochet if they lost. Of course they were not. They sincerely believe that independence is the best option for Scotland in the same way that I believe that a liberal approach to our problems is the best way to run a society. I’ll never give up my quest to see a truly liberal world.

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Lord Andrew Phillips writes…Reflections from the campaign trail in Clacton

Clacton beach huts photo by Nick PageI have a lifelong affinity with Clacton. It was the nearest seaside resort to my hometown of Sudbury, but more relevantly I was parliamentary candidate for the Harwich division, as it was then called, which included Clacton, in the General Election of 1970 (albeit for Labour – I saw the light three years later!)

On the face of it one should want to forget all about the Clacton results as quickly as possible. But there are some bright spots, and some insights which may be worth sharing.

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Opinion: We have to conduct ourselves more respectfully in politics

Handshake man - women http://www.flazingo.com

You will have seen Caron’s story on the moving article by Gordon Aikman, Head of Research at Better Together, sharing his news that he has, at 29, Motor Neurone Disease and is likely to die soon. He is raising funds for MND Scotland and in just one day exceeded his £20,000 target. If you wish to donate, you can do so here.

I don’t know Gordon Aikman and probably now never will, although we have friends in common.

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How can we do politics better?

There’s been a spate of articles and comments by Liberal Democrat politicians which, at a guess, isn’t co-ordinated, but they all address the same themes – the problems with the way that we do politics and lack of trust in politicians and institutions.

Paddy Ashdown told the Times (£), reported also for free in the Guardian that public faith in British institutions was “crumbling into dust” with some very harsh words for the BBC and NHS:

The BBC is revealed as an organisation which can’t manage its own affairs, misspends public money and seems to have been complicit in aggrandising

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Politics is losing people, especially young people – what do we do about it?

Generational Trends Politics BSAIt is no surprise, but it still makes grim reading. According to today’s release of the British Social Attitudes survey, most young people are no longer interested in politics. The survey shows that we are not just losing an entire generation to politics. People of all ages are becoming less engaged with the political process.

We face future prospect of governments being elected on turnouts of well below 50%. As disinterest in party politics grows, we must ask whether our political structures, especially political parties, will still be relevant in the decades to come.

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When Mr Farage came to Edinburgh – the ugly side of politics

It was misbehaviour all round when the UKIP leader came to Edinburgh on Thursday. He found himself on the receiving end of a noisy protest  organised by, among others, the Radical Independence Campaign. They shouted all sorts of abuse at him, leading to him taking refuge in a pub from which he was rescued by the Police. The Guardian has video of the incident.

He quickly lost any sympathy he might have gained by accusing the BBC’s David Miller of hatred and hanging up on a live radio interview.   This from a man who used the term “fascist scum” …

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