In politics, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that really matters

What do the choices Tories, Labour and Lib Dems made this week on cuts to tax credits say about them?

Days after the election Nick Clegg gatecrashed an informal meeting of new Lib Dem members and others in a cellar bar in Westminster.

Nick Clegg speaking to new members after 'gatecrashing' the event.

Nick Clegg speaking to new members days after the General Election on May 7 2015.

“Never ever let anyone questions the motives of the Liberal Democrats… we did the right things in government.” It was an important message because power without an underlying motivation is not worth anything.

Things we achieved: the pupil premium; Raising the tax threshold’ Shared parental leave – all things “liberal” Tories are now desperately
trying to claim credit for.

Things we were stopped from doing: changing our broken voting system and reforming the House of Lords – wrecked by Labour purely to create embarrassment for Lib Dems rather than for reasons of principle.

Before the general election Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander were ridiculed by the Tory Press Office for warning that their £8bn worth of cuts to welfare would hit the working poor’s tax credits, yet despite their public denials, that’s exactly what they were planning. What we have seen laid bare is political cowardice and chicanery of the worst kind.

As objections to tax credits from well-respected think tanks such as the Resolution Foundation mounted, self-styled compassionate Tories felt compelled to speak out, almost as though they too were hoodwinked by their own manifesto.

This left opposition parties with a choice – deliver a fatal blow to tax credits by whatever means possible or simply delay the decision to harm children and families.

Even in coalition Lib Dems held a consistent position, savings were necessary to mend the broken economy but measures which pushed to poorest into poverty had to be resisted by all means possible.

Yet, when Jeremy Corbyn’s new way faced its first serious political test, Labour sat on the fence on tax credits and its behaviour was indistinguishable from the abstentions on the welfare bill his supporters viewed as the work of discredited red Tories.

Tim Farron has shown astute judgement in his choices as Lib Dem leader (on the welfare bill and the refugee crisis to name two) but unlike Labour’s position on voting and Lords reform in the last Parliament it is not based on opportunism. They are positions Lib Dems have held consistently when in government and opposition.

Quite simply, Labour are not behaving like a serious opposition party. They have swallowed Tory threats about constitutional conventions and crisis. Even their own leader in the Lords called this ‘parliamentary bullying’.

If Labour can’t stand up to the Tories in Parliament how can they claim to stand up for British people in the country at large? That is not an opposition

Sadly tribal politics prevents Labour from doing the right thing; for too many Labour members tribalism trumps fairness.

As Baroness Northover tweeted at the time:

With Corbyn’s opposition by crowdsourcing replacing opposition by principle, Labour cannot decide what they are for let alone what they are against because it depends each week on his email inbox. They can no longer be trusted to hit the Tories where it hurts – in the division lobbies.

In an uncertain world, people look for leaders and political parties that show consistency and coherence in their positions.

I campaigned for the Lib Dems in the general election. It was clear that on the doorstep in Lib Dem/Tory marginals that voters were satisfied with what the Coalition government was doing.

They were conditioned into thinking voting Tory meant getting fiscal competence, protection of the vulnerable and all the other nice liberal things. It’s not surprising therefore that many of these voters, like the woman on Question Time a few weeks ago, now feel betrayed.

In politics, as in life, integrity shows through in individual actions – it is what you do, not only what you say.

When people ask us on the issue of tax credits, what did your party do – we Lib Dems can be confident our party did the right thing.

Here’s one of my favourite bands Chvrches covering ‘What Do You Mean?’ by Justin Bieber – as a good an instructional on Labour in opposition as I’ve seen: “you wanna go to the left but then you turn right?”

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Elections are sometimes lost but good ideas can shape the future – some thoughts on political leadership

I’ve been interested in the subject of effective political leadership for a while. We don’t have nearly enough of it, in my view.

Effective political leadership is different from other types of leadership and despite being around for centuries it seems to me it is still not very well-understood or particularly valued.

Although it often features as part of the curriculum of academic politics courses, students  are rarely taught how to be political leaders, and our politics are poorer as a result. I often reflect on the fact that my politics degree did not equip me very well for a career in politics! 

I have since learned that the principles of political leadership although not for everyone can in fact be taught and I’ve become all the more convinced that it should be. Or, we should expect the quality of political decision-making to continue to be poor, which benefits no-one.

I was lucky enough to be taught about  political leadership by Cllr Richard Kemp and other senior leaders in local government when I was a young councillor via the Next Generation Programme run by the Leadership Centre (part of the Local Government Association).

Richard is one of the closest things we have to a guru in the Lib Dems – a community campaigner to his core.  Not convinced? you might have heard of Tim Farron – one of his other former students. Richard and Tim both believe strongly that as an elected person you should never forget who put you there in the first place, and I agree.

They also believe you should spend more time in your community representing your constituents than in the council chamber/parliament – something I remember telling a journalist within hours of my election. ‘Daisy set to skip committee meetings to talk to residents’ was how that was eventually written up!

I introduced Richard to some of our new members I hung out with at our Federal Conference last week and reading this post  which he wrote afterwards I was delighted to see the experience had a positive impact on him as it did on them.

Cllr Richard Kemp with new Lib Dem member Emily Barrass

Cllr Richard Kemp with new Lib Dem member Emily Barrass

Very often, when you’re active in a political party and lucky enough to be elected you learn how to campaign and win elections. On the NGP we were lectured not about how you win  but crucially how to exercise power and keep it.  The course was all about exercising influence – council officers effectively run councils but elected councillors must lead them.

In my experience, effective political leaders have more in common with each other than individual politicians have with individual political parties.

This is something I learned as a local councillor after observing who was running councils and who managed to stay running councils. In general I found it wasn’t actually about party, it was all about personality.


For me, it wasn’t enough just hearing from people who had exercised real power it was important to see a Lib Dem-run administration in action too.

I remember organising a council group visit to Eastleigh Borough Council in 2009 when I was still an opposition councillor and listening to Lib Dem council leader Keith House saying ‘if you want to do things you have to be in power’. It may sound obvious but it had a big impact on me and other colleagues at the time as members of a group who had only ever known opposition and opposing things.

With Cllr Keith House and members of the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council

With Cllr Keith House and Cllr Louise Bloom and members of the Lib Dem Group on Reading Borough Council

Listening to Keith  and other senior councillors such as Louise Bloom taught me the importance of  goals in politics, and having something to aim for. 

For me that visit showed up the difference between campaigning for better recycling collections (as we were doing in Reading at that time) and being a genuinely green council influencing the climate change agenda as Eastleigh BC was  (and still is).

Again, devolving decision-making to ward level via area committees had only happened because Lib Dems were running the council, not just because they talked about it in their leaflets or in a couple of council meetings.

It’s not enough to campaign against things to win elections,  you also need to know what you would do in power if you had it. This is one of the reasons I found coalition a relatively easy concept to get my head around, unlike a few other people!

stunnell

In 2011 in my role as Lead Member for Housing with Andrew Stunell, then Lib Dem Housing Minister. On the site of the first new council houses built in Reading for over 20 years.

A couple of years after graduating from the Next Generation Programme and visiting Eastleigh I found myself in a cabinet running my local council with lead responsibility for  housing, social care and health and managing a multi-million pound budget.

In that role I precided over the first council-house building programme in over twenty years just a few years after tabling questions about over-crowding in my ward. It was a dream come true.The year after that I became leader of my political group on my council, a post I held for two years.

Being a member of the Programme also resulted in my nomination to become a member of an international leadership network, the British-American Project where I continue to learn from recognised leaders in their fields, many of them outside politics

Seeing the things that Nick Clegg has been saying and doing since he left office got me thinking about this subject and specifically the exercise of political leadership beyond political parties and offices of state.

In my view, once a political leader, always a political leader. The vehicle and platform may change but the impetus behind it – to change things – does not. Perhaps thought leadership is a better name for it.

Nick has broken his silence a few times since the election to talk about things other than what I would describe as Westminster water cooler stuff i.e his time in office and the election – to advocate and promote his ideas.

He fired a shot across the bows of  the probable future Tory leader George Osborne with an article in the Evening Standard where he sought to wrestle work from the Tories and reclaim it as a liberal value:

Work is not just an economic necessity. It brings identity and self-reliance. It is a spur to ingenuity and a catalyst for growth. Work demands the learning of new skills. It sustains communities and nourishes families. Without work, society crumbles.

So I take an old-fashioned liberal view that supporting work — rewarding and fairly-rewarded work — should be one of the first duties of government.’

I happen to agree with Nick on this point and I was pleased to see his passion on issues of fairness and social justice has clearly not wavered since he stepped down as leader of the Lib Dems.

Nick also attacked Tory cuts to tax credits ‘these changes remove the work incentives for precisely those low- income families who should be supported to work more.’

Fastforward 3 weeks and we find the points that Nick put forward in his article gaining traction in the mass media:

A cynic may say that Nick cares only for protecting his own political legacy. That may be partly true but misses the wider point:  these are ideas worth fighting for in this parliament  and Nick is right to fight on for them.

Elections are lost but ideas, if they are good, can survive. We cannot  let the Tories march their tanks on to the centre-ground of British politics or ‘the common ground’ as David Cameron may prefer to call it (as he did on Andrew Marr today) without pointing out at regular intervals the ways in which Tory policies in government are a long way from being socially just.

This week Nick went beyond than simply offering a stinging critique of this Conservative government by attacking in the strongest terms the collective failure of governments across the world to tackle the scourge of drugs and is leading a new campaign for worldwide drugs reform.

I would describe this intervention as exercising global leadership on Nick’s part. People like him who are prepared to use their influence, to stick their necks out and find solutions to complex problems in this way should be lauded and encouraged, not least because they are so few in number.

When I tweeted a link to Nick’s Indy article it was retweeted 25 times and liked 36 times in the Lib Dem Newbies UK Facebook Group I help to curate. Small numbers, yes, but an indicator I think that there is still a big market for Nick’s ideas and for Liberal Democrat ideas and policies in general.


It wasn’t surprising to me at all that Nick’s recent campaigns have been well-received particularly by our new members, after the way Nick conducted himself in government and the policies he espoused was the reason many of them joined.

I went on the hunt for a political quote that sums up influence and leadership and the best I could find was this by Martin Luther King:

“A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Politicians should not cease to lead debates and shape our society when they stop being party leaders, and Nick is no different.

Political leadership is not confined, however, to leaders of political parties. I have been impressed by the work that Jo Swinson, Paul Burstow, Vince Cable, David Laws, Martin Horwood and Steve Webb among others have been leading to actively promote ideas and proposals they championed in government.  Between them, our former MPs and (councillors) have the experience and the insight to be really credible on this stuff and to push our thinking further forward.

I was taught long ago by Cllr Richard Kemp that it’s not the job title in politics that matters it’s what you do it that counts. On that basis why should our ex MPs and ministers’ political influence end just because they are out of power?


As I wrote in The Independent a few weeks ago, no-one is going to sell our story if we don’t but it won’t be enough to harp on about what we did in government or even what we stopped the Tories from doing. 

We must now look to the future and go on to say in more detail  what we would do if we were in government, promoting our ideas outside parliament as well as inside it.

As Richard Kemp would say, with just 8 MPs in Parliament we will have to become a ‘guerilla group’ picking on issues where we can make an impact – the days of shadowing every department are effectively over and the days of having no Lib Dem on Question Time are back.  Our Peers must do their bit too.

As part of #LibDemFightBack w must use all the resources we can muster outside the party to support our parliamentarians- including our former leaders – to get our liberal message across in this Parliament.

Anyway, here’s something I’ve been listening to this weekend:

My article for #IndyVoices

I sent this to Indy Voices before Labour’s best qualified candidate for London Mayor (Tessa Jowell who just happens to be a woman) was passed over yesterday.

Andy Burnham’s comment on Radio Five Live about having a woman leader of the Labour party “when the time is right” perhaps gave away more than he intended. The lack of a career path and successful role models are perhaps the two biggest hindrances to ensuring that talented women wish to enter politics. It is a time-consuming and expensive business and it is no surprise a lot of women find that they have better things to do.

When only 1% of the total electorate is an active member of a political party – down from a high water mark of 3.8% in 1983, it is fair to say that party politics is still officially a minority interest sport and with the preferred career path being straight from university to special advisor or via patronage is it no wonder that women are finding it difficult to get the all-important political experience to work at the top level?

If we want to increase the number of female representatives in Parliament we need to look at the ground floor – local councils, where many women, like me, cut their political teeth. Yet at last count, just 30% of all councillors were women and most of them are over fifty.

I was first elected in my twenties as a councillor I had a 9 to 5 job and a 3 hour daily commute. I was in most ways typical of many of my constituents and especially of young working women. Yet I was made to feel uncomfortable for asking council officers to hold policy briefings after work.

I was attacked in the local press by Labour councillors, ironically many of them trade union officials, and retired Tory councillors for being a part-timer when they could offer ‘full-time’ representation. If there was any way of ensuring it continued to be “jobs for the boys”, that was it.

Even a rare evening off from a council meeting to go to a Radiohead concert made the local press. It’s almost as though they didn’t want real people on the council and especially not young women.

There are still very few role-models for women in British politics. Nicola Sturgeon, speaking to Vogue magazine, had to look abroad to Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel for hers. In my party I have looked to Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson as mine, yet in the last Parliament, neither was promoted to Cabinet level despite being as good or better than some of their male counterparts; and I know from speaking to other activists in my party how demoralising that message was for women at all levels.

One female Prime Minister does not mean we have equality, in the same way that having a black President hasn’t rolled back years of racial inequality in the United States.

We need all types of women to get involved in politics to open up politics to all women.

It looks like Labour, the main opposition party will not elect a woman on Saturday, despite the advent of all-women shortlists.

By standing for leadership positions in their party Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Stella Creasy have helped raised the expectations of young women across the political spectrum, but with the usual sexism about children or lack of, at times it seems, sadly, the debate has not moved on from Andy Burnham’s put down. As one Labour supporting political commentator said, if you want a woman leader, you have to vote for one.

Laura Bates author of‘Everyday Sexism’ last year talked about going into schools and asking kids to draw pictures of MPs – they all drew pictures of men. When my nieces are old enough to vote I want them to see politics as women’s business.

I sat through a debate last year where frustrated women complained that no-one listened to them and a few days later the Women’s Equality Party was formed. Women should not have to set up their own party to be represented. If we want women to succeed in politics we need to promote them, vote for them and elect them as our leaders in our parties too.

Labour may not be ready for Liz yet, but women in politics are a step closer to real power

My interest in the Labour leadership contest has ebbed and flowed.

From my perspective, the most interesting candidates for both leader and deputy leader roles have been the women. Yeah, I’m biased.

I was gutted there were no women to vote for in the Lib Dem leadership contest.I’m not expecting any of Labour’s female leadership or deputy candidates to win necessarily but by standing for these offices they have helped further the cause of women in politics not just in Labour, but beyond.

They have shown in their different campaigns, policies and leadership styles that there is more than one type of female politician, women are capable of leading a major political party and being ambitious to win elections is a strength and not a weakness.

This might seem obvious but looking around across the political spectrum there are still too few prominent female politicians. We are nowhere near 50% representation in Parliament.

Despite the higher profile of women in politics it is still no walk in the park succeeding as a woman Helen Lewis pointed out in her excellent expositon of the countless structural barriers women face a few weeks ago.

Turning to the Labour leadership contest, the lack of receptivity, actually, downright hostility towards having women in positions of power that still exists in large parts of the Labour party has been revealing to say the least.

So here are my thoughts on the contest.

Although Liz Kendall could not perhaps match the initial excitement of the early days of her campaign, she would still be my first choice.

7-Liz-Kendall-Get

In terms of her personal style, I loved Liz’s -bloody-mindedness. I love the fact that she announced her candidacy within days of Labour’s defeat and did not wait to be asked. In doing so she made  her male rivals look positively dozy.

When voices (and mainly male) within her own party was calling on Liz to pull out she didn’t. ‘I’m in the race to win!’ was a her response, which admittedly sounded more forlorn as the contest wore on, and she was left trailing further and further behind.

I meet a lot of people through my involvement with politics and too often I find they lose sight of the need to actually win elections in order to implement policy.

This realism is one of Tim Farron’s strongest suits and something he emphasised when he was elected a few weeks ago.

Liz has been attacked for being unprincipled but as Isabel Hardman has pointed out this is nonsense:

The fact that Liz’s focus on the need to beat the Tories in 2020 ended up with her being labelled a Tory by some Labour ‘supporters’ is pretty ironic

In terms of policies, the one Liz put forward which appealed to me the most was her focus on early years education.  Hardly surprising – it’s Lib Dem policy! In fact, most of Liz’s strongest and most attractive-sounding policies are already Lib Dem policy:

Three months ago, a few days after the general election I bumped into Nick Clegg at a #LibDemPint meetup organised by new Lib Dem members in London. ‘Liz Kendall is a Lib Dem!’ were his exact words at the time.

Other things I liked  about Liz was her willingness to speak up about sexism in politics in places like Grazia Magazine and online.

As someone who has experienced ageism when I was a councillor it is incredibly inspiring to see a young woman putting herself forward for a senior role in politics. Liz is part of a new confident generation of women in politics – unafraid of talking about her love of hip hop alongside her interest in policy. She is breaking down barriers for the rest of us to be ourselves.

This leads me on to my other fantasy selection in the leadership contest – Stella Creasy.
Creasy

I met Stella last year at the Women of the World Festival (below). Although I found the event as a whole itself quite frustrating (I blogged about it here) I found Stella inspiring and interest to listen to.

With Stella Creasy and Margot James at the WOW Festival in London, 2014.

With Stella Creasy and Margot James at the WOW Festival in London, 2014.

Stella approaches the issue of women in politics differently than I do but I think we’re on essentially the same mission. She spoke powerfully about being selected as an MP in an all-woman shortlist – she said all of  the women on the list could be described as the brightest and best. She blew a hole in the idea that AWSs means tokenism and not giving members the chance to picking the best candidates.

Well before she put herself forward to be deputy leader I’ve admired Stella from a distance. I have experienced her primarily through her tweets. It’s true, we like a lot of the same music but that’s not the only reason.

I like the way Stella, like Liz, doesn’t try to conform to lazy stereotypes about what politicians should be like or how women in public life should behave.

I like the way she calls out sexism wherever she finds it. This gives other women, including me confidence. Stella wrote a fantastic article in Grazia about women in politics:

‘My mother taught me to put my money where my mouth is and not to expect to do it alone. So, I’m standing for a leadership role myself, not because we need just one more woman, but many. It is not my ambition to speak for them, but to find new ways to get more women from a wider range of backgrounds into public life because we will all benefit from the contribution they will make. To do that, politics has to stop being about a machine that turns up at election time, and become a movement where everyone feels welcome and able to participate. That especially means those currently locked out. It’s time we stopped asking nicely for change, and refused to accept the status quo. If you feel the same, get in touch – because however we cut our hair, we are mad as hell about inequality and not going to take it any more.’

I get a lot of young women approaching me online for advice about getting into politics. Without wishing to sound arrogant they look up to me. It gives them confidence to know that I got elected and that I rose to be a senior councillor. I’ve mentored a number of people and persuaded other women to become councillors and run for Parliment. If we are going to elect more women we need to have plenty of female role models – of all ages and from all backgrounds.

With Rebecca Rye on her election to Reading Borough Council in 2010.

With Rebecca Rye on her election to Reading Borough Council in 2010.

For me it’s the same looking at Liz and Stella. We need more female role models in politics. Throughout my career Lynne Featherstone has been a huge inspiration to me – seeing her out there doing politics at the highest level, following through her  own ideas has been really important for me.

Campaigning with Lynne Featherstone in Reading in 2007.

Campaigning with Lynne Featherstone in Reading in 2007.

Throughout this contest Stella and Liz have been attacked for being inexperienced. Women get this in politics all the time while men don’t to anything like the same extent. William Pitt The Younger was 24 when he became Prime Minister ffs!

It’s looking highly unlikely that either Liz or Stella will get elected but they have broken the mould and helped pave the way for other young women to get ahead in politics – thank you to them.

Finally, a word on Yvette Cooper.

Yvette Cooper

Instinctively, I am not a fan of Yvette. This stems primarily from the authoritarian, tabloid-friendly policies she was responsible for when she was Home Secretary. She never struck me as particularly likeable either but I’m starting to think that is more as a result of over-caution on her part. She got elected before the age of social media and has kept her personality largely under wraps.

However, have always admired Yvette for all she has achieved in her career. Reading this Guardian profile in July  you couldn’t fail to be impressed (again) by her CV:

‘Hers is a life and political career punctuated by firsts – a first in PPE at Oxford, the first female minister to take maternity leave, the first female treasury chief secretary, and now the ambition is to be the first female Labour leader and first Labour female prime minister.’

On paper, Yvette is the best qualified candidate by a mile. However, as Jenni Russell pointed out on Murnaghan on Sky News today she has spent so long trying not to say the wrong thing her campaign never caught fire and she came over as lacking ideas and passion.

I’m sure that Yvette is right about the deep sexism in the Labour party. I’ve seen it at local level. But unfortunately the way she tried to throw Andy Burnham under the bus just came over as a Brownite tatic not principle.

Over the past week Yvette has finally found her voice –  on the refugee crisis:

But it feels like this has been too little too late to stop Jeremy Corbyn. As others have observed Yvette needed to find this passion much earlier but it seems it was just too deeply buried all these years.

How ironic, that for ‘Blair’s Babe’s to be successful they had to stay silent.

This week marks Harriet Harman’s last week as acting Labour leader:

Let’s hope it’s not too many years before a women takes a helm of that party, if it survives this weekend’s results.

I’m not a Labour supporter, clearly. Whoever wins the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections I’d like to see as many Labour members and MPs as possible leave their party and join the Lib Dems.

However, as young woman in politics who sees a future for herself in Parliament some day I’m grateful to Liz, Stella, Yvette and Caroline for standing in the Labour leadership elections and in doing so moving women collectively one step closer to equality.

I don’t see any of these women going quietly or fading into the background.

No matter what our politics, it’s up to us all to talk up women in politics and get more women into positions of power and influence within in political parties.

We should refuse to accept the status quo with women largely playing second fiddle to men in mainstream English political parties.

In the future, at least by the time my nieces are old enough to vote we should expect all party leadership contests to involve more women and for women party leaders to be the norm.

This won’t happen unless we who are active in party politics make it happen.

Female Labour leadership hopefuls, this one’s for you:-

David Cameron – Britain’s first Slacktivist Prime Minister?

Today, after weeks of vacillation and inaction, our Prime Minister David Cameron announced Britain would accept ‘thousands of Syrian refugees’

In doing so he lagged  behind Angela Merkelthe bold’  (The Economist) and Tim Farron who have both spoken up clearly, passionately and with conviction for concerted action to support Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives.

They have demonstrated genuine leadership on this issue. In doing so they have shown that they are activist politicians.

On hearing the news it occurred to me that Cameron is showing all the behavioural characteristics we might associate with slactivists.

f you’re a regular person sitting at home wanting to ‘do something’ perhaps after seeing a disturbing photo online or watching a distressing news broadcast this is acceptable behaviour.

Not, I’m afraid if you’re our national leader.

I signed this petition myself yesterday because as Tim Farron pointed out it was swiftest way to get our elected government to take action on the refugee crisis.

But I’m not elected. I am not the Prime Minister. If anyone can ‘do something’, David Cameron can.

And this not just about him exercising the influence he has over what happens in the UK.

He is also a global leader of a major nation in one of the most influential countries in Europe and the world. He has a duty to exercise global leadership on this issue.

Cameron’s comments today were redolent of the yawning gap in his leadership where moral courage should be.

To misquote Macbeth his speech was all sound and fury and ultimately it signified nothing.

Vague pledges were made to help thousands but if you read his speech no firm commitments were made so as not to frighten off would be voters at next year’s referendum.

Slacktivism is defined by Wikipedia as:

‘a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed. Slacktivism can be defined as the act of showing support for a cause but only truly being beneficial to the egos of people participating in this so-called activism. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low-cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research….

The Joint United Nation as  describes the term “slacktivist”, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change.

Sadly, this is starting to look a lot like an accurate description of the behaviour of our Prime Minister.

Of course, he cannot solve this European-wide crisis, but he can use his influence and the resources of his office, his government to help a great many people.

Merkel gets this. She described leadership like this in 2013:

[My task is “to advance and solve problems. Even if it is only a few centimetres.”

Barack Obama also gets this.

The very phrase ‘yes we can!’ is about recognising the role leaders themselves can and should play in inspiring hope and belief in people that  seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved.

Unlike Cameron, Obama has shown in his actions recently that he is a leader not a follower when it comes to taking a stand on tricky issues – particularly those that cut acoss international boundaries.

This week in Alaska on the issue of climate change he said:

“This is within our power. This is a solvable problem – if we start now.

“We are starting to see that enough consensus is being built internationally and within each of our own body politics that we may have the political will to get moving.”

Yesterday I contrasted Cameron’s weak leadership with that demonstrated by Tim Farron and Nick Clegg before him on the issue of accepting Syrian refugees.

Today Cameron invoked the language of Nick Clegg :

But his recent lack of action on this issue speaks louder than these words casually tweeted.

Cameron lacks Nick’s moral courage and Tim’s conviction on the issue of Syrian refugees.

He lacks Merkel’s bold leadership.

He is a slactivist.

Desperate refugees, and we citizens, deserve better.

In a crisis, one conviction politician leading a group of eight is worth hundreds who are silent.

The grim events surrounding the refugee crisis have shed an important light on developments in our own domestic politics.

Tim Farron is a conviction politician and one we are lucky to have leading our party.

 As I wrote last week Tim has led the debate in Westminster calling for a humanitarian response to the refugee crisis – visiting Calais weeks ago when the rest of Westminster was busy contemplating it’s navel/Jeremy Corbyn.

The fact his comments have not attracted widespread coverage do not make them any less right. They demonstrate the struggle we Lib Dems face to get our message across in our reduced state.

Tim needed to move the debate on, and he did today, heaping pressure on David Cameron:

Others, most notably Yvette Cooper have commendably followed Tim’s lead in calling for urgent action this week. But it would be wrong to say she has led this debate.

Erstwhile leadership candidate, Norman Lamb has also been speaking out – strongly in the face of continued silence from the majority of Tory MPs, proving once again we may not have quantity but we have quality when it comes to our parliamentary party.

Tim’s instincts – to work with Labour and campaigning charities to build a coalition of support for refugees outlined in an email to members this evening – are spot on.

If you want to win an argument and change government policy from the Opposition benches (and with only a handful of MPs) you should always be looking to build a platform with like- minded political parties and groups, particularly on moral issues which call for a human response as opposed to a political one.

This has been the first example we can point to of Tim’s pledge (made during the leadership campaign) to learn from groups outside Westminster to mobilise public opinion behind liberal causes.

With party politics in this country continuing to be a glorified minority interest sport enjoyed by around 1% of the population, this is clearly the right approach.

During the leadership election Tim made great play of learning from 38 Degrees and other campaign groups to rediscover the Lib Dems’ campaigning zeal.

The way in which Tim has sought to team up with these groups in response to #refugeecrisis petition was the first example of this.

Tim is right – there is no need to reinvent the wheel and start a new campaign. When a petition has been launched which meets our aims Lib Dems should get behind it.

People talk sometimes about ‘missing the Lib Dems’ in government  but this was the week the grim Post-coalition difference really hit home.

Last night I was moved to revisit Nick Clegg’s comments last year  – when he lent on Cameron to open Britain’s doors to desperate Syrian refugees brought it home again this week.

Looking at the Tories callous response to this crisis just goes to show what difference a year makes. Left to his own devices and without Nick and the Lib Dems to provide the government’s conscience Cameron got it badly wrong this week and looked pretty cruel in the process.

Events this week have also highlighted the fact David Cameron is very vulnerable to fluctuations in public opinion.

He has a tiny majority and this week has shown he cannot afford to fall out of favour with public opinion for long. In a rare move, right and left wing newspapers simultaneously called Cameron’s judgement on the refugee crisis into question.

Churchill is often invoked by the right as in ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ but this time the spirit of 1940 was invoked to draw parallels with Britain’s proud history of receiving desperate refugees fleeing Nazism.

As Cameron disappoints supporters on all sides, these headlines could be but a taste of things to come in the coming months and years.

This has been a damaging episode for him and his party, exposing once again the Tories’ achilles heel with the public – the perception they are ‘the nasty party.’

There is a space in our politics for a conviction politician, a group of conviction politicians, motivated to do the right thing on the big questions – such as those posed by this crisis – not because the press or public demand it but because they know it to be right.

The Lib Dems can and must occupy this space by adopting principled, radical positions – as they have done on the refugee crisis.

Because people elect politicians to take decisions based on reason yes, but on feelings and impulses too.

Rational and relatable – decisions that may not be popular with everyone but that are always justified and articulated according to a clear set of values and ideals.

Leading by the heart as well as the head – something Nick referred to during the election campaign and that Tim is showing he can do effectively in opposition.

If this is to be a callous Tory administration, let the Lib Dems be the ones to offer moral leadership from the backbenches and to galvanise the public into action around key issues.

If we do this effectively we will win more seats at council and constituency level and have the opportunity to become the official opposition in the future, where Labour have failed and are failing.

And finally, the role of female politicians in this crisis has been an interesting side note.

I was particularly pleased to see Jo Swinson speaking out on the crisis.

As I tweeted earlier this week, from Angela Merkel down, female politicians have led the way in responding to the debate around the refugee crisis and I was delighted to see Jo adding her voice.

Can this be an end please to the situation where women – female Lib Dem politicians in particular are confined, some would say unfairly pidgeonholed  mainly by the (male-dominated) media framing of the debate, into talking and being questioned solely about issues of equality, motherhood and childcare?

Alright? Lib Dems at the crossroads.

It’s been a funny old summer.

Usually, governing parties provide us with light entertainment.

This year the tables have been turned and Labour comprehensively owned the ‘silly season’ with their increasingly absurd leadership contest which feels for all the world like a party sticking it’s collective head in the sand and shouting: ‘Stop!…I want to get off!’

Meanwhile the Tories get on with the business of government largely unscrutinised.

In the last session, they ruthlessly  exploited a brief parliamentary window of opportunity between the general election and recess fighting various phoney wars with enemies of the [Tory] state.

They declared war on consultants, BBC executives and trade unions in a blur of  hyperactivity.  So far, so predictable – aren’t Campbell and Blair’s memoirs set texts for Tories these days?

Westminster’s preoccupation with domestic affairs was interrupted briefly by alarm at waves of desperate migrants arriving on British shores and the uunedifying spectacle of our Prime Minister resorting to tabloid language of swarms.

As former Clegg adviser Matthew Hanney wryly observed later:

And what about the Lib Dems? Following a strong start opposing the Welfare Bill Tim Farron earned some early brownie points with his efforts to assemble a more diverse front bench (not a straightforward task when we currently have zero women or ethnic minority MPs).

Tim also put some clear blue water between himself and handwringing politicians by visiting Calais in August , the only opposition party leader to do so. to ‘learn about the situation firsthand’.

Lib Dems online (me included) contented on themselves with gallows humour along the lines of: ‘well things could be worse! We could be members of the Labour Party! ‘[insert Corbyn joke here].

Jokes aside, as the summer went on I sensed a new mood.

The longer Labour’s malaise/ summer of discontent continued and the more Blairites continued to put the boot in to their own party the more I started to think Labour are in fact seriously f***ed.

Martin Kettle’s prescient article said it best:

‘Labour does not do modern democracy. Labour won’t reform the voting system, won’t revive local government, won’t abolish the House of Lords, won’t energise industrial and corporate democracy and won’t revive its own internal party democracy either. It is a top-down party, much as the Asquith Liberal party was.’

However, although Labour has been labouring (sic) under the weight of crap headlines this summer, the Lib Dems have shown once again how perilously close we are to becoming an anachronism ourselves.

In a coruscating article about the post-wipeout Lib Dem parliamentary party, entitled Eight white men in a room: Life inside the bleak Liberal DemocratsCathy Newman wrote:

So appalled are senior parliamentarians at the way the party now looks that some privately mutter that it would have been better if a handful of women had kept their seats in place of some of the surviving men.

One told me: “Leading Lib Dems look like a cross between a Freemasons’ meeting and lunch time at the Garrick.”

Harsh but fair, I thought.

But Cathy added something which caught my eye in particular:

The more forthright of the Lib Dem men admit that the party is now suffering the consequences of failing for decades to do enough to nurture and promote women. I won’t revisit the furore surrounding the Lib Dems’ former chief executive Lord Rennard, except to say that the last leader Nick Clegg admitted letting women down for nearly two decades.

I’m no Westminster insider – I’ve never worked for the party, or for an MP or as a special adviser.

However, I’ve always had a keen some would say vested interest in seeing a more representative Parliament and government.

And even as an enthusiastic, self-confessed Nick Clegg supporter all these years I couldn’t help but notice that Nick really didn’t do much to promote women while he was party leader and Deputy PM.I wrote a blog about this in March.

The news that Nick’s honours list included more men than women sadly did not surprise me in the least.

His list was redolent of the culture of the Liberal Democrat’s recent past: male-dominated, cliquey and resolutely white.

The difference these days is senior female party figures like Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson now feel free to speak out against it.

Speaking to Cathy Newman, Lynne said ruefully:

“We did have women ministers. One always hoped for a promotion: I would have loved to be a cabinet member.”

Jo Swinson, arguably one of the ablest ministers in the last government showed yet again why many people (me included) see her as a leader of the future by writing a brilliant article castigating Nick’s failure.

in the article she described the absence of women on the honours list as ‘depressing and wearily familiar’.

24 hours later, Tim stuck his head about the parapet highlighting quite rightly the fact that ‘Liberal Democrat peers were appointed on the pledge ‘to abolish themselves’.

He attacked Cameron’s ‘cronies’ and added that ‘the people’s laws should only be made by those whom the people have elected.  

Earlier in the week he published a video in which he described the lack of diversity in the party he now leads as’ outrageous’ and pledged to change it:

This week we’ve had a timely reminder of what is still wrong with the Lib Dems and by extension what continues to be wrong with our political system.

As a liberal party if we indulge in patronage we get tainted by it.

We are anti-establishment in our approach – or we are nothing and no different from the other Westminster parties.

‘The chumocracy’ – something I’ve written about before –  is alive and well in the Lib Dems and it is the biggest threat not simply to our credibility as party but also to our future success.

The next few weeks and months will be the first chance we get to see how serious Tim and his team are about changing both the perception and the reality.

We should not kid ourselves that Labour’s collapse gives the Lib Dems an alienable right to exist.

We have much work to do inside and outside Westminster to win back respect and earn trust from the electorate once again.

Anyway,  apropos nothing in particular here’s the best political anthem of the summer:

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How #LibDemFightback found its voice and is teaching us oldies a lesson

When I sat down to write this post it was going to be about diversity, something I’ve been banging on about a lot this week.

My frustration with my party on this subject goes back a long way but this week’s meltdown was prompted as a result of my friend Elaine Bagshaw posting this article highlighting the fact 6 of the 7 places on the Lib Dem regional candidates list for the Scottish Parliament elections have gone to men.

And thereafter followed a stream of angry tweets.

Anyway, enough about that for now. If you’re interested, my friend Sam Phripp summarised really well why a few of us are really pissed off so I won’t rehearse.

I wanted in this post to revisit a subject I wrote about a couple of months ago – #LibDemFightback and the impact thousands of new members is having on my party.

Shortly after the election I wrote a blog about my frustration with the apparent disconnect between what my party stands for and how it behaves. I wrote:-

‘I think we need to take a long hard look at how our party appears to the outside world.

Can we make it easier for people to get involved?

We need, I think to take this opportunity to refound our party so that it reflects modern British society as it is today.

We need to live and breathe the values we espouse in the preamble to our constitution.’

Peter Sigrist, a new member from London who I did not know at the time commented on my blog and said:

‘Hi Daisy. As a LibDem Newbie, it’s galling to read your views and feel the sense of imbalance in the party. I, too, want to hear what Norman Lamb and Tim Farron will do to make sure we represent properly the voters in the UK. But I don’t think it’s just down to them. I want every local party, every local organiser to articulate this. For anyone who has any status inside the Liberal Democrat party: now is your moment to make it clear what you are going to do to change people’s minds. If we don’t start hearing soon what the entire party is going to do to get this balance right, I want the 320 members who have so far signed up for our Newbie meetups in London to make themselves heard. Turn up to local party offices and events and ask them: “what are you doing to make the Liberal Democrats relevant and electable?” Change is here and I can’t wait to get stuck in to make it stick.

At the time, Peter’s optimism was hard to hear, feeling bruised as I was after an exhausting and disastrous General Election campaign. ‘He clearly hasn’t spent any time slogging campaigning for the Lib Dems’ I sighed.

Reading them again now I find Peter’s comments refreshing and invigorating – he’s got what the Lib Dems should do now completely nailed – and just days after joining the party too!

Anyway, more of that later.

Cultural divides on and offline

I am a member of various Facebook groups – an inevitable byproduct of being active in a political party.

The difference in tone between some of the established groups – dare I say it home to established/establishment Liberal Democrats –  and Lib Dem Newbies UK (home for most of our new members) is stark.

The Newbies group is a public group, established groups tend to be secret.

The description of the Newbies Group is as follows:-

The Liberal Democrats were savaged in the 2015 General Election. In response, many people in the United Kingdom chose to show their support. We want to help revive this party, which should be a powerful force for good in modern politics. What do you say? Tens of thousands of people can’t be wrong. Join us!

The Newbies group is aimed at new members but it’s membership is not exclusively new members.

The main difference I’ve observed between the Newbies Facebook group and others that abound in the Lib Dems is in terms of tone –  posts and comments tend to be generally positive, hopeful, open and discursive.

The hopefulness might seem surprising or odd for a party supposedly in the doldrums but not if like me you’ve spent any time as I have with our new members.

In the Newbie group all opinions have the same weight and all posts are permitted long as they are generally on topic and about debating ideas.

As a member of the group I can say this has led to a much more interesting, as well as engaging discussion.

Questions and discussions are actively encouraged in the Newbie group particularly from new joiners and people who haven’t commented before.

This includes young women who are often under-represented in online dicussions.

Being a member of this group got me thinking about how we can broaden the Newbie approach to how we conduct ourselves as a party more generally.

Let’s take a leaf out of Peter Sigrist and the Newbie’s book, and change the way we engage offline as well as online as a party.

Let’s stop shutting people and conduct our discussions in open forum – not exclusively or behind closed doors.

Let’s do more to create a level-playing field for debate. Create a friendly and positive atmosphere for our discussions so we get to hear the voices of all our members not just the loud ones.

Let’s give people the space to ask questions and talk about a broader range of issues that matter to them not just us.

Oh yeah, and when we come across blatant discrimination in our party, let’s challenge it head-on but not in a way that makes those facing discrimination feel like they are the problem. They aren’t.

Organisations get tired, lose site of their core purpose, forget why people joined them – none of this is unique to the Liberal Democrats!

But,  our liberalism is what makes us different, so reconnecting with our members and reinvigorating ourselves is a must.

Speaking as a member of ten years standing I’m excited about the positive impact our new members are having on my party.

And I cannot wait to see what  damage  they do when they turn up at #LDConf in September.

This week’s musical reference – New Generation, Suede (1995)

“Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” (With apologies to Beastie Boys)

The title for this post popped into my head while listening to Liz Kendall being interviews on Radio 4 Today programme.

Of course she’s in the race to win. What a stupid question! Not much better than that other stupid question she was asked.


I like Liz. Apart from her awesome taste in hip hop, Liz’s trouble is her ideas are way ahead of where most of the Labour party is right now.
If Liz wants to lead an economically credible party with a social conscience she really needs to join the Lib Dems.

But more of that later.

Politics is defined by key moments and how you respond.

The Welfare Bill was a key moment.

Tim Farron responded, and Labour flunked it.

Progress on political positioning OR How Tim got it right on the Welfare Bill 

After That Channel 4 interview Tim  started the week a bit bruised and getting media coverage sadly for all the wrong reasons.

The first test of his political skills came on Monday when he needed to make a call on the Welfare Bill.

This was a basic test for all opposition parties(set by George Osborne (complete with his in-your-face Guardian article) and while all the focus was on Labour, as Her Majesty’s Opposition, it was just as important for Lib Dems to get our response right.

The Lib Dems doing the right thing on the Welfare Bill was critical for a few reasons:

One, it was the first time Tim had spoken as our leader in Parliament, and indeed the first time Lib Dems as a political force would get to set out their stall without the Tories alongside us.

Over the next five years we are going to need a response to that perennial question: What IS the point of the Lib Dems?

This question is followed close behind by what are the Lib Dems for? And what are they against?

Tim’s response to the Welfare Bill is the start It helps us to begin to answer all those key questions

Consistency is everything (particularly for Lib Dems)

So what did Tim’s speech against the Welfare Bill tell us about the position he wants to take the Lib Dems, and what the Lib Dems are for?

Politics as we are often told is about choices. Framing choices between one thing and another, and also making them.

In his speech on Monday night, Tim said:

‘In truth, the Government do not have to take £12 billion from the poorest families in the country, mostly working families, but are choosing to do so.’

This is consistent with the line that Nick Clegg took before the election;

“[The Conservatives] are asking for £12bn over two years,” said Clegg, speaking to Newsnight’s Evan Davis.

“We’ve made £20bn over five. They want to ask the poorest to make additional sacrifices while not asking the richest to pay an additional penny through the tax system to balance the books – that’s downright unfair.”

Tim underlines the marked contrast between the Tory vs Lib Dem approach later in the speech:

‘The reduction in the incomes of poor families in work comes at the same time as the Government are giving inheritance tax cuts to millionaires, cutting corporation tax for the richest firms and refusing to raise a single extra penny in tax from the wealthiest people—for example, through a high-value property levy.’

Consistency is important in politics.

This is not to be confused with saying everything you say in politics has to the same.

Not changing your message to fit the times would be a mistake. However, your values which underpin everything – they need to be consistent. I wrote about the Lib Dems’ recent problems in that regard here.

In these media-driven times, it is  particularly important to be consistent in what you say and do so people can point to things you’ve said and done over a period of time and see a pattern.

Saying one thing and doing another ergo Tuition Fees is where it all went horribly wrong for us in the last Parliament.

In opposition, what we say becomes a guide for our would-be voters – to what we would do in government.

Finally, let’s also not forget the fact that seventeen thousand plus people recently joined the Lib Dems precisely because of what we were saying and doing in the last Parliament.

So, for all the reasons outlined above consistency of message is even more important for Lib Dems.

Establishing clear yellow water

But the success of Tim’s speech was not just about it’s consistency. Tim was also highly successful in setting out a key dividing line between us and the Tories.

One of our challenges during this Parliament is going to be setting out, repeatedly and at regular intervals, how we as a party differ from the Tories. This may sound obvious but it’s very important.

Firstly, we have suffered hugely because of being associated with decisions some of which we agreed with but a lot we did not made by Tories and with Tories in the last Coalition government.

The ‘nasty Tory’ brand has rubbed off on us and we are going to have to spend a lot of time washing it off.

Secondly, being in coalition with a party that is much bigger than us – and with a lot more media backers – has meant that our smaller brand has been subsumed.

So, every chance we get Tim, our MPs, our Peers, our councillors – all of us members – will need to talk about what makes the Lib Dems different from the Tories.

Tim’s message was clear ‘this is a Tory Bill. We wouldn’t vote for it in Coalition and we’re not going to start now!’

All of this is a lot easier to do in opposition but the pleasing thing is it’s already having a transformative effect.

Warming to his themes

Politics, particularly opposition politics, is all about picking your battles. It’s also about establishing territory on which to fight them.

If you listen carefully to the speech you can hear Tim setting out some key themes and key groups that he plans to champion this Parliament (you will notice many of these are familiar from Norman Lamb’s campaign)

Young people:

In many ways, young people are the biggest victims of the Bill. I think of young people being supported by housing benefit…Taking housing benefit away from young people is not just morally wrong but utterly counterproductive, because it will prevent them from accessing work and other life opportunities.’

Low paid workers:-

We will stand for the thousands of people in work and yet in poverty, and for the millions of people who might not be personally affected but who do not want to see inequality grow in Britain.’

The 1-5 Britons who have experienced mental ill-health

‘We will continue to make the case for u for a welfare system that understands the needs of people with mental health conditions and helps them back into work, rather than putting them under the kind of pressure that simply makes them worse.’

And again:-

‘We will continue to speak for the millions of people who are young, who suffer from mental health problems, whose parents have no spare rooms or spare income, who do not have parents at all, or who have more than two children. The Liberal Democrats will stand up for families, whether they are hard-working or just desperate to be hard-working.

Tim is bidding to replace Labour as the credible alternative to the Conservatives

If Tim had simply managed to be vaguely consistent in his message, careful not to trash our five years in government and had set out some key Lib Dem themes in his speech this would have gone down as a solid start.

But what impressed me is that Tim went further, much further in his speech than simply attacking the Tory government.

He stuck the knife into Labour too and signalled his bold ambition to get the Liberal Democrats into a position where we replace Labour as a political force.

Tim’s neat drive-by on Labour did the job perfectly:-

‘We will not let the Conservatives through choice, or the Labour party through their silence, unpick our welfare system.’

This was a full-frontal assault on Labour MPs for their complicity, conspiring with the Tories in recent years to create a toxic narrative in the media which has fatally undermined public confidence in welfare.

It fits in well with TIm’s comments last week in the speech he made when he became leader when he said ‘your failure is not my success’

Tim is explictly calling-out in his speech the fact that is Labour who first got the ball rolling on calling welfare claimants benefits scroungers a when they were in government 1997-2010.

The Tories simply carried on where Labour left. Tim’s remarks also echo something Tariq Ali said yesterday evening on Newsnight:

“These Labour people, most of them, can’t oppose the Tories because they agree with most of what they say” says @TariqAli_News

— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) July 24, 2015And right-wing commentators have spotted it too:

Tim’s speech would have been strong at the best of times, but on a Bill in which Labour abstained en mass against huge cuts to Welfare his timing could not have been better.

As Cllr Keith House, Lib Dem Leader of Eastleigh correctly tweeted after the debate:-

Tim did the right thing to rub salt in Labour’s wounds the following day with his excellent letter to Harriet Harman.

Yes, it was a stunt (a lot of opposition politics is!) but he was right to point out that it is the Lib Dems who are leading opposition to punitive Tory cuts, not Labour:-

‘Labour claim to be a party who believes in social justice. If that is true, then they must join with the Liberal Democrats in voting against these cruel and excessive cuts.’
 

With Labour seemingly intent on consigning themselves to opposition for decades there is a gap in the market for a party that is fiscally credible and socially-conscious

But its not just that Labour don’t seem to want to win it’s the fact they know and the public knows they don’t really stand for anything anymore.

Labour activists are now faced with the fact that their party is hollowed out, spent, after decades in power and subsequent years in denial about why they lost the 2010 election.

There is a gap in the market for a party that responds to British society as it is rather as we might wish it to be.

For a party with a vision grounded in reality, mixed with hope.

All that left and right schtick doesn’t work any more – it’s terminally broken.

The issues people care about now: housing, education, mental health, our ageing population, public services globalisation –  all require a liberal approach.

Liberalism – the freedom to live the best life you can afford, regardless of background, and in the manner you choose (as long as it doesn’t harm others) is where it’s at.*

If you agree with this and you’re not a member you should really join us*.

That Channel 4 Interview: Tim, liberalism and the media

Having already set out my views as to Tim Farron’s victory as party leader I wasn’t expecting to write anything else about him this weekend.

The joys of being a Lib Dem member!

So I’ve assembled my thoughts below, as it saves tweeting them.

I did not vote for Tim but he’s our new leader now so there’s no point crying over spilt milk.

People and inside and outside the party who seek to divide us will use Tim’s recent Channel 4 interview to drive a wedge between Tim and Norman supporters.

If you support the Lib Dems: don’t let them.

I care little for our new leader’s religious beliefs as long as long as he doesn’t force me or others to abide by them, and he actively promotes tolerance in all the things he says and does as our leader. That is the essence of liberalism.

From the preamble to the Liberal Democrat constitution :-

We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full.

However, perceptions are important and Tim’s interview is not helpful in promoting the idea of respectiving individual freedoms.

And like it or not lots of people have been offended by Tim’s comments. Whether or not he intended them to be offended, or he did not is irrelevant.

The media will now revisit this question continually, smelling blood. So Tim will need to do better, much better, in future at articulating liberalism versus his religious beliefs.

The media and The Lib Dems

Cathy Newman and Channel 4 are at liberty to ask whatever questions they wish. Blaming some sort of anti-Lib Dem bias is ridiculous.

We’re a national party seeking to get into government – so we need to behave like one.

We can’t have it both ways: we don’t get to pick and choose the questions journalists ask us or the way they ask them.

I’m grateful to Cathy and her colleagues for shining a light on the serious problems of harassment experienced by a number of women in our party so many years.

Critically, this was an issue that was not dealt with properly by many senior party figures and may not have been had Channel 4 not highlighted it.

Harassment that was hushed up by senior Lib Dems for too long –  so much for keeping our own house in order.

Media attention will be slim pickings for Lib Dems over the next five years. So, when we get it, we need to be on our game – from the leader down.

Aggressive questioning, as exemplified by Jeremy Paxman during the general election is here to stay. We may not approve of it or much like it,  but it gets a reaction from politicians and the public and it is not going anywhere.

Some other related thoughts:-

  • The media are not our friends and neither should they be.
  • Being party leader means that it matters more when you mess up an interview now than when you did when you were party president.
  • Tim’s team must have expected the Cathy Newman line of questioning. It was entirely predictable.
  • The day after Tim’s victory was announced was the day he was always going to get the most interviews and be under maximum scrutiny.
  • Given the above, and the fact he was the clear favourite from day one, why was Tim not ready with more convincing answers to the obvious questions?
  • Nick Clegg and his team were often criticised for their media handling – not least by Tim’s supporters.
  • All sides should work together to make sure that Tim is better prepared for these sorts of questions and interviews in future.
  • If not, what was the point of five years in government learning about media the hard way?

I say this following an exchange I had on Twitter with Matt Hanney, senior adviser to Nick Clegg:-

Social media

Tim has established a reputation of tweeting and Facebooking, so now is not the time to go quiet.

At the time of writing he hasn’t tweeted for 21 hours. Sounds trivial but it looks odd the day after his first round of major interviews as leader and risks damaging his reputation as an engaging politician.

Clearly, Tim won’t have the time to do so much online now as he did previously.

In reaponse to this from now on Tim’s team should make it clear when tweets come from them and when they are written by Tim himself.

This is what most political leaders do with Barack Obama signing off tweets ‘BO’ and in a Lib Dem example,  Lynne Featherstone who identifies her own tweets as ‘LF’.

Transparency is everything and essential if we are going to rebuild trust in our party.

This applies to the way our leader communicates just as it applies to the way we develop our policies.

Now, please can we get on with #LibDemFightback, promoting Liberal Democrat ideas and scrutinising this Tory government?

In the last 24 hours alone the following diabolical measures have been announced by the Tories:

It makes you think, doesn’t it?