The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage – A debate that would be well worth watching

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If you were not listening to Nick Clegg’s LBC phone-in programme this morning and you don’t follow any Lib Dems on Twitter or are friends with any Lib Dems on Facebook, then you may have missed the open offer that the leader of the Liberal Democrats made to his UKIP counterpart this morning about debating the merits of being in or out of the EU. You may have been say on the exercise bike watching the Curling for instance but I have no idea who’d be doing such a thing…


This is what Nick Clegg said:

I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the European Union. That’s the choice facing the British people.

He is the leader of the party of OUT, I am the leader of the party of IN. It’s time for a proper public debate so that the public can listen to the arguments and decide for themselves.

It is a bold move but a move that (short-term) at least won’t harm the Lib Dems. As a member of the party but someone who isn’t wed to the EU (I do think we are better in than out based on simple economics of it all) I would like to actually hear the case for both options straight up in a debate. I think there are a lot of people who are firmly ensconced in the out camp because they have lapped up the ‘small island’ mentality believing that immigration is the biggest problem facing the country, however I think there are a lot of people who still have open minds on this front and would actually like to hear both sides of the debate straight up.

Of course I think Nick would perform fantastically because I think he’s a very good speaker. Farage would be firmly more style over substance. Also the public perception of Nick Clegg is so low that any victory (even a small one) would be seen by the press and people at large as a real boost for the Deputy Prime Minister.

The only problem is whether this opens the door to Farage in terms of Prime Ministerial debates come the spring of 2015. Personally I am fine with any party who puts up MPs in enough seats where they could mathematically be Prime Minister being involved in these debates. I have held this position for a long time. The public have the right to hear these people speak and debate many topics. Of course we don’t know if they will return in 2015 and even if they do, in what guise, but I think they added something to the national debate and would welcome them returning.

Nigel Farage’s press people have said he’ll reply tomorrow to the offer and we wait with baited breath (well maybe not) but it would be a fascinating debate between two people on complete opposite sides in this regard. Our position within the EU is something that we should openly discuss, but to do that we need to know more than what we hear through the biased media.

Hearing things straight from the politicians mouths I think only enhances our knowledge of where they stand and why they have those opinions and in turn we can weigh up the pros and cons of each side of the debate to decide how we feel about it. I genuinely believe most people don’t have enough knowledge of why EU membership is important or not (I include myself in that) so anything that gives me more knowledge is something I’d like to see.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

February 20th, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Politics

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In real praise of Nick Clegg on the EU…

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I’m a Nick Clegg guy. It isn’t anything new and a big revelation but I am. I think he is the most intelligent of the party leaders. I think he is the best speaker of the four main party leaders and when you look solely at what he says then it makes the most sense. His biggest problem at the start of this parliament was clearly he was outmaneuvered by the Conservatives and showed a distinct lack of political nous. Also despite putting up good overall numbers, he actually oversaw his party losing seats in the House of Commons, spreading our resources too quickly instead of concentrating on seats where we should have won or should have held on. That was poor.

However four years on and he is facing the toughest fight with the electorate to date. The European Elections. The Lib Dems are going to get an ass-whooping, not because the electorate are pissed off with the Lib Dems but because the anti-European brigade are dominating the political landscape. UKIP are surging on the back of that sentiment and both Labour and the Tories are being a bit woolly-minded as to what they really think about the European question. They are both grown-up enough as a political party to know that being part of the European Union brings the country great benefits as well as the downsides, it is a two-way street, however they know the way the wind is blowing so they don’t want to fly the pro-European flag to any significant degree.

This is where Nick Clegg has decided to step out and put his party and his own position very much out there. In a terrific letter in the i on Tuesday, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister puts forward a cohesive and sensible viewpoint for why he believes that being part of the European Union is an important position for the country.

The problem is most people do not see the benefits unless they are involved directly in business. They don’t see that billions of pounds are generated and pumped into our economy due to our links with the largest single market on the planet. They don’t see that if we pull out and become an isolationist state that we will no longer have any say about what goes on politically in our back yard. It really is a better situation for all to try and piss from inside your tent to outside than attempting to do so the other way round. Also the long-term strategy of climate change is an issue. Look at the way our weather patterns are changing, this is clearly an issue that needs to be dealt with and being part of the EU can help us tackle what might be the biggest crisis to ever face the human race. Yet far too many people only see another Polish shop on the high street and they complain.

The one paragraph that really stood out though was the following:

I understand why Nigel Farage’s brand of pub-friendly Euroscepticism is appealing. It plays on the fear of the ‘other’, the fear of change, the belief that someone else must be to blame for the ills of the modern world. It offers beguilingly simple solutions: pull up the drawbridge, close the door and turn our back on the world. It is an appealing offer but one that is extremely dangerous.

Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. This is exactly it. People are scared and want someone to blame for their lives not being as perfect as they believe they should be. The two easy targets are Europe and bankers. We have heard Labour lead the fight against bankers and what an evil sort they are and it sickens me. Talk about scapegoating one section of society believing it will mask all of their ills for not managing the economy but that is another subject for another day. Europe, and immigration of EU nationals is the issue that is now creating the most buzz. People don’t want non English people here as they are taking our jobs so they say, jobs that most English people do not want. In the early part of this century when the Poles decamped over here to do our cleaning, our data entry, our receptionist jobs, our hotel work and the like no-one cared because they worked hard and did jobs people didn’t want. Now people want them gone because they have seen the economy tank.

Did the economy tank because of an influx of EU nationals? No. No it didn’t. Would the economy recover if we kicked out all the EU nationals we didn’t want and did those jobs for ourselves? No it wouldn’t. That is such a simplistic view of the world and the economy and one that doesn’t bear any resemblance to reality. If we kicked out all foreigners how would we staff our National Health Service? There are not enough qualified health professionals to staff the NHS so in turn we’d lose front-line patient care. Is that what people want or do people that want to leave the EU want special dispensation put in to allow foreigners work visas if they are working in certain sectors?

What about foreign sports stars? I’m a football fan and enjoy watching great players from around both Europe and the World ply their trade in the Premier League. Do we not want these people playing in our leagues and paying the huge amount of tax that they give to the Treasury? See that is the thing, you know these foreigners? They are working over here and actually paying in to our Treasury and enhancing our society.

The problem is people are looking for the easy excuse, the simple narrative and that is that all our ills are due to Europe and foreigners. Recent reports on the flooding have said that we should pull out of the EU to sort out the floods. These reports say that with the money we spend putting into the EU pool we could sort out all our flood defences and on a simplistic level we could easily, however we’d also then in turn lose a lot of money that we come into the coffers due to our position within the EU and then in turn we wouldn’t have the money.

‘It’s the economy stupid’ was a war cry of the Bill Clinton 1992 Election campaign, well not the war cry but it was a slogan they used to remind staff about their primary message. The economy is the key to everything and it is a very hard thing to know in great detail. Do we get more out of being in the EU compared to what we’d get if we left? I don’t know the answer in a strict economical sense because I don’t have the figures but clearly we do get genuine benefits from being in rather than out. For that I’m happy to be involved with the party that has put its cards firmly on the table as wanting to protect the economic revival. I am pretty sure that leaving the EU would see the economy take a hit not only in the City but also in businesses up and down the country and businesses employ people and give people jobs and then they pay taxes etc. etc. etc.

So I’m very happy Nick has set out his stall so firmly. It might not be what people want to hear and it might go against the popular narrative but it is honest and it is a genuine position based on real economic and sociological issues. It isn’t based on scaring people with mis-truths and that is why the Lib Dems are I believe fast growing up as a political party.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

February 11th, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Politics

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Mr Mark Steel – A perfect example of why Labour can never win a grown-up debate

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Ah Mr Mark Steel. A voice against Capitalism and a voice against the system. Allegedly a comedian but I support if Michael McIntyre can call himself a comedian then anyone can these days. I think it is fair to say that Mark Steel is a Labour man and it has heavily influenced his life. I have no problem with that, we are all shaped by our upbringings and our political ideologies. Some from all parties believe in everything they do and disparage anyone who disagrees wit them. This always galls me as I like to think there is something to be learned from so many views.

Why am I writing about this today?

Well the ‘funny man’ has written a piece in the Independent entitled If his 2015 manifesto is going to feature a load of pledges he can’t stick to, shouldn’t Nick Clegg at least have some fun with it? with the sub-title, If it’s grown-up to ignore what you said to get elected, why have a campaign at all?

It is exactly what you think it is, a poorly thought-out piece saying that because the Lib Dems didn’t win a majority in the House of Commons at the last General Election then they basically should have told the Tories to stuff it and allow the economy to funk for a few months whilst we had a second General Election where the Tories would have won a majority. That is what he thinks would have been the best way to deal with the issues of the summer of 2010. It is a shame that yet another person fails to understand what the basic ethos of a coalition is but there are plenty of those about, so he’s in fine company.

I remember the same ‘comic’ on panel shows such as Have I Got News For You? and Mock The Week deriding the Lib Dems in the build up to the 2010 General Election as a waste of space, because quite simply they couldn’t win and couldn’t see any of their policies implemented. David Mitchell is one that really resonates in the memory banks, going on about how considerate it was to have the Lib Dem party conferences before the Tory and Labour ones so all the political hacks could have a warm-up before the important ones. Oh my sides split.

Well a strange thing happened on the way to being irrelevant. The Lib Dems became relevant and boy did it piss off a lot of people. Not solely because they became relevant but because they sided with the Tories over Labour in terms of a coalition. Not to mention the fact that the election maths made a Labour coalition impossible, meaning only a rainbow alliance could have had the MPs to hold a majority and imagine that, Labour, Lib Dems, SNP, DUP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, Green etc… – could these guys really all sit around a table and form a stable government? I think the chances of that are similar to those of me ever getting laid – PS: if you don’t know me then I can assure you, the odds of me ever getting laid are long, very long.

Also the country had voted for more Conservative MPs than any other party, surely this meant they deserved to run the country? They didn’t win the election outright but they were closer to the winners post than any other party. The financial situation at the time of the election meant that confidence and supply for an emergency budget wasn’t really a goer and a stable coalition had to be formed. The Tories and the Lib Dems were the unlikely bed fellows. Did that sit well with me? No, of course it didn’t but I could see that stable government was needed and this was the best route forward.

I can see why many voters were unhappy about this. A significant proportion of the Lib Dem vote wasn’t really a Lib Dem vote, but an anti-Tory vote. In vast areas it is a two-horse race and Labour voters lent their vote hoping to keep the Tories out of office. The fact the Lib Dems then went into coalition with the Tories meant they felt betrayed. This is just a pitfall of our election system that we could have changed but the country decided they didn’t want it to be changed. Sod fairer votes as it might favour the Lib Dems. Now of course many people are slowly figuring out that FPTP is going to screw UKIP and they are outraged again but I digress.

Could Nick Clegg have handled certain things better? Of course he could. Sadly though we don’t have a Stargate or a Quantum Mirror to go into a parallel universe and see how things would’ve shaken out had Clegg not had taken the Lib Dems into a coalition. However to turn around and say that he could write whatever he wanted in the 2015 Lib Dem manifesto because he didn’t see through his 2010 manifesto is just a fallacy, one linked to the authors lack of grasp of basic coalition politics. Not just coalition politics, but coalition politics with a very junior partner.

If Labour had gone into a coalition with the Lib Dems and benched some of their manifesto then would they be a bunch of liars as well? Yeah I wonder what he’d say to that…

However what really gets my goat about his piece isn’t the bollocks he’s spewing about how pointless the Lib Dem manifesto is, comedians have been doing that for years in various guises believing that a third party was easy prey for laughs. The fact the irrelevant party became a party of government just meant they had to find other ways to deride the party. That is ok. That is fair game in comedy apparently. Who cares about accuracy when you can get cheap laughs, oh look my trousers have fallen down, I need stitches in my sides it is so funny.

No what really gets my goat is the final paragraph and a bit and how out of touch and lazy it is:

To have any chance at the next election, even of saving his own seat in Sheffield, he’ll need to go much much further than that.

So instead of wasting effort compiling more promises, his one chance of saving his seat in Sheffield might be a collaboration with local heroes the Arctic Monkeys, in which he sings: “Oh what a scummy man, you can see it in my eyes yeah that I’ve got a nasty plan, I’d go into coalition with the bloody Taliban for a place in the cabinet. And you’ve seen me with Osborne and Hague, there ain’t no promise on which I won’t renege, students do better to vote for the plague ‘cos I’m a scumbag don’t you know.”

First of all, does Mark Steel really think that Nick Clegg is going to lose his own seat in Sheffield Hallam? I mean really? I know it’s cool to say he’ll lose his seat but there is absolutely no evidence to say that it is on the cards. He has a stonking majority, the party still does well locally and in 2012, which is probably fair to say will be the lowest point of the Lib Dems locally in this government, the party still pulled in 39% of the vote with Labour 16% behind in second place. In the five seats in the constituency, they all stayed solidly Lib Dem in 2012 and in a key by-election in 2013, when Labour and the Tories really attacked, the Lib Dems cruised home by 1,400 votes.

Now I know Mr Mark Steel loves his rhetoric and thinks that his view is the right view but at some point he’ll have to understand that wanting something to be true isn’t going to make it true. That isn’t how it works in the grown-up world. When it comes to politics, so much is child like and it depresses me but the most child like are the Labour party. They believe in polling data unless it isn’t favourable to them. When there is positive polling data they then use it like a blanket over the whole country to predict what will happen, neglecting the nuances of local politics, region by region, county by county, city by city, constituency by constituency, ward by ward, polling district by polling district.

So Mr Mark Steel, live in your own mind and hope against all hope that what you want will one day happen and you’ll wake up in a socialist state. It may well happen, well actually it won’t because the country doesn’t want socialism and in the past half a century the only Labour General Election wins have been when the party has moved away from the extreme left to the centre-left/centre but who cares about facts. When you live in Mr Mark Steel’s world then you can believe whatever you want to believe and if facts get in the way then the best way to deal with them is to ignore them. Who wants facts anyway?

This is a prime example of why I treat the Labour party with distain at the moment. They cry about the Lib Dems not being grown-up, when in fact it is them who are playing adolescent politics. This comes from a guy whose upbringing was very much in the ‘Anyone but the Tories’ mould but as it stands they are at least acting like a grown-up party, not just the MPs and councillors but also the memberships. My politics are centrist but if I had to lean left or right of centre then it would be left, however with the way the Labour party are acting at the moment I just couldn’t see myself supporting them.

Until the Labour party stop trying to play politics and start seeing politics as a serious business then I struggle to take them seriously. We all have ideologies but sometimes real world issues have to come above ideologies. For example if a 45p tax rate rakes in the most revenue for higher band earners then so be it. Proposing a 50p tax band that will bring in less money is just ideological claptrap designed to sound good and gain support whereas the finances say it’s a bad move.

I’m 30 and I like to think I’m relatively grown-up and that is how I act and that is how I like my politics. Until Labour acts grown-up then for me I think that maybe the best thing for the country in 2015 would be another Tory/Lib Dem coalition and lets be honest, there is no way I saw myself typing that three and a half years ago but Labour have just been so poor as an opposition and so lightweight on the economy that I’m not sure I trust them as much as I do the Tories and boy that is a scary thought.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

January 31st, 2014 at 12:23 am

Posted in Politics

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The story of the West Leigh by-election is the rise of UKIP

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So here we are. UKIP are four months away from having potentially several councillors on Southend Council. 410 votes in West Leigh was a staggering result but the thing that is worth noting is that people on the doorstep weren’t canvassing as UKIP at all. The UKIP vote is silent but it is there. The disenfranchised vote is loud and unless the three main parties address this quickly then it will be carnage come May in local elections, although I still think in the General Election things will be slightly different.

In Southend, UKIP and the Independent’s are either in an unofficial nod and wink allience or they are not depending on who you talk to and what their mood is at the time you speak to them. However lets put it this way, the UKIP literature is rather similar to what the independents have been saying, just with added anti-immigration phrases thrown in for good measure.

West Leigh is not where you’d expect a strong UKIP vote and clearly they did well on a minimal campaign. We have seen this before in Southend is more favourable wards for them, but with the next local elections being on the same day as European Elections they will fight a more vigorous campaign that will see them make their Southend breakthrough.

Nationally though this news is positive for the Lib Dems. In areas where we work hard our vote seems to be holding up whereas the Tories vote drops with UKIP sweeping up that vote. So when you look at these Lib Dem/Tory battlegrounds then the Lib Dems can either hold or take them at the next General Election. For ages the hope that Lib Dems have been clinging to is UKIP can split the Tory vote and it is perfectly possible it can happen.

However for us locally this is a rude wake up call and all parties should have taken really note of this result. Even though they came 17% away from winning, the fact they canvassed so badly (and we did a lot of canvassing) yet came through so strong says so much. At the count the votes counted from ballot boxes today actually had UKIP right up there with the Lib Dems and the Tories but the postal votes were a lot stronger for the two other main parties.

As for Labour, well it was nice of them to turn up. 7% is around what we expected so that canvassing data held up well. We also thought we’d be nip/tuck with the Tories and who got their vote out today would win it. That UKIP vote though came right out of left field.

UKIP will win seats on Southend Council, they will win seats on many councils, they’ll send more people to the European Parliament than any other party, yet I firmly believe they’ll do all this not because people support them but because they are so disenfranchised. This is where the three main parties have to step up and better engage people on issues and policies. If we fail to do that then I fear for the future.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Please leave any comments or contact me directly via the E-Mail Me link on the Right Hand Nav. You can stay in touch with the blog following me on Twitter or by liking the blog on Facebook. Please share this content via the Social Media links below if you think anyone else would enjoy reading.

Written by neilmonnery

January 24th, 2014 at 12:56 am

Posted in Politics

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If Lord Rennard truly cared for the party and liberal ideals then he’d stand down.

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Oh boy. This is pretty darn ugly isn’t it?

I will not sit here and type about what he did or didn’t do. I don’t know so I won’t comment on it. However one thing is what happens next and I feel as though I can have an opinion on that.

No one man (or woman) is bigger than the party. The party would be better off if Lord Rennard left the party. That is the plain and simple truth. If he feels as though his membership and the fact he is a Lib Dem peer is more important than either the perception of the party and/or the feelings of the membership then I would be incredibly disappointed.

It is something I have been thinking about recently, whether people are too comfortable in being part of the establishment and their own self-importance. He has to decide what is more important, the party’s future and furthering our liberal agenda or his own beliefs that he’s done nothing wrong and should be allowed to continue?

I fear that he’s comfortable in being part of the establishment. I certainly believe that he is extremely arrogant. Even if, and I stress the word if, if he actually did no nothing wrong and all the stories were untrue, the party will never go forward with him in the fold. All he can do is drag the party down. Whatever he does, he can’t help the party anymore. Even if he disappeared and came back quietly in a few years then it wouldn’t work.

Lord Rennard is toxic. Not toxic with the electorate but toxic with the progressives within the party. I have always seen the liberal Democrats as a party with progressive people at the helm and the more progressive people the party has in its membership and subsequently in key positions, then the more forward-thinking the party can be. Lord Rennard’s position within the party is such that the progressives cannot abide him.

He has to go. Quite simply if he stays on he is saying that he is more important than the party. No-one is more important than the party. So it is now down to his arrogance and sense of self-worth against views of the party he claims to represent. I’m sure some people would say that if he hasn’t done anything wrong then why should he go. Well that if seems like one giant stretch of an if at this juncture but even if that were true, then he should go for the sake of the party and for the people of the country. As liberals we want to benefit the country, I suppose all political groups would say that but if the party gets weaker and unhappier then it doesn’t benefit our hopes to make the country more of a liberal bastion for the 21st century.

So whilst I am an innocent until proven guilty guy, I really am. I have to say that if he is truly a liberal, he will understand that his position will hurt the liberal cause because the party will lose members and with that he should leave the party. If someone said to me that if I left the party that it would stop a lot of progressive genuine liberals leaving the party, or if I left then a lot of progressive liberals would join the party then you’d know the right thing to do.

The party has the goal of making the country, at local, national and European levels, a better place to live. That is our goal and surely deep down it doesn’t matter who takes us there but getting there is the key. Lord Rennard cannot help the party reach our goals. He quite simply cannot. For that reason and that reason alone he should take his bow and leave. If he feels as though he has been unfairly scapegoated then I feel for him, but if he does want to put the future of the party and our liberal agenda first then he’ll understand that making our goals is much harder with him involved within the party.

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January 16th, 2014 at 8:31 pm

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Last night I nearly downgraded from Lib Dem activist to just Lib Dem member. I still might.

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This morning I saw that Ben Mitchell had left the Labour Party and wrote about the reasons over on SpeakersChair and the timing for me couldn’t have been more apt.

Last night I had trouble sleeping. I often have trouble sleeping as my sleep pattern is crazy but it my brain was going. My whole thought process towards being a local activist was in full blown thought mode. Unlike Ben, I have no issues with being a member of a political party but being an active member locally is something I struggle with and when you get essentially belittled then you wonder what the point of it all is.

Ben writes, “Some of the fierce tribalism on display would make a hardened football supporter blush. It’s amazing how many activists are unable to accept that others have different opinions to them”. Is he wrong? I don’t think he is. I have been active in local politics for a few years now and I see an insane amount of tribalism from all sides. I’m a Lib Dem solely because I have liberal ideology. This isn’t abnormal as more people have a liberal ideology than any other in the UK but not all these people vote Liberal Democrat, let alone are members or activists.

However I don’t sit here and say all Tories are bad, all Labour people are wrong, all independents are self-serving or anything like that. I can’t have blind loyalty and tribalism when it comes to politics because that would be closing off my mind to other points of view. Who grows by not listening to people of differing opinions and learning what what they think? Very few people indeed.

When it comes to local politics, I actually think the person makes a significant difference. When you are voting for an MP, the candidates of course matter but to a lesser degree than locally. When you are a councillor, you have important business but you will be more accountable to your constituents. If people have a problem with tax, or jobs, or immigration, or the NHS, or education then in general their MP will have little influence on these matters. However if you have a problem with flytipping, bins, potholes, care homes, flood defences, car parking charges, pavements and the like then your councillor will have a far bigger impact. They can get these things reported, debated etc. far easier.

This is why I think local politics isn’t just about the party (or non-party in the case of independents). It is about the people. When you vote, I think voters should put considerable weight into voting for the person they believe will best work hard for them. Not just vote blindly for a party. Tribalism is all well and good but I’m pretty sure most activists would state that their are either councillors or MPs within their own party that they question the true ideology of. Heck the amount of Lib Dems who don’t think Nick is liberal just because he went into coalition with the Tories is proof enough of that.

Ben’s summed up by saying, “Being a party activist is ultimately about going along to meetings (where little of worth will be said or achieved), door knocking and leafleting in all weathers, in the knowledge that the people around you all want the same thing: your party in power at all costs. My chastening time in local politics has naturally clouded my views, but even before then I failed at the first hurdle. I didn’t want the same thing as everybody else. Or at least not forever. And in politics that makes you an outsider”.

He really sells it doesn’t he? I’m glad I signed up for this. He says many good things in his article and after last night it hit home. In my situation, we have a by-election here next week and hopefully Chris Bailey will win West Leigh ward, not solely because he’s the Lib Dem candidate, but because having got to know Chris over the past few years, I firmly and genuinely believe he would be an excellent councillor, not only for the Lib Dems, but for the people of West Leigh and in turn the people of Southend-on-Sea as a whole.

Now I haven’t been out on the doorstep canvassing but have been doing the work in the computer system to record all that canvass data. We have moved to a new computer system and I was asked to operate it. I don’t have a problem with this and I feel like it is doing my bit to help the local party. Last night we had a meeting and talk of how the canvassing was going came up and I went to give everyone the data and someone chirped up ‘I had forgotten you’ve stuck your nose in.’ Boy did it fester.

I can be blunt here but if I didn’t firmly believe that getting Chris elected would be a benefit to the people of the town, I’d have downed tools at that moment and stopped being a local activist on the spot. It pissed me off that much and showed a disgusting and belittling attitude. It may have been a throwaway line from someone (I won’t name them) but it just goes to show the problem in local party politics. I was going out of my way to help dealing with all the data and will probably be running the data system on polling day, in turn allowing the candidate to spend an extra 20 odd hours probably overall on the doorstep, talking to constituents to find out what their particular problems are, yet someone felt I was sticking my nose in. Why would any sane person put up with this?

I’m the youngest local activist. In Southend, the party in general is full of the older generation and if they truly believe that someone the party have asked to be the Data Officer, to you know, deal with all the raw data, is sticking their nose in where it doesn’t belong when it comes to reporting on data then we have a problem. I’ll be honest, this is seemingly an isolated incident/feeling and in general I have been welcomed in and my thoughts have been taken on board and not just cast aside as the thoughts of an ill-informed youngster. I like the idea of being a youngster. I digress. However I do struggle to see where the new blood will come from. I know of others who have left the local party over the past few years because they felt they weren’t either listened to or generally welcomed. Sad but true. I think however this is a situation not isolated to the party here, but to all parties in all areas.

Most young people who get enthused and excited about politics are willing to put in time and effort to get things done. Victories are celebrated and friendships made. Most of my local party probably joined as Young liberals 30+ years ago and stayed the course. However I see a lot of young Lib Dems these days leave the party around the country. They do this because they don’t feel appreciated, liked or wanted. Many have said its because of local issues more so than national ones. This is a problem some local parties will have more than others. Most of these people are still engaged with the political scene but are burned out of the tribalism and cliquishness of local parties.

New members should always be embraced. I will though say that new members shouldn’t come in and ‘rock the boat’ as it were. It is a tricky business. We’ve all been in groups where new people come in and upset the apple cart. It does take time to become comfortable with new people, whether they be young or old. So I do think that new members and activists need to take time to understand how things work but they should never be belittled or felt unwanted. That isn’t a way to grow and diversify.

So for now I write – and in turn I seethe. When people help they should be thanked and respected. I don’t even have too much of an issue with not being thanked (although I’ve got to say, I have been by pretty much everyone for work on the website and our new data system) but you’ve got to be respected. When you are told you are basically not wanted then we have a real problem and people wonder why others get disillusioned and drift away from party politics. Most don’t leave the party like that, they just slowly just drift away…

This is sad as last Friday I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening chatting politics with the last person I voted for in a General Election. It was good to just discuss politics and talk liberal philosophy and the future of the Lib Dems, both locally and nationally. Once more I felt enthused about politics but within a few days one throwaway line makes me question whether all the time is worth it. I could easily fill up my spare time with other endeavours.

I am a liberal and I am a Liberal Democrat. However am I really getting much out of being a local activist? This is something I question and I question more all the time…

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January 14th, 2014 at 1:47 pm

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More on legalising prostitution and why the Lib Dems should take this baton and run with it

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Just before I left for a long stroll to our local AGM last night, there was a bit of a furore on Twitter about a new piece up on Lib Dem Voice. The palaver wasn’t really about the piece as such but more the title. The original title by the author was to be As Liberals We Must Stand Up For Sex Workers but instead the editorial team used the title Opinion: As Liberals, we must stand up For sex workers instead. Now I didn’t get to read too much more for a couple of hours so I don’t know if the contents of the article ever got truly discussed.

The basics of the article seem to be about standing up for sex workers and allowing them the freedom to do with their own bodies what they please without the state calling them a criminal for it. I have long been a supporters of legalising the prostitution business and ensuring safer practices for both the buyer and seller as it were. I wrote about it three years ago in a piece entitled It is time to fully license and legalise Prostitution which essentially nobody read, but that isn’t exactly an abnormality for my blog. You come here for pictures of Take Me Out Girls, to agree that Yodel sucks, to find out what happened to Nick Halling and Mark Bolton and then maybe, just maybe you’ve come here for political opinion.

I firmly believe that if a woman (or a man) want to sell their own body for sex then they should be free to do so. However I am a strong advocate of street prostitution remaining illegal. This cannot be regulated and it can be dangerous for both parties. It is also decidedly uncomfortable for people. I was accosted at Liberal Democrat Conference in 2011 by a prostitute asking is I was looking for her services. I can tell you this for nowt, it left me extremely uncomfortable.

Regulating prostitution and having centres where people can buy and sell sex in safe environments is surely a step-forward in allowing people to trade in their bodies of free will, but also with legal sex being available it will push the illegal sex slave trade to the fringes. If people can buy sex without fear of criminal prosecution then why would they go to someone where they wouldn’t be immune from this. The sex slave trade would surely overnight become far less profitable for gangs who force people into this line of work and they would then have to look elsewhere to earn a criminal dollar.

James in his piece references Australian states that have legalised prostitution and I remember seeing a documentary on this a few years back. Everyone who comes into the brothel is checked for visible signs of STIs (or STDs as they were in my day) and anyone who fails this inspection is turned away. The girls are regularly screened for these infections and if they are found to have one then they are unable to work until it is cleared up completely. If it is an STI that doesn’t go away then they will be unable to work as a legal prostitute any more. This surely helps with public health as STIs are rapidly growing as people (apparently) like having sex and are becoming more flippant about the health dangers.

The truth is people are going to have sex. People are going to want to buy sex. People are going to want to sell sex. That is the long and the short of it. Many of us probably can’t comprehend the idea of selling our bodies for a living but there are people out there who do it by choice. Not every prostitute does it because they were forced into it by criminals or by circumstances. Some people do choose to do it of their own free will and at what stage do people not have control over their own bodies for fear of breaking the law?

Legalising and licensing prostitution is never going to be a popular policy even if their is overwhelming evidence that it will help on many fronts. Drug addicts will be less able to turn to prostitution for money and therefore will have more incentive to get off drugs. Illegal sex workers who are forced into it will become a less profitable venture. Red light areas will be cleaned up as street prostitution would go down if there were licensed brothels for people to work in. The spread of STIs would in theory be slowed down. Liberals would rejoice as we allowed people to do what they wanted in a safer environment and think about this, if it was fully regulated and licensed then the tax man would get his cut!

It is time to stop thinking of prostitution as bad and that people who buy or sell sex are bad people. We are all free to make our own judgments in life and if it doesn’t directly effect you or me then who are we to decide how someone else should live their life? Sex will always be bought and sold. No-one will ever stop that until the concept of money is in the past. So until then lets find the best way forward to this problem that will ensure the safety and freedoms of most and that is not by keeping the status quo.

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December 18th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

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The likelihood of a by-election in Richmond Park just keeps growing…

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My learned colleague Richard Morris has been banging on about this for as long as I’ve been reading his work (well near enough) but what would be a very interesting by-election could happen in the autumn of 2014. Richmond Park is your typical two-horse race in the South between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Both parties can win it on a good day with a strong campaign. Both therefore can of course lose it on the exact opposite. It is the type of seat that the Lib Dems must at the very least stay competitive in come 2015 if they aren’t be just become a party who defends seats.

Well after 13 years of Lib Dem occupation, the Tories came in and won it in 2010 with Zac Goldsmith being elected MP for the constituency. He has been relatively quiet in office, however he has really been a strong constituency MP, with everything you ever hear from him being about local issues. The main focus of that has been on Heathrow Airport and its possible expansion. To cut a long-story short, he’s against it, dead against it and if it becomes government policy he was reiterated that he’ll stand down and trigger a by-election.

This morning the airport commission unveiled three options regarding airport expansion and two of them are at Heathrow, the other being at Gatwick. The ‘Boris Island’ scheme that is certainly not playing well in my neck of the wood was not as option, however the aforementioned airport commission will decide next summer whether that is indeed a viable option. If it does not then essentially they are green lighting Heathrow expansion and should the government make it policy that the preferred option is to expand Heathrow then Goldsmith will resign.

The most interesting question though about all this is would Goldsmith run again as the Tory candidate, but resign on principle so his constituents knew he is against this polixcy and would be an active voice against said policy if they reelected him? Would Goldsmith run as an independent ‘Against Heathrow Airport Expansion’ candidate? Would the Tories even place Boris in that seat to give him a route back into the House of Commons?

By-elections are notoriously harder to predict than regular elections because parties can concentrate on issues more without the national narrative getting in the way. Also by-elections lead to those with a great ground game doing better than they would normally because feet on the ground really does help with these things.

A by-election in the autumn in Richmond Park would be fascinating for all the politico geeks out there as there would be so many questions going into it and arguably very few answers off the back of it. Should government policy be that Heathrow should get bigger, then I firmly predict two things, firstly that the coffers of all Richmond Park sandwich shops, coffee places and public houses will go up significantly for a four-week period as press and activists descend into the area and secondly that A View From Ham Common’s readership will go up mightily.

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December 17th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

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The bad name of the Liberal Democrats

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Ah the Lib Dems. The sandal wearing, beard loving, irrelevance of a political party. When Millwall chanted ‘no-one likes us, no-one likes us, we don’t care’ they did so as a badge of honour. For the Lib Dems it was all very different, it was ‘no-one worries about us, no-one particularly dislikes us, no-one cares’ as the party bumbled along being relatively popular at local level across the country but when it came to national governance, people wanted to see the two big parties battle it out. There was no third way.

Then things changed.

In the space of a few weeks the Liberal Democrats suddenly became relevant and when they did so they got tarred with a big brush, the big brush of disappointment and that stain is one we find hardest to cope with.

The long and short of it is as we all know, a significant proportion of people who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 nationally did so as a bit of a protest vote. They public were not convinced about Gordon Brown and Labour, nor were they enthused by David Cameron and the Conservatives. They looked for that third way and the fresh faced Nick Clegg provided that hope and aspiration that things could be different.

The thing is deep down the likelihood of things being different because the party were never going to either win a majority in the House of Commons and nor were they going to be the largest party in any governing coalition. The party could only prop up a Tory or Labour led government or sit in opposition. In essence they couldn’t ever be the party that people hoped they would be after 2010 because whatever way they went they were stuffed. Either they propped up an unpopular party or they showed they didn’t have the cojones for government. A lose/lose situation.

Why am I bringing this up today?

Well I read this piece entitled I am not a “Liberal Democrat” and it sums up the problems that, we as activists, and the party in general face. The good, unsullied name of the Liberal Democrats is now not so pristine and that is quite the understatement. A lot of people are angry that the Lib Dems didn’t change everything when they became the junior member in a coalition, a lot of people are just angry and aren’t exactly sure why.

The thing is, more people sit in the ground occupied by the Liberal Democrats on the political spectrum than any other political party. If people voted solely on ideological principles then the Lib Dems would be the ones to beat, but people don’t do that. They vote based on a multitude of things including trust, who they like/dislike personally, policies, ideologies, tactically, historically, I could go on and on but ideology has been pushed further and further down this list as the years and decades have gone by.

Now, in an age where people can learn more about the people on a ballot paper and the parties they represent, people actually learn less. The electorate are not as switched on as they were in the past. Now it is a lot to do with personalities and not policies and that brings us to the Nick Clegg issue. Nick Clegg is not toxic but his name certainly isn’t exactly helping the situation. He might actually be doing a pretty good job of steering the Lib Dem Westminster ship but if people refuse to listen to someone then what can you do? I am positive that there are people out there who would disagree with Nick Clegg if he did everything they wanted from a politician, quite simply because of who he is.

So that leads me to wonder what the best way forward is, not for the party per se for members of the Lib Dems to not feel as though they’ve killed puppies and kittens for fun. I speak to people who talk about the Lib Dems with more disdain than they would talk about murderers, I wish I was joking but it sometimes just feels that way.

The fact is that more people sit in the centre ground of the political spectrum than do any other and yet that advantage doesn’t equate to people going out and voting for the party that sits in their ideological spectrum. That is the biggest problem the party faces today. Nick Clegg isn’t exactly an asset but until we can get people to vote for policies and vision first and foremost above personalities, then we will struggle. Moving what a political party actually wants to do to the forefront of the debate and things will look much rosier at the ballot box and Lib Dems won’t feel as though they are pariahs.

They say one thing you shouldn’t do on a first date is talk religion or politics, I don’t need any help in screwing up first dates but the fact I’m a Lib Dem certainly doesn’t help, and if you think that is conjecture then I can assure you it isn’t, I’ve been told bluntly that is an issue, not because of the policies (bar tuition fees) but mainly because of the notion that the Lib Dems are now just Tories by another name.

Many people don’t get the nuances of a coalition government and there is often very little chance they’ll allow you to talk about it (by the way this isn’t my dating spiel, I don’t talk religion or politics on a first date, well unless they bring it up). The thing is many Lib Dems don’t get the nuances of coalition government. They think that if we disagree then we should stop it and only back Lib Dem policy. Wouldn’t that be a Liberal Democrat government and didn’t we only get 57 MPs at the last General Election?

Coalition isn’t easy and even harder than actual governing is trying to tell people what you are doing as the junior member of a coalition. Coalition has cost the party their innocence and their good name but on the other hand it has shown the party has matured and now isn’t just an ‘anti-everything’ option. Some people will acknowledge this but sadly many many more will now not touch the Lib Dems – or their candidates – with a ten-foot barge-pole, just like the vast majority of the female species with me.

So maybe the Lib Dems and myself are in the same boat. I think the bad name of the Lib Dems will sink them in percentage of the vote nationally but I don’t see a wipe-out. I see resources being very targeted and where the Lib Dems hold, they are actually well liked, both on councils and in Westminster. Elections are becoming increasingly localised and that is why I take little notice of national polls and projected national swings. They deep down mean jack and are just there to give politicos something to talk and write about.

The bad name of the Lib Dems won’t be vanquished overnight and may well stick around well beyond Nick Clegg’s departure – whenever that maybe. Still Labour now lead the polls just ten years after going into a very unpopular war and five odd years after overseeing the tanking of the economy. They are doing that with a leader who has zero personality or political nous and a shadow Chancellor who is, to be frank, vastly out of his depth. That says a great deal about how politics can ebb and flow…

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December 12th, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Could (and should) a strong commercial shipbuilding industry save Portsmouth dockyard?

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For years there was obviously a Portsmouth fan working on South West Trains who ran the electronic timetable displays. Everytime you’d get on a train to Portsmouth you’d see that Portsmouth was home of the premier football club on the south coast. For a handful of years Portsmouth was the best football club south of the capital. However sadly that has ended but those few years pale into insignificance compared with how long the city has been home to the Royal Navy.

If you ask non Portsmouth people about what they know about the city, then it would be all about the Royal Navy and our naval history. The Mary Rose, the Victory, the Warrior are all on display in the city. If I was to finish the quartet of house groups from Meadowlands Middle School where I went then throw in the HMS Alliance, which is a submarine currently on display in Gosport (for the record I was in Victory and we dominated everything, from sports to brains – we were kick arse).

The point is Portsmouth’s naval history isn’t exactly a new thing, it is something that identifies the city. The dockyard is still by far the biggest employer in the town and that doesn’t even include all the small companies supplying the dockyard around the place.

Now I’m all for moving forward and diversifying and I won’t change my approach on that. Having one sector that dominates the landscape opens up issues like what we are seeing now, a government decision has placed a real impact on the city. It has happened before and look at how the mining communities have struggled to recover from Margaret Thatcher sticking it to them. There is one significant difference between the two situations though – the shipbuilding industry isn’t being culled – it is just being consolidated away from its natural home.

I won’t sit here and type that shipbuilding on the Clyde is a new thing because it isn’t, the problem has been the lack of a long-term shipbuilding strategy to ensure enough work for both dockyards. The world isn’t what it was in the early part of the last century and as we’ve seen for many centuries before that, but we live on an island nation and our role in patrolling the high seas should not be overstated.

There is a report in the Portsmouth News today entitled Commercial hopes for city’s shipyard given a boost with interest from firms wherein commercial opportunities seem abound to essentially move into the dockyard and build non naval vessels, either ensuring jobs or indeed creating new ones. On one hand this seems like a great save and would go a long way to saving both the pay packets of many Pompey folk and the supply chain that has built up but it forgets one thing – identity.

Portsmouth was – and is – and will continue to be the home of the Royal Navy. However shipbuilding in the city has been around since King Alfred in the 9th Century although it wasn’t until King Henry VII when the city played host to the first permanent home of the navy and shipbuilding. It is believed to be the world’s oldest dry dock. Basically what I’m saying is without naval shipbuilding in Portsmouth then how long until the Navy itself gets moved to another location?

This isn’t about where is better to build ships but more about a cohesive long-term naval strategy, which is something that seems lacking. The Cold War may be in the rear-view mirror and if we were to see another major worldwide conflict, it would be fought in a very different way to the first two, still the Royal Navy has its place and the fleet needs to be updated. It seems to me that long-term planning is not something that is happening at the moment and that the defence secretary doesn’t seem to be undertaking. If we suddenly needed to build ships for whatever reason and the Portsmouth dockyard had been shut for several years then we really are in a bind.

With the Type 26 Global Combat Ships set to start being built in 2016, these ships are the ones that should be built in Portsmouth. It was understood that BAE were to build these vessels in the city, until last week it was considered that Portsmouth would be shut after the portion of HMS Prince of Wales being built in Portsmouth was completed. Of course shipbuilding has been halted once before in Portsmouth before being reopened and it is hoped that this will be the case yet again.

Back to the commercial aspect, it would keep the supply chain stocked and no doubt plenty of naval shipbuilding would be able to get jobs in the commercial shipbuilding industry, but at what cost? Portsmouth is a naval city and the Royal Navy should be at the very centre of the identity of the people and the city.

I’m positive we haven’t seen the last of this story and BBC Question Time is coming from Portsmouth this week. I wonder how long ago this was planned because either the BBC got lucky or they know it is going to be feisty. Expect a large demonstration before the broadcast and expect the atmosphere to be heated to say the least. If the government can put up the defence secretary then it might be one of the most memorable episodes in a long while, I may even watch it this week for the first time in years. If it was down to the audience I’d bet my bottom dollar on the whole show being about the dockyard but I suspect David Dimbleby will try to move it along, at some point, but I certainly don’t envy him one jot.

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November 12th, 2013 at 1:16 pm

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