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Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems

I was on the verge of joining the Liberal Democrats. I have been for a while in all honesty. It was more of a fait accompli really. It was going to happen. However the title of this blog is ‘Why I’ve chosen not to join the Lib Dems’ so clearly something has happened in the meantime that has stopped me nailing my colours firmly to the mast.

Now let me first get this out of the way – my decision is not based on what the political party are doing. I am proud of the MPs for being grown up and dealing with the financial crisis in the correct way. There are things that I don’t like going on but you can’t get everything you want in life – the same is true of a political party. I ideologically disagree with tuition fees, with renewing trident without even looking at other alternatives, the cap on immigrants flat out disgusts me but the fact of the matter is the Liberal Democrats did not win this election. No party won the election. Therefore either we had a weak government at a time of genuine financial upheaval or we had a strong government, which my party of choice were part of but we’d have to go along with a few less than ideal policies.

I prefer the latter of the two options. I’m not one of those who is sticking his head in the sand and thinking we can spend our way out of debt. Those that think that know nothing about debt. So therefore savage cuts are needed for the short to medium term to get the country back on its feet. Yes there has to be investment in certain areas but in others for the next 5-10 belts will have to be severely tightened.

So we get on to why I’m not tossing my hat into the political arena at this juncture. In essence it is because of the babyish way many Lib Dem members are acting at the moment – in the main regarding the tuition fees row. They are saying that they were lied to and that the Lib Dems are screwing the poor by backing this policy where tuition fees could rise. Well yes – it is not ideal. The Lib Dems believed (and still do believe) that higher education should be free. However when you only have so much money in the coffers you have to pick and choose what to spend money on. The Higher Education budget was getting savagely cut by whichever party or parties got together to form a government.

So there are three choices – allow universities to raise more through tuition fees and keep up the quality of our courses. To stick as is and let the qualities of the courses slip and therefore make our degrees less worthwhile or we could dig our heels in for our ideological goal and basically say ‘no tuition fees and make all the universities pretty shit’. The big unis would always survive due to the fact they can raise revenues in other areas. It would be the small to medium size universities that would go to the wall. Now whilst I personally believe that too many people go to university these days (a significant % that go – just go for the lifestyle and not to enhance their career) I will defend anyone’s right to go. In a lot of these places the universities are a significant employer and bring in money to local businesses. So killing off universities isn’t ideal.

I myself went to a very small university – at the time it was the smallest university in the country that gave out its own degrees. These days it has merged with other art colleges and is larger in pupil size and based over five campuses. This was only a few years ago and I lived with my dad and we were poor – therefore the council paid my tuition fees – otherwise I doubt I would have gone to be honest and that is the thing – councils will still pay for the poorest to go. The IFS say that the poorest 35% will actually be better off under these proposals. Also they are raising the point on where you start repaying your student loan from 15k p/a to 21k p/a – that is extremely significant. Basically most entry level positions will not see graduates start paying anything back. This was overlooked by people in my opinion.

Nick Clegg announced £7bn for the ‘Pupil Premium’ last week and that hardly raised an eyebrow amongst Lib Dem circles. They were all still up in angst over tuition fees. When it comes down to it – if you asked me what is more important – giving the poorest a better start throughout pre-school, primary and secondary schools or whether universities should be free to all then it is a no brainer. Everyone deserves a start in life. I was lucky – I didn’t come from a rich background – not by a long shot but I had good parents and good schools (well my final school wasn’t great but still – I’d had a start). If we don’t invest in pupils from the age of 3 up then what is the point of investing in them when they get to 18? Give the kids a chance in life and that is what we are doing. I am proud of that. Yes I’d love free education for everyone – at every level – but when you can’t afford it then you can’t afford it.

Now obviously this is how it is today. If in 5-10 years the country is back on its feet then I would seriously look at things again. Throw tuition fees on to the bonfire and rejoice. Heck I’d even be down with an extra 1p on Income Tax to pay for a better and fairer state run education system. People though don’t like tax rises and to pay for university education then people would be up in arms. However they are also up in arms that people have to pay for higher education. So people want everything without having to pay extra for it. Sadly that isn’t how it works.

So there we have it. I have chosen not to join a political party at this juncture not because of how the party are acting – but because of how the grass roots are. All these Lib Dems saying that Nick Clegg is a Tory and now Vince Cable is a Tory and I’ve even seen lots of comments over Danny Alexander today. It screams of throwing the toys out of the pram. Lib Dems would prefer to be in opposition so they can bash the government and not take any responsibility rather than put into action some of our core values. We can’t afford them all and even if we could – we didn’t win the election so the country doesn’t want us to.

Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Danny Alexander et al are all Liberal Democrat MPs and members of the Cabinet. Yes they would like to do some other things than they are but in the real world that isn’t how it can go down. Do you want a Liberal Democrat party who can in part help to shape the country or do you only want a Liberal Democrat party that can do everything it wants? I prefer the former but from what I read the majority only want us to do and get everything we stand for. I can’t agree with that and so for now I can’t join a party where the grass roots do not agree with my Point of View.

So instead of getting involved in local politics and let’s be honest – I have a serious interest in that area and possibly even more. I will spend the autumn and winter working on another time consuming project. When that is finished at some point in 2011 I’ll once again survey the landscape of the Lib Dem party to see if the grass roots have grown up or whether they prefer to stay in their cocoon, where they prefer to moan at the things we don’t want to do than praise the fact that we are doing some genuinely good things.

I find this all a little bit disappointing butfor now that is just how it is.

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Balls by name…

I’m not sure what I can say really. Anyone who has encountered Ed Balls’ in the past few weeks upon their television screen or on the radio air waves will be shocked by one thing – this man genuinely believes he can be the next leader of the Labour party and in turn the next Prime Minister of this country.

I know. Insane.

Last night whilst watching the interested ‘Five Days That Changed Britain’ – which can still be seen on the BBC iplayer service (for another seven days) it was clear to me that everyone who took part spoke openly and honestly except one man – Mr Ed Balls.

He used his talking head appearances to bash Nick Clegg over the head. Everything was a snide remark aimed at the leader of the Lib Dems and the Deputy Prime Minister. It was like a personal vendetta that he wanted out there. He blamed Nick Clegg solely for Gordon Brown not being PM any more. It had nothing to do with anyone else, it was Nick’s fault.

The actual issue turned out quite simply that Nick Clegg felt he couldn’t prop up a Prime Minister who hadn’t been elected in the first place and then during his first election campaign lost. He felt that there was a future with a Lib-Lab deal (although the numbers wouldn’t have made it easy) but that future could not involve PM Brown and the then PM just wouldn’t let it go. It was Brown as PM or no-one in the Labour party, an act that might be seen by Labourites as selfish. The keys to #10 were there for the Labour party but in a straight choice between himself and his party – Brown chose himself.

Back to Ed Balls. He was the closest to PM Brown and has a legitimate chance of winning the leadership contest even though the Miliband brothers are the favourites. His performance on Question Time after the election showed that he wasn’t living in the real world. Circumstances had changed and the events in Greece in the week running up to the General Election changed everything.

The deficit needed cutting and it needed cutting now. If a country in the Euro Zone could be in the brink of bankruptcy then any country could go. As the country with the largest deficit in the EU, clearly the UK would’ve been next had the World’s money leaders sniffed that we couldn’t actually pay back the money.

I see people saying that these cuts are brutal and it is going to far. If you lose your job and have a mortgage to pay do you keep spending the same amount each month on things that aren’t bare essentials? Do you cancel up your Sky subscription? Does the gym membership go out of the window? Are nights out on the town cut back on? Of course you do and for the country it is no different.

Yes I like the idea of free swimming for all kids and OAPs but at this current juncture we simply can’t afford it. I love the idea of kids getting excellent buildings to learn in but is that sustainable at the moment? No it’s not. Hard decisions have to be made to show the people who have lent us money that we are cutting our spending and we will be able to pay them back in time. If we don’t these debts are called in now and frankly we don’t have the money to pay for it and then we are all screwed.

On Question Time after the election, Ed Balls still said that he would spend our way out of debt by investing in public services and jobs, which is good in one way but all that means is we get into more debt and at some point you have to cut your losses and tighten your belt.

Sadly that is the situation we find ourselves in (thank you financial sector) but that is the real world. I live in it, you live in it, everyone lives in it except Ed Balls. If he becomes Labour leader then it is a slam dun that they’ll still be forming the opposition comes the autumn of 2015, you can bet your bottom dollar on it.

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Politics. At times it is far too tribal for me.

I love Politics. I really do. However some things just piss me off and one major things that gets up my wick is just how tribal it is. MPs are like bleating Lambs arguing for argument’s sake. Labour pretty much oppose everything the current government are doing and to be fair it was vice versa when it was the other way round. Yes I know they’ll always be differences but it some things surely deep down everyone agrees. However even if this was the case then I doubt we’d see it.

I was out the other night doing my Hospital Radio show and I commented that I’m on the verge of finally nailing my colours to the mast and joining the Liberal Democrats. I have core liberal values and always have done and agree with the vast majority of what they stand for. Someone then made a comment stating that I ‘might as well join the Tories instead’ and then I bit back quite fiercely. Just because the party I have long time supported are in a coalition government with said party doesn’t mean that I am one of them. I disagree with several of their policies and key ideals but this is how it is. Are people so narrow-minded and hidebound that they can’t see the world for what it really is?

A coalition was formed because the British electorate didn’t vote any one party into office. The choices were either a minority government, which in this time of financial instability would’ve gone down like a lead balloon in the City or a coalition. The obvious partners for a coalition were the Liberal Democrats and somehow it came together. Five months in and watching Question Time last night one of the questions from the audience was, ‘Could the Liberal Democrats survive?’ and really can you get a more preposterous question? Then a young lady chirped up from the back of the room and basically said that she knew of people who had voted Lib Dem to keep the Tories out and now the Lib Dems got together with the Tories that they’ll never trust them again.

Well guess what folks – The Tories aren’t in government. At some point will people not realise this? The government is a coalition because two major parties. This isn’t a straight Conservative government. They aren’t getting their full manifesto in. The Lib Dems are being able to get some of their policies on to the statute. So by voting for Lib Dem in a way you did keep the Tories out. Just because they are a senior partner in the coalition doesn’t mean they get to do everything they want.

I have always had it pounded into me that I should hate the Tories by my family. My dad says they are all as bad as each other and couldn’t care les but my Mum is just plain anti-tory and will vote for whoever is most likely to keep them out wherever she lives. I know a lot of people like that. It is all just tribal. I look at policies and vote for who I want to win – not for who I want to beat a certain party. In the 2010 General Election I lived in Southend West and it was a pretty safe Conservative seat. Peter Welch the Lib Dem PPC ran a pretty good campaign here and actually increased the Lib Dem vote by 5.4% to become the clear #2 party in the constituency but the Tory incumbant David Amess has been an MP since 1983, first in neighbouring Basildon and then Southend West. My own mother who hates the Tories actually thinks this guy is a good Local MP and is very active in the community but her hatred of his party would never allow her to have voted for him.

I don’t know David at all as I had only recently moved into the area so I have no idea what he is like. I have spoken to Peter on several occasions and he seems like a good bloke. He ran a good campaign and should David retire anytime soon then Southend West might be a chink in the blue armour that is this whole region. So I often wonder do people vote on a national level or on a local level? I have heard of terrible local MPs who get in time and again because the party loyalists will vote along the lines that they always have.

Then on the other end of the spectrum you have these rouge constituencies that keep returning an MP even though the rest of the region is a different colour. For example down in Portsmouth South. Mike Hancock has been an MP for that constituency twice (1984-1987) and since 1997. He is a well-known local MP who is very active in his local community and people feel like they know him. He has also been very active at a local level so it seems obvious this guy cares and does his job and stands up for the people he represents. Considering in 2005 he was up against the daughter of popular local TV personality Fred Dinenage and still brought home Portsmouth South it says a lot about his standing in the city – maybe not the party he stands for but him personally and that is how I think things should be. A good local MP who stands up for his constituency is what we elect.

Anyway as per usual I’ve gone way off course with this blog – let’s try to bring it back to the original point…

Not everything the Lib Dems do is great. Not everything the Tories do is evil and Labour don’t get everything wrong either. Just because my leanings are towards one party doesn’t mean I’ll blindly follow them if I disagree with what they are doing. As it stands I think they are doing what is right in the national interest and tackling the deficit is, in my opinion, the biggest problem on the plate. Now I vehemently hate any idea on a cap on immigration – certainly on skilled workers. Why would a country ever want to cap the amount of skilled people who can enter our workforce. That to me is sheer lunacy and has been done to pander to the xenophobic undertones that have arisen in our communities since certain Eastern European countries have joined the EU coupled with the recession. It flat-out disgusts me. It goes against my values as a person and against Liberal ethics. However it is what it is and for now there is little we can do about it. Yes we could throw our toys out of the pram, pull out of the coalition and collapse the government but what will that do? All it will do is bring a second General Election which the Tories would probably win outright and then they can do whatever they like. As it stands we can placate them on certain other policies and get some of us own in.

Today we saw Ken Livingstone win the Labour nomination for Mayor of London and unless something radically changes then I will be backing Ken. He isn’t a Lib Dem but his policies are pretty clear and in my opinion they are what is best for London. Invest heavily in public transport and keep it cheap. The motorists won’t like the western extension to the congestion charge but if we had first-rate public transport then a lot of those in cars can and will use the tube, the buses and the DLR etc… – London is a giant of the World and it should have a public transport infrastructure to go along with its global position. Just because I’m Lib Dem leaning doesn’t mean I should automatically back the Lib Dem candidate – whoever it may be – but that just might be me who is wrong in that. Once you support a party you do so through everything.

Politics should be about the here and now and not about the past. Parties move around the politically spectrum all the time. Listen to what the party has to say and listen to what your local MP or PPC believes in. Take time out to research for who you want and not for who you think you should want. We all get one vote – whether we are a cleaner or a CEO. One vote each and we all get an equal say in how the country is run. Embrace learning and finding out what you think and what the other who want to speak for you think. Don’t just vote one way because of party loyalty – that is not how it should be. If parties change their policies then so should people change their vote.

Whether I join the Lib Dems or not I don’t know but what I do know is that in the main – that is the party that by far best represents my values and ethics. That might not be the case in 10, 20, 30 years and I’ll always keep a tab on what they are saying and doing as well as what the other parties are saying and doing. But for now – I am proud of what the Lib Dems are doing and I am very much holding my nerve. Whilst deep down I do fear for the long-term prospects of the party, I also know that if we do a good job in power and curbing some of the less popular Conservative traits and helping stabilise this country that the party can and indeed should survive and flourish.

The referendum on AV will be a big moment for the party but that is a ramble for another day…

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The Budget Cuts

Cuts are never fun. Budget cuts even less so. As a raging liberal who believes in high taxes and excellent public services you may think that I am against the budget cuts. However this is not the case. My ideology is what it is – an ideology. At this current juncture I prefer to step into the real world as things are not all sweetness and light out there. Last night I had a long debate with a socialist who preferred not to be a realist and believes that we can recoup all the money just by enforcing tax a bit stronger. Yeah… Also he believes that the money is there and the need for cuts is one big lie because that is what the Tory party ideology wants to do – shrink the public sector. Now they might do but when you look at things in the real world – a party (or in this case a coalition government) doing these swinging budget cuts when the party has no overall majority and aren’t exactly;y well liked anyway just because they might ideologically want to do so is just flat out insane.

If they could shrink the public sector slowly but surely to reach their ideological goals then they would. People don’t notice things when they are slowly taken away from then. It is like an addiction. If you smoked 20 a day and then suddenly stopped then you’d know all about it. However if you smoked 20 a day and went down to 19 one week, 18 the next and so on, you wouldn’t notice the loss of the nicotine so much. It is the same with Public Services. If a council run day care centre closes one month and an outreach programme for young kids closes three months later than you won’t notice it as much unless you are directly effected. If both of these happen at the same time along with Car Park charges going up and a local school being closed then people notice and people begin to moan loudly.

I likened the country’s debt situation to that of an individual. If you owe say £5,000 and you can’t pay it back the way you are spending money then you make changes. You stop going out as much, stop buying new clothes, you budget harder. You don’t spend more money to get out of that debt because at some point the people you owe money to will want the money back. I was informed that my argument was moronic and you can’t liken a country’s debt to an individuals and I ask ‘why not?’. A debt is a debt is a debt. You owe money to people who at some point will want their money back. After the events of Greece in late April/early May of 2010 a lot of these money people are kind’ve twitchy to say the least.

The United Kingdom has the largest deficit in the EU and would be the next country to hit the rocks. Greece was bailed out because if Greece went the whole of the EuroZone was in serious trouble. Spain and Portugal both had their credit rating taken down a notch before the rot was stopped. We however are not in the EuroZone even though we are in the EU. So countries such as Germany who put together the bail-out package would be less inclined to do so for us as the rot wouldn’t spread as fast as we are using two different currencies. Also at some point you have to stop the bleeding and unless we shape up we are going to be the country that people let sink.

So the only real thing is to is swift and harsh cuts in public spending to right our debt, yes? Well that is where people start thinking about themselves. Jobs will be lost and it will not be pretty. As a country we’ve been spending more money that we’ve got coming in. As anyone who is either unemployed, or is a student or works from home as has the TV on in the background whenever you hear ‘but we’ve got more going out than we’ve got coming in’ you know it’s a bad sign. They usually call Ocean Finance and all is well with the world and they buy a new car but I don’t think we can consolidate all our loans into one easy payment. No-one is lending us that type of money in one hit.

So we need to pay off the loans but people don’t want any budget cuts. Sadly I can see no way in which both of these goals can be achieved successfully. Plenty more qualified people than me have looked at the finances and come up with the same solution. Some believe that we can do both – well you know what – we flat out can’t. So now you have to look at scales of budget cuts. Just how quickly do we want to get our house in shape? Do we want to have a rough few years and then come out of it stronger or do we want a bad couple of decades but without the harshness of the next few years. That is the question everyone has to ask themselves. I for one would like the country to get out of debt ASAP as the marketplace is still a very volatile one. If any other country hits the skids then we are in trouble unless the money lenders can see we are getting our house in order.

I’m lucky enough to know someone very high up at one of the banks who took me through exactly what happened and why we are in the mess we are in. He accepted that the banks were certainly not blameless but in the end it all came down to simple cashflow and panic. The banks and even Lehman Brothers who were let go by the US (which was in his words ‘the biggest mistake ever made’) had enough money. However the money was all tied up in long-term investments and one bank wanted their money back from them now. Lehman Brothers could provide that money but whilst they were getting it together – another bank heard that the other bank were demanding all their money back now so they also asked for all their money back. A domino effect in a game of chinese whispers erupted and suddenly everyone Lehman Brothers owed money to wanted the money back – and now – and they couldn’t get the capital together. They were broke and they weren’t bailed out and subsequently went under.

All the other banks looked at each other and said ‘if Lehman Brothers can go under – we can all go under’ and then suddenly the banks had a very fast game of raising capital and kicking to the curb long-term projects. They all needed money in their accounts there and then otherwise they may go under as well. That is why they stopped lending money except to those who they were very confident they would get the money back from. Banks weren’t going to gamble anymore under this environment.

So on to Greece. Exactly the same thing happened. Lots of banks lend money to countries all the time. They see countries as about as good an investment as you can get. So when suddenly Greece looked like it may default on its loans all the banks wanted all their money back that day. Greece didn’t have the money and therefore they were going bankrupt until they were bailed out by Germany & friends. Those who believe that it can’t happen here are quite frankly deluded as all it takes is a game of chinese whispers and panic and suddenly we are staring down the barrel.

Moving on – people are saying that these cuts will hurt the working class and they are right. I’m from working class stock (albeit I now live in a middle class apartment and have a middle class income) but my background is working class. I can see why they are up in arms and scared about the cuts. Jobs going, services going, things just getting worse and worse and worse. However if we don’t cut the deficit and quickly then one of these banks we owe money to will want it back and want it back now. We’ll be able to pay them but if other banks start demanding their money back then we are screwed and would need a bail-out or we’d go under.

Now a bankrupt Britain would hurt the working classes far more than the middle or upper classes. Why you ask. Well because the middle and upper classes will still have cash. The working classes generally do not have cash and have mortgages and need help from the banks to cover bills and such. Small businesses also often need loans from banks to invest in their futures. In a bankrupt Britain the banks will not be lending any money. In fact they very well might demand all their money back straight away and most people with mortgages for instance will not have that money. They will default on their mortgage and be declared bankrupt. The banks would take over these properties and sell them to cash buyers or those with a big deposit and therefore a small mortgage and risk for them. So middle and upper classes buy more and more properties as they can afford to and then rent them out to the working classes. The rich get richer and the poor can’t make a step on to the property ladder.

Yes the savage cuts the government are lining up are not good but they are a necessary evil. Without them the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is time for us to get our finances in shape and bite the bullet for a few years. If we don’t then this country will go to the dogs sooner rather than later. I prefer short term hit and long term stability to short-term head in the sandism and long-term worry.

This isn’t about ideology and shouldn’t be a debate along party lines. This is about getting out of this financial mess we are in and the best way to do that. I think the country turning things around and cutting the debt is by far the most important thing – and so does the city. I know people don’t care what the city thinks but if the city doesn’t like what the government are doing then we are done folks – we are done and bankruptcy will happen and I’ll tell you this for nought. If you think the proposed cuts are bad now – imagine what they’ll be in a bankrupt Britain.

The future is not long-term it is short-term. Let’s not run before we can walk. Get our finances sorted today and we’ll live to potentially see a brighter tomorrow. If we don’t then the future may be very bleak for the majority of us.

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