I know that the pace of life can be slower in West Wales, but I was still surprised to see that nothing has happened in the area in the last 30 days:
The success of the Liberal Democrats in Derby grows and grows. This week saw the defection of large numbers of Labour activists to the Lib Dems in Derby South – Margaret Beckett’s own constituency.
I’m always very wary of mass defections, particularly when they appear to be due to a single issue, and Colin Ross, Iain Sharpe and Jonathan Calder share that view. But having spoken to members of the party there, it was apparently made very clear to the defectors before they decided to switch parties, that they should not do so just because of Lebanon. Fine, that it was the final straw, but they had to decide to switch because they support the aims of the Liberal Democrats more generally. Assuming this is the case, then the defection will be a huge boost to the party there.
Labour have argued that the dispute is really about the failed ambitions of some of the defectors rather than a principled move. I don’t know whether that is true or not, but Labour’s selection battles in Derby have been messy for some years now, which perhaps hints at a wider discontent within the party. In Derby’s all-out elections in 2002, Labour deselected their leader, mayor, chair of planning and a few other senior councillors, many of whom were the best councillors they had. This was all orchestrated to help the ambition of one Labour councillor (Hardyal Dhindsa) who wanted to be leader and so needed his people on the council if he was to succeed in that. Unfortunately for him, his people got elected, but he then lost his own seat in Boulton, accusing the electors of being racist. If the latest defectors are moving because of a similar dispute then the Lib Dems may be gaining some people with thwarted ambition but they could also be some good people. It will also be a benefit that it is not just because of the Middle East that they are gaining defectors.
I find it amazing that the party in Derby has grown so much. When I moved to Derby in 1999 the party had three councillors. When I was elected to the council it was the first time we had gained two councillors in one year as we went up from four to six. In the all-out elections of 2002 we doubled that to 12. In the year I stood down in 2003 we made further gains and became the ruling party. The party has not been without its setbacks but it is now firmly on a roll, with it now picking up seats in areas it hasn’t come close in before.
I was surprised when the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition with the Tories back in 2003 (although I think it was done out of the neccessity for there to be some form of stable coalition) but I was even more surprised to see the Tories and Labour form a coalition. The impression I get is that this coalition has not gone down well with a lot of people in Derby and the cuts that the council is having to make to keep the council tax down are even less popular. What it does seem to have done is change the mood in the council chamber quite a lot. When I was there it was generally fairly calm and although there were of course rows, it wasn’t usually nasty (except when the leader of the Tories spoke). But now things have changed and the success of the Liberal Democrats has clearly rattled both of the other two parties. What I find bizarre is the way that Labour and the Tories accuse the Lib Dems of running a dishonest local election campaign. Of all the Liberal Democrats I have worked with the ones in Derby are probably the most honest, fair and principled of the lot.
The boundary changes at the next general election will be quite substantial in Derby and the majority of the Lib Dems’ best areas move from Derby South to Derby North constituency. But despite this I will not be surprised to see a Liberal Democrat MP in Derby at the next general election. As I stood there in 2001 it makes me think how different my life could have been had I not moved away.
According to the vast majority of commentators in the last week I should probably be a plumber or an electrician now. Anyone who knows me well would find the idea that I could have a flair for either of those jobs laughable. But no, apparently if you aren’t academic then that should be your future. Filling the skills gap that eastern European migrants are currently occupying because we don’t have enough people capable of doing those jobs in this country otherwise.
But I am a example of a large swathe of the graduate population that the media thinks shouldn’t have bothered with university because they didn’t get a very good grade (2:2) or because the university they went to is classed as one of the bottom ones in the country (Staffordshire University). I suppose I should be fortunate that I at least studied a traditional subject (geography) rather than something like media studies.
But what the media forgets is that just because someone isn’t academic it doesn’t mean that they should be undertaking a vocational qualification. I studied geography because it is something I have always had a passion for. I love the subject, I can spend hours poring over maps and I like nothing better than reading about places so I can understand them better. It is a real obsession. Geography was the ideal subject for me, but the problem is that although I find it fascinating I am not good at the formal study side of it. I did enough to get a degree, but not enough to get a good degree.
There are many other people like me, not least the many other graduates of Staffordshire University or universities like it. So what should be done with us? Are we to be consigned to doing vocational courses that we wouldn’t be any good at, or instead do we just not go to university and go straight in to the world of work. After all, why should the state fund me indulging in my passion when there are many others out there who can do it to a much more academically brilliant level?
The problem with the latter solution is that many of us have gone on to do graduate level jobs. Although my current positions are not, my marketing job at Midland Mainline asked for a graduate. I simply would not have got the job without a degree, and most of the jobs that I have applied for over the years have been similar. Short of telling employers that they can’t ask for a degree unless it is absolutely crucial, it is difficult to see a solution to this.
One commentator in the last week dismissed people who work in marketing or PR because she believed that they had degrees in subjects like media studies. My experience is that the majority of people in marketing and PR tend to have fairly traditional degrees like geography, history, chemistry and English. Where these media studies graduates are I do not know.
What we need to do is stop seeing a degree as something that necessarily leads to a specific job. The reality is that unless you study something like town planning, medicine or law then this does not tend to happen. What having a degree does is give you the techniques for doing research and writing extended essays. It also gets you thinking in certain ways. It can also give you a broader understanding of the world around you as you meet more people with different experiences. And despite the criticisms of the reading and writing abilities of graduates, it is still the case that most graduates have achieved a certain standard of literacy.
Those are the benefits of a degree, and we need to stop seeing them just as a way of providing a direct source of people who can do certain jobs. I do agree there is a problem with us not having enough skilled people who can do certain jobs, but the solution to that lies in schools, where they need to get people interested in it in the first place and identifying those with the talent to do those jobs.
I’ve now added a new page to this website in the “About Anders” section which gives you a flavour of who I am and what I believe in. It’s called Credo thanks to the column in The Independent on Sunday of the same name, which asks a different person each week to say what they stand for, have as values and what things they believe are important. Like most of this website, my Credo is still very much work in progress, but I hope it gives some sense of my values and principles.
Prison does not usually work. That is something I am firm on. Prison is a last resort which should be used for the most serious crimes where someone genuinely has to be punished or is a danger to society. Otherwise the majority of crimes are better dealt with through community punishments, where they make up for what they’ve done by working in the community. This might make me sound too much of a woolly liberal, but since when was the equivalent of the American chain gang seen as a soft option?
But despite this supposedly liberal stance I was frustrated when reading the Metro on the way to work today. Despite it’s reputation as being a bit naff and being “yesterday’s news today” it is read by a lot of people. So I was annoyed when I read the comments by Lib Dem MP Mark Hunter that implied the Lib Dems don’t want any shoplifters sent to prison no matter how many times they’ve done it or how often they’ve breached community orders in the past.
But as a Lib Dem I’m used to finding the party’s MPs misquoted or quoted out of context, and so I checked the Liberal Democrat website. There in black and white was the same statement, but also included the crucial fact that he was responding directly to the report that announced that shoplifters should not be sent to prison.
I despair sometimes. I am all for rehabilitation and I believe that community service should actually be seen as a tough option and not an easy one at all. But if a shoplifter is a persistent criminal there comes a time when they run out of chances and have to be dealt with more severely. That isn’t illiberal. I would probably give people more chances than many would to do the right thing, but there comes a point when they’ve had too many chances and the punishment element kicks in.