Month: September 2007

Student noise levels can go up as well as down

I wish I would stop trying puns as titles for my postings as they are usually dire and seem to only make sense to me.  Particularly when you have James Graham’s recent “Knick-knack-Paddick-whack” to compete with, I might have to give up trying to do humour. But anyway, that wasn’t the reason for my posting.

When I moved in to my flat in May I was pleasantly surprised that living in the city centre was a lot quieter than I had anticipated.  After the last week I am now going to revise that.  Previously the only disturbances had been the occasional early morning start at the building site next to my flat (4.30am one morning!) and the one night when I was woken up by someone in the street shouting “Billy” over and over again at 2.30am.  Whoever Billy is, someone had clearly lost him.

This week things have been very different.  My flat is between the city centre proper and Sheffield Hallam University Student Union.  I know that should spell trouble, but my bedroom faces quite a narrow street that is not really much of a thoroughfare.  However this week I had to contend with noise from a fun fair designed to welcome freshers to the city, people singing drunkenly as they walk down the road, people throwing bottles of lager down the street, people shouting for no obvious reason, and tonight’s highlight which was two people brawling whilst a woman stood and screamed.  I’ve ended up being woken up a few times in the early morning.

My hope is that this is early in the term exuberance and it will quieten down as student bank balances diminish.  I now feel really old writing this!  Grumpy old men here I come.

Kosheen at Plug

Kosheen have been around for years, seven to be precise, and yet they only released their third album this week. But when I went to their gig at Plug last night you realise that despite the relatively small number of songs they’ve done, amongst them are some pretty brilliant tunes.

The first thing that struck me when I got there was the huge age range of the people there, but then Kosheen are a band that are difficult to pigeon-hole. Some are dance tracks, some are drum & bass, some are rock, some is electro, but what unites them all is that they are traditional songs in the sense they have a beginning, a middle and an end and a chorus that is inevitably a catchy and striking tune. I suppose that is what makes them appeal to so many people. The youngest person there was about 13 and the oldest was about 43.

The thing that really makes the gig special is Sian Evans’ powerful and distinctive voice that sounds so much better live in a dark club. They have some quite dark and industrial imagery to go with the music, and that goes really well with the tracks. Sian Evans clearly loves performing and really gets the audience dancing, particularly with older tracks like Hide U, Hungry, Suicide and All In My Head, no matter how good or bad you are at dancing. But even the tracks from the new album Damage, got people going. They might be new and less well known, but you would never have really known from the passion with which people took to them. I already loved Overkill but the song Damage was really striking, and as the first track they performed it set the tone for the night. When the night sadly ended, you then realise how many other brilliant songs Kosheen have done that weren’t performed. A thoroughly brilliant night and I am so pleased I decided to go. You definitely sensed that everyone had loved the night, whereas at previous gigs you find some people who weren’t really up for it but went anyway.

The support act was Rochelle who has a dress-sense that is a cross between Amy Winehouse and Girls Aloud, but with a voice that is closer to Gwen Stefani. The songs she did were pretty good, although they sounded more like the sort of stuff that would go down well in a club rather than being big chart hits. As much as Rochelle kept trying to generate some atmosphere and get people to dance, Plug was too empty at that point for it to work as well as it should have done. So it came as no surprise when I thought she said at the end “thank you, you’ve been a wash out”. She actually said “thank you, we’ve been Rochelle”.

I’m not competitive, but…

Iain Dale has published his latest list of the top 100 Liberal Democrat blogs, and this year I come in at number 45.  I’m not sure what I have done to deserve it, but it is DOWN a whole 24 places on last year!  Mind you, I was not only stunned to appear in last year’s list, but I was even more surprised to be at number 21, so perhaps it is now a more accurate reflection of my standing.

What was worse though was being told my position in the list by Joe Taylor (On Liberty Online) who has moved UP 61 places in the last year from 91 to 30.  Although as he said to me at the time, his position is a surprise given that he hasn’t posted anything for two months.  I don’t bear a grudge really.  Maybe it’s a case of less is more, quality and not quantity etc etc.

Still, it’s good to see so many of my longest-standing Lib Dem friends in the list like Matt Davies, Alex Wilcock, Ed Maxfield, James Graham and Colin Ross, and three from Lib Dems in Sheffield – Joe Taylor, Joe Otten and my own .  When I first started blogging about four years ago (a different blog from the one I do now) everyone thought I was mad for doing it.  Today, they still think I’m mad for doing it, but they now have a blog as well.

IAIN DALE’S DIARY: Top 100 Liberal Democrat Blogs 

Yes, people are talking about the next leader, but it isn’t because they want rid of Ming

If there is one thing that struck me more than anything at this week’s conference, it is that most people are now genuinely at ease with Ming Campbell’s leadership of the party.  It is however also true that people are discussing who comes next.

What I sensed in the last week is that people are starting to understand where Ming Campbell is coming from, and appreciate that even if it is not what they would have chosen.  This is tending to be along the following lines.  Firstly, with David Cameron’s personal popularity waning, people are recognising the advantage of having a leader with experience and gravitas who is genuinely respected by the public.  Secondly, despite the hiccups in the week before, he gave a good performance in everything that he did at conference and his leader’s speech was him in top form and giving the same excellent speeches that he gave in the leadership hustings.  Thirdly, people are also seeing that he is starting to whip the party in to better shape in terms of how it operates, pushing forward the party’s talent and the campaigns the party has
run over the last year have been more dynamic and proactive.   Not all of these things can be attributed to Ming alone, but they are a part of his way of operating as a leader.

But despite this, people are openly discussing the future.  And why not?  There should be no contradiction in being content with the current leader, but also looking for which person will come next.  Ming himself has said that he will lead the party at the next election, and in to the next parliament, but he has not said that he will go on and on and on.  The Independent debate at conference with Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne was inevitably seen by many as a debate being between the most likely candidates for the leadership next time.  Apart from the fact that this assumes they will the only two contenders, which I think is unlikely, this does a disservice to two brilliant politicians who both gave important contributions to the subject of how the Lib Dems move closer to power.  Indeed it should also be quite possible for someone to say that they might one day want to stand to be leader, without it being seen either as premature or underhand.  It is sad that any MP who breaks from the line of saying “there isn’t a vacancy and I fully support Ming” is then pilloried, despite being one of the MPs that is closest to and most supportive of the current leader.

This all sounds like me painting a very rosy picture of a very loyal party and denying that there is any dissent simply because of my links to both Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne.  But this is genuinely what I detect is happening, and that view was reinforced at this week’s conference.  Most in the party have no appetite for a leadership contest before the general election, for both the positive reason that they are supportive of Ming and the negative one that it will make the party look silly.  There are of course some people who are trying to undermine Ming’s leadership, but this a fairly small group which includes some MPs but is not, from what I can tell, directly linked to any of the leadership contenders.  But why this doesn’t worry me is because I have now been in the party long enough to remember the unrelenting criticism from some who wanted Paddy Ashdown to go from the moment he started informal links with Tony Blair, and the more immediate undermining of Charles Kennedy which started well before he was finally ousted.  I suspect those who have been party members for far longer than my eleven years will remember the same happening to earlier leaders too.

The people who are undermining Ming the most is the media, and that appears to be for one reason alone.  Despite many journalists having respect for Ming as a person, they have decided on the accepted line and none will deviate from it.  The only way the Liberal Democrats can counteract it, as journalists will find dissent even where there is none, is to keep up the campaigning in their own constituency.  Opinion polls will always show a worse situation for Lib Dems than there is in reality, as the national swing assumes the electoral contest is simply between Labour and the Tories.  In so many seats, that is simply not the case anymore, and the by-elections in Sedgefield and Ealing Southall should confirm that. We need to debate the future, but we need to temper this by not losing heart and keeping up the fight in our own areas.  That’s how we’ll win, and as a result hand on an excellent legacy to whoever is the next leader.

London Mayoral Hustings

Liberal Democrat selections don’t normally generate a buzz of excitement, but yesterday afternoon’s hustings for the London mayoral candidate showed that they can and with good cause. Despite struggling to get a selection going earlier in the year, the party can now be really proud of the people that are being put forward.

Chamali Fernando was first up and completely wowed everyone in the room. She was confident, passionate, articulate and managed that difficult feat of appearing to be intelligent and serious whilst also being fun and down to earth. She was less confident in answering questions from the audience, but that should not detract from a very able performance. If she is selected she would really bring something very different to the mayoral confident and she would stand out from the other candidates.

Brian Paddick started off by setting people’s minds at rest – he is not a johnny come lately as he was a Lib Dem member ten years ago but let it lapse when he became a senior police officer. His speech was articulate, funny and assured, and he thankfully did not talk in that strange stilted formal manner that police officers often adopt on television. He proved that he was a person who could not only be a brilliant candidate but also a very able mayor, and he was very good at answering the questions. He was also good at emphasising his human side by references to his upbringing in London.

Fiyaz Mughal was the serious candidate. I know that because he told us several times in his speech. I think in other circumstances he would have come across as a very competent candidate, but up against the other two he was quite bland and everything he said was long-winded with him frequently running over time, and he gave far too much dry detail about everything which I think is inappropriate for that sort of event and won’t work on TV or the press if he is selected. In fact his slightly snide comments about the other candidates on his own website, confirms to me why he is not the person to be our candidate. The main thing in his favour though is that he is the nearest to having done a ‘normal’ job with ‘ordinary’ people.

Having listened to all three I am still sure that it has to be Brian Paddick. Despite my praise for Chamali – and she really is very good – I don’t think she’s quite ready. Whilst she would stand out as something different, something fresh and could potentially really enthuse people, I believe that Brian Paddick is a much more credible person for the job. His position as a senior and successful police officer, and the fact that he has put liberal words in to action and shown it works, gives him a headstart in a campaign. He has also faced down critics and hopefully can do the same in a campaign that could be equally challenging.




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The shameful truth behind Donnachadh McCarthy’s demise

In yesterday’s Independent, former Lib Dem member Donnachadh McCarthy slates the Lib Dems in his article “The shameful truth behind the Lib Dems’ demise”.  He is wrong on so many counts, but I will pick out two.

Firstly, he says that instead of promoting its “good policy paper on how to reduce carbon emissions” the party is instead wanting “to waste enormous political energy over the next few years tackling a pointless referendum on Europe”.  Whatever the rights and wrongs of the party’s call for a referendum on Europe rather than on the new European treaty, he completely misunderstands what the party is doing, but then as someone who resigned in a huff then that is understandable.  The party has spent considerable time over the last year promoting its green tax switch, and constituencies all over the country have been campaigning on it.  I have already been given materials to help me campaign on the extension of our environmental policy that the party adopted yesterday.  The referendum on Europe is not our big campaign idea, it is simply our view on how Europe should be tackled.  Does Donnachadh really believe that when Ming is asked about Europe he should say, “sorry I don’t talk about that I will only talk about the environment?”

Secondly, Donnachadh uses the article to give more publicity to his favourite conspiracy theory about the “corrupting influence that politial lobbying has on the internal dynamics of the party”.  I accept that there are a lot of lobbyists who used to work for the party or still have positions within it.  But that is an inevitable result of the skill sets in both jobs being similar and so moving on from being party staff to be a lobbyist or PR person is a natural career path.  But what Donnachadh forgets is the party’s campaigning is usually driven by the party’s campaigns department, and is not in the hands of a clique around the leader.  The nature of Liberal Democrats is that if the leader told its staff to not campaign on a policy, they would tell him stuff it and they would go ahead and do it anyway.  One of the traits of Lib Dems is that they are non-deferential and a little bit rebellious.  He has a fair comment about some of the unhelpful advisors that Charles Kennedy had when he was leader, but has he not noticed that Charles is now no longer leader?  The staff in Ming’s office are now a completely different set of people, many of whom are far more grounded in the party and its campaigning than those who worked for Charles.  That is one of the things that Ming has improved since he became leader.  Donnachadh really needs to learn that When it comes to things going wrong in the running of the Liberal Democrats, the answer is usually cock-up rather than conspiracy.

Donnachadh does make some valid points about expanding the appeal of the party and broadening its base of supporters and funding.  When Donnachadh was a party activist, he served a useful role in pressing for those sorts of things, and was a useful voice of conscience on party executives.  But what always undermined his arguments was his obsession about conspiracies and apparent misdemeanours when there was no evidence and his concerns were small beer when compared to all the other things in the party that he would have been better spending his energy on.  Unfortunately for Donnachadh this meant that he fell from being a useful person for the party to have around to someone who was wasting his talents on ridiculous statements and unproven allegations.  The Independent should stop giving him the oxygen of publicity for his views on the Liberal Democrats, and instead leave him to concentrate on his excellent work in promoting greener living.

INDEPENDENT: The shameful truth behind the Lib Dems’ demise

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Greenpeace wasting paper

A common complaint at party conference’s (see my last posting as well) is the amount of paper that gets wasted, making conference’s appear particularly unevironmentally friendly.  So it was with some surprise that one of the groups that today was handing out the most paper to advertise their event was Greenpeace!

I’m not criticising that as people have every right to advertise their meetings and paper can be recycled and created quite sustainably, but I just hope environmental groups don’t start complaining about wasted paper when they are doing it themselves.