Month: October 2007

Electing independents isn’t the same as electing Lib Dems

Liberal Democrats have a tendency to sympathise with independent election candidates. I think it’s a mixture of the rebellious streak and the community campaigning instincts of Liberal Democrats. But I worry when Liberal Democrats actively support independent candidates either by encouraging them to stand or by standing aside to give them a free run at an election. That is why I am concerned by a posting made by Stewart Arnold on his blog.

The argument that Stewart makes is that the only way to make the issue of Humber Bridge tolls and the bridge’s debt a major national issue is for some single-issue independents to stand against the Labour MPs who represent the constituencies on the south side of the Humber Bridge. Whilst I understand his logic, I do not agree that independents are the answer, and I certainly do not agree with promoting independents without at least first working out if they are liberals, and secondly without seeing if we could do the job more effectively instead.

Many single-issue independents tend to be very focused on one issue, and once that issue is removed they either have no idea what to do (which is why so many independent-run councils are really run by council officers) or they turn out to have some quite unpleasant views on other subjects. It is also quite difficult for one independent to make a difference, whereas one Lib Dem as a part of a bigger group is a lot more effective. By stepping aside, we are also of course putting the election campaign entirely in the hands of that independent, who may be personally sound but their campaigning skills might not be. At least with a Liberal Democrat there is the professional support to help get the person elected.

There are of course some very different precedents to these sorts of campaigns. Electing Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest has not saved Kidderminster Hospital, but at least when the Lib Dems decided not to stand against him it was with the knowledge that he was also supportive of the Liberal Democrats in some other areas as well. In Dunfermline we have fought hard against raising Forth Road Bridge tolls, and as a result Willie Rennie won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, thereby giving the campaign more clout than it would have had otherwise.

So surely instead of pushing for some random independents, the better strategy would be to promote the election of more Liberal Democrats who can make it a key part of their campaigning. It shouldn’t be that difficult either. The Lib Dems run the councils in North East Lincolnshire and Hull, the party has just elected its first councillor in North Lincolnshire, Hull North is a key Lib Dem/Labour marginal seat at the next General Election, and perhaps even more significantly Stewart Arnold is the partner/husband of the local Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis and is her “Policy and Communications Advisor”.

YORKSHIRE GUIDON: Perhaps a couple of independent candidates might force the Humber Bridge debt into the national arena

Leadership campaign myths: Nick Clegg spoke without notes

One of the common myths that seems to have done the rounds during the first week of the Liberal Democrat leadership campaign (has it only been that long?) is that Nick Clegg in some Cameronesque move decided to speak without notes at his campaign launch. It seems to be the media that has pushed the line, but it has then been jumped on by those who wish to see him as all style and no substance.

The reality is that he did speak with notes, they were on a lectern next to him throughout his speech. The difference from usual is that the lectern was put on one side rather than between him and the audience. If you watch the speech carefully, you can see that he often looks to his left to refer to them. Given that he was speaking to a room full of local party members, rather than just a room of journalists, it was a speaking style with which they would be very familiar.


Different elections should be on different days

There has inevitably been a lot of criticism about the conduct of the Scottish Parliamentary Elections earlier this year.  Some have tried to blame the electronic counting, some the use of STV and some the layout of the ballot paper.  I won’t go in to the issues of electronic counting as Joe Otten has already written on this, and he has a far better understanding of the issue.  But one of the recommendations that has emerged is something that I have long thought sensible anyway – having different elections on different days.

To me the logic is simple.  If you are voting on different issues and to different bodies you should do them on different days to ensure people are clear what they are voting on.  I accept this is by no means perfect as it is common for mid-term local elections to end up being a referendum on the performance of the Government, but it isn’t always so and in the case of somewhere like Sheffield the local election results have often bucked the national trend.

Scotland is far from unique in having this issue.  Indeed, it is quite common for different elections to be held on the same day.  Apart from England often ending up with county council elections on the same day as general elections, countries like Sweden actually plan for all elections to be on the same day every four years but with separate ballot papers that are different colours.

Personally I would prefer to see things arranged so that we had fixed terms with different elections each year.  This would mean that political parties would have to keep campaigning, but it would give the different elected bodies four years in which to get on and do something and it would allow for elections to be on different issues.  Year one could be General Elections, year two local councils, year three national/regional assemblies/parliaments and year four could be Europe.  This does of course suppose that everywhere has a devolved assembly of some sort and that all councils are unitary, but that is for a different posting.

BBC SCOTLAND: Probe says May poll failed voters

JOE OTTEN: Scotland’s butterfly ballot

Nick Clegg’s campaign off to a flying start

It is unbelievable that it is only four days since Ming Campbell announced his resignation, as so much has happened since then. Today though was the biggest event of the week, with Nick Clegg launching his campaign to be elected Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

The event was held in Sheffield, which I think caused some grumbling amongst journalists, but as a Sheffield MP it was only right and it made so much sense to hold the event in the city that elected him to parliament, with the members who worked so hard to make that possible, and where he has learnt so much that is guiding his election campaign.

I suppose I am feeling particularly chuffed this evening though because I had the job of finding the venue and, with others, organising the launch. I have lived in Sheffield most of my life, and yet I have never had to find a venue or organise anything quite like this before. But then who has? I spent ages trailing around the city centre trying to find somewhere suitable, but in the end the place I found was literally one minute from my front door. I had never been in the Workstation before, but it proved to be the ideal venue and the staff were incredibly helpful when they realised what a big event it was going to be. The Workstation is a building that houses various creative and technological businesses, and so it looked really good as a venue and was conveniently in the city centre and just over the road from the train station.

As it was, the event ran incredibly smoothly and it showed Nick Clegg at his best. I’m not saying that just to spin how good he is in the hope that people will elect him (I have always promised never to lie or spin on this website), but so many people came up to me at the end and remarked on how good they thought Nick had been and well he had spoken, that it is the honest thing to say. In fact in the questions after his speech, it was remarkable how supportive and enthusiastic the members were in backing Nick when they thought a question from a journalist was unfair, as they instinctively just applauded Nick every time. It was really nice actually to have the launch with ordinary members rather than a select group of people or just with journalists, it all seemed really down to earth whilst also looking professional.

The only downer was Michael Crick challenging Nick on his walkabout and then later on in an interview on how the domain name had been registered in July by Richard Allan. It is such a complete non-story as registering the domain name that includes your own name, when you are a public figure, is considered pretty good practice to stop anyone else using it instead, and there wasn’t anything at that domain until this week when Richard launched the campaign to get Nick to stand.

I am really enjoying this campaign so far, even though it has all happened so suddenly. I am absolutely shattered and am not getting enough sleep, but there is a real buzz and I am learning so much as it goes by. In fact, although I have always rated Nick, he particularly impressed me today and made me really see him as a leader.

Anyway, just to finish off. If anyone reading this is backing Nick Clegg to be the next Leader of the Liberal Democrats, please sign up as a supporter on the supporters’ website:



Yet another resignation… but where now?

The last 12 hours have certainly been eventful.  Only an hour after getting back to Sheffield from my weekend away I heard the news about Ming Campbell’s resignation.

I’m still feeling pretty stunned.  Despite all the criticism I just didn’t believe Ming would decide to step down in this way, and it’s such a shame he’s ended up going like this.  His comment that he didn’t want the speculation about his leadership standing in the way of the party’s success is a good measure of the sort of person he is.  He wouldn’t want to go, but he realised it was something he had to do for the sake of the party’s future.  I think his demise is largely as a result of the media carping about his age, but also the battle between Gordon Brown and David Cameron has led to the Lib Dems being squeezed out of the debate.

As I have written on here before, I think Ming has done some good stuff as leader.  He has reunited the party after Charles Kennedy’s departure, he has sharpened up some of the ways the party works, he has helped develop the party’s policy in some different ways and he has tried to push forward some of the newer talents in the parliamentary party.

Understandably, there is now lots of speculation as to who should take over.  I know from my own point of view of working for Nick Clegg that his phone has now gone mad and he has been inundated with people wanting know what he intends to do in the leadership campaign that the party is about to have.  Personally, I really hope that Nick Clegg runs for so many reasons:

I first knew Nick when he was my MEP in the East Midlands and I was impressed from the start.  It was always slightly hit and miss as to whether the party would win a place in the European Parliament in the region, but Nick not only led a good campaign, but he then used his position as the MEP to develop the Liberal Democrats in the region.  The party then went on to win Chesterfield, and now looks set to win even more seats, and so his work on the ground has been a real long-term boost to the party’s success in that region.

He is bright, articulate, intelligent and presentable, but is also incredibly down to earth and fun to work with.  He isn’t aloof, you can have a normal conversation with him about day to day things, and many of the people in the party that he is closest to are ordinary party members and activists rather than just the great and the good.

I’ve have also always found Nick to be very inclusive.  As a member of his staff he actually wants to know your opinion, if there is a disagreement on what you should be doing on something he will debate with you rather than just bark an order.  It is really quite refreshing and he values the opinion of everyone regardless of how high up or how lowly you are in the pecking order within the membership or staff.

Finally though, Nick is also a real liberal who I believe is in tune with the majority of the party.  The characterisation of him as a right-winger is quite frankly ridiculous and a gross distortion of where he really is politically.  Although right and left is a huge simplification of politics as a whole and the Liberal Democrats in particular, I would probably, if pushed, have to place myself on the centre-left.  Despite this, I have happily campaigned for people in the past who are on the right simply because they are Liberal Democrats, but it is very different when it comes to picking someone I would want as a party leader.  In that case I would have to go with someone that I feel in tune with and on a similar wavelength to myself.  Nick is and so I am happy to support him.

Things have changed so rapidly in the last few hours, it promises to be a very interesting few months ahead.

If anyone else reading this wants Nick Clegg to be the next Leader of the Liberal Democrats, one of his supporters has started a Facebook group of people who want him to stand and win.

Mike German doesn’t resign as Welsh Lib Dem Leader

So after all the anticipation and hints in the media to the contrary, it is clear that Mike German is carrying on a the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats in the Assembly.  I think Mike actually quite enjoyed all the intrigue and guessing by the media as to his intentions.  The announcement that he intends to stay on as leader for another year and then stand down, was nalso ot one of the options that had been considered in the press so it took all by surprise.

I think it makes some sense for Mike to do what he is doing.  Like Lembit yesterday, Mike set out a challenge for the party to fight harder to emphasise its distinctiveness in Welsh politics.  Contrasting the cosy consensus of Labour and Plaid, (with Plaid ditching many of its key policies to get in to government), and the Conservatives wanting to reintroduce some of the  right-wing, privately run competition in public services which were so discredited after Thatcher and which in rural areas are simply impractical, with Liberal Democrat principles he made a clear bid for a more community driven approach which would bring control over services back to the people.  If Mike can push the party along the road to clarify where it stands and what it would do differently, whilst emphasising the party’s successes in running Cardiff, Swansea, Bridgend and Wrexham, he could leave the party in very strong shape for his successor.

The conference has been surprisingly upbeat despite the underperformance of the party in the Welsh Assembly elections.  It is also interesting that despite there only being a group of six AMs, three of those – Kirsty Williams, Jenny Randerson and Peter Black – are considered worthy and credible successors.  It should be a lot tougher than that to find a new leader after two elections where the party has stood still electorally, but it looks as though there will be a genuine interesting competition.  It will be interesting to see in the coming year how each of the potential successor outline their vision for the party’s future.  The three possible contenders are all very different and have different styles, and with Mike outlining his principles, Lembit urging the party to be bold and radical, I feel pretty upbeat about the party’s future in Wales.