Month: November 2008

Lets see more of Julia Neuberger

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Julia Neuberger speak before.  But after seeing her on Question Time tonight I wish we did.  She was punchy, she was outspoken, she was intelligent and she was articulate.  She also came across fairly statesmanlike, completely unlike either Douglas Alexander (who seemed out of his depth) or George Osborne. To be fair to George Osborne he did a better job than I expected and will have helped win over some of his critics.  Where it did go wrong for him though was when David Dimbleby asked him why he wouldn’t say the same as the Liberal Democrats.  It made us looks like big players. Both Adam Price (who I’ve always thought was impressive anyway) and Justin King, the CEO of Sainsbury’s, were very good too

What this programme also showed though was how the Liberal Democrat message on the economy, ID cards and a host of other issues is genuinely popular.  Yet, despite the best efforts of both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable (both of whom are on the media a fair amount) this message just isn’t getting through at the moment.  I still believe that we will get a ‘General Election bounce’ once people see more of the party, but we need to work harder in the short-term and find a way to hammer home our message.

If anyone did come out particularly badly though from this programme it was the EU’s rules on subsidies and VAT.

Neil Trafford, a few days on…

After the last few days trying to get used to the idea that he is now longer around, I wanted to write another post about Neil Trafford so here it is.

Despite a little bit of time passing, you still don’t get use to it and it’s there at the back of your mind all of the time even when you are trying to concentrate on something else.  What is worse is that even the most unlikely things are reminding me of him.  During a meal with friends tonight we were talking about shops charging for carrier bags, and then I remembered that the last time I had this conversation was at Marks and Spencer Simply Food in Crewe during the by-election there.  Neil was the agent and would sometimes joins us when we popped out to get our lunch there.

Perhaps this sounds strange, but I also feel slightly guilty for being so upset by Neil’s death.  Compared to a lot of my friends in the Liberal Democrats we hardly knew each other.  We didn’t ring each other for a chat, we weren’t confidants, we didn’t work together very often and we didn’t have that many nights out together.  So why do I feel the way I do?  Perhaps it is a testament to his personality.  Neil was outgoing and fun, and seemed to like having people around that he could work with professionally as well as get on well with socially.  So when you got to know Neil a bit you quickly felt as though you were good mates – something other people have said to me over the last few days as well.  I even found myself going to his Facebook page, as although it was upsetting, it was also a real reminder of Neil the person.

The last few days has seen a host of calls, texts, emails and Facebook messages about Neil.  It’s a shame that something so tragic has been the prompt, but it’s really reminded me how many people in the Liberal Democrats I love and yet I hardly ever speak to them most of the time.  It has brought us all together.  Most of the phone conversations I’ve had have been really stilted as no one quite knows what to say, you are just glad to have someone at the other end of the phone.  What I end up doing is resorting to a load of banal cliches, which having re-read it, I fear I also used in my previous post about Neil as well.  Despite this it has been easier to write stuff down than it has been to voice it.  How do you sum up in a conversation something that is still so much of a shock.

One thing I remembered yesterday was that actually the last time I saw him wasn’t at conference, but a Northern Staff Day in Bradford at the end of last month.  Neil was one of the trainers and lumbered me with doing an EARS training session at about an hour’s notice.  However as a result of it and me saying I wanted to do more training he asked me to help at a North West training day in the New Year.  It made me feel good that he recognised my skills and wanted me to do more – I had been meaning to ring him to ask him for the date so I could put it in my diary.

One reason I know I am upset though is very clear to me.  I am not sure whether it is appropriate to write this, but I want to get it off my chest.  Neil is also one of the most beautiful people I know and I have had a bit of a crush on him for a long time (that makes me sounds so much like a teenager).  A few years ago I finally admitted it to him and I am now very glad that I did.

When you read other people’s comments so many people have used words like fun, outgoing, personable, brilliant campaigner and so on.  But it is all true.  It isn’t until something like this happens, that you remember that whilst the politics is important, all the friendships that you make are even more important.

Finally, I now see that the Manchester Evening News have a story about Neil’s death.  It is of course written in a typically blunt news style, so it is a little hard to read but it does tell you a bit more about what happened.  The first thing you see though is his photo, so if you are going to read it take a deep breath before clicking on the link.

My previous post is here.

The end of MFI and Woolies

I’m astonished how much comment the possible demise of MFI and Woolworths has created on Lib Dem Blogs.  But here I am, adding to the debate as well.  I suppose it’s just because they are such well known names and it isn’t that common that two well known companies are at risk of disappearing.

The demise of MFI is, whilst terrible for its staff, not exactly a big loss to the furniture world.  My experience of MFI furniture is that it is shoddy and poorly made and doesn’t last long at all.  For all its faults (such as the completely incomprehensible instruction booklets using screws that you have never seen before), IKEA furniture is at least robust and sturdy when it is built.

If I’m honest though, the disappearance of Woolworths does genuinely feel a shame.  I suppose that is slightly hypocritical of me, after all I couldn’t tell you the last time I went in to one.  And when I did I suspect it was just because I was passing one and needed a drink or a snack.  That’s hardly enough to sustain a 800-odd chain of stores.  What is going to be the biggest loss though, again apart from all the people who will lose their jobs, is the effect its demise will have on low-rent small towns.  There are a host of places, often slightly rundown or a bit off the beaten track, whose only big store is Woolworths.  I suppose that is changing with the rise and rise of Tesco, but it is still the case in many places.  It is those places where I suspect the stores make the least money but where they are also the only shop that provides a wide range of general household items that no one else sells.

As Liberal Democrats we all, quite rightly, bemoan the loss of independent retailers from local communities, but we shouldn’t forget that there are also certain large chains that actually provide as vital a local service as small shops.  One of these is of course the Post Office, which we spend a lot of time campaigning to save.  Whilst I am not advocating saving Woolworths for the public good, its importance in some communities, as well as to the people who work there, is often overlooked.

Neil Trafford

It’s so hard to write this.  As some of you may know, Neil Trafford has died in a car accident.  I wasn’t sure if I should write anything here so soon, but when I started writing things down I found that although it was upsetting it was also helpful.

Neil was one of those amazing people who was not only a really committed Liberal Democrat and a phenomenal campaigner, but was also great fun to be with, was very outgoing and sociable and had a real normal life outside of the party.

The first time I saw Neil was at my first Liberal Democrat Youth and Student Conference in York.  It must have been about 1996.  We never actually met but I remembered him and I later found out many years later that he remembered me.

It was a few years later through mutual friends and through both working in campaigning for the party, that we really got to know each other properly.  As Campaigns Officer for the North West, Neil was key to a lot of our election successes in the region.  He was also the agent in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, as well as being a councillor himself in Manchester.

Over the years Neil and I got to know each other quite well and there’s been some really fun times at conferences and during election campaigns but, as is often the case in the Lib Dems, we never really saw each other enough to become particularly close friends.  In fact I remember thinking after the last time I saw him at conference in Bournemouth, that we really should see more of each other given that we got on so well and that we lived so close – he in Manchester and myself in Sheffield.

Neil was always so much the life and soul of the party (in both senses of the term), that this will be a huge shock to a lot of people in the Liberal Democrats.  For me, he is also the first friend of my own age to die, which perhaps makes it even more of a shock.

Like Alex Folkes, I have a host of anecdotes about Neil but here isn’t the place to write about them.  I am sure however that a lot of people will be reminiscing over the weeks to come.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Molly Dineen Interview at Doc/Fest

Yesterday I went to see the Molly Dineen Interview at Sheffield Doc/Fest.  I’ve been a bit of a fan of her films ever since I saw The Heart of the Angel and The Lord’s Tale and so this was a great chance to find out more about her other work, and about Molly Dineen herself and how she puts her films together.

The interview was conducted by Peter Dale, formerly of Channel 4, and rather than a chronological discussion of her films it looked at how she finds the general topics for her films as well as more specifically the characters she shows in them.  It also covered the way she gets the films to work and in particular how she manages to get a candid portrayal of the people involved without embarassing them.  The interview was accompanied by clips from many of her different films.

What I like about Molly Dineen’s films is not only the honesty in them, (although I suppose all documentaries carry the agenda of the person who makes them), but the subjects she chooses.  Both The Heart of the Angel and The Lord’s Tale looked at British institutions – the London Underground and the House of Lords respectively – and that runs through a lot of the films she has done.  Even her films on Geri Halliwell and Tony Blair I suppose look at aspects of British life.

The moment of yesterday’s interview was when she showed a clip from the Tony Blair Party Political Broadcast that she did back in the mid 90s.  This was a part that was of course never used as it was when Tony Blair took the camera and started filming her with both of them quizzing each other on what they do.  It was very candid and revealed quite a lot about both people.

The interview was well worth going to, and may well be posted online at some point.  It was sponsored by BAFTA and so keep an eye on their website.

For those who don’t know it, Doc/Fest is Sheffield’s annual documentary festival and since it started back in 1994 it has grown in to one of the most important documentary festivals in the world, never mind the UK.  Yet despite this, I think a lot of Sheffielders are unaware of it except for the bright orange banners on lamposts.  I suppose it isn’t really aimed at Sheffielders, it is just that it is based in the city, and the majority of people at the festival appear to be people in the film and television industry whether they are bigwigs in production companies, distributors or TV companies or whether they are professional, amateur or student filmakers.  I find good documentaries endlessly fascinating, and having failed to go to any of the public events at Doc/Fest last year I was determined to attend something this year.  Next year, I plan to make sure I have a bit more money in my pocket so I can go to some of the films as well.  Despite my limited involvement with the festival I have to say that the atmosphere around the Showroom and the city’s Cultural Industries Quarter was pretty good.  Although I am far from a “media type” I do find the diverse world of media fascinating, whether it is dealing with the press in my job, seeing it at Lib Dem Conference or whether it is the television and film industry which I have seen on a very small-scale and superficial level this weekend.

72% !

That’s the percentage of the vote that Ros Scott got in the Liberal Democrat Party President election and I am astonished that she won by so much.  Despite Ros running a brilliant campaign, I assumed the election would be close simply because Lembit will be so well known amongst armchair members when compared with Ros Scott.  It just shows that if you run a brilliant campaign you can win no matter how high profile your opponent.

Despite voting for Lembit, I was happy with either him or Ros getting elected.  I think Ros will do an excellent job.

We will now have to see where this leaves Lembit.  I feel a bit sorry for him for not winning.  Lembit is clearly talented and so we will have to see what he chooses to do as he is too good to simply be a backbench MP.

President Obama: The world celebrates

What more can be said that hasn’t been said already.  There was such huge anticipation that Barack Obama would win I was almost ready for him to lose.  After all, it was eight years ago that I went to bed reassured that Al Gore had won, only to wake up and find out that he had lost.    But then I always have been a pessimist.  I had a fear that the same was going to happen this year, when the results got off to a slow and indecisive start, but fortunately things turned around in spectacular fashion.

I spent election night with two fellow American presidential election anoraks in the local Liberal Democrats – Joe Taylor (who must be one of the biggest experts the Lib Dems have on American elections and who was trying to persuade me two years ago that Barack Obama was great when I was still sceptical) and Joe Otten.  It was accompanied by popcorn, beer, pizza, and some strange blue liquor that I am sure Joe Otten was just trying to find a way of disposing of.  A thoroughly unhealthy night.  Then finally topped off with champagne at the moment that CNN called the election for Obama.

It is perhaps a little over the top to say it, and it may be down to me still being on a high from his victory.  But I truly believe this victory will change the world forever.  Whether Barack Obama is a success or not, (and whichever he is, he will certainly be a radically different sort of president just as his campaign showed), he will change the perception people have of the USA and of non-white politicians from an unconventional background.  He has proven that in the end it is ability that elects you.  The British political system is very different from the American one, which still makes overcoming those barriers much harder in this country, but I believe it will still change things fundamentally.

Finally, I want to provide a link to the video below.  This is a very different Barack Obama from the serious, thoughtful one we usually see.  This is a clip from the Albert E Smith Dinner, an annual event where the guest speakers are asked to make a humorous speech.  John McCain’s speech is also funny but has nothing on Barack Obama’s where he sends himself up completely and shows why he is such a great speaker.  You would never get any British party leader making such a speech.  I do feel a little sorry for John McCain for the ribbing he gets though.  Thank you to Liberal Democrat Voice who drew my attention to it in the first place.