Lib Dem Councils

Sometimes there are snippets of news which make you relieved, grateful or proud to be a Lib Dem. This week it was the turn of Richmond to give us something to shout about. The news that it was a Lib Dem council who became the first to propose to use it’s parking regime to encourage residents to buy more environmentally responsible cars is most encouraging. Of course, such a measure won’t do much for the environment by itself. But many such measures will reinforce the message that we all need to make more responsible choices. This week, I came across the ‘Association of British Drivers’, whose website devotes pages to claiming that global warming is just a ‘myth’, presumably made up by those of us who envy 4×4 owners. Global warming really is the biggest challenge currently facing politicians, and currently it is the Lib Dems who lead while others follow.

Electricity is not yet receiving the right kind of attention. Electricity may seem like a relatively clean form of energy, but there is an environmental cost to generating it. This week, our government mooted the idea that councils may be bribed to take nuclear waste for burial. It beggars belief that the government appears to want to build more nuclear power stations, when that is the best strategy it has for dealing with the waste from the current ones. The most frustrating thing about nuclear power is that it has such a powerful lobby behind it – when it isn’t even commercially viable! The only way we can have more nuclear power is with the help of huge subsidy from the public purse. It is time to recognise that nuclear power has been a failed experiment – and leave it there.

The real solution to our electricity dilemma rests much closer to home. Many people still have little idea about how much electricity is wasted in our homes. Now that energy saving light bulbs are cheap and plentiful – why do our shops still sell the old ones that use five times as much power? Now that we understand that all of the standby buttons in the UK could power a small city, why do new appliances still have them? Manufacturers and electrical retailers do not focus enough on promoting the most energy efficient fridges, washing machines, TVs and so on.

Best of all, if you still want to burn lots of electricity, you could always generate some of your own. I do find it heartwarming that B&Q now list wind turbines and solar panels on their website. I actually believe that microgeneration is the most attractive solution to the energy crisis. Even though this technology is in it’s infancy, it is already feasible for most houses to generate at least a third of their own energy requirements. I believe that we need to invest heavily in promoting microgeneration. Maybe some of the money could come from not building new nuclear power stations.

Maybe a Lib Dem council will take the lead in getting microgeneration off the ground in their area? I do hope so.

Thank you for inspiring us

It’s a peculiar type of insanity that sets in to a person who decides to seek office as a Liberal Democrat. By comparison, seeking office for Labour is easy – just get yourself selected in a safe seat. Getting elected as a Tory is next easiest. Rule 1 still applies, but all recent evidence suggests that going to a posh school, and preferably Oxbridge is still a distinct plus. But getting elected is a whole different kettle of fish if you are a Liberal Democrat.

There are distinct pluses to being a Lib Dem: being honest with the electorate and not being called upon to defend the indefensible spring to mind. But the mountain you must scale in a world where there are no safe seats, and the electoral system is stacked against you can seem daunting. Everything has to be done on a shoestring budget. The money to print your leaflets and letters all has to be raised locally, and long suffering volunteers do all of the hard work.

Knowing this, it is all the more remarkable that we now have more MP’s than ever. There are success stories all over the country where dedicated people have worked hard for years and finally achieved the goal of having a Lib Dem MP in their constituency. One of those constituencies is Hornsey and Wood Green, and my wife and I had the great fortune of being entertained to lunch at the Palace of Westminster by their MP, Lynne Featherstone.

We were met at Portcullis House by a researcher who whisked us into the Commons just as the division bell sounded and Lynne had to disappear to vote. Presently, she came back and took us for lunch in the dining room where ‘strangers’ were allowed. She was a wonderful host and gave us well over two hours of her time (which felt more like half an hour). She was happy to share anecdotes and experiences of how she and her team had achieved the seemingly impossible. When she decided to take on the challenge, Lib Dems were in third place and to local membership was small. As a single parent, she had to juggle work, child care and campaigning. It was an inspiring story, and one that resulted in success that was clearly deserved.

During coffee, she had to rush off for another division, but still came back to spend more time with us. We were grateful that she sacrificed so much of her time to encourage us in our endeavours for Wycombe. We left Westmister emboldened and inspired and determined to write our own success story.

It’s about freedom

I was lucky enough to be chatting to Cicero last night, which is always a privilege. Decapitation seems to have done little to still his ability for insightful political thought! Naturally, our conversation turned to the current political climate – and all the strange rumblings emanating from the Labour Party on the subject of Muslims. I worry that Labour will compound our problems with more illiberal legislation. As usual, Cicero cut through the seemingly complex issue with blinding clarity: it is, of course, about freedom.

The single most precious principle of Liberalism is that we protect freedom. We protect everybody’s freedom – including the freedom to follow your religion. We must never lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims seek only the right to peacefully follow their faith, and not to be discriminated against.

I am not blind to the fact that there is a tiny minority of people in this country with extreme views, and this includes a tiny minority of islamic extremists. There is also a tiny minority of extreme Christians too. In order that these minorities remain tiny, we must resist all temptation to limit individual freedom. We must demonstrate that ours is an open, tolerant society which respects the individual. A Liberal Britain is one in which the state does not interfere with religious belief, but protects the rights of everyone including followers of any religion or none.

The Amazing Mrs Pritchard

Reaction from Lib Dems to The Amazing Mrs Pritchard has been mixed, but I feel that detractors are perhaps being a little harsh. The premise of the series does require us to ‘suspend disbelief’, after all if breaking the mould was that easy we’d have done it years ago! This week’s episode did lurch between tragic – when two soldiers died on a mission she had authorised – and fall off the sofa funny:

I’m the leader of the fourth biggest economy… and I haven’t got a ******* clue what I’m doing!

There were also serious issues, like Mrs Pritchard’s dilemna about sending her daughter to a deprived inner London comprehensive school.

I must confess that I loved it. If you accept that is fiction, and it couldn’t really happen – it is then interesting to ponder what we could learn from it. The ‘People’s Queen’s Speech’ was wacky, and yet I loved the idea of getting people interested in politics – and listening to their ideas. The problem with our current political landscape is that it appears to too many people to be a distant drama played out by politicians who decide policies in some remote, unfathomable way. I would love to see the BBC do one of their ‘Test the Nation’ type shows on politics. To set out some dilemnas facing this country and see what millions of people think in real time.

The storyline of ‘ordinary person gets involved in politics’ is not original. But’s it’s a storyline that almost offers scriptwriters a blank canvass. If it’s a storyline that intrigues you, I recommend ‘Dave’, a US movie in which an ordinary guy suddenly finds himself catapulted into the Whitehouse. There’s an inspiring scene about budget priorities where our hero enlists a friend with a calculator to re-evaluate why we say we cannot afford things we all agree we need.

But let’s also remember that politicians all start out as ordinary people. I do believe the majority of politicians genuinely want to make good decisions aimed at making life better for people. Perhaps the best thing about elected representatives is what also brings out the worst in them – the fact that we can remove them. Once elected, their job security is always on the line – and the fear of that makes too many MPs play safe and toe the party line. I was close to people involved in the 1997 Blair landslide. In 1997, we elected many good hearted and well meaning people. Sadly they now think more about losing their seats than about protesting that Blair sold them a pup.

What politics needs is more outspoken representatives who tell it like it is – a bit like Mrs Pritchard in fact.