The bland leading the bland

The Tories are all in a lather over grammar schools (again). David Willetts has publicly acknowledged what those of us in selective areas already know – that eleven plus selection is fundamentally unfair. But like his policy-light leader, he stops short of being willing to do anything about it.

Of course, it’s easy to see why – rank and file Tories are by and large in favour of grammar schools. I’m an ex-grammar school boy myself, but I now see why the system is iniquitous. The theory is that bright kids have a chance to better themselves, regardless of their social background. The reality is not hard to see – just scan my local paper classifieds and you’ll see that if you have a little money, you can have your child coached privately to ensure they pass the exam. The grammar school system is too often a way for middle-class families to obtain an elite school for their child for a minimal outlay. If selection was abolished, they would have to fork out for a private education or, perish the thought, their child might have to go to an ‘ordinary’ school.

That Cameron, and now Willetts acknowledge that selection is unfair is progress indeed for the Tory Party. Unfortunately, they lack the balls to stand up to their party. The have not the courage to make the case for the abolition of selection – so their opposition won’t mean a thing. Our local MP can continue to campaign as ‘pro-selection’ because his leadership have given him a loophole (existing grammars are exempt).

It is, in my opinion, the role of a leader to lead. It is the role of a leader to modernise policies which are out of date – and to make the case for the new policies. People are turned off politics because they can’t tell the difference between the parties – and I think one of the reasons for this is that we have the politics of the focus group. No-one is brave enough to champion a policy wildly different from that of ‘steady as she goes’.

Simon Jenkins recently asked what the Liberal Democrats were for. Nick Clegg wants us to develop a narrative. We are at our best when we are boldest. Time and again we have been respected when we have been willing to make the case for something even though it is not universally popular. Think Paddy’s Penny, for example.

Let us remember that liberals are radicals, that liberalism is a clear philosophy – and that in many ways we are the exact opposite of New Labour. If the public cannot see that – it is our fault, not theirs. Blair’s Britain is a nanny state, weighed down by a huge central bureaucracy. They have eroded our liberty and our freedom, yet they have done nothing to put right the fundamental inequalities in our society.

We should be bold while all around is bland.

Link:BBC NEWS | Politics | Cameron hits back over grammars

Liberal Democrat Voice » Opinion: Ming must go

Liberal Democrat Voice » Opinion: Ming must go

I began to comment on this thread, and then thought my comments a little lengthy and put them here!

I think this whole leadership thing is a bit of a red herring just now. I publicly backed Huhne when the contest was held – and I gave my reasons at the time. But on the day Ming won out – probably because he was more well known among the rank and file. I pledged to respect that decision and I will. I do think Huhne’s day will come – for all the reasons you give in your article. But the idea that we should lynch our leader over the local results last week is preposterous. Nothing would give Labour and the Tories more pleasure.

Let’s put last week’s results into some kind of perspective. Overall, we slipped slightly – but still have many more councillors than the party of government, Labour. If you begin to study the results in some detail – you see that they are very inconsistent. In some areas, we have done exceptionally well – and in others, disappointingly badly. The truth is that those areas where we did well were those in which we fought better locally. And in some cases, we slipped up badly at the local level.

When I was canvassing on the doorstep, not once was Ming mentioned by any voter. Almost every question I was asked was about what we would do locally. Some Labour voters stayed at home because of dissatisfaction with Blair and his cronies, and the Tories are beginning to see a revival in their fortunes in some areas – but that’s about all we can conclude nationally.

To Lib Dems who had bad results in their areas last week, ask yourselves honestly what were the local factors. Ming was almost certainly not to blame!

Blair’s squandered the lot

EXCLUSIVE: Brown not to stand! – Hapless band of staff and regulars

I fear that this is wishful thinking, but if I’m wrong Ryan has the scoop of the decade – move over Guido and Iain Dale!

But there is a serious point here – and that point is this: Why is it that no other talented Labour politician (for there are some) wants the job? The truth is that the chalice is well and truly poisoned. In fact not only is it poisoned, it is probably radioactive and highly like to explode in the face of the holder at any time.

Tony Blair has squandered the greatest gift that any politician is likely to receive in my lifetime. He was elected as PM ten short years ago at the head of a reformed, reconstructed, electable Labour Party. They were organised and disciplined. The most red-blooded red socialists were willing to behave and give it a chance. The Tories were in utter, utter disarray. Until the coming of Cameron, they weren’t even an effective opposition party. What’s more, the Nation was behind him. Tony had succeeded in uniting Labour voters, soft Tories – and even many Liberals. People from all backgrounds were hopeful that things could indeed ‘only get better’, and were willing to give New Labour a chance.

No Prime Minister, no government in my lifetime has ever had, or is ever likely to have such political capital. He could have brought momentous change at every level, and the people would have backed him.

Fast forward ten years. The long goodbye continues to drag on and almost everyone can’t wait to see the back of him. Even most Labour people I know can’t wait to see the back of him. To lose so much goodwill, both within and without his party, takes a special talent. Some people are starting to see Cameron as the saviour. This is surely a measure of how bad things have become. Cameron has yet to articulate any vision of what ‘New Tory Britain’ will look like. He has barely made a concrete policy on anything. He is the triumph of style over substance. And yet, next to New Labour, he looks an attractive proposition to many people. It’s a scary thought that one day soon our great nation may be being led by someone who should be an advertising executive – for he doesn’t create any product, but knows plenty about presentation.

A Brown premiership is doomed to failure. He won’t have the public support, and he won’t have the support of large parts of his party. He is inextricably linked to Blair – as Ming has said, he signed all the cheques. But no-one else wants the job because they know that Labour are likely to lose the next general election. The man who take up the reins now will be the John Major figure – unable to control the warring factions in his own party as it sinks all around him.

Things can only get worse.

Jaw-jaw works

When I was about ten, my I found myself standing outside in a car park on a cold day soaking wet and wearing nothing but swimming trunks. The location was Wyndley Leisure Centre, and we were outside because of a ‘bomb scare’. My first job was in Birmingham city centre, and bomb scares were a routine part of life in the city that had seen the terrible pub bombings.

As I became politically aware, I wanted to understand what motivated people to rain such mayhem on the British population – and read about the history of the ‘troubles’. I concluded that while it was difficulty for an Englishman to truly understand the depth of feeling on both sides, it would only every be resolved by the ballot box and by both sides being able to have a dialogue. Churchill’s famous quote about ‘jaw-jaw’ being better than ‘war-war’ comes to mind. But for many years, the idea of dialogue seemed a forlorn hope – each side holding such deeply entrenched bitterness which just got worse with each sectarian outrage.

So how great is the news today that the DUP and Sinn Fein will finally be working together to bring long-lasting peace to the Province. Unthinkable as it may have seemed for so long, dialogue has won out over violence. I hope that we have finally consigned the troubles to the history books – and that the ordinary people whose lives have been so blighted in the past can look forward to happy, peaceful lives.

As we ponder Blair’s legacy, I have heard his supporters point to the Northern Ireland peace process as one of his achievements. I take this with some salt, as the process was begun by John Major – and only an insane Prime Minister of any party would not have carried it forward.

But if Northern Ireland has proved that jaw-jaw is better than war-war, what on earth was he thinking when he invaded Iraq?

Something to make you laugh

Whether you had a good or a bad result yesterday, here’s a chuckle for Lib Dems everywhere.

We embrace technology in Wycombe, so my wife was trained on inputting telling numbers into EARS on polling day. Tellers were equipped with mobile phones to text numbers back from our target polling stations.

At about 6.30pm, one of our activists, Richard, took over on a polling station. My agent gave my wife his mobile number and she sent a message to ‘Richard’ saying ‘send me numbers as you get them. Unfortunately, the mobile number was wrong – but coincidentally someone called Richard.

Wrong Richard was intrigued by the request and began texting random numbers to my wife, which she duly entered into EARS.

My EARS data had been going badly all day, predicting the defeat which I eventually suffered – but it did seem to be improving as the evening wore on! So we went into full blown ‘knock up’ mode. We were all chasing around my ward dragging reluctant voters out to my lost cause.

Just now we discovered our error!

Another embarrassment for me was that as a result of this last minute push, I dragged some poor unfortunate with a slipped disc hobbling into a polling station. It turned out he wasn’t on the electoral roll!

Still, it wasn’t all bad. Our frenzied activity in this ward drew the Tory knock-up machine into action – and while they piled up votes they didn’t need we easily took our other target ward from them on the other side of town.