Chicken Joe avoids scrutiny

Chicken

The Elected Mayor of Liverpool?

We’ve just had the proposals for the way that the Labour Party intends to establish committees in the City Council for this municipal year.
Chief amongst them is the abolition of the Mayoral Select Committee – a committee which is in place for every other Elected Mayor in the Country (16 of them).
Other Mayors also have much enhanced public scrutiny session at which any member of the public or organisation within their area can ask questions.
In Liverpool this right is even denied to councillors. The Mayor makes statements in a part of the Council agenda which no other councillor can respond to and at which no other councillor can even ask a question unless the Mayor invites them to! This is not democracy its shamocracy. It’s happening because the Mayor is scared to face criticism; scared to meet opponents head on to debate the issues and even tried to have me taken off the Roger Phillips show last year when I was talking about green space issues.
I would be the first to say that the Mayoral Select Committee has not been a success to date. This is for two reasons:
1. It had no effective work programme and was poorly chaired. There are key objectives of the mayor which have not been looked at on a regular basis and councillors find out about things from the pages of the Echo or the air waves of the radio stations.

2. The quality of reports that have been submitted to it have often been poor and sometimes have had no point at all.

For example last year £20,000 was paid to produce a report that compared Anderson as Leader of the Council with Anderson as Mayor of the Council! Not surprisingly it found he was doing quite well! What we needed was to judge his effectiveness against other elected mayors and other Council Leaders., Sir Richard Leese is managing to maintain a high profile and get added cash for his city without the need for a city mayor although Manchester is being forced by the Tories into having a City Region Mayor.

We also get no key performance indicators against which we can judge our performance against other cities with similar problems. Both officers and politicians have set their face against such information preferring instead to look at our own performance against previous quarters/years. Quite simply Liverpool is scared of comparison with others because as far as I can tell without such hard information Liverpool is slipping behind the rest.

I was going to argue for a much stronger committee adequately chaired with decent reports which could enable effective monitoring of the work of the council. Instead Liverpool’s committee system will be subjected to the bland and boring PowerPoint regime which gives councillors the pretence of scrutiny whilst avoiding the possibility of hard questions.

Three years ago I suggested that Liverpool, should get a peer review from the IDeA to look our scrutiny processes. This would not have cost the council a penny BUT of course the move was rejected.

The sad fact is that councillors are almost powerless to raise issues despite that fact that even on a major day for council elections 33% of the people of Liverpool did not vote Labour. That puts the onus more on members of the public to raise issues and particularly of the press to raise issues in a positive way. I have already spoken to some of the media leaders in the City Region about this. The abolition of all pretence at scrutiny makes this discussion more urgent.
Joe isn’t very good at forecasting and looking into the future. At the last council meeting he confidently predicted that I would soon be an ex-councillor and even came to Church Ward to try and ensure that happened. Well despite the hundreds of Labour people who swarmed into the ward on May 7th and before I still got 851 more votes than his candidate so I am still there to ask questions and expose what I believe to be the basic incompetence of our council.#

I need your help. If there are things that you think I should know about – things that are concerning you please let me know at Richard.kemp@liverpool.gov.uk. And remember that all this could end next May when Joe Anderson is up for re-election!

In the meantime I hope that when the Labour Group meets on Tuesday to ratify these proposals they will reject them and ensure that their Leader can be publicly held to account

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We Must Now Bite The Bullet and Go for an Elected Mayor for the Liverpool City Region

Liver Bird

The Liver Bird Must Soar

Anyone who has ever read my blogs will know that I am not in favour of Elected Mayors. The effects of one in Liverpool have hardly been uplifting! However I am now putting my own view aside and saying that although the option for having an Elected Mayor is a poor one the failure to grasp powers from central government by not having one is even poorer.
That is why I have written the letter below to the 6 Labour Leaders in the Liverpool City Region. Their inability to work together on major issues and instead fight like ferrets in a sack has been alarming and detrimental to the preservation of services and the creation of jobs in the City Region.
There is now too much at stake in terms of taking a much greater control of our own affairs than ever. There will be a terrible squeeze on public services in the coming years and the only way to mitigate at least some of those effects will be by taking control of greater budgets and using the money to meet local assessed needs with locally resourced organisations.
Are the Labour Leaders in the City Region big enough both to work together and to allow others into the discussion to try and build a consensus for change in our area? Only time will tell but a failure to do so will mean that they choose instead to put narrow factional politics and in-fighting before the needs of the people of the Liverpool City Region.

My Letter is here:

To All Labour Leaders in the Liverpool City Region

Dear Colleague,

Now is the time to bite the bullet on the Liverpool City Region.
You will be aware that I have a very low opinion on the merits of Elected Mayors – a view which I know is shared by some of you. I would have liked all political parties and those who have other important roles to play within our Liverpool City Region life to have got together and positively suggested other ways of governing the Liverpool City Region. However that option has now gone. It is quite clear that there will not be a maximum devolution of powers and responsibilities to the Liverpool City Region unless we have an Elected Mayor.
Having an Elected Regional Mayor might be a poor option but an even poorer option is not to have the devolved powers that Greater Manchester already has. That is why I have overcome my own reluctance for this position and have decided to endorse the idea of an elected Mayor for our City Region and I am writing to you today to urgently ask you to do likewise and set in motion discussions with the Tory Government to bring it about.
Quite simply the opportunity is too important not to be grasped. Although there is little new money available to us under a devolved city region there is the opportunity by introducing local decision making to improve the value we get from the spend which is currently dictated by bureaucrats in London. The opportunity to join up social care and health care using our local knowledge is of paramount importance. The other key area that we could grasp is effective marketing of the City Region for inward investment and employment creation activities.
I personally would like you to call a meeting for all political group leaders to discuss the options available to us to improve an elected mayor system which will otherwise be imposed on us without our input. That would give it the wisest possible support and approval for a way forward. If such inclusiveness for a major constitutional amendment is beyond you all then I would urge you to set aside differences within the City Region Board and apply to the Government to adopt a Mayoral Model way forward.

I look forward to hearing from you that you support a positive way forward for our City Region.
Yours sincerely,
Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Leader, Liverpool Liberal Democrats

Cc: Rt. Hon Greg Clark, Secretary of State DCLG

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We need a radical, robust and impassioned liberalism

LibDemBird

I wrote during the election about what a joyless event it had been. Almost a phoney war to some extent in which all Parties hid behind slogans and sound bites but failed to express their true beliefs – even supposing that they had them.
During the election no party enunciated a clear, coherent vision of the Country that they would like to lead. UKIP and the Greens gave some ideas but they were bonkers, absurd and undeliverable. Labour and Tories hid their ideals behind sound bites and things that focus groups had told them that some people wanted. We came up with a four word slogan and a 140 page manifesto that said so much that it actually said little. What all three main parties campaigned on was the same essential themes that they had campaigned on since the 50s. The battle between capitalism and labour. A battle that has been increasingly remote from what people perceive in real life. They clung to it, though, like a comfort blanket, to hide themselves and the electorate from a failure to confront today’s realities and tomorrow’s possibilities.
I suspect that we might now see what it was the Tories wanted to hide. Although their first announcements seem to suggest that like UKIP they see the future as being the past. It seems highly unlikely that the Labour leadership contest will throw up anything of interest. It will, again fight the personality battle of the 90s ‘new Labour’ against central state Labour; personality against personality, blame culture against blame culture.
But enough of them. Lib Dems now have an exciting opportunity to be different and to define themselves in such a way that we can discern the massive underlying differences which do make US different from THEM.
When I joined the Young Liberals back in the 1960s (1967 to be precise) it was not because I wanted to be part of a soggy centre. The Liberals were then the exciting bit of British politics and the Young Liberals even more so. We marched to the Sound of Gunfire as our former Leader, Jo Grimond had told us to. We marched and campaigned on issues like civil liberties, I marched to Ban the Bomb, I marched and campaigned about Barclays investments in Southern Africa; we campaigned against the emerging police state; we demanded an end to patronage and we fought the traditional hierarchies.
We had a description for it then which I still use today – ‘libertarian socialist’ that’s what I am. I believe in the redistribution of wealth; I believe in helping people who cannot help themselves whilst encouraging people who can. I believe in a massive redistribution of power from London to the regions; from the regions to the Town Hall; and from the Town Hall to communities. I believe that the UK is part of an international family of nations and that only by being part of a family can we defend ourselves and our values. I believe that the state cannot run things and that we need to look at new methods of service delivery; I believe that society needs to restructure itself to deal with the challenges of ageing that could engulf us if not handled properly.
What does that mean in practice? Let’s take two examples from my past:
Between 1979 and 1981 we produced in Liverpool the biggest housing cooperative programme in Western Europe. More than 42 housing cooperatives were nurtured in new or existing buildings. We gave power to people to run their own lives but crucially gave them the resources to enable them to do so properly. All but one of those housing cooperatives was opposed by Labour who argued that the Town Hall knew best despite the fact that we had massive arrears; massive repairs problems and a complete failure to respond to the needs and wishes of our tenants. When they came to powere they scrapped the cooperative programme. Some of the estates that Labour built had to be rescued within a decade whilst the housing cooperatives thrive to this day.
Between 2003 and 2012 I was heavily involved as chair with Plus Dane Housing in the North West of England. Plus Dane (in its various incarnations) was an excellent housing association with a strong development record. It decided however that being a good landlord simply wasn’t enough. It became a ‘Neighbourhood Investor’ working with all other parts of the public sector to ensure that all the needs of its tenants and leaseholders were met. In so doing it saved the public huge sums of money by joining up services around the needs of the people rather than producer. It had massive levels of satisfaction from its tenants.
We succeeded in some of the most deprived and challenging neighbourhoods by doing things in a different way; by tearing up the rule book and coming up with pragmatic community based, community led solution which maximised involvement of people and minimised the impact and influence of the bureaucrats.
Surely that is something that we can begin to do on a much wider scale within the Party? Let’s tear up the rule book. Let’s acknowledge that the class war warriors are from the past. Let us recognise that advances in technology and the erosion of national barriers and cultures give us the opportunities to refocus society and its institutions to meet these new challenges.
On what should our policies be based?
• Decentralisation with decisions and their implementation being undertaken at the lowest possible and practical level.
• Internationalism with commitment to the international principles and institutions which alone can bring peace and prosperity to a world which is eating itself.
• Environmentalism recognising that unless we act and act swiftly there is no viable world for our children’s children.
• Fiscal probity as we understand that unless we raise money we cannot spend it.
• New forms of ownership of public assets to ensure their effective use and management
• New forms of ownership of wealth creating bodies to ensure that minimise the gap between the highest and lowest paid and enhance employment satisfaction and the local use of labour and resources.
Does this sound like idealistic twaddle?! I hope it does sound idealistic. I am not in politics to do things a little better or stop them becoming a little worse. I want real, radical and lasting change. Are they twaddle? Well that is for other to judge BUT there are so many examples in place about all the new ways of doing things that I have discussed above that I am sure that if we joined those small things together we could create mighty ideas and a mighty movement to bring them into being.

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A new (?) role for the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party

LibDemBird

About 20 years ago the Liberal Democrats in Hull crashed from about 8 seats to just one survivor, (Simone Butterworth) grimly hanging on and maintain a presence for us. Eight or nine years later I was asked at very short notice to go to the first meeting of the controlling group on Hull City Council where they had swept to victory following all up elections.
That made me think about the metamorphosis of council groups and what changes they go through on the way from one person to control. I don’t believe that the changes will be or should be any different for the Parliamentary Party (although there is a slight complication of the second chamber).
So what is the role of:

One elected member: To be a major nuisance to the controlling party and to be highly visible in the City covered by the council as well as the area that they represent. Crucially they should not spend too much time in the Town Hall.
A small group of elected members: To be a guerrilla force within the Council and within the council area. Being highly visible; asking awkward questions and creating liaisons and partnerships. Crucially they should not spend too much time in the Town Hall.
A large group of elected members: To be the opposition to the controlling group and the Controlling Group ‘in waiting’. To be much more visible in the Town Hall; being much more coherent in terms of being proactive on policy rather than reactive. Continually being out with partners and potential allies both within and without the political circles. Crucially they should not spend too much time in the Town Hall.
The Controlling Group: Making sure that you are on top of issues; that there are no surprises; that the work you did in opposition to clarify your ambitions for your area get translated into practice by your officers and by your partners. Crucially they should not spend too much time in the Town Hall.
You might just have picked up a theme here about not spending too much time in the Town Hall. Too many councillors get ‘Town-Hallitis” and cannot drag themselves away from important committee meetings at which they make no contacts with anyone who can advance the cause.
I have observed our Parliamentary Party grow from just 6 to 62 and then, obviously slump back to 8. Oh so important parliamentarians might not think this but basically they are no different to a council group.
So what of our gallant band of 8 in the Commons and of 102 in the Lords? My advice to them is that every minute spent in the Commons or Lords for the next 5 years is a minute wasted unless:
1. It is a cause which is dear to the hearts of liberals such as civil liberties even if there is sometimes not much public interest in these ideas:
2. It is a cause which will generate the lifeblood of an opposition group – media attention.
3. It is a matter where our Lib Dem votes (most obviously in the Lords) will make a difference; could change a law in a way that we think possible and will demonstrate our Lib Dem beliefs and policies.
Let’s be clear the Parliamentary Party are basically in the equivalent of a single member position. We have no Shadow Secretaries of State. We have the opportunity to have 8 people in the commons who will be a tough little awkward squad who ride in raise questions and issues and ride out again to build the partnership and political base that will, at the next election, move us to stage 2.
One of the problems of the last election was that we produced a manifesto that was useless. I agreed with almost everything in it but it was too long and massively unfocused. It was marginally useful to say to a constituent that they could actually look up our policies on cycling but overall it said too much and in doing so it said too little.
Our team, no matter what support they get from research assistants using Short money, cannot be an expert on everything and cannot create the partnerships we need on key issues. Let me take two examples to show what I mean.
If we look within the DCLG brief there are two issues on which we could specialise:
Devolution; which must be discussed because it is a major push from the Tories in a direction with which we are sympathetic. Our MP covering this area must be well briefed BUT a lot of the work could be left to a Peer with the clear Devolution and City Region Brief. That Peer would be charged with not only developing a policy to share with the MP but would also have the responsibility of going out to meet Lib Dems and other Leaders inside area that are discussing devolution or have had devolution granted to them.
Housing. We all have a house and there is a desperate need to provide more and better housing. Here there is no need to develop a new policy but to ensure that our existing policy is communicated better. Again I suggest that the MP takes overall responsibility but with the Peer working closely. Between them they would become a clear source of knowledge within the Party and an obvious point of contact for those within the housing movement ranging from housing providers to housing campaigners.
If we look at health there are two obvious and related routes route we could follow which would have a tremendous resonance and create countless opportunities for partnerships.
Firstly we need to look at new ways of dealing with the crisis that an increasingly ageing population will have e of the health and social care budgets. This affects huge numbers of people and their carers and there has been a total failure from politicians of all Parties to engage in a real long-term strategy because it is all so very difficult.
Secondly we should become the specialist on mental health. I was so proud of the work that Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb did in this field and again it is an area where there has been insufficient discussion and little real progress outside the Lib Dems.
These are four ways in which we could become experts. People will want to work with us not because of our power and influence but because they see us as a partner as a solution because of the force of our radical ideas.
We should have no more than a dozen or so areas of activity. We need to link MPs and Lords together in a way that does not reflect parliamentary business but campaign optimisation.
Now is the time to be bold, to be radical, to reassert our basic liberalism and to rebuild a partnership with those who share our fundamental beliefs of liberty, environmentalism, internationalism and fairness. The cure for Westminsteritis or Town-Hallitis is a good dose of community and pressure group action. I am sure that our Parliamentarians all of who are first class people, are up to this and that the rest of us will support them in what they do.

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Where Next for the Liberal Democrats?

LibDemBird

Many people have already rushed to judgement on the debacle for the Lib Dems of May 7th. In fact some did not wait for the election but started denouncing and predicting what would happen in May 2010! I have never been a great one for post mortems and detailed introspection but I will first comment on what has happened in the past 5 years and whether I would have changed what we did.
In May 2010 the Country was on the edge of a cliff. Our economy as off track; our government, commercial and personal debt was one of the highest in the World and we had a tired, knackered Government which was incapable of leadership. I strongly believe that the Liberal Democrats had no choice other than to enter into the coalition that it did. You can never create to a counter universe to examine what would have happened if we had not done so. However I believe that this Country would have entered into an inexorable downward spiral and that the real losers would have been the most poor and the most disadvantaged.
Nick Clegg did not lead us blindfolded into the coalition with a shotgun at our head. The Parliamentary Party debated the options fully. A special Conference of the Party was held at which all but a handful of people voted for the Coalition to begin. I believe Nick is an honourable man who led us well. Politically the next few years have many advantages for us but here are what I consider to be the two main ones:
Firstly, we are already beginning to see what it was that the Lib Dems prevented from happening. I know from personal experience the amount of firefighting that our Ministers did. Just preventing the nasty side of an often nasty Party coming to the fore was, in itself, an achievement. Already we know that the snooper’s charter is back. Already we know that the poor will suffer mightily with massive amounts of benefits cuts which will soon be specified. Already we know that the Tories will risk our economic future with ill-judged actions with regarding Europe and a destabilising referendum. We must be clear where we stand on these issues and put our principles into practice.
Secondly, we can now revert to type. The Liberal Democrats are basically a ‘Left of Centre’ Party whose basic instincts were obscured by the need to deal with the fiscal and financial imbalances. We are a Party of Fiscal responsibility because without the income coming in you don’t have the money to spend on those that need it. We no longer have to be on the defensive but can move to the offensive! We must emphasise our basic compassion for the poor and needy and need for the adequate provision of public services. In short we must re-emphasise our basic beliefs that we believe in a society where, “none shall be enslaved by ignorance, poverty or conformity”.
So let’s look at what happened on 7th and see if there is a way forward.
I modestly start with my own Church Ward although there are similar stories that can be told of people who survived and sadder stories about those who did not. I am still a Councillor because most people in my ward do not see me as a Party Politician first but as a community champion first. That does not mean that I have ever hidden my politics. I have not tried to pretend that I am an independents with a bit of politics. I have no doubt that people knew my Party colours but it is true that many people ignored them.
I believe that in my Ward people see the practicality of the politics that I endorse. Erica and I don’t talk ‘bottom up – top down’ Erica and I do it! We are a green environmental Party. Naturally we oppose the building of homes on our green open spaces. Politically we have worked inside the Town Hall moving resolutions etc. BUT I did not lead the campaign in the community. We called a meeting to establish a new local campaign group and about 50 people came to it. Halfway into the meeting I left it having explained the parameters of the situation and what could or could not be done. Had I stayed it would have become Party-Political. Parks are more important than being hijacked as an issue by one Party. We now work in parallel with a community led body whom we strengthen by our technical and political knowledge and who in turn strengthen us by their energy and enthusiasm.
I think that this sort of interaction is vital. For the past 10 years I have railed against those who believe that politics is just about pavement politics and the number of Focus that go out. Yes we do Focus – lots of them and street issues. But if that’s all you do you have simply become some sort of social worker. The practical must be linked to the vision. The short-term must be linked to the long term.
In the final few days of the campaign I was amazed by the warmth and good wishes from my constituents. I well remember on the 7th one man coming out from the polling station and saying, “I have just voted for you – I don’t know what the result will be but my family and I want to thank you for the 32 years you have already served as a councillor”. The next day someone sent me a lovely letter assuming I had lost! As a I walked around knocking up people were looking me in the eye, waving, Shouting out “two here Richard” or “we’ve been”. The nicest one was seeing two Labour people knocking up a man who shouted as I walked past “We’ve been for you Richard” and gave a big thumbs up!
So I believe that I had a good majority (12%) because I linked the practical and the political and will continue to do so.
One of the big problems of our national campaign was that it was woolly and unfocused. Whose idea was it to produce an encyclopaedia and not a manifesto. I supported almost everything in it – it was all good stuff but it was unfocussed. It was hard to discern what our key messages were. Because we could talk about everything we effectively talked about nothing.
But the most important thing about the election campaign is what started to happen from 10p.m. onwards. The massive surge in support for our Party. I received an e-mail yesterday who re-joined the Party as soon as the exit poll was announced. It wasn’t that he had a political disagreement with us in the past but he moved to Liverpool about 4 years ago and had always meant to re-join but had not got round to it. Now he wants to be an active member. Apparently more than 3,500 have already joined us after the election in addition to the 1,000+ that joined during the election. That means we have 10% more members than we did 6 weeks ago. We need to capture that enthusiasm for our basic concepts of internationalism, compassion and environmentalism captured in one word – liberalism – to create a strong left of centre liberal movement.
So what next? I think there are two things campaigning and thinking:
Well I don’t know what you did yesterday but I:
• Wrote my ‘Thank You’ Focus
• Got rid of all the left over leaflets etc at the paper bank
• Thanked all my deliverers
• Arranged a Thank You Party
• Arranged a post-election inquest and gathering
I know that probably makes me a sad creature without a life but my adrenalin is still high. I am not going to let my Party and my beliefs down and the only way I can put them back where they belong is out on the street, campaigning, talking, arguing, partnering delivering around the issues that matter to me, my constituents, my city and my country. I hope that you will all be doing the same even if you have allowed yourself a whole weekend off!! BUT THIS IS NOT ENOUGH.
We need to redefine our liberalism for the early 21st century. We need to distil key political messages about how to run an economy; how to cope with the growing number of elderly; how to provide services; who to provide services for; how the Country runs itself in an age where there are effectively no national borders. In short it needs to develop a credible intellectual base to link the practical with the vision.
When the going gets tough the tough get going. I am not going to let my people, my City my Country be ground down by the likes of Cameron and Pickles. Let’s get the orange revolution going folks because as sure as hell there will never be a red one in this Country.

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Election Day – a Date with Humility

2313

Many people think that the obvious way to look at candidates is by their political label.

Actually it’s much more complicated than that. There are basically 4 types:
• Candidates who want to win and will
• Candidates who want to win and won’t
• Candidates who know they won’t win but would really like to
• Candidates who were promised faithfully they would not get elected and would dread doing so!
In fact in many constituencies and wards the electoral contest is almost pre-ordained. There are still many safe seats in England which will not change hands this time and no-one expects them to.
I’ve been in the first three categories. I have stood for the council on 10 occasions and have been successful on 8 of them. I have stood for Parliament 4 times but on only one occasion really wanted to be an MP.
Why bother if you don’t want to win? Because you want to support your colleagues where they can win and build up a base in areas where you cannot. As a democrat I believe that everyone should have the chance to vote for a person and Party of their choice.
For the first two of these elections are a cathartic time. Personal hopes and ambitions come to the fore. Many candidates have sacrificed everything for years for this crack at being elected. Everything has become subsumed to the task. If you are defending your seat you could be on the dole on Friday. You will have withdrawal symptoms from the trappings of power. You may well feel humiliated. Win and you feel inordinately proud. Most candidates forget quickly that they have been put there by their Party and their teams. They believe that they alone were the winners.
In fact I believe that both winners and losers should face the result with humility and especially the winners.
The problem with winning is that some people get so seduced by the trappings of power that it goes to their head. Nice people can rapidly become unbearable as they bore with the ‘maiden speech;’ or tell you how powerful they have become. That is the biggest conceit at all. The fact is that politicians have NO power of their own. What an election does is allow you to borrow tiny bits of power from those people you have been allowed to represent.
Too many elected representatives forget this. We are the servants of the people and not the dictators to the people. We have chosen to give up our privacy and much of our lives to serve the community. We accept that there will be more needs than we can ever hope to sort out and that many people will despise us for what we cannot do rather than thank us for what we can do and have done. If we do not accept this then we should not stand in the first place.
But many people elected tomorrow will quickly acquire Town Hallitis or Parliamentitis. A situation where we become the voice of the establishment in the community and not the voice of the community in the establishment.
I hope that losers will accept their fate with equanimity. There are so many ways to serve the community and being a councillor or MP is just one of them. Should I lose my seat tomorrow I have so many things that I want to do and so many things other people want me to do for them that I would not miss much about the council.
If re-elected I hope that I will not lose touch with reality and will continue to be available; to communicate and above all to listen to those who elected me.
Only a fool would predict the winner tomorrow and I am not that daft so let me take the opportunity now to say thank you to:

• My Lib Dem team who have been there for me at every turn of events and have kept my feet on the ground.
• My opponents because all of them have invested something, however minimal, in putting their head above the parapet to be shot at!
• All the people of the Ward who have made me so welcome for the past 11 years and have wished me luck in their hundreds in the past few weeks.
• My lovely wife who has been a partner with me in this ward and our previous ward for 22 years as we jointly served our city and our community.
Win or lose I hope that the experience will have been useful to everyone concerned and that the people of the UK and Liverpool get the servants that they deserve and need.

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A Joyless, Soulless Election

Ballot paper

Perhaps it’s because I have been wet more times in this election than at any time since the first General Election of 1974 (which was in February) but I feel that this has been a pretty soulless, joyless election. Not the campaign in my own ward which I have really enjoyed despite the weather but the national campaigns which have concentrated so heavily on the negative and not the positive.
I don’t think any of the main Parties have really given us a clear view of the sort of society they would like – the sort of Britain that they are aiming towards over the next 20 years. Labour and Conservatives seem like a couple of pre Queensbury Rules prize fighters slugging it out to try and get the other down for the count. Day by day as it becomes increasingly apparent that neither will win outright their attacks on each other and claims of what they would do become more and more outlandish.
To be fair we do have some idea of what the fringe parties stand for. UKIP very clearly would us to return to a 1950s UK which never really existed. A sort of Janet and John meets Biggles and where Johnny Foreigner knew his place. What is absolutely clear from the very few of them I have found in Church Ward is that they are angry about change and want to take the country backwards. Ever single UKIP voter that I have met is white and over 65!
The Greens are equally clear about what they want. A subtle cross between La-La Land and Father Christmas’ Grotto. Apparently all we have to do is change human nature and the world will improve as well. There is a sort of money machine apparently which is rather like one of those chocolate fountains that you dip marshmallows. All you have to do is switch it on and gives you a lovely existence and somehow refills itself. Borrowings somehow disappear and we all learn to love recycling and no growth. Meanwhile in the real world…………!!
I came across some Labour people at the Church Ward hustings the other night and they too have little sense of reality. They forget that we are in the mess that we are because Labour refused to re-regulate the banks after the Tories de-regulated them. We continually get blamed for cuts yet they refuse to accept the fact that the last labour Government would, according to the medium-term review in their own last budget have taken out £8 for every £10 the coalition has removed. I get no impression either locally or nationally that they have a dream any more of a socialist Britain or anything else. Since the sad death of John Smith and his replacement by Tony Blair Labour have not really stood for anything much apart from being in power. For 13 years they were a right wing Government that took the UK into an illegal war which we still are getting aftershocks from.
The Tories are scared of the World almost as much as UKIP. They cannot accept that their posturing on Europe will damage jobs and that an ongoing refusal to positively engage with the EU, NATO and the UN means that our worth in the World is diminished not increased. We live in a world where individual countries cannot defend their borders by themselves. Whether it is immigration, defence, taxation or trade the world is massively mobile. Money is whisked away from Country to Country at the flick of a switch and the only way for the UK to survive as a nation is to accept a joint sovereignty on issues like these. They just come over as a bunch of Toffs seeking to protect their own.
As for my own Party it is difficult for me to judge. I know that every Lib Dem I have met and who campaigns for us now really believes those few brief words that we commit ourselves to a country where none are enslaved by ‘ignorance, poverty or conformity’. But it is hard to explain how that works in difficult financial times. I am very pleased with our ongoing commitment to education; to supporting people of all sexualities and to pensioners and the low paid. I am concerned that we have failed to get across the joining up of the dots between our principles and policies – I can see the joins but not feel them.
Perhaps though one canard will be destroyed for good and all by this election – the myth that first past the post’ gives stable Government. That was of course true when the two main Parties had 90% of the vote but it certainly is not true when they are slated to get about 70% of the vote. Of course in England there will still only be three Parties with reasonable numbers of seats on May 8. The Greens will have at most one MP and UKIP will have at most 3 but the way that people vote for them or vote against them will mean that many seats have become difficult to predict in a first past the post constituency based system.
A ‘Single Transferable Vote’ proportional system would have two effects:
Firstly, it would mean that everyone would be able to vote for what they believed in rather than having to decide which of the lesser of two evils (or more) they did not want to see elected; and
Secondly, it would mean that Parties would have to behave differently both inside and outside election periods. Every voter would be important at all times because every vote could count. In England the General Election is really only being fought in the 100+ of the 500+ constituencies with too many constituencies or parts of constituencies being considered as either our or enemy territory.
And just to show that things can happen at opportune times and cheer you up someone has just rung me out of the blue about 10 minutes ago and asked to join the Party and do some things in the final days of the campaign! When I asked him why he told me that it was because he really likes Erica (not me you notice) and thinks that our proposals on mental health are outstanding. AND it’s stopped raining so I had better go out on one more delivery for the day!

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