Vince Cable was right to challenge us with a consultation about how we work and organise and we should consider all his views seriously.
Over the past 24 hours I have looked with interest both at what Vince has had to say about our Party and a way forward but also at the reaction to it. I welcome the discussion and agree with much of the analysis in the document that the Party produced yesterday.
I love the idea of a supporters’ group which brings together the many people who help us but, for whatever reason, do not want to be part of a Party. An informal grouping can ensure that we do get proper feedback from them when we make policies and campaign and partly cement their relationship with us. Of course, I would prefer for them to become members but if they cannot do that let us go for a different model for them.
Two things I do disagree with. Firstly, the idea that people can quickly become candidates and then elected is alarming and naive. In a recent blog I talked about the hard work of being a councillor, MP or even committed activist. People need not only to know that before they stand but also ‘feel’ what is required. Already more than 30% of people who become councillors only serve one term, if that. They don’t realise the stress and strains of elected life.
Speed is not the answer to this. If we want more people to stand we must become better at providing support for people who will have difficulty in fulfilling an elected role; people from minority groups, parents with children, the disable etc. The sad fact is that our Party like all the others throws people in at the deep end and doesn’t help people to swim.
I won’t spend much time on the idea of our Leader not being a Parliamentarian. It’s just a bonkers notion.
My major disagreement is with the concept of being a moderate. I haven’t spent 51 years in the party 36 of which I have spent as a councillor in a deprived city and 23 years as a councillor in a deprived ward because I believe that moderate ways forward will solve the problems that I see daily. I am a radical liberal. I believe that all the evidence that we have indicates that the only way to mend a broken society, and our society is broken, is to rebuild it it sector by sector, area by area from the bottom up.
Our society as whole but certainly the great cities of the North are suffering because whole cities, communities and individuals have become powerless. The great and the good make decisions in Westminster and Whitehall; in corporate board rooms around the World or in well meaning but remote none-profit organisations which are often poorly informed and usually not focussed on real needs and practical solutions. Too many people are now left behind and whilst letting people have more money is an important step letting them have more control of their lives is equally imprtant (yes the two do go together!).
Let me just give four examples from my past and present:
Almost 40 years ago I established the largest housing cooperative programme in the whole of Western Europe when I was chair of Liverpool’s housing committee. Today there are more than 40 housing coops in the City which better designed, better run and more sustainable communities than anything that was provided by council housing or social landlords. People maximise their involvement in the key decisions about their home and community.
Today I serve on the board of one of the subsidiaries of CCLA. This organisation provides a first-class investment service for Churches, Charities and Local Authorities giving a better return on capital than entirely private organisation. It pays its staff well for their skills but not opulently as they look after more than £8.5 billion of assets. Greed does not have to be the key motivator behind financial decisions.
At the other end of the scale I keep my savings, such as they are, in both a building society and Lodge Lane Credit Union. In both cases they provide as a good a return or better for my savings than banks and again do so with out paying out vast salaries.
Later today I am off to the Farmers market in Woolton. Erica and I buy our food and other supplies wherever possible in local shops and markets where any profit made recycles around the local community and where shop and stall keepers both know their customers and care for them as part of the community.
You might say that there are small things but if we all did them they would become big things. They indicate that other ways are possible than creating ‘bigness’ and remoteness. The fact that I subscribe to neither the loony left or the loony right does not make me a moderate. I am a radical liberal and proud of it.
So, what can I do about it?
Well first it is my responsibility as Leader in Liverpool to grow our Party once again. We went down to just 2 councillors as recently as 2.5 years ago and now have 7. We will expand rapidly – more rapidly than some might think. That is in hand and there is a dedicated and experienced team working to speed that expansion forward over the next two sets of elections in 2019 and 2020.
Could I do more than this? Well that might be up to you. I have been flattered lately by a number of people that I respect asking me to stand for the Presidency of the Party next year. I have yet to decide what to do but I am giving this serious consideration.
One reason that I am hastening this blog out to people to ask for their thoughts is the suggestion that moves might already be afoot to move a parliamentarian into pole position for this. Whether or not I stand I do not believe that our President should be in Parliament especially when our House of Commons contingent is so small. Their job is to look after their constituents and ceaselessly promote their policy area to develop radical liberal policies within their brief and to tour the Country promoting them.
For most of my Party life I have worked at a national level not least as Leader of the Lib Dems in local government for 7.5 years. I have the Party in my blood and bones and perhaps after all these years some of my blood and bones are in the Party! I have ideas about how our Party should do things differently, campaign differently and what we should campaign on. Should the need arise I will be delighted to expand on them and indeed have already set some of them out here in my blog.
So now I have a question for my fellow Lib Dems This is not the question that you might expect such as ‘will you vote for me?’ or ‘will you help me get elected?’ but is both simpler and more complicated than that. It is’ Do you think that my candidacy next year, given the sort of things I say here, would help provide a good basis for a discussion about what the Presidency is for and what the Party should be doing.
Of course, the second reason that I am raising this now is that next Saturday we start our Party Conference. I will, of course, be there. I would love to hear from you about what we as a Party should be doing it; how we should eb doing it and how radical we should be with our proposals. There will be no ‘Kemp4Prezzer’ badges or leaflets being handed ou!
I am always available on 07885 626913 or firstname.lastname@example.org or just stop me and buy me a coffee or a beer at conference. What I do next is in your hands. Whatever conclusions we come to I will continue to serve the Party to the best of my ability in my current roles or new ones.