It’s not been a good week for British politics has it?! Our Ambassador to the USA was forced to resign because Johnson wouldn’t publicly support him for doing the job we paid him to do. Labour anti-Semitism was exposed in great detail on the Panorama Programme with a response from Labour that attacked the messenger and tried to excuse their behaviour by saying that the Tories are just as bad. The Tory Leadership contenders have been exposed as either liars or fools. Meanwhile here in Liverpool the Labour appear to have acted last on the appalling behaviour of Wavertree Councillor Dave Cummings who they got re-elected although it was already publicly known that there bullying and sexism charges against him.
Then there was the Brexit MP who thought we should do a ‘Belgrano’ and sink foreign shipping craft within a 200-mile exclusion zone. What about the think tank Chief Executive who thought that the way to deal with the Irish border problem was to bully or bribe the Irish Government? Both ideas that are so absurd that you have to pinch yourself to see if you are awake or having a nightmare!
Before I seem ‘holier than thou’ I acknowledge that there are problems in my Party as well. We have 110,000 members and not all of them will have the exact beliefs and life style that we would like. I can only say that I hope we deal with these issues not by evasion or bluster but by due process. Last year we rescinded the membership of a member in Liverpool who we thought had gone over the line of acceptable behaviour.
I know that the membership of both Tory and Labour Parties are mostly people of good character who are repulsed by what is happening in their Parties. That is why many long-standing members of both Parties are quitting to replaced by extremist zealots to the left and right.
Nor are politicians alone in having problems. I listened to the religious programme on Radio 4 this morning to find that more than 320 Anglican clergy have been convicted of child porn offences in recent years and the Archbishop of Canterbury was in despair about the way that the issue had been handled.
I believe that such corruption as there is in British politics is caused by the fact that too much power is too few hands which are too remote from the people who have lent them that power in an election. By corruption I don’t mean back handers and brown envelopes. Whilst there must be such things happening, I do not believe that they are wide spread, certainly at a local level. I mean the arrogance of power in which men, and yes it is usually men, feel that they can do what they like because they can get away with it. Chief amongst those is the arrogance and bullying of women.
Behind that is the belief that they are just the people to deal with things. A self-confidence based on testosterone and in many cases a privileged background which tells them that they are ‘just the chaps’ to deal with the situation because they know how to lead and that people of the lesser sort (you and me!) should just bally well get behind them.
I believe that the problem lies in the fact that we are a deeply centralised country, probably the most centralised in Western Europe. That centralisation means that the stakes are high for those who wish to grab hold of the levers of power to further both their own interests and the interests of the clique which surrounds them.
It also means that there is little opportunity to scrutinise the actions of those with power. In London some of the Select Committees in the Houses of Commons and Lords do their best but are poorly armed with the resources to conduct them. Around them lurk shadowy think tanks and lobbying groups and professional lobbyists who thrive on being able to pump money into the system and pick up a phone to the “right people”.
I believe that there are three ways in which we can tackle these problems.
- Reduce the power of Whitehall and Westminster and make more decisions in the regions of England and the devolved nations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The stakes would not be as worthwhile for lobbyists and those who sue them if the centre of power was more diffuse and that they would have to lobby or persuade far more people than just the people in the centre.
- Produce tighter controls over lobbyists. I go to too many things in the House of Commons or elsewhere on behalf of local government where the events are being managed by professional lobbying organisation. There is nothing wrong with lobbying per se. I am a lobbyist on behalf of local government and our work to improve conditions for our constituents. We certainly don’t do it for cash!
- Get more women into politics. Put simply I believe that if more women were at the top of the power hierarchy there would be less of these problems. Women are more inclined to be reasonable; to seek compromise and to share decision making. They don’t see the same need to climb the greasiest of greasy poles as men do.
For these reasons and more I believe that we need to create a strong and radical partnership in the centre of British politics to promote governance changes that will sweep away mush of the poor and misguided traditions of British politics that have built up over the past 400 years. Some people will tell me that the people of the Country as a whole are not interested in fundamental reforms of Government. They want us to be interested in bread and butter issues like housing and education and employment. True, but as people within the system we know that to deliver what people need we must change the system which is preventing us from delivering.
This will not be easy and will not be achieved by the Lib Dems alone although I believe that we should be at the heart of implementing actions such as these. There are people in other Parties who believe as we do and there are millions of people who support our objectives but who despair of the state of the body politic. That is our weakness but also our strength. Convince people that we want to ‘drain the swamp’ and we can gain support for our Party and then deliver those desperately needed changes.