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LibDem conference: It started with ambition, but ended in confusion

By Mark Littlewood
September 24th, 2009 at 1:08 am | 4 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

nick-clegg-photoThis should have been a defining week for the Liberal Democrats. Our last conference before a General Election. A chance to showcase our (relatively unknown) leader and to get across to the electorate one (or, at a stretch, two) clear, simple ideas.

But a conference that began with an assertion that we could replace the Labour Party, quite swiftly descended into a rapid volley of mixed messages.

The truth is that the wider electorate will not have received a positive impression of the LibDems from our activities this week. And much of the media pack were rolling their eyes in the sort of way that I’ve seen before. Most begin with a fairly open-minded view that they haven’t quite grasped what the party is saying, but fairly swiftly move to the conclusion that we don’t either.

I wasn’t wholly persuaded by the narrative in Nick Clegg’s DEMOS pamphlet – however, he was at least saying something vaguely interesting. But if you want to assert that you’re going to replace Labour on the eve of conference, to have as your first big  story that you’re willing to make savage cuts in public services is a little bewildering. More worryingly, to try and row back and explain that Nick meant “serious” or “severe” and not “savage” is nuanced beyond credibility. (He was intending to say “severe”, but said “savage instead)

None of this would matter much if we had a draft script to work to. But sometimes it seems as if we’ve called in the cameramen, the producer, the director, the make-up artists  and the lead actors and are asking them to make up the plot  as they go along.

This might – conceivably – lead to the creation of a cult, surrealist masterpiece. But more often than not it just ends up with a lot of very confused people saying “Sorry, that’s bollocks”.

All is not lost – by any means – but if we want to put on 4% or 5% in a General Election campaign, we will need to make sure  our communications strategy and our message are much better than this.

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GUEST POST – Real women have balls

By admin
September 22nd, 2009 at 2:17 pm | 35 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

hijabheelsWhat is the most pressing issue affecting women today in Britain and the world over? If you attended Lib Dem Conference on Saturday, you would have been told that a leading candidate must be the way we are constantly bombarded with female images of unattainable beauty. Apparently, a cruel and insidious pressure is being applied to young girls by a cynical and manipulative fashion industry to look physically attractive – at least according to Jo Swinson’s policy document, “Real Women.” Following on from last week’s TUC motion taking a stand against high heels, you might be forgiven for thinking that the entire political establishment has comprehensively lost the plot.

Was there ever a more embarrassing and self-indulgent debate at Conference? I feel sure someone will tell me about it. But for me, as the afternoon progressed, the proceedings became increasingly conspicuous for what was not being discussed – a glaring and yet entirely predictable omission. In the context of a debate about the subtle (or not so subtle) coercion experienced by women to get them to conform to some expected body image required by an external agency with its own evil agenda – was anyone, anywhere, going to mention . . . the Islamic Burka?

I simply loathe the Burka. It insults and indeed harms women who are forced to cover themselves from head to toe in the hottest weather. It is an instrument of oppression and a symbol of female subservience. It even manages to insult men who, the logic goes, might turn into sex maniacs if men and women were allowed to mingle freely. But the cosy liberal consensus that prevails in Britain places this topic strictly off limits. Not so in France however. In my wildest political fantasies, I hear Nick Clegg taking his cue from what President Sarkozy said earlier this year: “We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity.”

Responding to this issue on BBC Question Time in June, Julia Goldsworthy said something which now sounds absolutely hilarious. “There is an issue about whether women have the freedom to choose whether or not they wear [the Burka],” she said. “The problem is if you start with the Burka, where do you stop? Are we going to end up with a fashion police?” Fashion police!!! Who would have thought that only a few months later, official party policy would effectively require fashion police to trawl adverts and magazine articles, rooting out the signs of excessive airbrushing and retouching that are making young women today so miserable.

If this debate has served any purpose, apart from making us look foolish, it is to highlight yet again the astonishing double standard that still seems to shield religious and cultural issues from excessive criticism. Arguing against the Burka is always going to be tricky. The reason is that there is no shortage of strong independent-minded Muslim women who insist that they are perfectly happy to wear it. Some even claim that the Burka is a sort of feminist symbol for Muslims (don’t make me laugh). But the point is that for every such strong Muslim woman, there is a Muslim woman (or maybe two, three, or four) who has been coerced into the Burka after years of religious indoctrination which began pretty much as soon as she could walk.

Saturday’s Conference debate proved that Liberal Democrats are perfectly capable of articulating this kind of argument – after all, nobody is forcing any girl to go on a diet. But liberals know instinctively that individuals need protecting, and not merely from the state. There are also corporations and of course the media, all ready and able to exploit the young unformed mind to further their own deeply vested interests. And then there are . . . religions – no hang on, what a clanger, please forget I said that, we can’t possibly criticise people’s beliefs, religion is bloody marvellous, don’t you know? Thus at Spring Conference, we nodded through our support for faith schooling; while at Autumn Conference, we are all in a twist about subliminal advertising messages.

The debate came dangerously close to self-parody at times. The policy paper, printed in lurid pinks and greens, resembled more the type of teenage magazine I thought was supposed to be the enemy, than a serious policy document. And given the nature of the discussion, it was impossible not to pay at least some attention to the physical appearance of the delegates themselves. The BBC had the same idea as they ironically focused upon Elaine Bagshaw’s bright red heels before slowly panning the camera up her lovely legs – easily the high point of the afternoon for me watching at home. There should have been much more stuff like that.

The overall motion (including a vital amendment to include netball in the London Olympics) was approved overwhelmingly with only two against. But I don’t believe Saturday’s debate is going to help a single woman anywhere, except of course for those delegates in the conference hall who got to feel really good about themselves. Certainly there was no help on offer to any vulnerable Muslim woman who might presently be cowering under the Burka – that horrid garment of fear and oppression with which we have allowed the entire beauty and identity of a woman to be airbrushed, and all without so much as a squeak of protest from Liberal Democrats.

Real women would not stand silently by. Real women would have more balls.

Laurence Boyce is a member of the Liberal Democrats

+++ Liberal Vision on Newsnight and The World Tonight +++

By Angela Harbutt
September 22nd, 2009 at 8:48 am | Comments Off on +++ Liberal Vision on Newsnight and The World Tonight +++ | Posted in Uncategorized

Mark Littlewood appeared on last night’s Newsnight and Radio 4’s The World Tonight, questioning whether the newly proposed “mansion tax” was a sensible policy for the LibDems.

My best moment at conference so far……….THAT Ed Fordham moment!

By Angela Harbutt
September 21st, 2009 at 5:38 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

ed-fordhamThis has been the highlight of my stay in Bournemouth so far – NO DOUBT.

BACKGROUND : Victoria Derbyshire Show hosted a show from Bournemouth this morning with 200 guests from all walks of life and all political persuasions.

So what happened?

PART 1 : Nick Clegg arrives (around 41minutes into the programme on BBC iPlayer ). Victoria asks Nick to explain the new Lib Dem “Mansion Tax” policy and then takes questions from the audience…. “Mike” introduces himself as an unemployed local resident who lives in a house that is worth over £1million.  He explains that he is looking to be able to find a “few little bits of part time employment ” that means he could earn a few £thousand a year. He asks Nick why he should bother to find a job if the few thousand he earns is going straight into the tax coffers. Nick explains that as he is also proposing to take out of the tax system anyone earning under £10,000 he will not be penalised by the “mansion” tax. Quite a lengthy discussion ensues with “Mike” accusing Nick of trying to sneak in a wealth tax.  You’ll have to listen to the rest of it on iPlayer to get the full picture.

Part 2: About 20 minutes later. Nick has gone but…luckily..Ed Fordham has by now joined Sarah Teather and Steve Webb on the panel. We have moved onto the issue of “honesty” . A question “Mike” (yes the same unemployed guy from earlier). He asks the panel to explain a training document published by the Lib Dem Cllrs “a few years ago” which talks about how to operate in their area . It is from a document written by some 11 years ago and is not something any Lib Dem would be proud of (listen to it here on BBC iPlayer around 1.17 minutes into the programme).

Ed Fordham reveals

1. “Mike” is actually Mike Greene an ex-Tory Councillor from London

2. “Mike” doesn’t just have a £1million+ house in Bournemouth but another rather nice house in Fitzjohn’s Rd, London NW3.

3. “Mike’s” wife is actually a sitting Tory Coucillor in Bournemouth. And not just any old Councillor but one that sits in the cabinet.


Here we are facing the most serious economic crisis this country has seen since the WW2; we have soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq: people are struggling to keep house and home together and here we have a (ex)Conservative politician playing petty politics.  And grinning like a cheshire cat when he was exposed.

Ex Tory Councillor Mike Greene might think its funny. I dont. There were a lot of people in that room who did not get a chance to ask Nick or the other Lib Dem spokespeople a genuine question.  Their opportunities were deprived by some selfish man wanting to derail a serious debate in order to play some silly game.

David Cameron might make good soundbites on TV, but this proves to me – if ever it needed proving – that swathes of Mr Cameron’s Tory party still don’t get it.    

Luckily the electorate are not so dumb either. I stayed late after the show to chat to some of the audience. They all said that they took away many positives about the Lib Dem Party though not all were yet totally persuaded and some definately unpersaudable. Fair enough. There was however universal condemnation of the tactics of the Conservatives. And as one floating voter who thought she was leaning to David Cameron said ” Oh it looks like the Tories have not changed their spots afterall.”  

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Mark Littlewood – slightly less influential than Harry Potter

By Mark Littlewood
September 21st, 2009 at 3:48 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Mark Littlewood is rated as the 47th most influential Liberal Democrat by Iain Dale in today’s Telegraph – one place behind Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays kid wizard, Harry Potter!