Thursday, 28 March 2013

Cuckoos in the nest

There’s more than one cuckoo in my LibDem nest and I very much regret that Nick Clegg and cohorts, thought it reasonable or indeed 'liberal/Liberal', to whip his MPs into voting in favour of legislation that is nothing of the sort. I am, of course, referring to the Secret Courts fiasco.

I understand there were 'rebels' who did not take the same view as Nick Clegg - and happily, my father, Lord Avebury, founding member the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group was amongst them, along with 28 other Members of the Upper House.
However, whilst compromises may have been necessary in the exercise of power and co-operation within the Coalition, these should not include compromises of fundamental Liberal/liberal principles and values.
I do recognise that there have been LibDem successes in the Coalition, and yet we have done little to distinguish ourselves in the eyes of the general public, and at the same time, we are seriously in danger of asking our membership for one compromise too much.
Somewhere and somehow, our core values and principles appear to have become eroded, and our Parliamentarians are failing to hear the voices of its membership (and Conference).

As a Party, we should value our heritage as this surely tells us about our present and our future. Some of us can just about remember a time when our elected representatives were still admired and respected, including former leader, Jo Grimondunder whose tenure as MP for Orkney and Shetland the first post-war Liberal revival took place. The Party doubled the number of seats, and won a number of by-elections including that of my father, Eric, at Orpington in 1962.
According to the Liberal Democrat History Group, "Grimond's leadership of the Liberal Party from 1956-67 made a difference not just to the fortunes of his party but to British politics, helping to end the two-party mould into which Britain had seemed to settle".
This is the position we, as a Party, are again experiencing. So it is perhaps appropriate we should look back at our historical roots. Grimond was popular for speaking out, and raising issues that many politicians of  his day, did not. In his book, "The Liberal Challenge",
he addresses head on, the fundamental "philosophy and faith upon which Liberal policy is based", and the kind of society we might aspire to be. 
I am aware that, in order to win both the confidence and votes of the Electorate, our policies and purpose must be clear, credible and costed - as well as distinctly 'Liberal'. In striving to be popular and electable, it is the loss of such Liberal values that I fear. In coalition, it seems we are bound at the hip to the Tories, having to participate in the introduction of measures of necessity and austerity. But, I would argue, that doesn't mean we have to leave behind our principles and values at the door of No.10. 
There are some in our Party who accuse those of us concerned with these most fundamental principles of human rights, to be “fairweather’. It is true I have only been a Member of the Party a mere 37 years, and that I yearn to feel once again proud of being a Liberal. And I long for a Party leader who says: “We cannot vote in favour of this because it’s illiberal and is detrimental to our Society and our values”.  
As a Party with very limited funds at our disposal, ( beholden neither to corporate interests nor Union muscle), we have always had difficulty in communicating and explaining our policies and values to the electorate. And now, with a golden opportunity and platform to do so, we just keep screwing up - either because we are seen to be promoting a Tory agenda, or because the behaviour and ethics of some of our MPs and Peers is what attracts the media's attention.  
What I'd like to see is a 're-branding' our Party (with reformers at the helm). Maybe we should call ourselves 'The New Liberals' with a manifesto containing promises and policies that put our core values and philosophy at its heart. Of course, the last time we undertook such an exercise (remember the SDP/Alliance merger in 1989?) it ended pretty disastrously for the Party in my view. Although we did get the wonderful Shirley Williams as a result. But we are in a new century and our politics and policies must be ‘fit-for-purpose’, and the test is: Are our Parliamentarians successfully adhering to and promoting the soul of our Party?
I think, to return to our old friend, Jo Grimond, maybe what the Party needs right now is a true "reformer"; someone that can - and will - be successful in promoting the cause of democracy. Thus far, it seems to me that in Government we have mostly failed miserably on this count,  the AV Referendum and reform of the House of Lords come to mind.
And, of course, it's not just the issue of Secret Courts that concerns those of us who feel strongly about the maintenance, protection and promotion of human rights, and the direction of the Party. There is also the issue of legal aid, and a system of justice that is fair to all. 
We cannot expect or rely on a hostile media to explain our position on human rights. And results from the late-night horse-trading following the Leveson Inquiry are still to be tested. 
My loyalty to this Party is, I know, partially inherited, but I have always felt comfortable in this political space. I do not, however, wish to share my nest with a cuckoo! 

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who was Sir John Lubbock?

"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth"
JOHN LUBBOCK, The Pleasures of Life

Who was Sir John Lubbock? Firstly, he was my Great Grandfather, and in May this year, it will be 100 years since his death. He served as MP for Maidstone in Kent for 29 years. According to Wiki, he had "four main political agendas: promotion of the study of science in primary and secondary schools; the national debt, free trade, and related economic issues; protection of ancient monuments; securing of additional holidays and shorter working hours for the working classes.[1]
Although he undoubtedly had an incredibly broad range of interests and achievements, he is perhaps best known for The Bank Holidays Act of 1871 which, in their day, were known as "St Lubbock's Day". And yes, he was a banker. In this role, he  introduced a clearing system for provincial banks in 1858 and was the first President of The Institute of Bankers until his death in 1913. (I believe he even hoofed it over to Greece to help in an attempt to sort out the failing Greek economy.) Other legislation he successfully introduced and steered through Parliament (in a prolific way that could hardly be contemplated or attributable to a single individual MP these days) includes: 

Certificate of thanks to Sir John Lubbock from
the President of the Dental Reform Committee, August 1878
  • Shop Hours Act,
  • the Early Closing Act 1900 (to reduce the permitted hours of work in shops and offices)
  • the Open Spaces Act
  • Public Libraries Act
  • The Ancient Monuments Act 1882 which paved the way for the creation of English Heritage and the first legislation of its kind anywhere in the world. 
  • He also successfully worked towards the recognition of dental surgery as a profession for the first time in the Dentists Act 1878.
John Lubbock was also an amateur scientist, working closely with his neighbour in Downe, Kent, one Charles Darwin. I don't know if it it was his acknowledged 'corrections' of Darwin's statistics in Origin of the Species (they exchanged considerable correspondence on this matter), but he eventually reached the esteemed position of President of the Royal Statistical Society (1900 - 1902).In those heady days, it is clear that (admittedly, privileged) individuals could indulge their passions and interests in such a way as it is nigh-on impossible to find evidenced today. In 1865, he coined the terms  "Palaeolithic" and "Neolithic" and he is widely credited with the birth of Archaelogy as a recognised scientific discipline. Indeed, it was after the beautiful and enigmatic archeological treasure of Avebury in Wiltshire that Sir John took the title Lord Avebury in 1900.
And, one of my personal favourites - and the original inspiration for this blog, the founding in January 1884 of the Proportional Representation Society (which later became the Electoral Reform Society in 1958).
Unlike my brother, Lyulph (who is an expert on our family history), I rarely visit this family past in any depth, but perhaps on the occasion of my great grandfather's death 100 years ago, a little indulgent reflection may be understood and tolerated. What I do find a little disconcerting and surprising, is just quite how relevant his work and interests are to the politics and uncertainties of today - whether it'sthe use and function of public libraries, the protection of ancient monuments, working hours, dealing with the National Debt and debt defaults in the Eurozone, or the promotion of science in the curriculum. 

Plus ├ža change.

Reference sources:
The Royal Society - Avebury's Circle (March 2013)
The Royal Society - Election Card

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Grappling, groping and groaning

Another fantastic LibDem 'own goal' with the on-going Lord Rennard saga. I've never met him personally, but was shocked today when a friend of my mother's half-jokingly asked me if I'd ever been groped. I can honestly say the only LibDem groping I've had the pleasure of being on the receiving end of was at a  Party Conference in Blackpool way back in the 70s. It was entirely consensual and with another passionate Young Liberal who subsequently became a 'special friend'.

But on the subject of groping, I have been amazed at how poorly the party machinery seems to have reacted to these allegations, with one or two notable exceptions (Simon Hughes, Stephen Tall amongst them).

Debate within the party appears to be moving towards questioning the party's commitment to equal opportunities, and that surely will bring us right back to the issue of positive discrimination or selection of PPCs.

I have, on more than one occasion, considered putting myself through the Parliamentary candidate selection procedure, but having seen "Westminster Life" up close and personal, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have either the stamina - or indeed the necessary ambition - to subject myself and my family to such an experience. After all, I've not even succeeded in converting my beloved hubbie of 30 years who, like me, has his own 'Tribal loyalties' and only extended politically to supporting my term as an elected Councillor in Hackney in the 80s.

With the imminent Eastleigh by-election and once again, an anticipated plummet in the polls, I wonder how long it'll be before party members start to query Clegg's competence, and even if there isn't a move to replace Clegg before the next election, who's the alternative when the time does come?

As a party, we are in serious danger of sinking into obscurity unless someone quickly gets a grip and I do therefore seriously hope that one thing Chris Rennard might have achieved when he could have, is to train up and mentor a suitable "Election Campaigning Supremo", since his reputation in that respect remains untarnished.