Saturday, 28 June 2014

Liberator 366 Is Out! - and an unhealthy row emerges...

Issue 366 of Liberator will be landing through subscribers' letterboxes this weekend.

Unsurprisingly, it contains a wide range of advice for Nick Clegg, little of which he will welcome.  Articles from a range of authors review the outcomes of May's elections at home and abroad; former Scottish Liberal Democrat Chief Executive Andy Myles explains why he is arguing for a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum.  And Lib Dem councillor Mathew Hulbert explains the thinking behind a new campaign to promote the Fairtrade movement within the party.

There is also mention of an unhealthy row over the Public Services working group.  Charles West, a Shrewsbury GP and former Parliamentary candidate who led the charge against the Health & Social Care Act, the ramifications of which will return to haunt the party, has written an article which sets out a series of complaints against the way the working group was run and proposes an alternative paper - a rare move.  The secrecy rules of the Federal Policy Committee mean I had better not comment as a member, but Radical Bulletin contains the following:


A series of rows has marred the work of the Lib Dems policy working group on public services, resulting in both an expected minority report and a complaint to Federal Policy Committee chair Duncan Hames about the way the group has been run.

FPC set it up with a unwieldy brief to examine education, health, transport and ‘cross cutting public services’, each of which could probably have sustained a working group in its own right.

There was a dispute right at the start when the chair was awarded to Jeremy Hargreaves, a long-serving denizen of the party’s policy processes, and not to former Romsey MP Sandra Gidley, who is viewed as unsound by what many refer to as ‘the Clegg children’.

They do not of course mean his actual children but rather the coterie of academically bright but politically clueless young advisers with whom he has seen fit to surround himself.

Most prominent among the dissidents is Charles West, a general practitioner who fought Shrewsbury and Atcham at the last general election.

In is complaint to Hames, West has noted: “You may be aware of the fact that a number of us in the policy working group discussing public services have been seriously concerned   about the way in which the group has functioned.”

He went on to set out concerns that Hargreaves had acted autocratically and rejected input with which he disagreed, and that votes had not been held on contentious matters.

West has elaborated on his concerns and it now looks like the Glasgow conference in October will be presented with either a lot of options or amendments.

Hargreaves told Liberator that disagreements had arisen over West’s wish to commit the party to ending the purchaser/ provider split in health. He said the rest of the group had simply not agreed with West.

It was quite usual for FPC to be given differing views by a working group but Hargreaves said West had suddenly called for a vote on the split long after the group had rejected the idea and this had not been taken. He described the group’s work as “very consensual”. How consensual will no doubt become apparent at Glasgow.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Orange Book: Still Absurd After All These Years

There has been more inaccurate material written about the "Orange Book" than just about every other recent Liberal publication combined.

I described it at the time [] as "quite an absurd and ill-timed set of policies that seem more to do with self-advancement than the party's election prospects."  That is still true.  What I and others took time to appreciate, though, is that it was far from a coherent and pre-planned set of ideas, but a suite of disparate thoughts from disgruntled Parliamentarians.  While they were happy to write a set of articles that, combined, added up to a deliberate attempt to undermine the presentation of the Party's pre-manifesto (and in so doing undermine Lib Dem electoral fortunes), they were certainly not all signed up to the timing.  One of them privately confirmed to me that he felt conned and used in a stunt.

The articles themselves largely reflected the personal hobbyhorses of individual authors.  Some, such as Steve Webb's, were faith-based.  Nick Clegg's piece on EU reform ironically would have been better received in the 2014 elections than the lines that those institutions should stay broadly as they are.  Much of it was pretty turgid, with only the chapters by its co-editors Paul Marshall and David Laws providing the controversy.

More important to remember is that it was hardly that new at the time.  I have many tracts written by people then regarded as Liberal Democrat policymakers in Westminster, such as sometime Clegg adviser Julian Astle, espousing the same sort of unfettered free-trade, 'we must never be seen to be left-wing' propaganda - but from the period of Paddy Ashdown's leadership. His successor Charles Kennedy, who let his frustration at the damage caused by the Orange Book be known, sowed some of the seeds by encouraging the then tiny organisation centred around Mark Oaten, Liberal Future.  David Laws had entertained a role as something of a controversialist, emphasised when the late Conrad Russell and I supported him in resisting for sound economic reasons a Conference attempt by Steve Webb to promote restoring the earnings link.

Liberator's reaction at the time can be viewed at

Today the book finally got the launch that the long-quiet Paul Marshall cancelled at the time due to the incendiary reaction it caused within the party.  Due to its timing during the working day, I was not there; but from observation the event was what James Graham would have described as a circle jerk.  It was most notable for an appallingly male-dominated line-up; giving a platform to Conservatives and others well beyond the pale of the Liberal Democrat mainstream; in the main, deliberately emphasising a political divide that Norman Lamb described as false between economic and social liberals within the Liberal Democrats; and a refreshingly naïve absence of electoral political reality, as Stephen Tall (promoting local pay, emphatically rejected only two years ago by precisely the poorest areas that Stephen mentions) puts it:

'All-too-often missing from Orange Book-inspired discussion (as indeed it was missing from Jeremy Browne’sRace Plan, in some ways its natural successor) has been the question that’s key to any political party: “Who’d vote for this?” For instance, in the session I did attend Paul Marshall set out some of the ideas he said would be top of his list for an Orange Book v.II: ending the cap on senior public sector executives’ pay being no higher than the Prime Minister’s; local pay-settlements for public sector workers; making strikes illegal in hospitals and schools; and requiring a minimum 50 per cent turn-out for strike ballots. One of those has merit, I think: local pay, as I’ve argued before, is a potentially important way of ensuring we can recruit to vacancies in the poorest areas. The rest strike me as largely symbolic policies likely to use up a lot of political capital and achieving little. Though an Orange Book sympathiser, I’m not an Orange Book purist: there’s no point putting forward authentically liberal policies without knowing how you’d sell them on the doorstep to a sceptical public. That way lies the fate of the FDP.'

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Simon Titley – Living Obituary

John Swarbrick’s lesser known cousin Dave is one of the few people who have had the dubious pleasure of reading their own obituary. But if ever a man deserved to hear good things said about him it is Simon Titley so, while there is still time, I want to write this living obituary to one of the great Liberals and one of my best mates.

Many of us have been devastated by the tragic news that our life-long chum and Liberal colleague Simon has a massive,inoperable brain tumour and probably doesn’t have long to live. Some of us have been worried about his health for some time but, like many stubborn men, he didn’t get it checked out and he was stuck down while enjoying Sunday lunch with his family. Now, Simon likes his food and you may think that if you have to go, there are worse ways than tucking into a Sunday roast. But, and for me and I’m sure for many of you it’s a big but, we hadn’t quite finished with him.

He’s a human being and so he is infuriating and severally flawed, but he is quite simply one of a very few people on the planet who just gets it – all of it. His sharp wit; his radical liberalism; his excellent taste in music; his hilarious sense of humour; his love of great food, good beer and fine wine; whatever it was Simon enjoyed it and for the most part he got it right – spot on right. For those who have enjoyed his company and his writing over the past four decades will know, although a stubborn bastard at times, Simon had one of the best brains in the party – his ability for clarity of thought and his skill at putting that succinctly in writing was a talent to be prised and revered. There is a manifesto’s worth of good ideas out there and I hope they can be collected together for future generations to appreciate and for the party to fully understand what it has missed.

Simon’s contribution to our sense of fun has been as great as his contribution to our beliefs and understanding. It was largely his idea in 1984 to start the Liberal Revue and for many years he wrote and directed shows that had hundreds in stiches with some of the sharpest satire anywhere in British politics. Senior journalists from Vincent Hanna, to Elinor Goodman, to Michael Crick would seek him out for comment because they knew he would not just have his figure exactly on the issue of the day, but he would say it in a pithy, witty and memorable way.

Of course like most great Liberals Simon’s mind was ahead of its time and often out of step with what some might call mainstream thinking. But for those who have followed his many contributions in Liberator over the years know he has been proved right time and again and the party would have done well to have listened to him more often.

Sadly he will write no more and we will have to learn to think for ourselves. Laughter will seem a little hollow for a while and even favourite songs may sound off key. Simon, before you go, I want you to know that I and many, many others hold you in great regard – a friend and a brother, greatly loved and respected – you will be sorely missed you old bugger.

Roger Hayes