Thursday 31 December 2015

Perhaps not the best of years: Lord Bonkers in 2015


An article by Paddy Ashdown in which he spoke of his love of the poetry of John Donne led Lord Bonkers to remember the first Liberal Democrat leadership election:
Many though Alan Beith was the frontrunner, but Ashplant began his speech to the first hustings by looking his opponent in the eye and declaiming: 
Beith be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so. 
This was widely counted as something of a zinger, and poor Beith's campaign never recovered from the blow.

Looking forward to the general election, Lord Bonkers was confident that our leader would hold his seat:
Some reason that he has upset the student vote because, after waving that wretched pledge of his at everybody last time round, he stung them for a small fortune when he got the first whiff of power. 
However, given that the polls closed as early as 10pm, one has to question how many students actually made it into the booth to vote for him last time.

Lord Bonkers reacted to the news that the police were taking an interest in Harvey Proctor, secretary to the Duke of Rutland, in characteristically measured tones:
A quiet day on the Bonkers Hall Estate. 
In particular, I don’t have the police turning over the cottage of one of my employees – unlike another Rutland aristocrat I could mention. 
Ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh my! Oh my!

The reburial of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral was beamed around the world:
I won’t pretend to have agreed with every detail of the celebrations: whilst I agree it was a nice touch to give the old boy a ride round on the Sunday, I couldn't help feeling that taking him back to the battlefield at Bosworth was a trifle tactless. Couldn't he have gone to Twycross Zoo or Foxton locks instead?

The Revd Hughes was determined to undertake missionary work among the tribes of the Upper Welland Valley:
he tells me he has arranged for a locum vicar to take Divine Service and visit the sick whilst he is away. “He’s young and keen and believes every word of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is the literal truth.” I eye him levelly: “It’s not Farron, is it?”
The next day Lord Bonkers' fears were confirmed:
It is Farron. I find him in St Asquith’s taking down the signed photograph of Leicestershire’s 1975 County Championship winning team from behind the altar. 
"Let me make a few things clear from the start," I tell him. "We are not going to sing 'Shine, Jesus, Shine,' you are not removing the pews from the church and I am not going to kiss the person next to me – unless it’s Alan Beith, of course."

Relations with Tim Farron remained a little strained:
This morning, when I pass by St Asquith’s to make sure that no more gargoyles have fallen, he stops me to ask why I insist the choirboys have rifle practice every week. 
What a question! He wouldn’t be asking it if a snap by-election were called.
And Lord Bonkers also met Alex Carlile:
"I hear you’ve been asked to serve on the committee that is going to review freedom of information legislation," I say brightly. 
He looks at me suspiciously: "Who told you that?"

As the Revd Hughes returned to St Asquith's we learnt more of Lord Bonkers' involvement in the film industry:
Today I attend the Oakham premiere of a film I helped finance: ‘Straight Outta Nick Compton’. It tells the story of an opening batsman who is unjustly treated and records the controversial single “Fuck tha Selectors” as a result. I see from its evening edition that The High Leicestershire Radical (which I happen to own) has given it five stars.
While his foreword to the new Liberator songbook referred back to the general election:
I don’t know about yours, but here in Rutland our election night party Fell a Bit Flat. It was barely past midnight when the band struck up the Dead March from ‘Saul’ and things did not get much more cheerful after that.

Complaints about 'political correctness' on The Great British Bake Off led Lord Bonkers to spill the beans on Mary Berry:
I can exclusively reveal, ‘Red Mary’ has been behind every politically motivated strike, every violent demonstration and every act of industrial sabotage in Britain for decades. And who do people imagine baked the macaroons for the Angry Brigade?

The tradition of decorating the domestic staff for Christmas was maintained at Bonkers Hall.

Lord Bonkers opens his diary to Jonathan Calder.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Is there any longer a point to the Liberal Democrats?

A question many people are asking after the rump of 8 Lib Dem MPs agreed they would all vote to prop up David Cameron's latest attempt to bomb Syria.

As a Liberator Collective colleague put it.... ' I have no idea where to start - I fluctuate from anger to despair.  Even if you put the arguments about Syria themselves to one side...'.  And on the basis of the tests by which the Lib Dems said they would decide whether or not to back air strikes in Syria, they have absolutely not been met.  In particular, there is no post-Daesh plan that would even fill the back of a fag packet, and no sign of British efforts to lead an international diplomatic consensus.

Both Farron and Clegg have changed their tune in barely two months.  Take Clegg (no - please, please do.  Preferably to his natural home.) In October he wrote in the Evening Standard that 'dropping bombs on a country without a workable military approach on the ground made little strategic sense.  On the substance on which we based our collective decision in 2014, nothing has changed. If anything, the evolving circumstances make air strikes less justified. All there is on the ground in Syria is chaos, blood and anger. We would simply be throwing more bombs into a furnace..... playing catch-up with other people’s bombing raids is hardly the most effective way of doing so.'  Yesterday he jumped the gun on the whole party by blurting out to Sky that it would back the Tories, as if he were still leader.  I am told that colleagues were furious.  My response is that his behaviour is at least consistent for him.

The damage to the Liberal Democrats, however, is political.  "The Conservatives... with support from the DUP and the Liberal Democrats..." is what the media will record of today's debate and vote.  The toxic accusation that the Liberal Democrats are simply propping up the Tories will still apply.  Not a single Lib Dem MP is recognising that almost three to one Lib Dem members currently, as it stands, oppose action at this stage; the party is the only one (apart from the DUP) whose name is absent from the counter-proposal on the order papers today.  While we should not be fooled by claims about the late Charles Kennedy's actions in 2003, the public will see the Liberal Democrats trashing the political legacy on intervention and Iraq, while backing action that repeats the same mistakes.

It seems Liberal Democrat MPs have learned nothing of the mistakes of action in Iraq and more recently Libya; nothing of their mistakes from the Coalition Parliament; and have understood nothing of the gaping chasm in opinion between them and the party members that have worked hard to get them elected.  The reaction of those members - many of whom didn't receive a single email from the party on how it would approach the issue - is of utter dismay.

It is no surprise so many party members are asking: what's the point?

Friday 25 September 2015

Glee Club: 'the best night ever' (Sky News)

This week's Glee Club was a great success, with the biggest attendance ever.  Our supply of the Liberator Songbook sold out in record time.  Onlookers seemed to enjoy it.  Even a journalist from Sky News called it "the best night ever" (and on being challenged she did not say she was being sarcastic).

We have remembered two good friends at Autumn Glee Clubs who have recently departed us.  Simon Titley was on the front cover of the 2014 Glee Club Songbook and Charles Kennedy was remembered on the front page of the 2015 Glee Club Songbook.  Charles was remembered fondly.  We spoke to his family to see what their view was about the many songs about him before printing the songbook.  They said that he would have wanted us to keep on singing about him.  We did sing the song "Song in Praise of Charles Kennedy" although we did not sing any of the other songs.   We did remove the Skye Boat Song from the songbook we did not get a response from the family before the songbook went to press.  The "Song In Praise of Charles Kennedy", written by another dear, departed friend (Harriet Smith) was sung with passion and genuine affection.  Charles was always 'more singed about than singing'.   He will be sorely missed.

Members of the Glee Club will now find a Facebook group they can join.  There will be more - much more - in 2016 as a certain famous song celebrates a significant birthday!

Those after a copy of the 26th and biggest ever Liberator Songbook should click this link for details.

Friday 14 August 2015

London Lib Dems reveal Assembly shortlist

Those with connections to the more enterprising candidates may already have noticed this, but the party in London has released the shortlist of candidates to be London Assembly members in 2016.  Liberator understands this was due to a delay after one excluded candidate was reinstated on appeal.

The list is:
Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett
Annabel Mullin
Ben Mathis
Brian Haley
Caroline Pidgeon
Dawn Barnes
Duwayne Brooks
Emily Davey
Marisha Ray
Mark Platt
Merlene Emmerson
Pauline Pearce
Rob Blackie
Stephen Knight
Teena Lashmore
Zack Polanski

It includes at least 6 candidates from a BAME background and the gender split is 50/50: two encouraging signs.  Most of the names will come as no surprise including the two incumbent AMs.

Notable by their absence are libertarians who have been making a lot of noise about policy in the London Assembly about the stance to the taxi business Uber. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes an issue.

Saturday 9 May 2015

Guest post: How To Win The Fightback

What a depressing time for Liberalism Thursday night was. I believe strongly that we as a party should now all get behind Tim Farron to be the new leader and begin the fight back.

However, the first step must surely be to admit where we went wrong. Going into a coalition in itself was not a mistake as it showed we were prepared to put our money where our mouths were. But we voted through so many awful policies, such as tuition fees and secret courts that we should have blocked, while allowing the Tories to veto all the key reforms we proposed - electoral reform, Lords reform and minor changes to the treatment of drug users.

Giving up our historic position as a party on the centre left who back well-funded public services along with a strong commitment to individual freedom, and swapping it for a vague, mealy-mouthed, neither one thing nor the other approach was also intellectually weak and tactically inept. When I spoke to voters on the doorstep over the election period, many naturally Tory and Labour voters who had previously lent us their vote said they would be unable to this time for fear that we put the other ‘lot’ in. To regain the trust of voters we must be prepared to stand up for what we think and what we would achieve in Government, not just what we would try to block.

Our current obsession with cutting taxes must also surely now come to an end. Not only does it go against the fundamental principles of progressive liberalism to continually want shrink the state, it is economically illiterate. By continually ‘taking people out of tax altogether’, not only do we take away people’s stake in the public services they use, but we have also punched a huge hole in the UK’s income tax take, thus worsening the structural deficit that those supporting tax cuts claim to want to cure.  The misguided Tory pledge to enshrine 'no tax rises' in law naturally creates the space for this debate.

We must also reverse the process of watering down our policy commitments; if the swing to UKIP tells us anything, other than a huge dissatisfaction with modern politics, it is that voters like politicians who say what they think, rather than say what is acceptable to focus groups. The Liberal Democrats used to back the legalisation of prostitution and of soft drugs, for the obvious reasons that it is not the role of Government to ban personal activities, but merely to regulate them properly to reduce harm. But the former is now never mentioned at all and the latter has been replaced by a commitment to stop treating drug users as criminals and start treating them as patients.

The road back to relevance and power will clearly be a long one, but rediscovering our soul and purpose must be the first step. I dearly hope that under Tim's leadership, the points I make above can be addressed. If they are not, I fear for the future of our party.

Nic Bourgueil is a Lib Dem member and former member of staff in London, writing under a pseudonym for work reasons and expressing a personal view.

Friday 20 March 2015

Nigeria 2015 Elections Postponement and its Effects by Donald Inwalomhe. Part 2.

Already attention has been shifted away from core economic programmes to politics and campaign, bad enough, the 2015 budget is yet to be considered and approved by the National Assembly as a result of these activities. We are faced with worst scenario especially if the legislature decides to politicize its legislative assignments. The budget might end up not being passed until after the May 29th transition period. It is not pleasing that the President is currently financing the 2015 budget outside appropriation, considering the fact that the current exchange rate of the naira would make such expenses risky. What is most worrisome is that if the budget is not timely passed so as to become law, it would pose a great challenge for the incoming government to reconcile expenditure already made outside the budget and those approved from the budget. The effect of the election postponement has already suggested uncertainty in the economy, it has lowered investors confidence in the nation’s stock exchange. Foreign investors are already withdrawing their investment from the Nigerian stock exchange.

The process of implementing economic growth policies would be slow; since the incoming government will not be known until after March 28th. In the face of dwindling oil funds, this is certainly not the time for Nigeria to toy with any activities that would revamp its revenue profile; not even the 2015elections. In a special report titled ‘Nigeria: Postponed Polls: Protracted Uncertainty Weighs on Naira’, the international investment and financial advisory firm, Renaissance Capital said by postponing the election, the authorities have further exposed the weakness of the local currency in the face of continued depletion of the nation’s foreign reserves.

Besides, the postponement is in line with the provision in section 26 sub section one of the electoral act 2010 amended. Basically, the insecurity occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgents in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States were among reasons why the security agents advised INEC for the postponement, saying that it cannot guarantee the security of voters, personnel and materials for the elections under the circumstance.

According to Prof. Jega under such circumstances, INEC had no option than to postpone the elections. However, INEC had been contending with the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), as millions of registered voters have been unable to collect their PVC as at the time of the announcement of the postponement by INEC Chairman, despite the extension of the collection exercise.

With the postponement of the elections due to insecurity in parts of the country, it therefore means that the Boko Haram insurgency which has been treated as a non issue by the military and Federal government has become a serious issue over night.

The postponement reminds Nigerians of the thankless role of the judiciary in the annulment of the 1993 general elections must necessarily become a warning in the light of the myriads of pre-election lawsuits currently pending in court ahead of the March 28 and April 11 polls. There are no fewer than five lawsuits seeking declaration that President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party is ineligible to stand re-election. As many as 10 separate suits are pending, wherein the court has been urged to disqualify the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) from the election.

Nigeria deserves this democracy, which, in the words of a prominent professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Itse Sagay, has become the minimum standard for a civilised existence. Indeed, democracy has been equated to the most basic fundamental human right of a people.

Inwalomhe Donald, Researcher, Benin City, Nigeria.

Nigeria 2015 Elections Postponement and its Effects by Donald Inwalomhe. Part 1.

The Nigerian Presidential election rescheduled to 28 March has been beset by controversy. This special report for the Liberator blog is by Donald Inwalomhe, a journalists for several national Nigerian newspapers, who works with a network to monitor the elections, and has been warning for several years of the threat in the north posed by Boko Haram.

THE general election earlier scheduled in February, 2015 has been postponed by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to March 28 (Presidential and national assembly) and April 11, (governorship and state assemblies) 2015, Announcing the postponement on Saturday 7th February, 2015 in a press briefing, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega told Nigerians that the postponement was due to security report by the Service chiefs of the security agencies in Nigeria. The postponement is already having some cost implications on Nigerians. If not well managed, we might lose much of our economic projections for 2015 and further plunged into more hardship. With the postponement, various stakeholders have incurred several forms of loses.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has vowed to disrupt Nigeria’s general election in a new video released recently, after several suicide attacks in the northeast blamed on the Islamists killed many people. In the ninth minutes of the video which lasted for 11 minutes 57 seconds, Shekau began to talk about Nigeria’s 2015 election, stating that, it will not hold in peace. “This election will not be held even if we are dead. Even if we are not alive Allah will never allow you to do it,” Shekau said in the Hausa language, presumably referring to the polls scheduled for March 28. The video appeared to be the first message released by the group on Twitter, a sign of its changing media tactics after previous messages were distributed to journalists on DVD. Shekau was shown in unusual clarity in front of a solid blue background, dressed in black and with an automatic weapon resting to his right.

The international and local observers had already counted their losses. The apprehension which might arise from the outcome of the February 14, 2015 elections also made companies to suspend major profitable ventures during the election period. Some traders closed their shops or rather refused to replace their stocks thereby recording low turnover. The political parties have deployed massive funds in all of the 36 states. However, with the six weeks extension, the political parties would need to continue the engagement process with their supporters in various cost-driven activities. More town hall meetings, rallies and air time would be paid as adverts in the electronic and print media. This extension would definitely be a cost burden on the small parties. The economy also has its own share in the cost of election postponement.

Monday 16 March 2015

Election Preparations

The extraordinary public attack on Tim Farron and his judgment by the Liberal Democrats' General Election Chair Paddy Ashdown was viewed with raised eyebrows by those who remembered his desperate attempts to pursue "The Project" with Tony Blair in 1997-8.

This has quickly been followed by an orchestrated attack on Farron in today's Times [paywalled] after a pretty innocuous piece in the Mail on Sunday.  Meanwhile a lot of people have been working to generate publicity for Norman Lamb after the intrusive tabloid piece about his family members yesterday.

Lamb appears to have handled this very well, gaining momentum for his work to transform mental health care.  What Tim Farron hasn't said so far (but others can) is that perhaps Lord Ashdown's focus should be on voters in key areas, as Tim's is on his constituents; and that winning as many seats as possible on 7 May is perhaps more important.

After all, it does rather seem that the election preparations going on in some places are not being made with the General Election in mind.

Whoever authored the attack on the handling of the foreign affairs brief was not thinking of the leadership's judgment in staying almost entirely silent on international issues this Parliament; in forsaking Ministerial roles at the FCO and MOD; or indeed in appointing Tim Farron to the foreign affairs role.

Sunday 1 March 2015

The half truths of apologists for Putin's agression in Ukraine.

After my article on Ukraine was published in February's Liberator 370, Liberal colleague Geoff Woodcock asked what I made of a review of a book in the Guardian on the Ukraine crisis.

'Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands by Richard Sakwa review – an unrivalled account' Jonathan Steele, 19 February 2015.

The review appears to show a lot of the ideological and political assumptions behind it – for me it is typical of the more thought out excuses given by 'left wing' and 'right wing' commentators to make excuses for the Russian state's war in South East Ukraine.

I think many of the basic points in this review are correct. But as with most of the articles that are basically hostile to the Kyiv government and make excuses for the fighting in the East, it is very one sided. I don't know whether the book is like that but the review is. The war in two parts of SE Ukraine, and the terrorism in other cities, would not be happening without the Russian state fuelling it. It is not a civil war (as some commentators like to overstate it) or popular uprising, it is an orchestrated destruction of government control over a major industrial region. A Lib Dem commentator called Matthew Green wrote a blog on Putin / Ukraine recently where he detailed a Facebook argument with a critic of the Kyiv government. He made the point I've just repeated "This is interesting because it is largely accurate on the core facts." There is elements of truth in criticisms of the 'Ukrainian side' and certainly of how NATO / the EU and US have handled things, but all of this is used to wash over the fact that Putin's Russia is fuelling a war in a neighbouring country that is not what people in that country want.

Matthew Green's blog is here: 'How far will liberals go to defend their values? Putin poses the question.' I don't agree with all of it as it makes some of the kind of sweeping statements that the Putin apologists make on their side. In the Jonathan Steele review of Sakwa it is typical 'us against them' rhetoric.

I have always blamed Thatcher and Bush for the collapse in the former Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, a great crime that they failed to support Mikhail Gorbachev with a Marshall Plan. I also think the expansion of NATO is ludicrous and that the EU failed to sufficiently take account of genuine Russian interests. But NATO, the US, the EU have not caused a war in Ukraine.

"Even today at this late stage, a declaration of Ukrainian non-alignment as part of an internationally negotiated settlement, and UN Security Council guarantees of that status, would bring instant de-escalation and make a lasting ceasefire possible in eastern Ukraine." This seems totally naïve as it involves trusting Vladimir Putin and you cannot trust Vladimir Putin. He has already breached such an agreement.

"Russia’s angry reaction to provocations in Georgia in 2008" means Russia's retaliatory punitive invasion of Georgia - provoked by Georgia but a grossly disproportionate response. "the EU has become little more than the civilian wing of the Atlantic alliance." is simply left wing ridiculous conspiracy nonsense. He (Steele or Sakwa) are entirely correct that crimes / war crimes committed against separatists supporters or on civilians by the Ukrainian army are not apparently acknowledged or investigated. That is appalling. I agree that there is this fictitious national myth by the Ukrainian state of some idealistic historic Ukrainian nation. A myth, a construct, like all the nation myths in Eastern and South Eastern Europe.

From my experience in a large Russian speaking city in the South East I entirely agree with this passage:

"The alternative “pluralist” view emphasises the different historical and cultural experiences of Ukraine’s various regions and argues that building a modern democratic post-Soviet Ukrainian state is not just a matter of good governance and rule of law at the centre. It also requires an acceptance of bilingualism, mutual tolerance of different traditions, and devolution of power to the regions."

Delivering this would not satisfy Putin and his agents though as their work appears to be to fundamentally undermine independent Ukrainian statehood. There are many reports of industrial plant and equipment from Donetsk and Luhansk being systematically dismantled and taken back to Russia. The voices of the million and a half displaced people (as many of them, maybe more to Russia as to other parts of Ukraine) and pro-Ukraine people in Donetsk and Luhansk are silenced by the mercenaries' take over of those regions.

Kiron Reid.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Liberator 370: out now!

Subscribers to Liberator should have received or be about to receive issue 370 of the radical liberal magazine Liberator.

Initial feedback has been strikingly positive.

Aside from the regular features including RB and Lord Bonkers' Diary, the magazine includes a range of perspectives on the coalition experience as it draws to a close.  Michael Meadowcroft gives an insiders' view on the life and leadership of Jeremy Thorpe which as Tony Greaves puts it 'is in itself worth the sub and a good counter to a lot of the spin and nonsense that has been written since he died about his leadership of the party.'  

And more - including a witty guide for candidates by Roger Hayes.

Take a look at the Commentary and find out more at our new website: