Wednesday 29 July 2020

Why I will #VoteLayla

Another year, another leadership election, another leadership election blog. Indeed, my first blogpost since last year's election. (I've purposefully not read that, or the 2015 one, before writing this - I shall do a compare and contrast afterwards!)

Last year, I voted for Jo, although had Layla stood my decision would have been more difficult. In the final analysis, I would probably still have voted for Jo at point. Likewise, had Daisy stood this time, my decision would have been equally difficult: I think Daisy is hugely impressive for what she has done in St Albans and that she definitely has the makings to be a future leader (a fact tacitly recognised by one of my friends who waspishly said "young cardinals vote for old popes" when they learned that she was backing Ed in this campaign.)

Personally, I would have liked a three (or more!) cornered contest which could have provided for more debate about the party's direction, rather than contest of personalities (or, for some, of who they disliked least). Wera's campaign never really took off, though, and so we are where we are.

It would be easy to characterise this contest as a re-run of last time: a young, charismatic women with media nous versus a middle aged, serious man with cabinet experience. But that would be a lazy analysis for two key reasons: Jo had more experience, having first been elected in 2005, and the fact that she wasn't a cabinet minister is down to Clegg's failure to promote her (or any woman) to cabinet. Indeed, if I recall correctly, one of her roles did entitle her to attend cabinet. The other reason is that Jo and Ed were much closer both politically and in their approach to the coalition than Layla and Ed have been. This contest is, in many ways, much more like that of 2015: a coalition sceptic against a coalition knight*.

Policy is made by members (although, of course, the leader can influence that) but it needs to be sold by the leader. Laying aside feverish press reports of Layla wanting to take us to the left of Labour (she actually said we should be more "radical" than Labour - hear, hear, I say!), for me the key difference is one of presentation. And in leadership elections this is one of the deciding factors for me: who, in my judgement, is going to get media cut through, and build a relationship with the public?

A perk of being involved in politics is getting to see and meet MPs in the flesh but millions of "ordinary" people don't have this privilege. I remember the first time I saw Ed in person, at a conference fringe in, I think, 2012, I was impressed at how warm and engaging he was in person. I have since met him and always found him friendly and humorous. But my prior experience as an armchair supporter was not one of someone who excited me or left a particularly lasting impression - and in this election he has been worryingly prickly when asked about the coalition, both in hustings internally, and in the media externally.

My first impression of Layla wasn't great either - she spoke at conference rally and seemed somewhat robotic reading from the autocue... but later the same week in an Education debate, she spoke with passion and conviction. Since, I have seen her bring that passion to other topics - and when I see her on television that passion still shines through. It is this Layla that people will see - indeed, it is this Layla that people have been seeing throughout this leadership election, with hundreds of media appearances.

As well as passion, Layla also has a compassion for people. When several members of the LGBT+ Exec left the party last year in the wake of Phillip Lee being admitted, Layla made a point of coming to the pub in Bournemouth to sit with them and listen to their reasons and to check they were okay. She has empathy in spades, and that will be a valuable tool in connecting with the public and selling a revitalised Lib Dem brand.

Which brings us on to her vision for us to be radical: advancing Liberal values whilst connecting with the concerns of that fabled beast, the "real voter"... of course many people are interested in the bread and butter issues, and want easy policy solutions that will make their lives better, but people also want to feel like they understand what you stand for: and that's where taking distinctive Liberal positions comes in - like Paddy on Hong Kong or Charles on Iraq. Now, as so often before, those issues are in the fields of civil liberties and human rights, and we must not be afraid of them. This contrasts with Ed's approach which has been to major on policy solutions rather than values - for me it needs both.

And finally (and this is where I think I may be echoing something I said last year), the party is changing, but we have much still to do to make it truly representative of the country at large. One of Jo's legacies, though, is a parliamentary party (in the Commons) which is more diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, and sexuality than ever. In many ways, Layla embodies that diversity: a pansexual woman with Palestinian heritage (although she downplays this latter element, acutely aware that she passes as white) - electing her as leader would would reinforce that our commitment to equality did not begin and end with Jo.

Once this contest is over (and there's still a month to go) we will all have to come together again and fight for the future of the party. I hope that if Layla wins the party establishment, who have largely backed Ed, will respect that and engage constructively with her and the membership - just as I will support Ed if he wins. That's not to say there won't be moments when I'm critical - whoever wins. Indeed, Liberals should always be critical of leaders: hero worship doesn't come easy to us. I already don't agree with everything Layla says or argues for...

This is the fourth Lib Dem leadership election I've voted in - my previous three votes were for Charles, Tim, and Jo. All had their flaws, all of which proved, ultimately, fatal - but given the choices again, with the knowledge I had at the time, I would make the same decisions: leaders are the public face of the party, they need to set the tone, and they need to get cut through. For me, Layla meets those criteria, and more:

Layla has the vision, the passion, and the compassion we need if we are to stand a chance of getting out of the business as usual rut and rebuilding the Lib Dems as a party of Liberal values with real-life solutions to the problems faced by individuals and communities across the country.

OK, so Lamb wasn't a knight at the time, please forgive my use of poetic licence.
**Please accept my apologies for inconsistently in referring to Charles, Jo, Paddy, Ed and Layla but contrarily to Clegg and Lamb. I think, though, that those are reasonably common usages in the party.

Monday 1 July 2019

Why I'm backing Jo Swinson to be Lib Dem Leader

The Independent this week suggested that the Lib Dem leadership election hadn’t caught light. Well, perhaps not; but that’s an indication of the quality of candidates, and the fact that the vast majority of members would be as happy with either Jo or Ed in the role. Readers are invited to compare and contrast this to both the current Tory or past two Labour leadership elections…

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a long time Jo Swinson fanboy – from winning her seat at the age of 25 when she was the “baby of the Commons” (how infantilising is that?), to her campaigning on body-positivity, to her work on shared parental leave and promotion of women in boardrooms, to her book “Equal Power” (a primer on practical feminism), to her regaining her seat in 2017, her tenure as Deputy Leader, and now, as potential Leader of the party.

Over that time, I’ve seen her perform in hostile environments: on Question Time, in the Commons, and across the news and television media, as well as in less hostile environments such as Conference. She conducts herself with grace, dignity and humour, whilst fighting her – our – corner hard, and seeks to connect with people. For me, when it comes to reaching out and getting cut-through in the media, Jo has the edge. Indeed, in my pre-activist, Conference-going days, when all I knew of Ed was from his TV and radio appearances, he had never made much of an impact on me. He is much more personable in, well, in person than on screen: but we can’t get him on every doorstep! This for me is the major role of our leader and, as with our last leadership, it’s the single most important factor.

Many suggest that Ed has been stronger on policy in the campaign although suggestions that Jo’s campaign has been a “policy free zone” are laughable. However our leader does not set policy and whilst they can give a direction and steer, Conference can vote this down. Our departing leader found this out over the more unwise aspects of the Supporters Scheme proposals, and Conference repeatedly voted against Clegg’s attempts to water down our opposition to new runways at London’s airports. So the test with regard to policy is not “what policies will you implement?” but “how will you respond when Conference supports something you don’t?” On this, I have more confidence in Jo, as I do on her willingness to work within the party’s structure more widely: our committees and our (Specified) Associated Organisations.

It has also been commented that Ed’s campaign has been slicker. This would appear to be true – he was first off the mark, he (or, more likely, his team) slipped into people’s Twitter DM’s to canvass support early-doors, he produced region-specific literature for hustings, and managed to issue two pieces of addressed literature to Jo’s one. The second of these was a bit of a “wall of text” and landed at the same time as Jo’s magazine-style leaflet, which had the benefit of being un-enveloped. Whatever, we’re not hiring a campaign chief, and it is to be hoped that the skills and talents of those organiser for Ed will not be lost to the party.

One of the things that may have livened up this contest would have been Layla Moran* running. It seems she came close before deciding not to. For many in the party she would have marked a break from the past: a post-coalition MP without the baggage of having been a minister. I think, in some ways, the public are ahead of us in moving on from the coalition: our vote in the European Elections was over double that of 2015. On its own I might not put too much weight on that, but Westminster poll after Westminster poll is now suggesting that the local and European election results have caused people to re-appraisal how they view us at national level too. It should be remembered too, that most of our members are post-coalition. All that said, some of our opponents will hold Ed’s record as Secretary of State for Climate Change against him: specifically, his past support for fracking and the Hinkley Point Nuclear deal. Jo has fewer such controversial decisions to defend, and has outlined how we need to make clear that we did make mistakes in some of the concessions we made to the Tories.

There are other considerations, but I have generally omitted where their qualities, in my judgement, are balanced. I have also tried to avoid the type of endorsement that says “candidate X has the credibility to lead” or “the NHS would be safe under X as PM”. We should be above framing endorsements this way when the same could be said about either candidate unless we really do want to imply that candidate Y lacks credibility or wants to sell off the NHS.”

There is one major difference between them, though; something the Independent suggested was a bonus: Jo is a woman. Now, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not supporting her *because* she is a woman. I’m supporting her for the reasons outlined above and others, and for me she has the qualities I want in a leader, irrespective of gender. However electing Jo would mark a break with the “male and pale” history of our leadership: are we to have our third Knight as leader before we have the first woman?

Friday 4 January 2019


As previously noted, one of my aims of last year was to read 40 books from a more gender balanced range of authors.

How did I do? Well, thanks to a couple of other changes in my life, I actually managed 60, and did indeed make sure I read more female authors.

Here's how the figures broke down, in line with previous posts on the subject:

Of the sixty books, 29 were by men and 31 by women - a 48% to 52% split. In terms of authors, this too was balanced, with 18 men and 23 women; 44% to 56%.

This year, I'm not sure I'll make it to 60 again, but am committed to retaining this gender balanced.

 If you want to see more of my book reading habits, you'll find my goodreads page here.

Sunday 19 August 2018

My Hustings Speech

So, the PPC selection for Bristol South was yesterday and... I beat RON. The hard work starts now!

This was the script of my speech. I'm afraid nerves and some technical difficulties with the iPad's teleprompter app means it reads better than it was in delivery.

Firstly, thanks to all for coming: I’m sure there’s lots of other things you could be doing, even on a dreich Saturday afternoon like this one.

Well, the script says dreich, but it looks like it may have improved out there.

An especial welcome if you’re here from Bristol South.

Thanks for your support unless your here intending to vote for RON, in which case I hope that I’m able to change your mind.

For those of you who haven’t already met me, as you can tell I’m not a native Bristolian. But I’ve lived in the South West for over 12 years, and I’ve been in Bristol for the last 8 – so I’m quite settled here.

Like many people, I moved to the city for work, and discovered it’s a great place to live, so ended up staying.

And it was here that I finally got involved properly with politics: from joining with the intention of delivering some leaflets, to standing in local council elections and losing by seven votes, to being involved with the local party as Membership Officer amongst other roles, and nationally with the LGBT+ Lib Dem exec.

But it all began in a hall not unlike this one at the South and East Bristol Lib Dem AGM in 2010.

Politics has become my life, but why am I standing in this selection?

Someone asked me the other day if I would actually like to be an MP.

Well, I would. Because I would like to be in a position to make a positive impact on people’s lives, both through dealing with individual casework and through championing Liberal causes in Parliament.

But if that was all I wanted, then I wouldn’t necessarily be standing here seeking selection for a seat that’s been Labour since 1935.

So, I’m really here because Bristol needs Liberal Voices, and Bristol South especially.

I’m here because the Tories are failing the country at Westminster and Labour is failing the City.

I’m here because our MP is failing to represent the interests of her constituents on the biggest issue of the day, and a myriad of other issues.

Indeed you may have seen her constituent survey asking for people's priorities, that completely fails to mention Brexit.

I’m here because I want us to Demand Better for Bristol South, and because Bristol South Deserves Better.

Nationally, Brexit is tearing the government apart, and we are hurtling towards the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal in place.

Now, I’m not in favour of the type of politics that consistently predicts Armageddon – that reminds me of the story of the Boy who cried Wolf – but the long term prospects of a no deal Brexit are bleak and we are right to point that out: and to give argue that people should be given the chance to reconsider.

But Labour’s - and our MP's response has been to concede to the government at every turn: on triggering Article 50 before they had a negotiating plan in place, to refusing to make staying in the Single Market or Customs Union a red line, there is nothing to choose between May’s Brexit and Corbyn’s Brexit.

But Brexit isn’t the only long term issue we face – indeed part of the problem is that whilst everything is focused on Brexit, day to day government suffers.

We need to build liberal policies and messages that appeal beyond this issue, important as it is.

In my literature I highlighted three issues that I feel will dominate the future of politics in Britain : Brexit, Inter Generational Fairness and the Environmental.

I’ve mentioned Brexit already – so, briefly, “Inter Generational Fairness”, as the jargon would have it, is about addressing the inbalance between the benefits that the post-war generation has derived from society and the experience of those now in their 20s and 30s.

Speaking in generalities, the former have benefited from generous employer sponsored pension schemes, home ownership, and enjoy a range of universal benefits regardless of personal circumstances. The latter have less generous pension schemes, higher barriers to buying homes, and may not be able to rely on the same levels of support in eventual retirement.

Of course, this does cite the problem crudely, and we shouldn’t forget that there are some very poor pensioners, but it serves to illustrate some of the nettles we need to grasp as a party and as campaigners.

As a whole, Bristol South has more young people and fewer older folks than the national average – and I want to see us develop messages that respond to their needs and aspirations.

Environmentalism, Green policies, and Sustainability issues, should be at the heart of everything we do. Brexit may be dominating the political agenda, but this is the biggest challenge facing the world. And at a time when nationalist and protectionist politics is growing in popularity, Liberals need to be shouting even louder.

On the doorstep, people are more likely to be concerned about “Austerity”, the NHS or Education, and we need better messaging around our policies on these: the need for greater investment in infrastructure and public services, a penny on the pound for the NHS and creating a Health and Social Care Service, and an end to a target driven culture in schools – but all these issues play into the three themes as well.

We need to recognise that our society is, if not broken, fractured. There are people who feel left behind and have lashed out at politicians, and the EU. These are people who have been failed by globalisation and a move to a service economy.

And these are the people that the right wing have stoked up to blame immigrants and other minorities rather than failures of planning and provision at all levels of government.

I grew up on a council house and have lived and worked amongst working class folks – my life may have become middle class, but I can understand where people are coming from. Our task is show them that Liberalism, and the Liberal Democrats, have answers to their problems. We have a different diagnosis and a better prescription than that offered by Johnson, Farage, et al.

At a city level, the Labour administration has proposed, and backtracked on, cutting Council Tax relief for our poorest residents. Proposed, and backtracked on, cutting libraries. And is shilly-shallying on the development of the Arena. Despite his manifesto commitment to “Complete the Arena”, it’s clear he’s going to backtrack on this too.

Meanwhile, Bristol South continues to be left behind in the city’s plans. Laying aside the Arena, which would have been (just) in the constituency, we have metro bus deciding not to run between Hengrove and Ashton Gate, we have no plans for a Park and Ride to relieve the Wells Road, and we have a number of ill-thought through housing developments proposed that don’t take account of the amenities required, or the need to build communities not just tower blocks.

So, if selected, what do I propose to do?

I will work with councillors and council candidates to support their campaigns in the run up to the next *scheduled* elections in 2020.

I will work with others of like mind on campaigns that promote Liberal Democrat policies and values.

I will commit to taking part in two action weekends each month as well as weekday activities.

I will engage with the press and council processes to raise my, and the party’s profile in the city.

I will utilise my various social media outlets to share my thoughts on current topics and to create shareable content for others to use.

We have opportunities to extend the reach of our messages – not just in the Remain voting areas but other areas as well. I want to grow our membership, including amongst minority groups, activist and financial base, and will use this role to seek to achieve that, so that we can fight harder, smarter and more successfully.

We’ve come a long way since that AGM meeting in Knowle in 2010 – the party has grown, but our number of elected representatives has shrunk, we lost a Brexit referendum, and have seen two party politics reassert itself. But the tide is beginning to turn, and with your help and support, I hope to be able to help lead a revival of fortunes, South of the River.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Some thoughts on the environment

This is the third of my series on "Policy Themes" in which I'm sketched out some thoughts on some of the big issues facing the country - and world - in connection with my selection campaign in Bristol South. The original can be found on my Facebook Page for those who do Facebook.

I believe these three themes (brexit, "inter-generational fairness" and the environment) will dominate politics for the next decade and more... but this obviously isn't the extent of my policy views, or that there aren't other issues that will pre-occupy voters. However, these themes will cut across the issues voters will raise - health and social care, education, jobs - and they will inform my thinking and responses on these issues.


Yes, yes, I know I said Brexit was the biggest issue, but climate change and the environment will have a much bigger, and wider, impact in the long run. And Brexit makes it worse - impairing our ability to be part of an internationally coordinated response, and potentially putting us at the mercy of those who argue for lower standards.

The science is undeniable (unless you're Lord Lamont) - and the future without systemic change is bleak. Science, innovation and engineering have been the drivers of economic development since the Industrial Revolution: they must now be the drivers of environmental protection.

The challenges that the world faces: reducing carbon emissions, feeding an ever growing population, generating and distributing energy, all require significant political will, research and investment to manage. Building a sustainable future is a problem for the planet - but we require national, local and individual policy responses too.

As well as increasing energy from renewable sources, we need to explore electricity storage techniques. As well as encouraging recycling, we need measures to drastically reduce, and reuse, the materials we use. Investing in research and development aimed at solving these problems will benefit the economy as well as the environment.

There are all sorts of ways to achieve change but I believe it is best done through education and (collective) behavioural changes, rather than coercion. Likewise, we must be wary of solutions that would seek to put the brakes on economic development. Reducing people's living standards, regardless of good intentions, will be counterproductive to the aim.

Politically, and economically, the answer is to change the direction of progress, not reverse it.