Wednesday, March 04, 2015

 

Doorsteps, Dogs and Doughnuts – A Dozen Worst and Best Election Moments


The General Election will take place two months tomorrow, and while for voters at home it means just two months of wishing it would all shut up, for active political volunteers it’s two months of joy and excitement. Or hell and exhaustion. So from my many election campaigns past, here are my experiences of: worst Lib Dem candidate ever! Best old lady ever! Canvassing moment least likely to be repeated! Election secret I should have admitted at the time! Best and worst police! Best and worst dog bites! Best bakery order! Best conversation in bed! Most racist voter! And more!

Liberal Democrat Voice and the amazing Helen Duffett put out the call yesterday for people’s funniest canvassing stories, and though I immediately commented with a ready-made Eastleigh anecdote, my memories kept erupting. Particularly from the 1992-1997 Parliament, when I volunteered in every mainland UK by-election but one – celebrity visitors were snowed in, and I decided I wasn’t going to hitch-hike in that. Yes, I had even less money than my party and mostly got there and back by thumbing a lift, but in those days I was at least far more healthy and could survive it all (though my studies couldn’t).

And of course the vast majority of those by-elections were won by other parties – we’ve never won more than a handful in any one Parliament, with the four we took in the 1992 Parliament were very nearly our best ever. So next time a report exaggerates some terrible result by saying ‘Of course, in the old days the Lib Dems would have walked it, because they won every by-election’, we didn’t walk any of them – unless you mean until our shoes wore out, because they were all hard work – and remember the facts of how rarely we actually won and how great our joy every time we managed it, and how thankless all the many more (or, at the time, fewer) volunteers in the places we didn’t stand an earthly but still stood anyway. Also remember that by-elections were and will again sometimes be won by standing up for the right thing and not just the far right thing – Romsey in favour of Europe and immigration when the Tories were being UKIP Mark I; Brent against the Iraq War when both Labour and Tories backed spending blood and money like there was no tomorrow.


One – Best Doorstep Canvassing Experience Ever

Christchurch by-election, 1994 1993

A tiny old lady comes slowly to the door. I stand back but lean forward in my best I-am-listening-but-not-looming-threateningly-way. I ask her who she’s voting for. “Well…” the tiny lady says, in an even tinier voice. I lean in closer. “I’ve always voted Tory…” Suddenly she grabs me by both shoulders and shakes me as she yells, “But you’ve got to get the bastards out!”


Two – Canvassing Experience Least Likely To Be Repeated In May 2015

Newbury by-election, 1994 1993

The man who saw me coming and ran out of his front door to beg me for a stakeboard poster to have in his garden… Because every single other house on the street had one and all his neighbours were curling their lips at him. Freedom from conformity!

David Rendel might also have been the best by-election candidate for the troops that I ever saw: seemingly boundless energy on the doorsteps, and however late he finished, he’d always go round HQ and thank every volunteer as if every single one of us had made his day (no, they didn’t all do that).


Three – Best Candidate For Keeping Her Head On Bad News

Christchurch by-election, 1994 1993

A canvassing team out on a lovely sunny day with an enthusiastic candidate in a sharp jacket and all of us feeling the wind was at our backs. What could go wrong? The most sourly Tory street in the most sourly Tory ward in the constituency, where not one single person was voting for us and most of them gave us abuse, ranging from immigration to That London to ‘You’re a layabout, bothering me in the middle of the day – why don’t you have a job?’ (ignoring that we were the ones out and about and they were the ones at home).

We met up on the street corner to report each individual tale of woe from sheet after sheet of unrestrained misery. Diana Maddock, the candidate, stood with her head tilted listeningly and nodded gently at each setback. Depressed, we all looked to her. “They’re all fascists, you know,” she said brightly. “But I think they’re going to vote for me.” And they did.


Four – Worst Lib Dem By-election Candidate Ever

South East Staffordshire by-election, 1996

Jeanette Davy. An utter misery who drove all her aides to distraction, was never seen to smile, tutted loudly at voters when she wasn’t sighing, and was generally impossible to work with. For those who didn’t meet her, she helpfully appeared on TV to say that if people voted Labour to get the Tories out, that was “a price worth paying”. I remember one council leader who turned up to help, heard that, swore, got back in his car and drove all the way home again, saying he wasn’t going to help such a stupid [expletive deleted].

That’s excluding the one who defected to Labour on eve of poll in 1994 and wrecked both by-elections and Euro-elections for us – and I delivered for the git, whose name ironically was a portmanteau of two Doctor Who characters who betrayed humanity to the Cybermen, in a continuity error in the real world. The two of them were in those rosy days the only two Lib Dem by-election lost deposits in England for donkeys’ years.


Five – Most Racist Voter

Eastleigh by-election, 1994

The man one sunny day in a suburban crescent who got more and more heated about immigration while the other two canvassers did the whole rest of the street and all the neighbours stayed out one by one to listen. Never have I delivered so many calm “That isn’t true, sirs” or “I must disagree with you, sirs” at such increasing volume as the voter went from slightly racist to shouting conspiracy theories. After my final “I don’t believe we’re going to agree, sir, so I shall say good day,” he opened his gate and lumbered after me to the corner, screaming of our candidate “Chidgey’s not an English name!!” [Hilarious fact: actually, it is.]

It made my going all Churchillian when people argued about immigration and refugees when I was an actual candidate seem positively tame.

The same by-election gets runner-up awards for two types of paternalism:

The man who growled at the Lib Dems and refused to let me talk to his wife when I politely enquired, because she voted the way she was told. Canvassers, never treat a house as monolithic (even if there’s an opposition poster there – a Labour poster-bearer at a different by-election told me quietly that he was a member and had to, but was voting tactically). The second he slammed the door, the upper window sprang open, and she quickly confided: “I always tell him that for a quiet life. But I always vote for you lot.”

The Labour voter on the next doorstep along from me who thought government should tell the workers what was good for them and hand out what they decreed when Tony Blair got in, because Labour and the unions knew best. And the Lib Dem canvasser I was tag-teaming with stoutly telling him that, no, workers should be involved in management rather than everything being from the top down, and the Labour man’s incredulous cry of “You can’t let workers make their own decisions!”


Six – Worst Evening’s Canvassing

Hexham, 1991 (party of students up to help out)

In my late teens, shortly after I’d unwisely had all my hair buzzed off (and in a snowy January), and paired with an especially camp other Lib Dem in what was then a very Conservative and evidently conservative seat, it was probably the least successful evening’s campaigning I’ve ever had, from the very first house where my canvassing partner exclaimed “Oh, no, you’ll have to do this one!” and there was unstoppable tittering from the gate while I tried to keep my face straight asking, “Good evening – Mr Love…?” right to the point where we called it a night as one man set his dogs on us one way while trying to rev his van into us from the other.

My then-underweight (less than half my present size), skeletal student looks, though with hair grown back, were better deployed canvassing later that year in Kincardine and Deeside – almost as chilly, and shivering pitifully, I kept being sent to canvass old ladies because I got the best ‘mother me’ response from them.


Seven – Worst Day’s Leafletting

Islywn by-election, 1995

Where it never once stopped raining. I’d hitch-hiked there, eventually being picked up by the police while striding along the dual carriageway towards Islywn after being dropped at a motorway junction at 2am, and on hearing what I was there for they kindly drove me to the Lib Dem HQ (making them much nicer than the unsympathetic Leicestershire officers who’d arrested and charged me when hitching back from Bradford South the year before). Disbelieving Valleys coppers: “You’re wasting your time. A donkey with a red rosette gets in round here, and we’ve had one for twenty-five years” (thank you, Mr Kinnock). I snatched a couple of hours’ sleep against a radiator and half-dried one side before going out all day delivering.

The only metaphorical ray of sunshine was the woman who stopped me to ask why she should vote Lib Dem instead of Plaid – I quoted Lloyd George about hating fences and wanting to kick down any he came across, because Liberals don’t like neat little boxes and borders that individuals can’t cross, and that’s what we don’t like about nationalists. I got us that one vote, but eventually had to go back to HQ with half the leaflets undelivered: not because they’d turned to papier-mâché and were coming off in thick clumps rather than one at a time, though they were; not because the highlighter pen had run off the photocopied route map, though it had; but because the toner had run off the map itself.

Hitch-hiking back was even worse, because the time you most need a lift is when no-one wants to spoil their car with a soaking straggler. I remember being dropped, eventually, soaked to the bone and freezing, at Cockfosters – as far out on the Tube as possible – and teeth-chatteringly ringing Richard from a phone booth. He poured a hot bath and peeled me into it at the far end, hours later. When he towelled me down afterwards it was the first time I’d been dry in over two days.


Eight – Worst and Best Dog Bites

Taunton, Local elections 1999

Long narrow garden path, dog suddenly leaps out at the far end. I stuck the leaflet in and ran for it, but spent election evening 1999 in A&E and still have the scar.

Christchurch by-election, 1994

Dog locks its teeth around my thigh; owner comes to the door, pales, and immediately offers to take a super-size stakeboard poster. At the corner of two big roads. Result! And, bonus, no flesh torn, though card wallet punctured and outer card needed replacing from the canine canines’ dent.


Nine – By-election (Lack of) Experience I Shouldn’t Admit To

Winchester by-election, 1997

I’d been there a week, and the night before polling day, the sub-agent who was going to be running the sub-office – the secondary HQ out in the country somewhere, not the central city one I’d been at the whole time – fell suddenly ill. The agent was already worn to a frazzle, and everyone had all their jobs mapped out. Disaster! But, luckily, there at hand was a familiar face from all those by-elections, and a senior-ish figure (then) in the party. “Alex Wilcock will be running the sub-office,” she announced. I went for a late-night pizza with a well-known party staffer and blogger-to-be and confided just one tiny worry. Or, rather, hinted at it, though he immediately guessed what the problem was. In all the elections I’d worked in, I’d delivered leaflets, and canvassed, and done the press, and been a candidate, and even got the doughnuts. The one thing I’d never done was any of the agent-y stuff, so running a committee room or the art of the Shuttleworth were mysteries to me. Should I tell the agent? “Best not,” he said, trying not to spit pizza in all directions with laughter. “She’s got enough to worry about.”

So at 5am on polling day I was taken to be what appeared to be a disused aircraft hangar down a load of tiny roads, across bridges and through fords, and didn’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing. Trying to keep calm, I thought to myself, what can I do? I can learn very quickly on the spot, I can wing it brilliantly, and I can cheer people up. So, surrounded by experienced volunteers both local and national, one side of the room surrounded by ready-to-tear coloured strips that had some mystical connection with the election, I gathered my troops and gave them a brief word before they went off with the Good Morning leaflets. I told them how vital it was we won; I told them that the evil Tory had only challenged the result on a technicality, and that the voters wanted our candidate but couldn’t be allowed to be complacent; I said what we stood for (sadly our key topics from the leaflets rather than anything exciting); and I said something on the spot to make them laugh. All in uncharacteristically bullet-point brevity.

“There’s one more thing,” I told them, very seriously. “I’ll be here co-ordinating the day, taking all the information, reporting it to the agent, and I’m not allowed to tell you how we’re doing – in fact, even if the candidate walks in, I’m not allowed to tell him [he did, and I did as I was told and only told him it was very tight and he had to go out and do more]. Now, I know I’ve been put here by the main party, and that some of you have been working to win Winchester for years and know far more about it than I ever will. So as well as acting on your local knowledge whenever something comes up, one of the most important things I can do is make sure that those of us from outside are working in the same way those of you who live here do. Before you start knocking on doors, then, just so we know everyone’s getting it right, I’d like [potentially stroppy but very experienced local party member I’d been told to keep on side] to quickly explain to us outsiders how you do it here…”

By the afternoon, though I’d been told even I shouldn’t think about the data I was reporting to the agent, my estimate was that we were looking at a majority of well over 20,000, and I was worried that I’d got it all terribly wrong. I hadn’t.


Ten – Best Coming-Out Moment

Kincardine and Deeside by-election, 1991

Surprisingly, my best coming-out moment wasn’t while being an out gay candidate myself (the first time I was quoted as one of only two for the Lib Dems, which I was completely certain wasn’t right, so four years later I put together the list of over two dozen myself because no-one else was doing it), but at my very first Parliamentary by-election. Being driven up to North Aberdeenshire with a coach-load from Scottish Lib Dem HQ and then staying there several days, we all had to be found places to sleep. I was spoiled: unlike many later campaigns, this wasn’t a sleeping bag on the floor, but a big actual bed, with only one other person in it, it being assumed that studenty types wouldn’t mind. Nice bloke, we’d got on well while chatting earlier in the day, and as we tucked in he warned me hesitantly, “While I’m asleep, I tend to grab onto things, but don’t worry, I’m not a homosexual.” I’m sure there were many ways I could have broken it to him more reassuringly, but given a feed line like that I couldn’t resist replying, “Don’t worry – I am.” Which is the first time I’d come out to someone while already in bed with them. He was a good Liberal and absolutely fine, so we nattered away very happily until he said something about Americans and I did it to him again: coming out as half-American, though, made him groan and roll over.

Not a sexy story in the end, then, but back in 1998 I did manage to canvass for the Alliance Party in Belfast, where my accent managed to put off both ‘sides’, when a man in a much-too-small kimono that covered very little of his chest hair and almost nothing of his thighs came to the door, and I had to concentrate hard on remembering every single word of my usually automatic spiel…


Eleven – Best photo-opportunity

Wirral South by-election, 1999 1997

I worked for a couple of weeks in what was going to be Labour’s last by-election gain before the first Blair landslide, and our vote holding up surprisingly well was a good omen. My favourite bit, unusually, was a press conference wheeze I came up with: somehow our mostly-detached technically-Lib Dem local-ish MP David Alton had been persuaded to turn up in support, and wanted to run on law and order. The Major Government had cut police numbers in Merseyside, and we had all the very serious statistics of exactly how many hundred they were short which, amid the blizzard of daily figures from all the campaigns, no-one would listen to. Until I took two police officer pictures (one woman, one man) from our standard artwork, blew them up on the photocopier, and the press trooped in to find the wall covered with a photogenic 236 (or whatever it was) alternating A4 police heads to illustrate the point.

It was the only one of our press conferences that I remember getting decent coverage other than the one that was meant to be our Transport Spokesperson complaining about the trains, and which he had to give via his mobile when the train he was coming on broke down and stranded all the passengers (his researcher was later cleared of putting sugar in the engine).


Twelve – Best Result (ish)

Monklands East by-election, 1994

Squeezed between Labour and the SNP, though we had a great candidate he was never going to be their next MP after John Smith. But after spending a few days helping out there, I went to Germany for a meeting of European Young Liberal Leaders. As Chair of the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students (England and Wales) I was there, as was the Chair of the Scottish Young Liberal Democrats, and in those pre-Internet boom days we tuned in to British Armed Forces Radio first thing on the morning after polling day. We came down to breakfast arm in arm and grinning ear to ear. ‘Another great by-election victory?’ the others asked us. “No, we lost our deposit – but we went up to third and beat the Tories!”


Baker’s Dozen – Best Order and Dodgiest Opinion Poll

Eastleigh by-election, 1994

Possibly my favourite by-election memory was striding one morning into the local bakery to utter the unusual but satisfying words, “Could I have two hundred doughnuts, please?” They offered ridiculous discounts for multiple buys, so that, say, one doughnut might be 85p, but you’d get three for £2, or ten for £5, with escalating discounts the more you bought. These were for the cheery campaign HQ and all the hundreds of volunteers rather than personal consumption, but the huge stack of boxes had the advantage of obscuring the rosette that might have put off the opinion pollster who then stopped me on the street. “Oh no,” I remember saying, “I wouldn’t like that Tony Blair as Labour Leader. Margaret Beckett’s the one you want, she’ll be very popular, and John Prescott, he’s a sensible man.”

Since then, I’ve always taken opinion polls – and what people tell you on the doorstep – with just a pinch of icing sugar.


You’d think I’d have lots of stories from the two times I was a Parliamentary candidate myself, and I probably do somewhere, but they’re buried deep in a part of my memory labelled ‘long slog’. My first time, when I was the youngest candidate in the region, I did at least get some media attention, partly because the media wanted someone under thirty and I was it. The other reason was that the Lib Dems’ Regional Media Co-ordinator put me up for radio shows and other places where a candidate might be asked Very Hard Questions (actually, that reminds me of my debates in that campaign, but they’d need a post all of their own) because she claimed that there were only two Lib Dem candidates in the region that she trusted to know all our policies and put them across effectively, and she kept putting my name forward instead of the other one – because he was David Rendel and he had better things to do, like winning his seat, while I could do far more good for the party as a spokesperson than tramping round a Labour-Tory marginal in which I was inevitably dead meat.

If only someone had done a similar assessment for where to put Natalie Bennett!


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Sunday, November 23, 2014

 

Richard and Alex In An Exciting Adventure With Doctor Who – The Video


Hooray!

Celebrating fifty-one years today of Doctor Who – and four weeks today of our marriage.

If the printed version of the reading given at our wedding was too baffling, here is Maius Intra Qua Extra delivered with much more pace and energy – on video!





Many, many thanks to four very lovely men: Nick Campbell (hair) and Simon Fernandes (hat) for performing for us; Simon’s partner Barry for shooting them; and Nick’s partner Jon for looking sweet in the bottom of shot. And, of course, to Richard, for marrying me.

If any reader happened to record any other part of our wedding (or another take of the reading) on their hand-held devices, please let us know, as we’d love to see any videos that any of you have. New-fangled moving pictures were, alas, something we never got round to sorting out, so thank you again, Barry.

Richard and I are currently sorting through wedding photos for our next project, but here’s one that I particularly like: a shot from during the ‘gratuitous sexual innuendos’ part of the reading, showing the reactions of the two delighted grooms – and of our parents. Fantastic.



I notice no-one’s yet overcome the intimidating number of mashed-up Doctor Who quotations to hazard identifying any of them, so before I just give up and attribute them all, here’s another attempt to get some comments (please chip in either below or on the previous post).

If you’d like a hint for what’s left, though it was all assembled into one piece by Alex Wilcock and Richard Flowers, there were a few other writers.

As is traditional, with additional dialogue by William Shakespeare.

But mainly by David Whitaker, Gareth Roberts, Terrance Dicks, Paul Cornell, Russell T Davies, Anthony Coburn, Rona Munro, Ian Briggs, Ian Stuart Black, Robert Sloman and Barry Letts, Graeme Curry, Christopher H Bidmead, Robert Holmes, Simon Guerrier, Marc Platt, Jim Mortimore and Andy Lane, Ben Aaronovitch, David Fisher, Terry Nation Tom Baker, Stephen Wyatt, Robert Banks Stewart, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Anthony Steven, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, John Lucarotti, Johnny Byrne, Matthew Jacobs TV’s Eric Roberts, Andrew Cartmel, and Peter Harness.

Thanks to them all, and to so many others.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

 

Richard and I Are Married! Maius Intra Qua Extra


Yesterday, Richard and I celebrated our twentieth anniversary by getting married.


It was wonderful, and we’re incredibly happy.

Thank you to all the many lovely people who came to celebrate with us – and many who couldn’t.


Among the huge highlights for us was a reading performed by our lovely friends Nick and Simon. Like the TARDIS, it was something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue – we wrote it ourselves, but over thirty other writers had written it first, before we assembled nearly ninety quotations from Doctor Who into something uniquely us. How many can you identify?

As I can’t be online much for a couple of weeks to say all the things I’d like to about our wedding and my husband, here to keep you busy in the meantime is our reading, which we carefully scheduled for the middle of the wedding breakfast, when people had already had something to eat and drink and were sitting down. You’ll be able to see how the two readers alternated lines as they went along.


Before I get back online, how about putting your guesses in the comments section? Though if you’re like Richard and can place every single one at once, please don’t take the lot (though you can email me to show off if you like. That’s what I’d do).

Oh, and before I go – you were wonderful. And because we were wonderful too, please send us your photos and videos, by email, website, memory stick for the big ones and carrier pigeon (if my Dad’s not eaten them all). We’ve nicked some photos to start with.


Master of Ceremonies: Peoples of the Universe, please attend carefully. The message that follows is vital to the future of you all. Here are Simon Fernandes and Nicholas Campbell with tonight’s reading.


Richard and Alex in an Exciting Adventure with Doctor Who


Of course we’re getting married. Oh, but there’s another man. Always. The Doctor.

The Doctor is impulsive, idealistic, ready to risk his life for a worthy cause. He hates tyranny and oppression and anything that is anti-life. He never gives in and he never gives up, however overwhelming the odds against him.
The Doctor believes in good and fights evil. Though often caught up in violent situations, he is a man of peace. He is never cruel or cowardly.
In fact, to put it simply, the Doctor is a hero. These days there aren’t so many of them around.

Thank you for this. Thank you for my life, for my wedding, and my husband.

By the way, did I mention – it also travels in time?

Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection. But one day, we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day…

You had to pick a Sunday, didn’t you? You bring me back to ‘Boredom Capitol of the Universe’; you pick the one day of the week you can’t even get a decent television programme.
So what’s so terrible about Stockport?
Nothing ever happens here.

Nothing for you but pitiless damnation for the rest of your lives! Think on it!

The two Silurians were now hot on the Pakhars’ heels, their big clawed feet making good speed along the cobbles. They kept glancing over their shoulders and squealing. ‘Barbarians!’ yelled Jacquilian at the mob behind them. ‘You’d think it was the twenty-first century!’
‘It is the twenty-first century!’ Sanki told him. ‘So let’s not have any of that Earth Reptile Pride rubbish – let’s just find a barn or something and hide!’

I think you’ve been listening to some very bad advice. Well, it’s just possible that you’ve been given a series of orders while you’ve been asleep. You know – do this, do that, do the other thing. My advice to you is don’t do anything of the sort. Don’t just be obedient. Always make up your own mind.

In the end, we all want the same thing; an ordered society, with everyone happy, well-fed… What’s best for Global Chemicals is best for the world – is best for you!
Such as a little touch of brain-washing.
Freedom from fear, freedom from pain…
Freedom from freedom!

I can hear the sound of empires toppling.

Everything is history, if you look at it from the right perspective.

I used to think – ‘I’ll never get married’… But now I’m not so sure.

That was over twenty years ago. Why must you remind me? I offer you – everything.

Still – the future lies this way.

’Pon my Sam – I may have had a bang on the head, but this is a dashed queer story.
Oh, corks!

Why can’t you talk normally?
What? And be just like everyone else?

Redvers has the whole Universe to explore for his catalogue. New horizons, wondrous beasts, light years from Zanzibar!
Doctor, something tells me you are not in our catalogue – nor will you ever be.

‘What’s that?’ Miles asked as she held the paper up.
Piper remembered what the Doctor had told her, and suddenly grinned.
‘Hope,’ she said, as the powder was carried away from them, like a flurry of sparks, upon the wind.

Now that’s much better. I can believe that.

There was a sudden intensity in his eyes. Ace sensed that he wanted to say something.
Mike offered her the bacon sandwich instead.

Vivien is making some sausage sandwiches. Nothing like sausage sandwiches when you’re working something out.

Personally, I have never seen the necessity for starting a meal with a – what was your word?
Hors d’oeuvres.
Ah! Quite unnecessary, in my opinion. Eight – or nine – main dishes are quite enough.

Unlimited rice pudding, et cetera, et cetera!

The only other solution she could think of was impossible — Daleks didn’t and never, ever had eaten crunchy brown finger biscuits.

Let’s try the pub!
Five rounds rapid.
‘What do you want to drink?’
‘What have you got?’ asked Roz.
‘Hey,’ said the table smugly. ‘You name it we’ve got it.’
‘In that case,’ said Bernice, ‘I’ll have an exaggerated sexual innuendo with a dash of patriot’s spirit and extra mushrooms. Roz?’
‘I’ll have the same,’ said Roz, ‘but with an umbrella in it.’
‘Coming right up,’ said the table.

‘The sky appears to be reflective,’ Holmes replied, more hesitantly than usual. ‘Perhaps, like Dante’s inner circle of Hell, we have ice above us. If you look closely, you will see a reflected glow from something over the horizon. The nearest Earthly equivalent would be the lights of a town or city.’ He coughed. ‘I am merely speculating, of course. It could be an incandescent chicken the size of the North Riding for all I know.’

Jamie, I’m being stared at. Is there something wrong with me?
You mean up here, Doctor?
Is my hair in disarray?
What, no more than usual.
Do I look strange or bizarre?
Aye, well, maybe I’m used to you.

You really ought to come and join me, Pex. It’d do you the world of good. There’s really nothing to be frightened of. …Help!

Doctor, look, here what approaches?!
Oh no, run! It is a Taran Beast!
We’ll meet elsewhere. Now flee with haste
You go West, me East!

Exeunt at different sides, pursued by Taran Beast.

I imagine the whole business caused quite a stir.
No, the Cabinet’s accepted my report and the whole affair’s now completely closed.
You mean it never happened.
Well, a fifty-foot monster can’t swim up the Thames and attack a large building without some people noticing – er, but you know what politicians are like.

And even if it did come after him, the Doctor wasn’t too worried. He didn’t have a very high opinion of monsters, however large and powerful.

Doctor, you – you’re being childish.
Well of course I am. There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes. Are you coming?

Am I naked in front of millions of viewers?
Victory should be naked! Rejoice in it. Your body is – magnificent.
Ladies – your viewing figures just went up.

Look, Brigadier! It’s growing!
Look, Brigadier – look. I think it’s started.
Well, here we go again.

Men out there – young men – are dying for it!

Thou craggy knob!

David said, ‘Well, then.’
‘Well then,’ said Chris.
At the far end of the street, hostile armed men came to party, and twenty minutes passed.

Was that bang big enough for you, Brigadier?

No, no, the Zigma Experiment was a success! A brilliant, total success!

In many ways, we have the same mind.


Time’s roses are scented with memory. There was a garden where they once grew. Cuttings from the past grafted on to the present. Perfumes that recalled things long gone or echoed memories yet to come.

Listen to me, both of you. I want you to remember. I want you to remember everything. Every single day with me. Every single second. Because your memories are more powerful than anything else on this planet. Just think of it. Remember it. But properly. Properly. Give the Memory Weave everything. Every – planet, every face, every madman, every loss, every sunset, every scent, every terror, every joy, every Doctor.

My father Sidney was a – a watchmaker from Nottingham, and my mother Verity was – erm – well, she was a nurse, actually.
Oh! We make such good wives.

You probably can’t remember your family.
Oh yes, I can when I want to. And that’s the point, really. I have to really want to, to bring them back in front of my eyes. The rest of the time they – they sleep in my mind, and I forget. And so will you. Oh yes, you will. You’ll find there’s so much else to think about, to remember.
Our lives are different to anybody else’s. That’s the exciting thing. Nobody in the Universe can do what we’re doing.


You know, when you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all, ‘Grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid’, and that’s it. Oh… But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker, and so much madder. And so much better.

Two birds circled each other in the sky above the Lincolnshire marshes. They were owls in love, as much as owls could love.

Are you ready?
If you are.
What? Well, I’d feel more confident if you just said ‘Yes’.
Yes.
Good. Here we go, then.

You look wonderful.
You’d best give me some warning. Um, can you actually dance?
Um… I’m not certain.
There’s a surprise. Is there anything you’re certain about?
Yes. Yes.

And where do you think you’re going?
Well, we’ll have to find out for ourselves, won’t we?

Happy days, my dear.
The happiest of my life, dear heart. Was ever such a potion brewed? In bliss is quenched my thirsty heart.
Very prettily put, my dear.
Oh, sweet, favoured man, you have declared your love for me. And I acknowledge and accept your gentle proposal.

Oh, no, they’re not gonna – oh, people are eating! Nobody over 22 should be doing that in public. Actually, at all.

You see before you the complete killing machine – as beautiful as you, and as deadly as the plague. If only she were real, I’d marry her.
You deserve each other.

Hah! And is not Grendel a faméd coward?
Is the Archimandrite’s hat not silly?
Why then, be gay and deck the hall with spog!
You shall have a husband great or none.


If all the stars were silver, and the sky a giant purse in my fist, I couldn’t be happier than I am tonight.

‘Indeed, Doctor,’ growled the Master. ‘I merely required some time to finish my experiments. I didn’t anticipate the arrival of this maladjusted couple and their wedding plans. I have learnt to be only mildly surprised when you arrive to disrupt my work. But this time you bring with you a full platoon of UNIT troops, numerous armed aliens, an Ice Warrior battlecraft, a couple of Time Lords and Sherlock Holmes! You have excelled yourself!’

I always drezz for the occasion!

Already the Time Lords are gathering, donning seldom-worn robes with their colourful collar insignia. The scarlet and orange of the Prydonians, the green of the Arcalians, and the heliotrope of the Patrexes – and so on.

The latest batch of guests included an upright four-armed blue elephant, who was looking around nervously. ‘Anybody else I know, coming to this wedding?’ he asked.

‘Bestwishesforyourfuturetogetherbut youwillfallbeforethemightofourinvasionforcebythewaywhat
sortofringsarethose?’
Love, the Cybercontroller, Telos.


Don’t mind me. I’m just toasting the happy couple.

Now, remember – enjoy yourselves. Happiness will prevail!

Build high for happiness!

I’m glad you’re happy.
And I’m happy you’re glad.

Sixty million robots danced through the streets of Milky-Pink City. They had never been programmed with dance lessons but what they lacked in style they made up for with enthusiasm. All around, metal limbs twisted with abandon. Tall robots did something that looked like a rumba, lifting robots did the Mashed Potato. And weaving in and out between them raced the Doctor and Martha Jones.

For one vertiginous moment the Dalek Supreme wanted to skip.

Just remember. The future. No looking back, that’s our motto. We’re heading towards a new life… Drive off into the sunset. The future. Adventure. The open road and whatever it might bring.

The sphere experienced, for the first time in its history, the glories of a full cinemascope Technicolor sunset.
Just so Chris and Dep could fly off into it.

So what happens now, then? Tell me what happens now.
In the mid Twenty-First Century, humankind starts creeping off into the stars, spreads its way through the galaxy to the very edges of the Universe. And it endures ’til the end of time. And it does all that because one day in the year 2014, when it had stopped thinking about going to the stars, something occurred that make it look up, not down. It looked out there into the blackness and it saw something beautiful, something – wonderful, that for once it didn’t want to destroy. And in that one moment, the whole course of history was changed.

Homo sapiens. What an inventive, invincible species. It’s only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They’ve survived flood, famine and plague. They’ve survived cosmic wars and holocausts, and now – here they are out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to out-sit eternity. They’re indomitable. Indomitable!

In case there is any fear in your heart and doubt in your mind at this awesome moment, let me remind you that you take with you all our pasts. You carry the torch that has been handed down from generation to generation.
The challenge is vast, the task enormous, but let nothing daunt you.


During all the years I’ve been taking care of you, you in return have been taking care of me.
One day, I shall come back – yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning. Where the sea is asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger. Somewhere there’s injustice. And somewhere else, the tea is getting cold.
Come on, Ace – we’ve got work to do.


The light on the TARDIS flashed like a bright idea.
The TARDIS was on its way to new adventures.

It’s far from being all over!

It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for.

It’s a new beginning. And the moment has been prepared for.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

 

Liberal Mondays 10c: Sal Brinton’s What the Liberal Democrats Stand For #LibDemValues


A fortnight ago I emailed all of the then declared contenders to be the next Liberal Democrat President with questions (below) about their personal political philosophy and our shared Lib Dem values, to be published here. I received Sal Brinton’s answers last night, and here they are now.

What I believe and why I can only be a Lib Dem:

Fairness and equality are at the heart of everything I believe in. Every child should have the best start in life, the opportunity to do what they want, even if it isn’t what everyone else wants, with the best skills they can learn. I want people to have the freedom to say and do what they want – but not to harm others. We need a successful economy, but not just for the few rich, for as many as possible, with a safety net for those that struggle. This isn’t just about holding back the worst excesses of the Tories, or preventing Labour controlling everything, it’s a philosophy, a way of life.


2. What Lib Dems stand for, and how we’ve shown that in coalition over the last four years:

Liberal Democrats believe that the best people to decide their future are individuals themselves. We believe that people should have the freedom to do what they want – as long as it doesn’t affect others negatively – and we want to make sure that they are given the best chance to do it. We also think that the state should provide the best support possible for everyone, but with the lightest touch that it can, and the state should protect people from those more powerful controlling them. Access to health, education, justice should be universal (you can’t reduce inequality without this), and we want decisions to be made as locally as possible. A vote for us is a vote for you achieving the best you can and want.

As liberals, we are often very hard on ourselves. Compromise in coalition has been tough, and we’ve made mistakes, but we need to remember what we’ve achieved. In coalition we’ve succeeded in making tax fairer by raising the personal allowance rate: giving every tax payer £700 per annum. We have started to reduce education inequalities through providing extra money for the most disadvantaged pupils and students, and the results are beginning to show it works. In the worst recession for decades, we’ve protected the NHS budget and insisted on proper funding for mental health services. We’ve given you, Alex, the freedom to marry Richard this weekend: achieving same sex marriage is core to our belief in freedom and equality, and we persuaded the Tories to support it too. We’ve protected girls from FGM, and provided 0.7% of GDP for international development, guaranteeing help for the most vulnerable people in the world.

Liz Lynne’s answers can be found here.

Daisy Cooper’s answers can be found here.

NB On Monday, the three contenders on the ballot paper were announced as Liz Lynne, Daisy Cooper and Sal Brinton. Linda Jack was unable to find enough people within the Liberal Democrats to support her nomination.


My Questions As Sent

I have two related questions for you. Both are more concerned with politics than process. One is after a short two-pronged answer from the heart – had I been able to come to Conference, I would have preferred to put you on the spot with it in person to hear what you instinctively believe. The other question is asking you to come up with a longer, more thoughtful answer on our values that you’d be happy having the whole party say (as if anyone could ever persuade us to stick to one hymn-sheet).

Question One: What You Believe

People say all politicians are the same. It’s hardest for us in Coalition, but there’s some truth in it when every party promises to give money to the low-paid and the NHS, or when every local candidate for every party talks about experience, hard work and listening to local people. So what really motivates you? What for you makes the Lib Dems different from any other party?

If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and then why anyone should vote for us – what are your answers?

Past answerers include Presidential contenders and London Mayoral candidates.


Question Two: What the Lib Dems Stand For

Looking for something that’s more than a slogan or a soundbite but short enough to get in one go, imagine this answer as about one minute of a speech, or a box on a leaflet (perhaps 150-200 words, but that’s up to you). As you will be the voice of the Party if elected, can come up with something you think every party member could be happy saying or printing to explain What the Lib Dems Stand For? Something to enthuse and inspire Lib Dem believers and at the same time to attract and persuade potential supporters?

How would you link what makes us different, our philosophy, to what we’ve achieved in government, and what we want to do next? However you want to put that together, as specific or as thematic as you like.

I start this as a meme that many other Lib Dems have answered over the past couple of years (if I ever get a wide enough selection in, I might publish a book of them!). If you want to see more about what that’s involved, here’s my own latest version, including links to where I’ve printed other Lib Dems’ ideas.

Best of luck to each of you.


I had also spent some time trying to think of a ‘nasty’ question individually tailored to each of you – which I did for the last set of Presidential candidates and, going back further, for Nick and Chris in 2007. You may be relieved to read that I’ve decided not to ask those this time as I was unable to construct nasty questions of equal balance: the best I could think of for one of you was much too gentle, and for another of you, too bare-knuckle brutal. So that’s your lot from me!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

 

Liberal Mondays 10b: Daisy Cooper’s What the Liberal Democrats Stand For #LibDemValues


Twelve days ago I emailed all of the then declared contenders to be the next Liberal Democrat President with questions (below) about their personal political philosophy and our shared Lib Dem values, to be published here. I received Daisy Cooper’s answers this morning, and here they are now.

Pithy -

We believe and trust in the power and potential of every individual to be whoever or whatever they want to be. We want to tear down the barriers in your way and we want to give you the tools and knowledge you need. It’s about freedom and we believe that to be truly free every person must be free from the shackles of poverty, ignorance and conformity.


What the LibDems stand for and how it relates to what we’ve done in government:

We believe and trust in the power and potential of every individual to be whoever and whatever they want to be. We want to tear down the barriers in your way and we want to give you the tools and knowledge you need. It’s about freedom and we believe that to be truly free every person must be free from the shackles of poverty, ignorance and conformity.

Individuals and communities must also be free from the crushing concentration of power in any institution wherever it exists – in the state, the media, in corporations or elsewhere; individuals should have the power to take the decisions that affect their lives.

Our vision of society is built on a ‘holy trinity’ of individual freedom, social justice and repatriating powers back to people and communities.

Labour believe in the power of the state, the Tories believe in the power of the markets, we believe and trust in the power of every individual to know what’s best – every individual like you.

In government, Liberal Democrats have given individuals the freedom to decide how to spend more of their money by increasing the point at which low and middle earners start paying tax.

By giving schools a pupil premium to help kids from the lowest income families, we’ve pulled down some of the barriers to children getting a good education.

And in all our efforts in government to break up the banks, reform the House of Lords and curtail the monopoly of the big energy companies, we seek to wrestle power out of the hands of the few for the benefit and use of all.

Liberal Democrats are committed to breaking up the fortresses of the rich, the powerful and the privileged and to fighting for a society in which individuals can take that power back and use it.

Liz Lynne’s answers can be found here.

NB On Monday, the three contenders on the ballot paper were announced as Liz Lynne, Daisy Cooper and Sal Brinton. Linda Jack was unable to find enough people within the Liberal Democrats to support her nomination.


My Questions As Sent

I have two related questions for you. Both are more concerned with politics than process. One is after a short two-pronged answer from the heart – had I been able to come to Conference, I would have preferred to put you on the spot with it in person to hear what you instinctively believe. The other question is asking you to come up with a longer, more thoughtful answer on our values that you’d be happy having the whole party say (as if anyone could ever persuade us to stick to one hymn-sheet).

Question One: What You Believe

People say all politicians are the same. It’s hardest for us in Coalition, but there’s some truth in it when every party promises to give money to the low-paid and the NHS, or when every local candidate for every party talks about experience, hard work and listening to local people. So what really motivates you? What for you makes the Lib Dems different from any other party?

If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and then why anyone should vote for us – what are your answers?

Past answerers include Presidential contenders and London Mayoral candidates.


Question Two: What the Lib Dems Stand For

Looking for something that’s more than a slogan or a soundbite but short enough to get in one go, imagine this answer as about one minute of a speech, or a box on a leaflet (perhaps 150-200 words, but that’s up to you). As you will be the voice of the Party if elected, can come up with something you think every party member could be happy saying or printing to explain What the Lib Dems Stand For? Something to enthuse and inspire Lib Dem believers and at the same time to attract and persuade potential supporters?

How would you link what makes us different, our philosophy, to what we’ve achieved in government, and what we want to do next? However you want to put that together, as specific or as thematic as you like.

I start this as a meme that many other Lib Dems have answered over the past couple of years (if I ever get a wide enough selection in, I might publish a book of them!). If you want to see more about what that’s involved, here’s my own latest version, including links to where I’ve printed other Lib Dems’ ideas.

Best of luck to each of you.


I had also spent some time trying to think of a ‘nasty’ question individually tailored to each of you – which I did for the last set of Presidential candidates and, going back further, for Nick and Chris in 2007. You may be relieved to read that I’ve decided not to ask those this time as I was unable to construct nasty questions of equal balance: the best I could think of for one of you was much too gentle, and for another of you, too bare-knuckle brutal. So that’s your lot from me!

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Monday, October 20, 2014

 

Liberal Mondays 10a: Liz Lynne’s What the Liberal Democrats Stand For #LibDemValues


Ten days ago I emailed all four of the declared contenders to be the next Liberal Democrat President with questions (below) about their personal political philosophy and our shared Lib Dem values, to be published today. I received Liz Lynne’s answers last week, and here they are now.

The Liberal Democrats exist to build a society where everyone has equality of opportunity, regardless of their background, gender, age, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

We believe everyone has the right to be themselves and we work to make sure that no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.


I believe passionately that we are the only party who genuinely want to stand up for people who can't stand up for themselves. People who don't have a voice. That is why I became a Liberal and then a Liberal Democrat to change the lives of people, to work to make sure they have somewhere to live, ability to work, a decent healthcare system, a good education for all regardless of background and a fair social security system so that if they are unable to work they are not pushed into poverty. Everyone should have the right to be who they are without anyone trying to change them. Genuine tolerance of all who do not have the same beliefs as ours.

That is why I am proud of what we have achieved in Government. Turning the economy around, taking people out of tax at the bottom, raising pensions by at least 2.5% and putting the triple lock in, the pupil premium, a massive increase in apprenticeships, equal marriage, protecting peoples civil liberties. We have achieved a great deal but we could have achieved a great deal more if we had been governing by ourselves. We still have a long way to go before we have created a fair society and a stronger economy but by voting for us you will ensure that you will have people who are working towards that goal.

My Questions As Sent

I have two related questions for you. Both are more concerned with politics than process. One is after a short two-pronged answer from the heart – had I been able to come to Conference, I would have preferred to put you on the spot with it in person to hear what you instinctively believe. The other question is asking you to come up with a longer, more thoughtful answer on our values that you’d be happy having the whole party say (as if anyone could ever persuade us to stick to one hymn-sheet).

Question One: What You Believe

People say all politicians are the same. It’s hardest for us in Coalition, but there’s some truth in it when every party promises to give money to the low-paid and the NHS, or when every local candidate for every party talks about experience, hard work and listening to local people. So what really motivates you? What for you makes the Lib Dems different from any other party?

If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for – and then why anyone should vote for us – what are your answers?

Past answerers include Presidential contenders and London Mayoral candidates.


Question Two: What the Lib Dems Stand For

Looking for something that’s more than a slogan or a soundbite but short enough to get in one go, imagine this answer as about one minute of a speech, or a box on a leaflet (perhaps 150-200 words, but that’s up to you). As you will be the voice of the Party if elected, can come up with something you think every party member could be happy saying or printing to explain What the Lib Dems Stand For? Something to enthuse and inspire Lib Dem believers and at the same time to attract and persuade potential supporters?

How would you link what makes us different, our philosophy, to what we’ve achieved in government, and what we want to do next? However you want to put that together, as specific or as thematic as you like.

I start this as a meme that many other Lib Dems have answered over the past couple of years (if I ever get a wide enough selection in, I might publish a book of them!). If you want to see more about what that’s involved, here’s my own latest version, including links to where I’ve printed other Lib Dems’ ideas.

Best of luck to each of you.


I had also spent some time trying to think of a ‘nasty’ question individually tailored to each of you – which I did for the last set of Presidential candidates and, going back further, for Nick and Chris in 2007. You may be relieved to read that I’ve decided not to ask those this time as I was unable to construct nasty questions of equal balance: the best I could think of for one of you was much too gentle, and for another of you, too bare-knuckle brutal. So that’s your lot from me!


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Monday, October 13, 2014

 

Those Five Reasons Why Mr Farage Wants A July 2015 Referendum In Full


One:
So he can disenfranchise all the people on holiday in [shudder] Europe
Two:
So he can cut off any campaigning period in which people might ask questions and get themselves informed rather than just voting with years of newspaper prejudices
Three:
So he can promise to prop up a Tory Government of the far right… Then drop it after two months and run away laughing while Mr Cameron implodes
Four:
So he can exploit what he assumes’ll be the public mood at the highest high water-mark of his populist Party’s popularity before the inevitable consequences of failure to deliver or (worse) compromise with another party or (worse) with reality by having to make a single difficult decision prove he’s just the same as all the other politicians
Five:
…Er, that’s it.


Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

 

Lib Dem Conference On TV: Watching Where the Money Goes


I’m usually busy at Liberal Democrat Conferences. Writing speeches – sometimes even getting called to make them. Writing chunks of policy – sometimes even proposing them. Not writing a blog looking at the telly, while policies I’ve had nothing to do with are debated without my vote or voice. One I’m in two minds over. One I’m proud of. One taking baby steps but going nowhere near far enough. One that’s OK but should’ve been inspiring. One that’s unjust, unaffordable and unworkable. And the big picture: the very few places where my party puts any money where its mouth is.

As my health has gone further downhill, in conference after conference I’ve made fewer speeches and attended fewer debates than I did five years ago, or ten, or twenty. It’s just a bit of a shock to go from steadily decreasing participation and days when I often have to stay in a hotel room rather than in the conference hall to zilch. Hopefully Richard and I will be back next year, more engaged once we’re married (though it’ll be much more expensive for me just as my low income’s been eradicated, thanks to government policies I can’t say I support).

But there is one advantage to watching this Glasgow Conference on TV. I would be sitting in the hall fired up and wondering if I’ll be called to make my speech, listening to dreary meandering mumbles with nothing to say even if they could deliver it, where the only message is ‘My view on this crucial national issue is incoherent but involves a mind-bogglingly dull special plea for my own little local area’ – and it’s not just the MPs, some of the ordinary members are just as bad. I would be thinking hard at the sodding chair of the session, ‘It’s one thing not to call me to make the brilliant speech I’ve crafted so carefully, but calling these ones instead is just insulting.’

At home, I don’t feel the urge to write a speech, I don’t have to worry if I can make it to the hall, and above all, I can record the debates and watch most of them with my finger on the fast-forward button!

In my breaks from Lib Dem Conference, I’ve also been watching Doctor Who – The Pirate Planet, starring Tom Baker and written by Douglas Adams. This brilliant story, is I have to admit, better viewing than pretty much any Agenda item bar the Presentation On Same-Sex Marriage, and its second episode was first broadcast on this night back in 1978. At the time, part of it was a satire about the idea of an “economic miracle” for which no-one has to pay. It also turns out (spoilers) that behind the exponentially increasing devouring of the resources of whole worlds is someone very old to whom no demand is ever enough.

So what’s been happening back at the Conference? You can read all the papers here, and catch many of the debates via the BBC. But here’s why some debates particularly caught my attention…


“One Member, One Vote”

I’m torn on this one. If party membership hadn’t been hollowed out, I’d be wary that these proposals sound like they’re about equality but actually even more heavily in favour of time-rich, money-rich people who happen to live close to the seaside (or, in this case, to Glasgow). The equivalent of electoral reform for the UK being to propose one person, one vote – as long as you can all pay a large registration fee to crowd into the same one polling station. In Glasgow. Or, discarding the party’s current constituency-based representative democracy model, like reforming the House of Commons by saying any UK citizen can turn up and vote there, as long as they can afford to pay to register and pay to stay in London. And I wasn’t totally convinced by the argument that our shrunken membership makes it less likely people will turn up to swing the votes, which seems like an argument that we should completely change the structures just to get no more people turn up anyway. That the proposals themselves were a badly-drafted mess from a Federal Executive that has been record-breakingly navel-gazing and incompetent in its faits accompli this year didn’t help.

And yet… I’ve had times when I’ve been to conference without being an elected conference representative with a vote too, and it’s even more frustrating than being a conference representative who’s not at conference as I am today. The amendments stopped the constitution being turned into incoherence. And the arguments on the OMOV side were simply far better, with too many of those against resorting to pathetic ad hominem attacks.

Watching from home, though, if every member is to get a vote not just if they attend conference but for the major party committees, the small changes in making conference easier to follow over the past few years need to accelerate mightily. During conferences, the party website must have a one-click ‘What is happening right now’ solution rather than a many-click ‘Somewhere here you can work it out’ puzzle box. The back-projections and the chairs of sessions need to give the site address several times during each debate and explain what’s going on in each vote, not just to make it clear to conference-goers rushing about, but to those more members we’re told will be freshly engaged and watching after OMOV. Announcing at the end what the votes have actually decided, rather than just reading out a list of numbers and letters, would help the TV watchers too.

In a spirit of helpfulness, here’s one I prepared earlier: Making It Easier To Follow Liberal Democrat Conference.


Towards Safer Sex Work

Twenty years ago, I was newly elected to the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee – the body that decides on the major policy proposals that go to Conference. I was the youngest person on it by more than ten years, the only out LGBT person on it (putting into perspective today’s debates over reducing ‘diversity’ to only one tick-box quota), and – the unique thing about me that most mattered to me and which made the difference on the Committee – by the reckoning both of those meaning it approvingly and those meaning it critically the most unfilteredly ideologically Liberal. One of the first policy papers that that year’s FPC discussed had something done to it that I can’t remember any other paper save election manifestos. Election manifestos come back several times for FPC debate because there’s so much in them and we need to get them right. This paper was sent away for redrafting not once but twice because it was simply too Liberal for the FPC. I can’t remember any other than wasn’t just redrafted a bit in committee, as was the norm, but rejected in total and sent away to be rewritten from top to bottom (possibly not the best words), then once we saw it again, told it was still too interesting and needed to be completely redrafted yet again.

The neutered and regulation-heavy paper that was eventually permitted to creep into Conference was titled “Confronting Prostitution”. I bear some responsibility for that overly confrontational language: I was the one who pointed out to the FPC that the title “Tackling Prostitution” might be open to ribald remarks and we should get our tackle out.

It wasn’t a bad paper. It advanced us well ahead of the other parties. But I always looked at it with disappointment, because the policy working group had followed its remit, followed the evidence, and followed Liberalism in drafting a civil liberties paper that the FPC gutted stage by stage until it was about ‘getting them off the streets’. When the first draft came to FPC, it was the only policy paper that was ever so unpopular that just one solitary FPC member supported it as it stood. You will not be surprised to read that it was not the only time in which I was in a minority of one, but it was the most significant.

So I was very proud to watch all of Saturday afternoon’s debate, to see how far we’ve come. I particularly recommend you read Sarah Brown’s speech, but I was really pleased at how sensible and Liberal the overwhelming majority of the speakers – and the votes – were, including protecting sex workers both from exploitation and from the state, rejecting the idea of reintroducing ID Cards but just for sex workers, and setting out the principle that informed, consenting sex should simply be legal and is nobody else’s business (even if it’s a business). Well done, Conference! I just hope now that the next FPC will not be as timid about the forthcoming policy paper as its predecessor two decades ago. So if you have a vote, vote for the candidates with some Liberal ideas rather than just a CV on their manifesto.


Doing What Works To Cut Crime

I liked this policy paper – it sets out a practical, evidence-based approach to cutting crime. But its piecemeal nature means it looks more like a compilation than a coherent whole. So I welcome the commitment to crime prevention. And civil liberties. And evidence-based baby-step liberalisation of our useless, gangster-boosting drug laws. And to the interests of victims.

But a bigger question that the paper doesn’t ask is that if we want fewer victims, what about the victimless? What about ‘crimes’ that are not about protecting any victim but only about the state victimising people that aren’t hurting anyone else? Because it’s not only criminals who attack you that can be bullies. The state can, too. And if you want to prevent crime, expand freedom, cut the ground from under gangsters and have fewer victims, then setting out the principle that ‘victimless crimes’ should simply not be crimes at all is something I’d like to see as the keystone of our next crime paper when it looks at evidence for how to implement that.


The Liberal Democrat 2014 Pre-Manifesto – A Stronger Economy and A Fairer Society

I wrote a little about this yesterday, looking at the Introduction and how that’s changed and improved on previous attempts – though it lacks a short, stirring rallying call of What the Liberal Democrats Stand For.

The whole thing’s pretty good. And I particularly liked Duncan Brack’s closing peroration in the debate (Duncan, if you’re reading, please send me your speech and I’ll print some of it in a Liberal Monday). I have to admit, though, save the much-purloined policy to further raise the personal allowance for the lower-paid, I’m a bit hard-pressed to remember a ‘wow’ policy. That suggests that its narrative isn’t all that thrilling. And then at the last minute, someone came along and diluted the best bit.

I might have been tempted to vote against it for the drafting amendment announced this morning: the problem with an amendment that’s accepted into the text at the last minute is that no-one gets to debate it or speak against it. Several years ago, there was a crappy Guardianista fad for “wellbeing”, a meaningless top-down political concept like a New Labour zombie. The Lib Dems made the great mistake of deciding it was the biggest of big ideas, with almost zero enthusiasm, and since then have sheepishly never mentioned it again because it’s a load of rubbish. Until this policy motion, when some utter fool wanted to add it and the bigger fools on the FPC let them. Worse, it means that the motion as passed says that the one big thing we’re really about is “above all to empower every person to realise their potential” – oh, and also “wellbeing”! Which is crud. It’s not one task. It’s two. It means the inspiring, Liberal, bottom-up idea that we are about enabling everyone to decide their own life is now knitting together with top-down Blairite mulch about how we should decide what’s good for people. As no-one mentioned it in the debate, proving yet again how pathetically uninspiring the idea is, my advice is just to pretend it isn’t there.

But at least the Pre-Manifesto remembered to talk quite a bit about the deficit, and didn’t pretend you can fix it while bringing in no new tax revenue at all and giving massive handouts to the wealthiest.


Did We Forget About the Deficit After All? The Big Four Spending Commitments

The Pre-Manifesto was very tough on the deficit this morning. Then there was a huge splurge this afternoon.

I’m not against huge splurges (no, titter ye not). But the Liberal Democrats have carefully costed our Manifestos for more than two decades to only promise what we can afford, even in the good times when the money was rolling in (though less than the Labour Government pretended). Now the money’s not just tight but gone, it’s all the more obvious where the few extra bits are going – while everything else gets slashed.


These four spending commitments are massive. And everything else will have to suffer.

I remember in 2001 – in what Labour told us were the boom years – I put out a really good leaflet across the constituency for which I was standing for election. ‘Follow the money’, I thought, and so this was all about the two biggest spending commitments in our 2001 Manifesto. On one side, a picture of me with local kids, with details of our proposals for children and education and how we’d pay for them. On the other, a picture of me with local pensioners, with details of our proposals for old people and pensions and how we’d pay for them.

I thought this was a great idea until a working person without kids told me angrily, “So you’re offering me nothing, then. I just have to pay for it all.” That should have occurred to me: I was a working person without kids. But though we’d said in our 1997 Manifesto that we’d raise the personal allowance for the low-paid, by 2001 we’d dropped that from our priorities to give a massive bung to pensioners. And back then that didn’t even include the earnings link and ‘triple lock’.

Today we have even less money. We’ve restored the policy of cutting taxes for low-earners – and made it a reality for millions despite the Tories wanting a tax cut for dead millionaires instead and Labour opposing it because they want government hand-outs only to the people they say deserve it rather than letting all the low-paid keep their own money. But that wasn’t a choice between generations. Something for children; something for working people; something for pensioners; now something for the NHS for everyone.

I just don’t think this can hold – because four massive commitments of extra cash is too many without squeezing everything else until it pops. And one of those four is not like the others. Only one has had no hard choices at all – just constant rises.


Age Ready Britain

Back when I was healthy enough to stand for elections, I went through an assessment to see if I was politically fit to be a Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate. I passed with flying colours, and can still remember my going all Churchill to the assessor role-playing an anti-asylum-seeker voter on the doorstep (as well as remembering that I’d only use the word “refugee”). One of the parts of the approval process of which I most approved in turn was the point where you had to prove you had a Liberal brain by identifying a party policy that you disagreed with and explaining why. I think at the time it was something about well-meaningly bossing young people about – a “wellbeing” policy, if you will – and, if I thought today about which I considered our most wrong policy, I would quite happily blast that Blairite twaddle of a “wellbeing” paper out of existence. But as it’s already been wiped from everyone’s memory through its very blandness, I would answer that the policy I most disagree with is one that has been made even more disagreeable today.

Our policy on pensions is generous, warm-hearted, well-meaning and attractive.

It’s a shame that it’s completely out of touch with reality.


This morning, the Liberal Democrats voted for a Pre-Manifesto that constantly repeats that it is all about “the next generation” and uses that as a primary argument for reducing the massive deficit between what the government spends and the money it has – that we must spend less now rather than saddle ever-increasing debts onto the next generation.

This afternoon, the Liberal Democrats voted for our biggest spending commitment not only to remain humungous increases for pensioners when every single other group in society is suffering cuts, but to put that vast and ever-increasing cost into law so that it can never be changed.

Completely unworkable.

The first time I ever spoke on what might be called the party ‘establishment’ side, after many years of being the radical outsider, was sometime roughly around the year 2000. It was in a debate on pensions that saw the unlikely bedfellows of young people, the party Leadership and elderly members of the House of Lords on one side, with middle-aged Parliamentary candidates on the other. The Parliamentary candidates wanted to restore the link between earnings and pensions because it was very popular. The rest of us said that it was a mistake to make that a principle because we could afford it today – as we then thought, not realising that even in the boom years the Labour Government was already running an unaffordable budget deficit – because there would come the twin pressures of an ageing population and a less rosy economy, and then we’d be stuck with a policy that wasn’t affordable. I can’t remember precisely my age, but I can remember my speech’s opening line that got people’s attention (and got a few boos):
“Conference, I’m twenty-eight. And I want a pensions policy that doesn’t make me pay through the nose and then go bankrupt before I get anywhere near claiming it.”
Back then, sense won the day. Somehow, between then and now, as the nation has got older and the economy has gone down the toilet, as the side that won back then have been proved right, we’ve gone ahead and gone for the unreal option anyway.

A ‘triple lock’ on pensions ratchets up without end, so that whatever happens to wages, or inflation, or the nation’s finances, however children or working people or people on benefits or services or anything else under the sun suffer, one group alone will forever get more and more money even as that group gets bigger and bigger.

We promised it at the last Election. We were wrong.

We’ve delivered it in government. We were wrong.

Today, we’ve proposed locking it into legislation so that every other group, every other service, every other dire need must always by law be subordinate to pensioners not just not contributing much to the cuts, not just staying still, but getting more, more, more while everyone and everything else gets less, less, less. We are stupidly, impossibly wrong.

With today’s pressure on the public finances, this is not merely utterly unworkable but utterly unjust.

I argued for pensions increases and other spending to help pensioners back in 2001. I meant it. It was the right thing to do when we could (seemingly) afford it. I didn’t argue for massive age discrimination and a huge and ever-increasing transfer of wealth from the current generation and the next generation to pensioners who will never be all in this together even when we can afford none of it. Because I’m an idealist, not a complete fantasist.

The Party Leadership and speakers in the debate today told the brave souls who stood up against this dangerous absurdity that they were wrong to say that ever-increasing numbers of pensioners getting a never-ending increase above the country’s wealth was unaffordable, because we just don’t understand the numbers. They didn’t say what the numbers were. Because… Because… Because… It’s magic! Government spending is still way above the money it takes. Everything and everyone else is struggling to keep their heads above water. The benefits bill is being slashed and people having their benefits cut or cruelly taken away altogether – the one exception being the vast majority of the benefits bill, the vast majority of benefits claimants, all of whom get much more than any other benefits recipients. They are the pensioners. But pouring extra cash into by far the biggest chunk of the benefits budget is “affordable”, we were told, and we just don’t understand if we say the emperor has no money to get clothes.

How stupid do they think we are?

One MP replied to criticism – from the unlikely bedfellows of Liberal Reform and a leading member of the Social Liberal Forum – by saying that we shouldn’t turn this into a fight between the generations. Well, that’s exactly what you do say when you’re the victor enjoying all the spoils, but not when you’re the side left bleeding and looted. Behind the scenes, they spin something else: not that it’s right, but that “pensioners vote”, so we need to throw money at them even if we have to mortgage the next generation’s future by borrowing half of it and mug the current working generation for the rest.

Ever wondered why the Tories so readily went along with a massive bung to pensioners – and took the credit? Maybe some of it was that when they got into power Mr Cameron still wanted to detoxify them and saw pensions as a totem that they were now the Nice Party to one group, at least. Before they rediscovered their taste for celebrating kicking the poor in the nuts. But why, do you think, were the Tories so happy to increase pensions while they slash and bash every other benefits claimant? It’s not rocket science, is it? Yes, “pensioners vote”. Pensioners vote Tory. Our most unrealistically expensive policy has been to make everyone else suffer, infamously cutting at our own core voters, to give a massive advantage to the Conservative core vote. For which the Conservatives get all the credit and we see our vote, as it always is, weaker the older the voting demographic gets.

We.
Can’t.
Afford.
This.

There are several good ideas in the Age Ready Britain Paper. There’s also the biggest infection of any policy paper this Conference of, yes, more twaddle about patronising “wellbeing” again, which is just a neon light for me to say that if I had been at Conference I would have urged the other Liberal Democrats to hurl it out and shred it, and start considering fiscal reality, fairness and the next generation’s future.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

 

Liberal Mondays 9: Nick Clegg on Today (Today) #LibDemValues


I’m not at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Glasgow this week. It’s the first I’ve missed in about twenty years, and I am missing it – Richard and I would love to be there, but we’re getting married in twenty days’ time and just don’t have the time or the money. Following it on TV, one person who you can’t miss in Glasgow is Nick Clegg. This morning he was interrupted – I can’t say interviewed – on the Today Programme, so his latest answer on what the Lib Dems stand for is the latest of my Liberal Mondays quotations…


The Limits of the “Centre” and the Bigger Limitations of the “Interviewer”

Some of the random shouting by the random talentless hack from their researchers’ random shouting points and the Labour Party’s random propaganda points on Today this morning involved sneering at “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” and shouting at Nick Clegg,
“Where is your core identity? What is it that the Lib Dems stand for?”
Obviously, none of the random shouting involved listening or engaging with the answer – yawn, he’s answering the question, bored now, time to hear my own voice again – but I’ve managed to piece together what Nick was allowed to get a word in edgeways with in his latest short summary of what the Liberal Democrats stand for.

Earlier in the interview, Nick summed us up in part with a line that doesn’t appeal to me at all, but here goes:
“The Liberal centre ground is where we’ve always been anchored, and where we’ve sought to anchor the government.”
I love the word “Liberal” – but I suspect those who aren’t tribal Liberals, which would be probably in excess of 99% of the population, don’t really respond to a tribal label. Only a minority, too, might respond to a concept, like “Freedom”, but it’ll be a lot more than those that identify with the label. Instead, the concept is “Centre” – which is meant to sound like ‘at the centre of things’ (if only one centre among, er, several in the same place?), but just sounds to me (and I suspect to almost everyone) like a statement that we don’t stand for anything of our own, splitting the difference between the others, neither one thing nor the other but somewhere… Quite a long way behind these days.

To be fair, there are advantages to the “centre” message. It lets you say your opponents are extreme and that only you are reasonable (isn’t really true but which might persuade) or that only you can rein them in (which is really true but which no-one believes). Nick came through with this strongly when contrasting the LiberaTory Coalition with what the Tories are gagging to do if they get “in power on their own” without us to tell them “No”: he focused on last week’s Tory Conference ‘Osborne bombshell’, where the Chancellor wants to abandon taxing the rich more (such as by the Liberal Democrats getting Capital Gains Tax raised above the previous Labour Government’s rich-bribing low level) and through eye-watering cuts alone
“only ask the working age poor to pick up the tab for the mistakes made by the bankers and the black hole in the public finances”.
What you might call the Tories’ “No-tax bombshell”.

The weakness in the “centre” came when Nick tried to attack Labour in the same way, claiming that “Labour move rapidly to the Left”. I don’t think they’re moving anywhere. They’re just a frightened vacuum. And though Nick drew attention to Mr Miliband’s cowardly and incompetent inability even to mention the massive deficit left by Labour, that cowardice and incompetence isn’t red-blooded Leftism. It’s the biggest symptom of an inability to make up their minds about anything at all in the face of a terrifying reality that would tear them apart. But that doesn’t fit with us being ‘somewhere in between’. Nick wanted people to give us credit for “holding firm”, I suppose in a rebuttal of “the centre cannot hold” – but that only opened him up to the interviewer’s sole moment of demonstration that she wasn’t merely a non-Turing-compliant iDevice programmed to shout a limited number of dumb phrases on repeat:
“Holding firm is not an ideology.”
Though I wait for any Today presenter ever to ask what either of the other two stand for and cut them off when their only answer is ‘Labour would tax you more and be nice to poor people and immigrants’ (the latter two points of which, unfortunately, aren’t even true) or ‘We’re shit, and we know we are, but oooooh! The Tories! Scary!’ (which is all true, but still gives me no reason to touch them with a barge pole and has nearly killed Labour in Scotland).


Nick Clegg’s Answer To “Where is your core identity? What is it that the Lib Dems stand for?”

“I’ll tell you exactly where we stand, and I feel this has always been the case.

“On the Left you’ve got socialism, the Labour Party, which is all about the state telling people what’s good for them; you’ve got the Right, the Conservative Party, that basically wants to keep the pecking order as it is.

“What has always distinguished British Liberalism, and I feel this very strongly, is an absolute, a huge emphasis on opportunity – that what everybody in politics should be about is trying to spread opportunity, such that everyone can get ahead in life, can live out their dreams, can use their talents to the greatest possible extent.

“And that’s why if you look at the signature tune things that we’ve done – I mean, don’t listen to the words, what we’ve done, our actions, judge us by our actions – whether it’s the massive expansion in apprenticeships, the huge transformation of the tax system so people on low pay keep more money as they work, or the very heavy emphasis on early years education, childcare, putting money into schools that cater for disadvantaged children.

“All of that is about opportunity.”

That is much better, and I’m glad Nick got to say most of it.

It feels recognisably Liberal in spirit as well as in label.

It’s something that Nick clearly believes, and is right at his heart, and that always helps when a politician says what they believe.

Though he didn’t say “Stronger Economy, Fairer Society” after the sneering, it chimes right in with that while sounding much more positive and definite than “Centre”.

And it links all that to our priorities in government.

It’s in many ways the same sort of thing I’ve been trying to do with my What the Liberal Democrats Stand For series, unifying ideology with our record in practice (latest version here; version with explanations here).

Any Liberal Democrat could say it themselves or stick it on a leaflet and not feel, ‘Oh, well, if I really have to.’

It isn’t perfect. In my own What the Liberal Democrats Stand For series, I’ve made a point of saying what we stand for – and Nick had already done his knocking copy, and been told not to talk about the others, but us. So starting with another attack on them was a mistake. It was a mistake because it made the statement about them.

Nick, next time you do this, if you must waste positive time being negative, take a tip from the “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeahhhh!” pre-chorus that propelled She Loves You irresistibly to Number One. If you stick otherwise to exactly the same words, then at least let your opening be “The Liberal Democrats are about opportunity for everyone.” People listen to your first line. Make it the most important and the most appealing.

And though your actual one-line sum-ups of the Labour and Conservative Parties were both fine, your first words about them were Centre-propagandist dumb:
“On the Left you’ve got socialism, the Labour Party…”
No, Nick. You haven’t. Leave the word behind. Labour left it behind more than twenty years ago. People so terrified that Ed Miliband is a revolutionary socialist coming to chop their heads down to size will not be voting for us anyway. The vast majority simply will not recognise that as reality, just as Mr Miliband is too frightened to recognise reality. He is not a socialist. He is not anything. He is a pitiful vacuum.

I nod to “trying to spread opportunity, such that everyone can get ahead in life, can live out their dreams, can use their talents to the greatest possible extent.” That’s my inspiration too. I recognise the issue that’s been closest to your heart since before you became Leader in talking with such passion about opportunity and about early years education. I just wish that for all the investment, the passion and the genuine commitment, you could say the word “education” without having cut the ground out under you biggest priority by everyone else hearing “tuition fees”. And you were cut off, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you would have got round to mentioning the environment after criticising Mr Cameron for not talking about it any more.

And it’s a shame that the “interviewer” gave one of her many parroted lines from the Labour Party press office in ruling out any examples of what we’ve done in office connecting to what we believe by saying as ‘fact’ that it’s just a Conservative Government with our support. Too many people believe that. The BBC presenting a stupid Labour lie as a fact doesn’t help. But though you won’t convince everyone – or, I fear, anything like enough people – by saying ‘here are our values, and here’s how we’ve put them into practice in government’, you need to keep at it. Because only saying either without the other will give far fewer people even than that a reason to vote for us.

Possibly wise to find a better phrase than “don’t listen to the words,” though.


How Nick Today Was Better Than Nick On Other Days

It’s not what I would have said. But it’s in tune with what I would have said, and recognisably from the same sort of ideological place. And while it has its own weaknesses, it’s much better than some of Nick’s (and others’) previous statements of what we stand for. I’ll be kind and not repeat what he said in his second debate against Nigel Farage – focus-grouped to death, palpably making him uncomfortable, and the least Liberal ‘statement of principles’ I’ve ever seen from a British Liberal Leader – but it compares very well with the messaged-to-death message at the last General Election, for example. That brought everything down to one word: “Fairness”.

Now, I’d say that Fairness is certainly among Liberalism’s crucial concepts, but on its own it’s just not the one thing we’re about. Fairness should be in the service of something else. Nick says “Opportunity”. I can go with that. I’d say “Freedom” – and it’s always depressing and also a bit bizarre when I’m the only Liberal who seems to be saying that. But it wasn’t just that “Fairness” was only our number one in 2010 because it was what the focus groups said: it was, like several other things in that Election, a hostage to fortune that sounded good during the election but killed us afterwards. It’s absolutely true that throughout the LiberaTory Coalition Government the Liberal Democrats have made the cuts and hard choices fairer than the Tories wanted. But without a Tory Government to measure that against, nobody sees it. It’s absolutely true that the gap between rich and poor – which the previous Labour Government made wider and wider with their doubling tax on the poor and bungs to the rich – has fallen under the LiberaTory Coalition Government, fallen sharply, for the first time since I was at primary school. But when that proof of fairness comes not in the happy way – by lifting everyone up, but those at the bottom most – but in the painful way, by everyone suffering but taking most from the rich and protecting the poor, then nobody feels that it’s “fair”. Because no-one who suffers ever thinks it is fair for them to suffer. It’s a risk to say the one thing you stand for is Fairness even if you’re awash with money, because no effing voter is ever grateful. But to say the one thing you stand for is Fairness when you know that the most you can do is make everybody hurt in the fairest way is pretty close to suicidal.

Where you’ll find the closest relative of Nick’s Today statement today is, unsurprisingly, in the Liberal Democrats’ new Pre-Manifesto, and in Nick’s Introduction to it. As is usually the case, the section on what we stand for is relegated to a ‘personal view’ by the Leader, as if presenting it as actual philosophy or, worse, ideology for a party would send readers screaming to the hills. As is always the case, this is written in part by Nick, in part literally by a committee (the Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee, if you want to tell them what you think of it), partly by staff and partly by another committee whose names you’ll find at the back of the booklet. But of course it’s Nick’s every word, officially. Comparing what Nick says in the booklet in these three pages with what he said on the radio in three paragraphs gives you an idea of what’s really closest to his heart.

For me, the Introduction to the 2014 Pre-Manifesto is one of the best that the party has produced. I think – after usually complaining that they’re far too short – that it should really have a short version, probably on the front or back cover. Here’s one I prepared earlier. But it’s persuasive, it’s distinctively Liberal, and the middle one of the three pages gives our policy priorities for the future in a way that fits seamlessly into what we’re about. But without a summary or a short version, it’s not quite clear that there’s one word that motivates it – which is probably quite right, as complex politics don’t usually reduce to just one word. Mine is “Freedom” and, hurrah! for the first time in ages, that appears there quite a lot. Nick’s is “Opportunity”. So does that. Yet though Freedom would be my one word, I’ve more often summed us up with three: “Freedom, Fairness, Future”. Between those, I can pull out most of our policies, as well as thinking they work as a buzzword condensed Liberalism (and, yes, I’m a sucker for alliteration too). So it’s notable that “Future” starts out as the main buzzword in this Introduction, repeated three times in the first line alone. Then, on the middle page, it becomes “the next generation”, repeated in six of the seven priorities and, though in different words, what the seventh is all about – as were most of Nick’s examples in his interview. Then “free”, “Liberal” and “opportunity” all stand out several times, the latter prominent but noticeably less than in Nick’s speeches, but the meaning of all three driving the first and third pages just as the next generation drives the priorities. By contrast, Fairness doesn’t actually appear on its own as a positive noun, instead standing at the back as a few slightly embarrassed adjectives. I hope to get time to write about the Pre-Manifesto in more detail, but if I can’t, it’s interesting that I’ve gone from unusually critical of the centrality of Fairness to the Liberal Democrat message to making it unusually prominent, just by staying still. I suspect Nick is more comfortable using the word closest to his heart this time round.


Today Is So Yesterday

It’ll still be on the iPlayer for a bit, but I wouldn’t bother listening to the whole ‘interview’. And not because of Nick.

Some journalists – by which I mean presenters, not journalists, as they neither write anything nor ever find anything out – want nothing other than to be the next Jeremy Paxman. This is a crapulent ambition, as the old Jeremy Paxman had been an unwatchable panto caricature for decades before he retired to spend time with his many-times-larger-than-any-politician-public-salary millions. Unfortunately, one of the worst examples of this disease is the Today Programme, once a flagship for holding politicians to account and now an unlistenable presenters’ masturbation demonstration with no interest in presenting or prying out information. The ‘big beast’ interviewers, or interrupters, have spent decades now doing nothing but making up their minds about some tiny fiddling point and then constantly repeating it until either the interviewee ‘admits’ to it – which lets them crow – or gets fed up and asks why they’re obsessed with some tiny fiddling point that no listener gives a toss about – which lets them say no-one answers their questions. Or they just talk over people so they never get a chance to answer a question because, oh, anyone else but their own voice is so boring, right?

Evan Davis had been a breath of fresh air: a journalist who knew what he was talking about and who used that to listen to answers and engage intelligently with them, which made him able to genuinely interrogate his subjects and inform his listeners. He’s been recruited to replace Mr Paxman, which suggests Newsnight is acting on a long-buried desire to become a critical news programme again instead of a long-running ‘argument’ sketch that shows why Monty Python were so wise to do a limited run. I’d like to hope that Mr Davis becomes a great success and a household name, making other presenters wish to be the next Evan Davis instead. It’s not a very confident hope, though, because to know what you’re talking about requires both talent and a lot of hard work. It’s far easier to just shout random things your researchers have told you and not let people finish the answers that you’re too stupid to understand anyway. Who does that inform, exactly?

This morning some talentless hack ‘interviewed’ Nick Clegg. I can’t remember her name. I doubt anyone else can. She may as well have come from the same mould as so many ambitious but lazy men and women who want to be Jeremy Paxman. Her equally lazy researchers had given her several stupidly untrue statements to shout and then shout again when Nick contradicted her with something boring like facts. And she got bored when he started answering her questions and decided it was time we heard her voice again. It’s all part of the Today Programme’s inevitable transmogrification into Thought For the Day, the part of the programme I always turn the volume off for and put on a music track instead. Before long they’ll decide that politicians, alternative views and tedious facts only get in the way of not just three minutes of semi-religious inanity but the far more important three hours of presenters’ egos. Someone with very ill-thought-out opinions says something bland and obvious in a monologue for which no-one can hold them to account: bishops today, Today presenters tomorrow. A radio shouting in a human ear, forever.

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