Over at Lib Dem Voice Paul Walter has kicked off some debate about some of the party’s processes. While I don’t agree with some of what has been said, I do think there are some good points which should be considered.
Aaron pointed out that people who currently actually make party policy are only those who go to party conference, which many party members are unable to do. While I don’t think his characterisation of the people in the hall at conference as “mostly made up of career politicians and campaigners” is right, he is correct that only those present get a vote. However the problem is how you come up with an effective and fair system which is better. The internet is one obvious possibility, but I am not sure we are quite yet at a stage where actual decisions about what the party’s policies should be, can be made on the web.
There would also certainly be many who would oppose this - one of the strengths of the system of voting at conference is that it follows a debate which those voting have followed and been able to participate in. The tax debate at last autumn conference, for example, is often quoted as a good example of the system working well to allow party members to debate the issue fully, and then in the light of the points made, to make the decision. Also, every time anyone someone suggests using the internet more, the point is rightly made that many party members do not use the internet, so any system excludes somebody.
Personally I think that we’re not quite there yet with the technology on this, but I am certainly interested in keeping a very open eye on how options for involving people through the internet develops, and generally how we can involve party members more fully in developing policy.
David Cameron is starting to seem more like the heir to Kinnock than the heir to Blair
Today must be something of a crossroads for how David Cameron goes about his project for making the Conservatives electable again.
For the first year and a bit of his leadership, his plan seemed clear and seemed to be going well. His message was Change, and he put across a general picture of moving the Conservative party away from some of its more extreme positions which are at odds with the modern world. So he tried to show himself as more inclusive, more gay-friendly, and ethnic minority-friendly. He embraced the environment, and accepted the minimum wage. The best thing of all, for him, was that he did all this without really saying anything specific, that he could be held to, or that would really give us any idea of what he might do in government. And for a while, of course, this really went well - he had all the political momentum, and got the Conservatives ahead of Labour in the polls for the first time in a long time.
Then it all started going wrong. His party revolted over grammar schools and, crucially, won its battle with him on it. His ‘A list’ initiative to have a more diverse group of candidates, started more obviously to come off the rails. He has come out with a highly traditional-sounding initiative to support marriage. In recent weeks it has started to seem as though, like William Hague before him, after an initial spurt towards the centre ground, his party is now successfully dragging him back to where it feels more comfortable - that they have taught Cameron “the error of his lefty ways”, as one poster on Conservative Home has put it this morning.
And then the Ealing byelection happened. He continued to take a boldly different approach, and imposed a candidate who wasn’t even a party member. This brave gamble truly went wrong when it turned out that the non-partisan local businessman had also played with the other side. The campaign on the ground too often descended into farce, with the Grant Shapps “1234″ astro-turfing incident, complete with unbelievable denials, and the leaking of postal vote results. But it wasn’t these cock-ups, entertaining as they were, which are what really matters about the Conservative Ealing campaign. It was the fact that Cameron went in over the heads of the local party to impose an external candidate, and fought the campaign very much his way - even as “David Cameron’s Conservatives” - and then failed to pull off any improvement from the last election. Conservative MP Mark Field outlines nicely some of the things he got wrong - and surely the very personal failing of Project Cameron in Ealing gives serious succour to those in the Conservative Party who do not think he is the man for them.
Amidst all the talk about how the internet is transforming political campaigning in the USA, with the UK soon to follow, Japan has gone in the opposite direction, preventing any online campaigning during the election campaign for its upper house. It is illegal to create a new webpage, or update an existing webpage, while the election campaign is on!
Heavens, it seems to be even more restrictive on campaigning than the rules for a Lib Dem internal selection contest!
It appears this is more the result of campaigning rules which haven’t been updated since the advent of the internet rather than a deliberate decision to ban it - but it is ironic given how advanced internet campaigning is in Japan. I haven’t heard, for example, of any UK politicians who have yet set up a presence in Second Life (though would be very interested to hear if anyone knows different).
Good luck to Japanese campaigners, who it seems have to campaign not only without the help of the internet, but also under rules which (any Lib Dem campaigners reading this should make sure you are sitting down at this point) only allow you to deliver one leaflet to just 3% of your electorate!
As usual at byelections, the Liberal Democrat campaign in Ealing Southall is a highly impressive organisation. When I arrived there with a gang from Islington at first I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t more Lib Dems kicking around the HQ - but when we were sent out to canvass, which involved driving almost the whole length of the constituency, I saw why - people wearing little orange stickers seemed to be everywhere!
In fact he also knows 33 other pieces of personal data about you, if you have taken a flight to the USA any time in the last few years.
Well*, in the wake of 9/11 and as part of their attempt to prevent a repeat, US government agencies insisted on knowing a wide range of pieces of personal information about anyone flying into US airspace from Europe (the so-called Passenger Name Recognition, or PNR, system).
Whenever Desert Island Discs has come on the radio, I’ve always got up to switch it off. I couldn’t bear Sue Lawley’s interviewing style. She always seemed to think she was Antony Clare and spent three quarters of an hour trying to get her interviewees to bare their inner psyche for us. And her approach to interviewing political party leaders was intensely annoying, trying to get a scoop by grilling Charles Kennedy about drink or Gordon Brown about being gay.
Kirsty Young seems to have been a great improvement. She’s ditched that distinctive “being very annoying” feature - and she also seems to have some interviewees that you have actually heard of and are quite interesting to listen to (that was one of Sue Lawley’s other problems - I always thought I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue caught it best, with their suggestion that she run a celebrity version of Desert Island Discs).
This Sunday’s was the best yet. I didn’t really know anything at all about Simon Russell Beale before, except that people who know about these things think he’s a good actor, and that he is currently starring in Spamalot…(not sure if those two naturally go together)
Greg Dyke gave an interesting speech to a meeting organised by CentreForum yesterday. I suspect a good number of those present had come because they thought he might be about to announce his candidacy for the London Mayoralty. But he didn’t say anything about that, and just stuck to the advertised title about how Britain’s democracy will fare under Prime Minister Brown.
A lot of what he said was not new. His theme was the public’s disengagement from the political process, and he was particularly critical of the unfairness of Britain’s electoral system, and how that contributed to the fact that so few people voted. He reminded us that 55% of those who voted at the last General Election voted against Labour, but they won with a clear majority anyway, and that taking into account the low turnout figure, in fact only 21% of voters actually voted for Labour.
But he clearly believed it passionately and it was interesting to hear him say how strongly he is committed to proportional representation.