miss_s_b: DCI Gill Murray looking disapprovingly at her phone (feminist heroes: DCI Gill Murray)
I read Dan Hodges' controversial article in the Speccy, and one bit jumped out at me:
In the final days of the 2010 campaign, Balls telephoned an MP friend. ‘I’ve just had Alicia Kennedy [Labour’s deputy general secretary] on,’ said Balls. ‘She says I might be in trouble in my seat and I should get back there. What do you think?’

‘Get back there now,’ his friend said. Balls did and clung on by 1,101 votes.

This time, no call arrived. There are some in the Balls camp who think that was no accident.
The fascinating bit is not the conspiracy theory (yawn) but the idea that a top rank Labour MP might have to ask for permission to campaign in his own damn seat. I'm just going to repeat that: a top rank Labour MP might have to ask for permission to campaign in his own damn seat.


Now, I'm the first to be jealous when a coachload of Labour activists turns up in a seat just because that's what they've been ordered to do, while our activists are all failing to even get on the coach*, but are they so used to centralised orders that a shadow cabinet member with a 1000 majority won't try to defend his own seat unless he's told to? That's just terrifying.

IMHO the ideal is probably somewhere between the two, but if I have to choose I'll go for catherding over mindless automata EVERY time.

*because one of them wants to drive, and one wants to go on the train, and one says it's OK they can cycle there from their house, and one refuses to come because nobody asked them specifically they were only asked in a round robin email, and several would rather do it on a different day to the day the coach is available, and several more turn up after the coach has left because they're running on goth time and then get offended the coach didn't wait for them...
miss_s_b: (Politics: Goth Lib Dems)
The Liberal Democrats have a lot of internal organisations that revolve around an identity or an interest. They are normally referred to as (S)AOs, or (specified) associated organisations, even though those terms don't apply to them all. An SAO is slightly more powerful than an AO in that it can submit motions to conference in its own right, but some of the AOs have enormous membership. Some unofficial groupings are treated in the same way as (S)AOs for all practical purposes. Add to that the fact that many of them have an acronymtastic name, and it can all get a bit confusing. This is my rough and extremely biased guide to the ones you really need to know about, but for a list of all the official ones you can check out the main party website here and here. Certainly some of the ones listed in the second half of this are going to be very offended by my views on them; I'm damn straight certain this post isn't going to be republished on Lib Dem Voice.

Firstly, the ones I know through either myself or a partner being a member:

LGBT+ LibDems (SAO) Affectionately known as Plus, the artist formerly known as DELGA is the group within the lib dems that campaigns for the rights of the entire alphabet soup of gender and sexuality minorities. The reason we are not DELGA anymore is that we felt the need to represent all of the alphabet soup was more pressing than retaining the words "Gay Action" in our name*. You do not have to be a gender or sexuality minority person to join, just in favour of fighting for our rights.

HSLD (AO) Humanist and Secularist Lib Dems are comprised of people of all religions and none. We fight to prevent the intrusion of religion (any religion) into places where religion should not be going. We reckon that if one religion intrudes, that is bad for both non-religious people and people who believe in other religions than the one intruding. HSLD are definitely high speed low drag.

Lib Dem History Group (unofficial) I don't actually contribute to Lib Dem History Group, but I devour the Journal of Liberal History, which you get delivered to your door by being a member.

ALDC (SAO) The Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors is absolutely stuffed full of experts on effective campaign techniques, and they run amazing training events. They also run election alerts, so that everyone knows when a by election is going to happen. They are the engine of the famous LD by election juggernaut. Despite the name you do not have to be a local Councillor to join - I never have been - and in fact they have recently started referring to themselves as the association of LD councillors and campaigners, but they haven't added an extra C yet...

Secondly, the groups who cause waves within the party:

The SLF (unofficial). They're justified, and they're ancient and they drive an ice cream van. No, sorry, that's the KLF. The SLF are a huge grouping of people who label themselves social liberals. There are very few people within the party who wouldn't call themselves social liberals, and of those who wouldn't it's because the term social liberal has come to refer to the left of the party, rather than a set of beliefs. Therefore the SLF tends to lean left merely by virtue of the people who are prepared to join it. I lean a lot further left than most of the SLF, but I have never joined because I see them as a pointless splinter group, in the same way that the People's Front of Judea look upon the Judean People's Front**. The numbers of people who HAVE joined show that I am in something of a minority in that opinion; I'm OK with that. Most likely to be found claiming to both represent the left of the party and to represent the entirety of party opinion at the same time.

Liberal Reform (unofficial) If the K, sorry, SLF are the left-leaning splinter group, Liberal Reform are the right leaning ones. Most likely to be found containing people who disdain "identity politics" (while adopting the identity of a Liberal Reform member) and who blithely refer to themselves as Classical Liberals despite having never read Mill and being unaware that he referred to himself as a socialist. If the SLF are the Judean People's Front, these guys are the Popular Front, sitting down the front looking grumpy and flipping the bird at everyone else. The SLF are their deadly rivals. You can tell this by the frequency with which members of both say things like "I don't know why people think we're enemies, we should totally be working together!". Liberal Reform are most likely to be found spouting managementspeak bollocks, and failing to understand that actually, being poor is quite hard.

The Carbohydrate Groupings (extremely unofficial and urine-extracting) The Carbohydrate Groupings were mostly specifically formed to take the piss out of the SLF and Liberal Reform. Lib Dem Biscuits are a young and thrusting group of new people who want to make sure we all have something to dunk in our tea. Lib Dem Friends of Cake disapprove of what they call "the biscuity entryists". Lib Dem Tarts and Lib Dem Friends of Pie disdain both cake AND biscuits and fight with each other as to whether pastry cases should have lids or not, and who is the best at outrageous innuendo. Paddy Ashdown famously endorsed Lib Dem Friends of Cake on national television. IMHO all four of them are more useful to Liberalism and more fun than the SLF or Liberal Reform. Your mileage may vary.

Green Lib Dems (AO). I'm not going to take the piss out of this lot because they do a lot of good work, and I honestly keep meaning to get around to joining them.

Lib Dem Women (SAO). I was a member of one of the two groups that merged to form this, and I left at merger. I was happy as a member of the Campaign For Gender Balance, because they didn't specify any genders to balance, and thus were not exclusionary. Lib Dem Women have a tendency to believe in the gender binary, and as I am implacably opposed to the gender binary we're just never going to get along. I have a lot of admiration for many of their members though.

Liberal Democrat Christian Forum (AO) - mostly to be found piling in to the hall at conference to defeat any motion or amendment which restricts faith schools.

EMLD (SAO) Ethnic Minority Lib Dems campaign for the rights of BAME people. Like Green Lib Dems, these are people who do huge amounts of great work, and I'm not going to take the piss.

There are lots more groupings within the lib dems, of varying degrees of power and influence, and this list is only the ones I have noticed having an impact. Ones I would like to see having more impact on policy include ALDES, if only because they have the best logo, and LDMHA. Inevitably, i will get comments recommending different groups, or arguing with what I've put here. That's fine, we're all Liberals :)

* I am still sad that we don't have Gay Action in our name any more, but I feel, as a bi person, that the sacrifice was worth it.

miss_s_b: Peter Falk as Columbo saying "just one more thing" (Fangirling: Columbo)
As well as my own post on this matter, lots of other people have written long and/or interesting posts on this, not least on Lib Dem Voice. As much for myself as for you, gentle reader, I'm going to collect the links to my favourite ones here.
  • Nick Barlow is a proper political scientist, and you can tell this reading his article which is logically structured and argued, and contains a lot of clear and understandable points, most of which I thoroughly agree with.

  • Anders Hanson, former chair of the Yorkshire and Humber regional Liberal Democrats, has a very long, thoughtful, considered piece here. I think he's particularly right about the need to own a policy area or several.

  • The fabulous Mortimer posted her five* ideas quite quickly, but I think they are all good ones. Plus, she's even swearier than me.

  • Andy Hinton, in the midst of linking to lots of other people, points out that perhaps the problem last week was that we hadn't given the voters anything to vote FOR. His whole piece is worth reading, though, not least for the fact that he admits he's just setting out thoughts as they occur to him.

  • I've ummed and ahhed about linking to David Howarth's piece on the SLF because I think the very first point is absolutely dead wrong and couldn't be wrongerer. But the rest of it is very good indeed.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Goth Lib Dems)
So, apparently, there are well over seven thousand of you guys now. Welcome! In order to help you acclimatise to the culture of the party there's a couple of things you ought to be reading.
  1. The back of your membership card* is the first and most important thing for you to read as a new Lib Dem. The front will have some sort of pretty picture on it, and your name, and your membership number. The back will say on it:
    The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
    which is an extract from our Constitution and is something that is graven on most of our hearts. Regardless of the fact that I have recently called for a constitutional convention, and I genuinely think that we should rebuild from the ground up (hopefully with your help), the idea that the words "no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity" won't be a part of that is unconscionable.

  2. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. You can read this online, but my favourite version** is this 1912 edition which also contains two more of Mill's essays - on running the government and on feminism - and an Introduction by Millicent Garrett Fawcett. You might be a bit put off the idea of reading a dry work of Victorian philosophy, but I promise you, it's worth it.***

  3. The Liberator Songbook. You can buy a copy here and there are some extracts online here, for example, or here. You don't have to attend Glee Club at conference - and indeed, many Lib Dems look upon it with total embarrassment - but a read of the songbook will give you an idea of the culture of the party. We like to extract the urine. We extract the urine out of ourselves, each other, other political parties, the political system, and ourselves all over again.

  4. The Electoral Reform Society's Guide to Voting Systems. The one thing everybody knows about the Lib Dems is that we are in favour of "PR". Most people don't know what PR is. Most people think we had a referendum on PR in the last parliament. We didn't, we had a referendum on AV, which is not a proportional system. You, as a new Lib Dem, are going to get asked about "PR" a lot. Familiarising yourself with the various voting systems is probably a plan. The favoured system of the Electoral Reform Society, The Liberal Democrats, and myself is Single Transferrable Vote, which is known everywhere else in the world as The British Proportional System, because we invented it. We like it because it gives the most power to voters. We use STV for all internal elections, and it's in use in various parts of the UK, but not yet for general elections. If you are pushing for proportional representation, please specify that we want STV, not nebulous "PR".

There are lots and lots of other things you can read as a Lib Dem. An Intelligent Person's Guide to Liberalism by Conrad Russell is one I would fully recommend, I am very fond of The Journal of Liberal History, many people would recommend the free back issues of Liberator magazine, and I'm sure the people in the comments will have many many more recommendations; but I would say the four listed above are the absolute essentials.

* when it arrives, which will probably take a while because there are a lot to produce and the new ones are actually quite fancy
** I like this edition so much that I keep giving it to people as a present ;)
*** The bit most often cited by Lib Dems is The Harm Principle: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." - we often discuss the implications and applications of it, but few of us don't think it is a guiding principle.
miss_s_b: (Default)
They don't use pencils in polling stations so they can run out your vote and give it to the tories. They use them because they don't run out of ink, don't smudge, and are generally reliable.

If you WANT to take your own pen and use it, you are free to do so, but frankly I'm happy to trust in an indelible pencil for my vote, especially having seen the mess someone made of their ballot paper by TRYING to rub out what they'd initially voted for.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Liberal)
Obviously we're a bit close to (and a bit bruised by) the drubbing we got on Thursday, and so we're probably not in the best state to come up with sensible suggestions. However, everyone ELSE is writing one of these articles, sooooo...
  1. We already have autumn conference booked and ready to roll. By the time we get there we will have had lots of time to argue about what went wrong and why everyone hates us, and will have come to some conclusions and ideas for solutions. Also, our party constituion is well overdue for a refresh. We should use Bournemouth as an opportunity for a constitutional convention. We should totally redesign the party constituion from the ground up, and by the time autumn rolls around we will have some idea of how we want to go about that.

  2. Our brand has become somewhat toxic. A rebrand is necessary. We should not rush into this. Preferably it should be done after the constitutional convention. We can't, for example, just rename ourselves "the Liberals" because the continuity Liberals would get cross. However, one thing I would suggest is that having seen Sal Brinton's article on Lib Dem Voice, I think turning Libby into a phoenix might be a plan. I like the idea of us putting in our logo that no matter how many times you burn us we will always rise from the ashes.

  3. Things I would like to see us do as a party:
    • Can we get rid of the stupid managerial centrism and go back to being actual liberals and democrats now, please? I've been saying for AGES that applying to be the Rizla you can't slip between the Labservative parties is not going to inspire anyone...

    • The entire system of distributing information to people needs to be completely redesigned. Information should NOT be hoarded but distributed. Foot soldiers cannot fight properly if they do not know what is going on where, and there is a tendency at the top of both the federal and the regional parties to jealously hoard information like gold; information is not gold, it is oxygen, and we die when it is withheld from us.

    • Stipulate that SpAds should be diverse in age and experience as well as race and gender. While new graduates have a place in telling old warhorses the new ways of doing things and the new research that has just come out, they cannot and should not entirely replace old warhorses - but nor should old warhorses entirely replace and ignore young people, because quite a lot of the time the newfangled ways of doing things ARE better. In Calderdale we have young people like James Baker, and more people should listen to him about how to campaign because he's incredibly well versed and keeps himself up to date. But we also have veterans like Pauline Nash, who have buckets of experience of politics and life. BOTH of them are people I turn to in times of crisis. The national leadership could do with similar diversity.

    • The Wheelhouse - aka the Leadership Echo Chamber - should be disbanded and there should be something written in the new constitution of the party that such a horrific method of bypassing the democratic structures of the party to keep power and information for the few and away from the membership can never be formed again.

    • Get rid of the money sink that is nationbuilder - there are free alternatives that people in our party know how to use. Why are we paying for an expensive thing instead of using the free alternative? It's not like we have money to burn now.

    • Related to the above - use the expertise we have within the party, instead of ignoring the experts we have who are already members in favour of horrifically overpaid shiny new experts from abroad.

    These are just a few of the ideas I have at the moment. Obviously some of them are ideas I have had for some time. You, gentle reader, might entirely disagree with some or all of them: lets discuss it? Lets discuss it lots.

I am actually, unexpectedly, feeling pretty upbeat and enthused about Lib Demmery today. A lot of members have joined up in the last 24 hours. We went to the pub yesterday and laughed and cried and sang Losing Deposits* and let all the raw emotion out, and now I, for one, am ready to start the rebuild. I know other people are too - check out the Team Cockroach** hashtag on twitter - so lets get to it, people.

* which some of the other patrons found a bit disturbing - but there ain't no Gallows Humour like Lib Dem Gallows Humour.
** when Tim Farron was party president he said that we are like cockroaches after a nuclear war - we are made of stern stuff and we survive. It led to a lot of sneering news comment. It also led to lots of people proudly claiming the name of cockroach, probably because there ain't no gallows humour like lib dem gallows humour. A lot of the electorate probably think we are as low and bothersome as roaches right now, so it seems apt. And our exoskeletons are strong, and we WILL spring back when the labservatives stamp on us.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
I am writing this as I listen to John Humphries pretend to interrogate the prime minister. Humphries asks questions in an aggressive way, he talks over Cameron, he words things provocatively... but he still lets Cameron avoid giving a single proper answer. Cameron is at this very second saying how he needs to address the big questions and not duck them while ducking Humphries' questions. It's show business for Cameron, because he gets to tell everyone he's submitted himself to a grueling Humphries interrogation; but it's also show business for Humphries because he gets to appear to be the fearless interviewer, speaking truth to power. It's all bollocks. Both Cameron and Humphries are dancing a choreographed dance around pre-determined limits, and neither of them strays for a nanosecond from the formal pattern.

David Cameron and George Osborne have both visited Calderdale more than once in this campaign. Nobody knew they were coming before they came except for the press and a select few in their own party and a few council officers. Each event was carefully stage managed. No ordinary people were to be allowed anywhere near. No inconvenient questions were to be asked. And it's not just the tories - Labour and my own party are as bad. Every top rank politician lives in abject terror of a Gillian Duffy Moment, so they allow the party machines to collude with the press in the Battle Bus culture in which pre-selected journos go to stage-managed photo calls in which only the most photogenic and meek ordinary people are even allowed into the building.

This isn't how politics should be. For a very few politicians it's not how it IS - people like Tessa Munt and David Ward haven't gone very far down this rabbit hole. But since being in government our leadership and leading figures have swallowed that this way of behaving is the way to do it - certainly it applied when Vince Cable came to Halifax. It's all so fake, and people can see it's fake, but when they tell politicians they detest the fakery politicians just stage-manage things all the harder.

And this, by the way, is yet another reason why Nicola Sturgeon is doing well this election - she has let the great unwashed come near, unlike any of the Westminster leaders.

Frankly, I don't care what either of the Labservative parties do because they are both as bad as each other, but I really really wish my party would stop doing this shit. And I swear to you, gentle reader, that I will do everything I can within the party to stop it happening.

If we can't have discussions with any ordinary member of the public, we don't deserve political success, and if a Gillian Duffy Moment happens, if we can't deal with THAT we don't deserve political success either. A politician who has to be insulated from people who disagree with him unless they are carefully stage managed is no politician at all.
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
Like the BBC poll tracker, I've not changed much since January. In January, I said the seat distribution would be:
Lab - 277
Tory - 265
LD - 45
SNP - 35
(Northern Ireland I'm not confident to predict so their 18 go here)
Plaid - 4
Independent - 3
Kipper - 2
Green - 1
I'm going to amend that somewhat today, to:
Lab - 259
Tory - 266
LD - 45
SNP - 55
(Northern Ireland I'm not confident to predict so their 18 go here)
Plaid - 3
Speaker*** - 1
Independent/Other - 1
Kipper - 1
Green - 1
The biggest swap there has been from Lab to SNP*, and I do think the tories will be the biggest party, just, because of it. The Indy/Other I think will be an NHA candidate somewhere. UKIP are down to one because I now think the only seat they will keep is Carswell, and Farage won't win Thanet.

I still think nobody will offer the LDs enough to get a coalition past special conference, which means we are into pretty uncharted territory. I can't see even Labour having the brass balls to go for minority government in those circumstances, so maybe we'll end up doing a Belgium?

Anyway, I look forward to being hoist by my own petard on Friday, when this is all proved horrifically wrong... As for Calder Valley and Halifax, and my local council elections, I know what I expect to happen, and I know what I want to happen. We'll see how disappointed I am on Friday when Merran McRae reads the results out... ;)

* I know people with money on the LDs having more Scottish MPs than Labour on Friday**. While I think this will be the case, and that's what my prediction is based on above, I'm not brave enough to put money on it.
** The LD number hasn't shifted to the SNP at all, because I was already counting us losing most of Scotland in January. My prediction for the number of Scottish LDs is 3. No, I'm not naming names which 3, that would be cruel.
*** Bercow was originally elected as a Tory, but is bound to be impartial and can't vote in most circumstances
miss_s_b: (Politics: Democracy)
The guardian website/tomorrow's print observer has a somewhat hysterical article about how we could face long coalition negotiations after the election. I'm not going to pick holes in their prediction for the most likely outcome of the election, although it doesn't chime with mine*, I'm just going to pick out one paragraph to pick holes in:
While the Lib Dem rule book gives the party’s MPs the main say on whether to approve a new coalition, there will be a special conference of senior party officials that will vote on the deal. Although the decision of the conference is not binding, according to the rules, senior figures say if the conference votes the deal down, Clegg will have to accept defeat.
To take the wrong bits in order:

1, "While the Lib Dem rule book gives the party’s MPs the main say on whether to approve a new coalition" - errr, no. Caron wrote a very good article about this a week ago. The MPs get the first vote after the negotiating team has negotiated in consultation with the reference group. The MAIN say, the decision as to whether it goes ahead or not, is taken by special conference.

2, "there will be a special conference of senior party officials that will vote on the deal" - voting reps are not in the sense of the words most people will understand "senior party officials" - not unless you think the vast majority of the active membership are senior. There's THOUSANDS of us. Most local parties don't even fill their quota of voting reps because there aren't enough people who want to go vote on things at conferences, and the only reason special conference is not one member one vote is the almighty cock up FE made of trying to introduce OMOV at Glasgow.

3, "Although the decision of the conference is not binding, according to the rules" - yes it is. This is just a plain factual error. It wasn't binding in 2010, but we changed the rules in 2012.

4, "senior figures say if the conference votes the deal down, Clegg will have to accept defeat." - well yes he will, because the decision is binding. And not only is the decision binding but to agree to a coalition (OR confidence and supply) special conference has to vote in favour by a 2/3 majority or more.

It really is going to be quite difficult to persuade 2/3 of lib dem members to vote in favour of ANY coalition deal with ANY party after the amount of stuff that was in the agreement this time around that the tories reneged on. We voted in favour of an agreement which gave us a good chance of electoral reform and supposedly guaranteed lords reform; neither of those things happened. Without cast iron guarantees of those things, and no shilly-shallying about referendums or anything, there's no way on earth you'd get a bare majority, never mind a 2/3 majority.

Similarly, the idea that any coalition involving UKIP or the DUP would get a 2/3 majority of members voting for it is just laughable in the extreme. I'd be amazed if you could herd the cats long enough to get a 2/3 majority for either of the Labservative parties on their own, to be honest.

I'm reasonably certain that this is why our Cleggy is drawing so many red lines this time around, by the way. He knows he'll not get an agreement past special conference, so he's scuppering it before it gets to that point, then he can spread his hands wide and say "well we TRIED to form a stable coalition but the other parties just wouldn't budge enough".

* I still say we're going to get a minority Labour government that'll collapse in acrimony and infighting within 6 months, and then we'll get another election.
miss_s_b: (Music: Progtastic Rock Wankman)
Sky news have been busy bunnies in the leadup to the election, creating these horrific lovely videos of the political leaders. If you haven't seen them, they're embedded below

What I want to know is, which of these do you think is most excruciatingly, buttock-clenchingly awful? I mean yes, there's some skill involved in clip selection and editing and whatnot, but honestly...

Poll #16651 Which is worse?
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: Just the Poll Creator, participants: 8

How far did you make it through watching General Affection?

less than ten seconds
1 (12.5%)

about thirty seconds
1 (12.5%)

the whole thing, baby
6 (75.0%)

How far did you make it through watching Ballot Ballad?

less than ten seconds
2 (25.0%)

about thirty seconds
1 (12.5%)

the whole thing, baby
5 (62.5%)

Which is worse?

General Affection
2 (25.0%)

Ballot Ballad
4 (50.0%)

I couldn't possibly choose. They're both excruciating
0 (0.0%)

What do you mean worse? They're both awesome, and no I HAVEN'T had my medication today, why do you ask?*
2 (25.0%)

* I'm allowed to ask that question cos I haven't had mine.
miss_s_b: Vince Cable's happy face (Politics: Vince - happy face)
The FT has spent a huge long article endorsing the tories, and three lines towards the end of it saying "oh by the way, in a seat where the tories aren't a choice, you might as well vote Lib Dem, they're acceptable". Many of my fellow LDs have greeted this with almost orgasmic cries of joy that a serious paper has endorsed us.

Eurgh. Basically we are cheering on the media for treating us as an adjunct to the tories, as opposed to treating us as Labour lite the way they did prior to 2010. Are we so inured to attack from the press that we'll treat ANY crumb from the rich man's table as a five star seven course feast? Well, clearly we are. And we're HELPING them with that "we'd give the tories a heart & labour a brain" graphic.

I am NOT a heart for a Tory.
I am NOT a brain for Labour.
I am a Liberal, and while I'm a pragmatic liberal and will therefore WORK with others, I'm buggered if I'm going to be somebody's comedy sidekick, or celebrate that the FT (or the Economist for that matter) thinks I am.

ETA: goes double for the Grauniad saying "vote Labour (unless you're in an LD tory marginal)" too

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Hello! I'm Jennie (known to many as SB, due to my handle, or The Yorksher Gob because of my old blog's name). This blog is my public face; click here for a list of all the other places you can find me on t'interwebs.

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