Often debated here and elsewhere have been attempts to distill the nature of being a Liberal Democrat down into something simple and easy to understand. A couple of years ago, Alex Wilcock asked for suggestions to get it down to 150 words, but even that generated lots of different visions and visions.

Today, however, I think Jennie Rigg has solved it in a couple of sentences of her post on Lib Dem Voice suggesting a reading list for new members. It’s buried right down in the footnotes, but I think it’s a perfect insight into the party’s culture:

If you go for candidate selection, one of the questions you will be asked is “is there any part of party policy with which you disagree, and if so why?” If your answer is “no, I agree with all of it” you will be looked upon with deep suspicion.

Jennie has an aversion to writing for Lib Dem Voice but it’s clear to me that this is a ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ issue. If she can so easily define the party with two sentences, how many other deep-rooted issues could she solve with a casual remark?

, , ,

It’s been yet another day of potential coalition deal and red line statements, which is a refereshing change from the restating of the same policies in several different ways. Now we just get the same information about coalition deals being expressed in many different ways, of which the most pertinent information is that Ed Miliband doesn’t want to work with the SNP, David Cameron still won’t rule out any deal with UKIP and Nick Clegg will be happy to work with either of them, but he’d prefer an exclusive relationship. All of this does make me wonder if there’s a huge tempting of fate going on, and what we’re going to get is the polling situation unravelling over the next week so someone gets the barest of majorities. At that point, we all get to spend a few years discovering just how much any large political party is a coalition. Just imagine the fun of watching David Cameron held to ransom by the Better Off Out wing, or any attempt at radicalism from Miliband being stymied by the Blairite rump.

Anyway, Alex Harrowell has a good post on why the number of undecided voters polling is finding in Scotland explains Miliband’s current antipathy to the SNP.

We’re seeing more and more newspaper and other endorsements as polling day gets closer, but I think we’re going to look in vain for anyone endorsing the Liberal Democrats. That hasn’t spotted some people squinting and claiming that a ‘if our preferred party can’t win, maybe consider backing them’ is a proper endorsement because slim pickings are better than nothing, right? Jennie Rigg explains here why those sort of endorsements really aren’t good news, and at the time of writing still hasn’t had one of the pod person disciples of bland centrism come along to tell her how wonderful life is in the middle.

Away from the middle, let’s go to the North East instead for today’s minor party looking to make a breakthrough, and it’s another one of England’s regional parties, the aptly named North East Party. They’re standing four candidates (all in the North East, obviously) on a programme of bringing in a proper North East Government on a par with the other devolved governments of the UK. They do appear to have a positive manifesto – talking up what they want for their own region, instead of complaining about what others have – and also proposing to fund the regeneration of the North East through introducing a land value tax, which automatically pricks up my old Liberal ears.

Parties like the North East Party and Yorkshire First (who I looked at a couple of weeks ago) are an interesting development in the development of English politics after the Scottish referendum, and indicate the problems that could come in trying to find a one size fits all devolutionsolution that covers all of England without any regionalism. Of course, this could all falter at the ballot box, but their candidates are mostly in seats where people can cast a vote for them without too much worry as the results a foregone conclusion.

Finally, here’s a little bit of oddness found on Election Leaflets: a leaflet clearly targeted at Labour voters in Wallasey (Angela Eagle’s constituency) and seeming to encourage them to vote for UKIP, but actually from the Conservatives. It’s a deeply weird leaflet, criticising Labour from the traditional left – Danczuk’s ‘metropolitan elite’ claims and Ed Miliband is pro-auterity, for instance – and an odd comparison of the parties at the end of it. Apart from the imprint and a small ‘Conservatives’ on the front, you’d have no idea who it came from with the aim seeming to be pure negative campaign, suppressing the Labour vote in an effort to benefit from the wrecking tactic. It’s the sort of thing that would previously have been a local curio, but now we all get to see it – and point Tories to it when they complain about other people being negative.

145 hours and thirty minutes till the polls close and the real fun begins…

, , , ,

Worth Reading 141: Hide this number

An election that UKIP should have won? – Matthew Goodwin looks at the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner election and questions why they didn’t win it.
Lez Miserable – A personal account of how every public high-profile coming out helps to make the world a better place. “Of course, it is getting easier almost by the day for (especially) a certain kind of white, middle-class person to come out. But let’s be very clear; that doesn’t make it easy.”
On the Party Presidential Elections, and why I still haven’t sent off my ballot – Jennie Rigg sums up my dilemma in the current Lib Dem elections.
This Is How ISIS Smuggles Oil – How the black market works to get it across the Syria-Turkey border.
Don’t mock Norman Baker – he accomplished more than most ministers do in a lifetime – Ian Dunt points out what many people (including some in Baker’s own party) don’t want to acknowledge. “And therein lies the key to media treatment of politicians: Look vaguely presentable and don’t rock the boat – they’ll treat you like a sage. But fight for radical policy and they consider you an embarrassment.”

, , , , , , ,

Worth Reading 134: Offences not specifically mentioned in this chapter

It’s federal election time! – Probably only of interest to Lib Dems, but Jennie Rigg will be doing questions for federal committee candidates again, and wants your input on what to ask them.
Utter scumbags – “What I cannot accept, however, is the properly grotesque argument which this contemptible, reckless, immoral and intellectually bust Conservative Party is running to justify and explain its human rights plans. In Grayling’s thumping rhetoric to the grinning faithful in Birmingham, you do not see a meaningful and serious-minded parliamentary deliberation on the contested understandings of human rights, but an abject and irresponsible failure to engage in any intellectual or morally credible way with fundamental rights ideas.”
So The Lib Dems Have A Glee Club Where They Sing A Rude Song About Tony Blair – Buzzfeed are, I think, the first media outlet to actually understand Glee Club, and not use it to prove some agenda or other is correct.
In Spain, Politics via Reddit – Interesting look at the way Podemos is using the internet to transition from movement to party.
Understanding UKIP: Identity, Social Change and the Left Behind – The authors of Revolt on the Right, Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin have a new paper on UKIP’s voters and supporters.

, , , , , , ,

Worth reading 124: Double each time

Too much democracy? Time for 21st century democracy. – An introduction by Martin Smith and Dave Richards to some of the themes of their book Institutional Crisis in 21st Century Britain, which I’m working through at the moment.
Forget quotas for women MPs – time to limit the number of men – Rainbow Murray flips the debate on representation.
Making policy for the policy invariant – How do you make policy if the people don’t care what the results of that policy are?
Public Statement on the Readmittance of Lord Rennard to the Liberal Democrats – Jennie Rigg says exactly what I would say.
Do political parties make any difference? – Alex Marsh with details of some new academic research that’s relevant to my interests, and also contains some information on the party’s stance on immigration that’ll be of interest to activists.

, , , , , , ,

Worth Reading 92: The Love Album

Where Are All the Female Bloggers: a Series of Questions that require answers – something discovered during my trawl through the blogging archives. A post by Jennie Rigg from three years ago, but still very relevant.
What next for the Liberal Democrats? – An interesting perspective on the party’s situation from Irish blogger Jason O’Mahony.
Let more women report how the country is run – Mary Ann Sieghart in the Independent points out that political reporting is just as male-dominated as politics itself.
Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax – A very bizarre story about a star American college football player and the story of his dead girlfriend who appears to have been entirely fictional. (via)
Why are Local Parties important? – From a Lib Dem perspective, but an interesting nugget in terms of people’s engagement in politics. (via)

, , , ,

Jennie’s already beaten me to it, but I thought I’d share some thoughts on Ad Lib magazine, the party’s replacement for Liberal Democrat News, as it arrived in the post this morning. (I would advise reading Jennie’s post as well, of course – her points about the gender balance of contributors are very important)

To start off, it turns out that what was advertised as a magazine…isn’t. For me, magazine has certain connotations, and they tend to revolve around it being A4 size, and if it’s smaller than that it’s pretty big and sturdy. This is A5 and 40 pages, so I’m not sure it’s much more than a pamphlet. The point about Liberal Democrat News was that you could conceive of it appearing in a newsagents – this doesn’t give that impression.

As for the title, I suppose it’s better than going for something like ‘Coalicious’ or some focus group inspired ‘inspirational’ title, but is something that means ‘making it up as you go along’ really the impression the party wants to give? According to the ‘message from the editor’ inside, the answer is that it ‘is an appropriate tone for the magazine to strike’. That’s not an inspirational start, though it might explain what we find inside.

We start with an interview with Shirley Williams. Well, it’s billed as an interview, but it feels more like ‘a quick chat about the SDP’. There’s nothing new in there, and I can’t see any reason for it to be in there other than someone deciding ‘people like Shirley, so let’s put her in’. Following that, we get three pages of by-election news which read like the same story written four times. Why not just concentrate on one by-election (and perhaps even one where we didn’t win?) and tell a story, give us a feel for the area and what the Lib Dems are doing there, rather than giving us four pieces that could come from anywhere?

There’s a page on shared parental leave that really feels like it should be more – how did we achieve this? What were the challenges? What will the effects be? – but it’s just a page that reads like a press release. This is a problem that keeps occurring – everything in the magazine feels too shallow. The Nick Clegg interview that follows is the same – it should be an in-depth talk with John Kampfner, but instead it just floats over a lot of the usual topics and then ends. (Though it is the only article in the magazine to mention the Corby by-election – or indeed, any election other than council ones)

Desert Island (picture of a disc) – as Jennie says, BBC copyright lawyers ahoy! – tells us Tessa Munt’s eight favourite songs. Great, but whenever I’ve listened to the radio programme I’m sure they didn’t take the title and format from, the music is only part of the story. It’s a hook to ask the person involved more about them and what drives them, here it’s just filler for another page.

The Guardian does an interesting thing in its Saturday edition where they get two people on opposite sides of an issue to talk about it, debating points back and forth. That’s often interesting to read and brings out interesting points, whereas the simplistic ‘Should we ban page 3? Yes or no’ ‘debate’ in Ad Lib doesn’t do anything other than rehash the same old points with no actual interaction.

The rest of the magazine’s the same – articles that could be interesting just peter out into nothing. There’s an article about how a Lib Dem councillor led the process to boost recycling in Conwy council which is a subject that would interest a lot of people, but after a few paragraphs talking about that goes on to discuss elections and campaigning. The article about the American election descends into a lot of process chatter about election strategy and rather than talk about the content of Nick Clegg’s conference speech, we get an article about how it was written.

There’s some interesting content in there – Alison McInnes’ article on improving conditions in women’s prisons stands out – but the rest of it just feels hollow, far too reliant on running off to the Lib Dem safe zone of talking about leaflets and door-knocking instead of discussing actual politics or policy. Why is there a page given over to cooking? Why does the upcoming events page only detail events taking place yesterday, today and tomorrow? Even if the magazine had come out a week ago, that would still be far too short a notice for many people to make plans for.

I’m sure the team behind it are doing their best to put the magazine out while having to do a hundred other things, but that this is how the party chooses to communicate with its members speaks volumes about how the leadership sees us. Some effort and investment could have produced a magazine that people might want to read, or think about passing on to non-Lib Dem friends to show them something of interest. Compare Ad Lib to the magazine I get regularly as an Amnesty member, or the communications organisations like the Woodland Trust send out to their members, and it looks terrible. Did anyone look at other magazines before putting the basic idea of this together? I subscribe to New Humanist magazine, which can’t have that huge a subscriber base, but they manage to put together a vibrant and interesting magazine that gets read, noticed and talked about. Ad Lib feels like something that’s not going to hang about long on the journey from letterbox to recycling.

The idea of having to pay an extra £35 a year to get this sent to me monthly is something I’m not contemplating. If members are going to get two issues a year automatically, that’s asking for £3.50 an issue which doesn’t feel anything like value for money, especially when a year of Liberator‘s just £25.

, , , ,