Thursday, October 28, 2010

Why Tim Farron is the best choice for party president

I am supporting Tim Farron in the election for a new president of the Liberal Democrats. This might seem a surprising choice, as I have not always been sympathetic to Tim's views on the party's policy direction and was very critical of his chapter in Reinventing the state. If it was simply a matter of voting for the candidate I am most likely to agree with on policy or general political outlook, I would probably support Susan Kramer.

There are a number of reasons, however, why at this point Tim will make a better president. In the first place, it is important that there is a broad spread of opinion in senior roles in the party. While we are in coalition with the Tories there need to be prominent voices from what for the sake of brevity we must call the left of the party in the upper reaches of the Lib Dems. This is necessary if the party is to emerge from the coalition broadly intact and united.

Secondly, there is the danger that the Lib Dems' identity is blurred in the public mind because of the coalition, and that we stop campaigning. Tim is nothing if not an effective campaigner and will help to keep the party outside parliament focused on fighting and winning elections. Thirdly, even those like myself who support the coalition know that it will be a bumpy ride, with constant attacks from the left and difficult compromises to swallow. If there are to be difficult times ahead for the party, Tim will help to cheer activists up and maintain morale.

Had Susan Kramer retained her parliamentary seat, she would have been a strong candidate for ministerial, even cabinet office. She would no doubt have done an excellent job. But for the reasons stated above, I think Tim is a better choice for party president.

I note from Tim's website that my dear wife is also supporting him, which makes for happy harmony in our household.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Helen Lynch wins Central ward by-election

Congratulations to my new council colleague Helen Lynch who won a tightly-fought by-election in Watford's Central ward last night (see here for details). This has historically been a Lib Dem versus Labour marginal ward and any by-election caused by the resignation of a Lib Dem councillor is going to be tricky. Nonetheless after a hard and at times bitterly-contested campaign, we came through, however, narrowly, making this five by-election wins on the trot for Watford Lib Dems over eight years (and more wins and years if you include the wards of Three Rivers District that are in the Watford constituency).

The morning after polling day is not perhaps the moment for detailed reflections on the election campaign, the final week of which took place against the backdrop of a national row over tuition fees. However, one point is immediately apparent. All governments suffer periods of unpopularity, those that have to take difficult decisions about public spending more so, and left-of-centre parties taking said difficult public spending decisions more so still. Therefore over the next few years at local government level we will stand or fall on our local reputation.

In this case, we have a positive story to tell at council level, we had an excellent local candidate with a strong track record and a vigorous local campaign, yet it still wasn't easy. For those of us fighting the ground war, in the next few years winning elections is going to be tough. But not perhaps impossible.

Friday, October 08, 2010

A 'Staggers' article praising free schools - wonders will never cease

The New Statesman has been rather painful reading for Lib Dem coalition supporters over the last few months. So there was at least a crumb of comfort to be had in Rachel Cooke's TV review in last week's issue, in which she offered a qualified defence of free schools. (Although she was less sympathetic to free school promoter Toby Young, protagonist of the programme she was reviewing).

Cooke comments:

I was fascinated by the way the NUT's local representative, Nick Grant, oozed only envy at the thought of Young and others like him. Clearly the idea that some free schools might turn out to be quite good fills him with horror.

I wonder why. It seems odd for someone in education to regard collective failure as preferable to any kind of success at all.

Had I been quicker off the mark in reading the magazine I might have posted this while the programme 'Start your own school' was still available on iPlayer. But I rather fear that Toby Young's advocacy of free schools might actually put waverers off the idea.