A belated Journal Post – Political reflection

Hello all…. Let me briefly explain this post for you. It is now 20th February 2013 and I was looking through some old files (trying to find a mislaid file!) and came across the following stuff which I wrote BEFORE I was writing a Blog regularly. If I had been writing a blog, these three “reflections” would probably have made three separate posts on different dates.  I am not sure how much impact they may have made but in reading them now I find them making me rethink my thoughts on those dates.

I have decided to make no changes to what I wrote, so let me quickly explain my personal circumstances when I wrote them. I had been widowed from my lifetime partner Tricia for about 18 months and it is clear my reflections were still reflecting my grief. The first one is dated in May 2010 so I had already met and established a relationship with my Brazilian Lady Fatima but I had not yet proposed marriage (I did THAT on 1st July 2010!)

I am not going to update my thoughts on these issues in this post but I would be interested to hear from you if the thoughts herein spark any thoughts in YOU….so, let me take you back in time…………………. just after the last UK General election……

Reflections on a New Political Reality

Wednesday 12th May 2010

It is well after midnight, nearly one in the morning, of Wednesday 12th May 2010 and I am slowly tapping out words of reflection on the news that Liberal Democrats will be full partners with the Conservative Party in a Coalition Government; the first in my lifetime of nearly 63 years.

Why reflection? Why on the computer?

I am without my lifetime partner, Tricia, who died 18 months ago, and this is one of those BIG issues where we would talk together, laid in bed in the dark, about the world and its vicissitudes, and troubles and joys….. but I am at a loss. No-one I can talk to who shares ALL those memories of campaigning for change as a lifetime Liberal, so I am trying to “talk” to this blank page in front of me.

It is not easy – hence the slow tapping of words! My eyes are full of tears of loss so the screen is hazy. My emotions are mixed as I see faces I remember from my politically active days streaming out of a meeting of the Liberal democrat Parliamentary Party and the Lib Dem Federal Executive, looking wildly enthusiastic at the prospect of power sharing to introduce some “key elements “of Liberal Democrat Policy. Several people indicating the Parliamentary Party was unanimously in favour of the deal and only, perhaps, “one” vote against from a member of the Federal Executive.

I cannot help thinking that if I had been in that room I might have been a second vote against the notion. The full deal will be revealed tomorrow morning but there were hints of the sort of things the negotiators had managed to get into the Coalition Programme and frankly I feel “underwhelmed”.

Yes, there are some significant issues which have been mentioned, like raising the tax threshold to £10,000 which was a Lib Dem manifesto idea, like getting the Tories to NOT raise the inheritance tax level for the richer part of our population, like getting promises about early education support and so on.

Yes I am an optimist and I might have wanted to give Nick Clegg and the negotiators some leeway to prove they had got a good bargain by allowing them to “have a go”…..BUT

And it is a BIG BUT! I have been a lifetime environmentalist (and of course I wouldn’t have needed to SAY that to Tricia, she has lived with me through that same lifetime of activity on environmental and sustainable development issues!)…… a lifetime environmentalist and former chair of the Lib Dem Peace Group, so one of the first things to strike me is that after seeing 23% of the electors vote for the Liberal Democrats on a ticket of getting rid of Trident, I gather the Coalition will follow firmly the Conservative view of carrying on with a wasteful and nonsensical so-called “Independent Deterrent”, whilst admittedly “looking into the funding” of that deterrent rigorously, apparently.

And I guess I will have to wait and see what the full details will say tomorrow about Electoral Reform but it seems that the Conservatives have given very little ground on this issue – apparently allowing for a referendum on the possibility of using the Alternative vote (which is NOWHERE NEAR my favoured view of Proportional Representation!)

I have a strong feeling the negotiators have been fed weasel words on this from the Tories and they will not be able to deliver anything like real electoral change, so desperately needed, and we will get screwed yet again. More importantly the electorate will get screwed yet again on this issue – and little of significance will come of it. I feel VERY cynical about this one. In forty years of voting for Parliament I have never once been represented in the House of Commons by someone of my choosing. Never once. And I do not think that is going to change.

We seem to be in for fixed term government of five year duration, which has been a Lib Dem idea of course but I wonder if they have addressed the issue of how they are going to respond to bye-elections. Will there be a “Coalition” candidate or will each coalition party be allowed to put up its own candidate in the event of a bye-election being called.

If Tricia was here that might have been the start of a long “What if” kind of discussion, taking us in all sorts of directions, probably including many trips down memory lane of elections fought and remembered moments, like going to the count and buying orange flowers for all our counting agents to wear in or on their lapels instead of or as well as their rosettes – just for show, just for fun; like coming away from one count so late in the early morning of a June day that we got to the house where we were staying in the Constituency as the sun was rising. It was a great election too, we had got ourselves into second place so we were really pleased with the result and the Alliance Parties had jumped from 11 Liberals to 23 Alliance MPs so we were also basking in reflected euphoria as well as the dawning sun.

Now in 2010 although the Lib Dem vote in the country rose by one per cent to 23% we actually LOST seats from 61 to 57 – so much for a fair election system.

So, there you have it. A night for euphoria that Liberals are again sitting round the Cabinet Table or a night of regret that the Party may yet come to rue the day it went into a formal Coalition with the damn Tories.

Another of the things Tricia and I would talk about would probably have been the parallels with the thirties when the Liberal Party broke apart as a result of its electoral pacts and deals. Not that we know very much of that history but we do have a letter my father wrote to the Liberal journal of the day which was published voicing concerns that would have had resonance now: as it also had resonance when there was argumentative discussion over the tactics and antics of the Alliance between Liberal and the SDP which eventually led to the merged Party being formed…… and which led to policy changes from old Liberal to new Liberal Democrat policy where I had great difficulty in accepting the new line on Nuclear weapons and environmental issues for example.

It is now after 2am so Tricia and I might have stopped talking by now, so I will stop typing too and go to bed. Thank you for listening to me, you have been very patient! Goodnight, sleep well.

******************

18th May 2010

Nearly a week later – 18th May – and I have been watching some speeches on the Parliament TV channel so my mind is in political mode again but things have become clearer as to the nature of the Coalition (yes it apparently deserves a capital letter and in some references it is being referred to as the Liberal Conservative Coalition, although the Chancellor made a speech where he called it “the Conservative Government supported by the Liberals”.

Since my last reflective piece I have been to a social gathering of people who are all friends after becoming Liberals around 30 years ago after we formed a new Liberal group in the locality when I fought and lost a District Council bye-election. There were nearly a dozen of us there and some of the talk round the dinner table… (nice meal by the way, trout and prawns as a starter, the trout caught by Paul B… whose house we went to, chicken breast with selection of vegetables followed by Pavlova, the first I have had since Tricia died!) … some of the talk was, of course, about the political situation.  The general tone was similar to my own reflections, in terms of a cautious welcome – if it is allowed to work – with some serious hesitations about what we are NOT getting.

Strangely, the newspaper headline this morning was made by Nick Clegg, now Deputy Prime Minister, who was going to claim in a speech made today, his first major speech in his new role, that the package of reforms he would be introducing would bear comparison with the major electoral reforms of 1832 !! Hmmm, a rather grandiose claim I think, young Nick, since there will be no Proportional Representation, and we will only get a referendum on the Alternative Vote system, with no guarantee of it being put into place. There will be the creation of a hundred or so short term “Lords” to sit in the second chamber until it can be made an elected second chamber and he has proposed and you have indicated a rolling back of “big Government” in favour of individual freedom – but hardly the cutting through of “rotten boroughs” that happened in 1832 and the spreading of democracy (but I suppose if I had been translated back then being the ‘radical’ I now am I might have railed against the fact that the package in 1832 did not feature universal suffrage and neglected the women’s vote altogether….so, we’ll see!?)

The trouble is with making grand claims you then end up getting measured against the expectation and I am not at all sure the right wing of the Tory Party will stomach much of the minority tail wagging the Coalition dog! My friends on Saturday were saying that the Tories they knew didn’t even trust Cameron never mind the Liberal Democrats so I guess he may be in for a hard time from his own members.

The Independent today reported on the Special Liberal Democrat Conference at the weekend (actually I think it was Monday’s paper I was reading!) and the fact that Clegg got an almost universal endorsement of his actions in supporting the Tories although there was at least one speaker who questioned the issue of “dealing with the Devil”.

Something that has come across over the last few days is that the Liberal Democrat negotiators were getting a pretty good deal from the Tories considering the mathematics of their support and the fact that they were tying themselves in for five years with not much of a get-out clause if things went badly wrong for us.

Oh, and the issue I raised in my first comments about bye-elections will come to fruition very soon as there will be a bye-election in Yorkshire caused by the death of one of the candidates just before the General Election. Both Parties will fight as individual parties – it will be interesting to see if there is a change of tone between the different candidates during the campaign.

28th September 2010.

Well, I was out of the country for the bye-election, so I cannot reflect on the “tone” as my comments suggest. It is now several months into the coalition and we are in the midst of Conference season. The Liberal Democrats had their conference just recently and I am now typing having just been watching the speech, live, of the newly elected leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband.

There was a generally positive attitude and feeling emanating from the Liberal Democrat conference, according to the media reports and it was well covered but my personal hesitation remains in place, that my erstwhile party is getting little credit for holding a Liberal line against Tory cuts in public expenditure, partly because it is not entirely clear how successful has been the Liberal effort on this – they seem to have been persuaded that severe cuts were needed to quickly reduce the public deficit.

And, today, Ed Miliband has made an interesting speech which seeks to distance him from some of the Labour positions which have lost that party support in the run up to the General Election. He won the leadership election by the most modest of margins (just over one percentage point in it after the reallocation of second preference voting for the five candidates, defeating his brother David in the final round!)

The messages that were appealing to me as a currently “non-aligned” person were his comment that the decision to start the Iraq war was at least flawed, if not totally wrong (he didn’t become an MP until after the Iraq decision was made) and the play he made that Climate Change issues were the most important this country faces. Not that I am about to join the Labour Party, by the way! But Ed Miliband and his expressed views were more appealing to me than were the views of his brother David. But I am not sure I could stomach the Labour Party as a member from what I experienced as a Liberal parliamentary candidate over several elections!

Going back to the Liberal Democrat conference, it seems to have changed little from the conference as I knew it many years ago – the format seems little changed and the quality of speeches is about the same, sadly uninspiring in many cases. A couple of the speeches I heard were probably quite well written but the delivery wasn’t there! One guy in particular seemed to have a good set of words to deliver but his speaking style didn’t make the most of the words – in several places he started to get a smattering of applause for his lines but would then stop and wait for the applause that had started, to finish before finishing his speaking – which allowed the applause to die down. Instead he should have raised his voice to speak over the smattering of applause and then it would have had to have got louder because it is human nature to want to finish applauding……if he had played it right he could have got a good solid round of applause instead of a trickle!! Disappointing.

One small thing which pleased me happened in a debate about “Green Taxation”…… This was moved by a chap called Paul Burrell, whom I knew in the days of my links with conference and he quoted a paragraph form the Liberal Democrat Constitution. And I know for sure that it contained a number of words, which I was responsible for, ensuring that they made their way into the wording of the constitution when it was being drawn up many years ago.

I am sure no-one else would have noticed my involvement but it was pleasing to me that I could say “I did that”, even if it was only to myself (and you now, of course, gentle reader!)

There was also a resolution that sought to delay a decision on whether to replace Trident with a like-for-like capability for launching nuclear weapons – which just may have the eventual outcome that it is not worth money which could be put to better use……! Not quite the scrapping of Trident I would like to see but it did reaffirm that scrapping Trident was a liberal democrat aim! Whether it will affect Coalition policy we will have to wait and see. A delay in the date for making the decision will at least put it off until the next election, so the case can be made, yet again, to the electorate, instead of committing the country to another 40 years of supposed nuclear deterrence.

And that reminds me that at least there is a commitment to making parliaments into “fixed-term” parliaments which is a Lib Dem position that was accepted as Coalition policy. Interestingly Ed Miliband made a commitment to the Alternative Vote which represents a change form the previous Labour policy thus also appealing to people who formerly voted Lib Dem to join Labour – if he can carry the party with him of course.

Enough reflecting for this afternoon. No doubt I will reflect more in due course.

About Keith Melton - Green Lib Dem

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Nottinghamshire; spent six years in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536. Active member of the Green Liberal Democrats - (pressure group in Liberal Democrats) - was Founding Chair of GLD in 1988
This entry was posted in Elections, Environment & Sustainable Development, History, Peace, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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