Sunday, 27 July 2014

Social Liberal Conference: Farron on the Radical challenge now the Regan/Thatcher/ Blair consensus is dead

On the day Tim Farron's Beveridge lecture was a triumph. The 40 minutes speech was punctuated by warm and spontaneous applause and at the end the delegates rose to their feet without prompting to give him an extended ovation. The speech made folk feel better about themselves and their politics. It has been a rough time for those who come out of the radical tradition.  Here, at last, was someone who was speaking about their dreams and hopes.

The speech's great virtue was that it was forward looking. It was not picking over the bones of the coalition corpse. It sort to redefine Liberal attitudes for a new time. Farron's proposition was that the Thatcher/Regan/Blair free market consensus was breaking down just as the post war consensus had and that our task was to articulate a liberal basis for a new consensus.

There will be gainsayers who will pick holes in the speech and predict (that rather like an Ed Balls budget) it will unravel under close examination. I am not one. I have my reservations and even disagreements but on the day the address achieved what it was meant to and it is unfair to judge it as if it were the launch of a comprehensive manifesto.

There is a great weight of expectation on Tim's shoulders. Viewed from the perspective of most of the delegates at the Social Liberal Conference he is the preferred candidate to replace Clegg-and the sooner the better. This is a new situation. All has changed since Vince failed to pick up the pearl handled revolver that was delivered to him; in leadership terms he is a busted flush.

There was enough of substance in the speech  to give hope, but for me I couldn't quite see the connection to Beveridge. Tim is a doughty and successful election fighter. Beveridge was useless. He only won one election and that was under the war time coalition pact which meant he didn't have an opponent from the Conservatives or Labour. A local farmer stood as an independent, but it was not one of those war time by elections- like the ones headed up by Radical Action -which challenged the status quo, and Beveridge had a shoo in. When the real challenge came in 1945 he failed despite the long Liberal tradition in Berwick and his high profile.

The Beveridge who signed up with Sinclair's Liberal Party had traveled some distance from his early alliance with the Webbs. It is instructive to look at his writing from his time as a Liberal.  Most notable his undisguised anger at the way Labour botched his proposal. He loathed the term 'welfare state' and always maintained that he wanted a 'welfare society' .His biographer, Jose Harris, asserts that a key reason he embarked on his 1948 Report was 'as a protest against the Labour Government's rejection of his proposal that Friendly Societies should be employed as agents for 'humanising and personalising' national insurance. David Boyle- who was on the billing for the Social Liberal Conference- summed  up the impact of the state institutions Labour inflicted on us thus::

The trouble was that these institutions also disempowered people.  They had their own agendas, their own elites and - more recently - their own dysfunctional targets hollowing them out.  Beveridge warned that this would be the case as well, in his report Voluntary Action, and he was ignored.

Tim speech did not explore that aspect of the Beveridge legacy which would have been interesting. The Labour Party has always been soft on Monopolies and the problems they create and it is issue of real area of difference. This is particularly important at a time when the left's overall view of reform is that it should re-create state monopolies and that they should conform to central dictates, all delivering identical services. 

Instead Tim issued a call to arms for active 'can-do' government focusing particularly on infrastructure investment-High Speed Trains,  superfast broad band and the building of homes.

It is of course fair to use Beveridge as an example of  someone who got things done. Given the central position that providing good affordable homes has in Tim's outlook he could have chosen Beveridge's time as Chair of the Newton Aycliffe New Town, the place he chose as a flag ship for implementing his 1942 Report. 

In fact it was the other great social Liberal of the mid twentieth century that the speech most brought to mind; Keynes. As Tim was listing the implications of failing to invest in broadband I kept remembering a graph I'd seen somewhere that made exactly the same point 80 odd years ago about telephones and their role as a tool for business.....And there it is on page 34 of the ground breaking 1929 manifesto: We can Conquer Unemployment.

The 1929 manifesto was a slimmed down version of a much more comprehensive Report. I remember Chris Mayhew getting very frustrated at a meeting of the Standing Committee which was discussing the 1979 manifesto. These discussions were taking place at the time the Party was marking the 50th Anniversary of the Yellow Book. A re production of the book-all 503 pages of it-was launched at the NLC with Margery Corbett Ashby in attendance( She was one of the Radical Action by election candidates who did rock the War time pact polling 44% in the Bury St Edmunds by election of 1944 . Back in 1928 she had served on one of the Yellow Books Special Editorial Committees) Mayhew felt we were striving to reproduce something as comprehensive as the Yellow Book when we needed to be much more concise. I think he was right.

But there is a time for a substantial tome. The Yellow Book was one such. Its publication came at a time when the old consensus was collapsing and its outlook and policy prescriptions seemed to have failed. It foreshadowed the post war consensus built on Keynes and Beveridge. Almost 30 years later, in the first year of Grimond's leadership, the Unservile State was published, this was a conscious attempt to re define Liberalism for a new age. Grimond had gathered together leading Liberal thinkers under the Chairmanship of Elliot Dodds  and the collection of essays they published under the editorship of George Watson launched the Grimond revival.

As Tim spoke to bloggers afterwards we probed some of the missing pieces of the jig saw. How exactly were we to lift incomes? How did he differ from Vince on the issue of the living wage? How do you balance environmental protection against the need for homes? What about Northern devolution? I am destined to have died before the North gets a high speed train link from Liverpool to Hull. If the North had the strategic powers now on offer to Scots under devo max I might live to see it. What about employee ownership, diversity in education, the folly of concentrating so much power in the office of Mayor etc etc

There were some convincing answers and more readiness than his detractors would expect to stand up against the prevailing 'soft left'  Guardian view. But if Tim is to launch a new consensus now that the free market fad is fading then he needs to do what those in previous generations have done and gather round him the best radical minds and fill out the details.

We need an economically convincing programme that shows how wealth and power can be shared significantly more fairly. Caron Lindsay  reports that Vince through out to the SLF the challenge of giving new relevance to plans for workers' ownership. I am told Vince went to Shetland to give a lecture for Alastair Carmichael on Grimond economic thinking. Someone should publish it, spreading ownership of industry and commerce is central to any new Liberal consensus. Our present voluntary plans are such that if they had been the Party's views back in the 60's Arthur Selsdon and his ilk may have stayed in the party. Reforming Company law to give workers' equal rights with shareholders was one of the things that drove him from the party to set up the Institute of Economic Idea (IEA) and into Mrs Thatchers arms.

If Tim's assertion that the Regan/Thatcher/Blair consensus is in its death throws the interests of capital should no longer be seen as supreme. Long term sustainable businesses will never be constructed if they are prey to the short term interest of capital owners.The policy solutions adopted by the party in a different era may not be be applicable in today's globalised economy. The solution is not to give up but find new ways of making it relevant.  The new consensus must rest on a Liberal view of free trade. As David Boyle observed recently: 

The prevailing understanding of free trade is dominated by American conservatives. Liberal free trade, the original version, is all about tackling the tyranny of monopoly, state or private. The prevailing interpretation of free trade, as understood by the IEA for example, is far too cosy to private monopoly, and – by letting monopoly off the hook – is not really free trade at all.

Liberal free trade is about enterprise, innovation and imagination. It is about the right of the small to challenge the big. It is not about giving absolute power to the wealthy and powerful. Quite the reverse. 


This years SLF Conference confirmed that there are enough people with a Radical vision to inspire a new consensus. The contributions David Howarth , David Boyle, Duncan Brack and  Lousewies van der Laan. amongst others confirms that belief. Despite the travails of the last few years-and in no small part due to the SLF-the idea of social liberalism is still alive. The job of a leader is not to do everything himself or herself but to bring together a team who make our message new in this generation. S/he should not confine themselves to party members but draw on the best people who want a fair and free society. People who can say with us ( and the authors of the Yellow Book) that they 'believe with a passionate faith that the end of all political and economic action is not the perfecting or the perpetuation of this or that piece of mechanism or organisation, but that individual man and women may have life , and that they may have it more abundantly'






Wednesday, 9 July 2014

John Pugh's Town Centre First Camapign

MPs , activists and councillors were out in the town centre on Saturday leafletting and discussing with shoppers what local as MP John Pugh launched his "Town Centre First" Campaign. 

In a personal message to shoppers John Pugh warns of the serious threat to Lord St and the town centre if the council does not  tackle the issue of empty shops  and get a grip of the situation. Further decline he argues could impact massively on everyone in Southport.

"Charity shops, money shops and nail bars won't bring visitors to Southport. We need to attract quality retail and independent stores ".

The MP is opposed to Sainsbury developing a 10,000 square metre hypermarket out at Meols Cop which he argues will reduce footfall in the town centre and create more gaps in Lord St.  

"Anyone who thinks such a development won't hurt Lord St  is just not understanding commercial reality. People come to Southport because of Lord St not because we have the best supermarkets." 

The MP is calling on Sefton to develop a retail Masterplan for the town centre and for the public to back him . "We can't ," he says "continue to drift and end up looking like Morecombe

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The names of the 96 who died at Hillsborough were the text for Michael Nyman's 11th Symphony



 


My good friend Tony Robertson has already posted on the World Premier of Michael Nyman's 11th Symphony-The Hillsborough Memorial. He has also done the spade work and found the links about events leading up to its composition

I was fortunate to be there yesterday-it was a Father's Day present. I can report that the piece was enthusiastically received by the packed audience.Such was the length and passion of the standing ovation you might have felt that the listeners had added a fifth movement.

There was real concentrated attention when Liverpool born mezzo soprano Kathryn Rudge, sang the names of the 96 who died in Sheffield in 1989. It had the same mesmeric effect as John Taverner's composition  The Beautiful Names, which is based on the 99 names of Allah from the Koran.






Friday, 4 July 2014

5,821 school pupils form a world record breaking human poppy on Southport beach

As the strains of Elgar's Nimrod drifted across a rain soaked beach 5,821 local school children stood in perfect silence to remember 'the fallen' from World War 1.  This afternoon they had broken the world record for forming a 'human poppy'
The world record breaking human poppy


All morning the pupils had been assembled on the beach taking part various WW1 activities; singing the old songs, marching up and down following the Duke of Lancaster's regiment and doing a military style work out
When we assembled at 11.00am it wasn't raining, it was blustery and to the south there were threatening rain clouds. There was a good turn out of families, friends, ex servicemen-including Chelsea Pensioners, and the usual posse of councillors and civic dignities
Birkdale born A J P Taylor grew up in a house overlooking this beach. His well known theories on the progress of WW1 include the observation that once events had been set in train there was no stopping them. It felt a bit like that this morning. We ended up forming the poppy in the driving rain. I am sure the children will remember the event. It was memorable.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Freddy Flintoff at Southport for Lancs 2nd's game

Lancs 2nd XI were in action at S&BCC Trafalgar Rd defeating Warwickshire after some adventurous batting lower down the order.
The small crowd were delighted to see Freddy Flintoff at the game and stayed behind to see him go through his practice routine.

The disgraceful state of the Council maintained bit of Rotton Row

It beggars belief that once again prior to the Southport Flower Show I am writing to the Chief Exec of Sefton Council about the disgraceful state of Rotton Row.

On one side is the brilliant volunteer maintained herbaceous border. It is one of the best bits of Southport. It is full of colour and variety. I venture to suggest that it rivals similar borders anywhere in Britain. And, though size isn't the most important thing, it's sheer length is impressive. It is the longest such border outside of London.

Contrast this with the other side of Rotton Row. It is a disgrace. As with last year the seed heads have been allowed to form on the weeds and will soon be blowing over the glorious herbaceous border and into the gardens of Beach Priory Gardens. The Council needs to get its act together and maintain this bank. Thousands of people will be coming to the Flower Show and this just advertising the fact that Sefton Council doesn't seem to care

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

the 'consensus' on Northern devolution is selling the North short.............

I am mightily unimpressed by the consensus on Northern devolution that is emerging in London. We will face new challenges post the Scottish referendum whether it results in 'Independence' or Devo Max. None of the 'lite' proposals emanating from  the SE-whether from Heseltine, Osborne, Clegg or the Labour Party -adequately take account of the new challenges we face. Let us compare and contrast the proposals.

The Scottish Challenge

  • The Scottish Parliament already has significant powers and now even the Tories are proposing to give them more. Win or loose the referendum the Hollywood Parliament is going to have tax raising powers which may include: 
  • control over income tax, bands and rates,
  • powers over inheritance tax and capital gains tax,
  • existing powers over Stamp Duty,
  • land fill levy,
  • the aggregates levy and air passenger duty
  • corporation tax
  • New powers to borrow to balance the economic cycle and take long term decisions on investment
In addition to that package those of us advocating a federal solution for Britain would wish to see a further diffusion of power to local government and communities. Ming Campbell's Commission recommended;
  • Financial freedoms for local authorities
  • Removal of powers for Ministers to over rule local authorities
  • Power over council tax and business rates to rest with Local Authorities
  • General powers of competence
  • Requiring Councils to raise roughly half their money
The Commission added

'The Commission goes further in recommending new rights for local communities to take over services in their areas and to require the co-operation of councils, national government and quangos to do so. The recommendations also offer the opportunity to local communities to establish new burgh councils or other mechanisms if they want to put in place clear local control of services.
The final recommendation entrenches local government as envisaged by the original (Scottish) constitutional convention. 

Besides this what is the North being offered?

Well Mark Tavernier's chorus from the Liberator Song book may be the appropriate response. The North is paying a heavy price for John Prescott's incompetence when he brought in the pathetic proposals for  Devo Minimums that were rejected by the North East .

What is on offer now is not a lot better. It is based on the current fad for Balkanising the North into warring City States with few real powers. It is the perfect Whitehall solution to decentralisation of power within England-hand over as little as possible, 'nothing you would notice', but behave as if the proposals are truly radical.

Jim Hancock reflected that:....'by contrast the North of England is bought off by City Deals, Combined Authorities, Elected Mayors, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Regional Growth Funds.'. He continues

'Let’s remember that this demand for Scottish independence has been driven since the 1970s by economic grievances, largely centred on North Sea oil. In that it differs from independence movements in Quebec and Catalonia where political and cultural factors are more to the fore.

Then there is the dramatic effect independence would have on British politics. 59 Scottish Labour MPs would be out of Westminster. The party that relies on London, the north and Scotland to form a government would be very lucky ever to see power at Westminster again. The Tories, with their strength in southern England, would be bound to reflect those interests at the expense of the North.

We need to hope for a no vote, but prepare to welcome the headquarters of Scottish based multi nationals relocating in the North after independence rather than London and demand a Council of the North to give northern business and people real strategic and economic power here'

If we are serious about federalism then we need a Council of the North to administer the sort of strategic economic powers that Scotland will achieve post referendum. The present architecture for devolution is simply inadequate.

One key flaw in the proposals that is felt very keenly in vast tracts of the North is simply stated-we do not all live and work in Cities. The systematic way in which the City centric policies are destroying the economic prosperity of market towns, rural areas and even large boroughs within the region should be unacceptable to us

Part of the Federal proposals drawn up by Ming's Commission that I have quoted above is about decentralisation within Regions. Take Southport as an example. The concentration on Liverpool is undermining our economy. There has just been a major report on Rail Strategy for the City region. It ignores Southport. Our great need is to re-open our transport connections to the North and the East-our traditional hinterland. Our economy which is founded on tourism and retail  requires people to be able to get here easily. Since the wretched county of Merseyside has been created we have seen very little investment in those essential links. Everything has been poured into the narrow corridor to the South. Our retail offer is competing with Liverpool One which has had bucket loads of investment and will shortly get enhanced rail links. We regularly have business rates reduced because of the impact of Liverpool One. Our Conference trade is equally impacted. If it is difficult to get here why bother coming? And now our residents are meant to be pleased to see their council tax being spent to further scupper our economy. In significant part the decisions made in the 1970's made this inevitable


The North needs to plan across the whole region. We need real power decentraliseded. And just as Highlanders are seeking devolution in Scotland so those of us outside of the big cities require that our economic needs are catered for.We need the powers of this new constitutional settlement enshrined in a written constitution so that the are truly diffused not merely devolved for a season. From London The North may just be the cities -it is much more than that.

Jim Hancock, who I quoted above, has I think got it right when he writes that even if there is a Lab/Con consensus on the 'lite' form of devolution the civil service will scupper it.

 It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.
They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. ( I would add that Mind you Mark Dowd and his like during the long spell in charge of Merseytravel did there best to conform to that negative stereotype IBB ) At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.
This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.
Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.
So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.



It is this context that John Pugh, speaking at his adoption meeting in Southport last week, called for a 'Peoples' Convention of the North' rather like the Scottish Convention that ushered in the Holyrood Parliament. We need to get on with the task of creating a Federal constitution which doesn't treat England as a unitary state. If Scotland had been offered a City Deal for Edinburgh and Glasgow instead of a Parliament I can get their response.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Britain's worst lifeboat disaster -in Southport
























Britain's worst ever lifeboat disaster happened in sight of the Birkdale sand dunes,  twenty-seven lifeboat men from Southport and St Anne's lost their lives in the disaster and their bodies were laid out in what is now the Fisherman's Rest pub, then it was the coach house for the Palace Hotel.

Recently we reported on a performance of 'Cork Jackets and Drills' which tells the story of the 1886 disaster when when a barque named Mexico went aground.


I bring it up again now because I popped into The Atkinson which has some excellent material relating to the disaster as well as producing a card of this picture of the Mexico by Emil Krause Their collection also includes a picture by him of the Southport Lifeboat the Eliza Fernley (after which probably Fernley Rd in Birkdale was named)


It was good to see how in recent days The Atkinson has begun to stock more Southport related things and I understand more is on the way. It is now certainly well worth a visit

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

D66 at SLF conference

Without great fanfares I note a D66 speaker has been added to the agenda at the Social Liberal Forum conference. Lousewies van der Laan has been both at Dutch MP and an MEP. There is a video of her speaking in Denmark about sustainability that can been viewed here Way back in the mid 1970's Radical Youth for Europe, which I then chaired, organised a fringe meeting with D66 . The speakers included Richard Wainwright and Laurens Jan Brinkhorst later to become undersecretary of state of foreign affairs and a minister of agriculture. Furthermore he was the leader of the D66-group in the Second Chamber of the Dutch parliament. He was also a minister of economic affairs in a later governemt. Journalists gave him the nickname Brilly the kid. At that time D66 did not belong to Liberal International. A couple of years later we organised a seminar with D66 over induustrial policy. Viv Bingham delivered a keynote speach on employee ownership and industrial democracy.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

history repeating itself?

Way back when we were in a pact with Labour there was a lot of grumbling and even a special Assembly where members vented their frustration. The big issue was that members, by and large, had a different expectation of the Pact to the Leadership. For David Steel it was a vehicle to prove 'partnership in government' worked. The fact of its continued existence was sufficient. Activists wanted results- policy gains: Constitutional reform, employee ownership/profit sharing, repeal of the special powers taken by government in the wake of the IRA campaign, green measure etc. We got precious few. Richard Wainwrights initiative on employee ownership was the most significant.

We are in the same bind today. Clegg wants a coalition to show we are a party of government not protest. Activists see coalition as a means to an end not an end in itself. They want policy gains: Constitutional reform, green measures, employee ownership (and other radical measures of redistribution) stronger civil liberties, green measures, quality public services etc