Tag Archive: Nick Clegg


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The very nature of being a volunteer for a UK political Party in this day and age could be described as exploitative. Your time and labour are given freely to the service of the promotion of others – those you believe can best embody your shared ideals and values. We do it because we believe in the cause and we do it in the most part willingly and joyfully. Volunteering for a cause you believe in can be and should be a fulfilling experience.

As should working for and dedicating your life to that same cause. Choosing to go into politics – whether it be working for a Party or standing for election at any level – can be a daunting thing to do. The backroom jobs are frequently low paid and always highly stressful. When you work in such an organisation the intensity of the experience can and frequently does lead to a very distorted relationship with the party itself. A fierce loyalty to the thing to which you are dedicating so much of yourself to is only natural. A sense that the organisation - and it’s higher purpose – come first is completely natural. Belief in a cause or simply in the people you admire who lead you is an essential part of working for or volunteering for a political party.

But there are some people who will corrupt that loyalty and abuse it for their own ends. Who do not understand the boundaries of the exploitation of the free labour and abuse the wielding of their power over those with none. And all too often, they are allowed to do so because their talents and use to the Party is seen by many with the power to act as more important than the rights of the more vulnerable workers involved.

They are wrong.

By doing so they corrupt the values for which they believe they stand and forfeit the moral authority of the Organisation they seek to protect. Whether it be the SWP, Wikileaks or the Lib Dems, those whose instinct was to protect the alleged perpetrators at the expense of the alleged victims have harmed the reputation and moral authority of their leaders and their organisations. By looking the other way to avoid the harm of having to discipline their senior and powerful figures, they cause exponentially greater damage to those they should most seek to protect, to themselves and the ideals they believe the organisation stood for.

As the most mainstream of the Parties currently besieged by such accusations, it has been really sad to see how badly many Lib Dems have resp0nded to the crisis. The initial statement from Nick Clegg (issued several days after the allegations were first broadcast on Channel 4 News) was mealy-mouthed about the process and whiny about the press coverage. It attempted to make the Party and its leadership the victim. It also seems that there may have been significant inaccuracies in that statement as he has had to row back on a number of the details.

Some activists and journalists on Lib Dem sympathetic newspapers have also been vocal both in their diminishing of the importance of the allegations and again tried to make the Party the victim of malicious media coverage. it is worth saying that some other Lib Dems have not. Notably Stephen Tall who has been leading the call to make any inquiries independent.

I’m not a Lib Dem and I never will be. So why does it matter to me that they get this right? That all parties involved get justice and that the internal culture that allows and even tacitly supports this kind of behaviour is tackled? Because the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of politics that views volunteers and junior staff members as “fair game” doesn’t exist simply in the Lib Dems. It infects the whole of politics to a certain degree. When women like me complain about the “boys club” we know this affects the whole of the political arena from the feeder organisations (like think tanks and pressure groups) to the branches to the national offices. The invisibility of women and their marginalisation in public and political spaces create the conditions in which these kinds of abuses of power thrive.

One depressing aspect of this story has been the Labour voices counselling we be quiet about the Lib Dem scandals as we don’t want to expose our own skeletons.

They could not be more wrong.

Not because our own skeletons don’t exist. While I have been lucky not to experience too much of it directly (though there are MPs who couldn’t tell you the colour of my eyes after talking to my breasts for an hour) I have heard stories: the friend who had her neck licked by a former minister in Strangers Bar; the male employer at a left wing organisation who described to a male friend his new (quite senior) employee as “the teeth and tits”. These aren’t my stories to share beyond these anonymised versions, but be under no illusion that such things don’t happen.

It is because such things happen that we must speak up and speak out. We have to change the culture of the whole of politics. We must use the opportunity of the crisis in the Lib Dems to examine our own processes at every level and be confident that they are robust enough. We must protect young, ambitious women from being put off politics by abuse from men they thought they admired. We must ensure that there is never a culture of acceptance but of challenge to poor behaviour and welcome to all those who share our politics. We must never allow ourselves to cheapen politics or our Party by passing by and accepting them.

Monica Lewinsky was an ambitious and clearly extremely talented (I suspect internships at the White House are pretty competitive after all) young politico. She made some bad personal choices and had a sexual relationship with a man much more famous and powerful than herself. He remains a senior political icon. A figure of huge respect in his Party and internationally. She has no political career. Their sexual activity was mutually consensual, she was single, he was married. Why has the fallout for their careers been so disproportionate? Because she had neither the power nor the status to get the machinery to protect and continue to nurture her talent. He was too important to lose. We can’t allow ourselves to lose talented young women from politics because of a culture in which protects the predatory powerful at the expense of the careers of young women.

This is not to say that people who develop relationships within politics should be punished or discouraged from doing so. But if their power statuses are disproportionate, how do you protect the weaker party from being sidelined? A modern organisation needs to look at this kind of question arising from the fallout of consensual relationships as well as from abuse and harassment. Because both feed into the sidelining of potentially great and important political women.

The Lib Dems are going through a difficult time because they clearly put the interests of the powerful before the interests of the less powerful. Parties are insular creatures and their natural instinct is to do just that. I strongly suspect that there is someone senior at the Labour Party and within the Conservatives wondering about what is going to come out now that open season has been declared and what to do about it. I can’t speak for the Tories. I’ll never be one of them either. But if Labour are aware of anything they should be acting on, I urge them to do so, properly, now.

In the end it might well be the cover up that could end the careers of several senior Lib Dems. But it is the culture that encourages that cover up that is choking politics. And it must end.

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Chris Huhne has broken the law and – quite rightly – will be going to jail. His personal behaviour, first the speeding then the lying have led to his political downfall. A lawmaker cannot be a lawbreaker.

Chris Huhne deserves to be punished for his wrongdoing. But his public punishment is that jail sentence. His public punishment is the loss of his career. His public punishment is the public exposure of the hubris that has been his undoing.

Chris Huhne chose to be a public figure. His son Peter has not. His son Peter deserves the privacy we would all expect when we are going through a difficult time with our families. That Chris Huhne hypocritically used the family he was about to destroy during an election campaign is not the fault of that family. They should not be further destroyed in the court of public opinion. The texts between Huhne and his son should have been protected. There was no public interest in that heartbreak.

Politician’s children do not belong to the general public. They are private individuals with public parents. Many may choose the same path, but if they do opt for public life, then that should be their choice (that it should be their talent that informs their success, not their connections is a column for another day). Their privacy must be respected and fought for as much as we fight for the privacy of any individual.

It is also true of politicians children whatever age they are. In Ben Goldacre’s otherwise excellent book  ‘Bad Science’ he describes the non-disclosure of details around Leo Blair’s vaccinations as “the biggest public health disaster of all”. I understand that Ben Goldacre doesn’t like Tony Blair much, and I respect his reasons why.

But the sins of the father should absolutely not be visited on the child. Just as politicians should not use their children as ornaments so too should those children have their privacy respected by others. I believe strongly that supporting the MMR jab in the way the Labour government did was the right thing to do in terms of public health. I don’t believe that opening up the medical records of the Prime Ministers’ children to public scrutiny is the right way to go about promoting that. The MMR disclosure becomes the catalyst for the media seeking disclosure on a lot nastier things.

Imagine if a child of a senior politician contracted a Sexually transmitted disease? Developed an alcohol or drug habit? Had an abortion? Or just wanted to go on the pill at 13? These would be considered along the same “public interest” lines as the MMR job would have been in 2001. Privacy between a patient and a doctor should remain paramount – and that must be particularly true when the patient is a minor, unable to decide for themselves how public they want their medical history to be.

This is true in the wider arena too. If Nick Clegg sends his children to private school I won’t judge them for being privately educated. I will however, judge him for making that choice. Just as I judge any politicians who speaks of fairness and equality while giving their child a wholly artificial boost in life. Not least for not having the clarity to realise that it is their children who suffer in an unequal world too. The failings of Nick Clegg as a politician and he failing of his commitment to the values he espouses are his fault. As a politicians he can and should be judged harshly on them. But just as don’t judge Labour politicians who went to private school for the choices their parents made, so too do I refuse to judge Clegg’s children for his misjudgement.

As the world gets more complicated public every day, we need to think about what we have a right to know from people who are not themselves political actors and who have never sought to be. I may be the last generation who grew up not making my most ghastly mistakes in ways that would have an everlasting digital imprint. As a rather misguided Sunday Express journalist proved when she went after the facebook pages of the survivors of the Dunblane massacre, it’s easy to find dirt on ordinary kids if you go looking. Imagine how much easier that is when the kid has famous parents.

As the case of Chris Huhne has shown, it was not enough for the press to go after his crime and report his downfall. The family angle was all too prurient for them to ignore.  This kind of intrusion – into the lives of people whose only crime was to be born to parents with political jobs – must be part and parcel of any discussion over how privacy and regulation of media intrusion can and must work.

Thi spost first appeared on LabourList.

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Clegg’s Choice

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By Emma | One comment

Nick Clegg has a choice. He doesn’t have to lose his prized reform of the undemocratic House of Lords, but in order to not do so he will have to swallow a significant amount of pride.

Here’s what’s not going to happen: Tory MPs are not going to come back in the autumn ready to cave in on their objections. Autumn is conference season. The Tory leadership will be desperate for this not to become a further disturbing display of disunity. The rebels know they will be largely feted by the Tory membership for the stance they have taken. The Tory rebels are not going to change their minds, and their leadership know they will have to be more placatory to get through conference without significant incident.

But the votes to reform the House of Lords exist in Parliament, if Clegg can first persuade himself to work with Labour to make this Bill work (he will need to follow Labour’s lead and swallow a few of Labour’s desired amendments, particularly a referendum and perhaps changing the insane terms), and then persuade David Cameron to let that happen, significant Lords reform could still take place. In all the focus on the rebels this week, it is forgotten that this was a large and comfortably won vote once it had Labour’s support.

So what practical steps must be taken over the summer? Well first the Lib Dems must reach out to Labour. They won’t like this, but their dismissive and hateful attitude is – in part – what has brought us to this place. Their unwillingness to negotiate the Bill with Labour properly in the first place instead presenting a deeply flawed Bill with a “like it or lump it” attitude was largely why Labour said they would force a defeat on the timetable. Clegg must send a team Labour can work with (i.e. not David Laws) to negotiate behind the scenes and thrash our enough agreement to see a way of getting the Bill through the Commons allowing Labour to support closure motions when their amendments or those they support in improving this Bill have been accepted. If Labour and the Lib Dems can use the summer to productively produce agreement that both sides accept and fully understand, then this Bill can be rescued.

It is now clear that a referendum is a likely outcome of such negotiation. If Labour and the Lib Dems can get around the table to save reform, this appears to be a Labour sticking point. I can understand after the bruising experience of the AV vote why Clegg and Co would rather not go through this again, but if properly managed, this time should be different. For a start all three Party leaders would – at least formally – be on the side of change. But if this is to be a part of the process, it must be better managed and better organised than the Yes to AV campaign. It has significantly more going for it than AV, but the campaign must look to recruit from beyond the narrow world of constitutional and electoral reformers to those better able to truly speak to and for the people of Britain. Planning for this should take place immediately. It cannot be left to chance, hope and the usual suspects.

Lords reform is salvageable, but Clegg must stand firm with David Cameron, who has already indicated to the Tory backbenches that he is willing to undertake a significant climb down. While negotiating with Labour, Clegg must stand strong in the face of significant levels of persuasion and arm twisting from his Tory Government colleagues. This will be hard – especially when it will mean siding with Labour and against the Tories, something he is usually politically disinclined to do.

Nick Clegg must decide which he hates more, Labour or an unelected House of Lords. The signs are not great that he’ll make the right decision. But if he does, it opens up a new space where Labour and the Lib Dems can have a new and more productive dialogue. This doesn’t just have an impact on the reform of the House of Lords, but on the potential for the anger between the two parties to finally dissipate somewhat. I don’t know if Clegg wants that, I do know, that to achieve anything the Lib Dems set out to do in this Tory led Government, ultimately and ironically, it will be in building bridges with Labour that they have their only chance to do so.

I for one hope they take it.

This post first appeared on Labour List

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It’s reshuffle time again. Let joy in Westminster be uncontained. Rumours abound. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s in, out or sideways?

For Labour questions include the unlikely Will this be a glorious leftist revolution? and the more likely Will it be steady as she goes? The coalition have more to worry about right now. Does Cameron have enough women in the Tory Party to move Theresa May, Cheryl Gillan, Baroness Warsi and Caroline Spelman all at once? Does Nick Clegg have any women he can promote to the cabinet at all? Will Vince move? Can Laws return? Who will they keep in the Cabinet just to keep them off the backbenches?
Read more…

 

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Ahhh Lords reform, we meet again. Back when I was young and still considerably more naive, I got involved in various campaigns to reform the House of Lords to a fully elected chamber. After the mess of 2003, where there were so many options on the table that MPs failed to properly back a single one, I vowed never again. Life is too short, and there are and always will be far more important issues.

Read more…

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Brilliant Brown

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By Emma | One comment

Given the circumstances, it had to be good, and my good it was good. At times it was superb.

He attacked just enough, and didn’t let Cameron off the hook on Inheritance or Corporation Tax, but where he was really excellent was on on values. He was superb on childcare (Babs I’ve been away, and will come back to you but I’m struggling at the moment with exhaustion so it’s not going to be tonight!) and the values behind the stats and has – I think – done plenty to undo the damage of yesterdays mistake.

Clegg wasn’t as good as he has been – or maybe he was as good as he had been, but hadn’t finessed his rhetorical flourishes enough to make them seem unscripted a third time.

Cameron was better than he has been, but seemed to get very cross when he was essentially exposed as a Tory.

I declare this a much needed win for Gordon. It was him at his very best.

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There’s quite a lot of commentary at the moment on Twitter and the blogs bout Nick Clegg’s demands for a hung parliament. While some of the critisism is apt, I tweeted some days ago, and still feel, that at the moment, any and all criticism of Clegg – especially by anyone connected with Labour or the Tories – is simply counter-productive. It feeds his message of “same old politics” too easily, and the Tory press are blurring the lines so much already that even valid criticism seems like carping.

I also think that some of the lines don’t quite make sense. True, it’s not for Clegg to choose the Labour leader, but it may be for Labour to choose between being led by Brown or governed by Cameron. I believe even Gordon knows which is the preferable choice.

So let’s assume Clegg gets to play kingmaker – or even crown himself with a Labour cabinet. What are the conditions Labour should put on such an alliance?

In the debates, both Clegg and Cable have attacked Tax Credits and their manifesto proposes getting rid completely of the Child Trust Fund. These must be a vital line in the sand. These are essential policies to continue a fair redistribution. This is a key Labour principle, and we must fight for it.

Secondly, no anti-union laws, including increasingly draconian laws to stop people working collectively and politically. Unite and Ashcroft are not the same, and union members already jump through enough hoops donating money through their union – a signal of thier political belief in collective action. A good Labour person in the DTI and protecting this area at the Treasury will be hugely important.

Finally, agreement on a referendum on voting reform must include an AV or AV+ as well as FPtP and STV options. Each party (and individuals within the parties) must be free to campaign in the referendum as they see fit.

I think these measures would be essential to assuaging Labour concerns, but shouldn’t be too bitter a pill for the Lib Dems to swallow. If Labour are seen as giving up something as substantial as their leader, the Lib Dems will also have to show willing to be coalition players. I don’t think these measures which protect the vulnerable should be too hard to take.

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The Expectation Game

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By Emma | No comments yet.

While that was a rather good general debate, I wish it had done what it was supposed to and focused more on domestic policy. We have the foreign affairs and economic debates still to come. Where were the questions on housing, energy security, human rights and civil liberties and transport? When will we get them if not in the Domestic debate?

I’m going to call this one a tie between Clegg and Brown. Clegg had the easier job but performed it with gusto – I might even remember who he is next time he’s on telly (equating the unions with Billionaire businessmen will get you remembered by me). Brown defied the very low expectations on him and performed solidly, raising a few laughs and making some excellent points both on Labour promises and the differences between us and the Conservatives. 

But why the hell have the Tories been talking Cameron’s chances up all week? He simply couldn’t have achieved the expectation put on him even if he had shown up! As it was he looked tired and weary, unnerved and his stories all seemed a bit fake and a little 70s in their “some of my best friends are 40 year old black men” attitude to diversity. A terribly lacklustre performance, which could have been better managed by his team if they hadn’t put such a premium on how he was going to wipe the floor with Brown on the night.

Finally the bit at the end with the handshakes looked very odd. GB naturally went straight into it and it looked fine, Clegg looked like he was going to follow suit, and Cameron grabbed him back. Clegg wants to watch otu for that – just for a moment, he really looked like Cameron’s junior.

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Clegg’s Choice

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By Emma | 7 comments

Usually, it has to be said, I find Nick Clegg unmemorable. I have been known to describe him as mind butter, given that my brain can’t seem to stay focussed on what he’s saying, his words just slide right off. All of which, of course makes him an ideal leader of the Liberal Democrats. Given their strongest electoral asset tends to be their inability to be pinned down on specifics, be all things to all voters etc., his very unmemorableness serves them well.

The third party will tend to pick up voters from those who are interested in politics, but are disaffected with the two main parties. It is my strong instinct that this will tend to lead to more people leaving the party of power to the third party at any given time. So for the last 13 years, in my experience,  it’s been the disaffected left who have left or not joined Labour over issues like the war, tuition fees (which I don’t think is a left wing issue, but that’s another post), ID cards etc.

Nick Clegg on the other hand seems to come from the right of the party – certainly economically. He was an Orange Booker and has frequently cited market liberalism as a cure for economic ills. He’s not a stupid man or a naive one, so he also knew exactly what he was doing when he eulogised Thatcher recently, pledged to cut the deficit with cuts only, ruling out tax increases (something even the Tories haven’t done) and harking back to the miners strike of the 1980s. Despite the key message being about reigning in bankers, he knows these are dog whistle messages to the Tories that they can work together as long as the Tories do so to Vince Cable’s time table. Swingeing cuts but not just yet seems to me to be the message Clegg is giving.

The irony that the Liberal Democrat’s weakest leader since David Steele is in a likely position to have the most power a Liberal has enjoyed since Lloyd George is lost on no one. But personally I can’t imagine a more poisoned chalice. The Lib Dems have for so long been the place for people who are discontented to pour their hopes, usually without it having to mean anything in reality (though of course they have disappointed locally, from the mess of Southwark leisure, to the 70% of wind farm rejections by Lib Dem councils). They have always been able to comfortably criticise from the sidelines without the pressure that the responsibility of governance brings. So if Clegg is forced to pick a side, and does so over issues that the Lib Dems really care about but make little impact on the lives of ordinary people (I’m talking PR of course – again another post for another day) they will find themselves suddenly under scrutiny, supporting a party (either way) that a great deal of their supporters can’t stand and no longer a great repository for disillusioned voters.

The Greens must be praying very hard for a hung Parliament.

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