Hat tip to Tom Watson for leaking this letter from Cllr Hemming to his Liberal Democrat parliamentary colleagues. You may now laugh yourselves silly. The online betting companies aren't evening offering odds on John winning. They will offer odds on Simon Hughes winning - and he's ruled himself out.
It surprised me just as much as anyone else when Ming resigned yesterday. We must thank Ming for the way in which he brought stability and improved the professionalism of the party although we still have further to go.
Unsurprisingly I am interested in putting myself forward for Party Leader. I am writing this note as a “position statement”. The reason I wish to stand is to be able to argue, and potentially implement, a particular strategy for the party.
The first point I will make is that we as a party must retain our system of involving party members in the determination of policy direction. I do not think all the detail should go through such a process. However, I do believe that anyone wishing to lead should first persuade the party and then persuade the country.
However, anyone wishing to lead has a responsibility to put forward the basis of the direction in which they wish to take the party.
The first question that is asked is about the Left/Right Axis. This demonstrates a oversimplification of politics. Politics is multi dimensional. One of the dimensions (which predominates the left-right axis), is whether a party stands in the interests of the poorer and weaker members of society or whether the party is moreso standing in the interests of the rich. Historically the party has been the champion of the economically weak without being in the pockets of the Trades Unions. This position has been rightly described as centrist. It would be wrong for the party to move away from this position. We must champion the interests of those struggling to cope – now a wide swathe of society.
Under New Labour life has become nastier for many people. Crime, financial troubles and debt and quality of life has deteriorated. We should clearly argue for quality of life and away from a numerical perspective. The Treasury has argued that policy should be determined by valuing options financially. We should argue for people to have the power to determine their own situation based on an assessment of quality of life. This is, in fact, another dimension of politics where we can stand alone against Labour and Conservatives
A third dimension in which we can create a distinction between our approach and that of the other parties is that of Deontology vs Consequentialism. Consequentialism, where the ends justify the means, has developed a stronger hold in the UK in recent years. On issues such as BAE and the Natwest 3 we should continue to argue that things should be done the right way (Deontology). Colleagues will be aware of some of my work in Public Family Law where Consequentialism holds sway and hundreds of people are imprisoned in secret every year. We should, however, review our approach to ensure a consistency here. Strict liability offences where there is no mens rea do cause difficulties from this perspective and how that operates to affect people should be thought through. We must also stick by our manifesto commitment to offer a referendum on the European Reform Treaty.
We do, however, need to reflect this in ensuring greater accountability in politics. That means that we should be looking to make sure that ministers actually answer questions. The UK is governed in a way that is like looking in the mirror at the car crash that happened a couple of years ago in the hope of not having a crash today. Unless we can get accountable government that will never change. We, therefore, should commit ourselves to not being part of any coalition government in the event that parliament is balanced. That will deliver a movement of power to parliament from the Executive.
A fourth dimension relates to international politics. The adventurism in Iraq arose from an acceptance of the ideas of Neocolonialism. We should stand against this. That does not mean that we should not trumpet the ideals of Liberal Democracy. However, we must resist the arrogance of neocolonialism and the assumption that military force will achieve lasting political change. That will involve the recognition that the strategy in Afghanistan is flawed and needs to change to a less military solution. We can easily win the war, but winning the peace becomes harder with every Afghani death.
The Environmental Strategy of the party remains a good one. I think we have got the green taxes strategy right. Personally I feel that “peak oil” will be an issue of developing importance that will need to be addressed by all parties. However, on this practical dimension I think we have the right direction.
We must not move away from localism. That does mean not trying to impose central policymaking on local council groups as some have been tempted to do. That is a recipe for disaster. The leadership needs to work more closely with our local government and devolution groups.
The above paragraphs relate to a political strategy and a political positioning. That positioning is not only the correct one, but also one that can be electorally popular. We do, however, need to persuade the electors that our political strategy is right.
We must make sure in our campaigning in parliament that we are talking about things that matter to the British People. Hospital Infection, Crime, Education and quality of life are all things that matter. We need, however, to aim to set the agenda as well as get into an agenda set by others. Frequently we have been too timid in not taking the risk of aiming to set the agenda. We do need to be professional about identifying the issues that concern people and making our position clear.
Everyone has been surprised by Ming’s resignation. The timetable set for a replacement in my view is too short. I have written this note as part of my soundings to find out what support exists for the above political thesis.
I am one of the few Members of Parliament who have the practical experience of having successfully led a political group from opposition to a position of power (in Birmingham). On issues of diversity I have delivered. As far as extra parliamentary considerations are concerned I am almost certainly the only successful entrepreneur in the parliamentary party that is also a member of a Trades Union. I will be taking soundings following this position statement.