Saturday, September 18, 2010


Lib Dem Conference Excitement: Presidential Candidates and Showing Off Our BOTYs

I've been rained on; I've hugged confidantes, candidates and Cabinet ministers; and, like everyone else, I've kept a wide berth of the glum Labour hack staffing the TUC stall despite all the freebies they're offering. Yes, it can only be Liberal Democrat Conference time again. For the first time ever, the thing the media say we're all talking about really is the thing we're all talking about – how do we think the coalition's going? So I might write about that tomorrow, because people are also talking about the internal elections and Lib Dem Voice's Blog of the Year Awards. Thankfully, I've been able to get here, with much gratitude to my lovely Richard and to my body for slowly returning to its usual levels of rubbish health over the last few weeks, after four or five months of spectacular horridness (well, last week was pretty horrid again, but I'm hoping it was a blip).

A Much More Interesting Presidential Election Than We Were Expecting

In effect, the Liberal Democrats have two deputy Leaders; one's elected by the MPs and deputises in Parliament or if the Leader falls under a bus or Simon Hughes' taxi – that Deputy Leader is now Simon Hughes – while the other is the President, elected by the whole party to deputise as the voice of us all. In the early days of the Liberal Democrats, the first was a largely ornamental position that didn't do very much while the latter was hotly contested; over time, that's almost swapped over (not least because Simon's two immediate predecessors in the job became Acting Leader), with several Presidential elections going uncontested and every President after the first one (under whom the party nearly went bankrupt) easily getting a second term. Yes, I remember all this stuff; Richard drove four of us up to Liverpool through middle England's scenic traffic jams yesterday, and while not singing new Labour Leadership-related lyrics to War of the Worlds' Brave New World (when you hear the lonely, dying, doomed "ooooh-laaaa" afterwards, think 'Poor Andy Burnham') I regaled everyone with thrilling tales of Presidential terms past. Well, they needed a nap.

This year's Presidential election, then, is a startling change to form. Ros Scott fought a brilliant grassroots campaign two years ago and thrashed poor Lembit to win the post, so everyone expected her to be returned unopposed for a second term, her nomination and consequent re-election this month pretty much a formality. So when she announced a week and a bit ago that she wasn't going to stand, a ripple of surprise went round the party – still more so, as there's no obvious 'establishment' successor. So far, four different candidates have declared, which (if they all get enough nominations) will be a record for the contest, all from a standing start. Millennium and the lovely Helen Duffett are organising bloggers' interviews with all four, and I've already joined one of them at noon today. As we went down to interview Tim Farron, the coronation music from Doctor Who – The Androids of Tara was stuck in my head; I wonder what my subconscious was trying to tell me? Consciously, I'd say the election's between two of the candidates, but I don't know which one's likely to pull ahead; I'll also have great difficulty deciding between three of them for my first preference. The one I don't know was always going to get my fourth, despite having read some good things about him… However, having observed his flunkeys persuading people to nominate him not by saying 'These are the nomination papers for X' but by claiming, "Sign here to ensure there's a contest," I shall be asking him rather curtly about that. I wonder how a candidate will justify a direct and calculated deception of voting representatives to Conference just to get as far as standing for election? Meanwhile, should you wish to enable one of the other candidates to have a fair fight, you can help here (without necessarily committing to vote for her).

Once we've completed all the interviews, I hope to write them up in one post – I'm asking each of them the same couple of questions, plus a specially fashioned extra one individually tailored to be the nastiest I can think of for each of them. So with a bit of luck that'll be sometime later this week.

Spanking New BOTYs Tonight

The highlight of every Lib Dem blogger's year is, of course, the Blog of the Year Awards, unveiled at a glittering ceremony in whatever dingy bar Lib Dem Voice has been able to afford for the first day of Conference. In tonight's, Millennium Dome has been shortlisted again for both Blog of the Year and Best Post on a Liberal Democrat Blog – hurrah (I nominated both him and Caron, both of whom it's lovely to see on the list)! Last year, of course, I was privileged to accept the coveted award for Blog of the Year itself… On someone else's behalf, naturally. Having spoken twice and been nominated twice for the top award, I remain confident that these two functions will never intersect (particularly as I've had such a pitifully low rate of posts this year, falling into ill health and, worse, Twitter). Despite that, I'm one of those up for Best Post, which is very flattering and doesn't actually put me under too much pressure to write more than once a month.

Many are nervous that the terrifying Curse of the BOTYs will strike again; three of the four past winners have almost immediately vanished into oblivion, so there's a bit of a concern that this year's will again say 'Thank you, and good night'. Frontrunner Mark Reckons has slightly presumptuously pre-emptively retired from blogging ahead of the awards; while he would of course be a worthy winner, were I a judge I would of course vote for Millennium. Being what you might call an aggressively secularist little elephant, he holds no truck with curses. Except possibly bad words about Labour Leadership candidates.

Speaking of bad words about Labour, I don't know who to back for Best Post on a Liberal Democrat Blog – it would be jolly nice to win, obviously, but I don't think mine's actually the best. Sadly, Caron's is particularly topical given the idiocy of yet another "child protection" nonsense last week. Noticeably, though, all the shortlisted posts (not necessarily reflecting the general tone of each blog from which they're taken) are ones attacking the Labour Party, either directly or – as they're taken from right across the last year – a particular action of the then government. Two of those I sent in to be considered are up there: Millennium's and Andrew Hickey's messages to Labour. Both are excellent, and I'm especially pleased to see Andrew's up there, as it's pithy, sweary and perfect (I suspect the sweariness may get in the way of winning). Millennium also wrote excellent pieces attacking the Conservatives or assessing the coalition, for example, which might have provided a little more balance (yes, yes, I know, critiquing the judges before the results are announced might be unwise). I admit I do quite like my shortlisted Considering the Evidence Means You Must Consider Your Position, being at least among my better posts of the year – this is the good bit:
"When Professor Nutt said that you’re more likely to die horse-riding than taking cannabis or ecstasy, to wails of horror from Labour hypocrites, he was simply looking at the facts of risk. Yet even that’s not really comparing like with like: unlike Professor Nutt, I support legalisation, which would enable proper quality checks (as well as destroying the criminal trade) – no-one gets on a horse, trots half-way along the path, then finds the ‘horse’ collapsing under them because they suddenly discover the beast is in fact half-gerbil."
…But you might also like to read my article on the difference between Lib Dem and Tory tax cuts, from which you can deduce which bits of the Budget came from which party, say, amongst my more anti-Conservative pieces. Or two silly picture ones, if you've had enough words from me already.

For best non-Lib Dem blogger, voting for either Charlotte Gore or Left Foot Forward would do us credit. Charlotte is a former Lib Dem, and voting for her would show that unlike the Labour Party, we can appreciate talent and interesting thoughts even if they've left the party, rather than screaming 'Traitor!' and 'Splitter!' Alternatively, we might show how Liberal and tolerant we are by recognising that Left Foot Forward is quite well-written, interesting and effective, despite also hating everything that their lying, warmongering, hypocritical, bossy, illiberal, bankrupting, pathetically evil party stands for. There, you see – I can play nice about Labour!

Fantastic News Update: Congratulations, Millennium!

It's the day after, and last night was an unexpected one – at long last, Millennium won the Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year Award! You can see him with it here, after we left the awards (and after we had a very late meal, and after we were bought a bottle of champagne by someone Terribly Important… Today's been a bit slower, for some reason).

If anyone thinks the shortlistees know in advance who's won, the proof came that it isn't like election night – when any gasps of surprise from the candidates on the platform are completely faked for the cameras – as Richard nearly fell over when the lovely Iain Roberts (finally coming out to, ah, great surprise as the former Costigan Quist, proof that the "Curse of the BOTYs" was in fact no barrier to his writing 600 blog posts in the last year, merely not under his winning name) announced his name and he and Millennium had to go up to the front. I failed him; in previous years, I'd prodded him to get a speech ready, but… Oops. But I was so proud of them! What fantastic news, and I can tell you that they were both absolutely delighted, once recovered from shell-shock. Poor Millennium was so overcome that he didn't speak at all!

I suspect we though Millennium was never going to win after the year that all three of us thought he was at his most consistently brilliant, prolific, inclusive and innovative – and wasn't even nominated (the more embarrassing of the two times I was nominated for the top slot, as I didn't think I remotely should have been and had very much wanted him to win). But if he didn't win for quite his best year, there's no better time for a soft toy to win than, as Richard said – eventually – in his acceptance speech, just as we reach the centre of government for the first time in ninety years and are expected to 'behave' and look just like everyone else. We won't.

Congratulations, too, to the other winners Nick, Nick – people are minded to agree with Nick, apparently; it must be #NickCleggsFault – Alex, Andrew and Charlotte, who looked almost as stunned as Richard. It was only at the Awards that I thought what I might say should I win, not expecting to, and came up with three things: as I was wearing a t-shirt with a particularly striking shot of Tom Baker as the Doctor announcing "I deny this reality" (from my favourite story), I would have insisted that being stuck in the 1970s and denying reality was not a sign that I had suddenly been convinced by Ed Balls; that I was delighted to win the best single post, and with my ever-decreasing writing rate would eventually reach my target of just one post a year, in the hope that it would still be nominated; and that I thought Andrew Hickey's was better, and that he should have won. Fortunately, he did. Unfortunately, as he makes clear below, it wasn't for the post I nominated but a different one (one link above, the other in the comment below), which shows that I shouldn't just glance at a similar title but at least glance at the thing itself again before I link.

Andrew's winning article is a heartfelt and thoughtful appeal to Labour people on how they might bring their party back from the brink; I'll close, though, with a sliver from a slightly earlier one of his. Having simultaneously attacked us as evil Tories and consistently attacked us from the right, particularly in their racist flame-fanning on immigration throughout the election, the moment the election was over, Labour leaders all announced that they had 'won' the election by adding our vote to theirs, because according to them they owned it, really. Many Lib Dems took this as a perfect crystallisation of just why we despise the Labour Party, but it was Andrew's brief and explosive post that hit that nerve better than anyone else for me:

"Yours is the party of war criminals, destruction of civil liberties, and inflating economic bubbles that favour the middle-classed and middle-aged against the young and poor.


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Well, that's decided me - I'm only going to give two preferences at all in the election. I had intended to put Z third, despite knowing nothing of him, as I won't give Farron my preference due to his dismal LGBT rights record (despite everyone else thinking he's wonderful and perfect, that's an absolute deal-breaker for me), but I can't give a preference to someone who deliberately misleads the voters like that.

BTW you've linked to a different post of mine there - the one that was nominated is , not the open letter to Labour twitterers. The one that's been shortlisted is rather less pithy, but equally sweary and equally unlikely to win.

And while one can easily see signs of bias in the shortlist, I do think that the four posts I can look at objectively in that list were four of the best posts of the last year, and am absolutely honoured to be included among them, even though I deserve to come a distant fifth.
Well, I'm glad you didn't come a distant fifth (just as I'm glad they didn't announce the ranks behind you, Liz, Millennium and Caron)!

I've corrected my embarrassing error in the update above - whoops! Thanks for letting me know.

As for Tim, though, I don't agree with you that he has a "dismal LGBT rights record". In part it's that I've known him 20 years and have seen his record before he was an MP - but it's also that, given we were concerned, Richard asked him directly about his vote on the Equality Bill yesterday. He answered that it was a free speech issue, and that he backed the Outrage line against the Stonewall one; not a cast-iron defence, perhaps, but certainly a tenable one. Why not interrogate him yourself via Twitter?

Might keep an eye on him in the marriage vote, just in case...
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