Wednesday, September 22, 2010


4.50 From Liverpool

Another week of mystery (will the media report anything like what's actually going on?) and suspense (will Millennium finally win the Blogger of the Year Award?) has drawn to a close with outgoing President Ros Scott's final set-piece speech to Liberal Democrat Conference. Yet one of the biggest questions remains unanswered. Why is Ros not standing for another term of office? Conspiracy theories abound as she returns to her village (no, not that Village, as she hasn't technically resigned). Well, I saw her just now at Jury's Inn Hotel before she left, and I can exclusively reveal her new vocation, thanks to a slip from Ros' constant companion, that endearing old buffer Colonel the Honourable Lady Mark.

It turns out that with the murder rate so high in the House of Lords and all those international business conspiracies operating out of the draper's in her 'quiet' little village of St Mary Mead Ottery St Catchpole Creeting St Peter, she has her work cut out for her – so she's retiring to deploy those brilliant listening skills that so deftly directed the Federal Executive and picked up Lib Dem gossip from around the country to fight crime. Her first investigation, I'm told, is to pin down who killed off the Trident programme; was it the Liberal Democrats, in the morning, with the policy motion? Or was it, as incisive old Miss Cable judiciously dropped into conversation the other day while picking up a macaroon, the knives of the Treasury?

So be careful, murderers and masterminds, next time you see a little old lady sitting in the corner apparently fixed on her knitting. It could be Ros, if she looks uncannily glamorous for her 97 years and has a distinguished gent with a beard at her side. Or, more dangerously still, might it be the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Crochet?

I even came under suspicion myself just the other day; my old friend Kiron Reid stopped me in the Arena lobby and asked if I'd like to help him lift some boxes of Liberator Magazine. Of course while nothing could give me greater pleasure, I had a cast-iron alibi in the form of telling him that, no, I had to retire to my hotel room and type up my interview with Nick Clegg from last Friday. While Kiron was eyeing me warily, as if he thought this might in some way be an excuse, at exactly that moment the Deputy Prime Minister happened to walk by and ask, "Have you written up that interview yet?" So, if you think suspiciously conveniently corroborated alibis only occur in Agatha Christie novels, and then only for the guilty party, nothing could be further from the truth. Why, for me to be guilty, I would have to have secretly not in fact wished to lug about several boxes through the rain, and nor would I yet have finished typing up my piece about Nick a couple of days later. Um…

Oh, and there's something else I have to pass on, as well. Ros' implausibly demanding retirement wasn't the only secret Colonel the Honourable Lady Mark let me in on. Apparently she's investigating someone terribly senior, and I've just thought of exactly the clue she's been looking for.

But first, I'll just have this cup of tea that's been left here for me. It must have been Richard, though I didn't hear him come in or say hello – I must have been engrossed in typing. Odd tea they serve here; smells like bitter almonds…


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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