Sunday, March 31, 2013


Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 38: Asylum of the Daleks

Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… This one’s the newest entry in the Fifty and, improbably, from the first in the current TV season. That’s because Doctor Who returned last night for the second half of its thirty-third season (having skipped a few years along the way). It was broadcast last Autumn, and though that was the first time since 2005 that a new season hadn’t premiered at Easter, looking back at it now, what could be more festive than…
“Eg – eg – eg – eg – eg – eg – egs—”
“What? Sorry, what?”
“Eg – eg – eg – eg – eg – egs—”
“Eggs? You mean those things?”

Doctor Who 50 – Asylum of the Daleks

OK, I’ll confess: Doctor Who may have been forced to skip a few years of its fifty when it came to TV, but with less of an excuse I’ve skipped a few of my Fifty to get to this one – and while most will be renumbered, I’d already published the “Next Time…” for Number 39, so that’s a piece of rescheduling that can’t hide. It’ll be along soon. But meanwhile, a happy Easter to all of you at home!

The Doctor (Matt Smith) has been lured and captured by the Daleks, who are using human corpses as part of their evil scheme. To save the Daleks – perhaps, though read Richard’s review on Millennium’s Fluffy Diary for an idea of what they might really be after – the Doctor and his companions are sent down to the planet where the Daleks seal away their mad (madder). Strange things happen: the dead rise; Carmen plays; a young woman called Oswin makes soufflés, but – spoilers – it’s obvious by the end of the episode that she’s not going to be significant. While the Doctor and Amy wander the planet’s surface, Rory has fallen right through to the decaying chambers below, where the Daleks’ unloved ones sleep the sleep of the rusted…

Rory’s unnerved wandering the dim-lit deep, Daleks all around him. Many Daleks. All, we hear, deranged. Most damaged – burned, battered, balls missing. Daleks of all designs and varieties, ancient Skaro to Special Weapons Abomination to bronze-studded Russell T Dalek, almost to a mutant more popular than certain later models a celebration of the best of Doctor Who shouldn’t mention. But his fear mixes with fascination and a nurse’s care for the injured – which leads him to examine one with his pen-torch, as if testing for common eye problems. The Dalek’s eye lights up. That’s a problem. It starts, stutteringly, to speak.

Rory finds bronze spheres in the dust. The Dalek’s missing some of its globes. He picks one up and offers it.
The others’ eyes are beginning to glow, too. They’re starting to fidget, as they come out of their long sleep. Rory thinks they want a fry-up for breakfast. What do you think, boys and girls?
“Eggs… Stir… Min… Ate.”
It’s that word again. The first energy blast comes close to frying Rory. Then his legs stir, as fast as they can carry him.

Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Revelation of the Daleks

The Doctor (Colin Baker) has been lured and captured by… The Daleks’ creator Davros (Terry Molloy), this time, but also exploiting human corpses, and even more thoroughly, in another jolly food-related moment. It’s the ’80s – first broadcast 28 years ago last night – so Davros, short of a Dalek army for a while, has set up on his own in a very profitable business: his genius for science offers the promise of making death just a temporary condition for the galaxy’s rich “resting ones” flocking to his graveyard planet of Necros. This ferocious black comedy isn’t just writer Eric Saward being the Robert Holmes Tribute Band, but Davros styling himself after the Doctor – “the Great Healer”, in fact, borrowing from his enemy but unable not to make himself just that bit bigger (and there’ll be another of those in the missing Number 39 when that turns up). But, being the ’80s, there’s not much altruism in this promise of resurrection. The Great Healer charges a very high price while the hopeful dead await medical breakthroughs in their frozen tombs, but that’s not the half of it. The families are happier spending their inheritances than having them returned to life and control, so it’s in their interests for them to stay on ice, while Davros has his own plans for the loved ones – especially the Yuppies. What are the two popular ideas of immortality? Being born again, or living on through those you leave behind? Be careful what you wish for…
“Do you never do anything but kill?”
“There you are mistaken, Doctor. I am known as ‘the Great Healer’. A somewhat flippant title, perhaps – but not without foundation. I have conquered the diseases that brought their victims here. In every way, I have complied with the wishes of those who came in anticipation of one day being returned to life.”
“But never, in their worst nightmares, did any of them expect to come back as Daleks.”
“All the resting ones I have used were people of status. Ambition. They would understand – especially as I have given them the opportunity to become masters of the Universe!”
“With you as their emperor. But what of the lesser intellects? Or will they be left to rot?”
“Ahhh. You should know me better than that, Doctor. I never waste a valuable commodity. The humanoid form makes an excellent concentrated protein. This part of the galaxy is developing quickly. Famine was one of its major problems.”
“You’ve turned them into food?”
“A scheme that has earned me great acclaim!”
“But did you bother to tell anyone they might be eating their own relatives?”
“Certainly not. That would have created what I believe is termed – consumer resistance.”
Colin’s Doctor and Davros make a terrific pairing, and this deliciously horrible bit of dialogue (sponsored by the Soylent Corporation) never fails to make me laugh.

As this one’s jumped ahead, its “Next Time…” would just have been “Happy Easter!” – and it’s once again:

Next Time… Hiding behind… Oh, no, hiding from

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Monday, March 25, 2013


Total Lack of Thought For the Day: Cristina Odone Vs TV Ratings and Truth

Religious spin-doctor Cristina Odone has today used what she calls “a huge hit”, US TV mini-series The Bible, to attack the BBC, secularism and, basically, the whole 21st Century. Her propagandaggrandisement in today’s Daily Telegraph, the journal of pre-Enlightenment fantasy, rests on the twin absurdities that 13 million US viewers is “a huge triumph” and tells us anything about British religion or TV viewing.

Ms Odone’s bigging-up of the so-called “History” Channel ignores three important facts.

First, though she claims the BBC ignores religion, in fact the money of all licence-fee-payers by law has to pay for making religious programmes. By choice, happily, almost none of us watch them.

Second, she fails to mention that by any measure you like – church attendance, church buildings, opinion polls of belief – the USA is vastly more religious, and even more vastly Christian, than any country in Europe except the Vatican, and certainly has a wildly different religious make-up to the UK. Despite our having an established Church, again by law. It seems that on two for two, Ms Odone’s demand for people to be forced into religion in law not only irks the silent majority of us who the screaming zealots seize cash from and boss about, but it’s clearly doing no good for religion, either. So perhaps she should pause in her authoritarian diktat that the US so-called “History” Channel’s Bible series should be “compulsory” here, in schools, on the BBC, and presumably by strapping every viewer to A Clockwork Orange-style eye-restraining chairs.
Before introducing the third and most absurdly abused fact that will fisk Ms Odone on her own shaky ground, I should point out that I do not believe TV ratings to be any guarantee of quality, just as I do not believe majorities should be able to push around minorities (or, in this case, vice versa), even when by her own argument we should ignore the Godly Torygraph’s tiny readership in favour of the Satanic BBC’s many millions, causing her entire vindictive rant to disappear in a puff of logic. But as Ms Odone wants to command her beliefs to be “compulsory”, and as she’s using the dubious testament of television ratings as her foundation, this is the appropriate ground around which to march to bring her ludicrous fabrication tumbling down.
Third, like any good spin-doctor Ms Odone cherry-picks the top viewing figure of 13 million for one “huge hit” episode (not telling us how far ratings have dropped since then) for the so-called “History” Channel’s Bible-story mini-series, just as the programme itself cherry-picks only the most popular bits of the Bible. She exalts this, again in her words, “huge triumph” to disprove the spooky, invisible US atheist conspiracy which televangelists and the lunatic far right make up stories of to raise so many millions. And yet, it surprises me by suggesting that, against all other evidence, perhaps big-budget Christianity in the USA isn’t looking that healthy after all…

The Facts – Ms Odone, Look Away Now (oh, she already has)

The USA is a country of 316 million people (I’m doing Ms Odone the favour of assuming that her pet series’ top rating only included the USA and not world-wide ratings, though as with all her ‘facts’, she isn’t clear). 13 million viewers is a “huge triumph” of, er, just 4.11% of the population. Ms Odone will no doubt tell you that’s an overwhelming majority. That doesn’t mean you should believe her.

By way of one simple factual comparison, the UK is a country of 61 million people. Cherry-picking one huge hit episode, Doctor Who – Voyage of the Damned (guest-starring Kylie Minogue), that was watched by 13.3 million people in the UK alone. That’s 21.11% of the population.

Much as I love it, Doctor Who is not my religion. In my view, it would be absurd and wrong to suggest on the basis of this factual like-for-like comparison that Doctor Who (or Kylie) is far more important than the Bible to the people of the UK, let alone extrapolate that Doctor Who – were it not for the evil conspiracy against it by US TV – is really, deep down, five times as big for the US population as Christianity.

Yet that absurd nonsense is exactly the way that Cristina Odone has extrapolated US viewing figures to scream that everyone in the UK should be ‘compulsorily’ bossed about. It seems that while UK schools’ compulsory religion does no good for most of us, sadly UK schools’ compulsory maths lessons did even less good for Ms ‘Dunce’ Odone.

Of course, it’s unthinkable that she knows that what she’s saying is a nasty, cynical lie to justify her outrageous authoritarianism, because, after all, she mentions the Ten Commandments. Though she claims no-one knows them any more, I do. And “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one Ms Odone should know, too.

Ms Odone will no doubt point, scream and call for me to be burnt – ‘compulsorily’ – as I’ve just noticed that, as luck would have it, this is my 666th blog post on here.

Update: I’ve been fact-checked in an especially embarrassing way for a chap who bristles every time people misspell my own name. I apologise to Ms Odone for my mistake, and have corrected her Christian name from “Christina” to Cristina each time I used it.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 40: The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People

Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… This one’s from 2011 and the Twenty-Second Century, and it’s one of my favourite moments for Matt Smith’s Doctor – an almost perfectly formed cliffhanger. So expect rather large spoilers, deep themes, and the enemy within…?
“This is insane. We’re fighting ourselves.”
“Yes, it’s insane, and it’s about to get even more insanerer. Is that a word? Show yourself, right now!”
“Doctor, we are trapped in here and Rory’s out there with them. Hello? We can’t get to the TARDIS and we can’t even leave the island!”
“Correct in every respect, Pond. It’s frightening, unexpected, frankly a total, utter splattering mess on the carpet, but I am certain, one hundred per cent certain, that we can work this out. Trust me. I’m the Doctor.”

Doctor Who 50 – The Rebel Flesh: The Doctor

It’s the answer to accidents at work. Working in a dangerous environment? Worried you might fall into a pool of seething acid and bubble to a hideous dissolution? Robots too expensive and covered by pesky artificial intelligence regulations? Then meet the Flesh: reformable, reusable, disposable, and you. Just sit back in comfort and control your Flesh “Ganger” self through all the sticky bits, and if you’re a bit more careless than you would be with your usual body and it happens to die in screaming agony, just withdraw your consciousness from it and form another from the vat of gloop. It’s not as if anyone’s hurt, right? And if you get it wrong, you can just be born again. Again.

The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People is the 2011 Doctor Who story that felt most traditional to me – that is, of all the many, many thematic traditions of Doctor Who, this chimed with those that most deeply speak to me. Traditional, then, though not at all reassuring. The Flesh vat from which life can rise at will – eventually, its own, after a spark from the heavens – is only the font of the religious imagery, housed, of course, in the old Chapel. Free will and the created rebelling against the creator? Frankenstein is positively a modern influence in that context, here given a kick by a solar storm as its lightning. There are existential crises, cruelty begetting cruelty, conflicts between people who are basically (and never more so here) the same, all shot in dark, shadowy corridors. And with Matt Smith’s Doctor arriving to investigate and the actor’s love for Patrick Troughton’s time in the role, it’s not inappropriate that the story evolves into one of base under siege.

The cliffhanger brings all of this to a head in a way that’s predictable if you’ve been watching, yet deeply satisfying, a terrific ‘What’s going to happen next?’ moment of horror, revelation and just a little of challenging the viewer. On arrival, the Doctor (Matt Smith) scans the Flesh pool and finds himself disconcerted – as if it’s scanning him in return. It pulls his hand down to touch it, and they share a moment of understanding when
“I felt it in my mind. I reached out to it, and it to me.”
There’s no such awe for the creators. They simply don’t care. They pile their personalities and lives directly into it, yet they don’t expect it to be alive. Naturally, the Doctor’s feelings are with the exploited Flesh, urging one of the team whose face suddenly slides into incoherence – revealed as Ganger – to trust him, appealing to bridge the gap between natural and new human as the differences between the bodies and personalities of each become ever more indistinct, only for the ever-careless human team leader to do what she’s always done and ‘dispose’ of Gangers in her way… Prompting the Gangers to decide on the same strategy of “us or them”. Where once they touched, now he’s guilty by association of betrayal and death, how can even the Doctor become an intercessor between creators and created? Though, racing about the place as he does, he did pop back into the Chapel alone to scan – or prompt – the pool of Flesh once more, the vat forming lips in reaction, and practicing the words: “Trust me.”

Events approach crisis. The humans see the Gangers as nothing. The Flesh rebel. The TARDIS sinks beneath an acid mulch. The greatest solar storm of all is building to baptise all with fire. There’s a thrilling, throbbing, backwards pulse of music as people run down dark stone passageways. And a figure staggers from the vat, muttering “Trust me…” as its clammy hand holds itself up against the wall…

The TARDIS crew splits apart as Rory rushes out in concern for the team member-Ganger-person he’s been talking to – perhaps showing himself (while everyone here clearly passes the Turing Test) the only ‘human’ of either creation capable of passing a Voight-Kampff Test – while Amy’s left behind, fearing the unlike and the too-alike, shocked that Rory is with another woman. And the Doctor can’t hold her together now, because he’s heard a voice from the shadows of the Chapel, asking “Why?” “Show yourself!” the Doctor commands, but whose self is it (and hasn’t a son of the Doctor asked “Why?” before)? His face the bloated Flesh of a not-quite-controlled Ganger, the Doctor (Matt Smith) steps forward to reassure Amy just as he always does, characteristically straightening his bow tie and giving that crooked smile. Trust him. He’s the Doctor.

Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – Amy’s Choice

I did warn you there were spoilers, didn’t I?

Doctor Who 50 – Amy’s Choice: The Doctor

In this especially fine sci-fi short story of a Doctor Who episode, the Doctor (Toby Jones) is much less friendly an other Doctor than the Doctor (Matt Smith) above is going to be to the Doctor (Matt Smith). Introducing himself as “the Dream Lord”, he flits between the Doctor, Amy and Rory’s confusing, conflicting realities of the happy, domestic life that Rory’s always wanted, settled as a doctor, or of the scary, exciting life in the TARDIS, settled with the Doctor. He tells them to pick the real one, or die. But which is Amy’s dream outcome? And what a sly other self the Doctor has – where Rory dreams of at last drawing equal as a proper doctor, this one promotes himself to Consultant to put him down again:
“Now then, the prognosis is this: if you die in the dream, you wake up in reality. Healthy recovery in next to no time. Ask me what happens if you die in reality.”
“What happens?”
“You die, stupid. That’s why it’s called reality.”
Toby Jones is deliciously bitchy as he sneers that he could always see through the Doctor; Matt Smith matches him secret smile for secret smile, knowing only one person could hate him that much. But is he a person in his own right, like both Doctors above? I think Richard’s talked me round, in his review for Millennium’s Fluffy Diary. And what about the next one…?

Extra Bonus Great Not Doctor Who Quotation – Human Nature / The Family of Blood

This is arguably the best Doctor Who story since it returned to TV in 2005, but not for John Smith (David Tennant). He spends the first half of it happy with his life as a teacher, his burgeoning relationship with Joan the Matron, and his exciting dreams of adventure, though his faithful maid Martha seems to be getting a little strange. But in his Journal of Impossible Things we see for the first time all his past selves, and everything turns inside-out when he finds those dreams are real and his life’s become a nightmare. The local dance ends in death. People he thought he knew become an uncanny Family led by a pupil with wild eyes now styling himself Son of Mine, and they want something from him he doesn’t know he has. Martha’s become an unsettling mixture of protector and threat, and she, too, wants something from him he doesn’t know he has. To him, he’s an ordinary man, with unreliable memories but real feelings. To both pursuers and protector, he’s a walking placeholder, not the Doctor but just an inferior mind and body walking around in exactly the form and place the Doctor would usually occupy, all of them for different reasons looking forward to his erasure. He despairs that even the woman he hoped to marry thinks he’s not enough – though she’s the only person who sees him for who he feels he is. At the story’s half-way point, as people suddenly demand the Doctor of him, there’s a “Next Time…” trailer in which he declares “I am not the Doctor.” It’s a sign of how little control he has of his life that he doesn’t get to say that in the second episode – even his denial just gets written out. And yet his plight prefigures not only the sinister echoes of his role (and Martha’s) in the three-part season finale, but the existential crises and self-loathing of the other Doctors above.

Doctor Who 50 – Human Nature: Not the Doctor

John Smith runs from the Family, but they call him back, holding the TARDIS the Doctor loves as hostage. Martha loves the Doctor and tries to wake him into his dream to save them – and doom him. Joan loves John Smith and tries to reassure – but can’t lie to him. And poor John breaks under the responsibility all of them put on his human shoulders.
“You recognise it, don’t you?”
“Come out, Doctor! Come to us!”
“I’ve never seen it in my life.”
“Do you remember its name?”
“I’m sorry, John, but you wrote about it. The blue box. You dreamt of a blue box.”
“I’m not – I’m John Smith. That’s all I want to be. John Smith. With his life – and his job – and his love. Why can’t I be John Smith? Isn’t he a good man?”
“Yes. Yes, he is.”
“Why can’t I stay?”
“But we need the Doctor!”
“So what am I then? Nothing. I’m just a story.”

And there might just be more dodgy Doctors to come (though another, much as I enjoy this scene half-way down, doesn’t quite make the Fifty). The next scene up’s not just a but the man who is not the Doctor, though…

Next Time… Hiding behind… Oh, no, hiding from

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.4 – What It’s All About #LibDemValues

In government, in elections, in just wondering why we bother, Liberal Democrats must be inspired by what we stand for. So today I’m writing about just two things. First, what my short declaration of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ means, how it explains our beliefs, our priorities in government and our message, as set out by Nick Clegg:
“The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.”
And second, Mark Pack’s new Infographic poster version of what Lib Dems believe. You’re still invited to write your own, too! Thank you to everyone who has. When enough of you have come up with your own ideas on ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, and I’ve already seen a few since the last time I republished several contributions, I will do another round-up to boost the debate and meme.

I hope some of you will find my own version of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ useful. My aim is to bring together our philosophy, our heart and soul, with what we’ve brought to the Coalition and with what the party leadership’s now encouraging everyone to get across as our key message.

If you want to use my declaration in any way – leaflet, speech, newsletter, website – please do. If you drop me a mail to say so (email link on the sidebar), I’d be interested, and if you give me a credit, I’d be delighted. But it’s free for you to use whether you give me any mention at all – the reason I wrote it is to help get the Lib Dem message out, and the more it spreads, the happier I’ll be.

I deliberately made it short, but not just a soundbite, so it can be used simply, snappily and comprehensibly in all sorts of places. But several contributors to my first appeal to join in the meme not only set out their own declarations but explained how they came to them, so I thought I would, too. Below, I’ve published not just each line of my short version, but explained just what each bit of it means. If you use it, I hope that’ll help you with the context if anyone asks you any questions. Even if you don’t use it, I hope it answers any questions of your own about it!

What My ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ Means

The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

I put freedom first, and freedom in two very definite contexts that make clear what’s different about the Liberal Democrats. We start with the individual, which is crucial: it means we’re not a class-based or nationalist party. It means we’re for everybody, not a divided society. Any party that puts a particular group first obviously discriminates against anyone who’s not in that group, which is for me an entirely wrong approach to politics. More subtly, that also limits even people in the ‘favoured’ group, because the party sees them as ‘one of them’ first and foremost, whatever that person thinks is most important about themselves, their relationships, their hopes and choices. Start with the individual, and you understand that people combine in many ways and have many different identities – perhaps part of a class or nation, yes, but also a family, a local community, a workplace, an ethnicity, a sexuality, a fandom, a religion… And it’s up to them which is the most important for them to define themselves, not for a political party to instruct them in what’s the point of their lives. The other crucial context for freedom is that Liberal Democrats see some problems not just as probably bad things that are box-ticking targets to reduce, but as evils because they’re barriers to people having freedom over their own lives. That’s why standing for freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity makes us different: they’re bad because they hurt and hold back individual people.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

Expanding on what freedom means, obviously it needs fairness to underpin it – not everyone has the same chances to start with, so not everyone has the same freedom, and it’s the job of a Liberal party to help raise people up. That goes hand in hand with a successful economy – fairness isn’t much of a virtue if it just means pushing everyone down equally, or if it’s an excuse to stifle people being creative and generating financial success, because government’s too often tempted to see itself as the owner and source of all money. So economies are at their best when they’re sustainable, when there’s plenty of opportunity to innovate, and when some of that success is shared.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

If you’re in desperate need for the basics of life, it’s very difficult to exercise any other freedoms, even if you’ve got them in theory. As Winston Churchill – not often seen as on the red-hot lefty side of Liberalism – said:
“To have a little freedom, you must have a little money.”
So ensuring everyone has a material baseline is crucial to Liberal Democrats, but it’s only the start of freedom. It’s all the more reason to make sure, too, that the whole economy works, not just to pay for supporting those in need but so as many people as possible can make a success of themselves, as well. Just pretending government can always be a source of goodies and that all money comes from and belongs to it sounds lovely to some people, but turns into a disaster. Labour irresponsibly borrowed much more money on top of what the real economy was bringing in even at the height of a boom – meaning that, when the terrible crash came, the national debts were already piling up again and the Labour Government was already committed to so much spending it couldn’t afford that the deficit between spending and income was so much worse than any reaction to the crisis alone.

You don’t look after our children by giving more money to international bankers in debt interest than we spend on education and then stiffing those kids with the ever-growing bill for this generation’s financial failures when they grow up. It’s not fair to make them pay for our environmental failures, either, so as the economy is rebuilt it has to be with green growth, not just repeating old mistakes. That’s why each government should be paying its own bills, but shared fairly by changing the balance of taxes, as the Lib Dems have done in government by massively reducing the tax bill for ordinary people, lifting the lowest-paid out of Income Tax altogether after Labour doubled their tax, and at the other end, making the wealthiest pay much more than they did under Labour (not least by raising Capital Gains Tax on the wealthy after Labour cut it), and holding back the Tories’ desire to give extra to the rich (not least by keeping a top rate of Income Tax that’s still higher than Labour had for 155 months of their 156 in power).

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

Education and training have for a long time been at the heart of Liberal Democrat policy priorities. All forms of learning give people the skills and opportunities to widen their chances in life, and the knowledge and freedom to make their own choices. From the 1990s, Paddy Ashdown championed extra investment in education as the single most important way to get the economy working, by helping unlock every individual’s potential. From the 2000s, perhaps the issue Nick Clegg has been most passionate about is investment in early years education to help increase social mobility and help prevent people being held back by inequality from an early age. In government, the Liberal Democrats have made these passions into realities, especially through the Pupil Premium that targets more schools money to pupils from deprived backgrounds, and through a huge increase in apprenticeships to open up real training and work opportunities.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

Freedom from conformity is the most distinctively Liberal of all freedoms. It’s important to have the material basics and not be held back by poverty – but it’s not enough. It’s important to have the opportunities and skills and the ability to make your own informed choices that free you from ignorance – but it’s not enough. It’s crucial that you have the freedom to live your own life as you see fit, not as others tell you to, not as the government orders you to, nor even as well-meaningly bossy people want you to ‘for your own good’. No-one else knows best for you, because everyone’s best is different.

Liberal Democrats believe you’ll be able to contribute best if you’re free to be creative, be individual, and make your own life. It’s not government’s job to order you about. Instead, government should be making sure you’re not pushing other people about, and making sure everyone gets the same playing field in society, with the law not tilted to rich or poor, big or small, or against any particular sex, race, sexuality, religion or other part of who you are. And the best way to hold government to all that is to make it much more accountable, letting you see more of what’s going on, making democracy more representative, breaking up big government, spreading power to different levels so more people can get involved and stop absolute power making absolutely wrong decisions.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

So that brings everything down to the core of the Liberal Democrat message. For everyone to do well, rich or poor, entrepreneur or ordinary worker, and not least those who need help to get by, the economy needs to get stronger and more sustainable, built to last with green growth and paying its way. For everyone to do well, society has to be for everyone, with everyone getting better chances and not being held back by poverty and ignorance, and everyone paying their fair share. And perhaps most importantly, everyone should be able to do well in their own way, not just conform to how government or any other bully thinks they ought to, because you’ll not just be happier and more fulfilled, but you’ll always work harder and do better and be more successful – and more able to share that success, too – the more you get the opportunity to live your life in your own way.

What Do the Lib Dems Believe? A New Poster!

I wrote last month that I’d helped Mark Pack with a new Infographic he’s designed with Kath Harding. It sums up his idea of “What Liberal Democrats Believe,” too, and he’s published it today in an exciting new form that you can print out as a poster.

Mark’s aim, like my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, is to come up with something that’s a consensus across the party on our beliefs, but it’s more than that. It’s a mixture of history, philosophy, controversy and current priorities, the story of the Party and its soul, if you like, for information and for inspiration. I think it does pretty well, and I’ll be proud to have it on my wall. Mark’s done a brilliant job of bringing together an awful lot into something simple and striking, and putting up with several competing ideas from several competing people, and perhaps most of all with very many nagging emails from me. I think where I made the biggest difference is in building on others’ ideas on the differences between Liberals by then saying what brings all Liberals back together again, as for me it’s important not to lose sight of how all Liberals agree as well as how, being Liberals, we naturally think for ourselves and argue, too.

You can find the Infographic in both small and poster-or-publication-printable versions here, along with Mark’s own setting it in context.

The Complete ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ Challenge

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Thursday, March 07, 2013


The Liberal Democrat What Do We Stand For Challenge 2013.3 – Eight Answers (so far) #LibDemValues

Ready for Liberal Democrat Conference this weekend? To challenge and inspire you, here are eight more people’s rallying cries on What the Lib Dems Stand For to add to mine. How are they all for you? Can you do better, if you want to contribute to the meme too? They’re not all the same, and several of them offer greater insight as they discuss our philosophy on their own blogs – though a recurring theme is that the Liberal Democrats stand for Freedom, and many start with the Preamble to the Lib Dem Constitution. Read, think, and please join in. And, if you like them, try them in your local party or on the doorstep or your leaflets and speeches!

Alex Wilcock – “Freedom From Poverty, Ignorance And Conformity”

I’ve been working on my versions of What the Lib Dems Stand For for a while, with the aim of something that feels like a consensus across the party. On Sunday, I explained why I started it, and how it’s developed over the years. On Monday, I challenged other people to come up with their own, and offered my latest – hopefully, a synthesis of the Preamble, the party’s achievements in government and the party leadership’s latest messaging. Plus a bit of me, of course. Here it is:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.
One day I’ll challenge myself to be less on-message and consensual, and just do what several contributors have done – say what their Liberalism is by instinct, speaking straight from the head and heart. I’d still be interested to hear any critiques of how well I’ve synthesised the party’s three key sources of ideas!

Millennium Dome, Elephant and Richard Flowers – “The Freedom To Live Your Life”

Between them, Richard Flowers and The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant have come up with a short form and a (preferred) long form, both reacting to and critiquing my own:
The Liberal Democrats stand for the freedom to live your life enjoying the rewards for your own endeavour, governed by your own choices – with equality before the law; without harming others.
Millennium explains in detail on his blog the thinking behind each version (including how changing two words to synonyms turns ‘obvious’ Marxism into ‘obvious’ conservatism), and I’d advise you to read through it – on ever-expanding circles starting with the individual, moving through time as well as space, and looking back both to the Preamble and to William Beveridge. Here’s their full statement of beliefs:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom.

Freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

Freedom for every individual, family, group, community, society or nation.

Freedom from inheriting the financial and environmental mistakes of earlier generations.

Freedom to live your life enjoying the rewards for your own endeavour, governed by your own choices – with equality before the law; without harming others.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and practicality; opportunity and compassion: an economy that works, but where everyone also pays their fair share.

The Liberal Democrats believe in a better future. That’s why Liberal Democrats are working to build a fairer, greener society and a stronger economy, enabling every person to live the life they want.

On Government:
Liberal Democrats believe that government should act to protect these freedoms, but cannot be a blanket solution to solve all problems. We also accept that government itself can be a threat to freedom, that no government always knows best, so everyone must have a better say in decisions.

On Taxes:
We accept that governments need to raise taxes – in order to relieve poverty, to supply education, to provide a safe and supportive society, to nurture and sustain the environment, and to encourage personal growth and freedom of expression – so we say these should be raised as fairly and as simply as possible, with a tax system that is progressive, understandable and works to release locked up wealth to work for the nation.

On Welfare:
We believe that everyone should be treated with dignity, protected when circumstances mean that they are unemployed, supported when they are unable to work, through age or disability, healed when they are sick. The Welfare State should free people to live lives free from the tyranny of dependence on their employer, making the labour market work for the individual while protecting from any failures of the free market, and enabling society to flourish by not wasting the potential of any individual.

Caron Lindsay – “We Aim To Break Down The Three Major Barriers Which Hold People Back”

Caron’s Musings hurried to get this ready and would have preferred to take time to make it shorter. I explained why I’d chosen to self-impose a limit of around 150 words for my own piece, but I’ve also published much shorter and much, much longer statements of my values, so don’t worry, Caron, it wasn’t a rule for anyone else. And I feel guilt that I imposed such a strict deadline (when usually I hear them whooshing past) in order to post this before Conference. Caron, if you want to have another go – or if anyone else wants to join in – I’m sure I can do another round-up in a week or so if there are more to quote.

Caron sees the essence of Liberalism as a deep respect for the uniqueness of every individual, and thinks you can’t get a better form of words than the opening to the Preamble, explaining why she doesn’t turn the words round in the way I do…
The Liberal Democrats are about freedom for every individual to live as they wish so long as their choices don't harm others. We aim to break down the three major barriers which hold people back: poverty, ignorance and conformity.

We believe in carefully managing the resources we have, mindful that generations to come deserve the same freedoms as we have. That means that safeguarding our environment and making sure that we don't over-spend, amassing huge debts for the future, are essential.

The cost of running an effective, liberal state must be met in a fair and sustainable way with those who earn the most contributing the most and those who have least being protected as much as possible That is why we have ensured tax cuts for the lowest paid, taking many people out of tax completely while increasing taxes for those who can afford it.

We believe that education, knowledge and a curious, enquiring mind are essential to get on in life. A person's ability should determine their progress in life, not their background. That is why we are giving extra money to help disadvantaged children learn both at home and abroad.

We believe that quality of life and wellbeing are also vital to ensuring that people are truly free. That is why we gave given mental health equal status in the NHS mandate and put extra money into providing the most effective therapies for half a million people.

We recognise that people have individual needs. That means that public services should as far as possible be flexible enough to meet the needs of the people who use them. We believe that the criteria for having your relationship recognised by the state should be that you love each other which is why we are giving same sex couples the right to marry and have a long record of fighting for LGBT equality.

We believe in working with others to meet our aims. That can be to provide a Liberal Democrat influence in a local or national government but we are also a proudly internationalist party. We believe in the principles of international co-operation, whether that be within the EU or further afield. A world where 1 in 3 women experience violence, abuse or rape is not acceptable to us and only by working on a global level can we eradicate this and give women and girls the freedom they are entitled to.

We believe that the purpose of the state is to serve the people, not the other way around. That is why we will not tolerate unnecessary restriction of people's freedom. The state should not hold DNA or fingerprints of innocent people unless there is a very good reason, nor should it restrict movement or protest. Freedom of expression, the right to effectively challenge authority are essential parts of a liberal society. The state has no business intruding into your lawful activities.

Commercial organisations should be forced by effective national and international action to behave responsibly both to the environment and their customers so that they can not abuse the power and influence that they have.

We believe in decisions being taken at the lowest practical level. Communities should be able to influence the services available to them.

We do not believe in quick fixes. We believe in looking carefully at the challenges our society faces and providing sustainable solutions.

Mark Valladares – “The Freedom of The Individual Against an Overmighty State”

Liberal Bureaucrat The Lady Mark quite rightly didn’t wait to be tagged – I did invite everyone, and I’m delighted he leapt in (your turn!).
A liberal bureaucracy should bolster the freedom of the individual against the danger of an overmighty state.

It should respond, not react, to the established needs of the individual, enabling them to make informed decisions in their lives, participate in their society to the extent desired and take advantage of the full range of opportunities available to our society.

It should enable, rather than proscribe, protect, rather than abuse, and encourage, rather than place obstacles in the way of, innovation and diversity.

It should encourage imagination in problem solving rather than impose blunt conformity by its methodology, and should be prepared to justify the decision reached.

It should seek efficiencies such as to enable elected officials the widest possible range of options in making public policy, and be aware of the burden of compliance when designing processes, seeking to minimise it where possible.

Neil Monnery – “The Same Opportunities In Life To Pursue Their Dreams”

The Rambles of Neil Monnery also found the challenge interesting and implores “all Lib Dems to sit down for a few minutes and think about their values and how they mesh with the party”.
The Liberal Democrats stand for ensuring that every single person has the same opportunities in life to pursue their dreams without the fear of being treated unfairly or unlawfully.
That’s Neil’s key belief, in bold. However, I’d urge you to look at his full post if you read any of them, because just picking out his conclusion doesn’t do it justice. He, too, has a lot to say about his instinctive values and how they come out of his own life before putting them into a set of party principles (and I should challenge myself to do that sometime, too). From his starting point that everybody should be treated as an equal, through education and opportunity burning a fire in his belly, to people paying their fair share, he takes us on a tour of what inspires him and how it should affect politics.

Linda Jack – “Everyone Should Have the Opportunity To Thrive and Make The Most Of Their Lives”

Lindylooz Muze constantly quotes the Preamble to our constitution, and offers a degree of critique to the party’s new ‘core message’. I agree with her up to a point, but I’d argue that ‘Could anyone disagree with it?’ is a useful test, but not the only one – it’s also about what you choose as your priority. That message prioritises being a centre party, which has its own problems, but that’s another story… Linda is very firm that our beliefs must define us and determine our priorities:
We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to thrive and make the most of their lives, free to do as they choose so long as it doesn’t harm others, free from those obstacles that prevent them from enjoying their lives such as poor health, discrimination, injustice, living in poverty or fear. We believe that the state’s role in this is three-fold. Firstly to be a safety net, protecting us by providing public services such as the health, fire and police services, the welfare state, adequate regulation to protect us as consumers, employees and employers, access to justice whoever you are. Secondly to provide a ladder – through education and other opportunities to develop our full potential. Thirdly by ensuring the right infrastructure is in place, through for example road and transport networks, housing, or the right environment for business to develop. That is why as Liberal Democrats we are committed to policies that achieve those ends, that ensure those with the most contribute more, recognising that a fairer, more equal society is good for all of us.

Another View – “The Right of Every Person To Do Whatever They Wish, So Long As They Cause No Harm”

I’ve also been sent another view from a Lib Dem who’s read my piece but was wary of proclaiming it among their peers…
Liberal Democrats should stand for the right of every person to do whatever they wish, so long as they cause no harm to others.
Liberal Democrats should stand for open and transparent decision-making, both in government and dispute resolution.
Liberal Democrats should stand for the right of those harmed by others to get a fair hearing, and for the accused to get a fair hearing too. Nobody is too important to face justice, and nobody is so unimportant that they don't deserve justice when wronged, whether that wrong is done by an individual, a corporation, or a state body.
Liberal Democrats should stand for freedom. For the right of every person to be free from poverty, ignorance, and conformity.
They also supplied a second section contrasting this with the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party; if I write a post on secret courts I may add it there. It’s not part of this article, which is a round-up of what the Lib Dems positively stand for.

Allen Hurst – “Freedom Of Every Kind: Social, Economic And Personal”

Allen Hurst left his version in a comment on my Challenge post, finding my negative freedom less inspiring than positive freedom and the party’s message grey and unexciting…
Liberal Democrats place the highest value on freedom of every kind: social, economic and personal.

Social freedom means that your potential is not defined by the circumstances of your birth. It means that education, healthcare and public safety are available to all people, no matter where or how they live.

Economic freedom means a country that can afford its own standard of living and that the public good requires us all to pay our fair share. Economic freedom means that the country will not fall under the power of a narrow interest group or industry.

Personal freedom rests on the simple proposition that the government should not intrude or regulate the private lives of citizens. Political systems should ensure that the people’s voice is heard.

That is why Liberal Democrats are working for a fairer society built on a stronger economy, enabling everyone to be the best they can be.

Joe Jordan – “Safety And Prosperity”

And @geekofhearts Joe Jordan tweeted a shorter ideal:
Government should ensure safety & prosperity, deliver real meritocracy, & align the law with the Harm Principle.

Alex Marsh – “More Important Than Ever”

Alex’s Archives hasn’t actually had a go of his own yet, but contributes to two debates – the one started by Julian Huppert on the Preamble, and mine, agreeing that we need medium-length slogans to explain ourselves to people in everyday use. Though, Alex, if you get round to your own version, you might take another look at my name…
“Today Alex Wilcox at Love and Liberty has attempted to shape a new statement of What the Lib Dems stand for in 2013. He’s also started a meme, inviting the Lib Dem blogosphere to offer their own versions. One of the first to respond, perhaps not surprisingly, was the mighty trunked one.
“I’m not sure I’ve got the gumption to come up with my own version over the next day or so. I will if I can make the brainspace to think about it. But, even if I can’t, I think it is both welcome and of profound importance that people are talking seriously about values. The party is going to have to renew itself, whatever the outcome of the 2015 General Election. Having a clear sense that its values are relevant – and speak to the pressing issue of the day – is going to be essential in that task. Without that there is little chance that people will rally to the cause.
“The aspiration to building a fair, free and open society in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance, or conformity is more important than ever.”

That’s the start – as I’ve said, if I receive more, I will happily post another round-up. I know that Chris Richards, Charlotte Henry and Liberal Youth Co-Chairs Kavya Kaushik and Sam Fisk are all interested, but didn’t have the time to respond straight away (though Liberal Youth has an interesting related project: Why I’m Still A Liberal Democrat).

I’d like to say a very big thank you to everyone who’s taken part. Thank you very much, and I hope you encourage and inspire many others not just to read but to think and come up with their own versions of What the Lib Dems Stand For in turn. I’d also like to say a particular thank you to Anders Hanson, whose comment on my first piece cheered me up and made it seem worthwhile.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Doctor Who 50 Great Scenes – 41: The Fires of Pompeii

Counting down towards the fiftieth birthday of Doctor Who with Fifty great scenes… This one’s from 2008 and 79AD, one of Doctor Who’s most visually stunning stories, set around a terrible disaster and a terrible choice. My favourite part has Phil Davis (back when he was merely serving the gods of the Underworld rather than the Devil himself) duelling with words and prophecies against a rival Soothsayer across a fantastic few minutes that transform from sit-com to mystery to impossible revelations, all directed like a breathless action scene.
“This is the gift of Pompeii: every single oracle tells the truth.”

Doctor Who 50 – The Fires of Pompeii: Lucius

The Fires of Pompeii bowled me over when I first saw it, and for me it’s still one of the very best stories since the series returned to TV – and among the best across all fifty years. The most gripping scene has a lot in common with my favourite from Day of the Daleks: it’s built on stunning dialogue and revelations about time – though, here, it’s the beginning of the mystery and not the solution to it, so it’s not the Doctor working it all out but being caught out. And while in Day of the Daleks it was a relief that the drama was so intense because the big action scene following was such a let-down, here the whole episode looks bloody awesome, from shooting on borrowed Roman sets, to Vesuvius erupting, to flaming great monsters. Yet despite all that, the episode’s most brilliant scene is all dialogue, in one beautifully designed set that’s still just one room, and could have been just as spellbinding for any Doctor from William Hartnell (especially William Hartnell) on.

The Doctor (David Tennant) takes newly enthused friend Donna (Catherine Tate) to Rome for her first trip back in human history. She’s delighted – until she spots the volcano. It’s not Rome but Pompeii, the 23rd of August, 79AD – just one day to go – and the TARDIS has gone missing. If that’s not enough trouble for the Doctor, Donna knows he saves people, and faces him down on why he can’t save the people of Pompeii. But first, they’ve got to track down the TARDIS, which has been sold as “Modern art” to marble merchant Caecilius (Peter Capaldi)…

It’s ten minutes in when the Doctor and Donna bluff their way in to meet Caecilius and his family, introducing themselves as Spartacus. And Spartacus (they’re not married). And the six minutes that follow in the atrium of Caecilius’ house are really three scenes in one, all moving so fast and so packed with ideas that I watched it over and over for weeks, thrilled every time. At first, it’s a funny sit-com of social climbers. Caecilius mines, polishes and designs marble and, though they’re pretty well-off to start with, he’s anxious to make it big; his beautiful wife Metella (Tracey Childs) is getting everything ready for their important guest… But, oh no! Little earthquakes keep knocking over the showpieces, their very pretty son Quintus is lolling about drinking and bored, and now in come the marble inspectors at just the wrong time! What larks (served with larks’ tongues)! And of course we know the latter are really there to con them out of their expensive new piece of modern art. Or, at least, the Doctor is – it’s comedian Catherine Tate whose character suddenly brings the scene crashing out of comedy by urging them to leave the city, only to be hauled off by the Doctor for a quiet, fierce argument about the ethics of interference when people are about to be burned to death.

It seems to swing back to sit-com as a stately fanfare – grand, Roman, and (like shooting on someone else’s much more expensive set) with just a touch of Carry On Cleo – announces Lucius Petrus Dextrus, Chief Augur of the City Government (Phil Davis), his right arm swathed in his cloak. Caecilius and Metella turn from the inconvenient interlopers to turn the social climbing up to XI, fawning over their distinguished visitor’s banal obscurancies as we laugh, knowing it’s all superstitious nonsense:
“The birds are flying north, and the wind is in the west.”
“Quite. Absolutely. …That’s good, is it?”
“Only the grain of wheat knows where it will grow.”
“There now, Metella. Have you ever heard such wisdom?”
“Never. It’s an honour.”

Doctor Who 50 – The Fires of Pompeii: The Doctor

The Doctor can’t resist interrupting with some clever wordplay of his own, but he can’t stand around embarrassing the Caeciliusus all day, not when there’s a perfect distraction to let him and a protesting Donna slope off to the TARDIS. And so they do… But the Doctor takes just one look back, and sees what Lucius has come for: Caecilius has sculpted a giant circuit to the Augur’s design. Made of stone. How did he dream that up two thousand years early? And as he explains the job of official superstition to Donna, talking quickly to cover his mind racing at what’s going on, Caecilius’ daughter Evelina (Francesca Fowler) enters and makes the situation stranger still.

Pale, sweating, her right arm swathed in bandages, Evelina too looks pretty but ill – no, even before she totters towards them sneering and insulting people like a malicious drunk, she looks like she’s on something. And she is. Her ambitious mother’s had her consuming the vapours from underground, stimulating visions to win her a place in the Sibylline Sisterhood. And now the focus suddenly shifts from the clever Doctor running rings round Caecilius or showing off with Lucius, and to a gripping face-off between Francesca Fowler and Phil Davis, the Doctor only important as something new they can strip impossible truths from.

The duelling Soothsayers start low, as does the quietly ominous music as Evelina exposes the Doctor’s offhand mockery, which might just be a drunken daughter putting her foot in it – prompting another side to Quintus, distressed at her apparent illness, and to Lucius, sneering at a rival, and only a woman at that: “Only the menfolk have the capacity for true perception.” Donna lashes out at the sexism; the Doctor questions the “strength” the vapours have given Evelina. Evelina doesn’t appreciate it.
“Is that your opinion – as a doctor?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Doctor. That’s your name.”

Doctor Who 50 – The Fires of Pompeii: Evelina

How did she know that? Or that Donna is “Noble”? Or that they both come from so far away…? The music starts to swirl, stranger, stronger, underscored by the mountain’s rumbles, and the camera slowly to close in at twisted angles, all making this now a very different sort of scene. Lucius sneers again at women’s vagaries, and the Doctor enjoys putting him down for it. Unwisely. For it goads him to spit harsher and more unsettling secrets at the Doctor and Donna, the camera closing in on them claustrophobically as the strings rise to a climax and Evelina steps in again at last to top him, the effort making her sway and fall…
“Oh, not this time, Lucius. No, I reckon you’ve been out-soothsayed.”
“Is that so – man from Gallifrey?
“The strangest of images… Your home is lost in fire, is it not?”
“Doctor, what are they doing?”
“And you, daughter of… London.”
“How does he know that?”
“This is the gift of Pompeii: every single oracle tells the truth.”
“That’s impossible.”
“Doctor – she is returning.”
“Who is? Who’s she?”
“And you, daughter of London. There is something on your back.”
“What’s that mean?”
“Even the word ‘Doctor’ is false. Your real name is hidden. It burns in the stars – in the Cascade of Medusa herself. You are a Lord, sir. A Lord of Time.”
Everything comes together to make this long, talky scene utterly electrifying – and though I love Phil Davis really giving it some welly (and as the episode continues, he’s awesome as he dials it up his villainy with ‘I am in an old-fashioned Doctor Who and I will do some old-fashioned Doctor Who shouty acting!’), Francesca Fowler more than holds her own against him, both of them aided by Murray Gold’s score and Colin Teague’s direction. The Doctor sometimes deserves to be given a shock for showing off, and the escalating revelations slashing in at him from either side clearly leave him off balance. This early in the season, too, the prophecies for each of them still have a thrilling promise to them (Metebelis spider! Oh. Plastic beetle) that even now makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Though there’s also one last comedy moment as Lucius puzzles out an unfamiliar prophetic word “Daughter of… London” in the thickest London accent of the season.

But those are only competing prophecies in the same marketplace, selling the same future – Donna’s about to make a prophecy that’s a real challenge, and that’s when things get really dangerous… Though its most brilliant piece of messing about in history only comes in retrospect, when Donna – the Doctor’s last full-time companion before Amy – is dragged away by a sinister squad of Soothsayers led by one Karen Gillan. She really wants that job.

Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Masque of Mandragora

The Doctor usually scoffs at soothsaying on principle, because it’s a con-job on the credulous. If it starts to come true, he only gets more cross – regarding it as some sort of con-job on time. Towards the end of Part One of The Masque of Mandragora there’s a great example of the former, before he notices that the latter’s creeping up on him, too. The Doctor (Tom Baker) has accidentally brought part of an intelligent alien energy force, the Mandragora Helix, to Earth, and in attempting to deal with it tries to warn Count Federico and his toadying court of the danger. On trying to express the concepts in Fifteenth-Century language, Federico takes him for an astrologer and summons his own, Hieronymous to test him. It’s a great, snappy exchange with all three impatient and none bothering to see the others’ points of view: Federico thinks the Doctor’s trying to con him (and he’s wrong); Hieronymous thinks the Doctor’s offending his beliefs (and he’s right, but only as an aside); the Doctor’s exasperated at wasting his time having to jump through hoops (and so recklessly intellectual and contemptuous of this nonsense that he forgets to persuade, and gets cut off).
“Now, answer me this: what does it signify when Venus is in opposition to Saturn, and a great shadow passes over the Moon?”
“This is all a great waste of time.”
“Answer him.”
“Well, it depends, doesn't it?”
“On what?”
“On whether the Moon is made of cheese, on whether the cock crows three times before dawn, and twelve hens lay addled eggs.”
“What school of philosophy is that?”
“I can easily teach him. All it requires is a colourful imagination and a glib tongue.”
“And you, Doctor, have a mocking tongue. Prepare the execution.”

Extra Bonus Great Doctor Who Quotation – The Caves of Androzani
“I am telling the truth. I keep telling the truth. Why is it no one believes me?”
Doctor Who features two famous Cassandras – one who says “Woe,” but is too late to say “Whoa,” the other of whom sees her own future without realising it – but Peter Davison’s often painfully honest Doctor clearly sees himself in the role, too. It’s a line that could be this Doctor’s epitaph. It comes half-way into Part Three of his final story, and while physically he’s chained up and restricted to a fuzzy hologram, his voice cuts through with such frustrated force that you can tell that nice Doctor Peter is finally on the verge of erupting: ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m going to turn into Colin Baker!’

Next Time… “I’m the Doctor.”

Which, as it turns out later, Caecilius could say…

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Monday, March 04, 2013


What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.2 – a Challenge and a Meme #LibDemValues

Liberal Democrats! What would you say the Lib Dems stand for? How would you inspire members to stay with us? How would you persuade voters to agree with us? How would you link our philosophy to our achievements in government – and make it clear which bits of government are distinctly Lib Dem? Here’s my go at saying what we stand for. Does it make sense to you? Inspire you? Irritate you? Is it good enough, or could you do better? Then look below and join in the meme, sharing your own vision, your own enthusiasm in time for Conference.
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

To make that freedom real needs both fairness and economic responsibility: an economy that works, that encourages enterprise, and where everyone pays their fair share.

So freedom from poverty requires responsible spending, not debt, built on fairer taxes where lower earners pay less tax and the wealthiest pay more, and building green jobs for the future.

Freedom from ignorance needs better education and training, so people have the opportunity to realise their potential.

And freedom from conformity, supported by freedom from poverty and ignorance, means everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose – without harming others; with equality before the law; with a better say, because no government always knows best.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are working for a stronger, greener economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

Yesterday, marking the Lib Dems’ twenty-fifth anniversary, I offered an older version of my ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ and explained in detail what the idea was about and how I’d used and changed it. So, today, I’m just giving the main ideas, and a challenge to you.

The Meme

OK, Lib Dems – can you tell me what I’ve got right, or got wrong? More importantly, can you do better?

So I’m starting a meme. Blog it. Put it in the comments below. Email me (contact in the sidebar). Tweet it (hashtag #LibDemValues). If you come up with your own version by Wednesday evening and let me know, I’ll do a round-up post with all of them on Thursday, to give us all something to go off to Conference with, inspired.

And if you blog your own version – please do – then please also tag three other people to take part. The more the merrier. And should you wish to nudge any MPs, Peers or other party grandees…

I hope you’ll think about What the Lib Dems Stand For just from reading this and not need a personal invitation, but to get the ball rolling I’m tagging not just three but six people:

What’s It For?

The Bits I Think Work Best

The Bits I Think Probably Need More Work

Stronger Economy, Fairer Society: The New ‘Core Message’

But that’s enough from me. Over to you – what do you say the Lib Dems Stand For?

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Sunday, March 03, 2013


Happy 25th Birthday, Liberal Democrats – and What the Lib Dems Stand For 2013.1

The Liberal Democrats were founded twenty-five years ago today. It’s a relief that the party’s just had such an impressive present to celebrate (if you can call the result of such hard work a present). But winning elections isn’t the only thing that matters – I joined that month in 1988, and like most Lib Dems, if all I wanted was to win I’d never have chosen this party. So, especially now we’re sharing power, it’s important to assert our values. What makes us different, and makes us stay? How does that join up to what we’re doing in government? And how can we best express it in language that feels natural to us and anyone listening to us?

What the Lib Dems Stand For – 2006 Version

I don’t think every Lib Dem should say the same thing all the time – as if we could. It’s helpful, though, to communicate some of the same ideas and some of the same words, and for those who aren’t fussed enough to think through and distil our philosophy, but want one handy if they need it, here’s my contribution from half a dozen years ago:
The Liberal Democrats stand for freedom for every individual – freedom from poverty, ignorance and conformity.

Everyone should have the liberty to live their lives as they choose, without harming others.

For freedom to be real for everyone, it needs fairness: equality before the law, with public services funded fairly and the people they affect trusted to control them.

Freedom comes from good education, so people can make their own choices and realise their potential.

Freedom needs good health, which must be safeguarded by a decent environment both for people today and for future generations.

A free democracy needs open decisions, with as many people as possible having a say. Governments must trust the people before people will trust them.

To build freedom, fairness and a green future, we must pool our efforts in effective communities, locally, nationally and internationally.

That’s the important bit – my go at summing up the party’s soul, if you like, something that Lib Dems members can look at and think, ‘Yes, that’s some of why we bother’, and that other people can look at and think, ‘Oh, that’s what the Lib Dems are for, and I like it’.

If you read down, you’ll see how I came to it, how I made use of it, and why you should come back tomorrow and read my follow-up – because it needs a rewrite, not least because Lib Dems are now in government and because of the work on the new ‘core message’ under Nick Clegg and Ryan Coetzee: not changing the principles, but showing why they’re still relevant. It’s easy, in government, to get stuck in the mechanics and lose sight of why we’re doing it, and as policies change to reflect changes in real life, it’s all the more reason to plant a clear image of the sort of party we are, to inspire people to stick with us through thick and thin.

The Liberal Democrats’ 25th Anniversary and Our Founding Principles

I last wrote to celebrate the Lib Dems’ birthday when we turned twenty, talking more about my experience of what had enthused and supported me over the years (and how, early on, we were at 4% in the polls, near-bankrupt and coming a very distant fourth in elections, with no-one knowing what our name was, including us – all without being in government). Quite a bit’s changed since then. But one of the things I think I can help with today is joining up our lasting philosophy with the party in action, today.

Julian Huppert MP has a similar thought – he’s written today about “The Preamble, 25 Years On”. That’s the Preamble to the Liberal Democrat Constitution – a long statement of beliefs and policies that theoretically underpin the party as a whole. It’s usually reduced down to its most famous passage (40 words out of 800), quoted on every Lib Dem membership card, which doesn’t convey everything but which encapsulates the heart of our philosophy for many of us:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.”
You can see, by comparing the two passages, how this excerpt from the Preamble has inspired my own statement of ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, but how I’ve also aimed to relate it to our policy priorities and how best to deliver those principles in practice. Some people respond to ideals, but others more to practical proposals – and that’s why we need to get across both. More, we need to show how each depends on the other.

So why are we so bad at doing that?

Why Bother Saying What the Lib Dems Stand For? And How Did I Go About It?

It’s immensely frustrating that of all the strong, clear, often excellent messages Lib Dems put out at so many levels – on local issues, on policy after detailed policy, and now struggling towards what we’re achieving in the LiberaTory Coalition – the one thing that we’ve never paid much attention to, and that even some Manifestos have left out, is what links it all together. Not everyone’s only interested in single issues, but inspired by a wider vision – and because unforeseen events always force parties to react without warning, doesn’t it make sense to give people an impression of your general philosophy, so they can be confident about what sort of reactions you’ll make?

I remember the clarity of our 1997 General Election campaign: that with Labour set on sticking to the Tories’ public spending plans, only the Lib Dems would make a real difference. Standing for Parliament for the first time, I campaigned hard on the investment in schools and hospitals that only we were committed to. But even then, I was dissatisfied with increased public spending (even saying how we’d pay for it) being our only message, and knew that if Labour did increase taxes (or, as it turned out, mostly mortgaged the future instead with massive, irresponsible borrowing even in a boom) and delivered on public services, which they eventually did, or if Labour sent the economy totally pear-shaped, which they eventually did, that message just wouldn’t cut it.

Though Liberalism provides a far more coherent and consistent philosophy for the Lib Dems than whatever shifting melanges animate other parties, it can be a hard task to sum it up, in detail or in brief – and I have to admit my series of in-depth ‘What the Liberal Democrats Stand For’ posts on this blog has mostly gone unwritten or in fits and starts, and I’ve not even finished republishing my original 1999 Love and Liberty pamphlet on here. What I did buckle down to communicating, though, was not the grand vision but the short story.

Sometime between the 1997 and 2001 General Elections, I decided to come up with something that summed up both what we stood for and how that explained our current priorities. Something that wouldn’t be wiped out by economic circumstances, or that by contrasts to other parties that meant ‘our core message’ would have to change when they did. Something that satisfied me – and, I hoped, other people. I aimed for about 150 words, in reasonably approachable language – something that didn’t just sound like a stretch from a textbook or a policy paper. Every year or two through most of the 2000s, I’d take another look at it and slightly update it to incorporate the party’s latest policy priorities or slogans, so that it flowed from our philosophy to the party’s current message and helped make sense of both.

When Would You Say What the Lib Dems Stand For?

At only about 150 words, my ‘What the Liberal Democrats Stand For’ was long enough to tell something of a narrative to follow, and short enough to use in all sorts of ways and places. Here are some of them:

One thing all my versions of this statement did was be positive. From the start, I made a definite decision not to put anything in it about Labour or the Tories – even though it’s much easier to define ideas by contrast, and even though it’s always fun for partisan politicians (and I am one) to knock the opposition. But there were three very good reasons I banned myself from falling back on the easy way. First, this is about us. We’ve got a clear, strong, Liberal identity – so no statement of values should just split the difference between other parties and have to be rewritten not if we change, but if they do. Second, it puts people off. It can be very satisfying within your own tribe to slag off your opponents… But people wavering between your lot and another understandably recoil if you tell them one of their possible choices is evil, and I laugh when the only message one of the other parties can offer at elections is ‘We’re rubbish, but they’re worse!’ I want to have something positive to say instead. And third – this is meant to be a short, simple summary of what we stand for, which has already got quite enough to cram in to very few words. Why give space in that to your opponents?

My health has gone downhill more sharply than ever over the past half-dozen years, so I’ve not been standing for any elections, making fewer speeches, and – writing longer articles mostly in the same place that it would be silly to repeat the same message in every time – haven’t been updating my 150 words during that time.

The last time I remember doing so was in 2006, which is the version I’ve published above. Our three campaigning priorities had been Education, the Environment and Health (see each of them in there); our three key words from the previous year’s Manifesto had been Freedom, Fairness and Trust (a word against which, even then, I’d argued against as a ‘Kick me’ sign, so look above for how warily I used it); and I was kicking against what was supposedly the new agenda for that Parliament. I felt an acute sense of frustration bordering on rage at an unforgivably dull policy paper that was meant to set out our aims and priorities – every word of it now long-since forgotten, an utterly missed opportunity to be the lasting rallying cry it should have been. Even at the time, it was barely noticed. I analysed that paper in detail for the newly created Lib Dem Voice, including my alternative ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, that latest version limited to 140 words not in anticipation of the creation of Twitter but because that happened to be the length of the piss-poor excuse for a statement of principles at the start of the paper, and I wanted to make a direct challenge to it, and to spur anyone else to see if they could do better. I also made an unkind speech taking the piss out of the paper to the mostly empty hall that summed up the enthusiasm the paper had generated; eventually, it went through by a large majority cast by all the people who’d filled in at the end for the more interesting next item on the agenda, but this Pyrrhic victory for the empty managerialists who’d written it was soon forgotten, just as most of those voting barely heard a word of the debate even at the time.

The next time that a major paper made any such attempt was 2009. It did so far more coherently in its detail and setting out our priorities, but was even worse in its philosophy: as I wrote in another fisking for Lib Dem Voice, it didn’t even have a piss-poor summary of what we stand for, instead referring to certainty about our values and being guided by them without ever stating what they are, making it the first completely value-free statement of values. I stood up and told Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander that I was deeply worried when they’d written a draft Manifesto in our name that stopped talking about “Freedom” and replaced it with “Safety” and “Strength”. You can watch my speech in which I pointed out just who that sounded like (you might think ironically, in hindsight). And, afterwards, I was told I had a point, and they’d listened, and the real Manifesto would be better – and it was, a bit, though I might have hoped that when it came to the first Manifesto since 1992 that I hadn’t been on the Policy Committee to write bits of it, I wouldn’t be proved to be the only member of the FPC who remembered to put in a little thing like “Freedom”. But ever since, that word’s been lost in the focus groups, and the concept too often lost in practice. So it’s definitely time.

Where Next? For Tomorrow

My ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ needs updating. It needs to show how we still stand for the same Liberalism – but how it relates to the current ‘core message’, and how it inspires our approach in government. It needs all three to answer the question ‘What are we about?’ Without being recognisably the same Liberal philosophy we’ve always stood for, why did we bother all these years? Without relating it to the message the national party’s putting out, how’s it going to catch on? Without relating it to what we’re doing in power, why listen, in the real world? I don’t believe in ‘Campaign in poetry, govern in prose’, which is just a fancy way of ducking the question.

That’s why I’ve been making a few attempts, in the last few weeks, at the biggest overhaul of my 150-or-so-word ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’ since I first wrote it – because I believe it needs to do several things at once, and several more than it’s done before. And my first bash at it (as I knew even before I sent it to some of the Lib Dems I most trust, who shook their heads) was an ugly mash-up and just didn’t work. I don’t think I’ve got it right yet – but my latest version’s good enough to risk publishing.

So, please come back tomorrow, where I’ll set out my latest attempt at ‘What the Lib Dems Stand For’, and challenge you not only to tell me what’s good and bad about it, whether it inspires or irritates you, and, most importantly, challenge you to do better.

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