Thursday, September 19, 2013


Speeches I Didn’t Make: The Manifesto and Freedom #LibDemValues

Yesterday morning, I didn’t make a speech. That’s not unusual: I didn’t make a speech on any of the previous hundred or so mornings, either. But yesterday morning I had a rallying call ready, and wasn’t called (as I’d almost told myself). Liberal Democrat Conferences are democratic – ordinary members or Leaders can speak, and each has one vote – and yesterday’s debate more than usually so, giving us the chance to debate a “Manifesto Themes” Paper long before the General Election. So now you can see my contribution, both written and delivered on YouTube live from a broom cupboard!

A Stronger Economy in a Fairer Society – Enabling Every Person to Get on in Life is a title regular readers will recognise: the Liberal Democrats’ main message. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work to broaden it into a slightly longer statement that reflects more of our values, and that was what I was going to talk about yesterday morning (before Nick Clegg’s cheeringly similar “No, nope, nah” refrain in the afternoon). Thanks to Caron Lindsay for wielding the camera-phone and offering use of the tiny office – it was an odd experience delivering a speech designed for a big hall and big audience in a tiny space and to two lovely people, and it made me feel rather hammy. It’s also much easier when there’s a lectern to rest the speech on and hide behind, as I talk with my hands and shuffle my feet! This version lasts rather longer than the statutory four minutes: I didn’t have a time limit in the broom cupboard, and wander about a bit in the middle, but when practicing it earlier I worked out which bits to gabble through and could sprint to the end in 3.45…

Freedom Is Our Signature Tune
A stronger economy, a fairer society, a million jobs… It’s a good tune, but it sounds a lot like what everyone else is playing. We need that competent, managerial message, but we need passion, too. To make our signature tune sing it needs something more – and freedom is a tune only we can play.

It’s great to see my favourite bit of the Preamble in here. It’s a start. But it’s politically streetwise to pump up freedom higher in the mix. Freedom says we’ve got principles – it inspires our activists and attracts those converts that no-one else can reach.

And it’s streetwise because if we don’t stand up for freedom in the campaign, it will be much harder to make it cast-iron in Coalition, or to make voters understand why we’ll give up other priorities for it.

Make no mistake – it will be much harder next time. When Labour were the most authoritarian government in modern British history, the Tories discovered a taste for freedom. Back in power, they’ve rediscovered how much they love to boss people about. And still, the Labour bully-boys’ first reaction on every liberty is to attack the Coalition from the far right.

Yet if you combine freedom and economic responsibility, austerity can be a friend to some freedoms. Because appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes aren’t just appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes – they’re always expensive appalling illiberal authoritarian schemes. So make the Lib Dems the party of economic responsibility by attacking the other two for wasting a ton of money on their bullying pet projects when there’s so little money to spare.

ID cards waste a ton of money, so don’t.
Snoopers’ Charters waste a ton of money, so don’t.
“Go Home” vans, and porn filters, and every massive intrusive database waste a ton of money, so don’t.

Of course there are positive Liberal commitments I’d like to see in the Manifesto too.

I want to say a personal thank you to every moral Liberal Democrat at Westminster – on our twentieth anniversary next year, Richard and I will be getting married. Thanks to you voting for equal marriage. But the Manifesto should have more than a picture celebrating the partially equal marriage we have now – a commitment to fully equal marriage, so that trans people can be as happy as we are.

I want to see in this Manifesto a Greater Repeal Bill, to expand on the Freedom Act the Tories watered down.
I want to see us repealing all the victimless crimes that waste people’s lives and waste court money and waste police time.

But most of all I want to see a ringing rallying call.
Your mission, David, should you decide to accept it, is to set out a clear, concise vision that combines our big slogan message, our priorities for government and our Liberal principles.
It sounds like mission impossible, but it can be done. And as readers of my blog will know, here’s one I prepared earlier.

Sing Along

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 greener, stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.

I wanted to make a positive contribution, so gambled on putting in a card to speak mostly in favour of parts of the motion on the Manifesto Themes. Had I played the Conference ‘game’ and put in to speak against on something the vast majority supported, I’d have been much more likely to have been called: in retrospect, it would have been tempting to speak against the first amendment. Sadly, no-one did, and it was passed overwhelmingly, despite being a shoddy piece of drafting and an ugly piece of wording. It’s bad enough that it was a piece of self-indulgent fappery from Liberal Left, adding rambling statements of the obvious as if only they’d thought of them, and deleting one paragraph merely to reword it slightly differently and less flowingly. What really got my goat about it was that in their eagerness to indulge themselves they dropped things from the original wording. How do you support children by taking out any mention of parents or early years education? And, shamefully, where the original lines talked about “removing barriers faced by communities such as ethnic minorities”, an open-ended and Liberal commitment that gives in example groups who face particular barriers but with its “such as” implies that we want to break down barriers all around, Liberal Left’s clumsy redraft was exclusive, not inclusive, only wanting barriers removed for its chosen groups. Barriers of sexism? Homophobia? Transphobia? Anyone else but Liberal Left’s chosen few? Then their amendment excludes you.


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