Sunday, July 31, 2011


Why Daniel Radcliffe Is A Liberal

It’s not often you get posters stuck all over the place putting the clearest of Liberal messages. Still less, when it’s an advert for a shop and a big-budget movie. Yet that’s exactly what this Daniel Radcliffe poster (advertising HMV and Harry Potter) did. After publishing the London Mayoral hopefuls’ answers to ‘What the Liberal Democrats stand for’ on Friday and with today Harry Potter’s birthday (a week after Mr Radcliffe’s), this poster sprang to mind – with its admirable quotation chosen by Mr Radcliffe as his inspiration and as blatant a statement I’ve ever seen that ‘I’m a Liberal!’

Daniel Radcliffe Is A Liberal
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You may remember Daniel Radcliffe backing the Liberal Democrats in the election last year. Unlike some celebrity backers – who you may or may not consider spineless fairweather friends who threw their toys out of the pram at the first opportunity – I believe that Mr Radcliffe is still a Lib Dem supporter. Whether I’m right about that or not, it’s not difficult to see why he was drawn to the Lib Dems, and it wasn’t a single issue: I can’t think imagine anyone but an instinctive, conviction Liberal picking that one line as their inspiration. Whatever his party, there’s no doubt of his philosophy.

And, really, have you seen some of the other lines famous actors and musicians have come up with? Walk into your local HMV (if there still is one; sorry, they’ve gone a bit downhill from putting up those posters in July 2009 to July 2011) and wince at some of the choices other people made.
“The rights of the uncommon man must always be respected,”
a line defending someone who sticks out a bit from Roger Livesey’s character Dr Frank Reeves in Powell and Pressburger’s 1946 classic A Matter of Life and Death shows that, as well as being an instinctive Liberal, Daniel Radcliffe also has excellent taste (not seen it? Go on, do).

So yay for Mr Radcliffe for picking a quote that meant something to him and probably had tabloids fuming. And yay for him, too, for putting his money where his mouth is and not just supporting the Lib Dems but standing up for the rights of the uncommon man and woman through the Trevor Project. If anything, he seems more consistently and intelligently Liberal than the messages of the part and films for which he’s famous – not qualities with which most actors and massive film franchises are usually associated.

And finally, hurrah for his being quite comfortable taking his clothes off. Is it just for the roles, or is he on course to become a celebrity nudist? Hurrah, anyway (and for getting quite handsome with it. If he’s still doing it in a decade or two’s time when he’s filled out a bit, I might quite fancy him myself). In the meantime, well done for helping cast a Liberal spell over the young folks (whether they fancy the Lib Dems or not).

Update: I’ve been reminded of this on the politics of Harry Potter, too.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Friday, July 29, 2011


What the Lib Dems Stand For – By the Four Mayoral Contenders

With the race between the four potential Liberal Democrat candidates for London Mayor hotting up, I’ve put the question to each of them that I most want to know from any Lib Dem seeking my vote. I’ve previously asked it to everyone I can from local hopefuls to Party Leadership candidates, and now I have answers from Brian Haley, Lembit Öpik, Brian Paddick and Mike Tuffrey. If you’re a London Lib Dem, perhaps they’ll help you make up your mind; if not, I hope they’ll contribute to the debate on what the Lib Dems stand for. What would you say?

The Question
People say all politicians are the same. Everybody talks about experience, hard work, listening to local people. So what really motivates you? What makes you different from any other party?

If someone asked you on the doorstep, the hustings or on TV to sum up in one or two sentences what the Lib Dems, uniquely, stand for, and why anyone should vote for us, what’s your answer?

The Asking

Ideally, I prefer to put people on the spot and get their instant, instinctive answer, but in this case I emailed all four of the candidates last Saturday, and they all took a little time to think about it (I wonder how different their replies would have been in the cold glare of a hustings). I was inspired by Brian Haley last Saturday put up an article setting out his stall on Lib Dem Voice. Other candidates have done so before or since, but it happened to be on reading Mr Haley’s that I remembered my favourite question – perhaps because he’s the only one of the candidates I’ve never met nor heard speak, so the only one I for whom I had no real idea of his personal politics. I asked him this question in the comments section, then also sent it to the email address he’d provided in his article. Immediately afterwards, I emailed all three of the others with exactly the same question, in each case saying I aimed to publish their answers this week. In each case, I told them I was also asking the other three.

One replied just two days later; three needed various levels of reminder, in which I set a final deadline of publication today, and the final two replies both came in last night. By which time I admit I’d mentioned that I’d conducted a Google search for pictures of a tub of lard should they not get back to me in time. While that may have been mean, it concentrated minds, and as all four got back to me before my deadline I won’t say which was which.

As the campaign manager of one of the candidates aggressively demanded to know who I supported before he’d condescend to pass on my enquiry, should you want a summary of my biases, at the moment I’m not yet committed to any of the four; I know two of them quite well, and like them; I can see strengths and weaknesses in each of them; there’s one I’m leaning more towards than the others; and I’m afraid that as I don’t know Brian Haley at all, he starts at a disadvantage for me – though he’s on an equal playing field for these answers. I hope to read all they have to say (their manifestos are here, if you’re not a London Lib Dem member; for me, two of them come out strongly there, and the other two much less so in their different ways) and, ideally, get to one of the hustings – I couldn’t make the central London on last Wednesday, but if you scroll down @libdemlife’s timeline to 27th July, he livetweeted it. I hope to write up what I think of each of the candidates and their campaigns within the next couple of weeks (and perhaps give my opinion of the answers below), but as I’m not standing for election, I can afford to be lazier than those wanting my vote…

The Answers

The answers below are exactly as I received them, though in alphabetical order rather than necessarily in order of preference or of when I received them:

Brian Haley
What I care passionately about

In the preamble to our Constitution, it says that "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" and it was these values, inspired by John Stuart Mill's Essay on Liberty, which attracted me to the party.

Historically, Liberals have put these ideas into practice for the nation's benefit. Lloyd George introduced Old Age Pensions in 1908 to ‘lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor’, and Lord Beveridge, a Liberal, wrote the blueprint for the National Health Service.

Today, Liberal Democrats have lifted everyone earning less than £10,000 out of the tax bracket, and plan to do more as the economy improves. Our belief in personal liberty led us to successfully oppose Labour's proposed ID card system, ensure children get the individual attention, protect hard-won British civil liberties with a freedom bill, to oppose the BSKY B bid and to probe the phone-hacking scandal. All more consistently than the other parties.

I became disillusioned with Labour's failure to provide jobs and homes. So many inner London Boroughs have had 40 years of Labour control, 13 years of Labour Government and still have some of the worst housing in Europe. I switched to the Liberal Democrats after lengthy talks. The values above are what I care passionately about.

Lembit Öpik
What do the Lib Dems uniquely stand for?

The Lib Dems' unique quality giving a voice to the voiceless, and defending citizens against conformity and ignorance. Other parties tend towards being authoritarian, and a blown by fashion to make knew jerk policy in crises. the Lib Dems at their best resist those superficial tendencies and cherish freedom and fair distribution of wealth in the party's political heart.

Why should people vote Lib Dem?

People who care about righting the wrongs of financial and power imbalance in our communities should vote Lib Dem. People who believe politics can stand up for those who do not enjoy great wealth or political might should vote Lib Dem. Quite simply, if you're someone who cares about people, not just yourself, the Lib Dems are the natural and logical choice.

Brian Paddick
The Liberal Democrats uniquely want to provide equality of opportunity to everyone, no matter what their social background, ethnic background, sexual orientation or any other irrelevant difference. Uniquely we want to provide everyone with as much freedom as possible, with the least interference as possible from government or the law, with decisions made by local people who know what is best for them and their community.

That is why I am totally disillusioned, after more than a decade of Labour's financial mismanagement, restricting civil liberties and creating hundreds of new criminal offences, totally disillusioned with the Tories wanting to restrict privileges to the better off, disregarding the impact of policies on the poor and on the environment, and totally committed to the Liberal Democrats who are the only party I believe are worth voting for and fighting for, despite the coalition!

Mike Tuffrey
On the door step I say we need government to be on your side - helping you do the right thing like recycling your waste, switching to public transport or improving your skills for work. Doing, helping, not taking over.

Echoing Gladstone, my philosophical approach is 'trust the people' but tempered by the recognition that a big city like London needs active government, if we are to create and sustain a fair, free and open society, and not leave our fellow citizens left by the wayside.

And if you are a London Lib Dem, don’t forget to get your vote in by August 31st!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Saturday, July 23, 2011


Atrocity In Norway

I don’t think I’ve ever written a piece expressing my feelings about a great tragedy. It seems almost intrusive, and what good can words do? But today I feel the need to say something.

I’ve just got back from a week away, in which I was all the usual things (wet, tired, ill) and was doing my best to avoid news broadcasts – I was born in Stepping Hill Hospital and spent the first half of my life living five minutes’ walk away, and the wall-to-wall coverage of it as a murder scene made me queasy. Then this morning I woke up to the news of the massacre in Norway, and had to struggle not to be physically sick while we were packing.

I’ve never been to Norway, but I went to more political youth events – Liberal Democrat Youth and Students and others – in my teens and twenties than I can count, or even remember. To say there was a low security presence would be an understatement. Hearing about the murder of over eighty young political activists this morning, I couldn’t help but think of so many of my friends being gunned down. I can’t remember any atrocity that’s felt so close to home – even when South Quay was bombed, just up the road from our flat. It’s beyond words.

So my heart goes out to all members of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth wing, and all those who know them. Political assassination is a despicable act – but attacking not the people in power but young people just starting to get involved, getting off their arses to change the world, that’s unimaginable horror.

The Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s promise, though, that the country won’t be bombed into silence or have its faith in democracy, freedom and openness destroyed made me tear up this morning. And I have to say he struck a much better note than some other world leaders, including sadly David Cameron, who talked up the terror threat – here from a far right Christian theocrat – to make us all scared, rather than Mr Stoltenberg’s determination to hang onto their traditions of tolerance. When evil bastards literally attack your values, he made exactly the right response: you prize your values more dearly and practise them more passionately, not throw them out.

I hope that, if it had happened here and I’d survived, I wouldn’t have been scared off being involved. Being a part of the Lib Dem Youth and Students changed my life and, I hope, changed a few bigger things as well (so if you feel like contributing to Liberal Youth today…). Whatever party you’re in, whatever tradition you come from, whatever philosophy you believe in, now’s the time to encourage young people to stand up and be counted, not to tell them what a terrible place the world is and that all they can do is cower under batons and battier laws.

I recommend the moving insights from Stephen Glenn, Niklas Smith and Anders Hanson, too.

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