by Stephen Tall on June 17, 2013
Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum. The series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains.
Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Reason: for championing the importance of academic rigour for disadvantaged pupils
I am in love! The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and if I had been a member of the Labour party I would have voted for her to be leader.
Few kisses of death can have been bestowed more rapturously than Michael Gove’s declaration of love for Labour’s Diane Abbott. What prompted such extravagant praise, such fervent admiration? It was this intervention by Ms Abbott in response to the Secretary of State for Education’s latest (and most successful) attempt to reform GCSE exams:
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): The Secretary of State will appreciate that I cannot speak about the detailed implementation of his reforms, but does he agree that an emphasis on rigorous qualifications and on obtaining core academic subjects is not, as is sometimes argued, contrary to the interests of working-class children and of black and minority ethnic children? On the contrary, precisely if someone is the first in their family to stay on past school leaving age, precisely if someone’s family does not social capital and precisely if someone does not have parents who can put in a word for them in a difficult job market, they need the assurance of rigorous qualifications and, if at all possible, core academic qualifications.
To dispel any doubts that she had mis-spoken, she followed up with a Guardian article, highlighting how important educational rigour had been in her life:
My parents left school in rural Jamaica at 14. They migrated to Britain where my mother was a nurse and my father was a sheet metal worker. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who had gone on to higher education. In fact I did not know anyone who did anything other than the standard occupations of working-class West Indians of the era: nursing, public transport, factory work and manual labour. No one in my family circle had any practical advice to give, any strings to pull or any contacts to help me in the world of white-collar work. To make matters worse, I was obstinately left-wing. So I owe everything in life to my string of A grades at O- and A-level and my Cambridge degree. I did not know at the time what a phenomenon it was for a working-class black girl to have acquired a string of academic qualifications. But I have grown to understand the benefits of academic rigour.
Indeed it was her commitment to academic rigour which caused her to risk the wrath of her left-wing comrades and the scorn of her right-wing enemies by sending her own son to a fee-paying school. (Ironically, her decision co-incided with the turnaround in Hackney’s state schools, now among the best-performing in the country.)
I chose Michael Gove as a Liberal Hero a year ago. As I said then, I don’t agree with all his policies or pronouncements.* Too often his restless search for creative disruption in the education system risks over-correcting.
He has virtually abolished local education authorities without thinking through what should replace their convening role or how effective practice can be spread without them. Academies and free schools are now directly accountable to him as Secretary of State: that is centralisation of our schools on a breathtaking (and, make no mistake, worrying) scale. His devotees in the right-wing media, most notably The Spectator, happily gloss over such flaws. For them it is enough that he is seeking to unleash competition through the creation of free schools.
However, Michael Gove has driven forward the agenda on higher standards in schools and how crucial they are for those from the most challenging backgrounds. For that he deserves a decent dollop of credit. Good on Diane Abbott for giving praise when it is due.
* The Times’s Tim Montgomerie recently divided Gove-doubters into three categories. First, those ‘local education authorities, Department of Education bureaucrats and the unions that have defended under-performing teachers over too many decades’. The “enemies of promise” as Mr Gove would term them. Second, ‘many thoroughly reasonable members of the teaching profession who have genuine reservations about the dizzying scale of change’. And third, those who regard Mr Gove’s record as something of a contradiction: exhorting school freedom while seeking to micro-manage standards and the curriculum. I’d place myself in both the latter two camps.
by Stephen Tall on June 16, 2013
This week saw the Lib Dems launch a major new campaign: A Million Jobs for a Stronger Economy. As a party we have a habit of launching major campaigns and then letting them peter out. Remember the ‘John Lewis economy’ for instance? Or that we were the ‘one nation party’ before Ed Miliband? If not, you won’t be alone. So it’s encouraging that the party’s Million Jobs campaign is scheduled to run for a year — the minimum necessary for it to get any traction — and is tied into the party’s ‘Stronger Economy’ slogan. The party’s been bigging-up the Twitter hashtag #amillionjobs and it’s the subject of this week’s letter from Nick…
Britain is creating jobs. I know it doesn’t always feel like it – and a lot of families are still feeling the pinch. But since the Liberal Democrats came into government in 2010, we’ve helped British businesses create more than a million jobs. Now we want to help them create a million more.
That’s the ambition behind the campaign our party launched this week: A Million Jobs for a Stronger Economy. I want everyone in Britain to know that jobs are right at the heart of the Liberal Democrats’ agenda over the next two years in government. You can find out more and get involved in spreading the word here.
We want more jobs for young people; more jobs outside of London; more jobs in high skilled manufacturing and the high growth industries of the future; more green jobs and more rural jobs too.
We’ve already done a lot – investing billions in science, advance manufacturing and renewable energy, as well as creating work by investing in roads, railways and homes. Our Regional Growth Fund is providing money to firms around the country. And we’re offering £2,000 cash back to employers on the tax they pay to employ staff, making it easier to take people on.
But we need to do more – starting with a major apprenticeships drive. More and more young people are learning the skills they need for well-paid careers, not just in a classroom or lecture theatre, but in the office or on the shop floor – and they’re getting paid for it.
It’s an old idea to help build a new economy. Not only do apprenticeships create new opportunities for young men and women, but companies get the loyal and capable staff they need to compete and expand. It works for all kinds of industries – from construction to catering; from advanced engineering to accounting.
Vince Cable and I made this a priority when we came into office and the Coalition is investing record sums in helping firms hire and train apprentices. We’re also cutting red tape so it’s easier for smaller firms to take people on.
But there are still firms and young people missing out. We have nearly five million businesses in the UK, but little over 100,000 currently offer apprenticeships. We need to be more ambitious – I want us to work to double the number of companies offering apprenticeships.
If you’re an employer, take up the help that’s available: these young men and women will create the committed, enthusiastic and skilled workforce your company needs. There are grants and training available, and a clear benefit to your business.
And if you are a young person considering what path to take when you leave school, or you’re uncertain about your future, look into apprenticeships. They can be the first step to a well-paid and rewarding career.
Together, we can lead a major apprenticeships drive, helping build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.
Do you know someone who would like to get Nick’s weekly email? Forward this post and they can sign up here: http://www.libdememails.co.uk/nick
For those Lib Dem members wanting to receive Nick and the party’s emails, Mark Pack has produced a handy guide to help ensure you’re signed up: Why did I not get that email from the Liberal Democrats?
by Stephen Tall on June 16, 2013
Today’s Sunday Times front page (£) splashes with a ‘Cash for peerages row hits Clegg’ headline. The reality is slightly less exciting: Rumi Verjee, a prominent donor to the Lib Dems, is apparently top of the list of seven names put forward for peerages:
Rumi Verjee, a multimillionaire who brought the Domino’s pizza chain to Britain, is top of a list of seven names compiled by the Lib Dems who are expected to be awarded honours within weeks. He has given £770,000 to the party since May 2010. … Verjee used a firm called Brompton Capital to donate to the Lib Dems. Until recently Brompton was owned by Integro Nominees (Jersey) Ltd, based in the Channel Islands, also a tax haven. It is now believed to have been brought onshore. Verjee’s name was one of those submitted by the Lib Dems to the House of Lords Appointments Commission earlier this month. The commission, which vets potential peers, is considering around 20 names put forward by the three main party leaders.
Rumi Verjee was last in the limelight when Labour MP Michael Dugher demanded the Electoral Commission investigate his donations: he was cleared by the Electoral Commission within a month. The bulk of his donations to the party support the Leadership Programme, ‘designed specifically to identify, develop and support some of the best candidates from under-represented groups within the Party’, and are linked to his wider philanthropic activities through his international humanitarian charity, The Rumi Foundation.
The paper names five of the other people it believes to be on the Lib Dem list of likely new peers:
- Alison Suttie, Nick Clegg’s former deputy chief of staff;
- Olly Grender, former Lib Dem Communications Director;
- Brian Paddick, the party’s London mayoral candidate in 2008 and 2012;
- Liz Lynne, former Rochdale MP and former MEP for the West Midlands; and
- Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, founder SDP member and the party’s current treasurer.
No hint, though, as to the identity of the seventh Lib Dem soon-to-be-peer. Guesses below-the-line are welcome, especially if well-informed!
It’s been a cumbersome process to get to this point. A year ago, the party still hoped its preparations would be for an elected second chamber, not adding to our number in the unelected House of Lords.
Last autumn’s internal elections for the Lib Dems’ interim peers panel were cancelled in the wake of the Tories and Labour torpedoing Lords reform. The party said it would bring forward proposals at the Spring 2013 conference. Well, if it did, I missed them: again, anyone want to fill in the blanks below-the-line? [Update: David Allworthy has left a comment answering the question here.]
As a result, the most recent list of elected Lib Dems for the leader to consider for the Lords dates back to 2010: results here. None of those mentioned by the Sunday Times are on the elected list (though Sal Brinton, who topped the poll, has since been made a peer).
The paper lists one other putative peer who’s apparently been dropped from the current list:
Sudhir Choudhrie, whose family has donated £650,000 to the party since 2004, has been placed on an internal party list of future peers. Until three years ago Choudhrie, who has personally given £95,000 of that sum, was not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes. … Until this month, Choudhrie’s name appeared on a draft honours list prepared by Clegg’s office. Party sources said that “it has dropped off the shortlist and is now on a longlist”.
Everything would, of course, be much simpler if the second chamber had any democratic legitimacy. But in lieu of that — and I wouldn’t put any bets on the Lords being abolished in the next decade at least — the party needs to devise a more transparent system for nominating its own peers.
That can’t be 100% internal democracy — not everyone who’d make a good working peer will stand for election or would get elected if they did; and it would be unlikely to be a very diverse list, either — but it needs to be more than a nod-and-a-wink from the leader’s office as well.
by Stephen Tall on June 14, 2013
The Tories are on a three-line whip to support it (very unusual for a private member’s bill). Labour has confirmed they’ll shun the vote, branding the bill “a gimmick, a political stunt”. The Lib Dem parliamentary party will decide its position in a couple of weeks’ time, but is likely to abstain with Labour.
It’s a potentially risky decision, giving the appearance of saying we don’t trust the public to decide. That’s a view put forward by Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson, for instance, who wrote in the wake of David Cameron’s January speech announcing the concession of an in/out referendum to his backbenchers:
We should agree with allowing a referendum once terms have been negotiated. That will help to neutralise it as an issue. It’s perfectly consistent with our position as we can clearly argue that renegotiated terms are a change and therefore our promise of a referendum should then kick in. This actually gives us a way out of the political cul-de-sac we have got ourselves into on this issue in recent weeks. We should take it and back Cameron.
It’s a persuasive, and pretty tempting, argument. But I don’t buy it. As I wrote last month:
The Tories say we should ask the people now: and we’re saying not yet. Tough sell. But when politicians avoid the easy choice (in this case conceding a referendum) it’s actually worth asking why. The answer’s clear: we don’t yet know what shape or form the EU will take once the Eurozone crisis is resolved (which may happen peaceably or messily). Ask the question now and you may end up having to ask it again in three years’ time.
To date, Lib Dem members have pretty solidly backed the leadership line on this, with clear majorities against offering a referendum according to our surveys. In April, 58% said the party shouldn’t include a pledge for an in/out referendum on our 2015 manifesto compared with 34% of members who thought the party should.
As I’ve noted before, there’s a deep irony in all this. The person best placed to keep the UK in the European Union is David Cameron. His speech this week in the lead-up to the G8 summit was unambiguously pro-European, as the New Statesman’s Rafael Behr rightly noted.
But if the Tories fail to win the 2015 election, as currently seems likely, Mr Cameron’s successor will be a better-off-outer. Together with the press, he or she will run a populist, nationalist, Little Englander campaign that could well prevail in an in/out referendum.
David Cameron may not always look like much of a Good European. But for those of us who are pro-internationalist and believe the UK should remain within the EU (a reformed EU, that is) the current Tory leader truly is our best hope.
by Stephen Tall on June 13, 2013
I offered my first impressions of Helena Morrissey’s independent report into the Lib Dems’ culture and practices here yesterday, based on a skim-read and hearing Helena’s presentation of it at a media briefing.
I read the report in full (available online here) on the train home last night. I recommend it to all Lib Dems, and indeed anyone interested in how organisations can totally mess up when dealing with delicate internal issues.
It’s an excellently written, fair-minded, balanced and practical report which understands the idiosyncratic nature of party politics and those involved — without using that as any kind of excuse to absolve bad decision-making and chaotic processes.
Three quick additions to what I wrote yesterday, all of praise.
First, while there’s been lots of focus on those individuals who made mistakes of one kind or another, one person is singled out for having taken the appropriate action: Baroness (Ros) Scott, party president at the time Lord (Chris) Rennard resigned and when the allegations were circulating within a small group. Here’s what the report say about her actions:
One person who did try proactively to deal with the issue via a separate attempt at this point was Ros Scott, described as ‘the most hands-on President’. Ros Scott was approached towards the end of her Presidential Campaign in 2008 by a man and a woman anxious to speak to her about the allegations. She knew that ‘passing stories around was part of the political world’ but she decided to speak to Rennard once she had heard allegations from two sources – one before and one after her election. She decided to speak first to Alison Suttie and was told about the meeting with Rennard when he had been confronted about the allegations.Ros Scott was still concerned.
A year after Rennard’s resignation, she met two of the women at their request. She suggested that they could make use of the Party Disciplinary procedure, which would require them to make their complaints in writing. She stressed that if they made such a complaint, it would be acted on. The women did not want to go down that route, although at the same time requested that Rennard was
‘barred from all activities’. This was impossible since ‘without a formal process to establish the facts, the barring of Rennard from Party activity would have been impossible in practice and wrong in principle’ (Ros Scott)
Ros Scott subsequently set up a whistle-blower function when Chris Fox became Chief Executive. However, this only applied to staff, not volunteers.
Secondly, the Bones Commission is recognised for diagnosing many of the party’s structural problems which contributed to the failure of anyone to take ultimate responsibility for dealing with the allegations when made. For instance:
I found a high degree of awareness around the potential issues involved with MPs being employers. The ‘Bones Commission’ was unfortunately prescient … It included reviewing the Party’s organisational complexity, assessing its professionalism, budget process, the campaigns strategy and the way key decisions are taken by top level committees. It was hard-hitting in its commentary … Against this diagnosis, the Bones Commission was greatly limited in what it could do, as it set out to introduce changes without recourse to the constitution. It couldn’t take things away and therefore added in new layers such as the shortlived Chief Officers’ Group, a sub-set of Federal Executive in an attempt to narrow down decision-making. Some of its recommendations have been enacted upon – for example, the Party HQ moved from the unpopular ‘rabbit warren’ of Cowley Street to Great George Street, a more modern, open plan space, but many fell by the wayside. While the Bones Commission was ostensibly supportive of and supported by Chris Rennard, it can be read as a challenge to his decisions and approach as Chief Executive.
And finally, much credit is due to those witnesses who came forward — the three women who spoke openly to Channel 4, sparking the row that led to this independent inquiry — but also the 42 individuals who responded to Helena Morrissey’s call for evidence. Much of what they’ve said and is reported by Helena make for difficult reading. But it’s necessary reading. And hopefully the party will learn the hard lessons needed and emerge a stronger organisation for it, with all individuals sure they will be treated respectfully within the Liberal Democrats.
Here’s links to those blog-posts I spotted on the Aggregator which have also talked about the Morrissey Report…
My Response to the Morrissey Inquiry (Louise Shaw)
Helena Morrissey’s well written report makes me want to cry in parts in a good way – pointing out that it’s “simply not credible” to say there aren’t good women candidates, and also that the modern world is a good place for liberal democracy to thrive – I believe both of these statements. I will and have made these points again and again, and will do until more people listen.
Two disclosures, tucked away (Mark Smulian, Liberator’s Blog)
… her report issued by the party today, includes an extensive section on how Rennard came to accumulate an unusual degree of power in the party – whether real or imagined – and about what happened when his accusers despaired of internal processes and went to Channel 4 News last winter.
A witness speaks: Harassment within the Lib Dems (Jon Walls)
The failings are not unique to the Liberal Democrats. The leadership should act confidently in the knowledge that any political opponent who attempts to portray this as a problem unique to the Lib Dems will quickly have a few of their own skeletons dragged out from their closet. Nick Clegg has made a good start. Let’s hope it continues.
by Stephen Tall on June 13, 2013
There are few more popular Lib Dem MPs — among the ranks of party members — than Cambridge MP Julian Huppert.
It’s not hard to see why. He stands up for civil liberties, and as a scientist (indeed, the only MP with a science PhD in the House of Commons) he is keen on evidence and a rational approach to policy-making. On both grounds, he is unpopular with those Labour and Tory MPs who regard such behaviour as a tiresome intrusion on their evidence-free, and often authoritarian, prejudices.
How do we know he’s unpopular? Because some of their number have taken to a mounting a concerted show of groaning whenever Julian is called to speak. When I was at school one of the most popular ways for us kids to intimidate teachers was to start a low-level hum during lessons which would increase in volume and be impossible to blame on a single individual. Maximum disruption for minimum risk: the coward’s choice.
Gotta love our democracy: the Mother of Parliaments, yes? Makes you proud.
Here’s today’s Times (£):
Julian Huppert, who represents Cambridge, is often greeted by a collective sigh before he talks in the chamber. Yesterday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, a chorus of jeers went up as the Speaker called his name. The antics have even made it into the official Parliamentary record. Hansard of February 13 bears the following account: “Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) rose. Hon. Members: Oh, no.” Dr Huppert said that the joke had gone too far. “I think it’s an example of how badly behaved Prime Minister’s questions are,” he said. “There are people shouting and talking in a deeply discourteous way. It is perfectly reasonable to respond to what people are saying but I think the atmosphere is far too often [about] trying to shout down people and that’s a very bad example for everybody.” Asked if it was bullying, he said: “It is.”
As you’d expect the Speaker, John Bercow, is keen to stamp out such behaviour. Oh, sorry, I mis-spoke… the Speaker, John Bercow, is keen to egg on such behaviour:
Some have accused John Bercow of encouraging the mockery. The Speaker has taken to referring to the Lib Dem as “the good doctor.” He regularly expresses surprise that MPs respond to Dr Huppert in the way that they do. Angus MacNeil, an SNP MP, has said that MPs’ behaviour amounted to “collective bullying” and claimed that Mr Bercow “doesn’t help”.
Support for Julian has come from other quarters:
I don’t care what opposition MP’s think of @julianhuppert -I think he’s a brilliant champion for Cambridge, fantastic campaigner & friend
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) June 13, 2013
— Dominic Hannigan (@dom_hannigan) June 13, 2013
— Kaya Burgess (Times) (@kayaburgess) June 13, 2013
Julian himself is phlegmatic:
“You have to have a bit of a thick skin. In some ways it’s better to be noticed than ignored.”
But I don’t think we should be on his behalf. This is the kind of behaviour which makes people despair of Parliament and deters people from wanting to get elected. It was unacceptable when I was a kid, but at least we had the excuse of being young and immature. What’s MPs’ excuse?