Wednesday, December 09, 2015

A Liberal day of life- joyful and sad

Today is another day of life. It is a bitter-sweet day. 

I have seen my friend Alistair Carmichael win his court case, which takes a huge strain off his family and preserves the Scottish Liberal Democrat voice in the House of Commons. I have known Alistair since we were students in Aberdeen and have always enjoyed his human take on politics. The vindictive case raised by the SNP has rightly been denied, and will I hope rebound on the shrill and narrow minded nationalists whose vituperation against anyone who opposes their views borders on the psychotic.

The SNP have been in charge long enough for us to know that they represent much of what is worst in politics. Far from being an antidote to Westminster they are merely crowd pleasing populists whose mistakes - with the Forth Bridge maintenance schedule, for example- are beginning to come home to roost. The Economist recently accused the SNP of being Peronist and to be honest, it rings entirely true. Economically illiterate, the Scottish people can truly be thankful that the referendum got the result that it did, for an independent Scotland in the current circumstances would be facing catastrophe. 

The blow-hards in the SNP made much of Alistair's "lies". However they go strangely silent these days when you ask them about the price of oil, which, they firmly assured us- as it turned out, falsely- could not go much below $100/bbl. As Brent drops below $40 and forecasters suggest worse to come, the fall out in the North East is grim indeed. The SNP were dead wrong about the economy and they continue to create problem after problem in the justice system, policing, health and education, transport and infrastructure- after 8 years of mistakes the SNP have no one to blame but themselves, though of course they are trying to throw enough mud to create a distraction- vide the Carmichael case, for one.

So it is a great satisfaction that Alistair will still be able to make the Liberal case in Parliament, and we can only hope that the tide can begin to turn and that finally the Scottish people will recognise that voting for the SNP and its cronies is a dead end.

Yet for me and many other Liberals today is also a day of grief. Our friend and inspiration, Wendy Guy, lost her fight against cancer aged only 47 a few days ago, and her funeral service is today. She faced the miseries of bowel cancer, as she faced her whole life with humour and warmth, laced with no little courage. Her blog Mine is Broken is a chronicle of pain, yet quite often it made us laugh out loud. Wendy was the epitome of black country warmth and charm. She and her husband Steve have been part of the core of the Liberal Democrats in Wycombe and their home the focus of many a campaign. Some were successful, some- like my own attempt to gain the Parliamentary seat- more fun than victorious. If it was so much fun, then it was the Guys that we have thank. Wendy was a dynamic blond bombshell whose pride to the end in her two children was matched only by the deep love that she and Steve shared. Her Mother, who tragically has now lost two children far too young, can take consolation in the genuine love that Wendy inspired in her vast circle of friends. Wendy was a giver, who always believed in putting something back, in making a positive contribution, no matter how difficult the circumstances. In short she was a true Liberal and it was my privilege to know her.

So another day of life. As Wendy said: pick the daisies while you still can.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

After party politics

The past few months have been a worrying time for those of us who believe in the virtues of representative democracy. The long term trend of the decline of membership and support for political parties has, if anything, accelerated, and long standing loyalties to right or left have given way to a far more complicated political reality in which populist or even anti democratic voices are now being increasingly heard. The rise of Marine Le Pen in France or Donald Trump in the United States point to the failure of conventional politics to maintain a rational and intelligent framework for economic or social policy choices. Irrational and violent solutions are increasingly being touted across the democratic world.

Chat rooms have become the echo chambers of an ill informed political culture that, despite its ignorance, will brook no dissent and which reserves the right to intimidate and threaten in support of its cause. The Scottish cybernats represent a kind of intolerance that is a direct threat to democratic values. Increasingly there is little respect for dissenting opinion and little understanding of the power of informed debate. 

The Labour Party in the UK is just the latest faction to be caught up in the trashing of previously sacrosanct political values. The vicious internal battles between a Parliamentary party which understands the necessary compromises required in public policy and the mass membership- many new to the Labour fold- who prefer a pure clear flame to any rational engagement with the issues or even the facts. That Jeremy Corbyn has spent his entire career as an isolated puritan rather than an engaged politician is what both attracts the mass membership and appals the Labour MPs in equal measure. Of course the loathing of the Parliamentary party is also based on the fact that they know him as a serial rebel with little understanding of the compromises required to be a successful political leader.

In the United States Donald Trump may have jumped the shark through his advocacy of "some kind of register" of US Muslims, which would probably be illegal under at least two articles of the constitution that as President he would have to take a oath to protect. However, his populist irrationality has an appeal to those with a grievance, which seems to include around a quarter of the Republican party at present. In France the landslide victory of the populist extreme right wing Front National  also suggest the dictatorship of the chat room may yet be a possibility.

Nor can the British Conservatives feel entirely comfortable. 

The fact is that support for the Conservatives is in long term decline too- and their supposed triumph in the 2015 election was merely that the Labour and Liberal decline has been faster than the Tories. 

The fact is that the social fabric that provided the pool of support for political parties has changed radically and the political system across the Western Democracies is struggling to cope. That interested parties, such as Vladimir Putin have worked to subvert the democratic process is not helpful, but the fact is that the danger was there long before subversion became a threat.

Personally I have long believed that a radical change in the form and structure of democratic politics is necessary both to engage the voters in a more open and inclusive process, but also to ensure greater accountability. The politics of the populist is the politics of the excluded. Of course these people can advocate irresponsible even counter productive solutions when the current political structure remains opaque and exclusive.

Liberals have always tried to develop rational and worked out ideas, but the fact of our being included in a coalition that did essentially nothing to reform the constitution so that voters could participate more fully in the process has been a major cause of our failure. Talking about radical solutions looked fake when the Tories were able to block by tricks and stratagems every single one of our proposals. As I have advocated before, the time has come for us to focus more or less exclusively on the democratic deficit in the UK. No one will take our policies on any other area very seriously unless we can show that there is a determination to radically reform, even overthrow the current closed political system.

The Politics of the cabal is dying anyway. Long live open democracy!