Friday, 23 September 2016

Realighnment of the Left

Realignment of the Left is back on the agenda. It is not hard to understand why. Already the idea has spawned books, public meeting and a lot of debate. This was the great project of Jo Grimond's leadership of the Liberal Party. Today with a Corbyn led Labour Party few people can see that party winning seats from the Tories at the next elections. They may well pile up bigger majorities in some of their existing seats but it is hard to see where they can win seats especially after the boundary review. Our first past the post electoral system doesn't help. It does look as if we are in for a period of uninterrupted Tory rule, even  people like Neil Kinnock doesn't expect to see another Labour government in his lifetime.  Left wing former Labour Minister Chris Mullin has come out in favour of a pact explaining that for the Tories to be defeated it requires Lib Dems to win seats Labour have no chance in. So the question is : can a progressive programme be agreed between the competing parties compelling enough to make some electoral arrangement acceptable.

One initiative that has been launched is the publication of a book The Alternative edited by Lisa Nandy, Caroline Lucas and Chris Bowers. It is significant because it does not spend all its pages discussing how and electoral arrangement could be achieved, rather it begins with ideas around which common agreement can be reached.

The Social Liberal Forum (SLF) sponsored a meeting at the Lib Dem Conference this year and put together the three editors of the book along with David Howarth a former Lib Dem MP for Cambridge. (David stood down without being defeated) The SLF has heard from Ms Lucas before alongside Neil Lawson from COMPASS and few doubt that with goodwill and common-sense a deal could be done with the Greens-despite some of their obvious difficulties. Labour is a harder issue. The electoral reality is dawning on some folk in Labour. The fear of grammar schools, welfare cuts, the NHS, a hard Britex  are combining to focus minds. Nevertheless too many Labour activists think pluralism and compromise are dirty words. Their monopolistic view of power and their right to exercise it makes it hard to see where agreement may come-or maybe I'm just scarred by having spent most of political life in the NW. And therefore the meeting was genuinely interested to hear Lisa Nandy's pitch.

Now, without dwelling too long on the point, it should be said that Ms Nandy has some Liberal antecedence in so much as her Grandfather was a Liberal MP and Leader of the Liberal Party in the Lords for 17 years. There was much agitation in radical ranks about his relationship with Rio Tinto Zinc, the mining company, and its activities in Africa . None of that is Ms Nandy's responsibility .

I thought she was convincing and indeed impressive. She is clearly of the left, which was a relief, too often we see Labour MP's at odds with their party who are by inclination reactionary and authoritarian-John Reid, Jack Straw et al- ( and some of the people who fancy themselves to be on the left John Mann or Dennis Skinner are the personification of tribalism)  She acknowledged the stand we took on civil rights and accepted Labour's failure in that area and pointed out Labours challenge to the coalition over welfare (at which point she had a more sympathetic audience than she might have imagined-as the following days votes on welfare confirmed).

In so much as she used her family connection she did so to in relation to Frank Byers Liberal politics having been fashioned by his opposition to fascism . I am always impressed by the record of those Liberals who came back from the war determined to build a new international order. Lord Rea who led the Liberal Peers till Byers took over was one such case  David Dutton writing in the Journal of Liberal History recordsAs Liberal leader in the Lords Rea found himself obliged to speak on a wide range of issues. But, with the Cold War at its height, he was especially concerned with reducing the risk of nuclear war and for Britain to abandon her pretensions to great power status. The country ‘seemed to find it difficult to realise that her nineteenth-century position in the world was not in abeyance but actually gone. Britain must adapt her ideas to the modern world.’ Such thinking made him particularly contemptuous of the notion that Britain remained an independent nuclear power. ‘Why should we attract an onslaught on this undefended island by the provocative possession of a virtually useless contribution to American nuclear arms? That would be the very reverse of a deterrent. ’ It was that approach which led Liberals to embrace federalism and the European project.

Lisa Nandy's proposition was that the prospect of long term Tory rule requires us all to think again and explore thoroughly the alternatives.

The video clip at the top of this post shows a little of David Howarth's contribution. I think it is important to assert that any agreement must be based ideas and values. I have felt for some time that the divorce between values and class loyalty is overdue. David make the case better that I can.

There are those who dislike the term Left. I am not one. It is a short hand for those dissatisfied with the status quo. For a season it came, somewhat perversely, to mean political ideas that championed state ownership and regulation. Hence tyrannical Communist states were seen as Left. The coming down of the Berlin war changed that although the statist Left still clings to loyally to some models. Eliot Dodds, who would have been well known to Ms Nandi's grandfather, robustly defends the Liberal position as on the  Left in his chapter in The Unservile State (1957)  when he wrote: by any strict use of language Liberals are the true Left, the real progressives'. He wanted men and women to be in charge of their own destinies with the aim of 'giving more abundant life, to the individual person. So those of us that are angry about the mal-distribution of power and wealth in today's economies should at least try to work together.

Let me leave you with a bit Grimond-who after all can be claimed as the Granddaddy of the idea:

In an interview in the Observer immediately after the 1959 election, Jo Grimond, the Liberal leader, called for radicals in the Liberal and Labour Parties to make a new appeal to ordinary people to take an active part in political life. Asked how a Socialist party could cooperate with a non-Socialist one, he replied that ‘there might be a bridge between Socialism and the Liberal policy of co-ownership in industry through a type of syndicalism coupled with a nonconformist outlook such as was propounded on many issues by George Orwell’.1 Industrial democracy and a tolerance of dissent, which were also distinctive marks of the New Left, were symptoms of a change in ideological thinking in Britain which was not confined to the socialist movement

Monday, 12 September 2016

Trevor Jones, Sutton and Cheam by election and being fed at the NLC

Back in 1972 I was an undergraduate in London. I was active in the YL's and was one of the small group who started going to Sutton and Cheam to help deliver the first Focus leaflet soon after it was announced the Tory MP Sir Richard Sharples was to be Governor of Bermuda.  On more than one occasion Trevor arranged to drive me back in to central London and fed me at the NLC. I learned a great deal from those meal time conversations.

I have never lived in Liverpool or been involved in the day to day politics of the city but , like many of my generation, took a keen interest in in what was going on there. Unlike some folk who copy some of their practices Trevor and his team drew on the radical tradition in the party and as such was a natural ally for YL's battling against some of the less progressive forces around in the party. Trevor may well be remembered for his electioneering but I recall that he was a man of political ideas as well.I found he was someone you could always just ring up for advice

I recall travelling in the back of his Triumph Stag (?)  from Liverpool to a Party Council in Cardiff when there was some business that we were keen to oppose.

In his role as Party President he did shake up the party and transform it into an operation that believed it could win elections.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Dan Dare and the Mekon return to Southport

As readers of the Mayoral blog will know I have been spending some time at The Atkinson recently. On my way out this afternoon I passed through an exhibition I had not noticed before and part of it featured the adventures of Dan Dare. As readers of a certain vintage will know the Eagle comic was a remarkably successful publication. The stories , in the main, were written by a Birkdale Clergy man the Vicar of St James's Marcus Morris and the artwork was produced by a lecturer at the Southport Art College Frank Hampson.

They have some excellent exhibits including some of the original artwork. If you are an Eagel fan it is well work a visit.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

'Northern Powerhouse’ progress: Slower than the Southport to Manchester train?

A guest post from Lauren Keith on the so called Northern Power House

The Northern Powerhouse is fast becoming a political cliché. The 8 Lib Dem MP’s (led by Southport’s own MP John Pugh) have recently published a report claiming that the initiative is in danger of becoming little more than smoke and mirrors.

It’s about time that there was a thorough analysis of what the Northern Powerhouse actually means and what it has really achieved.

The report argues that rather than being a comprehensive and new plan bringing additional funding to the North it is in fact just semantics. The authors reflect that while the city devolution deals may seem like large sums of money, when central government cuts are taken into account Northern cities were actually still left at a loss.  In Liverpool the figure of £30 million a year is totally negated when the 43% cut in local authority budgets is taken into account. They are also sceptical about the power that the newly created city regions actually have, arguing that working with UKTI to boost trade and powers for new skills provisions are merely programmes rather than substantive power. 
The other powerful point made is that the transport programmes that have been implemented or are in planning so far, tend to focus on the connections between the North and London. This ignores the connections between Northern cities and crucially between Northern cities and the wider region.
It’s pretty apparent that the Northern Powerhouse idea is very much focused around the cities of Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield rather than the wider region. A recent report by think tank IPPR North looked at the status of small and medium sized towns and cities in the Northern Powerhouse framework. Crucially, their research found that connectivity is more important than size or concentration when it comes to unlocking economic success and productivity. One of the paper’s policy recommendations is for Transport for the North to ensure that its future strategy development takes account of the ‘complexity of the North’s urban ecosystem.’  In other words, recognising that the North isn’t just two cities but a web of smaller towns and cities!

The Northern Powerhouse concept is symptomatic of the general approach by Government in response to a ‘problem’. Thinking up a new strategy, appointing taskforces or ‘Tsars’ and creating ‘zones’ seems to be currently in vogue.  The danger of this is paralysis through over analysis and a failure sometimes to see the glaringly obvious.

Investing in critical infrastructure, improving broadband and rail and road connections and increasing education and training provision and opportunities are surely the key basics for economic success.
The first direct air link to China has just been launched from Manchester yet at the same time that the Manchester Airport service from Southport is apparently being reviewed. Surely the equation for the social and economic success of a town or city is diversity of population and connections to other cities and hubs. There is the tangible ease of access to other regional businesses that this connectivity brings, but there is also the vibrancy that comes with this. Better transport links means that people can more easily commute to work and will be more likely to live in smaller towns like Southport. In Southport’s case, this would inevitably mean that retail, leisure and other offerings will grow to cater for a more mixed population as the young professional demographic increases.

There is no one size fits all policy to unlocking prosperity. Southport, for example, is an excellent place for running with several parks and a beautiful sea-front. The annual half-marathon is a great initiative that will attract visitors to the area. Similarly, the town is also synonymous with golf as a result of the Open at Birkdale. Lord Street, the apparent inspiration for the Parisian boulevards, is the perfect setting for a strong retail and leisure offering.  Each town and city has its own strengths and weaknesses and it is up to local leaders to capitalise on these and be allowed the freedom and voice to do so.

Only when towns like Southport are able to shape their own destiny rather than being seen as under the umbrella of a larger city will the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ really be harnessed. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Freedome of England by God’ Blessing Restored

On the Mayoral Blog I has writing about the visit of Formby U3A to Bootle Town Hall. Among the items of interest were the maces and admiralty oar that are carried in front of the Mayor at Council meeting and on other civic occasions

The maces we were looking at were from the former Bootle Council and Crosby and Waterloo Council. They were heavily decorated with royal emblems. My mind went back to an occasion a couple of decades ago when I was a member of Congleton Borough Council and I was being shown the town's treasurers by a local historian. The prize possession was a mace, but this one started life as a republican mace and was, allegedly, the model for the one made for the House of Commons. You will recall that Charles1 lost his head in 1649 and The Commonwealth was declared. The Congleton mace dates from that time.
As the Town Council website explains:

Town Mace
Silver gilt, made in 1651, the mace has an intriguing historical connection with the execution of King Charles 1. It is reputed to have been used as a model for the House of Commons mace and is still carried in front of the Mayor on ceremonial occasions by the Mace Bearer. An inscription around the head of the mace, originally said: “The Freedome of England by God’ Blessing Restored.” But, in 1660 King Charles II regained the throne and the inscription was considered subversive. The town accounts of 1661 refer to a sum of £3 being “payd to ye goldsmyth for altering ye Mace.” The date was changed, somewhat clumsily, from 1651 to 1661 and the phrase “to C.R” (Charles Rex) added to the inscription. These alterations can be clearly seen today.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Good politics like good religion should seek to break down barriers not build new ones and encourage us to do more than focus on purely national interests.

My Chaplain during my year as Mayor is Canon Dr, Rod Garner . His most recent column in the Southport Visiter explains why he will being voting to remain in the European Union. It reminds me of something Russell Johnson might have said...


It’s 25 years since Dr. Helen Sharman became the first British female astronaut to go into space. In a recent radio interview she was asked if the original journey felt a long time ago. Without hesitation she replied that it was all still wonderfully fresh and real. The enthusiasm in her voice left me in doubt that this was so. In particular she recalled how from space, geographical boundaries quickly melt away. As she gazed upon our blue and fragile planet, her attention was initially and quite understandably directed to our own country. Fairly quickly however, she became absorbed by the continents and then to the Earth itself, bounded only by unending darkness. Countries and states, walls and boundaries, historical separations caused by wars or geological shifts over aeons of time, seemed to dissolve before her eyes. Now there was just the Earth in its splendour and teeming life in all its forms.
I’ve been thinking about the interview and how it has some bearing on how I will vote on Thursday 23 rd June. That’s the day of course when the UK decides if it will remain in leave the European Union (EU). By then we can expect more contradictory facts, opinions and arguments ranging from the plausible to the ludicrous or even offensive. I’m still listening to most of them and it’s not easy separating truth from fiction. My mind is made up however. For me, this important decision does not rest solely on the key economic and political issues that are shaping the current debate. I do want the best outcomes for Britain’s future in terms of jobs, travel, national security and manageable control of our borders but there is something else that compels me. It has do with my sense of European history and the way our shared cultural values have been shaped so profoundly by Greek philosophy, Roman law and the religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Put simply, who I am, where I belong, the people and places, values and ideas that have influenced me, extend far beyond these shores. I am proud to be British and can sing ‘Jerusalem’ with a voice worthy of the Last Night of the Proms. I think our inherited values are worth defending and only wish they were more evident in blighted parts of our world. We also invented football and produced George Best. Those last two facts alone should give us pride of place at any international table!
With all this acknowledged however, I still feel a citizen of a larger European world separated only by a meagre strip of the English Channel. We are an island race with our own proud traditions but we are also indebted to wider and no less gracious influences beyond the UK. Difference is life-enhancing and enables us to grow and learn. Good politics like good religion should seek to break down barriers not build new ones and encourage us to do more than focus on purely national interests. Viewed from space, which is another way of looking at the world with the mind of the Creator, we all appear the same with the creative gifts and shared humanity that can enrich our common life in an increasingly precarious world. When the big day comes on 23rd June I’m voting ‘in’ partly because of the question of who I think I am and, furthermore, where we fit as a nation in the bigger scheme of things. It’s a matter of personal and shared identity as well as beneficial trading arrangements and secure borders. You might want to ask yourself the same question if you are still undecided.
Canon Dr, Rod Garner

Saturday, 4 June 2016

At last a Labour person finally making a progressive case for Europe, what took so long?

Watch this excellent video by Gordon Brown. At last someone, other than Tim, making the internationalist case for Europe. At last someone else talking about peace and human writes and not obsessing about a Tory leadership challenge.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Marco Pannella, the 'lion of liberty' Radical Party leader has died

Marco Pannella, politician, was born on May 2, 1930. He died on May 19, 2016, aged 86

I met Pannella sometime in the mid 70's at an EFLRY seminar.(for younger readers this was some time before LYMEC was formed). He talked about Gueseppe Mazzini and the unification of Italy, his successful campaign for divorce law reform and the upcoming campaign for abortion .
He had joined the Italian Liberal Party in his youth and was a student leader. In 1956 the broke with the party -then led by Giovanni  Malagodi a man prominent in Liberal International and often quoted by Jeremy Thorpe. Pannella along with others on the left helped to form the Radical Party. 

Renzi pays homage to the “Lion of Liberty”
Tributes for the leader came pouring in from his political colleagues, led by the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who said: “He was a great political leader, a radical who left his mark on the history of this country, fighting battles that were sometimes controversial but always bravely and without any hidden agendas. I pay tribute on behalf of myself and the government to this warrior and lion of liberty.”

A fully obituary has appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, The Times (£) and many other papers
As he Guardian says, he was 'good at annoying people' but had real achievements to his name, their obituary begins
For the past 40 years, the Italian radical politician and civil rights activist Marco Pannella, who has died aged 86, was at the forefront of Italian politics on issues such as divorce, abortion, prison conditions, world hunger, world peace, Europeanism, the decriminalisation of drugs (he was briefly arrested for smoking a joint in public) and sexual reform.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Mental Health new Mayor's priority

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The beginning of my Mayoral year

Daughter Katie and grandchildren Sarah and Lily join me in the Mayor's parlour after the ceremony
Last night I was installed as Mayor of Sefton at a meeting of the council held in Southport town hall.

I am going to use a blog to record all my comings and goings as mayor which can be found at : and so the Birkdale FOCUS will not have any more postings from me for a while.

At a reception held afterwards in The Atkinson I had the chance to thank my predecessor Stephen Kermode (who passed on a very good joke), divest myself of the Ruritanian outfit  and to outline some of my plans for the year.

For 36 years I have worked alongside people with mental health issues on their journey to living a full and independent life. I hope to use the opportunity that the mayoralty gives me to continue to challenge the stigma and ignorance that so often blights their lives inhibiting them from playing their full part in our communities.  I intend to work alongside the 800 group of charities-so called because together they have given 800 years of service to our communities-to include those who are often excluded from the life of the borough.
later, without the Ruratanian robes....

Looking at the diary for the coming year it is dominated by the remembrance of war. We mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme at events throughout the borough. I shall be at Southport where the war memorial has a special chapel dedicated to those young men who died there. I shall lay a paving stone dedicated to a Bootle man who received the Victoria Cross for his bravery on the centenary of his death. In June shall  the Royal Hotel to commemorate the battle of Waterloo in the district named after the battle. It is a blessing that Europe has found a peaceful way of resolving its disputes.

During the year I hope to have the opportunity, on behalf of the borough, to thank individuals, voluntary groups, faith communities and  businesses who make our borough such a diverse and successful place.

I have no doubt that along the way I shall encounter many challenges, not least of all from those who will regard me as an imposter as every self respecting Sandgrounder knows that there is only one Mayor of Southport and that is Maureen Fearn!

Friday, 6 May 2016

The brilliant results from Southport in detail, a clean sweep

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Below are the brilliant results from Southport. Never before throughout the whole history of the borough have we won every seat. That goes back to the granting of the borough's charter in 1858!

some of the victorious Lib Dem team after the count

Most magnificent was the stonking majority in Dukes ward never before achieved- very closely followed by the extra ordinary gain from the Tories in Ainsdale. In addition we held Cambridge - a seat we failed to take last year. Look too at the size of the majorities..........

These seven seats make up the Southport constituency

Ainsdale - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Lynne ThompsonLiberal Democrats171342%Elected
Jamie HalsallConservative Party114928%Not elected
Mhairi McLeod Johnstone DoyleThe Labour Party72918%Not elected
Duncan BrowneUnited Kingdom Independence Party39410%Not elected
Barbara Ann DuttonThe Green Party1333%
Not elected

Birkdale - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Richard Ronald HandsLiberal Democrats144346%Elected
Ged WrightThe Labour Party71723%Not elected
Linda Julia Ann Gunn-RussoUnited Kingdom Independence Party43914%Not elected
John Charles Lyon-TaylorConservative Party42814%Not elected
Bernhard FrankThe Green Party1073%Not elected

Cambridge - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Pat KeithLiberal Democrats157547%Elected
Jordan Thomas ShandleyConservative Party72922%Not elected
Michael SkarrattsUnited Kingdom Independence Party50115%Not elected
Stephen James JowettThe Labour Party46514%Not elected
David William CollinsThe Green Party722%Not elected

Dukes - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Tony DawsonLiberal Democrats149645%Elected
Jacky BlissConservative Party92728%Not elected
Frank HanleyThe Labour Party43813%Not elected
Matthew James HubbardUnited Kingdom Independence Party34911%Not elected
Bernie DraperThe Green Party1073%Not elected

Kew - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
David Gwyn PullinLiberal Democrats108539%Elected
Janet Catherine HarrisonThe Labour Party68025%Not elected
Terry John DurranceUnited Kingdom Independence Party55120%Not elected
Tina BlissConservative Party32912%Not elected
Richard James FurnessThe Green Party1024%Not elected

Meols - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
John DoddLiberal Democrats163551%Elected
Luke Anthony ThompsonConservative Party53517%Not elected
Debbie BannonThe Labour Party51016%Not elected
Katy BonneyUnited Kingdom Independence Party45814%Not elected
Sarah-Jayne McIntoshThe Green Party863%Not elected

Norwood - results
Election CandidatePartyVotes%
Bill WelshLiberal Democrats121043%Elected
Lesley DelvesThe Labour Party69825%Not elected
Peter Neol GregsonUnited Kingdom Independence Party41715%Not elected
Poppy Elise JonesConservative Party32612%Not elected
David McIntoshThe Green Party1465%Not elected