Thursday, 30 August 2007

Let Candidates Be Candidates Part 2

A wealthy candidate might even want to look at these two articles....

Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

Let Candidates Be Candidates

Anthony Hook has raised a very legitimate concern about the partial gagging of Euro Selection Candidates. It is utterly absurd that candidates are not able to state where they disagree with an incumbent MEP on a policy issue or where they might take an alternative approach.

I'm getting worried about the drift of the Party at the present time towards some kind of control freakery. For goodness sake we are supposed to be LIBERAL DEMOCRATS.

LIBERAL = standing up for freedom of thought and expression.

DEMOCRAT = supporting pluralistic democracy.

We risk looking like hypocrites when we say one thing externally and don't practice what we preach internally. I think Anthony is also right that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights is being flouted - reproduced below:


Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or the rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

I want to know what the candidates standing in the Euro selections think. I don't want to be a member of a party where pluralism is conveniently dropped to spare the blushes of a few MEPs.

It is morally wrong the way in which some selection rules have favoured incumbents. When the Euro selections are over the Party should develop rules that allow GENUINE choice through a level playing field.

I joined the Liberals because they were different and they believed in Liberal values of openness, pluralism and tolerance. Somewhere along the road these core values are being eroded.

For goodness sake let us have genuine debate, be proud of the debate and let candidates be candidates.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The Lights Are On But No One's At Home - DG Trade Get It Wrong

The decision by DG Trade to continue to hold in place a tariff on Chinese energy saving light bulbs is a foolish one.

It seems that only German light bulb company Osram wanted to keep the tariff. I hope that the tariff will be lifted and soon. It makes no sense for the European Commission to keep a tariff in place when they are trying to encourage European consumers to save energy.

It is also bad economics.

I hope that the tariff will be voted down by member states within the month.

The BBC have more information here.

Thanks For Reading

I would like to thank all my regular readers for the interest you showed in my post "My Political Future". I suspect that some of you were unwilling readers wondering if I was going to break my personal "Omerta" concerning recent events. I'm sure that Don Liberali would approve of my stance so far. The upshot is that the post made number 41 in the Golden Ton on Lib Dem Voice.

I haven't finished writing about my 20 years in the Liberals and Liberal Democrats and I still reserve the option to "spill the beans as I see them". But then, I might get a visit from the Don or perhaps a lawyer representing a certain worried local party Chairman with a goatee who doesn't like blogs too much.....

Thank you one and all!

Beware the Ides of October

Yesterday saw the announcment that the 17th National Congress of the beloved Chinese Communist Party will begin on 15th October.

I'm sure that the next 6 and a half weeks are going to be an absolute barrel of laughs for Chinese dissidents, journalists and foreign reporters whilst the paranoid apparatus of the State tries to keep the lid on simmering unrest related to rising food prices and corruption (both petty and serious) by local government officials.

Like the 16th National Congress, this one is going to be a very interesting one to watch. I expect Hu Jintao to strenghthen his grip on the Communist leadership at the expense of the remnants of the Shanghai Faction. I predict that Vice-President Zeng Qinghong amongst others is set for a fall.

Hu Jintao has disappointed all of us who thought that Jiang Zemin was illiberal and that somehow he would prove to be a breath of fresh air. He is even more stifling on the human rights front than Jiang and even less charismatic.

The most important outcome of the Congress will, of course, be who is going to replace Hu Jintao in five years time. We should see the next generation of Chinese leaders emerge. Let us hope that they are more colourful and more liberal than their predecessors.

Honourable Mention

Duncan Borrowman was the winner of the Inspirational Chinese Quote of the Day competition on this blog (actually, miserable lot you are, he was the only entry). Therefore he receives the Honourable Mention advertised. I'm skint at the moment, so no major cash prizes or any such things at present.

Duncan's winning entry was "I'd rather die for speaking out,
than to live and be silent" Fan Zhongyan.

Pay more attention at the back of the class in future.....

Nanny Knows Best in China

When I studied Chinese Language, Business and International Relations with Sheffield University (by distance learning as I was in China at the time) we started with a fascinating course on China and Society. One of our main coursebooks was by Tony Saich "Governance and Politics of China" which is an excellent introduction to Chinese politics (if perhaps a little bit in need of revision now post-Jiang Zemin).

One of the themes which sprang out at me and frankly angered me was how Chinese Government officials always somehow presume to know best (does that seem familiar fellow Liberals?). In putting this thesis to the test on a number of occasions in my discussions related to Small and Medium Enterprise Development policy in Jiangxi Province I often found that rarely did Government officials speak to their own local businesses and find out what they needed when framing policy, they would prefer to import solutions from overseas. They treated local businesses with comtempt.

In effect, Government Officials in China would treat the very people they are supposed to serve (so much for "为人民服务") as children. This is what Saich describes as the "infantisation" of the population. This comtempt for the intelligence of the ordinary Chinese citizen has its roots in the Republican era. Even Sun Yat-Sen was prone to it.

Unfortunately this infantisation process continues today and relates to the internet. People in China are incapable, it seems, of working out what is "good" for them, so they have to have an internet police to protect them from evil influences on the internet such as (sharp intake of breath):

"Websites that incite secession, promote superstition, gambling and fraud".

Presumably that means any website that supports Taiwan's, Tibet or Xinjiang's independence, Falun Gong (which has been ruthlessly suppressed) and probably a range of non-approved Christian sites, bookmakers and online poker and other sites etc.

Apparently Chinese citizens lack the maturity and intelligence that we Westerners have to determine for themselves what they can and can't see.

The BBC has more information on this here which is just as well really since Chinese citizens are also not allowed to read the news sections of the BBC website.

The Chinese Government is continually trying to keep the freedom of information that the internet brings under control to maintain it's weakening grip on power. It is our responsibility to see to it that they ultimately fail and the Chinese people learn the truth surrounding 64, corruption and other human rights abuses going on in their country.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Yahoo! Is Sued For Collaboration in Chinese Human Rights Abuses

I personally welcome the news that Yahoo! is being sued by the World Organisation for Human Rights on behalf of the families of Wang Xiaoning and Shi Tao. Report from the Guardian here.

I genuinely hope that their "not our problem" attitude is duly punished. They collaborated by turning over information to the Chinese authorities which they knew would have resulted in the persecution of particular individuals.

I await the results of this suit with interest. Should bring a whole new meaning to Corporate Social Responsibility inside Yahoo!

I hope WOHR wins and Yahoo! are made to pay a stiff price for their moral cowardice.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Fidel Castro - Dead or Alive?

Miami is apparently full of feverish rumour that Fidel Castro is no longer with us. There were no photos of him on his 81st birthday on 13th August this month which is apparently unusual.

A report in the Observer here.

Viva Cuba Liberdad!

Saturday, 25 August 2007

Meanwhile in Cuba Are Things Starting to Improve?

It will no doubt shock regular readers of this blog to discover that I'm no big fan of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist regime.

In stark contrast to the situation in China, the human rights situation appears to be slowly improving in Cuba even if it is far from perfect. Raul Castro seems to be taking advantage of his elder brother's infirmity to "liberalise" (I use the word cautiously) Cuba both politically and economically.

According to this report by Rory Carroll of the Guardian, one fifth of Cuba's political prisoners have been freed this year. It's a small fraction of the overall number but it perhaps marks the beginning of political progress.

I hope that the leadership in Cuba will go further as Castro Major appears to be entering his twilight years. I'm concerned to hear though that they are looking at Vietnam as the model for "reform".

Let us hope that the good news about Cuba continues and that the United States responds in a positive fashion to significant political changes.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Yet Another Chinese Communist Human Rights Outrage

Jonathan Watts has reported today that Yuan Weijing was detained at Beijing Airport and her passport revoked when she attempted to travel to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on behalf of her husband, Prisoner of Conscience, Chen Guangcheng. Further information here. The report suggests that her mobile phone was also confiscated.

I'm delighted to see that the British Embassy are on the case and are raising these cases of human rights activist and journalist harassment by local police and turning out to give moral support.

The way this is all going sanctions of some kind are going to have to be applied to get Beijing to sit up and realise that they can't go on treating people like this. Yuan Weijing has committed no crime for which she has been tried and convicted. This is not Rule of Law this is Rule by Law at best and arbitrary detention at worst.

Amnesty International Up the Pressure on Beijing

I had an e-mail today from Amnesty International highlighting their campaign to improve the human rights situation in China. Put simply, their campaign intends to hold the Beijing regime to the promises that were made in 2001.

Amnesty have published a twelve point plan which can be downloaded here.

The highlights of this plan are:

1. Putting in place measures to significantly reduce the use of the
death penalty as steps towards full abolition of the death
penalty in China (I think similar pressure should be brought to bear on the United States as well).

2. Take concrete steps to bring all forms of detention in China
into line with international human rights law and standards,
including measures to uphold the rights to fair trial and
prevent torture.

3. Ensure that human rights defenders are free to carry out their
peaceful activities in line with the UN Declaration on Human

4. End all censorship of the Internet in China which constitutes a
violation of the fundamental human rights to freedom of
expression and information.

There is also a more detailed report on human rights in China which can be downloaded here.

I have to admit to myself (at the risk of becoming VERY unpopular in my own home) that unless things start to improve over there on the human rights front I'm going to have to start agreeing with those who would call for a boycott of the Games. I would then lobby our leadership and front-bench to back similar calls.

I don't want to go down that road but given the propaganda misuse that is being made of the Games by the Chinese Communist Party and their clear failure to honour the commmitments on human rights that were made in 2001 I'm getting closer to that tripping point. It's up to the Communists to start realising that they now live in a global village and metaphorical "wife beating" isn't acceptable anymore. There is already enough anger over their conduct regarding Sudan. The treatment of their own people is far from acceptable as well.

Beijing can make a positive start by releasing all Prisoners of Conscience including:

  • Bu Dongwei

  • Ye Guozhu

  • Chen Guangcheng

  • Huang Jinqiu

  • Shi Tao

  • Yang Tongyan

I wish that my Liberal Democrat friends would start taking the human rights in China issue more seriously. It should discomfort us all as Liberals that a huge number of our fellow citizens in the world are daily denied basic human rights. This should be seen as an affront to our international vision of human rights for all.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Inspirational Chinese Quote of the Day

This quotation pretty much sums up what I believe. Honorable mention on this blog to the first person to post the correct translation in the comments section.

The Great Chinese Human Rights Crackdown Continues

Jonathan Watts of the Guardian appears to have an exclusive tonight. Yuan Weijing, the wife of jailed Chinese dissident and human rights campaigner Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) (who was imprisoned for exposing illegal enforced late term abortions by local government officials in his hometown of Lingyi, Shangdong) has apparently been placed under house arrest by the Chinese authorities thereby preventing her travelling to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on behalf of her husband.

She hasn't broken any laws and she has all the valid paperwork apparently so there should be some serious pressure on the Chinese Government to allow her to go.

The award is the Ramon Magsayay Award for Emergent Leadership. This link provides more information.

I demand that Yuan Weijing be allowed access to and from China. She has committed no crime and should not be treated as a criminal.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Ashley Mote, MEP for La La Land Should Resign

I've just taken another look at the report by the BBC of the conviction of Ashley Mote MEP on 21 counts of fraud. I then thought I would take a look at his website and found this bizarre statement:

"As is now widely known, the jury in my court case returned 21 guilty verdicts and four not-guilty.

"My legal team is already working on an appeal against the convictions. I am told this process may take some time. Meanwhile, I am advised to say nothing more about the case itself.

"However, and immediately, my legal team has asked me to assemble independent evidence of the contribution I have made over recent years to the restoration of the right of the British people to govern ourselves.

"They are especially interested in evidence of my activities on behalf of the electorate of South-East England since my election to the European Parliament in 2004".

Here's my comment as a voter in the South East:

Look Ashley, you've falsely claimed benefits and effectively ripped the British taxpayer off. You've been convicted. The odds on you clearing your name in the face of overwhelming evidence in a British court (not a European one) should convince you that the game is up.

For the sake of the electorate of the South East of England - GO NOW!

20 Years A Liberal - A Walk Down Memory Lane Part 3

Nice to get mentioned in dispatches again on Lib Dem Voice even if it is suggested that I'm becoming a bit of an old codger! Youth is wasted on the young.

Part 2 focused on the General Election and local elections in Birmingham where I sadly failed to make history. It wasn't the end of the matter for me though that year. I still kept on going as an activist helping to get the leaflets out around Perry Barr and helped others in Kingstanding and around the houses to have a go.

Before going on, defective memory that I have, I had forgotten that my first taste of by-electioneering had happend in 1990 at the Mid-Staffordshire By-Election where we tried to get Tim Jones elected (widely seen as the best candidate and certainly a lot better than Sylvia Heal the appalling Labour identikit candidate).

I remember visiting the by-election with Grant Williams of Walsall fame. The power station at Rugeley was such an appealing view! Grant and I went and did some leafleting and a bit of canvassing during the course of the by-election but it was fairly obvious that it wasn't going to be a Lib Dem gain.

1992, far from knocking the stuffing out of me, filled me with a terrible resolve that I would keep on going until I was successful. I have always remained convinced that Liberalism has so much to offer the British people and I have never lost that belief.

1993 was a non-election year and Ray Hassall was up for re-election in 1994. Unfortunately I had to get a job and started applying for academic jobs. I was fortunate to get a lecturing post at Staffordshire University in economics but this necessitated my moving to Stafford for a while whilst I worked in Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent. After my first marriage, I moved to Warrington and commuted from there. It was then that I got involved again in the political scene.

I became Vice Chair of Warrington local party and began campaigning with David Earl initially. The skills in focus production that I had gained from working with Tony Slavin, Ray Hassall, Jonathan Hunt and Kevin McCarthy came in very handy as David and I and later Peter Walker began to campaign around Burtonwood Village and the Westbrook and Callands parts of North Warrington (the bit that used to be in Lancashire before 1974). We had to cover the bigger area first as it was one big ward. With the advent of the unitary authority the Burtonwood ward was split into Burtonwood and Westbrook and Callands. This was a bit of a relief for us as Burtonwood was as Labour as it comes. Westbrook and Callands was mainly new housing and looked promising territory for the Liberal Democrats. However, we hadn't reckoned on the untimely demise of John Smith, the Labour leader and the rise of New Labour.

Votes that would traditionally have gone to us went to Labour. Ironic really as the Labour candidates were about as Old Labour as you could get. It also didn't help that poor David seriously hurt himself a little bit before the election in 1995 and yours truly had to do a fair bit of the leafleting himself (shades of Oscott Ward there).

We put up a good fight but came bottom of the poll behind the Tories which was a disappointment. After I moved out of the area, David kept plugging away at it and now the ward seems to be becoming solidly Lib Dem (seems to be the story of my life!).

I also did a bit to help Phil Clarke who was the Lib Dem PEPC for Cheshire East during the 1994 European Elections. It was a modest breakthrough for the Party with two seats, but still a disgrace as it was fought under FPTP when everyone else in the EU was using PR.

Unfortunately my job was coming to an end at Staffs Uni in 1996 and so I applied for a job at Durham University and started commuting between Warrington and Durham. Living in both places with a demanding job didn't really leave me much time for the politics and although I had considered reapplying to be on the list of approved candidates (the 1992 list had been scrapped - there were too many mad, bad and sad parliamentary candidates for the comfort of the party) I didn't really feel that I could in the circumstances I faced. My father's untimely death in September 1996 not long after I begun working at the University of Durham also had a profound effect upon me. More than I realised at the time.

I therefore didn't play a particularly significant role during the 1997 General Election much beyond delivering a few leaflets and going out to vote. 1997 also saw my role at the Small Business Centre at Durham University change and I got increasingly involved in working in Central and Eastern Europe. This was interesting in that it gave me exposure to a number of different countries and their politics in a short space of time. On the other hand it meant that being away so much reduced my active involvement for a time in British politics.

I enjoyed the '97 General Election result as much as any Liberal Democrat. At long last we were starting to become a more significant voice in British politics. I have to say though that I am deeply disappointed that Paddy Ashdown ever thought he could do a coalition deal with Blair. My experience of Labour in the North West of England, and particularly Warrington Labour Party had shown to me the ugly face of the Party. It was a face that would rapidly re-emerge soon after September 2001.

I believe that for too long the Liberal Democrats Front Bench were pulling their punches when Labour should have been floored time after time.

In 1998 I moved to Durham full-time and got my personal life sorted out before moving forward to actively re-engaging in politics again.

The Durham years will follow in the next part.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

The Crackdown in China Begins

As I predicted when I reviewed the recent article written about China by Ming Campbell (but I suspect mainly ghost written) the widely expected crackdown before the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has begun. Jonathan Watts has again written one of his great articles for the Guardian linked here.

The core of the article is:

"Chinese journalists privately say the current atmosphere is stifling. International civil rights groups say the rules are a new threat to press freedom.

"This crackdown is a legal gun to the head to responsible journalists who want to report on the basis of facts," said Sophie Richardson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "China has a long track record of using similar campaigns to weed out news that the authorities find objectionable because it exposes social and political problems."

"In recent decades, China has gone through cycles of media opening and repression. Since president Hu came to power five years ago, there have been steps backward - such as the jailings of several prominent journalists - and steps forward, including the easing of restrictions on foreign correspondents at the start of this year.

"But as was the case ahead of the last party congress in 2002, the leadership has reverted to bunker mode". (Sounds familiar).

Hopeful now Ming? I'm not.

There is also a clampdown on NGOs such as those supporting the rights of Chinese citizens with HIV.

The human rights situation in China is going exactly as predicted. There are no grounds for optimism at the moment unless increased pressure is brought to bear from the West.

It is time that the Liberal Democrat leadership stopped trying to appease Beijing and stood up for what we are supposed to believe in. True freedom and human rights for all the world's citizens.

Yes, the way to influence Beijing is through constructive engagement but someone should be putting a flea in the ear of the Chinese Ambassador.

The Liberal Democrat Front Bench needs to show some leadership here. This is what our core supporters expect from us. This is our mission and the Olympics should not deflect us from campaigning internationally on our core values.

I'd normally spend some time looking at the People Daily articles and critiquing them but apart from one allusion to the fact that not everyone is happy about the commissioning of a new nuclear power station near Dalian, Liaoning Province, the press coverage is so deadly dull that you would think China had gone to sleep for August (which it actually doesn't do). The only coverage is postive "spin" on trying to control the air pollution in Beijing. I frankly don't think that they've got a prayer at the moment.

Friday, 17 August 2007

20 Years a Liberal - A Walk Down Memory Lane Part 2

Well, it seems that my blog post of two days ago generated a fair bit of interest. Perhaps some people were sweating. Some of you seem to have been champing at the bit for the second instalment, so much so that I had a phone call this afternoon demanding to know where it was!

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

A couple of days ago was the 20th Anniversary of my joining the Shepway Liberal Association. I charted part of the early part of my political career. I skirted over a few minor details including delivering leaflets out in the Elmsted and Stone Street area with John Gretton who was very unlucky one year not to get elected. He sadly lost it on the toss of a coin (or something like that). I also forgot to mention that I'd helped out a keen young candidate (I've forgotten his name) in a by-election in Selly Oak Ward back in 1989. Poor bloke got something like 6% of the vote if my memory serves me right. Happier times were to be had during a by-election in Acocks Green where Paul Schofield (wonder where he is now?) won a council by-election. This was the first time I came into contact with John Hemming, Dave Luscombe (who for years produced stickers for many of us in the Party), Bill Coyle, Neil Eustace, Paul Tilsley and Sue Anderson. The latter two had first become Councillors in the 1970s Wallace Lawlor days. I seemed to have loads of energy in those days and gained a lot of activist experience!

Sadly, I can't claim to have helped get David Bellotti elected in Eastborne but remember when David was Honorary President of the Student Liberal Democrats.

1991 had seen me stand for office for the first time. If that year had been a strong testing ground for my political stamina, 1992 was to be even greater. I had been not only selected by the Birmingham North West Liberal Democrats as the PPC for Birmingham Perry Barr, I had also been selected as Focus Team Leader for Perry Barr Ward. The stage was potentially set for me to make history as the youngest Councillor in Birmingham for about 20 years (since Paul Tilsley and Sue Anderson had first been elected).

I was incredibly lucky to campaign with some really great people. Ray Hassall was, of course, the trailblazer for the Liberal Democrats in the ward and is still going strong after all these years. We still keep in touch from time to time. Although he had to keep it under his hat as he worked as Medical Correspondent in those days for the Birmingham Post, Jonathan Hunt was my campaign manager (although his wife Marcia was expecting their first child, Andrew just before the local election campaign). Kevin McCarthy was my excellent Agent and, as a printer, he was pretty nifty in putting together Focuses. We started at about that time using a combination of desk top publishing and letrasetting to put together our Focuses. We also started to target specific areas of the ward with more localised leaflets on issues of specific concern - yellow lines, overgrown trees, parking problems, dropped kerbs, crime and other issues seem to spring back to mind. As a young candidate (22! - seems old now in the light of recent legislation) I had to try to build up my credibility amongst the electorate and the only way to do it was ALDC style. I also had a great team of dedicated deliverers. There was Tina in Montana Avenue (?) and her two lovely daughters who did a fair bit of delivery. My colleague Mark Wilson, his wife Debbie and Daughter Anna and a few other regulars who turned out on a regular basis delivered their socks off. We were a good solid team and it was a real privilege to lead them.

It was a pretty dedicated effort there and I was out most evenings campaigning away but it was a lot easier as there was a team.

The Tories under Major seemed to be on the slide. He hadn't exactly set the world on fire, he was widely mocked as the grey man (of course, we didn't know about him and Edwina Curry at that point!) and he looked on the way out. Little did we fail to factor in both the impact of the First Gulf War on his standing and also Kinnock and his Labour Party's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

My principal opponents for the Perry Barr seat were sitting Labour MP Jeff Rooker (now Lord Rooker - who I learned a lot from on how to work a crowd) and Graham Green the Tory. I treated the election as a learning experience and wanted clearly to achieve at least the same level of vote as the Liberal Alliance Candidate for 1987, Former West Midlands Police Commander David Webb. Webb had been responsible for pioneering Community Policing in Handsworth (then part of the Perry Barr Constituency), which had reduced tensions in the area after the Handsworth Riots of the early 80s.

Funnily enough, as I write this, BBC Four are showing Andrew Marr's History of Modern Britain and briefly showed the "Sheffieldberg" Rally where Kinnock and Labour cocked it up through their overconfidence.

I had a fair bit of fun during the 1992 General Election campaign and I had a good pitch since I was working as a research assistant at the former Birmingham Polytechnic, recently renamed the University of Central England in Birmingham, so although I didn't live there I did work in the constituency. Some of the highlights were speaking to the local branch of the Pensioners' Convention, an absolutely hilarious time at Matthew Bolton Technical College, a bastion of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) - splitters! The Students Union Banner was Red (of course) with a Hammer and Kalashnikov on it. Hmm.... I pitched my speech on the lines that the Liberal Democrats were the only party genuinely offering political change for the UK. I don't think it really cut much ice but I'm certainly glad that I wasn't the Tory who came to speak. They literally roasted him alive! I had to admire his guts though. Lynne Jones was also there representing Labour (they also gave her a bit of a hard time too). There was the one Joint Churches meeting in the constituency in addition to the Pensioners Convention meeting and that was that. I really cut my political teeth there.

In terms of the national campaign, I don't think that Paddy Ashdown and Des Wilson could have done much more. Unfortunately all the talk towards the end of the campaign was about hung parliaments and although the canvassing seemed to suggest that we had grounds for optimism to gain ground regrettably it wasn't to be.

Paddy Ashdown came to Birmingham Yardley during the election campaign and I had the pleasure of delivering leaflets and canvassing with him and the Yardley Crowd.
As it was patently obvious to us all on the ground that I wasn't going to win Birmingham Perry Barr and become the first Liberal MP for the area for decades, I agreed with my team that I would spend election day in Birmingham Yardley.

We were pretty optimistic that we could get John Hemming elected but alas, it wasn't to be as we were unable to convince the people of Yardley that he could win. This theme of "if people believed the Liberal Democrats could win this is how they would vote" would be one of the sub-themes of campaigns that would follow in 2001 and 2005. John was and is made of stern stuff and he stuck at it.

I'm stuggling for some odd reason to remember where we held the count. I think it was at the National Convention Centre but I honestly can't remember (I'm sure someone does out there - please remind me). It was all a bit of a blur. I recall making a short speech hoping that that would be the last election held under the present electoral system. Rooker thought that there might be a chance of a Labour Goverment. We were both wrong.

As the results came in it became clear that the Tories were holding on against the odds pretty much. The election was also a personal disappointment for Paddy Ashdown as we failed to make the hoped for breakthrough (it's hard to believe that we only had only 20 seats in those days). The only real highlight of the night was when Don Foster took Bath from Chris Patten - ironically pushing him onto an international diplomatic career which would make him the last Governor of Hong Kong and a democratic radical. Chris Patten would also do a pretty good job of developing EU relations with China increasing the emphasis on human rights issues. It's not often I praise a Tory but Patten had and has some diplomatic strengths.

[If only he had been in the post 10 years earlier then potentially Hong Kong would be more democratic today than it is under the joke that is One Country - Two Systems. C'mon, you know how hard it is for me to go for a day without a dig at the beloved Chinese Communist Party.]

So, the final result was:

Rooker (Lab) 27507 (53.2%)
Green (Con) 18917 (36.6%)
Philpott (L Dem) 5261 (10.2%)

I suffered a tiny swing against of about 2% which I was a bit disappointed about but it was about average for the national result.

It had been my true baptism of fire and I was really grateful for the opportunity to stand. Once again Tony Slavin came to the rescue and put up the £500 deposit which I'm really pleased that I managed to defend.

But, the General Election wasn't the end of it. I had a day off and then it was full tilt into the local elections in May. No rest for the wicked.

The Tories had been pretty much murdered in Perry Barr the year before, but rejuvinated after the General Election and with voters demotivated it was an uphill battle that year. Despite working our socks off unfortunately it wasn't to be and the Tories managed to hold the seat. I went down by 700 votes in a strong second place. Unfortunately we had failed to squeeze the Labour vote hard (Rooker also intervened and went out canvassing to hold up the Labour vote) and that was that. My record breaking dream went up in smoke.

On the night it was said by the commentator on Radio WM (Ed Doolan?) that I had done well for a 22 year old (I think I was the youngest candidate in the City of the major three parties) but Dave Luscombe, the Lib Dem Council Group Leader rightly stated that I would be very disappointed which I was.

I got to bed about 5 a.m. and frankly found it hard to get up the next day.

I've always been very resilient though and never let things get me down for long. It's a characteristic that has stood me in good stead down the years (and one I have had to draw upon again in recent times).

The analysis of my team and myself was that we'd failed to pick up the Labour vote and squeeze it hard. Our canvass returns had suggested that I would be on target to win. We had also worked to the bitter end to get the voters out. I even dragged a young voter out of his house and down the road at about 8.56 p.m.! Poor bloke.

The Labour candidate was a bloke called Mike Leddy, who Private Eye famously later described as "More wooden than Benny from Crossroads". Oooooooooooohhhhhhh!!! I have to say that there was no love lost between the Lib Dems and Labour in Perry Barr which made Ashdown's flirtation with Blair all the more irritating when it was revealed in his diaries.

I learned a hard lesson about proper voter ID and turnout which I would apply ruthlessly later in 2001 as a campaign manager.

So, it was a couple of days off, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. That's what being a Lib Dem was all about then and is still even now at times. It has got easier though.

I want to put on public record my thanks to all the people who helped me with those two campaigns and particularly Jon Hunt, Kevin McCarthy and Ray Hassall who all gave me lots of encouragement, support and a kick up the backside when I needed to keep motivated to go out in the pouring rain. It was a dreadfully wet winter and spring. I also want to thank Tony for putting up the deposit and helping to fund the campaign. As you can see, it might have been a few years ago now guys but you've not been forgotten.

That's 1992. I've written enough for now. More will follow perhaps over the weekend.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

All Clear in Romney Marsh

Thankfully the tests for foot and mouth have proven to be negative on the farm in St-Mary-in-the-Marsh. A great relief for all concerned locally I'm sure.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

20 Years a Liberal - A Walk Down Memory Lane Part 1

Dear Reader, forgive me for the self-indulgence of this post but 20 years ago this evening I finally managed (after more than two months of trying!) to join the Shepway Liberal Association and wanted to reminisce a little. Signed up by the late Bernard Budd QC I had been prompted to join for three reasons:

  1. Belief in Liberal values;
  2. Receipt of a very funny, if dated, Liberal 18th Birthday card;
  3. Anger at the low Tory tactics used in the 1987 General Election. I'd also been very unimpressed with Michael Howard at a Ashford & Shepway Branch meeting of the National Federation of Self-Employed which my Mum and Dad were Chair and Secretary of. He had threatened to walk out of the meeting if anyone asked him an awkward question! Accountability?

It was perhaps one of the most momentous decisions of my life and one which has strongly conditioned my approach to life but regrettably made me living proof of Churchill's dictum as my late Father, Peter, had warned me could happen. He warned me that the fire is often worse from your own side than the opposition. He was proved right. That's for the final chapter of the story.

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Several weeks after I joined the Liberal Party I went to Birmingham Polytechnic and started, in the face of a fair bit of opposition and ridicule, an Alliance Students Society to bring together those of us who shared the ideas of Liberalism and Social Democracy and wanted those forces to work together to transform Britain.

This was at the time when the Alliance was starting to unravel somewhat and pressure was on to merge the two component parts of the Alliance. I had the great privilege of representing the Shepway Liberal Association in Blackpool at the Special Assembly in January 1988 at the Norbreck Castle Hotel. What a really awful day it was walking along the seafront to the hotel. It was howling a bitterly cold gale and it started snowing. I recall Tony Greaves and Paddy Ashdown making their speeches against and in favour of the merger. The margin of victory for merger (which I supported) was huge. 2086 in favour, 385 against (if my memory serves me right).

Sadly, somehow we managed to muff it all up just before it all started with the "Dead Parrot" manifesto "Voices and Choices for All". The ship steadied a bit with Paddy Ashdown and we seemed to get over it but started with a pretty awful name the Social and Liberal Democrats (shortened to the Democrats). That's when the pisstaking amongst my friends started to kick in. We were on diddly squat in the opinion polls and Paddy had a big job on his hands trying to rebuild our credibility in the face of David Owen's intransigence and his continuing SDP.

I contested unsuccessfully for the Student Liberal Democrats National Secretary position in 1988 against a Catherine Brown (who I have heard later buggered off and joined the Labour Party - my mistake to take on the "Cambridge Crowd" - a theme that will return towards the end of these 20 years). The following year I was elected National Vice Chair and was responsible for developing the regional structure of the organisation. This is all before the LDYS era when we had seperate Youth and Student Wings. Ben Rich was the National Chair at the time and I remember a young Lembit Opik, an INDEPENDENT (I'll remove this reference for a suitable consideration Lembit!) candidate for the National Union of Students Presidency, courting our support. He managed to convince us on the Exec to support his candidacy.

1989 was a pretty awful year for the SLD. We came a disastrous 4th behind the Greens in the European Parliamentary elections (which, incidentally was the first time I was able to vote Social and Liberal Democrat) and there was a sense of gloom over the party. The Richmond By-election probably put the icing on the cake when the Owenites managed to stop Barbara Pearce (a lovely and very supportive lady) taking out the young William Hague who should have lost easily. The crescendo of pisstaking from my non-political and Tory leaning friends peaked around this time.

I graduated in 1990 and became a National Vice President of the Student Lib Dems with Tim Farron. It was at this time that I started to consider becoming a Parliamentary Candidate and got more involved with the Birmingham North West Liberal Democrats. In the May elections I helped Ray Hassall finally get elected after several years of trying. He managed to take out the "delightful" sitting Councillor Tory Thelma Cooke.

Shortly afterwards I started from scratch as Focus Team Leader for Oscott Ward on Birmingham City Council. Tony Hewitt very kindly funded my Focuses and we would literally cut and paste them and letraset them. Some of you candidates out there simply don't know you've been born! I also had to trudge the streets for weeks on end as our delivery network was almost non-existent except for the Tarmey's who lived on Elmbridge Road and one or two others. 10,500 is a lot of leaflets to shift and it took quite a lot of effort getting them out. That was a pretty tough introduction to active campaigning and I put in quite a few miles on my feet.

1990 was also the year I became an Approved Parliamentary Candidate and was later selected to fight Birmingham Perry Barr. More on that later. This was also the year that Margaret Thatcher fell from power. I was working as a Labour Market Economist at Birmingham City Council and remember hearing the news on the 22nd November that she had gone. It was like "what do I do now?". I was expecting a General Election very shortly afterwards but that wasn't to come until April 1992 as it turned out.

The following May (1991) at the tender age of 21 I managed to nearly double the Lib Dem vote in Oscott Ward but was way back in third. Still, at 550ish votes it was ten times the vote of the "Nationalist" who was spreading the now familiar hatred of the nascent BNP. I remember well enjoying sticking the boot into them during my speech.

1992 and the rest comes tomorrow.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Foot and Mouth in the Romney Marsh?

The breaking news is that Foot and Mouth may have affected livestock on a farm in St. Mary-in-the-Marsh on the Romney Marsh in Kent. If confirmed this is really tragic news.

Fingers crossed that this hasn't happened. It would be very bad news for the local economy if the virus has spread down there.

The Danger of Overreach

Sometimes you can become too powerful or perhaps think you are more powerful than you really are.

In this situation it can be very easy to lose perspective on what is right and wrong. Getting the job done can appear to be more important than realising that the method by which you get the job done might actually have all the appearance of a lack of ethics and even, possibly, corruption.

The wise person usually keeps a perspective on what the limits of their powers are.

The unwise person distorts the truth, definitions and loses a sense of perspective of what is acceptable and what is not. They may even try to get measures passed that could return to embarrass someone who may not have agreed with them on other matters.

Even worse when they try to get measures passed which might significantly benefit their friends.

However, unwise person should realise that there are people in the wider society who are vigilant, who people come to when they feel that something is not right, and who they would rely upon to take action should sufficient evidence be gathered that strongly suggests wrongdoing. Those who believe themselves to have been wronged are very vigilant indeed and wait and watch.

There are eternal truths in society that the unwise person would do well to remember. Lord Acton's maxim should remind them of how to conduct themselves and to remind them that they should at all times be seen and act in a way which has the wider interests of the community they seek to serve at heart NOT their close friends. Otherwise they might leave an opportunity open for those previously wronged to avenge themselves.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Safety First - Not Covert Protectionism

Sadly it seems that there have been a significant number of safety scandals involving Chinese products. This one has claimed the life of a factory boss in Guangdong Province.

Clearly it is vitally important that consumers are protected from dangerous products. However, there is a fine line between consumer safety and covert protectionism. In China's case, yes, they need to strengthen safety standards but this should not become a cover for some of the protectionist attitudes emerging in the US and parts of the EU. The benefits of free trade have long been shown to outweigh the costs and furthermore, nations that trade work harder to get along harmoniously.

Harming China's businesses (unless, of course, they are involved in wrongdoing) for the sake of it will create a seige mentality which will undermine political liberalisation.

The Missing Link

Seems that my posting "The Ugly Face of Communism" didn't come up on Lib Dem Blogs yesterday. I'm writing this to test whether or not there is a technical problem somewhere.

Seems that all is well after all and it was probably temporary blindness on my part....

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Communism's Ugly Face

Regular readers of this blog will probably realise that I'm not exactly the biggest fan of Communism.

This report from the BBC of the uncovered lies, hypocricy and desire to murder with impunity surrounding the East German regime's "shoot to kill" policy on those fleeing to freedom should remind anyone who is even remotely tempted to think it is a good idea what an appallingly wasteful, unsustainable and destructive system Communism is. Sustainable only by the use of brute force, Communism crushes the human spirit.

Make Communism history.

Image credit: Sean Hanley's blog.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

The Beijing Olympics and Glimmers of Hope

The Guardian's Jonathan Watts has once again produced some excellent articles related to the Beijing Games. Ai Wei Wei, son of Ai Qin, one of the greatest modern poets in China who was "purged" during the anti-Rightist campaign of the 1950s has made some outstanding comments. This is a gem:

"If you read newspapers today you see the problems created by this structure and by the effort to maintain power. It is against everything that human society should be fighting for. I am just a normal person, but happily I have become a notable person. That means something to me only because it gives me a better chance to fight".

The Beijing Olympics is a real mixed bag in terms of it's impact. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the way in which people living in the Hutong districts have been treated and their homes demolished with little compensation if any.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Fifth Modernisation

I've added a link here to explain what I mean by the Fifth Modernisation for those of you who perhaps are not completely up on Chinese political discourse.

Wei Jingsheng (魏京生) is someone I greatly admire for his courage in standing up for freedom and democracy in China. Sadly he has had to spend rather a long time in jail and subsequently in exile in the USA.

Although steeped in some of the rhethoric of the time his sentiments remain timeless.

Ming and his ghost writer would do well to talk to him about the situation in China.

It's Time to Get Tough on the Chinese Communist Party's Human Rights Record Ming

I've noticed that Jonathan Calder at Liberal England has criticised at least the ghost writer for this article on the Comment Is Free part of the Guardian Website.

Here's my commentary on the article for what it is worth.

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"In a year's time the Olympic torch will enter the newly constructed Beijing National Stadium to the roars of 80,000 excited onlookers and the 2008 games will be underway.

"In the so-called Bird Nest arena, one of a staggering 31 Olympic venues in Beijing alone, the world will watch the world's best sportsmen and women and cheer on their own teams, but also get a unique opportunity to see China in its modern garb; 21st century China, an economic superpower, comfortable with staging the world's greatest sporting event".

LL2 - China has an appalling construction health and safety record and I wonder how many workers have been killed and injured building the stadium and what, if any, compensation the families of the killed and injured have received?

"Like millions of others next year, I shall be glued to the television screen soaking up these weeks of sporting excellence. It's a mouth-watering prospect. How is the British team going to perform? Who will be the great world stars of 2008 that we can expect to see back here in London in 2012? Whatever my work commitments I won't be able to resist setting aside some time to watch the athletics in Beijing, particularly the sprints. I myself competed in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and it was a totally unforgettable experience. Medals, world records, personal bests, the sense of representing your country but appearing on the world stage, all of these things come together at the Olympics. It is simply the most amazing sporting occasion the world has ever created. But, it's also more than that".

LL2 - Good to remind people of your Olympic past Ming but perhaps you are missing the point abit here.

"When, back in 2001, Liu Jingmin, the vice-president of China's Olympic bid committee, argued that the games should go to Beijing - and not Toronto, Paris, Istanbul or Osaka - he vowed that "by allowing Beijing to host the games you will help the development of human rights."

"There, in simple terms, is a pointer to what the Olympics can also encapsulate. An opportunity for countries to take important strides toward ideals of equality, freedom and human rights".

LL2 - Given that China's human rights record has worsened under Hu Jintao perhaps we've all been conned? There are NO measures I can think of where freedom and human rights have improved for Chinese citizens. The Chinese Communist Party (CPC) point to improvements in the living standards of many but this should not cloud the core issue here. Basic human rights are denied to over one billion of our fellow world citizens. This flies in the face of the Olympic ideals.

"Let's not mince words. China's record on human rights is poor. Whether it's the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, the harassing and imprisoning of lawyers and local activists, censorship of the media including the internet, the use of "evidence" extracted by torture, secret trials and wide-scale use of the death penalty, the situation is dire".

LL2- "Poor"?!? It is abysmal, nay shocking. "Poor" is being nice. Jonathan Calder is absolutely right when he accuses the ghost writer or Ming of mincing their words.

"According to Amnesty International, the situation is currently getting worse, not better, as the Olympics countdown continues apace. In fact there's even evidence of the targeting of the very activists who have tried to draw attention to the plight of those evicted from their homes as a result of Olympics-related construction projects".

LL2 - Now, that is more like it and this should set the tone for the rest of the article....

"China would win no medals for human rights. But things are still fluid, and there are hopeful signs in a mixed picture. China has promised to be more open and to put in place greater safeguards over its use of the death penalty. It has promised to reform its use of "re-education through labour" camps, a process of administrative detention used on a massive scale".

LL2 - The ghost writer then kicks the ball over the crossbar (groan). It promised this in 2001 and NO progress has been made. The Communist regime promises one thing and does another year after year.

"And on the world stage, last week's United Nations resolution over a peacekeeping force for Sudan's conflict-ridden Darfur region saw the Chinese supporting the international community's efforts in a constructive move forward".

LL2 - After blocking resolutions for a long time and allowing the situation to get dire beyond belief in the interests of "protecting the national sovereignty of Sudan". The Communist regime has frequently blocked international action to prevent genocide because it is frightened that it will one day be used as justification for intervention in Tibet and Xinjiang Province.

"Another example is the welcome decision by the Chinese authorities to lift reporting restrictions on international journalists who will cover the games next year. But, the easing of restrictions only applies until 17 October 2008. Why should it not stay that way after the games? And why are domestic reporters to be censored in their reporting, both during and after the games"?

LL2 - The fact that there are restictions at all should be seen as an odious disgrace. The BBC News part of the website still continues to be blocked in China.

"Some argue that sport and politics should never mix, but I think this misses the point. I for one welcomed the news that China would host the games precisely because I hoped and believed that this, among other influences, could lead to an opening up, a strengthening and modernising of this great nation. It still can".

LL2 - Time is running out (364 days no less). More pressure has to be exerted on Beijing to mend it's ways by the IOC and Western Governments. Ming is too optimistic. In fact, with the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party due this year human rights abuses will worsen, not improve in the name of "security" around this event.

"If hosting a major sporting event helps accelerate China's movement toward the mainstream international community, then that has got to be a further reason to celebrate the power of the Olympics. This is not about "bringing politics into sport" but recognising that no international sporting event operates in a politics-free vacuum".

LL2 - The right sentiments. The big question is, has the Olympics made that much difference in bringing China into the mainsteam? Has China taken a more Liberal Internationalist approach to international relations as a result of winning the Olympic Games? I don't think so.

"More fundamentally, Beijing 2008 is a once-in-a-life opportunity for China to clear the bar that it has itself raised to a higher level".

LL2 - Nice use of metaphor but the real conclusion here should be that so far it has knocked the bar off every single time (if indeed, it has been bothered to jump).

"On top of world-class facilities in the capital city and beyond, a legacy for the Beijing games should be a freer, fairer China".

"Let's enjoy this countdown to next year's Olympics, but let's keep our eyes on that other goal. The goal of a China that respects freedom, equality and human rights".

LL2 - Warm words. Very nice, now WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

I'm very concerned that the Liberal Democrats really don't have a coherent and strong policy towards the Chinese regime on it's human rights record if this article is anything to go by.

Softly, softly, isn't making a damn of difference and Hu Jintao and his colleagues must be quietly laughing themselves silly that they have got the international prestige of hosting the Olympic Games without having to pay the price of implementing political change in China. The great danger is that the Olympics finish and everything continues for Chinese citizens as it has since Tiananmen.

I also wonder what Hong Kong Democrat Martin Lee (an individual member of Liberal International due to the law in Hong Kong which forbids political parties from affiliating to international political organisations) would have to say about this article? I would love to know.

The Chinese Communist Party Can't Regulate Itself and Never Could

The Chinese Communist Party somehow have this strange notion that thousands of corrupt officials turning themselves in somehow inspires confidence amongst the Chinese people and the world as a whole. This bizarre article on the Renmin Ribao (人民日报) website somehow is supposed to impress everyone that the CPC is keeping it's house in order.

The reality is though that this is only the tip of a very long iceberg and frankly corruption of this magnitude leaves the CPC open to charges that it is unable to regulate itself. It is yet more evidence that it should begin the process of opening up the political system in China and implementing the "Fifth Modernisation" (民主).

China needs the equivalent of the Guomindang's former leader Zhang Qingguo who had the wisdom to realise that authoritarianism was not sustainable and committed his party to sharing power with others on the island. Sadly Hu Jintao seems to understand this even less than his predecessor Jiang Zemin. He is also likely to surround himself with more "yes men" this year at the 17th Congress of the CPC.

Is the Chinese Communist Party Discovering Democracy? Hmm....

I sometimes have a look at the website of the fantastically objective Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Renmin Ribao (人民日报) to keep an eye on what the wonderful ruling elite are up to.

They seem very pleased with themselves today if this report is anything to go by. Under the banner CPC promotes democracy by open elections the CPC are preening themselves.

Lots of elections it seems and maybe they are starting to discover the merits of OMOV. They've even been letting non-Party members "have a say", whatever that means (not much). However, in case we got the strange idea that China was some kind of utopia the report mentions the following:

"With China's rapid economic development, the Party is facing problems such as corruption, low efficiency and bureaucracy, prompting measure for improvement."

The killer quote for me is:

"Experts point out that developing democracy within the Party is an important part of political restructuring and building of political civilization in China".

This expert suggests that perhaps, Comrades, you should try democracy in China, full stop. Allow properly contested elections with proper independent alternatives to the CPC. Then, at least you might find that corruption is a more manageable affair and you might even get back some of the credibility you so desperately crave.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Oi! Over Here Nich!

Was a bit dismayed to see this blog only ranked 100th (!?!) after Stephen Tall had me up at 16th=.

I can only speculate that Nich either really hates this blog or perhaps didn't realise that I had restarted blogging and that is not really a functioning blog any longer. A bit frustrating to be ranked lower than someone who is no longer a Lib Dem and a number of other bloggers that are no longer posting.

Perhaps Nich is trying to tell me something!!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

The Other Pleasant Surprise

Of course, the other pleasant surprise tonight was Kent winning the Twenty-20 Championship. Well done lads.

A Pleasant Surprise

Stephen Tall has ranked this blog as 16th= of the top 100 Lib Dem Blogs. A significant improvement over my previous ranking when I used to write as Liberal Legend. A very pleasant surprise indeed. Thanks Stephen.

Will be interesting to see what the other judges have to say. This has vindicated my return to blogging.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Foot and Mouth Disease Returns

The BBC are reporting that Foot and Mouth has returned to the UK. A farm in Surrey has cattle showing symptoms. Let's hope that the lessons of 2001 have been learnt and that we won't face the same crisis as last time.

The BBC are doing a "Don't Panic".

Might put the mockers on a cut and run General Election for Brown in September/October.

Meanwhile amongst some Lib Dem activists there appears to have been a serious recent outbreak of Foot in Mouth disease deflecting the heat off the Tory leader....

My New Blogsite "West End of Folkestone"

In order to better keep my political and professional interests apart and to talk in more depth about personal development and training issues I've decided to start a separate blog called "West End of Folkestone".

I hope a few of my political friends will be interested in what I put there and I look forward to comments and feedback (although "Trolls" - they know who they are - will not be welcome).