Making connections

A recent independent inquiry – Civil Society Futures – published its report in the middle of November, called “The Story of Our Times: shifting power, bridging divides, transforming society,” which said that civil society must up its game, or risk complete irrelevance.

I usually abhor acronyms, but it came up with one – PACT – to describe the process of change it says needs to occur:

* Power: argues power needs to be shifted so that everyone is involved in decision-making;

* Accountability: organisation must be more accountable to communities they serve;

* Connection: civil society must build broader and deeper connection within and between communities;

* Trust: organisations need to put effort into building and earning trust and ensure they are behaving in line with their values.

Top (L-R): Yogesh, Sue, Charlotte; Middle (L-R): Wilf, Mel, Di; Bottom (L-R): Camilla, Luke, Paul. Members of the ‘Getting Around’ subject group, bringing a variety of experiences from across the community.

It’s for reasons very similar to this that I’ve joined other residents where I live since July to be part of the process of building the new neighbourhood plan for the town – Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore, in the district of Hart, which is in the North-East corner of Hampshire.

I’m co-leading the subject group (members pictured above) which is looking at issues to do with ‘Getting Around‘ – that’s anything to do with being a pedestrian, with cycling, with using public and community transport, and of course, driving in its many and varied forms.

I’m on a bus… making connections.

We’ve just posted the latest update on our group’s work, entitled ‘Making connections‘ – click here for more – as well as all the previous posts here.

You can find the main website for our local neighbourhood plan here.

Neighbourhood planning will never be the answer to all the issues anyone has in their local area, but it can be a useful start – and what we’ve found as a group of residents is that, as an excuse for starting to have those conversations about issues, and engaging with the processes in the local community, some of those dynamics to do with power, accountability, connection and trust start to move.  And who knows – we might finally get that bus to Fleet we’ve waited so long for!

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Resist!

Over the last few months, I’ve had cause to concentrate my focus on the theory and practice of turning protest into power, to an extent that I probably haven’t done since the mid-90s. The campaigns-related side of public relations, and best ways of developing effective strategies are obviously things which have dominated my time as a communications practitioner, and then in teaching in around ten years as a lecturer on the subject, but I’ve been reflecting enough of late to feel the urge to post my thoughts here.

It began after reading ‘How To Resist: Turn Protest Into Power’ by Matthew Bolton (2017: London, Bloomsbury). This post would have remained a simple book review. I didn’t realise that I had failed to type up the notes I had made on the book, but in the intervening period, I managed to get embroiled in the democratic process more than I had intended. I’m now co-leading a group of local residents where I live examining issues connected with “Getting Around” as our local town council look towards developing a new neighbourhood plan) – as well as finding myself leading a very measured protest against the axing of a community bus service, so I may as well bring these three things together into a single post on the theory and practice of ‘resisting’.

And back in the middle of October, I had the added benefit of attending the launch of the RSATeenAgency’ which provides further scope for reflection on some of these themes.

I’ll begin with the book, as it had been on a pile of purchased, ‘yet to read’ titles by my bed, but circumstances conspired over the summer to make it even more attractive to read. With Brexit weakness and incompetence being displayed by our political class; Austerity-fuelled policies serving to deprive citizens of meaningful innovation or control over public policy, and a series of gigantic moral outrages such as Windrush and Grenfell, I know from my experience, and that of my peers that we have never felt so in need of political solutions, but equally, never so emasculated by the paucity of quality on offer from our party political system.

Having been involved to some degree in campaigning during my professional life too (only to feel let down by the bastardisation through a thirst for votes of some of the original campaigning ideals of the ‘community politics’ approach I had been introduced to as a teen by the Liberals), this new book tantalised me.  It is penned by Matthew Bolton, who has been at the heart of the Citizens UK movement, and as such, is able to call upon lessons from practical campaigns (and wins at that) such as for the Living Wage, particularly on campuses of specific universities, for their cleaners, and for contract cleaners at HSBC.

The book is full of valuable lessons, such as the need for anyone embarking on any campaigns to do a ‘power analysis’, not just of structures, but of people, not just external to the campaign, but within it too.  Also, the need to ask oneself, “What can I do in my everyday life to affect this?” – it might not just rely on megaphones and banners.

Indeed, if I had any criticism of the book (and I don’t really), it would be that I would like to see more dedicated to this last aspect, as well as the time/attention given to the flair with which  we can try to trip-up wrong-doers who might have excessive power. I’d maybe like to see as much attention given to the leading by example stuff, which I think probably has more scope in a tired and cynical age.

So, what other signposts for us? The importance of relationships – of the human aspects in our lives, in ultimately achieving change.  For example, activating word of mouth. In addition to power analysis, other priorities for Bolton are listening (what do people care about? What is their self-interest? How do they frame issues?); the need to constantly look out for potential team members; the importance of honing your story; and looking at both internal and external action as different priorities.

Once you get the ball rolling, numbers will ultimately be important – a critical mass. Networks and word of mouth are the best way of achieving this, and those direct relationships. Direct, broadcast shortcuts might be attractive, but they are no substitute.

Activity to achieve this, more often than not, must be meaningful (not gimmicky), yet enjoyable.

Bolton does propose some ideas to help with ‘tactical innovations’ in delivering campaigns – a phrase I picked up from a discussion I heard on a BBC World Service show (an episode of ‘The Real Story’), about whether protests have had their day, in the light of the ‘blimp’ during Trump’s visit during the Summer of 2018. It was coined by L.A. Kauffman (Direct Action and the Invention of American Radicalism), who argued that you often need such devices merely as ‘troop motivators’ during bleak times. Also on Ritula Shah’s panel were David Graeber, Dana Fisher, and Fatima Shabodien. You can listen to the show by clicking here. I thoroughly recommend it.

Click through to listen to this discussion on Protest.

He suggests widening the net – finding ‘unusual allies’ – it is from these connections that you will be successful in synthesising ideas, contributing from a wide range of experiences, so as to discover surprises, turn heads, and find those creative tactics and campaign content. Bolton offers some ultimate tips to campaigners:-

* look after yourself/pace yourself; * ask yourself what you really care about, to best identify motivators; * stop doing some things; delegate others; * weave social change into your life, to make it more effective and fundamental; * do it as part of a team; * be strategic; make a plan; * take control of your schedule, and ensure it includes one-to-one conversations; * find time.

Bolton ended with an iron rule – never do for others what they can do for themselves. I don’t always practice what he preaches, but I do see it’s importance.

This is important. It’s where I came in. It’s what that ‘community politics’ thing was supposed to be about, but politicians liked doing things ‘to’ people, because it helped them collect votes.

This should be about showing people how to do it for themselves – and the thrill of the transformative effect for themselves and the community when they do. Otherwise, we will be back to square one very quickly.

I’m not at all sure that there is much hope – but we have to be optimistic that it is worth a try – and willing to laugh at the absurdity of the mess we currently find ourselves in.

Using Slinkachu-style models as a consultation tool for qualitative research in local community cafe, Cafe 46.

Being in that frame of mind, and having read ‘Resist‘, when I saw that the Town Council group on my local patch working on creating a new Neighbourhood Plan earlier this summer, as a way of creating a shared vision for our town, and providing an ‘additional layer of control’ over development decisions’ were having a public meeting, me and a friend went along.

We came away, having ‘stepped up to the plate‘, volunteering together to co-lead the subject group looking at transport and traffic issues.  We already felt we had made a difference by getting agreement for its focus to shift to “Getting Around” so it can look at issues for pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair users and users of public & community transport too, as a one of the best ways to solve issues for drivers stuck in jams and looking for a parking space.

My own personal motivation was having to surrender my driving licence a few years ago due to my neurological condition, I discovered just how woeful public transport has become. Despite being the second largest town in our district/borough, we have no bus connection to the largest town (despite it being only four miles away), no direct bus connection to the mainline London Waterloo railway services, and the last bus back from the nearest major town leaves there at 8.50pm!

Some days I have a real ‘high’ about the possibilities the process gives us, and just what level of innovation may be deliverable.  On other days, I am down in the doldrums, worried that it all might just be a toothless paper exercise (I have bad experiences of public sector ‘consultations’).  I’m sure the answer lies somewhere in between, and I just have to manage my expectations – but if you don’t take part, you can’t shape things.  In addition, as well as the formal process of creating a Neighbourhood Plan, the whole thing means conversations are happening that wouldn’t otherwise happen; the seeds of other campaign ideas are being planted; and networks are being created in the process, so it’s a valuable thing in itself for that reason, if nothing else.

You can read blog posts on the specific journey of our ‘Getting Around‘ group of the Yateley, Darby Green and Frogmore Neighbourhood Plan in our beautiful corner of North-East Hampshire at https://ydf-np.org.uk/getting-around/ .

The regulars on the free community bus facing the axe by Sainsbury’s.

I mentioned those days when I am in the doldrums.  One reason I had good cause to be reminded of why the clouds can often obscure my optimism is when Sainsbury’s recently announced with no notice that they were axing a valuable community resource – a free shopper’s bus which takes many older people, and disabled as well as other members of the community to a local superstore (Watchmoor Park, Blackwater Valley Road) otherwise inaccessible by public transport.  Many of these people are not on the internet either, and the Stagecoach contracted bus delivers passengers right back to their doorsteps with their shopping.

The reason I felt so down?  A little research on my part in the neighbouring council offices (Surrey Heath) unearthed the fact that Sainsbury’s were legally obliged to be providing the bus service as a condition of them securing planning permission for an extension to the store back in 2004!  Despite this, Sainsbury’s have felt able to ignore this, and no democratic scrutiny or enforcement has stopped them from doing so.  Hopefully, an intervention from me, with support from fellow passengers and a local councillor will get the wheels of legal enforcement moving by the local authority – but it may be too late to stop an interruption to the service on which many rely.  If the bus does end, despite my success in navigating the system and getting the supermarket’s ‘collar felt’, I will find it difficult to have any faith in shaping future planning policies, if I’ve just seen a historical planning condition which affects so many people woefully ignored!

Still, it has been a good example of putting some of the lessons of Matthew Bolton’s book into practice – particularly with regard to power analysis, and the importance of relationships. Yes, posting on Facebook groups, photo-opportunities, yes, but some of the most valuable insights were about talking to the people affected by the issue, and understanding the real heart of the power when it comes to the problem.

I’ve already combined a lot of things into this post, but I will touch on one other.  I was lucky enough to attend the mid-October launch of the RSA report “TeenAgency” on how young people people are changing the world, and how best to support them in their efforts to make a difference in their communities.  It deserves a post in its own right, and I will hopefully get round to doing so in  due course.

Panellists Ruth Ibegbuna (founder of the RECLAIM project in Manchester, and now of the Roots Programme) and Sam Conniff-Allende (founder of Livity, and now author of ‘Be More Pirate‘), together with some particularly powerful contributions from young people on the panel made strong points about the need to have ambition and imagination in supporting youth-led social action, and rather than accepting ‘tokenism’ which creates ‘special panels’ with a place for a young person reserved on them, we need to always question where power lies, and be prepared to help mentor young people to support them in building networks for themselves, and busting open established power structures, because it will probably benefit us all in creating a more open, transparent, supportive and dynamic society for all, not just for young people.

I was lucky enough to go along to the launch of the report with a few friends:- Ed Mather (the director of Yateley Sixth Form, at my local comprehensive, Yateley School); a good friend, Luke Buckland (who is co-leading the subject work I talked about earlier on our local Neighbourhood Plan), and a best friend who is soon to take up post in an exciting new academic leadership position when a powerhouse brand will take all its prestige and head-turning ‘clout’ and use it to make new moves in higher education.  We’d arrived after only having just met-up with one of my first bosses, Sir Simon Hughes, who has recently been installed as the new Chancellor of London South Bank University.

These networks, built from the friendships you assemble along the path you tread in life’s rich tapestry can also form the basis of some interesting partnerships, and the germ of some creative ideas when you campaign.  They need to be celebrated, nurtured, and above all, shared with a new generation.  One point which came out powerfully in the ‘TeenAgency’ event is that there are some people who are born into classes with these networks ‘ready made’, or bought, courtesy of private education.  The rest of us must make common cause to overcome that advantage of others – and often, it only takes a knock on a door, or a simple request to get that access shared.  We need a bit more solidarity!

And perhaps I need to write shorter posts! I’ll return to some of the more specific issues I’ve in bite-size form in future posts.  Thanks for bearing with me!

 

Counter-consultation crosses a boundary

The Boundary Commission‘s final proposals for the new boundaries for parliamentary constituencies have finally been laid before Parliament, as part of its review of seats.

Irrespective of whether I agreed with the decision to cut the number of seats, I do think the number of electors in each seat should be more equal – although I’m not sure it should be as arbitrarily applied as it has been in the process as we have seen – but my experience of the consultation process, and much of the outcome leads me to question the whole thing.

The proposals for the seat I live in (North East Hampshire) had been a bit of a joke, so I engaged with the consultation, offering some solutions to the issues involved.  For anyone who is interested, the town of Alton had been added to our constituency (even though it doesn’t sit anywhere near the other towns in the existing seat and is in another district/borough), but more importantly, Church Crookham (which sits in between my town of Yateley, and that of Alton) is split off from its ‘sister’ settlement of Fleet (they are basically inter-twined), and plonked in the separate constituency of Aldershot.

Looking out towards the Blackwater Valley from Yateley Common at Minley.

I know it is a difficult issue, balancing the numbers involved, and like the Commission, I found it impossible to resolve just by taking off a single ward here, and adding a ward there – but I did hit upon a solution, re-drawing the parliamentary constituencies across the county boundaries of Surrey and Hampshire, using the natural communities of the Blackwater Valley as their inspiration.  If you live in this patch, you know this is the reality when it comes to health provision, transport, education, employment, media and shopping for example.

Imagine my surprise when after the its consultation, the Boundary Commission concluded that it had not received any alternative counter proposals!!!

So, when it had a final consultation, I spent HOURS – nay, DAYS – doing the necessary work, constructing the new potential parliamentary constituencies using this approach, to demonstrate it IS possible to have an alternative proposal.

Imagine my despair, when yet again, the Boundary Commission conclude in their report, published today (10th September) that respondents “did not provide any alternative counter proposals” when I blatantly DID.

I made sure that I referred to their oversight in my submission to their final proposal, and so they could not say counter proposals had not been received, I put the detailed work in, working ward-by-ward, dealing with knock-on consequences in neighbouring constituencies.

I was expecting them to reject my proposals, of course.  What I wasn’t expecting them to do was completely ignore them for a second time.  It has totally undermined any residual faith I had in the system of public consultation in this country.  This was a genuine, and detailed attempt to engage with a public policy problem – and the process doesn’t even bother to acknowledge it.

For your perusal, I thought I would provide my proposals.

Blackwater Valley North means that the towns of Yateley (Hart, Hampshire) and Camberley (Surrey Heath, Surrey) are paired, which historically, makes much more sense.  The towns have strong public transport, shopping and employment links, and the surrounding towns of Blackwater, Hawley, Frimley and Bagshot make natural bed-fellows.  Frimley Park Hospital is a huge employer across more of this area arguably, than it is in the previous ‘Surrey Heath’ constituency, for example. It also deals with the anamoly of having Yateley, and a far flung town like Alton in the same seat.  It makes much more sense for Yateley and Camberley to be in the same seat, than Yateley and Fleet – despite being in the same district, there are zero public transport links, and very little shared shopping or employment.

Blackwater Valley Central seat re-unites Fleet with Church Crookham  in Hart, Hampshire (separated by the current boundary proposals), and puts them with conurbation of Farnborough (Rushmoor, Hampshire), which makes for a more natural fit, as part of an overall set of seats based around the wider ‘Blackwater Valley’ conurbation; which has been used in public policy making circles, following the course of the River Blackwater – and more recently, the Blackwater Valley Route (the A331).

Blackwater Valley South brings together the towns of Aldershot (Rushmoor, Hampshire) and Farnham (Waverley, Surrey), which arguably is the closest fit in all of these proposals.  It is bizarre in the extreme that the villages and towns of Weybourne, Badshot Lea, Ash and Tongham have all previously been in different constituencies.  A solution based on the Blackwater Valley would help solve this, and bring two great towns together into one seat.

East Hampshire in my updated proposals now includes all of the Alton seats, and Holybourne & Froyle, which in the Boundary Commissions proposals, had been switched to North East Hampshire.  This makes no sense at all, since they are part of the district of East Hampshire, and look more naturally towards Petersfield for representation – and are not a natural community with places like Yateley.

Guildford in my proposals has merely been tidied up to reflect the need to meet the constituency size rules.  This includes switching Pirbright and Normandy from the previous Woking seat (this makes total sense since they are in Guildford borough) together with Bisley (in Surrey Heath) and Brookwood (in Woking), which together form a natural set of shared communities, and could fit well in the Guildford constituency.  I have also included Mayford & Sutton Green ward (in Woking), and this fits well too in the northern fringes of Guildford.

Surrey/Hampshire Borders is effectively the South West Surrey seat of old, but I have taken out Farnham. In its place, I have included a number of wards which had previously been in the south of the Guildford constituency (centred on Cranleigh), but which are all actually in Waverley borough, so arguably make a better fit for this constituency.  As well as this, I have added three wards from East Hampshire.  It needed to do this for the size, but in fact, Bramshott & Liphook, Headley and Grayshott, arguably fit more naturally with the conurbations of Haslemere and Hinhead than they do with Bordon and Alton.

Woking is merely the same seat as before, updated to reflect my other changes. It now includes three wards from Surrey Heath (Chobham, Lightwater and West End) all of which fit more naturally with Woking than they do, say, Camberley.  Two wards have been taken out to Guildford (Normandy and Pirbirhgt) which are actually in Guildford borough anyway, and one ward is taken out (Mayford & Sutton Green) to help meet the numbers, but arguably is as much on the fringes of northern Guildford as it is southern Woking.

So, there you have it. I just wanted to show that when the Boundary Commission published their proposals today, and they said that there was an “absence of any such satisfactory overall counter proposal” for my area, they were wrong.  I’m not pretending I had all the answers – I am sure there are holes here – but I genuinely felt I had the beginning of an answer to some of the issues, yet no reference was made to this at all in two rounds of consultation. I was born and raised in this area, and feel I have a good understanding of the Commission’s challenge – but feel totally ignored.

I know they received the material, because it all sits, receipt acknowledged on their website.  It’s just no reference is made to it in its supposedly detailed reports.

   

If I was feeling a little more cynical, I might feel it had something to do with the fact that my solution would effectively remove the seats of cabinet ministers Michael Gove, and Jeremy Hunt.  And we couldn’t possibly have that, could we?

The whole process waiting for the final Boundary Commission proposals has been a real let-down, and an anti-climax.  For me, the process has not worked.  It has not produced a solution which works, even though one could exist.  In the new seat of North East Hampshire, I can’t get to the neighbouring town of Fleet just four miles away on public transport – and including Alton over twenty miles away is just absurd, even though Church Crookham, just over four miles in the same direction is not included.

I can genuinely understand why the eyes of thousands of people ‘roll’ when a public body announces it is putting a policy or proposal out to consultation – and I’m not sure I will be as keen to engage in future.  When a public body says no counter proposal has been suggested during a consultation process, when as you can see from what I have outlined, I did propose one, a boundary has been crossed (just as in the cross-county ‘Blackwater Valley’ based solution I offered in North East Hampshire).  I’m left feeling a little bit more dis-engaged.

What Women Want 2.0

When a good friend sent me an email this summer about a campaign she was involved in, I had no hesitation in asking a selection of women neighbours, family and friends to take part in it, to support it as much as I could.  I’ve re-printed the text of the email, to provide some background, as well as a few of the photos I have collected, as the campaign comes to fruition today.

WhatWomenWant

“What do you want?  That’s the question women were asked twenty years ago as part of a campaign called What Women Want.  It was supported by Anita Roddick founder of the Body Shop as a way of giving British women a voice at the United Nations World Conference on Women in September 1995.  The idea was simple: to invite women to complete a postcard answering the simple question ‘What do you want?

20160831_133420-1

Mary (my Mum) #WhatWomenWant20

“Twenty years on, there is still a desperate need to understand the answer to this question so we are repeating the survey.  The What Women Want campaign reboot is WWW2.0, and it is inviting women to engage in and create what could be the world’s most powerful conversation to make change happen.  Our goal is as it was before: to enable women to say what matters most to them and use their collective voices to effect the change they say they want – for themselves, their families and communities and for society as a whole.”

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Ruby (neighbour) #WhatWomenWant20

The response in 1995 was overwhelming.  Replies came from all of the UK and from all parts of society with more than 10,000 women taking part, making it the biggest ever survey of British women.

Brenda (aunt) #WhatWomenWant20

Brenda (aunt) #WhatWomenWant20

“We hope you will participate in this exciting conversation with us and thousands of others to find out what women want in 2016 – 20 years on from the original survey. Are the concerns and challenges and goals different now? Help us find out and please tell us what you want.”

Olivia (my niece) #WhatWomenWant20 #herecomethegirls

Olivia (my niece) #WhatWomenWant20 #herecomethegirls

You can take part in one or all three of the simple ways below:

1. To answer the question ‘What do you Want?’ go to http://www.thisiswhatwomenwant.org/

Carol's is specific and heartfelt #WhatWomenWant20

Carol’s is specific and heartfelt #WhatWomenWant20

2. Take a picture of yourself with the answer to the question on the downloadable postcard and post it on social media using the #whatwomenwant20

3. Join in the conversation on social media on September 5th and get as many people to answer the question in your personal and digital networks as you can. The more answers the better. If there is someone in particular you admire and are interested to know their response, then tweet them the link to the question and ask them to respond.

The 5th September is the day Parliament returns after the summer break. What better time to tell politicians ‘what women want’ than ahead of their conference season. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Theresa May to tell us what she wants? Tweet her the link @theresa_may

To find out more about the campaign please see http://www.thisiswhatwomenwant.org/

You can also see the campaign on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram:

twitter.com/WhatWomenWantXX

www.facebook.com/WhatWomenWant2.0

www.instagram.com/whatwomenwant2.0/

Tickets please!

Last Friday, I hurriedly submitted written evidence to an inquiry which had been launched by the Transport Select Committee on the Bus Services Bill.  I’d only discovered the day before that it was taking place, and the deadline was that day.

Bus_1

I can think of better ways to spend my summer, but buses are an important part of civic life to me.  They have been woefully neglected as part of the fabric of society outside London.  If, like me, you can’t drive (I had to surrender my licence because of my neurological condition Chiari Malformation), you can come to rely on buses pretty heavily.  Which means that if the service is pretty woeful, you are stuck.

I’m not going to bore you here about the contents of my submission.  Suffice to say, there is something wrong with our democracy if we have allowed our buses to get into the position they are, and if the piece of legislation going through our Parliament right now misses a lot of the central points that it should be dealing with on the matter.

Bus_2

Even more of a failure is the fact that the Transport Select Committee’s Inquiry has been launched AFTER it can have any real impact on the nature or content of the legislation – a bit of a waste of time.

I’ve done a written submission nonetheless – I doubt many other people have, given they probably hadn’t heard of it, and if they had, the precise guidance for submitting such written submissions probably put them off.  We must find ways of making these inquiries and consultations more user-friendly.  There are pressure groups campaigning on the issue, such as the Campaign for Better Transport’s Save Our Buses, and We Own It, specifically raising the issue that local authorities should be able to own and run their own services, but they must find it difficult too.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

Me and some of the gang on one of the local bus services which connects our village to a nearby Sainsburys superstore.

The issue is important, but probably more important is the quality of our politics right now.  First, we need to do something about the quality of our opposition parties – I’m in despair.  Second, the House of Lords – for me, an issue like this demonstrates the need for a set-up in the shape of a Sortition – another elected chamber just wont cut it.  A chamber drawn at random from people on the electoral roll, in the same way as jury service would ensure we have a chamber that considers issues like bus services deliberatively – and might ensure that those considering the issue might even use buses regularly!

Verdict

Tomorrow (15th July) is the deadline for the return of ballot papers in the election of a new leader of the Liberal Democrats, and by Thursday 16th July, we will know whether the verdict of the membership is Tim Farron, or Norman Lamb.

Tim Farron MP with my old boss, Sir Simon Hughes MP, who is backing him for the leadership of the Lib Dems

Tim Farron MP with my old boss, Sir Simon Hughes MP, who is backing him for the leadership of the Lib Dems

I left the party more than a few years ago now, but it was in my blood for many years.  It felt like family.  I joined the party at the tender age of 17, and was a contemporary of Tim Farron.  It was clear back then that he was a future leader, and if I was still a member today, I would cast my vote without hesitation for him.  I worked on many of his campaigns when he was a stalwart of the National Union of Students, and served with him on the executive of the party’s student wing.  He is a campaigner without equal in the social liberal tradition, and can help get the liberal cause back to a position where it is deserving of electoral support.  When he was on standing for the NUS Executive, I remember one of his favourite refrains was to accuse the then Labour leadership of being about as ‘radical as an episode of Terry and June’ which seemed to be on BBC One all the time back then.  Plus ca change!

"About as radical as an episode of Terry and June" Tim Farron on the then Labour student leadership

“About as radical as an episode of Terry and June” Tim Farron on the then Labour student leadership

But his job, if he is indeed successful, is a more profound one than I think many in the party are prepared for.  Two notes to help make my point.

The first is a contribution from a Guardian reader on 4th July, printed in preparation for the hustings events, and what they feel the next Lib Dem leader needs to do differently:

“Liberalism was and is naturally a movement of big ideas that were seen as unrealistic in the first place yet provided guidance for future reform.  In contrast, the Lib Dems appear to have failed to provide a big and and long-term vision since Paddy Ashdown stood down from the leadership.  So what is your big idea, contrasted against short-term soundbites from Labour/Tory party when it comes to the economy or fiscal policy?”

They hit the nail on the head.  The party needs once again to be the intellectual powerhouse, pulling the rest of the political landscape towards IT – not the other way round, by chasing the positioning of the other parties.

The second is a note I wrote to myself in the aftermath of the General Election result about what the Liberal Democrats would have to do to make them ever worthy of my vote again, let alone tempt me to consider joining them.  This is what I wrote:

“This election result was clearly a verdict on the party over the last five years.  The Party doesn’t just lose 2/3rds of its vote share, and more than 85% of its MPs because other parties have constructed a campaign of fear.  I have yet to hear the party accept that this is the democratic verdict of the people – instead it insists on sounding ‘hard done-by’.

“Perhaps the party could have conducted itself differently during those five years?  While the party feels it went into coalition in the national interest, maybe it could have achieved more by either securing control of whole ministries – or even by having a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement, where it could have maintained more of its identity through vetos, while still securing a stable economy.  This could have prevented the bedroom tax; NHS reorganisation, and tuition fees increases, for example.  Maybe the party needs to accept that there may have been other alternatives to the path it took.

“On tactics, why did the party play into the whole ‘fear’ thing by refusing to work with the SNP?  I thought the party were the ultimate pluralists, and surely the SNP would make more natural coalition partners than the Conservatives when it comes to policy?

The party shouldn't be aping the 'control' tactics of the main two parties. I NEVER want to see a photo opportunity like this again, except for comedy value. What on earth does it achieve? And even people who want 'Decency', 'Stability' or 'Unity' would rather have a 'Riot' in response to seeing these placards. Ultimate absurdity!

The party shouldn’t be aping the ‘control’ tactics of the main two parties. I NEVER want to see a photo opportunity like this again, except for comedy value. What on earth does it achieve? And even people who want ‘Decency’, ‘Stability’ or ‘Unity’ would rather have a ‘Riot’ in response to seeing these placards. Ultimate absurdity!

“In terms of the the future, I don’t want to see the Liberal Democrats trying to ape the ‘big two’ parties.  I want to see a party  that ‘gives a sh*t’ and wants to do something positive.  I want to see a party that demonstrates that we can mobilise and make common cause in a way that is more powerful than the sum of the individuals; intervening proactively where markets fail, and challenging some of the framing of debates that we take for granted – for example, on austerity, on social housing, and on nuclear deterence.

“The party should be about understanding and challenging concentrations of power, and coming up with people-centred solutions to problems.

“The party should be about a wider spread of opportunity, which has to mean a dispersal of unearned, inherited wealth.  The ‘Pupil Premium’ just isn’t enough.

“The party shouldn’t be about protecting its own backside (and we have seen that far too often in the last parliament) – the party as a vehicle is only of any use for achieving these ideals if it brings more of us together to achieve these things in common.  People want to see things done differently.

“The party should be about championing an optimistic vision of society which allows each of us to explore who we are and what we can contribute to our community, not just take as much from it as we can.”

"The Liberal Alternative" - the booklet I was sent on signing up to the Liberal Party 'cause' in 1987.

“The Liberal Alternative” – the booklet I was sent on signing up to the Liberal Party ’cause’ in 1987.

If the new leader is to succeed, and if they are to recruit me back as a voter, or even a member (not that they even want me, or me the same), I think they have to build a ‘Liberal Cause‘ with a strong emotional pull, not a tick-list, number-crunched, business-as-usual ‘party’ in the traditional sense.  That is what I signed up to as a 17 year old when I joined the Liberal Party way back in 1987.  It’s what I thought I was ultimately building towards whenI became National Secretary of the Student Liberal Democrats in 1990, worked for Simon Hughes MP in 1993, and a party Press & Broadcasting Officer in 1996.  My home town of Yateley has been a Liberal stronghold ever since I was a child.  This year, it lost a district councillor, and kept the other by a single vote.  The party at large has lost a huge swathe of goodwill because it was seen as being silent from beginning to end in the face of the Coalition project taking shape, and for a democratic movement, this was not healthy.  The party movement needs to develop a voice of its own again, just as it did when I first joined in 1987.

That ’cause’ has to be about challenging power; privilege; pollution; and poverty and injustice – things it was perceived to have abandoned.  It must be positive, practical, progressive, and pluralist.  Far too often in government, it came across as too tribal for its own good, too preoccupied with collective responsibility with the Conservatives.

I wish the new leader every success – and hope for the party’s sake it is Tim Farron.

Will not forget today, or Charles in a hurry

I felt compelled to pen this on my Facebook page earlier today, so have decided to re-post it here.

“Been a bit (well, totally and utterly) floored since first hearing the news about the death of Charles Kennedy announced on the radio just after 6am. He had some rare political gifts, and took some positions that sprang from the same political home as mine, even though I considered myself on a different ‘wing’ when I was a member of the same party. I was lucky enough to work in close quarters to him for a few years in the 90s. He also battled with the same ‘demon’ as my Dad, which led to his early death three years ago, so the news has inevitably brought much reflecting. My heart goes out to those I know who have the honour of knowing him a whole lot better than I – his family and friends. A big ‘thank you’ Charles; may you rest in peace.”