Jo Grimond – Jen Robertson reviews his memoirs

Jo Grimond’s Memoirs were by published by Heinemann way back in 1979 and I read my own copy sometime in the 1980’s. One day whilst in a second hand book shop a couple of years back I saw another copy and purchased it for my daughter Jen, a radical green, feminist Social Liberal. Then only a few days ago I put a podcast on my Facebook page (linked here – www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMJscTUAXMI) where Iain Brodie Browne was being interviewed in his capacity of Chair of the Social Liberal Forum. Jen saw saw the podcast and it reminded her of the book because Iain referenced Jo during the interview. She dug it out together with the notes she’d made whilst reading it – you can tell she’s an historian and researcher by trade.

And so 41 years after it was published the memoirs of a long gone politician are being reviewed and indeed challenged by my bit of a leftie daughter. I hope you find her views about Grimond as interesting as I found them.

*****

Hearing Ian Brodie Browne mention Jo Grimond in his podcast interview reminded me of the book of his memoirs that my dad gave me, which I read last year.

It wasn’t really the kind of political memoir that leaves you inspired or fired up and I didn’t feel at the end like this was the work of a great Liberal statesman. What I did feel however was that it was the work of a man I’d rather like to share a pot of tea with. I suspect we’d have a fair few differences but he seems able to disagree well and he was clearly a man of deep thought on many things, a likeable man who would doubtless prove very interesting to chat with. Perhaps we should all be so lucky as to come across that way. Grimond raised some interesting points in his memoirs, though I have to say what seemed most interesting wasn’t actually his work in party politics but with United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) after WWII. He writes really well about it but not for long enough, I wanted more about that, especially as it seemed to sum up a lot of his Liberal ideas. There’s this great thing he says about:

“While it seems surprisingly easy to rebuild cities and industries, you cannot rebuild the lives of those driven from their homes.”

He sounds like he would have been a good man to have around to discuss the current refugee/migrant crisis of the last decade. He talks well about representation and diversity as well, saying there are “too few, not too may, Jews and immigrants in British political life.” I think that one bears repeating today!

To be honest quite a lot of it still feels relevant, there’s a great bit about the National Front where if you replace NF with the BNP it sounds like it could have been written in the last few years. Things don’t change. When he talks about the potential of a Lib/Lab pact in the 70s he says that electoral reform was the only thing that could justify it. We never did get bold enough on asking for that in collaboration talks, did we!

Of course he won himself some brownie points with me for his words on women. He says some wonderful things about how women have been overlooked and how slow progress has been. He also makes some remarks about male aggression and posturing in politics that mark him as probably a little ahead of his time for a wealthy white man.

However if that gained him points he certainly lost some when he touched on arts and culture.

“when I read that some British gallery has spent a million pounds on Italian pictures or French furniture ‘to save our heritage’ I think what fools it’s trustees must be.”

On this subject he rather exposes himself as a far too old-fashioned man of his time for my liking or comfort. He talks about wanting to see money invested in National Trust style properties, rather than in Chinese ceramics or the old Grand Masters (he literally says such thing are being hoarded ‘for the greater glory of curators’ which might be the silliest thing I’ve ever heard, as an insider I can tell you no one ever got into curating for the glory – not so politics!). He wants to see this change in investment because he views the National Trust type properties as ‘our heritage’ – basically proper British history. His idea of ‘our heritage’ is revealed here as pretty insular, not global in the least, and suggests an important lack of understanding on his part. A lot of Chinese ceramics for example were made for sale to the western market, it’s a fascinating early example of global supply and demand (these were often items that had no appeal in China itself, they were made purely for export) and became a key feature of British culture – what does he think we drank all that tea from! Where indeed does he imagine the tea and sugar came from? In reality British culture has been global for a long time, even when it didn’t want to admit it. He starts as though to make an interesting point about returning items to their place of origin (though again here shows no understanding of the fact some of these things were specifically made for export!) but then goes on to talk about it being better if you could go and visit a Canaletto painting on the Grand Canal i.e. where he thinks it should be, as though a trip to the Grand Canal were something anyone could just decide to undertake (a bit of rich white privilege rearing it’s head there)! It’s unclear if he really is making an early case for repatriation of significant artefacts looted by a colonialist Empire or if he just doesn’t think they’re of value here and ‘well why can’t people just go and visit them abroad’. Either way he makes the argument too ill (I mean talking about French furniture instead of say the Parthenon Marbles doesn’t suggest this is about ethics to him) and too briefly to have any merit. It’s in passages like this one he doesn’t come over well, I wouldn’t however imagine that many men of his time would do much better. And he makes an impassioned plea for saving architecture that I have to love. I too would like to see more investment in those National Trust type properties, but I don’t think they are the only example of ‘our heritage’, which is much more diverse than he acknowledges here. Let’s say he’s not a man I’d want representing us on culture. It also seems very much at odds with how open and global a person he seemed to be in all other regards.

I do love though that he seems to be a man of quiet conviction, that he thinks having values in politics is so important, and the way he says:

“Liberalism is not at bottom about the vote, it is about how human beings should behave to one another.”

Which might explain why he spends so little time in the book talking about actual politics, in his view I think you certainly see the political in the personal every day. It is a surprisingly politics light book for the memoirs of a political leader. I found a brief clip of a speech of his on youtube (about going in to Europe appropriately enough!) and he came over better than I’d expected. His writing is pleasant, he certainly comes over as a nice man, but not as a political charismatic force. He was more charismatic in person from the footage I could find.

One more thing he said, which I love and just think is very clever and very interesting was:

“had the computer been invented in the last century it would have been predicted that as the rise in population must require more horses we should all by now have been up to our knees in horse dung. Our children will profit from new inventions.”

It’s something I feel we could do with bearing in mind with climate change. The idea that we can’t use less energy because people’s lives would suffer, we need those fossil fuels to power hospitals, schools, industry! We don’t know that. We are trying to judge a possible future based on the understandings of today. Instead of wondering what to do with the horse shit, maybe we just won’t need the horses.

Boris Johnson, a man seemingly without a political compass, should maybe have read this.

Please click on the extracts from the book’s jacket cover notes to enlarge them for reading.

Bootle – That purchase of The Strand shopping centre which Labour keep trying to brush under the Town Hall carpet

£684,000 cost (and rising) of Bootle Strand “advice”

As opposition Lib Dem councillors continue to dig into this murky matter further issues of concern continue to emerge. Cllr. Iain Brodie Browne has the latest on his blog site – Birkdale Focus – accessible via the link below

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2017/11/sefton-council-leader-should-come-clean.html

And the Liverpool Echo is running this story on its web site based on Iain’s investigations:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sefton-council-paid-out-nearly-13940814

Despite The Times exposing what Sefton Council was up to just a few weeks back (see link below) it seems there are more carpets to be ripped up to get to all the facts about this odd and indeed worrying purchase of a shopping centre by cash strapped Sefton Council.

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/11/09/sefton-council-so-was-it-avaioding-tax-or-not-when-buying-bootle-strand-shopping-centre/

Keep digging…………

Southport – Planning for a positive future

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/the-british-lawnmower-museum-and-town.html

Above is a link to the blog site of my good friend Cllr. Iain Brodie Brown, please take a moment to click the link and read his posting. It is pure community politics to my mind.

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Southport viewed from the end of its pier

Click on the photo to enlarge it

There can be little doubt that the towns/boroughs surrounding Liverpool have not benefited from being a part of the Liverpool City Region. Indeed, my own view is that centralising power in Liverpool as both Tories and Labour are planning for, with a Metro Mayor, could well be the road to ruin for places like Southport St. Helens, Birkenhead, Maghull, Formby, Prescot etc.

Whilst Iain’s posting is all about what needs to be done to give Southport a bright future his fundamental concerns could well be about any of Liverpool’s satellite communities that sit outside of the Liverpool City Council boundary.

Centralising power and influence in Liverpool will just not work, except for Liverpool itself. Unlike the Greater Manchester communities, which mostly seem look towards Manchester, the same can’t be said of Merseyside. Southport has always seen its connections with Preston and Lancashire as being of great importance but it was wrenched away from such historical links by local government reorganisation in 1974. Much of Wirral Borough has historic connections with Chester and Cheshire but it too was forced into Merseyside.

Merseyside because of its odd geographic shape was never likely to be a runner as a viable unit of local government and the years that have passed since 1974 have only proved that theory correct. Sefton, itself a strange collection of diverse communities, realised this some years ago and it began a process of decentralisation. Bizarrely though Labour then slammed this process into reverse when its Bootle based party took control of the Council. What was their motivation to say ‘the Borough will work well as a one size fits all because we say it will’ not least because this approach had failed miserably when first tried?

Presently we are seeing the start of a process to take 1000’s of civil service jobs out of Netherton, St Helens and Bootle for them all to be centralised in Liverpool. Liverpool’s gain will be big losses for Sefton and St Helens Boroughs.

Make no mistake the Tories are wedded to cities being made more powerful at the expense of their surrounding towns and boroughs. What’s more Labour are pretty much behind this process, why else did the 6 Labour Council Leaders on Merseyside sign up to a 3rd rate devolution deal?

Towns surrounding big cities need investment, public and private, not dependency on the nearest City because that is the road to ruin except for the big cities of course.

The photo above is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

www.flickr.com/photos/86659476@N07/

UKIP folk counted votes in Sefton’s Birkdale ward?!

This has to go down as one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard about happening at an election count!

Iain Brodie Browne has the story on his Birkdale Focus site:-

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/blog-post.html

I bet Sefton’s Returning Officer will be more than a little embarrassed.

Elected Mayor of Liverpool – More on those payments for no work

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/the-disgraceful-saga-that-saw-liverpool.html

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/sefton-labour-leader-blockslib-dem-bid.html

For those who would like to see more detail about this matter than the Liverpool Echo has published so far, a visit to Iain Brodie Browne’s Birkdale Focus web site is worth a bit of your time. Use the two links above to gain more detail:-

The situation seems to be one of Sefton Council Officers agreeing to the deal but then soon after the School in question, Chesterfield High, converted itself into an Academy and they found the deal unacceptable so terminated it.

There are clearly some big issues here about the use of public money, why the deal was signed off by Council Officers in the first place and whether any of the money can or should be claimed back by the School.

But the bottom line is why on earth did anyone think that spending public money like this was going to be seen to be acceptable to the public?

A subject that a determined local investigative journalist could do with getting to the bottom off and in doing so turn Sefton Council inside out.

John Pugh – Lib Dem candidate for Southport – On the Tories plans for regional pay.

John Pugh MP for Southport

birkdalefocus.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/pugh-on-tories-regional-pay-plot.html

Iain Brodie Brown has the story on his Birkdale Focus Bog Site – see link above.

This is a subject close to my heart as I spent many years as a trade union officer and activist for IRSF, PTC & PCS trying to resist regional pay which would make public sector workers outside of London and the South East second class employees.