So who’d you have as aides if you were US President?

I was having a conversation with my old political buddy Andrew Blackburn the other day and we talked of who we would have in our team if we were the US President. It was re-watching the 1st season of The West Wing which inspired this conversation. It must be one of the best series that I’ve seen on the TV. So anyway here goes with my personal list of West Wing characters and some personal additional aides.

Those in brackets are the actors playing the parts in Season 1:-

The President (Martin Sheen) – Me of course! – Delusions of grandeur of it seems:-)

Vice President (Tim Matheson) – Phil Holden – needed to pull in the right of centre vote. All but a Republican he’s never the less far from being a right-wing nut-job. Has a fine analytical mind with which I often don’t agree but is useful in balancing my Social Liberal ‘leftie’ outlook.

Chief of Staff – Leo McGarry (John Spencer) – Andrew Blackburn – Always sees the wider picture, is very loyal and will tell me what I don’t want to hear.

Deputy Chief of Staff – Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) – David Rimmer – the most polite and successful political hit-man I ever knew – ‘Leave it to me boss, you won’t hear of it again’ and I didn’t.

Communications Director – Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) – David Tattersall – Turns government-speak into straightforward language voters can easily grasp.

Deputy Communications Director – Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe) – Steph Prewett – The best at seeing required end results and making sure they’re achieved. As with David Rimmer, the buried bodies are never seen again.

Press Secretary – (CJ Cregg (Allison Jamney) – Layla Moran – Progressive, Liberal, naturally outgoing and likeable, has the common touch which few in politics have. She’s a natural to talk for my White House on any matter of public importance. Good to have someone of Palestinian descent in high office too.

Personal Aide to the President – Charlie Young (Dule Hill) – A young Charles Walker – Cheeky, full of fun, loyal and generous. A lifetime of wide experiences to fall back on make him an essential team member.

Secretary – Mrs Landingham (Kathryn Joosten) – Christine Polanski – 100% reliable gets rid of time wasters, knows when I need support and can make me laugh when stress levels are high.

Special advisors not a part of the West Wing –

Special Advisors Defence & Foreign Policy – Paddy Ashdown, Tom Tugendhat, Ming Campbell, Robin Cook

Special Advisor – Social Policies, housing & planning – Roy Connell

Special Advisor – Education and crime – Geoff Howe

Special Advisor – Environment and climate change – Caroline Lucas

Special Advisor – The arts, culture, broadcasting and media – Andrew Beattie

Special Advisor – Liberty, freedom, charities, poverty – Iain Brodie Browne

Special Advisors – without portfolios – Peter Gibson, Barry Smith, Dave Martin, Lord Peter Smith, Ken Clarke,

Special advisor – Transportation – Amtrak Joe

Living off the state

No, I’ve not joined the long list of politicians taking a pot shot, for party political advantage, at those who need welfare support to get by. Indeed, as regular readers of this bogsite will know, I’m very much in favour of universal basic income (UBI) to tackle poverty and reliance on benefits once and for all.

This post is actually about companies who get government/public sector money to run public services or provide goods and services which the public sector requires.

That our government is mired in all sorts of controversy regarding contracts being handed out to companies, sometimes without a proper tendering process, seems sadly to be an everyday thing these days. The connections between some MP’s and companies is often rather obvious yet it keeps on happening and there’s no proper/effective scrutiny/remedy to it.

The irony of all this for me is that often the politicians with worrying connections to benefiting companies will stomp about, at elections times in particular, calling for more openness and efficiency in what the UK Government, its agencies and local councils are doing when it comes to spending public money.

My view is that as a country we have lost our way with regard to who gets to do government/public work and how they’re selected to do it. Interestingly, there have been contracts where informed observers have said that the work could well have been done more cost effectively by the civil service/NHS/councils etc. However, huge sums of money get thrown at consultants and companies some of whom don’t have any prior expertise in the work they’re getting contracts to carry out!

The present approach flows from a dislike of ‘big government’ yet often it seems that by reducing the capacity of the public sector the work which can no longer be done ‘in house’ then costs a huge amount more to buy in. Frankly, it makes little sense to me. Surely governments of all colours should want the functions of the public sector to be carried out in the most cost effective way not the most expensive way!

There must be many companies across the UK who significantly rely on public sector contracts to stay afloat, pay their staff and give dividends to their shareholders. My fear is that we have governance by consultants who can always find a way to screw more money out the public sector and the pockets of taxpayers.

I’ve never been a fan of privatisation as I’ve seen too many failures by councils and government. A better way to encourage innovation and efficiency in the public sector would be to limit outsourcing to mutuals, cooperatives and not for profit companies so that the greed to feed off the public purse is very much reduced and hopefully eliminated.

The control of what MP’s and senior public sector employees can be involved in in terms of company directorships and their connections with others who control companies needs to be much tighter too. Anyone who works for the public sector or who is elected to run it needs to be clearly unconnected with suppliers to the public sector. As soon as such connections are established and verified, by a powerful and independent watchdog, the person/s involved should be removed from office. No ifs, no buts, no 2nd chances and no power to veto the outcome by political leaders.

We need to have confidence that our public services are being run efficiently and by people with the expertise to deliver top quality outcomes. Whilst we feel that politician A’s brother/sister or best mate got the contract to do the work we won’t have such confidence and we could well be getting inefficient and costly services which don’t serve our needs. This is not rocket science, it’s about openness and transparency in all that is done with taxpayers money.

And just as I finished this posting what pops up on my Twitter feed but Layla Moran MP saing this – ‘One of the basic pillars of democracy is that taxpayers can see how their money is spent. As private firms continue to land public contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds behind closed doors, people’s trust in Govt is reaching an all-time low.’

Please Sir, why are the leaders of the 3 largest UK-wide political parties all white middle aged grey suited men?

With the result, announced today, that members of the Liberal Democrat Party have selected Sir Ed Davey to be their new Leader it means the leaders of the 3 largest UK-wide political parties are back to being middle aged, white men in grey suits. Hardly an endorsement of multi-culturalism or a boost for women in politics.

What’s more the new leaders of the 2 supposedly progressive parties, Lib Dems & Labour, are both ‘Sirs’, a title that hardly makes either of them look like politicians of the people and probably more akin to establishment figures. Both are seemingly widely regarded as ‘a safe pair of hands’ following both parties going through periods of political trauma, but they’re also spoken of as ‘boring’. These sober but uninspiring traits will hardly inspire voters to move towards more progressive politics I fear.

As a radical progressive of the left and a member of the old Liberal Party and Lib Dems since 1980 I’ve seen uninspiring leaders (both of my own party and indeed other parties) before and it usually ends in tears. You may not have liked Blair, particularly after Iraq, but he was an inspiring figure that the electorate really took to in his early years, like they did Charles Kennedy, John Smith and Paddy Ashdown. What worries me is how Starmer and Davey can gain the hearts and minds of voters when neither seem to have the ability to do that. I very much hope I’m wrong about this I might add.

Yes, of course, I was backing Layla Moran MP to be the new Lib Dem Leader as she seems to me to have all the qualities that are seemingly missing in Starmer and Davey. It was always going to be an uphill battle for her though as the Lib Dem establishment were not keen on her radical progressive politics which I guess they thought could well frighten the horses. The big money went to Sir Ed and his campaign which clearly gave him a huge advantage – I think I had 4 mailshots from his campaign which generous donors clearly paid for. However, that around 50% of the 100,000 Lib Dem members did not vote at all tells its own story.

It will be interesting to see if Sir Ed can actually step up to become an inspiring vote winner, as it will of Starmer but let’s put if this way, my feeling is that the uphill struggle for progressive politics in England and Wales has sadly got a little steeper via the election of Starmer and Davey. Again though I would be very pleased to be proved wrong.

Why is a ‘leftie’ like you not a member of the Labour Party?

One of the major reasons a ‘leftie’ like me can’t support the Labour Party is because it’s fundamentally a class based party. A party which encompasses such a broad range of political opinion is bound to be riven with sects perpetually at war with each other; that’s Labour’s burden which has bedeviled it and held it back from being a truly progressive party for as long as it has existed.

Yes Labour’s so called middle class supporters are often progressives who’re for example anti-Brexit and they’re predominately of the left/left of centre. However, many of the party’s core working class (you could even say their white working class) supporters drag on the party like an anchor. They’re often far from being progressive with racist/antisemitic views and with a reluctance (or damn right objection) towards real social reform.

Karl Popper’s ‘paradox of tolerance’ comes to mind: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

To my mind Labour tries to manage and suppress the intolerance within its core vote but it must be like squeezing a balloon in that for every part you push in an equal part pops out. Indeed, if you look at Labour’s political sects they’re seemingly set up to be intolerant of other political sects and I don’t just mean sects outside of Labour here!

I became an active trade unionist in 1975 when I started work some 5 years before I became a Liberal Party member, or you could say until I realised my views were ones of a leftie, radical and Liberal nature. In my early days as a trade unionist I often scratched my head when hearing some folks in the TU movement who said they were socialists and/or members of the Labour Party but who seemed to hold views of a right wing nature. It took me a while to realise that they were invariably white and they would often refer to themselves as working class*. The Penny dropped when it dawned on me that anyone within a social class could hold any kind of view within the political spectrum and they certainly did! So to base a political party on a class of people means that some very intolerant and racist folk belong to the same political movement as folks with progressive and left wing views. That the right wingers are clearly tolerated within Labour despite their views has long troubled me; the rule of thumb seems to be if you say you’re working class you’re one of us, if you’re not you’re a Tory.

So I rejected Labour as a party for me and I signed up with the Liberal Party which seemed to be a better fit for my leftie, radical and progressive views. And anyway I had difficulty (and still do) with seeing the world or our UK society via the prism of social class. Us and them politics has never done much for me yet I realise that it can be a hugely motivating factor in the Labour and Tory Parties who seem to thrive on it. I find it most odd when someone from a self proclaimed working class background makes a few bob and then becomes a Tory or even a champagne socialist. It’s a world I simply can’t relate to.

I found that the collectivism of the trade union movement fitted well with my Liberal views although others in the TU movement found it hard to understand my politics. However, when Labour lurched towards the centre ground of politics under Blair and the majority of my fellow TU officers (those with left wing views I mean) had left it in disgust they seemed to look upon me as a genuine leftie. The paradox for me as a Lib Dem councillor though was hearing Labour councillors shouting out ‘we’re old Labour’ whenever Blair got a mention at council meetings. You see I saw the Lib Dems as being more to the left than most of the Labour councillors who were shouting it! Where each of them really stood on the political spectrum always baffled me as they seemed to me to cover the whole political range from left to right whilst uniting under the working class banner of Labour which they felt, at the time, had been hijacked by moderate/centrists. Yet the those same moderate/centrists who were so despised within Labour were probably more to the left of politics than some of the shouters of ‘we are old Labour’. Get your head around that if you can…….

I’m certainly not a political moderate or centrist. My happiest political times were during Charles Kennedy’s period as Lib Dem Leader when often our policy positioning, particularly with regard to social issues, was significantly more progressive than those of Labour. My fervent hope is that Layla Moran becomes the next Lib Dem Leader as to me she seems to show the progressive instincts which are very much required in UK politics particularly since Labour is seemingly moving back to the moderate/centrist ground again.

That the Lib Dems lost their way after Kennedy is a statement of the blindingly obvious to me. Saying we’d oppose Labour’s imposed Tuition Fees, for example, and then not doing so was a massive political miscalculation by Clegg. It precipitated a big decline in the Party from which it has only recently started to recover.

For me the Lib Dems need to be politically radical, be a voice for the poorest in our society, be unashamedly socially/environmentally progressive and willing to take risks by taking on all those issues which the Daily Mail will hate us for. Being timid and centrist, no thank you, I’ll leave that to Starmer. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work with the likes of Starmer, indeed we should work with them where we have common policy interests and that goes for the Greens too. What I like about Moran is her willingness to work with others to try to forge common politically progressive goals…….

* And in far more recent times I’ve come across so called socialists who’ve backed parties such as UKIP and the Brexit Party at the ballot box! When they tell you they usually vote Labour, because they’re working class, but then trot out to vote for right wing candidates makes my point. Clearly, this happened by the spadeful in the 2019 General Election.

Why I’m backing Layla Moran for Lib Dem Leader

This is Layla’s* vision for a better future for us all. It was published via the Independent 27th May:-

‘Around the world, people are looking to their leaders for guidance. Some people will feel safe and hopeful. Others may feel uneasy and question their nation’s choices. In moments like this, decent leadership can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.

For me, the best leadership is calm, measured and purposeful. It is open, transparent and direct. Good leaders spell out what they and their parties stand for, allowing people to grasp the ideas, embrace change and move forward together.

So, as I enter the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I want to make my vision for our country clear. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, I want to champion a more compassionate and cooperative United Kingdom that gives every person and our planet a chance to thrive.

Where everyone has access to high-quality education and retraining. Where politicians work together to help the most vulnerable, and key workers are respected and paid a fair wage. Where we cherish nature as the finite resource it is, rather than continue the managed exploitation we have now.

As a former teacher, education is close to my heart. I joined the Lib Dems because their education policies are best placed to ensure every child is world-ready, not just exam-ready. The educational inequalities that existed when I first joined the party more than 12 years ago are still here; in fact, many have become further entrenched.

When I reimagine the education system, I picture more investment in the early years, to reduce inequalities before children get into a classroom. More power for teachers to design a world-class education system, which recognises and supports children with practical skills as well as academic. And, a nationwide adult retraining programme to get people back on their feet and into work.

Our economic approach also needs urgent change. As the country recovers, we mustn’t leave anyone in our society behind. A Universal Basic Income is necessary to support those who fall on hard times. We must invest in education, health, social care and public services, and give all frontline workers the support they deserve. And let’s prioritise our wellbeing and mental health alongside economic growth, because now more than ever, we need to move forward positively and compassionately.

We have an opportunity to steal a march on the environmental crisis, too. In the past months, travel has reduced, and the demand for coal and oil has plummeted. This presents us with a precious opportunity to flatten the climate curve.

I want to see a UK which is not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Young people, given they will have to carry this burden for us all, should be involved in the decision-making processes for achieving this ambitious goal. We must acknowledge the part that biodiversity catastrophe plays in pandemics, and recognise that to build resilience, we need to talk about habitat as well as carbon.

In areas such as education, economy and environment, the country simply must move forward, rather than look back. This is where I would start as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, along with our ongoing campaigns to reform our political system and challenge threats to human rights in the face of populism and authoritarianism, at home and abroad.

Of course, to make real progress and seriously challenge the Conservatives, the Lib Dems need to move forward as well.

For too long, we’ve become more defined by what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. The party lost trust when many supporters questioned our judgement in entering a coalition government. Subsequent leaders have struggled to move us on from this. We’ve also lost our campaigning edge; we need to rediscover a bold vision and also build the machine to deliver it.

Under new leadership, the Lib Dems must work together at all levels of the party, to rebuild our campaigning strength, listen to voters and restore trust. We need a national brand that complements local council successes, rather than imposing messages that work against local aims. We need to build broad support across the country, and we need to live (and look like) our values of diversity and inclusion.

This approach has worked in my constituency, where building cross-party support, listening to voters, and a strong campaigning effort led to an 8,000-vote increase in my majority in December.

I’ve listened to Lib Dems members and cross-party voters since then, and I’ve included their contributions in my bold forward-vision for our future, with education, economic fairness and the environment at its heart.

The sliver of silver in the clouds of this crisis is the once in a generation opportunity make our country fairer and more liberal. The moment for change exists, and with the right leader and vision, progress is within the Lib Dems’ grasp. We just need to reach out, seize this moment, and move forward as a strong and united party.

That’s why, throughout the leadership contest, I will be asking Lib Dems members to move forward together – and Vote Layla.’

My Views on Social Liberalism, Layla and the late great Charles Kennedy

I’ve spent pretty much all of my adult life to date pressing the case for what I see as Social Liberalism. I’ve been a lifelong trade unionist with very much left of centre views but I have never identified as a socialist as I see socialism as too authoritarian and centralising of power. The Labour Party whilst at face value being of the left is actually a very odd mixture of right, left and centrist politics, always at war with itself via its many sects. I’m a free thinking person, and an environmentalist and I want to embrace good ideas wherever they may come from; UK politics is far too tribal and it’s the reason we are in the mess that we are.

I see Layla as a breath of fresh air who will take on the establishment and fight for the common good but from a radical standpoint. I hope she will both be elected as Lib Dem leader and that she will take the Lib Dems back to the kind of left of centre politics it pursued under the late great Charles Kennedy.

And before the whataboutery starts, of course this initial standpoint does not cover all aspects of policy.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and a candidate for Lib Dem Party leadership

When political parties all go wrong at the wrong/same time

The more I think about the 2019 General Election the more I realise what a terrible choice the British public had on offer in terms of potential Prime Ministers. On that basis is it any wonder they picked (with the more than significant help from our warped electoral system) the politician to lead them who is probably best summed up as a populist entertainer.

If Corbyn had been really credible he would have won in 2017. That he didn’t and went down hill from there makes you wonder what on earth the Labour Party was doing keeping him on as they must have known they were on the road to nowhere with him. And so it proved with a shocking electoral performance in December 2019 – Labour losing many seats to a Tory Party under the leadership of someone that no one trusted.

The Tories had been in a right old mess ever since David Cameron found himself calling the EU Referendum having surprisingly gained a majority in 2015; a majority which privately he must have very much hoped not to have for it forced his hand to go where he did not want to go with the EU.

The Lib Dems recovered some ground in terms of vote share in 2019 but bizarrely ended the election with one seat less than they won in 2017. Our wonderful NOT electoral system at work of course. But their leader Jo Swinson proved not to be an asset to the Party as on balance she wasn’t liked by voters and yes I do realise there will sadly have been some misogynist views at play in her downfall.

And then within a couple months a huge crisis envelopes the world, one that the UK reacted to far too slowly and which because of our obsession with austerity we have been incapable of addressing well. Here we are 6 weeks after lockdown with only a few brave Tories willing to wave the flag for Boris Johnson; the rest of the population wondering how on earth we ended up where we are with a shockingly poor government at the very time we need a strong one.

Oh for an Obama, a Blair, a Merkel or a that wonderful young lady from New Zealand whom we all struggle to say the name of (Jacinda Ardern) in our hour of need, but true leaders in UK politics are hard to find anywhere. The blood letting in both the Tories (over Brexit) and Labour (over Brexit, antisemitism and Corbynism) has led to the loss of many credible politicians and the Lib Dems have failed to come up with a leader the public really can take to since the demise of Charles Kennedy. That someone as credible as Dominic Grieve has found himself unwelcome in the Tory Party or that Louise Ellman walked away from Labour tells us that our politics is far from healthy and that dogmatically driven sects are far too powerful in our two major political parties.

That Labour has finally sobered up is a given in that they’ve now elected a reasonably credible leader in Keir Starmer although the jury is clearly still out. He’s no charismatic leader and worryingly seems still wedded to too many of the faults within Corbynism such as Brexit (he opposes the transition period being extended). He needs to become a true progressive as Blair clearly was in his early years, before he fouled up big style over Iraq. Yes it’s hard as Labour’s core working class supporters can easily swing to the right into regressive politics (as they did to deliver Brexit) but if Blair could be progressive and keep them on side Starmer has to as well. It will be no good appeasing them by throwing in a few ‘hang ’em and flog ’em’ policies Keir.

As for the Lib Dems, who for reasons no one can quite get their heads around have contrived not to have an elected leader in place since the December 2019 GE, there is hope that someone like Layla Moran can come through to be a truly progressive Social Liberal Leader. I hope so as I want my Party to be placed not between the Tories and Labour but to the left of Labour on many social issues/policies as we were in Charles Kennedy’s day.

What will become of the Tory Party is a very big question indeed. You can’t see Johnson surviving or indeed wanting to survive as PM in the long term. His popularist entertainer position which he’s carved out over many years is clearly unsuited to a country in crisis as is his legendary personality fault-line of not doing detail.

Politically the UK is in a mess, England probably more so than the Scottish and Welsh devolved administrations. There’s room for some optimism but it will be a long road before our main 3 political parties become fit for purpose again.