Category Archives: conference

No More Parties?! Part 1

A year ago, I asked my wise friends of Facebook the question: ‘What do you think of politics today?’ I gave the options ‘like’, ‘don’t like’, ‘don’t know enough about it’ and ‘don’t care’ but left it open for others to add their own categories. The reason I asked is because I love politics. It is important to me because it has an effect on my life. 37 replied.

Results were: 13 – ‘don’t like’, 10 – ‘no major distinction between major parties anymore – vote grabbing whores all’, 4 – ‘occasionally interested’, 3 – ‘that’s a deeply vague question’, 3 – ‘I like turtles’, 1 – ‘I’d rather not vote than vote for Rupert Murdoch’, 1 – ‘don’t know enough about it’, 1 – ‘don’t care’, 0 – like.

So this was a pretty rubbish sample of vaguely young people. Both boys and girls answered and many were happy to add alternatives. It appears that most people consider themselves to have enough understanding to know that they don’t approve. Not one said ‘like’.

The political parties are back in the Commons after their summer break. The only profession, aside from teachers and children, that gets such a long period off. And certainly the only one that doesn’t get any stick for it. I’m not saying that it doesn’t make sense to rest people in high-pressure roles where they often work long hours. But the same gesture isn’t afforded to everyone else doing such jobs.

While they are papped by the media allegedly relaxing on their staycation, many can actually be found surrounded by SPADs (Special Advisers, roles populated by Oxbridgers in the ministers’ own image) preparing for the new term. No sooner have they got their well-cut suit jackets off (except for the ones who got bollocked by a female Conservative MP the other day for looking scruffy), there’s been a re-shuffle in the Cabinet. And party conference season is just around the corner – more on that later.

A ‘reshuffle’ sounds alarmingly casual. Like the first line-up was an initial, random shuffle and this subsequent one is similarly haphazard. Commentators are wondering how Big D has managed to miss the fact that George Osbourne is the most hated man in England (booed in the stadium when he was presenting medals to Paralympic winners, when even Gordon ‘End of Boom and Bust’ Brown got a cheer), his new Minister for Equality has been absent or abstained in all major LGBT rights votes and his new Health Minister (the one who ballsed up a huge media deal with Rupert Murdoch by being… too good friends with him) is sometimes referred to accidentally on the BBC as Jeremy Cunt. And he has no health expertise. And he has been reprimanded on both expenses and tax avoidance.

Oh and not to mention Lib Dem David Laws making his big comeback, painted as being just about the only competent one, despite leaving his ministerial post in 2010 after it was revealed he claimed money from the taxpayer for a room in his partner’s flat; which doesn’t give you much confidence in the rest of them. Overall, it reveals a healthily bizarre pattern to making high power appointments.

So, with that bit of hocus pocus out of the way, the parties can all continue with preparations for their big annual shindigs, starting with the Green’s last weekend. Party conference season is a bit like summer for teenage festival-goers. Get wasted. See people you know. Potentially hook up. Perhaps learn something. If you wondered where political parties decide their policy – it’s not here. They don’t really recruit members either… So, why then you ask, do they exist? I went to a debate last week for the launch of Policy Review TV with @PollyToynbee from the Guardian arguing for them to be abolished, and @TimMontgomerie, editor of Conservative Home, saying they should remain.

I’ll spare you the details and just give you a couple of tit-bits. Polly called them an “extraordinarily artificial event where delegates are irrelevant.” Tim said they are a ‘Disneyland vacation’ for politics lovers. He said there are actually three conferences:

1. TV conference – for the cameras. Main aim – DO NOT MAKE A GAFF ON TELLY
2. Fringe conference – events outside the main hall where charities and thinktanks can be found
3. Late night bar conference – the only socialising lots of politicos ever get to do

Many limitations were identified with the help of the crowd. People suggested the length was prohibitive to those who have… er… jobs. Conservative Home actually worked out that its conference now costs more than £700 to attend. Much more than a festival and not in the summer holidays… Hmm.

Political parties are in massive decline. This is happening for many reasons, here’s a few: they don’t represent the views of modern people, they have bad internal organisation so they find it difficult to get people and biscuits in the same room, they don’t want too many people coming with their individual ideas and views, the situation in government has stayed stable whether they have members or not, they aren’t cool, they don’t seem to do what they say they are going to do, they don’t tell the truth… I could clearly go on.

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Illustration by my lovely friend Hannah Wallace.

Written for and first published here: http://www.letsbebrief.co.uk/no-more-parties/

What do LibDems talk about? Mark Jewell, guest column

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Friday 18th September and I set off for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth. The sun is shinning, but the clouds of recession, high debt and unemployment set the scene for the last big autumn conference before the General Election.

The first thing I heard on the news on the first day of conference was Nick Clegg’s “savage cuts” call. Such language was itself a bit savage for Lib Dems. But behind it was the stark reality of needing to fix the great black hole in the public finances, whilst only making firm commitments we can afford.

I was born and brought up in the east end of London and went to the local Comprehensive school. As the one and only of my family to go on into tertiary education, I went to Thames Polytechnic to get a BSc (Hons) Mechanical Engineering, I have felt that opportunity has favoured me.

It was not until the turn of a new millennium that I became active in politics; I felt strongly about the introduction of tuition fees and a war in Iraq based on a wholly false premise.

It was thus with some angst that I went to conference knowing that there were murmurings that we could not afford to scrap tuition fees.

Nonetheless, our draft manifesto A fresh start for Britain includes a pledge to scrap tuition fees. The issue is not will we, but when. What is clear is that unlike Labour we are not planning to charge students up to £7,000 per year for university tuition alone. Unlike the Conservative, we are not planning a massive hike in the interest you pay on your student loan.

For me the issue is one of harnessing the full potential of all sections of our society so that we can compete in a world market and build a more robust, fairer society.

Nonetheless, If you’re poor, you’re still far less likely to go to university than if you’re better off. If you’re from an ethnic minority, you’re more likely to be stopped by the police, even when you haven’t done anything wrong. If you’re a women, you’ll probably be paid less than the men you know.

If we are to build a fairer society, then we must do things differently. If we end the Child trust fund, we can pay for smaller class sizes for five, six and seven years olds. We can save billions by reducing the bureaucracy of Labour’s centralised state, scrapping ID and other databases and by saying no to the like for like replacement of Trident. . Only if we can save enough , will we still be able to include in our manifesto some of the pledges for new investment that we hold dear.

m/f

We must be ‘savage’ and bold in resetting our priorities from excessive bureaucracy and waste to building our infrastructure.

No doubt the debate will go on, but The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party where the members will decide policy, unlike other parties, where policy is at the dictate of the leader.

Reflecting on the weeks events, on my journey home, I can picture a better future for Britain. Now I want to make it happen.

Mark Jewell is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Preston.

Gordon the Gopher

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First published in Pluto Student Newspaper.

The Labour Party Conference began on Sunday, and with that, you rightly expect some Labour Party Bashing. But I would actually, first like to congratulate Gordon Brown.

Following talks at the G20 in Pittsburgh last week, he has made it part of his party’s promise to use new laws and unprecedented ministerial pressure to come down hard on banks that still give out big bonuses.

He will also give regulators powers to force banks to build up their cash reserves, rather than paying out massive cash rewards.

But, Gordon, I ask. WHY NOW???

It is almost a year since bankers hit the headlines, when Fred The Shred made his fall from grace and swift disappearance from the media’s watchful gaze ( apparently a genuine photograph of Sir Fred will fetch you a cool thirty grand. But the holiday to whichever exclusive island he, Tupak and Elvis are cohabiting… is priceless).

People were outraged. Bankers were hung. Windows were smashed. And where was he?

So now, after having time to think about it, as our PM is famed for doing a lot of, he has come up with policy that the man in the street could have told him, after falling out of Wetherspoons, with his opinion informed only by The Sun.

The conference hall at Brighton was reportedly deserted as even loyal Labour supporters showed he couldn’t tell them anything they hadn’t already raged about after reading it in the Mail. Damage done.

The hall was however, packed for the real star of the show, back (for the third time in the Cabinet) by popular demand (from some factions), unelected and unafraid, Lord Mandleson of Everything. Tony Blair once said that the Labour Party would only change when it “learned to love Peter Mandleson”. If that is what has happened, it is only because they can’t stand Gordon the Gopher any longer.

Labour has pitched itself on the side of the middle classes at the conference. As opposed to Cameron’s Crew who have only committed to tax cuts on inheritance. Because they know which side of the fancy cracker their caviar is on…

But middle-class unemployment has trebled since the recession began, hitting everyone from six-figure-salaried-executives to the 300,000 young people who graduated in 2009 into the ever shrinking professional jobs market.

And Labour’s response has been too little, too late. The Job Search Support Scheme for Newly Unemployed Professionals has been given just £3million, compared to the£5billion floating around in Job Centre Plus. And as middle-class workers opt for lower-paid jobs, there are fewer jobs for people down the chain.

From bankers, to Gurkhas, to the recession, it’s like Gordon has been shut in a bunker only to emerge with policy after after policy after everyone has already gone home. And for this, it seems Labour might be finished.

Switch off the lights in the conference hall on your way out will you Gordo?