Will 20 mph be enforced in Winchester? Here’s the answer…

Following a recent report in the Hampshire Chronicle, there’s been quite a bit of confusion about whether 20 mph will be enforced in Winchester or not.

In order to sort this out, I wrote to the Police Commissioner and the Chief Constable – and now I have their answers.
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What do ‘serious parties of government’ do? And what does it mean for how the Lib Dems need to change?

We’ve heard a lot from Nick Clegg and the people round him that we need to be a ‘party of government’.  Almost all Lib Dems agree with that – although many disagree strongly that this also means that we should stop being ‘a party of change’ and turn into a ‘party of the status quo’ – as our recent European campaign seemed to suggest.

But let’s focus on what we all agree on – and focus on the importance of being a ‘serious party of government’. Here are a few thoughts on what other ‘serious parties of government’ do differently to the Lib Dems and what that might mean for how the direction of the party needs to change.

Here goes:

‘Serious parties of government’ make pledges and, generally, try to keep them

One of the stranger consequences of the tuition fees catastrophe is that the leadership and leadership loyalists have decided that the Liberal Democrats shouldn’t make pledges any more.

The other ‘serious parties of government’ don’t agree with them.

While Labour don’t always appear to be serious about government now, they certainly were under Tony Blair in 1997.  Remember this?

Labour's 1997 General Election Pledge CardIt’s a pledge card.  It even has the word ‘pledge’ written on it. And Labour were pretty serious about keeping to them.

What about the 2010 pledge from David Cameron on government support for pensioners?

He’s kept it – even though it’s far more expensive than, say, the tuition fees pledge.  And he’s just made another couple with a 2017 referendum on Europe as a ‘cast iron pledge and another pledge to pensioners to increase the pension by 2.5% a year till 2020.

And this is hardly surprising.  People want to know what ‘serious parties of government’ want to do in the future.  This is particularly important in a coalition when there’s a real danger of giving the impression that what the government is doing is all you’re about.

That’s why the Conservatives are smart to be making pledges. And why it’s wrong for the Lib Dems to have decided they’re always a bad idea.

When in coalition, ‘serious parties of government’ make clear what they’re being stopped from doing

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have taken almost diametrically opposed approaches to communicating their achievements in coalition.

Nick and his central team of advisors have gone with a “what we’ve got and what we’ve stopped” strategy – outlining Lib Dem achievements in Government – and what we’ve stopped the Conservatives from doing.

David Cameron and the Conservatives have gone with a “what we’ve got and what we’ve been stopped from doing” strategy and haven’t put any effort into telling voters what they’ve stopped the Liberal Democrats from doing.

David Cameron’s strategy is working better.

Ultimately this is hardly surprising. While not repudiating the achievements of the coalition, the Conservative strategy makes it clear that they want to be doing something more and different to what the coalition government alone is able to achieve.

The Liberal Democrat strategy does the opposite. It reinforces the Conservative message (always a bad sign) – and does nothing to give any steer on what the Liberal Democrats would be doing or trying to do if governing alone or negotiating a new coalition.

Focusing on what you’ve stopped the Conservatives doing also reminds people of what you’ve not stopped the Conservatives doing – which, unavoidably in a coalition, is going to include a bunch of things your supporters are unhappy about.

In essence, it leaves the Liberal Democrats defending the coalition as the best of all possible worlds, rather than making clear – as we should always be doing – how we want things to be better than they are today.

Not smart. Not something that ‘serious parties of government’ do. And something that needs to change.

The most successful ‘serious parties of government’ challenge the status quo

Political theorists like to contrast establishment parties and challenger parties, but real life experience suggests that the most successful politicians and ‘serious parties of government’ are able to ride both horses.

Keith House has laid out the case for being a ‘party of government and a party of protest’ on Lib Dem Voice – and I had a go on the BBC on the issue of not being a ‘party of complacency and the status quo.

Even more simply, Nick Clegg was the insurgent in the 2010 Prime Ministerial debates and won (at least the first one). He was the representative of the establishment in the 2014 EU debates and lost. Of course, that’s not the whole story. But a large chunk of the British electorate – left, right and centre – are looking for change from where we are today – and only one person in the 2014 debate was seen to be offering it.

Two of the most striking examples lie outside the Liberal Democrats.

It’s no coincidence that Britain’s most electorally successful Prime Ministers – Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair – started out being seen as outsiders challenging the status quo and having an agenda for change – and stayed that way more or less until the end.

Margaret Thatcher – to put it mildly – never gave any sense of satisfaction with the status quo or with the establishment until the day she died.

In both cases this could put them in conflict with members of their own party, but this was generally because they were seen as wanting to change things too much or too quickly – and not because they appeared to be taking things too slowly.

And it wasn’t just something that happened to get them elected first time. It was something they kept doing all the way through their terms of office.

Is that all there is to it?

Unfortunately not. There’s the small matter of delivering distinctive policy in government (and not just what was agreed back in 2010 in the coalition agreement) – and having the right set of policies that take you beyond the status quo.

It’s possible for a policy to be radical, promised in your manifesto and wildly unpopular – as Margaret Thatcher discovered with the poll tax.

But a complacent defence of the current situation and treating the coalition government as the best of all possible worlds is no longer an option. If the leadership of our party could learn from other ‘parties of government’, start telling us what they want to do if they weren’t held back by the Conservatives – what we’d be delivering if we had more MPs and a stronger position in Government – and get the party back to challenging the status quo, it would be a huge step in the right direction.

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Neither in sorrow, nor in anger, but it’s time for Nick to go…

There are four things I want a leader to do:

  • Deliver a winning political strategy
  • Create an effective election winning core team
  • Effectively communicate a distinctive vision – especially at major elections
  • Deliver Liberal Democrat policies – whether in or out of Government

On political strategy, I am extremely concerned that the ‘centrist party of government, not a party of protest’ positioning is completely wrong. The most effective political leaders – Thatcher – Blair – and, dare I say it, local government leaders like Keith House in Eastleigh – manage the double of being both credible in Government AND dissatisfied with the status quo – protesting – pushing for change. The opposite of a ‘party of protest’ is a ‘party of the complacent status quo’. For me, the answer to ‘that question’ in the Farage debates crystallised the issue. How can someone who was an MEP for 5 years – and (I would hope) understands how the British people feel alienated from EU decision-making – not be fizzing with ideas for reforming and improving it? (Indeed, how, as DPM, has he not been using his responsibility for constitutional reform to try and put in place reforms to build greater public EU accountability into our parliamentary system?) We always want change. We always want things to be better. We can never, and should never, be the party of the establishment. That’s got to change – and I don’t believe that change can happen with Nick in charge.

There’s a deeper strategic point, that I’ve repeatedly made at the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive, that we need to guard our distinctiveness vs. Labour and the Tories. Nationally we need ‘signature policies’ that illustrate our values and that neither party will match. Over the last few years, they have included constitutional reform, civil liberties, the environment and, historically, Iraq. It’s vital that we defend our position on all of those, but, sadly, we have failed to deliver on constitutional reform – we have conceded far too much on civil liberties – and lost our clarity on improving the environment. Aiming for the ‘centre ground’ without anchoring on policy positions where we are clearly not aiming for a happy consensus is essential for us to be a meaningful political movement.

On the core team, Nick’s team is weak – not because they’re not bright and capable – but because they do not contain a diverse enough range of experience – inside the party and outside the party – and do not appear to care about having an empowered and politically capable front line. All they appear to want donors and deliverers. And they have a surprisingly nonchalant attitude towards the wipe-out of our local councillor base in large areas across the UK. The idiotic email we received on Friday is a symptom of that. There are scores of bright young ‘think tank’ types – but not enough people with front line experience. People who understand that, while we need to work with the Tories (or Labour), they are the enemy and are putting plenty of effort into thinking how to screw us over – morning, noon and night. People who have experience of building a team, creating a motivating political vision on the ground and winning vs. the other parties. I don’t trust the central organisation to deliver the campaign we need in 2015 – indeed, I’m not sure it’s capable of doing it – and I don’t see how that is going to change without Nick changing.

The biggest problem is communication. Effective communication produces results. And the communication we’ve seen during the recent European campaign has not been effective. This isn’t about being in Government. We were in Government before the Clegg/Farage debates. Nick was able to connect with people (sometimes brilliantly) in the past but is now a busted flush. Perhaps unfairly, a whole chunk of the electorate who we need to win over is irrevocably alienated from him. His polling is dire. The sad fact is no-one will listen to him in 2015 – and anyone who thinks that isn’t a problem has a very strange view of how General Elections work.

Finally there’s the question of policy delivery. I supported joining the coalition and, while I didn’t agree with every word of it, I supported the Coalition Agreement. (I’ve just re-read it and, while some of the problems with it are now clearer, there’s still a lot of good stuff in there).  The biggest disasters of this parliament have generally come from outside the coalition agreement (e.g. the bedroom tax) or are in direct contradiction to it (NHS Bill, Secret Courts) and those decisions all went through Nick. And I genuinely don’t know what we’ve got in return. Yes, we’ve had some important wins like strengthened mental health policies. Some of the Coalition Agreement policies have been delivered on a larger scale and with larger impact than originally committed (e.g. apprenticeships) although many of those are offset by policies where we’ve under-delivered. But in terms of big signature policies that weren’t in the Coalition Agreement, what has there been? What have we got for all the painful Conservative party policies that Nick has signed us up to since 2010? Free school meals in primary schools? Is that it?

Ultimately, the killer point for me is the third one. Mid-term unpopularity was always to be expected – not being listened to is a much more serious problem.  I can’t see how we can fight a general election with a leader that no-one wants to hear. It just doesn’t make any sense.

So Nick has to go – and that’s why I’ve signed the letter at http://www.libdems4change.org.

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Local enthusiasm and a flood of ideas to sort out walking in Winchester

One of the things I’m most keen to do as a Councillor is encourage and support walking in Winchester.

Martin Tod, Phryn Dickens and Rose Prowse standing on Battery Hill with 20 mph signsI’ve been a campaigner for 20 mph zones for years. Since election to the County Council, I’ve successfully pushed to get pro-walking schemes on the development programme for Romsey Road and Stockbridge Road (and, yes, I’ve asked that these should include improved crossings at Boscobel Road and Clifton Terrace/St James’ Terrace). And my work with the Men’s Health Forum has made me only too well aware of the health benefits of walking. Read the excellent Walking Works report by Public Health England, the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support if you want to know more about walking and health.

One of the other initiatives that I’m involved with is the Winchester Walking Strategy Group – chaired by my council colleague Robert Hutchison – and with the expert input and advice of Liz Kessler. And it was during one of these meetings that I thought I’d tweet and Facebook a question to see what local social media users might have to say about walking in Winchester.

And I was pleasantly surprised by the response:
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Local Lollipop People – a quick update

I’ve been getting some emails from local residents who are concerned about a threat to local lollipop people – I think as a result of this Living Streets campaign (an organisation I would normally support – indeed, I’d be quite keen to get a local branch going here!).

This has come as a bit of surprise, since a combination of campaigning by local people, hard work by local school governors, teachers and council officers and pressure from local councillors has just helped us get two more locally – one in Cheriton Road and one in Stockbridge Road.  I was chatting to the newly appointed lollipop man in Stockbridge Road only two days ago! more …

Posted in Fulflood, Walking | Leave a comment