Sunday, 25 September 2011

Back to the Future – A New Liberalism for the 21stCentury

As I return from the Liberal Democrat Conference 2011,I thought I share some thoughts with you.
I have been a Liberal for a long time and was a member of the Liberal Party (in fact I was a member of the Conservative Party, briefly in the very early 80s).
I have seen Liberalism change in the party that bears its name, firstly through our merger with the SDP and then as we moved to the Social Liberal hegemony of the liberal left during the Paddy, Kennedy and Ming years.
Then, the party new young guns became the engine of the Orange Book and begun the move back to the Liberal centre.
After that, the party passed through the calming and self-analytical spell of the Cable Regency.

The Clegg and Huhne leadership election showed how evenly divided the party was.
This division was important in terms of the future for our party and it is to both Nick and Chris credit that they managed to get the party to gel as a united fighting force, after their election contest.
Then came the general election of 2010 and the Coalition with the Tories.
National circumstances and subsequent world affairs meant that we all had to compromise what we wanted but not who we were.
We truly had become the Liberal Democrats, 2 wings of a party, each feeding the other with weaponry and bullets to fight both left and right while we carved out a new position for the Liberal Democrats.
A truly Liberal position.

It was not an easy relationship internally, during the 1st year of the coalition with the Tories.
We wanted to be taken seriously and the nature of the circumstances surrounding the nation, dictated that this course of action was inevitably the one taken.
Some saw the opportunity to attack the Tories and others Labour.
The Social Liberal Forum mounted a well-organised and timely campaign over the NHS, culminating with the spring conference motions in Sheffield earlier this year.

At that conference, I had yet to see what was beginning to happen in the party.
In fact, it never dawned on me until after the 2nd day of the autumn conference in Birmingham 2011.
The Liberal Democrats had become a real-politics party, in Government.
We grew up.
We took all we had learned from being ignored by the media and written off by all, the years out of power, the internal differences and we changed that into a single laser like focus in Government.

Nick Clegg touched on this with “doing the right thing; not the easy thing”.
Something else began to circulate around the halls, training and fringes.
It was being debated over lunches and dinners as well as over drinks late into the night.
I have been lucky, I had been bouncing ideas with my mate, Benjamin Mathis from Hackney for some time.
Not many could quite put his or her finger on it at the time, and only few of us have been able to do so since.
21st century Liberalism was being born.

How does this Liberalism differ from late last century or indeed from its beginning?
Traditionally, Liberalism has been concerned about the relationship between the state and the individual and how to redress that balance in favour of the individual.
Responsible Liberalism and the Keynesian consensus prevalent post World War 2, made the state a powerful tool for providing freedom from poverty, ill health and lack of education.
Liberalism had organically evolved over the period.
Fast forward to the period 80-2010.
The UK had been through the Thatcher, Major and Blair-Brown years and in that time power had been concentrated on the hands of a few very powerful and influential institutions and people.
What I came to realise in Birmingham 2011, is that the new Liberalism was very much the old Liberty of Mills.

The true power of Liberalism lies in that it foments utmost belief, that the individual can make a better tomorrow than he or she encounters today. It is inherently optimistic about the nature of life.
The past is exactly that which Conservatives seek to preserve; the present, a transient state that Socialism insists on changing.
This is the transformative power of the individual at work in its broadest sense. It questions and asks why and why not.
It dares to confront and ask power to justify itself before the tribunal of individuality.
What autumn 2011 revealed, was a Liberalism that was prepared to take head on the power of vested interested wherever it was found.

"the people who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised". Mills on Liberty

Liberal Democrats began to relish the fight.

In big business, cartels, unions, utility companies and banks and even in Government itself, Orange Book Liberals and Social Liberals in the party are about to challenge the structures of power and those who hold it.

Whether you are a consumer or a small business; small shareholder or an employee; a saver, borrower or mutual lender, 21st century Liberalism will be there on your side.

If you find the power of the state, organised religion, utility companies or media oppressing you, Liberal Democrats will be there on your side.
Autumn 2011 saw the nascent spring of a new force in British politics;a political party truly on your side.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A long term view of Higher Education policy and funding.

Fees should be capped at current levels for students and the extra funding required in the fees debate, should come from business (banks, manufacturing, services etc), Unions and also from NI revenues. HE institutions should seek partnerships with business from all parts of the world in other to obtain sponsorships, bursaries and also funding. They could develop greater links with industries and syndicates.

The system advocated here has its roots in the German tripartite system of economic policy development and consultation, and can be adapted quite easily for education policy and educational capacity building, as best practice.

Society should have a direct relationship with education and is only fair that all pay into the cost, as a society, we all receive benefit derived from that education.
All pay in and all benefit in return.

When the graduate begins to pay back, he/she would effectively be paying his share of the cost and via the interest charged, he also pays back the cost from the NI contributions of taxpayers.
Employers and Unions receive their share of contributions back in the form of the benefit of a better-educated and skilled employee/ Union member.

Furthermore, if projections of higher salaries are correct, graduates should be paying back more in taxes anyway.
This approach involving all stakeholders in education is the only long-term solution to this problem.

21st Liberalism for an age of Labour induced austerity.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A New Contract with our 3rd Age

The Proposal:

To make the retirement idea new and fresh for centuries to come

This policy can be tied in with equality legislation and anti ageism statutes.

To remove the enforced retirement age and enable older workers to retire in a manner they chose; working hours they want and providing for their own livehoods.
A tapering exercise based on age starting in 2015, would see results produced quickly, accompanied by a fall in state expenditure on pensions and an increase in economic activity by workers over 65.

The idea is to persuade stakeholders to see working for much longer, as something of benefit to all.
To begin with, the state needs to pull back in the provision of pensions by tapering and instead concentrate on the provision of allowances and tax-free proposals that would entice and facilitate such radical shift in the role of the state.

This figure needs to break the link between payment into the state system and entitlement.
The working allowance must be lower than the current retirement pension and even non-working allowance must be below the current level pension level.
A presumption of no added hardship is IMPERATIVE.

It is no longer a pension, but an age related allowance based on work for those working over the age of 65 or a non-working allowance if you chose not to work.
In order to do so, I propose moving the universality principle off state pensions and onto income tax and local taxation exemption (direct taxes).
Once a person reaches their 65th birthday, they become exempt of local taxation and if working, exempt of income tax.
Anyone choosing to retire fully and not work, would receive the local taxation exemption plus a slightly higher rate allowance, but have no other tax exemptions.
Retirees due to disability, health or care reason would receive all the entitlements and support from the state.
The key here is that workers would still pay NI, effectively contributing into the system but would be exempt of direct taxes, meaning that they would be able to maintain a decent standard of living.
The workers in conjunction with employers would decide on number of hours, days of week, pay etc; pretty much as now really.

Employers must have no extra charges or costs imposed on them. Any due occupational pension would be paid as if the employee was retired. No further participation in the pension plan is advised.
There must be no net benefit or disadvantage in employing someone on the basis of their youth or age.

As older workers remain or re-enter the workforce, skills, which would have been lost, are passed to a new generation. This process would facilitate the breaking down of intergenerational barriers and provide role models for younger people.

Older workers would mostly prefer or need to work partime and current experience suggests they would take some the lower paid jobs, which at the moment go to EU migrants or settled migrants. The impact on the overall jobs supply/demand is expected to be fairly neutral; however, a fall in migrants’ numbers is expected as less work becomes available.

As the tax-free income is accrued, a substantial % would be going into savings and a modest boost to spending is also expected. The propensity to save of elderly people is fairly constant and high; this would help the banking sector in their recapitalisation.
More money would be available for borrowing by firms and more importantly, the state, without recourse to foreign sovereign funds. This would help to internalise our national debt and reduce debt repayments going abroad.

A system, however YOU choose to define it, where the state stays out of your retirement as much as possible, but is there in its fullness, should you really need it.
A Liberal system where the state enables but does not provide for.
Real Social Liberalism.

The result of this proposal, in varying amounts, will be to:

- Lower the state pension burden.
- Diminish the active role of the state in this sector.
- Enable workers to work until they chose to retire and the type of retirement they want.
- Enable older workers to choose how many hours would suit them to work.
- Provide a maximum senior allowance (do not call it a pension!!!).Those unable to work due to ill health would receive the full state support due to them as of present.
- Provide local taxation exemption to all over the age of 65.
- Take pensioners out of taxation but not NI if they are working.
- Increase savings ratio and therefore assist in the recapitalisation of banks.
- Increase availability of UK funds, therefore internalising % of debt, rather than owing foreign nations.
- Working retirees would still be contributing to society via NI and via expenditure (the grey pound).
- Provide a more varied base of workers in the workforce. (Ratio of younger to older).
- Provide role models in the work force.
- Increase intergenerational cohesion.
- Increase participation in society, of a usually difficult to engage segment.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Lets us dress for the occasion-09/11,07/07,11/03 and everything else

September 11th 2001 08:46 am – 10:28 am New York time.

The world changed.
The way we view and experience one another has lots its charm and excitement.
The smell, like memories still linger.
A fear is now, all pervasive.

So much has been written and even more has been said about 09/11 and also 07/07 in London and 11/03 in Madrid; those 4-digit word/symbol/icon that have come to symbolise that change in the way we see the world.
I will not attempt to add to that mountain of pain, the lake of tears or the furnace of hatred and revenge that have come to be associated with the remembrance of those days. My emotions are my own and inside me,they will stay.

My concern is for the future.
It seems so far away from what we had hoped and planned for.
Our government and leaders on both sides, selectively blind to the predicted consequences of a few wise politicians, led us to war.
Iraq, a war not needed, and not really finished despite troop withdrawal. The loss on all sides and the destruction of the country will have repercussions we are yet to think and experience.
Afghanistan, an ongoing war and the battleground of the world for generations, has a fragile hope and similarly to Iraq will be part of our future, the influence on which we can barely dare to imagine.
And the damage here in the UK, in the USA and also around the world-a damage greater that just the loss of lives, as important as that is to all of the affected families and us.

As we move into the future, for some people, emotions and memories are solidifying into dogma.
A powerful cocktail of hatred, revenge and nationalism is being mixed.
I am not sure whether it can be stopped.

All I wish for is that we dress appropriately for the occasion every year from now on.
To mark the events in New York and the losses of all lives in Iraq, Afghanistan, London, Madrid and the lives of those, whose path in life led them to cause so much damage to the essence of the human spirit; I ask you to dress yourselves appropriately every year, in all ceremonies.

Dress yourselves ,not in national flags, books of religion or wrapped head to toe in cultural or clan markings.
Do not wrap yourselves in vengeance and fanaticism.
Let your badge not declare your politics or philosophy.
Leave them all behind, just for once.
Let us try,for a brief moment, to capture all that those things that these events and wars have taken away from us.

Just dress yourselves in the garment of humanity.
Just for once.
Every year.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Dispatches -Britain's Secret Slaves.

As a human being ,I found Dispatches tonight disturbing,sickening and abhorrent.
As a Liberal,I am very angry that this could be happening in the UK.

This entry is about a promise that I want all political parties to make.
That they will look at the status of domestic and sex slavery in the UK with a view to help the ones who are suffering.
The decision-making must be left to politicians but I will offer suggestions for inclusion in the New Abolition of Slavery act.
The ones that come to mind immediately are:

1) Entry into the UK of domestic staff accompanying foreign employers to be assessed in country of departure by qualified staff and again in the UK (see no 2). The visa for entry must be given to the employee along with the appropriate rights to work.
A bond of £10,000.00 is to be charged to the employer per employee and kept by the Home Office .In the event of an employer being found guilty of slavery and imprisonment or any other breach of UK law relating to the employee, this money can be paid to the plaintiff as part of the compensation process.

The passports are to be held by the local police station and only available to employees. The passports will be returned to the employee if she changes employment or wants leave the UK (holidays, home visits etc). At all occasions where the employee engages with an agency of government, care must be taken to ascertain that the employee is not being coerced or threatened in any way. The passports are to be returned to the local police station once employee returns.
The police who then investigates new employer must do the transfer of passports to another police station.

2) All agents who are presently employing domestic staff in the UK are to present themselves at police stations or council offices where an automatic assessment of their ability to be an employer can be assessed and random spot checks will be conducted on them at any time. NO exceptions to be given (including diplomatic immunity)

3) All employees assessed at hospitals, GPs, police stations and Social services are to be given help to escape from abusive employers, given safe homes access, counselling and treatment and means of basic education and help finding other jobs. An automatic presumption to domestic working visa qualification must be in place.

This list is not all-inclusive and much more is needed to make it workable.

Again I ask all Parties agree to a joint effort and suggest that my party, the Liberal Democrats take this forward in our campaigns for human rights in the UK.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Fairness in Parliament and in Iceland (the shop).

"Frightening!”, “They are all doomed!", "The poor will die of starvation”, ”The poor are eating Caviar and Beef Wellington!”(Iceland, by the way), ” Not Progressive enough!”,” This is the new Radically Reactionary Progressiveness!"
Claims and counter claims based on how figures are read (and at times made up!)
By the way, the quotes above are all made up.

So when the Institute Of Fiscal Studies (supposedly non-partisan), get in on the act and begin to conduct analysis of Government figures and forecast, everyone takes the notice they want. But should we? (Another blog eventually…).

But none of it can take away from the fact, that any financial decision that makes a large number of the poorest in our society, suffer further poverty is regressive.
Whether, in the short term or indeed the long term, politicians and party activists in progressive politics, have made fairness the king pin of its policy development.
To fail in this most central of self-imposed beliefs is tantamount to incompetence at best and hypocrisy at its worse.
But you see, we are in a coalition and not in a Liberal Democrat Government and we have to compromise, including fairness.
The problem here is one of time scale, tactics and strategy.
The Liberal Democrats are hoping to be influencing politics and policy for many years to come and do believe that consensus and compromise can bring it about.
We are relying on AV getting through and then a final push for STV-the Holy Grail!
The problem with that is that the 2 big beast of politics don’t want to give up cosy your turn-my turn politics. Surprised?!
You shouldn’t be.

The Conservatives abhor change unless it means money and power is kept in their pocket. They’re supposed to be abstaining and their leader voting YES but some their more rabid right-wingers, are actively campaigning for a NO Vote.
Tories are not adverse to saying one thing and doing another.

Labour, supposedly progressives have come to see the LDs with contempt.
“We will erase them from political history!” and are now less likely to vote for anything that would help the LDs remains in power.
Bitter, twisted and vicious with it.
Their self-righteousness is frightening.
But there are reasonable voices in their party with enough influence.

Meanwhile, fairness is being bandied about as if it was something that one could simply wish into existence!

The Lib Dems leadership could and should, have meaningful talks with any party to guarantee a broad movement, which could achieve both economic fairness and voting reform. Our Coalition will one day expire. Some may join other parties and wear a different colour. We may go back in to 3rd party status with less influence.
But in order to succeed in this fairness mission we must drive the message forward, reasserting that we cannot do all that we want because our current partners and we are on the look out for others to join us in this important endeavour. When we have political and voting fairness, economic fairness will be the consequence.
We must defend our current record as something that we have to do in order to get where we need to be to implement the changes. Defend the present and lay out another, different future.

I want to see my party lead the country on The Campaign for Fairness in Parliament and in your Pockets(Iceland,of course)!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

COOPERATIVISM: (A real sad fairy story of lineage, despair and Hope!)

Once upon a time, long ago and just after the appearance of the Humans, the world was a very different place.
It needed something to make these humans get on with this living and breeding thing they so wanted to do. So, some of the Eternals took pity and helped them.
Present at the birth of human history was it soul mother; an eternal called Need, while the absent father, another Eternal called Neglect, did a runner as it normally was the case.

As usual, Need found that being separated from Neglect was not much better and no help from the in-laws, Indifference and Selfishness, was available either.

You see you had to look after yourself and your children or meet another eternal, Death! But after a few times of being dumped upon, Need asked Hope; yep, an eternal one, to send along help, so that her children could rise above the poverty, disease and want to which their father and his family had once again relegate them.
Hope listened and obliged the plea of help from Need, and its 1st born, Cooperativism sprung from the soil in the shape of hands and it came along to the rescue.
Groups of gatherer hunters and eventually farmers, got together to organise food and other goods. It first fed them and then allowed them to sell their excess.
Profit had been born!
You see, Neglect had been on the run from its responsibility for centuries by then, as it left behind a world filled with children, of which only the progeny of its wealthier consort, Luck, had any chance of decent future (or in fact any future!).

Some of those earlier humans thought “Aha!! Profit could be myriad if I go it alone and perhaps Luck will take me under her wing” and off many went on their way.
But others had understood that security and growth for all, could be also be achieved, if they stuck together and did this the old way.
Fast-forward to Scotland in 1761 and food was still the main item to be cooperated
Oatmeal in this case; organised by the Fenwick Weaver’s Society. They realised that other things could also be Mutualised (a sibling of Cooperativism), and education, savings and in time loans, were added to the list.

Hope then had a good look and saw what Cooperativism had done!
And he was most pleased. Hope also understood that only a living flesh person like the humans could take his children’s inspiration and make them more effective; and so he sent the humans his angel in the form of a man!
His name was Robert Owen.
For many years Robert had been delivering and receiving messages from the Eternals and he knew his time had come. It was gonna be SHOW TIME AT THE COOP!
He bought up a factory, mutualised its profits to help the workers and then set off, telling all who would listen, how to make the world a better place.
Others heard the messages too and helped Robert. A man called William even set up a newspaper to help Robert tell the people the Eternals’ message.
By then,the Cooperativist fire had spread around the country and in 1844 in Rochdale England, The Society of Equitable Pioneers was set up.
Within a decade, over 1000 more groupings of these new Co-operators, as they were by now called, had appeared. Hope was well chuffed; Cooperativism had done good!
And the rest, thankfully, as they say, is (human) History.