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Saturday, September 13, 2003

Cosying up

The following arrives from Exiled Lib Dem - Martin J. Ball, PhD President, ICPLA Hawthorne-Regents' Distinguished Professor, Department of Communicative Disorders, University of Louisiana at Lafayette: "Here I am at 3.00am Central time, in deepest Louisiana - and at last I find the only site that has the Pentwyn result (Cardiff Council and even ALDC not yet updated)! Hurray - now I can get to sleep!!! What a great victory."

Meanwhile the growing strength of the Liberal Democrats is being recognised publicly in the most authorative of quarters. The New Labour newsletter for party activists for July and August 2003 states that "The Lib Dems are now a real threat even in towns without a strong Lib Dem tradition." This is further reinforced by the Labour campaign in Pentwyn. It seems that they are determined to bring the level of political debate right down to the gutter. A letter to voters from the subsequently defeated Labour candidate describes Liberal Democrat proposals to replace the Council Tax with a local income tax based on the ability to pay thus:

"Local residents also tell me that they are really worried about the Liberal Democrat proposal to introduce a new tax on individuals, similar to the Poll Tax. This would hit working people in the area really hard and lead to massive bills for families."

er..no! This is misrepresentation on a grand scale. Of course if we are talking about massive tax bills for families we only have to look at the 12% Council Tax increase imposed by Cardiff County Council but let us not get into that. It was quite clear which version two thirds of those who voted believed.

Other gems in the letter are the so-called "Liberal Democrat opposition to exciting schemes like the new stadium for Cardiff City Football Club.", a proposal that the Liberal Democrat group on Cardiff Council supported. In fact so keen were Labour to play this card that they even distributed an endorsement from Sam Hamman, the Chairman of that club, for the Labour candidate. Presumably, they were banking on his popularity wearing off but clearly they underestimated his appeal. What this tactic did do of course was to highlight the cosy love-in between the Cardiff Football Club Chairman and the ruling Labour group. Obviously they both get on very well.

The letter was full of such slurs. It amounted to a nasty piece of spite, innuendo and misrepresentation. That is the reality of fighting inner City Labour, a fact that the Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, Lembit Opik needs to remember. He has relaunched his Campaign Charter to clean up politics in which he states that the Welsh Lib Dems will 'campaign on our positive record and proposals, drawing attention to the delivery failures and weaknesses of other parties' activities only 'where appropriate'. The Charter requires that we justify statements, claims and campaign techniques. "For example, it's OK to contrast our work in a competitive way, like adverts might do, but it's not OK to run other parties down for things we couldn't do better ourselves."

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the thrust of the Charter and have always tried to campaign along the lines set out by it. But Lembit needs to get real, get out of the cosy politics of Montgomeryshire and get involved in the big City where it really can get dirty and nasty. Politicians need to be truthful, honest and decent but people also expect them to be robust when required and to stand up for what they believe in. We have to be effective communicators and we have to let people know the truth about what they are being asked to vote for. That does not mean we have to get personal, snide or nasty but it does mean that we have to call it as it is. All Lembit will succeed in doing with this charter is to waste a lot of our time answering questions about perfectly sound and acceptable literature, distracting us from the real job of politics and raising unjustifiable doubts about individual campaigns and activists. He could have achieved his objective by dealing with this internally, instead he has set us up to be knocked down. I, for one do not need to be undermined by the Welsh Party leader in that way.

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