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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A good response

A fairly favourable response to my on-line pamphlet from within the party with the harshest criticism being that it was not controversial enough. Controversy had never been the objective. The intention was to restate key policies and principles and to highlight a way forward. It is the sort of leadership that full time parliamentarians such as myself should be offering and I am hopeful that my colleagues will respond in kind.

The response of our political opponents was more predictable. Tory Party leader Nick Bourne is obviously still smarting at being left out in the cold by the collapse of the rainbow coalition. He is intent on blaming the Welsh Liberal Democrats and painting us as the party who let Labour back into government. This ignores the fact that Labour are now running Wales because Plaid Cymru put them there. However, it is hardly constructive politics. Nick really needs to move on.

All Labour can do is to repeat a rather tired mantra that even they seem to no longer believe. A spokesperson tells the Western Mail that “Across Wales people know what the Lib-Dems really stand for. They know they are soft on crime and anti-social behaviour, and where they run councils they stand for cuts, failure and broken promises.”

Putting aside the fact that this assertion is based on the misleading claim that we opposed all of Labour's anti-social behaviour legislation including ASBOs (we didn't and we voted for the Act that introduced ASBOs) one has to ask what authority they have to make these claims. Labour have been in power for ten years and yet anti-social behaviour problems are as bad as ever, gun crime has quadrupled since 1998 and they seem clueless as to how to now proceed to tackle these issues.

In those local councils we now lead we have spent a considerable amount of time putting right the mess we inherited from Labour. In Swansea for example we have secured investment in the City Centre after decades of stagnation, we are re-opening a Leisure Centre that closed because of the previous Labour-run Council's incompetence, we are putting right their failure to properly maintain iconic buildings such as the Guildhall, are about to produce plans to address a £150 million backlog in school building maintenance, built up on Labour's watch, we are in the process of delivering a major upgrade in public transport provision and we are instigating an overhaul of street cleansing, designed to improve the appearance of our local communities.

We have done all of this whilst keeping Council tax rises at less than half the level they were under Labour. This does not seem like failure to me. It is a success that is duplicated in Cardiff, Bridgend and Wrexham. In these areas people know what we stand for because they can see our successes being delivered in their communities.

I commend you for getting out there, but I don't think you have answered your own question. Your 'principles' place the Lib Dems squarely in the centre ground, with a focus on policies too close to other parties to create a distinctive voice.

You can't argue that the Tories are against young people getting better educated, or that the Labour Party is against recycling. And no party is against localism. But you don't put forward a real alternative agenda for action that is different.

Its all a bit, forgive me, wet. Not very radical or inspiring. Just not different enough to create an impact, whoever the leader is in Wales.

People know Plaid are a farming/rural party with a focus on independence. People know Labour have a focus on poverty and social exclusion, though are angry they have gone a bit central, and don't mention the war, and people still know (whatever Dave says), that the Tories are for the right, for Middle England, for borders, and the Union Flag.

People know what the Lib Dems are for. They are for whatever centrist local populism can deliver.

If people want that, they will vote for it. If they don't, then you will continue to plateau in Wales.

If your answer is "if only we could get our message out that we have an open mind on the Severn Barrage and will support some, but not all windfarms, then I am sure we would win loads more seats", then I think you haven't quite grasped the issue.

The dilemma facing mainstream political parties is how to counter accusations from the electorate that "they are all the same" whilst avoiding being stuck on the fringe in noble opposition. (Just ask David Cameron). Labour owes as much to becoming unfashionable among the middle-English as it does to Iraq for its election losses. Time that someone made an argument for distinctive politics. Good one.
Well done Peter for kick-starting this long-overdue debate.

I think that for historical reasons (ie. the seats they win have been located in mid-Wales) the LDs have tended to be seen as representing a rural fringe in Wales. In some ways though, this fringe is very crowded political territory, as both the Tories and Plaid do look out for the rural areas (relatively insignificant as they are to the overall economy). It has also left Labour a free hand in the populous parts of the south and north-east, and long-term domination over Wales as a whole as a result.

You're right that the party is beginning to rectify this, by breaking through in Cardiff Central and in taking leading roles in 4 urban councils. The Assembly results in Newport East and Swansea West offer further testomony to the scope for growth in non-rural wales. Whatever happens, the party cannot afford a retreat back to its historical heartlands and if that means being obviously more radical and risking frightening the horses (or other livestock) then maybe that has to be done? Wales' urbanc centres really deserve much better than Welsh Labour.

Although critical of your stance and actions in the aftermath of the Assembly election, I am grateful to you for starting this much needed debate in our party. I've drawn my line under the issue and now want to concentrate on building for the future.

We are currently without direction, meaning and purpose. That may sound harsh, but I believe it to be true.

It stems from our poverty of distinctive policy. A forum is needed in which ideas can be discussed, generated and refined.

Sadly, our Parliamentarians and Policy Committee seem wholly incapable of providing that forum. Both are essentially small 'c' conservative and do not want to do anything that might be seen to be too radical.

The reality is that we are the fourth party. We need to offer something different if we are to give the electorate a reason to vote for us. Votes are not won by being careful.

In my view, the blogosphere provides the ideal forum for the sort of debate that we need to have. A blog dedicated to the discussion of policy ideas and proposals - an on-line Welsh Lib Dem think tank, if you will.

If not a blog, then certainly a dedicated web site for the posting of articles and commentary from Welsh Liberal Democrat members.
As an outsider, I won't comment on the solutions outlined, but I will add that to find solutions you as a party must recognise why you failed to connect in the Assembly election. It's a far more important point than which party stole the crock from the end of the rainbow.

I think identity within a crowded field in Welsh politics where all 4 parties seem to me to stand on the centre-left much of the time is a very real issue. Similarly, all parties talk about decentralisation and democracy. Identity and perception are crucial in this.

Well done for having a go at some tough questions Peter.

I do wish politicians were allowed to offer analysis and strategic vision without always being seen as about to launch leadership campaigns.
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