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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What the Welsh Liberal Democrats are for

I have chosen today to publish my-on-line pamphlet 'What the Liberal Democrats are for' largely because I have just finished it, but also in the hope that it will provoke a debate within the party in the run up to the Federal Conference in a few weeks time and the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference in Aberystwyth in October.

In the pamphlet I have tried to map out the party's key policies and philosophy and have argued that taken as whole this amounts to a unique Welsh Liberal Democrat vision that will enable the party to build support.

Although the Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly Group is still only six strong our relative size means that we will have far more opportunities to scrutinise the Government and to set the agenda both in the Assembly and in the press.

This is our chance to refine a distinctive, dynamic and radical message that will have wide appeal in future Welsh elections. At the heart of that message are the Liberal Democrat principles of fairness, honesty and justice. We are committed to tackling poverty and inequality, to taking the hard decisions that will improve our environment and our quality of life, that will remove barriers and offer people the educational and employment opportunities to better their lives and which will open up government and make it more transparent and accountable.

Despite not being in government the Welsh Liberal Democrats have a major role in prosecuting this agenda. It should form the basis of our campaigning and of our work in ensuring that the new coalition government is giving the best deal for the people of Wales. We may be able to agree with other parties on some common elements but taken as a whole this is a unique Welsh Liberal Democrat vision, which values the individual and the inter-locking communities we live and work in. It is about empowering people, not dictating to them, about using the levers of government to remove barriers and create opportunity, not to run things from the centre. It is about working with local people to take on vested interests where that is necessary.

It is our strength as campaigners, enablers, environmentalists, civil libertarians, federalists, and social reformers that define what the Welsh Liberal Democrats are. Our time will come to implement these reforms as part of a left of centre Assembly Government but in the meantime we should use our position in local government to promote this agenda, whilst using our ideas and principles to redefine the role of the second opposition party in the Assembly as the one that can best reflect the aspirations and needs of people in their communities.

The full pamphlet has been published on the Liberal Democrat Voice website here but it can also be read on my own website here.

I like the positive spin, Peter! Perhaps another leader in the making? ;-D
Interesting second para to your pamphlet.

Why no mention of the fateful meeting in Llandrindod, and the rogue vote which failed to allow the majority party view to prevail?

Don't blame Plaid for the death of the rainbow coalition. The answer's much closer to home, and many disillusioned former Lib Dem supporters know that.
The pamphlet is about the future not the past. We could argue the point about the rainbow coalition until the cows come home and still not agree. It is worth noting however that both the Welsh Liberal Democrats and the Tories voted to sign up to it but it was Plaid who walked away.
does your document have anything to say about opposing nuclear power and promoting reneables? (such as wind power?)Ask this because i believe im right in saying the document agreed by plaid and labour has nothing to say bout these issues? Plaid seems to be silent on the issue of nuclear power - a disgraceful state of affairs for a 'radical' party of the left!
It says almost exactly that. Feel free to read it.
Hi peter
Read your paper -few questions - who is going to do whatas you lay out what you see needs doing here in Wales.
What part will AMs;MPs;UK lib dems play.
What's your timescale to get out and start listening.
Sounds like a push for the leadership to me Peter. I look forward to reading this with interest.
I'm not aware that there is a 'left' position on nuclear power. Perhaps it depends on whether the ownership and control is exercised democratically on behalf of the workers or in the interests of financiers?

In a 4 party system such as Wales and Scotland the Lib Dems do have a problem in defining themselves. The Nationalists act as a repository for protest votes and also ape the Lib Dems infamously flexible approach to local policymaking. Now that Plaid have taken on the role of Labour's little helpers however there is real potential for the Lib Dems to stake out their ground in the 'radical centre', distinguishing themselves from the tories by criticising the government from its own centre left perspective. To do so however the Party has to avoid merely negative oppositionalism (which the tories will always do more effectively) and try to find some distinctive policies that voters can identify with the party and which are consistent with the work that Lib Dem led councils are doing on the ground.
I agree Dave, and this is a debate we need to have as a party. Whether this effort of Peter's will stimulate that debate remains to be seen, I suppose that is largely up to us as members.

Congratulations on the paper and if it is the start of a leadership bid I am sure you will do well.

However having read it I am not sure it answers the question "what is the point of the Welsh Lib dems?"

There is nothing that you are suggesting that would be out of place in a Plaid manifesto. I am not as "green" as you are but plenty of people in Plaid are, the issue of nuclear power is a serious one as is the future of the economy of Anglesey which cannot be sustained by "green" technology at present. Lib dems Mps in the past have taken the same view as IWJ in terms of their own constituencies.

On every other issue there is little to choose between Plaid and the Welsh Lib dems. Perhaps this explains why you have recently been attacking the idea of "independence". However there is a substantial minority view in Plaid that would prefer a settlement along the lines outlined by Chris Grayling recently. A parliament with full tax varying powers with Wales having reps in a federal parliament that looked after foriegn affairs etc. Its not my view but I would vote for it in a referendum.How many Lib dems would disagree with this?

The reality is that there is almost nothing the Welsh Lib Dems have to offer that they could not get from Plaid if the Lib dems called it a day and joined us.

I am sure you can look at our programme for government and find fault with it. Anyone can do that, sometimes opposition can actually help government to govern better.

however I suspect that the Lib dems will look for fault for the sake of it simply to preserve their position.

You also fail to answer the point about how the Lib dems will get any programme they propose implemented. You cannot duck the issue of coalition. Whilst I agree that we can argue over the rainbow for ever and a day the fact is you publicly opposed any form of coalition with anyone. What would be the right condiditons for the Lib dems to enter coalition in your view?

Still its a good start to a debate that I am sure your party will "enjoy". The reality is that the Lib dems will soldier on dispite the loss of any distinct message they might once have had. They have enough activists whith a huge emotional investment in the organisation to keep going long after the rational argument has collapsed.
I think the issue Mark is that you are a former member of the Liberal Democrats and therefore I would expect you to agree with most of the pamphlet. Plaid Cymru however is not a liberal party and many members are not Liberal Democrats. It follows therefore that the solution to the dilemma you pose is that Liberal members of Plaid Cymru should join us.

There are very few members of Plaid who would disagree with most of your pamphlet.We have a "socialist" wing of the party that is very vocal and likes to argue that Plaid is a socialist party however its polices do not resemble any sort of socialism that has ever been tried anywhere.

In my view, having been a memebr of both, Plaid is closer in outlook to the old pre-merger Liberal party(a mixed blessing :) )but still a party in which Liberals feel at home.

The point remains the same. if the Lib dems USP is they have broadly the same outlook as Plaid but just disagree with independence its not much to offer is it?
You can steal our policies Mark but Plaid is not a liberal party nor are most of your members instinctively liberal.
Mark - how can Plaid be liberal, nationalist and socialist ?

The next thing you'll tell us is that you're all for independence for Wales, but well, maybe not yet, nor perhaps even for a while ...
It seems to me that there are a lot of confused Plaid members around lately. I'm not so sure that it is the Liberal Democrats who have lost their way but rather Plaid Cymru have.

I am a Liberal Democrat out of principle - and whatever the fortunes/misfortunes of the Lib Dems or any other party, i will always remain a Liberal Democrat.

The Preamble of the Liberal Democrat Constitution says it all in my view:

"The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

This message has equal resonance in Wales as the remainder of the UK. Or main problem is our constant inability to reflect this "Ethos" as a central thread running through our manifesto and effectively communicate it to the electorate.

Something which I think Peter has now had the courage to take the lead in addressing with this paper.

Well Done Peter!

- Richie Northcote
I think Richie's right to identify courage as an issue here.

I'm not sure why the party is so uncertain about itself, but an unwillingness to be bold must be a cause of the apparent malaise within.

The LDs are often characterised by political enemies as having few policies, but they have inherited a great, enduring and over-arching philosophy - neatly encapsulated in the preamble. We must always refer back to it when resolving matters of policy detail.

In the 17c, liberal thinking was grounded in the forces of dissent, dis-establishment, individualism, enlightenment, freedom and liberty and it was liberals too that later developed a genuine social radicalism (although arguably we lacked courage/energy when there was the social emergency of poverty to contend with, so we lost out for a while to the more urgent-seeming socialist solutions of central plans and economic lowest common denominators) and then we embraced an awareness of green issues in the 60s.

At the moment though the LDs may seem not to do justice to the liberal legacy. There seems to be a lack of courage to reflect the radical nature of the philosophy in our politics and policies. We shy from adopting'liberal' measures for fear of losing votes, and we don't want to upset the electoral applecart, perhaps in part because there are paid staffers now, and their jobs have to be kept. The upshot is clear - standing still, stagnation. Going nowhere, and satisfying no-one really.

Push on with this Peter - there are lots of us who want to hear the debate and the real liberal cause taken forward.
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