Sunday, October 15, 2006

Perceptions from the Front line...Pro Lib Dem but Anti Ming Campbell students...

I spent much of yesterday amongst starry eyed freshers at the University of York's annual freshers fair, trying to convince all comers to ignore the lure of many of the other more extravagant student socities and throw their lot in with the Lib Dems. As ever our stall was very well supported and generated a lot of interest, even if the odd client was more interested in getting their hands on one of the iconic 'homophobia is gay' badges, than actually joining the party. Although we appeared to attract as many supporters as in previous years, there was one recurrent theme amongst a significant proportion of the students that i spoke to; that of hostility towards Ming Campbell.


Comments ranged from the predictable 'politics is all about image now', to "David Cameron just seems a more approachable man", comments that would be music to the ears of the Tory PR machine. In a majority on instances, once one of us on the stall engaged the students on the relative merits of Liberal Democrat policy and steered the conversation away from Ming Campbell, the reception we received was far more positive. I do however believe that this hesitancy towards Ming Campbell amongst students is something that the party needs to actively look to combat. Ming's pledge upon becoming leader about surrounding himself with a young team needs to be fulfilled; as although we certainly have many young stars in key frontbench positions, the public profiles of the likes of Clegg, Goldsworthy etc is still very limited. Equally, i am not claiming that we should patronise our student voters by arguing that they only respond to youthful faces; alongside promoting our young stars, it is imperative that we continue to paint Cameron's Conservatives as being opportunist and wholly bereft of substance. The key being to engage young people not on the relative merits of Cameron vs Campbell (a battle i fear we would lose) to a battle between the party's relative positions on the major issues of the day. With a special focus on the the environment, foreign policy (particularly Iraq) and public services. Let battle commence!


Oh and if you happen to be reading this post on my York facebook account- then please come to our Lib Dem welcome event- &:30pm on Monday 16th oct- see
www.yusu.org/libdems

Andrew

Monday, October 02, 2006

Priceless humour as ever-Conservative party members make both themselves and Mr Cameron look a little silly...

The revolution didnt last too long; just months after we were all urged to 'vote blue and go green' the Conservative party membership today delivered a stunning rebuke to David Cameron's environmental credentials. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5400084.stm) In the days 'hot topic' debate, the Tory faithful were asked to support a motion that rightly claimed that cheap flights are flourishing in a 'false economy' and action must be taken to increase the price of flying so as to reflect its huge cost to the planet. Yet, despite their green local election campaign, their shiny new green logo and the green backdrop to the conference hall, the delegates stubbornly refused to give in to the not-so subliminal message being sent to them about the need to establish some environmentally friendly policies. After a debate that included some truly memorable quotes, they declared by a margin of 57-43% that there was nothing really wrong with cheap flights and they certainly would not be prepared to fork out anymore of their hard earned cash for their habitual weekend trips to the continent! One delegate boasted of the 100 flights that he had racked up in the past year, whilst another announced that "aircraft produce 2% of the world's carbon emissions - exactly the same as the world's cow population, I would rather give up beef than air travel". I feel i need add no more, as these comments quite obviously speak for themselves and provide the uneducated with a real glimpse inside the mind of an average conservative party member and the deep concern that runs through them all over the need to cut carbon emissions...


Although i can and will be dining out on the cow quote for many weeks to come, todays vote represents much more than the latest chance to poke fun at the Tory party membership. It proves to David Cameron just how epic a task he has in front of him to persuade his party to ever adopt a serious policy on the environment. This conference has already displayed that the Tory party membership dont have time to talk about this green nonsense, they have come to Bournemouth with a unified desire to talk about the issues that have always mattered to them most, upfront tax cuts, immigration and Euro-scepticism. The party have shown today what a callous disregard they have for the defining political issue of our time and have served to remind the public that just in case they were falling for Dave's brilliant PR message of 'change', the Tory party at heart is as unrepentant, uncaring and nasty as it ever was before.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gordon Brown- the unlikely master of spin?...

Gordon Brown's greatest asset is his 'substance', his passion for politics and his contempt for the modern fascination with PR and spin doctors, or so we are led to believe...

When watching Brown's speech on monday, i felt a definite sensation of deja-vu, one that was not simply brought about by seeing Tony Blair's ability to go yet another Brown address with that so obviously (but well practiced) insincere smile. No, my deja-vu eminated from the fact that even though this speech was intended to set the tone for a new era of Brown's labour, all of the policies that the chancellor proclaimed as to being key in his vision of the 'good society', we had heard before!

His bold claim to raise spending per pupil in the state sector to match that of a private school pupil was also one of the centrepieces of his budget address. He repeated a call he had already made to the United Nations for a new global fund to provide cleaner energy for developing nations and he told us that the minimum wage was rising again; a policy that was already very well documented. For the record i don't disagree with any of these particular proposals, though it seemed very odd that the prime minister in waiting brought us nothing new in this critical speech. Particularly so, when the rhetoric was so obviously intended to be new and uplifting, the 'good society', the 'moral compass' etc etc.

So, i would have to conclude that Brown has certainly learnt one trick off Mr Blair, the ability to make a speech in which the rhetoric behind it is intended to sound new and exciting, backed up with the policies we have all heard before, jazzed up for the crowd; that sounds suspiciously like spin to me... Oh and if you aren't convinced yet, the clincher that proves Gordon to be as guilty of 'spin' as any other member of new labour was his budget in March-a budget he claimed was 'green', on the strength that he was cutting car tax on the most fuel efficient cars in the UK to zero- WOW! Yet the real sensation was later finding out that the two models of car that are clean enough to fall under this zero percent tax rate are not even available to buy in the UK! Superb!

Your opponent is never quite as they seem and at this early stage i think there is sufficient evidence that Gordon Brown is far more new labour than i could have ever feared!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Lib Dem conference- "The Green Tax Switch" and Beyond!...

The first thing i feel i should clarify is that despite booking months in advance and eagerly anticipating my 1st autumn conference, i never actually made it to Brighton (due to an annoying virus i have been suffering with), as a consequence my views on the proceedings are not based on soundings from the conference floor, just from what i have seen as one of the many avid viewers of the bbc parliament channel!

Green Tax Switch

For all the furore about the returning Kennedy and Ming's first major address to the party faithful, the big shift in tax policy was for me always set to be the seminal moment of conference. We have left Brighton with undoubtedly the most radical, redistributive and bold set of tax proposals of any of the three major parties. I am confident that with a public consensus now building on the urgent need to do more to combat climate change, the 'green tax switch' will play well with the public. I believe that people will accept that the polluter must bear a cost for his actions and higher car tax duties and airline fees are a responsible way of taxing people. I was also reassured by both Vince Cable and Chris Huhne's insistence that all the research into green taxes shows unequivocably that the welthier an individual is, the more they tend to pollute. Thus, helping to allay fears that i had originally harboured about green taxes not being as progressive as those on income. Obviously the greatest selling point of the 'tax switch' is that the estimated £8bn increase in revenue from green taxation can be used to fund tax cuts for the lowest earners in society. The fact that these proposals take 2million of the poorest Britons out of having to pay tax alltogether is an undoubted triumph and a policy that will be crucial in proving our crededtials both as the party most serious about tackling poverty and in attracting yet more disillisoned labour supporters to our cause. If presented wel, this policy could prove to be a pivotal votewinner and im sure one that i will return to in the future. For today, i wish to focus on the green tax element of tax policy and environmental policy in general...

The New Carrot and Stick Approach

Although i understand the necessity of higher green taxes in order to try and change behaviour and dissuade people from using cars and aircraft, i believe that punishing the polluter represents only a small part of what should be the agenda for the environment. Firstly, if green taxes are the 'stick', punishing people for polluting, we have yet to see any attractive 'carrots' to those innovators who are trying to create green modes of transport for the future. A classic example of the lack of incentives on offer, would be the situation with bio-diesel fuel which was introduced in my local Tescos garage over a year ago. Yes, bio-diesel pollutes only marginally less (around 5% im led to believe, but im not a scientist)than normal petrol, but nevertheless it is unquestionably better for the environment. Yet despite this, bio-diesel fuel was actually more expensive than petrol and diesel; so in order to buy a more clean fuel the consumer actually had to pay more, a complete nonsense. The government should have stepped in and placed a significant tax break on bio-diesel fuel, making it cheaper than anything else on the market. If that had happened i am sure that bio-diesel fuel could have been all over the UK by now and we would have had made some progress on clean fuel; instead bio-diesel is not available anywhere that i am aware of, because the public understandably refuse to pay more for it than regualar petrol and diesel. This is just one example of many instances in which i believe the government has a responsibility to intervene in order to promote and aid the development of new and potentially revolututionary green technologies. Some liberals of the more 'laissez faire' variety may argue that government interference in markets is inherently a negative phenomenon, but i passionately disagree. When the future of the global climate is on the agenda, i believe it is perfectly acceptable that national governments provide generous tax breaks and subsidies to those companies that are struggling to produce the green technologies of the future. Allowing the backers of bio-diesel fuel, toyota hybrid cars and many many more to beat the market forces that currently do such damage in holding them back.

'Nothing comes for free'

A further element of environmental policy that deserves closer scrutiny is the proportion of government spending that is accounted for by the department of the environment. Although we are promising to raise green taxes, i have yet to see a single party pledge to increase the environmental budget, which is surely a huge oversight. This is particularly the case from the Liberal Democrat perspective. We are passionately opposing a new generation of nuclear power plants on the grounds of cost, safety and the benefits of a renewable energy revolution. Yet, a 'renewable revolution' will most certainly not come without great cost to the treasury. At present, renewable technologies are grossly expensive and quite inefficient, so in order to see wind, tidal and solar power having a perceptable difference to British energy i expect (without knowing any official figures) that we are going to have to invest hundreds of millions into sponsoring the development of latest and best solutions. Just another problem in the complex area that is environmentalism...

I wait to see whether 'Dave', Gordon or Tony address any of these issues at their party conferences, but am doubtful to say the least! The wind is blowing the right way on combatting climate change and as usual the Lib Dems and Richard Branson (with his commitment to millions in green technology development)are out in front. My only warning is, that the biggest challenges and toughest decisons are yet to come.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

After the dust settles...A new Middle East?

A day after the cessation of hostilities in the Middle East, an emboldened Syrian President confidently announces that in the aftermath of this conflict there is no need for Arab 'defeatism' and that Hezbollah's 'victory'has ushered in a 'new Middle East' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4794363.stm).

It was inevitable that a conflict in which Hezballoh's capacity to wage war surprised many observers would strengthen Anti-Western rhetoric; but behind Assad's deliberately provocative comments, what is the reality of the situation and what challenges lie ahead for Israel, Lebanon and the wider Middle East?

From my perspective the most damaging aspect of this conflict has been the breakdown in relations between the Lebanese people and Israel. This may have been a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, but the real worry has to be the way in which the last month has hardened attitudes towards Israel across the entire Lebanese population. The disproportionate Israeli military response has angered countless thousands of Lebanese civilians. One time moderates who had no affiliation with Hezballoh have been rallying to their cause amidst an ever mounting death toll. The ground in Lebanon is now ripe for recruitment, obviously this is strictly hypothetical but it is quite plausible that Hezbollah will enjoy a net gain of supporters over this conflict, as felled soldiers are replaced by youthful recruits who bear such great resentment towards Israel after witnessing such devastation in their homeland. This cycle must be broken, Israeli aggression may destroy a few rocket installations and tanks, but it will never succeed in destroying the militant ideology that underpins Hezbollah.

The only possible means of controlling the Hezbollah threat is through a sustained period of diplomatic engagement between the Lebanese and Israeli governments’. The legitimate Lebanese government represents everything that George Bush purports to believe in when he calls for the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East; it is moderate, secular and certainly no ally of Hezbollah. In the next few months and even years the chief goal of an Israeli government seeking a lasting peace will be to rebuild relations with the Lebanese government, so that in time they can be persuaded that the Hezbollah militia are more their enemy than the Israeli state. Admittedly this will be a hugely difficult process, one that is dependant upon the success of the United Nations peacekeeping force. The first and immediate priority of UNIFIL must obviously be to maintain this fragile peace and establish this buffer zone on the border. Beyond this initial mission, I believe that UNIFIL can potentially play a pivotal role in ultimately restoring the Lebanese armies control of south Lebanon. This would hypothetically happen amidst a reconciliation between the Lebanese and Israeli governments, whom would agree to allow the UNIFIL force to disarm Hezbollah, as I believe that they are entitled to do under international law, as no nation is permitted to have an armed militia not affiliated with their government.

UNIFIL disarming Hezbollah with the full support of the Lebanese government may seem to be a massively optimistic scenario at this moment in time, but I believe that it is the result that we should all be striving for. For it to be achieved, Olmert needs to begin appealing to the Lebanese government to allow him a seat at a negotiating table as soon as possible.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Drum Roll...and Welcome to Current Vision!

After hearing a bold prediction on bbc radio five live that 'everyone', would have a blog within five years i decided that i should act now and join the masses already 'blogging'and not leave it too late to join such an interesting emerging trend.

I have no intention of delving into my private affairs on my blog, rather i forsee using 'current vision' as a new and innovative way to share my views on everything from Islamic fundamentalism and climate change to Manchester United and the rapidly improving England cricket team.

As a politics student at the University of York and a committed Liberal Democrat activist the advance warning for this blog should probably be that it will be dominated by posts on political (and particularly Liberal Democrat related)issues. Yet for all those reading this, it is important to realise that as seriously as i take current affairs and my affiliation with the Liberal Democrats, there is far more to me than being a environmentalist, new labour critic and social liberal!

Like millions of others in the UK, i am also a huge sports fan; having followed cricket and football in particular since my pre-school days! I will doubtless be posting my thoughts on the pre-eminent sporting matters of the day, with perhaps the odd mention of my own cricket 'career' at my club and Uni IF things are going well!

Anyway- i will finalise the introductions here, hoping only to stress the point that i hope that this blog can grow to be as diverse and interactive as possible, with people from all walks of life discussing any and everything from people, politics and the Premiership!

Enjoy reading and contributing to 'current vision'.
Andrew