Witney: A Lib Dem Acid Test

In the past few weeks, much has already been made of the importance of the Witney by-election to the Liberal Democrats. A strong performance here would surely be a signal to the rest of the country that the “Lib Dem Fightback” is well and truly on, and may finally cause the party to reappear in the public / media’s conciousness. 

But Witney is more than that, it is a test of the whole direction the party has set itself on ever since the disaster of May last year. Anything less than a strong second place will be seen as a major disappointment, and should be setting off alarm bells at party HQ.

As a constituency that voted to remain a member of the EU, and as a traditionally Conservative seat seemingly unlikely to be the first to fall to Jeremy Corbyn’s quest for a socialist utopia, the question will be asked that if the Lib Dems cannot do well here, where can they? Whilst I am a supporter of the party’s current position on Brexit, a poor result here should be taken as a warning sign that perhaps the message of a second referendum on the terms of any Brexit deal does not resonate with as many voters as we perhaps would like, and a new approach may be required. Meanwhile finishing behind a Labour party  in absolute disarray,  in the firm grip of the left, will pose major questions of its own, and do nothing but embolden those within the party who already call for the end of Tim Farron’s reign and a return to the helm for Nick Clegg (who in my opinion, despite his media cut through, comes with plenty of obvious heavy baggage of his own). 

The last thing the party needs right now is to join the others on a search for its own soul. Whilst Labour and the Conservatives peer inwards, the Lib Dems need to continue to look outwards towards the many disillusioned voters in this country,  and this as much as anything else is why a strong result in Witney is crucial. All the signs suggest that we are on course, but if the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that nothing should be taken for granted. 
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Brits Finally Have What They’ve Always Wanted

“They’re all the same” – a response heard time and time again when asking British people their views on U.K political parties. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this party conference season, “they’re all the same” is certainly no longer the case. 

Whereas in the past we’ve been used to seeing the major political parties fight tooth and nail over the centre ground (by which I do not mean Theresa May’s warped definition) in order to try and win an all important parliamentary majority, we’re now in a position where the space between the two main political parties is as wide as it’s ever been, leaving the centre ground strangely uncontested.

The one party that has to refused to shun its centre ground roots is the Liberal Democrats, for whom the new political climate should be seen as a massive opportunity. For the first time in what seems like an age, it is down to the Liberal Democrats alone to represent all streams of liberal thinking; in the past, economic liberals may well have felt just as comfortable voting for David Cameron as they would have done voting for Nick Clegg, whilst social liberals (and indeed social democrats) would have felt at ease voting for Tony Blair or potentially even Ed Milliband. Now all of a sudden liberal representation within the two main parties has been all but banished, and liberal leaning voters from both sides will be looking for a new home. Tim Farron’s closing speech at this month’s party conference was a great pitch to these voters, and he’d do well to continue down this line.

And so when the next election comes the choice has never been so clear, if Democratic (potentially Revolutionary, we’ll wait and see) Socialism is your thing, the Labour Party is the one for you, if you’re more into your Christian Democracy (perhaps with a bit of Facism thrown in for good measure), then you’ve got the Conservatives on your side, and if you’re a liberal, well, the clue’s in the name, you can call the Liberal Democrats your home. British electorate, you’ve never had it so good.

The Death of Compassionate Conservatism

In a political period where so little is certain, the one thing we can seemingly be sure of is that new Prime Minister Theresa May is desperately keen to distance herself ideologically from her predecessor David Cameron. Whilst many would argue that there is nothing that can be considered “compassionate” about a government that leaves thousands relying on food banks, if you thought the Cameron administration was bad then, in the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

It is of no doubt that throughout his premiership David Cameron could often be accused of pandering to the right of his party, highlighted in particular by the disasterous EU Referendum, but, whilst Cameron pandered, May appears to have let them take (back) control. In the past weeks we have seen EU citizens living within the UK be treated as bargaining chips, talk of drastic cuts to the overseas aid budget, and most recently the introduction of an education policy described by Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron as causing the majority of young people to be “relegated to the second division at the age of 11“. For someone who rose to fame amongst Conservatives for urging the party to lose its “Nasty Party” image, Theresa May seems to be doing a pretty good job of making sure it sticks (although the current Labour shambles is running them close).

Despite the many glaring faults of the Cameron era, I look back at what good was achieved and wonder whether any of it would have been possible in this May-lead, post-Brexit world. Gay marriage is of course the first thing that springs to mind, followed by prison reform, year on year increases in overseas aid etc.. Even a strong economy, at the heart of Cameron’s brand of Compassionate Conservatism, seems no longer the focus of the Tories under May, as it appears increasingly  likely that vital access to the EU’s single market will be dumped in favour of an even tighter grip on immigration. Following May’s first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of 10 Downing Street, there was talk in some circles of her returning the Conservatives to a less divisive, pre-Thatcher style of government, what I imagine they did not expect was for May instead to take her inspiration from the time of Enoch Powell. For all Cameron’s faults, it could at least be argued that his government’s mindset was firmly in the 21st century; an education policy of academisation may have been divisive, but at least it wasn’t straight out of the 1950s.

I ceased my support of the Conservatives earlier in the year when they refused to do more for refugees, but at least a few months ago it was on the agenda. Now it seems that our new Prime Minister has no interest in the respect / votes of the “liberal mainstream”, and would instead focus her attention on the Britain first brigade. Therefore it is with a not so heavy heart that I say R.I.P. Compassionate Conservatism (2005-2016), taken from us at least four years too soon.

The Decision To Revoke Fabric’s License

It’ll be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I find the decision to revoke Fabric’s license deeply distressing. As a lover of dance music, I understand as well as anyone just how vital these sorts of venues are to the scene, and the importance of Fabric in particular, held up by many as the best nightclub in the country.

In my view, people with very little understanding of the problem at hand have made this decision, highlighted by the suggestion that perhaps a ban on music genres utilising a higher bpm would go some way to alleviating the perceived problem, presumably assuming that faster tempos somehow fuel more drug consumption / involve the consumption of more harmful substances. As someone whose primary dance music interest is Drum & Bass (~175bpm), and also someone who struggles even with the idea of taking paracetamol when they have a headache, I know this not only to be untrue, but quite frankly nonsense.

In many ways this is just another example of a growing culture within the UK in which, rather than continued work towards solutions that are to the benefit of everyone, a heavy handed approach is taken leading to the banning/closing down of anything that appears like it might be at all difficult. This combination of lack of understanding and heavy handedness now leaves the police and the Labour-led borough council in a dangerous position, as many Fabric-goers may now feel the need to turn to illegal raves in order to satisfy their passion for dance music. Such events are by nature likely to cause far more headaches for the police than the likes of Fabric ever did, as their complete lack of regulation will lead to a far less safe, and indeed a more drug fuelled, environment.

Of course it would be naïve to argue that Fabric is in no way at fault for what has happened, certainly if the undercover police reports are to be believed, and it’s also important not to lose sight of the fact that it is people’s deaths that have lead to this moment. There is always more that can be done to improve the safety of customers at any venue, but it is my opinion that it should have been the prerogative of the police and council to continue to work with Fabric to meet these aims, rather than seemingly work for its demise through the likes of “Operation Lenor”. It’s disappointing to see London embrace the idea of a night time economy on the one hand with the idea of the night tube, but to work against it with the other by shutting down one of the city’s primary night time hotspots. Perhaps had those whose decision it was to revoke the license had a greater understanding of just how many people flock to Fabric from all over the country, and indeed the world, they’d have been less inclined to see the venue shut down.

My main concern now is that the situation of Fabric will set a precedent to other councils around the country, and before too long we will see similar scenarios play out with other venues, such as Motion in Bristol or Rainbow in Birmingham. This will only further play into the hands of the criminal gangs who are behind illegal raves, using such events to sell their drugs with even greater ease, as dance music enthusiasts are left with no other option. Councils and police forces around the country should see the likes of Fabric, Motion, Rainbow and others as allies rather than enemies, or else face up to even greater problems.

 

#SaveFabric

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The Future of Radio 1

Today it was announced that BBC Radio 1 has lost one million listeners within the last year, continuing a trend from recent years that has put the station’s very existence in jeopardy. As someone who believes passionately that Radio 1 is an extremely important service to young people, but also someone who rarely actually tunes in, I came up with a list of ideas that could be implemented that would at the very least see one listener (me) return, going from the least to most drastic:

1) Scrap the “Radio 1 Playlist”

It seems to me that the main competitor to Radio 1 is people’s own music collection. In an age where there are so many different forms of entertainment for young people, the only time when the idea of listening to the radio is likely to appeal is when they would otherwise be listening to their own choice of music, be that whilst they are driving, working, cooking etc. With computer memory becoming ever cheaper, and the use of music streaming sites becoming increasingly popular, young people have thousands of songs at their fingertips, making the idea of playing 20 or so songs, from a playlist determined by “tastemakers”, on repeat from the hours of 6am to 7pm seem completely out dated. Any song sounds tedious and boring when it’s heard for the third time in the same day, and so as with everything else in life, variety is key.

2) Allow DJs more control over the music they play

Rather than having DJs press play on pre-determined songs which often seem to have very little relevance to the show going on around them, allow DJs to pick their own music. This would allow each show to have a more personal flavour to it, as DJs share the music they have a passion for with their audience, rather than pressing play on the latest Pitbull track that neither they nor half their listeners have much interest in hearing. This would also go some way to increasing the variety of the music on the station; if Greg James wants to play an obscure Maccabees album track at 4 o’clock in the afternoon because he likes it and he thinks his listeners might like it too, so be it.

3) Overhaul the current schedule

If regular daytime DJs for some reason can’t pick their own music, rearrange the schedule so that shows that do involve a more diverse musical selection, all of which currently take place post 7pm, instead are aired earlier in the day, in order to split up the monotony of pop music show after pop music show. Huw Stephens’ show, which focuses on fresh new musical talent, would be ideal for this; I’d move it to the 1pm to 4pm slot, and whilst I’m at it I’d move Scott Mills to the breakfast show and Nick Grimshaw to 10pm / off the radio altogether. I’m not quite sure when the BBC decided that young people wanted to start off their mornings at 100mph, or why a Marmite character such as Grimshaw was the man to deliver this. Mills could provide a calmer but nonetheless enjoyable start to the mornings, whilst Grimshaw could provide his brand of hyped-up overexcitement at a time when similar type shows, such as Celebrity Juice, are scheduled on TV.

4) Merge with Radio 1xtra

This would certainly be a highly controversial move, but one that in my eyes would provide the variety that Radio 1 is crying out for. As youth culture becomes more and more diverse, it seems naïve that the BBC feel that a fan of The 1975 cannot possibly also be a fan of Skepta, and so therefore there must be two different radio stations aimed at satisfying the needs of these two different types of music fan independently. In fact, Radio 1 seem to play it so safe in terms of the music they play during the day I find it borderline offensive, a problem no better highlighted than the station’s “Dance Anthems” shows on a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon, which tend to focus on the most bland forms of dance music possible, often playing poorly crafted remixes of the very same pop songs that are played at every other hour of the day. At a time when dance music is both engrained in youth culture, and is also incredibly diverse with a wide range of talented producers, this is nothing short of depressing. This problem is not restricted to only dance music, but also many of the other musical genres that 1xtra will play whilst Radio 1 won’t dare touch, and is something that could be fixed by at the very least greater collaboration between the two stations. As an added bonus to all of this, it’s not a bad way of dealing with constant BBC budget cuts, indeed maybe we could even have BBC Three back in return.

5) Stop playing music altogether

At the same time it was announced that Radio 1 has lost a million listeners, it was also announced that Radio 4’s ratings are at a record high. Perhaps then it’s time that Radio 1 gave up trying to fight against your iTunes library and instead adopt a more Radio 4 like approach, forgetting music and replacing it by making programmes, perhaps even radio dramas, aimed specifically at younger audiences. This is far from my ideal choice, but with music playing radio appearing more and more out of place in the 21st century, it may only be a drastic change in direction that can save Radio 1 from the otherwise inevitable scrapheap.

 

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A Kinder Politics

The idea that resorting to abuse in order to try and win any sort of political debate is something I first touched upon a few months back when I first wrote of my intention to cease supporting the Conservative Party and to join the Liberal Democrats. Following various events in the past few weeks, I feel compelled to bring it up again.

Recently, both the EU Referendum and the Labour leadership contest have bought out the worst in British politics, with the battle for Labour leader bringing about vile abuse of Labour MPs and commentators, peaking with Angela Eagle’s constituency office being bricked; meanwhile the EU Referendum consisted of an array of nastiness from both sides, culminating in the tragic death of Jo Cox. It is easy to condemn these events and move on without stopping to consider the role we have all played in the build up of this poisonous political climate, but if we are to ever truly move away from this, to a period of “kinder” politics, we must take a long hard look at ourselves.

The kinder politics that I speak of is not that of Jeremy Corbyn’s, where essentially anything said or done by his friends and supporters goes (be it anti-Semitism, misogyny, etc.), but if you dare insult his dress sense then there should be cause for national outcry, but a politics that relies strictly upon ridicule of policy when debated, rather than being based upon pre-conceived prejudices one might hold against particular parties, persons, or campaigns. We are all guilty of this to some extent; whilst we condemn the actions of the far-right and far-left’s campaigns of hate, we continue to casually call the Tories “nasty” and “evil”, or Brexiteers “stupid” and “ill-informed”, without seemingly realising that we are only adding to the toxic cloud in which our politics currently takes place.

My main gripe with this, along with it being completely unnecessary, is that in many ways it is self-defeating. As a former Conservative voter and supporter, I can tell you first hand that nothing made me feel less welcome in any party than its supporters vilifying me as “Tory scum”, or indeed any other variation of abuse to that extent. Making people feel unwanted elsewhere is a sure way of making certain that they continue to support the party you so ridicule them for doing so; the reason I left the Conservatives was because their vision of Britain began to look very different to my own, not because I was guilt tripped into it by a passively aggressive social media user. Indeed, when I now see fellow members of my new party the Lib Dems partake in Tory name calling I feel disheartened, as I know the damage it is doing in the minds of people who could well be realistic target voters. To me pointing out the flaws in opponents policy is a far greater political weapon than trying to dumb down the debate into “your party is more morally bankrupt than my party”, and to that extent its worth remembering at the same time that in spite of popular belief, MPs and governments try to operate in a way that they see best for the country, rather than themselves. If they were motivated only by self-interest then they would not be in politics at all, as there are far greater riches to be found elsewhere. Not only is abuse of each other uncalled for, but also is the abuse of MPs, who deserve no more hatred thrown at them for doing their jobs than you or I do, especially as they try to do them in a way they believe to be in our best interests, even if we do not happen to agree with them on everything they have to say. By abusing MPs, we only make the job less desirable to both MPs themselves and to onlookers, meaning that in the future we may find ourselves in a situation where we lack great politicians, as so many have been turned off the idea of getting into politics by the amount of abuse they are likely to receive.

Therefore to conclude, let us now think twice before we fire off our next abusive tweet to our local MP because they don’t back Jeremy Corbyn, or ridicule a Remainer because they “lost” and should “get over it”. It’s not a good look, it only does our causes harm, and it defies the objective of making our country a better place, which everyone, regardless of their place on the political spectrum, should be fighting for.

 

Follow Andy on Twitter: @Briggs_AndyJ

 

 

 

 

The Remain Campaign – What Went Wrong? Where Next?

A few days on, having allowed the dust to somewhat settle, it’s time to understand what exactly went wrong within the Remain campaign that allowed the status-quo to be defeated in a UK referendum for the first time in its history. It’s also important to understand just what options are left for those of us who are still passionately committed to the idea of the UK retaining its place in the European Union, and how likely they are to succeed.

For me, the failure of the Remain campaign is threefold, with Remain supporting Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and the SNP footing the majority of the blame. Firstly, the ridiculous scare stories, such as World War III and/or the end of the world, which flowed so freely from the mouths of the likes of David Cameron immediately set the Remain campaign onto the back foot; not only did it allow the Leave campaign to portray themselves as the positive campaign, but also cast doubt into voters minds into whether anything said by the Remain campaign was actually believable. All of a sudden, Brexiteer “facts” that £350 million could be reclaimed from the EU to be spent on the NHS sounded all the more plausible in comparison to the death and destruction foretold by the Remain campaign. What should have happened is that the positive campaign, focusing on the benefits of the EU, should have been made from the outset, rather than only once polls began to suggest that Brexit was increasingly likely.

The second major flaw was shown on results night itself, as Labour voters outside of London voted in droves for Leave. The blame for this must lie with the Labour Party, who for so long during the campaign struggled to get the Remain message out, with a poll half way through the campaign claiming that Labour voters were not sure as to the Party’s position on the EU Referendum being particularly telling. Even once Labour had decided to throw its weight more forcefully behind the Remain campaign it managed to make it as difficult as possible; the Labour leadership’s refusal to appear on platforms with members of other parties, in particular the Conservatives, meant that the campaign appear divided, meanwhile the Leave campaign managed to put differences of Left and Right to one side and appear far more unified, typified by the appearance of Labour MP Gisela Stuart in many of the TV debates. Jeremy Corbyn’s one TV appearance on the other hand could be seen as nothing less than a disaster for the Remain campaign, as he sat in front of a Sky News audience reeling off a list of complaints he had about the EU as much as promoting its benefits. Jeremy Corbyn’s luke warm embrace of the Remain cause undeniably helped pave the way for its downfall.

In much the same way, the SNP are far from blameless for the Remain campaign’s demise. Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s more convincing appearances in front of the TV cameras, one has to wonder how much the SNP’s heart was really in it, on the basis that a vote to Leave would almost certainly allow them to campaign for a cause of far greater importance to them, a second referendum on Scotland’s independence. Despite Scotland voting for Remain, the turnout was far lower than that of the rest of the UK, which suggests that the SNP, as the majority party in Scotland, did simply not try hard enough to get the Scottish voters into the polling booths. Had the turnout in Scotland been anything close to the 80% turnout seen in the Independence Referendum, it’s likely that we would now be looking at a Remain victory.

However that is not the case, and those of us who still believe in Britain’s place in the European Union must look elsewhere for options, although I stress that the democratic decision made last Thursday must be respected as such, and any attempt to reverse this decision must be made equally democratically.

Whilst the online petition for a second referendum is a valiant effort, there is no way for it to be successful as Leave campaigning Conservative MPs would never allow it. Therefore with a second referendum for now off the cards, in my opinion the best way forward would be to campaign for an early general election, at which a party stands on the basis that it will reverse the referendum decision, therefore turning the general election into a de facto second referendum. The Liberal Democrats have already made this pledge, and they seemed best placed to lead the charge, as the Conservatives cannot possibly stand for continued membership of the EU as half of their MPs fundamentally disagree with it, and Labour would be taking a monumental risk to do so, as it risks creating an even deeper rift between the Labour MPs and their voters in the north of England, who voted to Leave. This would only play into the hands of UKIP, leaving us with the very real prospect of a Conservative government with a UKIP opposition. Therefore if we are to continue the campaign to remain in the EU, as well as at the same time stem the rise of the Right in this country, we must all, at least for now, join the Lib Dem fight back.

 

 

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