My Top 10 Political Heroes of 2016

As the year draws to a close, most (at least in liberal circles) would agree that 2016 has provided us with far more political villains than it has heroes, so much so that many will look back in years to come at a year engulfed in thick black cloud. However, through much of the darkness, there have been several glimmers of light, and so below I’ve compiled my list of political heroes for 2016, covering those whose resistance continues to give me some hope, or in some cases those who simply provided a brief moment of light relief.

1 ) Tim Farron

Originally not on the list, Tim Farron squeezed in at the last moment when only yesterday he was awarded with the prestigious title of “Remoaner of the Year” by Leave.EU, thus sending him sky rocketing to number one. As much as his opposite numbers make it appear so, successfully doing ones job does not automatically make one a hero, hence the late inclusion, however particular moments of note for Farron this year include his stance of refugees (indeed, what bought me to the party), and his passionate Autumn Conference closing speech which I may or may not have rewatched several times since.

2) Nick Clegg

No-one personifies the Lib Dem fightback this year quite like Nick Clegg. He began the year trying to keep a low profile having been (wrongly) tarnished by the Coalition and the resulting General Election result, indeed he must at times have considered taking a similar path to that now trodden by David Cameron. However ever since the disastrous referendum result in June he has risen from the ashes to become one of, if not the most important MP on the Brexit issue, with his knowledge of the EU and it’s institutions second to none.

3) Norman Lamb

The third and final Lib Dem MP on this years list, Norman Lamb’s appearance is mostly if not entirely down to his continued one-man crusade in the name of mental health. As the mental health crisis in the UK spirals further and further out of control, the Lib Dems can be proud that their man is front and centre in trying to ease the suffering of so many. Another Norman Lamb highlight this year has been his robust use of social media to defend his position on any vote to trigger Article 50, which, considering it’s more or less the same as that of the next name on this list, who is a darling of the Remainers, it’s hard to understand why he gets so much stick for.

4) Anna Soubry

At the beginning of the year Anna Soubry was a lesser-known Conservative minister whose views more or less aligned with those held by her government, 12 months on her party treats her as a renegade. Following the referendum result, as so many of her fellow Conservative MPs seem to have all but forgotten the cause that they passionately campaigned for, Soubry continues to fight in the name of the 48% who voted with her, which, in a political climate left so hostile by the events of the 23rd of June, is courageous and brave, and worthy of the upmost respect.

5) Hilary Benn

Another fine performer in the Remain campaign, Benn makes this list not only for his pro-EU credentials but also for being the most high profile MP to be sacked by Jeremy Corbyn. A constant thorn in Corbyn’s side, Benn’s defiance is made all the more glorious by Corbyn’s obvious disappointment he has not turned out more like his father. Quite frankly Benn Jnr. makes the idea of being referred to as a “Bennite” rather more palatable, and no doubt were he leader of the Labour party as opposed to his left-wing ‘comrade’, the party as whole would find itself on a much firmer footing.

6) Mark Carney

It’s perhaps of no surprise that a man whose very existence annoys Brexiteers makes my list of political heroes for 2016, even if he himself would argue he’s far from political. Being both foreign and an expert, the likes of Mark Carney have had it tough this year, however his continued instance to only deal in fact, no matter how inconvenient for the Brexit government, makes him one of 2016’s biggest if not most reluctant heroes. Here’s hoping he continues in his role for many years to come.

7) Gary Lineker

Rubbing Brexiteers up the wrong way is something of a theme in this year’s list, and Gary Lineker’s emergence as a competent political commentator as well as excellent television presenter has certainly been a highlight. Reaching areas of the Twittersphere that others could only dream of due to his alter-ego as a sports presenter, Lineker serves as a constant reminder to Brexit supporters up and down the country that they’re ugly, old fashioned view of the UK hasn’t taken over just yet.

8) John Major

There were of course many memorable moments of the EU Referendum campaign, and many could have deservedly appeared here (a special mention goes to Michael Deacon’s coverage of the ‘battle of the Thames’), however if I was to pick one individual highlight, it would be John Major’s savage attack on Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr Show, available below.

9) Polly Mackenzie

By far the most obscure selection in this year’s list, this is all down Tim Farron’s Autumn Conference speech. As the Daily Politics’ guest for the duration of their coverage, Mackenzie’s performance up against the formidable Andrew Neil was one of the best seen all year, swatting away his questions dismissively without any of the political spin we’re now so accustomed to, see in particular the exchange on immigration in the video below from 1 hour 34 mins. This combined with more excellent work on mental health mean Mackenzie more than deserves her spot.

10) The Lib Dem Press Office

Last but by no means at all least, the razor sharp wit of the Lib Dem Press Office Twitter account has been one of the highlights of 2016 for many people both in and outside of the party. With a clear idea of what works and what doesn’t in the weird and wonderful world of social media, the press office not only bring a smile to the face, but also spread the Lib Dem message far and wide. If the next general election is fought on Twitter, the Lib Dems are in with a good chance.

 

 

Have a happy new year and a fabulous 2017, here’s to the continued Lib Dem Fightback.

 

 

 

Should The Lib Dems Vote For Article 50?

It’s of no doubt that parliament getting a vote on Article 50 is a good thing, however, despite publicly welcoming this news, it now leaves Liberal Democrat MPs with a tricky decision to make.

Ever since June 23rd, the Lib Dems have been walking the tightrope between standing up for the 48% and appearing “undemocratic”, now there is (most likely) to be a vote on the beginning of the Brexit process, they must finally choose which side of the line they wish to fall on.

After much thought, I have come to the conclusion that the Lib Dems have only one choice, they must vote against the triggering of Article 50. Although their inclination as democrats may be to reluctantly vote for it, it seems more and more likely that this may be their only chance to put their anti-Brexit feelings on the record. 

In many ways, I may have been felt more uneasy about this decision if it were likely to have an affect on the outcome, however, with a majority of both Conservative and Labour MPs surely likely to vote in favour, any Article 50 legislation is almost certain to pass. Regardless, those that still firmly believe the UK’s future is best served by remaining in the EU will be watching closely, and with the likes of Anna Soubry, Kenneth Clarke and Owen Smith all likely to vote against, many will wonder why the Lib Dems too could not be so bold if they choose to vote in favour. If the Lib Dems want to be the voice of the 48%, they must not only talk the talk but also walk the walk.

The only reason I can conclude it would ever be worth voting for Article 50 would be if the government were to concede to having a referendum on the terms of Brexit. However, as currently only the policy of the Lib Dems and the Greens, totalling a whole 9 parliamentary seats, the government is unlikely to be listening. Incidentally, I can’t help but feel this would have been a better policy on the Article 50 vote for Labour to adopt, as opposed to their demand for “access” to the single market* (*correct at the time of writing, it’s very hard to keep up with Labour’s policy on this / anything). With “access” being fairly meaningless (as anyone will tell you, North Korea has “access”), it’s a shame that Labour have decided that this is the best “opposition” they can come up with, although of course meaningless virtue-signalling is something of a speciality for the current Labour leadership. 

Finally, although less significant nationally but none the less important for the party, it seems likely that voting in favour of Article 50 would see the thousands of new members who’ve joined the party post-referendum massively disheartened. With a crucial by-election in Richmond Park coming up, it’s vital that all party members are at best content, so as to keep the momentum gathered from Witney and council by-elections going, rather than falling into Labour-style infighting. As a party already with an unfortunate reputation for going back on past promises amongst large swathes of the electorate, now is definitely the time for the Lib Dems to stick to their guns. 

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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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