Fix that term: the case for fixed term Parliaments

A polling stationIt’s 80 minutes into an Arsenal-Tottenham football derby. Tottenham lead 1-0. Arsenal are piling on the pressure. The Tottenham manager shouts at the ref, “OK, that’s it – can we have the final score now please?” The ref agrees, all the players troop off the pitch 10 minutes early and Tottenham get the three points.

Sounds absurd doesn’t it (and I don’t just mean the idea of Tottenham beating Arsenal!)?

But that’s what passes for normal in the world of Palace of Westminster politics when it comes to general election dates. The Prime Minister – and the Prime Minister alone – gets to choose the date. Now – in theory Parliaments last for five years and the monarch has to agree to any earlier election, but in practice – the PM always gets his or her way – and they shouldn’t.

Which is why, even though the immediate fuss after Gordon Brown’s general election that wasn’t has died down, I’ve returned to the topic in my latest magazine article – which you can now read on my website.

It mentions – which is a cross-party campaign on this very topic, including the likes of bloggers Iain Dale (Conservative), Stephen Tall (Lib Dem) and Sunny Hundal (of Liberal Conspiracy), MPs Ed Vaizey (Conservative – and my frequent sparing partner on The Westminster Hour) and former Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell, and journalists including Benedict Brogan of the Daily Mail. If you agree with me on the issue – do go and sign up to support it. And if you don’t – read my article, and perhaps you’ll be persuaded!

My first political memory

Given Iain Dale has tagged me to blog about my first political memory – I cannot resist. The only hesitation I have – is that it somewhat reveals my advanced years!

The first time politics impinged on my secure little childhood was when I was watching television in our lounge in the flat in Highgate that I grew up in – Highpoint. I can’t remember whether they interrupted the TV or whether it was just on the news – but the newscaster in super-serious tones was talking about something to do with Cuba and nuclear war.

I can’t say I truly understood the the whole scenario as I was aged 10 when the crisis began on October 15, 1962. The USA had reconnaissance photos showing Soviet missiles being built in Cuba – hence it became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ante was upped, tensions rose and on the point of nuclear war – letters exchanged etc and Krushchev agreed to dismantle the installations on the basis that the US would not invade Cuba.

As I said, most of this passed me by – but I remember being scared by the news. I understood the danger – and I guess it was the tones of the newscaster and the muted exchanges by my parents. It was this singular event that opened my understanding that the world was not stable and that my world somehow depended on men in foreign countries not taking leave of their senses. Clearly – not a lot has changed!

So – not a British political awakening – but certainly an early understanding of international politics!

In turn – I will tag Will Howells (thanks for filming my conference diaries!), Stephen Tall (man in charge at this year’s Lib Dem Blog of the Years awards – and winner last year), Matt Davies (Haringey colleague – councillor for Fortis Green), Martin Bright (of the New Statesman and a constituent of mine) and Paul Walter (the ultra-prolific Lib Dem blogger).

Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year

Speech given to the Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year awards ceremony, Brighton Party Conference, 2007

I was a judge last year – and a new blog-star was born – Stephen Tall! And how right we were!

Last year was also the first blog awards for the Liberal Democrats. This year – it’s a matter of more awards and a bigger room (thankfully, remembering how hot it all got last year!).

Clearly, subsequently there must have been much blog fornication – as bloggers have begot bloggers – and, if I may say, gone forth and multiplied somewhat.

Judging this year, it was great to have not only an there an explosion of categories – but also a veritable army of Liberal Democrat blogs competing for the honours.

And such high quality. I want to take the opportunity to thank all who valiantly put their thoughts out in there in public. The nominations were many and various – and the task even to get to a short-list was pretty tough – not to mention time-consuming. But blogging is now as much part of the political scene as the Chamber of the House of Commons – well that’s not hard!

Across the internet, Liberal Democrat bloggers have argued, chastened, exposed and rubbished all comers. There are undoubtedly dangers for politicians and political parties in partaking in the blogosphere – but in the end –the greater good is by having our views, discussion and arguments out there. Yes – there can be abuse and misuse – but life’s for living.

I want to congratulate all those shortlisted in their categories. It does take time and effort – but it is sooooooo worthwhile.

For myself – barred from the best elected blog category as a judge again! – I would say that blogging is a crucial defence we politicians have to present ourselves as we really are rather than through the cynical veneer the media nearly always applies to its political reporting.

The media’s instincts are to always portray us as self-seeking, egotistical, lazy good for nothings who only care about self-promotion, getting our snouts in the trough and doing sweet FA for our constituents. Clearly we drink ourselves into oblivion and eat lavishly every evening, all evening at the House of Commons. We go on junkets to foreign places at the expense of the public purse, get whacking allowances for staff and expenditure and put our family on the pay roll. In life’s pecking order – we are the bottom of the pile.

Well – that’s what how we lot are variously described – and it is wrong.

It isn’t an accurate description of the majority of MPs – and it’s interesting how often the public rate the politicians they know so much more highly than politicians overall.

Blogging gives us our means to fight back, to cut out the crap from the middle men and tell our side, our vision our version of events.

And all the bloggers blog for a reason. Blogging is the poetry of the 21st century. We all go off and commune with out thoughts – to send out our feelings, our messages our words. It can be done by anyone – and despite competitions and awards like this – that freedom of expression, that liberty to say and put out there the outrageous, the unthinkable and the fantasy – is the medium of our day.

So in this brave new world, tonight we will see winners in each of these categories.

And hey – this is just so Academy Awards – but why, again, have no designers phoned me to beg me to wear there frock? When Georgio Armani phones me to say, Lynne I’d like you to wear my new creation for the Lib Dem Blogger awards – then we will have made it. Never-the-less – with only one year under our belt – this is the event to be at this Conference!

Before presenting some of the awards, I want to take this opportunity to pay credit to one very special blogger who didn’t make the short list. But his blog, a very particular blog, earned the respect of experts from all parties in its field of expertise – defence and foreign affairs. His blog was the blog of a man whose wisdom, clarity, experience, professionalism, liberalism, humanity and integrity earned the respect of all political parties and political pundits.

I am sure that everyone in this room will know that it is to Tim Garden and Tim Garden’s Foreign & Security Policy Weblog that I want to pay public tribute.

Tim’s last posting sums up well his expertise and clarity:

Reports that Tony Blair has been asking to have US missile defence facilities in the UK have again raised the question of whether this is a good idea. It has many drawbacks: not least that it does not work.

Very succinct. Very to the point. Very Tim. And if you were to click on read more – you would then find a merciless dissection of the failure of missile sights over the years and ruthless condemnation of Blair for acceding and in secrecy.

It was – and still is – well worth clicking on all Tim’s read more labels – for you will find a sharp political analysis combined with real knowledge and expertise. It is no wonder that Tim commanded respect and admiration across the political divide and from the media. We will miss him for many, many reasons – this is just one of them. Our party was fortunate to have such a man – and we are all bereft by his premature and untimely death.

So – Tim – as bloggers and as fellow Liberal Democrats we remember you with affection and respect.

I won't be a winner!

The Liberal Democrats’ “Blog of the Year” competition is back for its second (welcome!) year – and I’m one of the judges again – which also means I am ruled out of the running for the prize – again!

Last year the much deserving winner was Stephen Tall – but as he’s a judge too this year, it means someone new has to win! So get your nominations in – details are on the party website. You have until 31st August to get nominations in.

As for why blogging is a good idea for politicians – the speech I gave at last year’s award about why I blog seems to still hold pretty true.