What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

April 10, 2008

Is there a life after politics?

So, today marked my last Council committee. Though, a la Frank Sinatra, I will have many more such ‘farewells’ in the 21 days which remain of my life as a councillor. (Last area committee, last civic occasion, last Full Council, etc.).

I took the decision a few months ago to stand down from Oxford City Council when my third term expires but have kept schtum about it – chiefly because I hated the idea of being a lame-duck councillor whose pleas to council officers were ignored because “he won’t be around for much longer”.

There’s lots of reasons for my retirement... a new house, a new job which deserves my full daytime attention, and a partner who deserves my non-work attention, a new niece... above all, a feeling that I don’t want to turn into one of those councillors who hangs around in the hope of one day becoming Lord Mayor, rather than because they have anything fresh or energetic to offer their residents. After eight years, and three election campaigns, it’s time for me to make way for a Lib Dem campaigner with the vim and vigour to tackle the issues I have been grappling with in my ward since 2000.

There are things I will miss – my Council colleagues, and, especially, the residents I’ve got to know so well – but, if I’m honest, more that I won’t. My pet hate is meetings of Full Council: five hours of torpor in which councillors grand-stand to no purpose in the unrequited hope of being quoted in the local paper.

Its an oddity of Oxford politics that most councillors rub along together pretty well, and can find more to agree on than disagree... until they sit in the Town Hall council chamber. At which point, some form of collective guilt takes over in which councillors fear they’ve betrayed their principles by cooperating with opponents, and decide to turn into mindless, partisan morons.

Never say never and all that – and I’ve not ruled out a return to the City Council at some point – but if I never attend another meeting of Full Council, it will be too soon.

But there are things I’ve achieved, a fair number, for my residents over the years; and I will miss not being able to achieve similar such things in the future. And there are things I’ve failed to achieve, more than I’d like, for my residents over the years; and I regret I won’t be in a position to try and put that right in the years ahead.

When I finally, finally finish – on 1st May – it will be distinctly odd. The Council has been so much a part of my life for eight years that I’m curious to find out how I’ll manage without it, as I re-discover a life beyond politics. I know this is the right time to leave. But I don’t regret a moment of it. Truly, it’s been a privilege.

April 07, 2008

This is how far A Liberal has gone

“It’s a funny old world,” said a former PM. She was right. In my day job – the one that pays my mortgage, and keeps me well away from politics – I am responsible for fundraising for the University of Oxford’s libraries, including the Bodleian. Within which is located the Conservative Party Archive. For which I am now actively seeking money. Oh, the irony.

For the record (and in case my employers are watching) I should stress I have absolutely no philosophical problems with any of this. The Archive is an historical record, and a fascinating one at that. One part of it has made a splash today, with the online release of the Tory Party’s posters – the Daily Mail carried a dozen of the best in a double-page spread here.

But you don’t need to patronise the Mail’s website to enjoy a saunter through political advertising history. You can access the whole archive at the Bodleian’s website here. Which means you can also search the Archive by category, date, description or keyword. I typed in the search term ‘liberal’, which gave me the five posters, below. (Click on image to enlarge).

Interestingly - though I guess unsurprisingly - the Liberal party was deemed not to be worthy of an attack-by-name ad for three decades, between 1929 and 1959. And nothing since 1983 either. But, then, I suppose Tories are all liberal Conservatives now, aren't they?

(Posters 1929-10 and 1929-23)

(Poster 1959-03)

(Poster 1964-12)

(Poster 1983-12)

Should Chris Huhne really be leader?

That’s the allegation by the Indy’s political editor, Jane Merrick:
According to one authoritative account of the leadership contest last December, Chris Huhne would be Lib Dem chief were it not for hundreds of ballot papers being held up by the Christmas post. Mr Clegg beat his rival by just 511 votes out of more than 41,000 party members in one of the closest-run races in political history.

Yet as many as 1,300 postal votes arrived after the deadline of 15 December – and an unofficial check of the papers showed that Mr Huhne had enough of a majority among them to hand him victory. The extraordinary claim could spark demands for a rerun from Mr Huhne's supporters.
I’ve not come across Jane Merrick’s journalism before, so I’ll take it on trust that she does bother to check her sources, even if she doesn’t feel the need to cite them. But I find the story barely plausible.

For sure, the gap between Nick and Chris was a wafer-thin 511. But for the result to have been overturned by ballot papers received after the closing date would mean that Chris would have had to have picked up 70% to Nick’s 30% of the final 1,300 ballot papers. Given how close both candidates were running throughout the contest, this stretches credulity.

Not impossible, then. But highly, highly unlikely. And you might have hoped the Indy would reflect this in its coverage. Hoped, but not expected. For British political journalism is rarely troubled by the need for facts to substantiate a story – just throw together a load of allegations, and see what sticks.