What I wrote at Lib Dem Voice

May 14, 2008

Local paper in earth-shattering headline bid

This was the leading headline on the Oxford Mail website this morning:
"No One Injured In Shed Fire"
A whole city breathes a collective sigh of relief.

May 09, 2008

The perils of choosing a Lib Dem Voice poll

It’s an odd experience, sometimes, editing Lib Dem Voice. Last night, we were chided – quite rightly – for keeping up on the site an out-of-date poll. So, today, as I cycled into work I resolved to stick up a new poll for readers pretty damn smart.

The question was: what to ask? I toyed with ‘How long has Gordon Brown got?’, or ‘Who do you think will succeed him as Labour leader?’ But too many other folk are asking that. Besides, the truth is the Labour party is far too servile to sack their leader just because he’s not up to the job. They’ll hang on to Gordon simply because he’s there, and they hate to challenge authority.

So I settled on a more interesting (I thought) question: what do you think will be the result of the next general election? But what answers to offer? Obviously, the four most plausible choices – outright Labour/Tory victories, or minority Labour/Tory victories – and I briefly contemplated adding a ‘Lib Dems win’ choice, too.

And then I decided not. After all, the chances of a Lib Dem victory at the next general election are Posh Spice-slim, at best. It also occurred to me that loyal Lib Dem Voice readers, bless ‘em, might feel compelled to chose the ‘Lib Dem win’ option – which would render the poll pretty nonsensical, as I was more interested in finding out what fellow Lib Dems really think is the most likely eventuality, not what they dream of happening.

A couple of commenters on the thread have expressed their disgust at the exclusion of a ‘Lib Dem win’ option. Fair enough, they’re entitled to their opinion. But what intrigues me more is this question: would it actually be a good thing for the Lib Dems if we found ourselves the elected government in two years’ time?

My answer would be: absolutely not.

The idea that the Parliamentary party could grow overnight from 63 to 330 and provide a stable, sustainable liberal government is too far-fetched for me. Even if that quintupling in numbers were to occur, I find it hard to believe the party would be ready for the challenges of government. And that’s no criticism of the party, its prospective MPs or the leadership: simply the reality that gradual growth provides a stronger basis for future success than a meteoric rise without trace.

By all means be ambitious. But also let’s be realistic: for example, by doubling our number of MPs in the next seven years, as Nick Clegg has declared to be his aim. And let’s work for the party’s long-term success, not a short-term flash-in-the-pan.

The week after the eight years before

So this is what it feels like to be a normal person again... After eight years, I am no more; I have ceased to be; I am an ex-councillor.

Chatting to two fellow councillors last week, I could sense a faint trace of pity in their looks, as if, by standing down, I was tossing away the holy grail. They asked why I was leaving, and consoled me that I could always (try and) get back on the Council soon enough.

Then conversation turned to the commitment involved: the incessant evening meetings, the weekends catching up with casework, the tensions it causes at home. My turn to give them a pitying look: “And you asked me why I’m quitting...?

I keep on waiting for an epiphany, a moment when I suddenly realise my life is my own again, and not shared with 4,000 residents. It hasn’t happened yet, and I doubt it will. Life has a habit of adjusting itself remarkably quickly to our changing rhythms.

Besides, last Saturday morning saw me cycling to the Town Hall to chair the Oxford Lib Dem group’s annual meeting, at which – I’m genuinely delighted to say – my former ward colleague, and fellow blogger, David Rundle was unanimously elected leader. He will now be the leader of the opposition to Labour’s minority administration, a task he will relish and for which he’s custom-made.

David’s already commented on the Oxford results here, and there’s little to add. For some bizarre reason, the local paper keeps referring to the party’s “miserable” election-night performance, despite the Lib Dems gaining a seat – pretty impressive for a group which has been in minority control for two years, and has had to grapple with a City Council only slowly recovering from Labour’s appalling quarter of a century running it down.

Yet there’s no denying Labour did better: they gained four seats, including one from us, bucking the dire national trend for their party. They will reap the benefits of a Council which is now on the mend and on the up. Fingers crossed they don’t screw it up... again.

For us, the results were more frustrating than anything else. The Tories trail a long way behind the Lib Dems in Oxford East – but they did just enough this time around to split the anti-Labour vote, and hand a lifeline to the Labour party. The message here is clear: vote blue, get Brown. The challenge for the Lib Dems is to make sure the public – determined to get rid of Labour at the next general election – understand the message, too.

Well, I guess I have a little more spare time now to lend a hand with that.