Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Rain, Thunder and Wind in the Willows

On Sunday evening I went with my granddaughters Sarah and Lily (aged 4 and identical twins)to an open air promenade version of Wind in the Willows put on the YEP at Croxteth Hall. We chose a great day. Thunder,lightning and rain accompanied us as we followed the actors around the parkland. the girls loved it-it added to the atmosphere. The young actors were great and did not let themselves be distracted by the torrential rain or the muddy walkways. You can find out more about the production here  

Monday, 29 July 2013

Tim Farron comes to Southport

Tim Farron

Packed public meeting plans action over Birkdale Library

Simon Shaw addresses the BLAG meeting
The people of Birkdale turned out in force for Public Meeting at St Johns Church Hall in Birkdale last week, called by the Birkdale Library Action Group (BLAG), .

The meeting was convened following the decision, 10 days ago, of Sefton Council’s ruling Cabinet (Labour Controlled) to reject a bid submitted by BLAG which would have secured a future for the threatened Birkdale Library.  Instead the Bootle-dominated Cabinet decided, in principle, to allow the building to be taken over by a consortium headed by Sefton CVS.

BLAG Chair, Terry Durrance explained how he and Birkdale councillor Iain Brodie Browne (that's me)had both addressed the Cabinet meeting in an effort to persuade them to accept the BLAG bid.  However the Cabinet had turned a deaf ear to their pleas.

Terry Durrance said: “There was a lot of concern expressed by the audience at how little provision there would be for an alternative library under the present Sefton CVS Consortium plan.”

“If Sefton CVS and their partners could adjust their plans to allow a greater area for a continuing, volunteer-run library, then I feel sure that the local community would get behind the plan."

Cllr Brodie Browne told the meeting how he considered it fundamentally unfair Sefton Council to retain three public libraries in Bootle, while leaving Southport with just one proper library.

Birkdale councillor Simon Shaw explained how the proposal submitted by Sefton CVS only proposed enough shelving for a mere 12% of the books currently on display in Birkdale Library.

“Using part of the Birkdale Library building for Sefton CVS and other charities could make a lot of sense,” commented Cllr Shaw.

“It’s just that, even making allowance for the proposed ‘Internet CafĂ©’ which replicates the current computer provision, you still end up with less than a quarter of the current floor area remaining as a library.  That is simply too little.”

By an overwhelming margin those present indicated they would be willing to support a takeover of Birkdale Library building by a Sefton CVS-led Consortium but only on the basis of a significantly increased library area.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Boost for Southport apprenticeships


This week I met a young Southport man who had just been offered an apprenticeship with Bentley  the car manufacturer. He and his family were delighted and rightly so. Many other young people in the town have secured apprenticeships with local employers. Southport College has done an excellent job supporting local employers. 
I urge employers to keep investing in local young people by hiring them as apprentices. 

New research done by the House of Commons Library revealed there were 520,600 apprenticeship starts across the UK in 2011/12.   This is 63,400 more than the number of starts in the 2010/11 academic year, and 240,900 more than in the 2009/10 academic year.

Much of this increase is due to many more people aged 25 and over starting apprenticeships and i welcome the news that a majority of apprenticeship starters were female.

Degrees are great, but they are not the only way to get on in life. Learning skills and developing experience in whatever way is good for you is far more important.”

"I want to thank local businesses who have taken on an apprentice. It really makes a massive difference. More young people across than ever before now have the opportunity to benefit from a variety of apprenticeships. I want us to build on this success and do even more to help our local young people."

Friday, 26 July 2013

nuisance calls

Southport residents fed up with nuisance calls should let the Government know about it.

Residents complaints; top of the list used to be dog mess, it has been push into the number two position by nuisance calls. 

The Culture, Media & Sport Committee have launched a parliamentary inquiry into nuisance phone calls and text messages and want to hear the public’s views on this.

th whole population is fed-up with nuisance calls, and now it’s time to take action.  There is a Parliamentary Bill aimed at straightening things out, too.  And now am delighted that the Select Committee is starting work on the problem that the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) that is supposed to weed these calls out isn’t up to the job.” 

“So there’s something for residents to do if you are as concerned-write in and tell the Select Committee whether TPS has worked for you in stopping nuisance calls, and if not, give the Committee chapter and verse on the number of calls you are still getting.”

The inquiry will focus on the current regulatory system and its enforcement, the effectiveness of the Telephone Preference Service and communications service providers.

The Committee requests short written submissions in Word format to be sent by e-mail to and should have ”Nuisance calls” in the subject line.

Submissions to the Committee should be received by the second week of August

Birkdale Library -packed meeting discusses next move

An excellent public meeting of the BLAG Library Campaign Group took place at St Johns Church Hall on Thursday night, attended by 100 concerned residents. I will be reporting more fully later, but in the meantime I thought it would be useful to share some analysis that my Birkdale Ward colleague Simon Shaw prepared and shared with the meeting.

Simon was concerned about how many books would be actually available on display to borrow under the Sefton CVS Consortium proposal to take over our Libary Building. Last Monday he went along to Birkdale Library, effectively to do some measuring up, and these are his conclusions:

Birkdale Library Sefton CVS Proposal - An Assessment

In their bid document Sefton CVS says the following (page 6):

The plan (Appendix 1) incorporates floor space of 131.1 sq m for public service delivery. This area could provide a service for the loaning of books utilising the current systems and equipment, however this will need to be discussed and agreed with Sefton MBC.

Based on the Sefton Libraries Review 2012, the Birkdale library holds a stock of 35,126 books. The new proposal would be unable to house the current level of library stock and transform the building to become a community resource.

From analysis of the current lending information statistics 2011/12, it appears that 20% of the total stock is regularly loaned. Therefore, it is proposed a stock of 7,000 books could deliver a credible loaning scheme, within the available public floor space of approximately 131 sqm.

The loaning service would aim to be open and operational from 9.30am to 4.30pm, 4 days per week with a review to increase the opening time in 6 months post launch. To support this new approach volunteer support would be required by a cohort of 20 to 30 volunteers acting in community liaison capacity.

Although the loss of 80% of the book stock (ie down from 35,126 to 7,000) would be bad enough, further clarification obtained from Sefton CVS suggests that their proposal is even worse. The Sefton CVS proposal is that the reduced book stock would be located on just four outside wall panels (ie the brick-built angled fins between the side windows).

The current shelving against the outside wall panels comprises a triple unit five shelves high. Adding a sixth shelf would not be feasible. On average each shelf holds 35 books. This means that each single unit holds approximately 35 X 5 = 175 books, i.e. each outside wall panel (containing a triple wall unit) contains approx. 525 books.

Thus the four outside wall panels could hold just 2,100 books – a lot less than the already much reduced proposed stock of just 7,000 books. It may be that Sefton CVS envisage that approx 75% of the much reduced book stock would be out on loan at any one time. However the standard by which most people judge a library is how many books are available on view to borrow or to reference.

A count of the current library stock on the shelves shows that there are currently approx 100 “single unit equivalents” each containing approx 175 books, i.e. approx. 17,500 books on the shelves in total. On this measure the present Sefton CVS proposal would represent 2,100 / 17,500 = 12% of the current available to loan stock.

In addition to this there is no apparent provision for DVDs, CDs, Talking Books or childrens' library etc.


A version of this article appeared on Lib Dem Voice earlier today

Winning a council seat in Merseyside off Labour would be a significant achievement. Winning two on the same day would be virtually unheard of.

The winning candidates Jen and Bruce

Yesterday, in Maghull, Sefton MBC, Merseyside, Lib Dems won two seats off Labour and came within 9 votes of winning a third. The by-elections concerned took place in three adjacent seats on Maghull Town Council.

Now in Southport we seldom identify with 'Sefton'. I will make an exception for Maghull. For reasons too painful to explain we got put in the same borough back in the early 1970's. Labour have been rampant in Maghull. Those days are now passed. Knocking on doors it was clear that there is a real sence of dissoultion with the Labour MP and council leadership. The MP in particular-who has an extended honeymoon with the media-has been rumbled by the electorate. I even had a former Labour voter  compare him to the Roman god Janus!

We were magnificantly helped by Liberal Youth. They certainly freshed up up our campaigning and lifted our morale. I'm delighted that Jen Robertson won. Bruce Hubbard -a Sefton MBC councillor-was also returned and Geoff Howe was so close in Maghull South.  Southport Lib Dems were out in force-many thanks.

some of the Liberal Youth team who helped-the average age of the clip boards was older than the average age of come committee rooms
The campaign had the feel of a 'turning point'. It has been decribed as our 'Stalingrad'. The momemnt when we were determind to halt the advance. Nobody died-although bites, blisters and sunburn have been reported. But we have proved it can be done and done in style against one of the most successful Labour outfits in the North.

Maghull Town Council, 8 miles to the North West of Liverpool City Centre, is the largest civil parish in the country and levies a Band D council tax precept of nearly £90.

Labour Town councillors in three adjacent wards, Maghull North, Maghull East and Maghull South resigned in June. North and East wards, each with electorates of around 5000, together combine to form the Sefton MBC ward of Sudell which Labour won in May 2012 by a 59% to 23% margin over the Lib Dems,

Yesterday Lib Dems notionally gained Sudell Ward with 49% of the vote against 44% for Labour, a swing of 20.3% from Labour to Lib Dems since the last Sefton Borough elections in 2012.

Chair of Liberal Youth testing the swing in maghull yesterday

In terms of the three individual Maghull Town Council wards, as compared to the last town council elections in 2011, swings of 10.5% from Labour to Lib Dems were achieved in North and East Wards, and a swing of 9% in South Ward.

The full results were:

Maghull North Ward

Jen Robertson (Lib Dem) 546 52.0% (+22.3%)

Labour 504 48.0% (+1.5%)

Lib Dem GAIN from Labour

Maghull East Ward

Bruce Hubbard (Lib Dem) 621 46.2% (+14.3%)

Labour 557 41.5% (-6.8%)

UKIP 165 12.3% (-)

Lib Dem GAIN from Labour

Maghull South Ward

Labour 180 42.4% (-12.2%)

Geoff Howe (Lib Dem) 171 40.2% (+6.1%)

UKIP 74 17.4% (-)

Labour HOLD

A fantastic effort by the Lib Dem team in Maghull, supported by colleagues in Southport, the rest of Sefton and Liverpool.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

A note has arrived from Bonkers Hall; what am I reading this summer?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voicewith a little 'assist' from His Lordship......
A note has arrived from Bonkers Hall: what am I reading this summer?

I am not alone, so far Liberal England has published three Summer reading lists from bloggers. Round up 1 was Alan Wyburn Powell (Liberal History to you and me), Linda Jack and Gareth Epps. Round up 2 was Iain Dale, Mark Pack and Iain Sharpe and joining me on Round up 3 Nick Barlow and Tim Holyoake.

Broadhurst Bookshop in Southport
-you don't have to buy from Amazon
With only two choices it is quite a challenge. There are books I have put aside to read over the summer and there are a heap of detective novels I'm happily working my way through for entertainment and distraction. I have just finished Peter May's Lewis Trilogy which I thoroughly recommend and I am about to embark on Martin Edwards Lake District thriller The Frozen Shroud.This is the latest in his series and I came across at Gladstone's Library.An earlier book in the series The Hanging Wood was set around a residential Library clearly modeled on Gladstone's St Deniol's -which is the only residential library in the UK. I am waiting on inter library loans to send me Tudor Jones's The Revival of British liberalism Grimond to Clegg and before the new season starts I shall take up again Michael Braham's Magnum opus: The Sandgrounders The Complete League History of Southport FC -all 728 pages of it!

Below is my reply to the note from Bonkers Hall:

Our Victorian forebears marketed Southport as being on the Lancashire Rivera and for once it is living up to their billing. It is hot. If I were off to Birkdale beach cycling along Snuttering Lane what would be stuffed into my saddlebag today? In truth there would be nothing too demanding. Jonathan suggested I choose two books one political and one not.

First up is David Erdal's"Beyond the Corporation-Humanity Working". This book is a passionate, committed work advocating workers' ownership. It challenges traditional models of ownership and lays out the experience of those who, like Erdal himself, took the road less travelled by. His own family firm -a paper mill in Fife-was transferred to employee ownership and it has flourished in contrast to a similar company which  took the usual route recommended by banks and business advisers and was sold off to venture capitalists . Erdal takes a hard look at those who insist, in the teeth of the evidence, that shared ownership will never work - a sorry tale, he argues, of prejudice masquerading as economic thinking. Here are other case studies of firms familiar to Liberals: Scott Bader, John Lewis and the mighty Mondargon co-ops. Jo Grimond visited Mondargon along with journalist, and sometime Liberal candidate, Robert Oakeshott . On their return they established, what is today, the Employee Ownership Association. Jo was particularly enamoured with the local workers mutual bank that the co-ops established. It attracted savings from the region and has financed a network of worker owned enterprises which now have 100,00 employees. As one reviewer observed that the greatest success of this approach was ' the sheer happiness employees experience in working together in businesses that they own together, sharing the wealth that they create'. 
You can hear an audio clip of Erdal talking about the book here

It is Sunday, the shadows are lengthening, and the evening has come, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work done. The worshipers at St Asquith's* are hurrying home after Evensong. Revd Hughes has detained them far too long preaching on Martha and Mary and the systemic effects of patriarchal stereotyping (in a sermon he pinched off the internet).  The strains of King Charles I's Evening hymn  linger more lastingly in their memory. Why do they rush home? It is because Sunday is the day that the next installment of Acts and Omissions comes online.

 Let me explain. Catherine Fox has been blogging a novel, one chapter a week, rather like Dickens or Wilkie Collins, since the turn of the year, and believe me the cliff hangers at the end of some chapters rival the fate of Little Nell. Every Sunday night they enter the diocese of Lindchester, a world as completely imagined as Bonkers Hall. There they meet the outrageous Freddie May with his gorgeous tenor voice who is unsettling the conscience of the evangelical Bishop Paul -and not just because of what he has painted above Father Wendy's new curate, Miss Virginia Farrow-Ball’s bed…. Bishop Paul will be please to see Freddie take up his choral scholarship at Barchester Cathedral, although I'm not so sure the elderly spinster Miss Barbara Blatherwick will be so relieved. This is a place where clerics drank champagne to celebrate the passing of the Equal Marriage Act but where Gene, the Dean's husband, is not prepared to deviate from the law that you don’t waste vintage champagne on evangelicals. 

It is a glorious, exuberant romp of a novel. Whether you identify with the militantly lapsed Dr Jane Rossiter or the tortured soul of Father Dominic, by the time chapter 52 arrives and Freddie has takes his last scandalous risk the recollection of the heat wave will have faded and I shall be most likely be cycling along Snuttering Lane in the snow.

* And yes, I know St Asquith's has a spire but strangely their are not pictures of it on the internet

Christiania Hartley in Liverpool

Christiania Hartley is well known in Southport as a  Liberal councillor, the  first women mayor and social welfare activist. She was the answer to a question in the Liberal History Journal's quiz last year. Her influence spread beyond Southport as this plaque shows.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Keeping 3 Public Libraries in Bootle but only 1 in Southport is outrageous

Keeping 3 Public Libraries in Bootle but only 1 in Southport is outrageous

However the Bootle Labour cabinet try to spin their decision leaving only one Public Library in the Southport  constituency whilst keeping three open in Bootle is wrong. It displays Labour’s priorities and their contempt for our town. (The two constituencies have the same population)

Far more books are borrowed from the branch Libraries in Southport that Labour want to close than the ones in Bootle they are keeping open.

Many residents will be more than two miles from a library especially (but not only) those in Crossens and Ainsdale .

The arrangements for disability access –which is excellent at Birkdale, one of the libraries the are axing-are completely inappropriate at the one remaining site

Vast numbers of Southport people have volunteered to support our Library service, they have been snubbed. If there had been political will a partnership between volunteers and the library service could have kept our libraries open.

The lack of imagination, the unwillingness to adopt new ways of working has destroyed the library service. This is not about money, this about political will. Look around at how much Sefton Council is wasting. Look at the millions of Council Tax payments that have been wasted by Merseytravel with is extravagant new £5million a year offices  Check out the links to see the extravagant way the Bootle Labour leader of the ITA squandered millions on what the Daily Post described as 'vanity projects' and what the auditor said. Please note Sefton Labour Leaders dismissed all the independent findings as 'tawdry' .

Labour have wasted millions and are now cutting our libraries . If they had not wasted so much we would not be in this mess.
 The Lib Dem group will continue to challenge this outrageous discussion at every opportunity

Friday, 19 July 2013

Steve Webb at the Social Liberal Conference

Steve Webb  came along to the Social Liberal Conference to give the William Beveridge lecture. As Minister for Pensions and a Professor of Social Policy he is eminently well qualified to do so. He has the advantage of having read Beveridge rather than just assuming he knows what the great man thought.
I should begin by saying that there is a Southport connection with Beveridge as he made clear in a letter  to Robert Martin the Liberal candidate in the 1945 election
 'I am more than sorry not to able to visit Southport during the Election because I will miss re-visiting one of the scenes of my childhood. With my sister I was left for three years in a small school in Southport from an age of 4 to 7 whilst my parents were in India. If, as many psychologists say, these are the most critical formative years of life, then Southport is largely responsible for everything I had done, including the Beveridge Report!
Judging by the account given by his biographer Jose Harris he was non too happy at is Unitarian boarding school, he certainly complained about the food!
Steve arrived in time for lunch over which he met several bloggers almost  all of who have been quicker than I have in writing up their impressions. We began with the normal pleasantries .( England were seven wicket down when he got off the train but by the time he arrived at the Quaker Meeting House they were all out- which tells you a bit about the batting of the England tail enders in the 1st test. As I write this on the second day of 2nd Test they have performed much better. All this would no doubt have been of interest to at least one Social Liberal of a previous generation as John Arlott is listed as a member of the Radical Reform Group, see my other posting on the SLF conference)

There was a interesting range questions from a diverse group. They ranged from the party's appeal to young people, the rip off of tax relief on mega pensions, bedroon tax , Mental Health and the job centers, living wage,differentiation from the Tories and much more besides. Caron Lindsay has already blogged on this  far better that I can manage.

I have been pondering for some time about how we finance social security. Across Europe citizen's have lost confidence in the state as the funder and provider of welfare. Frank Field has been posing questions about this for some time most recently in a letter the other week:

Letter published in The Guardian on Tuesday 2nd July 2013:

The coalition benefit cap offers Labour another opportunity to leapfrog the welfare reform agenda (Few rows, no rebellion: how Osborne and Co quelled dissent on spending, 28 June). By opting out pensions from the cap, and JSA contributory benefits, the chancellor's made the key distinction between national insurance and means-tested benefits. Here lies the opportunity.

Voters are increasingly unwilling to give support to a something-for-nothing welfare. They strongly support the gaining of welfare on the basis of contribution. We must build on this distinction.

Welfare needs more, not less money. We are living longer and making greater demands on pensions, health and social care. These are three areas of welfare that should be financed by insurance. Contributions would come from graduated national insurance payments, and by function, ie by performing roles, such as caring, that taxpayers wish to see encouraged.

But the new money must be ringfenced. Voters are unwilling to agree more contributions on the old contract, with politicians getting their sticky fingers on to their funds. Labour should propose new national mutuals covering each of these three areas and mirroring the John Lewis Partnership form of governance.

The point is underlined by research published by YouGov following a large poll conducted across UK, Germany, Sweden and France. Writing on their website Peter Kelner sums up the the findings  Millions in all four countries no longer think left-of-centre parties care about them; and most people now reject the notion that governments are any good at solving social problems.

Our survey shows how this is now threatening the post-war consensus. We asked people to consider the taxes they pay, and then all the services and benefits they receive from the state. The responses are stark.
  • In all four countries, at least six in ten think their system of taxation is unfair. 
  • In all four countries at least two-thirds say state spending on services and benefits is inefficient.
  • By margins ranging from three-to-one (Sweden) to nine-to-one (France) people think their family pays in more in taxes than they get back in pensions, welfare benefits, education, health care, policing and other public services.
In many ways Beveridge foresaw these problems. He was angry with the way that the Labour government implemented  his proposals. In particular he thought that Friendly Societies should play a major role in 'humanising and personalising' the day to day management of social insurance. He told the House of Lords that the method adopted by Labour ' sent a chill down his spine'

As Steve pointed out in his lecture Beveridge's plan was a 'something for something' plan, an insurance, a minimum upon which citizens built. This reflects his dislike of the term ' welfare state'. He certainly gave a hard time to those who came before his committee and used the term. He preferred 'Social Services State'-giving priority to duties rather than rights.

Beveridge saw in the role of the Friendly Society visitor not just a guard against fraud but also and more importantly 'personal assistance and sympathy to the sick, bereaved and dying and thereby maintaining variety and from variety will come experiment, individualisation and more humanity. ' You can see by the bureaucratic fabian mind rejected such notions. He went on, 'anything as big as the civil service' (which in 1945 was minute compared with Steve Webb's present day department) 'merely because of its size tends to become inhuman'

And so it was that I came to ask Steve whether given Beveridge's concern's and the loss of public consent, if we wanted to lever more resources into social security did we had anything to learn from the Friendly Societies.

His first response was that there was a modern day equivalent in NEST. (The National Employment Savings Trust) A low cost, not for profit agency designed for people for whom the market has not delivered -the default pension scheme especially for those whose employers are not interested.  

The discussion moved on and I suggested that had Friendly Societies still been a force in the land-focused on serving their members rather than profit-they may well have come up with an insurance product that would have funded care in old age for example. Steve didn't dissent from that though he was concerned about the scale required for that to work. Now that long term care costs are (at last being capped by the government) Steve said that he and Norman Lamb -who was also at the SLF conference-had met with the insurance industry to discuss establishing products that could fund care. I am sure that is true and desirable but I cannot help but feel that a member owned scheme rather than a PLC would be a better option.

Peter Wrigley was next up, he blogs as the Keynsian Liberal and he began recalling happy memories of taking his family's three shillings to the National Deposit Friendly Society at the local Temperance Hall on a Friday night.  Peter question about the massive amount the state pays to subsidise mega pensions was very well made and is reported in full on his blog. Like him I fail to see why we should be paying out £35 billion a year so much to the already well off. This is a benefit attracting tax relief at the higher rate but when paid out as income is normally only taxed at the standard rate.

Mark Pack returned to the theme of decentralsied, localised solutions to welfare reflecting that much of Steve's work-although characterised by a competence unusual in government- is not characteristically liberal, Even NEST is a nationally established body making its payment in line with a nationally agreed formula almost a little reminiscent of Gordon Brown.  I was interested her hear that Steve felt that if we were running the Work Programme ' it would much more focused on local providers rather that in the large centralised providers providers have taken most of the money and the locally based charities haven't had much of a look in. Local providers have become 'bid candy' in so much as there contribution is up in lights when the big contracts are bid for but in reality that have not been rewarded nor has their contribution been maximised.

It was good to hear a Liberal Minister speak so openly about the need to do things for the 'people the market has failed'. It was also good to hear him so robustly defend social security and assert that the isolated extreme examples of abuse have little to tell us about the system as a whole. I see Labour only polled 7% in his seat last time out. I'm sure he will remind his electors next time that it was a Labour spokesman who introduced the cruel and inappropriate language about scroungers into the political debate, remember 'Labour, the clue is in the tittle, we are for the workers not the shirkers'.  Now who said that?

Please have a look at the posting from the other bloggers who had their lunch with Steve Webb they can be found on the SLF website and Prateek Buck's  article in the New Statesman

Liberals need to challenge inequalities of economic power

Social Liberal Forum, Radical Reform Group : 60 years apart yet one common mission?

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice The very kind and generous Caron Lindsay wrote: The sort of blog post you want to learn by heart. Pure brilliance. A must read. That is all. .

Towards the end of the SLF's Manchester conference, held again on the Saturday closest to Bastille Day, Michael Steed stood up to speak. He was introduced by the Chair, Gareth Epps, as a past President of the Liberal Party. Michael reminded the conference that he and I had been in Manchester 40 years ago when he was the candidate in the Manchester Exchange by election - he came within 2000 votes of winning. Now that is a thought to conjure with; what impact would he had if he'd have won ? (I know with an absolute certainty that the deluded, self deceiving analysis of the recent county election would not have gone unchallenged. For my generation Michael was the Psephologist of choice. Slogans, no matter how often they are repeated , cannot eradicate the hard electoral facts)

Steed recalling that long ago by election set me thinking. As President he had received a copy of Milton's Areopogitica-the symbol of his office- and it was to Milton that another radical turned when he wanted a representative of an important and often neglected strain of thinking in British politics. In his excellent book 'The Strange Career of British Democracy' David Marquand argues that Milton shaped three great themes of English popular politics: 'republican self-respect as opposed to monarchical servility, engaged civic activity versus slothful private apathy, and government by challenge and discussion rather than deference or conformism.' This is at the heart of our political creed. We stand for a decentralised participatory democracy in sharp contrast to Fabian paternalism, Whigs, and Tory Nationalists.

Since climbing the staircases of  Manchester Exchange-incidentally the place where Steed, Viv Bingham and I met Marquand in the lead up to the Alliance formation-there have been many Radical conferences. I recall Toynbee Hall when Harry Cowie, Jo Grimond's famed head of policy spoke, various London colleges and the bowels of Westminster Cathedral when (if the truth be told we were all a little frightened by David Owen's adoption of an early version of a New Labour agenda and the ruthless way that he was pursuing it in stark contrast to Steel's comparative sloth). It was at the Westminster Cathedral event that I sat on the floor at the back of the hall and half apologised to Marquand for the wariness with which many Radicals greeted social democrats. We were defensive and felt unloved and unwanted. There were many of the Right of Labour with whom we felt very uncomfortable. At that stage even the best of the social democrats were not natural champions of decentralisation and active participation and their history of supporting Polaris and Trident set us apart. We had failed to recognise that we did have a shared agenda around social justice. The truth is, now we can see with an awful clarity, that we must work together in the face of those for whom social justice matters far too little. This is a topic to which I shall return when I get to my interview with Steve Webb.

 In the final session at Manchester important concerns were raised about the economic policy motion submitted by Alexander et al to the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow. People are right to be concerned. It is no part of our job to become apologists for Osborne's economic policy. In a coalition there are inevitable compromises. When you only have 1 in 5 ministers you certainly aren't going to win all the decisions, but a manifesto is something else. It is our opportunity to say what we would be if we were unencumbered by Osborne and madmen on the far right. It is our chance to give hope by describing the society we wish to help build when we have passed through this vale of tears.
The BBC’s ‘Hustings’ programme put on during the 1959 election. The panellists are, left to right, Desmond Banks (Liberal), Reginald Maudling (Conservative) and Gerry Reynolds (Labour).

Much the same challenge face the Radical Reform Group (RRG) in the 1950's and 60s. They were the social liberal pressure group who took on the likes of Oliver Smedley and Arthur Seldon . When a man as essentially decent and reasonable as the late Desmond Banks asserts that he is concerned that there are 'cranks who want to turn the party into an economic sect'  you realise the challenge they faced.  Under the less than energetic leadership of Clem Davies, Social Liberals like Desmond Banks feared that the party was falling unduly under the sway of  well funded, classical free market liberals and was drifting to the right. Stop me if this sounds familiar. Then, as now, the bulk of party members were social liberals-including cricket writer and broadcaster John Arlott who was a member of RRG.

..........renewed activity on the left of centre  where all good Liberals should be  (News Chronicle Editorial-Left or Limbo)

Graham Lippiatt in an article in the Journal of Liberal History writesRadical Aims: A statement of policy by the Radical Reform Group, which was published in 1953 or 1954, recalls the reaction to Labour’s post-war socialism and how that led in the Liberal Party to the ‘increasing influence of a school of “laissez-faire” apostles who but a few years ago were regarded as a lunatic fringe’ seeking to revert to the philosophy of Herbert Spencer.

The RRG championed the Grimond strategy of realignment of the Left and openly targeted members of the Labour party. Three election defeats on the run and a Labour Party tied to Clause 4 and the Unions made many progressives in the Labour Party uneasy. The programme RRG put forward--Full employment, industrial democracy and profit sharing, social welfare without socialism, an early statement of what today would be called green politics, a new post imperial understanding of Britain's place in the world etc was the basis of that appeal.

'As of right, wealth and income must be more equally shared …’

Co-ownership was an idea ‘as hostile to monopoly capitalism as it is to socialism since it aims to distribute instead of concentrating political as well as economic power’. Workers would become citizens of industry, not merely hirelings of private employers or of the state.

In all the writing and thinking in the Liberal Party the central proposition that marked them out on the centre left was the belief in co-ownership. For Liberals it extended their commitment to the diffusing power in the political sphere into the economic one.  It was a check on unbridled markets as the interests of workers was for long term sustainable businesses not short term returns for shareholders. It contrasted with Crosslands's view that divorce between legal ownership and actual management was a good thing, largely as a result of absentee institutional shareholders, it rendered obsolete the emphasis on state ownership. 

The market collapse of 2008 was driven by management-whether in industry or the banks-focusing solely on increasing share holder value and taking excessive risks to do so. This was made possible by the disinterest or connivance of institutional shareholders. The Liberal version of active, participating employee owners could not be more stark. It was relevant in the 50's and 60's and is so today

Social Liberals have always understood that in a market economy the state has an important role to play. We may have to re-invent how that is done in a globalised world dominated by multi national corporations, but leaving it to the market as the “laissez-faire” apostles who but a few years ago were regarded as a lunatic fringe’ is not the answer .

The trouble is that capitalism's untaming has given destruction too much scope: that the gains made by a few have gone hand in hand with mounting insecurity, dwindling commitment and spreading anomie among the rest. If the emblematic figure of the 1960s was the affluent worker, today's are the redundant middle manager, the driven contract worker and the excluded, anti-social, inner-city youth. All of these portend a desertification of the culture that threatens to choke the springs of mutual loyalty and trust on which free societies - and, for that matter, market economies - depend.

I was a student when I went to helped Steed at Manchester Exchange. A decade before that Michael had gone to help at another, more famous,  by election Orpington. Whilst canvassing he stayed with the Seldon family. William Wallace recalled the occasion and the events surrounding it in a letter:

The group of free-trade Liberals that included S.W.Alexander and Oliver Smedley had drive, financial resources, and a clear sense of Liberalism in a libertarian, minimum-state interpretation. The almost anarchic structure of party assemblies allowed for such groups to exert real influence.

RRG, as I recall, provided the most coherent alternative definition of Liberalism – much closer to the radical Liberal tradition, and to the nonconformist beliefs which a high proportion of its members held. It helped enormously that Jo Grimond as leader was naturally sympathetic to the RRG perspective; but the existence and activities of RRG, and the arguments of its members on the Party Executive, made Grimond’s task in reorienting the party much easier.

Joining the party in 1960, I caught only echoes of the arguments that had convulsed the then-tiny part in the 1950s. My future father-in-law, Edward Rushworth, had for many years been both a member of RRG and of the party executive.

He made little distinction between being a Liberal and being a teetotal nonconformist; his instincts were anti authoritarian and socially egalitarian.

In the 1962 Orpington byelection Michael Steed and I stayed for a week with the Seldon family while canvassing; Marjorie was an active party member, but her husband Arthur had ‘left the party over free trade’ and was engaged with others of that group in finding an alternative vehicle for their ideas – which became the Institute for Economic Affairs, through which free-market liberal ideas later influenced Margaret Thatcher and her advisers.

We are indeed fortunate that the RRG 'took on' the market fundamentalists'. The party would not have been a fit place for social liberals if they had not done so. It seems that we face a similar challenge today.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Southport Pier:metallurgists report_ weather not weight the problem tram still off

The lastest update I have received :

Engineers and  have confirmed that the problem is not caused by structural loads but by freeze thaw action of water in the hollow column centres.

We have instructed contractors to commence work as soon as is possible to start to repair columns. When some are repaired in the cluster, we will  be able to open the Pier to pedestrians. It will be a little longer, before all columns are repaired, before the tram can run again but we are going to ensure that we expedite works and get the Pier fully operational as soon as possible.

As soon as we get timescales from the contractor, i will update you.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Pier -latest after survey, section closed to pedestrians

I've had many requests for imformation about the Pier. The up to date position as I understand it is outlined below. I will post more as I get it. I received this report earlier this evening:

Just to advise that following identification of the problem as part of a routine inspection, a full survey of the pier has found that 14no cast iron columns have been affected by vertical splits. Our consultants are considering the cause of the splits and will advise tomorrow.

Around 11 of the columns affected are clustered a significant distance out. As a result, on our consultants advice, until we ascertain cause of the cracks, we have restricted pedestrian access to approximately half way along the pier, before the cluster of affected columns.

I will receive an update tomorrow which will ascertain whether or not we need to restrict pedestrian access for longer. It does appear that the tram will be suspended until remedial work is agreed and at least part implemented.

We will ensure that any necessary repairs are carried out as quickly as possible so as to minimise impact but of course, Public Safety must take precedence.

Southport Pier -lots of people promenading. It's a lovely day to visit

I was off down to the Pier this morning to meet journalists who wanted to know of the situation. Yesterday, after a routine inspection, cracks were noted in the structure. As a result the council took the precaution of stopping the tram trundling up and down until after a survey had been undertaken. That inspection was underway whilst I was there. I hope to have news soon.

It was good to see so many people of all ages enjoying the Pier. There was a big school party from Leigh, lots pensions and a goodly sprinkling of pre school children and their families.

The Pier is important in Southport. It is now the second longest Pier in the country and the first cast iron structure of its type. Back in 1990 the council tried to close it. At a vote in full council the Pier was saved by one vote. After that the Pier Trust was formed and money raised to restore the structure

In its long life it has had many crisis-bits have collapsed in rough weather, fires, accidents ....The tram has swapped from steam to electric, to diesel ,and now we have a very fine state of the art machine which one day we would love to see run all the way up to the Chapel St Railway station.

Tony Robertson catches Lord Bonker's eye

Congratulations to my colleague Tony Robertson. There is no higher accolade amongst Lib Dem bloggers than to be mentioned in one of Liberal England's  'Six of the Best' . This prize does nor result from some crude digitalised calculation as with The Golden Dozen ,but is an exercise of judgement and discernment on Lord Bonker's part.

 Take a look at Tony's posting that caught his Lordship's eye

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Councillor Richard Kemp: Why Liverpool needs its own Bank | Bay TV Liverpool

Councillor Richard Kemp: Why Liverpool needs its own Bank | Bay TV Liverpool

Click on the link to see Richard's interview. We will forgive him his Liverpool-centric  view on this occasion because the economic argument he is making is central to our understanding of how our economy can revive.

It is, as always, well worth reading David Boyle's most recent posting on a related issue- How to shift economic power without the help of the government.

I have reproduce Richards main argument below and his motion to Liverpool City Council

 Councillor Richard Kemp CBE, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool talked to Bay TV about a motion he will be moving at the next meeting of Liverpool City Council in mid-July. Councillor Kemp will say, “solutions to problems in Northern Cities like Liverpool and Manchester are being held back by having a financial system where decisions about investment are at best made in London and at worst anywhere in the World. The North of England used to have its own big Banks, Insurance Companies and Mutuals and now must create those institutions again to reduce our dependence on London and the South-East.
In March the Government changed the rules to establish new Banks and professional advisers I have consulted have revealed that a Bank could be established in as little as 9 months. Big Councils like Liverpool and Manchester and their pension funds already have big holdings of cash, land and property. There would be a tremendous desire for local businesses and individuals to invest in a local bank which would then invest in local public activity and invest direct in employment creating businesses.” Councillor Kemps’ motion also urges a financial transactions (Robin Hood) tax and more support for campaigns against pay day lenders. The full motion is appended below.
Liverpool City Council recognises that one of the major problems for Liverpool for the past 30 years has been the gradual withdrawal of financial bodies from within Greater Liverpool that can make financial decisions about Greater Liverpool. This has meant that an assumption that the wealth of the Country can be sustained by a London based and London dominated financial sector has been proved to be a fallacy.
Recognising the need therefore to work with us to change the system Liverpool City Council:
Welcomes changes made by the Government to make it easier to create new banks. It therefore requests the Chief Executive and Director of Resources to examine the possibility of creating in the first instance a Bank of Liverpool to act as an investment bank to fund the types of investment needed by the Mayor for infrastructure redevelopment and by the private sector seeking long-term financial capital. In the long-term to expand the bank of Liverpool to become a retail bank in which local residents and businesses from Greater Liverpool can invest and use the services of.
Welcomes the emergence of the ‘Move Your Account’ Organisation and commits to working with that organisation to encourage residents and businesses to move their bank accounts to get better terms.
Welcomes the renewed campaign for the creation of a ‘Robin Hood’ or ‘Tobin’ tax on financial transactions. Recognises that such a tax would create large amounts of revenue both in this country and internationally and would reduce the amount of speculation in financial instruments to the gain of poorer people and countries.
Requests the Mayor to examine the possibility of using subordinated loans at low cost to provide the Credit Unions within the city with more finance to make low-cost loans
Commits to working with the CABs and other responsible advisory agencies in the city to ensure that people know the dangers of the disreputable pay day loans and cheque cashing operations within the city

Cracks in Southport Pier- tram suspended. Survey to be undertaken tomorrow

As residents may have noticed the tram has stopped running on the pier. I have received the following information:

During a routine inspection today, contractors identified large vertical cracks in some of the cast iron columns supporting Southport Pier. Capita recommended that we consider the closure of the Pier until a full survey is completed.

Based upon photographs of the cracks that have been examined by my Engineers, we have concluded that the Tram should cease operation immediately until the survey can ascertain the extent of the problem. The Pier will remain open to pedestrians.

The survey is planned to take place tomorrow. I have asked officers to make it a priority and give feedback as soon as possible in order that we may make a swift decision regarding whether or not we can lift the temporary ban on the Tram or indeed, if we need to go further.

I will of course keep you appraised as to progress but given the structural nature of the damaged cast iron and the implications of any form of collapse now that we have been made aware of the damage, I do not feel that we have any reasonable alternative course of action on the grounds of public safety.

It would of course happen on such a glorious day and some of the concessionaires may complain of reduced trade but obviously, safety is paramount

When I learn more I will updat this posting. As things stand it appears the correct action has been taken. Clearly the Pier is a great tourist attraction and people in Southport have supported all effort to maintain it. I want to see it re-opened as soon as saftey allows possible

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Britten's joyful sound sets the scene for blind vicars ariborne stunts

I switched on the radio this morning as I went into the kitchen to get some breakfast ( a pair of Port Lancaster smokehouse kippers)  to be greeted by a choir singing Benjamin Britten's Jubilate Deo, and a joyful song it was. (you can hear this morning's version on iplayer hear at 19mins 05secs) 

Then I was off to the Civic Service at St Francis of Assisi at Kew. I was met by the Mayor Maureen Fearn (Lib Dem, Kew Ward) who had arrived in her new  mayoral car the 100% electric Nissan Leaf Car

The service was conducted by the Mayor's Chaplain Rev Alex Galbraith. Alex has made quite a reputation for himself with his prayers and homilies before Council meetings but he excelled himself today. His sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan managed to weave in references to the Anne Frank exhibition at The 
Atkinson  in Southport as well as Stephen Lawrence and Malala Yousafzai. Maureen chose her favorite hymn and the congregation sang them heartily . It was an excellent and uplifting event. Afterwards Maureen provide drinks and the church tea and coffee. We were joined by a large number of Mayors from Lancashire and Merseyside including-for the first time in my memory- the Lord Mayor of Liverpool.

Now despite being a new church building-opened in the 1990's- they have problems with their roof. and the Vicar is setting off to do airborne stunts to raise money and he took the opportunity to ask for sponsorship.