Ozzy's Corner

On Thursday the most interesting by-election of this Parliament takes place.

Eastleigh, recently vacated by the disgraced Chris Huhne, sees the two Coalition parties fight it out. It is a Liberal Democrat stronghold, held since 1994. Even Labour’s 1997 landslide resulted in only a third place with 26.8 % of the vote.

Here is the 2010 result:

General Election 2010: Eastleigh
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne 24,966 46.5 +8.2
Conservative Maria Hutchings 21,102 39.3 +2.1
Labour Leo Barraclough 5,153 9.6 −11.5
UKIP Ray Finch 1,933 3.6 +0.2
English Democrats Tony Pewsey 249 0.5 N/A
Independent Dave Stone 154 0.3 N/A
National Liberal Party – Third Way Keith Low 93 0.2 N/A
Majority 3,864 7.2
Turnout 53,650 69.3 +4.9
Liberal Democrat hold Swing 3

This by-election raises issues for left-leaning voters. Who do you vote for when the only real contenders are in Government delivering…

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A great article on what comes next for us as pro-European!!

politicaldevelopments

One of the problems with political science is that publishing books and articles takes time, but events move quickly.  In 2005, Stefano Bartolini wrote an influential monograph, Restructuring Europe, which  argued that the ‘Europe issue’ had complicated the internal politics of Member States, but had not yet fundamentally changed party competition.

Cameron’s ‘Europe speech‘, finally delivered on 23rd January 2013, and the anaemic response of Britain’s other major parties, whose leaders ostensibly support the EU but are not willing to expend any political capital making a positive case, have finally forced the issue.  Polls show that, while 40% of the British population would vote to leave the EU, 37% would vote to stay.

Britain already has an influential anti-European party, UKIP.  Having, until now, benefited from the tacit (if unenthusiastic) support of the existing political elite, the pro-European lobby has had less incentive to create a formal…

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On Freedom Of Speech

Freedom of speech is one of the single most important values that I believe the Liberal Democrats stand for. It’s value is unparalleled. Hearing opinions from all corners of the debate is something we cannot have a discussion about liberty without. Moreover, we’re the only party committed to enshrining this fundamental right in national law. While the debate is rightly largely focused on the unacceptable encroachment pressed on us by decades of well meaning but hopelessly ineffective anti-terrorism laws, which is a matter for another blog, it’s well worth noting that there seems to be an emerging trend among student unions to not give certain political opinions a fair voice.

Take, for example, this play by our friends in red at Cambridge. Because they personally disagree with the values Le Pen represents, they’re trying to put pressure on the national party to make a statement saying “down with this sort of thing.” To this, my reply can only be “careful now.” While I entirely agree that a neo-fascist only holds reprehensible, xenophobic and illiberal opinions, I cannot agree that censoring these from the debate is an effective way to counteract them. It’s nothing more than sticking your fingers in your ears, screaming and acting like a toddler about the challenge in front of you. A reactionary response with no substantive policy behind it, and makes no attempt to diffuse what is the third largest political party in France, scoring 18% of the vote in 2012 for President.

Indeed, take this statement from the article above. “Racism and fascism has no place in Cambridge.” The irony of this is nothing short of breathtaking. Defining fascism brings us to “intolerant or authoritarian views or practice.” Intolerance of intolerance is contradictory. It’s a double negative. It cancels itself out, and leaves you absolutely nowhere. It is completely useless in terms of countering your opponent, because the failure to engage with them allows their opinions to go unchallenged and grow. Furthermore, it brings credence to their own policies of not engaging with a particular division of people, whichever that may be, because they personally oppose them. In other words, you’re effectively countering them with their own tactics.

For a more prolific example, we only have to look at the Leeds Student, which published an interview with left wing punchbag Nick Griffin. I won’t waste time dissecting his opinions and comments in this article, nor will I say I can agree with any of them at all. This article defends his right to have those opinions – whether they’re factual and based on empirical evidence following research, or picked up off a leaflet he was given by a member of the DUP at a party once. After all, we can write articles about the importance of liberation and equality – so why do we deny him the same opportunity to make his case? If we give him the opportunity, he’s clearly not very good at it anyway, as his appearance on Question Time will prove until the end of time (or when an enthusiastic copyright enforcement company takes it down on dubious legal grounds). So what are we worried about?

According to the NUS, we risk “giving legitimacy to [the BNP].” That they “stand for the elimination of the democracy and all freedoms that [we] claim to support.” Here’s something which they might find uncomfortable reading. The BNP are already a legitimate political party. That they have two seats as MEPs with 6.2% of the poll proves it. People vote for them. People buy into it. People support their ideals. A failure to give them a platform for discussion is breathtakingly dangerous. Their voters clearly sympathise with the propaganda they issue, and the way to challenge that is not by ignoring it – we need to explain to their sympathisers not just that they are wrong, but why they are wrong.

The effectiveness of engaging with them cannot be understated. Look at what happened in 2010, when they struck out in the National Elections (despite 73 of their candidates achieving over 5% of their constituency polls). More recently, they failed to hold the majority of the seats which they gained in the 2008 council elections. For whatever myriad of reasons this may be, I have no doubt in my mind that it’s because of the additional scrutiny legitimacy has brought to them – showing them in the daylight for the first time, instead of lurking as some sort of political underclass in the darkness. Their politics simply does not hold up, but it needs to be shown as such in the first place.

A problem does not go away if you ignore it. Zero Tolerance, as they call it, is misguided. How can we possibly rise above bigotry if we don’t show why it’s unilaterally wrong to do so? A failure to communicate why equality and freedom are such important issues, responding only with “it’s common sense that these things are bad”, means we risk losing them through complacency. The “common sense” argument would surely have been touted in the days of disenfranchised people based on class, because they’re ‘too stupid’ to understand politics. Or “it’s common sense” that we shouldn’t allow homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals, because the Bible says so. “Common sense”, if it is anything at all, is just a reflection of the speaker’s conception of the broadly held views in society.

Failure to explain the vital importance of opposing groups like the BNP, and challenge them on a National level, will only perpetuate and increase the divide that their voters clearly see between “them” and “us”. Barriers have never been broken down by not trying to solve the causes of the problem. So indeed, I welcome opinions I don’t agree with. I dare them to confront me, so I can show why I don’t agree with them. The dominance of liberal ideas should not be used as an excuse for ignoring illiberal ones.

Matthew Dougherty
UB Liberal Democrats Vice-Chair
Twitter: @mduob

UoB Liberal Democrat Society Annual General Meeting – 18th February 2013

Attendance:  Jonny Wharrad (Chair), Matthew Dougherty (Vice Chair), Ellis Palmer (Secretary), Oliver Ingamells (Treasurer), John Belsham (Events Officer), Sarah Froggart, Dylan Grove, Hannah Lane, Megan Baxter, Sam Jones,

 

Apologies Received: James Phillips  

 

Welcome from the Chair

 

Jonny welcomed the attendees, and made an observation of quoracy. Steven Haynes made a brief announcement about the Eastleigh by-election campaign weekend of the 22nd – 24th , which the Society is making a trip to.

 

Reports from the Outgoing Committee

 

Chair: Jonny gave a comprehensive speech which observed the extreme circumstances the society found itself in, following a turbulent second semester in the previous academic year. Despite the noted hardships, including reduced funding and a core committee, the society was able to pass the audit of student groups with “flying colours” – an unprecedented commendation for the society.

 

Vice Chair: Matt gave a speech noting the involvement of the society with other political miniforum constituencies,  and building positive relations with these groups to do interpartisan events.

 

Secretary: Ellis observed his impressive work with the Twitter and Facebook accounts, building the profile of the society exponentially on a national level, and his sterling chairing of the Question Time Event.

 

Treasurer: Oliver gave an overview of the accounts, which are doing very well – despite the slashed funding we received from the guild based on Lembit Opik forgetting to charge us last year.

 

Campaigns Officer: John gave an account of the Westminster and Equal Marriage events, and spoke of future plans to hold events with the other societies.

 

Elections

Committee positions were elected at this point, with objections being raised at the First Past The Post voting system – though it was decided that this was the most efficient voting method at this moment in time.

 

Jonny nominated himself for the chair position, vowing to continue the good work done to this point and further improve the Society’s reputation. He was successfully re-elected unanimously, following a due election against RON. 

 

Matt self nominated for the position of vice chair, promising to further the positive relations engaged with other political societies on campus and become “the best Liberal Democrat society in the country.” Good luck on that one. Following a due election against RON, Matt was re-elected by unanimous vote.

 

Ellis nominated himself for Secretary, promising to keep increasing the profile of the society with further and more pressing online engagement. Re-elected by unanimous vote.

 

Oliver gave a description of the Treasurer role, which unfortunately went

uncontested and will be forwarded to an EGM at some meeting in the future.

 

John  said of the Campaigns Officer role; “Tony Blair once nearly said “things can only get better.”” He was duly re-elected against RON.

 

The Roles of Press and PR Officer and Secretary were merged, with Ellis pledging to continue building the profile of the society under the dual role. This was approved by unanimous vote.

 

The role of Liason Officer was uncontested, as the roles were largely filled by the Secretary and Vice Chair anyway.

 

The same applies for Social Secretary.

 

Plans for the Immediate Future

Jonny then gave an overview of the Eastleigh trip on Saturday, which Ellis and Matt are also going to at 6am(!) to campaign on behalf of the party.

 

Another Question Time event is being planned, particularly with a focus on Europe, with Phil Bennion MEP confirmed as attending.  Mused over whether or not to make it a joint event with the other societies, though no decision was reached as time was running out.

 

An interpartisan Bar Crawl is on the cards, with replies being awaited from the BULS and BUCF committees, pencilled in for the 20th March.

 

Ellis raised the possibility of a blog from Tim Farron on any topic – Matt suggested this would be about the Liberal Youth involvement in the Eastleigh by-election.

 

John would like to have another event with Lorely Burt.

 

Other Business

The POLSOC committee promoted their event featuring Major General Lane on the Army’s role in Afghanistan, held next Monday (25th). Also an Alumni speed dating night to focus on career routes (18th March). Their AGM is on the 20th March and the hearty invitation was extended to the society to join up.

The meeting was concluded.