Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Column Purpose

Dedicated readers may have noticed some feathers being ruffled in the comments sections of my articles on the UK Column and Common Purpose. My favourite is a link to a video of a lecture given by Brian Gerrish. If you have two hours of your life going spare, check it out. My favourite part is his claim that he has had sight of a secret document on the Common Purpose website which is all about “how to take control of a city”. Damning stuff, but apparently he couldn’t download it because that would leave a “footprint”. In which case, if he couldn’t download it, how did he manage to read it?

Gerrish’s style is fascinating. He seems to excel at lulling his audience into submission by showing them slide after slide after slide of completely dull emails and other papers and ask innuendo laden questions about them. Do that once and it is pretty meaningless but repeat the process and it can be bloody effective. You have to take a step back to realise that he’s just taken 1+1+1+1+1+1+1 and come up with pi. Given that he insists that the common practice of taking questions in public meetings in groups of three is a Delphic mind control technique one is compelled to ask: what mind control techniques did he pick up of his own during his time in the military?

There is also a recurring thread in all this about Demos and the IPPR being Communist organisations. Communist? As think tanks go they are about as work-for-hire and cravenly capitalist as you are likely to find (no offense, like). Demos’ latest work with Charles Leadbetter about direct budgeting in the health service is about as close to dismantling the Stalinistic tendencies of that great British institution you are likely to find short of privatisation.

I also enjoy all this “Common Purpose = CP = Communist Party” stuff. This from a newspaper which used to call itself the Plymouth (and Devonport) Column. PC sounds very similar to CP if you ask me. And what about Column? Sounds a bit like both “Common” and “Communist” to me. I think we should be told.

Following all this as I have been over the past few months I’ve been fascinated by this split between Brian Gerrish and David Noakes. There was some kerfuffle a few months ago when one faction refused to distribute the other factions newspaper. It now emerges they have formalised their split, with Noakes publishing the Westminster News (and retrospectively going back and changing all the old Columns so they have the new masthead – nothing wrong with a bit of Stalinistic airbrushing of history is there?) while Gerrish is now publishing the Column with the help of the New Battle of Britain group.

Their latest effort is now available to read online. This issue they have chosen to take to task the “quisling” Daily Mail for running a campaign on plastic bags when it should have been dedicating all its pages to covering the IWAR demonstration at which a couple of old soldiers and a dog turned up (that’s me being all figurative and sarcastic folks – did you see what I did there? Whichever way you spin it 3,000 people turning up to a national demo is a fucking disaster). They also seem to be getting very into divine revelation. Given their apocalyptic visions of the EU, don’t be surprised if they don’t all end up chugging the Kool Aid in some abandoned farm in the middle of nowhere at some point.

Gerrish = Koresh – it’s all linked, see?

Panic! Panic! Hold on, is the economy really in a worse state than 1982?

The Telegraph has breathlessly flourished a new poll showing that the “feelgood factor” is worse than at any point since records began. In, er, 1981.

What this suggests is that the general public genuinely believes the current slowdown in the economy (note, not even a recession, just a reduction in growth) is a worst economic situation compared to the dole queues of the early 80s and the negative equity of the early 90s.

Now, I have my criticisms about the government and things could indeed get much, much worse than they are now. But I would humbly suggest that this illustrates how the public has become increasingly infantilised over the last 30 years, and arguably the uselessness of this measure, more than it says anything about the government’s handling of the economy. The fact that the Torygraph seems completely incapable of grasping that doesn’t say very much about its sense of proportion.

Liberal Youth launches

Liberal Youth rose last night from the ashes of LDYS and by all accounts it was a great success. Andy Mayer has singled out myself and Alex Wilcock as pre-eminent examples of all that was wrong with the previous regime. Fair enough – I never claimed to be a hip young thing even when I could be described as young. If that’s how I’m fondly remembered, that probably explains why, despite being LDYS’ longest serving sabbatical officer, I wasn’t invited to their relaunch. Not sure my record of success at creating vibrant youth organisations is any worse than Andy’s – a former organiser of Liberal Future (dead), the Young Professionals Network (buried) and the Young European Movement (comatose) – though.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are my six bits of advice to the new organisation:

1) Stop looking frickin’ gift horses in the mouth. Last week was People and Politics Day Europe, an event the format of which I will happily admit to having lifted largely wholesale from LDYS’ old Westminster Days (they weren’t using it any more and youth engagement is too important to get territorial about). 1,800 young people. 25 organisations exhibited there and were kept busy.

UKIP turned up at the crack of dawn. Conservative Future turned up soon afterwards. Young Labour turned up late, but had organised a lunchtime event which they plugged mercilessly. And LDYS/Liberal Youth? A solitary member of staff turned up just before the rush with minimal material.

I’m not blaming the staff member – clearly they had plenty to be getting on with. I do wonder though what this says about the organisations’ priorities. One of the reasons LDYS continued to organise Westminster – past the point at which it could barely justify it due to rising costs in my opinion – was that it was a great recruitment opportunity.

2) Break out of the Oxbridge ghetto. It may be a misperception, but it has appeared that in recent years LDYS has been dominated by students from the Big Two universities. Back in the Bad Old Days we struggled to get Oxford and Cambridge students involved at all (with honourable exceptions) and I think it is a sign of the party’s growing success that this transformed beyond recognition in the early noughties. I do think the pendulum has possibly swung too far however – in particular Cambridge seems to have been running the show for some time.

Of course one of the simplest ways to deal with this is to go along with (1), above.

3) Be concerned about gender balance. One thing that most certainly is not a misperception is that LDYS has become increasingly male-dominated in recent years. For a long time LDYS had a good mix of male and female executive members at the top. In 96/97 we actually had more women on the exec than men. Yet in recent years this has changed. Just 4 out of the 18 current LDYS exec members are women. If Liberal Youth wants to look vibrant and hip, this looks like a crucial place to start to me.

Why did it all go wrong? I have a theory which is that it all started when we scrapped the Women’s Officer and Women’s Committee in 1999. This was at the behest of the vast majority of the women members themselves and I’m not saying that they should be brought back but I do wonder if, on a subliminal level, it sent out the signal that the organisation wasn’t just for boys.

Sometimes, it must be said, young women are their own worst enemies here. It was certainly true in the 90s and I think it is broadly true still that few 25s consider themselves to be feminist and have an allergic reaction to anything they perceive as being affirmative action. It is also my perception that this view mellows – considerably – among women over 25 when say suddenly realise that the egalitarian, post-feminist vision of society they bought into is a crock. It’s one of the things the Campaign for Gender Balance has struggled with for years (ironic, given that it was explicitly formed to fend off calls for all-women shortlists). It isn’t easy to talk about “women’s issues” to women who would rather punch you in the face than talk about “women’s issues”.

Nevertheless, at a time when the pay gap is as wide as ever, and with the right to abortion under threat, I’m sure there are numerous campaigns Liberal Youth could adopt that would broadcast that it is woman friendly in a subtle way.

4) Bring back Activate! Activate! – the residential training weekend for new members inaugurated in 1998 by then LDYS Vice President Nikki Thomson – was the single most successful and satisfying thing that I was involved with in my time in LDYS. It created real activists, both for the youth wing and the wider party, who stayed the test of time. It ensured LDYS renewed itself instead of the annual exec elections being a stitch up between the various factions’ and their mates. It even got the party an MP in the form of Jo Swinson. It was a simple formula (attempts at creating a stage two event tended to fail) and a great success. By now, LDYS should be holding 2-3 Activates every year, not none at all.

5) Start a samba band. I’ve always argued for this and no-one has ever taken me seriously. But an official Liberal Youth Samba Band would quickly make the organisation one of the most popular fixtures at any mass demonstration, as well as being fun for the participants themselves.

6) Don’t try too hard to be hip. In my opinion this is where LDYS went wrong a couple of years ago when it was dominated by a bunch of rather elitist snobs who thought you should only be allowed to join if you went to the right parties and who despised party activism and activists. Thankfully, those days are gone and the worst proponents of this have left the party to wallow in their own self-regard.

It’s great to be a young and vibrant organisation, but even the best youth organisations are prone to cliques. Political youth organisations also, whisper it, depend on serious-minded, non-conformist and desperately unfashionable souls who are prepared to do the donkey work. Create too strong an impression that you are not welcome if you look “wrong” or are a bit awkward or inarticulate, and you are guaranteed to struggle no matter how much Andy Mayer assures you otherwise.