Daily Archives: 20 November 2006

New Generation Network

Writing this post later than I would have liked, I’m surprised that there has been so little commentary today about the launch today of the New Generation Network, founded by Pickled Politics‘ Sunny Hundal.

I think Sunny has hit on something here, something not all that dissimilar to my own contributions on the subject recently. In my own view, what we seem to have seen over the last five or so years, is an importation of the worst kind of multicultural politics that we see at a local (particularly Northern metropolitan) level into the national stage.

When I first got involved in Lib Dem politics, I’m ashamed to say that the first campaign I worked on was a blatant and cynical attempt to court the Pakistani vote in Rusholme, Manchester. In my defense, I was young and naive, but we were also inheriting a situation exacerbated by Labour’s own approach.

I would imagine that most people who have had a similar background would recognise the technique. Find a few ‘community leaders’ from the Pakistani or Bangladeshi community, beef up their egos and work on the assumption that they can single-handedly deliver you thousands of votes, simply through talking to the right clerics and family leaders. The fact that we weren’t particularly adept at it in the mid-90s was simply because Labour had got in there first, something which held firm until the Iraq War in 2003. This wasn’t about representation, dealing with basic needs such as housing and crime, it was about buying off the ‘right’ people with things like money for religion-based community centres and ‘partnerships’ with schools in Kashmir. And it has only helped to increase tensions and divisions.

This all should have reached its nadir with the 2001 riots. Much of the reportage at the time reflected on the complete failure of both ‘community leaders’ and mainstream politics to connect with the second- and third-generation of black and Asian communities. But 911 seemed to end what looked like the beginning of a sensible national conversation about race, religion and identity. Since then, national government seems to have treated ethnic communities in a remarkably similar way to what we’ve seen on the streets on Rochdale and Bradford. And the result seems to have lead to even greater tension and lunacy such as Trevor Phillips’ monthly predictions of race riots.

So I welcome NGN, its manifesto and its unequivocal call against prejudice, for equality and for freedom of speech (in light of some of the rows I’ve had in recent months I particularly welcome the line “we reject the idea that representation should mean ‘ethnic faces for ethnic areas’, which would ghettoise minority representation.”). I would urge my fellow bloggers and Lib Dems to sign up.

James Gra(v)y

James Gray and I are separated by more than just one syllable, but it’s been interesting following his progress since he announced he was dumping his cancer-surviving wife for another woman. Interestingly, more Conservative-leaning members of the blogosphere don’t share my interest. Here however is my handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the saga so far:

Personally, I was unaware until recently – and it certainly hasn’t been widely reported – that Ellie Brand, the approved Tory candidate who was felled for passing around a racist email, is a North Wiltshire constituent of Mr Gray’s and thus a possible beneficiary of his deselection. Coinkidink?

Secondly, the West edition of the Politics Show this Sunday, revealed that he has recently taken out a full page advert in his local paper about his local activities, at taxpayers’ expense. By his own admission on the Politics Show, he usually gets such communications delivered by local Conservatives. All MPs regularly contact their constituents in this way, but it is rather fortuitous timing, to say the least.

Rather more eyebrow raising however is the revelation that the reason his wife is being forced out of their family home is that “James has to use it as his constituency office.

I have to say I’m unaware of any other MP who uses their home as their constituency office – why would they even want to? But what this means is that both his London home and his constituency home are both being subsidised by the taxpayer. A glance at his expenses reveals that last year he claimed £22k in Additional Costs Allowance (the money that goes to non-London MPs to live in London during the week) and £20k on Incidental Expenses Provision (which includes office costs, but excludes staff costs). Unfortunately, MPs have thus far resisted calls for a more transparent system of expenses (unlike in the Scottish Parliament which allows you to download individual invoices from its website), and to what extent this money is spent on office space itself and isn’t spent on subsidising his lovely £500,000 home is not at all clear. If MPs continue to resist calls for more transparency, then it is only reasonable that issues like this should be investigated as they come up.