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Ming – part 1 Jun 08

Following Ming’s speech today, he met with a small group of LibDem bloggers (myself, Andy Darley, Peter from Apollo and Martin Tod), and we spent half an hour or so quizzing him on whatever subjects we wished.

The speech

Nick Robinson, with Adam Boulton in the backgroundThe venue was The Atrium in Millbank and I arrived to find it full of party grandees. MPs and peers were everywhere, engaged deep in conversation. Parliamentary researches were milling around. John Thurso was sipping a glass of water. I nearly trampled Sarah Teather underfoot. Paddy Ashdown swept majestically down the stairs into the mix. The representatives of the media took their positions – Gary Gibbon from Channel 4 News, Carole Walker and Nick Robinson (right) for the BBC, Adam Boulton from Sky, and that tall man from ITV News whose name I don’t know. After the speech I also spotted Tania Branigan from theguardian, which gave me another couple of points in my I-Spy Book of Political Journalists.

At the appointed hour, a band of parliamentarians – Chris Huhne, Saj Karim, Michael Moore, Nick Clegg, TV’s Julia Goldsworthy, Vince Cable, and Ed Davey – mounted the stage, and Jo Swinson, our youngest MP, introduced a video sequence – a king of mini party political broadcast – marking Ming’s first 100 days as leader. Then she introduced the man himself and he took centre stage.

The speech is online at Ming’s new website so you can read it for yourself, but I’ll flag up some of the salient points. Perhaps most importantly, Ming was very good delivering it. He seemed determined, focussed and passionate, and it was one of the best speeches he’s given. Following a couple of quips at David Cameron’s and John Prescott’s expense, he talked about reforming the party, and the organisation of the event itself showed the party is already becoming more professional.

Ming said that, if Blair makes way for Brown sometime next year, there could be a general election in October 2007 and we must be ready for it. The campaign starts now and he has put Chris Rennard in charge. He also announced that he is supporting Ed Davey for the chairmanship of the party’s Campaigns and Communications Committee.

Bloggers will be pleased to hear that Ming recognises the importance of the information superweb for politics. He noted that two-thirds of people use it while only 60% of voters turned out last year. He also mentioned a new eSupporters scheme to keep in touch with people who support the party but may not be members.

Ming reaffirmed that he wants to see a diverse range of parliamentary candidates and that central campaign funding will be considered more positively for constituencies who choose candidates from under-represented groups. Steve Hitchins, until recently the leader of Islington Council, will draw up a diversity plan for the party.

Without mentioning the Michael Brown affair, Ming said that he hoped the party could be funded by a broad base of donations rather than the large single donors on whom Labour and the Conservatives rely. He also mentioned the need to streamline the policy-making process (which will raise the hackles of some activists), and the importance of making party conferences more professional and more accessible.

He derided Labour’s record on international law and in public service reform, saying that we had supported greater investment but that Labour had failed to spend the money wisely. He noted that inequality in society has continued to rise, which led onto his call for fairer Britain and the issue that would catch the headlines – tax. Basic rate cut; personal allowance increased; paid for by increases in capital gains tax and environmental taxation; no increase in the overall tax burden.

Ming highlighted the importance of education in giving people the best start in life. He noted that many children are still illiterate when they reach secondary school, and talking about involving sporting figures – namechecking Beckham, Flintoff and Kelly Holmes, a fellow Olympic medal winner – in inspiring children to learn.

He talked about taking important decisions on climate change, claiming that the Tories just “tinker, while the planet warms up.” He menioned clean coal (about which I have my West Wing-inspired suspicions but know little) and firmly ruled out more nuclear power stations.

He reiterated that “crime is a liberal issue” and said that the rule of law should be defended. He opposed the creation of huge “super regional police forces” and stated that the shambolic Home Office should be broken up. He also underlined the party’s opposition to ID cards and called for a public inquiry into the events of July 7, 2005.

Ming said the party’s aim should be to empower citizens and to regulate less, noting that the country is so centralised that Birmingham City Council has less power than it did when Joseph Chamberlain ran it in the 1870s. He talked about slashing central government, reducing the number of MPs and the size of Whitehall, and mentioned PR for the House of Commons and the need for an elected House of Lords. He was very good on foreign affairs, as always.

“This is not yet the liberal country that people want and are entitled to,” he said, and mentioned what appeared to be his three buzzwords: freedom, opportunity, compassion.

It was a wide-ranging, thoughtfull and refreshing speech, and really did seem to excite the people in the room. In many ways it’s a manifesto for Ming’s leadership.

One Response

  1. 1

    You are very important.