Ed vs Jo at the East Midlands hustings – a score draw

Last night I braved the stormy weather to attend the Liberal Democrats leadership hustings in Nottingham. I started the evening without a strong preference for either candidate and came away in the same frame of mind. It’s an unoriginal thought in Lib Dem circles, but I believe that either candidate will lead the party well. Even so, Ed and Jo impressed me during the event. So my judgement is that the evening was a high scoring draw, even if (to mix sporting metaphors) many of the questions asked were gentle lobs.

Ed vs Jo hustings leaflets

The hustings was more upbeat than the one in 2015 I’d attended. This was undoubtedly due to the much higher attendance and recent electoral successes. It seems like we’re no longer fighting for mere survival, but trying to figure out how to grow sustainably. The presence of Steve Bray also added some welcome colour to an otherwise nondescript university venue.

Ed’s strongest when he highlights the importance of simple, repeated messaging as a way of reaching the electorate. He argues that we need to keep forming policies based on evidence and our principles, even if they seem unpopular. Ed cites the examples of the “Stop Brexit” messaging of recent months and party history, including our opposition to the Iraq war and arguing in the 90s/00s for a penny on income tax to support education.

He’s rightly proud of his green credentials, making the excellent point that environmental policies need to be sold on their benefits rather than a “hair shirt” approach. I’d love to see the party develop the “your house as a power station” concept more, regardless of who wins this contest.

Ed’s most passionate while making his final statement, noting we really could be choosing a future prime minister. He doesn’t tell us to go back to our constituencies and prepare for government, but he’s not far off. “Stop Brexit, heal the country. Let’s win”.

Jo is at her best when she states that rebuilding trust with the electorate and communicating are the same. She says that authenticity is important and making emotional connections with policy is essential. Winning is not solely about having rational policies and catchy slogans. Actions are important too. She says that others (including MPs, hopefully!) are definitely looking at how we treat new people joining the party, like Chuka Umunna.

Jo puts the biggest smile of the evening on my face when she talks about the importance of lifelong learning (without actually using the phrase). She sees reskilling as being one way of ensuring de-industrialised areas aren’t left behind economically, as happened in the past. I get the impression that the future of work and spreading opportunity outside London and the South East is something she’s put considerable thought into. I’d love to see more detail on this in due course. She’s passionate when condemning the lack of attention given to this topic by the current government.

Her closing message is that she will be a leader who can cut through by working across generations, across the country and across party lines.

Ed and Jo in thouhtful mood as questions are taken from the audience
Jo and Ed in thoughtful mood as questions are taken from the audience.

There were no questions asked about electoral reform, and neither candidate introduced it into their answers. This was slightly disappointing, as I suspect electoral fairness will soon become a hotter topic than ever before. If we cede Liberal and Social Democratic leadership in this area the public will not forgive us. Fair votes are essential to a properly functioning democratic society.

As I said at the start, I remain undecided as to how I’m going to vote. I’ve signed up for the online hustings tomorrow evening, so maybe that will help me to decide. It feels like a really important decision and it’s one that I don’t intend to duck.

Elvis Costello OBE

I confess to having missed the news that Elvis Costello had been awarded an OBE a few days ago. Things that were unthinkable a few years ago seem to have become commonplace these days. The award was given for ‘services to music’. He reacted to it by saying  “… it confirms my long held suspicion nobody really listens to the words in songs or the outcome might have been somewhat different.” It would certainly seem that the marketeers at Ford have never listened to (or understood) “Pump it Up”, for example. I doubt that Theresa May has “Tramp the Dirt Down” on her playlist, otherwise I’m sure there would be outraged puffs of blue smoke coming from number 10.

The first time I saw Elvis Costello perform live was a few weeks after the release of “Trust”. I still have the ticket stub from his 1981 performance at Derby Assembly rooms. My “Tour to Trust” programme and badge are probably stashed away somewhere in the house as well. “Trust” was an album that didn’t do well commercially, at least not compared with the four earlier ones. The first single, “Clubland”, reached number 60. The follow-up, “From a Whisper to a Scream” (sung with Glenn Tilbrook), sank without trace. But it’s an album that has some great moments. “New Lace Sleeves” is brilliant, with a performance wrung out of a seemingly exhausted sounding singer and band, perfectly matching the song’s mood.

Elvis Costello Ticket 23-03-1981
My ticket from 23rd March 1981. The elviscostello.info site doesn’t have the set list from the performance, but it probably wasn’t too dissimilar from that used in Atlanta a couple of months earlier.

Anyway, congratulations to Elvis Costello are due for being awarded this honour – and for making his mother proud by accepting it.

In praise of Vueling

A few days before Jane was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, we’d booked a holiday in Barcelona. It’s somewhere neither of us has been. It was meant to be a sign that things were getting back to normal after my stem cell transplant last year …

Treatment obviously means that this trip has been postponed. Fortunately, we’d only booked the flights and hotel. The hotel was easy enough to cancel as we’d opted for a flexible booking (at the Catalonia Magdalenes, if you’re interested). The flights – non-refundable – looked as if they were going to be more tricky. We both have holiday insurance, but through different companies.

The flights were booked with Vueling, so I called their customer service desk to ask for a cancellation invoice. The call was answered promptly and I was offered the invoice, rescheduled flights or a full refund. The customer service advisor I spoke to was empathetic and helpful and I gratefully accepted the refund. All Vueling required was an emailed “fit note” and proof of our kinship. My credit card was refunded within 48 hours of these being provided.

Good customer service does exist, even on low-cost carriers, and Vueling now has two more customers for life.

Barcelona travel guides

I also needed to cancel arrangements for a weekend touring in Wales with the Seven at the same time. One of the hotels (a small, privately-run affair near the base of the Cader Idris) I’d booked was non-refundable. I emailed them to explain and hoped that the notice I’d given would enable them to sell the room to someone else. It’s tough being a small business owner and I thought this might be rather more useful to them than simply being a no-show. I said I understood that my booking didn’t allow refunds and that I didn’t expect one. Sadly, I never received even an acknowledgement of my cancellation from the hotel.

Is it too early to write off Change UK?

It has been a humbling couple of weeks for Change UK. No seats won in the Euro elections after allegedly boasting that they were going to replace the Liberal Democrats. With Westminster polls now showing them at 1%, it may be tempting to write them off. That’s probably premature, but they have a huge mountain to climb to establish relevance.

However, with Conservative and Liberal Democrat leadership elections underway and the Nigel Farage party hogging the headlines, there’s a chance for Change UK to use this time out of the media spotlight to regroup. They may wish to borrow a copy of SDP – The first five years to help them. The first five years was published in 1986 and is optimistic in tone, predating the agonies of the 1988 merger with the Liberals. Reading it again, there would seem to be a couple of things Change UK can fix – and one they can’t.

SDP - The First Five Years

One thing Change UK can’t fix (at least, not quickly) is putting together a broad-based policy platform that their current MPs can agree to. Probably the best article in The first five years book is by Bill Rodgers. In it, he traces the roots of the SDP back to Gaitskell’s loss in the October 1959 general election. Right from the outset the SDP had a clear political philosophy underpinning the party and the policies it developed. It was fairly obvious what kind of party the SDP was going to be from day one.

Outside of opposing Brexit, it’s difficult to understand what Change UK is trying to achieve. But as Nigel Farage demonstrates, being politically opaque doesn’t seem to matter too much at the moment. Provided, that is, you can motivate a reasonable portion of the electorate to vote for you. Unfortunately for Change UK, the Liberal Democrats (and The Green Party) have been far better at motivating voters in recent weeks.

More positively, the first thing Change UK could learn from the launch of the SDP is to actively court other political parties. From The first five years: “After the launch of the new party the overriding political imperative … was to come to some sort of accord with the Liberals”. The SDP was formally launched as a political party on March 26th 1981. By June 16th a joint statement of principles had been agreed with the Liberals. A Fresh Start for Britain addressed topics including proportional representation, incomes policy, the EEC and multilateral disarmament. In October, Bill Pitt became the first parliamentary candidate to win a seat on a Liberal/SDP Alliance ticket.

Should the Liberal Democrats be open to forming some kind of electoral pact with Change UK? Before the Euro elections I would have said definitely yes. Now – I’m not so sure. I’d currently support an arrangement not to stand candidates against their MPs in a general election, but nothing beyond that. Unlike the SDP, Change UK has been too slow to court and too aggressive towards its potential friends. That could change of course and I hope that it will do. But some serious bridge-building and fence-mending is required on all sides. However, some of their MPs and supporters are clearly Liberals and/or Social Democrats. I’d welcome them in a heartbeat to our party.

The importance of being capable of fighting local elections is a second lesson Change UK should learn from the SDP. At the local elections in 1982 the SDP fielded 2,300 candidates. While only around a hundred of these were elected, their average vote share was 27%. It helped to establish the SDP outside of the Westminster bubble. Adopting Liberal savvy in running local campaigns brought success for the Alliance, and enabled the SDP to attract and retain members during the seven years it existed. If Change UK is to establish itself outside of Westminster, then I’d expect to see it fighting many council by-elections sooner rather than later.

One other joy of re-reading The first five years are the stories included from party activists. This story comes from a certain Christopher Huhne, then the SDP’s PPC for Oxford West and Abingdon.

What are the SDP's policies poster - GE 1983

Silly and sensible is the new left and right in British politics

I’m sure there’s going to be loads of erudite analysis pieces written about the results of the European Parliament elections. This isn’t one of them. However, listening to the results come in last night, I was reminded of the Monty Python Election Night Special sketch. Here’s part of it.

Palin: And this one is from Harpenden Southeast. A very interesting constituency this. In addition to the official Silly candidate there is an unofficial Very Silly candidate, in the slab of concrete, and he could well split the Silly vote here at Harpenden Southeast.

Jones: Mrs Elsie Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Cleese: Silly

Jones: 26,317 (applause). Jeanette Walker…

Cleese: Sensible

Jones: 26,318…

Cleese: Very close!

Jones: Malcolm Peter Brian Telescope Adrian Blackpool Rock Stoatgobbler John Raw Vegetable Brrroooo Norman Michael (rings bell) (blows whistle) Edward (sounds car horn) (does train impersonation) (sounds buzzer) Thomas Moo… (sings) ‘We’ll keep a welcome in the…’ (fires gun) William (makes silly noise) ‘Raindrops keep falling on my’ (weird noise) ‘Don’t sleep in the subway’ (cuckoo cuckoo) Naaoooo… Smith.

Cleese: Very Silly

Jones: …two.

Cleese: Well there you have it, a Sensible gain at Harpenden with the Silly vote being split.

The new left and right in British politics appears to be silly and sensible parties. Insanity is represented by UKIP and Nigel Farage Ltd. Sanity is obviously represented by the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and a small party whose name I’ve forgotten.

I trust that this analysis provides a convincing explanation of why the Conservative and Labour parties fared so badly. You simply can’t put together an appealing political platform while claiming to be sensible and silly at the same time. The electorate clearly respects obviously sane and insane politicians. But politicians who claim to be both at the same time? That’s just mad.

East Midlands Lib Dem, Conservative and Labour leaflets from the 2019 EU elections
Labour and Conservatives – simply not sensible or silly enough for the electorate. Liberal Democrats – very sensible.

In other news, I’m fervently hoping that my 100% wrong Old Timmy’s Almanac prediction record is maintained this afternoon at Wembley.

Come on you Rams!

Update 5.23pm. Rats. But there’s always 2019/20 …

Say Bollocks to Cancer and Bollocks to Brexit

Join me, my family and friends and say Bollocks to Cancer.

Also please use your vote tomorrow to say Bollocks to Brexit.

Vote Liberal Democrat to say Bollocks to Brexit

The two requests are connected. The development of novel cancer therapies relies on close European and international co-operation. The vacuum left by a mad no-deal Brexit that Farage, half the Tory cabinet and their elitist chums want will kill the sick.

So vote for a genuinely pro-remain party. I recommend supporting the Liberal Democrats as they have the best chance of frustrating the Brexiters, but whatever. Just vote. Defeat the unpatriotic nationalist elites. And tell your family, friends and neighbours to do the same.

This is no time for our great country to become the twenty-first century equivalent of the GDR, isolated and poorer in an increasingly dangerous world.

A pants way of raising ovarian cancer awareness

Today is world ovarian cancer awareness day. This cancer is the 6th most common to affect women – currently around 33,000 in the UK have it.

7,400 more women are diagnosed with this cancer each year. My wife’s diagnosis was in April.

It can strike at any age, but more than 80% of patients are 50 or older. The next highest risk factor after age is a family history of the cancer.

The four most common symptoms are bloating, loss of appetite, stomach pains and an increased need to urinate. These symptoms are often mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome, but a blood test for high levels of a protein known as CA125 can indicate cancer. Ask your GP to perform this test if you’re worried, as early diagnosis helps.

More information and help is available from Target Ovarian Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Action.

Our Australian neighbours seem to have a pants way of raising awareness though …

Cancer: “Enough Of This, Thank You”

While I remain in remission from MCL, my lovely wife Jane now has her own battles to face. I’m still too numb to process her news properly. It’s a good job that others in the family are stronger than me. So Emily will be running the Cancer Research UK Race for Life – again – later this year. You can read why here.

Race for Life

Any pennies that you can send her way will be gratefully accepted and well-used in funding further vital research.

“Enough Of This, Thank You”.

Transplant +198: Maintenance Rituximab on not Brexit day

So today, at the fourth time of asking, success! And no, I don’t mean Theresa May getting her dreadful EU withdrawal bill through parliament, which lost for a third time, by 58.

On not Brexit day, my neutrophils were above the 1.5 mark (at 1.66) needed for the hospital to give me my first maintenance rituximab. It was a remarkably straightforward process – a subcutaneous injection, taking 10 minutes to administer. The nurse asked me to keep talking to her through the process. I happily spouted nonsense about Brexit unicorns, Gnu, electric cars and the A380 (the aeroplane, not the road).

Brexit unicorns. Every bit as likely as an electric Caterham 7. But less real.
Brexit unicorns. Every bit as likely as an electric Caterham 7. But less real.

Other than feeling a little bit woozy (probably from the chlorphenamine pre-med – a pill normally used to reduce hay fever symptoms) I’m fine. I’ve been told to watch out for fatigue over the next few days. There’s also a risk that my neutrophil count could drop very low again, so any signs of a problem and I’ll be straight over to the hospital.

I think this will probably be the last blog entry I’ll be making about the stem cell transplant and its aftermath. Naturally, I shall celebrate my re-birthday every 12th September and there will be cake. No unicorns, by request. But I feel that today symbolically marks the end of this phase of my life. I’m not sorry to leave the SCT behind me, but there may be plenty of challenges ahead.