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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hooray for Shirley Williams on tuition fees and party democracy

I wish that Shirley Williams had stood for the Lib Dems' Federal Policy Committee this year. I believe that she would have been elected by acclamation (in contrast to my own failure to get on to the Federal Conference Committee in the same set of elections, but that's another story). Here she is to great effect on today's World At One (about 18 minutes, 55 seconds in - well worth a listen) talking about tuition fees and the Coalition Government. I agree with every word that she says and strongly urge everyone in my party to heed her wise words.

I have never properly met Shirley Williams, but she is among my political heroes, along with Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers (and I suppose David Owen) for standing so strongly by her principles in the period leading up to the birth of the SDP in 1981. When I read stories such as this one in The Guardian, I am reminded of that early 80s period. If anyone in my party imagines that the broad membership will support constitutional changes to give a committee of Lib Dem activists control over Government ministers' decision-making, then they have very vivid imaginations indeed. The same goes for anyone who thinks that it should be made easier for MPs to be de-selected as candidates by activists who don't like an MP's political convictions. 

I have always supported the Liberal Democrats' current constitutional framework, which is based strongly on that of the SDP. The members elect the Conference Reps and the Conference Reps elect party committees - representative democracy in action. But no system is perfect and this piece in The Independent by Mary Ann Sieghart certainly gave me pause for thought.

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