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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Brian Paddick and the spirit of party unity

I'm was delighted to read yesterday's Standard interview with Brian Paddick - a great start to Brian's Lib Dem candidacy for London Mayor in the 2012 election. As the Standard said in its accompanying editorial, "Mr Paddick is a decent man with a genuine commitment to London and especially to tackling crime." As the editorial also noted, "At a troubled time, London needs fresh thinking on policing" - and who better than Brian to provide that? Indeed, I'd go further and suggest that he is likely to come up with some great ideas on other policy areas as well, including transport and housing. He'll be aided in this (reports the Standard) by his selection of London Assembly Liberal Democrat Leader Caroline Pidgeon to be his Deputy Mayor if he is elected next year. Hooray for that spirit of unity on London Liberal Democrats' next campaign. 

I've always said that if loyalty is the Tories' secret weapon, then we Lib Dems should pinch that weapon off them. Something to bear in mind ahead of the upcoming party conference. Yes, we are a democratic party and we debate policy, which means that the leadership does not always get its way - that's as it should be. But we are also a disciplined party that trusts and supports its elected leader and which never puts party before country, especially now that we are in government. When Nick Clegg says that he is going to do something as Deputy Prime Minister, making pledges to the public and to his colleagues in government, he must then be allowed to deliver on those pledges. Were the party ever to prevent him from doing that, they would risk creating the entirely false impression that the Liberal Democrats are an ineffectual, disunited party that does not trust its leader. 

Our elected Conference Reps have real power, and with power comes responsibility. When millions of people listen to five-minute Radio 2 news bulletins in the middle of other shows on every day of our conference week, I frankly do not want the second headline to always be: "In another rebuff to party leader Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrats at their conference in Birmingham have voted to reject the Coalition's flagship policy of..." What impression do you think that such headlines make on millions of ordinary people who have little interest in politics? And please don't tell me that the media will always say nasty things about the Liberal Democrats whatever we do, because that simply is not true. Anything that distracts from the positive agenda of what Liberal Democrats are achieving in government is just that, a distraction, and the country is in no mood for distractions at the moment. What the country wants is for Liberal Democrats to continue to say that, in pursuit of economic recovery at a very difficult time, we and the Tories are prepared to set aside our differences and work together. That means both parties stomaching some things that we don't like, without an excess of critical barracking from the grassroots. Discretion really sometimes is the better part of valour.

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