It’s the time of year for reflection on what the year has brought and what we can learn for the future. For journalists and bloggers alike, this usually involves lists. Lots of them. I’m going to add to your list overload by outlining what I think are the ten best Liberal Democrat moments and achievements of the last year.
[UPDATE, several hours later. How in the name of goodness did I not notice that this was my 900th post? I guess it was appropriate that it should be a review one.]
It’s been a year of turmoil in the economy and politics with the recession only being knocked off the front pages by the MPs’ expenses scandal. In the midst of all the bluff and bluster, it was the Liberal Democrats who provided the voice of reason and common sense combined with a passion for change and meaningful reform on a whole range of issues. I think it’s been our most successful year since the last General Election. We approach the 2010 election in better shape, and with higher poll ratings, than ever before, not least because of the work of the people below.
In the best of traditions, in reverse order, here we go:
You would think, wouldn’t you, that if a driving instructor was convicted of sexually assaulting a client, that they would never be able to teach anyone to drive again? Not so, at least until this year when Dunfermline and West Fife MP Willie Rennie’s Driving Instruction (Suspension and Exemption) Act 2009 came into force. Until then, there were no powers to suspend someone as an Approved Driving Instructor, even if hey had been convicted of such an offence, pending their removal from the Register, a process which could take several months. Willie took action after a constituent had approached him having seen her driving instructor out teaching within days of being convicted of assaulting her.
In Ninth Place
Tavish Scott’s campaign to save a quarter of Scotland’s forests being sold off by the SNP which contributed to a climbdown by Minister Mike Russell.
George Lyon being elected as Scotland’s new Liberal Democrat MEP in June. Some commentators had tipped the SNP to gain the seat which had been held by Elspeth Attwooll for 10 years but after a spirited campaign, George won through. He’s been to the Copenhagen Climate change summit (on the train) and blogged his way through it on the Steamie. He’s also fought for Scotland’s farmers and consumers, campaigning against farmers’ exploitation by the supermarkets.
Liberal Youth’s freshers’ recruitment drive saw a record breaking number of new members across the UK. The revitalised organisation has been at the forefront of campaigns against student debt, for the banning of mosquito devices and for an end to a lower minimum wage for 16 and 17 year olds. They also launched a fantastic new website. Given the Party’s renewed commitment to ending tuition fees, they are well placed to go from strength to strength in 2010.
Liberal Youth Scotland has had a cracking year, organising a demonstration in support of the Rev Scott Rennie, the Church of Scotland Minister whose appointment at Queen’s Cross Church Aberdeen was confirmed by the General Assembly in May, proposing successful motions to Conference and being a campaigning force to be reckoned with, helping at Action Days across Scotland.
Wouldn’t it be good if someone came up with an idea that would give families more options for childcare which would help them find the solution that worked best for them? Isn’t it a bit daft to give 12 months’ maternity leave to the mother and a couple of weeks to the father when it might make more practical and financial sense to share the care? Oh wait, somebody already did. Earlier this year the Liberal Democrats passed a policy motion which if implemented would give new parents 20 hours of free childcare a week as well as parental, rather than maternity leave, of up to 19 months, to be shared between parents in the way that they choose.
When Israel launched its attacks on Gaza last year, I was proud that Nick Clegg was quick to condemn these atrocities. One of the last times I went out properly before ill health took a grip was to the Edinburgh demo against the attacks in early January where John Barrett MP for Edinburgh West, among others, spoke movingly.
Nick hasn’t abandoned the people of Gaza. Last week he wrote this for the Guardian, outlining their terrible suffering and calling for the blockade to be lifted for humanitarian and environmental reasons.
The Real Women Campaign led by Jo Swinson MP has brought the issue of airbrushing to the fore. Even Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton wrote about our policy to ban airbrushed photographs aimed at children and to clearly label others. Recently, the very picture of Twiggy highlighted by the campaign was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority. It’s a start on the road to lifting the pressure, particularly on girls and young women, to conform to an unattainable body image. There is much more to be done, and here are the instructions on how to complain about other clearly airbrushed photographs.
The Real Women Policy paper is so much more than airbrushing, though. It contains proposals to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value, to eliminate gender discrimination in the workplace, to ensure that no woman is denied access to support if she’s suffering domestic violence, to improve safety by extending the network of support for victims of rape and sexual assault.
I think it’s great that Jo has done so much to highlight these issues and has had so much positive media attention for them and the positive Liberal Democrat approach.
The Bronze Medal
This is shared between two people: Firstly, Nick Clegg for his honest and straightforward approach to the MPs’ Expenses scandal. It helped that he did so in a background of no Liberal Democrat being involved in a major abuse of public money and with a long standing Liberal Democrat record of voting for maximum transparency on publication. He was quick to start his Take Back Power campaign, saying MPs shouldn’t go home for Summer until they had enacted serious political reforms.
Secondly, to Mark Thompson, writer of the Mark Reckons blog for this iconic post which I think has done more to advance the argument for electoral reform than anything I’ve heard in over a quarter of a century in politics.
The Runner Up
Our credible authoritative leadership on the economy, fair taxes and public spending proposals. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up to Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Vince Cable talking sense on breakfast television. He was the first to come up with a credible Recovery plan to get us through the recession. He urged the Government to change banking forever so that never again would ordinary people’s and businesses futures be put at risk by super rich bankers playing high stakes casino games. He knew from the start that public spending would need to be reduced to pay off the deficit and brought forward a plan to protect the most vulnerable. Under his proposals, nobody earning less than £10,000 a year would pay tax, saving the most needy £700 per year. A cap on public sector pay rises to £400 per year would still give a modest rise to the lowest paid who need it most.
In addition to that, the Party identified significant savings such as getting rid of ID cards and not proceeding with a like for like replacement of Trident.
The Top Spot
Moment of the year has to be that afternoon when Nick Clegg stood in front of the Palace of Westminster with Joanna Lumley after the Government had been defeated on a Liberal Democrat motion which called for Gurkhas to be given the right to live here. Nick’s argument was simple – if someone is prepared to die for this country, then they should have the right to live here. It’s the sort of fairness that is at the heart of Liberal Democrat values and I was proud that we had led on this and ultimately forced the Government to back down.