Wednesday, 9 January 2008

An OULD brand?

Sean McMahon, Press & Publicity Officer

One of David Cameron's first actions as leader of the Conservatives was to refresh the party's visual identity. A new logo, colour scheme and official font were chosen, together with a set of guidelines for their usage. This was more than a token gesture of reform - the new brand feels genuinely fresh, youthful and optimistic.

Unfortunately for those of us who love the bird of liberty, research shows that the Liberal Democrats would benefit from a similar overhaul. Survey respondents who've never heard of the Liberal Democrats find our logo "energetic" but weak. We need to project assertiveness, authority and modernity, but as one leading brand manager put it, the bird "lacks strength and doesn't suggest a party which is confident to grasp the opportunity of leadership and run with it." (And yellow is just ugly.)

So why have we reformed the OULD logo, website, posters, termcards, banner, membership cards and indeed ad libitum to reflect that very visual identity? Even our OUSU slate ran with the party's official font on their posters. The answer is pragmatic: it helps us to appear professional, well-funded and in touch with head office, and it helps to spread awareness and recognition of the party - part of the justification for our existence. Rest assured, however: if Clegg rebrands, so will we.

Why I'm a Liberal

Joe Ammoun, President

For me personally, the Liberal Democrats are the true party of social justice, of international concern as well as local unity and prosperity, of Liberty and Freedom, not just in the political sense but in the social and economic spheres as well.

It should shame us that we live in a country where the poorest child is twice as likely to fail their GCSEs as their class mates. It should shame us that the poorest people in the UK have a life expectancy 13 years below that of the richest. It should shame us that the quality of health care and education one receives is often determined by your financial situation or your parent's background (or even how many parent's you have.) If a person is to be truly free, they must have an equality of opportunity – while privatisation is not necessarily a bad thing, and while investing extra resources for your children is commendable, those who do not have those advantages should never be disadvantaged when it comes to matter of selection, and when it comes to the valuing of human life.

Internationally the situation is worse, with our Government wilfully engaging in a hypocrisy that commends troops while denying them adequate protection, that denounces dictatorship while undermining democracy and which condemns past genocides while ignoring those of the present. The Liberal Democrat's would bring a morality to foreign policy that has far too often been suppressed by greed and self interest. The Lib Dem's would honour the promises made by our Government to tackle climate change, world poverty and disease.

The Lib Dem's are the party that has most closely aimed to protect the Civil Liberties of individuals and communities, standing against legislation that allows men and women to be locked up without charge, leading the cry against ID cards (that have been shown up as even more dangerous in the startling incompetence displayed in the recent debacle of data 'disappearance') identifying restrictive legislation it will repeal in power.

Somebody asked me recently why it was necessary to have three parties in British politics. If 'British Politics' exists for the benefit of Government and elites, for the self aggrandisement of politicians and the indulging of megalomaniacs then I am sure than it wouldn't be desirable to have a third party – in fact, it would be rather more convenient to only have one, or to do away with them entirely. But British Politics does not and should not operate for the sake of a Government, but for the sake of Good Government. It should operate for every citizen, it should be a system that encourages debate, freedom and equality, a system that encourages every voice to be heard and which ensures that power is held in the hands of those affected. That purpose is served by the existence of a multi party system, and that vision would be best realised through the Liberal Democrats.

Joe Ammoun
President, OULD

Of leadership and Liberals

Joe Ammoun, President

The Liberal Democrat Party has the most open and democratic of internal election procedures of the three main political parties. Whereas Labour and the Tory’s preach the value of ‘empowerment’ and ‘involvement’ for the citizen, the Lib Dem’s actively practice this faith in the prime importance of every individual, giving every member of the party an equal vote in the selection of our Leader, regardless of whether they are an activist or an MP – the Liberal Democrat party doesn’t just listen to the opinion of the grass roots members, the Liberal Democrat party is the grass roots, and its leader is the grass roots choice.

Nick Clegg was an excellent candidate, putting forward a clear vision for the future of the Party, making clear our commitment to bringing about a radical shift in British Politics, eloquently expounding on the need for a genuinely Liberal system of Government, in which the individual, the family and the community are not just 'consulted', but become the heart, the driving force, behind the development of the society that they want. A free, safe and green national community in which success and opportunity aren't decided at birth, or restricted because of money or family education or situation, but determined by the individual with the liberty to choose the path in life they aspire to. While both contenders for our Party's leadership were people of great quality - of real world experience, gravitas, vision and a sense of duty – the Party came to the conclusion that Nick Clegg was the choice most likely to best present our comprehensive and consistent 'plan of action' to the people of Britain, and I wholeheartedly support him in this, and look forward to an exciting and bright future for both the Party and the Country.

The Liberal democrat Party is in tune with today's Britain, and the desires and aspirations of its Citizens - it is all too aware of the appalling inflexibility of our society and the lack of social mobility. It is all too aware of the dangers of a rotting two party dominated political system that turns people away from politics, and contributes to deep cracks in our communities, and between government and people. It is all too aware of the increasingly autocratic state and the draconian restrictions on the freedoms of privacy, speech and activity that are becoming the reality of daily life in the UK . I hope that Nick will be able to show the public that we are aware of the things that they find worrying about the present, and I believe that he will articulate the very real alternative for the future – a Liberal Britain.

Ever since the Party's conception, political false prophets have been predicting the fall of the Lib Dem's. Every time they have been proven wrong – we have grown, consolidated and grown again, building up a strong base of positive support. We do not have the financial or 'traditional' advantages of the other parties, and the electoral system is ever successful in ensuring that those who voted for us are under represented in Parliament, but these things will change. Millions turn out to vote for the Lib Dem's at every election, millions more will do so when they know we can win. We do have mass support, and more importantly people agree with our hopes and plans for the future – as we steadily grow better placed to get our message across, and as we become more determined in doing so, the advantages we have as a distinctive, radical and ideas-fuelled party will become all the more apparent.

Joe Ammoun
President, OULD

Happy new Hilary!

Joe Ammoun, President

Dear Friends

Welcome to the Hilary edition of Ad Lib, complete with a new, exciting design. A big thank you to all those who contributed to this effort, and special praise to Sean Mcmahon, our dedicated Press and Publicity Officer, who as always put in a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ work.

Last term was a true and absolute success for OULD, with a range of fascinating high-profile speakers, a heightened and professional presence at the Freshers Fair and great work on our Environment campaign, and I would like to congratulate Katherine Wall on a superb term and beginning to the year, and thank her for the huge commitment she has made, and continues to make, to OULD and its activities.

This term the trend continues with an excellent group of speakers in the pipeline, including Ed Davey, Norman Baker, Charles Kennedy, Steve Webb and Lynne Featherstone on a range of interesting and intriguing topics from ‘Global Governance and Britain’s role in the World’ to ‘What are the Liberal Democrats for?’ We will also be debating the Tories on the question ‘Should Liberals Vote Conservative?’, so look out for OULD email updates, posters and facebook messages for more details.

We will be running a great range of social events, starting with our ‘Beginning of Term’ Drinks on Thursday 17th, 6.30PM at the St Edmund Hall Old Dining Hall – there will be two dinners this term, to begin and end our happy eight weeks together. We will be continuing the popular Pints and policy every Tuesday at the Mitre (starting at 7.30), will be having a ‘mid way meet up’ in 4th week complete with wine and nibbles, and we may well be sharing a dinner will FOULD (OULD alumni.) There should be the chance for meeting up with our Cambridge counterparts in London and there’ll be the opportunity to take a trip to the LDYS conference at the end of term (sleep over in a hall included!)

We’ll have some fun campaigning events this term too – with Saturday activism sandwiched between a fish and chip lunch and evening of banter in the bar.

The Liberal Democrat party has an exciting and successful future ahead and so does OULD. We have grown, consolidated and grown again, and this term will be no exception. With our society taking action in local politics, hosting speakers and holding socials and debates we will become a stronger force in Oxford University, joining the fight to preserve and extend the essential freedoms of the British people, giving power to those whose lives are affected most by the exercising of it and opportunity to those born without the advantages of wealth and attention. We have the intellectual high ground, lets make it show in 2008 – the future’s Bright, the future’s Orange.

With Liberal Love

Joe Ammoun
President, OULD

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Should we elect the Lords?

Jonny Medland

There are a variety of options available for restructuring of the House of Lords, ranging from a fully elected chamber, to a ‘hybrid chamber’, consisting of both elected and appointed members. The one option which is no longer justifiable is the status quo – a legislative chamber with no democratic accountability.

One of the main arguments often put forward by defenders of the current system is that the system of appointing peers leads to a higher quality of members of the House of Lords than would be the case if they were elected. This argument, of course, has several glaring flaws. The most crucial of these is the fundamental disdain of democracy which it displays - in democracies, people with the power to make laws should be chosen by the people. Challenging this premise, as advocates of an appointed Upper Chamber inevitably do, opens up an entirely new set of questions, including whether they would support an entirely (or partially) appointed House of Commons also. Under their reasoning, after all, such a move would lead to a government which had a greater regard for expert opinion, and thus be more desirable.

The argument that a system by which all peers are appointed is desirable hinges on the idea that these peers are somehow more knowledgeable than the elected members of the House of Commons. While no-one would deny that there are pre-eminent thinkers in the House of Lords, the numbers of these enlightened peers should not be overstated. The ongoing controversy over how people are made life peers reflects the fact that all too often those who are elevated to life peerages receive their honour for involvement in partisan politics – exactly the idea which those who are against any elected element to the Upper Chamber oppose. Indeed, many members of the House of Lords are former politicians, demonstrating the fact that it simply is not possible to depoliticise the institution. As things currently stand, there are 736 members of the House of Lords. 497 of whom are affiliated to a political party. Put another way, under the current system, we an upper Chamber of the national legislative body which is entirely unelected, but which is overwhelmingly a political body. 67.5% of its members hold a formal political affiliation, and of those with no political affiliation, 11% are members of the clergy. Such a body is not representative of Britain, and is also clearly not an institution which values expertise over other traits. Due to the poor attendance rates at the House of Lords, legislation can be amended or delayed by unrepresentative groups of retired Members of Parliament – hardly an image which is in keeping with the idealised portrayal of the Lords as an enlightened chamber of democracy.

Since a system in which the Upper Chamber consists entirely of appointed members is not suitable, attention then rightly turns as to how it should be replaced. Although I favour an entirely elected chamber, there are certainly questions with how peers should be elected, or whether there should be a small number of appointed peers. The first thing to note is that it is entirely possible to create an elected Upper Chamber without undermining the supremacy of the House of Commons. Bicameral legislatures, such as that found in Germany, succeed in having one chamber with more power than the other without entering into a constitutional crisis, and there is no reason why the same should not be the case in the United Kingdom. The House of Commons will be able to determine which powers a revitalised House of Lords will have from the outset, meaning that they will be able to retain their supremacy.

There are also a range of options for how members could be elected to the Chamber – since another first part the post system would merely replicate the composition of the House of Commons, there are possibilities regarding proportional representation and election from local authorities, creating stronger representation of local government in Westminster. While these questions are vital, however, it is first important to move past the status quo which exists today. If the current system worked as its advocates claim, with independent experts scrutinising government legislation, then there would be a legitimate argument in favour of keeping it. This, however, is manifestly not the case. Rather than having the House of Lords being a talking shop for contributors to political parties and retired politicians, the time for giving the people a chance to determine who they want representing them in both chambers of government is long past. As liberals, we should not let the fact that the House of Lords has recently delayed and defeated legislation which we strongly oppose cloud our judgement on the broader issue here – that opening up the House of Lords to the electoral process will improve democratic accountability and performance.

Should we elect the Lords?

Grace Weaver, Secretary

The House of Lords in its existing form, despite its drawbacks, is preferable to all the possible alternatives. Appointed Life Peers have all the advantages of expertise, professionalism and independence that enable the second chamber to perform its functions of scrutinising the government and improving the quality of legislation effectively.

A wholly elected second chamber would make Parliament as a whole less effective. If the second chamber was elected, it would be as legitimate as the Commons. Either it would be given as much power as the Commons, or it would be a lot more assertive in using its existing powers. Either way, this would probably result in political gridlock quite often, with the second chamber blocking the decisions of the Commons all the time. If proportional representation was used as is usually suggested, the second chamber would have a higher proportion of opposition party members than the Commons. This makes the potential for political gridlock really high. It is clear that the House of Commons must be supreme, if only because this is only way that the country can be governed effectively.

One of the most important assets of the current House of Lords is the fact that its members can speak their minds without fear of losing their seat. They can look at issues with a long-term perspective that politicians in the Commons lack. If they were elected, their independence would be undermined, since they would be looking only as far ahead as their next election. The independence that crossbench peers add to the chamber (they are peers without a party allegiance) would also be lost if the chamber was elected. Crossbenchers can speak their minds even more than life peers who have a political allegiance, however weak. The independence of the House of Lords and its importance in safeguarding civil liberties was displayed when it voted to amend the government’s Racial and Religious Hatred Bill in 2005 to include safeguards of freedom of speech. In 2006, the Lords defeated the government three times on ID Cards.

The choice between an elected and an appointed chamber is a choice between second-rate politicians and professional experts. Life peers are usually chosen for excelling in their field. They make the quality of debate in the House of Lords extremely high, arguably better than in any other second chamber in the world. The expertise and independence of the Lords also mean that they can effectively perform their duty of revising legislation – spotting loopholes and improving the detail of the legislation. These qualities also help them to ask more intelligent questions of the government, so they are better at scrutinising the executive and holding it to account. They are not concerned with scoring points against the governing party, but instead with ensuring that the country is governed in the best way possible. The type of people that would stand in elections to the second chamber would be those who failed to achieve a more high-profile political office such as that of MP. The last thing we want is a house full of second-rate professional politicians.

Rather than a wholly elected House, many people favour a hybrid, part-elected part-appointed second chamber. One of the problems with this is that it would produce two classes of peers – those with elected legitimacy and those without it. The elected peers could claim that their votes held more weight than those of unelected peers. This used to occur with hereditary peers – Labour saw votes carried by them as having less weight than votes carried by a majority of life peers. As for the elected peers, the same problems would apply to them sitting in a hybrid chamber as with a wholly elected chamber.

So there you have it – keeping the House of Lords in its current form is in the interests of this country. None of the alternatives can rival it. The second chamber is vital for protecting our democratic constitution, our human rights and our civil liberties; we can’t afford to experiment with it when it’s clear that the experiments will fail.

From strength to strength

Katherine Wall, President MT 07

Last term OULD had an energetic revival! With so many of you getting involved, coming to events, joining forces with other societies in Oxford and the community, seven of our members elected to OUSU office, and both candidates in the party’s leadership election paying us a visit there is certainly a lot remember.

I have loved every second of being OULD President – campaigning, organising events, running an election campaign and most of all meeting so many of you, and finding that there is a beating liberal heart here at Oxford.

Everything that happened last term could not have been possible without the dedicated work of certain people, who deserve my warmest thanks. Our ex-President, Alex Worsnip, for his guidance and continuing support, Jonny Medland, for his expert campaigning advice, Richard Huzzey, for his time and thoughts, Sean McMahon for his technological excellence, and all of the committee whose dedication and commitment were essential to the success of last term.

Long may it continue!

Liberally yours,

Katherine Wall

President MT 07