Creating Lib Dem Visions: Successful politics needs to have a vision for the area

This is the elaborate stone link bridge joinin...

Old Birmingham Architecture

Most politicians as themselves ‘why should someone vote for me?’ They keep their ears to the ground so they know the local issues and then campaign on them hoping people will reward them with their vote. This creates a responsive democratic system. Except that is doesn’t.

Take where I live for example, one of the most deprived areas in the country, run by Labour since 1974 when the borough was formed (with the exception of 1 year) and yet people still vote for Labour. What makes a good politician i.e. one that gets voted in, does not necessarily mean it will be good for the area. This is one of the reasons we as Lib Dems have been so fixated on the system of politics we use, in a hope that it will improve the country. I believe we need a new system, but I also believe we need to do politics differently as they way we do it now is the wrong way round.

At the moment it is almost like politicians look for reasons to be voted into power. On a local level they will fix the pothole, the broken lights, the street signs, they may oppose the council’s plans because it is politically expedient to do so (and sometimes then have to implement the plan when in power anyway). All of which is done by looking for issues that people will vote for and then doing it. On a national level, Cameron made promises on the NHS and the economy and the Lib Dems made promises on tuition fees. All were politically expedient because they had asked enough people to know they would get votes by campaigning on these issues – not necessarily because they believed in them. Such a system creates politicians who go for the same issues, using the same language and doing things in the same way. As Sandwell shows, this may get you elected and you may remain elected for a long time but it doesn’t mean things will be improved and people are turned off by this.

If we look at a more successful way doing politics from the point of view that the area was actually improved we could learn something about doing politics differently, and Birmingham offers us a good example for successes and failures. Back in the 1800’s Birmingham was a terrible place to live being a place of great poverty, raw sewage for water, and high death rates. Joseph Chamberlain then became mayor in 1873 and promoted many civic improvements, leaving the town (in words to Collings) ‘parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas & watered and improved’. He improved the cultural aspects in the city and constructed libraries, municipal swimming pools and schools. The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery was enlarged and a number of new parks were opened.  In his time in office he completed ambitious plans for public services and town improvement schemes which totally transformed the nature of Birmingham. By the 1890s Birmingham had become known as ‘the best governed City in the World.’

Chamberlain left a legacy of a city with more parks than any other European city,  more trees than Paris, and more miles of canal than Venice but WWII did long lasting damage made worse by extremely poor town planning. It went from being one of the most liveable cities in the world to one of the least. Yet no matter how much people voted for the local politicians, the city just got worse and worse being described as a Godless, concrete urban hell.  That was until the local politicians finally woke up to their legacy of neglect and poor governance and implemented a plan to improve it. These improvements were finally noticed by the country with the opening of the Selfridges building but the improvements go much wider than that. The plan can be seen here and includes fundamental changes to the city layout – undoing much of the very poor planning conduced after the war and subsequently.

Finally people feel that they can be proud of Birmingham again, despite the national jokes (we seem to have an uncanny knack of keeping people), and the improvements should be praised. But the message here is that it was not politics as usual, in the sense that they went out and looked at what the voters wanted, which resulted in an improved city. It was politicians having a vision before they went to the electorate. Chamberlain did not come up with his ideas before he got elected. The Birmingham regeneration plan took years of neglect and ridicule before people thought they needed a vision for the city. Having a vision then provides you with concrete plans of what to do and this is what answers the question ‘why should someone vote for me?’

For all the rhetoric of New Labour, what exactly was their vision when they came to power? What was Cameron’s and the Tories? They didn’t have one which is why Cameron can’t explain his Big Society and certainly can’t implement it. It was why New Labour did virtually nothing for the first few years of office and then started to do things which in the end ruined the country. The reason this happened was because they ‘listened’ to the people and then campaigned on those issues but because they didn’t have a vision they ended up doing what the civil servants thought was best. This was the reason why we ended up spending billions of pounds on IT systems that were never going to work and people knew they weren’t going to work but they had nothing else. Doing politics this way results in unintentional incompetence. They may implement some programs well, run the government ok for a while, and even improve the things people wanted improving, but in the end without a vision to guide their decisions they made very bad ones.

So what is your vision for your local area? Some places have one such as this one for Durham and if there is one, does this fit with Lib Dem values? If not what would be your local party vision? If you created a Lib Dem vision for your area how would this change what you campaigned on?

We should start with a vision for our local area. My area has been neglected and deprived by local politicians for years; it is next to Birmingham but never had a Chamberlain to improve it and it is not being improved now. My local party have been talking about a vision for Sandwell. Promoting this vision will show people we are different, it will show people we are serious but most importantly it will show people that things can be different if only they vote differently. We will always use the tried and tested methods of getting our candidates elected (we have just been to ALDC Kickstart) but we shouldn’t stop there.

And neither should the national party. This is something that has been talked about for a while, that the Lib Dems don’t offer a vision for the country. We have a sound set of values, and some very competent people. We spend too much time bogged down in political business e.g. meetings and keeping our structures running. Over at Google they have a 20% policy where every employer has 20% of their time to spend doing whatever they like. 75% of google’s products come from this 20% time. Imagine what we could produce if we spent 20% of meetings creating a vision for our communities. Perhaps we would benefit from some visioning time? Successful politicians, and by this I mean those who are considered to have improved the area after they have left, have had a vision for the area and this is something we could all learn from.

The liberal question that should have been asked of Mr Cameron yesterday – a missed opportunity for the Lib Dems

It has been a difficult week for England and it has generally been considered that the politicians have been caught napping and are now playing catch up. A recalled Parliament got to ask questions of Mr Cameron but it seems to me a rather obvious one was missed which would have showed the Lib Dems were distinctive.

With both Labour and the Tories being anti-immigration as they are both right wing Parties on the issue there is a gap which Clegg has tried to plug when he gave a speech on multiculturalism – The New Statesman gave a good breakdown of the difference between Clegg and Cameron’s approach to multiculturalism.

So with the riots showing a nasty side to life in England there were pockets of exceptional community which some came from diverse communities. In Birmingham the peaceful vigil and community conversations that went on build bridges and showed a faith in the institutions that run this country and the Daily Telegraph changed its tune with Immigrants love this country more than we do which not only shows some good examples of diverse communities coming together to defend and clean up the communities they live in, but also that they are bringing some welcomed values (which Cameron denies they do) to this country.

So with such impressive displays from these communities should we not have asked David Cameron

Given the scale of the crisis has shown a disturbing side to certain sections of society which the Prime Minister has called ‘sick’, should we not be looking at learning lessons from sections of society where there were displays of exceptionally strong communities so that we can learn how to improve the communities that need to. And given that many of these lessons for England have been in diverse communities and immigrant communities who have not only defended and protected the communities that they live in but also this country and its institutions, would the Prime Minister change his view on multiculturalism which has shown itself to be a values part of British life which has much to offer this country?

Birmingham Riots: A city shows the country a way forward with amazing scenes of community (disappointing the press)

As I watched the news last night I couldn’t help feeling that there was almost excitement in the news presenters as to what was to happen in Birmingham last night fulled from reports that people were getting messages to amass in Birmingham, race tensions or revenge for the death of 3 men. I wake today to find a very different story and one which shows Birmingham in a very different light. Everyone should be aware of what happened last night in Birmingham as it shows a true community working together.

People gathered on Dudley Road in Winson Green where the 3 men had been killed to hold a vigil. Candles were laid on the ground where they were hit and people held candles in memory of them. Many in the community were represented. Many voices were heard. Some calling for revenge on the man who had done it, the community he was from or the area he came from. Some called for a demonstration, peaceful or otherwise. What was important was that they had a voice and the community responded and they had a collective agreement on the outcome. There was no march, no demonstration, no reprisals. The Guardian has covered some of what was said well here.

Tariq Jahan’s words, the father of one of the three men killed, should be spread around:

Today we stand here to plead with all the youth to remain calm, for our communities to stand united. This is not a race issue. The family has received messages of sympathy and support from all parts of society … I lost my son. Blacks, Asians, whites – we all live in the same community. Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home – please.

This shows that violence is not inevitable. That different communities can not only get along with each other but show the rest of the country a way forward in times of extreme pain and difficulty. I was maddened by Channel 4 news trying to make out that there were race issues in the riots in Birmingham. The response they got was an amazing display of race relations, community cohesion despite differing views, and peaceful ways of managing the communities grief.

I hope this is covered everywhere as we need to the country to see a city leading the way in these difficult times.

Birmingham Riots: No excuses for thugs, can you identify these people? If so report them

As the West Midlands wakes up to more destruction today with riots in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton and 3 dead in Birmingham people are getting very angry. I hear so much crap about why they are doing this and it makes me mad. People need to get a grip and see this for what it really is. Stop using it to peddle your own agenda. Some might be pissed off about the cuts and the economy and they may hate the Tories but that doesn’t mean these people are doing this for the reason they think they are. No one can tell me that children as young as 9 are doing this because of any political reason. If these people who are giving excuses to these thugs actually listened to people who work in these communities and with these people they would understand the reality.

In psychology there is a thing called ‘confirmation bias‘ and ‘attribution error’. Confirmation bias is the reluctance to abandon a pre-formed opinion and for all those who already hate the Government and are angry and the direction the economy is taking will be looking for evidence to back this up. What better way than a seeing a riot as evidence that they all hate the government.

Attribution error  is the common error people make when looking at someone’s behaviour and instead of attributing the behaviour to the context attributing it to personality traits, or in this case their beliefs about the Government or poverty in general. Both of these would suggest that people are getting their reasoning wrong.

A friend of mine wrote on facebook about the riots in Birmingham:

So apparently rioting is the only way for the chav filth to get their message across. So what’s the message? Anyone know?

Forensic psychologist Kay Nooney says

these people aren’t interested in tuition fees. In constituency, it’s most similar to a prison riot: what will happen is that, usually in the segregation unit, nobody will ever know exactly, but a rumour will emanate that someone has been hurt in some way. There will be some form of moral outrage that takes its expression in self-interested revenge. There is no higher purpose, you just have a high volume of people with a history of impulsive behaviour, having a giant adventure.

From a behaviourist point of view then, as pointed out from another friend of mine on facebook talking about the Birmingham Riots:

These riots, it has nothing to do ‘the youth making their voice heard’ as some prof’s and commentators with their heads up… in the clouds are saying, it is just a realisation that 300 people committing 300 simultaneous crimes makes for better odds of getting away with it than one person committing one crime. What you literally have here today is organised crime

I know my fair share of ‘lefties’, I have worked in deprived areas and I can say that the situation here in Birmingham is turning everyone very angry. Nothing makes people more angry than listening to people trying to give them reasons to justify it using academic mental masturbation. The feeling is pretty much summed up by my friend from Northern Ireland:

if this was happening in Belfast or Derry, there’d be tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to take down these pricks destroying our cities!!! makes me fucking sick these idiots are running riot through our cities!

People have been urged to come out to the City Centre today between 3 and 5pm in protest against the rioters. I am not sure if this is going to come off as I think the West Midlands police think this is a bad idea. The Facebook event was up urging people to do it but it has since been removed. But soon people will be on the streets and then the rioters will be out numbered by ordinary people protecting their communities. But for now if you know any of these people report them to the police:

Riots in Birmingham – no political backlash just thugs and idiots

This is going off the point for me but I feel very angry and I have a need to express how disgusted I am at the riots in Birmingham. I know Birmingham  has a bad reputation amongst many but it is very much a city on the mend and the plans for it are transforming it into a first rate city. Tonight there are idiots in the town centre smashing windows and starting fights. People have been help in hotels and theatres having to stay there as these idiots run riot smashing things up. I have friends who are traumatised by the violence they have seen as people are beaten in front of them and even though the BBC are reporting there has been no one taken to hospital, it does not mean there are not people out there who have been seriously injured, physically and psychologically, by the violence perpetrated by these idiots who have no purpose but to cause violence.

As far as we know right now these idiots have no political message. They are not rioting because of the cuts, because of the jobs they have lost, or connected to the perceived injustice of the police in London. They are people who thought it was a good idea to smash stuff up because they have seen others doing it in London.

My instinct when I hear of a city, I have come to call home, is being smashed is terribly ‘Daily Mail’ but I know in my heart of hearts that this would not solve anything. The thugs who have broken the law need to be caught and given a sentence which will make them never do it again. I doubt if prison would do this. Prison is not going to make them feel more responsible for the community that they live in, more connected with the people and environment where they live and it is not going to make them more respectful of that which their city gives them.

Having worked in the roughest parts of Birmingham with the most disenfranchised in the city, those who are most dangerous don’t feel they are part of the city, they don’t feel they belong there or that the city gives them anything. The response needs to be a wide one which gives people a chance to use their energy in a more positive manner. I worked in New Zealand and saw how one of the main gangs in Auckland (Mongrel Mob) would routinely undertake community work, such as painting houses or fixing roofs as part of their duties. It is a big reason they had so much favour in their communities. Community groups need to harness the energy that is out there at the moment to bring people together. If not they will organise themselves to cause havoc.

Make these communities feel more engaged in the city, more responsible for the area they live in and use the skills some of these people have and we will be somewhere close to stopping these things happening.

In Praise of Total Community: One step on from Total Place

As I wrote yesterday Total Place has been an initiative to look again at how public services are delivered. Birmingham was a pilot area and have taken the idea one step further to what they called Total Community

They understood the limitations of Total Place in collaborating with the public so when it came to looking at changing a whole area of the city this

meant much more active involvement of citizens than hitherto in the ambition for [Total] place, in its physical regeneration and development, and in the reshaping of public services

What they say about Community engagement and co‐design

We are exploring methods of engaging with the existing and potential future communities with a view to increasing participation, empowerment and well‐being. These include:

  • understanding what our existing community engagement channels tell us
  • thinking more critically about aspirations and how the community can hold services to account
  • exploration of models of co‐production to improve service re‐design, including for example the 10 focus groups of clients of the Adults and Communities Directorate
  • establishing a community strategic planning/future search process, in which people can be more connected and engaged in planning processes. We have commissioned a project which will be completed by the end of February to begin to test imaginative methods of community engagement and provide early data.

I think it is light on the detail but it is a step in the right direction. A city looking at how to engage, collaborate and make partners of those who use and essentially own the services.


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