Thursday, March 01, 2007

That LibDem manifesto in full...

It had the gestation of a procrastinating elephant, but Darlington LibDem's manifesto was finally delivered this afternoon.

There's already been some fairly standard criticism on the Liar from my LibDem-hating Tory friends in Hurworth, along the lines of non-affordability. Well, yes, but that kind of goes with the territory. A well-grounded, fully-costed LibDem manifesto would be an oxymoron. If they weren't wishy-washy idealists with their heads in the clouds, we wouldn't love 'em for who they are.

It presents a powerful contrast with the Tory's earlier effort. That was policy-lite, of course, with a Cameroonian slant that hilariously no local Conservative is signed up to.

No-one can accuse Mike Barker of policy-lite. The manifesto is constipated with policy. Nothing escapes Mike's gimlet gaze. Accepting that much of it is unaffordable (without swingeing budget cuts elsewhere), there are some other truths that shine through.

Firstly (and whisper it softly) it's very Darlington New Labour. Mike can't say that of course, but in paragraph after paragraph their manifesto pays homage to Labour's achievements and aspirations. Most of the passage on education for example suggests policy initiatives where Labour has already got the bit between its teeth. Better language teaching? Hummerknott is making great strides here, and more primary schools are starting to teach foreign languages. The need for an Education Review Group? Labour has asked the Local Strategic Partnership how we can build on the achiements to date. Improved vocational learning? Labour's SkillsPlus initiative, in partnership with Darlington College, is a national exemplar. I could repeat the exercise with whole rafts of text on transport and the environment.

Perhaps more worrying, however, are the bloopers in the document which suggest that the LibDems have a fundamental misunderstanding of how local government works. They want, for example, a return to the Committee system to open up local government. Darlington can't do that, because the law prevents us. So when Mike writes, "We favour a return to the Committee system" is that cynically drafted to mislead residents, only for an incoming LibDem administration (!) the wriggle room to blame the government for their inability to fulfill a manifesto promise? Probably not. More likely, the standard of current LibDem Councillor is so poor in Darlington, that the LibDems just haven't a clue what can and can't be achieved.

Mike writes intelligently and with passion, but the manifesto is badly-flawed. Unlike the Tory's effort, however, at least it provides the basis for a debate.


miketually said...

There's no 'e' in swinging. Sorry, it's the teacher in me.

mike barker said...

You are, of course, correct in saying that there is not option at present for a return to the old Committee/Full Council system. That is precisely why I said "We favour..." rather than "We will...". In the same way, at the end of the manifesto I have said that we are in favour of a local income tax as a replacement for the Council Tax, though I acknowledge that this is a decision to be made at Westminster, not in Darlington.
Tha manifesto expresses our preference in these matters, not our ability to implement them in Darlington.
Take a look at this exchange, involving one of your own MPs:

miketually said...

Clicky: Peter Soulsby speeches

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab said:

Your party has failed children in this Borough by condemning a significant number to secondary schools whose results are frankly apalling. Your party wanted to close the top performing secondary school, allowed a war in education to develop and rage out of control when we should all have been conncentrating on raising educational achievement in all schools. The Prime Minister had to come in to broker a deal. The divisions in secondary education still exist to this day and it will take a great deal of goodwill on all sides to heal the wounds.

Your party allowed the school improvement service to be dismantled. All of these things made Darlington a laughing stock in the education world. I know because I attend national and regional conferences.

We have one of the worst performing secondary schools IN THE COUNTRY and one which is not far behind. Your party has done nothing to address these issues.

I believe passionately that every child and young person must receive an excewllent education, irrespective of where they live, which enables them to reach their full potential. As a Borough and a country we need the skills which only education can bring out. That's why the Liberal Democrats have given education such a high priority. We want what parents want - an excellent education for their children and we are committed to making sure they do. In order to achieve excellence in education there must be a partnership and a commitment by all parties the Authority, governors, Headteachers, school staff, parents and children - all working to the same agenda - excellence in education. We are also committed to lowering class sizes because children learn better in smaller classes and discipline can be more easilly be maintained.

So I am sorry Nick swe do have a clue and we will achieve these things.


ian holme said...

"Mike writes intelligently and with passion, but the manifesto is badly-flawed. Unlike the Tory's effort, however, at least it provides the basis for a debate."

so where is the labour manifesto to "debate" or are you prepared to rest on your laurels .... sorry record?

Once again this smacks of an arrogant council taking its electorate for granted, believing that what you have done to date is good enough to deserve re-election.

That the opposition parties have recognised the value of making secondary education a key part of their election strategy must be welcomed. those of us who have worked so hard to preserve the best examples of state education in the town will ensure they deliver on their promises.

Never again will i take a council leaders promise that "your school is safe in my hands" at face value, and that must go for all parties. YOU may wish to forget the upset, stress and anger created over various issues in the recent past, but the electorate will not, and their verdict will be delivered in May.

Anonymous said...

They publish their manifesto every month and thinly disguise it as "The Monthly Magazine for the People of Darlington"!!!!!

Darlington Councillor said...

Point by point;

(1) Ian - between now and May 3rd, Labour will be demonstrating to the people of the Borough not only what has been achieved over the past 10 years, but also talking about our vision for the future. Frankly, both the Tories and the LibDems have produced manifestos which in different ways are of very limited value.

(2) I agree Alan that much more progress needs to be made in Darlington, and not only in respect of education. I am simply pointing out that your manifeso broadly parrots the approach which Labour is already taking. It's simply not true to say that Labour has done nothing to try and address problems at Eastbourne, for example. I'm not accusing the LibDems of "not having a clue" - to continue the education metaphor, you're cribbing from Labour's answer sheet.

(3) Mike's post indicates that this manifesto's wording can be a rather cynical exercise. I suspect if we stood on the High Row and presented passers-by with the phrase "We favour a return to the Committee system with a Policy and Resources Committee sending reports direct to full Council, for its approval" they would like as not tell us that that sounds like a promise and not a conditional wish based upon a change in legislation. That kind of sophistry (and there are other examples in the document - the bus station clause for example) is a pity as there are some positive themes and ideas in the manifesto which chime with Labour's current approach.

(4) Finally, the pedant in me has to point out that it's 'swingeing' as in 'beat. flog or punish' (admittedly archaic, from the Old English swengan) rather than 'swinging' as in to move rhythmically to and fro. I picked it up in the 80's, nearly always in relation to (Tory Thatcherite) cuts.

Whilst I've got the dictionary out, did you know that a swingle is or was a flat bladed wooden instrument used for beating and scraping flax? Wasn't there a group in the 70's called the 'Swingle Singers'? Or is the medication kicking in?

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab says:


Thank you for your answers.

If your party is so keen on excellence in education why did you allow the school improvement service to be discontinued? Why have you allowed children to have an inferior secondary education in some of our schools and done nothing about it? Why have you not done anything about the gap in attainment between the secondary schools? Why did you want to close the top performing secondary school? What is the truth behend all the rumours about the Education Village?

Finally, can you honestly say that all children and young people attending all Darlington secondary schools are receiving an excellent education?


Anonymous said...

Nick says 'between now and May 3rd, Labour will be demonstrating to the people of the Borough not only what has been achieved over the past 10 years, but also talking about our vision for the future.'

What will be the vision? Taking more and more of our hard earned money through higher and higher Council tax bills to pay for more staff in the Town Hall? Revaluation of properties which will really hurt people? Congestion and gridlock on the roads? Maintaining the status quo in education? Continuing to ignore the views of people and maintaining the 'we know best' approach?

I bet none of these things will be mentioned in the 'vision. but they are on the horizon, if not part of the fabric now. said...


Thanks for the plug, of course the Liar is following all party's closely in the run up to May and as the others have done, please feel free to post a copy of the Labour manifesto on the Liar for the members.

Darlington Councillor said...

Wel. anonymous, Darlington does of course have the lowest Council Tax in the North East, which is appreciated by local people. Dunno about revaluation locally though - surely that's a national matter, and won't be determined by how people vote here in May.

Whilst you reduce nationwide problems like congestion to a glib soundbite, Labour has and will be working hard on the issue, from the Eastern Transport Corridor to improved junction layouts to vastly improved alternatives to the car via bus and cycle lanes, to name but a few initiatives. Ours is a record of real substance.

"Ignoring the views of people" is another comment without foundation given the Council's record on the increasingly-impressive Pedestrian Heart scheme or Tesco where we listened to and followed the majority view of 13,500 residents.

I'm afraid that some aspiring Tory candidates are in danger of believing their own propaganda - when I talk to residents in my ward they are very positive about the changes to the town over the past 10 years and the huge investment in so many of our public services.

Still we'll see on May 4th!

miketually said...

re: swingeing - you learn something new every day. I thought it was an odd speeling mistake to make. I'll have to take your word on the 70s band as I was only two when we left that decade :)

mike barker said...

Nick: never underestimate the British characteristic of politeness!

When your constituents tell you they're very positive (not a phrase I've ever heard anyone use in real life "on the doorstep") about changes in the town over the last 10 years, they are presumably not the people we've been speaking to in Haughton East, many of whom are thoroughly fed up with some of the things that you lot have been up to in the last few years.

Most people are just too nice to tell us what they really think when we're standing there in front of them!

Darlington Councillor said...


You may of course be correct, but the residents I spoke to over the weekend for the most part have known me for years, and have had no problem telling me in the past exactly what they think of Labour's or my performance (they're not exclusively Labour supporters by the way).

It's one of the hazards of the job that people tend to tell us what we want to hear - in my experience not because they're too nice, but often simply to get rid of us!

Incidentally, I understand that the LibDem approach has offended the Partnership on Red Hall, who were upset by the personal attacks on hardworking Cllr. McEwan in a recent newsletter. Maybe you can expand?

Mike Barker said...

Well now, Nick, since you see every piece of literature produced by all parties across the town, you will already have seen this Focus. However, for the benefit of your readers, the quotes which have so upset Cllr McEwan's supporters are:

"Cllr McEwan's Children's Services Department has failed to achieve acceptable educational standards" and " Cllr McEwan has failed to make the raising of educational achievement and standards his top priority".

Hardly "personal attacks", Nick. Perfectly reasonable and defensible comments on the performance of the Children's Services Dept and its political leader, I would have said.
It's certainly much milder than the stuff you dish out (higher up this thread, for example) about the Lib Dems.
A gentleman from the Red Hall Partnership was so incensed, he wrote to Ming Cambell!!! Ming passed the correspondence to me to deal with, and I think the gentleman is now happy that this does not constitute a slanderous personal attack on Cllr McEwan, but rather a wholly justified criticism of his performance.

Mike Barker said...

But since you've raised the issue of the content of political leaflets in the town, as his mentor, can you tell me why Cllr Holmes claimed responsibility in a recent (the only!!) edition of The Rose in North Road Ward for winning money for the regeneration of North Park, when in fact the people who were responsible for winning this money were the Friends of North Park, a group set up by the Lib Dem Councillors in the ward. You will know that this untruth resulted in Cllr Holmes being asked to stand down as Vice chair of the Friends. While we're here, can you confirm that Bill will not be standing again in May?

Darlington Councillor said...

Unfortunately Mike, I don't see every piece of literature in the town, which is why I'd be grateful if you could send me a copy of the LibDems most recent Haughton East leaflet, to go with my collection :)

On the same theme, I'm not sure that it's fair to draw an analogy between the hard-hitting but always fair material I post here, and what normally should go into political leaflets from whatever party. Certainly the Red Hall Partnership weren't the only people to be offended by your leaflet, although I'm basing that on comments overheard on one evening in the Highland Laddie.

As for the North Road leaflet - I did grovellingly apologise to Tina Jones for the error in the last Labour Rose. As for Bill's candidacy - well he's still here on my list pinned to the wall (next to the big colour-coded map of North Road...)

Mike Barker said...

They talk about Lib Dem leaflets in The Highland Laddie??!!! Blimey, I must be doing something right!

Darlington Councillor said...

I think the consensus was that the leaflets lack the rigours of Socratic dialogue expected of politicians hereabouts.

Still, keep trying!