Jean Henderson: ‘forgotten’ Liberal candidate for Luton

You learn something new every day.

Liberal Democrat Voice’s series on ‘Forgotten Liberal Heroes’ has published a profile of Jean Henderson who, amongst many other things, was the Liberal candidate for the Luton constituency in the 1955 General Election.

EDL demo cost taxpayers nearly £2m

The local press are reporting that the policing of the EDL rally that was held in Luton earlier this year cost nearly £2m.

The good news is that the Home Office has agreed to reimburse Bedfordshire Police for the full costs. However, you can’t help thinking that the money would have been better spent elsewhere. It also doesn’t include the amount lost to shops and other businesses as a result of the town centre being virtually shut down for the day. Let’s hope that this is the last time these idiots hold such an event in the town.

I wrote about my experience on the day of the rally here.

Random Thoughts #3

My third edition of ‘Random Thoughts’ is about politics and the Liberal Democrats.

BBC News: Clegg advisor Norman Lamb could quit over NHS changes

I thought Norman Lamb’s interview on the Politics Show last Sunday was a superb piece of political communication. Norman was rational, moderate and even handed but at the same time made a strong political point with clarity and in language everyone can understand. What is more he demonstrated how what he was saying was rooted in principle and that he was prepared to back what his words with action. This is how to do it.

LDV: Let Clegg be Clegg (just not toooo much)

Stephen Tall is right on the money about the Cleggster.

Telegraph Blogs: Reports of the Lib Dems’ death have been greatly exaggerated

Julian Astle has some wise words about the circumstances the Liberal Democrats find themselves in. I agree with much of this.

“[Clegg's] party is already recasting its image in the public eye. In doing so, it is addressing important and long-standing brand weaknesses. It is making the difficult transition from the politics of protest to the politics of power, swapping public affection for public respect. The fact that the former takes less time to lose than the latter takes to win explains the party’s current malaise.”

Local elections in Luton

In just under a months time, on May 5th, the people of Luton will be going to the polls to elect councillors to represent them over the next four years.

I will again be a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in those elections. I will be standing in the Barnfield ward.

This is not the same ward that I have represented as a councillor for the last eight years. I was asked to move by the local party, who I think felt that a shake up and reordering  of the troops would be a good way of reinvigorating our team for the election campaign.

I originally had mixed feelings about this decision, but  it was the right one as I am enthusiastically embracing this new challenge. I am really enjoying working with my fellow candidate Martin Pantling and Barnfield is one of the most attractive parts of Luton sitting as it does under the southern end of the Galley and Warden Hills nature reserve. It also contains the Luton Sixth Form College where I studied many moons ago.

This is a really important election for Luton. Given the national situation and the severe financial constraints on local government, the new council will be making some really tough and difficult decisions. I think it will be critical to have a large Liberal Democrat group to bring some sense and proper rigour to those decisions.

Why the University of Bedfordshire should be thanking Vince Cable

Another thing that I wanted to write about that was in the news at the end of last month was something that demonstrated the impact that the Liberal Democrats are having in the coalition and something with direct consequences for Luton.

Immigration is one of the hottest political issues. Polls consistently show it as being one of the top concerns of the British public. So it was no surprise that a major part of the Conservatives pitch to the voters at the General Election last year was a pledge to reduce the number of new immigrants entering the UK. The Liberal Democrats as would be expected take a more ‘liberal’ approach to the issue, often stressing the importance of immigration to our economy. An approach which, although in general the right one, probably cost us at the election.

So within the coalition immigration is one of the areas of uneasiest compromise. The Home Office remains committed to a reduction in the number of immigrants but this is a  promise they are finding it difficult to meet in practice. A key part of the approach they are taking to do this is a clampdown on people entering the country on student visas.

While nobody could argue that action targeted at bogus colleges offering fake courses is a good thing, there was serious concern from the higher and further education sector that the more draconian parts of the governments original proposals would cause severe damage to college finances and have a negative impact on the wider economy. This article in The Economist gives a good summary of the issues and from it we learn that overseas students pump at least £10 billion a year into the economy and that every ten full-time university students from outside the EU create three full-time British jobs.

The Universities’ concerns about the impact of these measures were shared by Liberal Democrats in government including Nick Clegg and, in particular, Business Secretary Vince Cable. So it was good news that pressure from the Liberal Democrats resulted in the eventual policy announcement made at the end of March including several significant concessions. According to the Financial Times; “The compromise deal follows weeks of bruising negotiations between Home Office ministers and their counterparts at the business department.”

More on this from another Liberal Democrat involved in securing this deal can be found on Liberal Democrat Voice; ‘Julian Huppert writes… Winning the fight on student visas‘.

What struck me was how important this is to the economy of Luton. Now you may not think of Luton as a traditional university town, but the University of Bedfordshire, which has its main campus in the town centre, is a major provider of courses to foreign students. Hundreds of young people come to the town to study each year. I haven’t seen any actual figures, but it is safe to assume that they represent a substantial injection of cash into our economy.

So I wasn’t surprised when the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, Professor Les Ebdon, backed the Government’s rethink, saying;

“this announcement is a clear signal that the UK is still open for business. International students play a key role in the economy and here at Bedfordshire, they contribute millions of pounds to the local economy.”

It would have been nice if he had thanked the Lib Dems though!

From January 2009: Failing to get elected to the Federal Executive, twice

This is a blog post from Friday, 9 January 2009 that I published on my old Process Guy blog. It expressed my frustration at the rules around campaigning for internal party elections. Something that I have also recently written about.

I spent a lot of last year banging on about issues of internal party organisation within the Liberal Democrats on this blog and elsewhere. So much so that I decided that I ought to put my money where my mouth was and stand for election to the Federal Executive. So I did.

Continue reading

The best of my Process Guy blog

Before I set up this blog at the end of 2009, my first attempt at blogging was a a blog I called ‘Process Guy’ that ran between September 2006 and March 2009. For archive purposes it can still be found at

In the post I wrote yesterday about internal party election rules I referred back to something that I had written on my Process Guy blog. This reminded me that I have for some time been meaning to bring across some of the best posts from that blog and re-post them here. Well, I am strongly in favour of all kinds of recycling!

So I am going to start to try and do that. I’ve created a new category called ‘The Best of Process Guy‘ and in there I will post those articles from my old blog that I consider to be worth having another look at. And, where better to start than the post I mentioned yesterday.

Random Thoughts #2

Well it seems this series of ‘Random Thoughts’ is going to be erratic rather than regular. But still worth doing I think. So on with the second edition:

What the hell have the Lib Dems done?

Quite a bit, actually.

Nick Robinson’s The Prime Ministers

On Tuesday the BBC’s political editor begins his second Radio 4 series looking at British Prime Ministers starting with William Pitt the Younger. I hadn’t realised that the whole of the first series is available on iPlayer – handy as I missed it when it was on.

Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders

This powerful talk by the COO of Facebook gives pause for thought on the issue of the lack of women reaching the top in business and elsewhere.

Esther and the injury lawyers

It seems, according to Mark Valladares, that Esther Rantzen has gone from chasing votes in Luton South to chasing ambulances in Creeting St Peter.


If you missed the Liberal Democrat History Group’s meeting on reform of the House of Lords at the Spring conference, which I did, do not despair as the fascinating discussion is available online:

Finally, from the Yes to AV campaign launch:


Welcome changes to the Liberal Democrats internal election rules

There was a little bit of welcome news to do with the internal workings of the Liberal Democrats that I heard about recently. This was that the Party’s Federal Executive had agreed to support a series of proposals to relax the restrictions on campaigning in internal party elections. Mark Pack has more details on this over on Liberal Democrat Voice. In particular, I am very pleased that they are proposing to remove the, frankly ridiculous, ban on electronic campaigning.

Back in 2008 I stood, unsuccessfully, for the Federal Executive. I found it a frustrating process as, not being a member of the Party with a high profile, I was hindered by the campaigning tools I could most effectively use – email, websites and blogging – being off limits to me because of that ban on electronic campaigning. After the election I wrote a post on my old ‘Process Guy’ blog complaining about the situation and calling for the rules to be reviewed.

They were not and the most recent elections for the Party’s committees last year were also held under rules that prevented campaigning online. Although it was more noticeable that this time that more of the candidates were prepared to bend and break the rules with, seemingly, no consequences. The ban on online campaigning was one of the reasons, although to be honest not the most significant, why I chose not to try again to be elected to the FE.

The removal of the ban makes sense. Not only because it is impracticable, but also because I want the Liberal Democrats to have a healthy and vibrant internal democracy that encourages debate, challenge and accountability and the use of online communications is an essential method of encouraging that. So I hope the proposals will be supported when they come to conference for approval.

Update: I’ve recycled my Process Guy post from January 2009.

Lord Qurban Hussain’s maiden speech

Another thing I missed blogging about at the end of March was the maiden speech of the new Luton based Liberal Democrat peer Lord Qurban Hussain.

I blogged about Qurban’s introduction into the Lords back in January so it is only fitting that I follow up by recording his first contribution to their Lordship’s proceedings. In what I thought was an excellent first speech, Qurban contributed to a debate on the Government’s economic policies on Thursday 24th March.

The speech is available in the online Hansard but I’ve reproduced the full text below:

“My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in your Lordships’ House for the first time. I am grateful to all the staff of this House for their kindness and help, and to noble Lords from all sides who have been so welcoming. My special thanks go to my introducing Peers, my noble friends Lord Rennard and Lady Hussein-Ece, who have been extremely helpful to me.

I might be one of very few Peers who have experienced migration in the early part of their lives. I arrived in the UK with my family from Kashmir at the age of 14 to join my father who was working in Rochdale in the textile industry. One Member of this House once said that his father got on his bike to look for a job; mine got on a plane.

I left school at 16 to work to help my family. I did a variety of jobs-anything that would pay a wage to support my family. I struggled through the new way of life with everything from culture to language, and from religion to the British weather, being very different from what I left behind.

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Strange Thoughts in Liberal Democrat News

I’m catching up with a few things that I missed while being very busy in the last few weeks of March.

One of which is that I have only just noticed that this blog was included in the “Best of the blogs” column in Liberal Democrat News.

They featured my post:

Why Nick Clegg is right on multiculturalism (or how the Deputy Prime Minister came to Luton to agree with me)

Thanks guys!

How much power does a Luton voter have?

Moving to the alternative vote (AV) system to elect our MPs would increase my voter power by 31%.

This rather precise figure has been calculated by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) who have done a statistical analysis of the impact that a move to AV would have on voting in the UK. As people prepare to vote in the referendum on AV on the 5th May it can be difficult to get a handle on the reasons for and against the change. I, along with others who favour a change to AV, would argue that moving to the new system gives more power to the ordinary voter. What NEF have tried to do in their research is to put a number on that increase in power.

They have calculated that a move to AV means an increase in the average power of UK voters from 0.285 of a vote to 0.352 of a vote (where a score of 1 is a fair vote). This means an increase in the number of very marginal seats from 81 to 125, an increase of 44 seats, and a reduction in the number of very-safe seats from 331 to 271 a reduction of 60 seats.

    For Luton North AV would mean a change from 0.210 to 0.275.

    For Luton South AV would mean a change from 0.236 to 0.308.

    Both would mean an increase in voter power of 31% for Luton voters.

    What does this tell us? Well if you accept the NEF analysis, and they are a very respected organisation so I see no reason not to, it shows that a move to AV would give more power to voters. It is still a long way short of a fully fair voting system – one where your vote has the full voting power of 1 vote! But it does increase voter power, in Luton by just under a third.

    That 31% is not to be sniffed at and is as good enough as any reason to vote Yes in the referendum on May 5th.

    Opening of the Truck Art exhibition at Stockwood

    In Pakistan there is a tradition of decorating the trucks that are the work horses for moving goods across that country with elaborate and colourful designs. This truck art is a really powerful way for ordinary people to express themselves artistically and it can have great religious and cultural symbolism. It is a folk art tradition that has striking similarities with caravan painting or the tradition of decorating narrow boats here in England.

    Now, this tradition of truck art has come to Luton.

    Last Monday I went to the opening of the new special exhibition of truck art at Luton’s Stockwood Discovery Centre. The centre piece of which is a vintage Bedford Truck painted by a group of young Luton people with the help of professional artists in a style inspired by the Pakistani Truck Art.

    I think it is a project that is really fitting to take place in Luton. Not only does Luton have a large community of Pakistani origin but the Bedford trucks that are so often decorated in this way were of course made locally.

    The Project is organised by Luton Culture and is a part of Eastern Exchanges – a London 2012 Cultural Olympiad Stories of the World programme. The project has also had great support from the Pakistani High Commission and the Pakistani government.

    The exhibition will be open until the 29th May at Stockwood Discovery Centre.