Monday, March 06, 2006

Post offices, pavements and FOCUS

The Liberal Democrats have a long tradition of local campaigning on post office closures. The FOCUS leaflet about saving the local post office has become enough of a cliche that I chose "saving post offices" as a metaphor for the things the Liberal Democrats do which have nothing to do with Liberalism when I was writing my speech for the launch of Young, Free and Liberal.

This was a mistake - post offices are important, and well worth saving. What I meant to object to was not saving post offices, but standing outside post offices you have no intention of saving for the sole purpose of taking an action photo. The problem with Liberal Democrat campaigning on post offices is that we had neither the power to save them, nor any ideas as to how to save them if we did.

That changed last Saturday. The post offices motion passed at Conference calls for the Post Office to be separated from Royal Mail and to be given the freedom to build new businesses, including working with other postal providers. By selling off 49% of the shares in Royal Mail, we could raise over £2 billion to plough back into the post office network. The Liberal Democrats who wanted to save post offices, including all three leadership contenders, supported this.

The opponents fell into two groups. There were a few genuine lefties who think that privatisation is evil and bad. The second group of opponents didn't argue on the merits, possibly because they knew they would lose. Instead, they were worried that Labour would tell lies about our policy, and punish us on the doorstep for "wanting to privatise the Post Office". This kind of behaviour gives politicians a bad name, and gives us a particularly bad name becuase we have more of a reputation for campainging than we do for governing anyway.

If the purpose of Liberal Democrat policy on post offices is to generate Focus stories about "Local Liberal Democrats in battle to save village post office" then I don't want anything to do with it. Fortunately, Conference voted for a policy about saving post offices.

I have often grumbled on this blog about pavement politics not being liberal. That doesn't mean it isn't important. But it has to be about actually fixing the pavement.



  • At 7:03 pm , Blogger Hevva said...

    I agree completely. The new policy gives us an opportunity to actually 'save' the Post Office, which is much more than we can do now. All we need is to be in government...

  • At 9:54 pm , Blogger Chris Palmer said...

    Again, it's one of those Lib Dem policies which would only actually happen if the Lib Dems were to form a Government.

  • At 11:17 pm , Blogger Valerie said...

    ...As opposed to one of those policies thought up by the Lib Dems and then nicked by the government.

    Excellent post - particularly the last paragraph.

  • At 8:40 am , Blogger Richard Gadsden said...

    I do like the "save the post office" aspect, but the real problem is that you're creating a regulated private monopoly on letter delivery. I just don't see the case for a regulated private monopoly being a good thing.

    I've argued on my blog (yes, I have one now) that a third-sector solution, probably a customer co-operative, like the mutual building societies, or the CRS/CWS, would be a much better solution in that there are much lower incentives for taking lots of monopoly rent, and therefore the regulator is less important and the risk of regulatory capture is reduced.

    A private Royal Mail is going to spend all its time conning PostComm into letting it put stamp prices up. It's a much easier way to make a profit than actually running a more efficient business.

    And we can't have real competition without scrapping the universal service obligation - which is a cure worse than the disease.

  • At 9:09 am , Blogger Inamicus said...

    Well said libertycat - too much of "Liberal Democracy" is by-the-numbers FOCUS campaigning without enough thought about what we actually stand for and how we would govern. I think this is something Ming Campbell is aware of and something that he will be looking to change.

    Yes, we have to campaign, but we also have to articulate our political beliefs and philosophy, and have credible policies for government. I believe we are eminently capable of this.


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