John Prescott: a Liberal Democrat role model?

The Lib Dems can learn from Prescott's anti-establishment stance.

Tuesday lunchtime at Liberal Democrat conference saw me speaking at an IPPR fringe meeting on what the Liberal Democrat future strategy should be. Reaching for a striking, memorable way to make my comments stick in people's minds in amongst the excellent other speakers at the event such as Simon Hughes, I revived a parallel that I had briefly blogged about a few months back: John Prescott.

No great surprise really that in a room with several Labour members and national journalists, this time the line spread rather wider, with some good natured (I think!) banter from John Prescott himself on Twitter and a lengthy piece from theBBC.

The point, however, is a serious one. What Prescott managed to do very successfully as a backbencher in the last years of the Labour government was both be a member of a party in power and also be consistently anti-establishment, especially in his attacks on some in the financial sector - and his mobilising of public support behind his campaigns.

For a party such as the Liberal Democrats who have such a strong tradition of anti-establishment ideology and campaigning, pulling off that combination now is all the more important. Or as Party President Tim Farron put it in a debate later in the day, "Let us become the administration but never, ever the establishment".

Whether it is traditional establishment forces in the financial sector wanting to see off banking reform, in the unelected House of Lords wanting to hold on to political power without that little matter of democracy or in a myriad of other places, the establishment forces are not defeated simply by having some different names on ministerial name plates.

So sorry John, but I think I'll be using your example again in future.

Mark Pack is co-editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and in his third decade of conference-attending.

Mark Pack is the Head of Innovations for the Lib Dems. He previously worked in their Campaigns & Elections Department for seven years.
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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood