Monday, 18 May 2009

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. ..to reflect the fact that Moments is moving to here..

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Clegg calls for Speaker and tainted MP's to go

. So, Nick Clegg has bitten the bullet and called for the Speaker to go and those MP's under investigation to be deselected by their local parties. Firstly, Clegg deserves credit for this remark;

"I do not think that the Speaker should be made a scapegoat for the failings of individual MP's".

However, my point about this issue has been and remains simply this; there are more important things that Clegg should have called for first or announced as David Cameron did earlier in the week. He should have insisted that all Liberal Democrat MP's expenses will be published online, as Cameron did, this is an essential part of a transparent system and actually is good political sense in the current climate in any case. He should have announced in a similar vein to Cameron exactly what it would and would not be permissible for Liberal Democrat MP's to claim for in the future and what would not be permissible to claim for; with a violation resulting in the loss of the Liberal Democrat whip.

All of these things clearly should have been done before the Speaker even became an issue worthy of comment. I do not agree that this has somehow flat-footed David Cameron who at least has had the sense to address issues like this first and foremost and has subsequently no doubt gained greater standing with the general public. On the substantive point I have no problem with the Speaker being deposed; I just see it as a secondary issue compared to the ones mentioned above and indeed the wider reform that is needed. If Clegg had actually shown some leadership in the last week and made progress on the above issues which are more important than the fate of the Speaker then there would be no problem with now turning his attention to that issue.

Clegg also called for 'MP's under investigation' to be deselected;

"They should be sacked by their constituencies and they should have by-elections".

The good news is it seems that Clegg won't be calling for a general election over this issue which, similarly to Bernard Salmon, I don't think should occur. The less good news is that Clegg is being far too vague and popularist; all MP's are 'under investigation for expenses' as the Daily Telegraph continues to make painfully clear. So, should Chris Huhne's local party deselect him over his Hob-Nob buying habits? I think not and don't think Clegg thinks so either; there has to be a question of degree and proportion here and that is largely absent in trailblazing calls for MP's 'under investigation' to be sacked.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Why the Lib Dems should avoid this honey-coated trap

. Charlotte Gore, writing on Liberal Vision, openly wonders why The Spectator is urging Nick Clegg to take the lead in deposing the Speaker. The answer seems painfully obvious to me; it is an easy win but would be a totally phyrric victory for Nick and the party. I hate to break this to the blogsphere but nobody in the general populace actually cares that the Speaker is so obviously incompetent. If they do then I am still waiting to see the popular outpourings of anger against him; anger, which I highly suspect is confined to the Westminster Village and the commetariat.

I suspect most people don't even know what he does or even who he is; seen in this light the origins of the 'Speccie's' motives become painfully clear (a publication, it should be noted, not exactly naturally inclined to hand us an 'easy win'). While Mr Cameron is talking to the nation about what they actually do really care about, reform on the expenses issue, Nick Clegg is the back room boy, clearing up the mess in the House of Commons. Worse than this being an irrelevant issue to the general populace my gut feeling is that if Mr Martin is deposed he will actually garner some public sympathy as people popularly perceive it as MP's 'kicking the cat' instead of getting their own houses in order over expenses. Instead of looking like a leader, Clegg will look desperately out of touch with the country while Mr Cameron hums his popularist ditty.

No doubt MP's would be glad to get their own necks out of the newsroom noose for a day or two but that seems scant reason to me to actually do this and/or make it the main thrust of our campaign to 'clean-up'. Nobody doubts the failures as Speaker and I am certainly not going to argue that he has been anything less than incompetent but for us to think that spearing a move to depose him is somehow going to reflect positively on us or be seen as us 'cleaning-up' is frankly naive in the extreme. The Speaker should go but not like this and we certainly should not waste valuable energy on a campaign which will win us little popular credit and is at heart a Kamikaze diversionary run.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Conservative Home launches anti-BNP website...

. Conservative Home, 'Continuity IDS' as it is fondly sometimes called, deserve some praise for launching There is Nothing British about the BNP. Ignoring the slightly nationalist overtones for the moment; I doubt you will find any spirited arguments for immigration for example, in the spirit of a bit of cross-party unity the site has some plus points. The section on the BNP not delivering on it's promises is rather key to my mind and does have some useful ammunition. It's links work and the site it takes you too has a long list of how abject BNP councillors are when they do get elected.

The section on the economic message is rather pithy to be honest, and shows the hallmarks of who made it; for some odd reason the link takes you back to the original page too. Something that surely needs to be fixed. The criminal convictions is slightly damming although I am not sure the implication, that the BNP are just a criminal gang dressed up as respectable politicians resonates that well now and I am not sure it will with embittered voters looking to kick the main parties.

I presume the 'About the BNP' section has yet to be written. It has a petition which encourages some participation but it is clear from the sites design that it is aimed at potential Conservative deserters. It is a shame the orientation was not allot more broadminded, especially as it is most likely that the BNP will pick-up Labour strays and there is nothing really to engage with them and draw them back into the fold. Also, no arguments to tackle people who are discouraged by the recent expenses scandals. All-in-all it is worth commending efforts to tackle the BNP online and that alone would be worthy of praise but the narrow orientation of the site will rather restrict it's appeal and impact.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A directly elected Mayor for Leeds?

. Today's Yorkshire Evening Post flags up the start of a consultation process on whether Leeds should have it's own directly elected Mayor. This is one of those issues which I swing both ways on because while I am in favour in principle of the maximum amount of direct democracy I also see the potential problems of creating yet another layer of bureaucracy and concentration of power in the hands of a dwindling executive. Link

As is rightly pointed out the experience of directly elected mayors across the country is something of a mixed bag. Leeds City Council already has an executive leader/cabinet system of running and if a directly elected mayor was created then there would still be a ceremonial Lord Mayor though it is hard to see what function they would have in comparison to one with a voter mandate.

It is said that this would take the role of Mayor away from party politics but I don't see this as being the case and in any case the place where the system is most effective ie, London is the place where it is most tied to party politics. The less said about Hartlepools selection of H'Angus the Monkey the better; however, this does point to the fact that realistic fact that the role of an elected Mayor just becomes another electoral battlefield between the parties.

Logically, the cabinet/leader system makes Leeds one step away from needing an elected Mayor because the current system currently skews the link somewhat between direct electoral accountability and the leading representatives of the council. Whether the scheme is a success really does actually depend on who ends-up in charge. Doncaster, where the council and Mayor seem to be at permanent odds with each other, points to another danger of the system; namely that leadership becomes impossible in a battle of wills between two, both electorally mandated, arms of local government.

What the DEM system does is actually create a quasi-American separation of executive and legislature at a local level; which is fine as long as the system has the required built-in checks and balances. If the right person is in charge then an elected Mayor can be a huge force for good where as the wrong person can make the whole exercise a complete waste of time and money. As I have said, the situation in Leeds makes the democratic case for direct electoral accountability of the executive persuasive; however, I remain to be 100% convinced it is the right solution to this issue.

Also, a slight news announcement of my own; as those of you who Tweet will know I now own the domain name for this blog so watch for some c-c-c-changes in the coming few days. A new site and a new look are on the way along with a possible broadening of content.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

PMQ's: Cameron loses context

. A very subdued PMQ's as has already been noted; Brown trapped in a technocratic mentality where everything has to be decided by committee while Cameron does look increasingly prime ministerial and decisive. However, Brown did make one telling point about keeping the expenses debate in context, something that has been totally absent from this debate as the 'braying mob' mentality has increasingly taken hold. This has been shown in the fact that a number of the stories that have emerged are being contradicted by the established facts; which is a reminder every story does have two sides. We are not seeing both sides in the media coverage currently.

Cameron rightly called for expenses to be published online for all MP's but then wandered off on a tangent about Communications Allowance. This demonstrates a worrying mindset in itself and the Labour MP's heckles of 'but your a millionaire' have a point. When the shakedown occurs do we really want a Parliament that only people already wealthy can afford to be in? Democracy does cost money and there has to be a basic recognition of that fact by the general public; this is the danger of the mentality that has taken hold, that the demands will become increasingly unreasonable and they in fact strike at the very core of the system of having a representative democracy as much as abuses.

In pandering to that mentality Cameron has once again shown his rather popularist colours, the part I least like about him as a politician. Clegg meanwhile focused on expenses and focused rightly on MP's actually making profit on second homes, as opposed to actually having them when their constituencies are hundreds of miles away. The form that accommodation takes is open to discussion but the basic fact that MP's need a second accommodation doesn't change. It is time to moderate the tone of this debate; it is time for context but David Cameron has clearly lost his context.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Cameron got it right today....

. As many people will know I am not David Cameron's most natural fan however, credit should be given where it is due; he got it about right. If we look at the concrete measures then we see that he has got this right;

MP's to publish all expenses online

Quite right. A transparent system is one that is less likely to be abused almost be default; as long as the witch-hunting principle doesn't extend and the public are prepared to be reasonable about the fact that yes, they do have to provide certain things so an MP can do their job.

Payback

Again this is quite right really although again it should perhaps be arranged in an altogether more sensible climate when people are prepared to be reasonable which to be honest I don't think they are right now.

Scrutiny Committee

Although this does rather fall under the category of MP's policing themselves (which let's be honest hasn't worked so far) it at least shows a willingness to do something. This measure is all show to be honest; in theory the existence an independent body negates the need for this but I would reserve judgement on that totally until I saw who it was was actually proposed to do the scrutinising. The suggestion on Liberal Vision's blog that Guido Fawkes should do it is frankly absurd.

So, what should Clegg do? Well he should have done at least two of these three things already and the fact he hasn't is kind-of disgraceful to be honest but anything he now does looks like he is following Cameron so he will have to do something similar by this time tomorrow and will in my opinion be left with little choice.