Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Gaza; 'many more lives could have been saved'.

. From Gaza, with Love, a blog by Gazan Dr. Mona El-Farra who is a physician by trade and a human and women's rights 'by practice', has some insights into the current situation which bear sharing. Specifically, El-Farra shows how the Israeli blockade of Gaza has crippled the medical services and hampered the effort to save lives;

"The siege of Gaza has left our hospitals without one hundred basic medications and many important diagnostic and laboratory equipment is not working because spare parts aren’t available and the fluctuation of current from our irregular power supply has left some equipment beyond repair."

She clearly lays the blame at the doors of the blockade for the mounting death toll;

"I know that we would be facing a different situation if the 18 months of siege hadn’t drained our supplies of medicines and food, making it difficult to treat and feed patients."

Ending the blockade of Gaza will have to be an essential part of any internationally mediated ceasefire agreement. Our reaction to the bombings is starting to gather pace with Nick Clegg rightly calling for the suspension of the EU/Israel agreement which would give Israel access to EU funding programs. El-Farra has some final words which shows the counterproductive nature of Israel's current actions, radicalising moderates as they do;

"If Israeli children are terrified and confined to the shelters because of the Palestinian rockets, this is wrong. But it is no justification to kill Gaza’s children and innocent civilians, who make up the majority of victims. Israel’s actions are creating more and more hatred. While families in Gaza cower in their homes, ready for death to strike, how can Israel talk of peace?"

2008 becomes 2009...a year in review

. So, it is New Years Eve and one can't really avoid reflective and prospective blogs because after all tis' the season. I am told by my (much) better half that the fact that I attach perhaps greater meaning to this Eve than the one the previous week is a bit odd so maybe during the course of this post you will have to indulge me a little. Speaking personally for a second; don't worry there is politics coming-up, I have come an awful long-way in a year and an awful lot is due to my partner. I remember vividly being so glad to see the back of 2007 on a personal level but this year I can look back on an awful lot of personal happiness. Thank you so much Hannah, love you so :).

Right to business; politically I hadn't even joined the Liberal Democrats this time last year although I was flirting with the idea. It was something I was going to do if i ever wanted to get back into politics in a major way so, here I am. It is often the case that the end of years are what they are remembered by and this will be the case for 2008 as a political year because the single most defining event has been the major collapse of not just our economy but the international one. Obviously the consequences of this will be felt into next year and beyond; in many ways it has, paradoxically, enlivened political discourse because suddenly people want to know what is wrong and what can be done. This debate is going on with a heated sense of urgency as the effect is felt in everybodies lives; it really is a cliche but this has been the most decisive event of 2008 and it really has changed everything.

Significantly it has seen ideology once again become a big part of political discourse. Nick Clegg told us why he was proud to be a liberal while the right-wing press have been using the 's' word so much it almost appears it was never out of fashion. Barack Obama drew strongly on the appeal of 'hope' and 'change' to win a historic victory in the US. While not strictly ideological concepts (they don't express allegiance to a systematised body of political ideas) they are 'big' ideas and their inspirational power proves there is still a place for big ideas in politics.

It is quite amazing to look at the issues that occupied this blog when it started; Hillary Clinton being a big one but through the myriad of all the issues, the twists and turns that politics has taken this year, it is possible to pick out some common themes. Labour has been for the vast majority of this year a government of crisis; from 10p tax through Crewe and Nantwich and the bail-out of Northern Rock it is impossible to not conclude that this government is reaching the end of it's natural life-span. True, the economic crisis has boosted it in the polls but the reality is that what has really happened is that in this time of crisis the 'core vote', the faithful have rallied to the cause.

Nobody in No.10 should be under any illusions that this is enough to win a majority for Labour but equally nor should they entertain the hope that things will get better; when the real suffering starts the 'core vote' will be angry. However, this does not necessarily mean the Conservatives will benefit automatically like they did after the 10p tax debacle. I don't think they have done enough to win the confidence of this constituency; the 'do nothing' charge is sticking.

If Labour would be deluded to think it can sweep to power riding on the coat-tails then the Conservatives would be equally naive to think they can ignore it; electoral success is based on collation building and your tent has to be big enough to fit-in at least 40% of the electorate. Earlier this year the Conservatives were making overtures to the trade unions and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election saw them launch a real attempt to make push 'One Nation' Conservatism. However, the loss of direction during the economic crisis has seen the message become garbled to the point David Cameron felt the need in his New Year's message to reassure people he intended to continue to be a 'compassionate Conservative'.

It is not as if the Conservative 'core vote' is particularly convinced of this approach and Cameron is in a more precarious position than Tony Blair was in the run-up to 1997. So, where does that leave us?? It should leave us higher in the polls than it actually has and that has caused not a small amount of debate. We are facing real challenges in an environment where our message simply isn't getting across and frankly it is naive to hang on the hopes that a general election will give us better 'expose' and thus higher poll ratings.

Finally, Israel provided us with a sombre reminder at the end of the year that we cannot escape from the impact of international affairs. It's deplorable actions have been met with protests around the globe and a bitter propaganda battle for hearts and minds. Excluding the moral dimension; the brutal barbarism of Israel's treatment of the Gazans, it's actions are reckless in the extreme. If ground troops enter Gaza then it will be wide-open to the opening of a second-front by Hezbollah. If, as is likely, the Israeli force actually takes heavy casualties then the prospect of an enforced humiliating retreat become very real. If this occurs before Israel goes to the polls in then Likud will sweep to victory, an outcome that is likely in any case, expect Likud to not take defeat too lightly.

As at least the British occupation of Iraq draws to a close we are now counting the cost of the 'war on terror' not just in the almost constant military fatalities but also in the continuing instability in the Middle East. Whether people like it or not; the Afghanistan and Iraqi adventures have seen both Britain and America take their 'eyes off the ball' in the Middle East and we are now seeing the concrete results of that neglect.

China hosted the Olympic Games but also thoroughly discredited itself in alot of things as did the ruling cliques in Burma and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Russia announced itself as a power once again on the world stage as the West sat helplessly by as the situation in Georgia spiralled out of control. Iran benefited hugely from our misdirected efforts and when we look at the balance sheet we have to ask ourselves what we have gained; in Afghanistan the Taliban is ascendant, Al Quaeda is still vibrant and alive and kicking in Pakistan which is running out of patience as a willing ally in the 'war on terror'.

A certain symmetry exists between an economic system that can no longer continue as it has and an misplaced ideological crusade which, in a similar vein, can also no longer continue as it is. 2009 is going to be a tough year; there is no doubt about that and it is going to see alot of changes. How we adapt to and meet these challenges will determine our success at the polls in the year to come....

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Should politics be more professional??

. David Cameron's little local difficulty over his 'part-timers' detailed below got me thinking about the above topic. So, should politics be more professional in the sense that it is a career for life?? My first instinct is to say yes for many reasons; one of the main reasons being that it would end politics being a 'special case' where you are expected to have 'life training'. The next election will see a couple of PPC's stand who are 18/19, something that to my mind is a good thing.

Westminster politics, allegedly, is based upon the notion of representation so it seems to me a complete nonsense that a whole generation should be effectively denied representation because of in-built prejudice about having to 'experience life first'. The notion that this experience makes you able to better function as a representative strikes me also as nonsense. Some people can go through life in it's entirety and still lack a basic ability to empathise or understand anything beyond the five feet in front of their face.

However, the above candidates are sadly unlikely to be elected and that is where the second-half of this equation comes into play. Namely, the prejudice of the average voter who seems to me to feel that their MP's should some how be better than them; a mentality you see mostly in effect when a serious scandal breaks. If a scandal points to hypocrisy or to actual corruption then of course the indignation is actually justified. Hypocrisy is never taken kindly too, especially in authority figures so those Tory MP's that suffered during the 'Back to Basics' campaign cannot really complain if the press and the media tears them to pieces; they have set themselves up to be torn down. Corruption is a breach of the representative contract. However, if they reflect what can be described as essentially human failings (which we all have in our own ways) then I have less sympathy for the climate of outrage which ensures.

People cannot have it both ways; complain that they feel alienated from politics and then expect their representatives to be somehow above humanity. If people want politicians that are connected and grounded then they have to accept the price of that being the fact that politicians are human. Professionalisation of politics, or in other words bringing it closer to being a profession like any other, might well help reduce that distance. It would also attract people who instead of seeing it as something to do after having made pots of money actually want to do it because they love it.

This is not to cast doubts about the current crop of MP's and say that in any way they are less committed than they should be (although some on all sides of the House probably are) but more to suggest it would make things better; and bring politics closer to the people. It should also draw more people from all walks of life and make Westminster more representative. I am well aware that there is an argument that the reverse would actually be the case but I don't see it myself; the above example of younger PPC's being a good one of where politics being a 'profession like any other' would actually encourage greater representation.

In reality, a balance of the two kinds of politician would perhaps produce the best results with each bringing differing perspectives to the mix. However, the more measures that are taken to open-up politics and make it more representative have to my mind be good for politics and political engagement.

Hague defends second jobs

. The Daily Mail is continuing to make mischief for David Cameron. Today it gives William Hague space to defend his second jobs and boldly declares that Hague is 'openly challenging David Cameron's authority'. Maybe this is a Freudian slip from the Daily Mail which continues it's attempts to nibble away at Cameron's leadership.


"Sources close to Mr Cameron insisted that he had no problems with Mr Hague's intervention, although it is not helpful for the Tory leader, who remains sensitive to charges that he runs a team of part-timers."

Hague said;

"I take what you might regard as an old-fashioned view but I think is still the correct view, that actually you can gain in your effectiveness as a politician from a wide acquaintance with the world and from a degree of independence that having some outside interests gives."

I have to confess some sympathy for Cameron's view here; Hague may well be right but that is an expectation of an MP before they enter politics (though whether it is a correct one is another debate) but not while they are MP's and one would think especially not members of the Shadow Cabinet.

UN official; 'Israel violated truce first'

. Truth is always the first casualty in war. In the last few days we have been subjected to a vigorous propaganda campaign from both Israel and Hamas with each claiming that they are acting in self-defence. Neither is being entirely truthful with hardliners on both sides seeming to have used the six month ceasefire deal to prepare for a new round of desired fighting to the 'bitter end'. However, it is Israel's claims of self-defence that are often raised by it's defenders as it's most compelling case for support.

Six months of preparation, the November 4th incursion into Gaza all suggest that Israel wanted this conflict and had no intention of maintaining the ceasefire. Haaretz carries further comment from a UN official, Karen Abu Zayd, which suggests Israel violated a further 'unofficial truce'. Operation 'Cast Lead' begun eight days after the six-month truce ended; Zayd contends that Israel was also open to international pressure on Friday demonstrated by it's opening of the border to allow deliveries of aid.

At this time Zayd believed the Israelis were 'evaluating' the situation;

"What we understood here (was) that there was a 48-hour lull to be called, and this was called by the Israelis. They said they would wait 48 hours. That was on Friday morning, I believe, until Sunday morning, and that they were going to evaluate. There was only one rocket that went out on Friday, so it was obvious that Hamas was trying, again, to observe that truce to get this back under control."

She said that she believed;

"I don't think they think the truce was violated first by Hamas. I think they saw that Hamas had observed the truce quite strictly for almost six months, certainly for four of the six months, and that they got nothing in turn - because there was to be kind of a deal. If there were no rockets, the crossings would be opened. The crossings were not opened at all."

Monday, 29 December 2008

The case for an election in 09

. Forgetting, for the moment, the wider speculation about whether there should be an election in 2009 I think there is a compelling case that Gordon Brown owes this country an election.

The most obvious one is that Brown lacks a democratic mandate from the people. He has only ever been elected by the Labour Party. Incidentally, I feel this is a rather compelling case for a codified constitution which includes fixed-term parliaments and the stipulation that a change of leader should automatically facilitate the need for a fresh mandate.

With the economy being in the state it is it is perhaps more than high-time that a countries government sought a mandate for the actions it is taking in this regard.

With this in mind Irfan Ahmed and myself have launched a Facebook group calling for Mr Brown to do the decent thing and go to the polls in 2009.

Are we ready for a 2009 election??

. Chris Rennard has written to us all; considering the financial distress this year for the Liberal Democrats I can understand a certain 'obsession' with money.The section that most interested me was where he talked about the prospects for a general election in 2009. He says;

"You're probably reading some of the speculation about the date of the next General Election. I have been discussing possible timings with Nick Clegg and the Shadow Cabinet. Certainly we have to be ready."

He ranks a general election in 2009 as being "quite possible". I agree with this analysis and would make such an event as being top of my domestic political predictions for 2009. Events if nothing else point at the very least to the distinct possibility, the economy; the prospect of significant backbench rebellions, the light legislative program and maybe even the budding crisis in the Middle East will play a part.

So, in terms of preparedness where do we sit as a party?? Of course, the possibility of answering that question is somewhat skewed by the fact that some people don't see the need to be prepared at all. However, it is possible to look at a few indicators. Returning to the Middle East for the moment I think it is fair to characterise our response as virtually non-existent (whatever you feel that response should actually be). William Hauge today made some running in calling for an 'immediate ceasefire' so where, we ask with great interest, has been our response??

When a big news story like this breaks people look instinctively for comment and politicians and political parties to take a lead. The fact that we have so little to say is not awe-inspiring. Moving onto the polls, Stephen Tall has a thoughtful piece on Liberal Democrat Voice. He makes some points that are valid about why our rather low ratings may not be a harbinger of doom. However, to my mind none of them negate the fact that a squeeze is still a distinct possibility. Pre-election polls establish momentum and if we enter an election looking like a shrill voice in the wilderness then the media will treat us as such; largely because of the absence of a guaranteed platform like a leaders debate the media still sets the agenda in an election campaign.

I suspect the media narrative for the next election will be a ideological smashdown between the 'big two' and we have to find a way to counter that; or else our current lack of media oxygen will carry-on over into an actual election campaign. Nick Clegg surely recognises this and this is why when speaking on the BBC's 'World at One' program said that he would like poll ratings to be higher.

In terms of infrastructure it seems that like Stephen says where we are strong we will be able to 'fight a good fight' however, it would be complacent to say that means we could still increase our representation. In those areas we will be engaged in bitter defensive struggles to hold onto what we have; so, the energy and prospects for advance elsewhere become narrower. If an election is held in 2009 then it is my belief that we will not be that well placed (one hopes we would be in 2010 but who knows). So, what are other peoples experiences? Are we ready to go to the polls in 09??

Tories 'seek more school expulsions'

. Ananova carries this story which says that the Tories feel more pupils that are suspended should be excluded. It follows the release of official government statistics which show;

"79,180 suspensions for assault against a pupil, 18,590 suspensions for assault against an adult, 16,090 suspensions for threatening behaviour against a pupil, 89,880 suspensions for threatening behaviour against an adult and 3,500 suspensions for sexual misconduct."

One obvious concrete question that arises is how taking these people out of education will actually achieve anything. In reality, what we seem to be dealing with here is more posturing that exists in the vacume caused by a lack of concrete policy. More 'broken Britain' rhetoric I think....

'100% support' - so one-sided as to be totally wrong?

. Iain Dale has wrote a thoughtful and considered piece on the current situation in the Gaza Strip which deserves a considered response.

Firstly, it has to be established that nobody in this debate is here to defend Hamas actions in rocketing Israeli towns. I am not here to play the body count game either; it is a fact that Israeli's have been killed and injured by these rockets just as it is a fact alot more have been killed by Israel's actions. Making simple points about the comparative ratio of the dead is tempting because it tends to amplify the case of those who see the Israeli response as disproportionate. However, it doesn't really lead us anywhere other than into a meaningless 'my body count is bigger than yours' kind of debate.

Iain's analysis is however totally one-sided so, for example, he criticises Israel for allowing itself to be persuaded into a truce which Iain claims Hamas had no intention of honouring. All true but neither did Israel Iain as the posting below actually illustrates. Furthermore, Iain says;

"Israel is a democratic ally, while Hamas are nothing more than an Iranian backed terror group, which is subjugating the people of Gaza in order to radicalise them."

I am sorry but Hamas won a democratic election. Following it's electoral success Israel did everything possible to subvert the democratic process and exclude Hamas from government. An opportunity to draw Hamas away from terroristic means and incorporate them into the democratic process was missed. Dialogue could have opened up fissures within Hamas; split it between a moderate and militant wing and led to the eventual abandonment of violence and it's commitment to 'destroy Israel'. Incidentally, only the military wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is listed as a terrorist organisation in this country.

All of this does not mean I think Hamas are genuine freedom fighters but they are certainly more complicated than Iain suggests and I can say in total certainty they have a wider social base than his comments imply. This social base means, whether we like it or not, they have to be dealt with and talked too for the prospects of peace to be realistic. It beggars belief in a climate which it is being seriously suggested that we talk to the Taliban that the same basic logic and sound common sense cannot be applied to this situation.

Iain says;

"People blame Israel for the terrible state of living standards in the Gaza Strip. They are wrong. Hamas is to blame for keeping its people in abject poverty. Israel handed over the governmental administration of the Gaza Strip in 2005 to the Palestinian Authority. They had an opportunity to run it themselves. Instead, since Hamas took power, they have done everything in their power to keep their people in poverty and use it as an excuse to radicalise those who are inclined to believe their propaganda. But even despite this, Israel was providing huge amounts of humanitarian aid to Gaza - more than 4,000 truck loads a month as well as fuel and electricity (despite the ongoing rocket attacks)."

Notice, the complexities of how exactly Hamas took power are missed out, leaving the reader to assume they just rolled-in one day and decided to start running the show. This completely one-sided account of events beggars belief; it is as if Israel has never economically blockaded Gaza, as if it wasn't the first to step-up and call on the international community to stop aid to Gaza to punish it's people for voting the wrong way. Iain quotes a UN source to 'prove' that people are not starving; that this 'humanitarian crisis' is a myth; two can play that game. Reuters reported last month;

"The U.N. humanitarian chief urged Israel on Friday to end what it called the "unacceptable" closure of border crossings with Gaza, as the United Nations stepped up its criticism in the latest exchange with the Jewish state.

"Measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and must cease immediately," U.N. Undersecretary-General John Holmes said in a statement."

Whether Iain likes it or not; our 'democratic' ally has wilfully flouted international law on a regular basis; has regularly engaged in unacceptable practises which amount to collective punishment and through it's own inflexibility missed an earlier opening to establish a long-lasting peace. In conclusion Iain says that Israel is right because "The trouble is that any Hamas backed ceasefire isn't worth the paper it is written on". Even excluding the blockade which arguably constitutes an act of war in itself let's rewind to November 4th 2008. The Guardian of that day reports;

"Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip late last night near the town of Deir al-Balah."

So, not so clear-cut now is it?? I will leave the last words to a commenter on Iain's blog for they sum-up the problem with Iain's 100% support very succinctly;

"Any one who says they support either side "one hundred per cent" is being naive and simplistic".

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Israel planned attack 'over six months ago'

. Haaretz has an interesting article on the lead-up to Israel's new offensive on the Gaza Strip. Operation 'Cast Lead' as it has now become known was first formulated over six months ago when "Defense Minister Ehud Barak instructed the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for the operation" even when "Israel was beginning to negotiate a ceasefire agreement with Hamas".

Neither side strictly observed the ceasefire which raises the question whether the international community should have left both sides alone. 'Cast Lead' remained at the blueprint stage until a;

"month ago, when tensions soared after the IDF carried out an incursion into Gaza during the ceasefire to take out a tunnel which the army said was intended to facilitate an attack by Palestinian militants on IDF troops."

It looks pretty obvious that the ceasefire was indeed war 'under another name' for both sides; I think we will come to regret not having taken the opportunity as an international community to establish ourselves as a neutral broker which is prepared to back it's words with actions. Instead we have maintained a illogical focus on razing and then rebuilding 'failed states' which has failed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Top Tory 'helps plug Labour policy'

. Hell hath no fury like the Daily Mail scorned; it has taken up the cudgels against 'moonlighting' shadow ministers and it's latest victim is the Shadow Health Minister, Andrew Lansley. It reports that Lansley is a director at a marketing company called Profero. Profero has won contracts including the ‘talk to Frank’ anti-drugs campaign and the £372million anti-obesity drive.

It gives free rein to Labour MP, Richard Carbon, who says;

"Cameron doesn’t have the authority to tell his Shadow Cabinet part-timers to stop their outside interests. The public want confidence that Cameron’s team are not speaking for some vested interest."

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is how alienated the strand of conservative thought that the Mail is the mouthpiece of remains from Cameron's party. It is different from the alienation that the traditional Labour-left felt from Tony Blair and potentially more damaging. Blair managed to effectively recruit a new layer of activists which gave the Labour Party pre-97 a strong infrastructure. However, as the membership figures illustrate Cameron is not managing the same so he is still heavily-dependant on the 'blue rinse' brigade.

What impact this will have come the election is an interesting question; it could be one that damages the chances of Cameron repeating the 'Blair landslide' significantly because the Tories will be heavily reliant on national media where no local infrastructure exists.

Israel; time for action over words

. Israel's always over-zealous military is once again on the rampage. Nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed and hundreds injured after the Israeli air force launched dozens of air raids on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Of course, we can guarantee that while members of Hamas's security forces were killed there were numerous civilian dead counted amoung the casualties. Now there is talk of a ground offensive which will no doubt fail to quell the rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

Nobody would deny Israel has a right to defend itself but it's defence frequently stretches any credible claim to be proportionate well beyond breaking point. Israeli actions frequently boil down to collective punishment on Gaza's entire population and are frankly counterproductive in that all the civilian dead produce an army of embittered relatives who in turn become willing recruits to the vile agenda of Hamas.

This point is illustrated in this extract from The Guardian;

"The raids had been expected to begin tomorrow, and the fact that they took place mid-morning rather than at night meant many official buildings and schools were full. Some of the missiles struck densely populated areas as children were leaving school. Parents rushed into the streets to search for them.

Television footage from Gaza showed bodies scattered on a road and the dead and wounded being carried away. Civilians rushed to the targeted areas and tried to move the wounded in their cars to hospital."

The reality is that Israel's military 'strategy' is woefully inadequate for the type of conflict it is involved in; it is dependant on using 'shock and awe' to browbeat a population that it thinks will become so cowed it will roll over and refuse to shelter the attackers. Of course, we all know that the reverse is the case; Hamas enjoys considerable support from an embittered and impoverished Palestinian population. Vastly superior the Israeli military may well be but it's mentality is such that it is vulnerable to defeat by 'smaller' forces as Hezbollah showed.

Israel's political leadership is unwilling and unable to make the painful concessions necessary to show it is serious about a viable two-state solution so, the cycle continues like a horrific machine that demands constant feeding through carnage. The problem is that Israel knows well enough international leaders will voice 'concern' and mouth the usual pities as all spokespeople for all three main parties did today but when push comes to shove nothing much will actually be done.

It has nothing to fear as to all intents and purposes it's 'friendly' status towards the US in particular makes it effectively above international law. Let's be honest; who seriously expects punitive sanctions against Israel to be on the table anytime soon? I would be surprised to see them in my lifetime and considering I am not that old (honest) that is saying something. This is dangerous not least for Israel itself as it's overweening arrogance leads it into disasters like the Lebanon adventure.

Frankly, given Nick Clegg's hand-wringing over Zimbabwe, I find our stance on this timid to say the least. Ed Davey said;

"The danger is that this will spark a new spiral of violence and terror, when what is really needed is an international effort to restore the ceasefire.

Israel knows the international community condemns the attacks by Hamas, but it should also realise from the past that this sort of mass attack will only postpone the peace Israel, and the region, needs."

Not good enough; if we want to be credible then we should break from the consensus and be calling on the government to pressure the international community to make a serious statement to Israel that no country is above international law.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Andy Burnham's latest sally into censorship

. I'm back people (don't all cheer at once). Obviously we are now at the time of year when people start thinking about New Years resolutions. I think top of Andy Burnham's list should be to try and avoid frankly silly and rather self-satisfied attempts to get his grubby mitt's on the internet. The latest rather daft proposal is that internet sites be classified like films; what makes this so wrong-headed is the rather obvious point that such a system would never work.

Pornography sites already display disclaimer's that allegedly only allow over 18s access and we all know how that works out; it doesn't. Other problems arise around how a classification would be determined; personally I have blogged about issues around and used the 'sex' word twice. However, does anybody seriously think this blog merits an '18' rating??

You cannot even argue that this would help 'inform' parents who, frankly, should be bothered enough to inform themselves. This, in itself, should shoot straight through his argument that;

"This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people".

Tellingly, he 'reveals';

"that his children are only allowed online under close supervision."

So, my question to Mr Burnham has to be that if he can do it why can't others?? Why does the government have to step-in where Mr Burnham has shown that responsible individuals are more than capable of doing the job themselves??

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas blogging....

. ...will be light for the next few days while I spend some time with my partner (who really is the best Christmas present I have ever had or could ever hope for :) ). I will most likely be back before the day itself but just in case I am not I would just like to wish a very Merry Christmas to all my readers :)

Is the Brown bounce really over??

. Andrew Grice writing for The Independent thinks so; 'the second Brown bounce' is over he declares;

"Ministers will not be surprised by the results. They were shaken by the sharp rise in unemployment announced last week and know there is worse to come in January and February, since many firms have delayed job cuts until after Christmas. They know, too, that Brown could not defy the normal laws of political gravity for much longer. The ComRes poll will dampen the rather silly speculation about a general election early next year."

Looking at the headline figures you could be forgiven for thinking Grice was right; the Conservative lead has increased . However, further investigation makes the 'silly' speculation look slightly more sensible; questioned if the election were held 'during a recession' the Tory lead is slashed from 5% back down to 1%. If the election was held during a 'recovery' then the two parties are tied on 37%. So, better to wait until 2010 then surely?? Only if you think the economy will have actually recovered by then which is highly unlikely in my eyes.

One of the arguments that has not been addressed in the early election debate is that the government may well be left with little choice. As soon as Parliament returns it is facing at least two potentially embarrassing defeats over welfare reform and a third runway at Heathrow and another potentially numerically significant rebellion from it's own benches over the Royal Mail proposals. It's attitude will be determined by the early economic data about the Christmas/January retail performance.

The poll shows a clear margin in favour of lower taxes over public spending which makes waiting till 2010 even more risky for Brown because the planned 2011 hike in NIC's will be squarely in peoples minds at that point. However, I am kind-of tempted to put that down to the period of time we are actually in when people naturally want more money in their pockets. I also feel that the polling findings on such things have thus far been erratic which perhaps reflects a degree of uncertainty about how people feel it is best to go forward.

It being the Christmas period does make polling somewhat unpredictable as Anthony Wells points out and indeed some of the above figures don't make much sense. Our figure is static at 16%, loses 2% in the recession scenario and gains 2% back in the recovery one. Overall, the picture that we are left with as the year ends is one of a shrunk Conservative lead and a much tighter race between the two main parties with us stuck somewhere in the middle.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Liberal Conspiracy and the Liberal Democrats

. Hands-up all those out there from the Liberal Democrat blogsphere who read Sunny Hundal's Liberal Conspiracy? As I suspected a few but not many; so the next question why don't more of you?? You may even wonder why this is worth a whole posting; well, it is one of the top five political blogs in this country and the only one of the top five that actually has a 'liberal-left' mission statement. So, it's the only one likely to challenge the Conservative domination of the blogsphere (Mike Smithson's Political Betting is a neutral site to my mind despite Mike's personal sympathy to the Lib Dems).

Liberal Democrat Voice has a sizable audience but I can't help feeling it is largely an audience of the already converted. It's main competition is Conservative and Labour Home in all reality as these are the main unofficial partisan discussion communities which tend to orientate in the same way. In terms of 'outreaching' I feel LDV is thus something of a different species compared to Liberal Conspiracy; in reality, Liberal Conspiracy has a huge potential as a focal point for wider opposition after the next election returns some kind of majority or minority Conservative government. It is time to add a slight caveat; if it is a minority Conservative government then Liberal Democrat Voice may well be the main beneficiary (along, of course, with Labour blogs). However, in general I would expect it to be pushing Iain and Guido hard; certainly harder than it does now when anti-government sentiment is likely to be best expressed by Conservatives.

Liberal Conspiracy, as a collaborative effort, in some ways has more potential outreach than the likes of Iain Dale who is a very talented individual but nonetheless still an individual (as are the likes of Letters and Dizzy). I suspect, though people might like to confirm or deny this in comments, that alot of Lib Dem bloggers feel that Liberal Conspiracy is essentially the organ of the Labour-left/Compass wing of that party. Jennie Rigg does an admirable job of representing our politics on the site itself but she is to all intents and purposes a lone Lib Dem voice.

Looking down the list of contributors I see the only other listed avowedly Lib Dem contributor is Alix Mortimer who is a prolific contributor to Liberal Democrat Voice. As far as I can see the bulk of the listed contributors are from the 'soft-Labour' left; that is they may not be members of Labour or even supportive of the current regime but when the cookie crumbles that is where their alligence lies. In other words it doesn't strike me as a very politically balanced list; and I have to say this is not just a Liberal Democrat only gripe, there seems to be little input from Green's either (and I can think of at least one quality Green blogger off the top of my head and I am sure there are more).

It is with some irony then that Jennie's article today points to how the Tory press is 'love-bombing' the Lib Dems when there appear to be no similar efforts from Labour either officially (which admittedly is unlikely) or unofficially from 'soft-Labour' types who surely have no desire to see the Conservatives returned to government. In terms of reflecting a plurality of progressive opinion I think therefore Liberal Conspiracies composition is somewhat questionable. If it wants to become a serious challenging force to the Conservative hegemony of the blogsphere then I think a more pluralist approach is required. As for us, the benefits would be obvious in increased publicity for the Lib Dems in the blogsphere...

Huhne - Too many young people in prison

. The Daily Telegraph has this report of Chris Huhne's comments regarding the lack of use of non-custodial sentences against young offenders. Before sentencing, judges and magistrates must obtain a pre-sentence report from the local youth offending team (YOT). Figures from the Ministry of Justice showed a 'wide-variation' in the responses to these reports. In some areas custodial sentences were only handed-down when recommended but in others the report was ignored and the offender jailed in any case.

Huhne said;

"We are schooling too many children in crime at the public's expense.

Britain incarcerates far more children than any other European country and it is not working - youth crime and re-offending are not falling.

I don't blame judges, who are operating in an environment where both Labour and the Tories are obsessed with looking tough on crime.

Political posturing and the punitive demands of sections of the media are forcing us into treating many young people far too harshly.

We need to move away from headline-grabbing rhetoric towards measures that will actually succeed in cutting youth crime, starting with effective community punishments that pay back damage to local communities and victims."

I tend to agree with the thrust of Huhne' comments and earlier comments by Nick Clegg here; the political debate on crime is plagued by a macho desire by each party to 'out tough' the other. This is one of those issues where it tends to be a 'proud to be a Lib Dem moment'. Custodial sentences should be a last resort in the case of young offenders and the exception not the rule.

Lib Dem love bombs

. Jennie Rigg has an interesting article on Liberal Conspiracy. She looks at the recent favourable coverage that the Liberal Democrats have been getting in the Conservative press. Specifically, she talks about Quentin Lett's in the Daily Mail. She could also have mentioned a recent editorial in The Times which was also glowing about Nick Clegg in particular.

I think Jennie is absolutely right about the motivation behind this 'love-bombing'; namely that the polls are getting tighter for the Conservatives and a hung-parliament is at the moment a very real prospect. Tactically, they want us to be able to unseat Labour MP's and convince our vote in Conservative seats that David Cameron is a friendly, viable option. Also, it is possible that they want to soften Lib Dem opinion to the prospect of a coalition or at least supporting a minority Conservative government.

So, I think right from the top we can dismiss these warm words as any indicator that our policies would be looked upon favourably by a Conservative government. We can see in both instances that the praise is selective; it is praise for Clegg doing things that both the papers find convivial to their agenda. I don't suspect many glowing Times editorials will be forthcoming about the 'Green Road out of Recession' for example, or our call to close tax loopholes for the rich.

Since these warm-words are selective and clearly politically motivated they mean precisely nothing to me in terms of making me think we should 'cosy-up' to the Conservatives. Jennie rightly says that this will have the reverse effect with 'soft-Labour' voters; our credibility with the Conservative press might actually reduce our credibility with this constituency. When phone canvassing I have been told that one way to establish which way reluctant people might vote is to ask them which party they would never vote for; if they say Conservative then they are obviously soft-Labour/Lib Dem and of course vice versa. The danger is that those type of people will start saying 'never Liberal Democrat' and we will lose ground.

On the other hand the publicity is welcome and the above is something that we can counter in our own publicity. So, to try and answer the three questions Jennie asks;

  • How long will it last?

I think the answer to this is simple; as long as the polls are this tight and a hung-parliament or slender Conservative majority is in the offing; if they enter landslide territory again then expect it to to stop.

  • Is it more of a problem than an opportunity?

Yes and no but it actually depends on what we do; if we 'play our cards right' then it can be an opportunity. If we simply bask in the publicity without trying to counter the spin then it will become a problem but if we build on the coverage by putting across our message in our voice then it is an opportunity.

  • How can we best capitalise on it to get Liberal issues into the forefront of the debate?

As I said above we need to make sure we are speaking with our own voice and not letting the Conservative press speak for us; so, for example, we can issue press releases welcoming positive coverage but correcting the potentially damaging spin.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

When two tribes go to war; The Tories and the Met square-off

. Barely undisturbed by wider social reality, the Damian Green affair rumbles on. The latest development in the saga is chronicled for us by Iain Dale. The only real interest value left in this whole story is to see how dazzlingly high the levels of Conservative hypocrisy can fly; my guess is quite high.

Iain reports on the remarks by Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick who told the BBC that;

"The Tory machinery and their press friends are mobilised against this investigation.

"I think it is a very spiteful act, possibly to intimidate me away from investigating Mr Green, and I feel it has put my family at risk."

Quick is referring to a Mail on Sunday article which claimed a 'security scare' over his wife's home-run wedding car hire business. It starts like this;

"Questions have been raised over the judgment of Britain’s top anti-terror police chief after it emerged that a wedding car hire business - including one of his own cars - is being run from his home."

It degenerates from there on in; previous stories about Quick have been headlined 'Jacqui Smith's favourite copper'. Of course, we all remember how Boris Johnson forced the late, and unlamented on these pages, Sir Ian Blair from his post. In reality that is what we have always been dealing with; a feud between the Metropolitan Police and the Conservative Party. CCHQ has denied any official involvement in the stories published in the Daily Mail but that is slightly academic; we all know that the Mail is a Conservative-sympathising attack-paper.

I didn't support Ian Blair and I don't support Quick in these comments (although frankly, if my *partner* was attacked in such a salacious way I would be saying allot less pleasant things about the people did it than they were 'corrupt'). Iain is right that his comments now call into question his position in leading the Green enquiry. However, the stance of the Conservatives as the 'pious victims' in this case also has no credibility.

'Interesting times' - Labour's crisis loan conundrem

. It was reported earlier in the day that government would seek to start charging interest on emergency loans of upto 27%. This wouldn't make such loans very competitive and to be fair seems to have been moved to the back-burner after a glut of criticism. Kitty Ussher, the work and pensions minister, told The Independent that the Government was "absolutely not" proposing charging interest on loans from the social fund:

"She said that ministers were considering involving credit unions in the distribution of the loans. But while credit unions are permitted to charge interest of up to 2% a month on their own loans, they would not be allowed to do the same with Government products."

While these organisations are obviously worthy and do provide a great service I am a bit weary of these proposals; good old-fashioned Labour outsourcing does not have a distinguished past. Think the SAT's debacle and the general chaos that such methods have caused in the examinations system. Furthermore, charging interest on these loans is clearly unacceptable and as Vince Cable said totally self-defeating.

However, it does show that one of the key problems that is going to be vexing this government in the months to come is how to recoup it's borrowing. Since we already know the new 45p tax-band are going recoup close to zero the real question is how; maybe the hike in NIC's was an early indicator that 'fairness' isn't going to be top of this governments list of priorities when considering such things. This does give us something of a opportunity to eat into Labour's 'core vote' with our agenda for reforming the tax system to generate more revenue.

Ideology and Politics; A response to Sunny Hundal

. Dizzy picks-up on the debate in the latest issue of Total Politics between Douglas Murray, from the Centre for Social Cohesion, and Sunny Hundal from Liberal Conspiracy. Dizzy rightly finds aspects of Murray's case compelling; especially when he insists that "Mankind needs ideology to orient itself." Ideology is what gives our thoughts coherence and structure and binds together how we view completely unrelated topics into something approaching a coherent world-view. In politics, an element of that is unquestionably needed not least because in able for people to want you to govern they generally expect some kind of coherence and sense of direction.

Murray is also right to insist that protestations of 'non-ideology' are in fact ideological in themselves because they state a self-same world view in itself. Just because they do so using lables like 'pragmatism' or 'mangerialism' doesn't make such a view any less all-encompassing. Tellingly, Murray is equally as damming of both the left and the right;

"On the left, the loss of ideology has come about because theirs exploded. Aside from a few remaining hirelings at The Guardian, most people from the old left recognise (though rarely concede) that their ideology - particularly the ideology of collectivism - was the most catastrophic mirage of the 20th century....

Meanwhile, what used to be the right has retreated in a melange of self-distrust and self-doubt. They are particularly susceptible to this. For it is conservatives that most often distrust ideology as a force, thanks to a school of conservatism which believes conservatism itself to be a non-ideology or an anti-ideology."

In his own way Murray is pointing to the limitations of ideology in politics; namely when it ceases to view of the world as it actually is and just becomes a view of the world as it should be; according to the ideology. Typically, this occurs when it becomes the dictum or a ruling class or caste because the real purpose of the ideology becomes not to change the world but to actually justify the power structures as is; this is when ideology seeks to become a living, vital force and becomes a corpse, a dead-weight weighing on it's exponents as much as the people it bears down upon.

So, Sunny's arguments 'against ideology' are not entirely off-beam. He talks alot about compromise and a need for pragmatism;

"Bringing in ideology usually screws things up because people are pragmatic - they want the government to do its job properly rather than impose its ideas on them. They want their rubbish picked up, their hospitals to be clean and easy to use, and their schools to be well resourced. A government that focuses too much on ideology loses sight of the ordinary requirements of its voters, and loses them."

However, as I have said above people tend to want their governments to actually have a clue how to do these things in a way that is consistent with core beliefs in the first place. This clue will only stem from having some kind of systematic world-view which could easily be labeled as being ideological. Sunny can't get away with pretending his politics are pure 'pragmatism' when he starts his piece by saying he is an "avowedly liberal-left commentator and blogger"; in other words, he has a prism through which he views the world and politics. He sets up a straw-man view of ideology where "in most cases you have to buy into all parts of the tribe and join it."

I wonder if this is how Sunny views political parties because there is no question some people would feel that way. However, the way I view political parties is that you join or gravitate towards the one that you best feel represents your 'core beliefs' but you don't necessary have to agree with every dot and comma. Regular readers of this blog will know I do not agree with everything Nick Clegg or our leadership says but I do feel that the Liberal Democrats are the closest party to expressing my core beliefs. Sunny is easily brushed aside on Dizzy's blog when he notes that;

"I've highlighted two words there because as I read it all I could think was "fairness is an ideological standpoint". Essentially Sunny is arguing that ideology is bad whilst simultaneously pushing a set of values that he believes ought to be adhered too."

Sunny is right to say "in reality neither ideology: left-wing government interventionism nor right-wing laissez-faire, works when taken to its extreme". However, none of that argues in favour of throwing out the baby with the bathwater; all it means is that there is a constant need for ideology to be responsive, leavened by democracy and discourse and pragmatism. Setting the two concepts of mutually opposed and indeed as each being antihical to the other does nobody any favours and is a depressing and does the left no favours at all.

Sunny says;

"Ideologues love the idea of a political scrap that puts vast difference between them and their opponents, but inevitably people get sick of partisan fighting. A politician should seek to represent everyone, not merely the narrow majority that elected him or her. That is the mark of a true leader."

However, they also expect their leaders to be distinctive and to actually stand for something. He gives the example of Barack Obama in America and his recruitment of Republicans to his administration. During the campaign however Obama had a distinctive inclusive theme which he opposed to that of John McCain successfully and the same was true during his campaign against Hillary Clinton where the exchanges often were bitter and rancorous. In other words the mark of a true leader is to know instinctively where to strike the balance between the need for distinctiveness and inclusion and at what time 'drawing the line' is appropriate.

Thus we see alot of muddle in Sunny's piece;

"One has to remember that Obama learnt from the organiser Saul Alinsky, perhaps the best proponent of 'pragmatic idealism'."

One also has to remember that 'pragmatic idealism' is still idealism. It simply does not follow from his conclusion that "ideology has sever limits" that 'successful politicians' must purely "focus on bread and butter issues". Successful politicians are the ones that strike the balance and that means neither living and breathing ossified ideology nor ignoring the need for a coherent and consistent world-view.

Conservative Home on boosting Tory membership

Various blogs have picked on the News of the World story reporting a decline in membership for the Conservatives (illustrated graphically on your right). As I have said before I think the Tories should find this slightly worrying because it suggests a lack of popular enthusiasm for the brand of opposition they are providing as well as the obvious implications for infrastructure and activist base.

So, it was with some interest that I turned to Conservative Home to see what medicine it prescribed. The causes it cites are interesting because they should give us some hope that alothough the Lib Dems are not exactly rolling in members either, being a member of the Liberal Democrats is a much more hospitable climate than being a member of Conservatives; especially when it comes to membership rights;

  • "The ageing nature of Tory members - the age issue alone cannot, however, possibly explain the speed of the decline;

  • The erosion of members' voting rights - although Michael Howard was unsuccessful in his attempt to end the role of members in choosing the party leader, David Cameron has successfully curtailed members' role in selecting Westminster parliamentary candidates and ended their ability to deselect sitting MEPs;

  • The lack of a membership magazine - under William Hague's leadership members were sent a glossy magazine called Heartland. No magazine or equivalent reward for membership exists now.

  • Individual policy disagreements - many Associations, for example, reported a large number of resignations after the grammar schools row in 2007."

Unsurprisingly, the suggestions to rememdy this focus around giving the membership a stake in their own party. Tim Montgomerie calls for the restoration of voting rights, giving members a say in the formulation of certain policy and lastly for building a periphery using web-based campaigning. Obviously, Conservatives feel a sense of alienation from their own party which is rather summed-up neatly by this comment from 'Mark';

"I joined the Conservative party a few months ago at the same time as a friend joined the Labour party. These are small comparisons, but I received a rubbish plastic membership card, she received a hard, glossy and really nice Labour party membership card. (Although my association has since sent me a nice one).

She receives regular letters from her ministers, MP, etc informing her of what's going on, inviting her to events - I've received one quite nice paper booklet and lots of letters asking for money. Of course there are ideological issues at stake, but there are some pretty bread and butter things that are wrong too."

I can't help but think some of this stems from a still-lingering mindset that the Tories are a 'natural party of government' and shouldn't have to actually do anything to recruit members and give them a stake in their party. However, it is a view that could potentially damage their electoral fortunes in a tight 2009 contest when an energised and invigorated membership could tilt the scales one way or another.

Labour marginals 'hit hardest' by unemployment

. The Independent reports that unemployment is rising fastest in those seats that Labour is most vulnerable in;

"Scores of Labour marginals have suffered the fastest-rising unemployment levels over the past 12 months".

The vulnerable include 18 out of 23 Cabinet ministers; including the Prime Minister. Some of the worst hit areas are in the Midlands and the south. Of course, on one level this data isn't surprising as unemployment is rising across the board and Labour is the party that has the most MP's; ipso facto Labour MP's constituents are bound to suffer and they are bound to be in key marginals.

However, the real question is what will the political impact be?? As I wrote earlier this will depend on the 'blame game' ie, when voters start blaming the government or when they feel it isn't doing enough. As the crisis proceeds the chances this will happen increase so the damage done will become larger. What we really have here is another argument why an early election is Brown's only realistic hope of even winning the largest number of seats. Something that I feel is the only realistic way Labour can 'win' an election...

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Iraq; MP's reject mandate for British troops beyond end of 2008

. The BBC carries this report;

"Iraq's parliament has rejected a draft law that would allow troops from the UK, Australia and a number of other countries to remain after 2008."

Since the UN mandate expires on December 31st 2008 it is obviously required to give a legal framework to the presence of troops which in Britain's case intend to stay until July 2009. US troops are allowed to stay until 2011 under a separate deal which is an avenue that many Iraqi MP's seem to want to pursue with Britain and other countries like Australia.

The curtain is obviously closing on the Iraqi adventure and it was heartening to see Nick Clegg give a robust performance demanding an enquiry. However, the next real substantive questions are that of an enquiry and what should be done in terms of any possible redeployment in Afghanistan which as we know where I differ from Clegg.

Sexy sneezing snot a problem...

. I have to admit that this headline is not a patch on Costigan Quists yesterday (hat-tip due I think) but hey, marks for effort?? The Guardian reports on a frankly befuddling link between thinking about sex and sneezing. Apparently;

"Thinking about sex or experiencing an orgasm sends some people into an uncontrolled bout of sneezing, and according to two researchers the problem may be more common than the medical profession had realised."

How was this conclusion reached you may ask; well, Dr Howard Maxwell, a consultant psychiatrist at West Middlesex University Hospital in London, searched internet chatrooms for discussions on the topic. He found a shocking total of 17 men and women discussing the problem (which becomes less shocking when you realise the sampling size probably ran into the 1000's) and decided that this may mean the phenomena is more common than first thought.

According to a large Swedish study, 25% of people sneeze in response to bright light; in Britain these include the blogspheres very own Dizzy. However, while I understand the theory behind the sex/sneezing link about the automatic nervous system controlling the same responses; I am not sure sampling internet chat rooms is necessarily going to produce the most conclusive results....

Friday, 19 December 2008

Gordon Brown; back down to earth with a bump in the New Year??

. I'd like to take-up a theme that Vince Cable spoke on earlier, UK Polling Report has an article which tackles the question head-on. It reports that the Tories are still odds-on favourites to win the next election despite the fact that recent polls have shown a narrowing gap. Anthony Well's says that this will be due to worsening conditions and the fact that those polled are 'very pessimistic':

"Asked if the economy is getting better or worse people are overwhelmingly negative - in MORI’s latest poll 66% expected the economy to get worse next year."

However, he points to contrasts in the prevailing pessimism. He says;

"there is a sharp contrast between people’s expectations of their own families finances and that of the country as a whole. The difference is sharpest in Populus’s questions - the net score for expections of the economy as a whole is minus 35, for “me and my family” it’s plus 7 (51% think they personally will do well in the next 12 months, 44% badly). In TNS’s regular surveys of consumer confidence for Nationwide the net score for the public’s expectation of the economy in 6 months is minus 23, but for people’s own household it is exactly neutral (16% think they’d be doing better, 16% worse)."

However, he also says that alot of those who feel they will buck the trend actually won't; the real question however, is will this 'reality check' lead to blame falling on the governments head?? Pinning the current crisis on Gordon Brown's head is something that neither opposition party has managed although thankfully we have avoided focusing too much on that strategy. The changes in Pre-Budget Report seem to me to have created this feeling that families can 'buck the trend' and it is not totally without grounding. When I was writing a blog on the Institute for Fiscal Studies report into the PBR it did strike me how much it's largess mostly fell upon families with children.

Contrast this with most polling that tells us most people didn't rate the PBR and you seem to have a confusing picture indeed. Well's throws something else into the mix;

"While all polls show people very pessimistic about the economy, almost all the trackers of public confidence in the economy show it heading upwards since the summer."

Well's definatly hits on what seems to explain this paradox well when he says;

"The recovery in economic confidence though tells the underlying truth; people may not be able to point at a specific policy and say it will solve things, but collectively the government’s actions have served to convince some people that things are getting better."

In times of crisis people want governments to govern and lead and reassure; it is a natural instinct and it makes Brown's 'do nothing' refrain against David Cameron look like a very astute piece of political positioning, which, in all fairness it is; he maybe flat-footed when it comes to anything but the economy but frankly right now the economy is all that matters to people. Well's say this is down to people looking for experience which it probably is but above all it is people looking for government.

He notes that this government has bucked the trend of people blaming the government. Why?? Why are they not turning like they did on Major after the crisis of the early 90's sunk his government without trace?? Quite simply because peoples preceptions of Brown are that he knows what he is talking about and is a safe pair of hands economically speaking where as Major was perceived, not without justification it has to be said, as a weak leader and a ditherer. Kinnock lost in 92 because he was perceived as not being trustworthy enough to hand the reins of the economy over too but neither was Major exactly trusted with it either and subsequent events confirmed the perceptions people had; the Tories were duly hammered at the polls in 1997.

Cameron faces a similar problem this time around only a little worse because there is a growing view that Brown is 'solid' where as Major was never viewed that way; however, that could all change. It is unlikely to change though just by a continuation of this crisis; Cameron has already lost that argument and would be wise to stop actively pursuing it. What it will take is a cataclysmic event, a 'crisis-within-a-crisis', to start the polls swinging back into Tory landslide territory.

Far more dangerous to the governments position is the possibility of 'burn-out' or fatigue where people just get sick and tierd of the whole show and turn ruthlessly on the government. However, this is a slow burning process and incidentally is a great reason from Brown's view not to wait until 2010 to go to the polls. What will happen?? We shall see...

Unpopular govenment and working with the Tories??

. Couple of news items from Politics Home here. First-up we have Vince Cable on the state of political play come the New Year...

Mr Cable said that he thought rising unemployment levels in the new year would make the government “deeply, deeply, unpopular"

“The problem at the moment is that there is a major crisis people are baffled, confused and frightened and they turn to the people they know,” he said.

He added: “When the pain is felt in the new year I think the government will be deeply, deeply unpopular.

Mr Cable also said that despite some international criticism of the government’s fiscal stimulus package, there was an international consensus that fiscal policy had to be “part of the mix”.

The reason why almost every serious policy maker, every single western government including the Germans is embracing a fiscal stimulus is because they know it has to be part of the mix,” he said.

Second, we have a rather presumptuous Ed Vaizey;

Mr Vaizey said that in the event of a hung parliament he would be “amazed” if the Liberal Democrats did not co-operate with a minority Conservative government.

“We are going to win the next election outright but should it turn into a hung parliament I would expect us to work with the Lib Dems.

“I would be amazed if they prop up Labour,” he said.

However he said this was unlikely to be a formal coalition, but he believed the Liberal Democrats would “be sensible and support a minority Conservative government”.

He also rejected suggestions that his party were not acting to tackle the recession, saying Conservative policy would be “far more effective”.

The 2.5% cut in VAT had “no impact on retail,” he said…

He added: “Labour could come up with a VAT cut that is going to cost business”.

Lib Dem 'open primary' and desperate times....

. Charlotte Gore wants us to hold a referendum on the future direction of our party. The first question has to be why so, I will let Charlotte answer that in her own words;

"See, the way I see it is that if you can persuade people to vote for which 'version' of the Liberal Democrat party they would like in an open primary then they would almost certainly be more inclined to feel invested in the party should their side 'win' - and might vote for us again in a General Election. Who knows? No-one's ever done anything like this."

Alternatively, of course, they might not and they might in-fact, if their party loyalty lies elsewhere, vote for the 'version' of the Liberal Democrats they find least threatening to their own choice of party. Democracy by plebiscite is not always democracy and it is all to easy to see how Charlotte's plan is anthical to democracy by allowing it's subversion. It was widely reported in the US primaries for example that, where possible, Republicans would actually seek to influence the Democratic choice of presidential candidate.

Charlotte can't see why people hate the idea of non-members voting in such things well I can; members pay their dues and are obviously committed to the party on that level. What is democratic and fair about allowing members of other parties being allowed to influence the direction of our party? The short answer is nothing. It is a subversion of democracy masquerading as democracy; a wolf in sheeps clothing.

I can only conclude that Charlotte's proposal is a measure of her own political desperation....

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Rowan-Willams backs disestablishment...or does he??

. The Archbishop of Canterbury is something of a loose-cannon it must be said; this Guardian article has him backing disestablishment while this Comment is Free piece says he didn't. I tend to take the view that he didn't actively say it would be a good idea so he isn't actually supporting it positively so the article is somewhat misleading. His comments for a New Statesman actually just say it wouldn't be a disaster and say it *might* be a good thing...judge for yourself from this;

"I can see that it's by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh synod, it didn't have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards. There is a certain integrity to that."

As for me...well disestablishment is long overdue in my eyes but I don't think that view will surprise regular readers of this blog ;).

Clegg; neither messiah nor disaster

. Happy Anniversary to Nick Clegg; I have to say having anniversaries this close to Christmas has always struck me as being potentially a bit tricky on the present front. However, I digress from serious comment and there is plenty out there as you might expect on this issue. Firstly, the man himself penned a piece on Liberal Democrat Voice.

It was a good enough article; solid and steady, focusing on policy. Herein lies a problem which Stephen Tall alludes to in his piece when he talks about Clegg being a 'policy wonk'. It seems our strategic vision is to have the right policy and let the masses flock to our banner; which, as I comment elsewhere isn't really enough for a third party. Martin Land picks up this baton in his article on the same site.

Clegg wisely eschewed the 'Preparing for Power' approach; choosing instead to say;

"We will take crucial steps to winning power in order to fundamentally change the way Britain is run and the way people are treated."

It struck me that this means Clegg feels he is 'preparing for a coalition' but maybe I am wrong. Regardless, with regard to a vision for our party, it would have been nice to hear what Clegg thought they were/should be; or are they just policy based initiatives?

When it comes to policy much remains unsettled. One of the most famous gaps is the mythical £20 billion which is rapidly acquiring the status of Holy Grail when it comes to taxation policy. It was wrong to name a precise figure (which may well not be enough to cover the cuts we want in any case) and is one of things that is regularly exploited by opposition, especially Labour. I expect that the March conference may well bring a restatement of our opposition to tuition fees at least (the outcome on faith schools is less sure to my mind) and it will be interesting to see the policy implications for this; if the leadership does try to end our opposition to the fees it has an hard fight on it's hands which it may well lose. Because tax cuts were made into such an empty vessel (you can find supporting evidence for saying it is evidence for a lurch to the right but there are also crumbs of comfort for the left) they have stuck and enjoy support across the board. However, tuition fees are a clear-cut yes or no issue.

Specifically, Clegg used today to launch the 'Green Road out of Recession'. Thankfully, there seems to have been a shift away from baneful and punitive policies on tolls and charges and more towards the government funding the infrastructure. This has not met from approval from all with some attacking the 'spending splurge'. However, this just shows how choppy the inner party waters can be for the leadership.

Clegg's gaffes need to be mentioned. They have formed a consistent pattern and it may well be true that they are of the 'too open and honest' nature and taken together they lend themselves to Stephen Tall's 'Work in Progress' thesis. However, they also lend themselves to the view that what is lacking is strategic vision and steel with the 'policy wonk' figuring they don't matter when they do and will more so in the run-up to the election when the largely hostile press will seize on everything it can to discredit us as being even ready to be a partner in government. This rather suggests, as none of these have constituted resigning or challenge issues in themselves, that the role of Ros Scott as our new president will become pivotal.

It will be up to her to provide the aforementioned strategic steel and support for Clegg. Finding your feet after a year is still understandable however understanding would not survive a loss of seats from an electoral squeeze. Altogether to my mind the jury is still out but will enter the room as soon as the public return their own verdict at the polling booth..

Would we demand Brown's head as the price of a coalition??

Mike Smithson thinks we should. Over on Political Betting he indulges a little bit of fantasy politics; with Labour getting the most seats with less than one third of the vote cast (graphic above). Not an implausible scenario says Smithson and indeed it isn't. I know Liberal Democrats don't like to talk about coalitions because, amoung other things, they exacerbate ideological tensions within the party. However, not talking about them in a climate where all the polls are now agreed we could be headed to a hung-parliament would be a bit like the proverbial osterich burying it's head in the sand.

It is not a question we should try and avoid because I happen to think the people who would vote for us have a right to know what we would do in this position. They know they are voting for a thrid party who is realisitically not going to form a government but with the polls as they are they know we could well be king-makers.

Smithson's advice to Clegg is clear;

Yes to a deal with Labour but under a different leadership. The price of support would be Brown’s scalp. They could argue that the votes totals showed that Brown has lost the support of the country and it was only the quirk of the electoral system that put Labour in the position they were in.

Fantasy - yes - but if the election result follows current polling this is precisely the territory where we will be. Clegg would require a significant prize for propping up a government that had so failed with the voters and Brown, the man who hasn’t even got the the courtesy to get the Lib Dem party name right, could be the fall-guy.

However, making the price of a coalition deal the scalp of a leader is deeply petty. If we look like we are pursuing a personal vendetor we will quickly lose support and rightly so; Smithson is right about the arguments we could make for demanding this price but the reality is simple that we would need major policy concessions. The first reason for this is it is right. Our MP's are elected to represent their constituents and win support for our of policies. Concerns like who won the most votes or seats should be secondary to this; the question of votes is academic because our vote tally would count with our partners if we consider what we are getting as our primary concern.

Secondly, policy concessions are the only thing that could stop our party rending itself limb from limb and entering a coalition much diminished. Tangible policy concessions would make just about any kind of coalition palatable to me; despite having or feeling no ideological kinship and indeed feeling a strong strain of anitpathy for the Conservative Party I could even invisage myself supporting a deal with them; if the price was right. The price asked from each party would be subtly different; a requirement of both would be a referndum on voting reform. Labour would be expected to roll back their socially authoritarian agenda where as the Conservatives would be expected to practice 'compassionate' Conservatism and stick to their commitment to civil liberties. Of course, I am thinking generally here but I can say in the concrete that electoral reform would have to be advanced.

Entering a coaltion is not the same as entering government; rather we should view ourselves as entering the position of official opposition where we oppose where the government is wrong and support where it is right. This question is, of course, one best dealt with in the concrete not the abstract but it is one that must be dealt with......

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Polls 'underestimate' Liberal Democrat support - Politics Home

. A grab from Politics Home's 'PH100' column;

"The Lib Dems have been suffering from a squeeze in their rating in some opinion polls, falling as low as twelve per cent in one recent poll.

Our experts and insiders on the PHI100 reckon this is not a reliable indicator of how they will actually perform in a general election: a warning to both the Tories and Labour not to take it for granted that the Lib Dems are really doing as badly as some polls have indicated. Forty five per cent of the panel reckon that the polls are under-estimating the likely vote for Nick Clegg's party. Just six per cent believe that the polls are over-estimating Lib Dem support. Thirty nine per cent of our experts and insiders, who include senior politicians and key strategists from all the main parties, think the polls are getting it about right.

Mind you, as several panellists point out, the polls disagree with each other about the size of the Lib Dem vote."

Full article here...

Clegg - We either increase troops in Afghanistan or leave

. From Politics Home...

"Mr Clegg called for more UK troops to be sent to Afghanistan, warned that unemployment is going to get worse before it gets better, and said that the Liberal Democrats advocated a model for the Royal Mail not dissimilar to that put forward by the government.

“I think there’ll be a great sigh of relief across the country that we’re getting out of Iraq. I don’t think Gordon Brown can wash his hands of the affair, he did of course sign the cheques for years.”

He went on to call for a “full independent inquiry into the decision to send troops into Iraq in the first place.“I think there were some monumental failures, particularly in the early years. An enormous amount of resentment has now built up against Britain, against the United States, and against the West. It has had a very destabilising effect in Iraq and more widely.“I was the first political leader to say we do need to step up the number of troops in Afghanistan, because we’re putting our soldiers…in an impossible position. We either stay in larger numbers or we leave altogether.”

Asked about rising unemployment he said, “bluntly, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. The next phase of this recession is a sharp rise in unemployment.”He called for “meaningful tax cuts” and for the government to “use borrowed money for things that create jobs”.Asked about plans for part-privatisation of the Royal Mail he said: “We’ve been advocating for years a model not dissimilar to that which the government seems to be advocating itself. Our plan…would allow us to put millions of pounds back into the Post Office network and keep Post Offices open. If this plan meets those kinds of conditions we’ll give it broad support.”

PMQ's - stand-in's fail to excite

. As the The Mole reported on First Post the Conservatives were denied an opportunity to really haul Gordon Brown over hot coals about the rise in unemployment as the PM was busy announcing an eye-catching withdrawal of troops in Iraq. So, we were left with the unpromising contest of Harriet Harman and William Hauge for the last PMQ's before the Christmas break. Certainly not much prospect of a repeat of the hilarity of last week with the two rather dour stand-ins.

Brian Donohoe, Labour, asked about energy prices. Harman said the energy companies should pass on price cuts and said that if they wouldn't the government would change the law to force them to do it; enter William Hauge. Hauge welcomed the announcement on the Iraq withdrawal and called for a full-scale inquiry. Harman brushed it aside by saying Brown would make a full statement upon his return. He then moved onto unemployment and returned to the theme of government guaranteeing loans. Harman reeled off a list of measures and said that lending was "showing signs of improvement"; Hauge repeated his call for a National Loan Guarantee scheme.

Hauge managed to raise a wry smile by saying that government policy was repeating itself and "at Christmas time we are not just supposed to get repeats". Obviously the television isn't on very often in the Hauge household over Christmas. Temperatures started to rise with Harman accusing Hauge of 'talking-down' the economy after Hauge said a fiscal stimulus was not enough and derided the VAT cut. It all started to get a bit silly when Harman said that we "would rather have Superman leading us than a joker".

Much to my great disgust I missed Vince Cable's questions due to my internet going down. All in all PMQ's loses something when all the main leaders are not present.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Bloggers and political at arms length??

. Indirectly, Iain Dale poses an interesting question on his blog. Namely, what should the relationship between bloggers and political parties actually be??

He rightly lambasts Labour blogs for intimating that Tory blogs are 'in the pay' of CCHQ. Simply put I don't think political parties of any stripe would pay individual bloggers who can be a bit 'loose cannonish'. Blogs are spaces for individuals and should remain so; we all carry disclaimers making it quite clear that they are as such and long may it remain so! Iain has something to say when it comes to our blogsphere:

"Interestingly the LibDems centrally have embraced bloggers and regularly interact with them. LibDem Voice, although it started off as independent of the party, is now co-ordinated by Mark Pack, its Head of Innovations. It still carries the odd article which probably makes the Party hierarchy wince, though. LibDem blogs, perhaps understandably, feel they have more of a mission to explain and promote their party's policies because they feel the MSM has a tendency to ignore them."

Speaking personally I don't feel the need to make-up for our lack of coverage in the mainstream media. I see blogging as a totally distinct activity from say attending a meeting on engaging in activities on behalf of the party. If the party wants to include blogs in it's strategy for filling the 'coverage gap' then that would probably be a good thing but it shouldn't be by incorporating individual blogs but rather by running it's own.

Ultimately, Iain is right when he says;

"Blogging is still a distinct community, which, despite partisan political differences, can still be a place for reasoned argument and debate."

Clegg in New Statesman - Politics is broken

. Seems like a flurry of media activity from Nick Clegg unsurprisingly;

"It’s now twelve months since I became leader of the Liberal Democrats. More than ever it’s clear to me that people in Britain desperately want something different. They are looking for hope, and for change.

It’s no real surprise. Households across the country are facing a tight Christmas and a difficult New Year. It looks like 200 families are going to lose their homes every day in 2009, and a million could lose their jobs.

But the Government still isn’t listening. Labour is forcing us deeper into their downturn, refusing to take responsibility for the mess they have got us in. “Responsibility” is also the new catchphrase for the Conservatives. “Being responsible” is the new “do nothing”."

Full article here...

Interestingly, later on in the piece Clegg talks about;

"why my party have plans to cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes, paid for by closing the loopholes enjoyed by big companies and making the wealthy pay their fair share."

So, one presumes that The Times is wrong when it says;

"The default Liberal Democrat position is now to call for reductions, rather than increases, in spending."

Nor should it be; especially when that is not even David Cameron's position....