Thursday, 30 October 2008

Is 'Make it happen' out of date??

. David Allen seems to think it is; writing on Liberal Democrat Voice seems to think it is;

"The Lib Dems’ ‘Make It Happen’ was written only two months ago, but it feels like a different era."

'Make it happen' was essentially about shrinking the state, says Dave and now following the bail-out the "state is back in business". The role of the state has been one of the polemical bones of contention in recent weeks with libertarians. Let's be quite clear how I feel; as far as I am concerned the state should shrink but not to be replaced by the vagaries of corporate or market provision. In some instances; for example, the provision of welfare I am prepared to support the state as a 'lesser evil', a provider of last resort.

Therefore I cannot and will not support a program which sees;

"large sums of public money into support for privately-run schools."

Or reforms to the National Health Service which would

"require ordinary NHS patients to pay for some of the most expensive drug treatments – or else go without."

It is right that;

"these policies lie in ruins. Not – or at least not yet – because Lib Dem members across the country have woken up, recognised a betrayal of the Party’s long-held principles, and rebelled en masse. Instead, events have taken charge."

Allen writes that;

"the drop in our poll rating shows that the public are not convinced that our prescription will bring recovery. Let us learn from our recent experiences."

Despite the seeming toughness of what I said above I also share Allen's view that the best way forward is a consensus. Indeed, I believe I have spoken up in defence of that or the 'alliance' principle on numerous occasions; a struggle will have to take place and out of that will emerge a programmatic response that does not reflect the domination of one wing or particular ideological strand. I believe the roots of that consensus lie somewhere in the concept of an 'enabling state'; not one that stands ideally by while people suffer but one that empowers people (not corporations or markets) to provide for themselves where they can; within that framework lie the possibilities of a consensus. It both recognises that there are cases where the state must provide and provides the scope for it too shrink as people take more and more control.

We can be more creative with promoting "useful economic activity" while punishing that economic activity which is detrimental towards others and which through it's acquisition actually damages the economy. A mixed economy has its limitations and those limitations are caused by its inherent contradictions which it then becomes the job of the state to resolve. However, for those who want to save the system it is the only route forward and to be honest is forced upon us by events. For my part I would not give up on pushing for more but I wouldn't want to see things to collapse to the huge detriment of millions and maybe billions of people.

The 'Green tax switch' is something that seems problematic to me as its effect on lower incomes (who Dave wants to cut direct taxation on) could see the cut in direct taxation effectively taken away in 'green taxation'. For it to be effective in the right way it needs to be coupled with the proper provision of alternatives. Other taxation changes could help ease the burden; for example, I have before suggested ending punitive (above inflation) tax increases on cigarettes. Reforms to VAT could also be considered.

If consensus can be achieved on a way forward, 'post economic 9/11' then we would end up eating up alot more than just the support for the Greens.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Osborne's star fades further??

. Interesting observation by Jane Merrick on Open House. Watching today's PMQ's she;

"can't remember the last time Osborne wasn't at Cameron's side for the weekly event"

Willam Hauge was the man sitting between them. Interestingly, CCHQ has already told Conservative Home that Hauge sits on a 'policy board' comprised of;

  • "William Hague
  • Oliver Letwin
  • David Cameron
  • George Osborne
  • Philip Hammond
  • Francis Maude
  • PLUS The relevant shadow cabinet minister when his/her policy area is under discussion."

It's hard to see how this one will end...it's my feeling that Osborne is now defiantly a distinct liability to the Tories; had he performed well over the last month or so then he would have probably been able to get away with his misadventures in Corfu. The fact that he hasn't is what makes him a lame-duck but he seems unwilling to leave and Cameron equally unwilling to dispatch him.

Tales from the blogsphere - Letters ask's where Clegg is..

. I think the below which appears on Letters from a Tory is a wee bit harsh but then again I do think there have been problems with our narrative...something that James Graham deals well with on his blog.

Letters writes;

"Dear Nick Clegg,

It was on reading the ComRes poll yesterday that something rather amusing struck me. While Brown has been hailed a global hero (much to my annoyance) and Cameron has been fighting back with attacks on the Prime Minister’s judgement and record, it suddenly occured to me that you are nowhere to be seen. I mean, really nowhere. I haven’t heard a peep from you in quite a while, despite the catastrophic meltdown of the global economy and the two main parties in the UK struggling to gain support, so I set about doing a few searches on the internet to see what you’d been up to.

I started with the BBC. What has Nick Clegg been saying about the credit crunch? Answer: not much.

So I turned to Google instead, and found that on typing ‘Clegg credit crunch’ the top story is about you being so badly affected by the credit crunch that you have been forced to shop at Sainsburys instead of Ocado. On the same page, I also found John Redwood savaging you for thinking that the basic pension was £30 a week, which caused you great embarrassment in the Commons if memory serves me correctly. Having failed with that search, I typed ‘Clegg economy’ into Google instead. This produced a string of references to your ‘The financial crisis could be an economic 9/11′ soundbyte from such media titans as the Yorkshire Post and the Aberconwy Lib Dem website.

What are you playing at, seriously? You can’t just walk away when the going gets tough and expect the voters to welcome you back with open arms once the crisis starts to dwindle (which could be months, if not years, from now). There are around 18 months until the next election and you have gone completely AWOL for weeks and weeks, bar one soundbyte and a couple of ill-informed remarks. I understand that a third party will find it hard to surpass Brown and Cameron in terms of airtime, but when our economy is so desperately in need of an alternative to massive borrowing hikes, surely there is a great opportunity to steal some of Cameron’s thunder and challenge Brown directly?

The Lib Dems are still 6% behind their 2005 general election result and that’s after a year of Labour freefall and recent Conservative difficulties - what does that say about your leadership? And leadership is precisely what your party and this country needs right now. Tempting as it may be to simply sneak away while no-one is looking in the hope of doing some work behind the scenes instead, you cannot expect voters to flick on their support for Lib Dems like a light switch if and when you decide to reappear. Voters don’t like being treated like idiots. As the third party, you can afford to be more radical, more innovative and more aggressive in your policies than the Conservatives, but you seem totally uninterested in putting together such a package and what’s more, you appear uninterested in the financial crisis full-stop.

Yours sincerely,

A.Tory"

Improving membership

. Liberal Democrat Voice is running a series of articles by the three candidates for party president on how membership can be improved. All three candidates have take different approaches. Lembit Opik seems to want to focus on the recruitment and training of existing members in the recruitment process. I can see the uses of this approach but, having worked in sales, am less keen on his idea that we should;

"negotiate specific targets with local branches."

He is right that a target that is personally owned can be hugely motivating but it can also be hugely demotivating and lead to a wrong focus and mindset. It all becomes about making the target and, without naming names, I have been in situations where I have seen people commit what technically constitutes fraud to reach their targets. My feeling is that this approach would lead to a focus on quantity over quality.

Meanwhile, Ros Scott wants to focus on the opposite, basically on improving the quality of what membership offers. Her proposal that members should be enfranchised using e-mail and electronic voting is a good one. She talks about wanting us to;

"sound less like a political party and more like a movement"

but doesn't really offer any route to that end. Talking about Obama is all well and good but what Obama actually represents is a coalition of movements united around a charismatic leader and a feel good sentiment which makes it all 'hang-together'. I rather feel you cannot 'sound like a movement' in that sense. I am all for us being more radical and challenging though and it shows the correct focus; on the quality of our message not meeting set targets like Lembit.

Chandila Fernando thinks the solution is easy; abolish membership then there is no membership problem. His idea that supporters could 'sign a piece of paper' which would then after a constitutional change 'enfranchise' them is risible. 'Open primaries' are a dreadful idea too because as we know from American primaries the supporters of opposition parties often cross the line and vote for the candidate they would prefer their party to stand against. Perish the thought of it ever applying to a party leadership election.

Setting a 'tenure' which these supporters have to pass to get voting rights changes nothing. It merely means infiltration has to wait a few months or even a year at most. However, we all know who Fernando's proposals are designed to benefit don't we...and it isn't the Liberal Democrat party.

Still no ballot papers...

. ...despite emailing the returning officer a week ago. Only a week to go folks...

Tigh/Roslin 2008!

. This is one for all you Battlestar Galactica fans out there...I am almost tempted to ditch Obama for the rugged and steely charms of a Tigh/Roslin ticket....it certainly tops the McCain/Palin horror show as a ticket.......more details can be found on the campaign website...






Libertarianism - an assault on social justice

. Over the last few weeks there have been vigorous debates on this blog and elsewhere about and between myself and others and various strands and proponents of libertarian thought. This has applied to both individual libertarians like Charlotte Gore and representatives of organisations like Liberal Vision.

It is worth noting at this juncture that the organisational nature of the libertarian presence within this party is rather shadowy. Mark Littlewood has consistently denied for example, that Liberal Vision are a factional platform within this party despite substantial evidence to the contray. Liberal Vision also has links to Progressive Vision; links which Littlewood says are tenuous but in reality are much stronger. Littlewood is Director of Communications for Progressive Vision. The launch of Liberal Vision is also heralded on it's website in these terms;

"Progressive Vision has launched Liberal Vision, a campaign group for Liberal Democrats".

So, Mr Littlewood are Liberal Vision a 'campaign group' on behalf of Progressive Vision or independent 'ginger group'? Meanwhile, giving credit where it is due the Libertarian Alliance seem much more open about how they organise but there program is no less an assault on the notion of social justice and this parties commitment to that than that of Liberal and Progressive Vision. They want to reduce tax bills to "less than the average phone bill" without, of course, mentioning the colossal damage this would do to public services; the beggary this would reduce people too etc, etc.

I am all for the rolling back of state power as I believe a majority of people are and this gives me personally some common ground with libertarians over issues like the ending of prohibition (though not the ending of prohibition of gun sales). However, whatever your wider view of capitalism as a system (and here I accept my radicalism places me in a vast minority) there are undoubtedly cases where the state has a moral duty to step-in and provide in those places the market can't and that is why I am willing to set aside my radicalism and support policies which aim for the establishment of greater social justice in the name of what Charlotte regularly sneers at; the 'greater good'.

It is my view that this party is a historic alliance which brings together people who believe in that social justice and unites them despite what views they may have on maintaining that and it is my belief that libertarian thought and its creeping organisational influence is a threat to that commitment held by this party. Blogging on this somehow doesn't feel like enough and I would like to start a debate on what people feel should be done.
'

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Are we less free than we were in 1908??

. "I am definitely less free than I would have been a century ago - I can get a criminal record and possibly banged up for consuming certain substances"

You really do have to read it to believe it don't you?? Jock Coats said this on Charlotte Gore's blog which at least has the virtue of showing us what the libertarians really are about; every social advance that has been fought for and battled for is to be thrown right out of the window. The first point should be obvious; if capitalism and the markets are such a liberating force why are we less free now than we were 100 years ago. It simply cannot be argued both ways; either the markets have delivered social progress or they have left us less free than we were 100 years ago.

Does Charlotte feel she would have been more free in a society where she had no vote? My perspective is quite clear; social advances, freedoms have been won in the white heat of battle by social movements like the Suffragettes. This, to me, is the true history of liberty; not that it was delivered from on high by free markets. Jock isn't even technically correct; for example, in 1908 the sale of opium was restricted to people known to a pharmacist. Controls on cocaine, heroin and morphine were put in place only 9 years later in 1917. In other words, prohibition is by no means the invention of the modern state. What we are dealing with here is a total loss of historical perspective due to viewing the world through the given ideological prism. In that case how can we expect anything other than idealised solutions which neglect people and leave them to rot??

What makes me tick...

. Charlotte Gore seems to have started something of a trend by talking about the things she cares about; Panopticon Britain soon followed suit. Obviously every person will care about different things to different degrees and to some extent these passions do inform our politics.

My number one priority in life is the happiness, health and success of my partner who I love so much it is beyond the powers of my lexicon to describe. More than anything I want her to have the best of everything in life;everything, even politics pales into insignificance in this world in comparison

Money is something I care about to the point it is needed to ensure a standard of living but beyond that it is not an end in itself to me. It is worth noting at this point that Charlotte's personal circumstances may mean that;

"Whether you're earning 10k, 20k, 30k or on benefits, the result is the same: No f**king money. I got into debt because I had no f**king money and I have to pay the price for that, just like the vast majority of us in Britain"

but to say this is true for the majority of people in Britain is surely overstating a point. Liberty and democracy are things I care passionately about but I also care about the welfare of others around me so, does this make me a collectivist?? Like Charlotte I want the freedom to be an adult and have control of my life. However, I recognise that with that comes the responsibility to help provide for those that can't and a recognition that we cannot rely on peoples 'altruism' to provide that support.

Trust me; people can be amazing and selfless but they can also be the opposite and my experience from my job is that altruism motivates too small a percentage of us to provide the things I mentioned above. This means that the barrel of the gun does have to be pointed and that yes things like taxes to fund the welfare state must remain in place. People do not enter into market arrangements for mutual benefit; they enter them to enrich themselves through the accumulation of profit so Panopticon is wrong to ascribe altruistic qualities to the market.

The thing about liberty is this is that it is not achieved by individuals acting on their own; it is achieved when people come together in common cause and stand their ground and fight for it. This is the way forward for society....not a slavish devotion to the liberty of money and capital over human need.

Chink in Cameron's armour?

. It seems to me that one of the fundamental weaknesses of Cameron's Conservatives has been exposed by the whole George Osborne affair. Whatever you think about what maybe going on behind closed doors it seems obvious that there is alot more than meets the eye and that the kind of damage this episode does is amplified by Cameron's way of running the Conservatives almost from within the walls of his clique as a party within a party. The hapless George Osborne seems to me to have become iconic figurehead for this approach and this seems be contributing to him seeming so alone; yes Conservatives have come up to 'the plate' to bat for him but his admission today that he made a mistake leaves him cutting a rather tragic figure aboard a small dingy adrift in an ocean of loneliness.

Conservative Home has been a platform for attacking this style on several occasions. Significantly, in it's latest edition of its refrain that "Project Cameron is built around far too tight a circle" it also adds the complaint that "Very few of the party's big economic brains have been actively consulted by the leadership on the current challenges." John Redwood is mentioned by name in the comments.

Cameron's fundamental problem is that unlike Blair the 'enemies' of his 'modernisation' drive are less tangible and rather less concentrated in one organisational place like the trade unions were. It is very hard to shift the balance of power your way through structural changes when the people opposed to your project in various ways are virtually the entire party membership and the parliamentary party to boot. Withdrawing into your own tight inner circle is thus a natural self-defence mechanism; Cameron is much like a tortoise sat in the middle of the M25 in this regard - desperately retreating into it's shell in the hope rather than expectation it wont get squashed. It will be interesting to see how this approach weathers the storm of declining poll ratings and the severe wounding of one of its beneficiaries....

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Birds and bees....

. I have seen a fair bit of commentary about the governments new sex education proposals. Agnes Poirier writing for the Guardian's Comment is Free feels that a compulsory schooling in romantic love should be part of the curriculum. Meanwhile, Carol Sarler in The Times feels it should all be nuts and bolts but there is no place for teachers in wider teaching of relationship skills. Of course, this debate wouldn't be the same without a hysterical family-loving leftie bashing outing from Conservative Home.

Dealing with Conservative Home first; I am happy to report that my family taught me nothing about sex and that my parents relationship and eventual divorce was an object lesson in how not to handle a relationship. Quite frankly, I think it would be fair to say I am not the only person whose parents should have been the last people to teach them about relationships. It is thus not;

"Even common sense should tell that government that parental responsibility needs to be encouraged not undermined."

So, it's blind faith in the family and parents is as wrong-headed as blind faith in the government and the state. It is made especially so when it is my (fair I think) average guess that this is the last thing teenagers want to discuss with their parents.

In contrast, Sarler argues;

"There is no sensible reason why a child of any age may not know which bit goes where; indeed, stick it to them as ruthlessly and factually as is possible"

She has a point that relationships can be somewhat subjective but on the other hand we all know that ability to understand and empathise with different points of view starts relatively young (and in some paradoxically seems to vanish later in life) so her argument doesn't convince me. The danger with Poirier's argument is that teaching an ideal will lead to disappointment for the majority who never find that ideal (and rather arrogant glee for those that do).

I would suggest that such education should always about providing guide-ropes rather than standardised solutions because ultimately sex and relationships learning is done primarily through experience. Support is needed; sites that offer such advice are insanely popular but it should be non-judgemental and supportive; helping people through their experiences and to learn from them rather than from a list of do's and dont's.

Nick Clegg and THAT letter

. I am a little surprised at myself for not commenting on this before; I have been following the debate on Liberal Democrat Voice and did contribute. Basically, the story revolves around an event this weekend in favour of Global Peace and Unity which all sounds jolly nice until you take a gander at the speakers which is what Harry's Place did and they turned-up some rather 'rum coves' among the speakers. It's list of the speakers drags up this quote from Sheikh Yasir Qadi (listed on the GPU's site as a speaker);

"All of these Polish Jews which Hitler was supposedly trying to exterminate, that’s another point, by the way, Hitler never intended to mass-destroy the Jews. There are a number of books out on this written by Christians, you should read them. The Hoax of the Holocaust, I advise you to read this book and write this down, the Hoax of the Holocaust, a very good book. All of this is false propaganda and I know it sounds so far-fetched, but read it. The evidences [sic] are very strong. And they’re talking about newspaper articles, clippings, everything and look up yourself what Hitler really wanted to do. We’re not defending Hitler, by the way, but the Jews, the way that they portray him, also is not correct."

Pretty unpleasant stuff; Qadi has a right to say what he pleases but surely is it not wrong that a Liberal Democrat leader should defend such a man? However, this is exactly what Clegg did in a letter to the think-tank Policy Exchange by saying;

"The accuracy of the allegations is variable, with a notable lack of evidence to support many of the claims."

Unfortunately, I see stacks of quotes on Harry's Place and I see a tonne more sourced articles in the comments section of a blog on the same issue on Socialist Unity. Feeling brave I decided to investigate the above quote using the power of Google and found numerous sources attributing the quote to Qadi. Certainly too many to ignore and dismiss. Let's leave this debate for a second and go back to Monday night where I was working while a colleague got a knife pulled on them. They were invited into a house; were asked if they were Muslim and answered no, a man then went to the kitchen to fetch a 'large knife'.

Nothing makes that kind of behaviour any more defensible than that of your worst BNP/NF inspired skinhead. Bigotry and discrimination isn't acceptable or worthy of defence no matter who is doing it; this rounded approach to anti-racism is something that the left by-and-large ignores. I think it is perfectly acceptable that Nick and the Liberal Democrats have a presence at this event but we have to be politically distant from people like Qadi, not automatically leaping to their defence in the name of a spurious 'peace and unity'.

Clegg; proud to 'buy British' and 'buy local'

. Well I do wonder what some people will make of this; Nick Clegg has said that to help kick-start the local economy people should be proud to 'buy British' and 'buy local'.

Launching a plan with Vince Cable to give immediate help to UK businesses, Clegg called for a labelling scheme for non-food products manufactured in the UK. He said;

"Economic recovery starts at home, so consumers should be proud to buy British and buy local."

So, I have a feeling there are some Lib Dems who will feel this is a wee bit protectionist...what do people think??

The sun has set; the end of Western power

. Quite some time back I wrote a speculative article entitled ‘The setting of the sun’ which argued that Western power was waning; that the ‘War on Terror’ would in fact lead the West into cataclysm. My basic thesis was that it would divide Western societies and that it would so destabilise the Middle East that some conflagration was inevitable. Now, the entire Western (and indeed the wider) world is on the brink of economic implosion and the already waning ideological and military influence of the West is matched by a failing economic one and the picture is much more complete than when I wrote the first article.

Military impotence

One of the most striking examples of this inability to act was provided recently when Russian tanks rolled into Georgia. Various sabres were rattled; luminaries such as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia and offered their support but we all know that in practice this support was verbal only and amounted to nothing practical. Most laughable was the way Russia was threatened with ‘dire consequences’ by the US, as if Russia was not fully aware that the US military is already stretched to its limits in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Vladimir Putin was right to say that we now live in a multi-polar world and anybody who thinks differently was dramatically proved wrong in Georgia. The vast military commitment made by the US due to the ideological one of the Bush administration in pursuing its ‘War on Terror’ is now looking increasingly unsustainable. Neil Lyndon writing on First Post reports;

“The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2007 that the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion over the next decade."

However, this far from the end of the story; Joseph Stiglitz feels that this ‘guesstimate’ maybe too conservative. He feels that the cost will be closer to $3 trillion; he bases his figures on the $600 billion cost already admitted and the $12 billion a month operational costs. Writing in The Guardian he explains that this is not just composed of the cost of ongoing military operations but also the;

“costs to the economy that go beyond the budget, for instance the cost of caring for the huge number of returning disabled veterans that go beyond the costs borne by the federal government - in one out of five families with a serious disability, someone has to give up a job”.

You do not need to be a Nobel Peace Prize winning economist like Stiglitz to see from this that the notion of any further ‘wars of intervention’ are totally unviable on an economic not to mention a political level. If, for example, the United States felt that ‘something should be done’ about Iran’s nuclear program it would have no choice but to ask Israel to act on its behalf and even that strategy would pose serious risks; namely, that the action would inflame already sensitive Shia opinion in Iraq and bring further strife (and cost) to that area.

Returning to Georgia for a second, it was absolutely clear that there was never going to be a consensus even for sanctions let alone anything military among even America’s staunchest allies in Europe. As we can see above economic reality now necessitates multilateralism, gone is McCain’s fantasy ‘League of Democracies’; it has been superseded by the cold hard reality of the books not balancing.

Economic dependency

It has been said, on my blog, that essentially what will save capitalism as a social system is not the ‘bail-out’ but the continued growth of the so-called ‘Tiger’ economies. It is hoped that the situation will essentially be a reversal of the slump of the early 1990’s when the contagation started in the Far East; most notably Japan. However, all is not rosy in the ‘tiger’ garden; for example, India’s growth is slowing, it slowed to 7.9% in the three months up to June. Sounds allot doesn’t it still?? It sounds allot but is negatively offset by high inflation. China’s growth slowed to 9% which is ‘far more than the government expected it too’.

Obviously the interconnection of the financial markets (not to mention the importance of exportation to the West which will slump) will tame the tigers to some degree. Nonetheless, let’s assume that these economies will weather the storm better than Western economies. Whether they will ‘bail-out’ Western governments is a moot point which will be determined by politics as much as economics. Furthermore, if they do then there will be an invariably be a political price for Western governments to pay to secure this bail-out and serious questions will be asked about whether that price is worth paying.

One price that will invariably be paid is the independence of Western governments to act in an interventionist way. Who can seriously imagine the US rolling aircraft carriers up the Taiwan Strait when China owns over $500 billion worth of US Treasury securities? This might not be an entirely bad thing in that it will curb the destructive recklessness of governments but on the other hand will mean that deeply unwholesome regimes like the one in China will be able to act with carte blanche. It is unfathomable to imagine that the political ramifications of this new found economic dependency will not be far-reaching and that taken cumulatively it signals the end of Western power.

Russia has already signaled its willingness to use financial clout for political ends and as we have seen above its rulers are more than self-aware of what this new found strength means in terms of global realpolitik. If you want to ruminate over something then maybe it should be this; that the Georgia crisis played out before the financial whirlwind of the last month. In other words, Russia was more than sufficiently self-aware before it had the inviting prospect of a powerful loan-brokering position.

So, where does that leave progressives? Essentially it leaves with the urgent business of making the case for urgent reform of multilateral institutions which the US in particular has treated with a disgraceful feckless bravado. Oh how the mighty have fallen. I expect a sudden revival of faith will occur in a new US Obama-led administration but in reality realpolitik would have forced it upon a Republican incumbent too. Democratisation and rationalisation of institutions like the United Nations will further empower them as legitimate arbiters of dispute but as better institutions of governance. A West which sees its future as best guaranteed by the power of one nation or just several nation-states is a lame-duck. It is dying and fading; multilateralism, internationalism are the way for it to rise out of its own ashes.

Will the 'economic 9/11' bring the 'war on terror' to an end??

. I have never much liked the ideological concept of the 'War on Terror'; to me it has always been a by-word for the massively unnecessary extension of state power and reckless wars of intervention. This item on First Post thus caught my eye, written by Neil Lyndon it argues that the crisis could bring an end to America's involvement in both Afghanistan and Iraq:

"The US occupation of Iraq is costing $1bn every three days. The total spent so far is $800bn. This year's Senate appropriation for Iraq is $188bn.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2007 that the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could total $2.4 trillion over the next decade."

Now with the additional financial strain taken on by the US Treasury, Lyndon suggests that now might be the time when the commitments imposed by the 'war on terror' can no longer be met. Lyndon feels that if the strain leads to the collapse of the dollar as a reserve currency it could leave the US under the "irreversible" hegemony of China. China already exercises creeping financial hegemony over the US; it owns some $518 billion worth of US Treasury securities. One of the potential political consequences (depending on just how slow the 'Tiger' economies become) could well be an increasing Western dependence on capital from China; the ramifications of which will be felt for decades.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Treason season??

. Liberal Democrat Voice carries news about a defection in Harrogate which has cost the Lib Dems control of that council. Meanwhile, Conservative Home carries more news of yet more councillors leaving the Lib Dem fold;

More defection news. Two Lib Dem councillors on Shropshire Council have joined the Conservatives. Tony Durnell, borough councillor for Monkmoor, and David Farmer, ward member for Bagley, have both signed up as party members and are expected to stand in their new colours as candidates for Shropshire Council elections in 2009. Councillor Farmer says:

“I have become disillusioned with the Liberal Democrat party nationally and feel they have lost their way, and I believe the Conservatives are the way forward. I hope my constituents understand the reasons behind my decision – I have always done my best to represent them over the past 14 years and I have voted on the issues and not with the party line. I hope to continue to represent them.”

Councillor Durnell says:

“It would have been against my principles to try getting voted on to the new Shropshire Council as a Liberal Democrat and then join the Conservatives. I believe I’m being fair and honest with everyone doing this now, and I will still be doing everything I can for people in the Monkmoor ward.”

I understand that Daniel Kawczynski, their local Tory MP for Shrewsbury, will formally welcome them into the fold next week.

I think, to be honest that if a councillor is elected under party colours then a resignation should automatically trigger a by-election for the sake of democracy.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Coup against Osborne?? ***UPDATE***

. This caught my eye over on Guido Fawkes blog;

"A Guido co-conspirator who is a Conservative District Councillor has just been contacted by the Times about whether they think that Osborne should "go". The Times hack said they were phoning round the Tory ‘grass roots’.

The journalist then said that;

Most of the Conservatives I have spoken to have said that Osborne should leave by the weekend. What do you think?’

Nothing leading in that line of questioning at all."

So, will he stay or will he go??

'Special edition' liberalism??

. Charlotte Gore is in full swing again; bemoaning the fact that there is no party which will defend 'classic liberalism'. One wonders if she thinks that David Lloyd George was a 'classical liberal' or she thinks he was a horrible 'red'. James Graham wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian flagging-up the so-called 'Peoples Budget' of 1909 and saying it should be a model for Nick Clegg in 2009.

The budget of 1909 is interesting because it was this budget that essentially established the principle that taxation can and should be used to fund social welfare. It was also redistributive in that those on higher incomes paid more; it was increased by one shilling on incomes above £2,000 and those earning over £5,000 would pay an additional super tax at six (old) pence in the pound on any income over £3,000. Lloyd George also tried to tax land; although this was eventually abandoned in 1920.

In other words what we see here is it was clearly 'classical liberalism' which first looked to place restrictions on the free market; recognising the need for restrictions to be placed on it and that the state needed to intervene where necessary. It is complete nonsense to say that 'shackling' capitalism is the invention of 'modern socialists'. This poses an interesting question; namely who is closer to 'classical liberalism', self-styled 'libertarians' or 'evil red-eyed' socialists/social democrats'?

What we can certainly see is that the Liberal Democrats are not guilty of inventing 'special edition' liberalism. Liberalism has contained within it long before the advent of the Lib Dems the notions of social justice and social welfare.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Factional vision - A reply to Mark Littlewood

. Mark Littlewood has started something of a debate on Liberal Democrat Voice. He is writing as a representative of Liberal Vision which is, I feel, is a factional platform within the party. It has it's own independent organisational structure and a quick visit to the page where you can sign-up to be a supporter reveals you don't even have to be a member of the Liberal Democrats to support Liberal Vision. It's Chairman, Mark Littlewood is self-appointed as is it's Director Chandila Fernando who as we all know is running for Party president.

Liberal Vision has it's own membership and supporter structure as explained in it's website FAQ's. It also offers internships so is willing to run it's own independent staff.

It has it's own programmatic aims, it hopes to;

"encourage the Liberal Democrats to adopt lower taxation, a smaller state and more personal freedom as key principles in its policy agenda."

It says that it does not take policy positions "at this stage" but seeks to "promote these ideals by proposing and supporting policies consistent with these aims and assisting candidates within the party who share them." So, we have a completely independent organisational structure, independent programmatic aims or at least aims to make the program of the Liberal Democrat's it's program yet Mark Littlewood insists Liberal Vision is not a factional platform but a 'think-tank'. I am sorry but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it most defiantly is a duck.

Not once does Mark have anything to offer people who rely on public services; in fact, they do not even rate a mention in his entire article which speaks volumes about his program. Rather coyly he is focused on tax cuts even for those who are on "relatively sizeable incomes". We all know who his Liberal Democrat party would be champion of then don't we? It would not be people on low incomes who still pay more as a share of their income in tax than the higher income brackets do; this is what makes Liberal Vision's broad-brush call for tax cuts so wrong. What they really amount too is growing social inequality, declining opportunity, undernourished and badly performing public services etc etc.

'Tough choices' about spending cuts amount to a slashing of public spending and the removal of a meaningful safety net for people. Mark has a one-sided view of what liberty actually is, if you can smoke in public then apparently you are free. In reality, material deprivation starves freedom of any meaning; nobody who is poor is free and there is no room in Mark's narrative for these issues. He wants to end a 'nannying state' but seemingly doesn't want to do anything about the punitive taxation imposed on smokers, for example.

He thinks that Liberal Vision's policies will 'engage a more sizable proportion' of the electorate but he is unlikely to engage with anybody who instinctively knows they will lose out under a Liberal Vision inspired Liberal Democrat party. Rather than build on our strength as a broad church which can incorporate so many different strands of thought and bring them together under one roof he wants to end that by having the party implement his 'maximum program' and is willing to organise in a factional way to achieve that; something that means there can be no comparison with an individual blogger arguing their case.

In short, adopting Liberal Vision's wholesale agenda would damage the party probably beyond repair; it would alienate a section of the members from it and the electorate too. It is the road off the edge of a cliff into a political abyss.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Coup against Osborne??

.

Alix Mortimer wrote a piece for Liberal Democrat Voice a couple of weeks ago openly wondering if the Tories would be better-off ditching George Osborne. Now, Osborne is engulfed in a little 'local difficulty' over alleged solicitation of money from Oleg Deripaska. Significantly this week Osborne has been virtually silent while David Cameron has been letting loose his inner attack dog on the governments banking bail-out.

Conservative Home has mounted a vigorous defence of the 'indispensable' Osborne but it is quite clear not all people feel that way; Jim McConalogue wants John Redwood brought 'up front' to work alongside Osborne. The author of the letter, Nathaniel Rothschild, is described on Con Home as a 'close personal friend of Osborne' so why on earth would a close personal friend act this way?? The letter is quite scathing saying Peter Mandleson's conduct was 'nothing' compared to that of Osborne.

One possible explanation that does exist is that there are splits within the shadow cabinet over how best to respond to the financial crisis and Labour's handling of it; the other is that there are senior Conservatives who are discontented with the slight slide in the polls and Osborne's ineffectiveness and would like to see a 'sideways move'. Rothschild may well feel personally slighted by the conduct of the Tories on this matter but it seems implausible to me that he would merely act out of personal slight.

Of course, this remains speculation but the Davis resignation shed alot of light on the rather tawdry workings of Cameron's inner sanctum. I think there is more to this than meets the eye.....

Monday, 20 October 2008

Do we need to look again at targeting Labour seats??

. This question was raised by a comment from 'Cleggs candid friend' on Liberal Democrat Voice. He said that recent polls confirm the 'folly' of targeting Labour seats; while I can see that things have changed in recent weeks that does not to me presuppose a wholesale tactical shift. I have said previously that the party is in real danger of being caught in a pincer motion; losing seats to the Tories but not picking up enough Labour seats to cover the losses.

Ultimately, to my mind it remains the case that in the next general election it is Labour voters who will 'swing' be the ones in motion. This will become especially true if Labour's heartland starts to hurt as a report in today's Independent suggests it soon will; if Brown waits too long (much longer than spring/summer next year) then the bounce will once again become a slide. This is something that if we are making the right noises we can capitalise on; however, we do need to set realistic targets both where we engage in defensive struggles against the Tories and where we attack Labour.

We should assess each seat on a case-by-case basis taking into account all factors including our vote and the strengths of the local party and proceed on that basis.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Liberterians should share the blame....

. The link to this article was posted on Liberal Democrat Voice but it first appeared on Slate and is authored by Jacob Weisberg. Charlotte Gore responds in typically belligerent fashion and manages to totally avoid answering any of the arguments that the author actually makes. Weisberg's central argument is that it is the failure of the hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management that proved beyond any doubt that markets cannot self-regulate;

"After LTCM's collapse, it became abundantly clear to anyone paying attention to this unfortunately esoteric issue that unregulated credit market derivatives posed risks to the global financial system, and that supervision and limits of some kind were advisable. This was a very scary problem and a very boring one, a hazardous combination."

As an aside this happened in 1998 and very nearly brought the financial system to it's knees then so it's nice to see the stability that the market provides isn't it? LTCM's hopes that the interest rates on different government bonds would converge were scuppered when the Russian government defaulted on it's bonds and investors started buying US Treasury bonds. Interest rate differences between bonds increased sharply and LTCM which had borrowed heavily from other companies had to be bailed out by the Federal Reserve.

Weisberg provides a link to a Washington Post article which details how attempts to regulate the derivatives market were ambushed by believers in self-regulation. Now, these 'heroes' want to let bad banks go to the wall, something that Weisberg says;

"would deliver a wonderful lesson in personal responsibility, creating thousands of new jobs in the soup-kitchen and food-pantry industries."

He believes that the libertarians;

"heroic view of capitalism makes it difficult for them to accept that markets can be irrational, misunderstand risk, and misallocate resources or that financial systems".

Something that he feels can be rectified by 'pragmatic' regulation by governments. However, if this is one thing that this crisis will prove it is the markets will always subvert any attempts to regulate them and that regulation cannot prevent an inherent tendency to crisis.

ComRes poll shows how mistaken 'wholehearted support' is....

. Let's cut to the chase; we are taking a battering in the polls. The latest ComRes one for the Independent on Sunday is reported on Liberal Democrat Voice. We have lost two points and on looking further we have lost two points to Labour which confirms to me the trend that our strategy of targeting Labour seats is being put in real danger by a bolstering of Labour's 'heartland' vote.

The other big lesson from the poll is that our 'wholehearted support' for the government and it's bail-out package is looking less and less wise; 58% of those polled opposed the use of taxpayers money to bail-out banks. Now, as Stephen Tall says they may still feel it necessary but at the very least it shows that a more critical approach to how the money is spent is more likely to chime with voters who at best are going to want to know it is not spent on providing bankers with unearned and undeserved bonuses.

David Cameron's rather weak attack on Brown for causing the crisis is unlikely to help him because it does not seem that people are playing the blame game and has defiantly not seemed to convince people he would have handled it better with only 25%saying they feel this is the case. Implicitly this says to me that a large amount of people accept that what caused it was out of Browns hands. Since the Conservatives are so obviously taking the wrong line of attack; a more critical approach to this deal on our part is both politically and tactically correct.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Immigration; the worst kind of reaction

. How is this for the worst kind of opportunist politics?? Immigration Minister Paul Woolas talking to The Times said that in reaction to rising unemployment migrant numbers may have to be cut. Woolas said;

“If people are being made unemployed, the question of immigration becomes extremely thorny . . . It’s been too easy to get into this country in the past and it’s going to get harder.”

The notion that this is 'inspired by the fight against racism' is complete hokum because it clearly says that by implication immigration is somehow to blame (why else reduce it?). I would not go as far as to call it racist but nonetheless it shows a complete ignorance from this government about how people think; although coming out against this kind of statement is unlikely to prove popular with the wider electorate it is defiantly something we should be doing.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives have jumped on the bandwagon. Dominic Grieve, Shadow Home Secretary, said that;

"These islands do have a finite capacity and as population increases so quality of life will be diminished.

People complain that the Underground is too crowded and there are now 800,000 more people living in London than there were ten years ago."

It should be axiomatic that there is no way the recent rise in unemployment is attributable to immigration. Our party should be taking the lead in championing the cause of immigration and highlighting reports that debunk the myths like one from the Work Foundation published earlier this year. It will be unpopular but it is the right thing for a progressive party to champion.

Tough talk on bonuses means nothing.

. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have talked tough on bonuses for City bankers. However, two stories in this mornings paper show that taxpayers bail-out money is still being spent on bonuses. The Guardian reports that;

"Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year."

Meanwhile, The Independent reports;

"City bankers have not lost a penny of their multimillion-pound bonus packages so far".

We have criticised David Cameron for attacking the government this week on the economy but is it not about time we actually held it to account too especially when it seems obvious that the bail-out is substantial reward for a failed system.

Con Home on 'how to oppose the Lib Dems'

. Conservative Home has an interesting article written by a Conservative councillor, Paul Scully. He says that the Liberal Democrats have been successful in Sutton, the longest-held Liberal Democrat council in the country, by;

"marbling themselves throughout the borough, joining residents associations and other community groups, delivering leaflets that were not overtly party political and being seen as working hard for their neighbours rather than for a party."

So, I suppose we should take that as a compliment. My anecdotal experiences of walking around a ward confirm this to be true that we are a hard-working local party which fight's for residents. His recommendations to oppose us are;

"1. Work hard
Obvious really but there is no silver bullet. We reduced Group meetings to the bare minimum, instead using the time to deliver 1000 extra newsletters every Monday. This may be relevant to a topical issue or helping in a marginal ward.

2. Give the media what they want
Local journalists are hard pushed and under-paid. Write the complete story for them so that it can be easily inserted into a free slot. Speak to the senior reporters and the editor regularly, at least once or twice a week. You do not always need to be the centre of the story. A comment alongside an article is often sufficient. The letters pages are crucial.


3. Pick your fights
You do not need to oppose for opposition’s sake. Many Lib Dem Councils in the South are not that far removed from Conservative ones, so the two groups may agree on a high percentage of issues. By picking your fights carefully, your opposition when it comes will be listened to more closely and respected. Vary your approach to cut through the white noise of debate.


4. Innovate
In the same way that the Liberal Democrats innovated in a low-tech way with their regular Focus newsletters and bar charts, you can look to steal a march on engaging a whole new generation of voters by using new media and video, starting non-political community campaigns and so appearing to residents that you are coming with fresh ideas as to how to help improve your area. I scrapped my advice surgery where I had sat in a room each month for two years and received two visitors. Now, I pick a few roads in my ward, send out 200 letters to those households asking them to put up a poster if they want to see me on the following Saturday morning. I get far more enquiries, many of which are just gripes. It keeps me informed and 200 people know that I have been around.


5. Work Harder
Back to where we started. Winning a battle in the council chamber is a sideshow. The biggest contingent of witnesses to this event are other councillors and I should hope that they have already decided how they will vote. Instead of grandstanding use the time to gather information and get out in front of the people who matter."


Allot of what is written there is a testimony to how effective we are as a local government force. However, the question that arises from this for me is how we translate that into being an effective national force and more MP's at Westminster. The strategies and tactics are not the same and as we have seen the strengths we have at a local level are not translating into big poll numbers nationally. One of the key things we need to think about is using our local strength to translate into national support and this necessarily will mean that we will have to identify what we do locally much more closely with the national party and our national narrative.

Focus can be the bridge that builds this link as can be the new media which Scully mentions. In this scenario the blogsphere will obviously play a big role. It is interesting that Scully sees that as a potentially soft-spot when it should be one of our great assets. Hopefully this will quick start something of a debate on how we can translate the strengths that Scully identifies into higher national poll numbers and a good showing at the next general election.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Dewsbury East result...

. Hat-tip to Luke Akehurst for this one because the councils site still doesn't have the result up!!!

Dewsbury E Ward, Kirklees MBC. Lab gain from BNP. Lab 1513 (37.4%, -2), LD 1405 (34.8%, +14.3), BNP 690 (17.1%, -10.6), Con 345 (8.5%, -3.9), Green 58 (1.4%, +1.4), Ind 17 (0.0%), Ind 15 (0.0%).

All in all a good result I feel and it is good to be pushing Labour hard and of course to see the BNP lose a seat. The by-election was caused caused by the resignation of the BNP's C0lin Auty after failing to oust Nick Griffin as leader.

Lembit's paranoia....

. Liberal Democrat Voice carries what it rightly calls an extraordinary press release. Apparently, according to Lembit Opik he is the victim of a campaign to stop him becoming Party President. Now, I have seen no evidence of a 'Stop Opik' campaign being organised on this blogsphere. What I have seen is plenty of legitimate questions being asked about his fitness to be President which is surely legitimate in the context of party members deciding who is best for the job.

No doubt his remarks refer to reports both in the Shropshire Star and The Times. The piece in The Times was written a month ago on September 17th. Now, granted the piece in the Star is more recent but why has it taken Opik this long to respond?? Why did he dismiss it then but choose to flag it up now?? Could it in fact be because his campaign is flagging and Ros Scott looks set to become the next President??

Sadly, by releasing this statement Lembit is actually confirming what his critics have said; that his ego is too large and will get in the way of the forward march of the party. Speaking personally, my attacks on this on this blog have been focused on Fernando. I leave the last words with Geoffrey Payne from Lib Dem Voice who neatly summed up why Lembit will only get my second preference:

"I do think that Lembit needs to establish himself as a serious politician and not spend so much time publicising what ought to be his private life."

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Wandering the streets of Leeds...

. I spent my morning wandering around the streets of one of my local council wards with a local councillor. The aim was to introduce me to the local political scene which he did admirably. On the one hand we are facing a bitter defensive battle against the Conservatives in Leeds North East while on the other there is the tempting prospect of trying to knock over Hilary Benn in Leeds Central. It all seemed rather allegorical to me for the situation we find ourselves in nationally; caught on the one hand by wanting to defend ourselves against the Conservatives resurgence while striving to land as many blows on Labour as we can; it seems to me that heavy damage in the Shires especially is virtually unavoidable.

We should start discussing which seats we can realistically defend and fight for them tooth and claw and pour the rest of our resources into fighting Labour. During the course of the conversation it came up that Leeds council has lost a substantial amount of government funding. I will defend, as I have below, calling this economic wreckage as I will defend using the same term to describe the vast amounts of money that have once again been wiped off world stocks and shares the same thing. This is not to mention the human wreckage - rising unemployment and, as I blog below, rising depression, stress and anixiety due to the financial climate.

As a party we are increasingly going to find ourselves in pitched battles to defend services and if we expect to make tax cuts even more so; the question is going to be asked where we draw lines and it is my feeling that we should continue to put people and services they often depend on first. Is it not some kind of perverse world where the government can find billions of pounds to bail-out banks, necessary as that is but a council will not provide free swimming for young people even when it is government subsidised??

Destroying socialism.

. This is the stated aim of Charlotte Gore; one might feel that a better place to start would be to destroy the jumble of fears shes assembled and tried to meld together into a haphazard, sometimes MacCarthyite, attack on what she perceives is socialism. One might feel that but of course, to borrow a phrase, I couldn't possibly comment.

Let's start with a first assertion;

"In the real world, full lassez faire has never been achieved, and nor do I ever imagine it will be. Getting a Government to stop doing anything is practically impossible. Getting a politician to admit that there are areas of life where they are as impotent as everyone else? That's like getting MPs to vote themselves a pay cut. It's never going to happen."

So, basically markets are never allowed to let rip because governments are just inveterate interferes. Wrong. The markets are never allowed to let fully rip because long ago politicians realised that if they were the social damage would be so telling that the prospects of them losing power, swamped under a revolutionary wave, were very high indeed. Not just the Bolsheviks but also the creation of mass Social Democratic parties saw to that; they realised that capitalism had to be tamed in some way, that a safety net had to be built to stop the majority of populations being sunk into absolute and desperate poverty. However, tellingly, it was not even social democratic politicians that started this; it was liberal politicians.

You see they realise something Charlotte lives in constant denial of; capitalism is a class divided society, it is dependant on an underclass or at least a working class that necessary owned less of the pie, that didn't share in the spoils quite as much, that was exploited. Whether you believe in Marxist surplus value at this point is irrelevant because it remains a truth that nobody under capitalism has succeeded in creating a 'classless society'.

Charlotte seems to want to debate ends and means. I am fine with that; does the end of freedom for the market justify the means of the impoverishment of many?? Does it justify the social exclusion of many to the benefit and dubious freedom of a few?? No, I think it does not; she obviously does despite her heart wringing about how awful council estates are she doesn't want to accept the consequences of a complete abandonment of the the 'common good'. She sees the common good as justification for anything where as I do not; it is a finely balanced equation and it is one I am willing to admit has been got wrong by the left in the past but getting it wrong in the past does not mean it cannot be got right in the future.

She sees socialism as necessary requiring;

"require brutal and uncompromising totalitarianism because it is brutal uncompromising totalitarianism, done in the name of 'The Common Good'. There can be no peaceful co-existence with Capitalism if "dictatorship by the proletariat" is your ambition."

I do not see things this way; I look at the economic ruins we are currently in and see that even capitalists are hurt and ruined by capitalism. Therefore I see socialism as leavened by the yeast of democracy and that is the way to it's rising. No doubt her reasons for seeing things this way have a rational kernel but that doesn't make them right or nothing more than an ill-judged preconception. This is the problem with most of her polemic; she is shadow boxing against her own perceptions and fears of what things mean and this is why she makes such ill-judged statements.

She says for modern socialists 'compromise is the name of the game' and in some ways she is right about this but shes also wrong. I am willing to accept compromise with people to the right of my position (ironic that she wont with people to the left of hers) when I think it is right; when I think it is in the 'greater good' interest to do so; thus I am perfectly willing to support a bail-out of the system to the point it ensures the safety of people and stops them being chucked on the dole and thrown into total poverty. Yes i want that to go further and will say so which is rather my right as an individual blogger but then again I am comfortable with the dichotomy because I am steady in my conviction. Can socialists compromise? Yes they can...it seems to be Charlotte and the free market warriors who can't and to me that says an awful lot.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Obama hits caffine poll high

. I have been saying for some weeks that this is all over. Obama is now posting leads of up to 14% in some polls and is leading polls across the board. Including it would seem the poll they all want to lead; that of 7-Eleven coffee drinkers. Voters simply pick which mug they want their caffeine hit in to register their support; currently Obama is on 59% and McCain 41%.

According to the site "7-Election voters have successfully predicted the results of the last two elections;

  • In the 2000 7-Election our George W Bush cup outsold Al Gore's by just one percentage point.
  • The 2004 7-Election results tracked identically with published national election results 51% for George W Bush and 49% for John Kerry."

So, there you have it then....whatever happens tonight it really is all over for McCain, America's coffee drinkers have spoken!!

An assault on democracy - Fernando's ideas

. My hostility to the ideas behind the Fernando bid for the Party Presidency is pretty well known. I am happy to credit him with bringing ideas to the table that have started a debate but giving that credit does not mean that those ideas are automatically entitled to support. Below I talk a little about his plans to radically change our image something that in and of itself may not be a bad thing but the question always has to be what is going to be put in place of our 'brand'.

Key criteria should be whether any change is in line with our programme and also whether it will tackle our central problem which, as I say below, we are not perceived as a viable party of government. Mark Littlewood, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, says that the central narrative should be;

“we’re going to get politicians and politics out of your lives. They control too much money, have too much power and too much say on your life decisions. This has to end.”

Radical stuff and a message that I have some sympathy for however, still not addressing the central issue which is lack of electability. In fact, such a message is likely to reinforce that view because it will boil down to us being able to say that because we will 'never get in'. This is a highly subjective debate and by far and away not my main issue with this campaign. My main issue is that behind Fernando's agenda of radicalism lies a programme that will end up becoming a blatant attack on party democracy.

The core plank of this is that the barrier separating members from supporters should be removed and that eventually supporters should have a say in our decision making process. Writing elsewhere James Graham has eloquently upended the notion that this would be a vastly superior way for us to organise ourselves. It is subject to subversion and it dilutes the role of people who after all have made not just a commitment of time and energy but also of finances to the party. The stake that a member has in this party is a stake that they have paid for with that commitment. A supporter, by contrast, is somebody who merely has to say they support us (even if they really don't) so yes I think it is offensive that they should be given the same stake and say a member has; instead of empowering supporters we should be encouraging them to make the same commitment and become a member.

It is for this reason that the proposal strikes at the notion of democracy while also paving the way for its subversion. Mark himself admits on this very blog that;

"Neither Chandila nor I are elected by Liberal Vision. We are - effectively - self-appointed."

In this context it is impossible to support calls for 'streamlining' of our constitution when they come from such a source especially when the same commentator supports clarity over 'confusion' about elections and democracy. Such streamlining is unlikely to be tilted in the members favour; one sop is thrown to democracy in the Fernando programme. He proposes that the constitution be amended to allow;

"all members in good standing for twelve months to vote at party conference and investigate ways to internet and proxy voting for absentees".

However, given the rest of Fernando's program it really is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is a meaningless proposal because he is proposing to do away with the very notion of membership in the first place. So, credit due for starting a debate which has been useful if only to illustrate so vividly how we should not move forward.

What price discrimination??

. Ryedale District Council has proved once again that it continues to ignore young people and stands in the way of opening opportunities to improve their lives.

The council has approved plans to go ahead with a government initiative to provide free swimming for the over 60’s for two years. In the same breath, it has refused to provide this opportunity for the under 16’s. That is not just short- sighted. That is age discrimination.

Ryedale is ranked as one of the worst areas in the country for providing swimming facilities. Why, when ‘childhood obesity’ is a buzzword both at a local and a national level is this project shelved? Why, is the council, including its Chairman, so eager to support brilliant initiatives like the YCV project but, in the same breath, calling this amazing opportunity for young people ‘a poison chalice?’

The answer, as is often is, is simple; cost. The opposition group has vastly overestimated the take-up of the free swimming, projecting that the government grant will not cover it, and that it would cost RDC £35,000. Conveniently, they assume that children can swim 24 hours a day; 365 days a year, forgetting children are actually at school during the day. This is too stupid for words; and, of course, gives them the pretext they need to oppose this project. The most it would cost would be £20,000- a drop in the ocean of the Ryedale District Council budget. But of course, we should know that RDC are not interested in improving the health and well-being of young people in Ryedale; this refusal to provide for them and the rest of the community is a case in point.

Swimming is not only a healthy activity but it provides a vital life skill and also would give young people a social focus. Young people are demonised so often in the news but here is an example of them wanting to do something positive but then being discriminated against by the local council.

Make no mistake; this one is not going to be let go, Ryedale’s young people deserve better.

Hannah Keal
Youth Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Malton and Thirsk Constituency.

If anybody reading this can offer any advice or support in Hannah’s campaign to end this blatant discrimination please either leave a comment or contact her on hannahkeal@hotmail.co.uk.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Remember the 6th of November??

. Ifran Ahmed and Jonathan Calder both report on an Evening Standard story which says;

"Feverish speculation is sweeping Westminster that the PM could well go to the country to seek a mandate in the midst of the current financial turmoil. This could be an option if the PM is worried that we won't have recovered from the impending recession by 2010, the latest date on which he can go to the country.

Some say the PM is being urged to call an election now by none other than his new comrade-in-arms Peter Mandelson. A general election traditionally takes place 17 days after it is formally announced so if the PM wanted it to coincide with the Glenrothes by-election on 6 November, then next Tuesday would be the moment."


The Evening Standard is a notably Tory paper and it is well known that the Tories have lost control of the narrative and are desperate for anything to seize the initiative. What better way than to make Brown look weak again than by stoking speculation about an early election? Brown's intentions on November 6th are documented by Guido Fawkes. Why call the entire Labour Party to Glenrothes if you are planning a General Election on the same day?? The answer is that there is no reason because Brown doesn't intend on an election.

How very convenient...

. The day after the governments plans to introduce detention without charge to 42 days are reduced to tatters the Security Minister, Lord West stands up and tells the House of Lords that the terrorist threat is "huge" and that there is;

"There is another great plot building up again."

We shouldn't be merely saying that this is "blowing the cover of an inquiry" but we should be asking very searching questions about the timing of this announcement. This is especially so as the BBC reports;

"counter-terrorism sources were "slightly baffled" at Lord West's comments."

Some people may feel that the vote in the Lords and these comments are connected and that this plot is in fact a spurious invention of a desperate government minister and that it is in fact the government that is playing politics with peoples lives and liberties.

Do we need a re-brand???

. I was a little surprised to receive an email from Chandila Fernando; at least it shows he is campaigning to the wire. The first plank of his 'radical agenda' is calling for a re-branding of the party which he says is dated and makes us "look, act and feel like a 1980's brand".

He is right to argue that brand is important in modern politics at least as far as perception plays a powerful role in determining voters attitudes. Unfortunately, he is totally missing the point of the core problem with the Lib Dem 'brand'. The core problem with the Lib Dem brand is this; we are not seen as a party that can credibly form a government. The notion that what has made the Conservatives credible is they have exchanged a torch for a tree is simply facile. What has made them credible is that they have mastered how to convey pithy messages while being a functional opposition.

His reproduced quote from The Times to support his claims that what needs to happen is we need a 'sexed-up' image does little to boost it's gravitas. The very tone of his comments makes me think he is not the right person to carry through any re-branding because he doesn't have any ideas to address the core issue which is the one above. If we do re-brand we need to do it with the above in mind; we need to show we can govern and function as an opposition and get it done. In this sense I think 'Make it happen' is a good slogan; we need to be showing examples of where we actually make it happen and build on them.

Doncaster Lib Dems at centre of 'BNP language' storm

. I noticed this story on Iain Dale's Diary and I have to say it caused a little concern to say the least. Further investigation finds the story also reported in The Star (local, not national) newspaper;

"A LIBERAL Democrat leaflet distributed in South Yorkshire used BNP-style language to highlight that a Labour councillor is a "non-British citizen", an MP has claimed.

A furious political row has broken out following the distribution of a Lib Dem leaflet, which includes an attack on Danish-born Doncaster councillor Eva Hughes.

The leaflet states how: "Labour selected this non-British citizen who cannot vote in general elections.""

Lord Rennard is quoted later on in the article as saying;

"The leaflet in question was self-evidently in no way xenophobic; instead it was a perfectly legitimate attack on the recent conduct in office of a Labour councillor."

It may well be that the leaflet does go on to criticise specific conduct but there is no doubt in that snippet that it is making an issue of the councillors ethnic origin and the fact that they 'cannot even vote in general elections'. I wouldn't see it as necessarily xenophobic but it does put the issue of race 'on the table' when it really shouldn't be because it has no bearing on somebodies conduct or ability to be a councillor. More worrying is a reply to the article which says;

"I have notice a lot of grafiti since this leaflet saying "Danes Out"".

Maybe there is a Doncaster Lib Demmer among readers of this blog who would like to explain the context of this leaflet and particularly the emphasis given to the 'non-Britishness' of the councillor in question and how this relates to their conduct in any way, shape or form.

Tories to 'laser beam on real economy'

. Conservative Home has got it's hands on a briefing note from a top Tory strategist. In handwriting that actually makes me semi-confident I am not the worst handwriter in the world; it says that the Conservatives expect their poll lead to sink to single digits but that this won't last and that Cameron and his crew will get 'back in the game' with a "laser beam focus on the 'real economy'".

Ignoring the cringe-worthy language it seems to me that this poses further dangers for us in the polls. It is my view that we are being seriously squeezed at the moment due to a combination of factors. Hitherto we have seemed to be losing to Labour in it's heartland areas so we can ill afford to start losing to the Tories too.

This morning's news that inflation has soared to 5.2% shows that the 'real economy' of peoples pockets is likely to become the substantive issue. In this context a focus on our program of tax cuts seems sensible. However, I think it is a relevant question as to why this is not resonating with voters and we are in what Con Home calls a 'poll slide'. I don't think we handled the banking crisis particularly well, maybe partially because we started with a 'real economy' focus from the off but it now looks like we are set to be challenged on that turf.


Monday, 13 October 2008

Are we 'outflanking' the Tories from the right???

. Alex Deane on Conservative Home thinks we are. Let's examine his two pieces of evidence;

"1) Nick Clegg defending the principle of tax cuts in the face of an economic downturn

2) Vince Cable telling it like it is vis a vis bad investments from local councils."

It is true that tax cuts come with a pledge to 'trim' public spending and it is true that I would reserve judgement on these measures until the details of that 'trim' are in the public domain. However, Keynesian policies tend to be the preserve of the Fabianish left and they do come with the pledge to introduce more progressive taxation so I think describing them as a rightist outflanking manoeuvre is a case of deliberately avoiding the whole picture.

It is pretty much the same case with Cable. Deane might not be totally right in his detection of 'outflanking' but he does highlight a danger. I read Cable's article in the Daily Mail today and some of it did make me wince. Why?? Some of our rhetoric will alienate the section of voters we are looking to take away from Labour; these people hear about public spending 'trimming' and they automatically assume they are headed for cuts. Income tax cuts often make little difference to those on low incomes who are just as dependant on services the state currently provides; 'trimming' to put more in their wage packet could well leave the difference being negligible to them if services are cut back.

As things stand we are obviously not connecting in the places we need too and I can see us winning a very small fraction of those target seats. Making that connection will make the difference between success and failure at the next election so it is something that urgently needs to be looked into.

Holding the government to account...

. It is unclear what the specifics of the deal will be to recapitalise RBS, HBOS, Barclays and Lloyds TSB. It does look almost certain that more money will be involved than was initially thought and that at least in the case of RBS and HBOS the majority of shares will be ordinary shares, not preference shares.


Obviously from the point of view of this blog this will be a good thing but only if the government exercises its power as it should and does appoint board members. This will obviously dismay some but to me it is a matter of principle that the government should exercise this right; of democratic principle as a matter of fact. Why should the government, and by default the taxpayer, be subject to restrictions that would apply to no other investor?? Something that our champions of the market should perhaps reflect on.


It is worried that this will prejudice the government as a regulator. Another way you may look at it is that the government will be in much more powerful position as a regulator due to it's presence on these boards. The other concern is that banks will now be forced to lend to people who are a 'bad proposition' perhaps even, as I rather dryly suggested, other banks. Realistically the chances of any bank, government-backed or otherwise, taking on new debt at the current moment is slim but the reality is that banks do have social obligations and they do need to face up to them. I am not for one second arguing they should take the place of government and provide a safety net but it is in their interests not just to provide credit but meaningful support to the customers they give it too in terms of advice and any necessary tools to aid them in managing their finances.

If the government does not go ahead now and take these seats then it needs to be us that calls the government to account for not doing so; furthermore we should now be pushing the case that the government should use this position to fundamentally change the way banking works. Calls to curb executive pay are headline grabbing and right but reform needs to go much deeper than that to last. My suspicion is however that this government is far too timid to carry through a radical reforming agenda...we shall wait and see.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Turning the polls around

. Stephen Tall has an interesting piece on Liberal Democrat Voice. Stephen argues that the recent polling trends for the party are 'not good'. He does rightly say that the polls are in a state of flux at the moment but I think we can pick up on a theme. This theme is not good for us; it shows that the Conservative lead is still strong but Labour's support is stabilising. Seemingly this is in the heartland seats and this is bad news; it is in the seats we are targeting at the next election. I think Brown has played the right tune for Labour's core supporters; although Cameron has tried to sound hostile to 'greedy bankers' it really does not rub coming for a Conservative to your average Labour voter.

Stephen thinks we may well feel hard done by given Vince Cables prescience in predicting this crisis but to be honest no prizes go to the person that told you so even if they were right. People want solutions and it is those that matter; more than solutions people do want a proven track record or at least a solid alternative. Since we are not seen as a credible party of government it is unlikely we will win ground even on the latter score.

He prises the performance of Nick Clegg at last weeks PMQ's which i criticised. Why?? Because despite the numerous efforts made by Nick and mentioned by Stephen none of them have helped us in the polls. This is not surprising when we wrongly offer this government 'wholehearted support'; we are a party of opposition and nobody wants to hear the governments line parroted a thousand times. If we want some attention and support for what we say then being bold and yes, maybe a little less consensual, will flag those solutions up and start a public debate which we can lead.

Following on from PMQ's; Nick sent a letter which was much more constructively critical of Brown and actually seemed like we were interested in holding the government to account which I flagged up on this blog. Why was none of this brought up at PMQ's?? Granted Nick has little time but I would imagine 99.9% of people zoned out when he offered Brown 'wholehearted support'. We can either accept there is little we can do to make a difference and that at the next election we will most likely be badly, and I mean very badly, squeezed or we have to recognise that tacking against the prevailing political wind is sometimes the way to go and make the impact that we should be doing.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Palin into insignificance

. It is the humble opinion of this blogger that John McCain's goose was cooked before his running-mate once again proved to be the liability she is today. Of course, 'Troopergate' won't help but it seemed to me that Main Street anger at the Wall Street bail-out has found it's natural target in McCain. Working class American's were noticeably reluctant to embrace Obama during the primaries but they have now practically been driven into his arms via their rage. Barring a gigantic turn of events or a spectacular mistake by the Democrat's I would be personally amazed to see any outcome other than an Obama presidency. All that Palin's latest stumble has done is add to the air of inevitability.

An opinion ed in today's New York Times argues that the McCain-Palin show is the latest episode in the Republican Parties systematic alienation of people who like in cities, highly educated reasons and on the coast. As well as alienating the working class, the GOP, has;

"alienated whole professions. Lawyers now donate to the Democratic Party over the Republican Party at 4-to-1 rates. With doctors, it’s 2-to-1. With tech executives, it’s 5-to-1. With investment bankers, it’s 2-to-1."

In other words the Republicans have managed the extremely talented trick of losing the support of both the major social classes. It has lost "the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety" and the "educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away." This more than any scandal is why the Republicans are destined to be defeated in the race for the White House this year; for progressives it will be a night to crack open the popcorn and enjoy all the long Republican faces as they are booted out.

Hidden costs of the crisis

. The BBC carries news of a grim warning from mental health charity, Rethink. It rates house repossession as being above news of infertility and even redundancy as being the event most likely to cause mental health problems. When you think about this it has some logical coloration as home is a personal; supposedly secure space and taking that away is obviously likely to cause extreme distress.

Rethink's director of public affairs Paul Corry told the BBC:

"I wouldn't be surprised if we see a rise in the number of people going to their doctor because of mental health problems in the coming months.


"Even for people lucky enough to hang on to their home, the stress and worry of arrears building up can be enough to harm your mental health - this survey shows it worries millions of us."

Another mental health charity, Mind , has released it own report on the impact of economic negativity on mental health. It says that a "substantial amount of evidence has shown an association between socioeconomic status and mental health problems." Comments that return us to the debate over whether lower class people really are just lazy and feckless or whether they are genuinely trapped in a spiral of monetary and emotional as well as fiscal distress.

Obviously this is only going to get worse as the financial crisis continues to deepen. The question will be what kind of emphasis will be put on helping these people with governments seemingly incapable of focusing on anything other than the well-being of the banking system.