Sunday, 30 November 2008

Clegg puts his foot in it...

. Well you return to the blogsphere and see this and it's not exactly awe-inspiring is it?? Apparently; Nick Clegg has made a few choice comments about his shadow cabinet colleagues and even let slip he would consider a coalition 'only if the Tories lose'. There are two ways you can look at this; one is that it won't concern the public at all and the other is it might not but it's not exactly a boon for party morale. The first point I suspect would be correct though it's not exactly going to lend much weight to our claim to be a credible government is it when our leader doesn't think half the people in his leadership are up to the job; it might not matter now but expect this to come back to haunt us at election.

Now, the less than stringent denials suggest to me the reports are actually true and Clegg figured he had more to lose by denying it outright and being made to look even sillier if the Sunday Mirror journalist had tapes. Careless is the most charitable words that can be used to describe Clegg's lack of awareness of who was sitting in front of him; it is hard to see our shadow cabinet which as a team will need some foundation in trusting relationships can now function after this story. Or indeed how Clegg can now carry through the proposed reshuffle without admitting his guilt. However, he may have no choice; expect possible resignations and a stormy week ahead for us.

Several bloggers have called for an apology to be issued to the membership; so it should be but maybe Clegg should start by publicly apologising to those he criticised.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Damian Green and missing the point

. Alex Wilcox has and excellent post on this; meanwhile over on Peter Black's blog Matthew H makes similar points. No doubt I will be now accused of 'swallowing Labour propaganda whole' but I feel our response to the Damien Green affair has been one-sided; not particularly balanced and thus has fallen into the trap of being populist tub-thumping which will invariably be drowned out by David Cameron's much larger drums.

Reading Nick Clegg's article in the Daily Telegraph it is slightly shocking that he says;

"Even if these [anti-terror] laws were not invoked this time"

when it is quite clear they weren't. As Alex points out it's actually laws brought in by the last Conservative government that are being used; the Official Secrets Act being revised in 1989 to remove the 'public interest defence' and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act being enacted in 1984. It is this act which lays down the legislative framework for the powers of the police. So, we can now wonder out loud why David Cameron hasn't felt it fit to bang his drums over this yet; is it a massive coincidence? Why let facts spoil a bit of easy point scoring off an opposition? You can criticise Labour for failing to revise it legitimately but you can't blame them for it's existence in the first place.

So, when Clegg says;

"The sight of police rifling through boxes of Mr Green's correspondence, through disc after disc of computerised information, will erode public confidence in the role MPs play in their communities"

it is worth considering where they get the power to do that from. Clegg is more on-beam when he says that;

"Surrounding all this is a whiff of hypocrisy about New Labour departments in Whitehall clamping down on leaks to opposition politicians when ministers have elevated judicious leaking to the press to an art form.

MPs have long got used to the depressing predictability of Sunday newspapers carrying intricate details of the latest government master plan before ministers have bothered to tell Parliament.

And who can forget the way Labour politicians ruthlessly used leaks from Whitehall to damage the hapless Major administration before the 1997 general election? And guess who was the master at using those leaks most aggressively? Gordon Brown."

However, the same stench emanates from the opposition benches too and we are doing ourselves no favours by ignoring it and hoping that Conservatives will leap ship and see us as being 'on their side really'. Matthew H sums it up rather neatly;

"I agree with you that it is undemocratic to start arresting MPs for doing their jobs. But the issue here is the Official Secrets Act and the culture of secrecy in British government. It really isn't helpful to try and turn this into a debate about anti-terrorism legislation."

I happen to agree; turning this into a debate about something that is not immediately relevant is not helping our case; it certainly isn't helpful with the likes of Guido screaming 'Stalinism'. Anti-terror legislation is only relevant to the point where it has given the police their 'head' and the confidence to act in this way but it is not the immediate issue.

Clegg in Telegraph - 'Save our broken democracy'

. Full article avalible here...

"The Prime Minister must now do three things: he must clearly dissociate himself from the police operation altogether; he must clarify urgently what Home Office civil servants told ministers, and when; and he must instantly end his habit of leaking Whitehall information to secure favourable headlines for his own Government, while ministers now stand idly by as an opposition MP is arrested for seeking to bring Whitehall information to light in the first place.

Our political system is already in deep trouble: sinking public confidence in MPs, feeble parliamentary scrutiny, a rigid culture of Whitehall secrecy, and an electoral system that hands unprecedented powers to governments freed from any meaningful scrutiny from other parties.

This unprecedented arrest is a wake-up call. We must save our broken democracy."

Friday, 28 November 2008

Lib Dems 'staring into an abyss'??

. Iain Dale thinks we are after the Michael Brown verdict;

"The Electoral Commission has said it will now reopen its investigation as to whether the donation was permissible in the first place. If it finds that it wasn't - and I can't see what other conclusion it can come to - then the LibDems face having to pay back the £2.4 million."

The BBC also reports;

"an American lawyer has launched High Court action for the return of hundreds of thousands of pounds he claims Brown gave to the Lib Dems."

So, in short it would be wrong to assume as Ifran Ahmed does that we are 'out of the woods' on this issue. I'm not really inclined to agree with Iain that "an admission of at least some culpability" ie, return the money, at this stage would be right (especially as the term 'culpability' is somewhat loaded).

However, he does make a valid point about a necessary review into procedures that let this event occur; when things like this go wrong it should always be the case that they are reviewed.

Do the Conservatives have tape of raids???

. Are the reports on Red Box true? If the Conservatives have footage of the raid then I think the immediate questions become how and why?? Sam Coates says that if it exists then;

"Any footage of the police in an MPs' office is likely to put yet more pressure on the Speaker and Seargant at Arms to justify why he allowed them in first place."

I think the reverse is true; if they do they are sitting on them because they know that there will be a cacophony of responses asking precisely what went on here and any sympathy they have will evaporate.

Was Green just 'doing his job'?

. I would highly recommend this piece over on Liberal Conspiracy which provides an altogether more sober view of the Green affair then anything that has been spewed forth by the partisan Tory blogsphere which has got it's knickers well and truly in a twist. I think it is downright dangerous and wrong to say Green 'acted in the public interest' when he quite clearly didn't and that much is even true from the list that the BBC provided. Green was clearly acting in the interests of his political party and his own political agenda and although I still see the arrest as problematic in some ways and heavy-handed it seems to me that we shouldn't alibi what could quite easily be characterised and turn out to be an act of 'political espionage'.

I think the two instances in which Unity feels that the leaks could be legitimately seen as being as being in the 'public interest' actually run counter intuitively to the way they were spun by the right-wing press. In other words, they highlight the absurdity of immigration controls and how they are counterproductive to their stated aim of 'securing' our borders. Maybe this information is embarrassing to the government but not in the way David Cameron would opportunistically say it is, I will leave the last words with the poster;

"right now, we don’t know exactly what information may, or may not, have been passed to Green nor exactly what he did with the information did receive and, for that reason, its far too early to make any definite judgements as to the merits, or otherwise, of the Met’s actions. In the absence of that information, we must be very careful in assessing the merits of the Tory’s ‘only doing his job’ defence as this contention has yet to be supported by evidence".

Huhne on Green arrest

. This is from Politics Home...

Mr Huhne said the arrest of Damien Green will “have a chilling effect” on what MPs are able to do, and added that he wasn’t sympathetic to Sir Ian Blair’s claim that he was hounded from office.

On the arrest of Damien Green he said, “I was frankly shocked and astonished by this. It will have a chilling effect on what MPS are able to do. Getting information into the public domain…clearly of the public interest is absolutely a key part. I find this a very worrying development.”

On the departure of Sir Ian Blair, and his claims to have been forced out, he said,
“There were real problems in the Met police…a real sense that the Met was losing direction. Frankly this story is more complicated, and he’s not been hounded out. That said there is a problem…in that they serve two masters.“I share the concerns over the structure. I’m not sympathetic to the claim that he was hounded out, because I think he politicised the role in the first place. It musn’t become a political football.”

I agree with the thrust but don't feel the information was 'clearly in the public interest'. Looking down the list; some of it was clearly in the interest of occupying idle Daily Mail journalists and 'fanning the flames' over illegal immigration. Green was well within his rights to release it and not be arrested for doing so but whether it added anything to any debates is another issue.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Senior Tory arrested

. Damien Green, the Conservative immigration spokesman, has been arrested and questioned over a series of leaks from the Home Office. Green, who denies any wrongdoing, was questioned on suspicion of "conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office," the Metropolitan Police said.

The BBC reports that the leaks included;

  • The November 2007 revelation that the home secretary knew the Security Industry Authority had granted licences to 5,000 illegal workers, but decided not to publicise it.

  • The February 2008 news that an illegal immigrant had been employed as a cleaner in the House of Commons.
  • A whips' list of potential Labour rebels in the vote on plans to increase the pre-charge terror detention limit to 42 days.
  • A letter from the home secretary warning that a recession could lead to a rise in crime.

The Conservative Party is describing the arrest as "Stalinesqe" and sticking by Mr Green. Two things; yes the arrest was wrong however, the claim by Cameron that all this information was in the 'public interest' is slightly tenuous to my mind. Frankly, the employment arrangements of a single House of Commons cleaner seem completely irrelevant to the public interest to my mind; they do however, seem to have certain party political value. I am just surprised it wasn't Labour's Phil Woolas who spotted that one.

UPDATE: While defending Green's civil liberties I think Conservative Home perfectly illustrates here why it is right to be careful of the 'public interest' defence...

Government 'dragging heels' on enforcing bank measures - Cable

. From Politics Home...

Mr Cable said he was "amazed" by the lack of urgency displayed by the government in tackling the financial crisis and that government directors in banks would help set to "set the strategy" in the immediate term.

"The banks are not lending, despite the undertaking that we entered a few weeks ago that the banks would maintain their lending, it isn't happening."The individual banks are acting in an entirely rational way in their view - but in the process are behaving in a suicidal manner."To ensure this doesn't happen government members should be appointed to the banks - I am amazed about the lack of urgency," he said.He accused the government of "dragging their heels" on a very important step, as companies continue to be unable to raise the capital needed.

He added: "I think the government is actually confused and embarrassed about being confused."They are effectively giving the banks completely different and contradictory measures, the banks are being pulled in different directions."

Is the green tree withering??

.
When he won the Conservative Party leadership David Cameron made the environment a central theme; he even changed the rather menacing blue torch to a nice eco-friendly green tree. Couple of stories show this commitment might be skin-deep and that the issue is a source of some pretty vicious divisions within the party.

Liberal Democrat Voice carries news of Conservatives falling out over waste collection. It reports;

"From January English councils will be able to bid for pilot schemes to incentivise people for recycling more and deter them from throwing stuff away [by levying charges]…

Eric Pickles, Conservative local government spokesman, has regularly criticised the [previous pilot charging schemes as] “hated bin taxes”…

But Paul Bettison, a Conservative councillor responsible for waste on the Local Government Association said: “I wish Eric Pickles would stop calling them bin taxes. It is very galling.

“They are bin charges. They are not taxes at all. You pay for the service you get. The current system of invisible waste charges is much more like a tax.

“I know what it is like to be in opposition, but many of us Conservatives are in power in local authorities, trying to run waste services, and he is not helping us.”"

Meanwhile, Iain Dale reports on increasing consternation within the Shadow Cabinet about Theresa Villiers 'witchhunt' against BAA. Villiers issued a press release yesterday saying BAA 'could not be trusted' on it's promises on a third runway at Heathrow. Iain has posted the above poster and says that;

"There are a substantial number of Shadow Cabinet members who are furious at Villiers' stance, and the leadership's apparent endorsement of it."
£50,000 reward hey; I wonder who will be the first to claim?

What will the Conservatives do on the 45p band??

.



This is the question that Conservative Home asks this morning. It produces a handy little graphic reproduced above. Now, my feeling is that there is considerable confusion in the Conservative response to the Pre-Budget which has indicated a wider problem of an economic narrative which seems to be able land punches by defining what it is against but not in terms of what it is actually for; and this, to my mind, makes the 'do nothing' line adopted by Brown effective.

Of course, it is also effective because Brown is the one doing things and in a position to do things. It is all very well Osborne launching swashbuckling attacks on the mountain of debt; which are echoed widely in the media and no doubt please the faithful but when the cookie crumbles this is why the Tories are losing out in the polls.

Felicity Mountjoy says in comments;

"We MUST NOT fall into Labour's trap by deciding anything on this. They only announced it to cause disunity in our ranks and in the highest hopes to represent us as the rich man's best friend."

However, it could very much be a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don't. It will be certainly interesting to see what attitude the Conservatives eventually adopt to both this and the VAT cut because I think the more Labour pushes it concretely (maybe they should have tactically supported a vote on the PBR) the more Conservative contradictions are potentially going to be exposed.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Why did the Tories bloc with Labour on the PBR vote??

. Ifran Ahmed asks this question; was it simply that Conservatives got confused about which lobby they should be in?? Or was it simply that they didn't want the vote to end the debate as a commenter on Ifran's blog suggests??

Am I being stupid or would it not have been the case that the lobby division came at the end of the debate?? Surely a vote would have meant a longer debate?? Bang goes that theory. I rather think it has something to do with the story I blogged a couple of days back; about some Conservative MP's wanting tax-cuts and the whips not being sure of which way things would fall decided it would be better to play safe and bloc with Labour. Incidentally, I scoured the Tory blogsphere and could find no mention of this occurrence...odd that isn't it??

Leeds united

. Just to slip into a bit of local reporting for a second here; Total Politics has a feature on Leeds where the Liberal Democrats run the council in coalition with the Conservatives. At the end of this month the Liberal Democrat leader, Councillor Richard Brett hands over to his Conservative opposite number, Cllr Andrew Carter who will lead the council as part of the six-month rotation of the leadership.

Carter says;

"It works on a very cooperative basis. What the general public understand a lot better than national politicians is that local government people want to see sensible policies implemented that bring about real benefits to everybody in the city, no matter what their political persuasion."

Leeds is a finely balanced council; the Liberal Democrats have 24 councillors, Conservatives 22 with the coalitions Labour opponents on 43. The coalition can boast a number of achievements including new roads, theatre refurbishments and shopping centres however, there remains plenty to do. Ongoing work with community relations is a priority as is the development of Leeds as a tourist location and then, of course, there is the impact of the credit crunch to deal with; just like anywhere else Leeds is feeling the pinch.

Well worth checking this article out...then tootle over to Conservative Home and gasp in wonderment as they quote Carter totally out of context in an attempt to spin the coalition negatively.

PMQ's - swords crossed over the economy

. I expected PMQ's to be economy focused today and I wasn't disappointed. David Cameron unsurprisingly asked if there were plans to raise VAT to 18.5% in light of the Treasury gaffe. Brown retorted by trying to challenge Cameron on whether the Conservatives supported a cut in VAT, presumably trying to capitalise on potential divisions within the Tories. Ironically, Cameron didn't answer this question at all which proves both leaders can avoid questions they don't like.

Cameron did not offer much in reply to Brown's challenge other than repeating his call for a freeze in council tax. He did say that the Conservatives would stimulate lending by offering government-backed insurance. The focus then moved onto the national debt with Brown saying you can't do something without spending and repeating his charge that the Conservatives would do nothing. Cameron is a 'do nothing' leader of a 'do nothing party says Brown. The fact is that Cameron's lack of policies makes this charge stick and that is why they are sliding in the polls. People may well be concerned about the issues the Tories raise but there is precious little saying what they will do; Brown also leaped on the comments by Andrew Lansley saying recession might be a 'good thing'. It is obvious that the battlegrounds of the next election have already been fixed.

So, enter Nick Clegg. Clegg mentioned the Sheffield rape case but concentrated on the economy. He criticised the lack of fairness in the PBR; rightly, pointing to the lack of reform of the taxation system. Brown emphasised the raising of pensions, child benefit etc in response and once again tiresomely raised the £20 billion. Clegg was suitably aggressive in response saying we had a 'list rather than an answer' and once again raised the issue of closing the loopholes that exist. Brown said 'every year we take action on loopholes' and said 'we are the party of fairness'.

Overall, it went pretty much as expected. I think Clegg had the right focus; on the tax loopholes but he showed where our soft underbelly is, if we are going to challenge Labour in it's heartlands then we need to challenge them for the mantle of 'party of fairness' and to do this we have to be aggressive locally and nationally.

PBR; worst of both worlds

. Last night saw the embarrassing revelation that right up until the last minute the government was considering ramping-up VAT to 18.5%. Today The Independent is carrying news that the governments pledge not to cut funding for front-line public services is also looking shaky. It reports on a study by the Institute of Fiscal Studies which it says is 'withering' about Alistair Darlings Pre-Budget Report.

It dismisses the new top rate of tax as being able to raise 'virtually nothing' and says that;

"the Treasury is "strictly correct" to say no one earning less than £40,000 will be worse off as a result of the increases in national insurance and other tax changes being brought in in 2011"

but;

"this is only true if the position in April 2008 – ie before increased personal allowances of £600 per year – is ignored."

Public finances will be hit hard too;

"The IFS highlights that public spending is now expected to grow by just 1.1 per cent in real terms between April 2011 and March 2014. Public sector investment – new schools, hospitals and other infrastructure – will be sliced by 16.5 per cent in 2012-13, compared to previous plans. As one example, though the Department of Health's capital budget is set to increase by £300m in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the following year will see a reduction of £1.4bn."

In other words, the PBR gives us the worst of all worlds. The IFS report also highlights a £40 billion hole in government finances which, as I blogged yesterday, is around the figure of government losses to tax loopholes. It's time our campaign for fairer taxation emphasised this point and that as well as pushing tax cuts we push for the closure of the loopholes.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

***BREAKING*** Debate on PBR will happen...

. The speaker has said the Pre-Budget Report will be debated tomorrow...the debate was requested by George Osborne and will last for three hours tomorrow afternoon...full story on Sky

Brown and Daily Mail in quickie divorce??

. Conservative Home carries this piece based on a Press Gazette report. It says that Ben Brogan, the Daily Mail's political editor;

"comes close to saying that his newspaper has been played by Gordon Brown:

Brogan said that although Tony Blair was seen by many as 'the master of spin', he believed the Gordon Brown spin machine was "even more formidable than the one attributed to Blair".

When the time comes to write a record of Gordon Brown's time as chancellor, I think the record will show that Gordon Brown was phenomenally good at building strategic alliances with certain newspapers, mine included, and certain journalists and using that to his advantage," he said."

From the look of today's Mail front page, the "strategic relationship" is over"

So, Conservatives appear to now be resting easy in the knowledge that 'their' newspaper is 'coming home'.....

Clegg - 'government should work on a plan b'

. From Politics Home...

"Mr Clegg said the banks had to begin lending again, and if they don’t the government must develop a Plan B, involving either writing off bad debts or directly lending into the economy.

He said the banks have to start lending, and if they fail to do so, the government must now work on Plan B on how to get money back into the hands of businesses. The government has got to get really tough with the bankers. It was part of the deal. They have to be forced to do so.

If that doesn’t work we need a Plan B to bypass the banks to get money into the economy. I think the government should be working actively on a Plan B. It should either take bad debts off the balance sheets or look at lending directly into the economy."

Toynbee's flights of fantasy

. Polly Toynbee really has excelled herself in today's Guardian. She has always been known as something of a Brown loyalist but her glorious trumpeting of the 'end of the New Labour era' and a 'return to social democracy' today really do ring hollow. They ring hollow for anybody who has woken up this morning who has been taken out of National Insurance Contributions (in 2011, of course) only to be hammered on the return pass by hikes on petrol, alcohol and tobacco (tax rises that are disproportionately more likely to hit people on lower incomes).


Of course, a significant proportion of the 'half the working population that earns under £23,000' will also be hit by a 0.5 rise in NIC's at the same time as those under £20,000 move out of paying altogether. Toynbee lauds the 'great' cut in VAT which will 'help every household' but as has already been shown the reality is somewhat different; not only is that cut minimal to say the least it is being funded by the hikes mentioned above which for people on lower incomes will make it's effects negligible to non-existent.

In total fairness, there are moments of sobriety in the article like this one;

"Sadly, the VAT cut will help the poorest least: apart from in their energy bills, they spend least on non-food items while the big spenders get most benefit. The IFS says the VAT cut will only spur the buying of the "most expensive, infrequent items" like white goods and furniture."

However, the author seems to see no contradiction between her hyperbole and the cold hard facts of which she seems, at times, to be obviously aware. Perhaps a clue to the origins of this delirium come in the second paragraph;

"Symbolism is everything in the volatile irrationality of these times. When markets zigzag between exuberance and despair, confidence is the only currency. The language, the mirage, the smoke and mirrors, it all matters as much as the substance."

In other words, the author is carried away by the symbolism of a Labour government which *appears* to have 'unfurled its own battle banner of social justice'. This is none more so the case than with the new 45p band for earners of over £150,000. Toynbee informs us that 'only 1.3% earn more than £150,000' but does not stop to question if that really should be the case; why such a low proportion earning that amount actually pay tax in the first place. Without referencing tax loopholes; which could cost this government as much as £40 billion, the new tax band is purely symbolic and utterly useless.

It is neither redistributive (because, as pointed out above, lower incomes are getting stung too) nor any help in financing the governments spiralling public debt. Obviously some measures are welcome; like the help for Job Centres and the determination to invest money publicly in things like social housing. However, yesterday, Labour tried to pull off a magic trick; present itself as a party of social justice while slipping tax hike after hike into the fine print. Obviously Toynbee is easily fooled for this was not a redistributive budget and a new tax band for high earners does not make it so; Labour is a timid friend of social justice and is still so even after Alistair Darling's measures yesterday.

Letter from an Afghan feminist

. Liberal Conspiracy carries this letter from an Afghan feminist, Orzala Ashraf Nemat. Addressed to Barack Obama, it highlights some of the problems of continuing to think this conflict can be solved by military means or by a 'surge'. For example she says;

"An increase in foreign military troops worries us – we are concerned that it just means more house raids and more bombing of civilians."

Moving on she talks about the problems of even the existing forces being in Afghanistan;

"The militarization of development aid has jeopardized the work of civilian humanitarian assistance organizations, and as a result, hundreds and thousands of people are deprived of basic health and educational opportunities."

Describing the current situation she says;

"Corruption has paved the ground for the re-organization of the Taliban; corruption is what opened the doors for the drug mafia, and indeed the larger global fight in Afghanistan should focus on corruption and ensuring rule of law."

Her solution is to invest and empower local forces. Although she is against negotiations with the Taliban and wants them tried for war crimes this letter is nonetheless worth a read, if only to see what the people in Afghanistan are saying, something which should always our inform our debates about the way forward here.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Clegg lashes out against 'tax sting'.

. From Politics Home...

"Mr. Clegg criticised the Chancellor's pre budget report. He said "he's given British families a temporary cut in VAT and a massive tax sting in National Insurance which will hurt working families in this coutntry."He added: "This 45p rate on earnings over £150,000 is irrelevant.

That is a great pity because it now leaves Britain more vulnerable to the economic shock and more unfair than it was before."He gave Mr. Darling's pre budget report "barely a 5" out of 10."

Good agitation points for people in Labour heartlands I think here....

Pre-Budget; Labour's pre-election pitch

. One of the great things about politics is that numerous leaks mean you can actually write about something before it happens. Interestingly, for those of us who have been saying there will be an early election, Mike Smithson on Political Betting says today;

"is the start of the general election campaign with Labour setting out its stall and the grounds on which it wants to fight."

I think it is fair to say that both parties have been setting their stall out for the last couple of weeks. Moving onto the substance, my first impression is that this report is full of headline grabbing measures (as you would expect an election pitch would be) but not an awful lot of substance.

  • Temporary 2.5% cut in VAT is patently a waste of time. Colin Ross has a list of the practical effects of this cut. Hands-up who now is desperate to buy a £199 X-Box 360 because it costs £4.23 less?
  • 5p on income tax for top earners 'after the next election'. Here is the clincher; here is the golden giveaway that a 2009 polling day is defiantly on Gordon Brown's mind. Who thinks Gordon Brown will go to the polls in 201o with a PSBR possibly as high as £100 billion, 3 million unemployed and a slogan of tax the rich?? You can go the polls with the last of those 3 and leave the middle-classes and Labour's core vote content in the knowledge that it won't have to pay any more taxes. Or at least so they think, Brown might not be able to confidently claim that in 2o10. Hopefully, we will criticise these proposals on the grounds that far from eating into public debt these proposals don't cover the costs of the other measures made in the PBR. Our overall package is far superior, far more truly redistributive and should be the focus of our campaign especially with Labour's 'core vote'.
  • Extension of 10p tax rebate. Again, this is political positioning, a direct appeal to the core vote. The actual effect is so minimal as it is unlikely to make much difference. A 2009 polling date however would mean that the extra money would still be there in peoples pockets when they go to the polls.
  • Postponement of corporation tax rises. Seemingly, to me, this means that the government has effectively abandoned it's attempts to stimulate lending and decided that instead it will postpone tax rises which will be forthcoming after Labour has been to the polls.

The only way these measures actually make sense is in the context of preparation for an early election. So, all hands on the pumps people because the real message of this afternoon is that there is going to be a general election next year...

Tory MP's disagree with Cameron on tax cuts

. The Independent today reports on the findings of a cross-party survey by ComRes. It found some interesting schisms on the issue of tax cuts;

"62 per cent of Tory backbenchers favour significant cuts in direct taxation, while 72 per cent of Labour backbenchers oppose the idea. Liberal Democrat MPs back the move by 67 to 28 per cent."

So, support for what has essentially been the main thrust of our economic narrative is only slightly higher than support from Conservatives whose leadership is opposed and is lower than opposition by Labour MP's. Obviously, the devil will come in how people interpret the detail of the cuts but when it comes to the budget does this prefigure the possibility that Cameron will have to reach out beyond the boundaries of his own party??

88% male..so what about the other 12%?

. Well, I am back all...and I see a fair few people have been using gender analyzer...according to it this blog is written by a man and is 88% male...so what about the other 12%?

***UPDATE*** Julian H put's forward this suggestion to answer my question...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Lib Dem speaks at Moonie event...

. The Guardian reports on this;

"The Global Peace Festival, at the Excel Centre in the London docklands, is expected to attract thousands of activists from across Europe and features addresses from Preston Moon, the third son of the church's founder, and Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman."

Words fail....they really do...in my eyes the GPU episode was bad but this is dreadful. The Moonies are a cult so what are our MP's doing speaking on their platforms??

Letterboxes.....

. Having just been out delivering I have some observations to make on this topic;

1) I hate those stiff bristly things. What is with them?? Also, dogs that watch you out of the window...silently, almost psychopathic in their brooding stares.

2) Why do people have letterboxes that are literally no bigger than a baby's hand??

3) What is with a sticker on your door saying; 'I S.E.X'. What does it mean?? Does it mean 'I love sex'?? Does it mean 'I am sex'?? Does it mean they are having sex?? If so, why do they need a sticker on a door to tell us this??

That is all...I think....

Doing nothing is not an option

. Blogging will be a little light this weekend; I am visiting my partner and her family. Let's be quite clear nobody is proposing printing barrow-loads full of money to solve the economic problems. The crux of the problems vis a vie lending is the fact that interest cutting by the Bank of England is not being matched by the banks; that they are gobbling-up the rate cut. Also, as has been previously reported on this blog they are continuing with absurd bonus practices which have no place in this fiscal climate.

It's worth pointing out that money still ends up being spent by the state regardless of if it is on bailing-out or at the support end; when large companies and banks go under and people are made unemployed on benefits, etc. James Schneider makes good points about how large-scale employers in society have power due to their employment; governments will prefer keeping companies alive to the social dislocation and damage done by widespread unemployment and I can see why to be blunt.

James gives us three options;

1)Take a minority stake in companies. This is what has happened in the financial sector but the reality is that the banks are not responding in the ways they should as pointed out above. So, the effect this can have is limited. When this is the case then governments are effectively backed into a corner which is exactly what the banks are now doing.

2)Breaking-up companies. This maybe an indirect result of the acceptance of our proposals if, for example, the Post Office was given a lending capability in the financial sector. However, a forced merger would have the same effect of shedding unnecessary duplication; damage would still be done but the state would then have to wade in on the 'support-end'.

3) Force firms, through legislation to create their own safety net. This would have been relevant and helped a year ago but it is not the solution now; you can't build flood defences with water lapping around your ankles. James imagines that this proposal should be implemented in the financial sector which it should but it will not solve the immediate problems.

So, what can be done? In the immediate case of Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors the damage done can be limited by a merger.

However, this problem begins and ends in the finance sector. I think there is nothing wrong with telling the banks that we expect something in return for our money; that we expect measures taken to be passed on, that we expect repossessions to fall, that we expect every measure to be taken to make lending function again although I think a return to 2007 levels is an unrealistic expectation. If they won't 'play-ball' then they are giving people no choice; either the government will have to nationalise or assume some lending function. Doing nothing is not an option....

Friday, 21 November 2008

Early election ' not remotely on our minds' - Brown

. Benedict Brogan has this story. Jeremy Vine asked Brown about the mounting speculation that an election will be called early next year and he replied;

"My undivided attention is on the economy. I am not thinking about anything else. It is 100% of my attention, and you can just discount all of these stories"

Which may well be very true but there is a head-of-steam building up around this issue. Coffee House presents the 'Labour arguments' for a June 4th poll today and we all know that barely a day goes by without speculation appearing somewhere. Of course, it is notable that it is Conservative sources that trumpet this; no doubt because it so effectively undermined Brown last time around. However, there are sound reasons for Labour to go to the polls in 2009 and I simply cannot believe that Brown doesn't have it at the back, if not the front, of his mind.

I think part of the problem here originates from the lack of a convincing mandate that Brown has to govern due to Tony Blair stepping-aside. We should still be on high-alert for an 09 poll....

Database plans shelved...

. Another result for Labour's strategy of subtly shelving costly bureaucratic and invasive measures. The Independent report's that plans for the 'Big Brother' database will not be in the Queens Speech scheduled for 3rd December.

Its 'Whitehall sources' insist that;

"a consultation paper early next year would set out options for collecting the information"

but;

"there is no firm indication when the new Communications Data Bill will be published".

By-election results....

. Hat-tip to Luke Akehurst;

Teversham Ward, South Cambs DC. LD gain from Con. LD 269 (38.6%, +2.9), Con 237 (34.0%, - 30.3), Ind (former Lab County Cllr for the area) 191 (27.4%, +27.4).

Mile End East Ward, LB Tower Hamlets. Lab hold. Lab 1208 (47.3%, +15.1), Con 630 (24.7%, +13.7), Respect 604 (23.7%, -0.3), LD 110 (4.3%, -15.7).

Should bloggers be in the lobby?

. Paul Linford, after some consideration, thinks they should be;

"After initially taking the view that political bloggers had little to gain, and much to lose in terms of their independence by joining the parliamentary lobby, my thinking has changed on this point over the past couple of years. The gradual convergence of the blogosphere and the mainstream media which I wrote about in the Guide to Political Blogging earlier this year has rendered the old dividing lines obsolete."

However, lobby passes would be restricted to the 'Big Five'; Iain Dales Diary, Guido Fawkes, Conservative Home, Political Betting and Liberal Conspiracy. This is the first place I have a problem with the idea mainly because to my mind it creates the prospect of 'two-tier' blogging. The ones with the passes get the 'inside-track' while the rest are left behind and I have to say you cannot compare blogging and the mainstream media. Three of those blogs are aligned with one specific party; newspapers, of course, do fall into certain camps due to their editorial stance but they are not explicitly Conservative Party papers. So, when the passes are dished out and the 'Big Five' are permanently 'elevated' it's not exactly a politically balanced equation is it??

Also, what happens if one of them 'drops out' and is replaced by a newcomer?? Do they then lose their pass and have to hand it over?? Linford links to a report in which Benedict Brogan says;

"There's an ongoing conversation whether the House of Commons authorities start issuing media passes to bloggers. That remains unresolved - it's causing a huge headache."

Linford argues this is;

"essentially an argument about access, not desks."

However, given the above this is obviously not entirely the case. Giving the 'Big Five' lobby passes would open up a can of worms for the reasons I have just outlined. On balance I feel that until these issues are ironed out blogging in the lobby is still a way off...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Privacy and the left - A reply to Sunny Hundal

. I have been involved in two debates this week which have drawn together broadly similar themes. One was over on Liberal Democrat Voice on it's popular thread reporting on the Baby P case and the second one has been on Liberal Conspiracy in response to the leaked British National Party membership lists.

Let's start with the 'naming and shaming' of the parents of Baby P. Of course, what these people did does make them 'cruel viel killers' but, as David Osler rightly points out on his blog;

"reporting restrictions in court cases are usually imposed for good reasons, including the need to ensure that the judicial process is fair, and to avoid a hysterical lynch mob atmosphere that could see innocent relatives or even people with similar surnames beaten up or worse."

Similar arguments apply to the now infamous BNP list, although it is taken as a given that the BNP are being hypocritical because of past involvement with Redwatch, the restrictions on it's release were put in place for good reason. It seems to me that since these lists are not even that current there is a related danger of innocents being targeted. Maybe the person who is reported in The Guardian as saying;

"I've never had anything to do with them. I don't know why my name was on that list"

was too ashamed to admit the truth but I think there is enough room for reasonable doubt (combination of out-of-date data and tendency of the internet to perpetuate 'Chinese whispers'). All of this is not to mention the inclusion of children and teenagers on the list as part of the BNP's 'family membership'. We simply cannot assume that everybody reading such things will behave in a responsible and humane way.

In the first instance opposition to privacy was couched mostly by people who felt that the severity and barbarity of the crime committed merited the stripping away of basic human rights. The second instance saw opposition to privacy come from people who basically feel that political engagement with the BNP is a waste of time. Sunny expressed it thus;

"Ever tried to engage BNP people in a civilised political debate? I have. Let me tell you, its not a pretty sight.
But its nice to see naivety on this site once in a while."


Nobody is talking about 'engaging' and trying to 'win' hard-core BNP ideologues. However, people like the one quoted below, again from The Guardian, can and should be engaged with;

"I'm not prejudiced but they are letting too many immigrants in, it's stupid and it's not going to be Britain no more."

People like this are soft-core supporters of the BNP. They are frustrated with their own conditions and basically swallow without question the BNP's propaganda that it is 'immigrants fault'. They do this based on an assessment of their own surroundings which maybe happen to be well-populated by immigrants. However, well-targeted agitation and propaganda aimed at undermining the BNP's myths would easily see them won away from the politics and ideology of the BNP.

This is unlikely to be the case however if we invade their privacy or even show signs of supporting that; so, we can point to the BNP's hypocrisy on privacy but not support a volition of it; unless we want to harden their feelings of powerlessness. Liberal Conspiracy has run a serious campaign against 42 days detention without charge; however, a defence of rights must be universal if it is to mean anything. If it is not then realistically these rights mean nothing in practice.

'Save apprenticeships' - Clegg

. Nick Clegg is calling for the millions of pounds that the government spends on it's 'Train to Gain' scheme should be redirected to save apprenticeships during the recession. Government funding for the programme is set to leap £130 million to £925 million next year.

Clegg said;

"The economic climate means it's not just inefficient to continue with Train to Gain, it's downright perverse

You cannot focus resources on employer-centred training when people are losing their jobs by the thousand. It's the people who are out of work who need the most help.

It is now clear that many people are being thrown off their apprenticeships because of the downturn."

The education maintenance allowance budget should be spent elsewhere in ending the funding gap between colleges and school sixth forms and adult learners should get their fees paid for level 3 qualifications (the equivalent of an A-level) and be entitled to maintenance grants. Clegg accused Labour of botching the new diploma and called for a simplified single diploma which incorporated BTEC qualifications.

Greening; Tories 'struggling to get message out in packed media'

. I thought my fellow Lib Dems might find this rather hilarious. A Conservative blaming the media for their message 'not getting across'. Shadow Treasury spokesperson, Justine Greening, told the Daily Politics show that;

"Because it‘s being very packed in the media we haven’t had the opportunity to get our message across. There’s no whispering campaign against George Osborne."

So, it appears we are not the only party with problems in this area. It also appears Greening doesn't read many papers because she seems to have missed the various Tories calling for Osborne's replacement. She also doesn't seem to take much notice of opinion polls, asked why she thought the Conservatives were dropping in the polls she said;

"I don’t think we are."

and then rushed to qualify her remarks;

"Polls will come and go. What really matters is the poll we have on election day. In the meantime you’re going to get public opinion tooing and frowing."

Data protection and the internet

. Two events this week have exposed the problems with data protection in the internet age. On the one hand we had the widespread publication of the identities of the parents of Baby P despite a court injunction. Now we have the widespread publication of the leaked BNP membership lists which are still widely available despite a court injunction.

I have made no bones about the fact that I think the publication of both things was wrong. In the case of Baby P's parents it moved beyond the question of whether people could be trusted and into the realms of whether it would damage any pending prosecutions. Similarly, the case with the BNP list is; despite deploring the BNP's hypocrisy in portraying themselves as 'victims' when there members have been involved in 'outing' 'Reds' there still remains the right to privacy.

Although the vast majority of people who see the list will have no intention of in any way using the information on it we do have to recognise that not all people are as responsible in how they deal with these situations. Thinking that everybody will behave as responsibly as we know we would is just plain utopian and naive to be blunt and this is especially true in emotive cases. It is psychological projection; taking your own emotions and values and projecting them onto other people. Anybody who deviates must merely be 'venting'. It is seems obvious to me that some people on the Liberal Democrat Voice thread would move well beyond 'venting' given half a chance. Maybe I am 'paternalist' but I do feel a balance has to be struck; not because I don't 'trust people' but rather because I don't trust *everybody*.

Once the information is out their however it is hard to stop spreading; it is absolutely true that the membership list is still out there and will continue to be; once the cat has bolted out the bag it's hard to stop. So, we are caught in a bind; on the one hand we want the most freedom possible and want to eschew regulation but on the other we are presented with the very real problems caused by the open availability of that information. I don't know what the solution is but I hope I can start a debate....

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Banking on trouble...

. I am, rather shockingly, finding myself inclining to support a controversial leadership position once again. Don't worry; I'm sure it won't last. Nick Clegg's proposals that the government should lend directly to companies either directly or through the Post Office is a good one. The reason this will prove controversial is because as we have seen there are some sections of the Lib Dem blogsphere at least which are hostile to anything that even looks like direct intervention in the economy by the state; let alone something that obviously is a direct government intervention in the market.

Let's have a look at the debate on Liberal Democrat Voice. Clegg's Ardent Admirer says;

"I wouldn’t have a problem capitalising a kind of federation of credit unions accessed via the post office to provide small loans for the poor and/or micro credit for community enterprise.

But there we have clear market failure as that ector is dominated by loan sharks or not at all.It would also be effectively mutually owned rather than state owned if set up properly.

But a government bank to make different lending decisions because we don’t like the ones the free market is making?

What next? A government supermarket because some people can’t shop at Ocado any more and have had to down grade to Sainsbury’s."

False premise. Clegg is proposing this action not because he doesn't 'like' the decisions being made but more because there are pretty much no decisions (in favour) being made. In other words, the pendulum has swung to far the other way from the 'credit-free-for-all' to 'no-credit-for-anybody' side of the equation. So, this is a corrective measure to balance things out not a return to the "credit boom and excessive lending were a part of the cause of this problem" that Tinter talks about. Clegg and Cable are right to criticise the government for a lack of return on the bail-out investment and it's right that they propose something is done; what I note from the debate thus for that nobody has been able to put forward any of the supposed 101 solutions that exist as an alternative.

***UPDATE*** BBC responds to complaint...

. You may remember that I wrote and blogged a letter of complaint about the coverage of the US Elections. Well...below is the reply I received...apparently the propositions and future make-up of Congress would only be 'of interest to an American audience';

"Dear Mr Goodliffe,

Thanks for your e-mail regarding our coverage of the US Presidential Elections.

I understand that you feel that our coverage of this event was of very poor quality and acknowledge your concern and disappointment that you believe no attention was given to votes going on in the other areas concerning the votes for Congress as well as the votes on the local propositions. I note that you feel we are capable of better standards.

The campaign that built up to the election is likely to be looked back on as among the most dramatic we have seen and it yielded numerous significant stories along the way. The outcome of the election itself is already widely regarded as a significant historical moment and millions tuned in to BBC One and the BBC News channel to watch events unfold with David Dimbleby. We feel that we focused on the issue which was at the forefront of everyone's minds - that of whether or not history would be made through the election of Barack Obama. This is itself demonstrated the worldwide event, whereas other issues, such as the propositions you mention would be of more interest to an American audience.

Overall we feel it was appropriate that the BBC devoted a considerable amount of time and resource to covering this major event in international politics. I appreciate you don't agree on this occasion and would therefore like to assure you that your complaint has been registered on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your feedback.

Regards

Sarah Wilson
BBC Complaints"

PMQ's Reaction...

. I am becoming quite a regular viewer of PMQ's it has to be said. I was watching this week hoping things could barely be worse than last week or could they? James Graham was hoping that Liberal Democrats would be hoping to not to have to hold 'their heads in their hands'.

Opening exchanges about the value of sterling saw Brown try and be cheeky; quoting Margaret Thatcher in response to Conservative, Philip Dunne. Cameron opened by thanking Brown for the independent inquiry into the Baby P case; perhaps he is sensitive to the furore his attitude created last week and decided that a more magnanimous tone was in order.

He then proceeded to attack Brown on the economy and parrot what both Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have been doing; questioning whether the bank bail-out was working and whether measures should not be taken to ensure lending. Cameron asked if any measures were being planned and I wondered at this point what Clegg would find to ask; Brown said that 'fiscal expansion' would be necessary and tried to score points off the Conservative announcements on spending yesterday.

A bit of circular, partisan, ping-pong ensured. Clegg returned to the issue of the bail-out. He asked for concrete evidence the bail-out was working. Clegg also asked if he would consider loaning money to businesses in need directly. Overall, it was much better than last week; from our perspective Clegg attacked Brown on the right grounds but I was left with the slight impression that he had been slightly overshadowed by Cameron. I think this is the problem...we are struggling with our narrative and thus in the polls. Dave Allen has a good piece on this on Liberal Democrat Voice.

BNP member lists leak

. The BNP and all it's members are flapping about the possibility of being the target of 'reds' following the publication of there membership list online.

BNP supporters and members participated in and aided a site called Redwatch which published photos of and named anti-fascist activists saying they should 'pay for their crimes'. It also published home address details etc, so...no sympathy for the current predicament of the BNP's members here.

I rather think their concerns are less to do for with a danger of being targeted and more the danger that some of their more secretive supporters will be embarrassed to be revealed as a member.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

****UPDATE*** Lib dem council tells residents remove your doormats or face legal action

. Well, your intrepid reporter decided to investigate the story below and here is what I found. The story doesn't just appear in the Conservative media. The Mirror carries the story too along with the Daily Telegraph. Apparently, three residents in Revenge House, at The Anchorage, Gosport, Hants, have been told to remove the rubber-backed mats.

Surveyors felt that the mats were a tripping risk and that if they were not removed then the tenants would be breaking the terms of their lease re; putting objects in communal areas. Luckily there is not a blanket ban but the council is threatening to write more letters asking for the mats removal. A council spokeswoman Brenda Brooker is quoted as saying:

"We, as a local authority and landlord, have a duty of care to all persons entering our communal areas.

These should be free from any hazards or obstructions, likely to cause health and safety issues or prevent evacuation of persons in a fire situation.

We would consider the health and safety risk that the particular problem presents and then would consider appropriate action, possibly involving legal action."

Not exactly good press for us in local government is it....

Please tell me this isn't true....

. Please, please somebody in comments tell me this story from Conservative Home isnt true...surely a very late April Fool?

"Gosport Council bans doormats

The Daily Telegraph reports that Lib Dem-run Gosport Council is banning doormats on health and safety grounds. Intriguingly a Council spokesman is quoted justifying the decision. But Cllr Keith Gill, the Lib Dem councillor in charge of housing, attacks it.

Who is in charge of the clattering train? If Cllr Gill thinks it was a mistake why hasn't the order by rescinded, apologies issued, the relevant housing officer sacked, etc? Why is the Council still going ahead with prohibition and the spokesman still defending it? This sounds like a Council where the officers are running affairs, very badly, while the councillors notionally in authority offer an impotent running commentary."

Clegg - Tories economic plan 'madness'

. So, the Conservatives won't stick to Labour's spending plans for 2010/11. It at least does set the stage for a bitterly contested election (in 2009 I believe). On a whole raft of issues there is going to be a bitter contest and a clear difference. The challenge that presents to us is finding our own narrative; one that isn't going to be drowned out by the two major parties.

Here, thanks to Politics Home, is what Nick Clegg had to say to the earlier press conference given by David Cameron which he said showed the Tories had "nothing to say to help people now";

"This is the surest way to push this recession into a slump. It's exactly what the Conservatives did in the 1980s. This is the very last thing you should do.

Of course you have to borrow money for long term investment so that Britain comes out as a fairer and more sustainable economy.

To say now…that we should take lots of money out of the economy would be a way of sending us from recession into full blown slump.

We think the way in which Gordon Brown and his ministers spend our money is not the right way to spend it in a recession. It seems to be it’s much better to spend it on fairer taxes, on the elderly."

'Catastrophic' drop in social housing

. Today's Financial Times reports that, at a time when waiting lists are at a record high, the provision of social housing is 'drying up'. The landlords are urging the government to change the way they are funded.

Associations have traditionally subsidised there development with the support of heavy borrowing and a large amount of debt. They also sell a large proportion of properties to private buyers to subsidise the social housing they are obliged to build. However, that market has collapsed so now the The Housing Corporation, which funds and monitors the sector, has begun an urgent review of 258 associations. Of 39 examined so far, four have been given an “amber” warning, meaning there are serious fears about their future.

It can currently only provide 40% of the funding for a scheme with the rest coming from borrowing and private sales. The National Housing Federation, which represents the associations, wants more central funding to be made available. However, the only concrete proposal to come from Margaret Beckett thus far is the ending of council homes for life which strikes me as a example of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Maybe this is an issue which we can start to flag-up and draw to peoples attention....

Monday, 17 November 2008

Cable - government must be tougher on banks

. Good piece by Vince Cable in tonights Evening Standard. He rightly points out that;

"It is truly shocking that, having committed £37 billion of taxpayers' money to recapitalise the banks, the Government has now decided to wash its hands of any further responsibility. It declines even to appoint directors. The undertaking by the banks to maintain a flow of lending and to discipline bonuses has been quietly buried."

Is this not something we should be raising while we are pushing for tax cuts??

***UPDATE*** Tories blame 'clerical error' in donor row

. Just a quick update to the story I posted below yesterday from the pages of the Sunday Times. The Guardian reports;

"The Conservatives yesterday blamed an administrative error after it emerged that the teenage daughter of a foreign arms dealer was recorded as giving £47,000 to the party, even though she did not have the funds to make such a donation."

Wafic Said's wife, known as Rosemary, is entitled to make donations as a UK resident and is registered as having made £154,000 worth of donations. A statement says;

"A statement from the Conservative party yesterday said: "In 2005, a number of donations from Rosemary were incorrectly registered with the Electoral Commission as coming from her daughter Rasha. This was an administrative error for which we take full responsibility. It occurred because of a misreading of the electoral roll during compliance checks."

How conveinent.

2009 - General election year??

. Interesting piece on The Spectators Coffee House blog. It argues that the CBI's forecasts of 2.9 million unemployed by 2010 could point towards an early general election. I think there is something in this; Brown could of be in a catch-22, still behind in the polls but facing the prospect of losing momentum, if it looks like things will be bad in 2010 then he may well plump for 2009.

Also, speaking from a purely psychological angle he has had to deal with the consequences of not going to the polls early-on in his premiership. Once bitten, twice shy?? I think it is in Brown's mind as a possibility; especially with Labour recovering in the polls. So, I agree with Ifran Ahmed, we should prepare ourselves for an early election...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Tories face questions over proxy donor...

. All political parties tend to have trouble with the issue of party funding and it is fair to say that we have had our own fair share. I think, in terms of rebuilding faith in politics this is a key issue and one we should be taking a lead on.

Today's Sunday Times however puts the spotlight firmly on the Conservatives when it comes to this issue. It reports that they maybe in breach of rules around accepting donations from a proxy donor;

"THE Conservatives face questions over the use of “proxies” to make donations after the teenage daughter of a foreign arms dealer apparently gave £47,000 to the party.

The donations were made in the name of Rasha Said, the daughter of Wafic Said, the multimillionaire businessman who, as a non-UK resident, is barred from making donations to political parties in Britain."

One wonders if Mr Said has any yachts for George Osborne to holiday on....

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Cable - Osborne a 'bit silly'

. From Politics Home...

"Mr Cable criticised George Osborne’s warnings over a potential run on sterling as "a bit silly".

"He's very good at the sharp debating points but I don't think he thinks through the economic logic of what he's saying," Mr Cable said.

He added: "We've already had a very substantial devaluation. That is the nature of flexible exchange rates".

Mr Cable also criticised the government for "walking away" from the banking sector after the liquidity injection.

"Having taken a good and effective step in relation to the banking sector, the government are now walking away from it," he said.

He added: "We've got a banking system that has seized up and a government not willing to intervene in any way that keeps the economy going"."

Keep the fox hunting ban...

. Costigan Quist has an interesting post over at his cafe. He feels that the fox hunting ban is an example of;

"fluffy bunny syndrome. Most of us don't care about animals for their sake. If we did, we'd care just as much about the battery chicken as our faithful pooch; just as much about the rat as the fox. We care about animals for our sake. We're very keen on treating animals well to make ourselves feel good and happy, but when giving an animal the most gruesome death imaginable fits into our cosy world view, we do it with barely a moment's hesitation."

Firstly, he is right there are inconsistencies in how alot of people view this issue and that in some cases there is examples of a stance being blatant hypocrisy. However, this in and of itself is not a valid reason to actually repeal the legislation it is more a reason to start looking into legislation on the issues he raises like factory farming.

I will even go so far as to admit that there is an element of selfishness in how humans view animals. Having said that behind it is some recognition that unnecessary cruelty devalues our humanity and surely that is something that should be welcomed and encouraged?? Foxes being killed by 'guns' etc is obviously more humane because it is quicker than being ripped to shreds by hounds. Obviously not all the methods listed by Quist are humane but neither is running an animal down then having it ripped to pieces. Finally, as Jennie replies not everybody who advocates in favour of this ban is a hypocrite so we return to my original point...just because some people are is not a good enough reason for a repeal.

Tories squabbling....

. There are a couple of interesting Tory stories doing the rounds on the blogsphere today. Firstly, the George Osborne saga continues apace with a Conservative peer, Lord Kalms, coming out in the Daily Telegraph calling for Osborne to be replaced. Guido openly wondered yesterday if the 'Labourgraph' was conducting a campaign against Osborne after a spate of articles calling for him to go; I have to openly wonder what is going on behind closed doors in the Conservative Party because a couple of papers traditionally loyal, The Times (well loyalish in this case) and the Telegraph, are running anti-Osborne articles and running with them.

Meanwhile, Conservative Home links to an article which suggests how the Conservatives could lose the next election. One of the possible factors cited is 'infighting breaks out'....hasn't infighting already broken out??

In favour of levelling-up....

. Over on Alix Mortimer's blog I promised Asquith I would look over a thread on a blog he has been posting too relating to discussions we have had before. I also promised a blog in response so here we go....

If I maybe permitted his indulgence I will deal with the point's he made on Alix's blog and the ones he makes on To Miss with Love. Starting with this;

"It should have been obvious that Baby P’s mother shouldn’t have had a child. We will do no one any favours by tiptoeing around being nice & “sensitive”, overlooking the fact that so many ill-equipped, poorly educated & frankly inadequate people are reproducing, aided by the welfare state, because they have nothing else in their lives."

The first point is such a thing is only obvious to us; the people writing and reading in hindsight and via the information we have received about this case. Should it have been obvious to the professionals?? Of course we say because we have the full facts in front of us and have the benefit of the aforementioned hindsight. It is always easier to comment on a situation from the outside looking in than it is being on the inside and while I do not want to excuse genuine malpractice and lack of competence this is something we always have to be aware of when entering this debate.

If people are 'ill-equipped' then the right question to ask is 'how can we equip them' not issue blanket condemnations. I think, and I will go on record saying this, that the vast majority of people who are on benefits defiantly do not want to be; I know I can at least speak for myself in this instance. Apart from anything else filling in all the forms in my dreadful handwriting gives me slight writers cramp. Now, equally I accept that there are people on benefits who have 'prison wall syndrome' who are institutionalised on them (although I stress again I think this is a minority) so when dealing with them the correct question is how do we raise their horizons. It is a question of carrot and stick; too much of one doesn't work.

Now none of this should lead to blanket condemnations of the welfare state. It is necessary; it needs to be there for people in times of need. I know because personally speaking I am in a 'time of need'. Raising peoples horizons also incidentally means tackling issues like low pay and working conditions. This is the whole crux of the debate; I am in favour of 'levelling-up' not 'levelling down'. I am in favour of policies that allow people to 'thrive' in the way Asquith comes out for on 'To Miss'. However, we must constantly be levelling up people who get left behind.

However, we start with an uneven playing field and the state is the power; the body in a position to level that playing field. I don't think there is much disagreement between me and Asquith when it comes to concrete issues maybe most of it lies in the lables we would give ourselves...so, over to you Asquith :)

Friday, 14 November 2008

Con Home crows over Islington

. This is rather unfortunate to say the least. Conservative Home reports that;

"Councillor Andrew Cornwell has resigned as Execetive Member for Finance from the Lib Dem administration in Islington. In a damning resignation letter to the Council leader he says:

"The Council remains characterised by waste and inefficiency in too many areas. Excessive spending on refreshments, conference venues, travel costs and consultants. The number of highly paid managers has grown and unacceptable redundancy payments have been made to departing senior officers. You know I have attempted to challenge all these practises but without your full support it has not been possible to make the kind of changes I feel is needed."

Cllr Cornwell feels he had some achievements. He cites a £20 Council Tax discount for those who pay by direct debit and substantial sales of Council owned commercial property. But he still concludes in his letter that unless there is a new approach "not only will Liberal Democrats not be re-elected to run Islington, they will not deserve to be.""

No doubt they wouldn't have to had looked far to find the story; it also appears in the Islington Gazette. Obviously, it's hard to comment on specifics but at the very least it is rather bad that this story found it's way so easily in the public domain is it not??

Shameless politicisation....

. Camilla Cavendish has a truly dreadful piece in The Times which is an eloquent testimony to the right's politicisation of the Baby P death;

"We have always had an underclass. We have never tried so hard before to help people out of it. Yet our efforts have backfired."

"In my bleaker moments I feel that the welfare state has pulled off a truly brilliant stunt: not only has it managed to institutionalise shamelessness among people who might once have been forced to take heed of social taboos."

"I recently bumped into a man I know who grew up in care. He has managed, against the odds, to hold down a job and raise children. But his history means that the authorities keep him in their sights. When he fought to get his son statemented for special needs, he was accused of poor parenting. Yet he sees his feckless neighbours enjoying subsidised rent, benefit cheques and health visits, from a State that seems to condone their behaviour."

Can anybody tell me that is not naked politicisation of an issue??

Against the politics of vengence....

. When I wrote my first blog posting about the issue of Baby P I really didn't want too because I could all too quickly see it getting out of hand. Part of my anger about what David Cameron did was that I felt it was deeply reckless and deeply irresponsible for a leader who wants to be Prime Minister to 'fan the flames'. What is more while it is true that Gordon Brown does have a tin ear I am beginning to feel this issue is becoming far too emotive. So, naturally when people like Guido slammed Brown for being an 'emotional retard' it did eventually motivate me to post.

Maybe this makes me out of touch; maybe it means I lack emotional intelligence in the way that Brown does. However, I feel in a case like this more than any other it is incumbent upon politicians to actually lead and a necessary part of leading is being detached and yes a little 'out of touch'.

The 'debate' on Liberal Democrat Voice rather illustrates my point perfectly;

"Some may think that torturous punishment is too harsh for the three sickos that carried out this appalling abuse but I feel that they should suffer for their terrible crime against a defenceless child. For this case, BRING BACK CAPITAL PUNISHMENT!"

"I do think that Haringey, the NSPCC and society as a whole should be called to account; these evil people should have been caged for child abuse when he was first seen to be injured, why was this not done"

"DOCTORS SHOULD BE STRUCK OFF!SOCIAL WORKERS SHOULD BE SACKED!POLITICIANS SHOULD BE FORCED TO RESIGN,and Senior administrators should be held to public account ! If this is not done the same situation will occur again,and again,and again,and again!"

This is just a selection of quotes. I smell the unmistakable odour of fires being stoked and witches being hunted. Yes, these responses are 'understandable' even 'human' but the question is really should our gut rule our politics and our policies?? No, it should not and no it cannot; call's for accountability are correct and necessary but the people in the above quotes are straying dangerously far from wanting accountability and dangerously close to wanting vengeance.

It is right that there should be accountability and some people should and will lose their jobs. Do people really think that people will think that is enough though? These people will no doubt be targeted and probably threatened and they will have to be protected. However, after that has happened there will have to be healing and I think we should not forget that....

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Vince grabs Spectator award....

. I am sure everybody has been following these with baited breath...in any case, our very own Vince Cable picked up the Parliamentarian of the year award after receiving;

"more support than a semi-nationalised bank."

Congratulations to Vince and the Spectator for the earlier mentioned hilarity with Mandleson and Osborne who should have had the 'Odd Couple' theme playing in the background for their bit....

Mandleson gets award from.....George Osborne!

. Come on, admit it...you would have loved to have been at the Spectator Awards to see this;

"Someone at The Speccie with a sense of humour has put Peter Mandelson and George Osborne on the same table. We'll let you know if bread rolls start being thrown...

2pm: George Osborne is presenting awards.

Newcomer of year is Peter Mandelson. Mr O looks distinctly uncomfortable presenting it! "it's good to be back on board as they say in Corfu" says Lord M accepting.

"For next year's holiday" replies Mr O "we'll be holidaying in the North Sea off Hartlepool - a place neither of us have visited for a long time.""

Hoax fools New Yorkers....

. First Post reports;

"Readers of the New York Times were treated to some startling news on Wednesday morning. A banner headline announced: "Iraq War Ends" This was accompanied by an admission from Condoleezza Rice (pictured) that the Bush administration had known all along that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. It was, of course, a hoax. But the 14-page "special edition", which was circulated free in Manhattan, was such a brilliant facsimile that many NYT readers were intially fooled, especially as it was backed it up by an equally convincing website."

If only it were true....

Poll - clear majority want troops brought home

. The BBC is carrying the results of a poll which shows;

"More than two-thirds of Britons think UK troops should leave Afghanistan within a year".

It found that 68% of respondents felt this was the correct way forward. ICM conducted the poll in advance of a program on Radio 4 asking if troops should be brought home. Coming on the same day as news of more fatalities, I believe the poll reflects two things; a growing weariness with the 'war on terror' and a growing recognition that the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq simply are not delivering results.

Since I have written extensively elsewhere (both here and on Liberal Democrat Voice) about this I am not going to repeat myself but think it is further evidence that people will no longer accept the need for this kind of interventionism nor feel that it can continue as it is doing. It also makes the idea of even a 'temporary' troop 'surge' in Afghanistan one unlikely to find favour with many people.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

One for all you sports fans....

. Everybody may well have danced to Barack Obama's victory but it appears that it could cost England the chance to host the World Cup in 2018 (no doubt this will make some Obama supporters happier still). The Guardian reports that;

"Barack Obama's election could derail England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup, according to a "high-placed" Fifa official. The unnamed source told Yahoo Sports that Obama's popularity will be "a huge factor" in deciding whether the USA is selected to host either the 2018 or 2022 tournaments."

Never one to miss out on the opportunity to bask in some reflective glory, Fifa president Sepp Blatter is expected to visit the White House next year. It's also believed that Obama's election and the enhanced prestige it has given the US internationally could help Chicargo's bid to host the Olympics in 2016.

Baby P - Brown and Cameron as bad as each other

. This is one of those 'proud to be a Liberal Democrat' moments because both Lynne Featherstone and Nick Clegg have shown sensitivity and sense in dealing with this issue. I actually watched PMQ's and couldn't believe what David Cameron was doing; it is hard to avoid the charge that the Conservatives are indeed 'playing politics' with this issue.

Writing on First Post, 'The Mole' says that Cameron picked the 'wrong fight'. Why?? We all know that Cameron and the Conservatives have been losing ground on the economy, that;

"Gordon is showing world leadership on the economy. He's Mr Serious while Cameron looks like Mr Floppy."

Because the Conservatives are in such obvious disarray over the economy it seems to me that they have decided to return to their 'broken Britain' narrative and that is really what lies behind Cameron's line of questioning. It beggars belief that Conservative bloggers can launch a crescendo of mock outrage then make statements like Iain Dale does;

"If any Conservative wanted a bit of steel inserted into their backbone, Brown did that today. Roll on the day that he is kicked out of the building he no longer deserves to inhabit."

From here to the outer fringes of the internet Conservative bloggers are lining-up to prove Brown's charge correct. Guido Fawkes accuses Brown of being 'emotionally retarded'. Meanwhile, Conservative Home carries a piece saying David Cameron was right to be angry. A Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, writes on the Daily Telegraph blogs page;

"And what if David Cameron was making a party political point out of a tragic event? Isn't that precisely what Opposition leaders are meant to do?"

Brown, by contrast, showed his inability to deal competently with any issue that does not include an economic aspect. His dogged refusal to allow an independent inquiry has been followed by a series of backtracking remarks and promises of urgent action.

In short, neither side have covered themselves in glory in this episode and I suspect neither 'side ' will find much favour with the wider public; the big loser will be the credibility of politics and politicians as whole.

Blogbytes; PH100 on our poll ratings and Osborne

. A couple of things caught my eye just surfing round the blogsphere. Politics Home turns its PH100 panel on a question that has occupied some space on this blog namely why our poll ratings are not looking that great. Two key reasons were given;

  1. Our message isn't getting across due to a combination of the media and our own efforts.
  2. The Conservatives/rightist members of the panel rather disparagingly say that we are 'not taken seriously;

"The media is the culprit, according to roughly a third of our insiders and experts on the PHI100.

Thirty four per cent of the panel reckon the Lib Dems are suffering because the media hasn't paid them as much attention as it does to Labour and the Tories. This explanation is especially popular with Lib Dem panellists. Many of the media panellists also think this is the reason as do quite a lot of the politicians on the panel.In a related explanation, fourteen per cent of the panel blame the Lib Dems themselves for failing to get their message across.

A chunk of the panel (twenty eight per cent) opt for other explanations.Of those, several mentioned the Lib Dem leader, one right-leaning leader of a think tank contending: 'Nick Clegg is not taken seriously.'

A Conservative MP has a similar explanation: 'Clegg is invisible and Cable will not be Chancellor. Nice guys, but no power or potential for power.'

A left-leaning strategist says: 'They're just not seen as an alternative Government.'The leader of a right-leaning think tank suggests: 'Vince Cable is authoritative, but I wonder whether people now see him as a pundit rather than a LibDem spokesman. Is he now bigger than his party?'"

As one Lib Dem parliamentarian puts it;

"This is a truly frustrating situation - there is no point in being right but no-one knowing about it!"

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that Conservative frustration with George Osborne has reached the pages of the Financial Times. Apparently;

"One reshuffle scenario doing the rounds would put William Hague, the former leader, in the Treasury job, with Mr Osborne moved to an enhanced party chairman role that would wrap in his other roles as election co-ordinator and strategist."

Are we making enough of e-democracy??

. Interesting report by Iain Dale on a meeting he attended last night. His comments on the Lib Dems ran thus;

"Willie Rennie was the victor of the 2006 Dunfermline by-election. He is also the head of the LibDems Parliamentary Campaigns team (or so it said on the programme). LibDems are normally very switched in with regard to campaigning. Generally, they "get" what technology can contribute to campaigns. Not Willie Rennie, though. His entire web strategy was to have collected 1,500 email addresses from constituents within two years, to whom he sends a monthly email. He doesn't even post the email on his website (which he shares with the local MSP!). He has not blog, no other web presence and derided those who did. He didn't fancy blogging in case he said something against the party line. I didn't think that would be so much of a problem for the LibDems, but there you go. I have rarely encountered a politician so immune to the opportunities which the internet provides."

Now, rather leaving aside a degree of expected partisan hostility I think there is a interesting question here. Especially since we are opposed to all forms of e-voting or so it would seem...so, comments welcome...