Monday, 18 May 2009

Please adjust your browsers/links....

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

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Clegg calls for Speaker and tainted MP's to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Why the Lib Dems should avoid this honey-coated trap

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

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

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

Friday, 15 May 2009

Conservative Home launches anti-BNP website...

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

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

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

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A directly elected Mayor for Leeds?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

PMQ's: Cameron loses context

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Cameron got it right today....

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

MP's to publish all expenses online

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


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

Scrutiny Committee

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

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

Monday, 11 May 2009

Letter to the YEP the sequel....

. Below is my latest letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post...

Dear Sirs,

Alan Slomson (Letters, May 11) asks if I would allow special car parking spaces to facilitate theft and the answer is of course I wouldn’t but you cannot conflate the unlawful theft of private property with a discussion about how common property is used.

Alan raises legitimate concerns but I have to say once again that this is the reason the special area is being proposed; to limit the damage that is done and make sure the Moor is preserved; residents concerns are addressed and people’s freedoms are not unnecessarily restricted.

Alan mentions the current by-laws which prevent barbecues on the Moor and says ‘if only they were enforced’ but makes no proposals about funding the enforcing of these laws nor there impracticability nor the fact that they restrict the legitimate freedoms of people who have no facility to have a barbecue elsewhere. Smoke travels; should we outlaw them in back gardens too because of the damaging effects of smoke travelling?

This debate is all about striking the proper balance between rights and freedoms and responsibilities; it is my belief that the proposals put forward do that and that is why I support them.

Yours Sincerely,

Darrell Goodliffe

Hyde Park, Leeds

No mystery or masks here....

. Woodhouse Moor Online claims to go 'beneath the mask', 'exposing' me not as a local resident but as a Liberal Democrat activist (something that won't exactly surprise the regular readers of this blog). Unfortunately, the piece is flawed by a simple fact;
  1. I did include my address in my letter to the Yorkshire Evening Post but it was not printed. I have no intention of publishing my full address so publicly but I can reassure the writers of Woodhouse Moor Online that I am indeed a local resident as anybody who knows me well will vouch for; I note that there is no facility to comment on their blogs unlike here so this speaks volumes for how accountable they wish to be and how ready they are to enter into an open dialogue.
  2. My Liberal Democrat activism is no secret; I run a blog here as many people know. How much more public can you get? However, none of this means I am not capable of being both a local resident and activist for my party.

If all they can do is to invent elaborate conspiracy theories rather than enter an open and honest debate then I think that is to the detriment of successfully dealing with this issue. As I understand it many of the 'Friends of Woodhouse Moor' have stated political affiliations; does this automatically exclude them from the debate? I don't think it does so why am I to be excluded on the basis of being a active member of a political party? Being a member of a political party does not make my view less or even invalid.

***UPDATE*** Woodhouse Moor online does have a comment facility (which wasn't immediately obvious since they are not shown at the bottom of the post as is customery) so, a slight correction from yours truly there.

Kudos to Jo Swinson....

. ...who has placed all her expenses details online at her website. This is something Nick Clegg should be telling all our MP's to do later today; in the current climate we should not be letting the media dictate the agenda.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Witch hunts don't solve anything....

. Let's be quite clear; there are genuine abuses and genuine scandals in the way MP's claim expenses. However, having said all that the slew of 'revelations' is fast descending into farce itself. The Daily Telegraph has been forced into a humiliating climbdown with regard to it's stories surrounding Gordon Brown.

There has been some quite excellent blogging on this issue from Costigan Quist and Bernard Salmon but sadly, some bloggers seem intent recklessly on fanning the flames. They seem intent on claiming the moral high-ground, complaining loudly about the abuse of 'our money' etc, etc. Again, let's be honest, they have a point but it is a limited point because it is based on judging a complicated story on media hype and hot air. What we are really seeing is the publics frustration primarily with this government and it's inability to remove it from power. Both Costigan and Bernard are rightly alluding to a simple fact here; that there are a great many people in politics, MP's included who are not 'on the make'. These people work hard, long hours for their constituents and deserve every penny of their pay. As has been pointed out alot of MP's expenses claims are directly related to staffing costs who, I am glad to confirm from personal experience, work damn hard for very little relative reward.

None of this is newsworthy of course so you won't be hearing much about it in the coming days or even weeks because well, it just isn't scandalous enough is it? As the bonfires continue to be stoked the chances of a rationally worked through solution to this problem diminish almost by the passing hour; instead we will get reform that further damages the political system that it is meant to save.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

How a national Focus column could look...

. One of my known bugbears is the lack of national content in local Focus, to illustrate what one could look like there is a mock-up below which didn't quite make it into the Hyde Park & Woodhouse edition, on the plus side my letter was published in the YEP....

'Westminster Watch'

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was at the forefront of winning Parliamentary recognition for the right of Gurkhas to settle in the UK. He challenged the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, on his ‘shameful’ abandonment of the Gurkhas at Prime Ministers Questions. He attacked a government which had ‘lost its moral authority’ for refusing to honour the countries debt of gratitude to the Gurkhas who fought for Britain during both World Wars.

The following day the Liberal Democrats put forward a motion which would grant rights of residence in the UK to all Gurkhas which was carried by 267 votes to 246 against. It won support from all parties and was a historic victory for Gurkhas; many of whom are still waiting for the Government to decide on whether they will be allowed to settle in the country they risked their lives for.

Speaking following the vote, Clegg insisted;

'The Government must listen to Parliament and scrap these shameful rules immediately and grant justice without conditions to all retired Gurkhas.'

In other Westminster news, the Liberal Democrats have continued to push for a program of tax cuts targeted at low/middle income earners to deliver real help to people as the economy continues to struggle. The program, which would put £700 a year back into people’s pockets, would be paid for by closing existing tax loopholes. Liberal Democrats are at the forefront nationally of ensuring people get real help during the downturn and locally are fighting to ensure our communities still get the resources they need during these difficult times despite huge cutbacks on government funding for local authorities."

Friday, 8 May 2009

Taking the lead on exspenses

. Several places have blogged the story in the Daily Telegraph and rightly feel in my eyes that this is the start of something akin to a witch hunting atmosphere is gathering, something Charlotte Gore characterises as the prelude to an 'us v them' atmosphere. No doubt this explains the not so strange silence of Nick Clegg and David Cameron, noted by Guido Fawkes. When questioned on Newsnight recently about whether Clegg would impose rules on Lib Dem MPs specifically he slithered and squirmed to the point of it being very embarrassing to watch.

We can't doubt that the main beneficiaries of this kind of atmosphere will be the BNP and political movements akin to them if nothing is done. This issue should be considered in much the same light as the donor issue; that if we fail to take a lead then nobody will see us as being serious about fixing 'broken politics'. If we merely continue to say well we will do what the government does then it will look like an entrenched political class banding together to save itself and preserve it's own perks.

Various solutions present themselves; Charlotte wants a general election called which it should be but not on this issue alone, that is akin to actually building a bonfire to burn the witches. A sensible, and reasoned rational debate about what expenses MP's do legitimately need to claim is hard enough to have without making it the centrepiece of an election campaign. Amidst all the outrage and front page headlines there has to be a reasoned argument and public discussion about what is legitimate and what isn't and part of that does entail the mood of popular outrage giving ground.

I think the opportunity exists for Clegg to make it clear that we won't accept expenses abuse from our own MP's by introducing binding guidelines for Liberal Democrat MP's. This has to be done to show that we are serious about our 'fixing' agenda....

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

PMQ's - It's all in the body language

. PMQ's was as could be expected fiery. David Cameron lead the charge on Hazel Blears remarks earlier in the week calling the government 'lamentable'. Cameron undoubtedly captures the mood of the country in rightly calling for a General Election now and throughout their exchanges Brown looked distinctly uncomfortable, refusing to look directly at Cameron for much of it instead focusing his gaze on the Speaker. This said allot about the fact that Brown simply didn't want to answer Cameron's question about why Blears was still in the Cabinet.

Brown's body language was hunched and deflective which summed-up his cruelly exposed Premiership. The Conservatives have clearly decided that is their line of attack as they lined-up to call for a General Election with one, Andrew Rossindale, raising the now fabled online petition. Brown's stoic answering looked laboured (no pun intended) and failed to recognise that whatever this government does do people won't support it; it has passed the point of no return.

Nick Clegg focused on education and the prospects for young people and did ok but it is quite clear that Brown feels much more comfortable dealing with Clegg as he chose to look directly at him. Clegg's question usually give Brown an opportunity to reel off a list of policy 'achievements' and this is obviously what Brown feels comfortable doing. Clegg spoke passionately and even implied that Brown was stupid; cue roars from the Labour benches to which Clegg deftly replied 'at least I say it to his face'. Clegg is getting better but he doesn't have the knack of unsettling Brown like Cameron does; Cameron does have the benefit of being the main opposition leader but he clearly has Brown rattled where as Clegg doesn't.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Will The Guardian go Lib Dem??

. Sunny Hundal has an interesting Liberal Conspiracy; he ponders the diema of left-of-centre publications like the New Statesman and Guardian faced with the unpalatable choice of backing a unpopular government or the Conservatives, who are not exactly their target readership. Sunny thinks that, at lease in the case of the Guardian this will be solved by a backing of the Liberal Democrats.

I think in the Guardian's case there has been some clear kite-flying in favour of at least the Cameroon wing of the Conservative Party. Earlier on this blog I looked at the kite-flying article talking about 'constructive engagement' with the Cameron-wing and they were part of the 'Progressive future' series of debates that the Guardian held. I think what we will see is a vauge editorial line calling for change from the Guardian come the election, which is a de facto call for a Conservative vote in alot of areas. They may well urge a Lib Dem vote where applicable; ie, against Labour where we are the main competition but the main thrust of what they say will be calling for change and a grudging acceptance of the incoming Conservative government. What they may endorse us as is the opposition essentially and say there should be more Lib Dem MP's to hold the Conservative administration to account.

The Guardian is notably not afraid of tacking away from it's readership base as it did over the Iraq war and The Independant is in such a poorly state that it is unlikely to be able to steal readers off of it so yes my money is a Guardian vote for change.

Sweet dreams are made of these.....

. Stephen Tall has rightly won praise for his article on Liberal Democrat Voice speculating on how we can overtake Labour and be the next party of opposition. Any reasonable, cogent analysis of the political scene has to see this as being the next-step of Liberal Democrat advance. Given events of recent weeks it is quite clear that we are going to get a big swing against Labour and that the most likely outcome of this is a Conservative majority. So, the question then becomes one of how do we effectively place ourselves as the next opposition.

In terms of centre-of-political gravity being centre/leftish is naturally the best place to be not least because it maintains the balance of having one centre/right and one centre/left party. Stephen's proposition that the Liberal Democrats can fill this void and eclipse Labour is entirely reasonable in this climate. Looking at his three preconditions in turn they also seem eminently achievable:

Labour must Fracture

This is a tricky one and I see comparisons with 1983 as being completely invalid. Mainly because there was wave after wave of industrial militancy in 83 (and immediately preceding it) which the swing to the left then was actually grounded in. Now, while it maybe true that CLP's are more leftward inclined, there simply isn't that social base. We are in a massive economic depression and the nature of the CLP's is more determined by the remaining activists being die-hards and last ones standing than an actual social movement.

One way we can guarantee that any such split won't benefit us is to go with the foaming-at-the-mouth sectarianism advocated by Charlotte Gore. When people feel attacked they circle the wagons; they don't as a rule rush into the embrace of their attackers. However, the correct approach comes under the next heading.....

The Liberal Democrats must show they are the progressive party

This is about showing those people we want to fracture away from Labour in our direction that we actually share their values but disagree with Labour about how those values are best realised and actually translated into government policy. This is a constructive, subtle engagement/dialogue as opposed to grandstanding about 'Destroying' or 'Killing' the Labour Party.

Here Stephen actually has a reasonable formula regarding us being the 'champions of the underdog' where as Charlotte has a reasonable point about us stopping behaving like a party that is an underdog and has no hope or aspiration to govern. The squeeze message is a classic example of a third party mindset. All of which leads us into point 3....

The Liberal Democrats must show how we would govern

One of the major problems we face is the credibility gap we have; ie, the wasted vote argument. So, our policies need to be fully justified but we also need to show practically where do govern; ie, local councils or where we have a sitting MP where we make the difference that the other parties can't. We need to be advancing those type of arguments to make the transition from being a third party into being an opposition party and then a government-in-waiting...

Monday, 4 May 2009

We must be Europe's strongest champions....

. Interesting remarks by Chris Davies MEP reported on Politics Home;

"I don't underestimate UKIP. The European elections are just made for them. I want to put some pro-European arguments, i'm happy to take on UKIP anytime."

He also, rightly in my eyes, called the Conservative position on Europe 'hopelessly confused'. In reality the Conservatives want to 'democratise Europe' by destroying it; reducing it back to it's component parts. Davies is right that we need to be the most passionate Europeans out there and we need to clearly fight Euro-scepticism even in the full knowledge that this is against the public grain.

In electoral politics it is tempting to go with the grain; to find the winning formula and stick with that no matter what no matter what we believe. There is nothing wrong with 'democratising Europe' as a call in and of itself but the Conservative stance is pure demagoguery. Gordon Brown isn't inherently wrong about the global nature of the economic crisis (though there are, of course, local causation factors too) and this should tell us something about the necessity and pioneering nature of the European Union in the role of establishing the principle of transnational governance as being a good and indeed necessary thing.

The over-bureaucratised and unresponsive nature of the European Union should never blind us to the virtues of the principles that underlie it nor the powerful almost totemic significance of a continent which was once riven by petty national hatreds coming together. UKIP and the Conservatives essentially articulate a version of democracy that looks backwards; not forward to the possibilities of the Union. Democracy means nothing as an individual act; democracy only means something when people come together in it's formation; and in a collective expression of will and desire to shape society. Our democracy is impoverished when people become apathetic and withdraw (and consequentially anti-democratic forces like the BNP rise in popularity) from participation in what is a collective act and a collective living and breathing expression of will.

We should not be afraid of taking the argument to UKIP, the BNP and the Conservatives and challenging their hostility to Europe. It might not be the most popular move at first but in this case that really isn't the point.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Letter to the YEP....

. In lieu of me having a proper Leeds-focused blog, here is a letter I sent to the Yorkshire Evening Post....

Dear Sirs,

Alot of comment has been made about the proposed barbecue area on Woodhouse Moor, including your double-page spread on April 28th. One of the first things that is notable about this debate is it is being framed in totally the wrong way by opponents of the proposal. It is not a question of whether you want barbecues or not; some people invariably will, others won’t. Regardless they will happen so the opponents of this proposal suffer from a basic refusal to deal with reality.

Having recognised and accepted the above but also, at the same time, realising that some of the concerns expressed are legitimate it then becomes a question of effective management and this is where the virtue in these proposals is clearly shown. In acknowledging the concerns they are an attempt to manage effectively and balance the concerns of the residents without restricting other people’s ability to enjoy the Moor and use it in a way they wish.

This really is not a cut and dried issue and opponents of the proposals do them a disservice by insisting that they are put forward by people seeking to somehow damage the Moor. Burying our head in the sand and making it an either/or choice does neither the quality of the debate nor the actual interests of the Moor or the residents around it any favours.

It is time this debate was conducted properly so people can work together for the best interests of both the Moor and the local community without the impediment of blinkers.

Yours Sincerely,
Darrell Goodliffe
Local Resident."

Emotion V Reason in politics....

. This is perhaps one of the falsest counter positions there actually is; starting from the top, most people are in politics because they care on one degree another about the world around them and want to change it for the better. Often there is a motivating factor, something that inspires people or that they see wrong and motivates them to get out there and do something but the basis of the commitment remains the same. An ideological commitment is similarly an emotional commitment as much an intellectual commitment; in fact, it is arguably more so.

Without being a full statement of identity our political views are as much shaped in the crucible of our respective experiences in life. Of course, the finer print of how we actually do this is where things tend to fall apart. However, who would actually put all the hours and effort that most of us do into our political lives without some form of emotional commitment? Is this a bad thing? Of course, a detached analysis of the facts is helpful and sometimes necessary but how often have we seen politicians frowning over 'apathy' and the lack of involvement of people in the political process? Part of the reasons for this is unquestionably that politics fails to engage people on an emotional level; this is why the real divisions and differences are not understood or dismissed as puerile and insignificant.

This also goes a long way to explaining the almost fabled success of single issue campaigns in terms of engagement in comparison to the lack of success of party politics. It also explains why some people become disillusioned; feeling that politics is just another career choice and it might even explain why some feel so ready to abuse things like the expenses system. Also, 100 days ago we saw the success Barack Obama just over 100 days ago on the crest of a wave of public emotion; something of a outpouring of hope. Of course, we can see the negative way emotion plays out in politics in the way the British National Party so love to pray on peoples insecurities and fears.

All of this is to say that there is not a place for a certain detachment but as with most things it is a question of balance. However, to deny the important place that emotion and conviction has in politics is to deaden it and to open the gates to a decay of the fabric of the very system we all claim so much to treasure. Part of the problem and part of the reason that politics is indeed broken is the lack of conviction. This is something Nick Clegg proved in the positive by winning an inspiring victory for the Gurkhas; speaking passionately for a cause he clearly truly believes in and winning an important battle which proves that at its best Parliament can still function in the interests of the people it is supposed to represent. Part of fixing broken politics is thus bringing about the return of conviction politics.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Labour's treason season?

. The rumours that some Labour MP's/Peers might be considering defecting to the Liberal Democrats has certainly caused a stir on the blogsphere at least. Let's fly straight off the bat; this is kite-flying of the most blatant kind by malcontents in a Conservative supporting newspaper in a media climate where the media narrative is 'government in crisis. So, having said that what are the wider issues?

Firstly, there is nothing inherently wrong with attracting support from people within the Labour Party. It amuses me greatly that the same people who were only days ago celebrating our Gurkha success would think there is; how else was that vote won if not with a large-scale rebellion on the government benches?? This, if anything should prove the fact that there are people in the Labour Party (and indeed the Conservatives too) who can be worked with and are potentially open to political life in the Lib Dems.

Charlotte Gore has obviously totally mis-read the original piece because it is made clear that this is a putative *right-wing* (not left-wing) split from Blairites in our direction. So, most of her rant simply doesn't apply really. Party politics is partially tribal in nature and it engenders a tribal loyalty in all parties, including our own. Sometimes that is a plus, sometimes a minus. Political parties by their very nature are heterogeneous beasts; coalitions of different individuals and viewpoints around broad goals. It is bitterly ironic for people to inveigh against a Labourite propensity to create 'traitors' and then in the very next breath argue for a climate of ideological purity which in fact would make traitors of people.

Over on Liberal Democrat Voice, Richard Huzzey has a certainly more balanced view. He wants the newcomers to actually reverse their positions on some questions like ID cards which is understandable and will be likely if for no other reason than because pragmatically dropping ID cards makes sound economic sense. Also, it's worth noting that the more socially authoritarian strand to Blairite politics (taking Anthony Giddens as our marker here) actually came in as a response to the start of the 'war on terror' and that in turn can be traced back simply to how state formations actually react when a mass hysteria/sense of loss of control takes hold. State's increase their power incrementally in response to this public mood (with public unlicensed consent, normally) usually and had say, for example, the Conservatives been in power things would not have been an awful lot different (you may even have seen a return of capital punishment in response had it been a Conservative government). If you notice one thing it is that support for measures like the introduction of ID cards has declined markedly as time marches on since the last terrorist attack.

Given what I have just said above; assuming that this kite-flying has much substance which is a highly dubious assumption, it would be accepted that these people would bring something to the mix, there own experiences and own politics and commitments. Why anybody should feel threatened by that is beyond me; even though I don't entirely share Blairite politics it doesn't bother me. What we are really seeing in this article is that the coalition; the heterogeneous nature, of the Labour Party is creaking under the weight of the governments decay. In other words, discipline is starting to break-down and the Party is fragmenting into it's component parts.

I would have thought this would have been a good thing from the oppositions point of view. Letters from a Tory presumably thinks that they should, if anything, join the Cameroons in his own party. All-in-all we should dismiss this and the kite flying it actually is but not use it as an opportunity to show how 'closed-shop' we can be....

Friday, 1 May 2009

Lib Dem/Conservative 'co-operation' a hit with voters?

. Politics Home has an interesting poll which concludes that 86% of Conservative voters and 76% of Liberal Democrat voters would like to see the parties co-operate more following the Governments defeat on the Gurkha motion. Now, this is a poll you have to be extremely careful with for the simple reason that a positive response to the question was much more likely a day after the Gurkha motion won the day. Secondly, the sampling size is quite small I think at 873 adults.

The desire for greater co-operation could also come from a negative rejection of this government and a simple desire to turf them out by any means neccessary (which, most reasonable people would conclude, does mean in practice greater opposition co-operation). However, this in itself should perhaps say something about the groundswell of feeling against the government and the desire to kick it in any way possible. Given this it can barely be taken as the precursor of feeling regarding any kind of deal in a hung-parliament.

Having said all that the principle of greater co-operation between the two parties against a deeply unpopular government is a good one. The leaderships of both parties should take note....

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Tom Harris has a bad attack of sour grapes....

. The entire Liberal Democrat blogsphere has been celebrating the important and just victory of our motion on the Gurkhas. Rightly, Clegg was also praised for his performance at PMQ's yesterday where he displayed clear passion speaking on an issue he obviously truly believes in and rightly so; in-short, though I am known to take issue with Clegg when I think he is wrong, he deserved the praise heaped on him today.

So, reading Tom Harris's blog rather annoyed me to say the least. Harris, who obviously supported the government today describes Clegg as a 'mug' for allegedly being 'elbowed-aside' by David Cameron. It's worth noting at this juncture that the government was not just defeated by the combination of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives but also by a rebellion on the Labour benches. So, you would think that rather than exploding in a fit of rage, Harris would show some humility as the government has been forced to do in response to the vote.

Wrong. Harris launches a rather vicious attack in what can only be described as a deeply childish outburst;

"So, when the victor was enjoying his well-earned spoils what does he do? He lets Cameron elbow his way to share the glory.

What a mug!!"

What we are really seeing here is how deeply scared this government should be of what happened to it today. Iain Dale reported earlier how Labour MP's walked past whips 'laughing'. In other words discipline has completely broken down in the government ranks and significant numbers of Labour MP's are prepared to vote with their convictions as opposed to their party line. Good on them. However, this can only spell the end for the government; expect defeat after defeat for it in the Commons. The air of crisis that surrounds this government just won't dissipate and if it loses the expenses vote today then all things become possible; it becomes possible that either a snap election will be called or Cameron will be sufficiently emboldened to table a motion of no confidence.

This really is the beginning of the end and the quicker this government goes the better....

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Uninspiring dash to compromise...

. Tim Ball has blogged the letter that Nick Clegg sent to David Cameron and Gordon Brown regarding the ongoing expenses issue.

I was more than a little curious that we are still seemingly so desperate to compromise with a Prime Minister who obvious isn't willing to do any 'giving'. This is now a matter of a government doing the best it can to whip through on-the-hoof reforms with an opposition in both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who have been rebuffed and told they are inconsequential. Meanwhile, David Cameron and Nick Clegg are engaged in a desperate scramble to appear holier-than-thou and neither is doing particularly well at functioning as the governments opposition because they are not talking to each other. Worse still both look like part of an establishment that knows its wrong but doesn't know what to do about it which is unlikely to do either any favours in terms of standing with the wider public.

Brown's position of daily allowances is gross and offensive, the notion that people should be given money for turning-up to a job they already receive a salary for is, regardless of any receipts they produce, is just plain wrong. Accepting nonetheless that MP's do need a second residence to actually perform they job they are elected to do is a crucial part of this debate. It is patently ridiculous of public opinion to expect people to commute from all corners and still maintain that living vital link with the constituency they are meant to represent. So, the taxpayer will have to fork out money to assist with the purchase and maintenance of second properties however, they can realistically expect two things; that no personal profit is made by MP's on second homes and that money is recouped.

Tax can be reasonably applied to any accommodation related claim (and really, since our tax policy recently included a commitment to extend it to benefits-in-kind, we should naturally support this) as another way of reducing their cost and making the system overall more fair. Since a second home is the very definition of a benefit-in-kind it escapes me why Clegg isn't arguing for the extension of taxation to these payments. MP's currently are the only group of employees recognised by tax law as actually requiring a second home and thus eligible for tax-free reimbursement.

Clegg, in his dash to 'compromise', has also rather shamefacedly dropped any suggestion that MP's eventually be forced to sell their second homes. Rather than force them now they should be forced to sell them if and when they lose their seat with a portion of money being returned to the Treasury and a portion, which has its size determined by the amount of expense claimed or not claimed, being allowed to be claimed back by the now ex-MP (who incidentally benefits from a £30,000 tax-free windfall in any case) upon proper calculation of the extent of their personal investment. This is one issue where compromise will do us no good at all as a party and it certainly will not inspire trust that we are best placed to fix our 'broken politics'.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Downing Street under cyber-siege?

. When it is not tragic it is farcical, today's Times reports that Downing Street is closing down comments on official videos it puts on You Tube. Apparently, this is due to the moderating of 'offensive comments' being too 'arduous'. A No10 spokeswomen is quoted as saying;

"In terms of allowing people to comment online, we need to adhere to the Civil Service code: no content on the website can be party-political. We would need to monitor and moderate all comments online."

Meanwhile, the petition on the official Downing Street site asking for Brown to resign has reached over 24,000 signatures. Seems that there really no place to hide for the government, not even in the depths of cyberspace....

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Labour PPC joins the Lib Dems

. Labour Home has this story. Chris Huhne's Labour opponent in Eastleigh, Dan Clarke says;

"I have been interested in politics since school and in my late teens I came to the conclusion that I wanted to use my political involvement, not for self-advancement, but to promote the causes I believe passionately in. I want to see greater social justice, more care taken over the environment and greater equality of opportunity."

He joined the Labour Party because he believed that it had the 'right intentions' on these issues but now feels that they are best championed by the Liberal Democrats and Chris Huhne. Yesterday I speculated that there might well be an outbreak of these kind of stories following Alice Mahon's resignation and the pasting delivered to the Labour leadership in Leeds by a sitting MP. It will be interesting to see how many more stories like this do develop.

The 'Coalition Question'.

. Several blogging responses have been forthcoming to the piece on Liberal Democrat Voice arguing that the prospect of a hung parliament could bolster our election campaign. The first thing to say is that the preconception that it does provide us with any electoral boost is a complete and utter myth; while it does provide us with a glimmer of hope of wielding actual power it also reminds people of our status as a third party. Frankly, it looks a little desperate on our part and is not really the kind of question that lends itself to a wider perception of us being a potential opposition or even one day actual government.

If we look back at gains in elections in 2005 we see clearly that we can make gains when all the polling points to the not even remote prospect of a hung parliament. However, the essential conclusion that the article makes is correct in it's thrust; that any precondition for a coalition is that we get something for our voters; the people we after all are supposed to represent is correct; that the something would most likely be electoral reform is calculated on the premise that it will be the most likely chance of making progress towards it actually occurring. In this economic climate however the 'something' could equally be the pushing through of our tax cut package for lower/middle incomes and this would be of more tangible benefit to our voters and something we could happily boast about having achieved.

Charlotte Gore wants us to totally rule out a coalition with Gordon Brown's Labour which, in the current climate, is not without it's merits as an option. However, you have to factor in the very real likelihood that Labour will ditch Brown post-election. Ruling it out now becomes problematic from the angle that we are going to be fighting in allot of Labour seats where the last thing we need politically is to be easily portrayed as a vote for Conservative government. The risk v reward equation becomes much more finely balanced; it will play well where we are defending against Tories but not in Labour seats where we are hoping to make gains.

Costigan Quist has more the right idea which is to not talk about them at all; although saying we will do what is best for the people who actually do vote for us is a suitably vague and better packaging for the same message. Politics is a bit of a whirlwind of complex, ever-changing reality and it is almost impossible for us to say in the concrete what our position would be in an abstract future right here, right now. All we can and should say is that we will represent our voters effectively and that we will not enter a coalition where they gain nothing in concrete policy terms from our potential coalition partners.

Poll shows fatigue has set-in....

. A gaggle of sites are blogging the new You Gov poll. On the surface there is nothing spectacular to say; the Tories lead is steady at 18%. However, the figures of real interest to me are the broad levels of support that are shown for the policies outlined in the Budget; 64% said they supported the 50p band increase in income tax, 82% the rise in tobacco duty and 66% the increase in beer. This confirms to me the feeling that Cameron's attempt to roll them all into one and claim it is a giant tax hike for all will be unsuccessful. People are so used to increases in 'sin tax's' that they simply don't bother to oppose them now because they know well and good that any political party would raise them in office.

Cameron would be much better advised to focus on the upcoming increase in National Insurance; George Osborne's comments on the 50p band and its repeal not being a priority show that the Conservatives leadership know that although the 50p band may well be symbolic in terms of revenue raised it is actually not unpopular at all a) because so few people will be affected by it and b) a climate of austerity in most peoples eyes rightly equates to those who earn more paying more in tax.

The second major point is drawn out by Mike Smithson on Political Betting when he says;

"Maybe we have reached a point where there is little Labour can do. Voters want change."

This point is rather hammered home by the fact that support for the measures in the Budget only translates into 5% more likely to vote Labour in the You Gov poll and rather counter-intuitively 23% less likely. This also suggests that even if the economy by a minor miracle does start to recover at the speed Alistair Darling dreams of it won't save the government. Meanwhile, as an aside, the petition asking Brown to resign has now reached 8,000 signatures. There really is nothing more Labour can do and the longer it stays in office the more comprehensive its defeat will be.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Leeds Labour MP quits and blasts government

. The air of almost perpetual crisis that hangs around this government is getting thicker by the day. Yesterdays Yorkshire Evening Post reports that Colin Burgon, Labour MP for Elmet, is to stand down at the next election. Burgon, who won the seat in 1997, also took a swipe at the governments handling of the economy;

"The 'New Labour' approach to the market economy is both wrong and lacks the kind of values that have served this party so well in difficult times in our history."

Coupled with Alice Mahon's resignation what we can see is a clear hemorrhaging away from Labour of it's core support. Of course, parties have to reach beyond their core support to form governments but without that core support they become an empty vacuum. The government is pretty much dammed either way so I would expect to see allot more similar announcements like this....

Friday, 24 April 2009

And our survey says....

According to the EU Profiler I am firmly in Lib Dem turf. My next nearest matches were the Greens, followed by Labour.

While we are here please do sign this petition calling on Gordon Brown to resign...over 2,500 signatures at current count...

Opposition should work together to foil Brown's expenses plans....

. In many regards the Budget was fortunately timed for the government because although the early polls indicate it has not been well received it has cut-across 'Smeargate' and expenses. Both of which are more damaging in the sense that this never was going to be a popular Budget but at least it won't result in coming under heavy-fire from it's own side. In many regards it is yet another issue where the government and wider politics can't really win - such is the level of general mistrust of the system and the people within it but Brown's proposals really did take the cheese with the biscuit. Especially, when they are clearly going to be open to abuse as graphically illustrated by this passage in The Guardian today;

"Labour MP's said regional whips were persuading backbenchers to vote for the measure, with some telling MP's that if they travelled down from their constituency to London but did not necessarily attend Parliament, they would be able to claim for working that Sunday or Friday."

However, the government is most likely going to win the day; with one of the principle reasons being the neither the Conservatives nor Liberal Democrats agree with each other on what alternative proposals to submit. This is a shame because an opportunity for serious, much-needed reform is going to be whipped through parliament and with no united opposing set of proposals there is no pole of attraction for potential Labour dissidents to gravitate towards. Instead of meeting with the government, considering they have already walked out, maybe David Cameron and Nick Clegg should be considering meeting with each other.

The amount of difference between the two sets of proposals is so marginal as it clearly allows space for compromise and this is too important an issue for the credibility of the wider political system to allow the governments half-baked proposals to win the day.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Johnson 'Ready to serve as PM'.

. yaI have had a couple of conversations off-blog about how potentially split the Conservatives are already even before they enter government. Yesterday, Boris Johnson was straight into bat calling for the Tories to oppose the new 50p tax-band. Today, The Guardian carries comments from George Osborne suggesting repealing the 50p tax will not be the first priority. Instead, and rightly in my eyes, he says that the priority will be to repeal the increase in National Insurance.

However, will Boris Johnson and Iain Dale et el be entirely pleased with that? Johnson has today indicated he has his eyes on loftier positions than London Mayor and indicated he had not decided whether to stand for re-election. This is bound to fan the flames of speculation that Johnson may well challenge Cameron. Asked if he would seek re-election he told the Evening Standard;

"If by the end of next year we are restarting greatly to make a difference on youth crime and alienation of the youth then I am going to think about it. I will think 'are we on the right track'? So, could he be a one-term mayor? "Nothing is excluded" said Boris".

I still think that a Conservative victory (dependant on size and scope) will ensure Cameron's position for the short-term but then again with Bo-Jo waiting in the wings who knows??

****UPDATE**** Boris Johnson has seemingly changed his mind according to The Guardian. It reports he has 'changed his mind' and refuted what appear to be his own words in the Standard interview. To my mind this only makes the story more interesting because it points to the discontent within sections of the Tory press regarding Cameron's leadership.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

My verdict on the Budget....

. Is not here but can be viewed on the Social Liberal Forum site....

PMQ's - warm-up for the main event

. It is rare that PMQ's is the warm-up act but with Alistair Darling's high-wire balancing act budget to come that was very much the case today. David Cameron rightly chose to lead-off on the economy and unemployment rather than 'Smeargate' Both sides traded figures and bantered on similar themes; Brown stuck to the familiar 'do nothing tack'. Cameron subtly shifted his line to what Brown is doing isn't working. He alluded to 'Smeargate' saying "another time we can talk about what your chief advisers have been doing" and the 'moral bankruptcy' of the Labour Party in response to Brown criticising Cameron's past role.

Cameron pushing for Brown to admit that he didn't abolish 'boom and bust' is not an effective tack I don't think; people want to hear about solutions in the here and now and not, at the current time, what has gone before or necessarily who was to blame. It struck me as a bit odd that Brown attacked Cameron for wanting to 'cut our way out of recession' when Darling is expected to announce £15bn worth of cuts.

Nick Clegg also chose to lead-off on unemployment. He challenged Brown to tell the jobless where his 'shopping list of new jobs' were being created. This put Brown slightly on the defensive basically admitted the million new jobs didn't exist but more would have been lost if the government hadn't acted. Clegg then moved onto attacking Brown for not delivering on his promises and Brown more easily rebuffed that question 'correcting' Clegg and telling him to wait for the Budget. Simon Hughes raised the question of Sri Lanka and was solidly answered by Brown.

Nadine Dorris pushed for a personal apology from Gordon Brown for 'Smeargate' which Brown easily gave; reinforcing his point saying what happened had "no place in British politics". All three participants performed solidly but it really was a case of being a warm-up act with the main event to come....

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

'Libertarians' turn authoritarian....

. I couldn't help but smirk reading Charlotte Gore's latest blog and wonder if the irony of a self-professed 'libertarian' complaining about the net results of democracy and empowerment of individuals ie, party members is not lost on her. If we take into account the campaign of Liberal Vision's candidate for Party President we have seen a consistent pattern here of libertarians complaining about or trying to subvert inner party democracy.

The Liberal Democrats are a 'Party for Lib Dems' screams her headline. Well, of course it is; it is only right that the members have the biggest stake and say in the direction a political party takes. We only need to look across to the government benches to see what happens when members and activists are disenfranchised. This is not a flaw but a positive virtue and I say that as somebody who does not always agree with the direction our party takes; I think conference was wrong over faith schools and will continue to say so, however, that is now the party policy and the only way to change that is through winning the argument, something I personally have no problem with.

Charlotte complains;

"the Liberal Democrats highly democratic structure has the same flaw - policy is dictated by the membership , which creates another fatal feedback loop of our policies only ever appealing to the people within the Lib Dem Party and alienating everybody else."

So, maybe the 8% leap in the most recent MORI poll and the fact we are now consistently hovering around the 20% (as opposed to 14-16%) is a figment of my imagination? Also, it is apparently a problem that both our 'social democratic' and 'liberal' members have to agree for policy to pass. Why is this a bad thing? I would say it is good unless you do want ideological purity in your politics and the beauty of ideological purity is that it only remains pristine while it remains in isolation from the real world. So, perhaps not a good idea for us; although Charlotte seems to think the Liberalist Party and LPUK represent a 'critical mass of opinion'. I think she would be the first to concede not a particularly large critical mass though and certainly not as large as the electoral coalition the Liberal Democrats could potentially build and in some ways embody in their body politic.

Just what does Charlotte mean by 'empowering the leadership to lead'? I rather suspect she means she would support leadership by diktat (hence the headline to this post) as long as it was her kind of leadership pursuing the kind of policies she wants to see implemented. This is many things but democratic and liberal I would say it defiantly is not; something Charlotte kind-of concedes by ackowledging the problem with our structure being it's democratic nature. Of course, one might think that this is rather authoritarian in borrow a phrase, you might think that but I couldn't possibly comment...

The case for a no confidence motion....

. I attended the chat session on Iain Dale's blog on Sunday night and one of the issues that arose was whether David Cameron should table a motion of no confidence in the government. Unsurprisingly, most of the participants in the poll voted 'yes' which given the parliamentary arithmetic seems on the surface like a slightly counter intuitive position.

However, the most obvious case for a motion of no confidence is that it accurately represents how people feel. Even the recent ICM poll which seemed to show the government clawing back some points (we wait for MORI to see whether this was a rogue) showed a collapse in faith in the governments ability to manage the economy. It is also worth mentioning that this poll still showed the government a clear 10% behind which is hardly an expression of great public faith. It looks better for the government because the reality of electoral math produces a wafer-thin Conservative majority.

When the government 'bounces' it is still far behind in the polls; far and consistently enough to suggest it no longer enjoys the confidence of the public. The Budget is likely to see it fall further behind as Labour's core vote ruminates on the prospect of further fiscal pain. A motion of no confidence thus crystallises a mood and will probably be to the oppositions tactical advantage even if it is lost. It's abundantly clear to people who follow these things that the government no longer has the confidence even of it's own MP's and those that don't follow them would be easily convinced that this government should be removed.

Waiting until 2010, from the opposition point of view, does carry the clear risk that a slight recovery will be in motion and that Labour will be able to rally it's core support and enough people beyond that to actually deprive the Conservatives of a clear majority. Of course, from our point of view it is something that should Cameron do we should support. Going down the no confidence route isn't necessarily predicated on being sure you can win; it can also be a catalyst or a rallying point for peoples frustrations.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Discordant note....

. Nick Clegg today announced proposals to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,000. Looking at the costings it is all pretty uncontroversial though I have to say I object to extending National Insurance Contribution's to multiple jobs mainly because this is counterproductive. Low and middle income earner's the very group we are supposed to be targeting and 'putting money into the pockets' of are the group most likely to actually have multiple jobs to make ends meet.

So, realistically it strikes me that you are potentially taking them out of tax with one hand and putting them back in through expanding the scope of NIC's. Bearing in mind the government proposals to raise NIC's as well this does strike me as a discordant note in the proposals. Whether Clegg likes it or not it is hard not to see this as a tax on jobs.

Other than that the proposals are basically solid; the inclusion of benefits-in-kind in National Insurance contributions is fair enough to my mind. There will be complaints about the increase in taxation on domestic flights but it is in line with the 'Green Tax Switch' theme and the switch from per person to per plane is long overdue. Tackling tax avoidance is always welcome and there can hardly be any quibble with that either. Some of the proposals require more detail before a judgment can be made like how tax relief on pension contributions to the basic rate will be restricted.

All-in-all a solid package, not quite worthy of shouting from the rooftops though....

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Fixing 'broken politics' starts at home....

. Let me start by first praising the work Nick Clegg has done on the expenses issue. He has put forward reasonable policies for reform and to a large extent captured the public mood of frustration and anger. He has rightly talked about 'broken politics' and how it needs to be fixed. However, it is things like that which make this mornings story in the Guardian all the more disappointing and frustrating.

It concerns a party donor, Sudir Choudhrie, who is accused in India of receiving 'kickbacks' from arms deals with the Israeli government. Obviously, this is embarrassing for a party which has, rightly, called for the suspension of the European Union's arms dealing with Israel. It is embarrassing enough that Choudhrie should be involved with arms dealings with Israel as it is without the alleged kickbacks. Also, vaguely embarrassing is the non-domiciled status of Choudhrie and his son for a party committed to tightening the tax regime. Of course, we can't be held responsible for all the actions of our donors but it so obviously contradicts our stated position it is painful.

In defence of the Choudhrie position 'sources close to his family said;

"These allegations, as well as the ones from earlier, are completely and utterly unfounded. He has never been involved in arms deals of any sort. He did have a role in Magnum but that company was involved in the export of tea and car parts, while Eureka was involved in building ships in Singapore. The confusion may have arisen because an Israeli company that Magnum had business links with later became an arms company."

Nonetheless and despite the fact that the party can't be held responsible for the actions of its donors we still seemed to have learned no lessons from the Brown affair. Realistically, the only way around this is to publicly announce that we will vet large donors as we do vet candidates. I am at a loss to figure out why we do panel candidates but there seems to be no similar process in place for large donors. Of course, such a system would sometimes fail but at least then we could realistically say we are making the effort. In an ideal world we would be able to move towards a system which weans all parties off large donors and makes them much more reliant on small donations. However, this is not an ideal world and while politics requires large expenditure large donors will always be sought and so the best we can do is work with the system we have to ensure our 'broken politics' is fixed.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Labour CrisisWatch......

Conservative Home has the low-down on the first poll after the McBride fiasco. As it is by a new entry into the murky world of polling, Marketing Sciences, the graphic compares the findings with the last poll of it's supposed sister, ICM. What leapt out at me was the fact that Labour's poll ratings have plummeted but the main beneficiaries are the Liberal Democrats. Rather than draw a conclusion that our silence has benefited us it makes me wonder what could be achieved if we did start weaving together a positive critique of what is going on.

Spin-over-substance might be as an effective a line of attack according to this poll which found voters more likely to think Brown as more of a spinner than Blair. However, this could be purely and simply down to Brown being perceived as having a greater need to spin than Blair who, in our more honest moments, we have to admit did have some natural charisma. Only 36% of voters are inclined to see Brown as presiding over a culture of dirty as yet; I would expect that number to grow as the media onslaught becomes more intense.

Meanwhile, the resignation of Alice Mahon is the other story that has captured the headlines. Personally, I would be in no way to see a sharp exits of Labour activists who feel the same and think that when Parliament returns noted dissidents will become much more vocal. The question is how many Labour MP's will look at the state of the polls and, fearing for their own seat, will be inclined to join the chorus of dissent....

Faith schools don't raise standards or increase choice - report

. The Guardian carries a report by the London School of Economics and Institute for Education which draws some interesting conclusions about faith schools; specifically, faith secondaries. It tracked 550,000 children in state secondaries in 2005, looking at their school type poverty indicators and exam results and will be presented to the Royal Economic Society annual conference next week.

The study rather reinforces the view that good exam results in faith schools are not actually down to their superiority but the fact that they select on other criteria; the study found that those attending faith schools had good test results at primary level and are from less disadvantaged backgrounds. Anne Vignoles, co-author of the study, said;

"If faith schools genuinely give parents a choice, what should happen with lots of faith schools there is more choice, competition with other schools and standards being driven-up. We didn't find that. Even in areas with high proportions of children in faith schools, there is certainly no evidence that standards are higher."

The report also deals a blow to government suggestions that some form of market should be introduced into education. This report is an effective counterblast to people who do insist that faith schools increase choice and are a motor of higher general standards.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Getting our message across....

. On a slightly more political note, Conservative Home has an interesting feature about which way the nations press will tilt come the next General Election. It speculates that the Daily Mirror maybe the only Labour-supporting paper left. The premise on which this is based, Tim Montgomerie, speaking to 'at least two journalists on every paper' maybe a little threadbare but I don't think the conclusion but I don't think the conclusion will be that far off-beam at all.

I think it is pretty certain that The Sun will return to the Tory fold and its plain to see that it is in full attack-dog mode with it's columnists regularly savaging the Brown government. As is rightly said The Times was never a true Labour-paper in any case and equally it's return to the fold will be expected. In any case it will not want to buck the national mood for a change while it's rival; the Daily Telegraph, is proudly flying the Conservative standard. Although unimpressed by David Cameron and his section of the party; the Daily Mail should equally fall into line.

The real interest and possible variable will be in the position of the Economist and Financial Times. Montgomerie may well feel that the biggest determinant will be a softening of the line on Europe I think economic policy will also be key for the FT especially. Some of its columnists have been tacking to the left of what David Cameron has been saying and have been arguing a more interventionist line. I think it will eventually plump for the Conservatives but hesitantly and with reservation.

Of course, neither the Guardian nor Independent can explicitly endorse the Conservatives but they can argue it is 'time for a change' which in effect given the current political geography is pretty much the same thing. The Guardian in particular has already been heavily flirting with the Tories; including them in it's 'progressive future' debates and running columns in favour of giving them the 'kinder hearing' Montgomerie thinks they will give.

From a Liberal Democrat point of view however it shows how much work to do that no major newspaper would consider endorsing us accept as a tactical vote option. When you look at the opportunities that exist however, that is perhaps as sad a commentary on our much lamented projection problems as much as it is our policies. Naturally, we should court both the Guardian and Independent but also, given Vince Cable's gravitas, we should not consider the Financial Times as being naturally hostile either and maybe even at a very big pinch The Times.

While Mongtgomerie is right that editorial endorsements are maybe not as significant as they used to be (mainly due to the very diverse nature of the media universe) they are still much-prized and in some ways a measure of where you are as a party (in so much that they try and accurately reflect their readerships view back at them). Politics is governed allot be peoples perceptions also source people don't take enough of an interest to decide on substance. From that perspective how we get the message across is as important as crafting the right one.

Corporate donkeys of the week....

. Despite some stiff competition this award has to go to MSN and Microsoft whose alleged 'improvements' of it's Hotmail service have led to people being without emails for days on end in some cases. Myself, I have been without e-mails all day and on it's online help service hundreds of questions remain unanswered. People are left in the situation where some addresses work and other people trying to access their emails are told that the site is undergoing maintenance and you cannot in fact open any of your emails.

People have posted questions with a variety of dilemmas including those who 'have urgent business documents they need to read'. So, who says corporations do things better and more efficiently?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

It's time to call for a General Election....

. The circus of the contents of Gordon Brown's special advisers inboxes continues apace. Peter Black reports that the Independent is saying that Westminster is 'awash' with rumours about forthcoming leaks. No doubt there is much more to come; who knows, for example, exactly how all that stimulus money was spent in precise detail. Meanwhile, the debate about our response (or lack of) continues over on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Regardless of the specifics of the story and the further revelations that are to come a number of things are clear; the chief one being that this government is 'undead in office'. All the major opinion polls point to a complete collapse of public faith in the government of the day. Discipline within the government itself is clearly in chaos with people within it's own ranks, the 'vipers nest', conspiring against it. Labour MP's, no doubt fearing for their own seats, are breaking ranks; all of which amounts to a government that is totally unfit to govern.

It is to be lamented at this time that the timing of the General Election is totally dependant on the government. Another prong of our media contribution could be to point out that there is no method of direct control over a government like this, so desperate to cling to power yet so obviously unfit to wield it. It is bad enough that this is a government which has arbitrarily changed leader mid-term thus giving us a Prime Minister with no direct mandate and that it's original mandate is so transparently less than resounding.

Demanding, not with every sentence but nonetheless persistently, that the government submit itself to the election process is thus totally appropriate. Although given the aforementioned desperate clinging to power it is unlikely to move this government to actually doing it it does show people that we share their frustration over their inability to actually hold the government properly to account and remove them from office when they have become so hopelessly lost.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Our silence over Labour's e-mail shame is deafening....

. Nick Clegg rightly observed a two minute silence for the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy today. However, other silences from our leadership are less dignified. The blogsphere has been awash with comment and criticism for the government over the antics of messers McBride and Draper. It is not hard to see what the whole episode tells us about the actual state of the government; a) it tells us it is bereft of ideas and visibly decomposing in office b) it tells us that there are indeed people at it's very core who have decided enough is enough.

Gordon Brown's reported anger at the 'vipers nest' within Downing Street reminds me of John Major's 'bastards' outburst. I suppose in their position I would feel angry at the personal betrayal as would the cruelly exposed Emperor who was left without no clothes. However, we have been left cruelly exposed too; here if ever there was one, is a gilt-edged opportunity to show our party in a different light. It was/is a gilt-edged opportunity to make the case that Britain does need a new kind of politics, one we are hoping to embody.

This is not achieved by saying nothing and standing-aloof from the fray. People assume you actually have nothing to say if you say nothing not that you are somehow 'morally superior'. It has been put to me that this is a 'Westminster village' issue. So are expenses but yet Nick felt the need to make this a centre-piece of his most recent Guardian article. Nor do I accept the argument that this is a private matter between the Labour Party and the Conservatives; the fact that Gordon Brown's closest advisers have nothing better to do with their time than make-up lurid details about their opposition's private lives would probably worry most people in this climate.

The fact that it is in the media and is an opportunity for us to present ourselves to the wider electorate through the media should be cause enough to spend the 10/15 minutes necessary on drafting one press release. The issue will undoubtedly pass but it will do so sadly lacking in much comment from us....

Friday, 10 April 2009

Is Brown planning a 'shake-up' of the Labour Party?

. Interesting piece on LabourHome by Peter Kenyon. He says;

"After six months of active service on the NEC. I'm beginning to understand why the Party's membership has fallen some 60% since 1997. Unlike 'civic' mass-membership organisations, there is no coherent quality assured offer to Labour Party members, or those who volunteer to provide local leadership either through the Party's organisation or as its candidates for public office."

Apparently there are regular 'skirmishes' between 'careerists' and 'volunteers'. Another post speculates on the prospect of Brown leading a shake-up:

"Gordon Brown recently wrote the foreword to the Fabian Society pamphlet The Change We Need: What Britain Can Learn From Obama's Victory. This, along with reports of Party reform, has lead to speculation that Brown is planning some sort of major shake-up in the Labour Party."

It is to be presumed that most Labour Party activists will be alarmed by reports that even its traditional base of support within the trade unions is being eroded by the Conservatives. However, structural reforms of the Party itself entirely miss the point without correct policy and message. If Labour in government is even losing the confidence of it's core base in terms of being viewed as capable when it comes to governing then it is hard to see any reforms of party structure saving it at the ballot box.

In defence of politics....

. Nick Clegg has been continuing his call for cross-party talks for reform of the expenses system; there has been a flurry of expenses related scandals recently. I don't intend to add my voice to the flurry of condemnation but rather give a different slant; one that will perhaps be appreciated more by regular readers of this blog or might be wildly unpopular.

First, let's be honest there are people who abuse the system; who are just in politics 'on the make' and it's quite right that they are pilloried and the press highlight these cases and call for heads to roll. It should be a given that these people defiantly do exist and do bring politics and the political system into disrepute. However, that really makes politics no different from any other walk of life you care to mention and this is something worth bearing in mind. What we are really seeing in the press reaction to these stories is the first manifestation of a mood of austerity and MP's being natural targets of that mood.

Having said all that; and I am sure there are plenty of people who read this blog who are well aware of this through direct or indirect personal experience, a good 90% of people in politics graft amazingly hard and do work for their constituents very hard indeed. I am sure this is something that applies across the parties too, if we are honest and that there are people in all parties (no matter how much I may disagree with their ideas) that do work hard and are genuinely in politics to make a real positive difference in how the country is run. Of course, leaving aside the various tiers of elected representatives there are also the legions of party members, volunteers and staff who make it all happen; not to mention bloggers (how could I forget).

In their own, sometimes haphazard, way all these people contribute to our democracy and do 'make it happen' in a very real way. None of them really deserve to be associated with the scandalous behaviour of a small minority but they are in the public eye and that is largely the fault of the press not the politicians because as is often said 'good news' isn't really that newsworthy. So, when we are looking at issues around apathy and a loss of confidence in politics and politicians we invariably have to address the role of the press in creating public perception.

Of course, there are issues around fixing the system which have been exposed by these stories which Clegg and the other party leaders are right to address. It is as much for the genuine people in politics that these issues do need to be addressed as for the wider question of making sure the public can have confidence in the system and the people that represent them and that things like apathy and distrust aren't allowed to take hold.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Pale imitations.....

. Today's Financial Times brings us news of the latest Conservative brain-wave, the 'right to move'. Presumably, this is a rather lame attempt to imitate Margaret Thatcher's 'right to buy' scheme which did undoubtedly appeal to upper working class types who had always dreamed of owning their own home. Under this scheme, those in social housing will be given the right to tell their social landlord to sell the property and use the proceeds to buy a property in any part of the UK. Apparently this will;

"allow people to move in search of work or to be near their families, and prevent the growth of sink estates with generations of unemployed."

However, like many ideas that spew forth from the Tories these days it's a complete non-starter in the real world which should send a fission of fear through everybody at the prospect of this party actually running the show. The National Housing Forum, predictably, concentrates on the impact it will have on their organisation;

It would mean that housing associations could end up with properties dotted all over the country, with their maintenance staff having to spend entire days travelling across the country, and emitting huge amounts of carbon, just to get to one property.”

One major unanswered question however is how the variances in the property market will be covered. What if the revenue from selling the property is substantially less than the cost of the new property? How will the shortfall be made-up? Presumably it will have to be made-up from central funding. So, we have increased maintenance costs, potentially large sums paid out to cover these shortfalls, it doesn't look too hot right now does it? In fact, it looks like it could potentially be substantially more expensive than actually investing in building more social homes. Of course, it is also the minus the economic benefits of created jobs and investment that a building program would bring.

Also, the prospect of migration really does nothing to 'break-up' sink estates; people will move and a certain % will get a job then the rest will be back in the same situation as before. So, it moves the problem to different locations but doesn't actually really do anything to solve it. Giving 10% ownership for 5 years 'good behaviour' is similarly neither here nor there.

Similarly this contradicts an alleged commitment by the Tories to greater housing supply. Apparently;

"The party wants to see more homes built by means of local housing trusts, whereby communities would build their own homes."

Quite how this is supposed to work isn't explained which given the above proposals is probably a blessing in disguise. Given the raft of Tory proposals to restrict building sites and also their stated hostility to eco-towns it is hard to see where these houses will actually be built; maybe on little clouds floating in the sky?

Maybe, given the paucity of Tory policy when it does emerge, it would be best for all concerned if they carried on living-up to their reputation as a policy-free-zone??

Friday, 27 March 2009

Clegg's taxing high-wire act....

. Just as the Conservatives try desperately to untangle their taxation knots it seems we have one of our own. Or do we? Nick Clegg's interview in the Financial Times where he abandons the goal of cutting the net overall burden of taxation *in the short term* has caused great waves on the blogsphere as maybe expected. The operative phrase is in asterisks above to highlight it for those, on left and right, who think this represents a fundamental policy shift. It doesn't.

Towards the end of the article we find this paragraph;

"Mr Clegg said his long-term aim was still to cut taxes and to reduce the size of the state, although he said there was a case in the short term for some expansion of the state to pull the country out of recession.

In the meantime, the Liberal Democrat leader is calling for a redistribution of the tax burden to help low- and middle-income earners, principally by cutting tax breaks and closing loopholes for high earners."

I think this is pretty self-explanatory. Redistributive taxation in the short/medium term, as a kind of fiscal stimulus, but the long-term aim remains the same. Quite what does the Social Liberal Forum imagine will happen not in this election but the election after next? When all the talk from the Conservatives is of further austerity and Labour (now in opposition) is complaining of typical Tory cuts?? Where do the leftish cheerleaders of Clegg's announcement imagine he will want to take policy then?? I would imagine there are pretty large clues in the paragraph quoted above.

One imagines that at this juncture Charlotte Gore may well be frantically piecing back together the membership card she seemingly longs to rip asunder. Leaving aside the always colourful language that Charlotte's explosion brings forth I think it may well be premature. Clegg has not turned a corner or 'repented' as Dave Allen says he has at all but has merely recognised the economic realities of the current situation. Charlotte describes these thus;

"there's really no choice but to increase taxation, in order to continue funding our massive public sector whilst tax revenues are falling and welfare costs increase."

Notice the lack of any attempt to join the dots. Welfare costs are increasing (as is the size of the public sector) because the private sector has collapsed and is throwing people on the dole left, right and centre. Is it true that when a building explodes, if you want a new one erected you first have to actually build one? Yes it is. Alternatively, you could just leave a pile of rubble in it's place but there is little chance of one emerging from the ashes of its own accord phoenix-style.

Clegg is not proposing people be 'taxed more'; what he is proposing in the medium-term is a mildly redistributive fiscal stimulus, taking the pressure off of where the tax burden falls hardest on the lower/middle income earners in order to free up money which they will then spend; thus injecting more capital in the system etc, etc. It is not that this bracket is 'sitting on wodges of cash' it is that they don't have it because the tax-man takes it; so this is not an issue of Clegg conjuring fantasy savings into being.

It is her who indulges in conjuring tricks;

"for every pound the Government spends, it is a pound that cannot be spent by the private sector".

This is a false counterposition; the banks are not lending to the private sector so the private sector has no 'pounds to spend' regardless of what the government does. You can argue rightly that our tax dollars shouldn't have been spent on filling in massive holes in the bankers backyards and actually spent on real recapitalisation but you cant imagine a fantasy booming and vibrant private sector where none exists.

What would the real consequences of a massive 'kicking off the public payroll' now be in real terms other than an increase in unemployment; rising welfare costs (thus the increase of the need to fund these costs either through increased taxation or borrowing)? Saying that this is the solution now is economic madness to be painfully blunt. However, as I said above it would be wrong for anybody to assume that Charlotte might not find contentment in the future with Clegg's direction because it is really true that the more things change...the more they stay the same....