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??