Category Archives: Lib Dem blogs

The State of the Parties 3: the UKIP Lightening Conductor


We are now entering a critical phase of this electoral cycle: local elections, parliamentary elections, further local elections, the European elections and the Scottish referendum on independance The outcomes of these elections will set the agenda for the next General Election. In this cycle, the fortunes of UKiP will determine the outcome of the General Election So long as UKIP’s standing in national polls is in excess of 10 percent, and it now stands at 13 percent in some polls, the Tories cannot win a General Election and Labour will be handicapped in the drive for a majority at Westminster. It is an easy prediction to make that UKIP is likely to top the Euro polls and at some time during 2014 will be showing, in some national opinion polls, support in the 20’s before a decline as the General Election approaches.

I assume that Scottish voters stay in control of their good senses and will vote No in the Scottish referendum. If so one would expect electoral support for the SNP to decline and a recovery of the Labour vote at Westminster to take place in Scotland. If this occurs then Laboiur would be diffiult to defeat in Westminster elections.

While economic predictions are foolhardy the odds are on poor economic performance up to May 2015. The best the Tories can hope for is slow growth, stable employment and a deficit edging slowly downwards. There will be little prospect of electoral bribes. This being so it is safe to predict that the chance of a Tory majority at the next
General Election are near to zero.

What then are the prospects for the Lib Dems? I do not under-rate the resiliance of the Lib Dems. However, if in the public mind they remain linked to the Tories in Coalition a reasonable prediction is that their parliamntsary position would decline substantially with a loss of 30-40 MPs. It would follow from this that it would be
most unlikely that they could play any part in a national coalition with any other party.

In these circumstances I would expect UKIP to win some Westminster seats at the expense of the Coalition parites but not enought seats to achieve any tactical advantage.

If this analysis is broadly right we would haver had a further shake in the party system that could in some circumstance lead to paralysis. As the economic circumstasnces inherited by a new Labour Government would be difficult if not dire Britain might emerge from the experiment of Coalition in a virtually ungovernable
situation.

All this will become clearer to participants and pundits. Will those individuals at the heart of this disaster do nothing? I have never believed that they would behave as rabbits staring into car lights. The Coalitiion will break up and David Cameron could be confronted with a leadership election before May 2015.

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Coalition: Arbeit macht frei and the Deserving Poor


It is sometimes necessary to shock to reveal an underlying truth. The title of this post is a well-known slogan above the entrance to the Auschwwitz concentration camp which in English means ‘labour makes you free’. In England next week the Coalition government is to give us, in the form of changes to the welfare system, an English version of an underlying truth. To draw the parallel closer I should really use the slogan about the Buchenwald concentration camp: Jadem das Seine( idomatically, everyone gets what they deserve).

Next week several hundreds of the poorest and most vulnerable families in England are to be faced with reductions in their welfare benefits. The Labour Party (admittedly a partisan source) has calculated that these families will lose some £800 over a year. At the same time anumber of members of the Cioalition Government will receice tax cuts worth £100,OOO a year.I am reliably infromed that these unknown members of our government deserve every penny of their tax cut. No dodgers there then.

It is sometimes supposed that the use of the term ‘deserving poor’ was invented in Germany. Not so, it was invented here and brought into law by several Poor Laws in Elizabethan times. I have had the opportunity to study the implementation of these Acts in Colchester, Essex (now represented by a Lib Dem MP.) The poor laws were administered by the local parish churches. Abandoned children and the unemployed on the street corners were brought under the direction of the Parish. Here they were expected to work and at 14 aid ceased although some Parishes provided apprenticeships (ring any bells now?). In some of these parishes the beneficiaries were made to carry a large red letter P on their outer garments to denote that they were recipients of care. Naturally like the Jews in Berlin in the 1930’s with their yellow labels these children were fair game for any spare abuse going on at the time. A sort of badge of shame.

It is said to us by the Coalition that only the deserving poor are worth helping and that there are a lot of scroungers, the undeserving poor, who don’t deserve to receive any benefits whatsoever. For them it is Jadem das Seine or idiomatically, ‘get a job you lousy scrounger). I wonder does the Coalition have any ideas for the introduction of a badge. Let me know dear readers if you know something.

Now of course there are many recipients of welfare who are working but they too are thought undeserving. They will continue to suffer a cut in their wages in real terms because of high inflation and many millions of people are not being paid a living wage but in some mysterious way they remain undeserving. Tough luck, I hear you say plenty of good jobs in the City of London and anyway some of them are Romanian immigrants taking advantage of our low wages.

If you think I am exagerating? I suggest you direct your letter of protest to George Osborne or Nick Clegg. But if as I suspect you are a member of the undeserving poor be careful in the language you use. These public school boys know how to defend each other.

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Osborne: The Door Tax


The rumour circulating the corridors of Westminster is that our George is to introduce a door tax in next weeks Budget. A door tax! I hear you exposulate.What the hell is that? Hold on. I’ll explain A great deal of thought has gone into this. I’ll elucidate.
It’s no good just increasing taxes on a few regulars. It is subject to diminishing returns (See ch.2, Bentham The Principles of Economics). We need something that is new, easily levied and fair to rich and poor alike. By door I mean door space – every room has to have one. I know you smart Alec’s will take a screwdriver and remove the doors but you can’t fill up the spaces and get in and out of the room. Caught you there. We don’t need to be precise. There would be a scale according to the number of romms. Lets take the usual sort of 3 bedroomed house. We would assume 8 door spaces, a two bedroomed property 5 spaces and so on. Now here’s the egalitarian bit. How many doors does a mansion have? Well a small one might have 15-20, a large one, well goodness knows. Let the devil take the hindpost. Get the idea. Let’s assume £10 permonth for a small property and £40 for a large one: that is the tax wil range between £60 a year and £500 a year with the rich paying more. Get it? The number of homes is some 35 million (Well you try to do better.) This we can say is an informed guess. The type of forecast you would expect from the Treasury -let alone the OBR, giggle, giggle. This revolutionary new tax would raise £1,800 million a year. Good bye crisis. Move to one side, David, I’m coming in. The Treasury watchwords under my guidance are create, invent and pioneer. We Osborne’s didn’t get where we did in life by the wailing and nashing of teeth. At least not our teeth!

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Cameron:the language of new-colonialism


David Cameron would deny that his recent foreign policy statements in Africa, and Franco-British intervention in Libya and Mali, amount to a philosphy of neo-colonialism. However, it does and I shall seek to explain. It is sometimes said that British colonial policy was never intended to create colonies. All we Btish really wanted to do was to trade and found new businesses (and to take a few slaves on the waY), to develop (exploit) African resources, mainly minerals but also a variety of natural resources. However, to protect and expand our trading activities we needed secure government, a system of commercial law to regualate commercial transactions, the creation of a prosperous local economy and a well-educated indiginous population. Once established, and with a democratic liberal economy secured, we could withdraw. The White Man’s mission would then be complete. What could be more reasonabl than that?

Is not that policy the driving force for disturbance in Algeria, Nigeria, and Libya? Of curse we cannot colonise in the same way. But their is a way, oh boy is there not? Cameron goes to various African countries and tells them what they must do – and glory, glory that Britain will help. Of course numerous African countries do need help but there are numerous agencies public and private who can give this help. The natural sourcs of help are United Nations agencies, voluntary organisations and philanthropic interest. It might reasonabley be demanded: no military activities without UN backing and initiatives. I do see the case for French intervention to help Mali but then, help delived, out the troops shoul go, and in should come a UNforce with the right mandate and training. Into the political vaccuum must come the African Union and the leadership of those African countries able to help out. The very last thing Africa needs is David Cameron’s rhetoric of long term military intervention by the old colonial powers.

Of course, I recognise that there are geo-political considerations. It is not unreasonable for a power to seek the protection of its interests elsewhere. There are security threats but what are they and how can they be protected. Step forward the invention of evil outside forces. Today, it is said it is the threat of terrorism. The main deterrent to terrorist groups is political opposition that renders them redundant. An opposition led by Africans. And it must be said that the right leader in Africa is South Africa with its racial mix and strong economy. How helpful it would be if South Africa came up to the mark. Any prospect David of you visiting South Africa? Foreign military intervention does not mimimise the risk of terrorism , it streghthens it by stirring up tribal and national forces of resistance to outsiders. I pose an important question. How real, when properly examined, is a terroris attach on Europe from the jungles of Africa. Dare I mention Iraq?

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: Public Borrowing: Nearer and nearer draws the time


The constant ctiticism of the Government’s budget deficit figures is that the cuts are too great and too fast. The effect, or merely the impression, that this is so affects consumers, output and employment. The prognosis of the Coalition is that such a policy will lead to a stagnant low-growth economy and the deficit would not come down very much, if at all.

It is disappointing to the critics that so little publicity was given to public borrowing in the first two months of this financial year which shows just that: borrowing in the first two months of  2011/12 is up from £25.9 billion to £27.4 billion – up not down! 

Of course one swallow – or is it two- does not a summer make. Or does it? Well, this argument should be settl;ed in July when we have three months figures for GNP, empliyment and public borrowing. It will be a relief to pass from conjecture to fact. There are enough straws in the wind to suggest that growth will be either exceedingly modest or none at all. If then public sector borrowing has not fallen when compared with last year, the Coalition target of eliminating the deficit in four years will be lost.

Politicians will busily spin. It will be argued that there are special factors: currency uncertainty in Europe, a stalling US economy and slow downs in the BRIC countries who are expected to fuel a global economy. All very true and plausible. However, these pleas should go on deaf ears. There are always special factors and Governments are supposed to make allowance for them. The game will be up – and it should be called.

The absence of what is called a Plan B, or Plan C for that matter, places the Coalition with a conundrum. What is to be done? – as Lenin would utter. Is such a dilemma not worth a vote of no- confidence. I can hear the objections. There is no prospect of unseating the Government  and you look silly and weak if you move these motions without a chance of a majority. Is not this what the leadership of the Labour Party is really about? The baring of breasts and the gnashing of teeth which passes for Opposition now does not meet the challenge of the times. What about a reasoned motion putting forward a number of believable proposals for kick starting the economy followed by a no confidence motion? Anything less than this will fail. Those who urge an alternative economic policy should have the courage to enunciate it now. Well in July, actually. Any sign of heads being knocked together or is it time for hols? Time enough said slow.

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Can the Coalition Govern?


According to the well-repected bog Conservative Home, the Government is in a state of confusion. Cameron is determined to push through a major reform programmed fueled by Conservative ideology; small government, tax cuts (eventually);  constitutional reform (reluctantly), educational reform (expensively), benefit reform (work if you can or else);  self-help (Queen Victoria’s self help maunual has been lost), and neo-colonial glory (no one has told Assad and Ghadaffi).  What is very clear, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has enunciated, no one voted for Coalition policiues. In the jargon there is no electoral mandate. For the moment the government is cemented together by the fear of  electoral  wrath: it is better to be hung together than singly.

Every shrewd observor knows that these issues taken separately will not sink the Coalition. The only issue that will do that is the state of the economy. We must wait for July for the GDP figures for the second quarter. If these are bad the game may be up. What would be bad? Zero growth would be bad because it would signal that there has been no growth for the nine months in which the effect of the Coalition’s economic policies has been experienced. Slightly higher growth with a projection for the year as a whole of 1 percent to end 31 March, 2012 would be bad because the public sector deficit would be at unacceptable levels. If either of these economic prognostications becomes true there the very real consequential result that the Governmen’t legislative programme would have ground to a halt and the Coalition itself in its present form will collapse.

It may be that it is not only Arab countries and Greece that will have become ungovernable. I sense a gathering storm. Populations in many countries will arrive at the conclusion that politicians are not to be trusted and our political systems may colla[se. If citizens do not trust the system to safeguard ther basic  interests they will seek people-power alternatives: they are already doing so in Libya and Syria. There is something intoxicating about nightly tv screens full of demonstrasing crowds with banners and music. Why not us and why not now?

I suspect that our own governemnt is frightened. If the streets fill up with pensioners and trade unionists, if it goes on through the summer, if one policy initiative after another grounds to a halt, what is there to do? What is certain is that the disease of protest and rejection of authority knows no country boundaries. I have made fun of the Big Society but I do recognise that it has some virtues. If you can state, and if it is true, that we are responsible now and not the government, might the dilemma of electoral madate be solved. The Coalition could say, ‘You (we) are the masters now. Don’t blame us blame  yourself (or is it me that needs saving)?

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Blair: We need a better Middle Eastern Plan


Blair tells us, that is the British public,  that we need a better plan for North Africa and the Middle East. What does he mean? If he means what I think he means a better plan is the last thing Britain needs. A little clarification will help. Who are ‘WE’. It appears that NATO, the European Union and the USA are ‘WE’. or to be brief the Western World. And what do we need a plan for? What is it to do for us? The purpose of the Plan is to assist Arab states become more like us. Particularly those who possess oil and mineral resources but to be fair all states within that geographic area. In our view all democracies will repect universal rights fair representation, equality and freedom under the law and all of them wish to attract more investment, grow and attract investment and develop commerce  to and from the West. What should we do? We should intervene to help these changes take place and use diplomatic and financial means and armed force to help bring these changes about.

President Obama approves these objectives but despairs of a lack of willingness of NATO countries to pay the price for the extra spending on defence such a policy requires – including both France and the United Kingdom. There is, apparently, no political will. Friends Cameron and Hague have the will but not the money and each day that passes limits our armed capabilty. Imagine a conversation at the Foreign Office.

Secretary of State can we have you direction, please. Here is a list of countries we are determined to assist to democratic status. They all require a UN resolution. What do we do? What do we do, you say. We act, this Goverment acts. Give me the Calendar. Not that one, 2011 you ass. Let’s see. We  need to allow a week between resolutions. Let’s do it aphabeticallyby week. 1.Bahrein  2. Gulf states(?) (need to be more precise here) Israel/Palestine (a tall order this) 3. Lebanon (good thinking), 4. Saudi Arabia, (you’re joking(? ) , 5. Syria (a brutal race, we need armed force here, get the Turkish  Premier on the phone. What’s that!  A deal on Cyprus needed? Have we not  done one of those?  Get Greece on skype. 6. Yemen ? (Good God 500,000 men could get lost in the desert. I exagerate. But you know what I mean.) What does Obama think? More defence expenditure and quickly. Something about lendlease,  if it would be helpful. So we have reached a decision point. I’m strong on decisions you know.  Look I can’t think clearly now. Get Liam in the office on Monday. Hold on. Here is one of my inspired thoughts. National Service! Get the unemployed youth off the streets, lower the unemployment rates at a stroke, re-issue some of those Lee Enfield’s  -and off we go. Hey, ho the boys. Let Liam know ahead of the meeting, there’s a good chap.

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Riding the IMF Horse


There used to be a day when the British economy was not run to please bankers or technocrats in international bodies. Alas, they are passed. However, it is worth asking when you read a forecast, in whose interest is it published? The IMF believes that it is important for its members to reduce public indebtedness and makes it a public objective regardless of the beggering of any nation’s citizens until this goal of public policy is realised. Naturally it is supportive of the budget deficit programme of the Coalition. The IMF  addressed  the issue of a Plan B. You will be pleased to know that if growth remains low the IMF would support monetary easing, keeping interest rates low and putting a brake on cuts (without anyone noticing it). In this way the deficit would not come down quickly in the first two years but would come down faster in subsequent years.

This revelation of the existence of Plan B is hopeful but not reassuring. If growth is slow, the main body of public expenditure cuts is realised , and assuming all other parameters are stable (other than unemployment) the deficit will not come down. The credibilty of the Government in the markets, which Boy George goes on about, will be lost. If then the Government persists it will be confronted with a mountain to climb in years 3 and 4 when credibility is lost and the deficit stubbornly high. If then Georgie  presses on growth will remain low throughout the five years, So what then Grannie do we do next?

Well, dear, says Grannie, it might not be as bad as that. That’s what they all say, says I. What is the use of saying that when the flood waters have reached the bedroom sill? Shouldn’t we have been alerted before this time to leave the house? Hindsight,  says Grannie, it is an easy art.

There are other dangers. The IMF talks bravely about global growth rates remaining high,  surviving high commodity prices and resuming stable growth and low inflation. But then he would, wouldn’t he? But  we know that all recessions and recoveries are unique. Perhaps this depression will last for ten years or more. And what shall we do then Granny, says I. Don’t worry dear, says she, I’ve put a little money aside to cope with the odd crisis. Well Granny, that’s the problem. We have been using it. Using it? No one told me that. The problem Grannie is that debts continue to rise. Good gracious, what did you say about the bedroom sill. Take me there. There’s time to jump. A splash is heard, off stage. Granny, you can’t swim! These words came too late. Poor Granny, poor me -oh, and by the way, poor you.

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Hague: My Mission to Dominate North Africa and the Middle East


I want to tell you about my mission to dominate North Africa and the Middle East. Well, not exactly mine but ‘This Coalition Government’s’ – (its what I call it now) – although to be accurate I should say we – the old colonial powers, Italy, France and Britain. Or is it NATO – I suppose it is. Well whatever it is, it is mine and I stand and fall by it. Look Charlie, stop laughing, I’m tired of this. Your precious Labour Party supports us, the House of Commons approves,  together with 40 percent of the electorate. What more can you ask for? Don’t answer that, rhetorical you know.  When I was a young Yorkshire lad two thirds of my Atlas was colured pink. It made you very proud to see it. And now, virtually nothing. Can any kid be proud of that? The answer is , no, Charlie. Of course not. Now we have another chance. These African Johnnies, it seems to us at the Foreign Office, wish to live in a democratic country like our own. Democracies are good for trade and commerce. We wish to trade and invest, of course we do. Ipso facto as they say at Oxford, supporting these revolutionary Johnnies is  in the national interest. It was always in our interest whether the map is coloured pink or green. Of course, if you intervene like we are doing in Libya in other places you cannot guarantee an outcome. But we three countries can see off Ghadaffi. It won’t take long – at least we hope not. What kind of chaps would we look like in the Middle East if we had done nothing, stood by on the other side of the road, while citizens were slaughtered. In my view Charlie – and please stop laughing – there is the domino effect to consider. If one country goes pink – that is pink for democracy now of course – other countries follow suit and the black and grey parts diminish. It makes you glad to know it. Glad to be British/Italian/ or French. I am glad.  Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that I would be  embarking on a mission to free so much of the world’s population from tyranny and poverty. Not single handed , of course. I spring out of bed these days with joy in my heart. If you snigger again, I’ll punch you. What did you say, consider the slogan, ‘In your heart, you know I’m right.’ and look what happened to him. Too abstruse Charlie. You can do better.

In many ways these are dark and difficult days for ‘The Coalition Government.’ We may fail overall to rescue Britain from the financial mess bequeathed by Labour. I admit it to you Charlie as we are off the record. But I – the Foreign Secretary – will look back on my experience at the Foreign Office with pride. We did our best to change the political colour of millions of people. What more can you ask of a British Foreign Secretary (sound of laughter and the crash of over-turned furniture off stage). 

 

 

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The Obama Doctrine: A Signpost to Disaster


President Obama is an eloquent exponent of the American Dream and gave we European’s a version of this on his visit to Europe last week. Dreams are important to us all but they rarely survive long in the harsh glare of light and to seek to fulfill them can lead to disaster. In the current version the extension of universal rights to democracy, representative government , equality, and the rule of law should become a foreign  policy objective for the West. Its immediate focus is on extending democracy to Africa and the Middle East. In the pursuit of this objective all means, economic, financial and the use of force as a last resort are in order. It has become unanswerable in this docrine that democracy is best not only for human happiness but for the trade and economic development on which the economic stability of Western countries is so dependant.

The Obama doctrine finds an enthusiastic audience in Britain and the European Union. Scarce resources are being provided for the funding of aid and active assistance in nation building and the UN itself is enthusiastic about nation building wherever its sway can be achieved. No one is more enthusiastic than David Cameron and, judging from his recent public appearances and pronouncements,   Ed Milliband.

I hear raised voices at this point. What is wrong about that then? Hold on, my revolutionary friends, say I. Rember the Mensheviks. Do you have a monopoly of vision and prophecy? Can you at this moment of history tell us what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring? Do you expect reason to prevail in Israeli- Palestinian relations? Can you predict the political develpment of Iran?  What will be the nature of successor regimes in the Arab world? Is there more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy? Much derided as it is it is now, there is logic in the foreign policy objective of seeking stability in the world and not adding to political turbulence. Perhaps we should be a friend in need to emerging nations and not a friend in your face.

Can I point out to you dear British reader that you live in a country constantly at war in ‘far-away countries’ for the ideals that we share with President Obama. More so than any European country we have been alongside our American friends in worthy (but impractible?) causes around the world. Let’s have more of that then, I hear you say. We Brits have an appetite for it. Does not the call to arms and economic and financial sanctions on  recalcitrant states weary you a little? Are we to have a further two decades of armed struggle with all the division among ourselves this brings?

Well, yes, if need be may be your reply BUT I doubt it. I suggest to you that it is wholly absurd to commit ourselves to the Obama docrine at a time of great austerity, economic stagnation and public expenditure cuts, not least to the armed forces; that to be ‘playing soldiers in Libya’ and perhaps elsewhere is an unsupportable nonsense. For the cost of an intervention in Libya, soon to run beyond a billion pounds and ever upwards we could, for example, ensure the financial viability of care services fior the elderly, boost low cost housing or extend aid to the unemployed. No one would receive a tin medal for it but it could do good. The best way to build respect in the world is to earn it ourselves for our love and attention to our nearest and dearest.

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