Category Archives: Lib Dem MPs

The price of hypocrisy


Look old chap this interview is off the record. I trust you  to keep it under your hat because you look a trustworthy sort of cove. OK? Good. Of course I’m worried about the student reaction to we Lib Dems breaking our pledge on the raising of student fees. When it came to the cruch we did not think that this was an issue on which we should have called a halt to Dave and abstained on the Commons vote. I know it and you know it and I suspect that students know it too. On reflection we should not have signed the pledge. I agree that we made too much of it for short term electoral advantage in a number of university towns. Have a heart, we are only human you know. We didn’t think for one moment that we would finish up in a Coalition with the Tories. At least I didn’t, did you? It was so very tempting. After all who but a fantasist takes note of the daft election promises of a party that has never shared power with any other party ( a short, dry laugh). Am I upset about it? Of course, I am. Broken promises on issues like this do come back to haunt you. I accept that. What I really think that if after five years all turns out for the best, electors will have either forgotten about it or will forgive us for doing the necessary dirty stuff. They do have short memories you know, I can quote you some examples. No? All right it’s your loss. If the Coalition fails no one will dwell on our mistake with the pledge and  I shall  go down with the ship. What if we go down and not the Tories? Of course that is possible. I have bad dreams about this and wake up sweating. The Tories win an election and we are reduced to seven members.  God I hope not. Clegg the man of vice who ruined his party and went down with the ship! When I have had a shower and some coffee and toast, I usually recover. Look at it from my point of view. Leader of a tin pot party and then to everyone’s astonishment – including my own – Deputy Prime Minister and a heartbeat away from being number one. More than I could have dreamt about a year back. And for five years! When I look back on all this I shall wonder at what I achieved and make a fortune from my memoirs. Well, if Tony could do it why not me? And the party? Well, it will be a shame but a lot of people will praise me for giving them all a ride.  Am I a hypocrite. In some ways, perhaps. Name me a man who isn’t if you care too. I thought not. Difficult isn’t it? Could it be that I am a plotting man of vice as some of my members dub me. Yes, they do. A volatile lot these Lib Dems. Let me give you a quote. Oscar Wilde, Hypocrisy, he said is a tribute vice pays to virtue. Abolition of student fees? Desirable. One day, perhaps but I doubt if I will be around at the time. Tempus fugit and all that, dont you think? Bottoms up.

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Filed under BBC, Cameron, Coalition Government, Guardian, Labour Blogs, Lib Dem MPs, Lib Dems, Liberal Voice, New Stateman, Nick Clegg, Students, Tony Blair, Treasury, University fees

The Use and Abuse of Statistics


There are maxims worth following whenever a politician makes use of statistics. In particular, in whose interest are the statistics prepared and published and are they being interpreted acurately and fairly. Let us consider the thorny issue of the effect on families in Greater London of ceilings and cuts in Housing Benefit. According to Government statistics,  and let us say they are right, there are 17,500 families and some 82,000 people. The London Boroughs speaking collectively are preparing plans for what to do if all these people could not pay higher rents, could not make other provision and were therefore forced to move.

Ask some questions:

1. Would all these tenants be forced to move? No, but no one has bothered to find out. Come on Government,  survey them first and give us the answer. 2. What proportion of these tenants are short stay anyway with agreements running up to 3 years.? Up to 40 percent of landlords, according to the Landlords Association but they would say this wouldn’t they. 3. Up to 30 percent of landlords according to the Landlord’s Association  They don’t tell us by how much. There are other estimates ranging fr0m 30-50 percent some of which come from Tory Councils. They would say this wouldn’t they. 3. Some of these tenants might be given social housing by their Councils. Source Tory Westminster Council. What is the current waiting list? Not given. It must be lengthy, say up to ten years. No chance. 5. Not to worry anyway the Government has put aside £130 million to mitigate hardship. Sounds a lot. Let’s say every family affected was a hardship case. If this was true 17,500 familes  would each get £742 pounds. Enough to pay 2 weeks rent. Whacko.  Lets be fair. Reduce the number forced to move by 20 percent as a result of lower rents that they could afford, and a further 20 percent for their own ingenuity, and ten percent for short term rentals and a willingness to move on. (Statistical point. These percentages are not additive) and we might say that 50 percent of families, 8,750,   will have to leave their homes  and most will go into boarding accommodation on the South Coast. 5.. At what cost? Not known.  Leaving this aside the Government could give the families concerned and the Councils bearing the cost £130 miillion towards the cost of this, that is £1,484. How long would this last? Are there jobs for them in places like Hastings with very high rates of unemployment? I have not seen any figures. Come on you Council’s, tell us.

You might say that the Coalition Government, in the interest of transparent administration should tell us. If Labour MPs were smart enough they could ask the Parliamentary questions that would give us all the answers. Come on you Labour MPs and Labour C0uncillors. Do your job.

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Can Governments Arrest Economic Growth?


I used to deliver a lecture with the title, ‘Can Governments Arrest Economic Growth.’ My considered answer was, yes, if they tried hard enough. The gist of the argument was that, ‘all things considered’ (the usual cop out) entrepreneurs and the rest of us were determined to improve our lot by hard work, skill and imagination, and that hampered as we  were by government meddling and poor policy making, we usually succeeded. That is where we are now. We should expect the UK economy to bounce back from a depression given the fiscal and monetary stimulous it has been given. Left alone, so to speak, we would come out of it and resume our normal growth.

What is different this time is twofold: we have a huge budget deficit which the Coalition is determined to eliminate in four years and a concious decision to run back public service for ideological reasons. What we all need is economic growth and ‘full employment’ and an end to deficit reduction delusions. The Labour stimulous has given us an inflation rate which will not come down and  there can be no more fiscal encouragement or quantity easing. Zilch and minus zilch for incomes per head for price increases will outscore the growth in wages, unemployment will rise as the VAT increase comes in  January,  and Boy George will be in trouble. He will not admit it. He dare not.

I had hoped, delusionist that I am, that we would then  have a change of Government. I do not believe this now. I do not expect the Coalition will change course, the Lib Dems will not rebel in sufficient numbers, and the Tories will maintain most of their support  amomg eectors as the  the country endures bleak times (there is something masochistic in the British psyche). And so we shall muddle on hoping for the best. It will be said that the British lose every battle but the last. So Boy George will cling to the mast, violently sick, together with the rest of the crew, but buoyed to the last with the conviction that the storm will blow itself out and the ship will find a harbour.

Well it might. It is possible but I plead unlikely. No one in their last mind would want George to fail for we would all go down with the ship. What do we do then as the crew is washed overboard? Best to do whatever there is to be done sooner rather than later you might conclude. Mutinies sometimes succeed but not often. As our Dave might say, if you want to have a mutiny, have a plan. Can someone help me. What, please is the Plan?

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A Bad Case of TNA


The Coalition is desperate to get us to believe in an acronym. It suffers from a bad case of TNA- There is No Alternative to the cuts announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s Government Spending Review. To this is added a myth: the British economy under Labour had reached meltdown  with an imminent threat of a Greek style collapse , a run on the pound and rising interest and bond rates. Nick Clegg told Radio 4 listeners of Desert Island Discs that he had searched his conscience about the cuts and had concluded there were ‘no pain free alternatives’. Unfortunately for Nick Clegg, his timing was poor. Almost at the same time a British Nobel Prize winner of Economics, Professor Pissarites said the the Government was taking ‘unnecessary risks’ with the economy and that the risks of a crisis in bond rates were minimal.

Consider the use of terms. Philosophically, the chances that there is no alternative to any decision is highly dubious. In most instances there are alternatives as in this instance. Clegg does not deny there are alternatives but he insists they are ‘not pain free’. Note that Clegg does not deny alternatives but states they are not pain free. We might think that if this is so what course of action would cause us least pain. This type of analysis, a choice between disagreeable alternatives and an issue of judgement,  we might be able to accept. Not TNA but a choice between difficult choices. Now you are talking. You admit that there are difficult choices, you might accept that the risk of the collapse of the British economy is minimal and that you together with George Osborne have opted for one of them. 

There is something of Uriah Heep in Nick Clegg. He is at pains to tell us that he searched his conscience. This statement differentiates him from others who might be thought not to have a conscience. He may have searched it but one is bound to remind him that he found it wanting on this occasion – it let him down!

It is the philosophy of the Right in politics that it is in favour of small government, the diffusion of power from the centre, low taxes and the denial of the enabling powers of the state. Perhaps on this occasion Clegg found his conscience wanting because at heart his soul belongs to a Right wing Tory philosophy. Indeed it a fit of honesty a few days ago he admitted it. If this is so it would not be insulting to the intelligence to admit that you cannot put a cigarette papoer between the politics of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. I am inclined to argue, being somwehat sceptical in outlook, that he will at some time join the Cons taking some power greedy Lib Dem members of the Government with him and splitting the Lib Dems. We could write the speech he might make at an e4mergency meeting of the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party.

This speech will begin with the words, ‘As you know I am a Lib Dem supporter to my very core (he shows his membership card). I am bound to conclude that there is no TNA. I have searched my conscience and found that, as I suspected, there is no TNA. Applause, a few mutters and stewards standing by the emergency doors.

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Dr Faustus and the Lib Dems


Frankly it amuses me, all this talk about the Lib Dems doing a deal with the Devil. Do I look like a man who plays chess with the Devil? Of course not, I do not even  play chess! I am smiling because I am a cheerful sort of fellow and not because of my recent appointment as the Vicar of Bray. That’s a joke,  in case you missed it!

I cannot pretend that I do not enjoy office nor the marked improvement in my social life. But do you think I would sell my soul for that? It is true of course that I am now supporting policies my members abhor, not least the public expenditure cuts. I confess that we, my Cabinet colleagues and I, bought into the Tory economic policies. But so what. In a few years time who is going to harp on about that. Victims have short lives. Does Mrs Thatcher get hate mail from miners? Of course not. Historians and reformers like me must take the broad view, the panorama of history so to speak. What I possess is a depth of vision. I look into a golden future and if some are slow in coming to the feast there will come a day when we all reach the table. If a few are sated and lie beneath it, that is understandable as well.

Now I don’t wish to be quoted. Be a good chap and put down your notebook. I didn’t come into the Lib Dems to wear sandals and grow a beard. Not that I have anything against beards. Each to his own. You will have noticed that I am perfectly at home in the corridors of Power. There are many of my Winchester and Cambridge chums roaming about and there is no need for me to exclude myself. If you are right and all this comes to a sorry end I shall be able to handle it. I, and my friend Faustus, will ruminate about it. Don’t worry about it he will tell me. There are plenty of other opportunities in this life. Think how well Tony has done for himself with half of my dexterity. Was he a friend of Faustus? You’re teasing me.

Look. All this is confidential. Don’t go pie on me. If anything of this gets out, I shall deny it. Of course, my friendship with Dave might be long term. I could introduce him to the good Doctor if need be.

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Say No to the Referendum


Today the House of Commons debates the Referendum Bill which proposes a mix of hybrid measures including a Referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system. The Coalition Tories and the Lib Dems will vote for it while Labour and some backbench Tories will vote against. At the General Election the party positions were reversed Labour proposed a referendun and the Coalition parties opposed. It is reasonable to assume that this Bill is not about reform. It’s purpose is to sustain the Coalition in power. A referendum is about genuflecting in the direction of a reform that no one wants. 

The Coalition is obsessed with holding on to power. A referendum is part of a price paid by the Tories for Lib Dem support of Tory economic policies which they opposed in the General Election. The Lib Dems are willing to go through the motions of achieving an electoral reform which its members do not support as part of the fairy-tale that the price paid for their public office is a fair one.

The Bill contains measures to reduce the number of contituencies by the simple application of the guiding principle that there are too many MPs, despite a rising population, and that the  electorate should be roughly equal in every constituency. Two Lib Dem held seats in Scotland are seen as an exception to the rule but in reality there are many others. The Boundaries Commission considers much more than numbers. It looks for natural communites. Some of these are below an average size  and some have more electors. Now the Commision is to be harried into a process much quicker than it prefers and to conclusions it would nomally resist. It is common knowledge than many electors are not registered to vote and past actions to get all that are entitled onto electoral lists have been inadequate. A Constituency that seems to be on the small side would often reach a national average if potential voters were identified and encouraged to be on the list. A compulsory voting system, which I would prefer, could ensure that every adult was  on the list and did vote. This is not part of the Bill.

If there were a General Election now the opinion polls suggest that the Tories might win. Whenever the election is called there is little doubt that the Lib Dems will be heavily defeated. 

There is every reason for the Labour Party to oppose the Referendum. It is Labour’s duty to bring down the Coalition as soon as it can to prevent changes in British Society that will make it a less just and prosperous society. This is not a time for fine words and delicate consciences. It is a moment to sound the bugle and to oppose.

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Coalition Illegitimacy


The  Coalition wishes to make significant constitutional and social changes. The process will begin this autumn. It cannot be argued that many of these changes have the endorsement of the electorate for no one voted for the Coalition or the patchcock coalition agreement. It might be argued that the Coalition partners received the votes of sixty per cent of the votes cast in the General election and that some of these  changes were foreshadowed in the General Election compaigns of both the Tory and Lib Dem partners. Surely, that suffices to claim a mandate? Well no, it doesn’t. Pushing through these changes relies on the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament: the majority in the House of Commons can do what it wants.

In such a situation it might be thought that the Coalition government should not embark on far-reaching changes that do not necessarily command support among the electorate as a whole; changes that a new government will find  difficult to reverse. Not so the Coalition is pressing on with unflagging zeal (indecent haste) to impose on us  its vision for the future.

Those who object will find it difficult to make headway. It is true that Coalitions are popular with the electorate to the very point of their collapse. The history of  20th century coalitions tell us that they invariabley commanded more than fifty percent of any poll. Today, even accepting the dire circumstances, it is true that the Coalition commands the support of 50 per cent of more of the electorate. It is open to the Coalition to pre-run elections where the weaker of the two coalition partners stands down for the benefit of the other. In a General Election campaign such an arrangement, if tolerable to  grass root activists, would save many seats. If this were to be a nationwide tactic the Labour Party would need over 45 % of the vote to win. A little political gerrymandering along the lines already put forward by the Colation parties might require an even bigger Labour share of the vote. No political party in recent times has polled half the vote.

Is it all hopeless then? Can the the Coalition literally do anything it likes, claim a mandate and win an election even if it is called early? I think not. In practice parliamentary sovereigny is a chimera and cannot be relied upon. The key to change lies with Lib Dem backbench MPs. If they decide enough is enough they can call halt the Tory gallop[ to utopia. You do not need a majorityof the House of Commons to bring down a government; a large scale desertion short of a majority will do. Is this what will happen? Well it might you know. It is possible.

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