Category Archives: Lib Dems

The Present State of the Parties: 2


I have been very quiet in 2012. The reason: finishing a book. Now my freedom conincides with the happy beginning of a new year. The old year had a great deal to grip our interest. We were certainly not short of copy or headline. Some of these, frankly speaking were both silly and ephemeral with hysteria on all sides of the political spectrum.  However, at this stage of the electoral cycle it has not mattered more than fig or two. This year is different. As I hate  right wing rhetoric, and distrust Tory attempts to divide British society, I struggle to be fairminded. You shall be the judge.

The Coalition

I was wrong in believing that the Coaltion would collapse suddenly and violently under the pressure of its own contradictions. When times are bad people prefer to be hung together at the latest possible time. What both the Tories and Lib Dems have succeeded in doing is to speak both ways with one message to  the electorate and the other to their own members. Of course members do not like this and engage in a disquieting chorus of their own. However, commonsense suggests that the reckoning be pushed off to the future.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are better placed than I believed likely. Electoral support has levelled out at about 10 percent and in local elections in the south they have benefitted from Labour votes in areas where Labour is not likely to win. The converse is that in the Midlands and the North the party is steadily being eliminated. I do not believe the party can improve on this poll rating. The Tories would be mad to allow a leaders television debate in 2015 (not  least because UKIP might well be able to claim participation). So no bounce there. If the Lib Dems can continue to project a progressive image they are likely to avoid abject humiliation. 

Tories

The Tories still have a chance of winning (defined as a majority or a Lib Dem coalition). However, the odds are lenghtening. Can the party succeed in squaring the circle? Can a right wing posture and radical sounding speeches carry the right wing with the leadership for two whole years. There are three daunting policy difficulties:  the economy, Europe, and reform of the welfare system and none is wholly in their control. I doubt very much whether the deficit will come down, Europe will not oblige a right-wing agenda and it is an open question whether it is possible to reform  the welfare system in the midst of the longest recession in modern economic history.

Labour

If we were describing a football match we would say that Labour has a comfortable lead at half-time. I doubt whether the pundits are right in thinking Labour must do more than that to stay ahead. They are lucky, lucky, lucky. Events, dear boy, are on their side. No need for handbags at half time. Keep control of the ball, keep pressing, concentrate and pray for continued divine intervention.

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Filed under Benefits, Cameron, Coalition Government, Conservative Home, Deficit, Economics, Ed Balls, Ed Milliband, Europe, General Election 2015, Labour Blogs, Labour leadership, Labour Party, Lib Dems, Liberal Vision, Politics, Universal benefits

The Economy Stupid


Elections are won on economics: its the economy stupid. Our numbers are bad but they will become worse. If the Eurozone collapsess they will be disastrous. But party alleigances are static. Hello, out there is any one listening. The reasons for static polls are well-known: mcu blame is attached to Labour’s inheritance of deby and the, seconly, the electorate are dogmatically fair-minded – they give credit for trying. The Coalition is trying – but in more than one meaning of the word. So it is a long and hard road for Labour toi convince the electorate that they could do better. 

What will change things are events. Anyone looking back in 2011 knows how difficult it is to predict them. If they are external events there is a breathless pause while the country rallies round. What woul be the public reaction to a forced opening of the Straits of Hormouz if petrol prices doubled. How would the public react to yet another war? Would it really come to that? It might. Would things look bad for the Coalition if unemployment topped three million. Mrs Thatcher recovered from that but then she needed a successful invasion of the Falklands.

Sometimes Government’s implode. What would make the Coalition implode.  European policy might if Cameron was foolhardy. Surely he won’t be tempted but you never know. Perhaps not. The Coalition might split. Not much chance of that. It is in the Lib Dem interest to soldier on rather than than be decimated by the electorate. 

Once I would have been bold and would make a prediction. Should we settle for a quiet life with more of what we have got. I hope not. Perhaps if I predict it we shall get something more exhilarating. OK nothing will happen in 2012.

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Met Failure: No Whistles


The Met  has pointed out that it had too few policemen to keep order on Saturday in London. Of course, we know there has been forced reductions in police numbers so we can be sympathetic. After the main demonstration ended there were only 4,500 policeman to deal with 500 violent demonstrators, a ratio of nine policemen to 500 thugs and hooligans; far too few to deal with them properly.

Was this a failure of the Big Society? In an earlier blog I pointed out that as the Big Society was to take over policing, so to speak a call should be made for volunteers. This call was handicapped, so to speak, by a national shortage shortage of police whistles. I was not heeded for there are still too few. The main demostration was self-policed by volunteers. All was quiet and peaceful. Did anyone think well there is an opportunity for us? Let us recruit them on our side. Where was the organiser of the Big Society? Nowhere to be seen. Where was the pre-thought? Did his staff set out to recruit enpough volunteers to help the police? I have pointed out in a blog that you cannot expect volunteers to confront thugs. However,  a moments thought would establish how useful they could have been. The anarchists and thugs were well organised and effective. Their tactics were to make quick raids on the target shops, banks and offices before the police could get there. Their  sphere of operation was narrow and confined to the heart of London. Supposing in each of these streets which were attacked volunteers had been placed with whistles and mobile phones. As these thugs approached, and before the thugs could do anything, they would blow their whistles in the good old way of yesteryear. The police would head for the affected streets with great speed on their bicycles and the thugs could be arrested before they could inflict any damage.

So what do we have here. It is a Big Society failure. No one in the office, no recruitment of volunteers, no Met. Plan to instruct volunteers on their duties, and above all – no whistles. I pointed out earlier that  orders should be placed with British manufacturers for suitable supplies of police whistles. I suggested that they would be needed. They were needed on Saturday. Someone should take the rap for this. I know export orders for several dodgy states in the Middle East are remunerative for whistle manufacturers (and God only knows they are needed there) but they were needed in London on Saturday and so far as I can ascertain not a single whistle had been issued and noe were blown.

It is painful to witness mindless destruction. I am vehemently opposed to it. It is said by the Met that we should not be too critical. Criminal charges would be brought against these criminals and  CTV cameras would be scoured for the identification of culprits. What a sham. Do they not know that the Coalition has forced local authorities to remove these cameras. An invasion of our liberties, they said. They will have to do better. Do they not know that for the lack of a whistle the battle could be lost lost, for the loss of the battle the Big Society lost, for the loss of the Big Society the  governance of London would be decimated. Hold on was our Dave really working for the overthrow of Boris Johnson? Now it begins to make sense.

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The Safety of the Public (Let’s live dangerously) Bill


I am here, as I promised,  to tell you of the main features of our bill to make Britain a more liberal society. This issue of liberty has always been the driving force of the Lib Dem party. In a way it is our raison d’etre. Let us take the troublesome issue of the sexual abuse of young children by those who take every opportunity to be near them for their evil purposes. Do we really need 9 million people on a register with hundreds of others involved in processing data to achieve a reasonable level of vigilance? Of course not. Under our proposals there would be only 4.5 million on the register and thus millions of people who are in touch with children on a day to day basis will be excluded and we can all breath more easily. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to be vigilant. The State should not seek to be an ever present guardian of behaviour. Similarly with our DNA database. It is wrong, as a matter of principle, that peope never found guilty of serious crime should have their genetic information on a large and ever growing database. Here the obsession  of our predecessors in seeking to extend, hold and grow a centralised database is unnecessary, and damaging to the peace of mind of millions of citizens. We are going to bring this practice to an end in line with the conduct of liberal societies throughout Europe and the free world.   

I am going to answer questions. You sir, with the red tie at the back. You say what price should be paid for the abuse of a child. I don’t understand. I assume you are suggesting that if 4 million people in regular contact with children were excluded from the sexual offences register, more children would  be abused? I know of no evidence to suggest that this would be the case. My own opinion? Not more than 100 children. But, sir, it is not the way to look at it. You are suggesting that I am willing to accept that the price of a saving  public expenditure of several million is the  abuse of more than 100 children a year. Well sir, I suggest that this issue of protection is best left to the governance of parents and teachers. You are wrong to look at it this way.

Another gentleman with a red tie to the left. Your question, sir, is how many previously unsolved serious crimes have been solved by the DNA evidence now available to the police over the last 12 months?  An interesting question without a precise answer. sir. The short answer is I do not know. My guess? Well I flatter myself that I am an evidence based politician. If you push me on the issue I would say not more than 30-40. A price worth paying for justice? Look I understamd your point of view but it is not my own. I do not believe in an intrusive nanny  State. Full stop. We should be grown up about this. In my opinion we should all be prepared to live dangerously. After all I joined in a Coalition with the Tories. Ha, hah!

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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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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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Charles Kennedy, You Say…


Charles Kennedy, you say, Its no surprise, You could see it in his eyes. But George and Ted , the second row, Now that’s a blow. The Northern Group? They met at Crewe, Ian, Daniel, Jane and Sue. None of these were even starters, I’ll have their guts for garters.The Group that met at Hythe, you say. Six of them, They met today. No way! Hold on Simon, If I’m right, That’s thirty five, Enough are left to stay alive. Speak up Simon, The line and I are faint. At thirty five, there’s no complaint. Steel myself, is he involved, I shall be bold. There’s more, you say, the Western group, They  met at Bath, Now there’s a laugh. Now let’s be clear, Simon, By my reckoning three remain, Danny’s led me quite a dance, Last seen,  ferry-bound for France? Considering your position, Simon, et tu, I cannot quite believe of you. The keys? You want the keys to Cowley Street, You speak for all. It’s come to that,  Usual place,  brown envelope beneath the mat. I must tell Dave, There’s me to save. Speak up Simon please speak up, You say he knows,  He told you? Good Lord!

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