Monday, 26 April 2010

Coalition? Er, no thanks.

According to Conservative blogger Iain Dale, Nick Clegg is getting a bit uppity about his coalition demands.  After all,  Westminister is not Eton and as for the membership, well!  Libdems are certainly no more than a bunch of monochromed middle-class oiks.

All good-natured joshing aside, just why are us Liberal Democrats demanding equal billing (and that means equal numbers of cabinet ministers) in any coalition?  Aren't we just fresh off the political boat; rubes ripe to be turned over.

Not quite.  Although the Liberal Democrats have the potential to break through on May 6th (and that dear Reader, is still very much up to the people of Britain), as a party we have experience of coalitions around the country.  Many councils are coalitions and -  note Mr Cameron, still function well.  The Welsh party were in coalition with Labour from 2000 to 2003.  Likewise the Scottish Libdems were part of the Scottish Executive with Labour as the senior partner from 2000 to 2008.

When Labour lost to the Scottish Nationalist Party, it was widely expected that the Liberal Democrats would retain our coalition position.  Certainly this was what the SNP wanted, expecting the then Libdem leader in Scotland, Nicol Stephen, to retain a fond attachment for the ministerial limo.  To the shock of all, that did not happen.  Scottish Liberal Democrats preferred to oppose and to this day the SNP is a minority government, supported by a deal cut with the Scottish Conservatives.

Why did the Libdems not enter into another coalition?  After all, we achieved many things while in power: free eye tests and care for the elderly are excellent examples.  We were in position to do real good and did so.  The rub though was that come polling day; the Liberal Democrats got all the blame and none of the credit.  Labour were only too happy to lay claim to popular policies.  The SNP were successful in pouring scorn onto what they called “the Lib-Lab government”.  The electoral results were not good for us. 

There is more though.  Let me make it clear that I am just a foot-slogger and not privy to talk above the salt.  A few titbits did make it down to bottom-feeders such as myself though.  I had heard that a senior member of the SNP later regretted that the coalition did not take place.  Apparently it threw all their plans into disarray.  During the campaign the SNP were making ludicrous claims about how they would put more police on the beat, cut class sizes, build more schools etc. while everybody knew there was absolutely no money available for these pipe dreams.  For all their shortcomings, the people who make up the SNP are not stupid.  They too knew that such promises could not be met.  The plan was however was to put the blame on their would-be coalition partners for blocking all these wonderful aspirations when budget time arrived.  Instead, they had to squeeze through a shambolic excuse of a plan with the help from the Tories.

“There comes a time to talk of many things.”  If not cabbages then at least king-making has returned to the Westminster agenda.   Two problems with that as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned: the first being Labour.  As I have blogged several times in the past week, the attempts at heavy-petting from Brown’s party has been rejected with scorn as there is baggage in the relationship.  Labour has never forgiven the Gang of Four (Jenkins, Owen, Rodgers, and Williams) for splitting the party in the 1980s.  In their eyes, the Liberal Democrats remains an aberration; a coalition would the end-game towards final re-absorption of the Social Democrat Party.  In other words, Labour would attempt to swallow us whole.   Is this not merely paranoia on my part?  Not at all: on BBC’s Today Programme, Nick Robinson confirmed as much when reporting an unattributed  comment from a senior member of government “the unification of the centre-left would be the realisation of the New Labour dream.” [Quotation from memory].

On Sunday, Nick Clegg slammed the kissing gate on Labour fingers and coyly turned towards the Conservatives.  He had to: both to distance us from Brown and to keep all options open come 7th of May.  While preferring an outright win for ourselves, we Liberal Democrats certainly do not want to see a Cameron majority on the ruling benches and thus there is all to play for.  Certainly there will be no danger of the Tories claiming the Libdems as their prodigal son so in that regard a Conservative-LibDem coalition will be less of a danger.  Though now we return to the perils of being the junior partner as illustrated above with our experience of the SNP.   Just how are the Conservatives going to pay for their civil-national service and tax-breaks for the rich?   As part of power, the Liberal Democrats would do some good only to be stiffed by both parties at the next election and a return to third-party obscurity.  That is why if any coalition is going to be entered into; the price is going to be very high indeed.

Otherwise, the opposition benches might start to look very comfortable, at least for another few years.  Liberal Democrats are a patient bunch.  We can wait.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

A reply to Polly Toynbee's appeal to vote Labour

Polly, you never change.  People want more than realpolitik; the only thing left in the Labour larder.  What you in Labour have never recognised is that there are real and deep differences between the you and the Liberal Democrats.  Labour thinking still sees us as the errant children of the SDP and since the Red Menace has now been seen off, you cannot understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats cannot be one again.

We cannot.  Labour is delving into areas of private life that is no business of any state.  It was Brown's love affair with unregulated markets and lending that help get Britain into this mess to begin with.  Labour still loves the boys' toys of strategic nuclear weapons and, worst of all, are only too willing to follow the USA into whatever madcap death-spree they want to pursue.

The British people want more that being sold to the highest bidder that is the Conservative vision but they also deserve more than the desperate clinging to power that Labour is asking for.  We deserve vision, ideas, involvement and real democracy.  We deserve to be treated like adults.   Britain needs new hope, backed up with new policies. 

That is why I am backing the Liberal Democrats.

(One can read Ms. Toybee's original article by clicking on the title)

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Those Press Attacks on Nick Clegg

There is an old saying "When one sees the enemy making mistakes, don't correct him!" so really I, as a Lib Dem activist, shouldn't be writing this at all! But these press attacks were entirely predictable following Nick's performance last week (see past blogs).

Usually when the press praise, one knows that it would normally happen over a period of weeks. Then the revelations would start, slowly at first, the cracks appearing and then the whole built-up image is brought down.

The problem with these attacks, as far as their intentions are concerned, is timing. There hasn't been time to build up any image of Nick Clegg in the press. So suddenly it is Demon Clegg - the baby-eating European. And people know that the whole thing is just panic from the right-wing.

The press is now reaping the cost of their policy of ignoring the Liberal Democrats. It is a good job for the country that we, on the whole, are fairly normal people and not some bunch of swivel-eyed  loonies.

But then, I would say that, wouldn't I.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Having Fun with the Daily Mail

Following today's hatchet job from the Mail, I just couldn't resist.


"I am enjoying the coverage of the Liberal Democrats you have this morning but probably not the reasons you would hope for.

"I've been a Liberal Democrat from about 1990 and have been pressing for changing the system for years because although Britain is in many ways a great country, we could be greater still. Successive Conservative and Labour governments have failed, yes, failed, to bring this about. And all your paper seeks to do is keep the status-quo.

"I'm sorry if it makes you and some of your readership uncomfortable, but clearly a growing number of your fellow citizens feel that enough is enough. The old parties have had more than a fair chance to fix things and the results are all around us.

It is time for new leadership, new ideas. It is time for the Liberal Democrats."

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Nick Clegg Nearly as Popular as Churchill?

Bit of an extreme reaction, isn’t it?  After all Nick Clegg, great guy that he is, hasn’t led the country victorious through a world war.  So why, at 73% popularity, has Nick Clegg this apparently over-the-top poll rating?

I’ve been mulling this over.   According to the pundits, the first week of this election campaign has been rather lack lustre.  Everybody knew the date and therefore knew what was to come.  David Cameron certainly did: it was decided that although the Liberal Democrats would benefit from the exposure; Cameron would come onto the leadership debates, turn up the charisma, dance rings around Brown and emerge the victor.  Because although the Lib Dems might be in the room, the received wisdom from all is that when it comes to the crunch, the British people know that really that the third party are an irrelevance.  It will always be between the Conservatives and Labour.

This view has been valid for many decades but failed to take into account a few factors, firstly being those on the weeks leading up to the debate.  It is very clear that in the build-up to the election, the Conservatives have been wooing all the minor parties willing to listen about their support.  I have blogged a couple of times about the Conservative / SNP union and noted with regret Tory tampering with the delicate situation in Northern Ireland.   So what is a desperate Labour party to do?  Sidle up to the Liberal Democrats of course, or at least attempt to poach their voters.  The Conservatives too realised that the election is so tight that they cannot afford to alienate the Liberal Democrats.  The result of this was the Nick had a relatively easy time of it on the night from the other two leaders.

This is not to discredit Mr. Clegg.  He played a blinder of a debate, presenting a positive picture of the Liberal Democrats, answering the questions(!) and interacting well with all audiences.  Despite what the others say, Nick won not only on style (as they concede) but also on policy.  The people of Britain are not fools and therefore cast a dim view upon the evasions of the other two.  But what Nick also did was to steal the charisma of David Cameron.  Conservative H.Q. had their man in the role of leader; guiding Britain out of thirteen years of failed Labour control.  Sadly for the Tories, Nick Clegg was able to cast Cameron as part of the problem, not the solution.

Why should this be?  The main reason is, of course, the M.P.s’ expenses scandal.  No Westminster party is totally clean on this affair but people remember one thing: compared to the other parties, the Liberal Democrats came out of the scandal with far less mud clinging to us then either Labour or Conservatives.  We all remember the deep, deep anger at the time.   Labour and Conservatives both thought though that come the election it would be business as usual.  That the British public would fall in line, join them in this silent conspiracy: one kept mainly in the quiet with the help of Britain’s media.   Come this election however, the British public have other ideas.   The best result for the old two parties would have been a low turnout as people either abstained in protest or grudgingly cast their votes as usual.  At least the first leadership debate has blown away a lot of that apathy.  The people are eager for giving the establishment a damn good hiding and behold; they now have a weapon:  Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

What now?  Now the real fun begins.  Already this weekend have seen attacks from the Conservative friends in the press corps: The Sun, News of the World, Daily / Sunday Mail et. al. Everything from being shaky on defence, economy, character and even Britishness.   The opposition parties claim our figures don’t add up.  They do, and at least our figures are out there to be scrutinised.  Where are the Conservative figures?  Who can trust Labour after years of being addicted to spin and the dark arts?  Below you will find a link to the Liberal Democrat manifesto.  And just to make it real easy for you dear reader, I will supply links to the Conservative and Labour manifestos as well so you are in a position to compare like-with-like.  That is how confident I am that the more you see of the Liberal Democrats, the more you will like what you see.

As I wrote in my last blog and as Nick Clegg is saying, all this is just a start.  The brick-bats flying in the direction of the Liberal Democrats will not decrease.   We activists will have to stick to our principles and keep on delivering those leaflets; knocking on those doors.   Do all we can and I for one am content to leave final judgement to the people of this nation.

Links to Manifestos

Liberal Democrats:

Friday, 16 April 2010

Leaders' Debate at the Vearts'

Being a political junkie, sometimes to the annoyance of the rest of the family, there was some tussling over the television remote last night.  Kitchen duties meant that I kicked off listening to the leaders’ debate on Radio Four.  As soon as that dishwasher was loaded though, I wrestled control of the zapper from my daughter’s clutches and the image of Simon Cowell was replaced by the contest from Manchester.  Within a few minutes however, the usual chatter had died down, my daughter had curled up next to me on the sofa and was gazing intently at the screen.

I looked down at her. “You ought to go to bed.”
“I want to watch this.”
“Oh come on, you are just saying that.”
“No, I’m not!” she objected.  “It’s interesting.  It’s not like parliament when they are all shouting.  It’s just the three of them; I can hear what they are saying and I can understand what they are telling me.”

To be fair to her, she did quite well before sleepiness overcame her attention.  It was only with the entry of her mother that she was finally chased up stairs to bed.  Sadly because of that I missed the part where Trident was being discussed but Mrs Veart was able to fill me in on what was said.

Mrs Veart is nobody's fool, least of all mine.  Therefore as a floating voter I asked her after the end what her opinion was.  Gordon Brown she described as “solid”.  He knew his facts and was able to deliver them.  But then again, she mused, he ought to.  If a Prime Minister doesn’t know his stuff with the entire apparatus of government at his disposal, he wouldn’t be doing his job.  David Cameron was dismissed immediately as a “lightweight”.  What really provoked that damning comment was his approach on the NHS.  One does not answer the question by eulogising nurses and doctors continuously.  Also Dave’s threatening China with nuclear weapons did not go down well.

Nick Clegg however did impress.  He did answer the questions and engage the audience, both at home and in the studio.  He was relaxed and confident.  It was not perfect though.   The repetition of points did not go down too well as it looked like he didn’t want to (or couldn’t) enlarge on the subjects.  Although in Mrs Veart’s verdict, Nick was the clear overall winner on the evening, I had to ask the killer questions:

“Who will you vote for in the election?”

“Liberal Democrats, probably.”

“Why only probably?”

“I don’t feel that Clegg is ready for being Prime Minister yet.  Brown obviously is more experienced.  But then, he is the one who is responsible for a large part of the mess.  And Labour is squeezing us so hard in the NHS.  There is hardly any time to draw breath before it is on to the next task.  Cameron is just scary.  No way will I ever be voting Conservative. 

“With Clegg, nobody comes out of the blue like he has done tonight and becomes Prime Minister.  It just doesn’t happen, unless one is really exceptional and nobody on that stage was tonight.  Not even Barack Obama did that.  But give him another four or five years and I am sure that Nick will make a good Prime Minister.”

I think what happened in my own living room last night was potentially a microcosm for the entire country.  On the narrower political point, Nick Clegg surprised both the public and commentators.  His openness and honesty impressed people.  The people of Britain have finally been able to see him and like what they saw.  That is not the same as wanting him transported straight to No.10.  It is an excellent start but, nonetheless, still only a start.  To my fellow activists, enjoy the glow and make the most of it.  Warm feelings sadly do not last for long.

What is perhaps more important however is the wider political impact.  The leaders’ debate was a lot more interesting and engaging to the broader public than anybody had hoped for.  Viewing figures were almost 10 million.  Expect this number to rise for the next debate as the word spreads that this is the chance to really hear the issues being discussed.  The Times carried an article where the reporter went into a bar and tried to persuade the people to turn over to watch the debate.  He could only do this by promising the bar free drinks for the duration.  The bar’s attention slowly became focused on the screens: booing, cheering and by the end, clapping.   

If through these debates the people of Britain start to reengage with the political process, then all of us will be the real winners.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Resisting the Charms of Adonis

In today’s Independent, Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis appeals directly for would-be Liberal Democrat voters to switch to Labour in Labour-Tory marginal seats.  Adonis bases his arguments upon history, as well he has to.  It smacks of desperation that he boasts of Labour removing “most of the hereditary peers from the House of Lords – a reform the Liberals failed to implement when they had the chance in 1911.”  Please!  That begs the question why did it take Labour nearly eighty years to catch up?

Cheap shots aside, Adonis claims that Labour and the Lib Dems have much more in common with each other than we have with the Conservative party.  As part of the proofs on offer, he admits that Labour has often stolen Liberal Democrat policy and put it into law.  All very gratifying but Labour has not been shy of doing this with Tory ideas either.  Blair and Gordon Brown have rightly been called Neo-Thatcherites, for they have continued with light-touch financial regulation and the privatisation of public assets that would have made even ex-chancellor Ken Clarke blush with shame for the modesty of his own ambition.  From health, defence and prisons, if it isn’t screwed down by union interest, Labour has sold it; usually through the mechanisms of PFI initiatives.   Shall we then talk about the levels of debt incurred as a result of these policies?  Something that the Conservatives were supremely unconcerned with but an issue the Liberal Democrats have been raising since the early part of the decade.  Now are we all Keynesians again in the face of the economic storm but in order to be true Keynesians, the government ought to have been saving during the good times.  Instead they were like the pools winners whose motto was “Spend spend spend!”  Whoever is in power next will have to cut cut cut, for as a country we are totally spent.  It is still not clear that we will avoid the fate of Greece and become another IMF basket case.  But we have been there before; last time under the leadership of James Callaghan and Denis Healey in the 1970s.
On the matter of defence, although Andrew Adonis would like to place Iraq firmly in the history books, I don’t think the British people would agree with him.  Blood, both of the British service personnel who were killed and injured, the Iraqis who died in their hundreds of thousands, and all those who are still suffering today, is not so easily washed away.   On the political front, the whole business shows a massive failure of judgment, with an all-powerful executive able to hoodwink and railroad most of parliament and a large part of the country into an illegal and aggressive war.   With honourable exceptions on both sides, spineless Labour MPs were followed by gung-ho Tories through the lobbies in support of Blair and Bush’s crusade.   It was the proudest moment of my political life so far when we Liberal Democrats stood up and with one voice said “No!” to war.  And in other areas, Labour and Tories stay united, wedded to the military demands of a Cold War mentality, refusing even to consider the prospect of a Britain without Trident.
Lord Adonis writes “The Lib Dems and us are united by a common antipathy to the values of Tories.”   As illustrated above, is there such a large difference between Labour and Conservatives?  Twitter is awash with the (rather clunky) term “Labservative” but there is a point.  Since Labour renounced socialism, the democratic debate has been considerably narrowed in this country.  He accuses the Lib Dems of self-interest with our demands to change the voting system.  Not of course there is any self-interest in Labservatives wishing to keep the first-past-the-post system(!).  But the main point in changing the voting system to proportional representation is to strengthen democracy in Britain.   For instance, in their domestic policies, Labour has very little environment ambition in evidence, nor do the Tories.  There should be room for smaller but entirely representative parties in Westminster.  But under the current system there isn’t.  So proportional representation is not the pure self-interest that is claimed.  Nor do the Liberal Democrats support Labour’s Big Brother vision for Britain, nor their repression of social mobility through the vastly inefficient families’ tax credit scheme.
The problem with Labour is that they are addicted to power and are cynical in their pursuit of it.  Perhaps Andrew Adonis feels well placed to appeal to Liberal Democrats since he was a Lib Dem counsellor himself once.  I have to ask though whether he really understood the party of once he was a member.  Sure, it is possible to become a high profile politician by being a Lib Dem but we have to fight tooth-and-nail for any real power that the public might entrust to us.  Not so with the other two parties.  Since World War Two, all they have really needed to do was to wait a generation for their turn in the ministerial limousine.  This is not a political system worthy of the people of Britain.  One has to wonder however, if it wasn’t such a temptation that motivated Adonis’ switch to Labour in the first place and whether it still is behind his desperate appeal to us today.