Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rape of the Clark

Rape (3): "any violation or abuse" (Collins Compact English Dictionary). I suppose I should not be astonished at the ridiculous, overblown response to Ken Clark's remarks yesterday. Nobody doubts that he regards all rape as serious and most people who think about it will admit that there are differing degrees of seriousness of rape so why can't the Lord Chancellor say so ? No surprise perhaps that the great guardian of women's rights The Sun should attack him but Ed Miliband should know better. Clark is one of the most rational and sensible of Tories and certainly more Liberal than his Labour predecessors Jack Straw and Charlie Faulkner. Ironically Miliband's call for his resignation has probably saved Clark's job, as Steve Richards points out in the Independent.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Macho contest: Fox and Murphy show their muscles. Where are Nick Clegg's ?

Liam Fox's announcement today of "Initial Gate" for Trident means we could spend up to £3 billion pounds designing new submarines before the next general election. (You may have missed it as the media are much more interested in what Ken Clarke said about rape and Labour MP Tom Docherty claiming that the Met will be investigating David Laws. As usual the process stories take over from the product.)

Labour's response: "Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy backed the decision, saying Trident had been a "cornerstone" of the UK's peace and security for more than 50 years." So, no change there then. The party that supported Blair's rush to replace Trident still wants to do that.

CND Response: "The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament condemned today’s decision to authorise billions of pounds of further spending on the Trident replacement programme, prior to the major decision point on the nuclear weapons system, not due to be taken until 2016. However, CND welcomed the launch of a government study into alternatives to Trident, to be led by Lib Dem Defence Minister Nick Harvey as providing the opportunity for other options – so far excluded for reasons of dogma rather than on an evidential basis – to be considered. "

Fox says "The Coalition Government is committed to maintaining a minimum credible nuclear deterrent and policy remains that a minimum nuclear deterrent based on the Trident missile delivery system and continuous at sea deterrence is right for the UK." The words in bold do not represent the coalition agreement nor the Liberal Democrats' party policy and should not have been allowed to appear in the MoD statement. Come on Nick, let's see those muscles !

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hypocrisy, mendacity, stupidity and ineptitude !

Today I wrote to a friend and green activist drawing his attention to Chris Huhne's victory in cabinet over targets to reduce carbon emissions. His response was to point out that Hammond wants to raise speed limits to 80mph. I wasn’t trying to defend the entire coalition government and certainly not the Tories, but I thought that Chris Huhne had done a good job here. I am very critical of some of the coalition's policies but I am just bloody angry at Labour hypocrisy, Tory press mendacity and voters' stupidity (not to mention our own leadership's inept management).

One of the things which has hit Liberal Democrats hard is the widespread misunderstanding of coalition government. We lost the general election. Labour lost the general election. The Tories also lost but had the most MPs. A Lib-Lab coalition which many of us would have liked was impossible because the numbers didn’t add up and half the Labour leadership were against it anyway. There were three real alternatives.
1) Tory minority government. I and most of my LibDem colleagues are convinced that the Tories would have called a second general election (probably last Autumn) and won a majority. This was Harold Wilson’s tactic in 1974, the last time we had a hung parliament.
2) Tory minority government with LibDems offering a confidence and supply agreement, i.e. no guaranteed support for any particular policy. The same objection applies and we wouldn’t have got any of our policies adopted.
3) Coalition with the Tories. We have got some of our policies adopted and what Chris Huhne has achieved is an example. A purely Tory government would never have done this. Coalition inevitable involves compromise and the government has adopted some policies which many LibDems oppose as well of course as LibDem policies which many Tories oppose.

Yet the electorate has shown itself determined to punish the LibDems and not the Tories and indeed to reject electoral reform not on its merits but to punish us ! Three areas where I feel the electorate’s judgement and the hypocrisy of the Labour Party coincide:
1) Nuclear Power: Labour and Tories both want it. We don’t and have managed to limit it by ensuring much less public subsidy than they would have liked to provide.
2) Trident: Labour and Tories both want to replace it. We don’t and have forced the government to postpone the main gate decision until after the next election. Much will be spent in the meantime and can’t be stopped because of the Labour and Tory attitudes. The way to stop trident now is to get Labour to change its mind before 2015.
3) Tuition Fees: Labour and Tories both wanted to increase them. We didn’t. Vince has negotiated a much fairer scheme than would have happened if only Labour or Tories were in power in a traditional majority government. I believe this was badly handled and all LibDem MPs should have abstained. As it was half voted against. Nevertheless a better outcome than would have happened without us.

All this has been achieved with only 57 seats. We didn’t win the election. We’re doing our best. Labour has spent the last year lying about their own policies, lying about us and lying about the problems they left behind. The Tory press had done its best to undermine the coalition and destroy the Liberal Democrats. Sorry to go on, but given the arithmetic and the ridiculously adversarial nature of UK politics, it’s bloody marvellous we’ve managed to get anything changed.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The absurd suspension of David Laws

The Parliamentary Commissioner has recommended that David Laws be suspended for a week. The Commissioner accepted that David Laws' motive was to protect his privacy not to make money and that his claims would have been "considerably more" if he had stuck to the rules, and he agreed that there was no loss to the taxpayer from the breaches.

It is absurd and I share Olly Grender’s view published by the New Statesman. I also share Frank Field's view:
"Today's report vividly highlights how arbitrary these judgements are," he said. "MPs guilty of milking the system get a ticking off. David Laws, whom the report accepts was not guilty of this, and who has already lost office for a year, is further punished with a suspension. If our constituents were treated so arbitrarily MPs would naturally be fuming with anger. Where is the justice in this?"

Admittedly a week out of the chamber may be a relief from the nonsense talked there but he doesn't deserve it. When I consider the MPs who deliberately flipped their second homes and still got re-elected, I realise that it is foolish to expect justice in the House of Commons.

David must nevertheless be relieved that it is finally over. Despite my continuing disagreement with his economic views, I am glad that this burden is finally lifted.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Now is the time to Kiple.

Graham Watson's weekly newsletter reminds us all to remember Kipling and " with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same..." Here's the rest.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

What a pity ministers don't read Liberator !

I read in the Evening Standard that one of our ministers has said, "It's going to be liberating to take a private dialogue and make it public. We need to demonstrate that we're different from the Tories, not just competent partners. If the process is more public, it'll look less as if we went into a locked room and lost our heart and soul. It won't be a slanging match, but we won't have to pretend we agree on everything. I think people will be able to cope with that.".

Last August four local Liberal Democrats in Yeovil met to discuss our feelings about the coalition. In September Shirley Williams put it in a nutshell when asked how she felt about being in bed with the Tories, "Not one bed, two beds". In November Liberator published my article "Separate Beds" in which I wrote, "The voters need to see that we have a clear vision and we need to be seen to argue before agreement is reached. This is not the tradition of British cabinet government and civil servants will have advised ministers against it – “Not in front of the children”. This is NOT a traditional government and we must stop infantilising the electorate. Otherwise Liberal Democrat Ministers defending government policies which we have always opposed will appear dishonest and weak. They have to demonstrate tough negotiation and the necessary virtue of constructive difference... Liberal Democrats in the government cannot implement all our policies but they must deliver some and be seen to do so."

Somebody give Nick Clegg a subscription. He can read that edition and other old ones here.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

I agree with Nick !

No, not that one. Nick Thornsby has concluded that there is no progressive majority in Britain.

As a party we have spent years becoming diligent on local issues, helpful on personal problems and brilliant on targetting tactics but we have not changed minds. Like every other party we have abandoned ideology and when our leadership makes strategic errors, our fair-weather voters melt away leaving us with that small core which always agreed with us from the beginning.

Now is the time to learn from our mistakes. In the long run we cannot change and keep votes unless we first change minds. We have lost our reputation for being honest. We have lost our radicalism (if not our disgruntlement). Working hard will not be enough. Now we have to persuade people that we are also right.

Wisdom from 1908

FM Cornford's MICROCOSMOGRAPHIA ACADEMICA published in 1908 explains academic politics and has some truth for the wider world and the AV debate in particular. He says there is only one reason for doing something - because it's right - whereas there are many reasons for NOT doing something.

He also gives the following definitions of two kinds of academic politicians:
"A Conservative Liberal is a broad-minded man, who thinks that something ought to be done, only not anything that anyone now desires, but something which was not done in 1881-82.

A Liberal Conservative is a broad-minded man, who thinks that something ought to be done, only not anything that anyone now desires; and that most things which were done in 1881-82 ought to be undone.

I hope we have moved on.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

How to run a coalition ( or wag the dog)

Interesting article by Julian Astle in his Daily Telegraph blog. Broadly he says there's the Clegg approach so far - we own everything the government does -, the Toryphobic approach - we hate everything the government does - or there's Chris Huhne's third way - critical support. He warns that this approach must not damage the good reputation of coalition politics. We must break the perceived link between coalitions and weak, fractious, ineffective government.

I doubt that this perception exists among voters in the UK today. Nobody remembers what coalitions are like. The last one, Churchill's wartime coalition was unpopular at the time but seen as strong and indeed victorious in retrospect. The problem is deeper than any hazy preconceptions of coalition. Voters want various contradictory things from politicians, e.g. good quality services AND low taxes. They also want politicians to be honest AND not to bicker. Perhaps this is not impossible if the arguments are about the product - the policies - instead of the usual political row about the process - who said what to whom and when and you did this, you said this etc.

The morning after the morning after the night before

What people think after not so cool reflection. A small selection.

Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the RSA not the ex-MP) analyses why the YES campaign got it wrong.

Tom King noted on Facebook that ‎32% voted Yes, but 35% voted Labour in 2005, and they got a 66-seat majority. Explains why Labour loves the unfair FPTP.

David Allen Green asks in his New Statesman blof, "What the Liberal Democrats should do next". As he says, "The party has to be distinct. As this blog has said previously, the blurring of lines between Tories and Liberal Democrats makes one want to adapt the ending of Animal Farm:

"The voters outside looked from Tory to Clegg, and from Clegg to Tory, and from Tory to Clegg again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

I ask, "In the seats we lost in the south of England, did Labour supporters who would normally vote for us stay at home ? Alternatively did more right-wing voters who normally vote for us switch to the Tories ? Can anyone tell me ? I ask because it's obvious why we lost seats to Labour in the north of England but not why we lost seats to Tories in the south."

Sandy Walkington suggest on Facebook that the referendum increased Tory turnout in the council elections ! How ironic that we held the referendum on the same day as the council elections to increase turnout in the referendum. Massive mistake.

Nick Clegg has asked us to move on. Then he asked us for money. Was it too much to expect the slightest admission that maybe he got it wrong ?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Arrow's impossibility theorem

A little maths to lighten the gloom.

How strange that the Tories and Labour NOs did not quote Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which proves mathematically that no voting system can meet three criteria of fairness (see extract above).

No, I don't understand it either.

"Never glad confident morning again" ?

Nick Clegg has made two historic errors.

Firstly, the referendum on AV should never have been held simultaneously with council elections. I always thought this was a mistake and hoped the House of Lords might succeed in forcing a delay. This vital issue was subsumed into the party political battle. Voting "No" became a way of punishing the Liberal Democrats. Campaigners' efforts were diverted from the referendum to local elections. The only material on AV delivered where I live was council election leaflets with a Tory footnote NO and a Lib Dem footnote YES.

The second error was as bad. The identity of the Liberal Democrats has vanished. Voters cannot discern what makes Liberal Democrats different from Conservatives. It is whistling in the dark to cite the shopping list of policies which are supposed to form 75% of our manifesto. They do not amount to a visible Liberal Democrat narrative. They weigh as nothing against the two policies which were not in the manifesto - raising tuition fees and rapid, unfair deficit reduction risking a double-dip recession.

At our special conference to ratify the coalition agreement, I asked if our reaction should be "Never glad confident morning again". I don't know if anyone recognised the poem by Robert Browning. It is called "The lost leader" and mourns the desertion of William Wordsworth to the conservative cause. Read it here.

Time now to show that we are different. Coalition -yes, Cosmetic for the Tories - No.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Never confuse Labour with a progressive party !

This is the proud boast of the Labour NO to AV campaign. So we know that their manifesto promise was a lie. So we know that they prefer the system that has put Tories in power for generations. So we know that their commitment to democracy is threadbare. So we know that they are happy to see 1.6% of the electorate (less than 500,000 voters) decide who governs Britain. So we know that they don't care that MPs are elected by a minority.


Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Yes or no ? Is that democracy ?

The BBC has this graphic for its summing up of the arguments on the AV Referendum. Clearly the pencil has more than two faces but only two are available to the voter - yes or no. The graphic so neatly sums up the problem with First Past the Post that I'm surprised the Director-General Mark Thomson didn't ban it as the BBC banned the use of the word "Reform".

Caroline Lucas was of course right in seeking to amend the referendum into a preferendum with a choice of voting systems. She was wrong to blame Liberal Democrat MPs for not supporting her, as she know that the combined weight of the Tory and Labour dinosaurs would not have permitted such a choice to the electorate. LibDem MPs were confined to the AV option by the coalition agreement. Could we have got more from the Tories ? I wonder. What about Labour ? With the exception of Ed Miliband (who gave a remarkably honest interview to the trivial, point-scoring, ever interrupting Humphries this morning) and a few other Labour politicians, the Labour Party has once again shown itself dishonest and opportunistic. Blair's first broken promise was his refusal to put the Jenkins Commission's report to a referendum. Now many Labour politicians led by the despicable Reid, Prescott, Blunkett and Beckett are campaigning against AV, which they promised in their own General Election manifesto. Make no mistake. If the answer tomorrow is "NO" they will bear the blame as much as any self-seeking Tory.

The conclusion: you can't trust politicians to set the rules by which we are governed. The UK needs a Constitutional Convention, just as the Scots had before.