Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hester Smallbone

Many Liberals will have been saddened to hear of the death of Hester Smallbone.   Her daughter Teresa wrote an obituary in Saturday's Guardian.   Hester was a stalwart of Richmond Liberals and I lodged with her in Kew in 1983 so that I could take part in the general election campaign which Alan Watson very nearly won.   She was larger than life, generous, vocal and enthusiastic.  Indeed, Hester's enthusiasm for liberalism was unbounded.   I remember we travelled through Richmond on an open-topped battlebus with Hester dressed in orange from head to foot.   She may sometimes have overestimated the party's impact.  Returning from a Liberal Conference in Blackpool, I met Hester at a  motorway service station.  When I commented on the amount of traffic, she told me it was all the Liberal delegates on their way home.    When her daughter voted Labour, she commented, "Born free, chose slavery".

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Now you're asking

BBC interviewers like nothing better than displaying how clever they are by asking the question which they know a politician cannot answer.  Last night on Newsnight Emily Maitlis tried to get Chloe Smith, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, to admit that the government has a Plan B in case Plan A doesn't work, as the IMF report may suggest.   This is the forward-looking version of "Have you stopped beating your wife ?".  You can't answer Yes or No.  If Chloe said Yes, then Emily would have come back with "So plan A isn't working !".  If Chloe said No, then Emily would have asked why the government was so over-confident and ill-prepared.  Chloe Smith handled it fairly well but Emily wouldn't move on.  She had her game plan and pushed the dilemma again and again.    I have heard John Humphries waste a whole interview on this technique with the net result - no new information for the listener but the politician looks shifty.
Here's how the West Wing's Josh Lyman handled the same problem and invented the President's secret plan to fight inflation:

Monday, May 21, 2012


Last week, I found myself at Letchworth station in the rain.  Today I found George Orwell's comments on Letchworth and socialism:

"The first thing that must strike any outside observer is that Socialism in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. he is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years' time will quite probably have made a wealth marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaler and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Non-conformity behind him, and above all, with a social position which he has not intention of forfeiting.
   This last type is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps been taken over en bloc from the old Liberal Party, in addition to this there is the horrible-the really disquieting-prevalence of cranks wherever socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "nature Cure" quack, pacifist and feminist in England
   One day this summer I was riding through Letchworth when the bus stopped and two dreadful-looking old men got on to it. They were both about sixty, both very short, pink, and chubby, and both hatless. One of them was obscenely bald, the other had a long grey hair bobbed in the Lloyd George style. They were dressed in pistachio-coloured shirts and khaki shorts into which their huge bottoms were crammed so tightly that you could study every dimple. Their appearance created a mild stir of horror on top of the bus.
   The man next to me, a commercial traveler I should say, glanced at me, at them, and back again at me, and murmured "Socialists," as who should say "Red Indians." He was probably right-the I.L.P. were holding their summer school at Letchworth. But the point is that to him, as an ordinary man, a crank meant a Socialist and a Socialist meant a crank."

George Orwell  "The Road to Wigan Pier" (1937)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Vince panders to the Torygraph

Vince Cable has produced a dreadful piece in the Daily Telegraph pandering to their eurosceptic readers. He rails at European legislation which he characterises as over-regulation and micro-management. He is disingenuous and wrong about the origins of EU laws, the character of them and their substance. He fails to mention the way that European legislation is produced, based on treaties freely entered into by the UK, proposals widely consulted on before draft directives emerge from the Commission and then discussed, amended and adopted by Parliament and Council. Britain is part of all these institutions but Vince's account will only confirm the fantasy of some evil Brussels bureaucrats pursuing some hideous agenda of domination. European directives, adopted by the democratic process summarised above, typically establish agreed objectives but leave the exact method of achieving them to member-states. The habit of British civil servants of adding unnecessary detail when directives are transposed into British law is famous and is known as gold-plating. Our wretched national parliament compounds the problem because it fails to scrutinise or challenge the drafts produced by the civil service and signed off by ministers. As to his argument that British workers have the right 'to choose' to work more than 48 hours a week, Vince misleads the reader. The 48-hour limitation is an average measured over a long period of time (I forget how many months). In other words there is flexibility within the directive. I will be surprised if the party's newly created Working Group on Work / Life Balance shares his view. Furthermore spreading work among a larger group of people instead of the unbalanced mixture of the overworked and the unemployed has social and economic benefits - less mental illness, lower social security payments and higher spending to fuel growth. I have always known that Vince was eurosceptic but I thought he understood economics.