'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Remember this letter?

Eric Idle and John Major were born on the same day - and both turned 70 yesterday.

As they approached their 50th birthday, Idle wrote the following letter to Major

h/t to @shaunusher

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Olympic Stadium in Rio has been closed. I really wouldn't panic just yet.

The Guardian is reporting that the Olympic Stadium in Rio , where the athletics will take place in 2016, has been closed indefinitely for safety reasons. To quote the piece..

' The João Havelange stadium, which is currently used by the Botafogo football club, is scheduled to host athletics events at the Games, but engineers have discovered structural problems with the roof that could pose dangers to spectators in certain wind and temperature conditions.
"There is a risk, so I have decided to close the stadium immediately," said the Rio mayor, Eduardo Paes, who emphasised that it would not re-open until a solution was found. "If it takes a month, then it will stay closed for a month; if it takes a year, it will stay closed for a year." '
Now, I know there is a part of all of us that wants the Olympics back and so we jump on this sort of news as an indication that maybe, just maybe, it will somehow return in 2016. And similar stories about delays to rebuilding the Maracana Stadium, that will host the opening and closing ceremonies.
But honestly. Here's a picture of of Stadium in Rio today

And here is a picture of our Olympic Stadium in Feb 2009, roughly the same time away from the opening ceremony in 2012 as Rio is now

Sad to say - I think they are going to be fine....

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Secret Courts. Still not in my name.

As you will know, the Justice and Security Bill went unamended after the debate in the Lords on Tuesday, and so will now become law - and secret courts will become a reality in the Civil Court.  I find it extremely upsetting that this could happen with Lib Dems in government.

There is an excellent round up of the events of Tuesday over at LDV from Caron, where you can find a list of the Lib Dem peers who defied the three line whip to Vote against the government. Also over at LDV today there is a great piece from Paul Strasburger on the shenanigans that went on Tuesday both to keep Tory peers in the House (they all watched a film rather than the debate), and the delay on the debate which meant many peers sloped off home before it even took place.

All in all quite disgraceful

This debacle has cost us some wonderful members, notably Jo Shaw but I also learned last night that David Allen Green has now let his membership lapse as a direct result of the secret courts issue. A very sad loss to the party. I hope we get him back some day soon, and those of us staying need to fight to overturn this law  - and uphold party policy, that so many of our parliamentarians have ignored.

Jo is also founding 'The Project for Open Justice' and I hope many will contact her to see how they can help. As someone else has said, it's astonishing we find ourselves on the other side of a civil liberties issue from Reprieve, Index on Censorship and Liberty

Finally, here's an interesting little factoid.

Next up, as Liberator has pointed out today, is the Snooping bill, which it is rumoured may get introduced in the May Queens Speech. Again, if that's correct, our Westminster representatives can expect a fight.

I'm a Liberal Democrat and I'm against this sort of thing.

If David Cameron only entered politics now, would he even be a Tory?

The New Statesman published this on Tuesday and I'm rather smug that 2 days later, even post Miliband, it remains the 2nd most read piece on The Staggers. It's also attracted a load of comments. But hardly anyone has answered the second question (in the last line). Anyone care to have a go?

Over the last two weeks I’ve been wrestling with a couple of questions. Trouble is, I only have an answer for the first. Perhaps you could all help me with the second?
My first poser is this. Let’s imagine that David Cameron had not gone into politics when he did. Entranced by the magical world of PR, he eschewed the chance to be an MP to pursue a career in the media, but now, 20 years on and full of regret, he decided he would like to give it another go. Which party would he join?
Well, according to Conservative Home the achievements the current government should be most proud of – and therefore presumably most attractive to a prospective new recruit – are the Equal Marriage Act, protecting the International Aid budget and raising the income tax threshold to £10,000. You don’t have to be much of a student of politics to know that they are three core Liberal Democrat policies – and the comment section of the Conservative Home article would suggest that the Tory grass roots don’t have much time for them. But as the Tory party is now furiously laying claim to them, presumably Cameron is in fact, quite keen…
Then you think about the things David Cameron first cared about when he became Conservative leader – you remember, when he wanted everyone to hug a hoodie or a husky, when (on his election) Norman Tebbit described him as wanting to build a “New Modern Compassionate Green Globally Aware Party” (it wasn’t a compliment) and he ditched the Tory Torch for an oak tree . And you look at the Tory party now – pulled rightward by UKIP, anti wind farms, demanding marriage tax breaks and reductions in inheritance tax, – and you wonder how comfortable Cameron feels inside the party he leads. It’s not really the vision he started with, is it?
And now he must cast a glance at the Lib Dems – who originated those policies the Tory party now claims as their proudest achievement. Who remain passionate about the Green agenda Cameron once wanted to claim as his own . Whose leadership (much to the chagrin of the Lib Dem grass roots) appear to support all sorts of policies that Cameron apparently also  feels comfortable with, from Secret Courts to Press Regulation to Immigration.
And you wonder if the David Cameron who joined the Tories in his twenties would now look at the Lib Dems and the Tories, and find, perhaps to his surprise, that in fact he had rather more in common with the former than the latter.
Which brings me on to my second question, to which I have no answer. If indeed it is true that the current Conservative Prime Minister would today feel more comfortable in the Lib Dems than in his own party, who should be more alarmed about that fact – the Tory membership, or the Lib Dem grassroots?

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Why did David Miliband resign? I blame this man

As we wave goodbye to David Miliband - I think this is the best and most balanced 'obit' I have read about his resignation - there is a sense that he could have been Labour leader if only he'd taken either of the two chances he had to stand against Gordon Brown, in 2008 and 2009. The received wisdom is that he didn't have the cojones to do it - and hence he lost the chance. When he did stand for the leadership, there was enough doubt about whether he had that thread of steel you need - which in a finely balanced election was enough to tip the balance against him.

But was it really courage that stopped him standing in 2008 or 9?

Probably partly - but it was also the received wisdom that he who wields the knife, never wears the crown.

Now, whoever concocted that 'rule' a) has never seen 'Game of Thrones and b) hasn't paid enough attention to recent political history.

The reason everyone always cites the rule is that when Heseltine stood against Thatcher, he did enough damage to remove her from the running - but made enough enemies amongst Thatcher loyalists in the process to ensure he didn't win in the next round. This is undoubtably true. But he's a bit of an exception that makes the rule.

The Tories don't have quite the taste for regicide that everyone claim they do - only 3 of the last 7 leaders have been toppled against their will.  But the only other notable Tory politician to stand against the incumbent leader in 'recent' history was  - Thatcher herself, when she defeated Heath in the first ballot. Sir Anthony Meyer was a stalking horse candidate the year before the Heseletine coup but was always only meant to be a repository of protest votes to destabalise Thatcher. And that's pretty much it.

Every other coup against the leader since the 1970s  - across all 3 political parties - has been the result of the men in grey suits or a mass visit from the backbenches, not a single (serious) candidate putting themselves forward to challenge for the top job (I'm talking Ming, Charles, IDS, and to a degree Brown and Blair). All the other leaders resigned of their own accord (Wilson, Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Beckett, Major, Hague, Howard, Thorpe, Steele, Ashdown) or died (Smith)

So for any serious politician thinking of toppling the leader, the Heseltine factor looms large - but history suggests the man or woman holding the knife is not necessarily doomed never to be monarch.

They just have to make sure they have the balls.

And, as this Damien Mcbride piece makes very clear - they've done their homework. Otherwise, they're stuffed.

The fact David Miliband either bought the received wisdom, didn't have the thread of steel, hadn't done his homework, or a combination of all 3 - means we shouldn't shed too many tears at his departure now.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

An Open Letter to all Lib Dem Peers in the House of Lords

Dear Everybody

So, today is the day. The final chance to send the Justice and Security Bill back to the House of Commons with a firm 'no' written all over it, in the shape of the excellent amendments proposed to the bill, designed to consign it to a permanent state of ping pong between Houses until time runs out.

I hope you take the chance to  send the Bill to this Parliamentary limbo.


Partly because it is fundamentally illiberal. There is a reason why successive Lib Dem conferences have rejected the Bill over and over again. There is a principle at stake here.

Partly because party policy is fundamentally against this bill. This is a red line issue for many party members.

Partly because it is fundamentally flawed. I won't bore you with the arguments again - your in box is full of them - but if you need reminding just pop over to the Liberal Democrats against Secret Courts site where you can get no end of information.

Or if you don't fancy that, go and see what your own colleague Lord McDonald has to say on this issue over at the Reprieve website.

Or even have a skim of this article just published by the Lib Dem lawyers group. Takes 2 minutes. Says everything you need to know.

I'd partly like you vote against it because I don't think the case for the bill has been made properly; The Guardian suggests The Commons was given duff information only recently when considering the bill  - by Ken Clark of all people. With this sort of thing happening, do you really want to put your name to the bill?

But mostly, I'd like you to vote against the bill because its another nail in the coffin of our own liberty. And remember...

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"

Benjamin Franklin Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Please do the right thing this afternoon. No to Secret Courts

Sunday, 24 March 2013

That Boris Interview everyone is talking about

Oh dear Oh dear Oh dear

Get Adobe Flash player

How's the differentiation thing working out for us?

You'll remember our differentiation strategy, as outlined on a napkin by Richard Reeve early on in the government and helpfully reproduced below...

Having spent some time establishing that we are a 'grown up' party of government by working hand in hand with the Tories, in the middle of the parliament we will slowly start to extract ourselves from their grasp, reasserting our own liberal character and credentials, in good time to make it clear that we offer an alternative to the British people at the 2015 General Election.

I always thought it was a mistake. And I have to ask- how is that going?

On the one hand policies that are undoubtably Liberal Democrat feature heavily on the governments programme. The problem is - having spent so long 'not having a cigarette paper between us' that the Tories can claim them just as much as we have. And surprise surprise - they are claiming them, with Conservative Home saluting David Cameron for delivering on Equal marriage, protecting the Aid budget and  the £10k tax band.

Many in the Lib Dems will point out that this will fool few people (and equally that none of these go down well with the Tory grass roots). I think they're wrong (at least on the first part). The Tories have got a lot of money to spend reminding people that it was George Osborne who stood up in the house and announced the £10K band, that the Equal Marriage Act was proposed by a Tory Secretary of State at the DCMS, that the two SoSs responsible for International Aid have been Andrew Mitchell and Justine Greening. None of that will be fair - but they have big pockets. If they want to own those policies in the minds of the British public - they probably have the ammo to do it.

Meantime, we do ourselves no favours at all in trying to re-establish our own liberal credentials. Look at the latest three big moves by the leadership - on Secret Courts, Media regulation and now Immigration. We can argue the whys and wherefore of these policies, but if we are meant to be now pursuing a strategy of strongly differentiating ourselves from the Tories, I would suggest that this is a curious way of going about it. We look less liberal than them. Which is quite an achievement.  

I've always said the non -differentiation strategy was a mistake from the start. But it was the road we went down. If we're going to make it work we need to start reminding people of what we believe in our hearts

The last couple of weeks makes me wonder if the leadership in Westminster hasn't rather forgotten that napkin. 

Nick - its time to be all liberal again. Could you get on with it please

Monday, 18 March 2013

Here's the new Norman Baker Single and Video

 And in case you've forgotten: here's the last Lib Dem to appear in a pop video...


Leveson: the answers to all your questions.

Firstly, let's be clear; the Royal Charter is definitely going to based on the Lib Dem/Labour proposal...

...or definitely based on the Tory Proposal.

Or more likely, both

Anyway, lets be clear - there's nothing 'statutory' about the proposals...

except there might be...

Although as David Allen Green points out - there are lots of different ways of defining statutory anyway...

'All “statutory” means is that a regulatory regime has some basis in an Act of Parliament. It may well be that the statute merely gives legal personality to a regulator, allowing it to hold property and enter into contracts as a corporation (and thereby employ people). But it can also mean that specific and residual powers for that regulator are set out in statute, including perhaps the powers to obtain information or impose fines. It all depends on what the statute says.
What “statutory” does not necessarily mean is that either government or parliament will have any control or influence over the activities of a statutory body.'

Anyway, lets all agree that the PM was foolish not to stay up to be part of the negotiations..

...although fortunately, it seems he was...

All this confusion can only mean one thing

..but then again....

So - can we all agree at least on this?

Remind me again - how long have the politicians had since Leveson started to sort this out?


I have been tweeting with the No 10 cat. So proud

Forget about Leveson, the big news is Norman Baker is in the NME

Yes, its true. Norman Baker is indeed bringing out an album - 'a rock album' according to the report I heard on Radio 5 Live last night.

Hats off to him. Though you do wonder - how did he find the time?

Do feel free to tweet some songs he might like to record in the future using the hashtag


Thursday, 14 March 2013

AA Emmerson: Vince Cable is on your side....

I was lucky enough to attend the Retail Week Live event on Wednesday when one of the keynote speakers was... Vince!

Some key things Vince said ( to general approval) included...

1. He hopes that Rate Relief for small business is rolled over in the Budget next week
2. He called for Business Rates for small businesses on the whole to be reviewed and replaced with a more modern and fairer system. An end to short termism and a long term approach
3. He declined the opportunity to endorse George Osborne as the best person to be Chancellor. 'Let's not go there' he said...
4. He claimed credit for accepting all but one of the Portas recommendations; unfortunately he said there were 38 (there are 28) and today Mary Portas, speaking on Day 2 of the conference, gave all the credit to Steve Hilton and Grant Shapps, but hey.. Vince got in there first.

So Andrew Emmerson (who blogs at the excellent DIYLiberalism) - I think Vince has got your best interests at heart


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Next time there's a referendum on PR, I want the folk from The Falklands to run the 'Yes' campaign

The Lib Dem leadership must stop deluding itself over secret courts

My piece at the New Statesman yesterday which caused a certain amount of angst for its author - but I thought it needed saying...

Have added an addendum at the end...

Last week, as ever before spring conference, every interviewer asked Lib Dem activists the same question – 'what’s this year's row going to be about?' This time, the media gave us standard responses as well: Huhne, Rennard or"Plan V" for the economy.
And all week, to a general response of rolling eyes, activists told them the same answer: secret courts.
No one was interested. No one cared. 'Aren’t you more bothered that your president called you cockroaches and nutters?' was the standard response. No, not at all – actually that’s more of a badge of pride. We care about secret courts.
The clues were there. "The day the party fell out of love with the coalition",wrote Liberator magazine after so many of our MPs defied Lib Dem policy and trooped through the lobbies to support the Justice and Security Bill. "There is no getting away from the fact that there is a huge gap between what all but 7 MPs (and a few absentees) did last night and what most activists wanted them to do", wrote Lib Dem Voice. And 100-plus activistssigned a letter to the press saying the bill was plain wrong (I was proud to be one of them). But largely, I suspect, because no one asked Nick about it on ‘Call Clegg’, both the media and the leadership thought it was a non-issue. Big mistake.
Nick appeared unprepared for questions on it in his Q&A on Saturday, his answers throwing numerous straw men up and being quickly battered down. In the least surprising turn of events of the weekend, it was announced that the #secretcourts debate had won the ballot to be the first emergency motion of the conference. Then the eminent human rights lawyer, Dinah Rose, announced she was quitting the party over secret courts. And finally, we saw one of the most respected and admired campaigners in the party, Jo Shaw,resign in the emergency debate in one of the best speeches made from the floor in a long time. It’s worth watching. Needless to say, the motion opposing secret courts was overwhelmingly carried. 
According to the prominent Lib Dem blogger Charlotte Henry, a source close to the leader expressed the view that the secret courts debacle didn’t really matter "because nobody in the real world cares". How wrong headed can they be?
Every wing, arm and leg of the party is livid about this. They won’t win another Eastleigh without the activists – and there’s now a move by activists to refuse to support any parliamentary candidate who wandered through the yes lobby the other week. That’s how seriously people take it.
The leadership are no doubt sitting at home, cursing Jo Shaw’s name and wondering why the grass roots aren’t busy repeating the mantra set down from now till 2015 rather than what we are saying – "no to secret courts".
It’s because we are liberals. And we are democrats. And Nick – we’re against this sort of thing.

The article has garnered a number of comments, mostly supportive (though not all the ones at The New Statesman are - plus ca change!) - but one in particular gave me for food for thought, which was:
"don't fall into the labour trap of hating your own more than the real opposition"
And thereine lies the conundrum for all Lib Dems. I think on the whole we all agree that the government has been far better with us in it than if we were to have stayed out, at the onset. The list of positive Liberal achievments is lengthy. But does that mean when our Westminster representatives do something we disagree with, we should keep quiet? Its a tricky balance - but I think when key party activists are resigning in protest at an issue, it's not unreasonable to stick your hand up and say 'this isn't on'. Loyalty is a 2 way street after all.

But it isn't easy

Sunday, 10 March 2013

#no2secretcourts; Jo Shaw says it better than anyone

There have been many excellent posts today about the disgraceful support of so many of our MPs and the party leadership for the Justice and Security Bill

Charlotte Henry gives Nick both barrels here

And Alex Marsh explains why the leaderships support of the bill seems so bizarre here

But really: just watch this video - it's Jo Shaw's speech to conference today - and you'll understand just what we've lost...


added a fourth - excellent POV here from Andrew Page

Friday, 8 March 2013

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Do follow this link if you'd like to hear me debating with Harry Phibbs of Conservative Home and David Coburn, who runs UKIP in London, on the problems facing David Cameron

Apart from losing my thread on question 1, accidentally referring to the party as Liberals on one occasion and forgetting to mention the Mansion Tax, it went fine


An open letter to BBC Question time. That's right, another one.

Dear BBC Question time

I see you have Diane James on the BBC QT panel this evening. Nothing wrong with this - she was generally acknowledged as a strong candidate in the Eastleigh by election.

But it's the second week in a row you've had a member of UKIP on. Last week it was Neil Hamilton. Yet tonights panel fails to feature any Lib Dem.

You'll argue that Diane James is 'current' after UKIP's second place last week; an excellent result for them, no argument there. But we did actually win. A slightly better result.

You'll argue that we're in government - and that the government is represented. Yet I look back at past panels to last September - and find a Tory has been on every single one. Funny old world.

When I wrote to you pointing out no Lib Dem had ever been the extra guest - you were kind enough to respond and put Mark Pack in the hotseat.

I hope you'll do the same and again - and ensure a fairer representation of the Lib Dems on the Question Time panel.

With best wishes

Richard Morris


Fair enough, an almost immediate reply from BBC QT. Great they read and respond to stuff

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

In praise (again) of Helen Duffett....

I pointed out yesterday

"What occurs to me is: in the aftermath (and on going issue) of recent media attention, you'd think for a staged media shot welcoming a new member to Parliament that we'd do a bit of stage management and have some prominent women MPs front and centre".

Whereas we used a series of shots not unlike this.....

Or, as Mark Pack put it...

But someone was listening in Great George Street. And in today's LDV review of Mike's introduction to parliament we saw this shot

Look everyone. A Female Lib Dem MP! 

And not just any female Lib Dem MP. A #notosecretcourts rebel to boot!!

And then LDV linked to a video of Mike's introduction in the chamber - where, as Helen points out, Mike was 'flanked by a grinning Annette Brooke and Stephen Lloyd". You'll notice - Annette is...a female Lib Dem MP!

And then just to hammer it home - you can hear Helen shouting "are you getting this, Morris?', can't you - LDV adds..

" Behind Mike, Jeremy Browne and Jo Swinson are clearly delighted as he signs the Test Roll, a parchment book headed by the oath and affirmation which is kept by the Clerk of the House of Commons."

That's Jo Swinson. Another female Lib Dem MP.

It's great to know Great George Street listens. It's a pity you couldn't vote in the #notosecretcourts debate Helen!

For the umpteenth time: Theresa May is not a safe pair of hands.

According to the well connected Ben Brogan, there may be a Tory leadership plot afoot with Theresa May leading it...

and spookily enough, look what's in todays Independent...

So please everyone - before everyone goes mad: read this... (click on the link...)

The "Theresa May is a safe pair of hands" myth

or this

She may the best of a bad bunch (if you're a Tory). But that's no comfort for the rest of us.


TBF, good joke from Ed M in PMQs on this; and May handles it very badly...

The Problem with the National Press

1. Chavez is dead
2. We're sending armoured cars to Syria
3. Thomas Cook are making 2500 people redundant
4. The Governor of the Bank of England thinks RBS should be fully nationalised

Here's the headline and lead story in The Daily Telegraph

Words fail me

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Lib Dems and women...

Here's the shot I was sent yesterday of Mike Thornton being greeted at his new place of work on Day One at Westminster. Does anything strike you about it?

What occurs to me is: in the aftermath (and on going issue) of recent media attention, you'd think for a staged media shot welcoming a new member to Parliament that we'd do a bit of stage management and have some prominent women MPs front and centre.  

But as you can see - we didn't. Yes Jo Swinson is there - just; and there's someone else (is it Tessa Munt?) hiding in the bottom right hand corner. But mainly it's a bunch of white, middle aged men looking rather pleased with themselves. It strikes me as an opportunity lost.

Just to check I wasn't being unfair, I checked what other photos featured in the press - this was just a snatched Twitter shot.

Unfortunately - it doesn't get any better....

It strikes me that there's a bit of media management work to do here....

Of course it would help if more than 7 of our MPs were women.


You'd also have to say Labour is better at this; Here's what happened after they last won a by election

#No2secretcourts; Is there hope? Not much

So it seems that we are doomed to have secret courts after all.

We still have the Third reading to go - helpfully scheduled for Thursday so it's safely out of the way before the horror of Spring Conference. I asked Twitter last night when was the last occasion a bill was defeated at third reading. A C McGregor was able to fill me in...

Here is the said bill. It's a wowser.

So here are a few posers:

1. What is the point of conference anymore. Here's a comment from LDV from Alex Marsh that I think sums up the situation rather well...

As a couple of commenters have already noted, this vote raises important questions about the relationship between Conference and the Parliamentary Party. It isn’t the first time since 2010 that Conference has very clearly voted one way and Parliamentary Party has voted the other. But in the other cases it would be possible for supporters of the parliamentary party’s position to justify this (however unconvincingly) on the basis of dealing with the deficit etc (eg on WCA and the welfare reform bill) and the compromises of coalition.
But the secret courts bill is different. It isn’t about dealing with the deficit. It isn’t in the coalition agreement. It is in conflict with core principles of the party and conference signaled clearly that it was against it. The message to the Parliamentary Party couldn’t have been more obvious. Yet it was (largely) ignored.
We all know that the Parliamentary Party is not absolutely bound by Conference votes. But there needs to be good reason for departing from party policy. Is someone going to explain what the good reason is here?
As it is, the leadership seems to be saying pretty clearly that Conference motions, the views of the membership – the principles of liberalism? – are pretty much an irrelevance to whatever they want to do.
I’m going to Brighton this week as a voting rep. But I increasingly wonder whether there is any point.
Is anyone working on a book entitled “How we killed a long established and honorable political tradition over a few months of coalition”? If not then they should be.

2. Why do our parliamentarians think anyone from the grass roots is going to turn up and campaign for them a la Eastleigh if the wishes of the party are so singularly ignored? 

3. Lord Bonkers sums it up beautifully

And finally - thanks to those MPs who did support conference policy..

    Mike Crockart
    Tim Farron
    John Hemming
    Simon Hughes
    Julian Huppert
    Greg Mulholland
    Sarah Teather