'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

Friday, 28 February 2014

The real reason why David Cameron is saying 'no' to a second coalition? I'd say 'Money"

My latest in the New Statesman....

The official line of why we went into coalition with the Tories is of course that is was the democratic will of the people. Our combined share of the vote of 59 per cent remains the only occasion since the Second World War that the UK government has been formed with a majority share of the popular vote.

But there is another side to the story as well, often debated within the Lib Dems, which explains the real reasoning why David Cameron is debating putting a “no coalitions clause” into the next Conservative manifesto.
And it’s all about money.
The argument is this. Supposing we had declined the Tories “big, open and comprehensive” offer to form a government. Three options remained. The first – a coalition of the progressive left – we can dismiss on the grounds that literally the numbers didn’t add up, even if agreement could have been made between ourselves, Labour, the Greens, the SNP and others.
The other two options were a short term confidence and supply arrangement with the Tories, or to allow the Tories to form a minority government. Neither would have involved any sort of fixed term Parliament Act, and so the date of the next General Election would have been at the discretion of David Cameron. The received wisdom is that it would have followed fairly swiftly, probably in the Autumn of 2010 – when only the Tory Party had the funds to run a second general election campaign. The odds are this would have seen a repeat of 1974 – but this time with a big Tory majority. In effect, they should have been able to buy the election.
Thus, the logic runs within the Lib Dems, going into Government with the Tories was not just the best option – it was the only option to prevent a second election and then 5 years of majority Tory Government, with all those policies currently filling Cameron’s little black book ending up on the Statute Book.
You can bet your bottom dollar the same calculation has been made in Downing Street. While it may well be true that David Cameron does prefer governing with the Lib Dems than with many on the right of his own party – and let’s not forget ruling out any coalition also presumably means no electoral pact with UKIP either – there’s still a ton of stuff he wants to do, that the Lib Dems won’t let him.
And the first, I’ll wager, is changes to the constituency boundaries to remove the current bias to Labour.
So I suspect Downing Street Tories, in retrospect, see the big open and comprehensive offer – made after 2 hours sleep following a 4 week long General Election campaign – as a mistake. Labour, should they win most seats but no majority will probably not be in a position to run a second campaign quickly after the first – and hence will leave the coalition door ajar. But the Tories don’t need to.
Hence, I suspect Cameron sees his winning line in May 2015 as not 326 seats, but just as beating Labour. And even he’s a little short first time round, he knows he’s the only leader who can afford to fight Round 2.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


Published in the New Statesman on 14 Feb.

I’m feeling a little unloved. Many regular commentators on my posts here at The Staggers will be completely unsurprised by this revelation and will no doubt be having a quick snigger at my expense, but let me clarify what I mean. Because it’s not just me. The Lib Dems as a party seem to have dropped off the news media’s radar altogether.
The floods seem to be hung on the Tories, with special guest appearances by ex-Labour ministers, while UKIP keep their hand in by pinning the blame for the whole thing on the advent of gay marriage. Nary a mention of the Lib Dems. The news that the Scots may have to look elsewhere for their currency if they vote for independence also seems to be owned by a combination of George Osborne and Alistair Darling.
The good folk of Wythenshawe and Sale East may have doomed us to our eighth lost deposit in 15 by-elections (sooner or later someone in HQ is going to start noticing that trend and maybe worry about it a bit) but we still came fourth – not quite bad enough to make us interesting and certainly not enough to stop UKIP being the main story (although there seems a bit of a debate about whether coming second in a by-election once again is a good or bad result for them).
Even The Staggers seems to have forgotten us, with just two of the last 30 stories from the UK’s foremost political publication focusing on one of the two parties in government (no doubt my editor is thinking 'yes, well, if you pulled your finger out a bit more...'  but you get my drift).
So why is this? After all, it’s almost making me hanker after the days when a good non-sex scandal meant we dominated the front pages. Well, can I suggest it may be something to do with the differentiation strategy – you know, the one where whenever the Tories do something, almost anything, we give a sharp intake of breath and say "I don’t think that seems terribly sensible."
Don’t get me wrong, I like it when we do that. But the press are only going to write "another coalition row" so many times before they get bored with it. And I think that time has come. So we need to start following up that sharp intake of breath with an alternative plan, an explanation of what we would rather do instead. And when we do – for example, the raising of the tax threshold – then suddenly the headlines start appearing once again.
It may be chucking it down outside, but Spring Conference is just around the corner, and I hope some of the manifesto raw meat is going to presented and debated. It’s time we started telling people a little more of what we’ll be fighting for in 2015 – both in the election, and, if needs be, in the coalition negotiations.

The Lib Dems might have moved on from Rennard, but the public haven't

Published in New Statesman on 7 Feb and unlikely to be popular in Great George Street

Being a mere Lib Dem activist, rather than a professional politician, means I actually have friends who don’t "do" politics – you know, folk who spend their Saturdays doing things other than getting their hands stuck in dodgy letterboxes when out leafleting, writing furious letters to the local paper or haranguing the council via enraged blog posts.
Yesterday was one of those rare occasions when I managed to raise my head from my hands long enough see one such friend. But guess what. He wanted to talk politics. So what great matter of state did he want to discuss? The economy? The debate over the top rate of tax? Crisis in the health service? Michael Gove? Nope. He wanted to talk Rennard. And more precisely, how on earth a professional political organisation made such a 24 carat balls up of the whole thing.
Raising this topic is not going to make me many friends in Great George Street, now it's been kicked into the long grass and is the subject of yet another investigation. But in many ways of course, that’s the problem. Sure the party leadership may want the world to move on – after all, the main media storm was three weeks ago. But I’m afraid the public haven’t moved along. 
Ask any "ordinary" person what the Lib Dems have been up to in recent weeks, and you won’t find anyone talking about campaigns on mental health initiatives, Danny Alexander saying no to cutting the top rate of tax, or David Laws sticking it Michael Gove. No, their overriding concern is why can’t the party sort out the sort of human resources issue that would have been resolved one way or another in a matter of days in any average-sized business. And – unlike other inquiries we’re currently holding– this isn’t an issue anyone is likely to forget about.
So while I suspect the leadership may be quietly congratulating themselves that the Rennard affair is no longer gracing the front pages (and cursing me for raising it again), it’s still the thing most front of mind for the wider electorate.
We may wish it weren’t so and we can media manage all we like, but better to grasp the nettle, hold the inquiry quickly, accept its findings, act appropriately and then move on. Because if you ask the public they’ll tell you – it’s not going away. And I’d quite like them to be thinking of some of the other things we’re doing – but which, while this festers on, we'll get no credit for.

The Tories have decided that the Lib Dem playbook is the one with the right answers

Published in the New Statesman on 17 Jan

Apparently there is wailing and gnashing of teeth going on amongst my Westminster Lib Dem betters over the Damascene conversion of the Chancellor not only to the principle of the minimum wage, but to the need for a large rise in its level. It seems the general view is that George has nicked a Lib Dem policy, announced his opinion without telling anyone in general (or Vince Cable, whose purview this falls under, in particular), and that he hasn’t been playing fair. "It wasn’t even on the Downing St. grid" goes the cry. Like we‘ve never done that…
It seems to me that they are missing a trick. Let’s stop moaning. Let’s celebrate the fact that, apparently, the Chancellor has decided that he agrees with Nick (or at the very least, Vince). Having spent two years banging the "stronger economy, fairer society" drum, the Chancellor has now presented us with a brilliant opportunity to prove our case. Restoring the minimum wage to its pre-crash level is the perfect encapsulation of a "stronger economy, fairer society" policy. As is raising the tax threshold, another policy that the Tories said couldn’t happen because we can’t afford it, but now seem keen to try and take the credit for.
When Nick claimed that there would be no economic recovery without the Lib Dems what he really meant was that the support of the Lib Dems had allowed a UK government to get more done than any of the alternative results from the 2010 election. But now the Tories seem set on also telling the world that they agree with a stream of Lib Dem policies there’s some economic policy meat in that lobby fodder sandwich. The party of economic competence has decided that the Lib Dem playbook is the one with the right answers. Much more of this, and the Tories will be claiming that the Mansion Tax is not only a thoroughly good idea, but that they’ve backed it from the word go.

Hi Honey, I'm Home

Sorry All - been having a bogging break while I sort out a few things at work and then had holiday. I expect it's been AWFUL, hasn't it...

But you'll all be thrilled to know I'm back :-)

So to follow - 2 -pieces I wrote for the News Statesman.and then the blog will roll again...