'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

Sunday 29 May 2011

I'm thinking the world needs a few more resignations...

This blog has something of a history of backing unlikely political figures from other parties when they get something right, and today I'm adding another surprising name to that list. As I tweeted yesterday, I read Diane Abbotts analysis of the Sharon Shoesmith case yesterday and thought 'yes, that's right'. And then had a sit down.

It seems to me to be debating whether Ed Balls followed correct due process or not in sacking Ms. Shoesmith is the wrong argument to be fighting over. It seemed fairly obvious at the time that he wasn't playing it by the book and I was surprised when he won first time round in court. But surely the debate we should be having is why did he have to sack her at all - why didn't she resign?

This isn't a case of a single mistake leading to a horrifying conclusion. It was a tale of systematic errors and in cases like that, it is the management, whose job it is to make the system work efficiently and effectively, who have to hold their hands up. You earn the big money for two reasons - to make things work better, and to take responsibility if they don't. That's as true in the public sector as it is in business. And I think that principle should apply here.

I have also read that the sacking was a mistake as it will have put talented people off applying for similar roles in case the same happens to them. I think that's nonsense as well. I doubt if you'll ever struggle to find people to take on 130 grand a year jobs - but everyone has to be clear WHY you get paid that sort of money. It's because, if it all goes pear shaped, the buck stops with you.

And if people who don't want that sort of responsibility have been put off caring for our most vulnerable members of society, that's a good thing. I want people who will put their hand up to be in charge of services like that - and who will fight tooth and nail for the children in their care, by making sure the system works.


Apologies if the blog is a little threadbare for the next few days as we're on holiday. Normal service will be resumed ASAP - and there will no doubt be the odd missive!

Saturday 28 May 2011

You can only manage the news cycle if you are actually sitting on the news bike...

As we get to the end of the week and reflect on the last 7 days, let's spare a thought for the poor news management folk in Lib Dem Towers, who must be oscillating widely between a state of abject despair and wild eyed fury.

Last weekend they must have been got home, poured a stiff gin and relaxed, safe in the knowledge they had two cracking agenda setting topics to lead the Lib Dem line: the launch of the Green Investment Bank and Nicks speech on NHS reforms. What's more, both popular topics were led by Nick - another step on the road to reputation rehab. Hooray. What could possibly go wrong?

Seven days on - which Lib Dem stories have actually led the news agenda?

1. John Hemming, Ryan Giggs and Imogen off Big Brother
2. Chris Huhnes driving licence

Hmm. It's tricky getting on the front foot with your own side delivering bouncers like that at you.

So chin up and stiff gins all round news team. Next week it can only get better!

Friday 27 May 2011

Olly Grender vs. Mark Pack FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT

Oh alright then. Not really. In fact anyone following both their twitter feeds over the last few days will have been delighted as they tag team Guido and Harry Cole into knots, half nelsons, spine crushers and full on body slams. It's been a delight watching Guido work himself into a state of near spontaneous combustion as they take it in turns to gently point out the error of his ways...Take a look at the comments section on this post for example. Brilliant

However, to justify the sensationalist headline I have appended to this post, Olly and Mark have in recent days been doling out sage advice that I have been merrily nodding along to thinking 'ah yes, very good' - and then it struck me that in fact they are saying the complete opposite to each other. So who's right?

In the blue corner I give you Mark's top piece on how to deal with a media crisis that he blogged earlier this week. . In it one piece of stand out advice is the contrast between the actions of David Laws and Chris Huhne in the eye of the media storm. David fronted up immediately and came out well. Chris avoided the media, left a vacuum, and came out badly. Marks advice: if you're facing questions get out there and go on the front foot.

In the red corner we have Olly's piece praising Michael Moore. She cites an occasion when Michael was being pursued by the press and responded by doing nothing - on the basis the story wasn't true. And as it wasn't true, the press got nowhere, and the story died.

So David Laws and Michael Moore both did the opposite thing, yet each lanced the story. So which route is correct?

Well, I guess the route you go down rather depends on whether the story the press is chasing is actually true. David Laws knew there was an issue, put his hand up immediately and lanced the boil. Michael Moore knew the accusation was nonsense so ignored the story rather than give it legs.

Which brings us to Chris H. Chris says the speeding tale is not true. Therefore it has no legs. Therefore ignore it and it will die. Which is the right strategy - so long as it really doesn't have legs. For as we all know it isn't the original misdeed that gets you (David Laws will return); it's the cover up.

Chris is a fine Sec of State doing an excellent job. I truly hope the denial route he has gone down is the right one.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Lib Dem? Grassroots? Lords Reform? Facebook? This blogs for you

For everyone in the party keen on pushing the Lords Reform agenda (that seems pretty much everyone bar Lord Steel and Lord Lee by my reckoning) then there's a Facebook page just for us.

Do go and have a gander, read of the posts, add to the debate or indeed just find out how to write Lord Lee a strongly worded letter. Go on, you know you want to....

Wednesday 25 May 2011

This blogpost is smug, self satisfied and slightly pompous. I wouldn't read it if I were you.

From the Evening Standard yesterday headlined 'Ed Miliband saved my job, says Clarke'.

"He had to thank the Labour leader during “my little local difficulty last week”. Ed Miliband’s call for him to be sacked had totally backfired. “such a demand makes the PM look an idiot if he sacks you, while at the same time rallying the party’s tribal tendencies.”

From this blog last Friday headlined "Deep sighs but credit where it's due. Miliband played a blinder for progressives everywhere at PMQ's yesterday".

"Firstly, Miliband probably was as outraged as everyone else by Clarke's comments. But he wouldn't want Clarke replaced either. And I'm guessing he calculated that the surest way of keeping Ken in post was...to demand he was sacked. After that, Cameron could do nothing but keep Ken in position, or else look like he was caving in to Miliband'.

OK everybody, altogether now, " Smug smug smug smug"....

Tuesday 24 May 2011

A Lib Dem MP struck a great blow for Press Freedom on Monday. So why do I feel so grumpy about it?

It's funny isn't it.

John Hemming's actions on Monday were, by most people's definition, liberal. The law had already been made to look ridiculous anyway. What's more, why should the rich and famous who can afford the best lawyers get the protection of the courts when others without access to the same resources cannot do similar. I feel much the same about Dominique Strauss-Kahn's bail hearing - it seems wrong that because he had a million dollars handy and could afford to pay $200k a month in security to keep himself under house arrest he was afforded bail, when someone in the same situation without that access to funds would have been kept in Rikers Island. One law for one, etc. So John Hemming evening things up for the rest of us is just a totally good thing, isn't it? Isn't it?

So why can't I shake off this feeling of doom about the whole thing?

I guess it's because while freedom of speech, freedom of expression or freedom of the press is a valiant war, this particular battle seems especially grubby and less about freedom of the press and more of the right to gossip. Which might be an equal right, but seems a lot less worthy. And suddenly finding yourself battling for the rights of the tabloids to run kiss and tell sex stories seems a rather less good use of Parliaments time. And while I have little sympathy for the millionnaire asking for junction, I do feel sorry for his wife and kids. I know many people saw the name 'officially' revealed on the BBC for the first time on... Newsround. Imagine that in the Giggs household. No fun.

So yes, while I don't much like the rich and their super injunctions, I guess it's the hypocrisy of the press playing the moral high ground while they skirt around in the gutter that makes me feel just a bit grumpy.

It's not exactly Watergate, is it?

Dr Evan Harris has had me in the psychiatrist's chair

I was having a twitter conversation with Dr. Evan Harris yesterday. He tweeted ( and I'm paraphrasing here) that he didn't back Liberal Conspiracy's support of Ed Miliband in calling for Ken Clarke's sacking. I tweeted (as I've blogged) that it was a clever piece of political chicanery designed to keep Clarke in post and deliver various other political bonus points. And Evan was good enough to read my post and tweet this back...

'@richard_morris_ Yr analysis is OK only if you can bear this "Ed M ...Positioned himself and Labour to the right of the Tories on crime"

So: I've been asking myself, would I have been happy if we had been in Miliband's position and we'd done the same thing?

My first thought was no. While I can admire the political manouvering, I wouldn't be happy if we made a grand political gesture that moved us to a place we didn't want to sit.

And then I thought again. As the move by Miliband kept Clarke in his post, wouldn't this be a progressive price worth paying? And moving to the right of the Tories probably does play well to Labour's electoral strategy, though not their philosophical one.

So would it have been right for us to do it in the same circumstances? In this case - with the thought of someone from the right of the Tories sitting in the Justice Secretary's office - I think it probably would.

Even if we would have to ask Evan to hand over the smelling salts afterwards...

Monday 23 May 2011

Blimey. Top of the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen. Thanks Everybody.

Thanks for making this post top of the LDV Golden Dozen this week. I am blushing with pride.

I will of course be doing all I can to keep the blog just as interesting. Meantime, I am off to practice not looking smug in the mirror.

Thanks again all.

And do have a look at the whole of the LDV Golden Dozen by linking here

Andrea Whittam Smith appears to be confusing the present with the future...

There were many things badly thought through, totally illogical and or just down right annoying in the piece on Lords Reform that Andreas Whittam-Smith wrote in The Independent last week. Unfortunately, I don't appear to have the 4 or 5 days spare I need to write exactly what I think about each and every ludicrous point. So I'll just plump for the last one. He quotes Anthony King, Professor of Government at Essex University, in saying that

"an elected House of Lords 'would inevitably almost entirely consist of a miscellaneous assemblage of party hacks, political careerists, clapped out, retired or defeated MPs, has-beens, never were's and never-could-possibly-be's.'"

No it won't. Not if we don't let it.

To be honest, that paragraph seems to describe many people's views of the current House of Lords, rather than any sort of vision I have for an elected Upper Chamber.

I believe any sort of elected Upper House should be filled with people outside the norms of political life, bringing a fresh perspective to politics - and hopefully doing it in a very different way. And that's what will happen so long as we accept that we're campaigning not just for a new way to form the Uppper House, but a new way of reviewing The House of Commons.

If all we talk about is constitutional reform and technical detail then the wider public won't be interested - the AV referendum demonstrated the public want more than that. We have to show that the Lords will be different, will act differently, will truly be new politics.

And then there's a chance that the electorate won't just support it.

They'll demand to be a part of it.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Thanks Lisa!

I've just spotted that Lisa Harding at Spiderplantland has added me to her blogroll (it's under 'T' not 'A' so I may have missed it previously).

Thanks Lisa - it's always an honour.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Lord Lee's been writing nonsense. Mark Pack wants to put him right. Let's help Mark!

I was going to write a post about the astonishing load of old tosh Lord Lee wrote in his letter published in Lib Dem News yesterday.

Luckily Mark Pack has done it for me. Do have a read and then write to Lord Lee. Mark's even included his e mail address to make it easy.

Thanks all

Friday 20 May 2011

Deep sighs but credit where it's due. Miliband played a blinder for progressives everywhere at PMQ's yesterday.

This isn't a post attacking or defending Ken Clarke. Plenty of others have done that already. This is about the politics which played out on Wednesday.

While few would defend the stupid language Ken Clarke used, it is an undeniable truth that were he to be sacked, he would almost certainly be replaced by a figure more to the right. And I doubt if anyone in either our own party or Labour would welcome that - as ably illustrated by Ben Chu in The Independent yesterday.

So what was Ed Miliband thinking about when he called for him to be sacked at PMQ's? Clever politics, that's what.

Firstly, Miliband probably was as outraged as everyone else by Clarke's comments. But he wouldn't want Clarke replaced either. And I'm guessing he calculated that the surest way of keeping Ken in post was...to demand he was sacked. After that, Cameron could do nothing but keep Ken in position, or else look like he was caving in to Miliband.

So instead of seeing Ken replaced by a more right wing option, by calling for his sacking, in one deft move Miliband:

1. Kept Ken Clarke at Justice
2. Positioned himself and Labour to the right of the Tories on crime - which is astonishing when you consider that the move to reduce sentencing in return for an early guilty plea was a policy introduced by Labour.
3. Played well to his own party by doing exactly the right thing, both as the Leader of the Opposition and probably morally to boot.
4. Looked strong and decisive.
5. Made Cameron look defensive and even uncertain of his brief - 'I haven't heard the interview yet' was not a great line to play.

Clever stuff. So credit where credit's due. Even if I do have to type it with a sulky frown.

Doesn't mean I forgive Ken Clarke though.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Lots of things I disagree with in Lord Steel's piece yesterday. But this especially seems a bit odd...

I didn't agree with almost anything in Lord Steel's contribution in The Guardian yesterday about why he opposes the current proposals to reform The House of Lords.

But one sentiment in particular shone out at me. He wrote:

"The suggestion that 20% of a future senate might be nominated will lead to a hybrid house and is an unwilling recognition that an elected chamber will lack the specialist expertise provided by those non-politicians in the Lords appointed precisely because of that expertise they bring from different walks of life."

I presume that he must feel the same applies to the 100% elected House of Commons.

Now I think there is an argument about the role of appointed experts in their field to lead policy - this is after all how it works in the US. But was Lord Steel really embarking on an attack on the qualifications of members of The Commons yesterday? I don't think he meant to, but...

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Really? Just by applying? REALLY?????

I found the image below on Lib Dem Voice, no less. I haven't clicked on the link yet - but if the promise is true....

...well, we should all apply.....

and it will rather negate the House of Lords reforms, won't it....

No, you are in the right place...

...but I've done a bit of redecorating on the blog; had some feedback, hopefully it's an easier visual feast going forward.

Again, all feedback gratefully received.

What next? Graham Norton to lead a review of the arts?

I'm pondering the appointment of Mary Portas to lead a review on the rejuvenation of the High Street. Now Mary may well be the perfect choice to do this. She runs a very successful consultancy (although Simon Francis over on his blog has a few words about that - blimey), she is clearly very accomplished and may well be the perfect person to do this work.

And funnily enough I am a big fan of getting expert advice into government. I like the fact the our very own Business Secretary had a long career in industry before entering politics. I wish there were more people with Vince's experience running their respective departments. And I'm all for co-opting experts into government.

It's just that I suspect that too often the deciding criteria for the Lords Sugar and Winston of this world is not 'are they the very best person we could pick' and more the fact that they front their own TV shows, and hence people will 'have heard of them'.

Which brings me neatly back to the title of this post. At this rate, it can only be a matter of time...

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Remembering Miles Amos

There is a nice piece over at The Spectator about the significance of The Queen's visit to Ireland and remembering the many people who have lost their lives in the conflict.

On days like this I remember Miles Amos. Miles was the son of family friends, one of these people you see a lot growing up, and I remember my mother telling me about his death very vividly, and reading a copy of the valediction my father gave at his funeral. It was a very sad time and I still think about Miles, his sister Naomi and his parents Di and Geoff every time I hear about the troubles.

So on days like this, I choose to remember Miles Amos.

3 ways to restore Nicks popularity. One he should do, one he won't, one that will turn your stomach but would work overnight.

All Lib Dems probably take a few minutes every day to ponder how we might go about restoring Nick's (and thereafter, our own) popularity, and I'm no exception. He could of course take the excellent course of action suggested over at Jennie Rigg's blog - first class thinking and writing.

Alternatively he could take a leaf out of the Bruce Forsyth school of how to win over the crowd. To quote The Guardian

"Entering the arena to a cacophony of abuse, Brucie turns the catcalls into wild cheers within seconds. The band of the Royal Marines strikes up the theme to the Generation Game, Brucie hams it up by hammering a ball into the net, then mounts the podium and gets the Newcastle and Liverpool fans involved with that catchphrase."

Now I suspect Nick isn't going down route one, and it's unlikely he's going down route two ( though do watch the video link - it's hysterical). So may I suggest a third possible strategy.

There is a current world leader who has gone through exactly the same journey as Nick. Virtually unknown to the wider electorate before beginning his campaign, in a series of speeches and televised debates he rose dramatically in public opinion, leading his party back to majority leadership across all of the elected legislature, the first time this party had achieved such a feat for many decades. He was elected on a promise of a new politics, delivering a fairer and more equal society, and would govern using honesty and integrity as his watchwords. The electorate - indeed the whole world - feted him.

But in power he found things very difficult. He quickly found that promises he had made on the stump could not be delivered once in power and he was forced to renege on many, reverse some others, and water down the remainder. With the domestic economy also flat lining and unemployment rising, his approval levels sunk to near record lows. And just late last year local mid term elections saw the electorate punish this leader by voting out many of the elected officials from his party.

Yet today that same leader, some 6 months later, enjoys massive approval ratings and is now a nailed on favourite for re election. How did he do it?

Well, in a nut shell, he had Osama Bin Laden shot.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not for one minute suggesting that Nick whistles up the SAS and they try and find a terrorist to shoot. While I'm happy that OBL was finally found, I feel as uneasy as the next man about how the events of his shooting unfolded and occurred (especially if the next man is either The Archbishop of Canterbury or Paddy Ashdown).

However, what it does demonstrate is that apparently rock bottom ratings can be quickly turned around by a single event. The question is - what could do it for Nick?

May I suggest it's unlikely to be any of the things we hold dear, such as reform of The House of Lords, which I see is kicking off today. While we know the long term importance of such things, may I suggest they are not the grand gesture Nick needs. It's going to have to be something big, dramatic, radical, left field and very, very popular. And of course something we all believe in.

I've got my thinking cap on. All suggestions welcome.

Failing that. Nick, listen to Jennie.

Friday 13 May 2011

They made me laugh. They made me cry...second attempt

First off many apologies if all this seems terribly familiar. I posted this yesterday but of course the Blogger outage for the last 24 hours has lost the post...

My best reads this week. Or possibly not as I forgot to make any notes as I went along but all this has stuck somewhere...

1. 'Ian Tomlinson verdict: the people defer no more'
Great stuff. Show's how much - and inded how little - Britain has changed in 30 years.

2. 'What the Liberal Democrats should do next'by David Allen Green in The New Statesman.

Thought provoking, and unlike the Matthew Parris piece in The Times, it's not behind a paywall

3. 'The story of the AV campaign' by Tim Montgomerie on Conservativehome.

Detailed, troubling, a bit of a must read. Hat tip to Martin Tod for ponting me at it.

4. 'Unpicking the lock: the anatomy of an election triumph' by Caron on Caron's Musings.

Fascinating analysis on how Alex Salmond did it. And I'm not even Scottish.

5. 'Good Tory results give Cameron a 2015 headache' from Left Foot Forward.

Hysterical. Oh if only it were a tiny bit true.


Thanks Caron

I've just spotted that the brilliant blogger Caron has added me to her blog roll. Thanks so much, really appreciate it.

So long as Blogger stays up (it's just come back on line but I see has lost all our posts from yesterday - grrrr) , I will continue to try and live up to the honour!

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Ah. This is a rather brilliant post on Tuition Fees.

I've linked to it below

Do read it. Even if you don't read anything else today, have a gander.

I think it's spot on.

Hats off to Jennie.

Apparently the Tories are going to blame us when they can't get their own way. Please let it be true.

Over at Gary Gibbons blog, he has written an analysis of the David Laws situation and added on some more general analysis of how the coaltion will work going forward.

One bit stands out:

"The truth is that Tory high command is ready to do a bit more “differentiation” of its own in the new coalition dispensation and last week’s results have made it confident it can bring dividends. It wants the badge of fairness still, but expect more on crime, immigration and the rest. When the Tories can’t get their way in the Coalition expect them to blame the Lib Dems for holding them back."

So, they are going to blame us for stopping the Tories going too far . I do hope so!!!

Someone else's turn to be called a hypocrite. Makes a change..

There's a great piece over at The New Statesman blog by Laurie Penny about how the rich have an inbuilt advantage over others into getting their children into Oxbridge. Prompted bt the Willetts debacle yesterday, it's very thought provoking.

However, Laurie - as she freely acknowledges - went to private school - and then Oxford. And so the comments section is full of people shouting hypocrite at her.

As I've blogged before, what is a person meant to do if they want to make the world a better place- but have got to where they can do something about life's unfair imbalances through the benefit of those same advantages. Would we rather they sat on their hands?

Hats off to Laurie I say.

Laurie Penny. Nick Clegg. Two peas in a pod. Who'd have thought it.

(Probably not her!)

Who are these businesses and charities who could fund places at the top universities? Here's a list I've thought of....

After David Willett's various U turns today following his suggestion that the children of rich parents could buy their places at the top universities,(to 'aid social mobility' - ha ha ha ha ha) it seems that this issue has been firmly knocked on the head - not least by David Cameron, who said "There's no question of people being able to buy their way into university. University access is about ability to learn, not ability to pay."

So that's alright then, panic over

Except I'm not convinced it is all over.

Because we are still left with the notion that the government may allow 'businesses and charities' to fund places at these universities. And the idea of well meaning future employers and educational charities affording the less well off the chance to go to University seems to sit comfortably with many.

(Lets skip over the part where we wonder what's stopping these people going into university in the first place - as they would have had to get the grades anyway to qualify for admission, something else must be putting them off. Couldn't be the tuition fees could it? I'll move on...)

But I'm wondering just who are these benign businesses and charities, with a key interest in education? Well one list of educationally focussed businesses holding charitable status goes something like this...

1. Eton College
2. Harrow School
3. Winchester College

You can see where I'm going with this...

Aha you're thinking, don't worry Richard. Willetts has ruled this out, Indeed he said this afternoon when quizzed on it '"I have been absolutely clear that I have ruled that out".

Except he didn't. What he exactly said in The Commons, when asked if he would allow private schools to buy University places, was...

'It's absolutely not our intention'

Which is a slightly different thing, a tad equivocal, don't you think. And let's not forget, this is 'Two brains' Willetts we're talking about here. Hat tip to the excellent Paul Waugh for picking up on this

Let's keep on our toes everyone...

Tuesday 10 May 2011

David Cameron? Sleepless nights? I should cocoa!

Here's a piece that will lighten the mood of every Lib Dem. If only to have a giggle at the 'one-eyed ness' of some on the Left...

You might think we had it bad last Thursday. You might also agree that Ed Miliband didn't have a great time of it either.

But apparently. the leader who should be really worried about last Thursday is... David Cameron.

Yes, the AV referendum was lost, yes the Tories took the highest share of the popular vote, yes their share of vote vs. the general election largely stood up, and yes, they achieved a net gain of councillors.

But according to Left Foot Forward they've got a huge headache now.

As they've nowhere left to go.

This piece of statistical analysis (Good Tory results give Cameron a 2015 headache) is brilliant. It's like those long mathematical proofs you see, demonstrating that 2+2=5. You know its nonsense - the fun is seeing where the logic goes screwy.

We may have had a bad night last week. But at least we know we're in trouble - and are doing something about it...

PS Worth saying the figures don't half give us some food for thought also...

Isn't this the right narrative going forward?

Keen readers of my blog will know I've dissed a few of the lines we've been spinning over recent days. But now a more interesting point of view is emerging - and it's the one I truly believe is the right thing to do as well. It goes something like this...

(Probably worth saying that while I've been sent the preview of Nick's speech tomorrow, I deliberately haven't opened it yet, as I wanted to blog my view before I read it. So don't read anything into this in terms of a preview for that 'cos it isn't. And if he happens to say any of this stuff - it's just happenstance...)

After the election last May, the people of Britain decided two things.

They were fairly clear - though not definitively so - that they didn't want another term of Labour in government.

And while they preferred the Tories - they weren't mad on them either.

So while the Tores gained most votes, they weren't given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted.

Instead, the wisdom of the masses decreed that there should be a moderating voice.

And that was the voice of the Lib Dems.

We would allow the Tories to govern - they had gained the most votes and we said whoever did that would get the first right to form a government. And our word is our bond.

And in return for keeping our word, we would be allowed to implement some key policies important to Lib Dem values, that had gone too long in the wilderness

But over and above implementing these key policies, we would hold a second role in government. We would be an ameliorating influence.

We would be the voice of reason. We would be the angel on the shoulder of David Cameron.

In short we would give the Tories something they lacked. Some might call it a conscience.

Without us, imagine what would have happened. Limitless tuition fees. The NHS reforms being implemented unchecked. Trident recommissioned. The list is endless.

Of course we will still allow the Conservatives to pursue their programme. they are the largest party and won most votes in 2010. they just wont be able to do it in undiluted form.

Some great Liberal leaps forward and a brake on the Tory machine. That's the role of the Lib Dems in government. And Britain will be in a better place in 2015 because of us.


Before you ask, I don't think this route is the same as Supply and Confidence. You don't get to implement any policies with those...

Monday 9 May 2011

Two more lines I don't like. There is one approach I do like, honest...

I am conscious that I've now written two posts criticizing our line of attack/defence in the media after last Thursday, and it's time I took a positive line for a bit. And indeed, I think the right narrative is emerging. But I'll post on that later. I need to get 2 other things off my chest first.

To begin. I don't like this line we're spinning about 75% of our manifesto is being implemented vs. 60% of the Tories. It's a great message for the members - it reminds us why the pain is worth it. But what does it say to the electorate? It says that most of the pain is our fault, not the Tories. I thought we were trying to say the opposite of that? It also can be interpreted as saying 'a large proportion of Lib Dem policy and Tory policy are identical' (as the total is greater than 100%). Of course it doesn't say that at all if you think about it for a minute. But I promise you, people are currently not giving us that minute. And finally, as the estimatable Lord Bonkers has pointed out, while we have been granted a few 'big ticket' items (er, referendum on electoral reform anyone?) much of the 75% is detailed policy wonk stuff.

So, in short, that's a duff line. Stop spinning it.

Much less problematic but still flawed is the Paddy Ashdown line of 'compromise isn't betrayal'. This would have been a great line 6 months ago. Unfortunately, we went with 'not a cigarette paper between us'. Having hung our hat on policies like tuition fees and the size of the cuts as being absolutely right and necessary, to now say it was a compromise we weren't that keen on seems likely to fail - there will be a lot of quotes flung back at us, sharpish.

But as I say, it is better. In fact it's close to the right answer. Which I'll be blogging about later....

Sunday 8 May 2011

Blimey, Thanks Everyone

Two of my posts have made the top seven most read on the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen.

Thank you everyone. Really appreciate all your support.

I'll keep posting...

AV Referendum. Lots of lists of reasons why we lost. But one fundamental question no one's asking...

Olly Grender predicted on Twitter on Friday that there would be a weekend full of clever hindsight about why the AV referendum was lost. In fact by Friday afternoon the Guardian had a fairly full list of 10 reasons to which I'll quickly add two more. It was held on the wrong day (the Tories got their vote out better in the English Council elections); and supporters of the 2 parties that have been in government continously for the 65 years until the last election, worked out that the status quo of FPTP was a better bet for them staying in power than changing it. Hats off to any Labour or Tory supporters who voted 'Yes' as they truly did put self interest aside for the sake of a fairer democratic system. But not enough of them did it. It wasn't small c conservatism. It was self preservation.

But while where are lots of good reasons why the battle was lost, that same Guardian article I linked to above starts off with a different point. That the electorate on Thursday sent a clear message to the politicians that actually they don't have much of a problem with the current system.

I couldn't disagree more.

I don't think politicians are held in any better regard than they were 12 months ago.

In fact, if anything, its probably got worse. The decline of support for our own party (we're no longer the good guys) combined with the dirty, dastardly underhand tricks of the 'No' camapign have probably turned even more people off national politicians.

But not national politics.

It only a month or so since half a million people marched through London alone on a political rally.

So people care about the issues. But they don't trust the politicians enough to change things.

I believe most people didn't see AV enough of a change to make a difference. Indeed we spent so much time telling people that the BNP would lose out under AV (good!) that lots of people who suport other rather more credible and worthy parties - eg. Greens - made the leap that AV wasn't going to help them much either. And people want real change and a more inclusive system that better reflects the will of the overall electorate.

Oodles of number crunching and analysis will now ensue. But I'm guessing that we'll find that people do want change. Real change. Seismic change. They just didn't think AV would be it.

The task we now have to achieve is getting in a position where we can ask a bigger question - like should we have PR? - sooner rather than later. And not let the Tories run with the line that 'Britain doesn't want change'.

It does. It just didn't want AV.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Day 2: I don't like the new line we're spinning either...

Yesteday I blogged why the line being spun - 'it's what happens to parties in government in mid term elections' - was nonsense. Today a new front has been opened. I don't like today's approach much either...

The new line is, basically, 'everything that happened to the Lib Dems on Thursday was the Tories fault, they're a disgrace'. This is best summarised by Vince's attack this morning - he calls the Tories 'ruthless, calculating and very Tribal'. And various others have taken their cue from this and joined the bandwagon, notably Jenny Tonge.

Now while this line seems to be being pursued in a rather more informal way than yesterdays approach, I think people should stop going down this road too - for 3 reasons.

1. Very few of our electoral votes went to the Tories. They went to Labour in England and Wales and the SNP in Scotland.Yes they hammered us on AV but we (and everyone else) knew this was going to happen. No good moaning about it now.
2. Blaming the Tories for not looking after Lib Dem interests is a bit pathetic. We should be capable of looking after ourselves.
3. Calling the Tories ruthless, calculating and tribal is a bit like accusing the Pope of being Catholic. Of course they are! In fact many of their supporters see those as admirable qualities! No news there.

Let's stop trying to blame the Tories. No one's buying if for a second. These problems are our own problems and we need to sort them out ourselves.

This piece by David Green in The New Statesman is an excellent starting point for us all to ponder.

Friday 6 May 2011

So I married an axe murderer.....

No doubt I'll be blogging lots about the election results in coming days but for now can I make a quick plea...

Can we stop spinning the line that the results are what happens to a party in government in mid term elections.

If we were the only party in government that would be fine. But we're not. And when I left home this morning, the Tory share of the vote was roughly equal to their general election results last year, and they had gained 40 or so seats across English councils.

So this isn't a party in government issue. It's a Lib Dem issue.

Why would voters hammer us and not the Tories? It's because the Tories have met people's expectations. They are the 'nasty party' so you know how they are going to act, you expect them to cut public services, and like Labour, most people don't expect them to be particularly straight with the electorate anyway.

We set a rather different standard. We said we stood for a different sort of politics, a more honest approach, we had a reputation for integrity. And, rightly or wrongly, a lot of voters think we haven't met the standards we said everyone else should be judged by.

The strength of the Tory vote in England is ironically, if anything, an endorsement of many Lib Dem policies in government. It's not a policy issue people have with us, nor is the result today an anti government reaction. They just think we're not the party they fell in love with last May.

We have a lot of listening to do and a lot of work ahead of us if we're going to get people to fall in love with us all over again.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Interactive AV fun from the Telegraph. No, really...

On the offchance that many readers of this blog don't spend too much time with The Daily Telegraph, I bring you a link for this fabulous interactive website revealing how every constituency in the UK would have voted at the 2010 election under AV, and ditto for AV and FPTP on current polls.

Hours of fun and generally positive for us. Though slightly dis-spiriting as things stand for my home constituency. But plenty of time to change that!!

The Mid Week Collection

My 5 best reads of the Week. Warning. Some of it might make you choke on your coffee.

1. Snowdonia: A head for heights

Technically about a Welsh Mountain. In reality, a hymn to wonderful British eccentricity which explains why we all love an excuse to get the bunting out. I loved this.

2. All change. Britain is on the verge of constitutional upheaval

There's a lot more at stake at the moment than just 'Yes to AV'.

3. If you get the X-Factor, you can get AV

Not quite as good as Jo Swinson's Mars Bar analogy, but still works for me....

4. The Lib Dem problem with women.


5. AV: a crucial 'baby step' if we are to break Britain's electoral reform taboo

The best opening paragraph of anything I've read for ages. The rest is pretty good too.

Enjoy, cheers

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Yes to AV rally:Last night Ashdown, Miliband, Eddie Izzard, Iannucci at al were all great. But Jonathan Bartley made the best point I heard all night.

I attended the final Yes to AV camapign rally last night and there were some great speeches from some great speakers.

Eddie Izzard was funny (though apparently exhausted). Armando Iannucci was funnier and made excellent points ( plus a good joke at our expense - I guess he couldn't help himself).

Lord Ashdown was passionate, Alan Johnson was historical and spoke very movingly about the birth of the Labour movement, and (bravely) Andrew Boff had a right go at the No campaign in general. Ashdown even offered to adopt Andrew Boff if the Tories no longer wanted him (Boff didn't look thrilled)

Richard Wilson, John O'Farrell and various other campaigners all made strong contributions.

Surpise guest was Ed Miliband - who I'd never seen in the flesh before (why would I?)and you'd have to say he spoke eloquently, confidently and with great zeal. He's more impressive 'live' than he comes over on the media. He also pointed out that after the war, in general elections nearly every MP was elected with over 50% of their constituency vote. Today its less than a third. We need a new voting system for a modern electorate.

But I thought the best point all night was made by Jonathan Bartley. I didn't know Jonathan at all, although he told the story about accosting David Cameron at the last election over the rights of disabled children to attend mainstream schools and I did remember that. Anyway he made a second point.

He said he'd joined a local political party (having looked him up this morning, I guess this would have been his local Tory party) and lasted two meetings. At the second meeting, someone suggested leafletting the local council estate. Everyone there roared with laughter at the notion - safe in the knowledge that they didn't need to reach out to anyone who lived there, there was a safe enough majority in the rest of the constituency to deliver a FPTP majority. And that's wrong.

And that's why we need AV. To make sure people standing for election have to reach out to every corner of their electorate and represent everyone's interests, not just a minority interest.

That's why I'll be voting Yes to AV tomorrow. And why I hope the polls are wrong.

PS Here are some shots of the rally.

Eddie Izzard


Richard Wilson, Jonathan Bartley

Alan Johnson, Lord Ashdown, Andrew Boff

(Yes, I have blurred Ed Miliband.)(HA!)

Nerdy Point of Order

Ed Miliband said at the YES to AV election last night that the Mayor of London is elected by AV.

I think the Mayor is elected by SV (Supplementary Vote). Which isn't the same thing...

I'll get my coat...

Thank you Boris Johnson! No thank you to Humpty Van Flotsam

I'd found the Royal Wedding an entirely good experience, and as my natural disposition is to find something to be grumpy about, this is all rather unsettling.

We went up on the day. As you can see, we had a great spot. The kids loved it, the atmosphere was brilliant, everyone was jolly, it was all, in short, good fun. Plus the police didn't kettle anyone.

(Copyright: Freya Anderson)

When I left central London I saw street parties galore and everyone in a state of good natured contentment, helped, no doubt by a bonus day off.

Then I read that not only did everyone have a great time, but the whole day was part responsible for a huge boost to the economy.

I must confess to getting a sense of irritation at the stream of people with names like Humpty Van Flotsam going into the reception in the evening, but essentially this is probably just envy, and anyway, why did I ever think the Royals would have friends who weren't posh?

So all in all, nothing to moan about.

Then Boris Johnson wrote this in The Daily Telegraph.

So I even had something to moan about. The most ridiculous article he's ever written.

Thanks Boris

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Live tweet: follow me at Eddie Izzard tonight.

I'm off to cheer on Eddie Izzard at the final YES to AV campaign rally tonight. I shall be tweeting live if you want to follow me, @richard_morris_ (don't forget both the underscores..)

Meantime, this video is funny...

...but in many ways does the fact that we have to make entertaining films about how easy it is to understand AV sum up the problem? Are we protesting too much?

Anyway: it's a cracking film.

I like the new Yes to AV Video but will it be enough to persuade my friend Nick?

Here it is..

And in 100 seconds in could hardly make the case more fairly and more coherently.

The problem I have at the moment is my friend Nick.

He thinks AV is too complicated.

He doesn't have any problem gtting his head around it himself. He understands the argument perfectly.

He isn't one of those people who get it themselves but think its too complicated for others to understand. He thinks pretty much anyone can get their head around the notion of 1,2,3...

He just thinks we're overcomplicating a problem that doesn't need overcomplicating.(And to be fair I think you'd have to be pretty into politics to read this piece, let alone get shouty about it). That the only people exercised by all this are political types like me, who take an avid interst in this stuff. That we have had fair (if at times, incompetent) governence since FPTP was invented, and we're motivated by self interest, not by fairer votes (he thinks the self interest accusation applies on both sides).

So Nick - who has a fairly jaundiced view of national politicians - is disinclined to feed our own navel gazing by engaging in an intelletual debate about the merits of AV.

He just wants better politics and better politicians. And he does't think Yes to Av is going to give that to him.

Which is ironic really when the YES side has had non politicos at the forefront of the campaign. And the No side had had David Cameron and John Prescott.

So I'm going to spend the next two days telling people that if they want better politicians and better national governence,then the old way of voting isn't going to deliver it.

They need a new system.

They should vote YES to AV.

Monday 2 May 2011

Remembering Laura Webb

Laura Webb was a colleague of mine who was killed in the Edgware Road bomb in July 2005.

While I didn't know Laura especially well, in a small organisation of 500 or so people, you get to meet most people fairly regularly and I saw Laura most days.

She was bright, happy, optimistic and my abiding memory of her is someone who was always smiling. She had what everyone would call a sunny disposition, and the world is a sadder place without her.

So on days like today, with news like today, I choose to remember Laura Webb

BBC Obituary can be found here

With great power comes great responsibility...*

When we usually hear about Britain's influence on the world we default to one of two themes.

Theme one is Britain's attempts at righting the world's wrongs through military intervention - occasionally getting it right (Kosoveo, Sierra Leone), often getting it wrong (Iraq, and increasingly, Afghanistan), and certainly being mightily inconsistent (Libya vs. Syria, Yemen, Bahrain - and most shamefully Darfur).

Theme two is the overhang from our Imperial past - be it through the influence in the Commonwealth, through the fact that the default lingua franca in the world is increasingly English (more thanks to the US than to us, but still..), or even just that a third of the world's population watched the Royal Wedding.

Both of these themes make most people shift uncomfortably in their chair and stare fixedly at the floor.

But yesterday, I was pulled up short by a piece on 'From our Own Correspondent' on Radio 4, as a third route of British influence was outlined - one which made me both proud, and slightly nervous at the same time.

The piece was about changing life in India. The presenter contrasted life in the old India of the colonial clubs with 'another India' - not that of the slums and the poor, but a third India, the India of the middle class - the India of the Shopping Mall.

Now of course, the Mall is an entirely American construct. But the programme didn't mention the normal shops which we feel have come to colonise our own high streets and shopping centres - the Starbucks and Gaps of this world. Rather he cited the presence, indeed the dominance, of British organisations like Marks and Spencer and The Body Shop. And this is of course an increasing trend. Tesco, when publishing its results last week, reported strong growth - but mainly thanks to its performance overseas.

This is a new thing for British influence. Of course, Britain's had strong business interests abroad for hundreds of years. But the growth of stong international retail brands is new. When corporate business operates abroad, generally it,s other businesses that detect that influence, not consumers.(The exception is generally only when something goes badly wrong - BP in the Gulf of Mexico for example).When British shops begin to dominate the high streets of foreign cities, suddenly vaste swathes of the population begin to make a judgement about whether they approve of that trend or not.

Now I believe (though many I know will disagree) that we should have a sense of pride at these British companies doing so well abroad. But I was also reminded that colonising other countries high streets isn't always welcomed. The announcement of the opening of a new McDonalds over here is seldom greeted with open arms by every part of the local ommunity.

My old boss, Keith Reinhard, recognised the dangers of foreign brands annoying the world and his wife in their local markets a few years back, when he started a group called 'Business for Diplomatic Action'. To quote from The Economist at the time,

'“I love American brands, but they are losing friends around the world and it is vital to the interests of America to change this,” Mr Reinhard told a packed meeting of business students at Yale University .... His basic argument is that something is amiss in the perception of America abroad, that this perception is economically damaging, that it must be changed and that it can be changed.'

Now of course, we have The British Council, who already do a great job in representing British cultural interests abroad. But again this is something new for them. And it is the scale of that success that can hail trouble - no one here at home queries the presence of Zara (Spanish), Hennes (Swedish) or Benetton (Italian)as they are individual successes from those countries. It is the swathe of an 'imperialist' takeover of the British high street that seems to rile people in the case of US retailers.

As British business does better around the world, we must do all we can to make sure that the work we do there not only benefits the local community in which it operates, but also that it is seen to benefit them. That British business is seen as a force for good and for growth and opportunity for all, not just for British self interest. And I'm not sure we're really doing that right now. But we should be.

Then British influence in the world can be something we are all genuinely proud of.

* For all those wondering where this quote comes from - and I know you're all wondering - is it Churchill? Is it Rosevelt? Neither. Its from Spiderman. I am aware this is something of a David Brent moment in this blogs history. Sorry. But it will probably get my search engine stats up...

Sunday 1 May 2011

Apparently the best way of getting your blog read is to mention Nick Clegg in the title of post...

Yes, it's the end of the month when I highlight my most read posts. As you'll see, I can bang on endlessly about the NHS and education, but the sure fire way of getting readers clicking on 'A View from Ham Common' is to mention Nick. Or failing that, Paul McCartney. Maybe next month I'll try Princess Di...

Anyway, here's the top 6.

1. What do Nick Clegg and I have in common? Well, for one thing, we're both hypocrites...

My piece on why its stupid to say Nick's background means he shouldn't fight for social mobility.

2. Can it be true that my blog is read by The Prime Minister AND Mark Pack? Surely not...

Mark Pack.More popular, as it turns out, than Paul McCartney...

3. Simon Hughes has got a lot of work on his hands...

Spleen venting from me on the resource given to the Office for Fair Access. Yes, I am still furious.

4. My Time 'Person of the Year' campaign is gaining traction, but I need your help.

Thank you to everyone who has visited the site, signed the petition or best still, written to Time. Click on the link above to see how you can help more.

5. Well of course Nick's a bit grumpy. He's probably suffering from a touch of 'Paul McCartney Syndrome'.

You see. Mention Nick or Paul McCartney and you're away...

6. We didn't say we were Charlie Sheen. We said we were Mother Teresa

The problem with phrases like 'ethical foreigh policy'...

So, if you like my blog but there's something there you haven't read - you might have missed a treat!