'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

Monday 26 September 2011

I'm giving Nick Clegg one more chance. Only because he's given me an exclusive.

Don't think I haven't noticed.

The 'how many more posts can you get out of one interview with Nick Clegg?' type comments.

You're bored, aren't you...

So this is the last one. But I do have a piece of exclusive news at the end. To keep you interested.

As my fellow bloggers have each written great pieces on their time with Nick, I thought it only apt to use the final post on this topic to link to them.

So here's the Lib Dem Voices 'Blogger of the Year', Nick Thornsby, with Nick's answers to questions on progessive taxation and civil liberties.

Here's Neil Monnery's take on conference and the Nick Clegg experience

And finally here's Matthew Gibson's view on where we stand now, and what Nick thinks we need to do to win back popular support.

All great pieces that knock my own effort into a cocked hat.

And finally, that exclusive.....

Nick's a big reader and he's current ploughing through a copy of 'The Hare with Amber Eyes' by Edmund de Waal. Nick says it's very good but quite heavy going.

No one can say this blog is slow coming up with the big stories and the important stuff.

Thursday 22 September 2011

An apology to The Conservative Party

I may have given the impression the other day in my post 'Desperate Times, Desperate Measures' that their offer of a FREE membership card to prospective members was less than generous.

Having now received my annual membership renewal this week, I have discovered that we are no longer giving out membership cards to existing members.

The Conservatives therefore do appear to have the edge on us here.

Apologies for any confusion.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

A big shout out to the Conference Registration folk!!

No really. This conference they were the thin yellow line – and speaking from an entirely selfish point of view, they did a brilliant job.

Of course I know about the controversy over the new registration rules this year (how could I not?) and indeed, arrived at conference early Sunday morning – just as the motion to change the rules was being debated.

However, I had a problem. I wasn’t sure when I was going to conference, so planned to do the walk up and register on the day routine, having checked that this was possible on the website. Which it was.

Having got all the way to the start of the security barrier at the ICC (the ring of steel having a big holes in it on Sunday morning first thing) I was sent back to a faceless grey and black office block called Quayside, where ‘on the day’ registration was happening.

Arriving on the fifth floor, I was greeted by a bunch of cheery and positive volunteers, still eager to help despite the fact that I suspect that every single person making it to the fifth floor Quayside was going to complain to them, or have a problem with the registration system.

Anyway, having explained why I was there, I was given a terminal, people ran round being all manner of help. The whole process took a few minutes and I was all set.

Except I wasn’t.

I’d filled in all the CRB type checks in the application process – and while I don’t agree with having to do with them (but let’s not go down that road again here), I thought ‘well, that was at least fast’.

But I then learnt that the Police bit wasn’t fast. That it might take 2 hours. That the timing was up to the Police.

‘But I’m meant to be interviewing Nick Clegg at 11’ I wailed.

Now this was probably an unlikely scenario (I have never been in a position to name drop the leader before) and there was a certain amount of ‘really?’ type eyebrow raising. But then I explained I was a Lib Dem blogger and that it was arranged by Helen Duffett (that woman’s got clout) and it all kicked off.

I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know how many people did it. I suspect I was the biggest problem they’d had to cope with so far. But they got me in. In record time. And still were charming to every other person I saw, and maintained a steadfast (if slightly gallows) sense of humour throughout.

So hats off to the good folk who were on the fifth floor of Quayside, Broad Street, Birmingham on Sunday morning. I owe you.

Frew, comments section in The New Statesman and @casbo28 - this one's for you. (Everyone else please read it too mind)

My pieces in The New Statesman have generally accrued the types of comment one might expect – it’s fairly easy at Conference to forget that the general level of bonhomie is not shared by much of the rest of the country and especially not by the readers of that august journal.

But then someone tweeted me yesterday with a link to one of pieces and a note that simply said ‘I’m with Frew on this one’.

So I thought I’d better nip back and see what Frew had said. Here’s what he (she?) wrote…

The previous commentators have all made some excellent points - misters Cobley and Wearing in particular - but as somebody who has voted in the past three elections for the Lib Dems, I thought you'd be interested in knowing why I voted, and not why yourself or Mr Clegg think I voted.

I voted for absolutes: for unwaving principles and not for policy minutia. People might well accuse me of naivety for doing so, and I may be mocked for an 'immature' political understanding or some such brutal bollocks, but I think core values and moral definites should hold sway above almost any other considerations when choosing who you would wish to run your country.

Which is why I feel so, so let down. Watching and reading all the conference coverage has compounded my disappointment even more. Nobody in the party seem to have any clue about the people who voted for them, or what they were assumed to stand for. They congratulate themselves on a few minor victories, yet they fail to comprehend why I and people like me would feel so sick at knowing that my vote has allowed a Tory government to implement most of the policies unchecked, particularly their agenda of economic cuts. It's so disheartening that the party still doesn't "get" it. I voted for principles, but I also voted *against* other principles: principles which your compliance has given authority to.

I'm ashamed to admit in public that I ever voted libdems now. Some of my fellow voters can barely look each other in the eye. You can talk about the heart and the head all you like, but unless you understand what a travesty your decision to shore up a right wing government was, you'll never come close to winning former voters like me back.

Now I think this is interesting, as I agree with a lot of what Frew has written too – though not all.

Firstly, it’s important to note that Frew is not a Labour supporter – they’ve voted Lib Dems 3 times in a row, so this isn’t some tactical Labour voter who went for us to keep the Tories out, and now feels cheated. This is a consistent Lib Dem voter who now feels cheated.

What’s more, Frew has not voted Lib Dem because of policy initiatives - this is a philosophical liberal, the core of the party vote. Frew asks if its naïve to vote for a party because of idealogical beliefs. Well, I don’t think it’s naïve to vote Lib Dem for that reason – I think the opposite. It’s the best reason possible.

Now I don’t agree with Frew that policy initiatives like taking 800 000 people out of income tax, the Pupil Premium or restoring the earnings link to pensions are ‘a few minor victories’. Nor do I think insisting on the implementation of the Vickers Report on banking or preventing the abolition of the 50p tax band are allowing a Tory government to govern unchecked.

But that really doesn’t matter. Because reality is perception and as far as Frew is concerned, that’s exactly what we’ve done (and on occasion – tuition fees or EMA – frankly, we’re banged to rights).

I’m very happy we’ve abandoned the ‘not a cigarette paper between us’ approach to governing – we are different from the Tories and we spent a year telling people we weren’t, and even providing the ammunition to prove it.

In the last three months, we’ve woken up. We are now owning policy and stopping the worst excesses of the Tories. And certainly the Tories have noticed.

But it’s clear there’s a hell of a lot of work to do to let even traditional Lib Dem voters know that we’ve woken up, that we are pursuing policies we believe in and putting the brakes on the Tories.

And – even though Nick said again on Sunday that he thinks about saying sorry every day, but it’s politically impossible – I think the sooner we get in a lot of apologies for some bad mistakes made in the first year of government and one (tuition fees) in particular, we’ll never win Frew back.

And I want people like Frew to come home.

PS Do read all of Neil Monnery's excellent review of his interview with Nick Clegg, but here's the key part on the apology - Neil, I hope you don't mind me re printing it, as it's very interesting.

On the other side of betrayal though he knows he has made a mistake that is deep and cutting. ‘I think about saying sorry every day’ says the Deputy Prime Minister about signing the tuition fees pledge. ‘I am a human being’ he pleads, ‘blood pumps around my body’. It is something that is still clearly haunting him and is something that will continue to do until he gets that outright apology off of his chest. The question is can he live with that gnawing away at him from now until the end of time or will the guilt overwhelm him and force him into an apology?

He doesn’t think he can openly say sorry because people will retort ‘well you were in Government so you could not have done it’ and that it would do no good. I got the sense that he deep down wanted to apologise but either he thinks – or his advisers think – that is just wouldn’t be credible. The signing of the NUS tuitions fees pledge was by far the worst decision the party has ever made under Nick Clegg’s leadership. It put the party in a position where if they formed a coalition – which was always looking likely – they would either make the tuition fees a draw a line in the sand issue or they would have to go against the pledge that they signed.

Nick, I’ll set them up for you, but you still have to knock them in the back off the net….

In my interview with Nick Clegg on Sunday, I invited his views on whether it was appropriate for the Police to employ the Official Secrets Act to force a journalist to reveal their sources. This was of course a reference to the application by the Met for an order instructing the Guardian to hand over details of the alleged Police source who had informed them that The News of the World had been involved in the hacking of Milly Dowler’s voicemail

I was hoping for a resounding ’no’. Both because what the Police were doing was both inappropriate and illiberal, and because ‘Deputy Prime Minister condemns actions of the Met’ would have made a great headline in The New Statesman submission I was planning… (sorry, shallow I know, nothing if not self aware)

Sadly, (for my headline and for a missed opportunity) Nick played the ‘don’t know enough about it to comment’ card, though he did add that anything that restricts journalist from getting to the truth makes him uncomfortable.

Today, the news has broken that the Met has realised the obvious - that indeed their action was inappropriate - and have withdrawn. Which is of course the right thing to do, for all the reasons that Jonathan Freedland has written about here.

But I do remain surprised that Nick wasn’t in a position to make a more robust statement about this. People will undoubtedly say I am naïve and that the Police must remain independent of politicians influence when deciding how to investigate such matters and that the Police wouldn’t want any political influence.

And that would be fair enough.

But still. There was wiggle room for him to be a bit more robust….

Tuesday 20 September 2011

The Head and the Heart

OK, this is a cheat of a post and very lazy.

But my piece on the New Statesman about what Nick had to say about 'The Head and the Heart' in our meet the bloggers session is now up.

Would welcome it if some Lib Dems could comment! Do feel free to be as straight as you like - everyone else is!


Monday 19 September 2011

Name your three favourite Lib Dem achievements in government. Now. No conferring

Wandering into conference yesterday I was accosted by a man in a bright blue blazer, who said he was from the Telegraph. On reflection I have no idea if this is true. But anyway...

He said 'can I ask you three questions' - it will take a minute' . 'Righto', said I. He whipped out his camera phone....

The three questions were:

1. What is your name?
2. Where are you from?
3. What are your three favourite achievements in government

I answered the first straight off. no ummimg. no erring, got it in one.

Question 2 was trickier. Where am I from? Does he mean home? Does he mean originally? Does he mean which local party? I plump for the latter.

Anyway, I should of course have been thinking about the third question.

Introduction of Pupil Premium first. Good.

Restoring earnings link to pensions. Excellent.

And then you think. Hang on. You've only got one left. What's it to be? I go for free nursery places for under 2's.

But then like that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, you want to shout, "no, wait, hang on'

Its taking 900 000 people out of income tax.

But which one would I drop?

Can i have 4?

Oh. He's gone

Tricky, this on the spot stuff, isn't it.

Anyway, what's your three?

The Comments section of The New Statesman take no prisoners.

So my New Statesman piece was up for 10 minutes before I got the first complaint that I hadn’t revealed much about what Nick said to me, Nick Thornsby, Matthew Gibson and Neil Monnery in our 40 minutes with The Leader (as everyone seemed to call him) yesterday.

Of course not. I’m a blogger. I have to eke this stuff out.

So, dear readers of A View from Ham Common. You get first dibs.

My first question. Driven by the ad man in me.

Nick: you’ve spoken a lot in recent weeks and months about how we should use Liberal language more and more, and not the language of the left or right. However there is easy shorthand for the left and right – for example, say “high taxes, better public services” and people know that’s Labour. What’s our elevator sell – and why have we have we found it so hard to express it?

Nick’s off the cuff answer was

“ A Strong Economy and a Fair Society’

Now, my initial reaction was that I wasn’t big on this. The great thing about an elevator sell is that it’s not only true about you and a perfect encapsulation of what you stand for, but also that no one else can say it. Can we honestly say that Labour and the Tories couldn’t stick that up on their conference podium and defend it?

However, that was just a preamble. Then Nick got going. And it got better.

He talked about the Lib Dems wanting to stand for ‘The Head and the Heart’. That Labour can make the case for the heart but not the cool judgment of economic competence that drives the head. And the Tories might do the head bit, but can they credibly claim the heart?

Yet liberalism intuitively balances the two and can credibly claim to uniquely deliver them both. And this is a key difference. I heard later that this was a line he was using around conference a lot.

As a positioning, I think Head and Heart has got legs. Whether we can get people to listen to the message is a whole other ball game, but at least that’s a flag in the sand.

Nick then also spoke about individualism. The fact that it’s a disgrace that peoples life expectancy, life choices, job expectations can be driven by their circumstances at birth. He described it as almost a caste like segregation and that Liberalism should be a fight to say every child is given the chance to do great things.

So there’s the challenge. Head and Heart. Social Mobility. Combined in one easy to remember sentence.

I’ll get back to you on that when I’ve cracked it.

More later on WHY we struggle to say these things….

I'm contributing to The New Statesman. @charlotteahenry isn't impressed

The New Statesman have approached a few Lib Dem bloggers and asked them to contribute their views on how conference is going for their on line blog, The Staggers. I believe our new 'Blogger of the Year' Nick Thornsby is contributing, and so am I. We are butting heads with the mighty Charlotte Henry who is doing the same thing at Total Politics. It's like a family fist fight.

Here's my first missive.

I wrote the piece but not the headline or sub header. As regular readers will know, I like writing a good headline, so I miss that. And the sub header doesn't actually quite match up with what I wrote. So IT'S NOT MY FAULT.

But the body of the piece has been published unaltered, which I am both grateful for and slightly worried about in case at some point I accidentally libel someone.

Ho hum.

Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Thank You Lib Dem Voice

I am thrilled to say that 'A View from Ham Common' was awarded the title of 'Best New Blog' last night at the Lib Dem Voice 'Blog of the Year awards'

This was far and away beyond my wildest expectations when I started my humble blog and I am very grateful to both the judges and whoever nominated this blog in the first place.

And of course biggest thanks to everyone who comes and visits to see what I've been saying. It really wouldn't be the same without you!

Commiserations to my fellow nominees, Andrew Emmerson, George Potter and Kelly-Marie Blundell all of whom have fantastic blogs and everyone should visit them.

Thanks again

Friday 16 September 2011

Thank You

Thank you. Twice.

Firstly many thanks for anyone and everyone who nominated me for the Lib Dem Voice 'New Blog of the Year' Award. Naturally I am thrilled, excited, delighted, and sad to say not the slightest bit embarrassed. I accept this is something of a character flaw.

Secondly, thanks to everyone who voted for 'A View from Ham Common' in the Total Politics Awards. Thrilled to be in the top 25 of Lib Dem Blogs (and slightly surprised!!).

Hats off to everyone in the top 100 and especially to the 20 blogs above me, and especially especially to LDV (top blog) and Caron (top individual blog). The top 25 is...

1 (1) Lib Dem Voice
2 (3) Caron’s Musings
3 (6) Liberal England
4 (10) Andrew Reeves’ Running Blog
5 (7) Stephen’s Liberal Journal
6 (5) Mark Pack
=7 (4) Liberal Vision
=7 (-) A Scottish Liberal
9 (18) Cllr Fraser Macpherson
10 (2) Mark Reckons
=11 (17) Peter Black AM
=11 (-) The Potter Blogger
13 (-) Jack of Kent
14 (36) Spider Plant Land
15 (-) Living on Words Alone
16 (23) Birkdale Focus
17 (8) Jennie Rigg
18 (-) Nick Thornsby’s Blog
19 (11) Cicero’s Songs
20 (-) Olly Grender
21 (-) A View From Ham Common
22 (15) Millennium Dome , Elephant
23 (-) View From The Hills
24 (-) A Brief History of Liberty
25 (-) Eric Avebury

Today I was sent a note titled 'You need to read this'. I'm glad I did.

I watched the BBC news last night.

Top story was the poor miners trapped in Wales. Fair enough. (And even since I first wrote this, this story has turned even sadder)

Next up was Cameron and Sarkozy rather glorifying themselves in Libya. I didn't find it comfortable viewing.

This was followed by a lengthy report on the Eurozone crisis.

And then more than half way through the programme, in a report lasting 12 seconds (I've been back to check), it was announced that a British soldier had been killed on duty in Afghanistan.

And I thought 'that's not right.

Someone has given his life for his country thousands of miles from home, and we've become so blase as a nation about it that we can place it so far down the running order and dismiss it in a few seconds'.

I felt very unhappy.

And then, co-incidentally this morning I was sent a note entitled 'You need to read this' and it reminded me of last nights news.

Because when I clicked on the link, I found it was a story about a British soldier who has been on duty in Afghanistan, and the reaction of his family and friends when he came home.

It is not what you expect.

And it should make us all stop and think for a bit.

I hope you all click on this link because you need to read this.



Apparently there may be a firewall issue reading the last link on some computers so the full address of the link is http://www.cstthegate.com/davetrott/2011/09/a-matter-of-life-and-death/ . Do copy and past and read it - it's worth it.

The seat of a well known South Yorkshire MP is being abolished. He's not called Clegg

Amongst all the heat and remarkaby little light accompanying the publication of the draft proposals from the Bounday Commission, a common theme has been that our glorious leader is in dreadful trouble, as Dorries-like, his seat is being abolished.

In fact, it isn't. It's been renamed but remains largely intact.

Even when the press is adopting a slightly more measured approach, it's reporting is rather misleading. Take this from The Daily Telegraph for example...

Obviously, Nick Clegg's in trouble: Clegg's seat, Sheffield Hallam, has been abolished and replaced with a new seat, Sheffield West and Penistone, which will now include a fairly large chunk of the Penistone and Stocksbridge seat, a fairly safe Labour seat. If voting behaviour was the same in 2015 as in 2010, that could benefit the Lib Dems by shifting the balance in Nick Clegg's seat slightly against the Lib Dems but benefitting the party in neighbouring seats. But given that the voters who opted for Clegg in 2010 seem unlikely to choose to do so in 2015, that will be little comfort for the Lib Dem leader: an unfortunate exit just became a little bit more likely.

Lordy, I thought. How's that going to pan out? How close did Labour run Nick in 2010? Will the new wards make the difference?

Well: here's a screengrab from the 2010 election results for Sheffield Hallam.

Yep. Not really that marginal. And more to the point, not that marginal vs. Labour.

Now I'm not saying Nick and the good Lib Dems of Sheffield Hallam should sit back and relax. But this doesn't sound like disasterous news to me.

So, if it's not Nick, who is the high profile South Yorkshire MP currently having sleepless nights?

It's David Blunkett. As this excellent analysis describes.

( I think I'm meant to be as pleased about Blunkett as Dorries - but sorry, as with Ken Clarke, I can't summon up quite the same sense of schadenfreude...)

Thursday 15 September 2011

Why it would be so very wrong to abolish the 50p tax band just now...

Yes. It's been suggested we should get behind abolishing the 50p tax rate. I don't think so.

Three reasons.

Firstly – I don’t think the current rate puts off entrepreneurs and wealth generators. As Simon Jenkins put it in his brilliant piece the other day…

“I know very few rich people who got rich to make money. They got rich because, other than spivs and gamblers, they enjoyed their work and were good at it. How much they made might be due to competition, greed, love, prestige, personal rivalry or, as JK Galbraith said of senior executives, a "warm personal gesture by an individual to himself". But there is no evidence that output rises or falls in response to shifts in post-tax income, except for some hourly-paid workers. It therefore does not respond to changes in marginal income tax”.

It’s also worth saying owner managed businesses often end up paying themselves out of dividends on income, and so don’t pay PAYE tax rates anyway. So to say it puts people off being entrepreneurs just isn’t true.

Secondly – if there are even marginal amounts of money coming into the Exchequer that the Treasury reckons they can cope without, I’d rather this was given to the less well off. That’s why I like the idea of taking anyone earning £10k or less out of income tax altogether – and why as a second step I’d rather extend that to £12500, the level anyone working full time on the minimum wage would earn.

Thirdly - cutting top rates of tax at the same time as we make austerity driven cuts to public services and benefits just isn’t tenable. It would be morally reprehensible. The fact that it would make everyone think we were nothing more than light blue Tories and undo any ground we’ve made up after the tuition fees debacle is a side issue – it’s the morality of the politics that’s the most important issue here.

The French ‘Les Super riches’ want to pay more tax.

Warren Buffet wants to pay more tax

Even Sir Stuart Rose wants to pay more tax.

Lets do everything we can to help, not hinder them

Has Grant Shapps joined the Liberal Democrats?

The title below this video the BBC have just uploaded seems to think so....

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Lords Reform: had your say yet?

Thanks to George Potter (Twitter: @georgewpotter) who has just sent this great link round to the Unlock Democracy site.

Unlock Democracy have set up a handy response mechanism if you want to submit your views to the Cross-House Committee leading the consultation process on the Draft Bill to reform The Lords. It makes it very easy to ensure you have your say.

Do let them know your views. I'll be telling them mine...

Adopt a Peer. It's a bit like London Zoo does with the endangered animals...

The group Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform (Yes, guilty as charged M'lud) are...well, here's Mark Pack's email which explains it properly.

We're putting together a list of all the Liberal Democrat peers, their views on Lords reform and the best contact details for them.

Once we have a (fairly) full set of data together, we can then start using it to target our campaigning at the key peers we need to persuade or reassure. You can see the list in our Google document - but it has got quite a few gaps at the moment!

So this simple request: could you take a few minutes to pick one peer, have a Google around to see if they have expressed a view so far and if not, drop them an email or letter to ask them their views? If you let me know which peer you have picked and then any information you get, I'll update the spreadsheet.

By all means pass on this email to anyone else who you think might be happy to help.

Many thanks,

Mark Pack
on behalf of Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform

P.S. You can help spread the word and keep up with news on Lords reform by Liking our Facebook page.

I have just spent a few minutes Googling Lord Taverne (was pro, now against, must change that....), so save yourself that one. But if everyone could have a look at the list and then e mail Mark if you know a peers views at mark.pack@gmail.com or just ad it to the comments on this post - well, that would be grand.

Cheers All

Banking, Spanking and Where to Draw the Line.

There were 3 major news stories that broke on Monday. They were:

1. The Vickers Report on banking
2. Allegations that George Osborne may have indulged in inappropriate behaviour in his youth.
3. The leaking of The Boundary Commission report.

Now, one of these stories represents a massive achievement for the Lib Dems. The Vickers Report largely endorses the views Vince Cable has been putting forward for some time, the endorsement by Osborne shows the Lib Dem view has triumphed, and even Ed Balls has indicated he is largely supportive. We should be shouting this news from the roof tops.

So I thought I'd have a quick glance through the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator and see what we have been writing about on Monday and Tuesday. The scores on the doors are:

Banking: 4
Spanking: 5
Boundaries 21

(My own scores are 0, 0, and 3)

So what does this tell us? Well, a few things I guess.

1. It's easier, more fun, and more natural to vent about bad news (Boundary Commission) than good news (Banking). (It's also worth noting that the overall media angle that the commissions recommendations are bad for us is not necessarily true - lots of misinformation out there and plenty of time to change things).

2. When I moan that we we don't make enough of Lib Dem wins in government, I'd better just check I've been doing my bit first. I'll be writing something on banking this week.

3. Lib Dems are 4 times more interested in electoral reform than sex or drugs, but we prefer thinking about both sex and drugs to banking. These are FACTS

Right. I'm off to stand on a street corner waving a banner saying 'Vince was right'.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

9 salient observations on the proposed boundary changes. And a ringer

It is traditional when formulating lists that you make 10 salient points. I only had 9 so have added a ringer. See if you can spot it.

1. Against the 2010 election results in England, Cons lose 2% of their seats in England, Lab 7.3% + Lib Dems 23.25% under the proposals. H/t to @pollycurtis.

2. There is an argument that as the coalition agreement says "we will bring forward a bill.... for the creation of fewer and more equal sized constituencies" and we have done that, we are under no obligation to support it. I do not buy this argument.

3. There is another argument that reducing seats in The Commons was intrinsically linked to changing the voting system. Without AV, the sole reason for introducing the change is to save a relatively small amount of money, and this alone is not enough reason to change it.

This is a better argument. But one we will still lose.

4. Accepting changes to equalise the sizes of constituencies but keeping the number of MP's the same would be a good compromise. It would be fairer yet keep average constituencies small enough for MP's to stay close to their constituents. I quite like this argument.

5. There is a point of view that says all of this debate is facile, and premature. The proposals are just that, so far they only cover England, and 2 years of debate will occur before anything passes into law.

I have every sympathy with those making this point, but would say in return 'where's the fun in that?'

6. The changes are based on the size of current electoral rolls. As failure to appear on electoral rolls tends to be higher in deprived areas, the changes are biased against the poor.

This is factually correct - but finding an alternative is tricky.

7. Activists from all 3 main parties are claiming the proposals have a built in bias against them. This cannot factually be true.

8. The winner of the 2015 election in the new constituency of Mersey Banks will be exposed at some point for claiming the purchase of a small rowboat on expenses.

9. 'Boundary Commission' was trending this morning on Twitter. This may indicate that Twitter is not entirely representative of the UK population as a whole

10. Apparently the MPs in the constituencies surrounding Mid Beds all have excellent claims to that seat's wards, making it unlikely the Member for Mid Beds will be able to usurp any of them, after the demise of that particular constituency. Shame that. Ho hum.

Under the new boundary changes, we would have won 10 fewer seats last year.

There's a great analysis of the new proposed boundary changes over at The Guardian - data galore - including a re run of the 2010 General Election results.

This doesn't bode well for us. To quote the accompanying piece to the data...

The Labour party could have netted 14 fewer seats, the Liberal Democrats 10 fewer, while the Conservatives, who dominate England, might have lost just six seats. The UK's only Green MP, Caroline Lucas, would not have been able to win her seat, according to the preliminary figures.

Now, at this stage we are of course playing 'fantasy politics'. Boundary changes won't be agreed until late 2013 and there is a whole host of horse trading to do before then.

But it will be a test for our MPs. Reducing MP numbers was a manifesto commitment. But so was House of Lords Reform, and there is a very disappointing number of Lib Dem peers conforming to the 'Turkeys not voting for Christmas' stereotype going on there. I hope our members in The Commons are made of sterner stuff.

There is a saying in Adland that 'a principle isn't a principle until it costs you money'. Same applies here.

Hard though, isn't it?

Monday 12 September 2011

Vince vs Zac. I've got a ring side seat

I've now stopped giggling at the news that Nadine Dorries Mid Beds constituency is scheduled for destruction in the proposed changes from The Boundary Commission and turned instead to my more immediate concern.

Which is displayed below:

Because, should the changes all go through as proposed, then here in Ham Common we are  going to be part of quite a fight. Our constituency of Richmond Park is being merged with Twickenham - which means a heavyweight contest between Zac 'Lord of the Manor' Goldsmith and 'King Vince' is on the cards in a veritable Royal rumble.

Putting aside any selfish thoughts that this makes finding a constituency to fight close to home just a tad harder (!!!!) we will have to regard this fight as having started now - as Zac will undoubtably bring the considerable resources he brought to bear in the last election back on line.

So a death match on my doorstep. Hmm.


Aha. There is an alternative. A new constituency is also being established in Teddington, encompassing some of the old Twickenham seat. Which will Vince fight? Watch this space!!

Update 2:

Yes. I know there are 112 hoops to jump through before any of this becomes reality. But where's the fun in waiting for all that?

David Walliams vs. The Thames. A truly inspirational event.

Last night David Walliams hit Ham. For everyone who doesn't know, he is attempting to swim the length of The Thames for Sport Relief. A truly momentous feat, made harder by the fact that he has been ill for most of the attempt with raging temperatures, vomiting and...well, you can imagine.

We took the kids down to Teddington Lock where thousands of people were lining the bank and as you see that small flotilla edge up the river and spot the tiny figure in the middle tiredly putting arm over arm, you can't help but feel quite emotional. David got out for the nights rest at Teddington and the cheering when he emerged was deafening. It was actually very moving.

David swims from Teddington to Westminster today, arriving at Westminster Bridge at 6pm. If you're in town, go and cheer him in and stick some cash in the collection bucket. Even if you're not, why not visit the Sport Relief website and sponsor him.

He's really earned it.

Update: Sport Relief have just added a video of the finish yesterday. Fantastic stuff.

Thank You

I don't know quite what else to say.

Four of my efforts made the Lib Dem Voice Golden Dozen including the top two posts and it goes without saying that I'm thrilled.

Thanks again. Makes all the tiptapping away on the train every day worthwhile.


Saturday 10 September 2011

Now, Tory Cabinet Ministers are saying it's our fault too...

I did a brief summary the other day of the complaints of Tory bloggers, the Tory press and Nadine Dorries that the Lib Dems are just proving too darn effective in government...

Mark Pack has now spotted that William Hague has joined in the chorus of disapproval.

Any more of this and people will begin to think we're running the country....

Friday 9 September 2011

On the off chance you didn't think the 2011 elections went too well, you'd best drop someone a line. Right now

Lib Dem Voice have published the party's initial consultation document on the May 2011 election results and have invited members to submit thoughts on it to ccc@libdems.org.uk or to attend the consultation session at conference on the Saturday morning to put in their thoughts.

The document contains two brief reviews of initial thoughts on each of the local election and the AV campaigns, and then a series of questions they would like answered.

Do access the document at LDV, e mail in your thoughts or go the consultation session - the more people involved, the better. Here is the response I've sent in...

Thanks for inviting feedback on the May 2011 election campaigns. I guess it's important to say first off how great it is that, as a party, we are willing to flag and debate issues publicly and are unafraid to show the world how and what we think. It is great to be part of a party that upholds it's own democratic principals.

Overall, I think the summary pages around the issues of why May 2011 went so badly wrong dwell too much on the faults of other parties. We can moan about, say, The Labour Party not supporting a manifesto pledge 'til we're blue in the face - but that doesn't change anything. We should concentrate our criticism and our analysis on areas we can control and improve upon, not on areas that we cannot.

(It's probably also worth saying that relying on how the Labour Party might be 'expected' to behave would be a mistake in itself. Labour lost the 2010 election and so were under no obligation to stick to any pledges made then - such as the AV vote).

Neither should we blame the losses on negative tactics by the other side. Blaming Labour for targeting Nick or the No campaign for spinning inaccuracies should come as neither a surprise nor be used as an excuse.

Physician, heal thyself.

Now, on to individual points.

There seems to be a confusion on the local elections section in terms of the effect of Lib Dems in government. I totally agree that our achievements in government since May 2010 have been very poorly communicated. However, lumping tuition fees in with NHS changes seems wrong headed. I would argue that in the case of tuition fees, we got the politics ( and the policy) wrong, long before any miscommunication got involved. On the NHS, I think we probably got some credit for independent thinking (led by the membership).

The greater problem - not alluded to in the paper at all - was that we failed to differentiate ourselves from the Tories. It's back to 'not a cigarette paper between us.' As a position, it gives natural Labour voters every reason to turn against us, and natural Tory voters no reason to switch to us. We end up with only our core vote. Which is of course, exactly what we got.

Strangely, when we campaigned on issues where we were differentiated - local issues - we did much better. Of course we did. We gave people a reason to choose us.

Finally, on the AV campaign, I agree that we appeared to be underfunded and somewhat disorganised.

My overall take out is that we need to be much better at defining clearly differentiated policy and philosophy from our political opponents, and then develop better central communication strands to make people understand, believe and agree with those ideas. We then need to be more nimble in the way we get those messages out.

Thanks for listening.

Richard Morris
Twickenham and Richmond.

Thursday 8 September 2011

You've put a TEA PARTY AD and a commercial for A TRADE UNION on your blog? ARE YOU MAD???

Goodness, you’re thinking, he’s gone barmy. He’s put a Tea Party commercial up on his blog. What CAN he be thinking…

Well, lets first up make clear that I don’t agree with the message of this ad. But I think it leads to some interesting observations. So take a gander and then I’ll explain…

Now, first off, this is fairly typical Tea Party fare.

It puts tax firmly at the root of all evil, ignoring any other factors such as (I’m plucking something from the air here…) 8 years of financial mismanagement under the Bush administration. So none of us are likely to fall over ourselves nodding along to the message of this ad. It also doesn’t need that stultifyingly awful last close up of the child.

So why is it here? Three reasons

1. While I don’t like the message itself, as I work in communications, what I can appreciate is the construct of this ad (that last shot excepted).

It clearly understands the difference between what we would call a Party Political Broadcast and what they would call a TV commercial. PBB’s tend to make a whole series of messages about principals and policies, trying to paint a picture of a broad programme of government should the sponsoring party be picked. They are watched once in general by a viewer (that’s if they haven’t turned off as soon as the introductory frame appears…) and in that single viewing a whole host of messaging needs to be absorbed.

A TV Commercial – if it’s any good - says one thing and one thing only. But it is designed to be short, and to be seen over and over again.

Here is a UK political TV commercial. Yes, I know they are banned. This one skirted round the regulations by claiming it was a recruitment ad, not a piece of political messaging. But it makes one point, clearly and succinctly. It is very good.

Why does this matter to us?

There are moves afoot to change things. Labour activists have been lobbying for years to loosen up the rules and allow paid for political messaging to appear on the TV. Now the right are also taking up the message. If things do change, we need to be ready. What plans as a party are we putting into place to prepare for this sort of messaging and programme?

2. ‘Been talked about for years. Won’t happen’ is a common refrain at this point.

Except it already has happened.

The Tea Party commercial above hasn’t run on mainstream TV (to my knowledge – if it has, it will be as a result of editorial, not paid for space I’ll wager). It was made and designed to run on a Tea Party website, and then You Tube – where it got half a million viewers. That’s half a million people who have chosen to go and find it, not sat through a broadcast because they can’t be bothered to get up and switch the kettle on. Viewers who choose to watch things like that are rather more committed than the normal viewer, and more likely to take the message in.

Making commercials like these available on (or even specifically for) the web is the norm now in the US – most of the films I put up from Republican Presidential candidates on a previous blog post (it's becoming a bad habit, checking out what republicans are up to...) were lifted from their campaign sites and most made it very easy to embed or distribute those films via social media..

We got rather good at this sort of campaign from a web perspective at the last election – but making TV commercials that people want to actively distribute on our behalf is a different ball game. We need to be thinking about the practicalities of how we will go about this now.

3. A political party didn’t make the doorbell ad.

Neither, interestingly, did the Tea Party (which of course, doesn’t really exist in an organizational sense).

No, it was made by a volunteer as part of a competition. And despite it being unofficial it is generally regarded as one of the most effective illustrations of Tea Party thinking anyone has made.

This says two things.

It’s not about money – it’s about skill, endeavour and dedication.

And we wont be able to control all of the messaging that goes out in our name. Because other people will be doing it off their own bat. and many people will struggle to see what is 'official' and what is not.

So let me leave you with three thoughts.

1. Messaging on short 30 and 60 second films needs to be single minded, pithy, and attractive enough that people seek it out and send it to others. What as a party are we doing to deliver that?
2. We’ll need to have all those skill sets from right now– not when legislation changes anything.
3. Our most popular messaging and most effective campaign films will most likely be made by someone else, without the parties help, control or influence.

What fun.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Reclassifying Tuition fees as a Graduate Tax: Update...

I blogged the other day about why I couldn't quite work out we hadn't called the new arrangements on HE Student funding a graduate tax.

It's been suggested that this was prevented by the Treasury - and I've submitted a Freedom Of Information request to the Department of Business et al to see if this is true. They have acknowledged the request and said I will have a reply by 3rd October - watch this space!

Meantime it's also been suggested that the new scheme can't be called a graduate tax because...

It isn't a graduate tax because a) it is time limited, and b) it is only on future graduates not all graduates

Well I've checked a feew classical definitions of a tax - the one I've printed below is from 'Investor Words'. And on this basis, I think we'd be fine in technical terms.

A fee charged ("levied") by a government on a product, income, or activity. If tax is levied directly on personal or corporate income, then it is a direct tax. If tax is levied on the price of a good or service, then it is called an indirect tax. The purpose of taxation is to finance government expenditure. One of the most important uses of taxes is to finance public goods and services, such as street lighting and street cleaning. Since public goods and services do not allow a non-payer to be excluded, or allow exclusion by a consumer, there cannot be a market in the good or service, and so they need to be provided by the government or a quasi-government agency, which tend to finance themselves largely through taxes.

However, let's see what advice was given to the department - could be illuminating!

If Nadine Dorries took a penalty kick, this is what would happen

Or as Andrew Sparrow put it earlier...'

It is certainly a terrible defeat, perhaps even a textbook example of how not to approach a free-vote, conscience issue. Dorries tabled what appeared at face value a relatively technical change, and yet she ended up losing the support of her government, a large section of her party and even the co-sponsor of her amendment (Frank Field).

But this wasn't really a decisive encounter in the culture war; it was more a case of Westminster ganging up on one of parliament's easiest targets. (Which is why the PMQ's exchange earlier was significant. When your own party leader treats you as a figure of ridicule, you are in trouble.) Does this really tell us much about the balance of power between social liberalism and social conservatism in Britain today? I doubt it. The only lesson that really stands out is that, if you want change legislation on a contentious issue, don't ask Dorries to take the lead.

Conservative Home, The Right Wing press and now Nadine Dorries are all up in arms. We're definitely doing something right.

Back In February, the Daily Telegraph was complaining that the Lib Dem tail was wagging the Conservative Dog

Then we got on the wrong side of seemingly every political story and this theme went away.

Post May, we've rather got on the right end of every political story.

And now, that theme is really taking hold....its becoming a Tory obsession.

To begin, Tim Montgomerie went off on one - first in The Evening Standard, then on Conservative Home.

Then the Daily Mail got in on the act - 'Time to remind the Lib Dem's who's boss' - using eerily similar language to the February Telegraph article...

And now, it's Nadine Dorries..

Here are her words:

Dorries: “Mr Speaker, the Liberal Democrats make up 7% of this parliament, and yet they seem to be influencing our free school policy, health – many issues – immigration and abortion. Does the prime minister think it’s about time he told the deputy prime minister who is the boss?”

Prime minister: “I know the honourable lady is extremely frustrated, erm, about erm… Maybe I should start all over again… I’m going to give up on this one!”

And here are the pictures:

Not withstanding the excellent advice Nick Thornsby has been offering us all in recent days - you can't help but enjoy all this, can you....

Video: That Dorries/Cameron Exchange at PMQs...

Nothing to add. Nothing at all....

Let's not just do it in public. Let's do it more slowly as well.

I thought I was going to largely disagree with Nick Thornsby's excellent blog post on how coalition parties in government should conduct themselves - then ended up agreeing with almost all of it. My only quibble would be that I think he puts something of a post rationalised gloss on how our approach to government evolved over time - I'm not convinced it was a deliberate strategy to be 'all for one and one for all' for a year, and then start evolving distinct policies, as he implies. I think we got our strategy wrong, ended up on the wrong end of the political debate for a year, had a disasterous May, and changed course.

But that is a quibble. It's a great piece and everyone should read it, and the follow up piece Mark Pack wrote (especially the great comments section) which adds to the debate.

Now, can I add an additional layer on myself?

As we have no recent history of negotiating coalition government in the UK, the whole experience was novel, and to a degree a little trial by error – as wonderfully described in David Laws 22 Days in May. The ‘tradition’ of forming a new government quickly after the election, plus the pressure from The City, dictated that all the negotiation- over policies all parties had been developing , in many case, for years – were actually resolved in a few short hours spread over 4 intense days.

Contrast this to the German approach to such matters. I found this great quote in The Economist …

"Asked how political coalitions are formed, Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, once shot back with a question of his own: “How do porcupines mate?” After a short pause, he then answered it with a grin: “Very slowly.

And indeed, the Germans take several weeks to work through policy between prospective coalition partners, even going into government with some issues unresolved but an intention to work through the policy properly to reach a clearly understood compromise.

So over and above the transparent negotiation that Nick T proposed, I would also like to start laying the groundwork now for getting the media and the public to accept that next time a hung parliament occurs, perhaps a more considered and slower pace to the negotiations would be a more sensible course.

Who knows. With a bit more time, you might even end up with a different government...

PS I am not proposing however, that we do it like the Belgians...or indeed, Cambodia

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Tory Party membership: Desperate Times, desperate measures

For everyone who hasn't seen this yet (and thanks to @rachel0207 who tweeted it to me), it would seem the Tories are getting slightly desperate for members. To the extent that they've just sent out the above e mail (do have a click on the image for a clearer view). Bonuses for joining include...

1. A FREE membership card. That's free mind you. Yes free.
2. A wine voucher. Presumably in an attempt to mitigate any pesky minimum alcohol pricing legisalation they may have to introduce...

I trust none of my readers are tempted.....

Graduate taxes, Freedom of Information Requests and lifelong learning. All in one post.

I wrote a piece the other day pondering why we hadn't just called the new student fee system a graduate tax. Paid for by the student, over time, according to income, taken from salary. Sounds like a tax to me.

And I still think that. But two responses to my post have given me food for thought.

The first was a suggestion from Duncan Stott that the Treasury may have prevented ministers from referring to the new system as a graduate tax. This would be fascinating if true. So I have bunged in a Freedom of Information request to the DBIS asking what advice Ministers were given on this. If/when I get a reply, I'll be blogging.....

The second was a note from Tim Holyoake. He's woken me up to the fact that Open University students studying for an equivalent or lower level degree to one they already hold will have to pay their fees up front from next year. While current students are exempt from the new system, new students are not. With annual fees of £5000, many potential students will be priced out of the system. There's an excellent piece describing the issue in the TES.

Now, I suspect this is to do with prioritisation. Where there is money, we have chosen as a party to direct it towards the youngest in society, through initiatives like the pupil premium and free nursery places, where we believe tight funds can get the best results and have the most profound impact. I agree with this approach.

But I cannot pretend that the knock on effect of this sits easily with me. As Liberals we are philosophically wedded to the notion of giving every individual the opportunity to make more of their lives - and the best chance of delivering that must come through life long learning. A quick Google search indicates we have had very little to say on this subject since May last year - which is surprising.

It's an example of where we've had to make a tough choice due to the state of the economy.

But it's one we should re examine at the earliest opportunity.

Monday 5 September 2011

Hats off to Chris Fox

Lib Dem Voice has reported that Chris Fox has resigned as Chief Executive of the party, news I have received with both surprise and sadness. I think Chris has done a fantastic job in modernising much of the way the party operates centrally - I guess the most obvious sign of this is the move to new headquarters but I am also conscious of the much better internal communications we now have from HQ - kudos to Helen Duffett who runs it, in a role created under Chris's leadership. The party is now far more financially stable than if was 18 months ago, and this against a background of difficult financial challenges created by the loss of 'short money' when we went into government. Chris has done a fine job and leaves his successor an excellent foundation on which to build.

He's more than earned these plaudits from (first) Nick Clegg and Tim Farron.

Chris has led the party machine through a General Election, our transition to government and through some major organisational and financial challenges. His achievements cannot be overstated and I am personally very grateful to him for his fantastic service to the party.

Chris has been a good friend and a major figure in the party for many years and I know that he will be sorely missed at every level of the party.

I wish Chris all the best for his future and draw confidence from the knowledge that he will always be involved in the party in one capacity or another.

Tim Farron said,

During his years as Chief Executive, Chris has led a process of root and branch modernisation of the party organisation, improving systems, process, transparency and efficiency into every area of our operations.

He has restructured several key functions, including our Policy, Communications, Campaigns and Marketing teams. He has transformed party fundraising, allowing us to raise record amounts for the last election. He has championed the introduction of new election software and recruited and nurtured a very strong central team.

Chris’ other lasting legacy is a modern party organisation, working from a fit for purpose new HQ

And I'd like to add my thanks too. Top job Chris. Hats off.

I'm using a blog to congratulate Brian Paddick. I bet Lembit Opik doesn't approve.

First off, many congratulations to Brian Paddick in becoming our candidate to be Mayor of London.

I made no secret of the fact that I gave my first choice vote to Mike Tuffrey and I explained my reasoning back in July. And I'm sorry he just missed out. Never the less, I think Brian will make a fine candidate and his performance in the media over the last few weeks discussing the riots has been excellent. I am sure Brian will run a first class campaign and I will be shoving leaflets through doors supporting both him and all our GLA candidates with enthusiasm next year.

Now. I can't resist. Just a quick word about Lembit. Plenty has been written already about his unfortunate decision to compare himself with Nelson Mandela. And as Paul Walter has already pointed out that some negative comments on blogs can't really account for him picking up just 8% of first preference votes.

But what I find odd is that Lembit seems to feel it's in some way inappropriate for us bloggers to proffer opinions on the merits of candidates in elections. Here's what he said...

Ever since I was first enticed into entering the fray as a potential candidate, I've experienced a remarkable degree of antagonism and aggression from certain Lib Dems.

Most of it has occurred in the strange and self-styled environment of the 'blogosphere' - a parallel universe where some people who've never been elected to public office feel qualified to pronounce on those who have.

When one meets these people for real, their courage on the internet seems to desert them, replaced by excuses and a quick exit at the first opportunity.

Skirting over the fact that the unelected giving their thoughts applies to the whole of the media and not just the blogosphere, it seems a very strange attitude for a Liberal to hold towards freedom of speech. And I don't quite understand why the view of someone who feels more comfortable using the written word than vocalising their opinions is somehow less valid than someone who is happy to spout their views out loud at any given opportunity.

I did wonder if he'd been done an injustice by a sub editor at the Standard, but a series of critical tweets he's been sending to @libdemlife would suggest not.

Now, I don't have anything against Lembit. While I do see his decision to stand as our Mayoral candidate as a piece of inappropriate political oppprtunism ('enticed' indeed - ha!), he does remain a high profile Lib Dem who can provide a strong platform for the party's views. And I hope he continues to play a part.

But please Lembit. Remember you're a Liberal and meant to be defending Freedom of Speech.

And yes. I'll happily say this to you face to face.

Are you in London?

Sunday 4 September 2011

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a graduate tax...

This is a post about tuition fees. I've had a week to think about it and I've changed my mind.

I've blogged before that I believe that the answer to the hole we are in over tuition fees is less to do with getting people to understand the facts and more to do with behavioural economics - people react more to the 'fact' that we broke our promise on fees than whether the new deal is a better one for students.

Then I got asked the other day how I would have done things differently. And I did have an answer to this. We should have said we hate fees, if we had won a majority we would have abolished them. But we didn't win a majority, so we adopted Plan B. We did all we could to dilute the Browne proposals and then we should have abided by the coalition agreement and abstained in the vote. This would have been an honourable course of action and I'd rather suffer a few days of brickbats from the opposition of 'not brave enough to take hard decisions' - a charge we would have quickly disproved thanks to the fiscal policies we are pursuing - than what actually happened. We'd be better off now if we had done this.

But now I've changed my mind. Or rather, I've got a better answer.

Someone asked my in the comments why didn't we just call the new system a graduate tax and be done with it.

And of course, they are right.

The charges are only paid by the student. They are paid after graduation. They are linked to earnings. They are not a 'debt' in the sense that they are not linked to your credit rating - so for example it doesn't affect your chances of getting a mortgage.

It is therefore, effectively, a graduate tax.

So, for the life of me, I can't understand why we didn't - and don't - call it that. I see that Martin Lewis thinks it should be thought of like that (thanks to Mark Thompson for the link, it's point 18 in the article).

It may be all packaging. But we wouldn't have broken a pledge, and it would have saved an awful lot of grief.

Although, if I'm honest, it's still not what I'd prefer - paying for education from direct taxation. Call me old fashioned...

Thursday 1 September 2011

Posts of the month including - a record breaker!

Thanks again to everyone who reads my blog. August was again a record month for page views and I'm truly grateful for every visit.

Here are my blog posts of the month. We start with a record breaker.

1. Libya, Tunisia, Egypt et al - uprisings all started by a fruit seller in Sidi Bouzid.

My most read blog post ever - thanks everyone, really grateful. Do click the link, sign the petition and write to Time Magazine!!

2. I've just asked Nick Clegg how many seats he wants to win at the next election. Here's his answer.

You know you want to know. And this was top of the LDV Golden Dozen.

3. This is simply the best blog post I have read by anyone, anywhere, all year. Please read it.

Putting Liz Jones of The Daily Mail firmly in her place

4. Harriet Harman was a disgrace on Newsnight last week. While we're at it, why weren't the Lib Dems invited on?

Does what it says on the tin....

5. Imagine you're a Registered Republican, you're about to select a candidate. Here are your choices.

To be honest, took me ages. Thank goodness people read it...

Thanks again for reading.

Have I mentioned our new neighbours? They're called Brad and Angelina.

Yes, it's true, Brangelina have moved in  down the road and it's been the talk of the common all summer.

I am yet to spot them in Malcom's hardware shop on the parade or in the Hand and Flower, nor do they appear to be regulars in the Saqui Tandori. Indeed if it wasn't for the occasional helicopter landing, you wouldn't know they were there.

But it's certainly given the place a bit of a buzz (no pun intended).

So what has this to do with all things Lib Dem?

Well, it's prompted me to think about one of the more common phrases kicked about during the course of the recession.

"We're all in this together'. 

Now, I don't begrudge Brad and Angelina any of their wealth - they've worked hard for it and they are very good at what they do.

But as helicopters swoop in, it's fairly obvious to everyone that we may all be in it together, but some people are in it rather less than others.

From a selfish point of view, I'm relieved that ownership of that phrase is one piece of poor political posturing that's been placed firmly at the door of the Tories.

And as Lib Dems, the things we're probably proudest of and have more ownership of politically - taking hundreds of thousands of people out of income tax altogether, free nursery care for children from the poorest homes, 250000 more places for apprenticeships et al - demonstrate that we understand that recessions affect the poor rather more than the well off. They are also truly liberal policies.

However, we have confused this message. While we refer to these policies as our proudest achievement, we speak of our need to look after both  the poorest and what we once might have called 'the middle classes' , using that rather unloved phrase 'alarm clock Britain' to encompass everyone. 

While I suspect this is partly driven by electoral arithmetic, it shows a lack of focus in our messaging. And one that needs resolving going forward. 

Am I saying we need to choose between the poorest and the rest? Of course not. 

But we need to be sure that both our policies and our messaging deliver for different constituencies with different issues. And not fall into the trap of introducing policies that help one group, but addressing our message entirely to another. 

For then, we'll satisfy no one.

Now, I wonder if Brad's propping up the bar in The New Inn?....