'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 30 September 2012

Not helpful but fun....

Nick Clegg's position as leader has probably strengthened over the last  2 weeks, with a relatively quiet conference, the apology and the anti Nick campaign being fronted by Lembit. The received wisdom in the press (and in the bar gossip) seems to be that he has a year to turn the polls round.

So it's interesting jus how many names are now being bandied about  in the media as potential next leaders of the party. And I thought it might be fun to keep track between now and next Full Conference  2013 of the names I hear mentioned..

In the last month I have heard six names from various credible sources. They are:

Vince Cable
Ed Davey
Tim Farron
Jo Swinson
Jeremy Browne
Chris Huhne (huge caveats obviously apply)

I have also in recent months heard a seventh in a potential 'caretaker' capacity - Charles Kennedy. So that's over 10% of the parliamentary party to date.

One name I haven't heard yet - but expect to - is David Laws.

Who knows what other names will emerge...


Jennie Rigg has an interesting analysis of the runners and riders over at her blog - including a few names I haven't yet read in the mainstream press - but may well do!


Even as I was writing this a new name has appeared, courtesy of the Sunday Times: Danny Alexander

So that's 8 names and counting..,

Saturday 29 September 2012

Are there other 'Former MPs' plotting with Lembit?

In a generally very unhelpful piece in The Guardian on Monday Jackie Ashley wrote...

'The final part of this fantasy conference is the commonly held idea that Clegg isn't really the Lib Dem leader, or at any rate won't be for long.Tim Farron is coming! Vince is on his way!
But the plotting is real enough. A group of defeated MPs and others are planning a motion for the Lib Dem gathering next spring to change the party rules in order to allow leaders to be ousted by the party conference. They'd be unlikely to get the necessary two-thirds majority, but a simple numerical one would be such a stinging rejection of Clegg that he would have to resign. Then, the argument goes, the party could find a different leader (probably Cable, as a stopgap) for the 2015 election, and save as many seats as possible'.
Hmm, I wondered. Who are this group of defeated MPs?

Then, after about 2 seconds thoughts, I worked out it was Lembit. And sure enough, a few days later I read...

'Last night's Liberal Left event was the exception – former MP Lembit Opik openly demanded that Clegg resign as leader, soliciting support for a petition that calls for Clegg to remain as deputy prime minister, but step away from the running of the party.
"The problem is that the image of the Liberal Democrats is mixed up with the coalition government," said Opik. Clegg is too tainted by his relationship with the Tories, he said: if he's not ousted by the next election, "we'll be throttled to death."
Currently, the Lib Dem conference cannot fire the Lib Dem leader. But should Opik's petition gather enough support, it would force a vote at the party's spring conference on whether to give delegates the power to sack Clegg. The proposal would need a two-thirds majority to pass'.
But read Ashleys original piece, and she apparently deliberately writes 'a group of defeated MPs'. That implies not just Lembit. So who could this be? Here's the list of sitting MPs who lost their place in the last General Election.

Sandra Gidley, Romsey, 2000-10
Julia Goldsworthy, Falmouth and Camborne, 2005-10
Evan Harris, Oxford West and Abingdon, 1997-2010
Paul Holmes, Chesterfield, 2001-10
Susan Kramer, Richmond Park, 2005-10
Lembit Öpik, Montgomeryshire, 1997-2010
Willie Rennie, Dunfermline and West Fife, 2006-10
Paul Rowen, Rochdale, 2005-10

No obvious suspects there I would suggest. The only possible rebel I would say may be Evan - but he is FAR too sensible to throw his lot in with Lembit. Isn't he?

So is Jackie Ashley flying a kite? or are we looking at MPs who lost in 2005? 

Answers on a postcard. PS For what it's worth, Lembits petition probably wouldn't work. Here's the rules on changing a party leader in the Lib Dems Get Adobe Flash player

Friday 28 September 2012

My take on the Clegg speech (from the New Statesman.

I thought Nick spelt out a clear narrative going forward for the party in his speech at conference. And I liked his speech more the second time I heard it, and even more when I read it.

Judging from my twitter feed amongst party members, I'm in a minority on this one.

However, I've stuck my neck out and said what I think in the New Statesman. Do pop over there and have a look at the normal forthright comments. But here's what I said..

"I asked Nick Clegg yesterday at Lib Dem conference for a short description of what we stand for. What is the liberal language we should be using in our everyday conversation? What's the elevator sell?
I rather liked his answer: "We should answer the call of the head and the heart." By this he meant that we should offer the fiscal responsibility the country needs (and Labour can't claim to have delivered) and also ensure that the life chances of every person are never blighted by the circumstances of their birth - everyone should have an opportunity for greatness. The 'caring' territory that the nasty party (not my phrase) would struggle to own".

Reading the above makes perfect sense in the context of Nick’s speech to the Lib Dem conference yesterday. What’s interesting is that I wrote the above 12 months ago at the Birmingham conference. And here we are, 12 months on, and the message remains the same

"Are you ready to trust Labour with your money again? And do you really think the Tories will make Britain fairer? Because the truth is, only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted on the economy and relied upon to deliver a fairer society too".
And the other truth is that it’s been this ever since we entered government
Leading up to Nick’s speech, there was no shortage of advice about how we should restore our standing in the polls and in the eyes of the electorate. "Turn left" was the advice of the Telegraph's Mary Riddell – "The party’s voters won’t allow a deal with the Tories in 2015 – it’s time to make eyes at Labour". Keep right was the advice of Richard Reeves, Clegg's outgoing director of strategy, in the New Statesman– "Any attempt to position the Liberal Democrats as a party of the centre left after five years of austerity government in partnership with the Conservatives will be laughed out of court by the voters – and rightly so".
But Nick’s message from the last week is clear: yes, I have made political mistakes, but my principles have stayed the same. And for the second half of this Parliament, I will demonstrate that we remain an economically responsible and socially liberal party and you will see that.
The chatter around the grassroots throughout the conference was pretty consistent. Yes, Nick’s got stuff wrong – and large swathes of the party remain livid about it. Yes he’s got a lot to prove – to us, even before the rest of the world. But the next 12 months will show if Nick can deliver against the agenda he outlined yesterday. And if the electorate is willing to give him a hearing.
The party has approved that agenda, supporting the leadership on its economic strategy, while giving it a bloody nose on socially illiberal Tory led policy like "secret courts".  Now let’s see the leadership deliver. The grassroots – and the electorate – are watching. And the clock’s ticking ...


Oohh its the most read and most commented piece on The Staggers. How lovely!

Civil war in Labour part 2; I told you so...now it's started

I posted the other day that Harriet Harman - awful on Question Time last night by the way - was spoiling for a fight with Ed Balls over spending cuts and austerity measures.

And so it has come to pass. Never one to walk away from a fight, Ed Balls has come out swinging in The Telegraph.

Predictably he has gone 'tough' on spending. Nick was right to highlight this weakness in Labour's record in his conference speech, and Ball's clearly has cottoned on too. (It's not rocket science)

"The public want to know that we are going to be ruthless and disciplined in how we go about public spending".

He has also promised to look at every line of government spending - an odd thing to say as it would have been nice if they'd done that during the 13 years they were in power.

Harman, by contrast, is offering a firm 'no' to all this...

She told The Spectator that Labour would not be "signing up" to the kind of spending cuts seen in the Coalition.
"Our argument against the Tories is that the scale and pace of their deficit reduction is self-defeating and hurting the economy and therefore making less money available," she said. "So we have got a fundamental economic critique — we would not be signing up to doing the very thing we think is hurting the economy"
I predict a tad of bother in the weeks and months ahead. apparently as (according to this article) Harman is also now demanding Ed Miliband makes her DPM if Labour win the next General Election...

Latest Obama TV ad. Simply brilliant

Thursday 27 September 2012

When friends fall out aka Richard Reeves gets a Rollocking off Nick

The Sun had a small scoop yesterday, of little interest to much of the world but I would have thought of great fascination to the Lib Dem grass roots.

The leader, it would seem, is not happy.....

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Civil War in Labour?

If this tweet from Fraser Nelson is accurate - and obviously he's no friend of Labour so I would suggest caution - then it sounds like civil war could be about to break out in the Labour party.

All the smart money seems to say that Balls is going to do exactly that - sign up to Government spending plans up to 2016. Our vote at conference on Monday, freeing Danny Alexander's hand to do just that, may have queered that pitch. But received wisdom is that Labour will want to sign up to Govt spending plans in 2014, just as Blair/Brown did in 1996, to give them economic credibility.

In which case, a bust up may be on the horizon....

A few thoughts on F41: No Government above the law – the Justice and Security Bill

1. I welcome the vote of conference on this measure. Secret courts have no place in British justice, and secret evidence unchallenged and unseen by one side is no justice at all.
2. Jo Shaw gave the speech of the week in proposing the motion. I thought she was fantastic. I hope she stands again for the party in 2015 and gets elected. We need more Jo Shaws.
3. I so wish Julian Huppert hadn't been put up to defend the wrecking amendment. Julian is a top MP who is doing fantastic work on defeating the #snooping bill. I don't like him tainted by association in trying to defend the current illiberal bill.
4. In fact, what on earth was the leadership thinking about trying in any way to defend this bill (as the wrecking amendment did).
5. I have already read that the leadership think conference has approved this motion because the grass roots 'simply don't understand' . Quite wrong. Conference understands perfectly well. That's why they approved the motion.
6. The wrecking amendment did however provide a useful purpose - it gave members the chance to amend the bill but not defeat it. they chose not to accept that option. MPs cannot now win further 'concessions' from theres May and then vote for the bill. They should obey the will of conference.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

I think we should start putting up posters everywhere saying this.

Bad habits

Lib Dem Voice put up this shot from behind Kirsty Williams at the Blog of the Year Awards ceremony.

Who is that sad character on the right, tweeting away?

Oh. That'll be me then...

Look I don't write the headlines

Well, here I do, but not over that The New Statesman...

So when I wrote this piece yesterday pointing out there is a messaging discrepancy in the Lib Dems just now, while I thought it might come over as slightly mountain out of a molehill, I didn't really expect the headline 'Clegg and Cable at odds over welfare cuts'.

Ho hum

It's proved very popular too..

Anyway, once again the comments over there are definitely warmer than they have been for quite a while. Regular readers will see this, if you're not a regular reader, trust me, you should see what they USED to write about me..

Anyway, here's the piece


A senior Lib Dem adviser told me last week that internal polling indicates very clearly that the electorate attributes the cut in the top rate of tax to the Tories and the rise in the income tax threshold to the Lib Dems. Thus this year's conference slogan - "Fairer tax in tough times" - was born. And you can see this differentiation strategy in action now, everywhere you look. For example, when Nick says - "I will not accept a new wave of fiscal retrenchment, of belt tightening, without asking people at the top to make an additional contribution"- there’s a very clear indication that George Osborne will only get his welfare cuts – his Tory welfare cuts – if there’s a suitable quid pro quo.
This is all well and good, so long as the message is a consistent one. You can have your evil nasty policy, but only if give me something exceptionally nice in return. However, I detect that certain parts of the party have moved on already. Vince, for example. "We’ve used the phrase not a penny more, not a penny less," he says. "I’m implementing spending cuts and it’s very tough. We are not agreeing anything over and above the cuts that have already been agreed in the spending review."
Not a huge amount of wriggle room there. Not much of a quid pro quo on the horizon. One wonders what, if anything, Vince will say in his speech. Has he had the messaging strategy "clarified"?
For someone like me, who’s spent two years telling party folk that the electorate are quite capable of differentiating between a Lib Dem policy and a Tory one, and that the "not a cigarette paper between us" strategy was disastrous, this is all good news. And indeed, suddenly, everywhere you look, differentiation is writ large. But are we doing deals with the Tories – or just saying no? I can feel a row brewing.

Here's a suggestion for cutting the defecit. Stop spending public money on ads like these

Yes, I know there is a legal duty to advertise publicly funded jobs. But honestly, does anyone think that buying half pages in The Economist for several weeks at the taxpayers expense is going to produce an application that will be successful?

As you're perusing the Pages of The Economist, I find it slightly unlikely you'll stumble across this ad and think, 'Oh I fancy a bit of a career change'...


Monday 24 September 2012


So readers, how do we feel about promotions generally.

I ask for two reasons.

1. I have clicked the google ad sense box and so my blog now has some ads on it. I have mixed feelings on this. I don't think much of the look of the ads themselves, but think they may make the site look a bit more professional?

Do they hinder from the message of the blog?

And as I'm likely to make about a £1 from their presence, and I end up looking all commercial and grasping in exchange for no real financial gain( they have been there for a morning and Google tells me so far they have generated absolutely no income) - should I jack them in?

On the other hand, I do work in the media, directly in advertising for many years - so I'd be a tad hypocritical to be anti ads...

I would value feedback

2. When I write a post I almost always tweet it - it drives traffic.

However, I have now been pulled up on this by fellow blogger Neil Monnery who thinks I have gone just a little OTT on this.

Again - is he right? Let me know.

Ideally on Twitter ( @richardmorrisuk) or in the comments below...

Cheers all, I'm off to hide my light under a bushel

Sunday 23 September 2012

Here's why the 'Sorry' Autotune video works better than the original

I think everyone agrees that while Nick's original "Apology' video got people talking, it is the Autotune 'Sorry' Video that has achieved the real cut through, and perhaps made people really start evaluating the apology.


These two illustrations make the case.

Here's a word cloud of Nick's original speech on the video.

And now here's the same cloud - but for the Music Video

The first isn't dominated by any single message. There's a ton of words which share equal import and so its hard to take single message out.

The second is dominated by two words. I'm Sorry.

That's why as a piece of messaging it works. That's why it's clear. And that's why we should play it over and over again.

It's also worth noting that the word Sorry barely features in the first cloud.

The Poke have done us a huge favour.

We can all laugh at ourselves, can't we?

Warning: this video is very sweary.

Warning: this video lampoons the Lib Dems.

Warning: this is v v funny though....

It's the post Apology 'Downfall' video

Hat tip to @iaindale - who I think made it!

Huge Congrats to Mark Thompson - Lib Dem Blogger of the Year

Many many congratulations to Mark Thompson who won the Blog of the Year prize last night at Lib Dem Conference, for his always thought provoking and brilliantly written blog 'Mark Reckons'

Runners up were Caron Lindsay for Caron's Musings, who must surely win the prize some day soon, Neil Monnery for The Rambles of Neil Monnery which I always enjoy reading, and er, me, dragging everyone down to my level.

Other winners on the night were;

Best new Liberal Democrat blog (started since 1st September 2011)
The Libertine, edited by Morgan Griffith-David

Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office (The Tim Garden Award)
A Lanson Boy by Cllr Alex Folkes (Launceston Central)

The Andrew Reeves award for Best use of social media/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat
Bears for Belarus by Liberal Youth

Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog
Everyday Sexism

It was a huge treat to be nominated and I got to meet many fellow bloggers at the star studded gala awards do - my only regret was that I missed Caron, who hopefully I will actually get to meet soon!!

Many congrats to all and especially Mark - a worthy winner!

Saturday 22 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell isn't David Cameron's problem. Grant Shapps could be.

Now, Andrew Mitchell certainly is a problem. Whatever he said to those police officers on Wednesday night was clearly wrong - he's acknowledged that himself with his apology. And he may well end up resigning - ideally before the end of conference so I win my bet with Charlotte Henry.

But Andrew Mitchell isn't really David Cameron's problem, in the sense that what has happened can't be blamed at the 'poor judgement' door of the PM. Mitchell flew off the handle at the wrong time with the wrong people, and got caught. If he has then tried to cover up his wrongdoing, then (as usual) it will be the cover up that will get him. But I don't think you can blame the PM for that.

The Grant Shapps story however could turn out to be different kettle of fish.

Now the whole Grant Shapps story is weird. Leading a 'double life' as web entrepeneur Michael Green, even when he was a member of the shadow cabinet, requires quite a lot of explaining. The Guardian even has a photo of him today with a Michael Green name badge at some internet conference in the US.

Now there's no suggestion Shapps has done anything wrong, let alone illegal. But the oddness of a prominent politician leading a double life does raise all sorts of questions about why we felt he needed to conduct all of this activity under a pseudonym.

But this news hasn't emerged since Shapps was made Party Chairman. It broke before the reshuffle. And Cameron went ahead anyway.

So if the Shapps story does start to go pear shaped, questions will be asked about Cameron's judgement.

And I imagine the PM finds that more troubling than the news that his Chief Whip is a man who struggles to control his temper.


Good summary of the Shapps saga from the New Statesman here

Friday 21 September 2012


I know. It's sickeningly tribal

But I'm a bit fed up with my twitter feed being full of other parties, but especially Labour, listing a ton of other stuff they would like apologies for.

So I'm inviting them to apologise for stuff.

Like promising not to introduce tuition fees in the first place - and then doing it

Or banging on about 'privatising the NHS' (when we're not) - after introducing PFI funding into the Heath Service.

Or Iraq.

You get the picture

Do join in but please use the hashtag #yourturnnow.

Thanks all

Sorry David. Not all Lib Dems need to say sorry....

David Laws said yesterday that '

"All Lib Dems have 'collective responsibility' "

for breaking the tuition fee promise.

I'm sorry David, but I don't agree. Especially as Nick has been very clear that the apology was for signing the pledge, not for the policy itself.

Let's remind ourselves what the pledge said first:

“I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative."

And the following list of Lib Dem MPs did just that, voting against the rise in fees and putting huge pressure on the government to do something else. They kept their word - and have nothing to apologise for.

  • Annette Brooke
  • Sir Menzies Campbell
  • Michael Crockart
  • Tim Farron
  • Andrew George
  • Mike Hancock
  • Julian Huppert
  • Charles Kennedy
  • John Leech
  • Stephen Lloyd
  • Greg Mulholland
  • John Pugh
  • Alan Reid
  • Dan Rogerson
  • Bob Russell
  • Adrian Sanders
  • Ian Swales
  • Mark Williams
  • Roger Williams
  • Jenny Willott
  • Simon Wright

I do not think it is terribly helpful now for David Laws to try and get a lot of colleagues who kept their word to apologise for something they didn't do...

Autotune: The Vince Cable/Paxman version

Sadly can't embed but here's a link. It's a treat....

Thursday 20 September 2012

Muscular Liberalism Parts 3 & 4

There's no doubt about it, there's been a change in language and tone in the last two weeks.

After Nick first going onto the front foot on the Pupil Premium last week and then later that day calling certain Tories 'infantile', we now have Simon Hughes and Vince Cable going on the attack on the benefits issue - and telling George Osborne enough is enough.

Here's Simon speaking for the backbenchers...

“We are coming to the crucial period as to where we go now. If more money has to be found there are many in our party and beyond who would say it ought not to be people at the bottom of the heap," he said.

"It would be unacceptable to me that we ask people on the lowest incomes to take more of a hit when we have the biggest disparity in wealth and income that we have had in all of your lifetime and mine."

And here's Vince parking his tanks on Osborne's lawn

“We’ve used the phrase not a penny more, not a penny less,” he says. “I’m implementing spending cuts and it’s very tough. We are not agreeing anything over and above the cuts that have already been agreed in the spending review.”

I think that's pretty clear.....

The West Wing team unite once again

Further to the charity ad they made a few months back The West Wing cast has made another great 4 minute film.

I miss that programme

Hat tip to @helenlewis and The New Statesman who explain what it's all about....

I'm sorry (word of the day) but there's no getting away from it...

This Autotune remix of Nick's apology is brilliant....

Hat tip to @thepoke

Lib Dem MPs will have to behave if they want the activists to fall into line...

My latest in the New Statesman. Some cracking comments over there if you fancy it....plus maybe, just maybe, the first signs that folk are willing to at least entertain the idea of coming back to us...

Well, I’m in trouble. Me and the other 40,000 activists in the Lib Dems. As has been well documented, there has been more than a touch of debate about the party leadership ahead of conference (we’re at 10% in the polls - of course there has!) and the word on the street is that , generally speaking, this isn’t going down well with the Westminster crowd. Apparently the received wisdom is that if we don’t show a united front in Brighton, there’s a chance the world may spot that the membership isn’t entirely comfortable with the way things have been going to date. You reckon?
Well apart from the fact that it just wouldn’t be Lib Dem conference if there wasn’t a barney about something or other (in the last three conferences it’s been around the NHS, the NHS and the NHS), there’s a touch of physician heal thyself about all this.
It all started with Vince saying "I don't give any time to these personal criticisms of Nick Clegg which are being made at the moment", which is, by all accounts, code for declaring war on the leadership. Plenty of others in Westminster have been just as guilty. Adrian Sanders, for example, declared that Clegg must stop "bumbling along worrying about the future".
But it’s not all one-way traffic is it? I notice the term "the continuity SDP" has been slipped causally into the press to describe anyone who thinks the party may have just edged slightly to the wrong side of the centre ground. Then we hadMing declaring of the Cable-Miliband texts: "The truth is that the success of this coalition depends upon everyone who participates in it being a full subscriber, and we were using the expression pick and mix a little while ago. I don’t think it helps a partnership to suggest that you may already be looking for another partner."
Finally, Malcolm Bruce weighed in this weekend, declaring (in a fairly obviously targeted message) that we shouldn’t be laying the ground work for a coalition with Labour. Well, we should actually. And we should be laying the groundwork for another coalition with the Tories. And if the arithmetic works out in 2015, we need to be prepared. We were last time. So were the Tories. Labour, put simply, wasn’t, and, in any case, the electoral arithmetic didn’t stack up. Next time, (if there is a next time) we should take longer about the process– and all the major parties should be ready to negotiate whatever deal the will of the electorate throws up. (Plenty of readers have rushed to the comments section to shout "you see, you’ll deal with anyone who keeps you in power". No we won’t. We’ll talk to anyone the British people tell us too. Doesn’t mean we’ll do a deal).
But more to the point, the folk in Westminster can’t tell the grassroots to show a united front and then bicker amongst themselves through the pages of the press. If they really want the leadership debate to go away, then they should stop talking about it – no matter who you think is parking tanks on whoever’s lawn. But as long as they’re slipping quotes to the press, I don’t see why the rest of us shouldn’t stick our oar in.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Here's THAT video everyone's talking about...

First off: The video and the transcript. Then a few thoughts...

I'd like to take this opportunity to put a few things straight. When I meet people around the country, it's obvious that many of you have strong - and pretty mixed - reactions to some of the things Liberal Democrats have done in government. Many of you tell me you're glad that at a time of real economic uncertainty, we put aside our political differences to provide our country with stable leadership. BUT, I also meet people who are disappointed and angry that we couldn't keep all our promises - above all our promise not to raise tuition fees. To those people, I say this: We made a promise before the election that we would vote against any rise in fees under any circumstances. But that was a mistake. It was a pledge made with the best of intentions - but we shouldn't have made a promise we weren't absolutely sure we could deliver. I shouldn't have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around. Not least when the most likely way we'd end up in Government was in coalition with Labour or the Conservatives, who were both committed to put fees up. I know that we fought to get the best policy we could in those circumstances. But I also realise that isn't the point. There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge... we didn't stick to it - and for that I am sorry. When you've made a mistake you should apologise. But more importantly - most important of all - you've got to learn from your mistakes. And that's what we will do. I will never again make a pledge unless as a party we are absolutely clear about how we can keep it. I accept that won't be enough for everyone. But I owe it to you to be up front about it. And I don't believe it should cast a shadow over everything else the Liberal Democrats are achieving in government. When we're wrong we hold our hands up. But when we're right we hold our heads up too. We were right to leave the comfort of opposition to face the realities of government. And I know we are fighting for the right things, day in, day out, too: Rebuilding our economy to make it strong. Changing the tax system to make it fair. Defending the vulnerable in these tough times. That's what my party believes in. That's what I believe in. And, if we've lost your trust, that's how I hope we can start to win it back.

And now - some thoughts....

1. I'm glad Nick made this video. It's the right thing to do. I wish he'd done it sooner. But he's said sorry. It's a brave thing to do.

2. In fact I'll go further. I described the tuition fees debacle as the worst political mistake in British politics since the Gordon Brown failure to call a snap election. This, on the other hand, strikes me as a courageous step. It's one of those seminal moments we'll talk about for years to come...

3. Of course I wish Nick had apologised for the policy per se rather than just making and breaking a pledge. But this is still a very good thing.

4. Stephen Tall hits the nail on the head when he says this means Nick must have every intention of staying leader into 2015 - otherwise he wouldn't have done it. He's certainly just given himself a quieter conference.

5. I suspect people will quickly forget the nuance of the apology and just remember he apologised. Not political folk who read this blog- but the general public.

6. Caron made the interesting observation on Twitter about Federal Policy Committee going forward. What happens next time a leader says he doesn't want to go along with a policy - and FPC (and conference) say he must. Interesting times...

7. I'm going to start a list of the things I wish other parties would apologise for now. There's a new game in town....

8. Although I wish Nick hadn't told everyone in the party to stop apologising a few weeks/months ago...

Ryan Coetzee: He's a good thing.

(first printed on LDV - pop over there to see the comments)(blimey)

It's tricky, this coalition business, isn't it?

Try and be too Liberal and our coalition partners do all they can to put a spanner in the works. They surely feel much the same about us. Try and find a happy compromise and you end up with everyone hating you.
And the danger is you sink into a sea of obfuscation and intransigence and get absolutely nowhere. Or worse, you go native – or at least let the world think that you have. Then you end up hating yourself.
Is this ringing any bells?
Which is why we probably need more people inside the party who have experience of making coalition work, understand the inherent dangers, can get things done and keep both our reputation and soul intact.
I suspect that this is one of the reasons why the appointment of Ryan Coetzee as the new strategic advisor to Nick Clegg is a shrewd choice.
Like many members I have heard many good things about Ryan since he joined us. But until I read this article, it hadn’t really clicked that we now have someone at Nick’s elbow with on the ground experience of making coalition government work. And even taken a party in to government and growing its share of the vote. Heavens above.
I was never a fan of the ‘not a cigarette paper between us’ approach to government. So I hope Ryan’s experience of making coalitions work will show us how we can not only deliver Lib Dem policies in government but keep our own character and philosophy not just alive, but actively enhanced.
Being in coalition has been much more difficult and painful than I think many of us realized. I’m banking that Ryan can help make us more effective in government – and also remove some of the tarnish that being in government has left on our reputation.

Alleged Tony Blair scribble on Hillsborough Inquiry briefing note asks 'What is the point'

I was sent this extraordinary note on Twitter this morning. If indeed the handwritten 'What's the point' is from Tony Blair, it's quite amazing how little this issue was understood at the heart of government, albeit a very new one at the time.

Here are the hat tips

Note to Jeremy Browne: Really? one week before conference? Are you sure?

Jeremy Browne said many excellent things in his interview in the Independent last weekend about how we would be vetoing anything like the snooping bill Theresa May originally ventured. Admittedly he didn't say 'unless there's a rolling back of current intrusive laws, May can do one', that would be hoping for too much and he probably went as far as it's possible to go. And for a Minister who one side of the party eyes with wary caution in case he's hiding a blue rossette under his jacket, and the other side view as the shoe in to replace Nick as leader if David Laws has flu when that day comes around, it was probably a smart thing to say just before conference.

And then he goes and spoils it by saying something stupid like, 'I love y...', no hang on, saying something stupid like...

"But he spoke of his fears that some activists still had not adjusted to the reality of being in government. "The danger is they see this as a five-year period to be endured before they can get back to the easier comforts of being an opposition party that criticises other people who do things rather than doing thiUngs yourself: the politics of the sit-in protest rather than the politics of implementation in office."

Now, there are a very small minority of members who didn't want coalition in the first place. I remember a few dissenting hands going up at the special conference. They will have represented a number of other members who couldn't be in Birmingham.

I don't believe these people are only happy when we are in opposition. I think they don't want to be part of a coalition with the Tories. I don't agree with them - I think I'd rather be in government trying to curb the Tory's worst excesses than out of government watching them create merry hell, plus this coalition is the closest expression to the will of the people post May 2010 that I can see. But I understand and respect the position of those who take the other view. And  I think MPs should respect those views, rather than have a go at them.

I think it's part of a worrying 'them and us' mentality some of our MPs are beginning to form, a view that if the activists don't like something it's because they're not tough enough for government, or that we just don't understand

Whereas I take the view that if I don't like something it's probably because I don't think it's very Liberal or Democratic.

And if I see Jeremy Browne in Brighton - I'll tell him that.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Are they really going to tell anyone who passes all the core subjects in the Baccalaureate that they have qualified for The Full English?

Taking on random Tory policy not included in the coalition agreement, negotiating and amending it, and then presenting the new policy to the world as a joint enterprise, has generally ended in tears for the Lib Dems (tuition fees, NHS reforms etc etc). And we seem to have gone down the same road on ‘Gove’ Levels. But on this occasion, I have to say I don’t find the results all that unpalatable (though I'm bound to say this isn't a universally held view in the party).

They’re not perfect either – I’ll come to that in a moment – but let’s start off on a positive note.

I don’t object in principle to making the exam harder. I did object in the strongest possible terms to the re introduction of the CSE – but indeed it seems the new exam avoids even the two tier nature of the GCSE and I applaud this.

Personally I favoured the continuous assessment nature of GCSEs, for the single reason that at school I would have done rather better under that system than the single chance O level exam. I was simply better at course work. But I accept that there must be many children for whom the opposite is true, and this is swings and roundabouts. I certainly don't agree with the notion that children from less well off homes are less physically capable of holding a pen for three hours - a notion Neil Monnery debunks very well here.

I  think the nonsense of schools being able to choose 'easy' examination boards being swept away by the granting of single board 5 year franchises per subject is to be welcomed. Even if this move away from the free market is a surprise from Gove.

I'm also glad this is now a consultation - because I have some questions and some issues with the proposals as written (and I would encourage everyone to click on this link and go read the proposals in full)...

1. The proposals only cover England. Scotland was always separate of course, but Wales and N Ireland are to be consulted at Assembly level as to what they want to do. I hope we are not going to end up with four separate systems, and worse still English private schools being permitted to choose Welsh papers etc. 

2. If you get a full set of Core Subject ECB papers you will qualify for a Full English Baccalaureate. Apart from the fact that they are really going to have to call it something else, this begs a few questions. The core subjects listed are English, Maths, 'the Sciences', geography or history and 'a language'. This suggests children will do 8 papers typically - as English Language and English Literature are listed separately (though this is not made explicit).

But what of children who don't want to do all 3 sciences but would rather do Geography and History? Or do one science and three languages? By a straight reading of the proposal, this would not qualify for the Full English Baccalaureate. This need clarifying.

3. The one language can be Greek or Latin. I'm not knocking these - but it does seem contrary to the stated aspirations of more English students achieving more modern languages skills.

4. And what of non core but equally academically challenging subjects? Economics? Sociology? Geology? can these not be part of the 'Full' baccalaureate?

5. And finally - I firmly believe that some elements of course work play an integral part in making qualifications better. Geography Field Trips? Science Practicals? Do these really have no part to play in a more rounded and worthwhile qualification?

So lots of positives in the new proposals. But a few questions from me still to answer

Monday 17 September 2012

It's Wednesday. It's 3am. And somewhere in Putney a groggy DPM answers the phone...

I’ve made a few comments in recent weeks about the decision to give up our Ministerial posts in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence. Seemed a bit devil-may-care to me regarding foreign interventions.

Almost universally the response from fellow Lib Dems has been ‘don’t worry, if anything SERIOUS is going to happen, Nick will be consulted’.

Well, while I think this Telegraph piece is possibly exaggerating for effect, and this Huffington Post piece from Mehdi Hasan is rather stirring the pot, it seems something IS likely to happen between Israel and Iran in the near future. Hopefully a lot of grandstanding and hot air, nothing more.

But I would feel rather better if we had a Minister still in one (or better still) both departments. I think it’s very naïve to think that two departments of Tory Ministers are going to run every nuance of policy and each development of the situation past Nick. There’s a reason why you have Ministers in a department – they find out what’s going on (hence the bevy of Tory Ministers currently parking their tanks on Vince’s lawn over at BIS). And let's not forget last time major military intervention was suggested we were the only party to say no.

If it doesn’t ‘matter’ whether we have anyone in there or not, you wonder why we bothered putting say, Nick Harvey, in the MoD in the first place. Except we know he did a brilliant job on developing and promoting the alternative strategy to Trident. I don’t think David Laws, for all his skills, will have the same time from down the road in the Dept of Education to keep an eye on Trident developments…

And to all those who think  the DPM will be consulted before military action is taken, can I remind them what happened over the EU veto, where a similar promise was made to keep us up to speed with negotiations – Nick got a call at 3 am from Cameron to say he’d played the veto. I wouldn’t want the same phone call over Iran to announce ‘I’ve sent the military in’.

In short – I was already worried we didn’t have a spy in the MoD or the FO. Now there are rumours swirling around Iran – I’m more worried. Reports like this don't make me feel any better.

If only we had someone on the inside to tell me it’s all OK.

But those posts are currently sitting in DEFRA and International Development…