'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

Thursday 28 February 2013

There's an election going on today; how the Lib Dems do will show us how we might fare in 2015. It isn't in Hampshire.

While all the media attention today is on the Eastleigh by election, any notion that the result will reflect how we might fare in 2015 seems quite misguided to me.

It's a one off by election.
It's being fought largely on local, not national issues
We've been able to deliver fantastic on the ground support from all round the country, which we can't repeat in every seat in a general election.
The Tories picked the wrong candidate (he says, tempting fate).
There is a huge 'anti politics' vote going to UKIP - which wouldn't happen in a general election, certainly not to the same degree.

But it seems to me there is an election going on today that will tell us quite a lot about how we might fare in 2015. It's for a vacant council seat on Kingston Council, in Berrylands SW London.

It's a 'Lib Dem' seat, vacated through the sad death of a much loved and admired local councillor. and it's in the constituency of a Lib Dem MP (Ed Davey), and a Lib Dem held council (Kingston). So it's a good test of the 'incumbency' factor

It's been well supported by local Lib Dems - but not much outside there (naturally) - so its a good test of how we do when we only have local resources available (as will be the case in 2015).

And the Tories are the key opposition - as in so many seats at Westminster come the next General Election

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, and the media are full of analysis of what the Eastleigh result will mean for us in 2015 - take a moment to see how the Berrylands election went; I suspect that will tell us a lot more.

And of course - good luck to our candidate, Sushila Abraham!


Everyone took this election very seriously...

and now the result is in. Lib Dem Win!!!!

What worries me about the revised Justice and Securities Bill Update...

Julian Huppert has written an update on where things stand on the Justice and Securities Bill. As you might expect from Julian, it is clear, detailed and intelligent. And as you might hope, progress has clearly been made.

But when I read it, I was left with a very uncomfortable feeling that I'd been here before. It all feels a little like the post conference responses to the NHS Bill. We've seen what the Tories wanted to do, said no, revised it, and ended up in a much better place. But still not a place we've have ever got to, or tried ever to get to, on our own.

And having spent so long on those revisions - you start to take ownership of the bill. It's not the Tories Justice and Security Bill anymore - somehow, because we've done all the pushing and revising - it's become ours. And I don't think we want it...

Now, of course I need to ponder Julian's piece and decide whether we're now in a good enough place to let things progress, or if I want to throw toys out of prams, or most likely) somewhere in between. And I will listen to the wise counsel, like Jo Shaw , of folk who know more about this than I do.

But still. It does feel like it's become the Lib Dems bill now. And I don't think that's a good thing.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Eastleigh Photo of the day

The owner may be a Tory - but that dog is certainly a misbranded Lib Dem

h/t Jennie Rigg

Name that political party....

The Telegraph has put up a great Eastleigh infographic ahead of tomorrow; part of it is a visual identity for every party standing - all 14.

So can you... name that party?

Pop over to The Telegraph for the answers...

When all Malcolm Tucker wanted to be was a Tory PPC for a constituency in the shires...

(h/t to @alexhern)

Tuesday 26 February 2013

That Sarah Palin thing has got a life of its own...

A few weeks ago I sent a tweet around about the Tory Eastleigh candidate - and it got a very funny response...

Hats off Bill

Anyway, I referenced it in this piece I wrote for the New Statesman - which they picked out for the headline.... 

But in fact, the evidence is that the latest brand of Tory MPs have more in common with Maria Hutchings, "the Sarah Palin of the south coast" as one person referred to her the other day, than they do with the leader of the Tory party.

(on reflection I wish I'd mentioned Bill by name but I was in a rush and didn't trawl my twitter feed - I hope this piece is some recompense for that)

And then something extraordinary happened...

It's even made it abroad...

All in all rather wonderful. So its only fair that Bill gets the last word


Now its made it to PMQs...

and again now in Andrew Sparrow's Guardian liveblog...

The Lib Dem grass roots deserved better from the leadership

My latest piece in The New Statesman below. many thanks for all the positive comments folk have been sending me about it from right across the party - appreciate it. Some week, eh?

As a white, middle class, Oxbridge-educated man, I’m in no position to pontificate about what it’s like to suffer any sort of discrimination, oppression or harassment  - although that doesn’t seem to stop a lot of folk in my Twitter stream diving in with both feet on any development in the Rennard affair.
It goes without saying that the most important people in all this, the ones we should be thinking about most, are the women who are the alleged victims – especially, in my opinion, those who want to stay anonymous and are probably living in trepidation of being ‘named’ at any moment.
But let me throw another group into the mix who I’m thinking about a lot. The grass roots members of the Lib Dems who have been turning up in their hundreds every day in Eastleigh, to canvass, to leaflet, to stuff envelopes, to do whatever they can to further the cause they believe in.
It’s been the most extraordinary effort; folk coming from all over the country to defend the seat, because they believe passionately in a political principle. It’s been clear all through the campaign that if we win, it’s a victory for the grassroots. If we lose, it’s a defeat for the leadership.
And now this happens. When you’re in a fast moving world like politics, I suspect it's always tempting to deal with the urgent, not necessarily the important. I would speculate that’s what happened here. Some anonymous rumours circulate, they reach your ears, but there’s a million other things going on - do you really want to open that can of worms?
The answer should be – yes, you do. Because the problem is – it’s going to get opened some time. At a time not of your choosing. At a time probably of great inconvenience. And when it happens, you’re shown not only to have let the people immediately involved down (on both sides, no one’s proved anything about anyone yet). You also find the whole organisation suffers.
The best thing anyone from the leadership has said about this yet is Tim Farron’s statement that "we screwed up". Yes, we did. Everyone closely involved has been let down by the party’s inadequate response to this five years ago. And so has everyone stuffing envelopes in Eastleigh. They deserved better.

Saturday 16 February 2013

The Sarah Palin of the South Coast

My latest in the New Statesman

David Cameron finds himself supporting a candidate in the Eastleigh by-election who disagrees with him on Equal Marriage, on membership of the EU and who has some pretty extreme views on immigration and abortion. Meanwhile, right-wing commentators call on the party to wake up and get behind their 'modernising' leader.
But in fact, the evidence is that the latest brand of Tory MPs have more in common with Maria Hutchings, "the Sarah Palin of the south coast" as one person referred to her the other day, than they do with the leader of the Tory party.
Blogger Mark Thompson did an excellent analysis of how Tory MPs voted in the Equal Marriage debate and discovered that the 2010 intake were more likely to have voted against the proposal than the 2001/2005 intake. There has, I think, been a tendency to imagine that the Conservative vote was split on age grounds and it is true that Tory MPs elected in the 1980s or 90s were the most likely to vote against. But the fact that the 2010 intake are more socially conservative than their immediate predecessors rather suggests Hutchings is increasingly the rule, rather than the exception.
Under the microscope of a by-election, Tory high command can control their candidate's media appearances and her expression of ‘unfortunate’ views – witness the unsuccessful attempts of the BBC's Norman Smith to interview Hutchings last Sunday - but as Conservative constituency associations select more and more candidates in the same mould (especially where they fear the effect of UKIP on their vote), it's going to be harder and harder to hide their opinions from scrutiny.
It’s easy to forget where the Tory party is heading, as the moderating influence of the Lib Dems prevents them doing all they would want. But as the Tea Party tendency takes over in the Tories, so the centre-ground opens up. Eastleigh will be a great test for both the Liberal Democrats and Labour of whether they can take advantage of this political vacuum.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

BBC Extra Guest - tomorrow it's a Lib Dem (finally)

Just seen this tweet from @BBCextraguest

As regular readers of this blog will know there has been a bit of a campaign to get a Lib Dem in that chair - Mark will be the first in, I think, 12 weeks. So it's great that it's happened

Well done to Nick Thornsby, who I know did a lot of lobbying

And thank you to BBC Question time for taking feedback and responding - much appreciated.

Good luck tomorrow Mark!

Sunday 10 February 2013

Blogging at its best

Hats of Mr Mark Thomson, or @markreckons as the twitter world knows him.

Mark has done the world a service thanks to a great analysis of how the 2010 Tory intake voted on Equal Marriage - and discovers they are even more socially conservative than the 2001/2005 Tory MPs.

Great use of raw data exposing the full extent to which the Tories, far from modernising (as many commentators would like to have us believe ) are in fact more socially conservative than ever...

A greta piece of blogging. No wonder he's the Lib Dem Blogger of the Year

Oh No Every bookmaker now makes us odds on favourite to win Eastleigh

A position I never feel entirely comfortable in.

No complacency everyone.

h/t to @MsmithsonPB for the, er, tip

Why Eastleigh demonstrates that Labour will not win the 2015 General Election

Well, there's another bold hostage-to-fortune type headline. But if the current limited polling is anything to go by, Ed M's in trouble...

Labour goes into the by election with no expectations of winning. Eastleigh is no 258 on their target list seat.  But on the current limited polling, they should be doing much better than this.

The two polls published so far run as follows

Ashcroft Private Poll

New Poll - Survation for MoS

Now, while it's dangerous to read too much into these polls, they tell us a number of interesting things. It's close between LDs and Tories, UKIP is doing much better than they normally do (they took between 3 and 4 % in the last to GE's - maybe the local Tories are not as nuts as I thought picking a tea party candidate) - but the most interesting thing is surely, for now at least, the performance of Labour.

They should be doing much better than they are in a seat like this - as Andrew Rawnsley points out, they should be thinking about winning..

Look how they did in the last two GEs here

In the last GE, with Brown as PM leading a hugely unpopular government, and mass tactical voting, they still managed 10% of the vote - not that far off the figure the MoS poll gives them now, even with the demise of the 'vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out' strategy. (Actually,  I saw a tweet from a Labour supporter claiming we were sending leaflets out in Eastleigh yesterday saying that - really? Not so sure about that as a strategy if it's true - but I digress...)

Even the first poll that gives them 19% really only matches the 20% they got in the General Election before one - when they were still in government. Oppositions are meant to do better than long term governments in seats they don't hold

As I say - two snap polls, small samples, a one off by election. But if Labour can't do better than their 2005 GE performance, when they were led by Tony Blair, post Iraq and all - then there's no way they'll win an outright majority in 2015. Their lead in the national opinion polls suddenly looks very soft indeed.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Whatever are the Eastleigh Tories playing at...?

Ok. We have our candidate. Good luck to Mike Thornton. We're all in #teammike now.

But why on earth have the Tories gone for Maria Hutchings?

She lost last time and in the process saw a Lib Dem majority go from just over 500 to just over 3000.

More to the point, she's a loose canon on the right of the Tory party who it would seem, if she were to win (which she won't), will give David Cameron all manner of trouble. She sounds like another Nadine. This report of her behaviour on day one of official campaigning is extraordinary.

But more weirdly -there's no obvious threat from UKIP to to the Tories in the constituency. The UKIP share of vote in Eastleigh in 2010 matched pretty much their national share - This is no UKIP enclave in the making - which is clearly why Farage has passed. 

So no need to pick a tea party type candidate to ward off UKIP here.

More to the point, surely the Tories best chance of winning in Eastleigh is to win over disaffected Lib Dems. Maria Hutchings, I would suggest, is  more likely to send them the other way.

Ultimately I expect the choice of Maria Hutchings says more about the local Conservative selection committee - in the previous two elections to 2010, their candidate was...Conor Burns - than it does about some considered analysis of the type of candidate that would help them win in Eastleigh.

Personally i'm delighted they picked her. She seems very, very beatable....

Friday 8 February 2013

Who do the good people of Eastleigh think will the by election then

Probably not the answer Lord Ashcroft was looking for...

I'm not complaining though....

My Eastleigh shortlist; revised and updated...the favourite's dropped off...

...since last night. It's all changed since I had a lot of feedback last night. Most of it totally uninformed so this is still guessing. Scroll to the bottom to see updates of people saying 'wrong wrong wrong'.

*Late Runner --- Justine McGuinness --- Late Runner*

(Sunday morning update - ha; all wrong. Congrats to Mike Thornton - and good luck!!!)

2-1 Louise Bloom   (NEW)

New favourite. Eastleigh Councillor, former member of the GLA, much admired in the part nationally and locally, HOW DID I FORGET HER YESTERDAY???

4-1 Gerald Vernon-Jackson (from 2-1)

Still second favourite but the leader of Portsmouth City Council has drifted in the odds due to the large number of folk saying a Portsmouth Councillor will never get a Southampton seat...

7-1 Tim Leunig (from 6-1)

Drifting as no one showing any interest

9-1 Olly Grender (from 8-1)

See Tim Leunig

12-1 Sara Yong (New)

Not a clue if she's got an earthly. But there's a whisper about her. And she's opening the Conference rally apparently...

15-1 Keith House (15-1)

Leader of the Council, a formidable campaiger who has increased the local Lib Dem share of the vote. Keith would be the nailed on red hot unbeatable favourite if he wanted it. But he says he doesn't...

20-1 Anne Winstanley (20-1)

Deputy Leader of the council, again very popular locally, and a name that keeps getting asked about. But there's no buzz around her on the net so I'm guessing she's not interested

50-1 Martin Tod (from evens favourite)

Should be a million to one on the basis that he tweeted last night that he hadn't applied, which is such a shame, he'd have been brilliant. Can't quite bring myself to put him below...

100-1 Lembit

He's been mentioned. Sure it was a joke....


10.14 Louise Bloom is out. And apparently there's still an obvious name I am missing

11:11 The excellent Mr Valladeres has suggested Sandra Gidley, former Lib Dem MP for the constituency next door; top, top suggestion....

18:24 Justine Baker and Emily Davey also now been suggested

Thursday 7 February 2013

Eastleigh. The Shortlist. Oh alright then. My shortlist

As the good members of Eastleigh gather to decide on their candidate in the by-election here are my suggestions for some names likely to be in the frames, based on no inside knowledge whatsoever. Lets see how well I do...and you know something - this is a brilliant list

(Sunday morning update - ha; all wrong. Congrats to Mike Thornton - and good luck!!!)

Evens favourite: Martin Tod

Candidate at the last election for the constituency next door, a long experienced campaigner much admired in the party and surely it's his turn?

2-1 Gerald Vernon-Jackson

Leader of Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire born and bred. also Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Local Government in England and Wales, at the Local Government Association and serves on the National Executive.  

I could go on. Another cracking candidate
All the academic credentials anyone could possibly want, ex Chief Economist at Centre Forum and now at the DfE as a policy adviser. And tipped by Guido (although he also tipped...)
8-1 ( drifting from 4-1 earlier) Olly Grender

Everyone's favourite ex No 10 staffer, Olly was close to Chris so will know the constituencies issues well. She'd be a formidable MP and has all the press contacts any candidate could ever need. Whatever happens though, don't try and contact her on Linked In.

Now drifting in the betting as she has denied any interest

15-1 Keith House

Leader of the Council, a formidable campaiger who has increased the local Lib Dem share of the vote. Keith would be the nailed on red hot unbeatable favourite if he wanted it. But he says he doesn't...

20-1 Anne Winstanley

Deputy Leader of the council, again very popular locally, and a name that keeps getting asked about. But there's no buzz around her on the net so I'm guessing she's not interested

50-1 Evan Harris

Would be brilliant if he stood and wouldn't it be brilliant if he was back in Parliament - but does he want to stand again?

There's my runners and riders. Odds are spurious and made up. Lets see on Saturday...


Couple of other names being kicked around. Stephen Knight (local to Ham Common!) and Dr Prateek Buch of the SLF

Update 2

Now being suggested there is a different person, unnamed by the press, who is very strong contender. WHO CAN IT BE?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

So, is this a bit harsh on Chris Huhne?

I wrote this on Monday night, New Statesman published it yesterday. Lots of comments. But I wonder if I'm being a bit cold?

Still it is what I think; and the summary of the piece here in italics - which I didn't write - is absolutely the point I was hoping to make...

Party activists are tired of being told that there is such a paucity of Lib Dem talent that the former Energy Secretary leaves a vacuum behind him.

Twelve months and two days ago I was sitting in the broom cupboard the BBC uses in Millbank for its less than stellar guests, waiting to pronounce on what would happen to Chris Huhne should the DPP decide to prosecute, when the news came through that the case was indeed proceeding to court.
"Oh brilliant," said the BBC researcher who was with me. And then remembering that I may not think this was the absolutely best news I’d ever heard added "oh, sorry".
And of course, this whole 368 day merry-go-round has been the gift that kept on giving for the media, with the recurring theme that it’s an absolute nightmare for the Lib Dems.
It’s really not.  It’s an absolute nightmare for Chris Huhne, I grant you, and I imagine only the hardest heart can read those texts between him and his son and not feel some sympathy for him. And for a party already struggling with a few trust issues, finding out  that one of your former leading lights has been economical with the actualit√© over and over again is not ideal.
But most in the party, while sorry to see a man of Huhne’s undoubted skills brought down in an ultimately needless way, moved on a while back. We get a little tired of being told there is such a paucity of Lib Dem talent that Chris's departure leaves a vacuum behind him. Ed Davey has moved seamlessly into the Energy Secretary’s seat, culminating in last month’s launch of the Green Deal.
And let’s not forget, if it wasn’t for the Christmas post in 2007, we’d be looking for a new leader right now, not just a new member for Eastleigh. In some ways we’ve had a lucky escape.
For us now, the coming by-election is an opportunity as much as a threat. A test of just how the general election is likely to play out in 2015. Here we are, mid-term in government, opinions polls at an absolute nadir – yet we’re the bookies' favourite to retain the seat. Would we really want to be fighting Eastleigh right now if we had a choice? No. But the party goes into the by-election enthusiastically and optimistically.
I’m sure journalists and media researchers were jubilant that the Huhne story took yet another unexpected twist yesterday morning. But for many in the party, we’d mentally navigated that particular bump in the road a while ago.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

A topical example of why #equal marriage matters which every Lib Dem will recognise

As the debate on #equalmarriage winds up to a hopefully successful result, let's not forget that a current high profile court case is going on in which the plea - not guilty on the grounds of marital coercion - is open to the defendent, only because she is straight.

It is written into law that a gay woman could not make that plea, as confirmed to me today by the well know legal blogger

If the #equalmarriage bill goes through - she can.

Interestingly this is a defence only open to woman - no straight or ( after the bill is passed) gay man can make the plea. Another quirk in the law that should be changed.

But at least when the law is passed, one group can make a plea in a court of law that has hitherto only be open to their straight counterparts

In honour of #equalmarriage...

My favourite 4 minutes in all 8 series of The West Wing. Every opponent of the #equalmarriage bill should be made to watch it.

 (Plus it has an extra, unconnected dig that @DrEoinCl may find a tad uncomfortable....)