'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

Saturday 30 November 2013

The Lib Dems' shift left could be more dangerous for the Tories than Labour

Here's my latest suggestion in The New Statesman - in a nutshell, that the Great George Street strategy is to target soft Tories. Ryan Coetzee was kind enough to respond - so I've added his Twitter comments at the bottom of the piece. Also, curiously, while if I'm right this strategy could benefit Labour, readers of the NS have responded with a fair amount of vitriol...

Chris Huhne has ventured in Juncture magazine that any Labour/Lib Dem coalition after the next election is likely to be based upon common agreement in the policy areas of tax, the environment and housing. Which would be grand if he’s right, as Lib Dem members seem to think that these three areas (plus jobs) should form the four key pillars of the 2015 manifesto.
And indeed the received wisdom is that Nick has moved left (much to the chagrin of certain high profile MPs) - remember the long list of things we’ve stopped the Tories doing in government announced at conference, the free school meals announcement, the agreement to look again at secret courts post 2015, the apparent acceptance that the bedroom tax might not be the best idea since sliced bread...
The differentiation strategy is in full swing and it looks like Nick has heeded the advice of Tim Farron when he said of left-leaning Lib Dem voters from 2010: "The people who are most likely to vote for you next time are the people who voted for you last time...You don’t write people off, they’re there to be persuaded to come back, or rather stay with us". 
So, it’s all guns blazing on the swing to the left. Or is it? I wonder if there isn’t another thought in the minds of Great George Street folk.
We’ve already tacitly accepted that 2015 is going to be tough for the Lib Dems and we’re in defensive mode. The second place party in the majority of our seats is the Tories, not Labour (38 vs. 19). Of our top 50 target seats, the majority are Tory. Of the 13 seats we lost in 2010 – in theory, the easiest for us to win back – no less than 10 fell to Tories.
Which is why I suspect what’s going on is less a lurch to the left but a small veer, designed to appeal to One Nation Tories alienated by the UKIP tendency in the Conservatives that seems to be in the ascendency. The sort of person who cares about the environment, who bought into "vote blue, go green" and now feels a little let down. The sort of voter who benefits most from the rise in the income tax threshold. The sort of voter who cares quite a lot about house prices and home ownership. The sort of voter Nick Boles had in mind when he suggested it might be time for a revival of the National Liberal Party – before it was pointed out that there already is one…
The environment. Tax. Housing. It’s what we’ll be fighting the next election on. But I wonder if it’s an agenda that should give David Cameron more sleepless nights that Ed Miliband?

And Ryan 's view is...

Friday 29 November 2013

Which countries in the world take in the most refugees? Clue: we're not one of them

With the immigration debate once again in full swing, it's worth noting that far from being over run by asylum seekers, the UK does not feature in the top 10 countries taking in refugees.

Indeed there is only one EU country that does feature in the top 10- Germany, which takes on nearly 4 times as many as us (589700 vs. 149765)

Source: UNHCR UK

Food for thought.

Hat Tip to both @ianbirrell and @davidmills73

Thursday 28 November 2013

The Minister for Lap Dancing

I was doing a bit of digging around the other day on the general UK  Government Information site - and noticed a few slightly odd things; such as there is only one of the 24 Ministerial departments where there is a majority of Lib Dems holding office.

Anyway, some of our Westminster representatives do seem to have some slightly strange responsibilities. So would you like to hazard a guess who is

Minister for Lap Dancing
Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard
Minister for Bees
Minister for Taxis

The answers to all 5 are listed below - just scroll down....

The one of the 24 Ministerial departments where there is a majority of Lib Dems holding office?

Scottish Office

Minister for Lap Dancing

This falls under the responsibilities of Norman Baker

Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard

Lord Newby

Minister for Bees (actually, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Bees, but still...)

Dan Rogerson

Minister for Taxis

Baroness Kramer

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Before they were famous...

Cambridge Footlights, 1994.

I know a couple of them did rather well - the Vice President and the Treasurer for example

But whatever happened to that Secretary? The name seems familiar - but I just can't place him....

Hat tip @chrisdeerin

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Could someone show this to Michael Gove please, ASAP


Hat tip @simoncooper

woo hoo, Staggers wins at EI Awards

Many congrats to @georgeeaton and everyone at The Staggers which has been named On line Comment Site of the Year at the #eiCA13 Awards.

Huzzah :-) 


Here's the official announcement.

And here's the piece in The Staggers announcing the news. I am incredibly flattered to get a mention. I don't know quite what to say. Thanks George!

Is Dr Who a Lefty?

..asks the New Statesman

Well from this photo I think its safe to say Socialist Daleks are in a minority. Though I guess we might have guessed that Daleks would in the main belong to the nasty party.

H/T @spharrison1

Saturday 23 November 2013

So, what should be the Lib Dems 4 Pillar Policy areas for the 2015 manifesto? The Poll results are in...

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to complete my survey. Results are now in - and I think there are a few surprises....

Firstly, the winners in order of popularity (remembering that everyone had 4 votes each) - and there were 4 clear winners:

1. Housing (59% of votes cast)
2. Jobs and Sustainability (57%)
3. Fair Taxes (51%)
4. Energy, Climate Change and the Environment (48%)

Many have expressed surprise that housing came top. I'm not. I voted for it myself (and to be honest I think led the jury by declaring I would vote for it) and Tim Farron has written a very strong piece advocating it as an issue recently. It speaks to the Bedroom Tax as an issue, highlighting the dearth of available affordable housing, it's a problem that's only getting worse, its central to the cost of living issue that Labour have so successfully framed the current  economic debate around, and the average age of a first time property buyer in London has now risen to 38.

And other than 'build more' I don't think any of the parties have expressed a policy that hits home with the public in explaining how we will solve this issue. It strikes me there is a huge opportunity here to address a key issue and make it our own.

Anyway, readers of this blog want the manifesto committee to make it their key priority for 2015.

Next, we have 2 pillars that appeared in the key pillars for 2010. Both make sense. Again jobs and sustainability speak to the cost of living crisis, Fair taxes is a Lib Dem vote winner and our progress towards taking everyone on the minimum wage out of income tax altogether is just a good thing to do  - although there is a strong argument that first we should raise the NIC contribution level bar, as this would be more progressive. But details aside, these should form 2 of the pillars.

And fourthly we have energy climate change and the environment. A key current political football, in which I would argue that both Labour (price freeze) and the Tories (cut green taxes) have more distinctive and better understood policies than we do. Not better you'll note - just better understood.

So - manifesto committee - your 4 policy areas

It's also worth noting what didn't do well.

Firstly, I was surprised (and a tad disappointed) that Children didn't do better in the poll- just 14% of folk voted for it (though education did rather better). We seemed to make a clear choice to prioritise children while we were in government (it was a key pillar last time) and we have a strong record (free childcare, pupil premium). Perhaps readers felt we had done enough - I don't.

Also surprising was that another pillar of the last manifesto, political reform didn't make the cut. Perhaps people feel that while we didn't get far this time (AV vote, House of Lords reform), we've missed our chance. I tend to disagree and hope Lords Reform at least features high in our manifesto, and coalition negotiations (if they happen) give us the chance to look again at voting reform. But that doesn't seem to be the majority view.

Also not making the cut, when I thought it might, was anything that might fall under the eye of the Home Office, especially civil liberties.Maybe people feel it wouldn't get people to reappraise the party enough if this 'typically' Lib Dem policy area was too high on the list.

One other surprise for me was that Pension didn't do better  - just 5% of the vote despite our brilliant work on raising the state pension and Steve Webb's pension reforms. Again, do folk feel our work here is done?

Finally, I have been taken to task for missing 2 areas out who readers would like to have voted for; Welfare and benefits reform, and science and research. Apologies and duly noted.

No one took me to task for not giving them an option to tick Europe. which I also thought was interesting.

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to vote. Here are the full results:

Note of thanks...

...to the many folk who RTd the link to the poll. I have tried to send results to as many as I can but so many people were kind enough to send it on I fear I have missed many. But it's all hugely appreciated

Friday 22 November 2013

Tory Party Conference 2012

Just how much must Ed Miliband wish he'd known about this event, apparently held at Tory Party Conference last year, ahead of this weeks PMQs?

h/t to @_lilykins 

Countdown to 'The Day of the Doctor': A Lib Dem Service. You're welcome

Thursday 21 November 2013

Just how many members does the party boast In Calderdale?

Many congrats to Alisdair Calder Mcgregor and the good folk of Calderdale who have selected him as their PPC for 2015.

But I was taken aback by the release on their website, which says...

Calderdale Liberal Democrats have selected their candidate for Calder Valley for the 2015 general election, Alisdair Calder McGregor, at a packed hustings at the Shay stadium.

It did make me wonder - with a capacity at the Shay Stadium of 2330, just how many members does the party have there? Hats off all round...

3 hours left until polls close....

...so if you're Nick Clegg, David Laws or indeed Ed Miliband, you've not long left to have your say on what should be the main 4 pillars of the Lib Dem 2015 manifesto.

Why not fill in the poll on the top right of this blog right now; takes 2 minutes....

Tuesday 19 November 2013

I've had the General Boles treatment. I am not unhappy

Nick Boles wants MPs to join a newly regenerated 'National Liberal Party'. Who could he mean? (now with Update)

Both the New Statesman & The Spectator are reporting that the Tory MP Nick Boles has called for the reinvention of the National Liberal Party wing of the Conservatives, which existed right up until 1968. It would mirror the same sort of function as the Labour and Co-operative Party arrangement.

While he is claiming this is a way of broadening the support for the Tories in the country as a whole and in 3 way Lib Dem marginals in particular, I wonder if there is another thought in his head. He says....

"Existing MPs, councillors, candidates and party members of liberal views would be encouraged to join. And we could use it to recruit new supporters who might initially balk at the idea of calling themselves Conservative"

 Now I wonder if, when he says 'existing MPs' he means existing Tories, or in fact he is talking to disgruntled Lib Dem MPs on the right of the party who have already been asked the question - and rejected the chance to join the Tories in their current form. One obvious potential candidate might be (if you believe the rumours from a few weeks back) Jeremy Browne.

I suspect this is the start of a sustained attack by the Tories on the Lib Dems - timed just as the differentiation strategy really takes hold. We've already alienated many of our former supporters on the left. Now, as we spin left to try and attract them back, we alienate those on the right who have stayed loyal to date. I always said it was a wrong headed strategy. We're beginning to see why.

Anyway, could someone find out if Jeremy Browne is having coffee with Nick Boles in the next few days? I sense a plot afoot...


Just seen this

Just a couple of days to make your voice heard

...on the Ham Common manifesto poll.

What do you think should be the four priority areas we headline on the front page of our manifesto?

 Click on the poll on the top right of this blog to make sure you've had your say. there are 4 clear frontrunners - and 4 in the chasing pack. So it can still all change


Who's our Boris? 10 potential next-leader-of-the-Lib-Dems currently not in The Commons

The other week Stephen Tall wrote an entertaining piece for Conservative Home speculating on who the next leader of the Lib Dems and the Tories might be post 2015, should circumstances dictate that a vacancy arises in either party.

His choice of Tory (Boris) - prompted someone (sorry, I forget who but I will hat tip you if you remind me) to say how interesting it was that perhaps the favourite to be the next Tory leader wasn't even currently eligible for the role, not being an MP, and who the Lib Dem equivalent of Boris might be - ie is there a leader in waiting currently ineligible for the role as they are not in The Commons? . They suggested Kirsty Williams - a top choice as it happens.

Anyway, ever helpful, I've compiled a little list of other folks who we might like to consider as future candidates for leader, once Nick steps side (some time in the distant future, naturally).

So here are the runners and riders, in no particular order (Strictly style)...apologies to anyone who feels they've been omitted....

1. Kirsty Williams

Leader of the Lib Dems in Wales. Consistently popular on LDV surveys, great on Question Time, and would be our first female leader.

2. Willie Rennie

Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, again highly rated by members in the LDV surveys, and knows his way around Westminster. Plus we haven't had a Scottish Leader for simply AGES.

3. Sharon Bowles

The first Briton and the first Liberal to chair the EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee. A  very credible politician. And again - would be our first female leader.

4. Gerald Vernon-Jackson

As Leader of the Lib Dem Councillors he's got the national leadership credentials and presumably knows how to herd cats.

5. Baroness Scott

If the current President is one of the favourites to be the next leader, why can't the last one? And we all think Ros was a splendid President. Yes, I know she'd have to somehow get out of the Lords...no, I don't know how...

6. Evan Harris

A controversial suggestion I know. But high profile. Passionate. Knows his way round Westminster - even where the Leader of the Opposition's office is.

7. Caroline Pidgeon

Talented, super bright - and used to holding Boris to account, which could prove very  handy if the leadership of the Tories pans out as we suspect...

8. Lord Oakeshott

 'Are you mad?' I hear you cry. Well, I'm working on the assumption that as he has such a lot to say about leadership, he must think he'd be rather good at it himself...

9. Birgitte Nyborg

Super experience - an ex PM no less; a centrist politician, currently looking for a new party. A strong Liberal. A strong European, fluent in 3 languages (at least). Got to be the front runner

10. Helen Duffett

The 49th most influential Lib Dem? You must be joking. She should be much higher. She knows where ALL the bodies are buried. Vote Helen.

Monday 18 November 2013

Lordy. Nick's still not super popular....though it seems TfL has now had a change of heart


(h/t @number10cat) 


I think someone's had a word...or Ryan Coetzee has been down to Westminster Tube with a black marker pen...


Apparently I have been fooled by an internet meme; apologies...

Sunday 17 November 2013

So, what exactly is the party's position on the Bedroom Tax?

My latest in the New Statesman. To say it all kicked off in the comments section is to put it mildly. You might want to wander over there and take a look. anyway, here's the piece...

I was spending a pleasant evening last week in front of the box, shouting via the medium of Twitter at the Tories in general (and Anna Soubry in particular), when a Labour supporting follower engaged in a spot of good natured leg pulling by telling me Ms Soubry was "my Minister". When I demurred, he added . . .
“Do you agree with the present coalition? If so, she IS your minister. If not, call on your party to dissolve . . .”
I’m presuming he meant to add "the coalition" (well I’m choosing to interpret it like that – it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to) and it's been preying on my mind all week, given the context of Bedroom Tax vote which took place on Tuesday.
Now, of course using an Opposition Day motion to make the junior party in the coalition feel uncomfortable is a trick used by Labour before, to little effect - but this time was different. It's one thing trying to play games around the Mansion Tax - which no matter how clever your procedural chicanery may be, you’re never going to persuade anyone that it isn’t a Lib Dem policy. It’s quite another thing to turn the focus onto the Bedroom Tax (sorry HQ, I meant "spare room subsidy") - because the party, let alone the country, doesn’t seem too sure if is "ours" or not.
It’s a Tory policy – well actually it’s a Labour policy extended by the Tories but let's not quibble - that our MPs supported in the Commons. Then Lib Demconference decreed overwhelmingly that it was the wrong thing to do – almost the sole defeat for the leadership in Glasgow. This seemed to engender a change of heart in Nick Clegg – who announced an investigation into the implementation of the tax. Then, when invited to vote on it again this week, two Lib Dem MPs voted with Labour – including the party president. Four more Lib Dem MPs put down their own early day motion condemning the Bedroom Tax. And 22 members of the Westminster party abstained on the motion – including more than half the cabinet, one of whom was the Deputy Prime Minister. Sure they were probably paired. But if they cared that much. . .
On the other hand, more than half the Parliamentary party in the Commons merrily marched into the government lobby with the Tories.
Together with at least 23 of our MPs and most of conference, I’d like to think the Bedroom Tax, as it currently stands, isn’t "our" policy . . .but I’m not sure we’re doing nearly enough to turn our face away.  And if our MP and activists don’t know  - what hope for the average voter?

Saturday 16 November 2013

Sad news as Mark Thompson leaves the party

Mark Thompson, the Lib Dem Voice 'Blogger of the Year' in 2012, announced yesterdayhe is leaving the party

This is incredibly sad news.

Mark's leaving is less to do with the party  - though he is clearly he is disappointed by many things that have happened in government - 

"Of course I wasn’t happy with secret courts, in fact I was furious. The removal of the spare room subsidy is just mean spirited and ultimately self-defeating. Tuition fees were an absolute mess. Cutting the 50p rate may have been economically sensible but was politically idiotic."

But it's rather more to do with the state of party politics in general

 "The impetus for me to leave is really because politics is broken. The Westminster Village is obsessed with who managed to shout the best for 5 minutes and get their friends to jeer and point at the other side just after midday on a Wednesday. They genuinely seem to think it matters. I very rarely even bother watching PMQs any more. They insist on speaking in sound bites and clich├ęs and point-blank refuse to answer questions thinking that their “clever” evasions can’t be seen for precisely what they are. The tribal nature of much of what goes on drives me nuts. Labour have been the worst for this in recent years castigating the current government for doing things that they would almost certainly have done themselves and in a number of cases were actively planning to. But none of the main parties are free from this sort of thing. It reduces politics to a bunch of silly games where tiny nuances are picked up on and there are a million hidden rules that only highly experienced practitioners of the “art” of politics are aware of."

I’m sure we all know what Mark means  - and the bemusement with which we see politicians who tell us what they think and vote accordingly being held back, demoted or sacked, while those who keep quiet, ‘play the game’ and vote as they are told get promoted for their ‘loyalty’.

And it ends up with anonymous briefings by senior MPs describing the Party President in the most shocking and inappropriate terms. I suspect that particular quote comes from a wing of the party fond of demanding we all ‘act as a grown up party of government’. If that’s what they meant, I want no part of that behaviour.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Mark and exchanged tweets many times. He is a charming, intelligent and reasonable voice for good. He is a huge loss both to the party and party politics. I’m glad he is going to continue to blog and debate the issues he cares about and I hope he continues to get his message heard.

Politics needs more people like Mark. Party politicians of every shade should think about what his decision means. For it says as much about them as it does about the principles of Mark.

Good luck Mark. I hope we see you back in the party one day soon.

Friday 15 November 2013

One Day to Go

So what are your Four key priorities for 2015?

I blogged the other week about why I thought we should have a few red lines in place now ahead of 2015 and one commentator in particular made me think, writing...

"red lines' by their very nature are negative... where we won't go rather than where we will... as you rightly point out the no-go zone (minefield) of tuition fees is now well trodden territory. (ka-pow!).. what about what we will do rather than what we will not...?"

And I think he's right.

So I've been thinking what my 4 key priorities might be - especially in the context of the call for ideas from David Laws for the 2015 manifesto.

I'll hold my hand up to one of mine right now: it's housing. If you'd like to know why, you only have to read this piece from Tim Farron from last week, one of the best bits of writing I've seen from one of our Westminster representatives for quite a while.

But I wondered what everyone else thought. So before outlining the rest of my own priorities, I've started one of my polls.

It's on the top left of the blog. If you're reading on the mobile, go to the bottom of this post and click on 'go to full website' and you'll see it.

I have added the 4 priorities from the last time, plus some other broad groupings. Do click on the 4 you want most - and let's see what readers of this blog at least would like the party to prioritise in 2015 negotiations. 

And if there's something else I've missed - let me know in the comments

Beards and the like

Lib Dem?

Doing Movember?

Want to cut a dash?

Does this suggestions guide for the hirsute male help at all?

(Hat Tip to the estimable Jennie Rigg)

Thursday 7 November 2013

Hats off to Boden for promoting such a positive view of Disability

I hope this doesn't come off as trite. But I think its a marvellous thing that Boden have not only used a model with a disability in their new advertising campaign, but that they have done so in such a positive way, and without even referencing it or (as far as I can tell) using that story to promote themselves. Indeed the shot is done in such a beautiful way I suspect most will not even register it as an issue.

I hope they get all the kudos they deserve.


Wednesday 6 November 2013

Well, that's gone down exceptionally badly...

My latest piece in the New Statesman entitled 'Why the Lib Dems need to start drawing some red lines now' has drawn quite a bit of comment, all of it bad. Do pop over to see the comments or read the original below...

While the phrase "we’re all in this together" has become rather devalued in political circles of late, it’s still very much in vogue in the Liberal Democrats. Over here, we’re pretty much up to our necks in it together, and the spirit of party democracy still burns brightly.
Thus the general election call to arms has taken place and we’ve all been invited to submit our contributions and ideas to the 2015 manifesto. I can only imagine what it must be like for the poor souls on the receiving end of our missives. But, hey, that’s party democracy for you.
In reference to this, the suggestion has been made that we should avoid setting out any manifesto red lines at this stage. Prompted by Nick’s resolute defence of the HS2 project (and the inevitable is it 'a red line?' question, given Labour's vacillations), Lib Dem Voice has wondered out loud about this:
"'Red lines' are tricky territory for our politicians. If Nick says, implicitly or explicitly, that HS2 (or any other policy) is a red line then he’s limiting his room for manoeuvre in any coalition negotiations. And after the party’s scarring experience of the tuition fees U-turn, we can hardly afford to offer more hostages to fortune by making categoric promises we find ourselves unable to keep."
I couldn’t disagree more. I think we need some red lines drawn ASAP.
Firstly, I think we need to do this because of the tuition fees U-turn. Trust is the main obstacle we face. We shouldn’t shy away from it. We should acknowledge it (and indeed, we’ve already had a mea culpa moment), state the lesson we’ve learned and put down some markers to judge us by. Tackle the trust issue head on.
Secondly, given Nick has already accepted that for us to remain in government means another coalition, the manifesto will turn into a 'two parter' – three or four policies that we guarantee voters will get if they vote Lib Dem, with the rest of the manifesto a statement of wishes and aspirations that will form our side of the collation negotiations. We have form on this – the 2010 manifesto clearly stated our four priorities, and those have formed the cornerstone of everything we’ve done in government. We need to state our four priorities this time – and give ourselves the maximum time possible to hammer that message home.
Why? Because of my third issue. Our (in my view misguided) 'two halves to the Parliament' strategy means we spent the first half of this government joined to the hip with the Tories, alienating many of our supporters from the left. Now we’ve embarked on our full throttle differentiation strategy, we’re hell bent on alienating those on the right. As the eminent Lib Dem blogger Jonathan Calder puts it: "I suspect that the problem here is his (Nick Clegg’s) often-declared strategy of making the Liberal Democrats a centre party. Because being such a party can easily turn you into the champions of the status quo and thus the opponent of anyone who proposes radical reforms. And, as so often, I wonder who Nick expects to vote Liberal Democrat next time."
The answer to the problem he poses is, of course, that we need to set out some chunky, bite-size, easily understood policy built on principle and spend the next 548 days telling voters 'here are our rock solid guarantees'. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being the centre party per se – it’s the zigzag on positioning that, ahem, confuses folk
Will these policies become hostages to fortune? Sure, but at least everyone would know the price of the ransom – and then they can decide whether they want to pay it.