'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Monday 23 December 2013

Biscuits that look like David Cameron?

Here you go

Liberal Voice of the Year

It's getting to that time of the year when we vote on Lib Dem Voice's Liberal Voice of the Year - once they've completed the shortlist. And they've called for suggestions. I have a few...

Of course, everyone thinks it will be a shoe in for Nelson Mandela. They are probably right.  Even in his passing, he has probably done more for Liberal causes that the rest of us can achieve in a lifetime. He would be a worthy winner

But he is not my vote.

I think Time's 'Person of the Year' Pope Francis, would also be a fine choice. Who would have thought this time last year that I could even think of nominating the Pope? Although articles like this make me think again...

But anyway,  he is not my choice

I am intrigued by the President of Uruguay, who of course, has just legalised Cannabis in his country. Having read a little about him, he seems an extraordinary man. 

But he is not my choice.

An interesting and perhaps controversial choice would be Ed Miliband. No, stop spitting out your cornflakes. Either by accident of design , political slight of hand or political battering, he probably is the one person in the world who stopped the world going to war with Syria. For that alone, he would be a fine winner.

But my choice is the person who should have won it last year. Who has continued to show she is a fine liberal voice, an inspiration to the world.

My choice is Malala Yousafzai

This immigration row. Is it a Tory plot...?

George Eaton has written a post today in the Staggers pointing out that Vince cable did not compare David Cameron to Enoch Powell, and suggesting that the Tory outrage being expressed is all about getting Vince to resign/be sacked, essentially out of devilment more than anything else.

" ' I think there's a bigger picture here. We periodically get these immigration panics, I remember going back to Enoch Powell and 'rivers of blood' and all that, and if you go back a century there were panics over Jewish immigrants. The responsibility of politicians in this situation when people are getting anxious is to try to reassure them and give them facts and not panic and resort to populist measures that do harm'.
Read in context, it is clear that he was not comparing Cameron to Powell (any more than he was comparing him to 19th century anti-semites) but criticising his failure to respond effectively to the real Powells of today (Nigel Farage et al). The mention of "rivers of blood" was merely a reference to one of the defining examples of past tensions over immigration".

George makes a good case -  but I'm not so sure that's the sum of it. I think there is a bigger game afoot.

As I've written in the comments...

"Is there not a bigger game going on here? The Tories need the Lib Dems to come back in the polls and start retaking voters who have switched to Labour as a result of the Lib Dems going into government with the Tories. Staggers readers will argue that this won't happen, that voters who have switched are so angry with the Lib Dems that they will never come back, and polling backs this up to some extent - but it's the Tories only real chance of getting a majority.
For it to happen, the Tories reason, the left of the Lib Dems need to try and take control of the party from Clegg, as he is the biggest impediment to regaining voters from the left. Tim Farron is unlikely to force a leadership bid this side of the election - but Cable, if he is ever to lead the party, probably does.
So they argue, lets get Cable to resign, start stirring trouble, and wait for the European elections to panic the Lib Dems into changing leader.
Frankly, its a slightly desperate plan and isn't going to happen. But I wonder if that isn't what's in their minds anyway..."

Friday 20 December 2013

Oh dear. It appears I am guilty of the crime of #everydaysexism

So, I wrote a piece for the NewStatesman yesterday, opining that I hoped one of the 2 women eligible to be the new Deputy leader of the Lib Dems (Tessa Munt and Lorely Burt) emerged from the pack victorious.

I was, in truth, quite pleased with it. We have a huge under representation of women in the party in the House of commons (7 out of 57 MPs and none in the cabinet) and this seemed the perfect opportunity to get a woman into a high profile position in the party - which I thought (and still think) would be a good thing.

And lots of people said nice things about the piece.

And then the ever vigilant Jennie Rigg took me to task.

And she wasn't the only one...

Others who has promoted my article found the same...

... and to be honest I can see what Jennie and others mean.

While the headline on the article is slightly misleading ( I didn't write 'The Lib Dems should elect a female deputy leader to address their women problem'), the main thrust of my article is that I hope Tessa or Lorely win because they are women. I do also happen to believe that they would both be brilliant. As of course would Julian or Duncan or Nick Harvey or any of the other men mentioned. We have a surfeit of riches.

But I didn't actually say that. and I probably should have.

So apologies. Won't happen again.

Anywhere, here's what called the stink

While the world feigns indifference at the news that there is to be a new deputy leader of the Lib Dems, following Simon Hughes's elevation into government (pretend all you like, but I know you care really), the party is buzzing with speculation about who will get the nod.
It’s a limited field – essentially Lib Dem MPs who are not part of the government– and already several names are being mooted. The right are pushing Jeremy Browne and already have a #teamjezza hashtag running. The left are pushing the activists' favourite, Julian Huppert. Everyone’s wondering if Tim Farron will have another go (and if he needs the bother). And of course there’s the endless amusement the election of Nick Harvey would provide, given it does appear Nick Clegg is not his absolute favourite person. What fun their daily catch-ups would be.
But all of those folk, and most of the other names getting mentioned in dispatches – Duncan Hames, Stephen Gilbert, Andrew George  - have one thing in common. They’re blokes.
Now, it’s easy to overstate the Lib Dems' 'women issue'. After all, we have numerous highly effective female ministers (Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone, Susan Kramer). We have some fantastically talented women in the party outside Westminster like Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Lib Dems or Sharon Bowles MEP, the first Liberal to chair the EU Economic and Monetary Affairs committee. And in candidates like Jane Dodds, Kelly-Marie Blundell and Layla Moran, we have accomplished women standing in winnable seats.
But the fact remains that just seven of our 57 MPs are women (two of whom are standing down in 2015) and we haven’t put a women into the cabinet since taking office. We need to find ways of raising the profile of women in the party in Westminster.
What a brilliant opportunity this is take a step in that direction – and elect one of the two eligible women MPs who could stand for the deputy leader role – Tessa Munt or Lorely Burt. Both are highly respected amongst the grassroots. Both would benefit from the boost in profile the job provides (and let’s not forget they are defending sub-1,000 majorities). And in one fair swoop, we’d have a future female leadership candidate in place. It seems a fair swap for the PPS roles they both currently fulfil.
There’ll be a lot of politics going on right now in Westminster, with soundings being taken and promises made. But I hope Tessa or Lorely grab the chance to stand. And I hope one of them wins.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

David Cameron, Catherine the Great. Separated at birth?

You'll all have seen this by now. But blimey

and just to prove it's no fluke...

Update: Via The Spectator - turns out.... they are related!

Update 2: I see from this piece that the likeness was originally spotted by @sophie_gadd  and that she would like crediting; which is fair enough.

It's just like being Bob Woodward

Alright, not really.

But my little post asking where Nick's Little Black Book is seems to have developed a life of its own.

First, Andrew Rawnsley followed a similar theme in the Observer (entirely coincidentally I believe).

The yesterday, someone in the lobby followed up to Nick, asking the same question at the monthly press briefing (Hat tip George Eaton).

'Elsewhere during the Q&A, Clegg was asked whether he had his own "little black book" of Lib Dem policies blocked by the Tories and cited housing, border checks and banking reform as areas where they had prevented progress'. 

 And Now Benedict Brogan mentioned it in his daily newsletter

'He also reiterates his support for a mansion tax, suggesting that this will be in his "little black book" when the Coalition partners coordinate their divorce before May 2015.'

Many thanks to all.

Monday 16 December 2013

Nick Clegg's Little Yellow Book

While I much like Great George's Street publication 'David Cameron's Little Black Book' I wondered in The Staggers on Friday where our equivalent was - where (Mansion Tax and Lord's Reform apart) are the policies we've wanted to push through but have been blocked by the Tories.

I've reprinted it below. But then 2 days later this piece from Andrew Rawnsley appeared in the Observer, suggesting that the Lib Dem equivalent does indeed exist - the Little Yellow Book, as he calls it.

Which is an entirely good thing. I just wish we all knew what was in it.

Meantime, while they also like the Little Black Book, the Independent suggests it may be a double edged sword....

You could almost hear the whoops of delight from Lib Dem HQ when David Cameron announced he had a little black book of Tory policies blocked by the Lib Dems that will form the heart of the next Tory manifesto. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. And indeed, ever helpful, the Lib Dems have now published the 2015 Tory party manifesto. It’s both an entertaining and slightly troubling read.
It has however, left me wondering where Nick’s little Black Book is?
Now of course, in true Lib Dem style there’s a gargantuan round-Britian-road-trip-and-open-submission-process-and-a-committee-to-boot effort currently going into writing the 2015 Lib Dem manifesto.
But thinking back over the last few years, Lord’s Reform and the Mansion Tax aside, it’s hard to think what Lib Dem policies we’ve had blazing rows about in government that haven’t seen the light of day. Not even the AV referendum – we had it, we just screwed it up.
That’s not to say there haven’t been such rows; just that we don’t talk about them much. And sure, I can list a ton of brilliant Lib Dem policies – Pensions reform, tax thresholds, Pupil Premium, free school meals – that we’ve achieved in government. But you can’t help but feel we were pushing on an open Tory door here, given they were all cracking ideas. And indeed, the Tories now seem set on trying to nick half of them as their own.
I keep hearing that we’re going to spend the next 18 months attacking the Tories and Labour as idealogues, more interested in promoting what they believe than what it actually needed to continue to dig us out of the economic mire.
Can this possibly be true? We’re going to attack other parties because they ‘believes very strongly in particular principles and tries to follow them carefully’ (to use the dictionary definition)?
I wonder if we’ve properly thought that through?
Being the voice of reason, maintaining equidistance between the two parties we may end up in coalition negotiations with come 2015, and maintaining a centrist position is all very well.
But the reason we managed 23 per cent share in the last general election was because people believed we were both ideologues and principled – and not cut from the Tony Blair 'government-by-management' cloth.
Folk will either adore David Cameron’s ideas in his little Black Book, or be horrified by them. But everyone will be certain that he believes them.
I can’t help but think we need a touch of that ourselves.
So Nick. What have Dave and George stopped us doing? I’m all ears.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Is this a BBC Chief Political Correspondent theatrically falling over on the ice?


I think it might be...

For what it's worth, Norman is actually a really good skater. He'd need to be filming round me, on an ice rink. I nearly had him over twice, entirely by accident.

It's beginning to look a lot like..a by-election in Richmond Park In February

So, if press reports are to be believed, it seems likely that when the Davies report delivers its interim findings next week, all of the options will include a third  - and even a fourth - runway for Heathrow.

If this is true - then far from kicking the issue into the long grass, Heathrow expansion could become government policy overnight. Bad news for both the Tories and of course ourselves.

But Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park (including Ham Common) has been pretty clear what his response to that will be. As he said in April 2010..

"I said there will be no Heathrow expansion under our Government, there will be no charges for parking in Richmond Park and Kingston Hospital will be safe.
"If any of those promises are broken I will trigger a byelection and allow people to penalise my party."
And so, it seems clear if the Davies Commission makes Heathrow expansion inevitable, then we will be delivering a lot of leaflets round my way for the first 6 weeks of 2014.
It will also be interesting to see who the Tory candidate will be. Will Zac restand? - or will another avowed opponent of Heathrow expansion step into the frame? (as predicted by this blog over a year ago). (and 3 days before the Mail on Sunday stood it up). 

Could it be Boris time?


Zac is now actively promoting a petition aimed at Cameron...


To be fair again to Zac, he made his position very clear on Newsnight (Friday). This from the Telegraph

Mr Goldsmith, told BBC’s Newsnight: “If the Government changes its position on Heathrow expansion I will trigger a by-election, and if it happens in the manifesto of the next election then I certainly wouldn’t stand as a Conservative.”
Mr Goldsmith said that a u-turn could be “catastrophic” for the Prime Minister, who personally visited constituencies before the 2010 election and promised no expansion.

Sunday 8 December 2013

How do we get credit for the 'stronger economy' part of our mantra?

Here's my latest piece for the New Statesman. They went with the headline 'why the Lib Dems will struggle to get any credit for the recovery' which in truth is probably a more accurate reflection of the piece - but the headline above is more the question I'd like to answer - or have an answer to.

" 'Without the Liberal Democrats, there wouldn't be a recovery.' That's Clegg's election line there", tweeted the very astute editor of this blog during Nick’s stint at Prime Minister's Questions this week and there’s every indication that he’s right to say that’s what we’ll be hanging our hat on in 2015. The same line was tweeted moments later by the Lib Dem Press Office and Danny Alexander has written to members with a similar message after the Autumn Statement
“This recovery would not have been possible without us, and neither would the vast majority of the positive measures in today’s Autumn Statement. In fact, setting the Tory Marriage Tax break to one side, the Autumn Statement is packed full of Liberal Democrat ideas.”
And of course, it also happens to be true (though I don’t suppose that fact will feature much in the comments section of The Staggers), not least because by going into coalition in the first place we provided a more stable government than any other option allowed at a time of great economic uncertainty.
And yet it’s hard to escape the notion that this will be painted as anything other than a Tory victory. This recovery runs to a traditional Conservative narrative -  harsh medicine applied to a patient suffering from a potentially fatal illness, ignoring the cries and the pleas for mercy, because they know what’s good for you. Of course, it’s not precisely true – as Stephen Tall has pointed out, Plan A got abandoned (or at least diluted) some time ago. But that’s how the story is playing out.  And it suits the Tories that it does so, because it means they can own it.
Hence the willingness to dump the "green crap", the huskies, and any notions of hugging a hoodie. Because it’s the nasty party that owns the economic narrative. And let’s not forget, after three years of austerity, recession and economic malaise, that nasty party is only 3 or 4% worse off in the polls than when it was running against the most unpopular Labour government for a generation or more (this morning’s YouGov poll notwithstanding).
I fear the Tories think the nasty party narrative suddenly has traction and electoral credibility. And it’s that single-mindedness that will make it so hard for the Lib Dems to claim any credit for the economic recovery. Not helped by the fact that the 'differentiation strategy' dictates that, for the second half of the parliament, we are meant to distance ourselves from the Tories at every turn.
Sure, Lib Dems will be awarded the odd battle in the court of public opinion – raising the tax threshold, free school meals, pension reform. But the narrative of the Autumn Statement is triumph for Osborne, disaster for Balls. The battle for the Lib Dems will be to get nary a mention at all.