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EXCLUSIVE: Nick congratulates Guido Westerwelle

By Mark Littlewood
September 30th, 2009 at 11:53 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in EU Politics, UK Politics

nicks-letter-to-fdp1Following Liberal Vision’s celebration of the rise to power of the German liberals, Nick Clegg has now written to congratulate their leader Guido Westerwelle following the superb performance of  the Free Democrats in last weekend’s election.

It’s not on Nick’s or the party’s website yet, as far as I can see.

And the “latest news” from Nick’s constituency website is that – about six weeks ago –  he wrote to congratulate someone called Jessica Ennis, who apparently won the heptahlon at an athletics event in Berlin in the Summer. It appears that she went to school in Sheffield Hallam. You can read his letter to Ms. Ennis here.

His letter to Guido Westerwelle – dated yesterday –  is available in full here. My GCSE German is a little rusty – but I’m guessing it’s all pretty damned positive stuff.

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GUEST POST – Does debt forgiveness prop up despots?

By admin
September 30th, 2009 at 12:35 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

Congo (Brazzaville) is one of the poorest countries on earth and fares badly on most measures of human well-being.  It also has enormous natural resources, particularly oil wealth which could, if used for the benefit of Congo’s citizens, provide the government with revenue to build schools, hospitals and roads.  Yet Congo’s political leadership has captured that oil wealth for their personal enrichment and use it to stifle any opposition.  As this documentary on Al Jazeera explains (see below) Denis Sassou Nguesso has robbed Congo and spends lavishly on himself and his family while ordinary Congolese starve.

This might sound like yet another story from the region – yet as Al Jazeera explains Congo’s corrupt elite have new friends in the US.  Hard lobbying in the US has ensure that some Congressmen are now backing plans to limit secondary debt markets that would allow companies that have bought defaulted Congolese debt to make Nguesso pay.  It is thanks to the legal action by these secondary debt traders that details of Nguesso’s corruption have emerged and stopping this action simply enriches the elites further while betraying the people of Congo.

The UK is now considering similar legislation which would require the forgiveness of all debt to countries like Congo, Sudan, Guinea, Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea – all of which have awful human rights records and are economically unfree.  Lord Peter Baur once wrote that donor aid is the process of transferring wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.  The same could be said for debt forgiveness and stifling the secondary debt markets to the venal and kleptocratic governments that in no way deserve forgiveness.

Richard Tren is a director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group.

The LibDem response to Tory “love bombing” should be to “love bomb” Cameron right back

By Mark Littlewood
September 29th, 2009 at 12:00 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

david-cameron-and-cute-puppyAn interesting subtext of the conference season is how Labour and the LibDems intend to attack the Tories and eat into Cameron’s opinion poll lead.

The Labour approach is to claim that the Conservatives will slash frontline services, occasionally peppered with attempts to portray Cameron and Osbourne as detached, aloof, well-heeled toffs (by, for example, having Labour campaigners prance around Crewe and Nantwich in bowler hats).

The “official” LibDem line (i.e. Clegg’s) is to assert that Cameron is a phoney. The LibDems are “the real thing”, while the Tories are an insipid “fake change” alternative.

Chris Huhne toyed with an alternative strategy – but pulled back from labeling William Hague as a modern day, Munich-putsch organising skinhead in his keynote speech. Nevertheless, in Huhne’s widely reported clash on the Today programme with Eric Pickles, he relentlessly pursued the line that Cameron’s Tories haven’t changed and are essentially right-wing extremists.

I don’t think either Huhne’s or Clegg’s approach is likely to work.

The problem with Nick’s approach is two-fold.

Firstly, it suggests that the LibDems and the Tories are merely differently brands of a very similar product. We’re Coca Cola, they’re Pepsi. We’re Guinness, they’re Beamish. We’re M&S, they’re Mr Byrite.

I bang on relentlessly about the need for us to appeal to soft Tories, but I think we need to do this by offering a superior product not merely by arguing about brand superiority.

Secondly, the electorate don’t know enough about the LibDem product for them to be able to pick up these “real” and “fake” distinctions. If the LibDems were a fizzy drink, the public probably wouldn’t think of us as Coke, they’d think of us as Panda Cola. The makers of Panda Cola don’t advertise that they are “more real” than Coke (partly because – like the LibDems – they don’t have much of a budget to advertise at all).

Chris Huhne’s approach is also flawed. The voters might not be sold on Cameron, but they do believe he is a pretty moderate bloke who has decontaminated the Tory party.  “New Tories, New Danger” will be as ineffective in 2010 as the Blair red eyes advert was in 1997. Portraying Hague as a krypto-Nazi just doesn’t chime with where the public are and, anyway, isn’t remotely true.

So, my (risky) approach would be to love bomb the Tory leadership right back, in an attempt to open up clear daylight between Cameron’s frontbench and the more antediluvian elements of the Conservative party.

If Eric Pickles is attempting to seduce you on early morning radio, don’t shout down the microphone that he’s sitting there in a Gestapo outfit and an armband (apologies for the ghastly image that conjures up). Say how delighted you are that Eric and Dave are 100% fully committed to Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, but that you’re a mite concerned that this internationalist sentiment is not universally shared by his fellow MPs.

If the Tory leader has just been on television hugging a hoodie, explain how pleased you are that the Tory leader is embracing more liberal approaches to crime and punishment, but you hope he’s also weeding out the “flog ’em, hang ’em” wing of his party.

Support for Cameron amongst the electorate is wide, but shallow. This point is made endlessly by those arguing that the next election is still wide open. But enthusiasm for Cameron within his own party is pretty fragile too – amazingly so given their poll lead after a dozen years in the wilderness. Many think that splits and divisions will come to the surface within days (or even hours) of Cameron entering Downing Street. We’d be doing the electorate a great service by exposing these splits before polling day rather than waiting for them to naturally emerge afterwards.


Guest Post: Labour hail the Minimum Wage

By admin
September 29th, 2009 at 9:38 am | 14 Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

labour2It seems Nu-Labour are just desperate to remind us of all their ‘good’ policies. Probably because there is an election coming up and they’ve destroyed the economy, public finances, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Education system…

Anyway, one of the ‘good’ policies they wish to remind us of is the minimum wage. Which was recently promoted by Jack Scott on Labour List

Next week, the minimum wage will rise to £5.80. Since it was first introduced in the teeth of Conservative opposition, the minimum wage has risen by 81.25%, far outstripping a decade of low inflation. Does anyone believe the Tories would have raised it above inflation so consistently?

Since its introduction, Labour has also legislated to ensure tips do not count towards the minimum wage and that there are the toughest powers in Europe for rogue employers who break the law. The

Conservatives voted against the introduction of the minimum wage and its strengthening, which went through Parliament last year.

In addition, David Cameron opposed longer maternity and paternity leave and flexible working – so much for Cameron’s compassionate conservatism.

Only a Labour government can truly protect workers’ rights. The minimum wage remains one of Labour’s most powerful expressions of our values in action. I am immensely proud of the difference it makes to the lives of the UK’s million lowest paid workers.

For socialists and Nu-Labour the minimum wage is a traditional, social good. It takes profits from evil capitalists and shares it among the workers. Hurrah!

However, in reality it is debatable whether the minimum wage is a social good. In fact I would argue it isn’t. And they’re are two main reasons for this.

The first and most obvious is that it raises the cost of business — unnecessarily — as businesses are forced to raise the wages of low skilled employees. And this is an important point. Because while it may seem that there are lots of evil capitalists out their making huge sums of money by exploiting workers the truth is very different. The majority of businesses are SMEs which make very small profits. So whenever costs of business go up these businesses are under threat as their profit margins are much smaller than the ones enjoyed by the Tescos of this world. And of course this therefore puts many jobs at risk.

The second — and most important — reason is that the minimum wage will never actually raise the value of labour. It is impossible to raise an asset’s value by simply declaring it has a greater value. Or at least it’s not possible to do this for very long. The reasons for this should be obvious. It is because the factors that influence value — such as supply/demand — don’t actually change simply because of some government declaration.

For example imagine it was decided that bakers were the most important part of our economy and that they were being underpaid for their fine work. The government therefore sets a National Minimum Bread Price of £3 per loaf. Sounds great for the bakers. But this action is unlikely to make bakers better-off or happy. Instead it will probably cause people to buy less bread. Because in real terms the bread has become no more valuable — so why will people pay more for it?

And the same rules apply for the value of labour. One of the main consequences of the minimum wage is it makes low skilled workers less employable. Because unless your skills/labour are worth £5.80ph or above, who will employ you? No-one. You’d have to be a very poor business man to employ someone who’s work was not worth the money you paid them.

People should be very hesitant to support the minimum wage. Because while it sounds nice on the surface it has a number of drawbacks. It jeopardises business profitability — which risks jobs. And it makes many of the low skilled unemployable. Which means they may never acquire the experience or skills that will help them gain higher wages in the future.

Ultimately if people want to improve the lot of the lower paid it can only be achieved by generating more wealth. And that cannot be achieved by placing undue burdens on business or creating limitations to employment. So if you are a Nu-Labour supporter I think you need to search a little harder for those ‘good’ policies that you are trying to remind us of.

Rob Waller sits on the NCC of the Libertarian Party and regularly posts for the LPUK South East Blog.

Classical liberalism, hung Parliaments and coalition government…is Germany a glimpse of our future?

By Mark Littlewood
September 28th, 2009 at 9:03 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in EU Politics

ZRE_Westerwelle.inddThe LibDems’ sister party in Germany – the free market, socially libertarian Free Democrats – are the real winners of their country’s general election. Their all-time high vote of 15% – secured on a platform of low tax, less regulation and more personal freedom – has propelled them back into power.

Although Merkel’s Christian Democrats slipped backwards slightly in the polls, the FDP’s strong showing allows her to remove the dead hand of the left-leaning Social Democrats (who were slaughtered)  from the federal government. Liberal leader Guido Westerwelle and his colleagues stand on the brink of wielding real clout – and ministerial office – in the EU’s most powerful nation.

I recall Westerwelle leading a delegation of Free Democrats to a LibDem Shadow Cabinet meeting in Westminster in 2006. I can’t remember what the main business of the meeting was, but the FDP’s guest appearance was tagged onto the end – slightly unceremoniously. A real highlight, however, was a LibDem frontbencher asking Westerwelle whether he wanted the Free Democrats to remain in opposition to the grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats, or whether he sought to return to government. The German liberal leader was pretty incredulous. With a friendly frown he said that he wanted to return to government as soon as possible, what was the point of being in permanent opposition? A heavily pregnant pause followed.

Three years on, Guido Westerwelle now has serious power, whilst a major breakthrough for the LibDems remains frustratingly elusive.

David Cameron has congratulated Angela Merkel on her “victory”, but I can’t yet find a similar message from Nick Clegg to his liberal counterpart.

This might be because everyone at LibDem HQ is still recovering from Bournemouth, but it could also reflect the party’s extreme allergic reaction to discussing anything that relates to hung Parliaments or coalitions. If so, that’s a shame because we could learn a lot from the FDP and how a consistent, vigorous liberal manifesto can garner growing popular support and secure high office for its proponents.

So, from Liberal Vision, very heartfelt congratulations to Guido Westerwelle and everyone in the German liberal party.  I hope British liberals can gain confidence and inspiration from your remarkable achievement.

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