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Clegg and Cable – could it be like Owen and Steel all over again?

By Mark Littlewood
September 26th, 2009 at 7:07 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

owen-and-steelThe good news is that the shambolic party conference has not impacted on us in the polls (yet) – the you gov poll in tomorrow’s Telegraph has the LibDems on 20% (+3%), the Tories are down two points on 39% and Labour down one on 26%.

But my worry was not so much that we’d crash because of a few bad headlines, but that our communications infrastructure may not be robust enough to withstand the rigours of a General Election campaign.

Vince Cable’s high profile and popularity should be a great asset at the next election. However, it also raises some difficulties. The Liberal Democrats now have, to some extent, a dual leadership – not wholly dissimilar to that of the two Davids in 1987. The parallel is not a happy one.

By common acceptance, the Alliance campaign in 1987 was the worst of the three parties – and a fair chance of coming second in vote share at the outset was comprehensivley squandered in a confusing tangle of contradictory  messages coming from the mouths of Owen and Steel. With the two men on a punishing schedule – and often at different ends of the country – any differences of nuance were ruthlessly exposed by the media as evidence of fundamental cracks in the SDP-Liberal Alliance.

A similar risk surely applies to the Nick and Vince show in 2010. Of course, the Owen-Steel relationship was characterised by a personal animosity that doesn’t apply in the Clegg-Cable case. But cordiality does not firefproof you against blunders.

Both Nick and Vince have an endearing tendency to say what they think. These are not tedious, automaton politicians who parrot a script. And therein lies the danger. One can imagine it now – Nick is in Manchester expounding, say, the need for savage spending cuts, while Vince is in Cornwall saying that cuts certainly need not to be savage, but will have to be serious. In the heat of an election campaign, a small distintion in emphasis or the choice of slightly different adjectives will be all the press pack need to start running stories of LibDem chaos and confusion.

Modern communications technology (they didn’t have mobile phones or the internet in the dark days of the late 80s), should help mitigate this risk. On the other hand, the very nature of today’s relentless rolling news media means exponentially greater opportunities for gaffes.

One thing’s for sure – we’ll need much better co-ordination of messages than was evident in Bournemouth. Three or four weeks of such confusion would dash any realistic hope of gaining support as the election campaign progressed.

UPDATE 9pm, 26th September: Perhaps conference mayhem is what the public want to see! ICM have the Tories on 40% (-3%), Labour on 26% (+-0)% and LibDems on 23% (+4%). If Labour’s conference is a funeral and the Tories get into a lather about Lisbon, maybe these numbers will hold up next month.

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The answers I want from my Tory candidate in Battersea

By Mark Littlewood
September 25th, 2009 at 11:07 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

jane-ellisonJane Ellison is my Conservative PPC in the uber-marginal seat of Battersea (Labour majority 164)

If the Tories don’t win here, Gordon Brown will have been re-elected – probably with an increased Parliamentary majority.

So, I read Ms. Ellison’s “Reporting Back” leaflet with interest.

In some ways, it’s a great mimick of LibDemmery.

There’s all sorts of pictures of Jane at all sorts of civic functions.

She helpfully tells us that the leaflet was paid for and distributed by Tory volunteers (is Michael Ashcroft a volunteer?)

Painfully, there’s a list of helplines on the inside front panel of the leaflet. Covering everything from a graffiti hotline to advice on influenza. They even tell you the telephone number for National Rail Enquiries  (it’s 08457 48 49 50  just in case you haven’t mastered google yet)

Balancing the books doesn’t seem to figure though. So, Ive dropped her a line.

Well, I tried to.

But unfortunately is down at the moment, and so my email bounced. I had to send it to

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Jane,

Thanks for your August/September newsletter, which I’ve now read in its entirety.

I am most concerned – given the country is hurtling towards a debt of £1.4 trillion – that there wasn’t very much information about the cuts you will be advocating if you’re successful as the local Conservative candidate and/or the Conservatives form the next government.

You seem to have a number of spending pledges in your pamphlet, for example:

1. Improved maternity provision

2. Return of health services to Bolingbroke Hospital

3. Requiring all new health centres to offer longer, flexible hours and walk-in services

4. Extension of the tube network into east Battersea

5. Forcing rail companies to provide longer trains and extended platforms

You also mention one tax issue – the rise in business rates (which you oppose).

I assume you can deliver all of the above spending commitments by raising other taxes?

From what I can ascertain, it seems you support less tax and more government spending at a time when the United Kingdom is practically bankrupt.

I was wondering if you could give me an indication of what cuts you would like to see in public expenditure?

Which current expenditure projects would you like to see axed?

I was also a bit bemused to see a list of telephone numbers on the inside panel of your leaflet – all from quangos dealing with everything from influenza to graffiti.

I’d understood that the Conservatives were going to slice back on quangos.

Which of the quangos listed in your leaflet do you think should be abolished?

I look forward to your early reply.

With all best wishes,


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Greg Dyke gets it…so should we…

By Angela Harbutt
September 25th, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Comments Off on Greg Dyke gets it…so should we… | Posted in UK Politics

greg-dykeBack from Bournemouth, and having caught up on my much-needed sleep and given myself time to reflect on the events of the week, my first offering (hopefully not my last, but we’ll see)  is this.

 Get Greg Dyke involved in Lib Dem policy on constitutional and democratic reform NOW !

If not spokesman then roving ambassador/tzar /advisor …something… Please.

Having listened to him speak at the Liberal Vision Fringe meeting “Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem” he is clearly not only one of the most eloquent speakers on the subject – but one of the most passionate. HE JUST GETS IT. ….

“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming…yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system, the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one, are the groups most in denial about what is really happening”

He not only “gets it” – HE SAYS IT STRAIGHT. ….

“…most MPs can’t do their jobs…. When I was director-general of the BBC I regularly appeared before select committees and often had quite dumb people coming and giving me tough questions….How can those people question you now? How can someone who’s flipped their mortgage possibly sit there and start asking me about expenditure at the BBC? Because you just come back at them. I think some (MP’s) are completely undermined by this. They should go because they can’t do the job”


You see, his speech was not just an analysis of what is so wrong with the current system – but a damn compelling recipe for putting it right… “…halving the number of MPs….electoral reform (some form of Proportional reform)…an elected House of Lords…the abolition of the whips system…moving parliament out of Westminster into a building fit for 21st century politics ” etc..

On Sunday’s London Politics Show  Mark Littlewood suggested that one area that the Lib Dems could and should do more is on the area of democratic and constitutional reform. I think he is spot on. This is not the same old moan about how unfair the current “first past the post” system is ( that no one cares about).

This is bang-on topical. That chimes with people’s anger and frustration with Westminster politics.The expenses scandal exposed all the flaws of the current political system. And the frustration and anger with all politicians and the whole political system can still be felt on every door step, every day. People have not forgotten about it , even if the media dont talk about it anymore.

Nick Clegg showed his understanding of the public mood when he “broke with tradition” to be the first party leader to call for the Speaker Michael Martin to go and when he made the suggestion that Parliament should abandon summer recess to sort out the mess left in the expensesgate wake.

But, we seem to have stopped there….

I may be wrong but I did not hear any promise to clean up politics, reinstate the balance of power in favour of the people, bring the political system kicking and screaming into the 21st century, in the Leaders speech on Wednesday. Perhaps it was there – but if so it was buried.

My suggestion to Nick is this. Let us be the party of constitutional and democratic reform. Build this in as a fundamental plank of our election strategy. People should know that we hear the country’s demand  for a fundamental wholesale change to our democratic system – and spell out WHAT we would change and WHEN.  

And Greg Dyke is quite simply the best advocate of democratic and constitutional reform that there is.

Nick, please, take up this fight. And get on that phone to Greg. Persuade him to take up the Lib Dem banner on this. He may well, of course say no. BUT. If you can get him to say yes..the nation will thank you for it. And so will the party.

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GUEST POST: My 1st LibDem conference – libertarianism, late nights and luscious Lynne

By admin
September 24th, 2009 at 9:36 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

lynne-featherstone1I am on the National Executive of Freedom2Choose, a pro choice smoking group was a guest of Liberal Vision at this year’s Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth. Last year I had gone to the Conservative Party conference for the Free Society fringe meeting but needed a pair of binoculars to see the podium. I assumed this was the norm.

So, it was with a certain amount of incredulity that stumbling back from dinner I walked into Paddy Ashdown and Nick Clegg sharing a beer and having a chat on the steps of the conference hotel. I can’t imagine bumping into Gordon Brown or David Cameron in the same informal way. This set a pleasant tone of informal approachability for my two days in Bournemouth.

Another positive was that I don’t think many Lib Dems have heard of Sir Liam Donaldson (or perhaps they just don’t listen to him). The bar at the Highcliffe Marriott was packed until 5.00 am, and there were plenty of people smoking (shock, horror) on the terrace.

An early start at 9.30 on Tuesday, meant I had five hours to hand out leaflets outside the conference hall, promoting that evening’s Liberal Vision fringe.

I am sure the MPs and delegates get harangued all day long with people thrusting flyers into their hands – but most who declined were polite and many received them enthusiastically. The most hostile cpmment of the day was “the last thing we need is libertarians”, but I never feared that I was in danger of being hurled over a wall by an itinerant Liberal backbencher.

An audience of over sixty at the LV fringe seemed to indicate that lifestyle freedom is high up the agenda for many Liberal Democrats.

An outstanding and stimulating panel had been assembled including Tom Clougherty of the Adam Smith Institute, Simon Clark of Forest/Free Society, Lib Dem blogger Charlotte Gore, Colin Eldridge a Lib Dem councillor and PPC for Liverpool Wavertree and Dr. Belinda Brooks-Gordon, Psychologist and Lib Dem Councillor. The event was chaired expertly by Liberal Vision Director, Mark Littlewood. In the audience were the libertarian blogger Dick “no breakfast” Puddlecote and author Chris “call me at 5.00 am” Snowdon. It was refreshing to hear so many Lib Dems support liberalisation in a wide range of arenas – from drugs to the sex industry.

The exception to the general libertarian love-in on the panel was Colin Eldridge who defended proposals to restrict the depiction of smoking in films watchable by under-18s. He was articulate and had a vaguely coherent case but the room was not on his side. Colin however more than saved himself when he mentioned that Liverpool council had introduced tolerance zones for sex workers and that he would personally like to see an amendment to the smoking ban. He was also great company in the bar afterwards.

I also got the chance to meet two Lib Dem MPs, Lembit Opik and Greg Mullholland. Not only were they engaging to talk to, they listened intently to others’ views and were also open to possible amendments to the smoking ban. Although Freedom2Choose are not party political affiliated, I wish them both well in the next general election.

It appears that many Liberal Democrats identify with the rising tide of resentment against the nanny state. If the party leadership followed suit, they could be on to a vote winner.

I came away with a pretty positive view of the Liberal Democrats – and enjoyed many great conversations and lively debates. A final delight was seeing Lynne Featherstone in the flesh (so, to speak) looking gorgeous.

Dave Atherton is on the National Executive of Freedom 2 Choose


Do the LibDems lack a distinct message – or even a purpose?

By Mark Littlewood
September 24th, 2009 at 6:49 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

An interesting article by David Herdson on asks if the party now lacks a unique selling proposition.

I agree with him when he says “Third parties trying to sound like governments end up sounding deluded (because no-one expects them to win) and / or irrelevant (because the bigger parties are likely to be saying something similar).”

Our messages still amount to a policy shopping list – not an understandable narrative.

UPDATE: I agree with a lot of what Simon Jenkins says in his biting article on Tuesday. I missed this at Bournemouth. Thanks to those who have brought it to my attention.