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London 2012 backs the coalition

By Andy Mayer
May 19th, 2010 at 11:01 pm | 12 Comments | Posted in Culture


Given the new Olympic mascots Wenlock and Mandeville must have been many months in development the similarities between them and the symbols of the new government are just eerie.

  • Both are men of steel forged in the last gasp of manufacturing under the last Government
  • Both are shiny and claim to be “reflecting the people, places and things we meet along the way as we travel around the UK. You might see yourself reflected if we meet you!”
  • They’re both “novices”, who learn as they go
  • Wenlock looks rather like the Liberal Democrat logo has exploded on his chest.
  • Mandeville the more traditional of the two looks rather like the old Conservative torch
  • Wenlock the Parliamentary constituency was abolished in 1885. It was a multi-member constituency… split between one Conservative and one Liberal
  • Stoke Mandeville is in the constituency of Aylesbury, a seat that has only ever been held by Liberals or Conservatives.
  • The Wenlock Olympian Games are to the modern Olympic games rather like the Liberal Democrat party to the rest. Gloriously amateur, locally focused, and inexplicably still going on largely unchanged after 150 years.
  • The Stoke Mandeville Games gave rise to the modern Paralympics. Originally a contest for old soldiers with crippling limitations, the association gradually grew in scope through troubled flirtations with Europe before accepting the need to look to the rest of the world and accept a wider variety of people with different limitations. Despite that change by the modernisers the core of movement is still going and remains focused narrowly on their original tradition.
  • Ominously Wenlock and Mandeville claim their “final destination is 2012″…

Term limit new peers to ensure reform

By Andy Mayer
May 18th, 2010 at 12:42 am | 21 Comments | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Yesterday’s news that the new coalition will seek to ennoble a significant number of new peers to reflect the vote shares in the last election is an uncomfortable reminder of the realpolitik facing the new government.

It would be very easy to regard this as an entirely cynical measure, paying off worthy servants of the party machines and unlucky candidates for their contribution.

It is also a blunt reality that the House of Lords currently over-represents the Labour party and under-represents the Government. Given no one can be sacked, and no one in the Lords has any democratic legitimacy to be there, should the Government risk their entire agenda being derailed for this?

This was not a position taken by the last Government, who also used an ‘interim measure’, with a promise of future reform, never delivered, to improve their own position.

The most popular option to avoid repeating such an exercise would be to push through second chamber reform at the same time. But there is no consensus between the parties, or within some, on what this reform looks like. More democratic, entirely democratic, revolution, bridging arrangements, term lengths, electoral system, titles, actual powers and so on, the range of views is wide, and the iron law of self-interest would suggest most deeply held by those favouring the status quo. It will take time to build a consensus on how to remove this feudal relic from our constitution.

An easier step towards reform though would be put forward a proposal for term limits for all new peers to the current House. Perhaps 5 years, perhaps more. Perhaps no more than two terms possible for any of them.

This does not then require the current turkeys to vote for Christmas, makes reform in the interest of the new appointments, and puts them under the clock to deliver. It would provide some of the pressure of accountability current lacking.

It is not a very radical step. But that is the point. The new coalition cannot deliver a radical agenda to the peers until there is a consensus. In the interim it needs to dilute Labour’s blocking minority, and it needs to do so in a way that supports the Liberal Conservative reform narrative, rather than undermining it. I’m not sure there are many ways of doing that quickly that stand a chance of passage through the current second Chamber.

Who then gets appointed and how is a different question. Personally I’d like to see a party approval process at least as rigorous as that required for potential MPs, then an open selection process in the manner of a ‘amIhotornot’ website where the public can rate the contenders. That’s about as close as we can get to a national primary for a large number of candidates quickly and cheaply. I’d also bar anyone in paid employment by either the government or the parties, unless they choose to resign.

The current Liberal Democrat option is an inward-looking peers panel process of hacks choosing hacks that acts as a suggestion box for the Party Leader, and can be ignored. It is not ideal nor particularly useful.

Lastly I’d say isn’t it about time John Stevens got a peerage? Securing 10,000 votes against the Speaker and pushing Nigel Farage into third place on an anti-sleaze platform is one of the best results by any independent candidate. And it is just possible he could claim to be the only true Liberal Conservative candidate in the election. One who oddly finds himself with a government but no position within it.

Petition to save man condemned to death for “sorcery”

By Julian Harris
May 17th, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Comments Off on Petition to save man condemned to death for “sorcery” | Posted in International Politics, Personal Freedom

“Re-Tweet”, or whatever the kids are saying these days, from the blog of Tom Palmer:

Click here for Tom’s explanation of the case.

Click here to sign the petition.

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Labour MP Stephen Pound faces homophobic heckling claims

By Julian Harris
May 17th, 2010 at 2:13 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

poundLast weekend I ambled somewhat indifferently to the Wengerdome to see the Arsenal v Fulham.  While the last game of the season is a nice one to attend – one can bid one’s side’s young players farewell for the summer – on this occasional it was essentially a nothing-game. Arsenal needed only a draw to guarantee a top 3 finish, and Fulham needed nothing. All a bit boring.

Not so it seems for Labour MP Stephen Pound who (unlike yours truly, owner of the cheapest variety of season ticket) was located amid the prawn sandwich section in a £35,000 a year executive box.

How the other half live, what what?

So animated was Mr Pound that he was reprimanded by a steward for using loud, abusive language and making obscene gestures. But worse, if to be believed, are allegations that he was shouting homophobic abuse at Arsenal defender Sol Campbell.

Not good, not good.

The website has more.

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Birmingham 1, Ross Skye & Lochaber 0

By Andy Mayer
May 16th, 2010 at 8:07 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

The news from Birmingham is that the Special Conference has voted to endorse the Liberal Conservative coalition agreement, and has amended the motion to do so to ensure that the Liberal Democrats are…

  • reminded that Labour were really ghastly and unhelpful
  • still a political party
  • not in favour of encouraging inequality
  • except when it comes to subsidising well off students
  • reminded of a policy motion passed 3 months ago
  • still in favour of Human Rights
  • particularly for people staying in B&Bs of which Chris Grayling disapproves
  • and still think the electoral system is just horrid.

I think we can all now sleep safely in the knowledge that our liberal representatives in Government are still bound to being liberal by internal party democracy.

The other political news story of the day was that former Leader, Charles Kennedy MP had abstained in Tuesday’s coalition agreement vote, and articulated his reasons in the Observer. Broadly that it was not in line with the long-held hope of successive Liberal Democrat leaders for a realignment of the left.

This is a curious intervention for a number of reasons. First whilst in office Charles Kennedy showed remarkably little interest in co-operation with Labour. Quite the opposite. He ended the informal Joint Consultative Committee (a stool to Blair’s sofa government) set up by Paddy Ashdown, and made a number of moves to reach out to the centre-right.

Where that was concerned, early in his leadership, Kennedy worked closely with Mark Oaten. Oaten set up two vehicles. Liberal Future which made the liberal case for markets in public service delivery and the Peel Group which provided contact and comfort for former Conservatives. He spoke frequently and approvingly at meetings of both. Several of his key advisers were market liberals.

Branding of the party’s position under Kennedy referred invariably to being the ‘real alternative’ or ‘real opposition’ to both the Labour government and Conservatives. This not obvious evidence of a grand ‘progressive’ project.

Six months before Kennedy was ousted from office, Mark Oaten was already preparing his own leadership bid, apparently with Kennedy’s blessing, this on an apparent presumption that Kennedy for whatever reasons had decided himself to step down after the local elections in 2006. However unlikely of success, even prior to his personal implosion, it is fair to say an Oaten-led Liberal Democrat party would not have delivered a new left consensus.

In 2004 Kennedy wrote the foreword to the Orange Book, an attempt to unite left and right around liberalism as a distinct platform, rather than it’s proximity to the other traditions, and widely regarded as on the right of the party’s thinking at the time.

The Huhne Commission under his stewardship, made market mechanisms central to the improving public service delivery and other social outcomes.

It is suppose entirely possible that Kennedy regarded all of these initiatives as a part of long-term ‘realigning the left’, however this would show a remarkably inconsistency with some of his key lieutenants banging on about ‘replacing the Tories’ as the main opposition force. If he was uncomfortable with any of this it showed an extraordinary failure of conviction and leadership to let it continue for so long.

It is also possible that Kennedy has adjusted his views in light of the facts on the ground; and given his noted reputation for being pragmatic rather than a political visionary, this might have happened. The 2005 election put to bed the notion that the Conservatives could be ‘destroyed’ as a political force, and 2010 seems to have showed some limits to the depth of Labour’s collapse.

But that still doesn’t explain the general trend of his leadership, promoting Orange-bookers to key positions, ending Labour collaboration, and laying the groundwork for Clegg’s ‘liberal realignment’ narrative that has been consistent through his leadership election, general election campaign and coalition agreement.

If there has then been a pragmatic shift it happened after Kennedy was ousted as Leader, and that then makes it very hard to know whether he is sincere in his discomfort about coalition, or is giving back a little of the personal pain he received from his colleagues.

If he is, it is unworthy. If he’s always been a fan of ‘the Project’ then what in his 7 years of leadership helped that cause?