Browse > Home / Archive: April 2011

| Subcribe via RSS

Economist captures national mood

By Andy Mayer
April 29th, 2011 at 10:20 am | Comments Off on Economist captures national mood | Posted in AV referendum, Public Sector Reform, Social Mobility

The Economist Magazine, in a rather shameless piece of ‘decision-making following the polls’ has plumped for ‘No‘ in the AV referendum, promoting instead a hybrid FPTP+. Something that’s not an option in the referendum and would be supported by even fewer people.

More refreshingly in other news they note

“A young man and his fiancée were expected to get married in central London on April 29th. Millions of Britons took advantage of the opportunity to take a foreign holiday.”

Meanwhile, we strongly urge those remaining, to spend, spend, spend, on wedding tat, we need the VAT to meet the £39m bill.


Green Revolutionaries Hit Capitol Hill

By Julian Harris
April 26th, 2011 at 11:17 am | 8 Comments | Posted in Environment, International Politics

Sanders kernel is not a secret recipe

By Andy Mayer
April 22nd, 2011 at 1:29 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Naval gazing

Earlier this week Michael Crick reported on a critical article by Torbay MP, Adrian Sanders, in the latest edition of left-liberal magazine, Liberator. The thrust of the piece is that the party has “irrevocably damaged our public image… fractured our core vote, alienated a generation of young voter…” and needs

“better organisation on the ground… (to) fight for backbenchers’ rights… (and) to return to what the party is all about. A devolutionist, anti-authoritarian, internationalist, pro-environment, fair-tax, socially progressive Liberal Party in the tradition of Beveridge… we need the leadership to start acting like the leadership of an independent political party…”

It contrasts with a piece by Charles Kennedy in Prospect, where he has reservations, but has “learned to love the coalition”.

Noises-off so close to an election are rarely helpful, but the Sanders’ analysis that the public perception of the party for fair dealing and integrity has been damaged by the last year is one widely shared. The Leadership’s failure to prepare the ground for the difficult decisions of government has made Nick Clegg’s life far more difficult than say for Tony Blair or David Cameron, who fought and won their internal battles before doing largely what they said they would in Government.

I agree most with Adrian most in respect of the importance of consulting widely when taking decisions. The Leadership’s style of consultation sometimes means they only finds out about a serious problem when the angry mob are waving the pitchforks outside the castle.

But consultation means precisely that. After consultation, decision-making is best left to decision-makers.

If the decision goes against the consultees, they usually still complain they weren’t adequately consulted.

There’s quite a bit of that in grass-roots complaints about the leadership for as long as I can remember.

Sanders is also right to note that where the party has campaigned well locally it will mitigate the general trend.

His own result (+5%) in 2010, in a Conservative target seat, increasing his majority by squeezing Labour (-8%), underlines how electorally important a credible “we’re not the Tories” message is in some seats.

His concerns then, cannot be casually dismissed.

I’m not sure though where they take us, or whether he’s taking enough personal responsibility for the trust problem he identifies.

First if that really was how ‘the party used to be’, it should be noted it entirely failed to deliver a majority liberal government. It was creaking as a saleable proposition in 2005, where gains were well below expectations.

A party where “keen, idealistic and uncompromising” grass-roots activists ran the party in the “tradition of Beveridge and Keynes”, and not ministers “driven by special advisers, who never have to face an electorate” or “opportunistic careerists”, is crowd-pleasing, but nonsense.

The party has never been grass-roots run, or the creature only of the centre-left that he describes. We are a coalition. Tensions between the different traditions, between the leadership and leading activists, are nothing new. Careerist opportunism is more a necessary qualification for entering Parliament than doing the work of the back-room professionals who help it happen.

It is also never likely that the party would have achieved majority government “street by street, ward by ward”. The party’s widely copied campaign techniques burn through volunteers nearly as fast as they waste paper. They work best when negative rather than positive. They become unsustainable when Liberal Democrats hold power and have less time to campaign. A rather more serious operational issue in the last decade is how little the party has learnt from our opponents, not how much.

Nor would the party’s reputation for honesty, consistency or integrity be enhanced by ditching the coalition at the first sign of unpopularity. Just being, ‘not the other lot’, or ‘the real alternative’, is a strategy than can only last as long as you don’t hold power. In power it is inevitably going to make you look hypocritical.

There is a tension then between what worked in Torbay, and what works in the national debate. 326 people all attacking ‘the establishment’, making local spending promises in the hope the magic money tree will provide, does not a coherent Government make.

Complaining, ‘our government has failed to deliver all the impossible things I promised on the pretext I’d never have to actually deliver’, is at the heart of the problem facing the party. The discipline and accountability of ministerial office is far starker than that required to be an effective local campaigner, particularly one in permanent opposition.

Trust further can only be restored slowly, by evidence of deed.

It is delivering deficit reduction over the next four years, the stated purpose of this coalition, rather than Adrian’s suggestion of a string of rent-seeking “private members bills”, that is the road back.

The kernel of truth in what Sanders has analysed then cannot purely be put on the leadership. Local and national policy populism is as much to blame for the lack of preparation for coalition, and public disquiet after the event. Adrian’s solution, essentially more of both, would make the problem far worse.


Liberal elevator pitch challenge

By Simon Goldie
April 20th, 2011 at 2:34 pm | 22 Comments | Posted in Liberal Philosophy

In a recent post, I suggested that liberals need an elevator pitch. A Twitter conversation with Sam Bowman reinforced my view, as did the comments at the end of the post.

Below is my elevator pitch. I do not claim it to be the definitive answer. It would be great to have other liberals, whether classical, libertarian or even social, to suggest what they see as essential in explaining what liberalism is all about.

For anyone who decides to post a pitch under this post, please keep it to around 100 words.

My elevator pitch: Liberals believe that people should be in control of their lives. A liberal government’s job is to remove obstacles that prevent that. In the set up that we have in the UK, a liberal government should also ensure that each person has as much control as possible over the public services they receive. We don’t have a prescription for the future or for all the problems people face. Rather we trust people to solve problems themselves and believe voluntary co-operation is far better than a central planner deciding everything.


AV: Liberal Democrats should not panic

By Simon Goldie
April 19th, 2011 at 9:02 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Members of the Liberal Democrat party have electoral reform in their DNA. No doubt, for some their first words were not mummy or daddy but single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. So winning the AV referendum matters. Fellow Liberal Vision blogger, Andy Mayer set out clearly why he thinks people should vote yes. I have speculated in another place about the alternative vote and whether it will lead to a more liberal society.

Right now the polls don’t look that encouraging for the supporters of change. Polls can be wrong and there is still time to make the case but what if AV is rejected by the voters?

My fingers are hovering over the keyboard as I feel that what I am about to suggest is heretical. I should state clearly I am not arguing for a no vote by writing that members of the Liberal Democrats should not panic if the voters reject AV. In fact, it could turn out to deliver proportional representation in the future.

On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Norman Lamb argued that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the voting system. Some though believe that by adopting AV now Britain will eventually get STV. If Norman is right and the vote goes the Lib Dems way, our electoral system is likely to be set for a very long time.

Liberal Democrats believe our current system of first past the post (FPTP) is discredited. As far as they are concerned it won’t stop being discredited if AV is rejected. There is a belief that the Prime Minister will have to make concessions to Nick Clegg if the vote goes Cameron’s way. One concession might be reform of the House of Lords elected under STV. This will give voters a chance to become comfortable with a different system. If they like it they will be able to compare it to FPTP and make up their own minds about which system better reflects the wishes of voters.  In that situation, could we be looking at another referendum in 10 years or so on STV?

This time period gives the party a chance to prove itself in government, develop policies for future government and perhaps move from the third party to one of the main parties. Right now that may seem fanciful but this sort of thing has happened before.