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Britain in the fast lane

By Angela Harbutt
September 30th, 2011 at 1:02 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

The Government has launched a public consultation with a view to raising the speed limit to 80mph in 2013. Yippee.  As a Porsche-driving-self-confessed-petrol-head, I am delighted.

Environmentalists and road-safety campaigning groups are already out of the traps arguing that this will increase CO2 emissions and cause more accidents.  These people clearly don’t drive down the average motorway very often. You sit in the middle lane doing 70mph and cars go past you  in a steady stream. Ever seen a police rolling road block at 70 mph and noticed how quickly the traffic stacks up? And let’s be right Germany – and increasing numbers of roads in France – are 80mph. So why are we self-enforcing 70mph?  The proposed change is nothing more than Government catching up with common public will.

Concerning the arguments..

Accidents: The 70mph speed limit has been in place for as long as I have been alive (1965 by Barbara Castle!). Since then car safety has been improved beyond Ms Castle’s wildest imagination ( thanks in no small part to marvelous Formula 1). So too have road surfaces, signage etc. Yes, I get that there are more cars on the road – but that is not to say that variable speed limits, electronic warning signs etc cannot cope with these anomalies. And by the way, regular drivers know that the real danger is not those driving at 80mph …it’s those driving at 50mph sticking solidly to the middle lane.  Of course I understand that while cars are safer – humans have not got stronger. But perleease ..the  Government is NOT suggesting 80mph down your average high street -just motorways. And frankly if you are wandering around a motorway at 4am i doubt it matters very much if you are hit by a car doing 69mph or 81mph – the outcome is going to be the same.

Carbon emissions: The idea that cars are not already travelling at 80mph is a fantasy. Err hello -people are already doing it. And I simply don’t buy the – wholly unproven – suggestion that by raising the limit people will simply drive even  faster. Just not true. Yep there are some drivers that drive at 100mph in all weathers – but they will do that whatever the speed limit. For the vast majority you are simply decriminalising something that is already happening and the net effect on carbon emissions will be zip.

Whilst on the subject …there are specific roads where 50mph or 60mph speed limits are clearly mad given the number of lanes, condition of the roads. Some of them I would argue should be 70mph. Others I query how the hell they are only 10mph below current motorway speed limits (try driving down certain notorious roads in Kent at 60mph …that’s brave bordering on reckless..but legal!!). And there are places where 30mph or 40mph is just too fast. I regularly pass a primary school. The hand-made sign saying “twenty’s plenty” is spot on  I am in a permanent state of tension as I drive past – at least in term time. So I am also happy actually to drive slower where the conditions  require it.

(It is with a groan that I hear that the policy was due to be announced at Tory conference but was leaked by Lib Dems claiming another “win”. By  allowing higher motorway limits it is rumoured that we got the acceptance of some lower limits around schools etc. When will we learn?)

Returning to the good news – I brace myself for the deluge of “antis” that will fill the public consultation with reasons why the Government should not raise motorway limits to 80mph – and I wonder where I will go to make my “yes – about bloody time”  feeling known. Someone set up a petition and I will sign.

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Why are people who oppose capitalism so obsessed with money?

By Tom Papworth
September 29th, 2011 at 11:31 am | No Comments | Posted in Libertarians, Political theory, The Human Condition

Capitalists are frequently accused of being mercenary, in the sense that they are fixated on accumulating the greatest amount of wealth at the expense of other important issues. Their critics like to present themselves, in comparison, as focused on less tawdry, more important matters: happiness; social justice; public welfare.

Yet if once looks at the writings of anti-capitalists, they do seem to spend a lot of time talking about money.

My latest post on the ASI blog explores why egalitarians are wrong to seek to equalise wealth across society. According to one commentator, it’s “one of the best AS blog entries so far. A clear and graphic example of the flaw in pushing for income/wealth equality.” Thank you, Jonathan Giddy.

If you want to join the discussion, I suggest that you comment on the ASI site.

"You think equalising this match will be hard. Try equalling my score with women!"

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The Lib Dems: In search of new voters…

By Angela Harbutt
September 29th, 2011 at 9:32 am | 13 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Time and again during Lib Dem conference I heard serious voices urging the party not to lament the voters we have in past year or so – but to focus on  where we might find voters going forward.. It is of course quite possible that with time, some improvement in the economy, and an increasingly mad Labour party, some lost voters will return to us.

But hoping or expecting or praying for the lost to find their way back to us is hardly what you call ” a plan”.

So what should the Lib Dem plan be? First and foremost, of course, we MUST be true to ourselves. We have seen all too often other parties trying to shape policy according to the latest opinion poll or focus group. It is just plain nuts. Parties get found out that way. It may work for a while but it always ends up in tears as the natural instincts of the party eventually pull you back to base. At best opinion polls et al give you a spot price on the mood of the nation. But as we know the nation can be fickle  – attitudes can change – sometimes overnight – and parties can, all too often, end up with an array of conflicting policies that says nothing about what a party stands for. This leads to doubt and mistrust amongst the voters – and confusion and conflict within the party itself.

So our plan should be grounded in our roots, in our DNA – ideas and solutions that everyone immediately recognises as obviously Liberal. It is why Nick’s stand against any changes to the Human Rights Act works so well – and our opposition to Free schools looks so phony. There is no underlying Liberal reason why empowering parents at the expense of Government (national or council) is wrong.

But opposition to coalition policies as we have said here before many times is not a plan. And if it is a plan, it is a wholly useless one. After all we are not in opposition we are in power.

So where should the Liberal Democrats be going, who should they be talking to and what policies should that then deliver?

It’s obvious isn’t it ? Small and medium sized businesses. The Conservatives are the friends of big business, the Labour party now firmly under the control of the Trade Unions is also increasingly obsessed with big business (whether workers of large public sector organisations or private enterprise). Ed Balls may have made overtures to small business in his speech on Monday. But referring to my earlier point – no one really believes that Labour is the party of small business or the entrepreneur. It’s just phony.

The Liberal Democrats on the other hand can legitimately claim the position of defender of the small. The most meaningful boost we have had in the polls recently came at the height of the Murdoch inquiry. It reminded the nation that we are not, nor ever have been, in the pockets of big business interests (media or otherwise). We argue for localism over big government. We stand for modernisation not protection of the status quo (and believe me the entrepreneur revolution is well and truly upon us). We are internationalists not protectionists. If any party should be able to win the hearts and minds of small business it should surely be the Liberal Democrats.

And if there is a group of people that every party should want to win it is small business. Small business is huge. There are about 23million people working in small and medium sized businesses. They are shopkeepers and entrepreneurs, lawyers and designers, engineers and specialist manufacturers. They are our kind of people. (And they are much more likely to operate close to where their goods/services are used which will keep the greener ones amongst us happy).  SME’s are small and nifty. Able to downsize and up-size quickly according to market conditions. They are canny,resourceful, and flexible. They are also the engine room for economic growth. Who wouldn’t want them in their camp? All they really want is for Government to stop standing in their way…..

So here is a plan that is neither bold nor brave. It’s simple. Why don’t we, the Liberal Democrats, be the party that truly, meaningfully embraces  the small and the local. We also actually have a Lib Dem minister in the necessary department. Let’s really go for it.

Let’s go into the next election saying it was the Liberal Democrats that swept away the acres of red tape that crushes small businesses. Big business loves red tape – it creates barriers to entry for the small to get bigger and new ones to start. It is the small and medium that get hurt. And let’s not be tentatitive about this. Let’s not just exempt the small from new regulation for a year or two.. let’s tear down this stuff good and proper, and forever.

Let it be the Liberal Democrats that rather than eat up headlines saying why bankers are spivs and need controlling – let’s go and just create whole new avenues of funding for small businesses eg.. Let’s give meaningful (huge even) tax breaks for indidivuals that are willing to invest in the future of our SMEs.

And why can’t the Liberal Democrats be the ones to say that companies employing less that 20 people will be exempt from compulsory pension provision and grant them exemption from paying minimum wage to under 25′s. I know that we will have unions and academics saying that this is child labour… exploiting the young, encouraging companies to fire the old to bring in “slave” labour….  But honestly we all know that small companies are just not like that. These business men and women are not evil capitalists seeking to oppress the workers – they often live in the communities in which they work. They employ neighbours or friends or heaven forbid – family members. Times have changed. Our perceptions should too.

Let it be the Liberal Democrats that stand up for small business and local communities. We should be the party saying that we have has messed around with the local corner shop once too often and heaped trouble after trouble on local pub landlords. The nation’s health is important – but law after law on tobacco sales will only drive smokers to the Tescos and Sainsburys of this world at best – and criminal gangs running ludicrously successful counterfeiting operations at worst.  And banning smoking from ALL pubs was never the intention of Government – they intended to allow independents, private clubs etc exempt. It was the big business pub chains that insisted that everyone should share the same pain. Why don’t the Liberal Democrats stand up for the local shopkeeper and the pubs and working mens clubs of this country.Let’s call time on more big government health lobbies calling the shots and give the shopkeepers and independent landlords who live in our local communities a fairer shout.

All of the above would genuinely enable the local hubs of our communities to survive and many businesses to grow, to expand, to export and to spend more time and more cash on making their businesses more successful. And actually to employ more people. The days when a person joined one company and stayed with them for 20 or 30 years have gone. We really are living in the middle of an entrepreneurial revolution. We should not only recognise it but embrace it. And it may just pay huge dividends at the ballot box.

Talking about Europe

By Simon Goldie
September 28th, 2011 at 9:20 pm | 16 Comments | Posted in EU Politics, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy

Everyone knows that members of the Liberal Democrats are pro-Europe. There are many reasons why this is the case. The party has a long-standing international tradition. It supports free trade and the removal of protectionist barriers. The party is a product of a merger between the Liberal party and the SDP. The SDP founders left Labour because of that party’s anti-European position. And finally, there is a practical side that says it is better to be part of an organisation that impacts on how the UK operates than trying to influence that entity from the outside.

The recent Euro zone crisis has led many Euro-sceptics to argue that the Euro will be dead soon and that possibly the whole European project is coming to an end.

Nick Clegg has said made the case that the rules that were meant to apply to countries joining the Euro were not implemented. If they had been, he believes, the problems we are facing may have been avoided.

It is doubtful that this technical point will be enough to win over those voters who are beginning to question how things are being run in the EU.

Clegg has talked in the past of making the EU more liberal. Now would be a good time to set out what that means and what the party is going to do to try and influence European policymakers so that the EU pursues a more liberal policy agenda.

Offering voters a reforming liberal agenda for Europe would help differentiate the party and develop Clegg’s liberal narrative.

 

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Mark Pack is wrong to say “Ivan Lewis isn’t completely wrong..”

By Angela Harbutt
September 28th, 2011 at 6:00 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Mark Pack writes a lot of good insightful stuff. But his piece on LDV yesterday “Ivan Lewis isn’t completely wrong about journalists”  is actually,  just plain wrong.  To be fair to Mark his headline is basically a peg on which to republish a post on media he wrote some time ago. Yeah, I know, we all do that – but his timing could not be worse.

There is, in this Murdoch-getting-the-kick he-deserves era, a very real danger that things are getting out of hand. The Milly Dowling, 7/7 phone hacking activities have got the public mad. The press is on the back foot. The MPs sense a chance to get their own back. To get the whip hand over the media. Let me be very clear – the state can never be allowed to get the upper hand over the media. Never.

A vibrant free press is an absolute necessity of a healthy functional democracy. There have been so many times in recent history when it has been the media that has been left as the only meaningful group holding government to account. They have exposed Government lies, ministers double dealing, hypocrisy, corruption, expenses scandals, unlawful killings, and so much more…

So you had better have a very good reason for suggesting that Ivan Lewis “may have a point” when he, or any MP, seeks to go meddling in journalistic affairs.

And the sad matter of fact is that Mark’s argument seems to rather weak. He is concerned that he knows of  “some people”  who have been caused huge personal distress because of doorstepping that  “oversteps the mark and leaves someone in tears” and that ” There is no comeback” .

And his answer is to make reporters/editors personally accountable for their actions – not just the titles.

I can’t actually think of anywhere where the individual rather than the corporation takes the wrap more than in journalism. Editors get the chop much more often than Whitehall chiefs for little more than being on charge (Piers Morgan) or standing up to Government (Greg Dyke). Journalists get sacked for overstepping the mark (James Forlong), or suffer public humiliation for hypocrisy at the very least (Andrew Marr). Journalists go to prison for breaking the law (Clive Goodman) and for refusing to reveal their sources (Amelia Hill)  – well if the Met had their way. Go ask any journalist who was working on the New of the World until a few months ago about how much they relish their “personal immunity” and they will laugh in your face.

I don’t know who the people are that Mark Pack knows of who were so “distressed” by media “fishing exercises”. And I can’t imagine what it is he thinks his suggestion of holding journalists to account will achieve. He either really does not understand how newsrooms work or he is being faux naive. The only likely outcome of making individual journalists accountable is that it would provide another layer of cover for the titles/companies if and when they need a scapegoat.

What I do know know is that to suggest that “Ivan Lewis’s policy initiative may be one for filing straight in the “how not to do it” pile of policy launches, but the question of how much personal responsibility those in the media should have for their actions deserves better than to be forgotten as a result is to totally misunderstand what is at stake here.

We are in a fight for democracy – we actually have MP’s thinking that they can start to dictate to journalism about codes of conduct and rules of engagement.  This is much bigger than Liberal Democrats angst at how rough a ride they think they have had from the media. Or how persecuted they feel their MPs have been.  We can’t use this as an opportunity to settle old scores or  get Lib Dems a better share of the media pie in the new world order.

We must do what is right. And that is to say that Ivan Lewis is totally wrong.