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A Memo On Memogate

By Editor
May 26th, 2015 at 9:47 am | 4 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Malcolm Bruce has commented in a 20 minute Today programme segment on Memogate. This following a long weekend of coverage. I note the following. The Liberal Democrat Party remains quite the most hopeless stewards of their own reputation of any of the major parties. Showing no sign whatsoever of seeing themselves as others see them. Let alone addressing the issues that arise from that. Regardless of the long-term damage it does them collectively.

Memogate itself is relatively simple. Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, and then Scottish Secretary, was made aware (in that capacity) of a civil service memo that suggested the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP (SNP) had made politically unwise remarks to a French diplomat. Carmichael authorised his special adviser to release the remarks to the media with the intent of causing the SNP political damage during an election campaign. When approached about the matter by the press, he lied about his involvement. A Cabinet leak inquiry followed, in which these facts came to light. It was agreed between the inquiry and Carmichael (no longer a Minister) that he would issue a fulsome apology and forgo his Ministerial severance pay.

Misconduct in public office and dishonesty was then admitted. A not insignificant degree of mitigation and apology was offered. The Ministerial portion of the scandal was settled. To Carmichael’s credit he did not attempt to bluff it out beyond this point.

The matter more generally though has not been settled. Carmichael remains an MP, one whose electoral mandate is self-evidently open to question having won his seat narrowly on a false prospectus about his own character and judgement.

He remains an MP in a political climate that does not tolerate misconduct in public life, and where Recall was a position supported by his Party (however anaemic the eventual legislation). It is perfectly reasonable, in these circumstances for his opponents to call for him to step down and fight a by-election. Putting his redoubtable record of public service to islanders and sincere apology up for public affirmation or not.

The problem is that he would probably lose such an election.

And that is the lens through which the Liberal Democrat Party is looking at the matter. They have only 1 MP left in Scotland, they are decimated, demoralised, and aggrieved, and do not wish to risk losing what it is they have left. They reasonably look at a man who has served them and his constituents well. To whom they owe favours, and have worked hard to support in turn. In short a friend and until this point a huge political asset who has managed to play something of the Prescott role in the Party, supporting an orange-book leadership while holding on to his social liberal principles and canny local campaigning instincts.

That matters internally. A lot.

Consequently the Scottish Liberal Democrat Executive has met, decided there is nothing to see here… it’s all settled… and would the public and SNP mind going away please… and frankly grow up… and learn to forgive people. What! what is their problem! I mean really. It’s not as if they’re purer than the driven snow… look at their lies that they got away with… we all make mistakes… etc.

That is the line.

It is self-serving crap.

The public can see it’s self-serving crap.

It will not help Alistair Carmichael’s reputation or future re-election prospects a jot. Quite the reverse. If not defenestrated by pressure or process, he’s probably out voluntarily or otherwise by 2020. This will not have gone away or been forgotten in 5 years.

As to the Liberal Democrat process… it looks like what it is – a group of Ally’s pally’s gathering together to agree he’s a terrible nice chap and sticking their heads in the sand about the wider implications of the scandal or their own long-term interests.

The BBC shrewdly asked Bruce this morning whether they would regret their approach if they lost MSPs in the 2016 Scottish election. He of coursed ducked the question; but that is what is likely to happen. The Party having already lost seats UK-wise over their casual indifference to matters of integrity and trust, has now started the next election cycle demonstrating it has learnt nothing. Nothing at all.

They could have acted more wisely.

What they could and should have done is take the matter seriously. Alistair Carmichael’s membership should have been suspended. His disreputable conduct properly considered by someone not connected with the tight-knit clan that run his Party machine, and their recommendations taken seriously. That should have taken at least a month and taken some of the oxygen out of the current media frenzy.

We cannot pre-judge, but it is not at all clear such a process would have recommended his expulsion. That disrepute has taken place is admitted. Sanctions to the same are not unipolar. They can be discrete, and a sensible one in this instance might have included a 3-6 month suspension.

That would be proportionate to the offence, demonstrate the Party takes such things seriously, and allow Carmichael to get on with his job, which right now involves a lot of apologising to islanders, in person, and demonstrating all the other reasons why he’s held the seat so long.

If during that suspension the SNP somehow succeed in getting a process going that forces him out, the Liberal Democrat Party would at least have had some moral high ground, having acted properly and seriously. That would count for something for his successor and the Party’s wider prospects in other Scottish elections.

But that opportunity has gone, and it’s heads in the sand and hope time.

In conclusion that after Thorpe, Smith, Rennard, Hancock etc. the Liberal Democrat Party still think the way to deal with unethical conduct and serious reputation issues is either denial, or denial followed by parish council procedures and bureaucratic excuses is extraordinary. That is follows an election where the same has severely damaged them shows a lack of survival instincts.

The next Leader will have to deal with this shower and their naval-gazing self-regard, or that survival is in doubt.

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Ryan Coetzee: Also Deluded…

By Sara Scarlett
May 23rd, 2015 at 3:26 pm | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Just when I thought Vince Cable’s post mortem of the 2015 Election was the worst thing I could possibly read, enter Ryan Coetzee stage left. In a self-pitying article, seemingly designed solely to absolve himself from any responsibility, he says that it was all the big, bad Tory’s fault:

In Tory-facing seats we got routed by what I call the Fear. We presumed from the beginning that the Conservatives would try to scare voters with the prospect of a Miliband government that would risk the economy. But in the event the polls and the SNP conspired to ratchet up the Fear to Terror levels, because they showed Labour’s only path to power would be via the SNP.

About four weeks from election day it became clear that The Fear was hurting us. We tried everything we could to counter it: fear of a Tory minority government in hock to its own right wing, Ukip and the DUP; fear of Tory cuts to welfare, schools and other unprotected departments; ruling out participation in any government that relied on SNP support; offering ourselves as the only guarantors of a stable coalition. All of it was trumped by The Fear, and on a scale we didn’t see coming.

Am I alone in having missed the mass hysteria of the Middle Classes? David Cameron is a moderately appealing character to Middle England with a track record of modest success. Ed Miliband is an unappealing individual with a track record of gimmicks and Shadow Ministers who insult people who drive white vans. Nick Clegg’s that other guy who goes back and forth on tuition fees and something. Did voters pick up their pens  in the voting booths shaking in fear? I really don’t think so.

Should we have run the campaign differently, given what we knew? I don’t think so. We correctly identified the threats facing us on each front, and did our best to counter them. We made a coherent, liberal case to the voters, offering both a strong economy and a fair society.

Unsuprising that he thinks this but the opposite is true. The Liberal Democrat GE2015 Campaign was easily the worst I’ve ever seen. It effectively convinced voters that there were no positive reasons for the LibDems to exist. We’re the political equivalent of the colour beige – we go with everything. In who’s mind is that a great campaign?

The rest of the article can be summed up as this: everything bad that happened to the LibDems was the fault of someone else or forces beyond our control. This is not even taking responsibility for a badly run campaign. This man was paid six figures and this is the quality of his analysis. If the LibDems have any sense (humour me) they’ll hand him his P45.

Vince Cable Is Deluded

By Sara Scarlett
May 21st, 2015 at 11:21 am | No Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

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Vince Cable has written one of the worst election post-mortems of 2015. It buys into a narrative that probably corroborates with his own prejudices and whilst that may be comforting; it is badly, badly wrong and shows a profound level of delusion.

In this article Vince Cable believes that the LibDems were victims of forces beyond their control.

Fear triumphed over hope: fear of “chaos”; fear of Ed Miliband’s socialism; fear of being held to ransom by the Scots. This fear was carefully – brilliantly – mobilised by the Conservatives and used to devastating effect in a targeted campaign that included 23 Tory-facing Lib Dem seats (all lost).

I know; I was a victim of it. My comfortable majority disappeared as thousands of suburban Londoners quietly feared for their (generally prosperous) existence.

For Vince Cable, a veteran MP to portray himself as a “victim” of another party is actually quite pathetic. You lost, Vince, you weren’t mugged.

Also, the Conservative campaign wasn’t that brilliant. It was a steady, measured campaign – it was boring – if anything. Cameron stuck to his mantra – “long term economic plan” – and that not only reminded people that the economy is doing okay but also that the Labour party didn’t have much of a plan under Blair and Brown and didn’t seem to  have much of a plan under Ed Miliband.

Vince’s article also speaks from the position that the LibDems did nothing wrong. The LibDems ran the worst GE campaign of their existence. It was the LibDems who seemed to convince Joe Public of their lack of raison d’etre.

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Note: Blank tiles in scrabble are worth nothing…

 

The LibDem ‘air war’ essentially articulated that LibDems would prop up any loser-government that had failed to achieve an overall majority. The LibDems effectively convinced the public that there was no reason for them to exist. It was a bad campaign. The narrative that they ran with was wrong. Despite the Green’s gaff prone leader, I know exactly what they stand for. I don’t vote for them becuase I find their policies deeply misguided but I know what they’re about. When the LibDems are running a campaign which falls short to a party that looks like a jumped up Student Union effort then you are in trouble.

In this article Vince also portrays Ed Miliband as the victim of the public:

[Ed Miliband] clearly misread the public mood, which was fearful of change, or experiment, and distrustful of promises of a better life, especially when financed by the taxpayer. But he was as much a victim of circumstances as the creator of them. He was the product of a tribal Labour culture that had become severely disconnected from social and political realities.

You don’t have to have read Bastiat to know that someone promising you free money is likely to be a fraudster. Ed Miliband isn’t a victim. He was the leader of a major political party. Again this is talking down to the public. Uncle Vince knows best.

The Tories’ skill was in crystallising the public distaste for Labour’s record and offer.

I’m pretty sure Labour did that all by themselves.

Ukip had a good election, mostly at the expense of Labour and my party. The comical antics of the Ukip hierarchy and the lack of parliamentary representation can’t conceal the fact that Nigel Farage’s team is now in the Champions League of European Nationalists: not quite in the same class as Marine Le Pen’s outfit, but close.

UKIP also didn’t treat anyone with concerns about immigration as a racist underclass.

The politics of fear may come back to haunt the Tories. It has unleashed English – alongside Scottish – nationalism. Ultimately this may prove more dangerous to them than the traditional enemies of Conservatism. They have started a fire and clever Lynton Crosby will no longer be around to advise them on how to put it out.

I didn’t see a lot of fear in the Middle Classes. I saw them looking at Cameron, looking at Ed Miliband then looking back at Cameron and thinking ‘eh, he seems the less bad of the two.’ It was the Left who said things like ’24hrs to save the NHS,’ a blatant and scary lie. I don’t buy the notion that the public were irrationally scared and stupid enough to do whatever Murdoch tells them to do. It’s also incredibly patronising.

It would be so much better if the LibDems acknowledged and took responsibility for a bad campaign. They need to acknowledge that people see them as incompetent, ineffectual and irrelevent. The LibDem brand is deeply damaged and it will remain that way unless the leadership become more self-aware.

Can headless chickens engage in navel-gazing? #libdemfightback

By Angela Harbutt
May 21st, 2015 at 8:21 am | No Comments | Posted in Leadership, Liberal Democrats

The answer is yes, if you are a Lib Dem.

There have been many daft posts on Lib Dem Voice since the total obliteration of the Lib Dem Parliamentary party – and yesterday came another one. An article went up on Lib Dem Voice last night calling for “a #libdemfightback special conference before the 3 June close of nominations for the party leader” (yes that’s about 7 working days away).

Why a “special” conference ? Well according to the author of the piece “An obvious debate would be whether or not to change the Constitution to allow any member to be nominated as a leader.”

Not sure where that particular one is going – perhaps has a particular person in mind, or simply doesn’t like the current options from within the parliamentary group.

Whatever his reasons for the suggestion, here are a few points for Lib Dems to note:

UKIP /Plaid Cymru/Greens would soon run into trouble if they reached the dizzy heights of 8 MPs in Westminster. They could easily have a (non parliamentary) leader saying one thing and the parliamentarians saying, doing , or voting for something else. Especially if they had 8 well established, and experienced MPs (which the Lib Dems have).  For speed of message what you need is the leader of the parliamentary party to be the head of the whole party or chaos (and/or inertia) will ensue. And if the Lib Dems did have a “non parliamentary” leader would they also want to appoint a leader in the House of Commons? Just how many “leaders” do the Lib Dems think they need?

I also query the need for another elitist conference. Conferences by their nature exclude too many people who cannot take time off work; have prior engagements in the diary; have care responsibilities; cannot afford the travel etc. I am sure councillors /public sector workers/the affluent retired etc may be able to get to an extra conference. I am equally sure that the answer from that elite group on a great many issues would be very different from the wider Lib Dem membership.

[I would add that the conferences in recent years have resulted in a set of policies that the voters have wholly rejected – so their thoughts should be turning to how to make better policy choices (NOT at conference in my view) rather than how to change Articles 10.5 or 9.1. It never ceases to amaze me how totally blind the Lib Dems are as to how undemocratic it is to set policy with just a tiny fraction of the membership eligible to vote on any proposal.]

For goodness sake, just get on and elect a damn leader, amongst the entire membership if you must (I would have got the 8 MPs in a room and kept them there until there was white smoke). Once he is elected, lobby the new leader for all you like to get through changes about the future – including “rules on leadership” if that is your particular hobby horse.  Norman and Tim (the two current candidates as far as I am aware) are both reasonable human beings and would be happy to consider changes to how the party operates in the future, if they thought they would benefit the party.

I just hope that the leader will show some spine.

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Lib Dems – last chance saloon

By Angela Harbutt
May 20th, 2015 at 7:11 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats

If Ms Jones vision for the Lib Dems was a bit too fruity for you, then here is an alternative item that may be of interest.

Julian Astle’s piece, which appeared in the Independent last week, is all together less humorous, but he makes some excellent points.

First he neatly encapsulates the entire problem with the disastrous 2015 General Election campaign…

“The proximate cause of the Liberal Democrats’ identity crisis was the decision to fight the election as centrists rather than liberals – a decision that the party leadership knew, deep down, risked leaving them with a functional and lifeless message, devoid of the sense of moral purpose and historic mission that made Clegg’s resignation speech his best of the campaign….

…In so far as this gave the party a reason to exist, it was to moderate the worst excesses of whichever party it might end up working with in government – a dismal offering. Not only did this tell voters nothing about the party’s own vision for the country, it actively undermined its claims to have one. If the Tories want to travel 10 miles to the right, and Labour 10 miles to the left, the logic of the Lib Dem position was that they were prepared to travel in either direction, but only for five miles.”

He also goes on to clinically dissect the reason for this ill-fated strategy

“…the underlying cause – and the one the party leadership candidates will try hard not to discuss in the coming weeks – is the unresolved battle between the party’s Right-leaning economic liberals and the Left-leaning social liberals about the true meaning of liberalism.”

But what of the future? Well, Julian argues that the “anti-austerity Left” has now become “the most crowded part of the political landscape” and, he argues, the Lib Dems have already burned their bridges back to that land…

“A party that has spent five years attacking the deficit with the Conservatives cannot credibly spend the next five denouncing “Tory cuts”.

So where next? It’s so simple. There is a large group of younger voters crying out for a party that represents them…

“rather than identifying either with the Left or the Right as the pre- and post- war generations did, and do, today’s young combine the social liberal views of the Left (secular, internationalist, concerned about the environment, relaxed about lifestyle choices and family structures) and the classical liberal views of the Right (in favour of balanced budgets, low taxation, conditional welfare, personal responsibility, individual choice and entrepreneurship) without seeing any contradiction between the two.

This increasingly educated, empowered, technologically savvy cohort is left cold by the conservatism of the Tory party and the collectivism of the Labour party. They are instinctive liberals. They just need a liberal party to vote for. “

Though I cannot, in any sense of the word be described as a young voter, that is where I am pretty much planted. It is one where many of my friends and occasional drinking-fellows (Lib Dem, UKIP and Conservative voters) to a smaller, or larger extent, are also at – economically free market, socially liberal (whatever that means these days).

Surely this is the best, the only, route for a sane Lib Dem party to take? And if they don’t act soon UKIP, the Conservatives (or some party yet to emerge) will move into this vacuum and the Lib Dems truly will be left defending the rights of the likes of Sebastien, Flounder, Flotsam and Jetsam and co, and little else.

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