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UK Democrats?

By Guest
July 11th, 2016 at 10:56 am | Comments Off on UK Democrats? | Posted in EU Politics, UK Politics

The New Party for Brit… sorry Europe… was raised again over the weekend. This time in reference to Labour and Conservative moderates uniting to create something vaguely SDP-like, or perhaps a new Alliance with the rump Liberal Democrats.

I commented previously on the unwisdom of the golden hoard running a 48% strategy. Or at least banging on about Europe like some kind of EUKIP, when most of the time EU relations are not even in the top ten of issues that voters care about.

I’m not sure there’s much difference with the broader proposal. Bar it adds in a whole new level of problems given that the last thing most Conservatives and Labour supporters would accept would be playing second fiddle to either each other, let alone the leadership of Tim Farron. EUKIP isn’t the right strategy.

That is not to say realignment is wrong in itself. Evidently there is a space in politics for a UK Democrats Party. A split in Labour between socialists and social democrats now looks quite likely. With the majority of Parliamentary support sitting with the latter. Such a party could attract the kind of talent the Liberal Democrats need to survive, prompting a similar albeit more gradual split there.

Some Conservative modernisers might also be attracted to that pitch. But not in large numbers. Very disgruntled Remainers possibly. Losers from the next round of Cabinet promotions. Michael Gove… possibly not.

A deeper Conservative split is less likely. Largely as it’s happened already. UKIP already exists. There is little evidence of a split in the grassroots of anything like the depth of poison evident in Labour.

Whatever is being said on Twitter about the two current Tory leadership candidates. Differences between them in substance are slight. Style and experience, tone and focus, seem more the dividing lines than policy and promises. Both would attempt to build unity Cabinets. Both would try and make Brexit work. Both would do things that enrage self-appointed guardians of the status quo.

Either could be beaten by a well organised, well led progressive alternative. The only snag being that such a Party is unlikely to come oven-ready as the consequence of the collapse of Labour.

It just isn’t obvious who the Leader would be. Eagle is no Merkel, Owen Smith isn’t even Eagle. Umuna flounced his first outing. Jarvis failed to excite anyone with his testing of the waters last year. Starmer is hiding in London. Reeves looks more plausible as Chancellor than Leader. And so the list of ‘not quite rights’ on the right goes on.

The left of the Liberal Democrats would never let Tim Farron do a Paddy ‘project’ on them. Often they are more comfortable with Corbyn than his critics. The right of the party could wander off, but might feel no more comfortable with the pro-ID cards faction of Labour than they do with the pro-Palestine faction of Liberal Democracy.

The Greens would still be there, and still be hopeless.

Meanwhile UKIP is intent of scything a slice of working class votes from both Labour and the Conservatives, with a new populist front. The UK Democrats then could end up as a metropolitan party, alongside continuity LDs and Greens. That pool of votes isn’t large enough to win power.

So it’s a pickle. The project is possible. It’s just not obviously going to succeed any more than the SDP did. Difficult choices await, particularly if Corbyn gets on the ballot and wins.


How The LibDems Created UKIP

By Sara Scarlett
June 11th, 2016 at 6:00 pm | Comments Off on How The LibDems Created UKIP | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

The Liberal Democrats are relatively good civil libertarians, but when it comes to lifestyle freedoms one wonders how widely a party can interpret the word ‘Liberal.’ There is no branch of Liberal thought that can comfortably justify the high levels of nanny-statism we experience in the United Kingdom. Disappointingly the party that calls itself ‘Liberal’ is now one of the nanny-state’s greatest cheerleaders. After joining the Liberal Democrats in 2008 (I was young. So very, very young…) I very soon realised that the LibDems are not a political party – they are a small clique where ‘Liberal’ is a just term for everything they like regardless of the word’s definition.

The notion that the state should generally not impede the lifestyle freedom of individuals is an idea that Liberal (with a capital ‘L’) thinkers, such as John Stuart Mill, can comfortably lay claim to. This tradition of thought was woven into the Liberal Party of old to some significant degree albeit not without caveats and exceptions. The Liberal Democrats, however, have abandoned this notion almost entirely. Just skim LibDem Voice op-eds over the last few years and you’ll find members happy to promote: the Sugar Tax, Plain Packaging, the Prohibition of Drugs (in its entirety – no, really. All drugs.), Minimum Alcohol Pricing, and much, much more.

By evacuating this political ground so spectacularly, the Liberal Democrats did a number of things. Firstly, they became less distinctive from New Labour. They lost any claim they had to being an ‘anti-authoritarian’ party. This also opened up a massive unguarded front on which their enemies could attack them. By creating confusion about what the ‘Liberal’ in Liberal Democrat was referring to, no one did more to weaken the Liberal Democrats own brand that the Liberal Democrats. More crucially, by departing from this particular piece of political ground, the Liberal Democrats left it open to be assumed by another political party. Enter UKIP.

It is a boon to outsider parties to be considered ‘anti-authoritarian.’ By championing lifestyle freedoms on the side, UKIP hoovered up support from people who had been neglected by the three “LibLabCon” parties. It strengthened UKIP brand as the true outsider party and allowed UKIP to plausibly deny being a one issue party. To micromanage the intimate lifestyle choices of the electorate is to talk down to the electorate. This is not the main reason people are voting for UKIP, it is, however, why UKIP is so immune to scandal. In contrast, the Liberal Democrat’s seemingly endless capacity for sanctimony amplifies their own indiscretions when they inevitably occur.

By transforming into lifestyle paternalists, the LibDems willingly ceded political land that was undisputedly theirs. It was from this political land that UKIP broadened their own support base and strengthened their brand. Much of UKIP’s wider policy remains underdeveloped and strikes me as very ‘Little England’, but by seizing what should have been policy mainstays of the Liberals, they coloured themselves as rebels. This has only been further reinforced by Nigel Farage’s earnest pint drinking/fag smoking image. When I was a LibDem, I remember many discussions about why people who described themselves as ‘liberals’ didn’t automatically vote or identify as Liberal Democrats. For those of us outside the clique, the definition of the word still applies.

Syria Redux:

By Guest
December 1st, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Comments Off on Syria Redux: | Posted in UK Politics

1) The Conservatives are largely united behind their Leader on the case for air strikes.

2) The Labour Leader is united behind most of his Party members on the case against.

3) The Labour MPs and Shadow Cabinet are divided between both.

4) The Liberal Democrat MPs are united against most of their Party members on the case for.

5) The SNP are united against action and wondering if they’re about to become the official Opposition.

Moving On From Rochester…

By Sara Scarlett
November 25th, 2014 at 1:30 am | 2 Comments | Posted in coalition, Government, Leadership, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Lord Unappealing is attempting to make himself relevant again by opining on something for which he does at least have historic expertise, by-elections.

His number crunching is no doubt correct, the slightly vacuous plea for better tactics could also no doubt have delivered a better result than 342 votes, the strategic insight though is entirely lacking.

The Liberal Democrat brand, outside areas where local quality outshines national performance is poison. This in no small part due to a series of self-inflicted disasters from casual flip-flopping on policy to covering up for undesirable characters. Something for which the Party’s former seat grabber is more than a little responsible.

It is an organisation which has a lot of very nice people in it, some with good ideas, but in which no one takes responsibility for anything. It has no clear sense of direction, or consistency. It displays no sign that it knows what to do about it.

That is a hard sell for a by-election where narrative matters as much as tactics.

Matters will improve for the Party after the next election. That is unless it is in Government again, in which case it is unlikely. They will improve when Nick Clegg has been replaced, most likely by Tim Farron. Nick’s stock is so low he could cure cancer and still attract headlines for failing to stop Ebola. Tim at least has a down to earth appeal and sense of integrity the Party badly needs.

Good tactics will help, but they’re icing not the cake. UKIP is amply demonstrating that you don’t need svengali election gurus to win. You do need a good story and motivated base. And I strongly suspect that has much more to do with the success of ‘Rennardism’ in the 90s, than the unhealthy myths he allowed to be built up around himself and the ‘campaign cult’.

The danger for the Party in the next 5 years is that it continues to live in an introverted little bubble of ancestor worship for past glory that has little relevance to the mire it is in today. It’s a very serious risk given the Party even now still divides between people who want to fight Thatcher and those that want to fight Brown, both long gone. It will have a Parliamentary group where an aging group of peers outnumber MPs by 3-4:1, and several of them still act in a way that revolts the new generation. The Commons group may be entirely pale and male.

The next Leader then faces a challenge. Build a story that matters to the public and people who might wish to support it. Or live in the past, and pander to it. You can’t though do both. The Party needs to move on from fighting the last by-election.

Barlow Is Not To Blame!

By Sara Scarlett
May 13th, 2014 at 11:35 am | Comments Off on Barlow Is Not To Blame! | Posted in Economics, Tax, UK Politics

I can’t quite get my head around the outrage over the Gary Barlow tax avoidance (note: not tax evasion) story. Margaret Hodge MP has actually suggested that he should give back his OBE! What a joke!

Let us be under no illusions. Loopholes exist because politicians put them there. Holes in the tax code are created by politicians and politicians alone. Politicians are fully responsible for them and could get rid of them if they wanted to.

For politicians to heap all the blame on Barlow is incredulous. The thing about loopholes is this: why would anyone pay more tax than the tax code says they are legally obliged to? Shouldn’t we be more outraged by the politicians who have been poking holes in the tax code for years? The more complex and convoluted the tax code becomes the more it becomes a Swiss Cheese that is easy for the rich to navigate – they can afford expensive accountants – but a nightmare for individuals and small companies.

The outrage directed at Barlow is a very sad thing because it is a distraction from a proper discussion about tax code reform and the people who are responsible for the disastrous state the tax code is in.