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Calamity or canny politics?

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Comments Off on Calamity or canny politics? | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats

What a game the Lib Dems appear to be playing.

My first thought was – its chaos and calamity. The decidedly “odd” David Laws press call, inside parliament rather than walking a few yards to address the hoards of cameras outside (and  reported bizarrely on the BBC over a mobile phone), where, for all the world it looked like Lib/Con talks were progressing nicely with, what seemed to be, a few tweaks to sort. The anouncement that the meeting with the MPs went well – with “clarification” needed on just a few issues….. Ok we may read that as Liberals want more than the Tories feel able to get past their own backbenchers….. but it all seemed …well, as though they were getting there (if slowly).

….Then the biggest car smash you can imagine — Nick Clegg is reported as saying that formal talks are now being opened with the the Labour party (though ongoing with the Tories)…. Gordon Brown confirming that Clegg had spoken to him… Brown resigning (though not just yet! – very Gordon Brown) to facilitate the option of a LibLab pact …markets crashing (OK I exagerate to make a point – I have not looked at the markets).  

WTF is going on.. How does David Laws lunchtime statement that the parliamentary party agrees that the over riding priority is to create a “strong and stable government”.. square with the notion of the Liberals going into a  hotch potch agreement of Lib/Labs/SNP/DUP/Plaid/greens etc ?

I admit it was a joy to watch this unfold on the news channels – quick quick get the fractious whinging Tory backbenchers off the screens (who cares what they think) and get some Labour big wigs in here now…

Now I have had my cup of tea and had a chance to ponder, I wonder if this is not calamity – but rather canny politics. Knowing that Cameron faces a difficult meeting with his MPs very shortly this evening- and knowing that many are gruntling on about “rather be in minority party than work with those damn yellow bellies thank you very much” …how brilliantly Clegg has strengthened Cameron’s hand in that meeting.  

Cameron can legitimately stand up and say “look guys we have waited in the wings for our chance to govern. It is within our grasp BUT you have to be willing to play nicely with the Liberals – if you wont then it’s very possible that you will miss your chance again”. Minority Tory government is not the only game in town any more. So the Liberals want a bit more give on political reform – is that such a hard price to pay? – as you watch a smug Alistair Campbell already rehearsing Nick’s justification for a Lib Lab pact…. That may make the Conservatives think twice on their discussion with Cameron tonight.

And its just possible I suppose that Cameron knew of this turn of events – maybe even condoned it..Hell maybe even thought it up? Anything is possible on this odd day…

And IF this is not a clever ruse….Are they serious that whilst we struggle to get out of this recession and sort out public spending etc – the senior coalition partner in this “progressive” Lib/Lab government will have the top five or six of its portfolio-handling ministers all scrapping over a leadership battle? Come on guys…

I am left wondering what all of those voters out there think of all of this. It looks for all the world like the politicians are still putting their small petty interests ahead of the public’s – whatever they say – and goodness knows what the markets will make of  this turn of events. I want to go and lie down in a dark room til this is over.

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I didn’t vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government…

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2010 at 2:00 pm | 20 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

Ha. That’ll have the tweeters wondering what on earth is going on over in LV land!

No I have not gone mad. I am quoting what I have heard on phone-ins/read on various blogs over last 24 hours or so. IF I am to believe some posts, thousands, indeed “hundreds of thousands” are about to walk away from the Lib Dems because “they didn’t vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government”.

I found it a bit annoying when I first heard it – but as this sentiment seems to be spreading – I am getting increasingly irritated by it. In part it’s because I hate that sort of post-event whinging ( “I didn’t get what I wanted so I will throw my toys out of the pram”) but there are more specific reasons why it’s getting under my skin…..

1.     No one voted to get a Tory government. People voted to elect their constituency  MP (or indeed to stop a constituency MP) and hoped that others across the country would vote similarly (the only way to “stop” a Tory (or indeed Labour) government). That worked in some area’s – which is why there are fewer Tory MP’s than anyone expected. Even if “voting Lib Dem” in one area did stop a Tory, clearly not enough people in enough areas did the same – hence the situation we are in. The idea that one vote for one local MP would somehow stop a whole government is laughable.

 

2.    This seems to throw the blame onto the Lib Dems when the blame (if that is the right word – which it probably isn’t) sits with the voters. If this nation really cared about stopping the Tories (or indeed Labour) more people would have voted Lib Dem. That would have given Nick a much stronger negotiating position to choose who to talk to and on what terms. Just because Mrs Miggins voted Lib Dem to stop the local Tory, does not mean that Mrs Miggins view out trumps the nations view. And whilst she and those like her might whinge now, they have to look at themselves frankly and ask whether, if they cared that much, they could have done more. Goodness knows I think Nick did his bit.

 

3.    Actually the Lib Dems HAVE STOPPED a Tory government – or at least stopped such a strong Tory government that they can ride rough-shod over everyone. Had the Tories taken the Lib Dem seats they targeted we would already have Mr Cameron at No 10. As we stand here now, it is likely/possible that the Lib Dems have the ability to be a balancing item on Tory legislation. And even if a coalition doesn’t happen the Tory party will have to listen to its own backbenchers much more than the previous regime – and indeed listen to the Lib Dems- that’s in part a result of people voting Lib Dem.

 

4.    Perhaps most importantly it’s annoying because Nick Clegg could not have been clearer, throughout the general election, that the Lib Dems would not decide who to talk to in the event of a hung parliament – he would NOT be kingmaker. It would be the people who would dictate it by virtue of which party  had the largest mandate. It is demonstrably clear that the Tories have the most seats and the largest vote share. In these circumstances, had Nick decided to ignore the Tories, I think the country would have rightly been outraged that Nick had gone back on his word. Where were these people-  who are now complaining that they did not vote Lib Dem to get a Tory government – during the last 4 weeks? Integrity matters – and like the outcome we find ourselves in or not (mainly “not”)- Nick has shown to be a man of integrity – and that counts for a lot these days.

 

Now of course the proof is in the pudding. Can the Lib Dem negotiators extract enough ground across its 4 key manifesto pledges to feel that their position is honourable (and right for the country let’s not forget!) – accepting of course it’s relative position in the situation (more people voted for Tory policies than Lib Dem policies).

 

If the Tories are not willing to concede sufficient ground to allow the Lib Dem’s to feel their position with their voters is honourable, then I suspect that they won’t go into full coalition – but sit back and allow a minority Tory party to govern as best it can.   (I remain convinced that the idea of a Lib/Lab/nationalist/green uncle tom cobbley and all coalition is for the fairies).

 

But to read/listen to people moaning at this stage because Nick is attempting to find a workable solution with the Tories is nothing short of ridiculous.

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Excuse me but WHO are the scaremongers?

By Angela Harbutt
April 12th, 2010 at 11:36 am | 6 Comments | Posted in Election

Its been widely reported today that the Tories have set up a website –

www.stopthescaremongering.com

– which they are encouraging voters to visit. They want people to demand an apology for what they call a “sick” Labour leaflet warning that the Tories would damage provision for cancer sufferers.

Sorry – but wasn’t it the Tories who were trying to terrify the country witless a couple of weeks ago that anything other than a huge Tory majority at the General Election would have the £ tumbling and the city in meltdown. Now thats proper scaremongering if you ask me.

At the Tory website there is a predrafted lettter you can send to Mr Burnham. I’ve adjusted it somewhat……

Dear Mr Burnham Cameron

I’m appalled by the way the Labour Conservative Party has tried to exploit cancer sufferers everyones fear about the state of the economy.

It is completely unacceptable to scare them with false claims about what the Conservative party democracy would do.

This kind of scaremongering has no place in British politics, and I trust you will be apologising for it without delay.

I would be grateful if you could also confirm that you will stop these postcards being distributed to anybody else, and that you will be apologising to every person who received this scaremongering postcard  heard your scaremongering statements.

I look forward to hearing from you at the earliest opportunity.

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Bullingdon vs Beckenham boys. Who will win?

By Angela Harbutt
November 23rd, 2009 at 6:35 pm | 9 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

david-cameron-bullingdon boysThe Tories are revolting.

And before Bunny drops me a line ticking me off – I should say that I don’t mean that pejoratively. I mean it literally.

Inspired by the success – or perhaps undeterred by the failure – of the “Turnip Taliban” in Norfolk, the grassroots Conservatives of Beckenham (a Tory seat if ever there was one) are now up in arms. Why? Pretty much for the same reason as the Turnip boys – they clearly don’t like being pushed around by Tory high command. This particular row is – well, it’s about women again. They clearly don’t like their leaders’ edict that there must be at least three women on the shortlist for the seat. Many snorts of derision from the boys from Beckenham – one local Tory stating that the calibre of women candidates was “very poor” (would that be the cancer research scientist or the acclaimed author I wonder?). No, they want Col Bob Stewart DSO – former commander of UN forces in Bosnia. He’s English, white, in his 50’s (ish) and all-round action man. That’ll do nicely.

Goodness only knows how Mr Cameron is going to get women-only shortlists through – which is his declared aim (mumblings of “when hell freezes over” can doubtless be heard across English rural pastures).

But I don’t think this actually about “women”, though doubtless many think we should “know our place”. Over in Orpington another (not so old) Tory duffer – this one a Mr Peter Hobbins – (shortlisted to run in the London Mayoral election no less) threw another grenade at the besieged Tory leader. After failing to reach the local shortlist of local parliamentary candidates, he went on an email rant to his mates complaining about the lack of “normal English names” on the list, and suggesting that he should perhaps change his name to “Petrado Indiano Hobbinso”. He might as well have confessed to completing a “how sexy am i” survey online and then posting his results on facebook.  

What does this tell us ? Well sadly it tells us that however hard Mr Cameron might try to convince us the Conservatives have changed, they haven’t. The cracks are definitely showing through the beautifully crafted Osbourne and Little wallpaper. The Tory party of old is still alive and thriving in the English counties – yearning for the good old days when foreigners were things you saw on holiday, women wanted nothing more than to cook you dinner, raise your children and warm your slippers and the poor had a role to play as long as they kept in their place.

One has to feel sorry for David. He must be sitting there pulling out his nicely coloured coiffured hair crying “don’t these bloody people get it ?” The answer would appear to be NO. The assumption that the Tories are so hungry for power that they will bury their differences and show a united front – at least until they get into power – would appear to be an incorrect one. I don’t know if this is madness or arrogance or both.

In spite of the current insurgence however, my suspicion is that the Bullingdon boys will indeed see off the Beckenham boys and any others that stand in their way.  But If the trade unions couldn’t stop Tony Blair, I see no reason to believe that grassroots Conservatives will be any more successful. Cameron is (like Mr Blair was prior to waging an illegal war on Iraq) an unstoppable force. He has the media slavering at his feet. It’s his brand of Toryism that millions of voters see on their TV sets every other night. He has the infrastructure, the contacts, the money and well, frankly, the power to push through pretty much anything he wants.

And let me say, liberal Conservatives and the “get out of Europe” Conservatives take heed. Over recent weeks I have been told by articulate supporters of both camps (libo’s and sceptics) that once David Cameron comes to power they will ensure that the party puts into practice their particular standpoints. They will “keep their powder dry for now” ….but come the glorious day……Yeah right. There is every reason to believe that with an adequate majority he will listen to his grassroots and backbench MPs just about as much as Tony Blair did. Yes Mr Cameron might talk about rolling back Labour laws – reinstating our freedoms – but we can see all the small print on that every time Chris Grayling open’s his mouth. As for Europe… well don’t make me laugh.

So my advice to all Conservatives out there right now is to pray for a slim majority or a hung parliament. That way the Tory backbenchers might just have a say. If however, Mr Cameron does “sweep to power” you can forget it. A large majority will give Cameron the mandate and the ability to do what the hell he wants and he shows every sign of doing just that. Yep, I reckon the Bullingdon boys have it pretty much sewn up.

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What does Iain Dale’s failure say about modern electoral politics?

By Mark Littlewood
October 18th, 2009 at 7:00 am | 10 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

iain-daleLast night, high profile blogger Iain Dale failed again in his search for a Tory seat in the next Parliament, by coming third in the Conservatives’ open primary to find a PPC to replace disgraced incumbent MP Andrew MacKay in Bracknell.

I don’t know Iain very well, but on the occasions I have met him, he has always come across an intelligent and well rounded bloke with a real passion for politics – and, indeed, for the Conservative Party.

The successfully selected Tory candidate was Philip Lee, who I understand is a local GP. I don’t know Dr Lee at all. He may well be the most erudite and talented British Conservative of modern times.  Certainly, Iain Dale is generous enough to describe him as “absolutely brilliant”.

But – even if Dale has been beaten by a political genius – it remains a surprise to me that he has been so staggeringly unsuccessful in pursuing his Parliamentary ambitions (and even more of a mystery as to why he harbours any!)

True, he was roundly thrashed by Norman Lamb at the last election. And I guess overseeing the conversion of a Liberal majority of less than 1% into a Liberal majority of 18% in 2005 is something of a black mark on his Conservative CV.

Some might claim that being openly gay is a disadvantage. I suppose that’s possible amongst the more paleolithic members of the Tory party – but surely is  not a fundamental problem overall in modern Britain.

I fear that Iain Dale’s failure to become an MP may be indicative of a wider problem in mainstream politics. It strikes me that the key attributes that the three main parties look for in candidates are usually:

1. Something approaching slavish loyalty to the party, its leader and its policies.

2. A Stakhanovite work ethic – in which your suitability for office (or at least for selection)  is partly measured in terms of the number of leaflets you have stuffed through doors or the number of by-elections you’ve assisted in. (This is to some extent a practical demonstration of point 1)

3. Proof of “local” credentials. Ideally, you and your family have lived within the same 5 square mile radius for generations.

This is a real annoyance for a voter like me. I basically want my politicians to be controversial, lazy and rather aloof.

The Tory party’s intriguing experiment with open primary selections has yet to show that it produces candidates who are either (a) of an obviously higher callibre or even (b) electorally more attractive as representatives of their own party.

When the occasional maverick does break through to the big time – such as Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson, they tend to have an energising and polarising effect, which – by and large – I think is good for our democracy.

But at “entry level” being a maverick is poison. Best not to have any really strong, controversial opinions of your own. If you are cursed with any heretical ideas, keep quiet about them. If you do really need to mention them,  be sure to do so only in private and in very hushed terms.

I suspect Iain Dale’s high media profile and tendency to say what he thinks mitigates against him becoming a Member of Parliament. If that’s right, that’s not just a career frustration for him, but suggests that the next Parliament will be as full of stuffed shirts as the present one.  Just next time, there will be more of them wearing blue rosettes rather than red ones.

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