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Is a referendum on AV enough?

By Angela Harbutt
May 10th, 2010 at 8:23 pm | 30 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

At 5.32pm I asked whether the Liberal announcements this afternoon were “Calamity or canny politics” .

 Well it would seem that the moves by the Liberals did indeed enhance Cameron’s hand such that – regardless of all those Tory back bench MP’s comments through this the day about preferring a minority Tory government to a Lib/Con agreement – the Conservative parliamentary party are, following their meeting, now backing an offer of a referendum on AV to the Liberals. And fixed term parliaments – though I thought that was already on the table – perhaps not!

There are questions that remain to be answered… WHEN would the referendum be held (ie soon?) andwill they put the legislative process in place beforehand, such that IF the referendum is passed by the voters – it goes onto the statute book a week or two after…. No long grass….

But then just as I am about to hit “publish” …I get a call to say that the Labour party have now privately offered the Liberals legislation on AV anda referendum on PR. Aution-orama…

The Liberals have invited talks with the Labour party – and I suppose to turn around just 3 hours later and say “oh sorry guys we were just using you to get the Tories to the position  we needed” might not be diplomatic. So I guess an hour or two or talks is necessary to save face.

But the lib/lab alliance would NOT be stable…it cant work… and would be a disaster. It’s a small step from being canny to over-egging it . Get this sorted soon.. Tie up the loose ends…do the deal with the Tories…..4 days is enough and people are beginning to tire of it now.

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A Lib/Con coalition is the only route. But….

By Angela Harbutt
May 7th, 2010 at 4:36 pm | 81 Comments | Posted in Election, UK Politics

After what was a very long night – and a couple of hours sleep – what’s the conclusion?

First it strikes me as somewhat amusing that all three party’s bloggers are disgruntled… Labour boys saying Brown’s got to go, the Tories asking how the hell did the Tories not win and that their strategists should go…and Liberals asking wtf happened to the so-called surge that left us with less seats than before. Lots of disgruntlement all round.

There will be a time and place to analyse the Lib Dem strategy and be in no doubt serious questions must be asked. But that is not for now. Now we have to ask what the Liberals do over the next 24/36 hours?

Nick did very well to make the statement when he did concerning the Tories. He looked decisive and in command. In reality he had no option but make that statement. A Lib/Lab coalition is not numerically possible unless it hoiks in all manner of smaller groups (all who seem to be demanding sack loads of cash for their support). A Lib/Con coalition does work numerically.And the Tories have more votes and more seats than any other party- though with only about a third (36%) of UK voters backing them, the Tories have no mandate to do anything.

Cameron recognises this – hence his expansive offer to the Liberals, an offer explained in some considerable detail (given the circumstances) on national TV,  on areas where he thought there was common ground – civil liberties (lets take him on face value for now), green issues, pupil premiums etc..Added to that John Major (who Cameron talks to a good deal we believe) has hinted that “seats in cabinet” might be on the table. What are we looking at 2/3 seats? Clegg/Laws/Cable ???? Probably.

On some issues he was less conciliatory. He disagrees with Liberals on Europe (though how many real decision have to be made in the next few years is questionable). He disagrees with Liberals on Trident (though this is down to cash and scales of resource and I guess not a deal breaker). The supposed differences on the timing of spending cuts are fewer than have been made out and immigration is unsortable by any party – so I am sure compromise can be found on all these issues.

On the issue of political reform Cameron has, however, put up a road block. His offer of an all party committee on political reform shouts of “kick this one into the long grass”…his suggestion that the Tory preference is a change to constituency boundaries shouts “kick this into very very long grass” .

He surely knows that this would be unacceptable to the Liberals – so is this just his opening offer – or does he really think he bully/face down Clegg on this issue? 

He is very wrong, if he thinks Clegg can roll over on PR.

Whilst a Lib/Con coalition looks like the ONLY way forward right now, Cameron & Clegg MUST find a deal on PR that they can both sell to their respective parties AND THE WIDER ELECTORATE.

At the moment, Liberals want PR now. Tories dont want PR at all….There is a solution here that both parties may find palatable. 

Agree to put the question of PR to the people in a referendum

Say – in the Autumn – with no whip involved. Tories can campaign against – and explain why. Liberals can campaign for. The will of the people decides.  

By now we all know about the Liberal “triple lock”  – Nick has to get any coalition deal through his party – and as we speak Labour high command are beavering away to make sure that a Lib/Con deal breaks down. Phonelines are hot as they call senior Liberal MPs and activists to put pressure on Nick NOT to do a Tory deal – using the “Tories wont give you PR , we will” line.  How do I know – I had a call from a “mate” from the other side asking me who in my opinion were the big guns on the Federal Executive (oh how I laughed).

So Cameron and Clegg need “to get real” fast. 

The Liberal parliamentary party (who must agree the deal) meet tomorrow (Saturday). The Liberal Federal Executive (who must also agree the deal) meet on Sunday. tick tock tick tock.

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Bit of a wobble ?

By Angela Harbutt
April 27th, 2010 at 11:31 pm | Comments Off on Bit of a wobble ? | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

It was to be expected that at some point the Liberals would wobble a little. That moment seems to be now.

I am not referring to the polls – though a couple of the most immediate ones do open up more of a lead for the Tories. I am referring to the immensely confusing mixed-message that we are hearing about who the Liberals will and won’t do business with in a hung parliament.

Watching Nick on Sunday –  Nick seemed very clear, very bold, very statesman-like in his position that, in the event that Labour polled the fewest votes of the three main parties, the idea of the Liberals propping up Gordon Brown in the position as PM would be preposterous. Here here. Simple, straightforward – how can any one disagree? And it took the sting out of the “Vote Clegg Get Brown” line.

Yes yes I know…what gives Nick the right to dictate to Labour who their leader is etc etc. But he was not saying that he would not seek to interfere in other parties business. (And as I heard it a good number of senior Labour figures agree with Nick).

As I saw it, Nick was EITHER

(A) in the event of coalition with Labour : angling for the position as PM (and why not – he takes on the roll – giving Labour time to have an election get a new leader in etc?) or he was

(B) edging slowly but surely toward a coalition with the Tories.

(C) Dismissing the vote Clegg get Brown line (or a combination of the above)

Why ever he said it,  he said it – outloud.

Then came the  briefing from one of Nick’s “advisors” attempting to “clarify” the situation.

Er oh…. as these things always do, the “clarification” just muddied the waters, sending  journalists into mini-hysteria on the possibility of a disagreement within the Liberal High Command. 

Has there been a falling out? Did one of the lefties in Liberal Shadow Cabinet throw a wobbly? Did Mandy throw a wobbly? Did Nick not mean to say that? Is Clegg deliberately taking the agenda in his own party up a notch? Come on someone must now why an advisor was told to go forth and clarify !!!  

Sometimes you just can’t UNSAY what’s been said

And like your handy SATNAV  you have to plot a new route from where you are – not try to retrace your steps to where you were on Saturday, and start over.  Those advising Nick would do well to take that on board the next time they feel the need to “clarify” what he says.

So the last 24 hours has seen journalists hungry to find the split, prise it apart, get at what the problem is. Nick managed the questions well today – but this was damage limitation at best.

Nick needs to get a grip – take charge – let his words stand – and please oh please – don’t let advisors explain to journos “What Nick was actually saying was this…”. 

Nick was perfectly clear on Sunday. The confusion is of the Liberals own making.  Here’s hoping this is a little wobble and no more.

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Cameron gets it wrong again

By Angela Harbutt
April 19th, 2010 at 2:41 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I read on the BBC website this morning that David Cameron is stating that a vote for Nick Clegg could leave Britain “stuck” with Labour”.

Some one needs to take David Cameron to one side and give him a sharp talking to. Because he is just plain wrong.Wrong on sentiment.Wrong on tactics.

First and foremost the current poll of polls puts the Tories on 33% with Labour and Liberal Democrats on 29% each (and who knows where this will end). Yes, on the “just for fun” BBC Election Seat Calculator this gives the Labour 280+ seats and the Tories about 240+ seats. 


It’s a rough and ready estimate….But its clearly in the right ball park …at least for now…. And yes it looks like it would have to be coalition with the Liberals- no other group looks to have enough.

Now on the face of it, as things stand, this puts Labour looking pretty. But (and it is a big “but”) the Liberals are SERIOUS about political reform – and a change to the first past the post system….I don’t see how they CAN opt for coalition with the Labour Party with more seats (won through the defunct old system)- over the Tories with more votes. Surely we have been saying for years that it’s the votes that count? We are the party that has the demand for a fair, proportional voting system at the heart of its manifesto.

So, currently, and assuming Mr Cameron can get his act together, in hung parliament land, its gotta be the votes that count – and therefore highly probable that the Liberals would indeed be talking to the Tories about coalition.

But herein lies the problem. Mr Cameron shows no sign of getting his act together. Not on his own campaign – not on his relationship with the liberals.

At the moment the Tories seem all at sea. Private recriminations internally about why Cameron did so poorly on the TV debate last week; unleashing their pet newspapers on Nick and the Liberals (which will incidentally only drive more voters to the Libs – the more you knock us the more the public will flock to us – cheers guys!); and of course, yet more talk of the disaster of a hung parliament, despite the fact that it’s clear the majority of voters WANT a hung parliament (recent Times poll says 53% are FOR a hung parliament with only 37% against). Come on Mr Cameron – you can’t keep saying that you (and the city) know best and the common voters are stupid (which seems to be your message right now).

“We know best” just isn’t a very smart political line in an anti-political age.


And what of the Tory campaign? Throughout this election, indeed throughout Cameron’s leadership we have seen the Tories lurch back and forth in all directions.  From the “hug a hoodie” party to the “bang ’em up” party with seemingly no pause for breath. They claimed to be the party of harsh realistic spending cuts that needed to be implemented NOW,  a few weeks later they were handing out tax giveaways like Father Christmas on speed. “The Big Society” was their self-confessed big idea for the general election (even if many of us really don’t get what that really means). Yet in the TV debate, David Cameron did not mention it once. Nor did he mention the flagship education policy for “free schools”, (which will allow parents or other providers to set up their own schools) during the education part of the debate. And the lack of any numbers in their manifesto had everyone scratching their heads. You just don’t seem to be able to get a real fix on them.

And for a party of optimism and change all we seem to get are threats…first it was that a hung parliament will cause financial meltdown in the city and now a hung parliament will let Labour back in.. Did talk of a hung parliament cause the volcanic ash cloud too?

The Iraq war, the excesses of the political elite and their rich mates, the constant lecturing tone..they have dripped into our psyche. We have had enough. For most, Cameron looked like the only option to rid us of the dreadful Labour party- but Tory arguments have drifted all over the place. The electorate are not that stupid. Yes they wanted a change. But they wanted authenticity too. And that just never emerged with the Tories. And in marketing terms..


“Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged”


In spite of this Cameron was the main man when there was no real competition. But competition has arrived. When millions saw Nick on TV on the leaders debate (for all his faults and the party’s faults), they saw something that is authentic and different. People get that.  Cameron really IS “Clegg-lite”.

So in the time that’s remaining, someone needs to tell Mr Cameron to “stick to the knitting”.  At the very least talk about policies and ideas and stop trying to badger and terrify us into voting Blue. It’s just not going to work.

As for Mr Cameron’s relationship with the liberals. What makes anyone think we would be willing to work with the Tories right now, even if they were first choice coalition partners?


All the Tory talk over recent weeks has been wholly anti-coalition and very definately against the kind of political reform that the Liberals are proposing. Any suggestion of change to the current voting system has been met with obstinate refusal. If David Cameron wants to be on the Government benches next month he may well need to rethink this, big time. Otherwise he might find himself spending a few short months on the opposition benches before the old Tory guard get their knives out.

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Stingray politics: Anything can happen in the next half hour…

By Angela Harbutt
April 17th, 2010 at 3:58 am | Comments Off on Stingray politics: Anything can happen in the next half hour… | Posted in Election, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

 stingrayIf a week’s a long time in politics – how about ninety minutes?

 That’s all it’s taken to turn this entire General Election on its head – boosting the LibDem vote share to 30%

 What happens next?

At a guess…


1. Labour plod on.

2. The Tories dog whistle (the Cameron vote share is now down at Howard/IDS levels)

3. Nick and the LibDems come under immense scrutiny (probably on personalities, not policy)

We’re way beyond hung parliament territory now. We’re into WTF territory. The LibDems are now just 14/1 to be the largest party after May 6th.

Perhaps David Cameron should be asked what he’ll do if he holds the balance of power and whether he’d be willing to serve as junior coalition partner in a Clegg government?

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