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Hung Parliament and the value of the £ – part 2

By Angela Harbutt
March 18th, 2010 at 5:08 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Well, Nick might have thought the discussion about hung parliament and the value of the £ had been put to bed with his comments last week. Not so. Here is a short extract from Tuesday night’s Newsnight – an interview with Lord Steel and Terry Smith (from brokerage Tullet Prebon).

Rarely have I seen anyone praise Vince Cable as highly as Mr Smith. But note the recurring theme we are hearing from many on the business side of UK plc – that the cuts being proposed by ALL three main parties are simply insufficient for the scale of the problem.
Come on Nick, let Vince off his leash to tell it as it really is.

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Coalition: Chris Huhne confirms – the Cyberlock applies

By Angela Harbutt
March 13th, 2010 at 1:43 am | 23 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

cybermanLast night’s Newsnight (see below) led on the LibDem protocols in the event of a hung Parliament. Chris Huhne stood up to the plate to answer Gavin Esler’s questions off the back of a pretty jaw dropping package by Michael Crick.

 Chris said that he understood a conference resolution passed in Southport in 1998 applies to the party post-May 6th if there’s no overall majority in the House of Commons.

 This would mean that Nick would require a 75% majority of BOTH LibDem MPs and 75% of the Federal Executive before (according to Crick) Nick could “do a deal”. And “not just coalition”. Nick would need this support before signing up to “any substantial proposal which could affect the party’s independence of political action”.

 Brian Orrell – who seems an all round nice bloke, and used to play a Cyberman in the old Dr Who TV series – may play a decisive role in virtue of his role as Federal Exec Vice President.

If Nick Clegg fell short of these hurdles, I gather that he could choose to convene a conference by the seaside or conduct a members’ ballot or something equally insane.

(Bear in mind that the total membership of the party is now measurably less than the number of registered voters in ONE parliamentary constituency and the number of LibDem federal conference reps would be less than the electorate in a standard Parish council ward…how democratic is that?).

If we want to claim that a hung Parliament is not necessarily a bad thing and that the markets needn’t panic, we at least need to have our own rules sorted out. And these rules need to be both sane and practical.

If these really are our rules, it’s hard to argue that the financial markets should show any confidence at all in the likely LibDem response to a no-majority situation at Westminster.

Let’s hope Nick makes it very plain in his leader’s speech that he will totally disregard the Southport rules, made quite clearly for a different age.

Watch the full Newsnight programme here.

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A hung Parliament and the value of the £. Discuss.

By Angela Harbutt
March 11th, 2010 at 10:48 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

In response to emails asking to see the Newsnight piece (3rd March 2010) about the relationship between media headlines on the growing (?) possibility of a hung parliament and the value of the £ and specifically that reference to the Liberal Democrats being unable to enter “formal” coalition without the support of 75% of MPs and “top party brass”. Here it is…..

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Nick closes one can of worms. But has another one just opened up?

By Angela Harbutt
March 11th, 2010 at 6:19 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

nick_clegg_large1Nick Clegg is the media darling today. Following his interview with the Independent , everyone is speculating that the possibility of a Liberal coalition (with the party “with the  strongest mandate”) is back on….

Well, perhaps not quite… What he appears to say is that all options are open  including a formal coalition with Liberal Democrats sitting in the Cabinet..”. That did not seem to be feeling coming from Lib Dem high command previously. So a subtle shift towards the possibility of coalition (taking into account the 4 steps to fairness)? Certainly looks like it.

Another interesting twist offered today – picked up on by many media commentators – is the possibility of a deal with either Tories or Labour. There was a time when a “deal” with this morally bankrupt disgraceful government looked impossible. But the polls suggest that Labour are not so down and out as they once were.  And several commentators see Nick’s statement today as win for Labour.

But what does Nick’s Interview really tell us?

Not that much in my view.

1. We still have not addressed the issue of whether Nick CAN go into formal coalition with either Labour or the Tories. Last weeks Newsnight (March 3rd) stated that for Lib Dems to go into formal coalition with any party, it required 75% of MPs and “top party brass” to agree to it. If correct, it’s  not his call to make. More on that later….

2. In his interview today, Nick launched an all out attack on the Tories. He described warnings by David Cameron, George Osborne and Kenneth Clarke about market instability in a hung parliament as an act of economic vandalism and a political protection racket“. As I stated, some pundits have suggested that this is a hint that the Liberals are more inclined to do a deal with Labour. But this can just as easily be interpreted as Nick firing a warning shot across the bows of the Tories. Play dirty with me sunshine and you will know about it. It must surely strengthen his negotiating hand if he shows now that he wont be bullied by the Tories. Or indeed perhaps a way of keeping activists within the party at bay. Ruling out a deal with the Labour party a couple of days before Lib Dem Party conference would be interesting to say the least..

 3. Protocol. In the event of no outright majority being secured by any party, it is the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who gets first dibs on convincing HRH that he can “command the majority of the House of Commons”  i.e. he gets to talk to the Liberals first. Brown’s move toward a new electoral system, and his obvious determination to remain PM what ever the cost, suggests that he WILL try to do a deal with the Liberals. BUT… Nick has committed that Liberals actions “will be shaped by the mandate given by the voters”. As it seems most likely that the Conservatives will overtake Labour at the election, it is hard to see how Liberals can justify a deal with Labour to the public (as tempting as the promise of electoral reform might be).

So if Nick has to politely decline, and Gordon Brown cannot command the House, the Queen will send for someone else to form a government. In theory, that could be any politician, but in reality that will be David Cameron.

Cameron looks extremely unlikely to bow to the fourth of Nick Cleggs demands (a change the voting system). So the most likely outcome is that a deal, falling short of full coalition, will emerge. One that gives Nick enough such that the Liberals allow the Queens speech and the budget to pass but keeps the Liberals firmly on the opposition benches. Then Cameron will run to the country as soon as the polls look like he will secure an outright victory – 6 months/12 months in?

So it looks like Nick WONT BE ABLE to do a deal with Labour and the Tories WONT WANT TO do a deal with Nick (or indeed not actually need to if they election strategy returns disproportionate votes in the key seats).

What has come out of todays interview with the Independent is that Nick has shown himself to be a man not to be messed with and has set out the terms of a deal. He has subtley shifted the onus onto the other two party leaders to say what THEY will do in the event of a Hung Parliament. Or has he ?

The questions for Nick wont go away. With the tanatalising prospect that the Liberals might do the coalition thing, the media, Labour and Tory strategists and uncle Tom Cobley will now all be clamouring to find out in what circumstances Nick CAN do the coalition thing. Hacks up and down the country will discover a new found appetite for crusty old Lib Dem resolutions about who’s, the hows and the when’s the Liberals can go into formal coalition. The next bout of questions will be about “What are the internal protocols and rules concerning coalition?”, ” How long will it take to get 75% of MPs to support it – an hour, a day, a week?”, “Who exactly are the “top party brass”. And so it will go on…. cans of worms will just keep opening up.

Nevertheless this is a good day for Nick. Some in the party will roll their eyes and say he should not talk about it…. ever…keep talking policy and refuse to countenance any conversation on the “C” word. Those that work in the media know that is simply not an option. He has shown great leadership and subtlety in how he has managed the debate thus far. He now needs to hold his nerve and be ready for the next barrage of questions.

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Coalition or chaos – it’s your call, Nick

By Angela Harbutt
March 2nd, 2010 at 4:56 pm | 8 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

gordon-brown-0011So now its a real fight. Who do we choose? On my left I give you the bullying, bullshitting, bad tempered – bad man of politics – GORDON BROWN. He who wants to be judged on his moral compass yet surrounds himself with unpleasant characters who intimidate and smear his political opponents, from whatever party, at every turn. He who talked up “Prudence” whilst on the biggest spending binge ever, who raided pension funds, sold our gold at its lowest level for years and who invested more of his time and effort undermining the then Prime Minister, than he did keeping watch on the finances of this country. Hmmm.

On my right I give you the smiling snake oil salesman -the suave, the slick – DAVID CAMERON.david-cameron1Yes the one with the airbrushed photos and dyed hair who beams benignly and promises his party has changed but who cannot be pinned down on anything of any substance. Who talks about being liberal and wanting government with ” a lighter touch” but then brings the full force of his party heavyweights down on his own party regional offices if they dare defy him. The man who has talked such a lot – delivered polished speeches to perfection…and yet said so very little. A man who surrounds himself with friends in Notting Hill kitchens (Coulson, Ashcroft, Osborne and co) no matter how dubious their actions, history or levels of competence best that can be said of him is that he is not Brown – the worst that he is another Tony Blair. Been there done that.

Added to this we have seen what happens when one party wields total power – with a huge majority. The party whips rule; minsters all powerful; bright intelligent MPs sidelined because they challenge the leadership; loyal and dimwitted MPs more likely to end up in the cabinet; debate stifled; decisions taken behind closed doors with little or no scrutiny; laws rammed through.

Why would you want either of those leaders in power? Why would you want either party to win a landslide election when we have felt the pain that they bring, one too many times ? No wonder people are confused. No wonder the polls are erractic.  No wonder, people are talking …correction.. welcoming… the prospect of a hung parliament. None of the other checks and balances have worked. Maybe this one will.

BUT!  The prospect of a hung parliament – without a clear view about what that will mean for the finances of the country – is going to send the markets into tail spin. Why? Because they assume that we will end up with a fudged government with no power to make the cuts necessary, fighting day to day to get each tiny bit of legislation through, and almost certainly resulting in another election within twelve months. What the markets want is certainty and that is not what it looks like.

Of course at the moment we don’t have a single party willing to be honest with us about the economy – the severity of cuts necessary. We all know we are being lied to. And every day our debt gets bigger. So it could be argued that it is not clear that any party will do what is needed.

So we are standing on the brink of disaster. Nick, its time to bring some honesty and forthrightness to the debate. Specifically on (1) the economy and (2) what you will actually do if there is a hung parliament.

1. THE ECONOMY : Be honest about the level of the cuts necessary. Vince Cable is the most trusted politician there is on financial matters. He was the lone voice of caution in the boom years. Yes he was derided by both Tories and Labour (and the media) when he told us bust was waiting round the corner. But he was also proven right. So where is he now? We seem to be arguing about the small stuff . Is it green enough, are we too reliant on banks. Maybe, maybe. But can talk about that when we have an economy worth squabbling about? Where is that beacon of light – that honesty now when we need it ? Show us the real Vince. Show us the real plan – not the sanitised one.  

2. HUNG PARLIAMENT: If we were in “the boom years” Nick, you could fudge what the Liberals would do in the event of a hung parliament. If Britain had cash sloshing around in our coffers, if we had a strong £, if we had shrinking unemployment, if we had financial institutions that were lining up to invest in Britain, if our AAA rating was not hanging in the balance yes then Nick, you could get away with it. And it would probably be the right strategy. The dangers of speaking out are immense and caution might be wise.

But country is not in that position. This country is in dire financial straits. The £ is stuttering at the news of the possibility of a hung parliament. Don’t play politics with our lives and livelihoods.

This country needs a strong Lib Dem party to tell us where it stands. Not a sit on the fence – play it safe – we haven’t planned for hypothetical situations – Lib Dem party. (What ? you only make your plans AFTER the event?). We need a bold and brave – forget the past – lets start a new period of politics- tell it how it is – get the country out of this mess  Lib Dem party. 

At the moment no one is at all clear what “working with” the party with a “mandate from the voters” means. Not me. Not the voters. Not the markets. Stop talking Westminster speak and tell us what you mean. Coalition or not?  The Guardian says you are planning to rule out coalition “because aides and senior MPs argue it would be highly dangerous for the Liberal Democrats to become minority partners in a coalition government”.

That would seem to suggest that , in the event that no party gets an outright majority, you allow either party to pass a Queen’s speech if it makes some concessions to your four prioirities (fair tax, investment in education, a rebalanced economy, political reform).

But whispering tit bits to the Guardian is not the same as telling it straight. OK you’ve let the Queen’s speech go through… Will you abstain or vote through the budget ? Shove in loads of amendments to make it more to your liking? How will you vote the next week or the week after that? Will a weak minority Government lurch from one deal to another as you stand by mildly and meekly watching sterling plummet, and the stock market nosedive? Is Vince Cable destined to spend the next 12 months commentating on the news or making the news?

The country goes to the wall because some of your aides and MPs care more about their political careers than the state of the nation? Maybe they just dont like the idea of actually being in power.

Or perhaps it’s that you can’t go into coalition. With all the will in the world you dont have the power to make that decision? The BBC reports that you “would have to get a formal coalition deal past (your) members” . If true then change the rules at next week’s conference. Tell them you can’t run a party on that basis right now. 

Cowardly or castrated. Which is it ?

The madness is, from what I have seen, you are neither. You started slowly (not a bad thing) but it looks for all the world that you are just hitting your stride. Perfect timing. You have the honesty, integrity and personal belief to make a difference. To change politics. So what’s stoppping you?

You will be dogged by these questions and many others of a similar vein over the coming weeks. Constant reference to a 4 point plan is not going to cut it with the voters, with the media or with the markets. Come on Nick. Step up to plate. The Liberals have to piss or get off the pot. If we are not prepared to take up coalition – to take up the reins of power when the country needs it most (now) then we don’t deserve to be the third party. 

I think I am right in saying that both you and Vince have said publicly that the country’s plight is more important than petty party politics. Prove that you mean that. Give us some honesty. Show us your mettle. I think if you will do that, you will win the hearts and minds of this country. Hell, maybe even save it.

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