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Lib Dem disaster – you may as well blame the bird

By Angela Harbutt
May 28th, 2014 at 4:39 pm | 10 Comments | Posted in Europe, European Politics, Leadership, Liberal Democrats, Nannying

 

A lot has been said (and written) about why UKIP performed so well, and the Lib Dems so disastrously, last week. Much of the Lib Dem analysis has focused on the curse of coalition,  the thorny issue of Europe/migration (where the voters are merely misguided/stupid/plain wrong) and, more latterly, on playing the blame game -it wasn’t the message it was the messenger.

Sorry – it is none of the above. It is the simple fact that people don’t know what the Lib Dems are about …and don’t care about the things the party seems to care about, or simply disagree with them. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but people have had enough of bossy Europe, don’t want a nanny state that treats them like children and couldn’t give a toss about electoral reform.

In opposition, the LibDems were the party of protest – the “none of the above” party. With no one else on the block it had an easy ride.  It possibly didn’t matter that whilst some Lib Dem policies straddled the vast majority of its members – opposition to the Iraq war.. a stance against ID cards.. internationalism (although even there we all have our views on how to define that) – the rest of the policies were a mish-mash … a little bit liberal a little bit social democrat.  But no clarity. No one really knew what the Lib Dems stood for, (apart from “none of the above”) . To overcome this dog’s breakfast, each Lib Dem nuanced the message on any individual policy  to try to weave a cohesive message – inevitably sounding increasingly like political automatons than real people. The “curse of the coalition” has been simply to expose the fact that the Lib Dems don’t have a clear and simple proposition. (And no! asking the electorate to reward the party for making the ultimate sacrifice of going into coalition and/or for putting a stop on some Tory policies wont cut it)

Well now there is a new kid on the block. UKIP – which has an extra-ordinarily clear and simple message and (potentially devastating news for Lib Dems) it extends well beyond Europe and immigration.

Jeremy Brown summed it up pretty well on Question Time :

” …When it comes to globalisation our best prospects for being successful as a country are to be outward looking and internationalist, but I think there is a perfectly legitimate opposite view, and that is the view that UKIP put forward.

But that is not just what UKIP represent. And I think that the political classes and the media elite need to understand the state of mind of a lot of people, particularly beyond London, who are voting for UKIP… Now some of them may be racist or sexist. I am sure some of them are.

But I think some of them object to being told the whole time by that elite, what they should eat, what they should drink, what they should say, what they should believe in. And I think Nigel Farage for quite a lot of those people is just a big two fingers stuck up to what they feel is a hectoring out of touch elite. Now they may be unreasonable, they may be angry beyond the point they should be, but I think politicians in the other parties need to spend a little bit of time reflecting if there is a protest vote, why people are wanting to protest, and not just bandy all those people as being racist or what ever it might be.”

Actually I am not sure that UKIP opposes being “internationalist and outward looking” – they have a different solution. And to be honest I don’t agree that people are “angry beyond the point they should be” – I think the voters have a right to be bloody angry – and show it. But Jeremy is right that the UKIP rise much much more than being anti-EU.

Dig below the media caricature of UKIP and the message is plain and simple (and potentially rather attractive) – Return more power to an accountable Westminster – and deliver a Westminster that will interfere less. Of course there are some pretty unsavoury characters within UKIP and some rather unpleasant utterances from time to time. But the party is very young and voters (who are not as stupid as the elite seem to think) are willing to look past their mistakes in the belief that something exciting, clear and refreshingly straight-talking is being formed.

If the Lib Dems are to survive in any shape or form they need to stop being the party of “stop” or “none of the above” and find an equally clear, simple and human message that voters understand – and just to be clear …ideally one that a reasonable number of voters agree with and care about.

That is not a revelation. Many have been saying the same thing for some considerable time. The question is how to get to that point.

I think it is simple. For too long the Liberal Democrat party has been a party of fudge, priding itself on being a party of process, committees and sub-committees seemingly oblivious to the fact that this is the very heart of the problem. There are too many people with a slice of power but no accountability. Nick may be called leader – but he is in effect little more than the chief spokesperson – the face of the party – you may as well blame the bird as the leader for the disastrous results last week. As for conference… the party declares itself democratic but denies the vast majority of Lib Dem members the opportunity to vote on policy . That is not democratic that is elitist. You have to be one of the “in-crowd” to obtain a magical voting card – and have the means and opportunity to up-sticks and get to some far flung place to exercise that right.

And it is the elitism that permeates the very heart of the Lib Dems that sucks. We have bumbled along allowing too many elites on too many committees to exert power without any responsibility. They rejoice in getting one over on the leadership at conference- even when that message is out of kilter with the rest of the party, or indeed the wider voting public. And if they can get conference to pass a motion to form another panel or sub-committee to investigate x y or z policy, providing they can fill it with their buddies, they are in clover.

The Lib Dems has become a party run by smug middle classes who think they know best on everything. Better than the leadership, better than the constituents our MPs are supposed to serve.  If we allow the leadership to be batted from pillar to post and forced into pledges and promises they don’t agree with or cant deliver by countless numbers of committees and policy groups, voted through by a minority of activists at the seaside, we should not be surprised that the result is a disjointed message, political double-speak and a hopeless mass of contradictions. We are a party of freedom of speech but voted in favour of Leveson’s press restrictions (we hate Murdoch). We are the party who says “trust in people” but support the plain packaging of cigarettes and appear to want a fizzy drinks tax ( we only “trust in people” when they agree with us).  We want to champion “hard working” people – but heaven forbid that those people are sufficiently successful in their endeavours that they become rich because we will tax them to hell and back (basically we all work in the public sector).

While the Lib Dems play introspective sixth form politics, UKIP is getting on with the business of telling people what it stands for. Maybe that is because the smoking, drinking, straight-talking leader of UKIP is actually allowed to lead – not just be a figurehead. I am sure that Nick will say he has more power than that… perhaps… but not much.

Egos need to be crushed. Committees slashed. Decision making on policy and manifesto returned to those who are accountable. A camel is a horse designed by committee – and at the moment we are one sick-looking camel.

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Fringe Event: “Why aren’t the Liberal Democrats more liberal?”

By Editor
September 15th, 2013 at 8:00 am | 1 Comment | Posted in conference

Looking for a good Conference fringe event for Sunday evening? Look no further. Topical debate, lively speakers.

“Why aren’t the Liberal Democrats more liberal?

Date/Time: Sunday 15th Sept 1815-1930

Place: Alsh 2 Room, SECC Conference Centre.

Chairman: Mark Littlewood, Director General, IEA

Speakers:

Jeremy Browne MP

Emma Carr, Deputy Director, Big Brother Watch

Julian Huppert MP

Chris Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics, IEA

Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of LibDem Voice

Hosted by Liberal Vision and the Institute of Economic Affairs.

See you there we hope!

 

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Minimum Pricing: Battle lines are drawn

By Editor
December 2nd, 2012 at 3:37 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

There is an article in the Mail Online today that will warm the hearts of every good liberal.

Whilst Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne MP has been gagged (as has Farming Minister David Heath MP,) on the topic of minimum pricing of alcohol, word has leaked out that Jeremy is clearly on the side of the angels:

“…friends of Mr Browne have told The Mail on Sunday that he disputes claims that the policy is certain to cut binge drinking – or reduce the number of pub fights.”

A source close to Mr Browne said: ‘Jeremy’s view is that the thug who has downed nine cans of lager is hardly going to think, “Oh dear, I can’t afford a tenth because of minimum pricing. I think I’ll go home to bed instead of starting a brawl.”

Needless to say his stance has meant that Tory Police Minister Damian Green has been given the task of speaking publicly in support of the policy. Jeremy is right of course. As is the assertion made on his behalf :

“Jeremy maintains that the middle-class woman in Oxfordshire who drinks a £10 bottle of Chablis every other night will not be affected because it won’t go up in price and she can afford it anyway,’ said the source.

‘But the working-class woman in Oldham who drinks a cheap bottle of Lambrini will be hit because it will cost more”

Well said that man. Is his, and other MP’s, opposition enough though? It would appear sadly that there is no ‘organised’ campaign against minimum pricing to date. It is not clear if this is because the supermarkets & drinks companies are following the strategy of appeasement, looking at the likely boost to their incomes such a policy will deliver regardless of the hurt it will cause their customers, or were genuinely taken by surprise. Perhaps they feel the policy is too absurd to worry about?

But history tells us that you need more than having right on your side and reasoned arguments to win against the relentless, rich and powerful lobbying health “charities”. With privileged access to policy makers, often funded by those they lobby, these fake charities rarely fail their paymasters in delivering the desired outcome in such “public” consultations.

There are signs of a resistance building. An e-petition against minimum pricing was created a while ago but has trebled signatures in the past 24 hours and an informative facebook page here (and an event to sign up to here) has appeared in the past couple of days (that from which we harvested much info – thanks!) .We have also seen the excellent Chris Snowdon step up to the plate with a must read report (co-authored by statistician John C. Duffy) “Minimum evidence for minimum pricing” and enjoyed his many and brilliant turns on the media. And of course we have the efforts of Pub Curmudgeon, Dick Puddlecote, Frank DaviesSpiked! ASI, IEA and TPA, (and many others) to count on. (We also hear tell of a newspaper campaign though can’t pin that one down right now).

Whether their efforts, combined with the fact that minimum pricing is illegal , fails the evidence test, is based on a flawed model, punishes the poor, the sensible and the moderate, and of course that public opinion is against it, is enough to win out against the might and money of the government’s own pet groups, on a mission to deliver Mr Cameron’s desired outcome, however remains to be seen. For now our thanks and appreciation to Jeremy (and many other MPs) for standing firm.

Ps if you want to get the minimum pricing widget (above) for your web site, click here (courtesy of the marvelous Pub Curmudgeon).

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Tackling the Shiraz riots of 2012

By Angela Harbutt
October 20th, 2012 at 1:38 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

 

The Telegraph is carrying the stark warning today that the government is set to outlaw the discounting of bulk deals on wine by supermarkets, as part of a review on alcohol pricing. Ministers, they say, believe such promotions give customers a financial incentive to purchase more alcohol than they intended to buy and should be banned. It is said this is another measure being championed by the PM himself.

When this whole alcohol review was launched, the alcohol review was billed as all about trouble-making youths and other anti-social drinkers. 

The availability of cheap alcohol has been a key contributing factor in the development of this country’s binge-drinking culture. The government will no longer tolerate the sale of heavily discounted alcohol which leads to irresponsible behaviour and unacceptable levels of crime and health harms.”

To be clear I am totally against minimum pricing of alcohol, it is regressive, nannying, unfair and won’t work.  We have laws to deal with “anti-social” behaviour and crime. But this latest proposal really is paternalism gone mad. Who, I wonder “preloads” with bottles of Merlot before hitting the night clubs? Since when did Chardonnay drinkers hang around the city centre on a Saturday night hurling abuse at passers by? I don’t know and I bet the government doesn’t know either.

So what business is it of government if a shop offers me a deal, that incentivises me to buy 2 botttles of wine rather than 1, indeed 24 bottles of wine instead of 12? Isn’t that between me and the shop? It doesn’t mean I have to drink it all in one session. I frequently buy 24 toilet rolls in one session. I probably only intended to buy 4, but the shop “incentivised” me. I have also been known to buy as many as 36 cans of Coke in one go because the price was great and frankly it is more convenient for me to buy in bulk and saves me precious time and money.  I don’t rush home and consume them all at once, but even if I did whose business is it? Certainly not the government’s.

Bizarrely the Government appears to be leaving wine clubs untouched. It seems it is OK to plan to buy case loads of wine, just unacceptable to pick up a bargain whilst doing the weekly shop. Perhaps supermarkets have been added to the list of sinners, including bankers and energy companies on David Cameron’s hit list. Or maybe it is that wine clubs are the preserves of the rich middle classes who can be relied upon to decant their wine, sniff and sip, and behave in an altogether more refined manner.

I doubt there will be Shiraz riots any time soon. To be frank the supermarkets will just cut the bottle price rather than offer multi-buy discounts and life will go on. For now.

But the language being used here “the government will not tolerate ….” is very worrying. So too is the assault on the right of socially responsible people to buy a legal product in the quantities, and at the price, they choose without interference from government. Banning people from purchasing discounted wine from Waitrose or Tescos is clearly not about binge-drinking, anti-social behaviour or criminal activity – so why is this particularly bizarre proposal being seemingly led by the Home Office?

It is hard to tell how far the creeping influence of health lobby groups has actually reached – but it seems even to the Home Office. That combined with the paternalistic nature of a certain number of those in power, (Mr Cameron at the top of that list) who seem to say one thing (“individual responsibility”) but do something very different, has led us to this place.

There is a meeting scheduled next week between Mr Cameron and the Home Office. Here is hoping the likes of Damian Green and Jeremy Browne can remind the PM of what he said back in 2010

“…all these insights lead to one conclusion that is central to Conservatism: the more responsibility we give people, the more likely they are to make ethical decisions. “

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Orange Bookers Vs Social Democrats : the movie part 2

By Angela Harbutt
October 2nd, 2012 at 2:36 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Apologies to all you folks wanting to see the second part of the IEA/LV fringe event at Lib Dem Conference. Technical glitches have now been sorted. Enjoy.

00023 from Institute of Economic Affairs on Vimeo.

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