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Lib Dems : All process, but no real plan

By Editor
March 23rd, 2015 at 2:03 pm | No Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

HAT TIP: Dan Hodges has written an interesting article in the Telegraph, identifying that Lib Dem HQ is throwing many Lib Dem seats to the wolves in an effort to “survive” – funneling central money into only those constituencies it deems “winnable”.

The Telegraph article states that hard-headed Lib Dem HQ has ceased funding to a vast raft of seats, employed a US based analytics company to develop a system for micro-targeting key constituencies, and plan to ramp up Nick’s profile massively in the coming weeks. The Lib Dem leader will be “asked to “walk through the flames” one MP apparently warns (not literally, we hope, but who can tell?).

So far so good – although who knows the cost of the US company – in our collective experience they never come cheap. The Lib Dems did need a more rational system to dispersal of the, comparatively, limited money it raises. The old “system” (wide-spread flinging of money across the board) witnessed in previous campaigns was clearly not working. So that is a clear improvement on the past. And putting Nick out front is clearly the right choice. With a lame set of policies he is one of the few assets the party has remaining.

Also to be welcomed is the eventual acknowledgement that the perennial Lib Dem mantra ” It feels good on the doorstep”… is about as reliable as a support bra without the wires.

“A few will try to argue ‘But it feels really good on the doorstep’. We have to explain to them that it may feel like that, but it isn’t like that.”

Shame then, with all this marketing magnificence brought into play, no one thought to spend some time and thought on the actual product. Lame policies, contradictory values and dull assertions that “we are nicer than that lot but more responsible than the other lot” is hardly going to set the world on fire – or win votes for that matter.

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What are the Lib Dems for?

By Editor
March 14th, 2015 at 12:12 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in conference, Liberal Democrats

HAT TIP:  In case you missed it Mark Littlewood (former Lib Dem spin doctor and co-founder of Liberal Vision) had an interesting article in the Telegraph yesterday, to coincide with the start of the Lib Dem Spring conference. Kind it is not. Accurate it is undoubtedly is.

The essence of Littlewood’s point is that the Lib Dems have no message to the voter – other than to promise to be less mean that the Conservatives and more financially hard-headed than Labour… “to water down the convictions and ideals of our main political opponents“. This is certainly borne out by speeches being made up and down the country by Lib Dem MPs, highlighting what the Lib Dems have stopped the Tories doing over the past five years and why Labour can be trusted to go it alone for the next five.

And that is the problem, he says, no one knows what the Lib Dems are for.

“Obviously, there is nothing intrinsically immoral or wicked about such a proposition, but it certainly doesn’t get the pulse racing. There simply aren’t going to be millions of voters trooping to polling stations in May because they are passionate about injecting just a dash more moderation into our government. On the big questions facing Britain, the LibDems don’t sound radical at all. Is the overall tax burden too high or too low? Does the state intervene too much or too little in our lives? Is our relationship with the EU too close or too loose? Very often, the Lib Dems seem to believe that we have the balance of everything more or less right and just need a very small tweak here or there.”

[Agreed. Whether you like them or hate them, you have to accept that the parties on the rise, UKIP, Greens, SNP have conviction and passion by the bucket-load and none of them are in any doubt that things need to change for one reason of another].

Littlewood suggests that even if 20 or 30 Liberal Democrat MPs do make it back to Westminster, and by some chance find themselves back in coalition “it is hard to be at all sure what on earth they would do with it”.

Quite. So, what is the point of voting for them? – it’s like ticking the “don’t know” box on a multiple choice question. Perhaps Liverpool will provide some answers.

You can read the full article here.

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What if Nick Clegg loses his seat at the election?

By Angela Harbutt
February 26th, 2015 at 1:48 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I read an interesting article on Nick Barlow’s blog a few days ago, posing the question, “What if Nick Clegg loses his seat at the election”.

In the natural order of things, the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party, the RT Hon Sir Malcolm Bruce MP would become “acting leader” until the party could set up and run a full leadership contest.  But the problem, staring us all in the face is that Malcolm is standing down at this election. Come May 8th, the Lib Dems may well not have a Leader or a Deputy Leader.

In light of the Deputy Leader’s decision not to stand for re-election, it is a question I too have been considering in recent weeks. After all, Nick’s Sheffield Hallam seat is by no means “safe” and the distinct possibility of yet another coalition of some sort looms large, given the current polling figures. Like Nick Barlow, I have no idea if the Leader will lose his seat, nor indeed do I have perfect insight into how the political landscape will look come May 8th. It is entirely possible, given the lamentable state of the Labour Party and the utterly appalling personal ratings of its hapless leader, that the Conservative Party will, in the weeks to come, surge ahead and end up with a clear (if small) majority.

Nick Barlow and I are not alone. Earlier this month, Matthew Norman wrote in the Independent that (a) “it is likelier than ever that the Liberal Democrats will retain the balance of power, even with a massively shrunken parliamentary presence” and (b) ” there is a serious chance that the Lord Haw-Haw of tuition fees will lose his student-laden seat.” He too asked the inevitable question. If Nick does lose his seat

“who will enter coalition talks as Lib Dem interim leader, and how might that person be chosen?”

Just in case people think that the Lib Dems are total idiots, the Lib Dems have an appointed 2015 negotiating team, for better or worse, consisting of Danny Alexander MP, Steve Webb MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, David Laws MP and Baroness Sal Brinton (President of the British Liberal Democrats). Of course, 4 of the 5 negotiators are MPs seeking re-election. Come May 8th it may be that 2 or 3 of these are likewise searching for new lines of work. Can a negotiating team really go into battle with 4 out of 5 of them now outside of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party? Well that kind of depends on the strength of the leader.

So the question we must address is who does this team report to? Who will be the Leader if Nick does lose Sheffield Hallam?

Nick Barlow suggests a kind of Lib Demmy coup d’état – whereby those Lib Dem MPs still standing, meet up pretty pronto (Friday) and quickly elect a leader (or “acting leader”) amongst themselves, with the Federal Executive meeting a day later (Saturday) to “authorise” the Parliamentary Party’s choice. He argues, quite reasonably, that this procedure could be adopted in a case where force majeure applies (misplacing both your Leader and Deputy Leader does surely count as force majeure).

I don’t agree with Nick Barlow’s proposal. Sure, I reckon that all Lib Dem MPs can (and probably will) congregate in one place on Friday 8th – but whether they can agree on a new leader in a matter of minutes or hours is another issue all together. And please NO NO NO to getting the Federal Executive to “authorise” anything!

But at least Nick Barlow has the cojones to put forward an idea.

Think about it. Imagine a scenario where, in the wee small hours of May 8th, it becomes clear that the Conservatives are going to be 20 seats short of the finishing post. David Cameron surely gets onto the phone to Nick and asks if the Lib Dems are willing to open negotiations of some kind. In Nick Barlow’s scenario Nick will have to say “sorry Dave, I lost my seat. I reckon that by teatime the Parliamentary Party should have elected a new interim leader – fingers crossed – but I don’t know who that will be – do you mind hanging on for a while whilst they sort things out. Good luck, someone will get back to you”.

Later that day, and after much wrangling, an Acting Leader is selected by the Parliamentary Party – but wait, the Lib Dems still can’t open negotiations because the Federal Executive haven’t endorsed it yet!

OK, you say, but we have a negotiating team that can get to work on Friday morning. No they can’t. If Nick has lost his seat, he can’t send them in, and without a leader they have no authority. No leader (Labour or Conservative) worth his salt is going to agree that his party sits down with what amounts to a random bunch of “Lib Dem folks”, of which only one or two are actual members of the Parliamentary Party. The Conservatives may as well approach 20 individual Lib Dem MPs one by one and see if they can get to the magic 20 or so required.

In this option, at best the world is put on hold whilst the Lib Dems scramble around “trying to find a leader” and are rightfully ridiculed by the media, rival political parties and the wider public as they do so. At worst the Lib Dems are by-passed as Mr Cameron sees if another solution is available in short order – one that perhaps involves the DUP/UKIP (and maybe a handful of Lib Dem MPs with the courage of their convictions to get on with it).

Taking into account how the real world operates (something I know many Lib Dems are loathed to do), I would like to offer up two further options if Nick loses his seat.

Option 1. Retain the elected Lib Dem leader – Nick Clegg- as acting leader during the course of any coalition negotiations and see the party through until a new leader and deputy leader can be found by due process. After all it will be his negotiating team (or what’s left of them) who may have to go into battle with the Conservatives or Labour, and who knows better the ins and outs of the system than him? Ok, it may break half a dozen Lib Dem constitutional clauses, but if this is a case where force majeure applies, I don’t think keeping Nick in charge has any less validity than a proposing to exclude the entire membership from the process. (See how Ed Miliband likes that one!). By the way, I reckon (though I am not a constitutional expert) that until either David Cameron or Ed Miliband goes to the Queen, Nick Clegg is still the Deputy Prime Minister of this country. But correct me if I am wrong.

Option 2. My preferred option. Technically the full title of the Deputy Leader is the “Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons” and is elected only by the Parliamentary Party (the MPs – no Federal Executive or other committee “authorisation” required). And yes, that person would become the “acting leader” in the event that the current leader was indisposed.

There is nothing to stop the Lib Dem MPs electing a new Deputy Leader at any point. Would it not make sense for the MPs to get together sooner rather than later to elect a new Deputy Leader? Someone who is likely to hold their seat; Norman Lamb, Tim Farron, or Alistair Carmichael, for example. (If these guys don’t get re-elected the “negotiating committee” will be the entirety of the remaining Lib Dem MPs).

OK OK I get that the media would have a field day if this was seen as a panic measure by the Lib Dems to find possible stand-in for Nick in the dying days of the election campaign. But it need not be managed that haphazardly. The lovely Malcolm Bruce can make this happen all by himself.

If Malcolm should independently decide to stand down as Deputy Leader, say as, or just before, Parliament rises (end of March), the Lib Dems would have no choice but to elect a new Deputy Leader. This can be quick and easy and, providing MPs elect someone with a darned good chance of retaining their seat, all would surely be peachy? This person then has a good few weeks – not hours – to prep him or herself on what may be required in the event that Nick does lose his seat and one of the two main parties come calling. I am sure there would still be some cat-calling in the media – but this could be easily answered, and everyone would move on.

Whether you like one of my options or Nick Barlow’s option, at least they are options. The question we should all be asking, I think, is why on earth the Lib Dem hierarchy seems not to have tackled this before now? The Lib Dems have more committees than you can shake a stick at – surely one of them should have come up with a solution?  It is not like we haven’t known for some time that the Deputy Leader is stepping down, or that Nick may lose his seat.

The inevitable response to this question from within the Lib Dems has been to say “Please, please don’t let’s waste time on all this, just get out and deliver some leaflets or do phone canvassing“. Like Nick Barlow I find “the ‘don’t think, just deliver leaflets’ mantra” ridiculous. It is exactly why this party is dying on its feet.

Because this issue DOES matter. The leader, or acting leader, of the Lib Dems may well be in a position to determine who the next Prime Minister of this country will be. If that is not important, what is? A great many voters, me included, want to know which one of two people will be charge of any possible negotiations BEFORE they vote, not after. And we certainly want to be reassured that a vote for the Lib Dems is not a vote for chaos on May 8th as they rush around trying to find someone take charge.

If Liberal Democrat Party can’t tell us what its plans are to solve this relatively simple problem – worse, by its silence, show that it has no plan, why should anyone trust them to be part of any government?

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Lord Rennard: Good news, but MORE questions

By Angela Harbutt
February 24th, 2013 at 9:27 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Good news from the Party today that the investigation will NOW be “independently chaired”. Why such an obvious decision was not easily made at the outset is concerning. From what I can gather, they seem to have taken this decision without any conversation with the women concerned [but will happily be stand corrected]. But it is good to hear that our concerns (and others) were listened to. Special mention here goes to Stephen Tall , who piled in behind us on Friday. No news yet on who the “independent Chair” is to be or how they will be appointed.

Questions: Following suggestions that the person at the end of the “whistle-blower” hotline appears to be too intimately connected to the party, on too many levels. I assume that the hotline will now likewise be put in the hands of someone out side of the party. And quickly.

This isn’t to suggest any aspersions about the fair-mindedness of either Tim Farron (who was originally slated to head up the inquiry) or Kate Parminter (who manages the rather under-advertised hotline), but surely these things properly need to be placed under the command of those who don’t have a long history at the senior levels of the party?

Finally, it has to be asked, for the umpteenth time, who exactly is managing the party PR machine? Had the party line on Friday not been so hapless, some of the weekend’s newspaper speculation, and embarrassing statements from Cable and Browne could probably have been avoided.

Added to that, the statement made by Nick Clegg this evening, and the press office follow up,  seem to leave more questions than answers. Nick’s tone of indignation was utterly inappropriate. And he is already having to issue clarifications about the difference between his knowledge and his office’s. This is exactly the sort of running commentary that he said, rather optimistically, he wished to avoid. He is unlikely to be able to do so over the coming days.

Update: We are delighted that the party has announced that a new independent whistleblower group will deal with complaints: Telephone number 020 7404 6609

It has also announced that it has appointed Alistair Webster QC to lead the formal internal investigation under the Party’s disciplinary rules into the specific allegations made about the conduct of Lord Rennard.

Finally the party has said that it will also be announcing an independent Chair for the investigation into party procedures and to thoroughly examine how allegations made in the past have been handled.

 

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Plain packaging – a dirty war alright!

By Angela Harbutt
March 13th, 2012 at 2:49 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

Some of you might have read the Independent article today “The PM, his pro-smoking aide, and a dirty war over cigarette packaging“. In the article it says (amongst other things…)

“…The All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health has asked Vince Cable, the Trade and Industry Minister, for reassurances that Mr Littlewood will not be advising on tobacco-related matters because of his “clear conflict of interest”.

“….Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the anti-smoking organisation ASH, said: “Mark Littlewood is not independent, he has nailed his colours to the mast by supporting the tobacco industry-funded campaign against plain packs, just as he did its campaign to bring smoking back to our pubs.”

Nailed his colours to the mast ? Too right he has – and years ago. Mark Littlewood (founder of, and former blogger here at LV) has been a passionate smoker, and blogger on the issue for years – and not just on tobacco. He has stood up to governments on tobacco and alcohol and drugs and gambling and a number of other lifestyle issues time and again here on this very blog, on the media. You name it Littlewood has been there.

…And long before he started this blog, when he was the spin doctor for the Lib Dems  he was positively evangelical about people’s freedoms, civil (co-founder of no2id) and  personal.

And who did he report to when working at the Lib Dems ? A certain Lord Rennard. The same Lord Rennard who just happens to be the vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health – (which is also chaired by Stephen Williams MP – also a Lib Dem) – the group that happened to make the complaint about Mark Littlewood to erm… fellow Lib Dem Vince Cable. Priceless! What is that about? Memory loss?

There can be nobody on the APPG – not Lord Rennard the vice chair or Stephen Williams the chair, nor anyone at ASH or indeed Vince Cable that doesn’t know Mark’s stance on tobacco – nor that he has held this stance for decades.

Surprised the Independent didn’t seem to know any of that  – or perhaps just chose not to mention any of that in their article. No – Their stance is to allude to what monies Mark Littlewood’s current organisation might receive from tobacco. As if this would make any difference to Mark Littlewood. It would be laughable were it not all so darned serious.

Personally I find it utterly hypocritical that the entire anti-tobacco health industry feels free to spout their “personal heart-felt beliefs” on smoking to Andrew Lansley and the Department of Health without any qualms. Indeed self-confessed tobacco-haters are commissioned and paid for by the Department of Health  to produce “independent” government policy papers on smoking. Yet these people – or their mouthpieces – go charging off to the Trade and Industry Minister as soon as someone, whose personal beliefs are at odds with theirs, gets anywhere so much as a foot into the doors of power. And who was it I wonder that gave this story to the Independent?

What ever the “Independent” might imply or the APPG disingenuously assert, this attack has nothing to do with tobacco funding any organisation.  It is indeed, as the “Independent” headline says, a dirty war. Because this is an attempt to use the power and privilege of parliamentary position to blacken a man’s name; to cow Mark Littlewood personally into shutting up, or attempt to force his employers into gagging him. I sincerely hope that neither will occur.

As for the APPG on Smoking and Health – a group that receives funding, “admin support” and “briefing papers” from the anti-smoking campaign group ASH – well it is about time this parliamentary loophole to power and influence was plugged once and for all.

Angela Harbutt is a proud campaigner for the Forest run campaign Hands Off Our Packs , opposing the introduction of plain packaging of tobacco.

Update : read also related pieces here – Velvet Gove Iron Fist , Alex Massie at the Spectator and Simon Clark-Taking Liberties

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