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+++Stop Press+++ Lib Dem 2015 manifesto to cut spending by an additional £30bn

By Angela Harbutt
November 29th, 2011 at 11:23 pm | 7 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

A remarkably brave and honest performance by Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander on Newsnight, mere moments ago.

Given the disappointing deficit reduction figures to date, the next government will have to make additional savings of around £30bn to get the public finances back into balance.

Danny made it unambiguously clear that a commitment to find these savings will be in the next manifesto.

Even Paxo was surprised about his frankness and unambiguous clarity.

A top performance.

And at least we also know the task for LibDem conference for the next couple of years. And at least it’s a clear challenge, which should help us avoid any danger of descending into an irresponsible “whinge fest”.

So, where would we start in finding those additional savings?

*UPDATE* – You can view the interview here.

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Introducing the next leader of the Liberal Democrats : Norman Lamb

By admin
April 11th, 2011 at 7:15 am | 9 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

 There’s not a vacancy, of course.

And nobody’s talking about a vacancy.

We’re all backing Nick. Some of us still dust down the “I agree with Nick” banners, T-shirts and badges. They bring a tear to the eye. They remind us of those dreamy days when, with just a couple of weeks to go to polling day, the LibDems were at over 30% in a cluster of opinion polls.

Much has changed since then, of course. If a week’s a long time in politics, a year is, in rough terms, about 52 times as long.

But, most likely, if you had to put your house on it, you’d probably shove it on Nick Clegg leading the party into the next election. And if you knew he wasn’t going to – and have to bet your mortgage on someone else – you’d probably have to edge towards Chris Huhne or Tim Farron as his likely successor.

Every loyalist insists in public, of course, that such tittle tattle is just the media making mischief.  But – in our heart of hearts – we know that’s totally disingenuous.

Bar room gossip at party conferences quite often turns to the topic of who the next party leader might be. It’s not plotting. It’s just idle speculation. But that doesn’t make it illegitimate or poisonous.

Everyone involved in politics is interested in how things might “pan out” and telling Jeremy Paxman that you “don’t answer hypothetical questions” is just a cop out. Virtually everything we think about and discuss is based on hypothetical questions.

So, consider this.

Imagine – for whatever reason – that Nick Clegg doesn’t continue as party leader for the next decade. You don’t need the imagination of an Arthur C. Clarke or a J. R. R. Tolkien to see how this might happen. Maybe he just gets cheesed off with the whole thing. Maybe there is some enormous internal party revolt at some stage. Maybe there is some recalibration of the way the Coalition operates. There’s a zillion ways it could happen, even though, on balance, it probably won’t.

Step forward Norman Lamb. He is an almost complete unknown outside of the LibDems. But then so was Nick until the first TV debate.

Crucially, he’s fairly independent. He’s not put all his chips on the Coalition succeeding, which many other possible leadership candidates have had to (partly because, of course, he was shamefully overlooked for ministerial office when the Coalition was formed).

He’s also essentially a party loyalist, but with Orange Book and mildly eurosceptic tendencies.

His television profile is rising. He’s an obvious choice for party-orientated media (by-elections etc) and also strong on his former health portfolio. Yesterday, he broke cover to make a splash on his concerns over the Lansley NHS reforms. Not in the terms of some tedious conservative Luddite, but for fear they hadn’t been fully thought through.

About a year ago, here on this very blog,  Norman was described as a media superstar.  Objectively he is not that – not yet. He’s occasionally a bit defensive and slightly hesitant. But he does have the common touch and doesn’t talk in jargon. Additionally, I’m not sure that “macho” politicians – displaying Ed Balls-style certainty in the face of all credible evidence to the contrary – are very popular anywhere any more.

He also has a few other things going for him. Typically, LibDems seems to vote for more establishment middle-of-the-road candidates rather than firebrand radicals. Despite their many strengths, Simon Hughes and Chris Huhne have now both lost two leadership elections from “the left”. To run for a third time for the party leadership surely puts one in the “Ken Clarke” position – widely considered charming, but unlikely to ever actually inherit the crown.

The lefty-leaning, charismatic, activist-adored and media savvy Tim Farron, only narrowly defeated the more establishment Susan Kramer for the party’s Presidency last year despite running an enormously more impressive campaign.

Norman also has a pretty hardened and impressive political CV – both at the coal face of Westminster and at the grassroots level. He had to deal with the growing disquiet over Charles Kennedy’s difficulties with alcohol (having been his PPS) – and was one of the very first MPs to publicly call for Charles to quit. He also has the battle scars of the frustrating Ming Campbell period, serving as his chief of staff in troubled times.

At local electoral level, Lamb’s achievements are staggering. He first contested North Norfolk – a rock solid Tory seat with a 10,000 majority in 1992. He cut this to around 1,000 in 1997 and just won it with a majority of 483 in 2001. In 2005, he saw off Tory blogger Iain Dale and increased the LibDem majority by over 2,000%. He increased his majority again in 2010 to an eye-watering 11,626.

If the shift in votes which have occurred in Norman Lamb’s seat since 1992 had been replicated across the country last May, the national vote share in the 2010 General Election would have been LibDem 46% Conservative 20% Labour 17%.

He may need simply to find a little more self-confidence and a bit more steel. And no doubt his surname gives rise to a whole string of dismissive newspaper headlines and dispatch box jibes. But the next time you’re speculating about who might lead the Liberal Democrats next, give Norman Lamb serious consideration.

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The future of Liberal Democrat thinking

By Timothy Cox
October 28th, 2010 at 4:04 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in UK Politics

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Institute for Government, on behalf of Liberal Vision, on “The future of Liberal Democrat thinking.” Chaired by Lord Adonis (boo… hiss!), the other panellists included Lord Clement-Jones, Neil Sherlock and Julian Astle from Centre Forum.

The IfG have provided a comprehensive summary of the discussion here (and, for those of you who are really bored, a full podcast here!) but I thought I’d briefly add my thoughts on some of the issues raised:

Lord Clement-Jones lauded our exulted one, rightly describing Clegg’s decision to join the coalition as “bold” and referring back to the writings of Jo Grimond to demonstrate that he is “entirely in line with the antecedents in the party”. I was less convinced by his referral to The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett) when summarising key liberal texts from which to set the agenda for future liberal thinking. Really?!

Neil Sherlock, spoke well on the forthcoming priorities for the LDs: ensuring that the government is successful, delivering LD policies and demonstrating that coalition politics worked. All valid points, from a man who certainly knows a thing or two about the higher echelons of the party.

Julian Astle, Exec Director at the liberal (with a small “l”) think tank Centre Forum, was excellent in his defence of liberal values and in addressing the issues at the core of modern liberal thinking. His description of the “big society” as having a liberal core was particularly refreshing: it’s good to see a liberal sticking up for a liberal thesis irrespective of which party it emanated from.


Which brings us on to my point, which was that the LDs must be careful not to warp their agenda in order to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives. Liberal (small l) and conservative ideology is as distinct today as it was at the turn of the 20th century- when the Labour Representation Committee only held 2 seats (arh… for the good ole days!). Attempting to force the distinction, by compromising our core agenda for the benefit of the hard left, risks playing into the hands of our opponents at the ballot box- be they red, blue, green or simply nuts.

Let’s get on with bringing a truly liberal agenda to this government, show that coalition governance works for the people and stop worrying about what disaffected Labour voters think of the LDs in government.

NOTE: Some excellent questions from the floor followed; my favourite of which can be summarised as “what would the LD’s have done differently had they been in power in 1997”. Well not THIS for a starters. Thanks very much for your thirteen year flirtation with “social-democracy”, but I think we’ve all had quite enough now!

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The Independent City State of *ankers

By Timothy Cox
June 16th, 2010 at 12:22 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Economics, UK Politics

Yesterday, I attended a talk on the theme of our natural resource legacy by economist Paul Collier. He questioned the ethics of depleting resources in order to produce other goods- “our children’s children are unlikely to be impressed when we offer them computer games instead of fish stocks” he mused. He even managed to work in a good natured dig at Goldman, which made me think about another of our legacies: the UK’s economic environment. Now, we all know everyone hates bankers at the moment. Allister Heath reminds us that Osborne will use tonight’s Mansion House address to indulge in a little more “banker-bashing”.Traffic wardens, divorce lawyers and tabloid journalists have never slept so well.    Everything that can’t be blamed upon the financial services must be the fault of the credit rating agencies and anything else is BP’s fault. In fact it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find someone who makes money who isn’t despised by the general public. But is all this hatred really such a good idea? Will our children’s children really thank us, and our politicians, for making life so difficult for big business in the UK? Is hammering people with new regulatory hurdles, higher capital gains tax (CGT) and the constant threat of new rules and scrutiny really such a good idea? I rather suspect not and here’s why.

Would we miss them?

Another esteemed economist, Paul Romer, is promoting a new approach to development: Charter Cities. The idea is for underdeveloped countries to set up new cities with business friendly regulatory environments and low taxation to attract investment and labour. Modeled on the development success stories of Hong Kong and Singapore, the concept is radical, inspirational and might just work. So, considering our resentment for all things financial why don’t we set up a Charter City- City of Bankers – in Canary Wharf? All the fat cats who spend their time smoking Cuban cigars (hand rolled by 5 year olds), buying porches, and generally ruining “our” economy could move there in voluntary exile to enjoy the business friendly environment and the absence of bureaucrats. We, on the other hand, would get to inhabit a London free of corrupt and greedy businessmen and get on with enjoying the finer things in life: eating organic produce and drinking carbon-neutral water.

Of course, the answer is fairly obvious. Really we want, in fact we need, the financial sector and big business to stay. Not only do we appreciate the services, jobs and tax revenues, but we also enjoy the talent, capital and ideas they attract from across the globe that afford us the cosmopolitan quality of life most of us relish. London and the UK became prosperous and successful by embracing business and industry, not by obstructing it.

The typical response to these concerns is that big businesses wont just up and leave- London is London, its where everyone wants to be! Maybe. But maybe not forever. London is the financial capital of the world by design, not default, and we’re not talking about today’s businesses, but tomorrow’s. Established companies may linger, but the new ones will locate wherever they believe they will make the most money. While London remains the place to be, all is well and good, but for those politicians (unfortunately there are many within the Lib Dem ranks) who remain intent upon scoring cheap points at businesses’ expense- be careful what you wish for! One day our children may talk of setting up a Charter City, not in jest, but in an attempt to entice those we currently love to bash to come back.

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Shameful UN need reprimanding by the coalition

By Timothy Cox
June 7th, 2010 at 4:57 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in International Development, Uncategorized

297676513_a3210819d6International development invariably raises some complex issues but periodically we come across an example of the international community acting in a totally indefensible manner. No shades of grey here- this is morally and politically abhorrent. I am referring to the United Nation’s decision to continue with a controversial prize established in “honour” of Equatorial Guinea’s notorious dictator Obiang Nguema.  If the government wants to get serious about development it must be seen to be outspoken and forthright about such travesties.  Furthermore, the Liberal Democrats must not shirk their responsibility to make their voices heard on issues like these across all departments during this coalition.

The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences is supposed to be awarded “for scientific research in the life sciences leading to improving the quality of human life.”

The “quality of human life” under Obiang’s regime is a disgrace. According to the World Bank, GDP per capita is $28,103 (richer than Israel), but 77 per cent of the population still live below the poverty line. Part of the problem is that all funds received from the country’s extensive oil reserves pass through Obiang’s personal bank account to prevent “misallocation of funds”. Naturally he has invested wisely for the benefit of the people:  Global Witness report that his son purchased a $15,000,000 Californian mansion in 2006 and that the family owns three Bugatti Veyron cars (each retailing for over $1 million each) along with a healthy compliment of Ferraris, Maseratis, a Rolls or two and the obligatory presidential jet. Not a single free and fair election has taken place since he assumed power in 1979 (Africa’s second longest serving living dictator) and one in three Equato-Guineans  die before their 40th birthday. Corruption, human rights abuses and systemic torture by government officials are reported as being routine practice.

But none of this need concern the UNESCO bureaucrats in Paris who will take half of the dictator’s $3 million donation for “administrative fees” to help them identify worthy winners of this prize. It is perversely ironic that the United Nations, which claims to be in pursuit of  a “better world”, should explicitly endorse, and be in the pocket of, one of Africa’s most repressive and corrupt dictators. The Equato-Guineans suffering daily are unlikely to appreciate the irony.

The UK carries a lot of weight in the international development community and, while Andrew Mitchell controls the development portfolio, this is an issue that should transcends briefs and party divisions. Michael Moore and Norman Lamb  are among those on the Lib Dem benches who have been honourably outspoken about the scourge of corruption upon development before. It’s time for their voices to be heard again. Removing one prize fund won’t change the world overnight- but not doing so sends a terrible message to some of the world’s worst abusers of power.

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