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Liberal Vision votes in LDV’s “Liberal Voice of the Year poll”

By Editor


Much has been said on the subject of  LDV’s “Liberal Voice of Year Poll”. Having read a good number of thoughts, on a range of blogs and posts, about who people think should (or shouldn’t) get the vote… we thought we might lob our two-penneth in.

It probably won’t surprise you to discover that we think it should be Mark Littlewood, founder of and former contributor to this very blog.

Why? Curiously NOT because he has easily been the most effective “free market freedom fighter” of the past year. That should perhaps count… but we think there are other reasons…

First off, as many of you know (and some may have forgotten) Mark is a true liberal. Not only has he done his turn working for Liberty, Mark co-founded, and was chief spokesman for, NO2ID for quite a stint. It is easy to forget that without the simply brilliant and relentless work of NO2ID (hats off here to Phil Booth and Guy Herbert as well) we would almost certainly have seen ID cards being rolled out by now. That alone should earn him some form of recognition.

And whilst on the subject of noble causes let us not forget his stint as chief spin doctor for the party. Not many people will know the extent to which he totally modernised the Lib Dem press office – recruiting and promoting some of the brightest and the best in the business (several of whom are still doing their bit for the party in government today), changing structures and practices that made party’s press operation one the best in the business.

But perhaps the real reason why we here at Liberal Vision think that he deserves to win is that he has, almost single-handedly, championed the cause of personal freedom. He has taken on ministers over regressive plans to introduce minimum pricing on alcohol; tackled lobbyists over the crippling smoking ban; called for the legalisation of drugs. He has demanded time and time again that adults should be treated as adults and not patronised; not spoken down to; not dismissed by those in power. He has been THE VOICE for all those people out there who believe that Government meddling, nannying or nudging is insane, frequently counter-productive and too often unfair – but have no opportunity to say so. He speaks for millions.

Of course we should not overlook his credentials as the “free market freedom fighter” – a term that truly reflects both the passion he has for the subject and the sheer amount of work he does (when is he NOT on the media somewhere or other?). He was without any shadow of any doubt THE free market Voice of 2011. We understand that not everyone shares his views. But what people can not deny is his willingness to engage in the intellectual argument surrounding economic liberalism.

Whilst here at LV, Mark was always insistent that whenever we ran into people who disagreed with our views, the only way to tackle it was to engage and discuss. Those of you that follow him on twitter today will know that he pursues that philosophy to this day. Liberal Democrats have always valued discussion and debate more than any other party. It is one of the things that distinguishes us from the other parties. And Mark must be one of the exemplary figures in doing just that. Yet another damn fine reason why he deserves the title of Liberal Voice of the Year.

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Stephen Williams is not a liberal

By Angela Harbutt
November 16th, 2011 at 4:18 pm | 27 Comments | Posted in freedom, Government, Liberal Philosophy, Nannying, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

Stephen Williams may be a member of the Liberal party but he is no liberal. Yesterday he wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice championing the nanny state with the bizarre piece entitled, chillinglyHow to damage tobacco brands“. Why would any liberal (and especially a member of Parliament) living in the free world wish to damage any legal company’s brand?

I have pretty much said my piece over on the comments page so I won’t repeat it here. What I did think worthy of mention was the reaction to the piece in the comments section. Overwhelming  the contributors were against what Stephen Williams MP had to say – some puzzled, some angry and some downright apoplectic. Could it be that liberalism is finding it’s voice? By jove I think it might!

Here are a few choice comments – go read the full conversation over on LDV….

“Shameful from a so-called liberal politician”

“What is it with you people and your irresistible urge to meddle?”

“There appears to be a pathological inability to leave people alone to live their lives how they choose”.

“Surely there are for better ways for Mr Williams to be spending his time”

“Open displays of tobacco in shops that make smoking seem like a normal part of everyday life…Well that will be because it is! I’m not a Mark Littlewood/FOREST type fundie but stuff like that could drive me that way!” (Updated due to author request)

stuff like that could drive me that way”

“’I’m afraid Stephen Williams’s proposal fits in the category of “something must be done””

“This is terrible -stupid idea – I don’t know one person who smokes because the packaging looks good”

“Wars have been fought to give people freedom of choice and not be dictated to by a governing body”

“I’m very unimpressed by this trendy streak of statist authoritarianism that certain Lib Dems seem rather proud of”

“Never been a smoker and never want to be but if the party got behind this kind of policy I’d be right out the door”

“Wasn’t the “Liberal” in the party name enough of a clue?”

Well said, one and all.

Ps…. Stephen Williams is the Lib Dem MP for Bristol West and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health. The anti-smoking group ASH  provides administrative support to the group. Draw what conclusions you will.


Stephen Williams was kind enough to respond to my comment over on LDV…

“Angela – you don’t provide any evidence for your assertion that the indoor smoking ban has caused the decline of local pubs. Many pubs have flourished since 2007 as they are now more attractive places for the majority of the population to socialise. I now eat and drink in pubs that I wouldn’t have considered entering 4 years ago. Pubs that have adapted to the change by offering good food and activities have thrived. Pubs that did not respond to changed circumstances have not. The latter are at more risk from ridiculously cheap alcohol in supermarkets….which is one reason why I am in favour of minimum pricing for units of alcohol. And yes responsible governments do have to act on obesity – rising levels of diabetes and heart disease are hardly causes for liberal celebration

and just to really ruin your day (:-) perhaps you’d like to read another posting on my own blog: “

My reply:

“Dear Stephen – thank you taking time from your busy schedule to reply to my comment..

But actually .. It’s not “my day” you are ruining – it’s “my party”

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Plan B is crazy

By Tom Papworth
November 2nd, 2011 at 8:00 am | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

On Monday, a handful of Lib Dems wrote a letter to The Guardian (itself hardly newsworthy!) expressing “broad support for the Compass Plan B proposals reported in the Observer” the day before. Notwithstanding the fact that these are the “usual suspects”, Lib Dems that have proved very keen to cozy up to the Labour Party, the question remains, does Compass Plan B have anything to say about how we might resolve our economic woes?

Let’s first consider the Compass proposals:

What would Plan B entail in the short term?

  • The cuts would be reversed until the economy is growing strongly.
  • A new round of Quantitative Easing (money created by the central bank) would be directed to a Green New Deal, to insulate and prepare large numbers of buildings to generate renewable energy.
  • Increasing some benefits for the poorest who are then likely to spend any extra income, this would help get the economy moving again.

Let’s look at those first three points in turn:

Reversing the cuts would be a disaster. Firstly, it would send a clear message to the markets that the UK has even less fiscal rectitude than Greece. At least they are implementing an austerity budget, albeit half-heartedly. If we now reverse our cuts, we the markets will panic and our borrowing costs will sky-rocket. And for all those anti-market fundamentalists out there who may want to dismiss “The markets”, in this context “the markets” are all the people who are actually able to lend us money; without them, we will need to find another £150 billion of savings TODAY!

Furthermore, as even the devout Orange-booker Gareth Epps knows, ripping up a budget mid-year and telling the entire public sector to go back to the spending-drawing board would be massively disruptive. It’s not easy to turn the tanker around: in many cases, departments and even whole organisations have been abolished, and staff have already been let go. But in addition workers will be left in an upsetting limbo, unsure of whether their jobs have a future or whether they are only being kept on for as long as the government remains in panic mode.

And is Compass really saying that all the cuts are bad? Has nothing been abolioshed that was not a waste of money?

Frankly, the government would be better off looking for extra unnecesary expenditure and cutting that too, using the tens or even hundreds of billions saved to cut taxes. That really would stimulate demand.

The proposal to reverse the cuts is economic genius compared with the proposal to use a new round of Quantitative Easing (money created by the central bank) to fund a Green New Deal. At this point, a little distinction is worth noting. While QE is inherently dangerous and inevitably inflationary, so far the QE that we have experienced has been used to re-capitalise the banks and encourage them to start lending more. This isn’t good, but it’s not the Weimar Repblic. Credit Easing – making money to lend directly to companies, is probably even more risky. But neither of these are what Compass is suggesting.

No. Compass is suggesting that the government print money to fund government spending. And that, dear reader, is the Weimar Republic. Using QE to pay for a Green New Deal would repeat the greatest mistake in the history of government, which was pithily summed up by an economist, usually referred to fondly among Compass-leaning Lib Dems and even Labour chancellors:

“…Governments, unable, or too timid or too short-sighted to secure from loans or taxes the resources they required, have printed notes for the balance.”

A 50,000,000 mark note from 1923. By the end of the year the highest denomination note was 100,000,000,000,000 marks.

What about increasing benefits for the poorest so that they spend extra? Would this really help get the economy moving again? Firstly, one has to consider where the money is coming from. If it comes from taxes, it’s simply robbing Peter to pay Paul: there is no increase in “aggregate demand”, just a shift of demand from those who earned the money to those who did not. Whatever your enthusiasm for redistribution, don’t pretend that you can re-distribute something bigger!

What if it is funded by borrowing? Well, it may seem superficially attractive if you ignore the points about markets above, but unfortunately, the evidence suggests that people respond by saving more in anticipation of the higher taxes to come, thus killing off any extra growth. No dice, I’m afraid. It’s a non-starter.

Actually, Compass do seem willing to fund some of their spending through increased taxation:

  • It would cancel Private Finance Initiative debts, saving the nation £200bn in debt repayments.
  • By Introducing a Financial Transaction (Robin Hood) tax on the banks
  • The £70 billion in yearly uncollected tax would be closed.

The third is too ludicrous not to brush aside first. The idea that any government is simply ignoring £70 billion in yearly uncollected tax is absurd fantasy. Either it’s made-up fantasy-tax (like the £6 billion that Vodaphone don’t owe the British taxpayer) or there are very good reasons why it’s not being collected, and a Compass-led government would find it no easier to collect that the current one (or the last one!).

Cancelling all PFIs is nothign more than populism. Indeed, it would be illegal without (and possibly even with) legislation. Effectively, PFIs are a loan – a private contractor gives something to the government (say, a new hospital) in return for a revenue-stream that repays the loan. If HMG starts passing laws repudiating their loans, then it will be treated as a default and Britain will be declared bankrupt. What is more, it will shatter the confidence of investors and prevent the UK ever getting help financing capital projects again.

Finally there’s the Tobin Tax (Robin Hood, it is worth remembering, fought against tax-raising government officials!). There simply isn’t space enough here for this one. Suffice to say that it will simply make it more expensive to lend and borrown money, and so there will be less of it, which means a less efficient economy. There’s much more to say, but where to begin? (Well, maybe that imposing it unilaterally in the UK will simply destroy one of our biggest industries to the benefit of the French and the Americans).

According to Compass,

Plan B would mean that the Government pays down the deficit through growth and spending adjustments only when the economy is in good enough shape to

which is a little like saying that we can’t thrown the ballast out of the hot air balloon until we’ve got the damned thing off the ground!

In summary, then, Compass’s Plan B is, in reality, Plan Crazy. It would massively destabalise the UK economy in both the short and long terms, and cause untonld damage. It is rather a shame, therefore, that a handful of Lib Dem malcontents felt the need to so publically support it!

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Bunch of disgruntled Lib Dems resort to plan B

By Angela Harbutt
November 1st, 2011 at 3:49 pm | 14 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

The Guardian reports today that “Economic plan failing, grassroots Lib Dems say in first sign of revolt” . Well, hardly. It’s a letter in the Guardian stating that a handful of  Lib Dems back the somewhat flawed Compass Plan B. (Hardly Lib Dem 2010 manifesto btw).

Still, the Guardian letter does have some impressive signatures….. “a group of senior Lib Dem figures and former parliamentary candidates”… hmm…Prof Richard Grayson, Ruth Bright, Linda Jack,  Margaret Phelps, Nick Rijke,  Prof Stephen Haseler, Simon Hebditch, Dr Jo Ingold, Cllr Ron Beadle and Cllr Stephen Knight.

Err hang on were these not the very same Lib Dems (give or take the odd person) who back in February of this year signed up to Labour’s policy making process.  To be clear those signing up back in Feb were (drum roll please) ...Prof Richard Grayson, Ruth Bright, Linda Jack,  Margaret Phelps, Nick Rijke,  Prof Stephen Haseler, Simon Hebditch, Dr Jo Ingold, Cllr Ron beadle plus Tim Starkey and Prof John Howson. At the time Prof Richard Grayson said ..Some of these people have expressed concern about the coalition and the direction of the party, some are relatively happy with both and are engaging because they believe in pluralism”Well it seems clear that it was Starkey and Howson who were the believers in pluralism then.

As Simon McGrath states so brilliantly over on LDV (comments)  “Their excuse for this at the time was that they were going to help convert Labour to Lib Dem policies. It now appears they they have been converted to Labour policies.” Or as Dave Page says somewhat more bluntly (comments)… “nice to see a bunch of self-important party wannabe-slebs shooting us in the foot in public“.  That is a probably rather harsh..Some of these people are bright, genuine, engaging people.. It’s just their approach that sucks and, whatever their intention, they haven’t done the party or, indeed the SLF, any favours today…

..And surely the Guardian headline should read .. “Bunch of disgruntled Lib Dems resort to plan B” . No story there then.

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The future’s bright…the future’s orange

By Angela Harbutt
September 25th, 2011 at 6:00 am | 10 Comments | Posted in coalition, Liberal Democrats

A personal view of Conference 2011: I walked away from conference on Wednesday with that bloody annoying mobile phone company’s strap-line in my head. I certainly didn’t expect that when I headed out on Saturday. 

In fact to be frank, for the first couple of days of conference I confess that I thought it was more grey than orange. Dreary grey Brummie clouds hung menacingly over a huge ugly grey conference building that seemed packed to the rafters with earnest young men and women in grey suits. I have never seen so many corporates at a Lib Dem conference. Welcome to power and influence I suppose. Even the mood was pretty grey. I thought at first it was gloom and despair (or was that  just Vince’s speech!). But actually it was more steely than gloomy, more resolute than resigned. But you could almost feel the burden of power weighing heavily on the party’s shoulders.

So….a grey, dull conference. But dull is good. Dull means no reckless, immature muscle-flexing from conference played out for all the nation to witness. Dull means no leadership humiliations. No pictures of 2000 or so voting passes held up high. No hurried press calls to “explain” what the hell just happened. Dull is good.

It was father funny to see so many media types scratching their heads and tearing up their scripts. Lib Dem conference all serious and grown up. With conference refusing to play ball, there was just the the danger that some journalists might actually have to leave the comfort of the bar/media centre and go  do some proper journalism around the place. Perish the thought.

Actually conference was not as grey as it first looked. It was also very yellow. I was struck by the conference hall – didn’t it look very, very yellow compared to last year where we saw much more blue?  Doubtless this is all part of the “distinctiveness” strategy. And what about that fabulous dress Miriam turned out in on the last day?

It was also very very orange. Never have I met so many economic liberals in the bar, in the fringes, in the conference hall itself. I don’t know how many have always been there keeping a low profile and how many were new. Some were definitely new . They were university students, graduates, first jobbers, newbies to conference. They get liberalism; they are internationalists; they stand up for civil liberties; and yes they are orange bookers. They are definitively NOT Tories. Some were clearly old guard – some even had beards! They had long thought that liberalism had been neglected by the party. Too many years in opposition had allowed us to get flabby – promise spend on everyone and everything. That policy was being driven by a small highly organised minority that had over the years actually got out of kilter ith the mainstream of the party….

But every political party has it’s factions. Factions are good. They expose weak arguments , encourage the generation of ideas, test and often improve ideas. And you see this nowhere else like you see at conference. On line, behind the anonymity of the pc, people can be hideously rude. Vicious even. You only have to have read the comments on the Liberal Vision blog to see how much anger and bile we have been subjected to. At conference – and especially at this conference we saw the factions of the party talking to one another, laughing with each other, challenging each other, and agreeing with other. I know the media don’t like that – maybe some party members won’t like it either… but from the sharp end i saw it happen…

So the party has grown up. The conference was mature. The factions more engaged with one another. I guess when times are tough and the stakes get raised you pull together. I certainly hope so.

Sad to say however – I do not think that I can say the same for some of  the party’s leading lights. Yes I get the need for us to be distinctive. I understand the urge to show at every opportunity that we are not “Tory patsies” . But there is a fine line between being “distinctive” and being destructive. And that was a line several senior MPs crossed. I doubt it was intentional. I could be generous and say that they were simply playing to the gallery. I could be harsh and say they had one eye on the next leadership challenge. I certainly don’t buy the idea that this was co-ordinated. But the outcome was that for a while the conference descended into a cacophony of increasingly vitriolic anti-Tory rhetoric.  The Tories had “tainted us” and their political tactics were “evil”. (Farron). They were “too city dominated”  and the Conservative Right were the “descendants of those who sent children up chimneys” (Cable) or Tea Party extremists “slavering” to cut taxes for the rich (Huhne).  I was particularly sad to see two of our senior Government ministers  leading this unseemly assault. What were they thinking?

It was a sign of the maturity of the conference that this did not go down as well as you might expect. Yes, conference had enjoyed the bloody spectacle at the time. But in the bar the talk was definitely NOT about how great this all was. Many of those you might expect to be relishing the Tory bashing were shaking their heads.  There was genuine concern.  “It’s gone to far”…”I’ve got to work the the Tory councillors next week…. ” Why aren’t we giving Balls or Milliband a kicking?”… “It looks so crap on TV” … “How can he go back into cabinet after saying that?”…. well you know its gone too far when Shirley Williams calls time on the Tory bashing.

So praise be that come Wednesday, Nick gave possibly his best speech at conference since becoming leader. Guns blazing. Fire in his belly and a gleam in his eye. His closing speech to conference was a masterclass in the right way to get across the party’s distinctiveness. Talk about what you have done, what you want to do and (most importantly) tell people why you are doing it. Some of our critics called the speech lean. I call it perfectly measured. It was a serious speech, but a passionate one. . Rarely have I seen the conference react so warmly to him.

There were two elements of his speech that were particularly revealing about where Nick is taking the party. And it is good news for all of us. Firstly I don’t recall having ever heard the word “liberal” used more in any speech at our conference. He talked of our liberal spirit  and  “liberal valuesof  “a liberal nation” and a “liberal society. I confess I gave a tiny cheer (in my head – not out loud of course) on each and every one  of the 19 times he used the word.

Secondly, he used the word “Labour” 13 times… And what he says tells us a lot…. 

“Another term of Labour would have been a disaster for our economy. So don’t for a moment let Labour get away with it. Don’t forget the chaos and fear of 2008. And never, ever trust Labour with our economy again”

Nick was on top form on Wednesday. He has put liberalism front and centre of our party and made Labour the focus of his scorn (ruling out any chance of a LibLab pact) and got a standing ovation in the process.  This does not surprise me. We should be concerned that David Cameron wants the liberal badge for himself. And we should never ever let him have it. It’s ours. So when our leader sends out a very clear signal that he will defend it come what may, we should applaud. We should also remember how much we hated the Labour party in power. The money they spent, the public sector ballooning out of all reasonable size, the pensions they stole, the chronically unfair education system they left us. Of course we should applaud when our leader says “never,ever trust Labour with our economy again”. Damn right.

The party walking out of conference on Wednesday had the hint of a spring in its step. I wouldn’t go  so far as to say that we were collectively skipping our way down to New Street Station. But we have got through a hideous year. We had a sober, grown up and uniting conference – with a clear shift back towards the centre ground – the best place for this party to be. The future is definitely looking a tiny bit brighter and a lot more orange….

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