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Who is Nick Clegg talking to these days?

By Angela Harbutt
September 5th, 2011 at 7:58 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

Last year at conference, a motion calling on the party to “urge” people “not to take up the option” of the new Free schools was overwhelmingly carried. It was a very Liberal Democrat kind of conference motion.

It had no teeth, had the political lobbyists chuckling into their gin and tonics and the likes of my friends and family asking what the hell that meant? It meant very little.  A squeal from the activists at having lost some of their historical power over the party, a squawk against having to work with the hated Tories. A symbolic gesture. 

And a damaging one at that. For a party that purports to advocate freedom in the abstract, why is it that conference all too frequently objects to it in practice ? No wonder so many of my friends tell me that the Lib Dems stand for nothing – and everything – according to what suits them at the time. I some times feel they may be right. But we should remember that votes at conference don’t always reflect the views of the wider Lib Dem voters. On the issue of free schools I bet you any money you like that regardless of the conference vote there will be swathes of Lib Dem (and Labour) voters, not just Tory voters, itching to get involved in setting up these schools.

Nick’s initial stance on free schools was spot on. So one the one hand I am delighted that Nick ignored conference, considered the evidence and embraced free schools – to the extent that today, he is calling for more of them. His instinct that parents want more choice is right – and the evidence from countries such as Holland, Sweden and Denmark is that they work.

Where I think Nick is wrong however is to create another “phony” yellow roadblock.

His statement that these Free Schools must not be “for-profit”  was however a mistake. It is to imply that he (and his colleagues) have somehow stopped the Conservatives going down this route. It has been taken as such by many political commentators and discussed widely across the media today. It is however perfectly clear that the Lib Dems have had nothing to do with stopping “for profit” schools . Gove, Osborne et al had already decided that “for profit” schools were a political step too far for the Conservatives just now. Nor indeed is there any suggestion that these are intended, or will turn out to be, middle class enclaves. So why has Nick even ventured down the path of raising these issues? Is it “muscular liberalism” (“don’t worry folks I have my beady eye on these blue bastards” ) or, more likely, is it to send out “reassuring” warm words to his party. But which part of his party? The activists or the voters?

If it is the activists he is wrong because he has shown time and again that he is much more in-tune with the voters than conference activists are. If it’s the voters he is wrong. We can’t really be planning to go into the next election asking the electorate to judge us on the our record in Government by churning out a long list of things we “stopped” rather than the things “we have done” ? Especially when they twig that half the time the claim of a Lib Dem roadblock is er hmmm a tad overstated. People are not that stupid. Nor do people vote for negative action, roadblocks and political gesturing. They vote for positive action, solutions and results delivered.

And that’s not to say he should not voice his views. He was spot on coming out of the blocks fast to dispel any idea that he would sanction any moves to restrict social network sites in the aftermath of the riots. But that is a world away from allowing this “yellow roadblock” concept to gather further traction.   

There is also just the chance that we might have to work with the Conservatives again in the next term. As things stand the next election may well be close. How much harder will it be for David Cameron to persuade the Tory grass roots to go along with another term in coalition with the Liberal Democrats if all they get over the next two years is a constant stream of  “yellow roadblocks” real or phony. We can differentiate in a positive way just as easily and with better results.

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Where is the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor?

By admin
March 25th, 2011 at 9:28 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, London

We keep wondering – and seem to be getting no closer to an answer – who will be the  Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor? It turns out that the Politics Show is likewise intrigued.  Here is a clip from last Sunday’s show – featuring a piece about this very subject . Well actually it’s about Lembit – as he appears to be the only Liberal Democrat in London who wants the right to be ritually humilated right now.

The more observant of you will notice Liberal Vision’s very own Andy Mayer being interviewed in the pre-recorded piece at the top of the clip.  Andy’s assertions are forthright, but frankly, spot on. 

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A chance to wake up to liberalism

By Simon Goldie
January 12th, 2011 at 3:50 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in freedom, Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Nick Clegg is worried about ‘alarm clock Britain‘: those people who get up early, worry about their standard of living and are on low to middle incomes. He has asked David Laws to look at a range of policy options that will address the needs of this group.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg faces many challenges. He has to keep the coalition going, keep his party onside, implement government policy and find the time to carve out a policy space for the party that is attractive enough to gain electoral support come 2015. Needless to say, Liberal Vision has a few ideas about what those policies might look like. But it is clear from Clegg’s speeches, and actions, that he is not pursuing a classical liberal path. He might be closer to classical liberalism than other recent leaders but the last few years have seen him weave a modern liberal narrative that combines classical, economic and social liberalism.

With Laws overseeing the policy development we are likely to see innovative and radical ideas emerge that focus on not only helping people but making sure they have more control over their lives.

One area that Clegg has flagged is renting accommodation in the private sector. We have seen a lot of attempts by government to improve the housing system. Clearly, there are many challenges in terms of affordability and availability of housing stock. If classical liberals aren’t going to get all their own way over the policy, it would be nice if Laws and Clegg pondered the suggestion by Jock Coats and applied some ‘rigorous liberalism‘. This involves stepping back and asking what government rules and regulations further complicate the problem and then removing them instead of sticking another set on top. The aim is to free people so that they can voluntarily work together and find solutions that sometimes are out of the reach of government.

Adopting this approach might mean that people find that when their alarm clock shakes them from their slumber, they wake up to liberalism.

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2015: the Oyster Card election

By Simon Goldie
December 22nd, 2010 at 11:59 am | 3 Comments | Posted in coalition

In 1918 Conservative and Liberal electoral candidates were given a signed letter from Lloyd George and Bonar Law stating that they were supported by both leaders.  Asquith famously called the letter a coupon and the campaign has been known as the ‘coupon election’ ever since.

The UK’s next general election isn’t scheduled until 2015. Despite that, there has been talk of some sort of informal pact between the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats already.

At yesterday’s PM and DPM press conference, David Cameron said that it was likely that the coalition partners would fight the campaign separately.

Likely is not certain.

It is doubtful we would have a ‘coupon’ election. But we just might have an ‘Oyster card’ election.

What that means is that candidates from both parties would campaign on their manifestos but refer to the successes of the coalition.  More importantly, like an Oyster card, they might top-up their manifesto pledges with commitments that cut across both parties.

A lot can happen in the next four and a half years.

If we do have an ‘Oyster card’ election, remember you read it here first.

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Threats lead to cancellation of London Region conference

By Tom Papworth
December 3rd, 2010 at 5:38 pm | 30 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats

News is breaking that London Region Lib Dems have been obliged to postpone the London Region conference.

Both the initial and the replacement venues asked the Lib Dems to cancel the event because they feared that it would result in violence. Demonstrators opposing university funding reform had pledged to target Saturday’s event.

The headmaster of the school originally planning to host the event asked London Region to move it; but the replacement venue also raised security fears.

The concern of the venues is understandable considering the offensive and threatening language used by the ironically named “Free Education Campaign” (free for the students; very expensive for the taxpayers). Fiona Edwards of FEC spoke of Lib Dems “running scared” and promised to “chase them down.”

Ironically, FEC was only expecting up to 1,000 demonstrators, which should have been easy for the local police to manage. Indeed, with rain, snow and fog expected to complement the freezing temperatures, it’s hard to decide whether the demonstration would have been sparsely attended or a great opportunity for some of the hot-heads to cool off.

Personally, I’m disappointed that the defenders for middle-class welfare weren’t faced down. London Region should have pushed ahead with the conference at whatever venue they could find, and let the police and the weather deal with the student reactionaries.

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