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Nick Clegg shows some nifty footwork as the election campaign kicks off

By Angela Harbutt
January 5th, 2010 at 7:15 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, UK Politics

Nick CleggMost will now have read Nick Clegg’s article in the Times (if you haven’t its here). What did you make of it ?

Naturally we all read it (well some of us did) looking for clues as to which way Nick Clegg is inclined to lean in the event of a hung parliament. Yes folks groan….the hung parliament question. (oh come one – it’s not going away anytime soon – especially while the Tories tie themselves up in knots over simple stuff like tax bonus’ to married couples…)  

So what did it tell us? On face value, some say, not a lot. The New Statesmen was one of many groaning at the lack of clarity… “Despite the fighting talk that “the Liberal Democrats are not for sale”, Clegg remains frustratingly reticent” .

But I think I can see the clever tactician in Nick Clegg emerging…… In his article Nick says that the actions of the Lib Dems (in the event of a hung parliament) will be governed by their commitment to four central principles: fair taxes, a fair start for children (with smaller class sizes and a “pupil premium” favouring poorer children), a sustainable economy, and fair, clean, local politics.

When asked on Radio 4’s Today programme “Is this a centre left agenda ?” he said “It’s a fair agenda, yes.”

But ~ and perhaps crucially~ he also wrote in today’s Times article that the Lib Dems intend to “respect the will of the public” …” The voters are in charge and the decision is theirs. If voters decide that no party deserves an overall majority, then self-evidently the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or, if it chooses, to seek alliances with other parties.”

(I am not sure what he means by ” the party with the strongest mandate” .. is that number of votes or number of seats ? hmmm).

I think it rather nifty piece of footwork from Nick this early in the skirmish. He keeps the activists happy and off his back with open talk of being centre left – and helpfully nodding to those Labour party voters “oop north” who will be comforted by Nick’s words,  and might just be prepared to  vote tactically if push comes to shove. Well at least it can be spun that way to Lib Dem activists fighting the “target Labour seats”.  Box ticked.

It is however frankly very difficult to see the Labour party emerging post-election as “the party with the strongest mandate” . So whilst he may pitch the party as “centre-left”  it seems perfectly clear that in the event that the Conservatives don’t secure sufficient seats for an outright majority – he is willing to do business with them.  That also might be enough to keep his sitting Lib Dem MP’s fighting the Tories a good enough story on the door steps.

It should also be noted that coming off the back of a year where politics took more than a bit of a battering – the line that there will be “no under-the-counter deals” is a good bit of positioning for the Lib Dems. A subtle reminder that we are the clean honest party (well ok a Lord or two excepting …we certainly came out a whole lot better than the other two).

And of course, IF we face the Conservative minority scenario his hands will be clean with his own party – he can look innocently at them and say it was the voters who forced his hand – the activists can groan all they like but they will just have to put up with it.

On balance pretty nifty I think.

Ok Ok yes it would be nice to see a more definitive “liberal” agenda, some strong narratives and a couple of catchy headliners – but we are 16 weeks or so out from a general election.  A bit of pragmatism must be called for.  He may still have a campaign headliner or two up his sleeve…. my friends on the news desk still expect a more assertive “get out of Afganistan” stance from Nick before this campaign is over. And let’s hope his team have him well-drilled for the TV debates….

But – given that we are where we are – I think it will do. For now.

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The Government that cried “WOLF”.

By Angela Harbutt
November 15th, 2009 at 10:17 am | 16 Comments | Posted in UK Politics, Uncategorized

earthOk, back from the USA – and just a tad jet-lagged so apologies for the delay in this post.

But only back 24 hours and I notice that according to The Times yesterday only 41% accept as an established scientific fact that global warming is taking place and is largely man made. Look at it another way only 1/3 (32%) agree that climate change is happening but believe it has not yet been proven to be largely man-made.

Should we really be that surprised? Afterall we have become not just sceptical of politicians, but actually assume that if politicians say it, it’s most likely untrue, twisted, manipulated, or at best a half-truth – which still counts as a lie in my book.

We have also had “scientists say” thrust down our throats just one time too many (rather like the “if it saves just one child” mantra). Those words have become meaningless. Worse , they begin to grate. If I hear the words “scientists say” these days, my immediate response is “which scientists?”, “who funded their research?”, “what motivated them to do this research in the first place?” “Where can I see the FULL study, not just the edited highlights”. These questions, are rarely, if ever, answered. The media doesn’t look beyond the startling headline grabber it will give them, and politicians are more swayed by where they perceive public opinion to be than what the facts of the matter are. Explain why else the Liberal Democrats have taken such a pathetic stand on the smoking ban or drugs classification – neither of which enjoyed  rigorous scientific research  to justify the legislation introduced.

But let’s not get distracted with lifestyle freedoms, lets consider more “serious” scientific studies of late.  Because , to be clear, scientists are not omnipotent gods incapable of error. They get stuff wrong.

 In 1999 Government scientists were telling us that “hundreds of thousands” could die from CJD, a year later the projections had been down-scaled to just a few thousand at most.

In 2001 the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, David King, insisted upon a massive cull to stop an outbreak of foot and mouth. Most farmers and vets said that the epidemic could be contained by vaccine, or isolation methods. But hell no, literally millions of sheep and cows were killed, farms put out of business, the tourist trade decimated.  

In April 2006 Government reports suggested that as many as 700,000 of us might die from bird flu. Even scientists most modest estimates stated that around 50,000 in the UK would die. To date about 500 people around the world have been infected with H5N1 and around 260 of them have died.

And only this year Government told us that 65,000 would be wiped out by swine flu. The current projections stand at 20,000 – and even those look widely pessimistic at this stage.

 Of course all of the above are to some extent “UK only”  issues and with climate change we are talking about a world problem – with scientists and governments from many countries involved in the debate. But even with climate change problems exist with what “the scientists say”….. In the 1980s scientists talked of  “global cooling” or a new Ice Age. In the 1990s this became “global warming”, now it is “climate change”.  And , let’s be clear, almost every country has a significant number of scientists that question their government’s analysis – we are not the only ones who are asking questions about “the science”.

Nor has it helped that we have been beaten – with almost religious zeal – by the environmental stick, witnessing increasing levels of legislation introduced under the name of climate change, that have raided our wallets and invaded our privacy.  And frankly even those that really do accept the worst case scenario on climate change are frustrated by the cynicism with which this potential crisis has been exploited.

So it is not very surprising therefore that when we are told by scientists  and politicians that we are all going to hell in a hand cart, we will, after a while, start to question it.

If all this sounds like I am a “climate-denier” – a term I particularly dislike – then I am sorry. I am probably in the one third that believe that there is some form of climate change but am not convinced that we have correctly identified the cause (or causes) of the problem. I am also pretty sure that we are far from finding the right solutions.

So, in my view, it is an inevitable consequence of Government action to date that we have responded the way we have in The Times survey (US citizens are equally sceptical). This Government – and others – have used science to cry wolf once too often. When faced with more pressing economic issues that are much more immediate, and if we add on top of that our scepticism of what Governments say – and increasingly what “science says” – why would we do anything other than start to doubt the information we are given.

If we are to move forward on this issue it must start with a consensus on the science – and the population buying into what the scientists have to say. That’s going to be tough given the respective track records of politicians and scientists.

It’s time for Governments to make a fresh start. Fewer, better researched, scientific studies would help. So would a  more consistent approach from Government on when they will and wont take heed of their own science. Finally a more rounded view of the problem must surely now be implemented – one that embraces geo-technological solutions with as much vigour as modification of population behaviour. If politicians can actually discard their natural instincts to micro-manage every aspect of our lives with scant regard to our intelligence – oh and start being honest with us about “green taxes”, then maybe we can actually solve this issue. But I doubt we can do it before then.

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