Daily Archives: 8 February 2006

Hughesy Loses It and the News

(Geddit? GEDDIT? You know, the band that did the theme tune to that time travel film. What was it called? Bridge to the Future or something?)

The story today is that Hughes has diverted his fire away from Campbell and onto Huhne. Earlier today, I speculated that this was a miscalculation based on jitters about Huhne overtaking him. It is certainly a bad idea to attack the candidate in third place, it only gives them credibility. What’s more, at this point candidates need to start repeating the message, the message, the message and Hughes’ best message is that he won’t be a caretaker leader.

But the more I think about it, the more I think this must be a deliberate face saving measure. In essence, Hughes has looked at his own internal polling, seen that he’s in third place, and has decided that finishing in a face-saving second must be his main priority from now until 2 March. The hope must be that his mudslinging, combined with Campbell’s, will start to stick and Huhne’s support will start to slip under sheer relentless attack. Anyone who has fought an election campaign when Labour and the Tories start sharing lines of attack in the interest of preserving a two-party “status quo” will recognise this tactic.

As for Hughes’ manifesto, one has to ask: what’s the point? We’re back to litany politics here – lots of policy bites and “themes” but no overall message or structure. It is an example of everything we’ve been doing wrong with Lib Dem campaigning in recent years. What’s worse, by being too specific, it means that if elected he is simply letting himself in for years of policy battles and accusations of U-turns. All candidates are open to this, but the other two have attempted to walk the fine line between detail and vision. Hughes plumps straight for detail.

And it has to be pointed out that this thing should have been wheeled out last week. Launching a manifesto after a good 20% of the electorate have already physically voted is just plain daft.

There has been a curious lack of fire in this campaign. My assumption has always been that Simon would do better than the media expected because of his natural charisma and ability to do a good speech. He has those qualities, but too often his campaign has been about fighting the battles of yesterday. Too much of his manifesto sounds like it came out of policy papers from the mid-90s: he’s refighting old battles. If Campbell is a Bridge to the Future, then Hughes is a Tunnel to the Past.

Pollocks

I’ve been told off before for over-exercising the right side of my brain, but was yesterday’s botched YouGov leak an over-enthusiastic Huhne supporter, or a cunning Campbell supporter who wanted to undermine him? After all, Camp Campbell is the team with all the past form for anonymous briefing.

Secondly, regarding Peter Kellner’s denial, is it that the figures are innaccurate (Campbell was on 41% not 40% for example) but broadly along the right lines or are they way off? In short, this could still be a leak regardless of that missive. Unfortunately – and reasonably – Kellner has refused to comment further.

The fact remains that somebody commissioned that poll, presumably a supporter of one of the candidates, and that they don’t want us to see the results. All we can hope and pray for is that whoever commissioned the second YouGov poll will publish no matter what.

The advantage of YouGov is that they are able to easily contact select groups such as members of political parties, unlike telephone polling companies. The disadvantage with using them is that subsequently party hacks with an over-inflated sense of their own importance (i.e. bloggers) get wind of any poll pretty quickly. Take note.

Sometimes I really miss Mark Oaten

…I’d have so loved to have goaded him over this:

We were warned: Liberalisation of drink laws would fuel disorder
The sober truth: Serious violent crime has fallen 21% – and is down by twice that in some towns – while there are 14% fewer woundings
As for drinks firms? They are reporting no windfall profits

As Iain Sharpe has rightly reminded me in the past however, Don Foster is the person in charge of the Lib Dem line on licensing laws. Looking forward to the press release, Don!

“a small step in the right direction”

Just because Cameron is committed to pulling out of the EPP, it doesn’t mean he wants to pull out of the EU entirely does it?

I’ve come across this webpage, encouraging people to bombard Tory MEPs with standard letters about leaving the EPP.

Two things scream out to me with this campaign. Firstly, these two notes:

1) Leaving the EU is not on the agenda. This is a small step in the right direction though.
2) The tone is purposely calm and middle of the road. We don’t want to be seen as extremists, but rather as normal voters.

In any other party, point 2 wouldn’t need to be said. The second sentence in point 1 gives the game away: leaving the EPP is the first step towards a policy of leaving the EU.

Think I’m exaggerating? Well, the standard letter also includes this line:

I was more than a little surprised to learn that the group that we associate with in the European Parliament was so keen on Ever Closer union, a position that is totally incompatible with our belief in national sovereignty.

The phrase “Ever Closer Union” is in the Rome Treaty – we – specifically the Conservatives – signed up to it in 1971. We – specifically the Conservatives – signed up to it in Maastricht. It doesn’t automatically mean constitutional union, and it is the inevitable outcome of a multiple countries working together on specific areas of economic and social policy.

Sing it loud and proud: Cameron would seek to pull us out of the EU. He’s entitled to his view, but it would be nice if he just came out and admitted it.

More good news

Latest Populus poll: CON 37%(+1) LAB 36%(-3) LD 18% (+2). The Lib Dems are doing well in the Dunfermline by-election stakes as well.

That stuff I said about Populus being unreliable earlier? I’d eaten some bad cheese, forget it. 🙂

Seriously, there are two good things about this poll. Firstly, journalists have rather more respect for Populus than me and will have noticed that we are starting to recover from our menses horribilis. Secondly, it confirms a growing realisation (based on other polls) that when we do badly, it is Labour who gain and vice versa. Cameron in other words is Gordon Brown’s problem; there is every reason to expect us to make serious gains next time round.

From leaks to leeks

(with apologies for that title)

The Times polled about a third of Lib Dem members who attended the Cardiff hustings on Monday, and the runaway winner was Chris Huhne. See this article and this graphic for details.

As Peter Snow used to say, this is just a bit of fun. But it does suggest that the more engaged members have very much warmed to him. It is time that the other candidates started to respect that, rather than sniffily dismiss it. Who’s going to deliver your leaflets in 2008/9, Mr Clegg?

Lib Dem Peace and Security Group Hustings

This doesn’t appear to have been put anywhere else online, so I thought I’d post it here. The LDPSG (or whatever they’re called) asked the three candidates three questions. These are their responses, which I am adding here without comment:

Ming Campbell

As you will know, the Government is at the early stage of reviewing the post-Trident options and I have been leading some preliminary work on our side in the Foreign Affairs and Defence teams.

I respect the fact that members approach the debate from different perspectives and that there are many opinions within the party about whether or not we should have a nuclear deterrent, never mind replace it. In line with our manifesto commitment last year, I have always argued for multilateral disarmament and the retention of a minimum deterrent in the meantime. Under my leadership of the foreign affairs team we have been strong critics of the GovernmentÂ’s failure to achieve meaningful progress on disarmament.

The debate on the future replacement of Trident offers us a new opportunity to consider all of the relevant issues. Clearly the strategic context has altered significantly since the end of the Cold War. The idea that Britain needs a deterrent against an attack from Russia at present stretches credibility beyond breaking point. I also reject any notion that a nuclear capability would deter international terrorists.

However, I do believe that we have a responsibility to consider the world 15 – 20 years hence, when we would be replacing Trident, and think through which other countries may be a threat to us and what would be the best way to deal with them And beyond this strategic context, we must also consider the types of replacement which are feasible, the costs associated with them and the alternative uses to which these scarce resources could be put.

An obvious question which must be answered by those advocating smaller mobile missile systems is whether this might have the unintended effect of lowering the threshold for missile use and even increase the rate of proliferation of smaller systems.

This decision cannot be taken overnight and will not be resolved in the course of the leadership contest, whatever others might suggest. We have pressed the Government to publish a White Paper on the subject and will continue to do so: we all have a right to know the options being considered by the cabinet and the information on which they are based.

Within the party, we must have a full debate and I am pleased that the conference committee has asked FPC to establish a process which will allow this to take place over the next year. The timescale will ensure that we consider all the issues thoroughly and reach a proper conclusion. In the meantime, I do not believe that we should be signing up to the positions being taken by Michael Meacher or anybody else. The party must form its own policy, not be led by others.

I appreciate that my long held views on the nuclear deterrent are already known to you, but I want to stress that I am committed to a full debate on all the issues. It is a once in a generation decision and it is important that we get it right.

Simon Hughes

What is your personal opinion on whether or not Trident should be replaced with a new nuclear weapons system?

Whilst a decision on Trident is not needed now, my strong instincts are to go for a substantial reduction in our nuclear arsenal, and to look very seriously at the potential for using a reduction in, or elimination of, the UK nuclear force as a lever to generate genuine worldwide disarmament.

Replacing Trident would certainly be seen as an act of provocation given the current international debate on the development of nuclear capability by countries such as Iran. The role of an independent nuclear deterent has been changed given that there is now only one world superpower and that any replacement for Trident would be purchased from that superpower – which would make it not very independent! Many of the greatest threats to our security come from shadowy terrorist groups who we can hardly threaten to annihilate in a nuclear exchange. The debate has moved on and it is time for the Liberal Democrats to demonstrate how we would use the £billions that would otherwise be spent on replacing
Trident, by investing in our communities and their services.

Do you think that Party Conference should have a defining role in deciding Lib Dem policy on this issue?

Absolutely. The Parliamentary Party must remember that they are merely 62 members of the party. The role of the MPs is important of course, but Conference is the sovereign body of the Party and should define policy in this and all areas.

Would you encourage Lib Dem MPs to sign EDM 1197 Replacement for Trident Weapons (Michael Meacher)? It calls for a full public debate on the subject leading to a Green Paper considering all options including non-replacement; and ‘further calls on the Government not to conclude any agreements, or to engage in preparations to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, until after this debate and a deciding vote held in Parliament.’

I have a lot of sympathy with Michael Meacher’s EDM but would prefer that the Liberal Democrats took the lead on this and submitted our own motion setting out our own priorities and principles.

Chris Huhne

What is your personal opinion of whether or not Trident should be replaced with a new nuclear weapons system?

I cannot see the justification for the replacement of a system designed before the end of the Cold war in a world where we faced a real threat from an aggressive Soviet Union. The world has changed, and our policy needs to reflect the new challenges of peace-making and peace-keeping in the context of our obligations to the United Nations and the European Union. There must be a full parliamentary and public debate on replacement: I am not against replacement of Trident by a minimum deterrent, but I cannot believe that a full-scale replacement is necessary or desirable.

Do you think that party conference should have a defining role in deciding Lib Dem policy on this issue?

Under our constitution, party conference has the defining role in our policy on this as every other issue following a report drawn up by a policy commission set up by the Federal Policy committee. That is right and proper in a democratic party, and any party leader who ignores that fact is asking for trouble. We must not go back to the bad old days where party leaders
ignored conference and treated activists with disdain. I have personally been involved in many policy-making areas over many years, and I have never been afraid to argue my case on the conference floor, and I am not about to change the habits of a political lifetime now!

Would you encourage LD MPs to sign EDM 1197 Replacement for Trident Weapons (Michael Meacher)?

Yes, and I have signed it myself. One of the most worrying features of the current situation concerning a Trident replacement is the mounting evidence that the Government may be pre-empting a public debate by private decisions taken behind closed doors. This was the pattern with the replacement of Polaris by Trident in 1994. Already, there has been an announcement of a substantial upgrading at Faslane where the Trident warheads are stored, and work has also begun that could potentially be the basis of a new nuclear weapons system at Aldermaston. This is entirely unacceptable, and we must make common cause with all those in the Commons who want an open and honest public debate on the new threat assessment and our responses to it. There is much less reason for official secrecy in this area than people think, as the Americans repeatedly show with a much more open debate on the renewal or replacement of weapons systems.

Glory, glory Abu Hamza!

It’s been Abu Hamza night on the news this evening and I’ve just torn myself away from Newsnight’s special report on the subject which was compelling viewing.

The legitimate question hanging over it all was why the policy were so slow to act. The response was that the CPS weren’t satisfied they could secure a conviction. Seeing the video footage going back as far as 2000, that seems odd as it appeared as cut and dried a case of inciting racial hatred and inciting violence as you are ever likely to find. Though it pains me to in any way defend the BNP, the footage of Nick Griffin that formed the basis of last week’s case contained footage of him making claims about Muslims. Libellous claims to be sure, but it was criticism. Abu Hamza by contrast was simply repeating again and again to kill all Jews and other non-Muslims whenever and however the opportunity arises. Odd that the CPS rushed to prosecute the BNP yet sat on the Hamza case for so long.

Shahid Malik claimed on Newsnight that the problem is the law is too woolly and Labour’s new crime of “glorifying terrorism” would sort it out. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe a word of it. If there was any doubt within the CPS of securing a conviction for inciting violence it wasn’t on narrow definitional grounds of whether he actually incited people (it’s a no-brainer that he did) but on balancing it with Hamza’s right to free speech and the fact that individuals are responsible for their own actions. The new “glorification” law would be subject to the same balancing act. What’s worse, poorly drafted legislation like the new terrorism bill will essentially kick away an important crutch from the courts by introducing such a broad definition that judges and juries will be doubly concerned about avoiding miscarriages of justice. Defence barristers will of course be able to exploit this lingering doubt.

Bad law offends people’s sense of justice, while paradoxically introducing a culture of self-censorship in areas that shouldn’t need to worry.

Moving slightly on from Abu Hamza himself, a new Populus poll, as reported on Antony Wells’ UK Polling Report makes for rather sobering reading. It reveals that while only a minority of Muslims support terrorism and extremists like Hamza and Omar Bakri Mohammed, it is an uncomfortably large minority.

One of my colleagues pointed out today that this poll should be viewed with suspicion because it was commissioned by Jewish community groups. Personally, I would have thought that the one group of individuals that really would be interested in seeing accurate figures are Jewish community groups. I’m rather more concerned by the fact that it was done by Populus, which seems to have a rather erratic record. But it does square with an earlier poll done by ICM.

The positive side of this poll is that only a small minority feel that organisations which claim to be the spokespeople for British Muslims such as the MCB and MAB only speak for a minority. We need to remember this and recognise that it is the flipside of the problem with extremism. Too often British Muslims feel alienated and sidelined; allowing Iqbal Sacranie to steal their voices only makes the matter worse. We need to learn to tackle individuals one-on-one and stop treating them like some block vote.