Monthly Archives: March 2008

Nick Clegg: I’m more hardline than Mao

Gavin Whenman has been expressing exasperation with Nick Clegg’s use of the word sclerotic. He has a point.

Personally, I find the following quote equally perplexing:

“It’s not an act of leadership to throw your hands in the air and let a thousand flowers bloom.”

Who was it who originally talked about letting a thousand flowers bloom? I believe it was a certain Mao Tse Tung. I don’t recall Mao being known for being a particularly weak leader. Why is Clegg inviting us to draw comparisons with him and the great despot? What’s this obsession with being seen to be tough (again)? And isn’t it generally Lib Dem policy to, wherever possible, let a thousand flowers bloom?

“Europe is not an issue of conscience. Europe is an issue that is quite central to our party’s identity.”

Yes, but even more central to our party’s identity is democracy. Regardless of whether you think the idea of a referendum on Lisbon is democratic or not, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the majority of the Parliamentary Party wanted us to support one. Surely therefore it was incumbant on Clegg to not vote on his conscience and go along with his colleagues? He had lost the argument. He was the one who insisted MPs not be forced to vote against their consciences.

I’m getting increasingly irritated by the ret-con claim that Clegg’s abstention was somehow “principled“. A principled stance would have involved him voting against the Tory amendment in the face of his parliamentary colleagues. I can understand the principled position of those like Andrew Duff who are opposed to any referendum, but not this claim that an in-out referendum is necessary while a referendum on Lisbon would be disastrous. In any case, a principled stance would have prevented him from writing this article four years ago. He knows this. How dare he attempt to claim some sort of moral high ground here?

Not impressed.

Clegg: more walkouts

I’ll lightly skip over Clegg’s call for recall today (I’ve said what I have to say on that topic here) – I happen to question the practicalities but as an act of symbolism it is good politics. Instead I will concentrate on these paragraphs:

Clegg said Westminster should expect to see more protests from him – last week he staged a walkout from the Commons after he was denied his “in or out” vote.

“The kind of anger, noise, direct protest that you have seen from us recently – whether it is my stance on saying that I would prefer to go to court than give my data to a compulsory government ID card database or Vince Cable’s protest against the visit of the Saudi king, or our walkout of the Commons last week – far from seeing less of that, I think you will see more.”

Which is fine, but he should think about the purpose of all this is. The most dispiriting thing about Ed Davey’s walkout last week was his insistence it was a spontaneous thing. So does this mean the Lib Dem strategy is to just be spontaneous? And how does this square with insisting on having archaic debates over whether or not to have a debate?

By all means be anti-establishment, but that is not the same thing as the mindless activism that was on display last week. And it means no more lectures from front benchers about being against opportunism in future, thank you.

Ming Campbell abstained on his own policy

This has probably been blogged elsewhere, but looking at Public Whip today I was intrigued to note that the Lib Dems failed to get their own MPs out to vote in support of having a debate on the in/out amendment referendum. In a vote which was not likely to get passed and which the Lib Dems are surely planning to use against individual rival MPs, the Tories got 87% of their MPs out, Labour got 88% of their MPs out while the Lib Dems managed a mere 84%. Read into that what you will.

The absentees are an odd bunch. The most notable one is Ming Campbell. However badly Clegg may have subsequently handled it, let us not forget that it was Campbell that got us in this mess in the first place. It’s a shame he didn’t at least vote for his own policy.

Public Whip has not yet published the results of last nights vote. One of its quirks is that it defines a rebellion as a vote against what the majority within that particular party grouping was voting. On that basis, the 15 MPs who voted against the three line whip to abstain will be listed as loyalists.

UPDATE: Just had a look at the Tories who abstained in the in/out vote. They include, not exclusively, the usual Euronihilist suspects such as Bill Cash and Douglas Carswell. Clearly, for all their protestations, a significant number of them would have loved the opportunity to really put this to a vote.

What do the Lisbon Treaty, colonic irrigation, psychic locksmiths and “Vogue Escorts” massage parlour have in common?

Another month, another name change. The British Free Press, formerly the UK Column, formerly the Plymouth and Devonport Column, has now become The Westminster News (pdf). Yes, it’s back, and this time it’s fatter than a Sandra in a sponsored fat suit. The reason for all this padding is that it has lots of adverts from a range of sources, some less mental than others. Indeed, there is so much padding, that it appears David Noakes has forgotten to give us his usual quota of nutty-bonkersness. It still contains some highlights however, and some of the adverts themselves are rather revealing:

Front page: “Ten thousand Whitehall jobs to go” – yay! Oh wait, that’s meant to be a bad thing. Boo! Parliament to be abolished on 5 May 2010. MPs to go along with this because “they have been groomed for this purpose, chosen by the Party list system over the last 20 years to ensure an obedient majority of pro-EU MPs.” Our MPs are elected using the list system? No-one tells me anything! But then, if they did, what would be the point of the Westminster News?

Page 2: The health page. Article about St George’s Cross being Cornish juxtaposed by adverts for enemas and colonic irrigation. I’m sure we aren’t supposed to draw any inferences from that. Moving on…

Page 3: Apparently Northern Rock was bailed out by the US of A. Good old Uncle Sam! A new Marshall Plan, eh? Oh, wait. That’s meant to be a bad thing too. Boo! Adverts on ethical t-shirts, spectacles, a cattery and a dance school.

Page 5: Constitution and politics. Or, to be more precise, recycling in Westminster Council. Meanwhile, in a continuation from page one, it is revealed that Francis Maude, Jacqui Smith, Ken
Clarke, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and Tim Yeo “might” be members of German intelligence. Or they might not. We won’t know until after their deaths. Bum.

Page 6: A one page guide to the Constitution and its remarkable similarities to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act. It’s says so here so it must be true.

Page 7: Adverts for caligraphy, swimming with dolphins, a solicitors, a travel agency and a hypnotherapist promising to help you quit smoking in time for when the ban starts on 1 July (um…). Meanwhile it emerges that MPs will suffer the most when Parliament is abolished (those who aren’t members of German intelligence anyway) and that it will take decades to fill the soon to by emptied Whitehall with new residents.

Page 8-9: Lots of property to buy in Ireland. Yay! The mighty Irish, descendents of the Tuatha de Dannan – who are really Israelites – are bound to reject the evil constitution in their lovely referendum aren’t they? They’ve got a magic stone and everything!

Page 11: Classifieds. The locksmiths section includes adverts for a clairvoyants and an astrologer. Not quite sure how these powers open my front door, but I’m sure all shall be revealed.

Page 14: Escort agencies juxtaposed with composting (“Give a green gift for Christmas” – always good to plan early).

Fat people unite! You have nothing to lose but your shoelaces!

I wrote the following letter to Lib Dem News last week but they saw fit not to print it. Fair enough, but here it is anyhoo:

Just what point is Sandra Gidley trying to make by prancing about in a comedy fat suit (People, 22nd February)? As someone who is at least as fat as she was when she ‘fatted up’, I can assure her that if her experience involved feeling exhausted all the time and being unable to tie her own shoelaces it wasn’t an authentic one. I’m not convinced her suit simulated diabetes for her either, one of the conditions highlighted in the article.

There is a creeping nastiness about the anti-obesity bandwagon that has been rolling on in recent years, employing both the patronising language about handicap that it is now thankfully regarded as insulting to disabled people with sinister innuendo about the cost of it all. It is clear that Sandra buys into at least some of the government’s rhetoric about fat being a ‘bigger threat than global warming’. You wouldn’t spot an MP getting out the boot polish to understand the ‘black experience’ nor would you hear them talking about geriatric care crippling the health service.

What’s worse is that this stunt is actually about promoting diet company and soup manufacturer LighterLife – this venture turns out to be about making diet industry Fat Cats fatter not the wellbeing of fat people.

Nobody likes a tourist, Sandra. If you want to understand what it’s like to be fat, talk to a fat person, not someone trying to make money out of them.

If you didn’t see the Lib Dem News article in question, it is basically lifted directly from Sandra’s press release, although the reference to LighterLife is conspicuous by its absence in the LDN version. See also the Southern Daily Echo.

LighterLife have been in the news recently as the main funders behind The Obesity Awareness and Solutions Trust (TOAST), which has rather rapidly taken down its website in the past week or so. They currently have a tube carriage advertising campaign which was annoying me even before I became aware of the TOAST controversy. Their programme is based around crash dieting for the first 14 weeks (during which you can only eat their official soups, shakes and bars).

I sincerely question what an MP is doing endorsing any commercial weight loss programme, let alone this one. The fat suit stunt fits in well with their general publicity material which is all about presenting fat people as miserable and desperate. This isn’t about empowering people; it is about making them feel bad and then taking money from them when they are at their lowest.

Deconstructing the Lib Dem EU poll and other things to annoy the front bench

The Lib Dems have unveiled the results of a recently commissioned MORI Poll today with great flourish, insisting it confirms that their position for an in-out referendum is supported by twice as many people as a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

That’s fair enough, but there are two caveats. First of all, the questions are incredibly leading, being (in order):

  • Do you think there should be a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, or not?
  • As you may know, the Lisbon Treaty, currently going through Parliament, makes changes to the way the European Union is run. If there were to be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe, would you prefer it to be a referendum ONLY on the Lisbon Treaty, or a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union altogether?

On a subconscious level this translates as:

  • A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?
  • A referendum on just the Lisbon Treaty? Poor show. A referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – what a good idea, eh?

Secondly, what it suggests more than anything else is that the electorate hasn’t really been thinking very hard about this issue. 19% answered Don’t Know in Q1; 26% answered Don’t Know in Q2. 56% of people said they wanted an in/out referendum in Q1. 46% of people said they wanted either an in/out referendum or both an in/out and a Lisbon Treaty referendum in Q2. What happened to the other 10%? What this poll, more than anything else, tells us about the electorate is that it is all over the place on this issue. That shouldn’t be much comfort to anyone in this debate; no one is making an impact.

In fact the best thing I can say about this poll is that at least it is less desperate and contrived than IWAR’s silly “referendum” claiming that 88% of the public want one on Lisbon.

Back to the fall out over last week’s Ed Davey interview, I have to say I find it amusing to be accused of both “following the party line” and “going easy” on Davey and “tearing Ed Davey into pieces” at the same time. I happen to think neither is accurate: the first half of the interview was glowing with praise, the second half was critical but hardly ad hominem, but there you go. I do reject one criticism I’ve received which is that I shouldn’t have written it as it will be useful for William Hague to quote from in interventions this week. That ain’t my problem and the day it becomes my problem is the day I have to stop this blog.

In terms of the debate over the European Parliament’s role in appointing the President of the Commission, one other factor has come to my attention. A group of Europhiles have set up a new website calling for just one President of the EU. They are arguing that under Lisbon it would be both legal and desirable to combine the Council and Commission Presidents into one.

Personally I’m not convinced. The answer to the quoted question posed by Henry Kissinger “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” is surely Javier Solana. Combining two of the most senior posts in the EU into one without another treaty sounds dodgy as hell (“In general the provisions do not directly restrict the unification of the two posts. Only the new article 245 does not allow the Commission President to engage in any ‘other occupation’. But chairing a meeting of the European Council is not an occupation. We are confident that the legal services of the institutions and member states will be able to interpret this in the way they intend (as they so often do in other matters of political Kompetenzstreit).” – Davey’s description of a “bizarre interpretation” would seem rather more apt here IMHO!). And how would you hold the post to account? Could the office holder be sacked from one post while holding onto the other? What if the Council sacked him/her as their President but Parliament wanted him/her to stay at the Commission? I seem to spend my life calling for separation of powers; why would anyone want combination of powers? (another quote: “in the UK most ministers (=executive) are also members of parliament (=legislative). In Britain judges (=judiciary) can be members of parliament” – yeah and isn’t that a peachy system?)

But what this website does show is that far from giving the Parliament a more central role in electing the Commission President being a controversial “interpretation” of the Lisbon Treaty, many pro-Europeans have already moved on and are arguing to go much further. It is pointless to pretend otherwise and to insist that talking about it will only help the eurosceptics’ cause.

According to the website’s facebook group, that includes Jeremy Hargreaves, the Vice Chair of the Lib Dems’ Federal Policy Committee. Zany euro-fanatic though I may be, it is comforting to discover that there are zanier fanatics than me out there holding much more senior positions within the party!