Daily Archives: 7 December 2008

Social bookmarking-a-go-go

You’ll have noticed that I’ve got rather carried away with social bookmarking “vote” buttons (to the right if you are reading the blog at source). Why? Well, LibDig has been a small success but I’m keen to explore how to what extent I can use these things to widen my blogs’ reach. I started experimenting with Politigg and I’ve brought that back. But I’ve also added buttons for Wikio and Digg.

What’s interesting with the other two is that although I’ve been aware of both for some time, I’ve never used them in the same way that I take LibDig for granted. The reason is that they seem like too big a pool to dip into. Unless you are already established, you sink in them like a stone (this is more true of Digg, but then Digg appears to get used far more). My question is, can a good rating on one website lead to popularity on another? It remains to be seen.

Another thing I’ve done is to automatically not include Politigg and LibDig buttons for my non-political posts, which is why neither appear to the side of this post!

It’s interesting how there appears to be a Digg divide, incidentally. I can’t find a single post by either Iain Dale or Guido Fawkes on the site, despite their popularity in the UK political blogosphere and despite the former, at least, having Digg buttons on his posts. How does one break into it, I wonder?

Lord Jacobs becomes rightwingers’ new poster child

The Times reports that Lord Jacobs has quit the party to sit as a crossbencher on the grounds that the party’s position on tax does not include tax cuts for the rich, paid for (if Lord Rennard is to be believed) by a 6p hike in NIC. Despite Sam Coates’ best attempts to dress this story up into another typical Times piece of donor porn (I was half-expecting the piece to start going on about the quality of the soft-furnishings in his central London home and to coo erotically over the prospect of him owning a yacht), it hardly looks damaging for the party. Old man in a hurry throws toys out of pram. Shrug.

What is rather more interesting has been the reaction on Lib Dem Voice. The general reaction has been one of bemusement, but Tim Leunig leapt to Jacob’s defence:

It is easy to rush to attack someone who is leaving, but I think this is a bit churlish. Lord Jacobs has worked very hard for the party over the past twenty years, in financial and other ways. He is not someone who turned up, donated £100k one day and became a Lord the next without understanding or supporting our principles. When someone that committed leaves the sensible thing is to sit them down and talk to them. Because who knows, they may be representative of a chunk of the party.

Except that, um, no-one was attacking him. Later still, Oranjepan quipped:

“…Jacobs his obviously flounced off in a huff…”

Oh dear, I don’t think anyone could seriously believe that (I mean seriously!).

For someone who has been around our party (and forebears) for so long he is clearly aware of our role in the process and pragmatic enough not to have walked away during more contentious times.

Jacobs clearly sees some other merit in these actions as he is still overtly supportive, so I think it will be interesting to see whether he continues to be a donor to the party… wheels with wheels…

My feeling is that he has deliberately isolated himself in order to open up a debate on this issues. If the Fabians and others are coming out in favour of Clegg’s leadership then these manoeuvers demonstrate clear political dexterity and a full awareness of how opinion is formed.

At age 77 such a principled gambit should be applauded and it shows he has both the nous and the cojones to make one more throw of the dice.

I genuinely don’t understand this. Cutting personal taxes by raising employer NIC is not a tax cut at all. To use Osborne-esque rhetoric, it is a tax con. It would massively increase the cost of employing people. Those who weren’t made redundant as a result of the hike would find their wages suppressed over the medium term and find themselves no better off over the longer term. And what is this to pay for? A tax cut for the pensions of the wealthy.

I can understand why an old school Tory would be attracted to such an idea – as I said before they aren’t the free marketeers they are often portrayed as – but why would an economic liberal be attracted to it?

It does seem, superficially at least, that they got drawn in by the Times (and Jacobs’ own) spin about tax cuts and thought they would portray him as some kind of martyr of the right. The enemies’ enemy is my friend, and all that. It is quite curious and generally surprising. I look forward to seeing if this is the start of a discernable pattern with interest.

Why the green movement fails [ADDENDUM]

I went on the National Climate March yesterday, as those who read my tweets will be painfully aware. The march itself was the usual festive fun, although not well attended (the organisers say 10,000 people attended, the police say 5,000 – by my own estimate it was somewhere between the two):

(credit: Helen Duffett @ LibDemVoice)

I don’t usually stick around for the rallies of these things – I feel I’ve done my bit by marching – but as Cleggy was speaking I decided to hang about. I’m afraid that the speeches that followed highlighted for me everything that is wrong with the green movement.

The rally began with music by Seize the Day, a terribly earnest group of folk singers. Not content with singing songs, the lead singer (pace Bono), decided to try his hand at proselytising. I really do wish he’d kept his mouth shut. Leaving aside his rather confused attempt at sarcasm about being glad people hadn’t taken direct action against Tesco for selling patio heaters (I couldn’t work out if he was implying he was disappointed at the crowd’s failure to storm the nearby Tesco Metro), he ranted about how disgraceful it was that politicians had constantly failed to take action on climate change and called for people to “occupy” Parliament next year. At one point, I swear he said we needed to “tear down Parliament” to ensure that we have “proper laws.” Think about that for a second.

A bit later one of the other speakers denounced the fact that, as awareness of climate change has grown, the very same companies who grew rich from carbon fuels are now being allowed to diversify into environmentally friendly industries. Finally, speaker after speaker announced that the only way to make progress on the environment was to have more direct action. I’m afraid to say that, with the exception of Nick Clegg and to a certain extent Caroline Lucas (I’ll let her off for denouncing “that place behind me” – i.e. Westminster Abbey – for failing to take action on climate change; even the most fervant believer of the Da Vinci Code would probably assume she meant the place on her right), the nonsense on show at the rally was of such a high quotient that it qualified as organic, sustainably-sourced fertiliser itself.

First of all, politicians. In the 13 years I’ve been involved in party politics, I can honestly say that – regardless of political party – the average MP is ahead of the curve when it comes to the environment than the average person in the street. It isn’t that MPs “don’t listen,” it’s that they listen only too well. They talk to people on the doorsteps and in their surgeries, they read the opinion polls, and they are made painfully aware, day after day, that the vast majority of the public do not consider real action to minimise climate change to be a serious option. Far from being undemocratic, MPs are only too willing to bend to public opinion when it comes to this issue.

Now, it’s true that the political system could be more responsive than it is, although constitutional reform wasn’t on the CACC’s list of demands, but that responsiveness works both ways. If we had an electoral system which meant the Green Party was proportionally represented in Westminster, we’d also pave the way for UKIP, and even more denier-oriented parties to get representation.

Where the political class has arguably failed is to provide decent leadership on this issue. Even though there were two party leaders speaking at the rally yesterday, neither of the two main parties have taken a stand and held firm even as public opinion oscillates between environmentalism and consumerism. Dave Cameron was notable by his absense yesterday. But the green movement itself is hardly guiltless in this regard. Interest in the environment has increased substantially in recent years, largely thanks to Al Gore, but it barely hit the mainstream before being dumped in favour of economic concerns. If the green movement can’t inspire the public, it can hardly blame the political class for failing to do its job for it.

Regarding big business, here is an inconvenient truth the environmentalists themselves need to recognise: if we are to achieve a global shift towards green technology, Big Oil are going to end up being a large part of the solution not the problem. They have the spending power, the infrastructure and the global reach. Tear them down and nothing will replace them for decades.

Complaining about them for moving into the biofuels business, and implying this is all part of some vast, anti-green conspiracy, is just stupid. Cast your mind back five years ago and you will find that the biggest champions for biofuels (CACC insist on calling them agrofuels – presumably because it sounds a bit like “aggro” – but it should be agrifuels, surely?), was the green movement. Just 18 months ago I had a very loud and vocal argument with a friend, who fancies himself to be both an environmentalist and a scientist, who denied there was any evidence at all to suggest that biofuels could be environmentally harmful. Despite the West Wing being ahead of the curve on this one, awareness of how self-defeating the switch to biofuels could be has come extremely late. To hector corporates in the unforgiving tones that were on display yesterday is extremely misplaced.

On the merits of direct action, I would certainly agree that it has its place and if environmentalists want to try occupying the Houses of Parliament then good luck to them. But was the vote for women won by the Suffragette, as Caroline Lucas suggests? Only partly. It was the suffragists who did all the spadework; the Suffragette’s switch to direct action in reaction to Asquith’s betrayal may have kept the issue in the public eye, but it was the economic necessity of the post-War period that lead to women getting the vote. Maybe what we need to get action on the environment is a bloody great war? Any takers? No?

But again we return to the fact that the general public is largely disinterested and is resoundingly hostile to any meaningful action that might affect them. Direct action can raise awareness but ultimately, on this issue, it has thus far resoundingly failed to change hearts and minds in sufficient numbers. Direct action can’t affect a paradigm shift, it can only give voice to something that is already there.

The green movement has proven itself to be extremely good at winning battles, particularly battles that both the crusties and the nimbies can agree on, but it is losing the war. I wouldn’t bet on Heathrow’s third runway being built – the opposition has reached a real head of steam now – but when it comes to significant global action the picture is more mixed.

The environmental movement is overdue a rethink. It is for this reason that I very nearly decided to go to the march with these guys, Serious Change:

I didn’t in the end because, to be frank, I’m already in the “serious change” business. That is, I’ve joined a political party, work within that party to ensure it is as environmentally conscious as possible, and work to get that party elected (less so these days, but still). If every individual who marched yesterday joined one of the main parties and campaigned within it for change, I can guarantee that things would change pretty quickly. But just as the general public requires a paradigm shift to recognise how its behaviour and attitude is destroying the planet, so the green movement needs a paradigm shift to recognise that the boring old job of influencing the public and working with the dreaded “men in gray suits.” Party politics is often far too slow, and it needs outside influences, but the greenies allergy to engaging with it has become self-defeating. It is time to stop the anti-politics bollocks and recognise that if you are interested in anything more than the onanism of hairshirt puritanism, you have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

ADDENDUM: Yoink! I missed out a whole section of what I planned to write!

At the end of the march, one disappointed Lib Dem said to me that he felt we should have encouraged people to go on a by-election campaign instead. Well, leaving aside for one moment the fact that that wouldn’t have worked on me, I couldn’t disagree less. It shouldn’t be a prime concern of the party, but turning up to marches like this is crucial. If the change in mindset highlighted above is to happen, the Lib Dems will play a crucial role in bridging the chasm between mainstream politics and the green movement. Although my much ridiculed idea for a samba band has wider applications too, it would be a real boost in getting people at demos to, quite literally, dance to our tune.

But for it to be really worthwhile, much more work needs to go into promoting the event and getting people to come along. We did this for the 2003 Iraq march and it paid dividends. Looking at the free applications available online at our disposal these days, it can be done with far less effort now.

This really ought to be something Liberal Youth should be excelling in. Genuine question: what’s stopping you?

The Tories’ “totally non-relevant” TV slot

Lib Dem Voice point to a Liverpool Daily Post story about a Tory PPB.

A SOUTHPORT builder who was tagged the Tories’ version of “Joe the Plumber” was last night at the centre of a major political row.

Shane Prescott starred in the Conservative party broadcast on Thursday, claiming his business had struggled because of the recession.

But Companies House records show the 51-year-old father-of-four’s loft conversion firm actually went into liquidation at the height of the boom in 2006.

Prescott’s response:

“The Company went into Voluntary Liquidation two years ago, as it was trading from an insolvent position, this fact was disclosed prior to broadcast, and was felt to be totally non-relevant to the issues addressed within the interview.”

Totally non-relevant? The fact that the company had financial difficulties at the height of the building boom?

What is extraordinary is this attempt to recreate a “Joe the Plumber” UK despite the fact that it brought John McCain mixed success at best. But the finest example of Tory flummery for me was their boast that, as an alternative to the VAT reduction, they will allow businesses to defer their VAT payments for six months. Surely their whole argument against tax cuts has been that they aren’t real cuts but a payment deferral? Is something magic expected to happen over the next six months that will suddenly make the economy booming again? If Cameron and Osborne know something (perhaps they have a mole in the Treasury), they really should share; the stockmarket could do with knowing. It isn’t as if they aren’t quick to shout about the bad news.

You won’t find either Cameron or Shane Prescott utter a single word of criticism of the bankers that got us into this mess. Fortunately, Nick Clegg has somewhat better critical faculties: