Tag Archives: comment-is-free

Comment is freer: It’s AV or nothing

I wrote an article on Comment is Free yesterday about why people need to stop quibbling and start campaigning for AV.

Regardless of what might happen in five, 20 or 50 years time, at this precise moment you are faced with a choice between AV and the status quo. There can be no fence-sitters in the debate. I have to admit that initially I was quite uninspired by the prospect of fighting a referendum on such a modest, if meaningful, change. But two things have changed my mind…


Read it all here
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The Lib Dems will be nobodies’ patsies

With Labour activists and Guardianistas wobbling over the startling revelation that if they don’t win the election, the Lib Dems won’t win it for them, I’ve written a short article on Comment is Free explaining why that doesn’t mean the Lib Dems are about to jump in bed with the Tories and that Labour needs to get real:

If Labour is slowly waking up to the fact that the Lib Dems will be nobody’s patsies, that’s great. I like to think that Labour can bring itself back from the brink over the next 10 days and will stop arguing itself into political oblivion. As their newly exhumed supporter Elvis says, it’s now or never. What they have to wake up to, however, is the fact that there are a lot more possible scenarios out there than either a Cameron or a Brown-led government. Every time they oversimplify and insist that a Lib Dem vote is a vote for Cameron, they merely discredit themselves by mirroring the Tories who are insisting that the Lib Dems are a proxy for Brown.

Read the full article here.

Meanwhile, as if on cue, the Tories have decided to make this whole election a referendum on hung parliaments. Their new PEB, is unique outside of BNP broadcasts in that pretty much every sentence in it is the opposite of the truth. It could have come straight from Bizarro World or (if you have more literary pretensions) Airstrip One. New Tories, Newspeak!

I’m not sure they are necessarily wise to do this, since not only are hung parliaments popular but their arguments against them are patronising in the extreme. But while people are showing no signs of submitting to such scare tactics yet, we need to redouble our efforts to reassure them.

One thing is for sure: the Tories can no longer claim to be about change in this election, as if that argument ever had any resonance in the first place.

The Lib Dem campaign for internet freedom steps up a gear

If you haven’t already joined the Lib Dems Save the Net Facebook campaign, I recommend you do so.

Meanwhile, an emergency motion has been submitted to Spring conference. Bridget Fox has the details.

I’ve submitted the following questions to the Federal Policy Committee for the morning of conference:

1. What role has the FPC played in formulating the Liberal Democrat response to the Digital Economy Bill?

2. The Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party often finds itself having to respond to legislation that the party has little or outdated policy on. What does the FPC do to ensure that the eventual response from the Parliamentary Party is a) the result of as open and democratic a process as possible; and b) adequately consults the views of all stakeholders with an interest in the legislation?

And finally, I’ve written an article on Comment is Free about the Clement-Jones/Razzall amendment:

No doubt Clement-Jones and Razzall felt that making bad less awful was the only responsible thing to do. In fact, forcing us to choose between judges and lawyers having to interpret a bad law and ministers making it up as they go along is no choice at all. After five years of one of the most depressing parliaments in living history, the last thing the Lib Dems can afford to do is to present themselves as the nicer, slightly less unacceptable face of the establishment. Leave that to David Cameron.

Comment is Free: Gordon Brown and the Alternative Vote

Wondering what I think of Labour’s plans for a referendum on electoral reform? Well wonder no longer!

The alternative vote is a small but significant step forward in the ongoing campaign for a fair electoral system fit for the 21st century. On a good day. Maybe.

If Brown’s system of choice bores campaigners, what hope is there of inspiring the public?

Everything in the middle can be found here.

Does Simon Cowell have the political X-Factor?

No, is the basic conclusion of my article on Comment is Free today:

In reality, the X Factor could only dream of having as many voters as we take for granted in UK elections. Ten million votes may sound like a lot, but it is only two-thirds the number of people who voted in the European parliament elections this year and a third the number of people who voted in the 2005 general election. The campaign to get Rage Against the Machine’s Killing In The Name to deny Joe McElderry the Christmas No 1 also suggests that the X Factor can alienate the public as much as any MPs’ expenses scandal.

Read the full article here.

Comment on Clegg’s Claimed Calamitous Camaroon Coalition – Crap!

I forgot to plug my Comment is Free article which was published yesterday. In it, I give pretty short shrift to the ideas that Nick Clegg has just announced his intention to form a coalition with the Tories and that the Lib Dems should be bending over backwards to spell out their terms for a coalition of any kind:

There is no enthusiasm within the party for co-operation with the Conservative party, but working with Labour is almost as unenticing a prospect. To be seen propping up a government which has just lost the election after 13 years of office would cost the Lib Dems almost all their political capital.

For the party to put its neck on the line in this way, it would need some pretty concrete guarantees. Sunder Katwala of the Fabians has made a list of necessary policy changes that would be a good start – but thus far Labour isn’t offering any of it. The idea expressed by some other Labour supporters that the Lib Dems should be offering them some sort of blank cheque to carry on as usual on the simple calculation that the Tories would be far worse is simply laughable, and typical of the sort of pigheadedness that has got Labour into the mess it is now in.

Read it in full here.

Both Labour and the Tories keep claiming that every single idea the Lib Dems have ever had is awful and something that they would agree to over their collective dead bodies (leaving aside the ones they periodically ‘borrow’). Until that tone changes, I suggest we all take it at face value and stop worrying about coalitions – they aren’t going to happen. In that respect, it doesn’t matter what Clegg says; what matters is what Cameron and Brown are saying.

Our Vince: From Fred Astaire to Mr Bean?

As a follow up to my piece about Lib Dem economic policy this morning, I’ve written an article on Comment is Free about Vince Cable and why he is starting to be a bit of a problem for the Lib Dems:

I have huge admiration for Vince. Six years ago, when I was experiencing a credit crunch of my own, the fact that there was a single politician out there who understood how badly banks were behaving in encouraging people to get into unmanageable levels of debt meant a tremendous amount to me. But he is not infallible. He’s not, whisper it, even indispensable.

Despite this, he eschews the collegiate discipline of party policy development in favour of going out on a limb and trusting his own judgment to carry him through. There seems to be almost no strategic thinking behind how he presents his shifts in position whatsoever. He hasn’t been articulating a party position; he’s been engaging in punditry. The latter may make you incredibly popular with John Humphries and Jeremy Paxman, it may even acquire you rock-star status, but it isn’t the job the party requires him to do.

Read the rest here.

Nick Clegg’s lost month

I’m moaning again on Comment is Free:

Sadly, the disappearance of the Lib Dem party leader each August has become an established part of the Lib Dem calendar. It used to be one of the things Charles Kennedy was regularly criticised for, the subtext often being that his disappearances were due to his drink problem, but Ming Campbell got stick for it as well. This is despite the fact that the silly season is a big opportunity for parties to set the political agenda in a period largely free of the daily grind of parliament.

I know my tendency to criticise the party on CiF annoys a lot of people but I will say this: critical articles tend to make better copy than flattering one (which means they are more likely to get commissioned). It’s better for Clegg to be talked about than not mentioned at all. And thirdly, I do always do my best to use these platforms to promote whatever the party is doing – even when I don’t agree with them.

So that, and the fact that Clegg is getting some free advice, means that I’m actually doing him a favour. Discuss.

Comment is Free: We need a harder line on voting reform

I’ve written a new piece on Comment is Free about the prospects of electoral reform. The gist:

The one thing Labour can’t afford is to have the Lib Dems on the other side of a referendum on electoral reform. With that in mind, Clegg should be hardening the Lib Dem line on electoral reform. Incremental change is simply not good enough at this time of political crisis; if Clegg doesn’t wish to become Brown’s patsy, he needs to get used to saying so. The “pragmatic” line of going along with AV or AV+ on the basis that it would be a step in the right direction, which has been received frontbench wisdom for the best part of the decade, needs to go out of the window.

Full article here.

While I’m here, can I also recommend to you Matthew Sowemimo’s latest article on Lib Dem Voice about the Lib Dem manifesto?

2009: worst local elections ever?

I wrote a short piece on the local elections on CiF yesterday, which is now live. At the time I was struggling to come up with a proper assessment of how the Lib Dems had done in the local elections so mostly concentrated on the departure of Lord Rennard, but I did write this:

The Lib Dems’ performance in the local elections last week appears to be a perfect example of the perniciousness of the British electoral system. Our overall share of the vote was up but we haemorrhaged councillors because of a swing from Labour to the Conservatives and independents. The Tories certainly performed strongly in this election, but their gains massively outweigh their share of the vote. This ought to make any right-minded individual seethe with a sense of injustice.

At the time I was wondering if the final Lib Dem tally would actually end up positive. Looking at the BBC results service yesterday, every time I refreshed our negative score got a bit smaller. In the end, the BBC have recorded a net -4 result for the party. However, Sky are saying -47.

Why the difference? Well, it seems that the BBC are counting all the new unitaries as entirely new and thus not recording them as gains or losses for any party, while Sky are basing it on notional results. I have to say that Sky are right – these unitaries didn’t appear out of nowhere and in the case of Cornwall they have simply phased out all the district councils. Nonetheless, -47 is an uncomfortable result for the party.

Tim Montgomerie has been jumping up and down on ConservativeHome and the “independent” PoliticsHome to brand this as “the decline of the Liberal Democrats” but let’s have a bit of perspective. Firstly, there is the fact that by all accounts the Lib Dems got more votes on Thursday than in any other set of county council elections. Hardly a decline. Secondly, these losses are almost exclusively limited to the South West – where we had the most to lose. Discount the South West and we made a healthy net gain of seats overall.

Clearly something happened in the South West. Tim puts it all down to the tactical genius of Eric Pickles and the fact that the Tories have finally learned that goose-stepping and doing Hitler salutes (figuratively speaking) isn’t a particularly effective way to win votes. However, we are talking about the South West here and on a day where the county council elections coincided with the European elections. The South West is notoriously eurosceptic and this was presumably a major factor as well. And in Cornwall in particular there is a lot of strong feeling about the creation of the unitary – this almost certainly hurt us.

Should the party have diverted more funds to battling the Tories and UKIP in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset? I’m sure a lot of people in the area think so and it might have stopped Tim from being able to crow today, but long term it would have been foolish. But it might also have simply been a collossal waste of money. You can’t simply throw money around and employ a bag of tricks and win elections. One would have thought that a Conservative, of all people, would understand that.

Hopefully we’ll have some decent county-by-county analysis of these results to chew over soon. My guess is that it will throw up some appalling examples of undemocratic results. Labour have been wiped out in many parts of the country, but they still got more than 1-in-5 votes. The Tory share of the vote is not particularly high and has plunged compared to last year. Their success nationwide is almost entirely down to the collapse of the Labour vote.

I’m sure a lot of Tories reading this will retort that all this is just sour grapes, but what is the point of an election if it doesn’t reflect public opinion? What’s worse, it creates a political vacuum in places through which extremists rush through (Hugh Muir seems to absolve the Lib Dems of this in his article today – he shouldn’t. The English Democrats’ victory in Doncaster yesterday for instance was helped by the local Lib Dems’ decision not to field a candidate).

These results ought to be a wakeup call. Sadly, the media has now switched all its attention back on Labour infighting.