Tag Archives: green-party

Have the Lib Dems lost the plot in Norwich?

If I were a Green Party member, I’d be ashamed to have a candidate like Rupert Read. Aside from being a bit of a whinger, while he likes to claim the moral high ground he isn’t above telling the odd lie here and there, such as his repeated insistance that the Lib Dems supported the Iraq war (there is also this incident).

His initiative of a “clean campaign pledge” is both extremely cynical – essentially putting himself as final arbitrator of what is clean and what isn’t (the pledge is cunningly worded so that he can continue telling lies about other parties, so long as he “honestly” believes it) while paradoxically manages to be extremely naive in that it is now being used as propaganda by the Tories (one thing that is particularly telling is that whilst bragging about signing this pledge, Rupert’s newfound friend Chloe isn’t above making some vague innuendo-laden smears of her own).

By the same token, I have been generally happy with what I’ve seen of the Lib Dem conduct of this campaign. I think some Lib Dem activists invest mystical properties in the Power of the Bar Chart as much as their critics and wonder if it is really that useful putting out lots of leaflets with the national result of this year’s local elections on them, but by the same token I don’t accept that is misleading: people have rather more common sense than that.

But one aspect of this campaign does concern me, and that has been the emphasis that seems to have been placed in the campaign in attacking the Greens generally and Rupert Read in particular. A couple of weeks ago there were reports that the party had branded Read as an “extremist” in a press release. In and of itself that was unfortunate, but you could at least dismiss it as a one-off action by an over-enthusiastic press officer.

However, it appears the same language has now appeared in a campaign leaflet:

From the Lib Dem campaign leaflet on Twitpic

(the full – pfff – “magazine” can be found here)

Is Rupert Read really an “extremist”? I don’t know him well enough to draw a conclusion. But I’d need stronger evidence than some vague allusion to him saying something unfortunate about 7/7 – especially when I would go at least partially along with what he is alleged to have said (for the record, I do think we made ourselves a target for terrorist attacks by invading Iraq – if anyone would like to have me thrown out of the party for believing that, the address is 4 Cowley Street, London SW1P 3NB).

And even if he was an “extremist”, unless he said something truly outrageous, I’d be very wary of calling him that and would focus more on what he had said than the fact that unnamed “people” “are turning against him.”

Last but not least, I simply don’t understand why the party is attacking him at all. On paper, the party is going into this by-election in third place – with the Greens not so very far behind. If the goal is to get first or second place, then part of the strategy should be to bring Green supporters on board. By all means point out that they don’t have a chance of winning, but don’t waste any time talking about them – and certainly don’t refer to their candidate by name. You won’t persuade Green voters to switch their vote by attacking their party – the most that will achieve is encourage them to stay at home on polling day.

What this leaflet suggests to me is that the real goal in the campaign isn’t to win, or even get a good second place, but to ensure that the Greens don’t overtake and put the Lib Dems in fourth place. That isn’t a campaign I would personally be the slightest bit interested in fighting and – notwithstanding how marginally useful it might be for neighbouring target seats – it is frankly a waste of resources.

The Lib Dems are trashing their own brand each time they indulge in this sort of nastiness and we no longer live in a world where we can expect the odd leaflet like this to be ignored by the outside world. Projects like The Straight Choice exist to challenge that.

Generally, the Lib Dems have a respectable record when it comes to campaigning. We certainly have never suggested one of our opponents is a rapist for example. But there have far too many examples of bad practice and the myth that the Lib Dems are more dirty than their opponents has gained currency within political circles (partly because it is a convenient one for our opponents to push). It is high time the party centrally recognised how dangerous this could be for our future prospects.

This blog doesn’t make polling predictions, but if it did…

…they’d be pretty sucky. My roundup of polls on Wednesday turned out to be pretty flaky. I’d like to use the excuse that I was only reporting them, not endorsing them, but that’s for the birds.

First of all, turnout: Mat B correctly predicted that YouGov were probably over-estimating and he was spot on. This raises an interesting question: how can YouGov be so right on the polling figures themselves (Anthony Wells has hailed them as the closest pollsters) and yet so wrong on this statistic?

Secondly, the state of the parties in the North West. Here I’m on safer ground as I really wasn’t making a prediction and I didn’t turn out to be that wrong anyway. The Greens were quite close to beating the BNP (although technically, the “tactical” vote was to vote UKIP as they came closest to denying Griffin – the Green tactical vote message was indeed bogus as predicted by almost everyone) and the blanket media coverage of the latter compared with fact that the former were ignored was almost certainly a factor.

Does the European election result vindicate PR as I suggested? Yes it does. I’ve yet to see a council-by-council breakdown of the figures but it will almost certainly show pockets where the BNP were strong and which, under FPTP, they would have been able to target with impunity. They’ve got where they are today through their electoral success in local authorities around the country using the FPTP system to their advantage. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that if we didn’t have PR we wouldn’t now have BNP MEPs.

At the same time, it is incumbant on me to point out that if the election had been run under the STV system, the BNP probably would have been denied. 263,000 votes in the North West didn’t go to any winning candidate which would potentially have been counted if the voters had been able to rank candidates in order of preference. With the exception of the English Democrat voters, the majority of them would have gone to pretty much anyone but the BNP. And with less than one-ninth of the vote, the BNP would have needed those transfers to win. This is one of the great features of STV: it is anti-extremist but works by including more people into the process rather than less.

Regardless, it is clear that the public (at least the ones who voted) are starting to enjoy the flexibility that PR gives them. Almost exactly 2 in every 5 voters supported a party which is not represented in the House of Commons. It would be nice if in 2014 we didn’t have quite so many vanity projects running at once (Jury Team, Libertas, the Socialist Labour Party, NO2EU and the Christian Party all seemed to be living examples of what happens when you mix excessive quantities of self-importance and money together) but fundamentally there is no going back to bad old days of zero choice and foregone conclusions in European elections. What’s more, the appetite for genuinely competitive elections can only increase.

Ironically, the biggest losers in this election would have been Labour if it had been fought under FPTP. They’d have been wiped out (more precisely, their last vestiges would have been eliminated following their disastrous 2004 result). The Tories meanwhile would have won a massive majority of the seats despite only enjoying the support of 1-in-4 voters. That ought to chill any true democrat to the bone.

And what about the Liberal Democrats? Well, we did pretty indifferently. On the ground the party seemed to hold its own in target Westminster seats and ignore everywhere else. This is probably fair enough. What was missing was anything like a decent air war to rally our support in the rest of the country.

The party’s internet operation was stronger than in the past and the mealy-mouthed, look-both-ways stuff about Europe seemed to be less in evidence than during the past two elections. But the campaign was not wildly pro-Europe and failed to frame the debate in any way to our advantage. Much of that couldn’t be helped because of the tsunami that was the expenses scandal; we’ll never know how the campaign would have been different if that hadn’t got in the way. But there does seem little to suggest that Clegg was preparing to articulate a clear, provocative message about the Lib Dems’ attitude towards Europe in the way that he has been very good at doing of late (e.g. his position on the recall of MPs and expenses reform).

Some argued that what the party should have done is come out all guns blazing in calling for the UK to adopt the Euro as soon as possible. I’m a little ambivalent about the Euro (I’m not anti the Euro per se but I was sceptical of unbridled monetarism before it was fashionable and wonder how big the EU budget would have to be to ensure the Euro doesn’t unduly disadvantage whole swathes of its regions), but I can at least see the logic behind it. A core 30% of the UK population is consistently pro-EU and yet no party will engage with them for fear of alienating the other 70% who are either anti or (mostly) utterly indifferent. FPTP makes it difficult for us to engage with this constituency; PR makes it crucial if we are ever to break through this glass ceiling that we seem to be bouncing against.

Fundamentally, if no-one else is prepared to talk up the EU we are truly doomed. The UK cannot afford to leave the EU yet seems to be slowly arguing itself into a corner. Sooner or later this is going to come to a crunch; the quicker the Lib Dems find their voice on this issue the more manageable this situation will be in the longer term.

Ultimately though, we only ceded a little bit of popular support in this election in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It is hard to be too critical of the Lib Dem campaign when even the Tory, UKIP and Labour campaigns were being drowned out at the same time. Somehow however, we need to find a way of articulating a popular form of European integrationism by 2014. Any ideas?

Europe, turnout, the BNP, the Greens and fair votes

I’ve just got back from an hour’s stint on LBC talking about Yurp. Myself and fellow guest Hugo Brady from the Centre of European Reform were both under the impression we were there to discuss how the European Parliament works and the elections themselves. Instead we found ourselves being asked to mount a full frontal defence of the EU itself, covering everything from the CAP to auditing budgets. Not an easy task when you aren’t prepared (and as a non-expert of the subject I probably wouldn’t have gone on on that basis, but there you go).

For the record, incidently, I would quite happily scrap the Common Agricultural Policy. It’s appalling. If you do think that however, and you actually care about people unfairly affected by it in developing countries (as one of the callers purported to do), then the single worst thing you could do is pull out of the EU and allow the opponents of reform to have it entirely their own way. I don’t like a lot of UK policies and want UK political reform, but if you heard me calling for us to pull out of the UK on that basis you would consider me to be an utter loon.

What I didn’t get a chance to discuss were the poll findings that Vote Match/Unlock Democracy unveiled yesterday suggesting that tomorrow’s turnout could be an all time high for the European Elections. 50% in our YouGov survey said they were definitely going to vote (another 11% gave an ‘8’ or ‘9’ incidentally), which YouGov advise suggests a nominal turnout of 43-45%. That’s pretty unprecedented.

It is clear that the reason for this potentially (and comparatively) high turnout is not a hard fought contest about the European Parliament itself (if only) but MPs’ expenses and the subsequent meltdown of the UK Parliament. In short, the public are out to give the political classes a bloody nose. But it is also interesting to note both the generational and gender differences. Simply put, younger voters will be turning out in much fewer numbers and are not doing so because they simply don’t know what the elections are about. Older voters are, unsurprisingly, most likely to turn out. But it is the middle-aged voters who are most likely to abstain because of the expenses scandal itself. Women are likely to turn out in comparative numbers to men but their reason for not doing so again has more to do with not knowing enough about the elections than it has to do with scandal.

YouGov have also done an eve of poll for the Telegraph, suggesting that Labour may be pushed into third or even fourth place. As Anthony Wells has been chronicling, the polls are all over the place at the moment – the pollsters’ rules-of-thumb assumptions which they use to weight their data appear to have been blown wide open by the collapse in Labour support. We live in unprecedented times and it remains to be seen which pollster emerges with the most credit.

Nonetheless Anthony makes a good fist of an argument that YouGov are likely to be more accurate than most and for all their critics they have tended to be quite accurate. Either way, it looks terrible for Labour, with the Tory and Lib Dem levels of support staying at around their 2004 levels. The Greens look like their vote will be up while UKIP could either be significantly up or a bit down.

The Telegraph report that the 5% figure the YouGov poll gives the BNP suggests that they may well make the breakthrough they were hoping for in the North West. We only have the national figures to look at right now but unless the North West specific figures say something different, I’m not so sure. Based on the national swing, that puts the parties in the North West at:

Conservative: 23% (-1%, 2 MEPs)
Labour: 20% (-7%, 2 MEPs)
Lib Dem: 16% (-, 2 MEPs)
UKIP: 14% (+2%, 1 MEP)
Green: 10% (+4%, 1 MEP)
BNP: 6% (-, 0 MEPs)

Those figures come with a health warning, not to mention the fact that national swings are pretty spurious at the best of times. But it does highlight one aspect of this election which has been criminally under-reported: the resurgence of the Green Party. The psephology behind their Stop Nick Griffin campaign is entirely spurious but there is no escaping the fact that every vote for the Greens in the North West will make it harder for the BNP to get elected (where they are wrong is where they claim that a tactical Green vote is better than a vote for the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems or UKIP in this respect). And with a poll leap of the scale that every pollster appears to be reporting will result in a quite healthy haul of Green MEPs. This is a big deal – certainly a bigger deal than the possibility that the BNP might win a single seat. Yet by and large they have been ignored.

If I have one prediction to make about these elections it is that they will be a vindications of the proportional voting system. I dislike closed list systems but even closed list-PR is better than closed list-FPTP.

Would we be looking at such a dramatic result if we still used FPTP for the European Elections? In one sense, we would. The story right now would not be “will the BNP gain a seat in the North West?” but “will the BNP gain seats in East London, the Potteries, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire?” All of these areas are places where FPTP has enabled the BNP to gain a foothold – often gaining swathes of seats with remarkably small shares of the vote. The BNP would have a much easier time targeting four old-style Euro-constituencies than they have targeting a whole region. Far from making it easier for the BNP then, PR has actually made it tougher.

But overall, it would have lead to business-as-usual. PR has given the public a means of punishing the political class (which as a whole, completely deserves it). Without PR, we would be looking at a repeat of 1989 where the Greens got 15% of the vote and not a single seat. Now maybe it is time the Greens (and UKIP) got their act together and learned to target but the electorate shouldn’t have to wait for them to get their tactics right in order to express its displeasure (and targeting is at best a necessary evil in any case).

Face the facts: under FPTP, we would not now be looking at as high a turnout and the main parties would be sitting pretty. The public would have no outlet to vent their frustration. That would have been a dangerously unhealthy state of affairs.

It is certainly frustrating that the last thing this election is being decided upon is what it is osensibly about – the future direction of the European Union. But if what we get in exchange is the first real opportunity for the public to fully express itself in a UK-wide election, that is a price worth paying. Now: let’s replace it with an open list system or STV so it can be even better!

What do the Scottish Greens and Guido have in common?

Both today are calling for Land Value Taxation, or at least they seem to be.

The Scottish Greens certainly are. Municipal tax reform in Scotland remains in deadlock and dependent on at least one other party agreeing with the principle of local income tax. That seems unlikely at the moment, even if the Lib Dems capitulate over the SNP’s insistence of greater centralisation (which does not look likely; what would they gain except appalling policy?).

Meanwhile, Guido is raving about the reprinting of Fred Harrison’s Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010 (Guido also pats himself on the back at his prescience for predicting the housing crash in September 2007; modesty prevents me from mentioning that my first blog post on the subject was July 2006 and frankly I could have told you what was going to happen a long time before then).

Fred Harrison? You might remember me linking to this video earlier in the year. Harrison, aka the renegade economist, is a keen exponent of land value taxation and regards it as a crucial tool in the armoury against boom and bust cycles (actually, as the video indicates, he goes a lot further than that).

So yes Guido, Gordon Brown was very very wrong. But somehow I doubt your mate Gideon Osborne is going to be interested in Harrison’s prescription. The son of a baronet and Shadow Chancellor for the Conservative Party, it is his job to protect vested interests, not challenge them.

Caroline Lucas – should the Lib Dems be worried?

Caroline Lucas has just won the Green Party leadership election with 92% of the vote. Rumours that she is about to grow a moustache and answer to the name Saddam are apparently wide of the mark.

Seriously though, the Lib Dems should be worried about this. Not panicked by any means, but at least alert of what has been happening within the Greens over the past twelve months.

The decision by the party to have an elected leader means it has crossed a rubicon which in the past it has been unwilling to cross. Back in 1989, when it scored a record 15% of the popular vote, the party instantly fell apart over arguments about whether it should seek to consolidate this result or continue to act as little more than a spoiler vote, enabling voters to register the importance of green issues while not being corrupted by political office. The result was that many of the party’s best campaigners jumped ship. Since then, I’ve seen a steady trickle of Green party members who care about the environment but want to make a real difference rather than merely braying by the sidelines join the Lib Dems, including the blogosphere’s own Joe Otten but also Islington’s Finance Head Honcho Andrew Cornwell.

The decision to have an elected leader then marks a sea-change in ambition. The fact is, like any organisation, while it may have lacked an individual with the job title of ‘leader’ it always had leaders. They just weren’t elected. The result is the party has been a franchise for pretty much anyone capable of self-publicity to adopt. Regardless of their relative merits, a party cannot be both a Caroline Lucas party and a Derek Wall party and expect to be taken seriously.

The GLA result this year also revealed a seriousness of purpose. The Greens were entirely realistic about their chances and how to make the best of them in a way that the Lib Dems frankly were not. Their plan wasn’t dependent on them sharing media space with the Boris and Ken Show, nor was it saddled with a target seat strategy. The result – retaining both their share of the vote and their AMs – may not sound tremendous but given the circumstances it was a minor coup. By comparison, the plunge in Lib Dem support showed we had left ourselves entirely vulnerable to a squeeze on both sides.

Don’t expect any great successes in the short term. I certainly don’t share Dr Lucas’ optimism that they will be able to take a parliamentary seat at the next election (even if the result in Norwich South this year was impressive), and they will continue to have internal ideological debates for years to come (don’t we all?). But if they show strategic resolve over the long term in the way that they did in London this year and continue to target their resources, I would be very surprised if they didn’t start to make serious inroads. Once they have their first MP how long will it be before they start getting significant support across the country? Disparage them for being a repository for protest votes all you want, but that has been the Lib Dems’ stock in trade for a significant part of the last four decades. It might not threaten our held seats, but it will significantly threaten our ability to expand into new territory and achieve Nick Clegg’s target of 150 MPs within 7 years.

My sandal-wearing, yoghurt weaving, beardy secret life exposed!

The readers of The Times must think I’m a right old Liberal stereotype, thanks to Mary Ann Sieghart:

You have to read these comments through the prism of the typical Lib Dem member. In general, Conservatives adore their leader, Labour activists tolerate him and Lib Dems would rather he didn’t exist. As James Graham writes on his Lib Dem Quaequam blog, “Like most sensible people, I see party leaders as a necessary evil.” In a Utopian world, Lib Dems would be like the Greens, with nobody allowed to tell them what to do.

That’s certainly what I wrote, but I like to think I was making a slightly more nuanced point than that. To continue the quote:

[Leaders] are necessary because you need a figurehead and you need someone in the driving seat; it is far better to have someone do this with a clear mandate than pretend you don’t have leaders in the way that the Green Party does and have lots of unelected demagogues jostling like cats in a sack. But they are bad because the leader themselves invariably develops a bunker mindset and even in a party such as the Lib Dems which has non-conformism and the importance of the individual flowing through its collective veins, a cult of personality invariably develops.

My point wasn’t that the Green Party doesn’t have leaders, but that it does and pretends not to. My experience of the Greens, based on personal observation and the testimony of lots of ex-members is that the factional feuding within the party is intense with lots of individuals trying the pull the party in different directions. Having anarcho-syndicalist Derek Wall at the top of the tree one minute and glamour-puss realo Caroline Lucas there the next isn’t not having a leader, it’s changing the captain partway through the voyage.

So yes, I suppose I would quite like to live in an ideal world where leadership wasn’t necessary, but I can’t see it ever working in practice. The Green Party is proof of that, not a refutation.

Thanks for the plug though Mary, and I agree with much of what you have to say. Although you might have pissed off a lot of Lib Dems by implying that I am ‘typical’.

Bending the truth like Beckham in Islington

The Islington Tribune haven’t yet blamed the Liberal Democrat council for the weather, but I’m sure it’s only a matter on time.

This week, the paper is laying into them because they have ‘snubbed‘ Arsenal’s women’s football team after winning an historic quadruple of the FA cup, the UEFA cup, League title and league cup. Guardianista Michelle Hanson has laid into them, as has the Labour Opposition leader Catherine West.

Except that, as usual, it is total bollocks.

If, unlike most people, you can be arsed to read the second page, you will find a number of inconvenient truths to undermine Labour’s crusade:

  • Arsenal themselves aren’t interested in letting the women have their celebration. They don’t even let the team use the Emirates stadium.
  • The ladies’ team manager himself states “I don’t think it would (attract) enough people to attend it.”
  • Rhona Cameron who, as an amateur footballer herself is possibly the only woman in this whole article who knows what she’s talking about*, says “I think it is expecting a bit too much to expect street parades and mass jubilation.”
  • And finally, the coup de grace. It turns out that the council has actually contacted the club for advice on how to celebrate.

Talking of manufactured outrage, the other thing the council are being pillioried for this week is the fact that charities who have been renting property from the council at subsidised rents are outraged that they are now being forced to pay market rates as part of the mass council property sell off. For once, Cllr West has opted to remain silent; fortunate since she was in the paper a fortnight ago claiming that the council should be forcing rents up even more. Some of us might want to know why charities, which already receive subsidies from the taxpayer, should expect to be further subsidised by the local authority as of right, but clearly this is not a view shared by the Green Party.

What I most like about this article is the transparent grasping attitude of the charities and the Greens:

“We’re a charity and obviously couldn’t afford to pay a market rent.”

Well, obviously.

“We are often a thorn in the side of the council and if they wanted to get rid of us this [rent increase] would be the way.”

It’s all a sinister conspiracy, see. Green PPC Emma Dixon goes on to explain in the letters page:

…even the council realises voluntary groups will not be able to afford market rents, so it proposes to give grants to some lucky groups on the basis of stringent criteria.
These include whether the council thinks the group makes an “appropriate contribution” to Islington; whether the group has a “business plan” to reduce “dependency” on the council (a dependency only created by the rent rises); and whether the group is located (in the council’s view) in “the most suitable property for their needs”. If not, they may be asked to move out into a “managed office” hub – or, presumably, fail to qualify for a grant for their rent.

Er, where do I start? How is a charity which needs rent subsidies not dependent on the council? What is wrong with encouraging them to become more independent? What is wrong with a council examining how best to spend taxpayer’s money instead of just doling it out willy-nilly to whichever organisation is lucky enough to already be a council tenant? This woman is apparently a barrister. I hope she’s never mine.

The real problem here is not anything the council have done but the over-heated nature of the London property market. Subsidising rents here, there and everywhere doesn’t just cost us more council tax, but ensures the market remains over-heated and makes it harder for people like you and I to get onto the housing ladder. When politicians and the press over-indulge such misguided nonsense they do us all a great disservice.

* Before the hate mail starts to pour in, I’m not saying women don’t know anything about football. I AM saying that women (and men for that matter) who up until last week were probably unaware that Arsenal even had women’s football team and have decided to jump on a political bandwagon, don’t know what they’re talking about.