Monthly Archives: December 2005

Sprawl balls

Coming in late, but what is Simon Jenkins on?

The implementation of single farm payments is thus critical to more than the fate of British farming. It will decide whether the countryside, at least in southern Britain, remains in a remotely rural form. Not only must the money be sufficient to keep farmers on the land but the rules must change. A new planning regime has to award rural Britain the same statutory protection long granted to urban Britain. Landscape must be listed and conserved. Otherwise, outside national parks, all is gone. There is no mystery about what this means: look along the coast of New England, round Los Angeles or on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Just how many houses does he think the UK needs? His dire prediction that the Single Farm Payment will lead to thousands of houses being built sounds remarkably like the answers to a lot of our prayers.

Yes we need proper planning laws, and yes we need to dissuade people from speculatively buying land, but with 99.9% of us living on just 8% of the land it will be a long time before we come close to the catastrophe that Simon Jenkins appears to think is just around the corner.

Keep your eye on the Brown ball

The Guardian has announced its latest ICM poll with great fanfare, declaring what we already new months ago: Cameron is quite popular.

But it is also quite good news for the Lib Dems. Standard disclaimers about opinion polls just being a snapshot notwithstanding, I think we should be pleased that the Lib Dems have stayed at around their General Election figure at the height of the Cameron honeymoon period and during a really difficult week for the leader. Indeed, half of the polling was done after Cameron’s plea to Lib Dems to defect to him, suggesting he made very little impact indeed.

The poll also asks how people would vote in a Brown/Cameron/Kennedy election. Here, the Lib Dem vote drops to 18% while the Tory vote rockets up to 41%. Michael White suggests that this shows the Lib Dems “losing votes back to Tory candidates.”

This is bizarre analysis as under this scenario it is Labour, not the Lib Dems who have changed leader. Why would we be haemorraging votes to the Tories? A more likely analysis in my view (ICM doesn’t provide switch analysis so I can’t say for sure), is that the Lib Dems are losing votes to Labour, but Labour lose many more votes to the Tories. The same thing appears to be happening with the “other” support.

Losing 2 votes for every 1 gained is not exactly a ringing vote of confidence in Gordon Brown, and the only way Brown can minimise that is by disappointing those like Polly Toynbee and Jackie Ashley who seem to think he is a socialist messiah and hasn’t really spent the last 8 years running the government at all. But that, in turn, is likely to minimise the loss in Lib Dem support.

What all this suggests is that there are in fact two faultlines in British politics at the moment, not just one: one between Labour and the Tories and one between Labour and the Lib Dems. Continuing on a course of competing with the Tories, as we have done for most of the last decade, would be disastrous for the Lib Dems. There are no more votes to squeeze out of them. We should be careful about minimising any loss to Cameron in our key margins to be sure, but our main target should be the disaffected New Labour vote that is attracted to Cameron’s liberal veneer and traditional Labour support in inner cities. Our message to these people should be clear: “don’t be fooled twice.”

Green Waste

I hate to be such a nay-sayer all the time, but what a wasted opportunity Kennedy’s speech on climate change was today.

Don’t get me wrong; he’s absolutely right to criticise the Tories and Labour – we still have a stronger record on the environment than them. But it doesn’t appear to have moved us forward from a year ago. Worse, he appears to have gone quiet on Airport Departure Duty, which was his big thing in 2004.

What I wanted to hear was some idea about how we move forward, on both the national and global stage. It is good to see him emphasising contraction and convergence again, but while this may help get India and China on board, it leaves us with an even bigger headache with the US, Australia and Japan. His digression on green cities was bereft of detail. We need to hear about reduction measures, not simply more stuff about how all our problems will be solved by renewables, carbon capture and extremely limited initiatives such as biofuels. We need to hear about how our environmental aims relate to our localisation objectives.

In short, we need to start hearing some real policy in Lib Dem environmental speeches, especially ones where we attack our rivals for merely talking rhetoric on the subject.

But to be positive for a second, at least we’re talking about policy again.

The Lib Dem Hokey Cokey

Lord Tony has taken exception to Martin Kettle‘s article about the Lib Dems this Saturday. His beef is that the “modernist centrists” that Kettle is referring to are actually “Blairite rightwingers.”

As usual, I find myself half agreeing with the learned Lord. Martin Kettle’s writing about the radical centre leaves me scratching my head about what he’s on about – he’s certainly never explained it very well. But I think Tony has missed a point here, as pretty much everyone, with the exception of Paul Holmes and “Bingo” Bob Russell is being labled by Kettle as a moderniser. It is therefore nonsense on the part of Lord Greaves to, in turn, label them all as rightwing.

What Kettle seems to be saying is that anyone who is concerned about strategy is a moderniser, while everyone else is just wasting time. I agree with that last bit, and have been very disappointed by Paul Holmes who has done much to position himself as the party’s social-liberal-in-chief yet appears to think that means nothing more than simply attack the other side. This weakness, shared by Lord Greaves himself, gets us nowhere. But again, Tony is absolutely right to contend that it would be a major mistake for the Lib Dems to attempt to compete with Labour and the Tories for the centre ground. We need to be using the next few years to pull the debate onto our turf.

The one thing that will kill this is ceding the debate within the party to the self appointed economic and social liberals. It is an unhelpful dialectic when what we really need to be getting right are our approaches to localism, the environment and social justice. The best thing that Kennedy could do to assert his authority in the New Year is to put Holmes and Laws in a darkened room somewhere and hide the key.

Cameron fails to get it up during honeymoon

Interesting to note that, according to the Baxter calculator (via pb.c), MORI’s 9-point lead for the Tories yesterday still doesn’t guarantee David Cameron a majority. And that’s leaving aside MORI’s dodgy methodology which is dubious at the best of times, and even more so now. MORI only count people ‘certain to vote’, and the start of Cameron’s honeymoon period is bound to soften the Lib Dem and Labour support while hardening the Tory support even if none of that is transferable into votes.

And despite people such as myself doing our best to run around like headless chickens over the Lib Dem leadership debacle, our vote here is shown to have hardened. I suspect this has more to do with us previously vanishing from the media spotlight entirely than a vote of confidence in Kennedy however.