Daily Archives: 14 September 2007

Rear end analysis from Comment is Free

Okay, let’s get the blindingly obvious out of the way first. The Lib Dems are in trouble. We are floundering in the polls. Lewis Baston has a fair assessment of our woes over on Comment is Free.

Sadly, Iain Macwhirter has also decided to have a go. Aside from the blindingly obvious – that our stock isn’t all that high at the moment – it would appear that there is no point so large that Macwhirter isn’t capable of missing. Of course, accusing him of being stupid (which is of course what he calls us) would be unfair, since he is really being disingenuous. But it disappoints me that this is what passes for analysis these days.

First of all, he makes the following claim about why the Lib Dems failed to go into coalition government in Wales:

The Welsh Lib Dems were offered a share in a nationalist-led coalition in Cardiff, but pulled out at the last moment after the party executive was leaned on by the UK leadership. “Alliance with Plaid Cymru?” said Sir Ming’s minders. “Never! Unthinkable! The Liberal Democrats are a unionist party, always will be.”

Oh really? Knowing many of the individuals involved, if there had been the slightest hint of central interference here, they would have raised a shit storm. The one thing that might have convinced Peter Black to support coalition would have been the sense that Ming was pushing him the other direction.

There are a great many reasons why we failed to negotiate an acceptable package in Wales – a clear sense of identity and vision for Wales being the main one – but to blame Ming is an accusation too far.

Meanwhile, the Tory leader, David Cameron, has been pinching Liberal Democrat clothes on the environment, green taxes, public services and personal politics. Cameron has even allowed himself to be described as “liberal”. This attempt to drive the Liberal Democrats out of Tory marginals in England has sent the party into a state of ideological confusion. It no longer knows whether it’s orange or green; or blue or red. The truth is: no one cares.

This paragraph makes no sense at all. Which party has been sent into a state of ideological confusion? If you are going to polemicise about a political party you should at least observe the rules of basic grammar.

Either way, the fact is it is the Tories who are in ideological turmoil at the moment. Even this argument about the EU referendum is small beer compared to the gladiatorial contests that have been going on at CCHQ. This Summer, Cameron has invented a new concept in British politics: the revolving door policy development tool. What you do is stick Zac Goldsmith, Ken Clarke, John Redwood and Iain Duncan Smith in a revolving door, spin it round really fast and then, when they’ve finished bashing into each other and falling over themselves, scoop up the resultant vomit and call it a manifesto.

By contrast, the one thing that Ming has been getting right is the development of a coherent set of policies. He doesn’t shout about them anything like enough (AND SHOUTING IS WHAT WE NEED AT THE MOMENT MING!), and I disagree with several of them, but we have a clearer idea of what we stand for now than we did during the last general election. Credit where it’s due: Ming has delivered here.

Just what are the Liberal Democrats for? They used to be about constitutional reform, about sharing power, about proportional representation.

Gosh this sounds familiar. I seem to remember writing an *ahem* award nominated blog post on the subject. Is it too much to expect these bozos to not go around plagiarising each other? No honour among thieves, clearly.

To reiterate for the hard of thinking: we’ve never been “about” any of those things – they are just convenient things that lazy drink soaked hacks who can’t be bothered to view politics through anything other than beer glasses label us as. Even PR has never been more to the party than a means to an end, which is to create a more liberal and equitable society.

They have lost the initiative to Gordon Brown and the SNP leader Alex Salmond, both of whom have launched “national conversations” on constitutional reform.

Splutter! Both of these “national conversations” thus far have been frustratingly thin on details. Salmond’s “white paper” on Scottish Governance even states that they have no idea how to conduct this “national conversation” and plan to consult widely on the matter (which, surely, is the role of a green paper?). They’ve made a couple of speeches, but neither of these men have yet demonstrated that their commitment to democratic renewal is anything more than skin deep.

Sir Ming Campbell’s call for a UK constitutional convention rings decidedly hollow after the Scottish Liberal Democrats refused to discuss setting up a constitutional convention in Scotland with the SNP.

This I’m sure Macwhirter knows to be a lie. At no point has Salmond discussed holding a convention; by contrast Nicol Stephen’s response to his white paper was to demand one. The opposite of truth is called a lie, is it not?

Just why the Liberal Democrats have opted for political oblivion is one of the great mysteries of modern politics. In Scotland, their manifesto was a near-perfect fit with the SNP’s on policies such as nuclear power, Trident, local income tax, Asbos, constitutional reform, renewable energy, taxation, student debt, class sizes and even Gaelic education. Yet they refused to sit down to discuss a Chilton with the SNP leader Alex Salmond unless he dropped his commitment to a referendum on independence – a referendum which was never going to happen anyway because the minority SNP would lose the vote on any referendum bill in Holyrood.

Simply not true. The deal on the table was to back a bill on a referendum or walk away. The Scottish Lib Dems, elected on a unionist ticket, chose to walk away. Salmond could have dropped the subject. He didn’t. End of. Why am I repeating myself? Because from now until the end of time SNP supporters no doubt will continue to peddle this airbrushed view of history. Well, that is until the steam begins to run out for Salmond’s minority administration. Then, I think you may just find him trotting up to Nicol Stephen with his tail tucked between his legs. We shall see.

Meanwhile, Alex “monkey” Hilton has been having a pop, making the bizarre claim that not ruling out a coalition with the Conservatives and capitulating to Labour’s every whim means that we must automatically be in favour of Cameron’s batty proposals for a fiscal marital aid. Er, what? So presumably we can’t not rule out a coalition with Labour without automatically accepting the need for ID cards, the moral righteousness of Brown and Blair’s war on Iraq and gimmicky policies on anti-social behaviour which have the opposite effect to what they’re supposed to do? I don’t think Alex undestands basic concepts like “negotiation” and “compromise”. He also seems to have missed the rather startling point that unless the Tories suddenly agree to PR (which, you know, might happen on Planet Zog), there’ll be no deal anyway.

Worryingly, I find myself agreeing with the Lib Dems’ critics all too often these days. Fingers must be pulled out, pronto. But where does the Guardian dig these people up from?

Cameron and Merkin: let’s co-operate in splitting up

After a week during which the Lib Dems wobbled over EU policy, it is nice to have a reminder quite how scarily paranoid the Tory hive mind is regarding the Dark Continent.

Pravdale’s mini-me writes this about Cameron’s meeting with Angela Merkin:

What has this meeting really achieved for the Conservative Party? It could be argued that it sends a signal to the electorate that Cameron is taken seriously as a potential world leader. But then the counter argument would be that Cameron has to first convince people he’d be a good national leader before he can move onto the world stage (the polls suggest people are not so sure about that).

Whatever this trip to Germany achieves one thing though is certain, from a PR point of view it can’t be any worse than the trip to Rwanda during the flooding, and the holiday in France during foot-and-mouth.

Good grief. He has a short meeting with a world leader and fellow rightwinger and it’s being compared to vanishing in the middle of the foot-and-mouth crisis. In any normal, more well adjusted party, I doubt anyone would sit there muttering about the down side of a meeting like this.

But then, lest us forget, this is the same party which is about to abandon Merkin’s Christian Democrats in favour of a bunch of extremist xenophobes from Eastern Europe. It is rather bizarre to say you would like to work more closely together in future while simultaneously negotiating terms for a divorce.

Ming toes the Stephen Tall line

Finally, a bit of coherence:

Sir Menzies says he agrees with the prime minister – but as an ardent pro-European he is “not prepared to allow [Conservative leader] David Cameron to lead the Europhobes and their allies in sections of the media, to distort the debate on Europe without challenge”.

The Lib Dem leader, who was expected to face calls to back a treaty vote from some of his own MPs at his party’s conference, said voters should be given a “real choice”.

“If there is to be a referendum it shouldn’t be restricted to a comparatively minor treaty. It must be a decision about the EU as a whole.

“Let’s have an honest debate on the European Union followed by a real choice for the British people. That means a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

“We would ask the British people the big question – whether to remain in the European Union or not.

“I will lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that debate.

“We will make the overwhelming case for Europe and trust the people to make the right choice.”

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because its what Stephen Tall told him to say on Wednesday.

As I said back then, I’m happy with this position, although I question whether it will fly. If the Lib Dem position fails to get sufficient support in Parliament though, and it boils down to a choice between the Tory option of a referendum or simple Parliamentary ratification, it will be simply untenable to argue that we should opt for the latter. After all, didn’t Paul Walter say it would end up being a proxy for a debate about EU membership anyway?