Tag Archives: crime

Tears for Blears

You can tell it is a slow news day when the BBC decide that a bit of vandalism counts as major national news.

I also have to admit to a bit of sympathy for Hazel Blears. Whichever way you add it up, she is a victim here and doesn’t deserve being paraded on public display in the way that the BBC and the Manchester Evening News have done here. It is neither big nor clever to broadcast that mobile phone footage.

However, my sympathy ran out as soon as I read her statement:

This was an act of anti-social behaviour by some youths, the same kind of anti-social behaviour unfortunately many of my constituents have to put up with.

No it isn’t. It is criminal behaviour. Labour introduced the concept of anti-social behaviour in the run up to the 1997 general election. Before then, it was was a psychiatric term with a precise and narrow definition.

These days it can mean absolutely anything, from not giving up your seat on a bus to cold blooded murder. Ironically, it can even be made to refer to parking on a double-yellow line – something that Blears can clearly be seen to have done. It is a sad testament to Labour’s 12 years in office that senior politicians like Blears feel they can no longer call a spade a shovel and label this a “crime.” Instead they have to resort to this essentially meaningless jargon. This pretty much sums up the failure of Blears’ career as a Blairite Ultra for me.

This obsession with anti-social behaviour has not only lead to an increasing number of people being locked up for no good reason but seems to have left us feeling less safe than ever before. It is a categorical failure. The best thing that could happen after the 2010 general election is for this concept to be buried once and for all and for us to stop criminalising basic naughtiness. But can anyone imagine David Cameron doing that (or, to be fair, even Nick Clegg)?

Calm as Hindu cows

Jonathan Calder and I have a different take on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phenomenon. I have to admit that until I had read the Guardian article yesterday, this whole thing had passed me by. Now that I am aware, I don’t find it as charming and comforting as some of the commentators do in the piece by Jon Henley.

“Carrying on” is a much overrated concept. The fact is we can’t carry on as we have done for the past twenty, thirty years. The economic collapse was caused by people spending far too much time “keeping calm and carrying on” instead of questioning what they were doing. Climate change is a similar tragedy waiting to happen. In whose interest is all this “calm” supposed to serve?

Jonathan draws a link with the Metropolitian Police’s new anti-terror poster campaign, something which I found myself commenting on as an “expert” on LBC on Monday (I’d put a recording up here, but they’d probably sue me). Where Jonathan sees a change, I see a clear continuity – it’s just that the Met are now being rather less classically understated.

Given that we have not, as far as I’m aware, in a more vulnerable situation than we were six months ago, one has to ask why the police have suddenly come up with this campaign now. Could it, perchance, be related to this “summer of rage” stuff the Met are also pushing at the moment, or the apparent “guerilla” raids anti-globalisation protestors will be deploying during the G20 summit? Is it really about preventing terrorism or ratcheting up the sense of fear on the streets? Are the police really focusing on collecting intelligence about terrorists at the moment, or protestors?

I was shocked to learn the other day that my intern was stopped and questioned by the police under anti-terror legislation on Tuesday because she was waiting on a tube platform and, realising she was early for an appointment, decided not to get on the next train to arrive. She was left intimidated and scared. What was the point of that? Is not getting on a train really potential terrorist activity? Does it help their statistics to arbitrarily pick on white females (as opposed to the black and brown males they usually profile – as another of my colleagues can attest)? Does word getting around of a bit of arbitrary bullying like that help the Met create a heightened sense?

This sort of sneering bullying from the state seems to extend in other areas to. Even the latest Home Office campaign on the new “Policing Pledge” – which is supposed to be about how the public have a right to expect a certain level of service from the police – is being conducted in a vaguely sinister manner. On the back page of the Guardian yesterday was an advert bearing the legend “You have the right not to remain silent” (you may recall that we had the right to silence taken away from us 15 years ago by those great civil libertarians, the Conservative Party last time they were in power). Other slogans used include “We’d like to give you a good talking to” and “Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence”. Subtext: you are all suspects, fuckers. The most striking thing about this advert was the design they used, which is an explicit homage to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And so we have come full circle.

Metropolitan Police release Total Perspective Vortex (beta)

The Metropolitan Police have launched a beta version of their new crime mapping website. It’s a simple enough Google Maps mash up but I found it highly addictive.

It could be improved – for one thing a break down of crimes by type would be useful. But it does take the figures down to sub-ward level, which is particularly handy.

Overall though, my main reaction to it is probably as it should be: so what? It turns out I live in an “average” area for crime and by “average” I mean there was one recorded crime in June and three in May. Some of the areas neighbouring this crime cesspit have even lower recorded incidents. Where I work, things are slightly worse – 7 incidents in June within my sub-ward. But even then it is surrounded by more average areas. The overall picture is far from a city under seige.

For H2G2, Douglas Adams invented the Total Perspective Vortex – an instrument torture designed to show you exactly how small and insignificant you really are. While I’m sure the Metropolitan Police’s new mashup isn’t powered by a piece of fairy cake, it does have a similar effect. I know the Daily Mail were demanding this sort of thing a few months ago, but I suspect they will end up loathing it as it will (literally) put them in their place.

More from the IP Wars front line

I wrote an article back in December about intellectual property becoming one of the big ideological political footballs in ther 21st century and it got a good reception. Time for an update of some recent trends methinks.

First of all, numerous posters have recently gone up around Islington claiming that, as you can read in Islington Now (PDF), DVD piracy “finances crimes including child trafficking, drug smuggling, gun crime – even terrorism.” If I were an Islington council tax payer I’d be demanding my money back.

Leaving the claims to one side for a moment, why is council and the police devoting so much resources into what is a civil matter? Couldn’t these resources be better allocated elsewhere? This is doing the film industry’s job for them, isn’t it?

Fundamentally though, is there really any evidence that dodgy DVDs fund trafficking? I get the impression that Islington officials have been watching too many 1960s espionage TV series. There is no global criminal organisation that exists to simply do evil things for their own sake. Is it really that complacent for me to suggest that if child trafficking, drug running and illegal arms dealing were such loss-making industries, people wouldn’t do them?

As for terrorism, anyone who has ever sat in a pub or cafe around Chapel Market will know who does the bulk of the illegal DVD selling in Islington: it is Chinese immigrants of presumably dubious legal status. I have to say I’m rather dubious about the claim that the money they make will be going to Al Qaeda or even Kim Il-sung. Is it really so hard to believe that illegal activities might be going to fund… criminals?

Onto other matters, and a return of the Performing Rights Society. The Federation of Small Businesses has been complaining that many of its members have started being harassed by the PRS – something which I reported on here late last year. I can certainly confirm that when the PRS rang my office it was of a distinctly threatening nature.

I can understand why any business which uses music as a marketing tool ought to pay the PRS, but why should TV license fee payers, listeners of commercial radio and individuals who have already paid for the music they want to listen pay twice? In that, I’d include car mechanics and people sitting in an office listening to their personal stereos. This isn’t about whether people should pay for the music they listen to, it’s about why they should be forced to pay twice.

And as for the PRS’ claim that 90% of their members are small traders themselves, that may be true, but you can bet your bottom dollar that those members don’t get 90% of the revenue the PRS raises. Perhaps if they did (but really, why should they?), they might expect a little more sympathy. But of course it is the big music stars who get the lion’s share so let’s not kid ourselves this is about sticking up for the little guy.

Finally, from PRS harrassment to harrassment by the US military. Clive Stafford-Smith wrote an interesting and at times amusing article in the Guardian on Thursday about how the US uses music as a torture weapon, and how the music industry doesn’t seem to care. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The music industry is busy trying to lock up everyone with an illegal download on their iPod yet are quite sanguine about using their intellectual property to hurt people (presumably the US army has a PRS license though, so that’s okay).

What is most interesting is the reaction of the musicians themselves. It should surprise no-one that Napster-slaying and all round dickheads Metallica seem to think it is wonderful (“If the Iraqis aren’t used to freedom, then I’m glad to be part of their exposure,” according to James Hetfield). David Gray at least laments it: “It’s shocking that there isn’t more of an outcry. I’d gladly sign up to a petition that says don’t use my music, but it seems to be missing the point a bit.”

He has a point in that the real issue is music being abused in this way, not whose music. But he can do more than sign a petition – it is surely within his rights to not allow it to be used in this way? If intellectual property rights are worth fighting for at all, surely they should be used in this way? If I owned a gun and left it lying around I would be criminally negligent. Surely it is equally negilgent (morally, if not criminally) of musicians to knowingly allow their music to be used in this way? If musicians aren’t prepared to stand up for their rights, why should we respect them?

Has Labour got two Balls?

Is it me or is there a disconnect between Ed Balls, the stalwart defender of playgrounds and opponent of compo culture, who two months ago was saying this:

“If you don’t want to do something a bit risky, too often people say ‘we can’t do that because of health and safety’.

“It is the risk aversion in some cases which stops things happening which I want to tackle head on,” he said.

The Government’s consultation paper says: “We need to work together as a society to create popular attitudes that embrace children in public space and challenge inappropriate ‘No Ball Games’ cultures.

“This means adults being willing to share public space with children and understand that play can, at times, test boundaries.”

And the killjoy who today was saying this:

“Tougher enforcement powers are needed to tackle under-age binge drinking, but enforcement measures alone are not the solution. We need a culture change, with everyone – from parents, the alcohol industry and young people – all taking more responsibility.”

You could argue I’m being unfair and comparing apples with oranges, but I do wonder. We’ve had ten years of this approach, providing people with more advice while making the law even more draconian at the same time. It doesn’t appear to have helped. It does appear to have gone hand in hand with a rise in anxiety about this issue.

Why do we need screeds of new health advice about safe alcohol limits? It isn’t as if young people are unaware that if they get drunk they lose the full use of their faculties; that’s kind of why they do it in the first place. And parents will either be the relatively responsible type who teach their kids how to drink socially, or the type who aren’t going to be interested in a leaflet giving them advice in the first place. What next? Parenting lessons?

It seems to me that youth binge drinking isn’t a problem in and of itself, it is a symptom. On the one hand you have a lack of facilities, meaning that kids have literally nothing else to do. On the other hand, increased hysteria about youth drinking has meant that instead of experimenting with alcohol in the relative safety of their local, they are doing their experimenting in either vast impersonal drinking halls (if they can afford it) or, more likely, downing Diamond White while sitting around in those playgrounds that Balls is so keen on.

The fact is, those sneaky night time park binges are as much a part of childhood as falling off climbing frames. The same anxiety that leads councils to closing down playgrounds is behind the current anxiety about youths drinking. Even if we had the best youth service in the world, generations of young people will go through that period in their lives. To use Balls’ own language, it is all about “testing boundaries”. Along with all other kinds of so-called anti-social behaviour, the main impact of turning naughtiness into a criminal offence has been to allow adults to excuse themselves of any responsibility for it. The result has been, young people are testing boundaries only to discover those boundaries growing ever larger.

Labour can’t really afford to have both Balls at the same time. To be fair on the man, he has previously expressed scepticism about the whole Blairite approach to anti-social behaviour in the past. His announcement today though just sounds like more of the same.

Boris Johnson’s crime maps, data protection and land values

Unaccustomed as I am to defending Boris Johnson, I’m not convinced that publishing crime maps would necessarily result in a breach of data protection. Didn’t we solve this problem with census data decades ago?

A more intriguing objection is the complaint by RICS that “publicising high crime areas in such detail could literally wipe thousands off house prices overnight, further disadvantaging those who are already struggling to make ends meet.” I think this is possibly true, although it is a particular problem for the UK where we don’t have proper land/property taxation. In countries which use property taxes more extensively and reassess them more regularly (or indeed, at all), such data is a double edged sword. Yes, it would lead to the value of their properties dropping but that in turn would lead to them paying less tax. If you don’t get the service, you get your money back: sounds like a fair deal to me. In the UK though it would be unambiguously bad news for many, whilst enriching those fortunate enough to live in safe areas still further.

It’s got a good beat!

Damn my forgetfulness! In my banning things post I forgot to include my gag about the irony of the UK government defending something which can be described as ‘wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats‘ (if you’re under 30 or over 45 and don’t get this, trust me: it’s fucking hilarious. Really).

The Mosquito sound also randomly reminded of cake and make me wonder if those crazy kids are getting off on it (see 4.30 into to video):

Banning things

Madsen Pirie wrote the following on the Adam Smith Blog last week:

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a real problem. Last week one of his MPs tabled a bill in Parliament to force pubs and bars to sell wine in small measures only, while one of his party’s MEPs called for a ban on patio heaters.

The result is that poor Nick Clegg has seen his party made to look stupid yet again. He needs to take a lesson from Peter Mandelson, who introduced tight controls over what initiatives individual Labour politicians might launch or pontificate about. It made him unpopular, but it made his party able to control its image. Nick Clegg will have to do something similar or risk seeing idiots and charlatans make his party a laughing stock week after week.

This being the ASI, I’m sure they don’t see the irony in calling for Clegg to ban something in the interest of not wanting to look as if he’s in favour of banning things, but actually they have a point. I’m not clear that the world will be much improved by either Hall’s or Mulholland’s proposals. The growth in patio heater demand was particularly predictable given we saw precisely this happen as soon as Ireland introduced their own smoking bans a few years ago. The law of unintended consequences is not quite the same thing as a law of unpredictable consequences. It’s horses for courses.

I happen to agree that Lib Dem MPs ought to be very, very cautious about banning things or imposing greater regulation, and to always look towards a non-statutory solution first. But with that said, I’m not convinced we’re any worse at it as a party than any other.

Take the Tories for instance. Jonathan Calder has already taken David Davis to task for his call to lock up every underage drinker he can get his mitts on. Meanwhile, at the end of this month Tory MP Julian Brazier will be seeking to get the British Board of Film Classification (Accountability to Parliament and Appeals) Bill through its second reading. BBFC, for all its faults, is an example of relatively successful self-regulation, until the Thatcher government made it a semi-QUANGO during the video nasty scare. Brazier however wants to go even further:

A Bill to make provision for parliamentary scrutiny of senior appointments to the British Board of Film Classification and of guildlines produced by it; to establish a body with powers to hear appeals against the release of videos and DVDs and the classification of works in prescribed circumstances; to make provision about penalties for the distribution of illegal works; and for connect purposes

In other words, Brazier is seeking Parliamentary powers to exert political pressure on the BBFC and effectively make it its puppet. A vice-like grip of state control over popular culture in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s. Roy Jenkins must be spinning in his grave.

I’m not sure that anything any Lib Dem politician has proposed comes close to this, yet I don’t hear the ASI lecturing Cameron.

The other recent call to ban something has come from some teenagers in Corby, who have enlisted the Childrens Commissioner and Liberty in their mission to get the Mosquito banned. This is a much more difficult issue, since these devices are explicitly discriminatory against young people, yet at the same time totally indiscriminate in that they don’t distinguish between thugs and the vast majority of innocent teenagers. I’ve got enormous sympathy for the kids.

And yet… despite the fact that for any public body to use such a device would be a clear breach of the HRA in my view, I’m not sure anything much would be gained by banning it altogether. I’m not convinced we should treat this as a zero-sum game between youths and shopkeepers. I can understand why shopkeepers in some places may be at their wits’ end and resort to such measures. I can’t help but feel this is endemic of a wider social problem. Just as the Mosquitoes don’t solve anti-social behaviour as much as move it on, banning them wouldn’t tackle the underlying issue either.

It seems to me we need to take a more constructive approach, and that the solution is best left to people locally to sort out for themselves. Broadly then, much as it pains me to say it, I think the government line is the right one.

Just in case you thought I was being too nice to the government though, let’s focus on its plans to block prostitute’s telephone lines. How wrong is this? Let me count the ways:

1. Assuming it could be made to work, it would force prostitutes out onto the street and in a more dangerous environment.
2. It costs £10 £1.99 to buy a new phone number these days in the form of a sim card. Assuming these are not summary police powers the government is proposing, they would go through costly legal procedures to ban a number, only to find the same prostitute working with a new number within a matter of hours.
3. Even if the government did give the police summary powers here and all the civil liberty implications that would entail, the prostitutes could simply switch over to email accounts.

This sounds less like a crackdown on prostitution and more like an elaborate and expensive game of cat-and-mouse.

The impulse to ban things is rooted in our desire for symbolism but even in the case of unambiguously bad things it is rarely a simple, cut and dried matter. We should always be wary of doing so – and that applies to all parties.

UPDATE: Some great background on the BBFC on Edis Bevan’s blog.

Policy by smoke signal

The confusion over whether the government is or isn’t going to support moves to scrap the blasphemy libel laws has reminded me of the ongoing debate over the government’s plans to make it illegal to incite hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

In a bad case of wanting to have it both ways, Peter Horrocks of the Evangelical Alliance told the Today programme this morning said that while he accepted that “everybody knows it’s not really going to be used again,” he was concerned that scrapping the law would “send out a signal.”

Much of the debate over the proposed law against inciting hatred of gay hatred has been characterised in similar terms, and of course we had people arguing against scrapping Section 28 in the recent past on the grounds of symbolism. Gordon Brown is a big fan of symbolism. His plan to re-reclassify cannabis has nothing to do with changing a failed policy (it’s arguably been successful, which is why he may have to overrule his own advisory body in order to do it) and everything to do with sending signals. Brown could save himself all this parliamentary time simply by installing two large neon signs outside Number 10 – a thumbs up and a thumbs down – and light up each one at various times depending on the issue of the day.

The symbolism issue is key when it comes to the gay hatred law. I accept David Heath’s argument that the law isn’t fundamentally illiberal; I’m more sceptical about his insistence that it isn’t symbolic. As Gavin Whenman points out, we already have legislation against incitement; what is so peculiar about gay hate that requires specific legislation? I’m prepared to be convinced here, but my sense is that at the heart of the Lib Dem’s reluctance to oppose this law is a fear that Labour will simply throw it in our faces in the puerile manner that they regularly do over our limited opposition to their (failed and again largely symbolic) anti-social behaviour legislation.

The sad fact is, such symbolism works. It gives the media something they can communicate easily; it makes it look as if the government are keeping themselves busy. But just as Labour’s gimmickry about crime hasn’t actually made anyone feel safer, exploiting prejudices through symbolism ultimately just makes people feel more and more divorced from the political process.

Chris Huhne’s manifesto: the verdict

I thought I’d give Huhne’s manifesto the same treatment that I gave Clegg’s speech last week.

Once again, I’ll give each main section marks out of five for how much the section is in the party’s comfort zone, how much it is reaching out beyond our traditional supporter base and how much I personally agree with it. I realise the first two are tests which Nick Clegg first set, but they are valid ones.

Changing the system, not just the Government

Huhne starts off by talking about the electoral system, a matter close to Liberal Democrats’ hearts but not neccesarily the wider public. To be fair, it is the first matter of substance that Clegg referred to in his speech last week as well.

Not much I can add here. Obviously I agree with the policy. I’m not sure this is how I would articulate it, particularly if I had one eye on the wider public. I would want to emphasise the importance of choice and competition, not simply fairness.

Comfort rating: PR, nuff said. 5/5
Reaching out rating: he doesn’t mention “PR” explicitly, at least. 2/5
Personal rating: just to be picky, I’d have phrased it differently and find “fairness” a bit woolly. 4/5

Giving back power to people and communities

This is a radical vision of decentralisation which I think both the party and the public like the sound of. When Lib Dems talk of localism, we mean it, and this is a particularly well articulated section.

Comfort rating: localism is an easy sell internally. 5/5
Reaching out rating: well trod turf, but it is a message which I think is resonating increasingly. 4/5
Personal rating: sounds good to me. 5/5

Fixed term parliaments

This section is actually about more than that. Rather, it is a summary of issues relating to Parliament. I think fixed term parliaments resonate more widely at the moment because of the phoney election debacle, but that is quickly fading. The stuff that is of wider interest I think is the stuff about gender balance in the Lords, not because it will set the world on fire but because I think it shows an interest in how the party looks, which is important.

Comfort rating: some might shuffle their feet about gender balance in the elected Lords. 3/5.
Reaching out rating: some stuff of interest, but mostly the public won’t care about this section. The gender balance stuff gets a point for its long term boost to the party’s image though. 3/5.
Personal rating: if this gender balance stuff is a combination of existing party practice (the “one third” rule), training and mentoring and pro-activity, then great. 4/5.

The people’s veto

Yay! A constitutional reform which is not only truly democratic but is likely to resonate with the average Sun reader. Personally, as readers may have gathered, I’d go further, but a veto system such as this would be a powerful tool and would ensure that all laws had the assent – passive or otherwise – of the people.

Huhne doesn’t mention treaties here (can you say “Lisbon”?), but surely he wouldn’t make them exempt?

Comfort rating: I suspect many people in the party may be uncomfortable about this, but this limited form of participatory democracy will probably win them round in the end. 3/5
Reaching out rating: The public would love this. 5/5
Personal rating: I’d go further, but this is great progress. 5/5

A Freedom Bill to give back liberties

A Freedom Bill? That sounds a bit like a Nick Clegg idea! And Clegg was right – it is indicative of quite how scared he is of his own shadow that he didn’t mention it in his launch.

Is it good politics? Well, it is a great way to communicate our values – symbolism with substance attached. On the other hand it risks having us presented as the middle class liberati. On balance though, I think the consistency would be its own reward and would find its own audience. Not everyone will agree, but significant numbers on both the left and right will.

Comfort rating: can’t see the party having an issue with it. 5/5
Reaching out rating: it will find its own audience. 3/5 (I nearly gave it a 4)
Personal rating: sounds great to me. 5/5

Stopping money politics

This section is all very well as far as it goes, but is a little light on detail. What, for example, does Huhne propose to do about party funding? In fairness to him, he was probably simply being responsible given the Hayden Phillips talks and was not in a position to write his manifesto on the basis that they would collapse the day before.

On corruption, this section is stronger. The Saudi issue is good politics for us and Vince Cable has played it very well this week (maybe we should keep him…).

Comfort rating: not many people vote for corruption. 5/5
Reaching out rating: doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but there is at least sympathy for our position. 3/5
Personal rating: would want more detail on party funding, notwithstanding the practicalities. 3/5

Markets in public services, or local control?

This section is very interesting. In short it is an argument for localism and against marketisation of public services. In doing so, he actually goes further than I would, dismissing school vouchers for example which is a policy which I have some sympathy for.

He does at least articulate a clear case however. You can agree with him or not, but you can’t accuse him of mincing his words in the way that Clegg was doing last week. This is a line that Steve Webb would have no difficulty with and David Laws would hate, but at least it is a line. I’ve been arguing for consistency in our policy, and this is certainly consistent.

On the down side, is it an issue which will resonate with the public? I think they are for localism, but this section doesn’t address how we will deal with the inevitable complaints about “postcode lotteries” and the like. While the internal conflict is certainly over the extent to which economic liberalism and social liberalism should hold sway in the public services debate, I think the wider public have other priorities that this section does not address.

Comfort rating: it’s broadly existing party policy, but a lot of people will be uncomfortable about going down on one side to such an extent. 2/5
Reaching out rating: this isn’t the debate the public particularly cares about, but at least it is a clear policy. 2/5
Personal rating: I broadly go along with it, but I think there are different balances to strike in health and education policies. 4/5

Solving the housing crisis

This is one of the issues I took Clegg to task for not mentioning last week. I still maintain that you can’t be serious about addressing social mobility without saying something about housing. So, full marks to Huhne for addressing precisely that, and indirectly my other issue – intergenerational equity.

Once again, Huhne here gives us a well argued case for the limits and strengths of council housing. He isn’t being prescriptive here but shows a depth of knowledge. He sits on the fence here to a certain extent, but it is certainly true that it is largely an issue that should be decided locally.

I’m not sure he satisfactorily addresses how he intends us to build 3 million homes over 10 years. There is no easy answer of course (unless you propose bankrupting the state by insisting the government should build every last one of them), but a bit more detail here – and less detail on the public services section – would have been welcome.

Comfort zone: he doesn’t mention anything like building on greenbelt land. 5/5
Reaching out zone: to both the young and the working class, this is one of the biggest issues. He should have made it more central in my view, and linked it to other issues such as immigration, but the fact that he mentioned it at all puts him light years ahead of his opponent. 4/5
Personal rating: he doesn’t mention anything truly radical that might interest me such as contemplating some building on the greenbelt. 3/5

No to Trident

I’ve already banged on about this enough.

Comfort rating: plays well with a certain cleavage but seems to have already backfired to an extent. 3/5
Reaching out rating: I just don’t see many people joining the throng. 1/5
Personal rating: good policy, wrong politics. 3/5

Rebalancing our foreign policy

Again, Iraq War aside, I can’t help but think this will largely leave the average person in the street cold. We’ve acquired a good reputation with regards to foreign policy in the past, but most of the people who support us on this issue have already come over to us. There is some anti-American sentiment out there, but there’s more anti-European sentiment.

None of which is to say that there is much here I would take issue with, although I’m curious why it mentions the English-speaking Commonwealth and not just the Commonwealth; are there not ties there which if anything will grow in importance over the next few decades? He deserves points for bravery for even mentioning the Euro, and has a clear answer for why joining is an option but certainly not yet.

In terms of low politics, it is also interesting that he appears to position himself as broadly more Euro-sceptic than Clegg, who was rather fulsome in his praise for the EU.

Comfort rating: some feathers might be ruffled by being rude about the EU and mentioning the Euro, but nothing to get in a lather over. 4/5
Reaching out rating: very mild Euro-scepticism and anti-Americanism reaches out of a certain extent, but this won’t get them talking at the Dog and Duck. 2/5
Personal rating: broadly fine but uninspired. 4/5

Fairness: a core belief for social liberals

Here Huhne firmly nails his colours to the mast and outs himself as a social liberal. Good. We have a real contest now as Clegg is clearly on the economic wing.

There is a lot here I can’t imagine Clegg saying, based on his speech last week. If I had a rather larger ego than I do, I might even think that this section was tailor-made to get my attention:

It is not enough to speak of equality of opportunity, aspiration and level playing fields. If ‘meritocracy’ means that individuals will receive the rewards their abilities and work deserve, it produces a very unattractive society in which complacently successful people constantly look down on their less able fellow citizens, whom they firmly believe to deserve less. We need more than that.

In truth, I suspect this section has rather more to do with Duncan Brack than it has to do with me.

For me, this is the most important section in the whole document. It is about our core beliefs and reclaiming equality at a time when so many Lib Dems seem keen to drop it as a priority altogether. It is clarity such as this section that recharges my political batteries and convinces me there is actually a point.

Comfort rating: actually, I think that much of this will cause the wider party difficulty. This is a debate we haven’t had in years and it is time we did so. 2/5
Reaching out rating: Will this resonate in the posh suburbs of Kensington? No. Will it resonate in the down-at-heel streets of Manchester where I cut my political teeth? Absolutely. 4/5
Personal rating: I need to hear this sort of thing from my leader, not bloodless exhortations for ‘meritocracy’. 5/5

Tall poppies and tall stories

I believe this is the section which opponents of Huhne may wish to caricature as ‘hammering the rich’. He doesn’t use that phrase, but if I have a criticism it is that he does very little to disabuse people of that notion.

There is an important issue to address in terms of company directors awarding themselves outrageous pay bonuses, but we need to be careful to avoid appearing to play the politics of jealousy. The language here could be more balanced and emollient.

That says, the underlying theme – that we should be concerned more about taxing wealth than incomes – is one of my pet hobby horses. Huhne is cagey about land value taxation but is warm about it in principle. In all honesty, that’s as good as I’m likely to get in this election.

Comfort rating: perhaps a little too much emphasis on bashing high earners. 4/5
Reaching out rating: we need to think about how we might sell this. The stuff about high earners will resonate with a few, but not enough. 2/5
Personal rating: as good as I’m going to get. 4/5

Talking straight on crime

An impeccably liberal approach, but not one that is likely to dispel any caricatures about woolly liberals sadly. It isn’t woolly – it is well argued and succinct – but for many acknowledging home truths such as the fact that fear of crime in this country is disproportionate to the level of actual crime will lead to them simply dismissing the whole argument.

This section presents to me a dilemma. I don’t disagree with any of it, but I know it is a hard sell. Huhne doesn’t give us much of an idea of how he plans to sell all this either.

How do we get this balance right? I have to admit I think Clegg does it better. Sometimes it is just a matter of not saying certain things that don’t need to be said. We can’t afford to alienate people; we have to talk in a language they understand.

Comfort rating: will ruffle quite a few feathers actually – Lib Dems can be quite reactionary at times. 3/5
Reaching out rating: I’d love it if people listened to common sense on crime, but they broadly don’t. We need to communicate this better. 1/5
Personal rating: I can’t deny it doesn’t appeal to me personally. 5/5

Sustainability: challenging on the environment

There’s a lot here that doesn’t need to be said. You’ve already won the argument Chris. Once again though, he doesn’t address how we engage with the public on this issue in a language they understand. Clegg’s critique that when we talk about green taxes, most people just hear ‘taxes’ is correct. Huhne needs to address that point. Calling for further cuts in the basic rate of income tax does that to an extent, but it doesn’t address Clegg’s other point about people being able to see their sacrifices making a difference.

In this respect, I would actually argue that Huhne is currently weaker than Clegg on the environment. Not because he’s wrong on policy but that he is wrong on emphasis. The next battle is on selling this policy, not simply entrenching it. Huhne needs to engage with that fact.

Comfort rating: broadly established party policy. 5/5
Reaching out rating: communication counts. 1/5
Personal rating: fine as far as it goes but barely moves us forward from 2 years ago. 3/5

Our party can win

Thus far, and point me to where if I’m wrong, but Clegg has barely addressed the issue of party organisation. Huhne therefore deserves credit for including this section.

The emphasis on local party development is important as is the emphasis on diversity. His approach on mentoring and training is welcome.

His point about constitutional change being a prerequisite to partnership government is vital. It addresses the Oaten lament that coalition is an issue that the party hasn’t been talking about enough but doesn’t get us distracted in self-defeating speculation about horse-trading.

Finally, the final paragraph succinctly sums up what the party is about. This is a strong section.

Comfort rating: the party will find little to disagree with here. Making it happen though is another matter. 5/5
Reaching out rating: a strong, better trained and more diverse-looking party across the country would inevitably reach out to more people. Simple, but true. 4/5
Personal rating: Again, my concern is making it happen. An uncharitable 3/5 (because I’ve been here before).


You can’t compare like with like with these scores and Clegg’s in my earlier article. Overall, in my view there is more meat here for the general public to grapple with than was in Clegg’s speech last week. There is also more for the party faithful to potentially object to. Interestingly, although I really liked certain bits, as an overall package I found myself less comfortable with it than with Clegg.

Huhne is clearly taking risks, and he should be congratulated for that. He has brought substance to a debate which until now has been distinctly wanting for it. On a number of issues however, he simply doesn’t seem to appreciate the communication issue. On the environment, on crime and on taxation it isn’t that he is wrong on detail, but that he hasn’t worked enough on communicating the message. This is at least a much bigger concern of Nick Clegg’s.

But on consistency, he wins hands down. You can’t fault him for not being prepared to answer difficult questions. This is an issue my scoring system doesn’t measure, yet it is important. Developing a clear Liberal Democrat identity is crucial. It gives us a brand – not something that 100% of the population will agree with, but something which a substantial minority certainly will. Longer term, such consistency will help us bridge the gap between the 10% of the public who identify as a big-el-Lib big-dee-Dem and the 50% of the public who identify as a small-el-liberal. It is not something that Clegg has begun to grapple with thus far, nor can he if he is afraid to reach out beyond existing party policy.

On balance then, this is definitely a stronger package than what I’ve seen from Clegg so far. It is however a package for long term growth – to what extent that is a luxury we can currently afford is not something I have formed a firm view on yet. It certainly isn’t the killing blow that Huhne needs to deliver to defeat his rival. Perhaps I should wait however until Clegg produces a comparable document.