Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 30 March 2012

Labour have to do much better than blaming Celebrity Big Brother #BradfordWest

Following George Galloway's historic win in the Bradford West by-election yesterday taking 56% of the vote with a 10,000 majority on a pretty high (for a by-election) turnout of 50% Labour still seem stunned.

Labour MP Toby Perkins has had a crack at trying to find something else to blame:

"I think frankly there wasn't a lot the other parties could do about it. They'd seen him on (Celebrity) Big Brother.They wanted him on their streets and now they've got it..."

This is frankly risible. Not just because of how pathetic it seems to be trying to blame a TV show (where Galloway actually made an utter tit of himself).

Even mathematically this makes no sense. CBB typically gets between 3 and 5 million viewers. If we are generous and take the larger figure that means we are talking about roughly 8% of the population who even saw Galloway on the show. The turnout yesterday was 32,000. So we are talking about less than 3,000 voters Bradford West proportionally. And that also presupposes that Galloway's preening around the house and cat based antics made all of those 3,000 people desperate to vote for him (which seems unlikely). If they could even remember he was on the show 6 years ago. That in no way explains a majority of 10,000.

Perkins's claim about how there not being a lot the other parties could have done about it seems strange too considering the Labour candidate didn't even turn up to a hustings event. I would suggest the very least the "other parties could do about it" is turn up and debate rather than leave the floor to Galloway. That smacks of dangerous complacency.

Perhaps the Labour Party's post-mortem should focus on those aspects rather than bluster about a reality TV show.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The next time there is a funding scandal under this system we should force the leader to resign

Cash for questions. Cash for influence. Cash for peerages. Cash for dinners.

I don't know about you but I'm utterly sick of it.

I've been following politics very closely for years. I have always voted and more recently got more deeply involved with the party I am ideologically closest to. I think some of my friends and family consider my interest in this somewhat eccentric. I have found it a struggle on occasion to convince people I know outside politics to even vote let alone engage on anything like the level I do.

How much harder it is to convince people of the value of our politics when some bloke working on behalf of one of our major political parties is caught on camera claiming to be able to sell the ability to influence the Prime Minister for £250 grand.

Sadly it is far from the first time this sort of thing has happened. I have literally lost count of the number of funding and influence type scandals that have cropped up in the 20 or so years I have been following politics.

There has been some tinkering around the edges with registers of interests and a few other attempts at safeguards but the same old problems keep occurring again and again. It is because our system lends itself too easily to this sort of thing. There is no cap on donations and the parties have long since stopped being mass member organisations able to essentially fund themselves from their members.

There is nothing inevitable about this. Organisations like the RSPB and the National Trust have millions of members. I know they have particular hooks but with more imagination there is no reason why our political parties cannot get more members.

As my good friend Emma pointed out on the Total Politics blog this week if we had reform to cap donations the parties would have to find ways of increasing their memberships. Perhaps, shock horror, they might even have to give them good reasons to become and remain members.

We know our current system is broken. Peter Watt writing on Labour Uncut this week tells of how politicians effectively sub out these "dark arts" to party functionaries who have lots of pressure heaped on them to get results and a sort of "don't ask don't tell" omerta operates. Until the shit hits the fan of course at which point the hapless functionary is cast out as a bad apple/rotten egg. The politicians plead ignorance and promise to look into reform. The parties are unwilling to compromise and the whole process starts all over again. Ad infinitum/nauseum.


As far as I am concerned a line in the sand should now be drawn. The next time there is a funding scandal under this system. The next time someone is caught offering to sell influence to the highest bidder we should call for the resignation of the leader of that party. Not the hapless functionary (they'll be out on their ear anyway). The leader.

The leader who has had opportunities to reform the system and declined to do so. The leader who has decided that their supposed party interest should trump propriety in politics.

There comes a point when "unintended consequences" are no longer unintended. We have now reached that point. It is clear they are built into the system.

I don't care who this leader is. Cameron, Clegg or Miliband. Each of them has the power to do something about this. If the others won't compromise they should go it alone. They will soon shame their opponents into action and can genuinely claim to be acting for the greater good.

But if they choose not to they should reap the consequences.

So I call on all activists of all parties and none who are utterly sick of how these scandals taint us all to pledge with me to call strongly for the resignation of the leader of any party including their own the next time there is a scandal if they have not taken steps to reform funding either multilaterally or unilaterally.

They have had their opportunities to do this. No more excuses. No more chances.

Fix the system. Or pay the price.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Clegg needs to act unilaterally on party funding - now

Iain Dale is spot on today about party funding following the Sunday Times Peter Cruddas "Cash 4 Cameron" scandal expose. There is indeed a golden opportunity for a party leader to seize the initiative on party funding.

Nick Clegg should be in prime position for this. The party already has a policy of capping political donations at £10,000. The problem has been getting agreement for this across the parties. Talks always founder mainly because the main two parties have deep vested interested in the status quo for various reasons.

Clegg should announce immediately that the Lib Dems will not accept any donations larger than £10K. The political wind is now clearly blowing in that sort of direction and this is a golden opportunity to lead by example. Were he to do this it would force the issue and either the other parties would have to follow suit or be exposed as all talk and no action. It would be a major campaigning issue.

If he tarries, Cameron has a long history of capitalising on the public mood and he has a much bigger pulpit to be able to make it seem like he is on top of this issue. Being "first to market" is the only advantage Clegg has.

There will be no better time than right now

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Doctors vs FPTP

Interesting poll from Lord Ashcroft on Con Home yesterday analysing the potential threat from a group of doctors who are planning to field 50 candidates at the next General Election against senior Lib Dem and Conservative MPs on an "anti-NHS reform" ticket.

The absolutely fascinating finding is that whilst the doctors apparently have 18% support, they would only shave a little bit off the two coalition parties. By far the biggest loser from their entry to the parliamentary race would be Labour. Here comes the numbers bit:


Labour: 41%
Conservative: 36%
Lib Dems: 9%


Labour 30%
Conservative: 33%
Lib Dems: 7%
Doctors: 18%

So the mere presence of these candidates in the race would take 2% points from the Lib Dems, 3% points from the Conservatives but fully 11% points from Labour according to this poll!

This is not really that surprising though. Labour (despite their record in office of involving the private sector in the NHS) have been the most vocally opposed to the reforms and are pledging to repeal the bill. The doctors are fishing in a pool for voters where many of them sympathetic to their cause are already likely to be intending to vote Labour. Their presence on the ballot paper would act as a spoiler for Labour. Its effect would be to split the anti-NHS bill vote and could actually lead to a strengthening of the position of the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs that they are targetting.

The reason for this is our electoral system. First Past the Post makes it very difficult for candidates with similar aims to stand against each other without risking reducing the barrier to winning for opponents. The only truly independent MPs elected in recent years (Dr Richard Taylor and Martin Bell) only succeeded because the party(ies) they were ideologically closest to stood aside to give them a clear run. And that aint going to happen this time.

No wonder the Conservatives campaigned so ferociously against AV last year. A party that wishes the status quo party system to remain in place of course wants to make it nigh on impossible for any upstarts in the political process to gain any traction and the threat of shoring up Labour's opponent's positions will likely be enough to kill this idea on the starting blocks. Any members of the public who lament this should ask themselves how they voted in the referendum last year. Because not enough of them did to make any difference and thus paradigm shift moments like this in politics almost never happen in elections to the Commons. They are simply not allowed to by design.

An interesting twist here though would be if the doctors decided to do it anyway despite the potential political consequences. Because it could deny Labour the chance to form a majority in 2015 if they pushed their campaign hard.

I wonder how those within Labour who pulled out all the stops to ensure AV failed last year would then feel about the part they played in ensuring a good chance of a Tory majority post 2015. Because then they could do what they liked to the NHS without any restraints.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Conservatives have just lost the next election

"Granny Tax".

Those words could well mark the political graves of George Osborne and David Cameron. A bit like "Poll Tax" did for Margaret Thatcher.

Freezing the pensioner tax thresholds for existing pensioners and abolishing them for new pensioners is rapidly becoming the main story of yesterday's budget. Which is interesting because in advance it appeared it might have been the reduction of the top 50% rate to 45% that would generate the most headlines. Labour however quickly seem to have correctly realised that the pensioner changes are likely to have the most traction for them. It's an easy message to get over to people and cannot easily be rebutted with five fingers on Mr Cameron's left hand*.

Older people traditionally vote for the Conservatives in large numbers. They are one of the party's main constituencies. For them to be hit by the Chancellor in this way is a massive political gamble.

I actually think there is little justification for having the pensioner tax allowance way above everyone else. And as the standard threshold moves higher and higher it makes sense to try and align them. But the Chancellor did not have to go about it this way specifically announcing a freeze and abolition. It is pretty clear we are going to get to a £10K threshold for everyone, probably announced in the next budget in 2013 coming in for 2014-15. Beyond that I expect the Lib Dems and plenty of Conservatives will be agitating to go further on the threshold. Already there is talk of taking anyone on the minimum wage out of income tax which would require a threshold of £12.5K. The standard pensioner threshold is £10.5K. On the current trajectory we would reach alignment in the next few years anyway even with inflationary rises for the pensioner threshold. What the Chancellor is trying to achieve would eventually have happened anyway, without having to be explicit about it.

George Osborne is supposed to be a master political strategist. I have never really bought this argument. In some ways he is a similar politician to Gordon Brown, lots of tactics but short on overall strategy.

Maybe he thought hitting pensioners in the budget would help with his "all in this together" narrative. Maybe he thought the fact that the state pension is now rising in line with earnings for the first time in decades would mitigate the political fall-out. If so he has misjudged how political announcements are assimilated. The good stuff is quietly banked by the winners but the bad stuff will be shouted about very loudly by the opposition and pensioner groups. That is what will be remembered about this budget by the very people Osborne needs to vote Conservative if they are to get a majority in 2015.

I would be astonished if Labour don't very quickly pledge to reinstate the pensioner threshold and uprate it by inflation again. As I said it will cost them very little as the thresholds will be much closer by 2015 anyway but the political boon they will get from it will be pretty big.

A majority for the Conservatives in 2015 was already looking quite difficult to achieve. Osborne has just made it nigh on impossible.

*For the uninitiated the "five fingers" are supposed to indicate that the measures on rich people from yesterday (stamp duty rises, tycoon tax etc.) will raise five times as much as the 50p rate did.

NOTE: I am aware that I have not really mentioned the Lib Dems in the context of getting the blame for the pensioner threshold abolition. They will get some of the heat I am sure but as pensioners are traditionally much more likely to vote Conservative it is that aspect that is most relevant politically.

Monday, 12 March 2012

You can't be a monarchist and a meritocrat

We are now in the build up to the celebrations of The Queen's 60th Jubilee. I was actually out of the country during the 50th celebrations in 2002 so I missed Brian May playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace etc. As a republican this stuff generally leaves me cold.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my view that the head of our state should be elected. Indeed it is clear from polling that I am in a minority.

What I do find strange however is when I come across people who are clearly in favour of a meritocracy and improved social mobility supporting the principle of an hereditary head of state. And there seem to be quite a lot of them judging by discussions I have witnessed on Twitter recently.

Make no mistake, these positions are incompatible. You cannot credibly be a meritocrat whilst simultaneously supporting the Monarchy in its current form. It is not just because of the inherent contradiction between wanting positions to be awarded on merit and allowing someone to achieve the pinnacle of our public life through who gave birth to them. Even more pertinent is how the Monarchy and the aristocracy prop up our entire class system which works against this very idea. With the Queen or King at the top, a shining beacon of privilege of birth, it is always going to be more difficult to have a society where people achieve positions on the basis of merit.

At last year's Lib Dem Spring Conference, Nick Clegg made a speech in which he declared that "Birth should never be destiny". I wholeheartedly agree with him. Of course his meritocratic conviction did not extend to declining to attend the wedding of the second in line to the throne a couple of months later.

Some may say this is churlish of me. Maybe it is a bit. But there are always grounds for claiming that certain comments about the Monarchy are "disrespectful" or "mean spirited". I will continue to speak out in this way until we properly start to recognise how our support as a country for a system that rewards birth over achievement is damaging us.

This post was first published on Liberal Conspiracy.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

For the first time, I'm not sure I understand the Lib Dems #NHSBill

I've not been in Gateshead this weekend so maybe that's part of the problem but I am struggling to understand the actions of my party in the last couple of days.

As I posted yesterday I fear that the NHS bill could be highly damaging, politically for the Lib Dems and I had hoped that the party voting reps were going to vote to drop the bill. Instead what happened is that the reps voted by a small margin to debate the "Shirley Williams" amended bill and vote on that this morning. The result has been a somewhat muddled outcome where a modification which specifically removes the requirement for our parliamentarians to support the amended bill (tabled by Dr Evan Harris the former MP) was passed.

At first I was just relieved that an option to not vote for the bill was still possible but the more I have read, the more I am convinced that this will turn out to be a false hope. The consensus amongst commentators appears to be that this will not result in the bill falling and that seems to be the message coming from the leadership.

I have read comments such as this being a "clever compromise" allowing the party reps to demonstrate their feelings on the bill but without causing Nick Clegg "embarrassment". I have also seen some Lib Dems on Twitter and on various blogs whose opinion I usually respect claim that the result here is sensible and easy to understand.

I strongly disagree with both of these claims. It is not a clever compromise. If it results in the bill still going through then the public will not give a toss what contorted machinations our party went through this weekend. They will simply see that our party allowed the Lansley/Tory bill (in their perceptions) to pass. I'm not going to get involved in how many hundred amendments we have tabled and how much we may have improved it. As I said yesterday, the public do not trust the Conservative Party on the NHS and by a large margin they are blaming us for enabling them to "wreck" it. If we allow the bill to pass we could find ourselves almost wiped out in 2015. It will come up on the doorstep again and again and we will have little or no defence.

The current situation is not easy to understand or particularly sensible. It might seem like a good ruse by people who have been involved with the party and getting amendments to motions passed over many years or decades. This is perhaps where the fact that I only joined the party in 2008 could help. From an outsider's perspective it will appear to be neither of these things. No wonder it is being misreported as the party having voted against the NHS bill. Even a fair few members I have seen on Twitter don't seem to understand what has happened.

This is the first time in my almost 4 years as a Lib Dem that I don't really understand why my party is doing what it is doing on a major issue. I really do fear that unless our parliamentarians take the opportunity gifted to them by the voting reps today and stop this NHS bill, we will reap an electoral whirlwind.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Lib Dems should vote to #DropTheBill this weekend

I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the Lib Dem membership this weekend should vote to stop the NHS bill currently going through parliament.

I am afraid this is not really for reasons of principle. I have long thought that the NHS is going to need major reform in the coming years and I think certainly some of the aspects that I have read about in the current bill would be to the benefit of the organisation. I must confess I am not up on all the latest details but I know Lib Dems in parliament have been working very hard to improve it and I expect they have done.

I also think that pretty much regardless of what a bill on the NHS brought forward by this government said, Labour would have loudly and vociferously opposed it claiming that it would "privatise" and "wreck" the NHS. (Incidentally I do not think there is much I have seen in the current bill that is not essentially extending the reforms Labour brought in in the last few years).

The bottom line is that the NHS is political poison for the Conservative party. The plain truth is that they are not trusted on it. Coupled with the dreadful job that Andrew Lansley has done in trying to explain and sell the changes to the public and the NHS itself we are in a position now where I think we have no choice. We need to stop the bill.

I don't often advocate following a course of action for purely political reasons but I am going to make an exception in this case because frankly the future survival of the Lib Dems as a party may depend on it. If we allow the bill to pass, then it won't matter whether the bill has positive or negative effects on the NHS. That is not what we will be judged on. We will be judged on having ignored the widespread view within bodies representing those employed by the NHS and the public more generally that it is a very bad bill.

Someone on Twitter yesterday suggested that if it passes, every lost paperclip in the NHS will be blamed on the passage of the bill. I strongly suspect they are correct. Everything that goes wrong in the NHS in the next few years will be blamed on us. The Conservatives will get some of the blame of course but judging on previous experience the opposition and the public will go for our throats. If you think the reaction to the Tuition Fees debacle was bad, wait until our party is blamed for "wrecking" the NHS. To reiterate, I don't agree that's what will happen but perception is everything in politics.

On a practical level, Clegg cannot simply perform a reverse on this; he is too deeply in. He needs a reason. We can give him that reason this weekend. The party can vote to stop it. Clegg then has the cover he needs to go back to Cameron and Lansley and explain that has to listen to his party. I suspect Cameron would secretly be relieved to have a reason to go back to the drawing board on this. His political antennae must surely be telling him no good can come of this bill politically.

This may lead to an early end to the coalition. I can't predict how things will pan out. What I can say for sure is it will be worse if we allow it to pass.

We should drop the bill.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Morrissey on the Falklands - Bigmouth Strikes Again?

Morrissey has waded into controversy again, this time telling an Argentinian audience that "everyone knows" the "Malvinas Islands" (known to most Britons as the Falkland Islands) belong to Argentina which strikes me as a rather miserable lie. I certainly don't know that.

It seems rather odd to me that someone who's got everything now feels able to advocate deracinating over 3,000 British citizens.

You might ask what difference does it make? Well I wonder if despite his regular intemperate outbursts he is not still quite widely listened to. The report linked to above rather paints a vulgar picture of an ageing star egging on anti-British sentiment.

I'm a republican myself but his other controversial move to have his band dress in "We Hate William and Kate" T-shirts also seems rather misguided. These things take time and the Royal family are still very popular. This is likely to remain the case long after the Queen is dead.

I suppose some might ask is it really so strange for a professional controversialist like Stephen Patrick to step into an issue like this but this night has opened my eyes to what a diminished figure he is in danger of becoming.

Perhaps on reflection he will be more careful in future and not let bigmouth strike again.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Guido should put his money where his mouth is

Most blogs don't make much or any money. I have been running this blog since 2008 and I literally have not made a penny from it. I did have Google Adsense on it for a while and built up a bit of a balance but there is a minimum threshold before they pay out and I never reached it. I also had MessageSpace on here (much to the annoyance of some of my fellow blogging Lib Dems) but again I never actually earned any money from it as I only had it on for a short time and never reached the minimum threshold there either.

A few of the bigger blogs do actually make money. I know that Iain Dale used to when he was a solo artist although I don't think it was enough to cover a full time salary for him. Some of the bigger group blogs such as Lib Dem Voice, LabourList, Conservative Home etc. bring in money too to contribute to running costs.

But the fact remains that well over 99% of online blog content makes no appreciable money. Even the really good quality stuff is usually being produced by people in their spare time for free.

One of the exceptions to this rule is Order Order (the Guido Fawkes blog). My understanding is that the running of the blog and related activities are doing well enough to provide for both Paul Staines and Harry Cole to make researching and writing for it a pretty much full time occupation. I suspect media and other appearances and their recent coup of getting a column in The Star help too but it is all built on the foundation of being one of the most popular and notorious blogs in the country. Indeed Paul and Harry have been kind enough to link to some of my work in the past and I know from my stats that those days are always very busy, reflecting the high level of traffic they get.

But something that I keep seeing in articles on Order Order is jibes at group blogs like HuffPo UK, CiF and others for not paying for contributions. Here is an extract from a post yesterday:

..the HuffSlo Arianna model of slave-journalism is already mirrored over at Comment is Free (of charge). So many wannabees crave having Guardian bylines that they will write for free. Which is just as well, because that is probably the only way the Guardian is going to avoid bankruptcy.

Guido is right. Writers do want a wider audience and writing for respected online brands can enhance reputation and lead to other things. I also agree that it would be good if contributors could be paid for their efforts. I write for Dale & Co and Iain has always promised from the start that if the group blog ever becomes profitable he would share the proceed with the contributors. The fact is though that it is very difficult to monetise a blog.

If Guido is really concerned about writers being exploited online though he is one of the very few people in a position to actually do something about it. He could publish guest articles from writers and pay them for their work. But as far as I know he does not do this.

I think that is a shame as he could put his money with his mouth is. Then his attacks on other blogs that do not do this might have a bit more bite.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Internal party democracy - let's have a heated debate

Recently I corresponded with my friend and Labour activist Emma Burnell who blogs at Scarlet Standard. I was interested in her views on internal party democracy in the light of some recent stirrings on that theme in the blogosphere.

Here are our exchanges:

Dear Emma

I recently read Alex Hilton's recent piece on LabourList "Losing Faith" which strongly criticised the approach of the Labour Party and given our previous conversations about internal party democracy regarding Lib Dems and Labour, I was interested in your views.

As an active member of the Lib Dems, one of the things I find most satisfying is knowing that my views and my vote as a voting rep at conference can and does have an effect on party policy and of course more recently on government policy.

One of the most striking comments from Alex's piece about Labour for me was this:

"We’re an illiberal elitist capitalist party with no taste for democracy and a misplaced belief that the masses are better off in our care than that of other parties."

I only became active in politics a few years ago despite having been interested in (some would say obsessed with) it for nearly 20 years. I could not have considered joining the Labour Party though, not just because of the policies it was pursuing that I profoundly disagreed with but because the members of the party no longer get to make its policy so I'd have no chance of changing this. When Alex says the party has no taste for democracy I suspect this is one of the things to which he is referring.

I understand why Tony Blair wanted to wrest control of his party from its members. I recall watching Labour conferences in the years before he became leader and I can appreciate that to some it would have appeared unedifyingly divided. But that is the price of democracy. The Tories have always been a very top-down party. The tragedy is that Labour have followed them down this road, rather than reforming its internal democracy in a way which could have allowed its members to still have a big say in its direction and policy.

Instead we have had the even more unedifying sight of policies being announced that have clearly been scribbled on the back of a fag packet by a junior SpAd 30 minutes before the leader's speech to conference on far too many occasions (Gordon Brown's supervised communal houses for teenage mums anyone?).

Ed Miliband's "Refounding Labour" project appears to have petered out to very little effect and one of his "boldest" moves was actually to further reduce internal democracy by ceasing elections to shadow cabinet.

If I was again looking to join a political party I could still not contemplate making it Labour even if I agreed with lots of its current policies.

I think that should worry dedicated and committed members of the party such as yourself.

Best regards,


Dear Mark,

I too read Alex’s piece on LabourList, though with more sorrow than recognition.

I am sorry Alex has worked himself up into this state, but his characterisation of both Ed’s leadership, and the changes to the processes of the Labour Party are unrecognisable to me. I fear both yourself and Alex are looking for a “big bang” in a Party that has long accepted a gradualist approach to our evolution.

Some of the changes in Refounding Labour will make an enormous difference to Labour in the long term, without having an immediate effect the day the ink dried on the document.

There are real changes to the nature of the relationship between the central and local Parties. Empowering Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) to organise in the way that works for them locally will ensure better engagement with our power and decision making structures from all CLPs including those in areas that don’t have a Labour MP, and will give them better resources to organise themselves. These may seem small, but over time, will change the culture of the Party.

Equally, the Shadow Cabinet elections are a complete red herring. They aren’t elected by the Party, but by the tiny electorate of MPsThe Leader is democratically elected though our agreed internal processes (the only process of any Party which brings in those outside the Party, by giving the vote to individual union members). He has far more of a mandate to shape the Party, including who he wants to take each issue forward, than the tiny electorate of MPs.

Refounding Labour has finished the aspects that looked at Party organisation, but continues to look at our policy making processes. Opening these up more to Party members and strengthening the role of the National Policy Forum were both agreed by Refounding Labour, but the more complex details of how are being consulted on now.

So for me the picture of internal Labour Party democracy is neither as settled nor as bleak as you or Alex makes out.

Balancing competing democratic mandates in these situations is not clear cut, as your Party is discovering to its cost on issue after issue. Post Refounding Labour, we are improving, if gradually, where other Parties are not, and in fact are reneging on the things, in the past, activists like you have been so proud of.

You and I are in very different political parties because we have very different political priorities. I am happy to accept that sometimes liberal outcomes come from enforced means. You seem happier to accept unequal outcomes as long as the means are ostensibly fair. I think that’s probably true of our approaches to internal democracy. I want something that will have an obvious and claimable output in Government. You seem happy to set policies for a Party that will never, ever enact them, despite being in Government.
Kind regards,


Dear Emma

I admire your faith in the processes set in train by Refounding Labour but I fear that without a solid democratic process underpinning it (e.g. reps voting on policy at conference) then it will be all too easy for the party leadership to ride roughshod over what members such as yourself want.

You are correct in your assertion that we have very different political priorities. For me and most fellow Lib Dems, liberty is a fundamental part of my political philosophy.

I find your final comment rather strange: “You seem happy to set policies for a Party that will never, ever enact them, despite being in Government”. This is difficult for me to reconcile with the facts. Research by the BBC last year showed that 75% of the Lib Dem manifesto is included in the government programme as opposed to 60% from the Conservatives. Lots of policies voted on by myself and my fellow Lib Dem members are now being implemented and making a difference to people’s lives.

Where I agree with you is that it is a difficult call to determine what gets priority and that is one thing that I very much think needs reform within the Lib Dems. We need an agreed mechanism for communicating which policies are most important to the members to ensure they end up being the “red lines” in any future negotiations. This won’t be straightforward as showing your hand early makes negotiating harder but who said politics was easy?!

Labour had 13 years of untrammelled power with large majorities and was able to implement its programme in full. The Lib Dems only have about a sixth of the MPs in government and hence have to compromise. It’s in the nature of coalition. I think sometimes Labour activists and politicians such as yourself (perhaps sometimes willfully) forget this with calls of “betrayal” and “selling out”. The logical conclusion of those saying that is the Lib Dems should never be in government unless governing alone. And of course had the party eschewed the opportunity in May 2010 those same people would be deriding them as a “wasted vote” and not a party serious about power.

It’s almost as if we can’t ever win!

Best regards,


Dear Mark,

The Labour Party does have a process whereby elected representatives discuss and produce policy on a year round basis. It’s called the National Policy Forum (NPF). It has representative elected from all the different sections of the broad Labour family, including members, MEPs, MPs, Socialist Societies and the unions. While sometimes this body doesn’t work as well as it might, it does come into its own during the manifesto process which is negotiated through this body. Policy papers proposed by the NPF are also ratified by a vote at conference. It is this process that is continuing to be strengthened in the last remaining part of the Refounding Labour process.

Sometimes, it’s not about “winning” but about doing the right thing and being honest. And you aren’t being honest – I suspect even to yourself.

The research you refer to is incredibly flawed. In practically every piece of legislation ever enacted there are good and bad things. There is even some good in the appalling Health and Social Care Bill, though not nearly enough to make it worthwhile or to convince me it shouldn’t be dropped. You managed to get some fairly innocuous measures into what are otherwise terrible bills. Equally, counted as part of these figures is the AV referendum: A classic example of claiming a victory while changing precisely nothing. Next stop, Lords reform.

You claim a democratic mandate from your members to the Government – or at the least the MPs and Peers who represent your Party. Tell that to the delegates to your conference who voted overwhelmingly to protect ESA who have had their “faith shattered” and are wondering whatever happened to democracy in the Lib Dems.

Equally, you also told voters one thing and then did another when elected. This is where you miss the point on “betrayal”. You haven’t betrayed Labour – you’ve betrayed your voters.  

As Labour struggle towards improving our internal processes for the 21st century, yours are  crumbling under the new strain of Government. Unless that is recognised and dealt with now, you will lose for good any sense that activists have a say that makes a difference.

Labour isn’t perfect on this score. We have a long way to go. But of the two parties, I’m confident that we’re the one moving in the right direction.

Kind regards,