Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

House of Comments - Episode 48 - The Politics of AAA

Episode 48 of the House of Comments podcast "The Politics of AAA" was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Emma Burnell were joined by Isabel Hardman the editor of the Spectator Coffee house blog to discuss the AAA debacle and what it means for George Osborne and the government, the Eastleigh by-election and what I found out pounding the streets in South Hampshire at the weekend and finally the accusations against Lord Rennard and more generally women in public life.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note - this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you'll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me an e-mail at

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo's James O'Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about "interesting things" and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Osborne becomes more and more like Brown

For years and years when Chancellor, Gordon Brown used the mantra of "no more boom and bust" often with a "Tory" thrown into the middle of that sentence for good measure but the message was clear. He thought he had abolished the natural economic cycle. This utter hubris came back to bite him hard in the posterior when in 2008 we saw the start of what has become the worst economic crisis in several generations. Brown had hitched himself to a huge hostage to fortune and had lost the bet. He didn't need to do it and in hindsight it seems ridiculous that he would have done so.

Fast forward to early 2013 and we have seen something remarkably similar happen with George Osborne. For years he was banging on about how he and his government would maintain the AAA status with the ratings agencies. It became an article of faith that he would do so. Like with Brown's boom/bust tactics this has now blown up in his face with Moody's ratings agency downgrading the UK a notch from AAA to Aa1. Frankly the economic consequences of this are likely to be minimal. The markets had already priced this in and most western economies including the US have suffered from a downgrade of one sort or another. But the political consequences are and should be big. All those who castigated Brown for being so politically naive as to think he could control the economic cycle should be equally critical of Osborne for thinking he could control the money markets.

Osborne deserves to pay a high price for this. In ordinary circumstances I would expect the Chancellor to have to resign over such a monumentally politically embarrassing cock-up. However I expect Cameron will back his oldest political friend to the hilt. I think he will be wrong and loyalty should only be stretched so far but the PM will ultimately have to jointly carry the can if he refuses to act.

And so we are left with a Chancellor who more and more resembles his predecessor minus one in the Treasury. A man whom he supposedly despised but whom he seems determined to emulate.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Mefear Hustings

Thought I'd get there before Guido or someone else does with a Maria Hutchings/Hustings based pun.

Astonishing news this morning that the Tory candidate in Eastleigh is being kept away from the hustings event on BBC Radio 5 Live. they must have made the calculation that allowing her on the air is worse than the fallout from stopping her from going on.

It feels like they are effectively throwing the towel in.

I suspect there will be a serious post-mortem if they end up losing this vital by-election and how they chose their candidate should be top of the list.

False binary choices

This government has chosen the wrong course on the economy.

Well, it's self evident isn't it? I mean they said there'd be 3% growth in 2012 and (according to the preliminary figures) it was flat. They've failed haven't they?

And therefore, Ed Balls and Labour were right. The coalition have cut too far, too fast and we are now seeing the consequences of their economic folly. We should have done what Labour suggested, i.e. delayed the cuts for a year and had slightly fewer of them. Then we'd have been fine.

Well at least that's what you'd think if you listened to Labour.

I'm not saying they're not right. They might be*. What I am saying is that there is literally no way of knowing. We cannot run a counterfactual where they won the 2010 election and enacted their economic plans. We cannot know if faced with another 5 years of Brown (who would doubtless have remained PM had Labour formed the government) if the markets would have panicked and interest rates would have shot up. We can't see how all the consequences of their approach would have played out. It is impossible to know. So therefore what I can say with absolute confidence is that Labour are being highly misleading when they try to present the economic situation in these binary terms. The coalition did one thing. It didn't work. They planned to another (slightly different) thing. Ipso facto that would have worked.

For all we know, neither approach would have worked. Maybe a third or fourth approach would have done the job. Or maybe the economy was so screwed by May 2010 that no economic plan would have helped. It's actually possible when you look at it like this that the current approach is making the best of a bad situation.

But I am sure this sort of nuance will not make it into the debate in the run up to the next election.  What will go on the leaflets and the in the adverts is that the evil ConDems have cut unnecessarily for "ideological" reasons "destroying our economy" in the process and that Labour know for sure that had they had been in power and enacted their plans we would have escaped our economic fate.

The fact that they can't possibly know if this is true won't get a look in.

*For what it's worth I would have put more into infrastructure investment at an earlier point but there is no guarantee that would have helped much either.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

House of Comments - Episode 47 - Whose Mansion Tax is it Anyway?

Episode 47 of the House of Comments podcast "Whose Mansion Tax is it Anyway?" was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Emma Burnell discuss Ed Miliband's announcement of a mansion tax and a reintroduction of the 10p tax rate, the latest from the Eastleigh by-election, the court decision on workfare and the Sun's decision to publish a front-page bikini picture of the recently killed Reeva Steenkamp.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note - this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you'll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me an e-mail at

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo's James O'Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about "interesting things" and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Maria Hutchings and state education - we should butt out

It's becoming increasingly clear that Maria Hutchings is a liability. This probably went unnoticed during the 2010 general election as there were 649 other contests going on simultaneously and most in the know didn't seriously expect Huhne to lose Eastleigh. So the focus was elsewhere.

On the 28th February, Eastleigh will be the only election being fought with real national significance and therefore there is much more focus on the Tory candidate. She has been found wanting. She has made a number of statements that have embarrassed her own party leadership (on equal marriage and Europe) and it reached the point last Sunday where Norman Smith the BBC political correspondent was given the runaround by her party minders as they desperately tried to keep her away from the media. Most unedifying.

And Maria has now made some inadvisable comments about state education. The exact quote regarding her own son is:

William is very gifted which gives us another interesting challenge in finding the right sort of education for him – impossible in the state system. He wants to be a cardio-respiratory surgeon.

Now as far as I am concerned this is a silly view. She is saying that her son is "very gifted" and therefore the "right education" cannot be found for him in the state sector. It's worth pointing out here that she is being attacked for saying that surgeons cannot get the right education from the state. She is not technically saying that. She's saying that her very gifted son cannot get the right education from the state. None of us are in a position to know just how gifted he is, whether he has had problems in state schools and whether that was resolved using the private sector.

I would profoundly disagree with the thrust of Ms Hutchings on this topic though. I was educated by the state as were the vast majority of the people who form my family and close friends. Some of them I would class as very gifted and they did not need a private education for this.

But there are two very big reasons why we should not go hard in attacking Maria Hutchings on this. One is on principle and the other is pragmatic.

The principle based one is that I do not think the children of politicians should be used as pawns like this. She shouldn't have said what she did but making her son the focus of our campaign would be wrong. I've seen some suggestion that we should highlight the record of our candidate Mike Thornton's daughter who was educated by the state and happens to be studying medicine at university. No, no, no, no, no! If we do this then the next time a child of Mike (or any other Lib Dem candidate) is linked to a story that is detrimental to our campaigning our argument that children should be kept out of campaigns is weaker.

The pragmatic one is simple. Just over three weeks ago Nick Clegg was asked on LBC if he was going to send his children to state or private schools. He did his best to try and answer that he wasn't sure, that he would try to educate them in the state sector if they could find the right school but would not rule out the private route. He insisted it was a matter for him, his wife and family to decide for themselves. I totally agreed with him and said so on the media (you can listen to me arguing this here on Voice of Russia if you're interested). If we campaign in Eastleigh using Maria Hutchings' children's education in this way then we are announcing open season on Nick Clegg's choice for his children. We cannot defend him by claiming we want to keep his kids out of politics when we have actively used the educational choice regarding one of our opponents children against her in the most high profile by-election we have fought in years.

God knows Hutchings has enough to attack her on without needing to use her children. We should fight the campaign directly, not using children as proxies.

UPDATE: Both Iain Dale and Stephen Tall have also written on this subject with differing views.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Left Foot Forward shows its bias

When Will Straw first set up Left Foot Forward in 2009 he asked me to be a part of the inaugural team of contributors with a particular focus on drugs policy and electoral reform. Having learned all about how LFF was to be an evidence based blog with a left-leaning agenda I was happy to be a part of it although over the last few years I drifted away from contributing.

I was however somewhat irked in 2010 when LFF published a number of pieces relating to research done by Tim Horton of the Fabians and Howard Reed of Landman economics which did its best to try and comprehensively destroy the argument for the Lib Dem £10K tax rate funded by a mansion tax. Their arguments were that it did nothing to help the very poorest (because they pay no tax), only around £1 billion out of £17 billion goes to the lowest earners, households in the second richest decile did better than the poorest and that overall it would increase socially damaging inequalites.

Despite lots of people arguing in the comments (which I cannot currently locate) that they were missing the point, that the change was essentially progressive and had lots of good aspects to it, especially the mansion tax aspect the LFF editorship seemed to have no truck with this. I was particularly irritated because I suspected that had Labour announced a similar policy they would have given it a much fairer wind. Of course I had no proof of this so I let it lie.

Then today, Ed Miliband announces a plan to reintroduce the 10p tax rate for low earners paid for by, yes you've guessed it, a mansion tax. This is very similar to lifting low earners out of tax. There are of course some differences and I would argue that a higher starting rate is even more progressive (as this analysis suggests) but they are close policy stablemates. And the mansion tax seems pretty much identical to how the Lib Dems wanted to fund their policy. So you would have expected LFF to come out dead against it straight away, exactly like they did when they published their "Think again Nick!" analysis on the £10K rate and mansion tax.

Not a bit of it. The first piece they have published on this subject is this post which highlights the 5 reasons why progressives should support the mansion tax. They also praise Ed Miliband for his "differentiation" on 10p with Gordon Brown.

I tweeted about this pointing out their hypocrisy. To be fair they did tweet back saying they would be publishing a piece later highlighting some of the problems with the 10p rate. But that doesn't change the fact that their initial reaction was to be broadly supportive of policies that three years ago when proposed by a party that is not Labour they were arguing against using analysis resources to explain why. There was no balanced argument back then, just attack, even naming the pamphlet in a way that seemed like a campaign targeting the leader of the party proposing it.

I have no problem if Left Foot Forward wants to be biased towards the Labour party. But if that's what they are going to do they need to be open about it rather than claim to be "evidence based" when they are actually actively looking for evidence to support Labour and to attack Labour's opponents.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Of Popes and monarchs going on and on

So Pope Benedict XVI has announced his resignation from the Papacy. He has said he is too old to continue in the role and wishes to step down on health grounds.

It is a surprising move, not least because it is several hundred years since the last time a Pope resigned. For centuries the only way they have left office is when their God has taken them.

The story first broke on Twitter and it is there where I discussed the issue with a number of people. I was surprised at the reaction of some saying they were "disappointed" with the news and one person (a former UK MP) described the news as "dreadful". When I challenged her on this she suggested that it is only Catholics who can understand this disappointment.

I find this attitude rather strange. There are very few jobs or roles nowadays where the position is considered to be for life. Some other religions have leadership roles like this and of course there are still monarchies including our own in which the roles are only usually departed upon death.

Religions and monarchies generally do often change over time. Perhaps not with the times but once certain practices become too antiquated, forward thinking people within those institutions tend to nudge them in a more progressive direction. For example the place of women in the Anglican church has been advanced in recent decades and we now have female priests (not yet of course female bishops but I am sure that will come in time). We are also seeing changes to the primogeniture rules that govern our monarchy in the UK. Yet the idea that the role of the our Queen (or King) is for life is not ever seriously challenged.

As a confirmed republican I obviously have my own views about the monarchy and how the position of head of state should be decided. But I recognise that my views are in a minority in this country and our royal family is here to stay for a good while yet. So given all of this I do wonder why if as a country we love our Queen as much as we profess to why we treat her so cruelly. She is nearly 87 years old, already older than the soon to be ex-Pope. She has been on the throne for 60 years. Even I would concede that she has been a faithful adherent to the principles of her position and has executed her duties with care. So why do we as a country and as a system insist that she need to keep going?

Given how long her mother lived for, Queen Elizabeth II could be with us for another two decades or more. Is it really right to expect a nonagenarian or even a centenarian to keep on with the sort of punishing schedule a head of state is expected to follow? I would argue that she should be released from her bond to the nation and be allowed to serve a hopefully long and happy retirement.

I know the instant rebuttal to this. The Queen does not want to resign. Her childhood was seared with the memory of the abdication crisis, she sees her position as given by God and that it is her duty to stay in the role for the rest of her life. All of that though is a construct put in place over many centuries in order to provide continuity and order during times when too many changes of head of state was destabilising. I don't think anyone can seriously argue that were Queen Elizabeth II to abdicate that it would destablise our country. The role is now essentially titular and her son (or grandson) could easily execute the duties required while she was still alive.

I'm sure there is no chance of our current Queen changing her mind on this but I hope her successors think long and hard on this subject.

Pope Benedict XVI has shown that even when positions are considered to have been given by God, there is a way for holders of them to stand down with dignity when they feel the time has come to do so.

All of us, republicans, monarchists, religious and non-religious should be grateful to him for injecting a little bit of humanity into the public discourse around how long religious leaders and monarchs should go on and on for.

House of Comments - Episode 46 - The Future of the NHS

Episode 46 of the House of Comments podcast "The Future of the NHS" was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Emma Burnell were joined by Guardian writer Ellie Mae O'Hagan to discuss Chris Huhne's resignation and the ensuing Eastleigh by-election, the future of the NHS in the light of the Francis Inquiry into the failings at Stafford Hospital and the reduction in benefits based on rooms in houses that I refuse to call the "bedroom tax"!

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here (note - this is a new feed so if you used to subscribe to the old feed a couple of years ago you'll need to do so again).

Other podcasting software e.g. for Android can be pointed here to subscribe.

You can download the mp3 for the latest episode directly from here.

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

If you are a political blogger and wish to be considered as a future guest please drop me an e-mail at

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo's James O'Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about "interesting things" and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Cameron's problem with his socially conservative 2010 MPs

Something that I haven't seen much covered since this week's vote on the Equal Marriage bill is just how much it tells us about the social conservatism of the 2010 Tory MP intake.

Using the data on the vote from the Guardian Data Blog I have sorted those Tory MPs who voted for the bill into four categories. Those first elected before 1990, those first elected during the 1990s, those elected during the 2000s and those first elected in 2010.

I think the results tell an interesting story:

We all know that fewer Conservative MPs voted for the bill than voted against or abstained. But the trend here is very noteworthy. There is a steady increase in the percentages voting for the change as the first elected range increases through the decades. But suddenly for those elected in 2010 this goes into reverse. A lower percentage of the 2010 cohort voted for change than their 2000s colleagues (and that is already from a pretty low starting base).

This is very strange. Most of the MPs elected in 2010 will have been born and raised during a time when homosexuality has been legal. They will have seen things like the equalisation of the age of consent, the scrapping of Clause 28 and the introduction of civil partnerships all from outside of the House of Commons. They have literally grown up during a time of social progression and enlightenment on LGBT+ issues. And yet the majority of them were not willing to vote for the equalisation of marriage rights.

Whatever the arguments (and I have yet to see a really good principled argument against equalisation that doesn't appeal to the authority of some religious text or relies on slippery slope nonsense) David Cameron who took a clear lead on this issue has a big problem. The MPs that were elected in the general election where he led his party are more socially conservative than his contemporaries from the 2000s intakes. They seem to be getting more out of touch, not less.

If Cameron and other senior Tories ever want their party to reflect the open tolerant and socially liberal nation they wish to lead they are going to have to do some serious thinking about how to persuade those that make up the parliamentary party (and those who seek entry) their views are antediluvian and completely out of place in modern Britain.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Chris Huhne's demise is literally tragic

There's not much more I can add to the comments I have read across the blogosphere regarding the end of Chris Huhne's political career. But I'll have a go.

It strikes me that this is a literal example of a tragedy. I wanted to believe Huhne, really I did. I have followed his career with interest for many years and when I met him a few years back at conference he was as friendly and enthusiastic as he had always come across in the media. I wasn't a party member back in 2007 but if I had have been I'd have voted for him. But the circumstantial evidence all seemed to be pointing in the direction of him being guilty. Still, he was so adamant he was innocent and was so determined to push it all the way to a full trial that I had almost convinced myself there must have been some "rabbit out of a hat" that he was going to be able to produce to prove his innocence.

Sadly it wasn't to be. He pushed it to the wire and at the last minute pleaded guilty. That's why this is tragic. Because it's now clear that a strong character trait in Huhne is hubris. That was very useful in getting him a long way up the greasy pole. It probably helped him in his earlier career as an economist and journalist. It will have helped him in the tortuous process of getting selected and then elected as first an MEP and then an MP. It certainly served him very well in cabinet. By all accounts he was a tenacious minister who was respected and somewhat feared by his colleagues, even the Conservatives. But it is this very hubris that has been his downfall. He thought he could brazen it out and somehow cheat justice. It was only when he stared into the abyss and he must have realised the game was up that he capitulated and confessed.

There's not much more to say. His career is now over. He will likely go to prison for a time and I cannot argue that should not be the case. He deserves it. I thought that with Jeffrey Archer, I thought it with Jonathan Aitken and I think it with Chris Huhne. The mere fact I am typing his name in the same sentence as those two notorious names of yesteryear is galling, but he is now in the same category as them. Today's resignation in disgrace is what he will be remembered for. Anything else he achieved will be a footnote.

I just hope now that we can retain Eastleigh whenever the by-election is called. It will be a tough fight and Huhne has put us in a dreadful position but it is there for us to win. A win would help to quell the fears about a potential "meltdown" in 2015. A loss would... Well, lets worry about a loss if it happens.

One last thing. John Minard in the comments on Caron's blogpost suggested that this might be a good opportunity for a Lib Dem open primary in Eastleigh. This sounds like a very interesting idea and could help to ensure the candidate we choose has broad support across the constituency.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The unbearable lightness of being a minister

Being a government minister is a strange job in lots of ways.

There is no formal interview process. You are simply appointed by the Prime Minister. You may have little or even no direct experience of the department you are being put in charge of and hence need to get up to speed very quickly in often very complex areas. You may never have run anything in your life before and suddenly find yourself (at least nominally) in charge of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people, their jobs and livelihoods. You take decisions every day that can affect the entire country even though the only people who have actually put you in parliament are 1/650th of those people.

But one of the most curious aspects of the life of a minister is just how precarious the job is. That same Prime Minister who appointed you to the position can just as easily take it away from you. There is no notice period. If you're out, you're out. Clear your desk and go. Now. Oh and all your perks go instantly. You are suddenly just an ordinary person. There is no tribunal to appeal to. No due process. No unfair dismissal procedure. Just the door and your best attempt to avoid it hitting you on the arse on the way out. And once you are fired there is little chance of getting back into government again. A few do return but they are a statistical anomaly. The much greater likelihood is that you will never return.

The reason for your dismissal could be that a major scandal has broken about your department and perhaps you are not seen to be "gripping it". It probably wasn't your fault (directly) but that's immaterial. If the newspaper headlines are unforgiving for long enough you'll be toast anyway even if you've moved heaven and earth to try and sort things out. The explanation for your political demise may be even more prosaic though. Perhaps the PM just needs to maintain political balance and you're from the wrong wing of the party. Or maybe you're in coalition and there just aren't enough seats for everyone.

There are very few jobs nowadays that are given and taken away so lightly. Can you imagine a CEO of a large company being forced to resign because of something that happened in one of his offices or shops that he could not possibly have known about? Even if they did, you can be sure there will be a whole bunch of other directorships with other companies ready and waiting. It certainly wouldn't be the end of their career. But with ministers it is different. There is only one government and you're either in it or you're not.

I'm not trying to elicit sympathy for ministers here by the way. Politics is a brutal game. They knew what they were getting into and that is just the way it is. However I think it is important to recognise and acknowledge these facts because it can help us to understand why politicians who either are (or want to be) ministers behave in the way that they do.

Look at how Jeremy Hunt acted last year after the communications between his SpAD Adam Smith and News International. He allowed his underling to take the entire blame and then employed all his political skills to wriggle out of any responsibility for what happened. It was a most unedifying sight. But think about how high the stakes were for him. If he'd have resigned or "been resigned" as the fashion seems to be these days that would have been it. His political career would have been finished. All those years in student politics schelpping around different constituencies currying favour and trying to get elected followed by years as a backbencher and then shadow minister would in the end have come to nothing in a heartbeat. When you look at it through that end of the lens it is no wonder that ministers fight so hard to keep their jobs.

Part of the problem is that being a politician nowadays is very much seen as a career. It used to be seen as something that you did perhaps after 20 or more years spent in "the real world" building a career and that could be returned to if politics did not work out for you. But increasingly we have a professional class of politicians who have gone through the SpAd route and/or working in PR for a few years while trying to get a safe seat in parliament. It is not an adjunct to a career any more, it is the career.

I'm not sure there is an easy answer to this. I personally am very unhappy with the idea that MPs should have outside interests/careers while they are supposed to be serving their constituents and holding the government to account. That's more than a full time job as far as I am concerned.

So people like me who think that also need to accept that if you put politicians in the position where they have that much skin in the game, they are going to fight tooth and nail to keep their grip on the greasy pole. It's only natural and I think it's hypocritical for us as the electorate to think badly of them for doing it. We collectively force them to by stacking the chips in the way we do.

The MPs who avoid this precariousness are few and far between. Gordon Brown, Jack Straw and Alastair Darling from the first cabinet of the Labour years were the only ones who were not at some point fired or had to resign. You can probably include Blair as well who (sort of) went at a time of his own choosing. In this government the only ones who are really secure are Cameron, Osborne and Clegg. All the others know that at any point they could be out.

That "unbearable lightness" is the prism through which they view the world. We would perhaps understand their actions better if we bore it in mind.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

I agree with Iain on PR for local councils

If I haven't mentioned it before on here it's good to see Iain Dale blogging regularly again. With some of his recent posts he is starting to get close to the standard he maintained in his heyday.

Anyway he has a post today where he is complaining about his local council and their expenses. Here are a couple of snippets:

Tunbridge Wells is one of those councils whose political complexion has barely changed in 60 years. And it is unbelievably complacent. It fails to listen, its consultations are a joke and many of the councillors are fully paid up members of the Old Boys Network. There is a group of younger councillors who are trying to change things, but they are resisted at every turn by their older counterparts. This is the makeup of the council…
Conservatives 37
Liberal Democrats 5
Independent 2
Labour 2
UK Independence Party 2
I’ve never been in favour of PR for general elections, but I am persuadable for local council elections. We need to rid local government of these one party state fiefdoms, whether they are Conservative or Labour. They breed complacency and corruption. Council tax payers deserve better.

I of course disagree with Iain's comments about not wanting PR nationally but the fact he is willing to entertain it for local elections is interesting. I have lived under one party fiefdoms almost everywhere that I have lived since I left home at the age of 18 in 1992 (various places in Manchester and Liverpool were locked down Labour and since moving down south in 1997 most of where I have lived have been true blue Tory strongholds) so I know exactly how he feels.

But the effect is more pernicious still than just arrogant councils who are unresponsive to the needs and concerns of their electors because they know a donkey with the right coloured rosette will get in. It also affects how competitive the parties are for seats at a national level. When a party has no councillors and very little chance of them in a local area they often atrophy*. Having elected officials at council level is the lifeblood for parties.

I think there is a strong case for all of those who insist that we need to keep First Past the Post for national elections using the argument that seats are not really safe and can be won over time to support a proportional system for local elections. That way although I would still disagree with them about the national situation, they would be actively trying to do something to make some of those safer seats more competitive by allowing parties to get a foothold locally. And a nice side effect would be more accountable local politicians and an end to the one party fiefdoms that Iain and I agree are highly damaging to our localities.

*I recognise that it is not always the case that this happens and there are notable examples of where local parties have fought from nowhere to eventually get councillors and sometimes even take over the council but generally the rule applies that weak local parties stay weak. Tunbridge Wells is clearly an example of this having been Tory for over 60 years.

Linkage for Saturday, 2nd February 2013

Tories are blinded by rage against Lib Dems, while Labour’s cold fury is thawing - Excellent analysis from @RafaelBehr

New university data shows everyone was wrong about tuition fees

The Conservatives' defeat on constituency boundaries is entirely their own fault

Obama's Drug Problem

American insurers charge reckless rich drivers less than safe poor drivers

BHA: The Dangers Of Homeopathy (Guest Post)

Middle-aged men playing tag

Tory MP who voted against Lords reform now whinging about the loss of the boundary reforms:

David Cameron may have finished off the Tories – but he had no choice - Telegraph

The Unbearable Self-Pity of Britain’s Rich and Privileged

Could HMV be saved?

The rise of a pseudo-scientific links lobby | Dr Michael Fitzpatrick | spiked