Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday 30 April 2010

Final leaders' debate - My verdict

I was in Birmingham yesterday in a Starbucks on the university campus with Radio 5 Live and their invited audience to watch the final leaders' debate. Then afterwards I was on a panel on air until after midnight discussing how things had gone.

I must admit as the debate finished I would have just given it to Clegg by a nose. I thought the way he handled being berated from both sides about immigration was very good and that he explained the policy very clearly. There were also other very good moments and he kept mentioning the £10K tax threshold which is absolutely right to underline to people who may not have watched the other debates how they would be better off. However I also knew that Cameron had done well. He seemed very confident and was effective at firing questions at the other two leaders, especially Clegg. I am sorry to say that by the end Brown seemed like a diminished figure. One of the last things he said sounded to me like he was basically conceding that he has lost the election.

As it turns out though the instant polls following the debate all gave it to Cameron. Some by a fair way but there were a couple where it was pretty close between Cameron and Clegg with one of them actually tying them in the lead. The averages of all 5 polls I saw were Cameron 38%, Clegg 32% and Brown 26%. I think Clegg did better than that suggests but of course I am biased.

So now that the debates are over there are just the final few days of the campaign. As I said on the very lively radio show afterwards (which you can listen to here on iPlayer for the next few days) taken as a whole, the 3 debates have been a stunning success for the Lib Dems. We are now averaging around 30% in the polls rather than around 21% or 22% just before them two and a bit weeks ago. Given an equivalent platform to the other two leaders, people have warmed to Clegg and the things he has to say.

One thing is certain in my mind. After the 2010 election, any future campaigns will have to include debates like this. Students of the future will study these few weeks when the nature of UK general election campaigning changed irrevocably.

Thursday 29 April 2010

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 29th April 2010 - #bbcqt

Following the final leaders' debate, the #bbcqt Live Chat starts on this blog at 10:40pm (show starts at 10:45pm on BBC1). The same as the last two weeks, the show is being broadcast live this week so that the panel and audience can watch the leader debates (this week on BBC1) and then respond to how they have gone on the programme.

This week I am again unavailable during the programme but Lib Dem blogger Matt Raven (known on Twitter as @El_Cuervo) is again standing in.

The panel includes the Schools Secretary Ed Balls, the Liberal Democrats' treasury spokesman Vince Cable, the SNP leader Alex Salmond and the broadcaster and journalist Janet Street Porter.

Join Matt below from 10:40pm:

Leader Election Debate Live Chat - 3

Here it is then. The final leaders' debate is tonight at 8:30pm on BBC1. This time the focus is the economy and as for the last two weeks we are running a Live Chat on here which will also be running simultaneously on Lib Dem Voice. Apologies again but this week I am going to be on a Radio 5 Live panel on Tony Livesey's show directly after the debate and hence will be in Birmingham and not be able to moderate it. However I do hope to be able to dip in and out of the chat WiFi permitting! It would be good to be able to get a flavour of what everyone on here thinks to be able to mention during the show. Matt Raven has once again heroically stepped into the breach and will be your moderator.

Please join Matt (and hopefully me at various points) below from just before 8:30pm:

I am on Radio 5 Live after the leaders' debate tonight

I have been invited to be on Tony Livesey's Radio 5 Live show following the final pre-election leaders' debate tonight. I think the start time is a bit dependent on what time the football finishes but it should be from not long after the debate ends until 1:00am.

Will Straw and Iain Dale will also be on the show. It will hopefully be a good one!

Tune in if you can.

Can we please, PLEASE make this the last election where we get this:

  • Don't vote Lib Dem here, you'll let the Tories in.
  • You can't vote Labour here, they've got no chance, you'll let the Lib Dems in.
  • Tories can't win here.
  • Vote Conservative to keep Labour out.
  • SNP are the only ones in this seat who can keep the Tories out.
  • A vote for Plaid Cymru is a vote for Labour.
  • You do realise don't you that if you vote Lib Dem you could let Labour in here?
  • Vote tactically for us to keep them out.
  • Only Lib Dems can keep Labour out.
  • Only the Conservatives can keep Labour out.
  • Only the SNP can keep Labour out.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.
  • Etc.

Are you sick of it yet?

It is the First Past the Post system that forces all parties (yes, yes, I know including my own) to indulge in this very negative way of campaigning. A change to Single Transferable Vote which allows voters to list their preferences would transform all of this. Instead of scaring voters with the possibility of them "letting in" the candidate they fear most, candidates would suddenly find the way to win is to appeal for people to vote *for* them rather than *against* someone else. It's built into the system and comes for free.

Please let's make this the last election under this sort of relentlessly negative system.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

The worst 5 minutes of Gordon Brown's election campaign

We'll have to wait and see how the TV news covers it at tonight and the continued fallout from Bigotgate but as I blogged earlier, here are what will likely go down in history as the worst 5 minutes of Brown's 2010 election attempt:

First the encounter with Gillian Duffy:

And then straight afterwards his reaction:

Why Bigotgate matters

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Gordon Brown described a female member of the electorate as a "bigot" today. He made the comments as he was driving away in his car from a meet and greet in Rochdale. Unfortunately for him

The most surprising thing about the encounter as far as I can tell is the change in tone from 10 seconds earlier when he was very smiley and jolly. You actually see him happily saying goodbye in the clip linked to above, and then as soon as he thinks he is out of mic range his demeanour completely changes. The encounter itself seemed pretty good natured and although the woman concerned, Gillian Duffy did press the PM on immigration and debt he had actually managed to turn the situation around and ended up asking about her grandchildren. Also, she is (was) a Labour voter and said so which appeared to please him.

This incident is being dismissed by some Labour bloggers and tweeters as insignificant but I think it will have a lasting impact.

The rapid switch in tone so starkly reveals the disparity between how he tries to portray himself in public and his actual persona. This underlines all those stories about thrown Nokias and him supposedly shouting and bullying people. It will make people more likely to believe them as we have seen a little window into his private world.

It also seems totally out of proportion. It's not like he had just come away from someone questioning him very harshly or belligerently. It was just an elderly lady who was perfectly polite. His response seems inexplicable frankly.

We are entering the last week of the campaign. This will distract from the sort of things that Gordon Brown wants to focus on as we get towards 6th May. Instead he is yet again faced with questions about his character and personality.

The worst thing is that the Labour Party have had years to change their leader. People close to Brown must have known something like this was possible and it has happened in a dreadful way at one of the worst possible moments.

They will not be able to spin their way out of this and I expect Labour's polling numbers will take a hit in the next day or two because of this.

A couple of constitutional crises?

With the polls as they have been for the last couple of weeks one thing I have been wondering is what the effect would be if something historic happened and the Lib Dems did not come third in the vote share.

In some polls last week the Lib Dems were actually first. In more recent polls they seem to have settled into second place on average.

I think if the Lib Dems really were to come first but to get less seats than either Labour or the Conservatives (which is perfectly possible under First Past the Post) then this would spark a constitutional crisis. It would mean that the party that had won the election was only awarded third place. I think that would be unsustainable and rightly the public would demand things had to change to sort this out.

Perhaps a more interesting question is what would happen if the Lib Dems were to come second in terms of vote share, but still third in terms of seats (again perfectly possible and indeed probably quite likely) and if they did not enter into a coalition or deal but instead remained in opposition. This is what could happen if the Conservatives got a very small majority or were even a few seats short but decided to go ahead as a minority government perhaps with support from one of the smaller parties.

The question in my mind under this scenario would be which party is the official opposition? Is it Labour who let's say get around 200 seats on say 27% of the vote? Or is it the Lib Dems with let's say 110 seats on 29% of the vote?

I think constitutionally the answer is Labour. They would have the second highest number of seats, therefore they would form the official opposition in terms of parliamentary strength. But hang on a minute, they will have come third! The Lib Dems would have won second place in the country and yet be denied the platform that this result should allow.

Now maybe it is because I am too involved in politics (and am a Lib Dem) that I would perceive this to be an outrage. Maybe it would seem like a minor technicality in the country and most people would just shrug their shoulders. At least the system got the winner right eh, even if second and third are the wrong way round?

I'm not so sure. The British public have a very strong sense of fair play and this will clearly have gone against that. How could Labour lay claim to lead the opposition when more people voted for another opposition party than them? This would be brought up endlessly and commented upon time and again. Every time the Labour leader got 6 questions at PMQs the Lib Dems would be incensed that they only got a third of that number with their leader having to stand at the side holding sheaves of paper without a dispatch box.

I know it might sound petty to complain about this but these things matter. One of the reasons that Nick Clegg managed to blind-side Cameron and Brown in the first leaders' debate is because of how he is treated at PMQs almost as an irrelevance with his 2 questions asked after Cameron has had his 6 and with 500 odd MPs baying at him trying to drown him out. It would not be petty to question the fairness of this continuing under these circumstances.

I wonder what might ultimately happen in this scenario. Our constitution is uncodified and has proved malleable in the past. I wonder if a way would have to be found to accommodate the opposition that had won more vote share than the "official" opposition.

I certainly think just carrying on as if the Lib Dems had come third in the country would not be an option.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Could David Cameron be the PM to introduce a proportional electoral system?

Bear with me here. I know that the Conservatives seem viscerally opposed to a change in the electoral system for the Commons. I have heard enough Tory MPs speak about this and debated with enough Tory members and activsts to know that there are very few of them in favour of any change to First Past the Post. In fact it is possibly the issue that unites them the most.

So why on earth would David Cameron introduce a proportional electoral system if he were to become Prime Minister?

Well I think something fundamental has changed in the last two weeks. Electoral reform has traditionally been a subject only of interest to a small number of political obsessives (Hello!). We bang on about the iniquities of the existing system and point out how much better things will be once we are on the sunny uplands of Proportionality. And people largely ignore us. It's a boring, technocratic argument about boundaries, constituency links and arcane algorithms used to divvy up the votes and decide who has won (we are told). Therefore most people in this country have not really been aware of the big problems with the existing system and what could be done about it. The argument was simply never had in the mainstream.

That used to be enough to keep us suppressed. However since the Lib Dems shot up in the polls two weeks ago and have since been either first or second in the popular share of the vote according to polls a day has not gone by when electoral reform has not been discussed in the mainstream media. There has been newspaper article after newspaper article, TV report after TV report and in each one the bar charts have done their work. You know the ones. The ones that show the Lib Dems maybe getting 30% or more of the vote and yet only getting about 13% of the seats. Or that show Labour in a clear third place in terms of vote share and yet in a clear first place in terms of seats.

There can be very few people who watch or read news in the UK now who are not very aware of these facts. It is starting to show through in opinion polls. A majority in a recent YouGov poll stated they were in favour of a more proportional system. I think whatever happens in the election, the facts that have been revealed to the public during this election campaign will stick.

So what does that have to do with David Cameron?

Well, all of this will not have gone unnoticed by the Tory leadership. They may be dead against change but they will be wary of ending up on the wrong side of the argument. Hence David Cameron's refusal yesterday to be 100% straight on this. He was asked 4 times and even though each time he stated he was not in favour he would not categorically rule out change under him. Why would he not do this? Because he wants to keep his options open. I used to think until recently that the Tories would never do a deal on electoral reform but now I am not so sure.

Nick Clegg has stated that a referendum on a proportional system is a prerequisite for co-operation in a balanced parliament situation. Some senior Labour figures appear to be receptive to this and I would not be at all surprised if they were willing to pay this price. There is a tradition within the party for change and although they have lost the battle for the last 13 years, they are likely to move into the ascendency now.

If the Conservatives refuse to countenance any move to put a change to the electorate in a referendum then they are effectively ruling themselves out of being able to rule with any sort of a majority if they cannot get more than 325 seats themselves. They may even be pushing the other two main parties together and hence themselves into opposition by holding out on this.

And if an electoral reform referendum is going to happen anyway then an alternative approach may well beckon for them. Perhaps David Cameron will calculate that they might as well be involved in putting it to the country themselves.

The Conservatives are the most successful UK political party in history. Whatever adverse situations they have found themselves in, they have always bounced back. They know how to win elections and how to get and keep power. Therefore I am absolutely certain that even if a referendum were to pass, the idea that they would be "locked out of power" permanently is just nonsense. They may have to compromise a bit more but I bet there are plenty within their ranks who will secretly think that is actually a good thing.

I think all of these considerations and more will be swirling around the upper echelons of the Tory party at the moment.

If they want power after the election if they do not get a majority on their own they may well decide to take the pragmatic route and be part of the change they have railed against for so long.

Stranger things have happened.

Monday 26 April 2010

Cameron's six month dog's breakfast

I only saw a headline for this yesterday but David Cameron has announced that he wants there to be a six month limit for new Prime Ministers who come to office without having been subject to a General Election. After this limit they would be forced to dissolve parliament and go to the country.

This has set a number of thoughts/questions off in my mind:

  • I cannot find any mention of this policy in the Conservative Manifesto. They only published it two weeks ago. Why is it not in there?
  • We have a parliamentary system, not a presidential system. Although I think it is probably better that a PM gets their own mandate it is not necessary and it would seem odd to compel this to happen in isolation without other reforms.
  • For example, what is to happen if a PM dies in office? I don't think it is a good idea under these circumstances for a successor PM to be forced to go to the country. In a properly Presidential system we might see something like a Vice President who runs on the same ticket as the Presidential candidate and in effect inherits the mandate upon the death of the President. Would we have something like that here? A Vice Prime Minister? And if so, what powers would that person have whilst the PM was still alive? We would also need to think about how a successor Vice PM could be chosen under these circumstances too.
  • Incoming PMs usually have a honeymoon period. They vary in length but an effect of this would probably be for a PM who accedes outside of an election to go to the country within a few weeks to capitalise on their likely high ratings. They would have little to lose given that they would be forced to do so in a few months' time anyway.
  • For a party that bangs on about stability in government all the time this seems like a potential recipe for a less stable situation.
  • If we go down this road, we are making our system more and more presidential. There will be unforeseen consequences to this as our unwritten constitution adapts to accommodate it. Now these consequences may not necessarily be bad but surely it would be better to plan out things like this properly rather than just fiddling with little bits of the constitution without any broader idea of the likely effects.

And I think that last point sums it up for me. This smacks of the worst kind of tinkering of the sort Tony Blair was frequently guilty. I remember how he wanted to abolish the position of Lord Chancellor and indeed if I remember correctly it was actually announced. Then someone pointed out that this was not actually constitutionally possible and they quickly had to scurry around in the background making rushed changes to their proposals so that they could work.

I had hoped that the Conservatives would have learned from things like that announcements on the hoof that are ill-thought through often leave more problems in place than they solve but apparently not.

Is Clegg playing a deadly game against the Tories?

So what was Nick Clegg playing at yesterday morning on Andrew Marr's show? This is exactly what he said:

"It is just preposterous the idea that if a party comes third in the number of votes, it still has somehow the right to carry on squatting in No 10."

"A party which has come third - and so millions of people have decided to abandon them - has lost the election spectacularly (and) cannot then lay claim to providing the prime minister of this country."

I suppose in a narrow way he is not ruling out the possibility of forming a coalition with Labour were they to come third. However the price would be for him to be the Prime Minister within any such arrangement. I expect this would be too high a price for Labour to swallow.

So effectively this is ruling out a coalition with Labour. What it is definitely ruling out is Gordon Brown staying on as Prime Minister if his party comes third. And I think this fact highlights what Clegg is doing here.

One of the main Tory attack lines of the last week has been "Vote Clegg, get Brown" with the implication that in a balanced parliament situation, Clegg would somehow automatically go for propping up a Brown led administration. His statements today make it clear that that cannot happen if Labour come third. So what he has done is make it clear that a vote for Clegg is not a vote for Brown. That will have spiked the Tories guns.

But it will also make it that bit easier for people who really dislike Brown and are thinking of voting Lib Dem to do so. This could well have the effect of peeling off soft Tory voters who are only currently thinking of doing so because they want to see the back of Brown. Of course the more that happens, the higher the Lib Dem vote share goes and the more and more likely it becomes for Labour to actually be in third place. The intended effect of the statements today could actually feed into making the political landscape fit the pattern that the statements refer to in a positive feedback loop. Very clever stuff.

And that could be deadly for the Conservatives.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Other Reckonings - 25th April 2010

  • Alex Massie thinks that Cameron's "six month rule" idea is a daft gimmick.
  • John Rentoul draws our attention to something that keeps getting forgotten. Labour are pretty consistently in third place in the polls.
  • And in fact as Mark Pack write on LDV, Labour might actually get their worst share of the vote not just since 1983, but 1918!
  • Ewan Hoyle points out that the Telegraph's "expose" of Nick Clegg's previous eminently sensible comments on drugs policy simply echo what their own political darling David Cameron said around the same time.

Cameron might end up having to prove himself wrong

Ever since the Lib Dem surge started nearly two weeks ago, David Cameron and any other Tory within hearing distance of a microphone has done their best to try and scare the bejaysus out of anyone listening that a "hung parliament" (I prefer to use the less pejorative balanced parliament) would be dreadful for this country. "It would be calamitous for the economy!". "It would lead to weak ineffectual government!". "It would be politicians behind closed doors stitching it up for themselves!". Etc. etc. etc.

He was at it again today in a Q&A session I just saw a clip from on the news saying that a coalition government would be weak and would lead to lots of dithering.

The thing is though, now that Nick Clegg has ruled out any chance of entering into an agreement with Labour if they come third in terms of vote share if they insist on still having the PM, (and given the current polls this seems quite possible) then if that happens, the only realistic coalition possible would be with the Tories. Clegg has been careful not to promise anything in this respect but my point is if Labour are ruled out (assuming they come third) then Cameron's only realistic chance of governing in a balanced parliament if the Tories got the most votes (I will explore what might happen if the Lib Dems came first in a future post) would be to come to some sort of arrangement with one of the other two parties. Again realistically it could not be Labour so the Lib Dems could be the only game in town for them.

Maybe he would go ahead leading a minority government under those circumstances. Maybe it would be a less formal "confidence and supply" type arrangement.

The problem will come if somehow we end up with a Lib/Con coalition. I'm not predicting this would happen. Indeed I think on balance it probably won't. But if it was to then Cameron would find all the thousands of words he and his colleagues had used to traduce "hung parliaments" would be used against him by the Labour Party and others. Any slight sign of uncertainty (which happens in all governments given that they are made up of human beings wrestling with complicated decisions) and his quotes about "dithering" would be thrown at him. Any movement in the markets and the quotes about a "collapse in market confidence" would be chucked his way. Etc. etc. etc.

Now I happen to believe that there is no reason why a balanced parliament cannot be strong and stable in and of itself. I really do not buy all this stuff being bandied about weak government automatically ensuing. You've only got to look at some of the countries around the world who have proportional systems and regular coalitions to see that this talk is nonsense.

But Cameron would not be able to easily escape his election campaign words and predictions. In fact the only way he would be able to get out of it is to prove himself wrong and make a success of a coalition government. Which would of course kick away the last prop of the argument against proportional representation that his party has been so viscerally opposed to. And also make him look pretty stupid.

Perhaps the best way to mitigate this right now and allow him to keep his options more open would be to lay off the "hung parliament" bashing and instead focus on the actual campaign issues.

UPDATE: I modified the post slightly to account for the fact that Clegg only ruled out a deal with Labour if they were third and insisted on having the PM.

The dignity of Gordon Brown

Martin Bright suggests over on The Spectator that Gordon Brown needs to manage the next 12 days with dignity given that Labour may well end up third in terms of vote share. He also says that this is an election that Labour should not have lost, and that given the mountain Cameron has to climb he likely expected it would actually take two elections.

We are not at the finishing line yet. It is just possible that things could still change. However, I find it difficult to believe that Labour can come first (or even anything like close to first) in vote share. I think people are starting to realise that whatever happens, Gordon Brown will not be the next Prime Minister.

The time for post-mortems will come later and as long as Labour is not in government then it will be a local parish matter for them to resolve.

I hope Gordon Brown is able to conduct the final week and a half of this campaign with dignity. It must be excruciating for a man who has been in such powerful positions for the last 13 years to be running in third place the first time he tries to get his own mandate and finding himself almost an irrelevance in the election narrative. If he cares as deeply about his party as he always says he does then he needs to find the reserves to run down the clock gracefully. He had ample evidence that he could not win an election and plenty of opportunity to stand down and allow someone else to try instead. He refused and destroyed the careers of a number of his colleagues in the process. He owes it to his party not to make that any worse between now and polling day.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Other Reckonings - 24th April 2010

Just one today:

  • In a post which is surely destined for the shortlist for Lib Dem Blogpost of the Year, James Graham utterly destroys Polly Toynbee's argument for tactical voting in order to achieve the ultimate goal of electoral reform.

Friday 23 April 2010

I am on Radio 5 tonight and Ken Livingstone's LBC show tomorrow morning

I am going to be doing the newspaper review on Radio 5 Live this evening at midnight tonight on Stephen Nolan's show.

Then tomorrow morning between 11 and 12 I will be a guest on Ken Livingstone's LBC show along with former Tory cabinet minister David Mellor.

Very much looking forward to both!

After Leaders' Debate number 2 Nick Clegg now looks Prime Ministerial

Well I didn't actually get to watch it live last night because I was at an awards ceremony with my company. Instead I watched some this morning and then finished off watching it over lunch just now.

So this time I had read other people's blogs, tweets and comments about it all before I actually watched it for myself. It was a bit less exciting for me than last week's because I knew there were no major gaffes coming up.

Anyway, I agree with what quite a lot of people have said in that the standard of both Cameron and Brown was higher. Clegg also did well; I would say he was at about the same level as last week but because the others had raised their game (I can imagine the hard work they put in behind the scenes for this) the relative positions were much more even.

I tried to be as unpartisan as I could (as far as that is possible in such a febrile election atmosphere where so much is at stake!) as I watched. Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Both Brown and Cameron were careful to not explicitly state that they agreed with Nick (at least in any way that could easily be mocked afterwards) but there were a number of times when they basically did agree. They just didn't draw attention to it. An example that jumped out was respite for carers. Cameron's answer was almost identical to Clegg's on this but no indication of this was made.
  • Brown was much, much better than last week. He actually came across as a bit human which he usually fails to do. He also actually managed to make some good points in a few places and was quite deft at turning things back onto both of his opponents. Even the "get real" line he used against Clegg was well delivered (although I of course don't agree with the sentiment).
  • Cameron was also better than last week. He looked at the camera a lot more which was a help. I thought the way he slapped down Clegg on expenses was well done. I actually do think Clegg has a good story to tell on this and that Lib Dem MPs were not as bad as Labour or Tories but it is a difficult sell and I think it might be time to relegate that line now. It just gave Cameron the opportunity to appear more statesmanlike by claiming nobody was a saint which is of course true. Clegg was then on the back-foot expressing agreement with Cameron's riposte which I expect will not have played so well.
  • I also thought that in the segment in the middle, Cameron, finally made a good-ish job of defining what his "big society" theme is now. I still think the policy is quite wishy-washy and would probably not come to very much in practise but I think the way he sold it would may come across well to some undecideds (if they don't think it through too much!).
  • I thought Clegg's closing speech was masterful. It touched upon the feeling that really does seem to be growing in the country that this time, at last, something extraordinary could happen and a truly mould-breaking change could be on its way. He also implicitly addressed how he has been treated by the media in the last couple of days but in a very matter of fact "of course people with a vested interest are going to try and stop change". I even scribbled down the last two sentences as they were pitch perfect: "Don't let anyone tell you that this time it can't be different. It can!". That is about as neat a riposte to all the negativity as you can get I think.

I'm not going to score it but I think an average of the 5 polls I have seen probably have it about right with Clegg just pipping Cameron and Brown nipping at both their heels having made up a fair bit of lost ground on last week.

I just wanted to say one last thing which I expect people from other parties will dismiss as partisan cheer-leading but it is a feeling I really got watching this today that I honestly have never felt up until now. Maybe it is because of the movement in the polls. Maybe it is because I was watching the leader of my party speak following a week where in several polls we have for the first time in years actually been in first place in terms of vote share. But what I felt was that on that podium, standing in the middle with his completely unflappable resolve dealing with every question so well that he actually looked Prime Ministerial. There. I said it. And I mean it. That doesn't mean I think he will become PM. But I think he is now a plausible candidate for the office.

I wonder if that is a feeling that some of the undecideds watching that last night will also have had...

Thursday 22 April 2010

BBC Question Time Live Chat - 22nd April 2010 - #bbcqt

It's that time of the week again and the #bbcqt Live Chat starts on this blog at 10:40pm (show starts at 10:45pm on BBC1). The same as last week, the show is being broadcast live this week so that the panel and audience can watch the leader debates (this week on Sky) and then respond to how they have gone on the programme.

This week I am again unavailable during the programme (sorry - unavoidable work award do thing) but Lib Dem blogger Matt Raven (known on Twitter as @El_Cuervo) is again standing in.

The panel includes the Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper, the shadow foreign secretary William Hague, the former Liberal Democrat leader Ming Campbell, Plaid Cymru's leader at Westminster Elfyn Llwyd and the journalist Ann Leslie.

Join Matt below from 10:40pm:

Leader Election Debate Live Chat - 2

So following the first debate and Nick Clegg's performance the Lib Dems have shot up in the polls. Will the second debate tonight on foreign policy make any further difference?

We are running a Live Chat on here which will also be running simultaneously on Lib Dem Voice. I am indisposed but Matt Raven and Stephen Tall will be moderating. We will also be running this for the final debate next week too.

Please join Matt and Stephen below from 8:30pm:

Peter Oborne should be in favour of breaking the 2 party stranglehold

I like Peter Oborne. He is partially responsible for my decision to get involved in active politics. I read his books "The rise of political lying" and "The triumph of the political class" a while ago and both books helped nudge me a bit further along the road to making the leap from interested of observer to participant. I told him so when I met him the The Convention on Modern Liberty last year.

His analysis of the "political class" as he defines it is compelling reading. It is formed of the people who take political power and patronage for granted and who wish to continue with this self-perpetuated 21st century narcissistic oligarchy within politics and the media. He doesn't however include all MPs within this definition. Only the ones who are part of the establishment. The way that Oborne thinks that the current egregious state of affairs will ultimately be resolved is in the penultimate paragraph of the book:

"It is almost certain therefore, that the next great political movement will come from outside the Political Class. Just as the Political Class has emerged from the wreckage of the party system so it is certain to produce its own antithesis. At some stage a British politician may well discover a new language of public discourse and methodology of political engagement which communicates simply and plainly to voters."

Now does that sound a bit familiar? It almost sounds like what has happened over the last week or so. An outsider not sullied by association with the Labour/Conservative classes that have ruled us for more than half a century has come along and is speaking a language that appears to connect with people. He is talking about breaking up the duopoly of power and privilege and changing the system so that there are no longer safe seats that can be awarded by members of the political classes to their acolytes.

However Mr Oborne does not seem very enthused about this. In an article for the Mail on Tuesday entitled "The Great Liberal Deception" he was very negative about the recent success in the polls of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. Although he does not explicitly state it, the tone of the piece seems tilted against electoral reform implying that Peter Mandelson is behind a shady deal for a hung parliament which might lead to this.

Now perhaps this is not so surprising. Oborne is at heart a conservative. However given the sterling work he has done, he must recognise that if we are going to get the sort of changes necessary to shake the political classes out of the comfortable position they have settled into in recent decades, now is the best time for this to happen.

A change to the voting system to eliminate safe seats would be a big step in the right direction for what Oborne ultimately wants to see. Politicians accountable to the people who elect them rather than the parties who select them. And the only way we are going to get this is via a breakthrough by the Lib Dems. The other parties will clearly not do this on their own.

Perhaps Mr Oborne should reflect on this. It's certainly a point I will put to him if I meet him again.

Press tries to smear Clegg

It is quite astonishing to look at the front pages of some of the press this morning. They are really going for Nick Clegg, especially the Telegraph and the Mail, both of which has very flimsy "stories" that really do not stand up to scrutiny and are blatant smear jobs not warranting even page 17 status let alone splashed across the front page. I'm not linking to them, you can find them if you wish. Tom Bradby, Nick Robinson and Jeremy Paxman all suggested last night that the Telegraph story is a smear or something and nothing.

It can only be because the press are running scared that the Lib Dems might actually do well at this election now. Every time the press runs smears like this, the stakes get a bit higher because the more it is clear that they are desperate to try and force the Lib Dem polling numbers down. If they are not successful in this endeavour then it will demonstrate that the power of the press has severely declined.

Obviously I hope that they are not successful, but I would be saying this even if they were going for Brown or Cameron. I want this election to be decided on issues. When there was talk of the Lib Dems coming under more scrutiny I welcomed this. I want to see our policies being debated properly and I think they stand up well against our opponents. This is not what the Mail or the Telegraph have done today. They are just hurling a tonne of crap at Clegg and hoping that some will stick.

Conservative blogger Iain Dale did a very good post earlier this morning which made clear what his view is on this sort of thing. Here's a snippet:

I don't want Nick Clegg to win. I don't want him to be Prime Minister. But he is not the devil incarnate. He's a nice guy, doing a fair job of leading his party. I do not agree with many of his policies. I think many of them are misguided. But I am happy to accept that he believes they will be best for the country. I am happy to debate them with him or any other LibDem and that's what politics and this election should be about. It should be about debating ideas, arguing about policy. It shouldn't be about this sudden urge to denigrate Nick Clegg as a person. It will backfire on those who promulgate these attacks because most people can see with their own eyes that he is a transparently decent individual.

Of course politicians should be scrutinised and questioned. But not like this

I hope Iain is right about this strategy backfiring for the press and fair play to him for posting this. I also hope that other bloggers from across the spectrum are willing to speak out against this sort of thing.

UPDATE: Caron has an excellent suggestion for how to deal with these press smears by trying to make sure they are hit in the pocket here.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

I am on LBC's political panel this evening from 8pm

I will be on LBC from 8pm this evening as part of Petrie Hoskin's political panel. The other guests are Hopi Sen and Iain Dale. I wonder what the main topic will be...

You can listen to it on 97.3 if you're in or near London or via this link online if you aren't.

Conservative contradictions

There is something a bit odd in the way the Conservatives have approached this election campaign. They seem to be simultaneously saying two things that are diametrically opposed to each other.

The first approach is to appear to be all-inclusive. The title of their manifesto was "Invitation to join the government of Britain". Here's a quick snippet from the introduction:

"Britain will change for the better when we all elect to take part, to take responsibility – if we all come together. Collective strength will overpower our problems"

Both George Osborne and David Cameron have also oft repeated the phrase "We are all in this together".

Now that is fair enough. I think the approach of collective strength and recognising that we need breadth of experience and ideas to sort the problems out is a good one in principle. However contrast this with the scaremongering rhetoric from them in the last few days. Here is what Cameron said yesterday:

"Any other outcome (than a Conservative overall majority), any other vote, could lead to a sort of stagnation, to a sort of haggling and a bickering amongst politicians and we won't get done what so badly needs to be done in our country. If we end up with a hung parliament, the world is going to look at us and say 'How are you going to sort out your problems?' We need decisive action to sort out those problems and that is what a Conservative government would bring."

Every Conservative spokesperson has been out there making the same point. So what are they actually saying? Is it the inclusive message that recognises we are all in this together and reaches out across the political spectrum? Or is it that we absolutely must only allow the Conservatives to have all the power, otherwise it will be devastating for the country?

I don't think these two positions are compatible with each other.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Other Reckonings - 20th April 2010

  • Alex Massie reports on the beginning of the Conservative backlash.
  • Alix Mortimer on LDV asks who exactly are Vote for a Change?
  • Bracknell Blog reports on the latest campaign from Don Haycocks, the man behind "Goodbye Mackay".
  • And I wouldn't normally link to a comment on another blog but John Q. Publican has some very interesting ideas about what is happening with the Lib Dem/Clegg phenomenon in a comment he left on the "Though Cowards Flinch" blog which could be a blog post itself!

Tuesday bonus is an amusing "Wonder Woman" spoof of Nadine Dorries, the MP for Mid Narnia. I mean Bedfordshire.

Clegg is about the closest thing to an insurgent campaign

In the US Presidential system there is the phenomenon known as the "insurgent campaign". This is when people like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton can come almost out of nowhere at least in terms of national recognition and take the presidency. It can make the US primary races and the ensuing Presidential races very exciting as we saw recently in 2008.

We don't have the same system here. It is not possible for someone to come out of nowhere and enter the Prime Ministerial race. The leaders of the main parties usually have to have been in parliament for a very long time before they get a chance at standing in a General Election campaign. They have to have worked their way up the greasy pole within their own party, earned the confidence of enough of their colleagues over time and then eventually when the opportunity arrives accede to the leadership. This can easily take 10 years or more.

Let's have a quick look at the main 3 party leaders at election time in the last 30 years and how long they had each been in parliament:

Michael Foot (38 years)
Margaret Thatcher (24 years)
David Steel (18 years)
Roy Jenkins (30 years cumulative since 1948)

Neil Kinnock (17 years)
Margaret Thatcher (28 years)
David Steel (22 years)
David Owen (21 years)

Neil Kinnock (22 years)
John Major (13 years)
Paddy Ashdown (9 years)

Tony Blair (14 years)
John Major (18 years)
Paddy Ashdown (14 years)

Tony Blair (18 years)
William Hague (12 years)
Charles Kennedy (18 years)

Tony Blair (22 years)
Michael Howard (22 years)
Charles Kennedy (22 years)

Only Paddy Ashdown in 1992 had less than 10 years parliamentary experience when leading his party in a General Election. Look at what we have now though:

Gordon Brown (27 years)
David Cameron (9 years)
Nick Clegg (5 years)

So although Cameron seemed fresh and new at first he has actually been leader of his party for over 4 years. And in that time he has (naturally) done everything he can to get media coverage. He has had big poll leads and hence the public has got to know him.

Clegg on the other hand only became party leader just over two years ago. He has only been in parliament since 2005. He feels even more fresh and new. Add to that the fact that he has had very little media coverage until a few weeks ago and suddenly you start to have the ingredients for something which looks a bit like an insurgency. It isn't really of course. He hasn't come out of nowhere. He was an MEP from 1999 until 2004 and has been a senior and well respected figure in the party for well over a decade.

But lots of the public aren't really aware of that. Like Obama, he just seems to have come out of nowhere with a very good performance in the leader debate last week. They seem to like the fact that he is new and could be the change that people want. Even more so than Cameron who must be cursing the fact that he did not see this coming.

We don't have a presidential system in this country so the fact that I am focusing on the leaders in this way is not really fair. However that is exactly what our media does and that is what I am talking about. the public perception as filtered through the media.

If there is an historic breakthrough at this election for the Lib Dems it will be at least partly down to this apparent insurgent phenomenon.

UPDATE: Thanks to Richard Gadsden in the comments for correcting who the SDP leader was in 1983.

Something unusual is starting to happen...

I was just listening to the World at One and there was a piece about Goldman Sachs and banking in general. They discussed the situation with the legal proceedings against the bank and then they moved on to the political aspects to this.

They had a clip from Nick Clegg from his press conference this morning where he was castigating the bankers for their excesses. Not the Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Or the Leader of the Opposition David Cameron. But Nick Clegg.

Then they had a politician with their party's Treasury brief in the studio to interview about the subject. It was Vince Cable. Not the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling. Or his Conservative Shadow George Osborne. But Vince Cable.

We are now getting a fair crack of the whip in terms of media coverage. It is partially to do with the fact that we are in an election campaign anyway but it feels like more. It is starting to feel like the media realise that what the Lib Dems think about these things matters. That can only be because there is a sense that the party is in the ascendancy and an historic breakthrough may, and I stress may be just round the corner.

Of course what this extra coverage means is that people get to hear us more and more and we know from the coverage that the other two parties usually get that that helps with the recognition factor and hence often feeds through into the polls.

If this continues, the poll surge could very quickly start to become self-reinforcing.

UPDATE 13:55: Maybe I should have carried on listening beyond 1:30 as Jennie has just pointed out we very much did not get a fair crack of the whip in the second half not even being interviewed in a piece about a Lib Dem held seat. Maybe this is their bizarre way of trying to balance things out!?

Making your mind up - my 0.5 seconds of fame!

See if you can spot my extremely brief appearance in this lip-sync video just out today from Total Politics trying to encourage people to vote:

The Lib Dem surge started before the leader debate

Political Betting this morning draws our attention to something that I was aware but seems to be getting lost in the media Lib Dem surge narrative and how the leader debate has been a "game changer". The surge actually started before the leader debate last Thursday.

Mike Smithson points out that there was a marginals poll that showed the Lib Dems were blunting Tory progress there and were up 5 points. That was a week before the debate.

He goes on:

Then exactly a week later a ICM finalised a standard national poll and found a sharp move to Clegg’s party putting the share up to 27 points. The survey had gone on over two days and almost all of if had been completed before the session started in Manchester.

Because that poll was published two days later it became part of the debate impact narrative.

So by the time that Nick Clegg made his opening statement the yellows were on a roll anyway. His assured performance was the icing on the cake.

Looking at the post debate polling as part of broad mood change amongst voters suggests that it might be more sustained than many are predicting.

I think this is important. It suggests that the surge might be more durable than some think and whilst I am sure the leader debate had an impact it may not be the whole story.


As Mark Pack tweeted last night, that's the percentage of people who according to a question asked in a recent YouGov survey would vote Lib Dem if they thought we could form the next government:

'How would you vote if thought LibDems "had a significant chance of winning the election nationally": LD 49% Con 25% Lab 19% YouGov 18-19/4'

We are already above 30% in some polls. I think it is also fair to say that the momentum is with us. Imagine what could happen if more and more people realised that an historic breakthrough is possible.

Now I don't want to get carried away here. Many activists like me are gobsmacked at how quickly we have jumped from c20% to c30% of the vote and are just hoping that the current numbers can be sustained let alone anything else. However I think this polling question demonstrates that it would at least be possible for us to do even better than we are at the moment.

UPDATE 10:23: Having been asked in the comments I have now been given a link to the data for the numbers referenced above. It is here. (Note: opens PDF)

Monday 19 April 2010

Other Reckonings - 19th April 2010

  • Heresy Corner has a counterfactual exploring what could have happened had we have had a proportional electoral system in 2005. His main message is that we have nothing to fear from such a system. Amen.
  • LDV explains how Linda Jack wants your help to defeat Nadine Dorries. Please Jeebus make it happen!
  • Craig Murray asks if there's been something funny going on with recent polling.
  • Political Betting has the figures that suggest the Lib Dem surge shows no sign of abating.

Monday bonus. Just to show that even though we are in the midst of an election campaign I can still be non-partisan, here is the inimitable Conor Pope with his pitch for why you should vote Labour. I personally think "Build me up Buttercup" by The Foundations is the best one:

My defence of Chris Mounsey

Andy Newman writing on Socialist Unity has questioned why I defended Devil's Kitchen blogger Chris Mounsey last week. As I blogged he had appeared on the Daily Politics and had not defended himself when Andrew Neil quoted some strong language he had used on his blog.

Andy says of Mounsey:

For example, this is what he says about trade unions:

“We should utterly destroy them, and do it soon.”

The language that Chris Mounsey uses to express that point of view is however extremely offensive, and you can read the original here:

The real speciality of Chris Mounsey, an old-Etonian graphic designer, is the use of sexualised and racialised abuse, involving violent imagery of the humiliation and death of left of centre politicians and trade union leaders.

The language that Chris used against NASUWT president Chris Keates is too extreme for me to publish on my blog, but you can read it here if you wish.

Chris Mounsey revels in the idea of a respected woman trade union leader being violently sexually humiliated, and left to bleed to death; and he argues that she deserves this because she opposes the private sector having a role in education.

Given that in many parts of the world, like Columbia, which has a government somewhat in accordance to Chris Mounsey’s political leanings, women really are raped and murdered for their trade union activity, then I think that Chris Mounsey comes close to glorifying terrorism, which is now a serious criminal offence. No one, least of all a woman trade unionist, should be harrangued by this bullying misogyny, with explicit threats of violent death.

He then says of me:

It is somewhat surprising then to find a leading Lib Dem coming out in Chris Mounsey’s support, arguing that Chris has a right to use this inflammatory and violent language. (The Mark Reckons website was voted best new Lib Dem blog of 2009, and is one of the highest ranked Lib Dem blogs by wikkio.)

Lib Dem Mark says:

“I think he has every right to blog in the way that he sees fit. Many of his supporters and party members will agree with what he is saying. Lots of libertarian bloggers have a strongly worded style and many of them also make very good points and are very funny too. Why should these people be barred from trying to seek political support for their views even if their styles are not to everyone’s tastes?”

Well Mark, this is quite simple they should not be allowed to seek political support for the violent degradation and abuse of women, and the violent death of prominent trade unionists. I don’t find the idea of a trade union leader bleeding to death after sexual violence very funny.

Mark further regrets that Chris Mounsey did not make a better defence of his right to bully and harass people on the Internet when he was interviewed on the Politics Show by Andrew Neil.

Lib Dem Mark says:

I had hoped for a spirited and libertarian defence of his right to have an on-line persona that is close to the knuckle and still be involved in active politics. However he just seemed to cave in to what Neil was saying. Neil suggested that an apology to the Trades Union leader in question might be appropriate and Mounsey obliged. Neil also suggested that if he were a candidate in any other party he would have had to stand down to which Mounsey also assented. Then the interview was over.

Ahh, yes the “on-line persona” defence. How does that work Mark? If I were a 57 year old man, should I be able to adopt an “on-line persona” of a 19 year old boy to talk to teenage girls on chat-room?

In real life, should someone be able to adopt a “persona that is close to the knuckle” by dressing in white robes and burning crosses outside black peoples’ homes?

I should start by repeating what I said on my blog in the original post. Chris Mounsey's style of blogging as Devil's Kitchen is very, very far from my own style (although he has now closed the old blog since the Neil encounter). There are all sorts of things that he wrote that I would never publish on my blog here. His style was very aggressive and confrontational and although I only dipped in and out and did not read all of his posts I did see some of the allusions that he would use.

Sometimes it is not easy defending free speech. Sometimes people say things which I think are awful and abhorrent but frankly it is not my place to stop them. Sometimes I do read things online that go too far for me and what I do is stop reading and make a mental note about where I read it to avoid it in future. There are of course times when people say or write things that incite violence or things like racial hatred and there are laws to deal with that sort of thing which is absolutely right. There does of course have to be some sort of limit. Andy suggests that Chris may have come close to "glorifying terrorism" with his comments about a Trades Union leader. Well I am no legal expert and hence cannot comment on that.

However within the bounds of what is legal, I think people should be free to say what they want. Chris was also doing this whilst trying to lead a political party. It seems that the fact he has now abandoned his old online persona suggests that he has decided that blogging in that style is incompatible with trying to garner mainstream political support. Fair enough, that's his decision. Maybe the two things are mutually incompatible.

I hope I have addressed Andy's attempts to associate me with the examples towards the end of his piece. I do not defend people's right to break the law in the ways that he suggests but within the bounds of the law they should be able to say what they like.

If the rest of us don't like it we don't have to read it.

Fisking Boris Johnson on Clegg

Boris Johnson has a fascinating article in the Telegraph today. Fascinating not because it's a well thought out or argued piece (as Boris is well capable of), but because it is a hopelessly muddled and poorly constructed transparent attack piece. The sense of entitlement just drips off the page. I can only assume it is "written for the troops" to keep up their morale because I am sure this will do little to persuade the waverers as indeed a brief glance at the comments below it from the readers will make clear.

I have responded to some of his points below:

It must have been a couple of years ago that I was having dinner with the great Max Hastings, former editor of this paper, and he was being so gloomy about Conservative prospects that I scented a financial opportunity. Tell you what, I said, let’s have a bet. A thousand pounds says the Tories will win the next election. How about that?

Way to get the "party of the average person" vote Boris. You just casually bet what for many people would be several months worth of disposable income (after bills etc.) and think that people will be impressed by that? All you're doing is underlining how different the world that you and your fellow Tories move in is compared to most people. 18 days outside of a general election. Well done!

...My bet remains quite safe. I am certain that the Tories will win, and that the current fantasy of a Liberal Democrat resurgence is the biggest load of media-driven nonsense since the funeral of Diana.

Watching that debate, I had the clear impression that Cameron aced every question. His answers were clear, concise and knowledgeable, and in my focus group of 12- to 16-year-olds he was the overwhelming winner. “David Cameron knows more than the others,” said the 12-year-old, “and everything he says is true!”

This is why it is notoriously risky to try and judge how well someone did by your own partisan standards. I thought Clegg did very well on the night but it was only when the polls and commentators started to confirm this that it became clear this view is widely shared. Boris, you are biased and a room full of impressionable 12 - 16 year olds (I am not clear what demographic they are chosen from either) who doubtless wanted to impress the powerful Mayor of London who was asking them for their opinion is hopeless as a "focus group" as well.

Gordon Brown seemed stale and deeply unconvincing in his core assertion, that it was necessary to keep wasting exactly the same amount of money in order not to stall the recovery.

As for Clegg, I remember thinking that it was indeed a historic debate – the moment when the idea of a third force in British politics finally shrivelled under the Manchester TV lights. He was by far the worst, with many of his answers seeming to be semi-masticated versions of something Cameron had already said. And so you can imagine my amazement when those polls started to come in, and the news that the punters overwhelmingly scored it for Cleggie. It was one of those times when there seems to be only one solution to the problems of British politics, and that is to dissolve the electorate and summon a new one.

Yes, you are amazed because you are biased and cannot believe that people would think anything other than your boy done good. But they do. Cameron was pretty unimpressive Boris. "I once met a black man..." type stories, hopeless attempts to skewer Clegg which just left him able to set out more detail for our policies and a real inability to connect with the audience were the impression many were left with. I realise you are being tongue in cheek with your "dissolve the electorate" comment but is that really the right joke to make just over two weeks out from a General Election telling the voters that they are wrong? Let's see how this goes down shall we?

What has happened to us all, when serious papers can start raving about “Prime Minister Clegg”? Has someone put something in the water supply? Has some sulphur yellow cloud descended imperceptibly from Iceland and addled our brains
These are Lib Dems we are talking about!

How DARE these oiks get above their station like this!?

They say anything to anyone. They are not so much two-faced as positively polycephalous. They go around every university campus promising to abolish “Labour’s unfair tuition fees” – while dear Cleggie tells his party conference that this policy, this cardinal Lib Dem policy, would cost £12 billion and that the country can’t afford it.

Er, the party is committed to this policy in principle but the finances are in such a mess that we cannot afford to do it at the moment. You know, like the tax cuts that your party would like to implement but cannot for the same reason (well apart from the tax cuts for millionaires of course that you are still managing to fund). We are being sensible and pragmatic about what can be afforded whilst being clear as to what we would like to do and the principles underpinning our approach. You would attack us for being unrealistic if we did anything else.

In the north of England you will find plenty of Lib Dem literature extolling their “mansion tax”, a proposal on which they remain deafeningly silent in places like Richmond and Kingston, where it would mean a vast new tax on people who happen to live in overvalued houses.

OMFG!!!!11 A political party targeting its messages!? How very dare we? Not something of course that the Tories would ever do now is it?

Everybody treats Vince Cable as a semi-holy Mahatma Gandhi of British politics, because he is supposed in some way to have anticipated the financial crisis. Actually his most notable recommendation before the crisis was that Britain should join the euro – a move that would gravely have worsened our current position by leaving us in a Greek-style straitjacket.

No Boris, his most notable recommendations were that borrowing was spiralling out of control and the banks were making stupid mistakes which would all end in tears. You know, like what actually ended up happening because of the policies of the government that the Tories stood on the sidelines and cheered for. That's why people trust Vince most on the economy rather than Darling or Osborne.

What crouton of substance did Clegg offer last Thursday, in the opaque minestrone of waffle? He wants to get rid of Trident. Great! So Lib Dem foreign policy means voluntarily resigning from the UN Security Council, abandoning all pretensions to world influence, and sub-contracting our nuclear deterrent to France!

The policy is just to say no to a "like for like" replacement of Trident which we think is not suitable for the threats we now face. We are not advocating unilaterally disarming but instead are committed to a multi-lateral approach. You know, like Barack Obama has just announced in the US.

They are a bunch of euro-loving road-hump fetishists who are attempting like some defective vacuum cleaner to suck and blow at the same time; and the worst of it is that if you do vote Lib Dem in the demented belief that there could ever be such a thing as a Lib Dem government, you won’t get Prime Minister Clegg. You’ll get Prime Minister Gordon Brown, for five more holepunch-hurling years, because the Lib Dems almost always vote with Labour, and in my years in Parliament I can’t remember a single moment when they opposed a Labour measure to expand state spending or state control.

The Lib Dems almost always vote with Labour!? Absolute rubbish which a brief glance at voting records will make clear. How about 90 days detention without trial, 42 days detention without trial, ID cards, Digital Economy Bill (which the Tories broadly supported), Extradition Act 2003, DNA Database, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, Trial without Jury etc. etc. etc. I could literally go on for hours.

I can’t think of anything worse for this country than some great ghastly soggy Lib-Lab coalition, dripping with piety and political correctness and unable to take the decisions we need for fear of offending the vast hordes of public sector special interest groups they collectively represent.

When have we said that we would form a coalition with Labour? And we have no special interest groups unlike the Tories funded by big business and multi-billionaires to whom they are beholden or Labour funded by the Unions.

That is why the current madness cannot last. The Lib Dems are everywhere today, like the orange spores of an exploded puffball. Next week they will be gone with the wind. Clegg is the beneficiary of cunning Labour spin, bigging up the third party in order to take the shine off the Tories. But when people understand that a vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown, they will stay their hands, and they will see that it is only by voting Tory that they can give this country the change it needs. That is still my prediction, and if Max disagrees, we can always increase the stake.

No Boris. A vote for Clegg is a vote for Clegg. The party is now in the lead in multiple polls. This tired old argument that "a vote for the Lib Dems is a wasted vote" or really a vote for someone else is falling apart. People have tumbled yours and the Labour party's anti-democratic game.

If people want real change they should vote for us and that message is now getting through. You can bluster and stamp your feet all you like that the electorate is not behaving as you decree they should. In the meantime we will go on spelling out our policies and explaining how we can help people with their lives.

The fact that one of the Tories' big hitters such as yourself is willing to devote an entire column to attacking us in this way just demonstrates how rattled you are by how the election campaign is going.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Other Reckonings - 18th April 2010

Lib Dem surge special:

  • Cicero's Songs on why Labour and the Conservatives are slipping and how the Lib Dem policies will stand up to scrutiny.
  • Stephen Tall writes an open letter to the Labour Party asking why they are saying the Lib Dems will team up with the Tories in one communication, and in another making it clear they don't think that will happen.
  • Iain Dale says that the stupid personal attacks on Nick Clegg, such as those surrounding his "Britishness" from the Mail on Sunday (which frankly to me seem to come close to the sort of nonsense you see from the US Obama "Birther" movement) should stop. In a related post, Alex Massie suggests that the MoS could actually be Clegg's best recruiting Sergeant.
  • Liberal Conspiracy asks if The Independent is about to come out for the Lib Dems.
  • Political Betting asks if the poll boost is down to Clegg's height!

Sunday bonus is a music video by The Cameron Girls who are bigging up the Camster good styley. Or something. It's so bad that it goes past being good and all the way back to bad again:

Lib Dem front-bench team is more than capable

In amongst all the comment and reaction to the Lib Dem poll surge in recent days I have seen a comment made several times which amounts to:

"Yes, it's all very well that Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are impressive but what about the rest of the Lib Dem front-bench? That's where they'll be found wanting."

The problem with this is that it is a load of rubbish. Let's just have a look at some of the members of our front-bench:

Chris Huhne, Home Affairs Spokesman: Chris is a great media and Commons performer. He has run for the leadership twice and only narrowly missed out in 2007. He's been a journalist and is a trained and experienced economist as well has having been an MEP for several years where he was very influential. I am certain that Huhne would make a much better Home Secretary than the gaffe prone Chris Grayling for example.

Norman Lamb, Heath Spokesman: Norman is a very impressive politician. I have seen him speak on a number of occasions and he is always totally on top of his subject. He is widely admired across the house and at the 2005 election was able to turn his North Norfolk marginal (483 votes ahead of the Conservatives) into one of our safest seats with a majority of over 10,000 (at the expense of the Conservative candidate Iain Dale) which shows just how impressed his constituents have been with him since 2001. Compares very well against the unconvincing Andy Burnham and the Tory Andrew Lansley who like Grayling has been no stranger to controversy.

Dr Steve Webb, Work and Pensions Spokesman: Steve has been a professor of social policy at Bath University and like Norman Lamb has taken what was a seemingly unwinnable seat and with patience and dedication turned it into what for us is a safe seat over the course of a few parliaments. Having seen Steve speak and also having guested with him on a Radio 5 show last year at conference I have seen first hand just how adept he is as a politician and his depth of knowledge both of his subject area and policy in general. I am confident that he would be good in any role and is one of our rising stars.

Tim Farron, Food and Rural Affairs Spokesman: Tim is a force of nature. He is renowned within the party for being out on the doorstep in his constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale almost constantly! His seat is an ultra-marginal (267 votes in it) but nobody sensible would bet against him retaining it this time round and in fact the smart money would be on him increasing his majority by some considerable distance. Tim is very impressive as a public speaker and has a natural, comedic style that you don't often find in politicians. Rather than the jokes being crowbarred in, he is actually naturally funny. Combined with his expertise in his current portfolio and his passion for his work he is definitely one to watch.

Lynne Featherstone, Spokeswoman for Youth and Equality: Lynne is another dedicated campaigner who through sheer force of will after 10 years of hard work managed to win her seat in Hornsey and Wood Green. She has wasted no time since arriving in parliament campaigning on issues and did very important work regarding the Baby P case which related to her constituency. She has always impressed me whenever I have seen her on the media or in person and is certainly one to watch for the future.

David Laws, Children, Schools and Families Spokesman: A former Vice President of JP Morgan and former policy researcher for the party, David has impressed in all the roles he has performed on the party's front-bench. A frequent and confident media performer, the Tories would love to have poached him and had them in their shadow cabinet and indeed have approached him with such an offer but have been rebuffed.

Sarah Teather, Spokeswoman for Housing: I didn't used to rate Sarah very highly but I now realise that is because I had not been paying attention properly. She has a natural confidence in her public speaking and is also able to inject humour in a similar way to Tim Farron. She has spent her time in parliament since her stunning by-election win in Brent-East in 2003 in the wake of the Iraq war by campaigning on all sorts of issues including Guantanamo Bay and on behalf of Amnesty International. She was the "Baby of the House" at one point but has grown up very quickly.

And I could go on. There are lots of other impressive spokespeople both on the front-bench and also coming up close behind. People like Dr Evan Harris who has done wonderful work on evidence based policy and libel reform and who is definitely in the running for the coveted "Mark Reckonses favourite MP" slot, or Jo Swinson who despite her relative youth has impressed widely.

Couple that with the number of very impressive candidates we have in target seats up and down the country and who may well be MPs in two and a half weeks time. People like the irrepressible Bridget Fox who along with the also impressive Julian Huppert moved heaven and earth to quickly get the party to change its position on the Digital Economy Bill. Or Ed Fordham, a man who lives and breathes campaigning and who if he is not elected MP for Hampstead and Kilburn on May 6th I will eat all of my hats.

The idea that the only people we have are Nick and Vince and that the rest of our parliamentarians are a bunch of lightweights is just nonsense.

Tories and Labour are snookered

It's appropriate that the polls are showing the Lib Dems surging into second (and in a couple of polls first) place following the leaders debate on Thursday just at the point when the largest event in the Snooker calendar, the World Championships at the mighty Crucible (coincidentally in Sheffield, Nick Clegg's patch) start. Because frankly, as far as I can see the other parties are now pretty much snookered when it comes to their options of how to deal with the Lib Dems and Clegg. Let's have a run-down of the sort of things they will be war-gaming and indeed that we have started to see being played out:

1) They can hug Clegg and the Lib Dems closer. The problem is they were both trying this last Thursday to varying degrees and all it did was make Clegg look more important and as if he is the cool kid that everyone wants to like them and to be like. Hence all the "I agree with Nick" stuff. This has surely already contributed to the Lib Dem poll surge.

2) They can try and attack the Lib Dems on policy. However, firstly this plays into our hands as Oscar Wilde once said, there is only one thing worse than being talked about and that's not being talked about. It will allow us to respond with more detail on what are well worked out and well costed plans. It also means that the media is focusing on us even more. If Brown and/or Cameron do this too much during the next two debates it also plays into Clegg's hands by allowing him to continue to make the point that they are doing politics in the same old tired and discredited ways.

3) One thing I have noticed is that some Tories seem to think that going for the Lib Dems on immigration will be a good strategy. They might just want to refresh their memory of the 2005 campaign and how quickly they were able to be painted as "same old Tories" when they tried this on then. And also what the eventual result was.

4) They can try and argue that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for a hung parliament and that would be dreadful. The Tories are continuing to try this one on. The problem is that recent polling suggests that that is the outcome that scores the highest in terms of what people actually want to see of all the possible outcomes. So they are actually scaremongering that something could happen that people actually want. Is that really smart politics?

5) They can try and argue that "a vote for Clegg is a vote for Brown" or the other way round that "a vote for Clegg is a vote for Cameron". The problem is firstly that people are again sick of hearing this sort of nonsense. But secondly, now the Lib Dems are polling at or above the same level as the other parties it is now patently absurd. A vote for Clegg is a vote for Clegg. Simples.

I'm not sure there are many other options open to the other parties now either. The media narrative is with the Lib Dems and who would have thought I would be writing that a couple of weeks ago?

Unless one of the other leaders can find a way to come off three or four cushions with just the right amount of side then they could find it very difficult to get out of this particular snooker.

Three more days and this could start to affect real votes

The massive leaps in the polls that we have seen for the Lib Dems since the middle of last week (interestingly, the 7% leap in one of the polls was from fieldwork done largely before Thursday's debate) have of course got us activists a bit giddy.

Some commentators and lots of our opponents are saying that this is just a bounce and that the status quo will be restored soon. They are also suggesting that the second and third debates will go very differently and not as well for Clegg. Well they were saying that before the first one and as I will explore in another post later today there are no easy options for Cameron and Brown to counter Clegg in the next debate.

However there is an important factor to note here. The postal votes start going out after this Tuesday, the final deadline to register. We also know that lots of those who vote postally do so very soon after their postal vote arrives. So we are in a situation where within three or so days, the increase in Lib Dem support could start to have an actual effect on real votes.

The Tories and Labour will be well aware of this and for that reason will be looking to try and do something about it as soon as possible, probably by going for a full-on attack.

I am sure we are prepared for that though.

Saturday 17 April 2010

And the Lib Dems move into the lead

With a BPIX poll for The Mail on Sunday:

Lib Dems 32 (+12)
Conservatives 31 (-7)
Labour 28 (-3)

These huge polling jumps are starting to look like a trend rather than a blip.

Is this the most eloquent argument for electoral reform you'll see?

I was on Radio 5 Live last night at midnight doing the paper review on Stephen Nolan's show. As I was driving to the studio I heard the breaking news about the YouGov poll in today's Sun which puts the Conservatives on 33%, the Lib Dems on 30% (a huge 8% jump) and Labour on 28%.

Unfortunately, once I arrived at the studio, for some reason I could not fathom I was not able to get internet access working on my iPhone. I had wanted to run the figures through UK Polling Report's seat calculator before I went on air and I now so wish I had been able to because here are the results

That's right folks. If this was to play out, despite getting 30% of the vote, the Lib Dems would only get 15% of the seats. And despite the fact that Labour would come third overall with only 28% of the votes they would actually end up the single largest party and effectively "win" the election with 42% of the seats.

Luckily for me, one of the callers towards the end of the show had run the figures and so I was able to briefly make the point forcefully that this shows just how broken our electoral system is.

You will not see a more eloquent explanation of why that is than the table above.