Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday 31 December 2010

My Predictions for 2011

Here are my predictions for the coming year:

  1. Labour will win the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election but the Lib Dems will be a close second.
  2. All 3 main party leaders (Cameron, Clegg and Miliband_E) will still be in post by the end of the year.
  3. The AV referendum will be (narrowly) won.
  4. Sarah Palin will do something that will effectively end her chances of being a serious candidate for the 2012 US presidential election.
  5. A Lib Dem MP will resign the party whip to either sit as an independent or join another party.
  6. England will win the Rugby World Cup.
  7. For the third year running I predict that Eddie Mair will become the new host of BBC Question Time.
  8. Liam Fox will no longer be a cabinet minister by the end of the year.
  9. Including Old and Sad there will be 3 by-elections during the year.
  10. A petition signed by more than 100,000 people will trigger a debate in parliament about legalising cannabis.

Happy New Year!

Thursday 30 December 2010

5 out of 10 aint bad

Here are my predictions from this time last year about 2010 and how I did:

1) Gordon Brown will push the General Election very late to May or June.

2) There will be a hung parliament after the General Election with the Conservatives as the largest single party.

3) The Lib Dems will lose seats despite the vote share being very similar to last time.

4) David Miliband will become Labour leader after the election.
Got this one wrong but it was bloody close!

5) England will go out of the World Cup in the quarter-finals (sorry to sound unpatriotic but 44 years of hurt and all that...)
Wrong! It was even worse than that with the shocking second round match against Germany which I watched in a community hall in Henley whilst waiting for some friends who were completing a bike race.

6) Like last year, I again predict that Eddie Mair will become the new host of Question Time.
Wrong but he would be so good in the role.

7) Caroline Lucas will become the Green Party's first MP.

8) Nigel Farage will become UKIP's first elected MP.
Got this one very badly wrong.

9) A senior Labour MP will defect to the Lib Dems.
Wrong, and very unlikely to happen any time in the forseeable.

10) One of the major political bloggers will quit blogging altogether after the election.
DING! DING! DING! DING! Although it was actually several of them in the end.

So 5/10 which I think is pretty good all things considered

Wednesday 29 December 2010

"Caroline Flint is against it" is not an argument

So nearly half of Labour MPs are against a change in the voting system for the House of Commons to the Alternative Vote. When this is combined with most Tory MPs it is looking like well over half and perhaps more than two thirds of MPs want to stick with the status quo rather than move to a preferential system.

I'm not sure that this is particularly interesting or important news. What it essentially boils down to is that the majority of people whose jobs depend (to a greater or lesser extent) on the current electoral system want to keep that electoral system. I'd be very surprised if the majority of MPs did back the change. At the same time, that is precisely the reason why their views should hold little sway and it should be the debate in the country that informs the referendum decision. It is the same reason why I am glad that Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dem MPs are taking a back-seat in the Yes to AV campaign as the opposite charge can be levelled against them too.

By the way, I am sure that many (perhaps most) of the MPs who are against change hold their views as a matter of principle. The problem is that there is such a fundamental conflict of interest that it is impossible to disentangle it. It is the same sort of situation that MPs who lobby for a particular industry and are then discovered to have business interests in that same industry find themselves compromised by. They may be completely innocent but they have all now (largely) realised that they are better off avoiding the conflict of interest in the first place.

Instead of focusing on who backs what we should be looking at the arguments for and against. And I am afraid that "Caroline Flint is against it" is not an argument.

Back to life

I have been largely silent on this blog since mid-August when I announced that I would no longer be blogging. There was one exception earlier this month when I blogged about tuition fees (I felt like I *had* to say something!) and I have done a couple of guest posts for other blogs too in that period. Apart from that though it has been a nice break for me to be able to watch the news and follow politics without always thinking about how I am going to blog the latest story. After almost two years of pretty intense blogging (several times a day at its height) I must admit it was a relief not to feel compelled to do this.

However I have also missed blogging and the ability to be able to get my views about what is happening out there. When I first started it was like a release valve or a conduit (to stop me shouting at the TV!) and there has definitely been a gap left in its absence.

What I am going to try and do is have my cake and eat it. So I am going to start blogging again, on here albeit in a more limited form. I am no longer going to feel compelled to blog about every major political story. I have a life and also a business to run which have nothing really to do with politics and they have to be my priority. But when there are things I want to write about then I will do so here. It may be that sometimes I don't blog for days or even weeks. There may be other times when I have things to say, or have a bit of free time that it will be more frequent.

It will mean that things like the regular BBC Question Time Live Chat I used to do will not be resurrected. That's not to say I may not do the occasional one perhaps when there is a special edition or something, but again it has been nice not to feel compelled to watch that programme every week!

So I am going to see how it goes. If I can't find the right balance then I may need to depart permanently. Hopefully I will be able to though. Watch this space....

Note 1: This post is largely for me and to remind myself why I am getting back into blogging but if anyone presses me on why I am not blogging about particular topics in future they will be directed to this post.

Note 2: I have changed the banner header to just simply be "Mark Thompson's Blog" and that is how I shall refer to it in future rather than "Mark Reckons". The URL will remain the same though.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

In future, Lib Dem candidates should watch what they sign

Well what a bloody mess this is! I stop blogging for a few months and in my absence the party almost tears itself apart over tuition fees.

I just felt that I had to write something about this. It feels like it could be a crisis which it takes the party many years to recover from and which could damage it electorally for years to come too.

Firstly, the party leadership should never have encouraged candidates to sign the NUS pledge against increasing tuition fees before the election. From what I have been able to glean, some PPCs/MPs who were a bit wary of such a commitment were told it was party policy and that they should go ahead and sign it. Frankly, it strikes me that the party and its leadership was incredibly naive in thinking that they could do this and then have a Lib Dem minister introduce the bill to triple the fees in parliament and have any realistic chance of credibly explaining this to the public.

Secondly, given that almost all Lib Dem MPs had signed such a pledge the coalition agreement should have made fees a red line issue. I know that fees were not one of the four key pledges in the manifesto but they should have been made a special case due to the strength of feeling in the party and on a more prosaic political level because there are dozens of pictures of our MPs smiling at cameras holding the pledge cards. These will be potent and potentially toxic ammunition in future election campaigns for our opponents (even Tories - just watch).

Thirdly, having taken the decision to introduce a bill to increase tuition fees, our members of government such as Vince Cable have been extremely ill advised to go around saying that they might abstain. It defies all credibility to try and maintain this position and very much plays into the hands of people who claim that Lib Dems want to have their cake and eat it. Also, comments like "I never would have made the pledge had I known we were going to be in govenment" are frankly pathetic. A hung parliament was odds on favourite well before the election. It did not take a genius to work out that the Lib Dems might actually be involved in legislating on this issue.

Fourthly, the actual reason why we are unable to fulfil our pledge is because we did not win the election outright and therefore have had to compromise. The line that the party has taken that the finances are worse than we thought cuts no ice with me. We were told again and again that the Lib Dem manifesto was fully costed. That's what I kept telling people on the doorstep. The reason why we cannot deliver on this is because we were unable to implement our FULL programme. We have had parts of our programme implemented but unless all the measures including the ones that would have raised the extra needed revenue are included, THEN it becomes unaffordable. It is a political choice necessitated by coalition and because the other two main parties did not back our position leaving us with only 57 MPs out of 650 willing to back that full programme. I do not think I have heard a single Lib Dem minister make this point in the last few days.

Right, that's the worst of the criticism of the party out of the way. This has been far from our finest hour as I think I have made clear. However we are where we are and despite my anger at what has happened so far, I actually think that the tuition fee policy is pretty good. I have previously been tempted by the idea of a graduate tax but have read enough recently to become convinced that there are too many practical problems with it. But the measures to be voted on on Thursday are not that far from a graduate tax. Indeed as the fluffy one blogged about brilliantly recently the proposals are actually more progressive than those proposed by the NUS (one of the reasons I would actually love to see Nick Clegg debate Aaron Porter as the NUS leader apparently requested). Not having to pay anything back until you are earning over £21,000 seems fair to me. Paying back £30,000 over 30 years would mean a graduate would need to be earning around £1,000 per year (OK let's factor in interest and say £1,500 per year) more than someone who did not go. I think that is very likely in many cases but of course for people who never earn very much after graduating they will either never pay back anything or perhaps only a very small amount. I certainly think the principle of those who benefit from higher education ultimately paying for it when they can afford to do so is fair.

To come back to the politics of this though, the only way forward I can see now is for Lib Dem ministers to vote for the measures. We are in government and one of our most senior MPs has piloted the legislation through. It is the best deal we could get under the circumstances and I am sure the presence of Lib Dems in government has ameliorated some of the harsher aspects that could have been there had the Conservatives been governing alone.

I fully expect plenty of Lib Dem backbench MPs to vote against the bill. Some will feel they need to as a matter of conscience given what they signed and of course they are not bound by the strictures of cabinet responsibility. Others will doubtless have one eye on the number of students in their constituencies and will be weighing that in the balance too.

Long term it is impossible to know what the effect of these changes will be in terms of the Lib Dems political position. I suspect that one thing is for sure. Our MPs and candidates are going to be far more careful about what they sign before an election in future and not just take the leadership's word for it that everything will be OK.

Perhaps in the long term that will be the strongest legacy of the debacle of the last few days.