Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday 26 October 2012

Leveson is linked to Savile but not in the way Paul Dacre thinks

A couple of weeks ago, Mail editor Paul Dacre called for the Leveson inquiry to reopen in order to examine the BBC's role in the Jimmy Savile allegations of child abuse.

This is a rather bizarre request given that it would mean Leveson stepping well outside his original remit. But to be fair to Mr Dacre, he is, in his own way trying to ensure that that aspect of the Savile scandal is investigated thoroughly. It is highly unlikely that Leveson will be reopened though and there are already separate inquiries into what happened at the BBC in terms of both Savile and the Newsnight report that was spiked.

I do think however that the long serving editor has unwittingly highlighted the link that there is between the Savile scandal and the Leveson inquiry.

For months on end we have heard witness after witness testify as to how their lives have been damaged by the use of tabloid dark arts such as phone hacking. The extent of the use of these techniques is truly mind-blowing. From the voice-mail messages of a missing (and as we now know murdered) schoolgirl right through to finding out details of film stars, nobody was safe from having their most intimate details pored over by the hacks and then used in "exposes" or other stories.

Well, I say nobody. Actually there was one person who seems to have been safe from the tabloids' nefarious reach. Jimmy Savile.

Despite the fact that pretty much everyone in the media seems to have been aware of the rumours. Despite the fact that it is now coming to light that numerous of Savile's victims and others who witnessed incidents did try to speak out but were either not believed or laughed at. I doubt there is a single Fleet Street journalist throughout the 1970s and 1980s who had not heard on the grapevine about his alleged activities.

I keep reading and hearing that they couldn't stand the stories up and/or there was nobody to corroborate them. But as we have seen, all it has taken is for a few of his victims to be given the chance to speak out and in the words of Esther Rantzen, an expert on child abuse "they all corroborate each other". And many more have now been given the confidence to speak out as they realise they will likely be believed. If any newspaper had executed a proper investigation into Savile's activities 30 or 40 years ago perhaps his crimes would have been revealed sooner and some of his later victims would have been spared their ordeals.

We of course know that this did not happen. He was free to abuse right up until his death last year and was given a showbiz funeral with the obligatory hagiographic obituary pieces.

So the next time you hear Dacre and others from the tabloid world banging on about how Leveson needs to look into the BBC, just remember that Leveson came about because of the phone hacking scandal and the dark arts the newspapers used to get private information on people for their splashes.   Those same techniques that on occasion are defended in the name of "public interest".

You have to ask why on earth celebrity tittle-tattle was considered a legitimate target for their use and a suspected serial sexual predator like Savile was not.

This post was first published on Liberal Conspiracy.

Thursday 25 October 2012

What's good for the goose....

Initial GDP figures for Q3 2012 suggest that we are now out of recession and that the economy grew by 1%.

Good news! Or so you would think.

There are plenty lining up though to claim that the "exceptional circumstances" of the Olympics are largely to credit for this and that hence the picture is still quite bleak.

They may well have a point, but I would take them more seriously if these criticisms were not largely coming from the same quarters that reacted with derision when George Osborne tried to claim last year that one off factors such as the extra bank holiday for the Royal Wedding had suppressed growth.

So it would appear that exceptional circumstances should be taken into account, but only when they contribute positively. If they have an adverse effect we're not allowed to hear them mentioned under threat of vilification for any who dare.

Can we have a bit of consistency please? Either they count or they don't.

Personally I would rather just see the figures reported and leave any exceptional stuff to one side no matter which direction. There will often be one off things going on and it seems a bit silly to constantly have these sort of arguments.

For now I'm just pleased we have some good positive growth figures. Hopefully this will help boost confidence and contribute to a virtuous circle that becomes self fulfilling.

Linkage for Thursday, 25th October 2012

A VIEW FROM HAM COMMON: Nick Clegg truly doesn't have a reverse gear

The National Health Action Party must be strangled at birth - This is a terrible post by the normally more sensible Paul Richards. His argument is essentially "vote Labour" because the electoral system is dreadful. You know, that same electoral system that half his party frantically campaigned to keep last year. If AV had come in the "problem" Paul highlights (LETTING TEH TORRIEEZ IN!!!11) would no longer exist.

The Savile scandal is about children, not overpaid TV executives | Suzanne Moore

Shove your $5m, Donald Trump - I love the description of Trump here as an "implausibly coiffured buffoon" - from @TomChivers

4 Things Movies Always Get Wrong About Computer Hackers

Damian McBride, Why Dave needs Artie, Paula and Beverly

How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline | Vanity Fair - This article is a must read for anyone involved in software development or running any company large or small. In fact just anyone! Object lessons in how bureaucracy and internal company politics can become utterly stifling. long read but very much worth it.

David Miliband and the Labour art of speaking in code - They really do need to speak intelligible English

Outlawed by Amazon DRM - This is very worrying. it's the equivalent of Waterstones coming round and taking all your books off your shelf

The BBC regains its honour - another excellent piece from @nickcohen4

Transform Drug Policy Foundation Blog: The US votes for change (to its drug laws)

Deccan Aitkenhead takes apart Peter Hitchen's arguments on drugs one by one in this fascinating interview

Monday 22 October 2012

MPs Expenses and safe seats - is it happening again?

When I did my blogposts back in 2009 that found an apparent link between the safety of an MPs seat and the likelihood of them having been involved in the expenses scandal of that year it caused a bit of a stir. It got a fair bit of coverage and there were some who thought (hoped?) it might make a difference to the campaign for electoral reform.

There were however numerous people who dismissed what I had found claiming it was not statistically significant and/or there were problems with the methodology I used.

I never claimed to be a statistician (although my work was reviewed by someone who is better qualified on that score than me and he certainly thought there was something in it) but I did think it was striking when split into quartiles how the safer an MP's seat, the higher their apparent chances of being involved in the scandal.

Obviously the fuss from the original research has long since died down and I hope I have proved in the intervening years that I am not some sort of safe seat correlation obsessed one trick pony but when the latest expenses scandal broke I couldn't help but wonder if I was to apply my original analysis to it whether we would see anything different. I actually expected that we would not see the same sort of thing, after all this is a quite significantly changed parliament and as various people were queueing up to tell me before, my original findings apparently were just coincidental.

So surely this time around we would find no link? Certainly not a similar shaped graph to last time anyway?

Well I only have 14 names out of the 27 supposed transgressors so far but....


Sunday 21 October 2012

Linkage for Sunday, 21st October 2012

George Young Will Be A Legendary Chief Whip -Good piece from @jerryhayes1 on how being nice to people in politics pays off

The Tories forced their own chief whip out. David Cameron beware

Prince Charles has no right to privacy on public matters

Why I’m not marching - Hopi Sen(se)

Opinion: Where now on Electoral Reform? (France!)

What game theory teaches us about Lance Armstrong

Jimmy Savile was protected by the media's defence of the status quo | Ros Coward via @guardian - V thought provoking

Here's why MPs will eventually have to publish their landlord/renting details:

An affront to democracy, and to transparency

Interesting graph here showing the effect of all the spending on the War on Drugs since 1970:

Is liberalism wrong – and how would we know? via @libdemvoice

This is fantastic. Guy jumps into frozen pool:!

I think this piece is supposed to make Jeremy Hunt look stupid. It just makes The Queen and Prince Phillip look rude:

Hey DLT. If you didn't do this groping you're accused of, why do you feel need to claim 70s was a "different world"?

The Very Fluffy Diary of Millennium Dome, Elephant: Day 4306: The Problem with the Four Pledges Test

Hopelessly flawed and never quite what they seem - but leaders cling to referendums for comfort - Comment - Voices -…

NHS Reform, the bill "no one voted for"? No, not really.

Caron's Musings: Page 3 is the tip of a huge iceberg which threatens our society

Are David Cameron's political antennae broken?

A few days after the GateGate/PlebGate scandal blew up I was speaking to someone well connected in Westminster who asked me whether I thought Andrew Mitchell could survive as Chief Whip. I stated that I did not see how he could for the simple reason that he would no longer be able to command the respect of Tory MPs.

He then told me that was exactly what he had been hearing from Tory MPs who had talked to him about it.

I am a Lib Dem activist/blogger who is not often in Westminster. I don't regularly brush shoulders with parliamentarians and I had not spoken to a single "insider" about this until this conversation and yet I was clear as soon as I heard about it that he was no longer capable of doing his job and had to go.

David Cameron clearly disagreed and spent the last month desperately trying to cling on to his Chief Whip. Ultimately this strategy has failed and Mitchell resigned on Friday after his parliamentary colleagues made it clear to him his position was untenable.

What I don't understand is if I as essentially an "interested amatuer" could see this a month ago, why Cameron could not.

Are his political antennae broken? If so this is a dangerous development for a Prime Minister and does not bode well for the rest of his time in government.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Why is The Queen above criticism?

There was an interesting piece on LabourList the other day. Not for what it was trying to say, but for what it inadvertently said.

The story was essentially that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to make a light-hearted comment to Her Majesty at some function. It wasn't a massively funny comment (something about the Emperor of Japan not being brave enough to jump out of a helicopter) but it was an attempt to make a reference to her "jumping out of a helicopter" during the Olympics. Nothing wrong with that. The polite thing to do would be to laugh and say something like "yes I expect he wouldn't!" or similar. Instead HM apparently smiled, shrugged and walked on past Hunt.

Then her husband blundered along demanding to know who Hunt was.

LabourList describe Hunt's attempt at humour as a "tumbleweed" moment. I'm no fan of the Health Secretary (I think he should have been sacked after the News International fiasco) but this is very unfair on him. He simply tried to say something interesting and/or funny. Most recipients of said attempt in a formal situation would not have treated him like this. The Queen was impolite to walk off without comment and the Duke of Edinburgh was rude for demanding to know who he was. He should have made sure he was briefed beforehand. None of this is Hunt's fault and yet he is somehow made to seem like he is to blame for his rather shabby treatment.

This is part of a pattern of behaviour by the media in general when it comes to the Royals, especially The Queen. Her behaviour is never questioned, instead it is those peripherally involved with the story who are automatically assumed to be in the wrong.

There was the incident last month when the BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner inadvertently revealed that The Queen had tried to influence the government regarding how long it was taking for Abu Hamza to be extradited back in 2004. All hell broke loose and it wasn't long before the BBC issued a grovelling apology on Gardner's behalf for having breached this confidence.

But according to our constitution Her Majesty is not supposed to lobby government on policy in this way! It is her who was in the wrong in this story. The BBC had nothing to apologise for. One of its correspondents had reported an attempt by our head of state to interfere in politics which she is not supposed to do. There is a public interest in this story and how it relates to our constitutional arrangements being breached. This was not how the story was reported.

I do wonder if we will ever see the day when the Royal Family and their actions are reported in a fair and balanced way without an inbuilt assumption that they are always in the right.

Because at the moment that is certainly not happening.

This post was first published on Dale & Co.

Friday 19 October 2012

Three things I have got wrong - meme

Following on from Tim Montgomerie's confessional lead regarding three things he feels he has got wrong since starting blogging and commentating I thought I'd have a stab at confessing my own three:

  • I was wrong to so quickly dismiss the claims of Charlotte Gore (with whom I had a long discussion at the 2009 Lib Dem conference on this subject) and various others that Lib Dems being in government would be "our worst nightmare". I think I had a somewhat naive view that once the party was part of a coalition that the public would be able to very clearly see what the party stands for and it would be rewarded as it made a difference. The reality has been very different as we now all know. The excitement of the immediate post-election period with the negotiations and the heady feeling of rubbing shoulders with cabinet ministers at our conferences has now dissipated. What we are left with is the grind of being activists in a party of government having to take very tough decisions about balancing finances and getting the economy back on track. The party is getting little credit for its wins and lots of blame for the things it has compromised on. Whilst I would still contend that it is not our worst nightmare it could become so in 2015 if the polls do not recover from where they currently are. Charlotte was right to be very wary of us going into coalition. I should have been more prepared for the trials and tribulations of being a governing party.
  • In 2009 I wrote a piece entitled "Georgia Gould is too young to become an MP" where I argued that the 22 year old Labour activist who was trying to get selected for a seat should wait a few years. I even argued in the comments that there could perhaps be an age restriction on aspiring MPs so they could not stand until they were at least 30. I was taken to task by some people in the comments and on Twitter and I did take a few steps back and think about what I was advocating. What I was trying to do was find a way to reduce the number of MPs who do not have life experience before representing seats in parliament. But what I was actually doing was showing my own prejudices. I am pretty sure that I would have made a useless MP at the age of 22, 25 or 28. But my life experiences are not the same as everybody else's. There is nothing to say that someone who is 22, 25 or 28 could have experienced all sorts of things that would make them good MPs. Also, I was completely discounting the fact that a bit of variety within the Commons can be a Very Good Thing. Not least because when legislation is being scrutinised the voice of people in their 20s and early 30s can be heard. When I stood in a council by-election in 2010 one of my opponents was a 19 year old Labour candidate called Guy Gillbe. His grasp and experience of politics and issues was very inspiring and I expect he would make a good MP even if he was only in his 20s. I have changed my mind completely on this issue and now think we should not be adding further age restrictions on standing for parliament.
  • I was wrong to believe that the coalition's plans would help to stimulate the economy. After the government was formed and announced its programme I did think that by getting a grip on the finances the economy would pick up. I accept now that the programme did not do enough in terms of stimulus. I still contend that Cameron, Clegg and Osborne did have to send a clear message to the markets in order to ensure we did not lose their confidence (which could have been calamitous) but there was more scope than I think the government accepted for investment which I feel the markets would have understood was intended to stimulate growth. Belatedly we are starting to see moves towards the sort of infrastructure investment I think we need but they are likely to take a fair while to get going and it has taken a double-dip recession to force the government's hand. I still fear Osborne in particular is too hidebound by his previous announcements and rhetoric. I just hope that he can use his economic statement in December to further nudge a somewhat covert Plan B (OK let's call it Plan A+) into action.

I won't tag anyone with this meme as I think it's quite a tricky thing and I don't want to put anyone on the spot but I'd be interested to see other bloggers have a crack at this.

How Linda Riordan has changed her tune

Halifax MP Linda Riordan has reportedly been renting out her London flat for close to £1,500 per month and at the same time claiming a similar amount from the taxpayer to rent somewhere herself.

As far as I can tell this is not against the rules but it looks pretty dreadful. I would have thought all MPs would have conducted a thorough review of their affairs after the expenses scandal in 2009. It was a chance to recognise that even when things are "within the rules" they can still be wrong.

I am not sure if the flat she is renting out was paid for with any public money but given the rules before the scandal it would seem this is possible. It is far from clear to me why an MP should be able to claim rent for a property if they have one themselves nearby. Or at the very least, the income from the flat she is renting out should go towards paying for her living expenses to balance things out if for instance her tenant has a long term lease.

What is also interesting here is how quiet Linda has been since John Bercow announced that the details will not be released. Contrast this with her comments in 2009:

Not this time she hasn't. And this:

When the rules were reformed but she was able to carry on renting out and claiming for rent, did she not think perhaps the reforms needed to go further? Did she speak out about it or lobby her parliamentary colleagues to highlight the anomaly she was taking advantage of?

Thursday 18 October 2012

MPs holding out on landlord and renting details is unsustainable - here's why

From a poll on The Telegraph website today which asks:
"Should MPs be forced to reveal if they rent out their taxpayer-funded homes?"

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The fluffy one on my drugs policy pledge

Millennium Dome Elephant has done a post where he points out how the Four Pledges question (that Jennie Rigg asked as part of her Federal Policy Committee candidates' grilling: "What four pledges would you put on the front of the next Lib Dem manifesto?") is tricky because as candidates we have differentiate ourselves but also make sure the pledges are deliverable.

Part way through his article he points out how one of my answers "A pledge to legalise and regulate all currently illegal drugs" illustrates the problem:

Of course this is absolutely the right policy: he's done much more research into the evidence than me, but what we'd both tell you is that the so-called war on drugs is a massively expensive failure that boosts the profits of criminal gangs while putting many lives in danger from cut drugs and crossfire. Legalisation would save police time and money; allow users some certainty they were getting what they paid for and not chalk cut with horse tranquilisers or rat poison; and allow us to treat addiction medically without stigma. The levels of harm from cannabis or ecstasy (see Jennie's question one) are not nothing but are tiny compared to the levels of harm that we accept from drinking or smoking. It's obviously the liberal thing to do. And, hell, it might even boost the economy.
But Labour and the Conservatives will join forces to block it, just as they did with Lords Reform, because the status quo is in there interest – namely playing to the "law and Order" gallery for the support of certain newspapers in their ever more insane bids to outflank one another on the right.
They'll beat us up for suggesting it and then beat us up AGAIN for not delivering it!

The fluffy one is of course correct that Labour and the Conservatives would join forces to block this policy in a coalition. However I am not convinced by the rest of his analysis.

I suppose it all depends what we hope to achieve with our pledges. I have never made any secret of the fact that an evidence based drugs policy is very high up the list of my policy priorities (for many reasons). So as I am standing for the committee within my party that deals with policy and I am asked a question like this I am bound to include drugs policy reform as an answer. It doesn't mean that I would have much chance of actually succeeding in getting it on the front cover of our next manifesto! But I would certainly argue for it to be a prominent policy.

Let's just run though with the assumption that it did make it into the Big Four. During negotiations I would expect either the Reds or Blues to insist they were not able to support this policy. But what that would then do is spark a very widespread debate about why this should be. There is growing evidence that many people in this country are sick of the existing failed approach and if the third party was advocating a reform approach as part of its programme for government which legalised and regulated drugs it would force the other parties to properly engage with the reasons why they were not willing to look at the evidence. Sure, they will try and use the same high-handed responses they always do "drugs cause harm" (as if those of us wanting reform do not already know that and indeed are trying to reduce it) but because this would be a big story there is likely to be more detailed analysis and comparisons with e.g. other countries where reform has been successful. I have always thought that if there was a full open national debate on this subject those of us who advocate change have a good chance of winning the argument and helping to persuade even more people to our cause. This would be a good opportunity to do just that.

On Millennium's final point about how we would then be beaten up for failing to deliver on this policy, I very much doubt that. The public have seen Labour and Conservative again and again over the years refuse to engage properly with this debate. The fact that they would block it would be no surprise and we could hardly be blamed for at least trying.

This of course opens up the wider question of whether we should be including pledges that we essentially know will not end up as part of a government programme. I may address that in a later post.

Conor Burns doesn't understand the difference between "The Government" and "The Tory Party"

Classic bit of whining here from former Tory minister Conor Burns over how the Lib Dems are now going to vote against boundary changes:

"It appears to prove what many have long feared: it’s one rule for the Conservatives, who have to resign or be sacked to vote against the government, and another rule for the Deputy Prime Minister who just has to have a hissy fit."

Burns resigned in order to vote against Lords reform, hence his bitterness as what he seems to perceive as double standards.

But the former minister is fundamentally misunderstanding how coalition government works. He resigned because he was voting against a bill that had been agreed by the leadership of the two coalition parties, i.e. the Government. However in the case of the boundary changes there is not agreement from the Lib Dem leadership. So this just leaves the Conservative leadership wanting the changes.

They are not the Government!

Monday 15 October 2012

I'm standing for Federal Policy Committee

I am standing for election to the Lib Dem Federal Policy Committee in the party elections this month.

The main plank of my platform is that I will fight for the connection between party members and national policy-making to be maintained whilst we are in government.

My key policy priorities are:

  • Further economic stimulus
  • Civil liberties
  • Evidence based drugs policy
  • Electoral reform

I have a Facebook campaign page here where I have outlined my views in other policy areas too and I have answered Jennie Rigg's excellent and probing candidate questions here. You can find answers from some of the other candidates on Jennie's site here.

If you feel able to I would very much appreciate a high preference vote from you, 1st if possible!

If you want to ask me any questions please feel free to leave them in the comments below, leave them on my Facebook page, e-mail me at or tweet me @MarkReckons.



Saturday 13 October 2012

Why I don't think I'll ever be a Tory

I sometimes look at other political parties and think about how closely their policies align with my own. As I have blogged about before on here I only joined the Lib Dems 4 years ago at the age of 34. It took me a long time to "pick a team" as it were and I think it is only healthy for me to keep this under review.

To be honest though the very strong continuing feeling I get is that the Lib Dems are the right political home for me. Even when I disagree with things the party says and does I know that I will be able to debate with my party colleagues and ultimately get a chance to vote on issues to help formulate the party's policies. And as my political centre of gravity seems to be in a similar position to many of the other activists I know within the party I don't feel that it is likely I will be making a move any time soon.

In the case of Labour, their terribly authoritarian approach to civil liberties made them an absolute no-go area for me in the previous decade. I am yet to see compelling evidence that they have changed their spots on that. Now they are in opposition their sheer opportunism and lack of a credible and coherent programme is also a big turn-off for me. They do not seem to have any proper guiding philosophy to their approach other than opposing almost everything the government does, taking no account of the compromises my own party has inevitably had to make and accusing us of anything from naivety through to utter betrayal of our principles. There are however areas of their approach and their historic positions that I retain some affection for. I did after all come from a family of staunch socialists and whilst I would not describe myself as such (and am much more a liberal than a statist) there is bound to be some residual identification with their core beliefs.

In the case of the Conservative party however I am starting to realise just how deep my differences with the core beliefs of the vast majority of its members run.

My differences with the blues are multifarious. But the area that has been most sharply brought into focus with me most recently is their approach to most constitutional reform.

I'll just run through a quick list of the changes that I either was in favour of or would be in favour of and that the Conservatives have either opposed within campaigns or never even allowed to get as far as a campaign as they are so opposed they have ensured we do not get that far*:

  1. Proportional Representation for the Commons: During the coalition negotiations it was made clear that a referendum on a proportional system would never be sanctioned by Tory MPs. So it was never made part of the agreement. The idea was killed on the starting blocks.
  2. Alternative Vote for the Commons: Allowed a referendum on AV and then pulled out all the stops to kill it during the referendum campaign. Many of the arguments they used were at best disingenuous and at worst outright lies. As Tim Gowers blogged about at the time, many of their arguments were actually provably wrong mathematically!
  3. Scottish devolution: After the failed 1978 referendum where they were firmly in the No camp the Conservatives held power at Westminster for 18 years and made very sure that the Scottish devolution issue was kept on the political back burner. Once Labour got in in 1997, the Tories were viscerally opposed to devolution again. They failed in their attempts to stop it second time around.
  4. Welsh devolution: Again Tories were agin. They (only just) failed to prevent the formation of the Welsh Assembly.

On top of that there are other campaigns that we may never see given the light of day that I would support such as a written constitution, disestablishment of the Church of England, abolition of the Monarchy and conversion to a Republic with an elected head of state** etc. etc. etc.

The Conservatives are essentially the party of the status quo. They largely like things the way they are and only (reluctantly) support major change when they are dragged kicking and screaming usually in retrospect after the change has been implemented.

So you can imagine my lack of surprise the day before yesterday when I was listening to Today on Radio 4 and they introduced an item about votes at 16. Speaking in favour was a rather forward thinking Labour MP Natascha Engel who had some good arguments I thought. Speaking against was, surprise, surprise former Conservative cabinet minister Michael (now Lord) Forsyth. As far as I could tell, Forsyth's argument seemed to consist of how terrible it would be for Scotland to allow votes at 16 in their referendum as it would "set a precedent" that could then lead to votes at 16 across the country. In other words we can't let those pesky Scots have their way on this because the rest of the country might like what they see and want it as well. How very dare they!?

It was highly reminiscent of some of the dreadful arguments made during the AV campaign. It seems to me that the Conservatives essentially start from a position of "Let's keep everything as it is" and then try to find the arguments for this later. There seems to be little attempt at the core of the party to properly debate the constitution and how we might change it for the better. There are occasional nods such as the election of local police commissioners but those are very much the exceptions. Thinkers like Tory MP Douglas Carswell who would go much further in his reforms (and even backs STV) are on the sidelines and are not allowed into the inner circle of the party.

Wanting to change things that I think are wrong with our political system is core to my political identity. I'm not sure if that makes me a radical or whatever label you would like to put on it but one thing I am very sure it does make me is fundamentally incompatible with the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

* I am aware that it is not just the Conservatives that are guilty of this. Elements within Labour have sometimes combined with the Tory party to thwart change e.g. on PR for the Commons and during the AV referendum.

** I am also aware that some of the issues I have raised here such as abolition of the Monarchy do not have widespread support within the country. Nevertheless there are a substantial minority of people in the UK who do want these changes and their voices should be heard rather than squashed by the establishment headed by the Conservative party who seem to want everyone to love the Royal family as much as they do upon pain of being painted "unpatriotic". It is possible love your country and at the same time want to see changes made that you think will improve it.

Wednesday 10 October 2012


Hatttp Dangerous Minds

Sources close to Thompson

Later today Mark Thompson will attempt to solve a tricky database problem.

He will urge colleagues to "stick with him" whilst he tackles the issue which is expected to take most of the morning and perhaps some of the afternoon.

Thompson will urge the tables within the database to "unite" probably through linking key fields or even aides say using stored procedures.

The software developer stressed that whilst the problems he faces are difficult it is important to "stay the course". He is expected to reject calls for a different approach utilising a big spreadsheet and will insist "there is no alternative".

The high profile database work comes just days after a particularly tricky logical error within the codebase that Thompson tracked down using a binary chop of the source code control system.

Sources close to Thompson say that he may even delay lunch until the problem is solved. Although he has a Pot Noodle in the cupboard.

He insists however that the snack food is Plan A+ and not Plan B.

Sunday 7 October 2012

The state of blogging

A number of Lib Dem blog posts (and some from a former Lib Dem) in the last couple of weeks have been discussing the state of blogging in general and Lib Dem blogging in particular. They seem to have been sparked initially by Stephen Tall's remarks during his Blog of the Year Award speech at conference where he highlighted how there are now fewer Lib Dem blogs registered on the aggregator than in previous years.

There have been questions about whether those awards themselves need to be revamped and also general debate about the quality of what is being written nowadays and the format in which it is happening.

I engaged with this discussion on Twitter and am probably a bit late to the party as regards blogging about it but here is my two penn'orth.

Next month will be the fourth anniversary of this blog's existence and it is fair to say that things have changed a lot with online writing in that time.

The biggest change in my view has been the consolidation of blogging into a number of widely read and powerful (in the online sense) group blogs. This was already happening to an extent when I started but it has happened much more recently. For example I cannot think of any Conservative activist blogs that are written by a single person and read widely. Instead, pretty much all the Conservative online writing (excluding MSM) that is worth reading is published by Conservative Home. Now I'm not necessarily saying this is a terrible thing. Con Home is a very good site and they do seem to reflect a wide range of views (they even published a piece from me recently!). But of necessity they have a particular format and length restrictions etc. that mean those views are now presented in a similar way to each other. This diversity that was prevalent in blogging's early days is now largely filtered through the Con Home conduit.

A similar dynamic can be observed in the Labour/left wing blogosphere. LabourList, Left Foot Forward, Political Scrapbook and Liberal Conspiracy are the main blogs in this arena and between them they have hoovered up most of the best left wing writers. Some of them (such as my old friend Emma Burnell) continue to write some posts on their own blogs but the gravitational pull of these larger group blogs has taken its toll.

Lib Dems, perhaps reflecting their somewhat stubborn individualistic tendencies have been less prone to this form of online corralling. There is still a reasonably vibrant Lib Dem blogging scene albeit again some of the best writers have been co-opted as day-editors of Lib Dem Voice. But I think that structure works quite well as 6/7 days each of those people can and do crack on with putting out content on their own sites. Even Mark Pack and Stephen Tall (the main editors of Lib Dem Voice) have their own individual blogs they keep updated whereas this tends not to happen with the major Conservative and Labour blogs.

From a non-party perspective there are also a number of independent group blogs such as Dale & Co, The Huffington Post UK and The Periscope Post which are having varying degrees of success and influence. And of course sitting atop all of this is the Guido Fawkes blog which quite incredibly has managed to become the equivalent of a major tabloid newspaper within the blogosphere with almost as much political influence as something like The Sun. This may or may not be a good thing depending on your point of view!

There have been a number of excellent writers who have stopped altogether over the four years I have been blogging. People like Alix Mortimer, Charlotte Gore and Stuart Sharpe spring instantly to mind but there are plenty of others. But that is bound to happen over any length of time and there are plenty of new bloggers who have started in the meantime.

There are also a number of writers who started online and who have moved into writing for newspapers or magazines (in some cases exclusively, in other cases still maintaining an independent online presence). I say good luck to them. Getting paid and getting a wide readership are the two most difficult things in blogging so those that have managed to achieve it have nothing but my admiration.

Another important factor in recent years has been the rise of social media. Facebook and Twitter for example are used extensively by politicians and activists to engage in discussions with other activists and also non-politicos. Twitter in particular seems well suited to this as it allows an asymmetric number of followers vs those whom you follow so it well suits politicians and others who may only want to directly follow a small number of people but for whom there are thousands who would like to read what they say. Julian Huppert made this exact point in a fringe meeting I attended at conference.

Twitter is often misunderstood by those who have not used it. It is not just a forum for telling people "what you had for breakfast" (although many of its users will have done this at one point or another!). If used well it can be an excellent way of breaking stories; they can spread like wildfire within minutes. It can also be used to engage in debates with activists from all parties and none. The way the reply mechanism works means that you can debate with several people at once although eventually the 140 character limit means you run out of room for all of their names but some of the best discussions about politics I have ever had occurred on Twitter. Also, often things I discuss on there spark off an idea that results in a blog-post. I see the two fora as complementary to each other rather than that "Twitter is killing blogging" as I have sometimes seen commented.

It's probably invidious to try and discern if blogging is objectively worse or better than it was four years ago. It's certainly different and very likely will continue to change.

For my part, I have written for a number of the group blogs listed above but I have always seen that as an adjunct to my own independent blogging on here. I did temporarily cease blogging in 2010 for a few months but couldn't stay away for long! Also in the last year for personal reasons I have not blogged as frequently as in previous years but in some ways I feel that has given my posts more room to breathe. I have tended to find that if I don't blog for a few days then a post just sort of bubbles up inside me and then comes out in a frenzy of typing in 10 or 20 (or in the case of this post about 50) minutes.

I've no idea where the medium of blogging is going to go in the next few years. Probably more consolidation and perhaps more of its brightest stars poached by the mainstream media. But I think one thing is clear. Independent online writing in all its forms will continue to have a major effect on politics for many years to come.

We should all be thankful for the deeper engagement with the public that this allows.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Small rail suppliers should also be reimbursed, not just the Big Boys

So Branson has got his way after all.

The franchising for the West Coast Main Line has been scrapped after "significant technical flaws" were discovered following a review by the Department for Transport.

This has to be viewed as a significant victory for the Virgin boss. He was very active in the media in the days following the initial announcement of the awarding of the franchise to First Group and it is almost certain these flaws would not have come to light had it not been for his campaign and the threat of legal action forcing the DfT to review its procedures.

According to Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin the estimated cost of reimbursing the four bidding companies will be £40m.

But what this fails to take into account is all the small companies within the supply chain for companies like First Group who will not be reimbursed for work undertaken as part of these bids.

A source has contacted me to say that there are numerous companies in this position, some of whom will have invested a substantial amount in these processes. At a time of economic difficulty when the rail industry is already essentially on its knees this could now be a blow from which some of them cannot recover, unless action is taken.

What makes it worse is that all the franchise competitions have been "paused" in the light of what has happened with the West Coast Main Line. This means the number of smaller companies affected will be even larger. They may now have to wait 6 months or longer before these processes restart. This sort of delay could easily be enough to put a number of them out of business.

I would encourage the government and Vince Cable in particular to look into this and ensure that no companies further down the supply-chain in this process are forced to pay the ultimate price for a situation not of their making.

Small companies are the life-blood of our economy as ministers repeatedly tell us. So the government should put their money where their mouths are and make sure that the incompetence of the Department for Transport does not kill off the very companies who will get us out of this recession.

Linkage for Wednesday, 3rd October 2012

Fleet street fox: Blinded by the obvious << Best piece I have read on how the "Savile problem" had a blind eye turned to it for years

Labour conference: the anger of voters » Spectator Blogs via @frasernelson

This is an example of why the mantra of "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." is bollocks.

Liberal Democrat conference must urgently accommodate speeches via Skype* via @libdemvoice and @paulwalteruk < +1

Damian McBride, The Seven Year Hitch << McBride is an excellent chronicler of New Labour back-room shenanigans. I expect a memoir from him would do very well indeed.

Is Miliband proposing to abolish ethical investing?

David Cameron on Letterman: politics is not light entertainment | Deborah Orr << Sadly though it has essentially become this

10 things the Lib Dem conference has taught us | Politics | The Guardian

ABC News Tracks Missing iPad To Florida Home of TSA Officer - ABC News

The BlackBerry typo that landed a man in jail  | PC Pro blog << This is utterly ridiculous

Dodgy Tory polling << Observe my shocked face

Monday 1 October 2012

Chuka's hypocrisy

Chuka UmunnaJust heard up and coming Labour shadow minister Chuka Umunna on The World at One being grilled about Labour's announcement that there will have to be further cuts if they win power in 2015.

Under questioning from Martha Kearney he pointed out that they would be making the cuts because "they have no choice".

Yet Chuka has been at the head of the queue previously denouncing the "ideological" cuts of the coalition government.

So, just so we're clear, when Labour cuts it's because they are forced to but when the coalition does it, it's because they're evil ideologues.

Got that?