Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Sanctimonious hypocritical rubbish from Labour on the NHS

I read this piece on LabourList today from a Labour candidate in Brighton and I am afraid I couldn't help myself but post a somewhat ranty response in the comments below it.

I thought I'd reproduce it here seeing as it's the longest thing I've written in a while!

What an absolute load of sanctimonious tribalistic rubbish. You didn't "rebuild" the NHS in 1997 and you won't need to "rebuild" it in 2015. It was perfectly functional when your party came to office in the 1990s and will be so next year if you win.

Your comments about cuts should be seen for what they are - hypocritical. The current government has ring fenced NHS spending against their cuts. Tiny rounding errors where money is either not spent in an area or rolled into the next year are screamed about by your party as "CUTS"! But your party made no such pledge about ring fencing the NHS so the readers can draw their own conclusions about what would have happened had you won in 2010.

The administrative problems you refer to regarding the closure of a GP surgery in Brighton is the sort of thing that happens under all governments not just this one. There were loads and loads (and loads) of admin issues under Labour. I remember Tony Blair getting an absolute roasting from a BBC Question Time audience during the 2005 general election campaign when one audience member highlighted how they could not book an appointment in advance and had to ring on the day first thing in the morning when they could often not get through. Blair said he was sorry and it must be particular to that one surgery at which point many more people in the audience spoke up about how they had exactly the same problem across a variety of surgeries. I myself had experienced it too. It was systemic. It was still happening late in the previous parliament when Labour had had over a decade to sort this out. Was that SAME OLD EVIL UNCARING LABOUR??!!! or is it simply that a massive bureaucratic service like the NHS is by definition very difficult to manage and when you have all sorts of targets (some of which contradict each other) administrative failings like this are inevitable. It's nothing to do with the party or parties in power usually. It's just the nature of complex systems.

Your party might have been in power when the NHS was founded but there was a clear pre-war consensus that something like it was going to happen and the Beveridge report which was the foundation of the NHS was produced by a member of the Liberal Party. Your party does not own the NHS like so much of your rhetoric and this piece would imply. It is owned by all of us. And it is not just Labour members and voters who care about it. We all do.

And finally, this is probably a controversial point because Cameron himself has unwisely referred to the death of his son probably too many times in this context but to suggest as you do that Cameron personally does not understand the value of the NHS is simply factually incorrect. Anyone who has had a sick/terminally ill child understands intuitively the value of it. It is very unwise of you to suggest otherwise.

Thursday 27 November 2014

This is why people hate you Gloria

Labour MP Gloria De Piero has a piece on LabourList today where she highlights Lib Dem "hypocrisy" on pay transparency.

She talks about how Jo Swinson has been going around saying that compulsory pay transparency is now Lib Dem policy and how it is necessary to help close the gender pay gap.

But the twist in the tale is that Labour are organising a vote on this issue on 16th December and the Lib Dems are not going to vote for it. Hence all the talk of hypocrisy.

I'm not a Lib Dem any more and I don't blog as often as I used to mainly because I feel so often like I am just repeating myself but I'll have another go.

Gloria, the reason why the Lib Dems cannot vote with you is. Wait for it. Because....

They. Are. In. Coalition.

That means they cannot just go around voting on things that are not agreed government policy. If they were to do that the government would collapse.

Gloria knows this of course. She's just playing political games in the hope of "embarrassing" the Lib Dems.

A couple of years ago Gloria went round the country speaking to people on her "Why do you hate me?" tour, trying to find out why people dislike politicians so much. Well here is a prime example. An MP pretending she does not understand how collective government responsibility works in order to score political points from one of her rivals. I'd say that's a good reason why people hate MPs Gloria.

There is a way to redeem yourself though. If there is another hung parliament after the next election, and if Labour find themselves in coalition with a smaller party, you will need to argue vociferously for that smaller party to be able to vote any way they wish on any issue. And Labour will just have to put up with the consequences of this.

After all, anything else would mean that party being "hypocritical" wouldn't it Gloria?

And we can't have that now can we?

Thursday 30 October 2014

What does the decade of Guido tell us about online political writing?

I started writing about politics online in 2008. At the time the "blogosphere" (as we decreasingly refer to it these days) was in the ascendency. There were serious pieces written and debates had about whether "blogs" would ultimately supplant the mainstream media*.

The ecology of the blogosphere at the time was already starting to take on the sort of "long tail" shape that has since become much more pronounced. There were a number of blogs that were highly prominent. Iain Dale was arguably the most famous of these. The erstwhile Tory parliamentary candidate and publisher had carved out a niche for himself with "Iain Dale's Diary" where he readably and prolifically held forth on his political views and sometimes other more frivolous topics such as his favourite music. Because Iain was (and is) so well connected, having been involved in Tory politics and more widely for years he was often able to get stories and information about breaking news before us mere mortals and hence was genuinely able to compete with major media outlets as well as set the agenda himself. Of course Iain has since gone on to bigger and better things hosting the drive time show on the now national LBC radio. He does still occasionally blog but nothing like he used to.

There were various prominent "self starter" online writers around this time that I used to enjoy reading such as Recess Monkey, Dizzy Thinks, Letters From A Tory, A Blog from the Backroom and others many of whom have either fallen by the wayside or update their blogs much less frequently than they used to.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the lot though back in 2008 was the website "Order Order" run by the at that point enigmatic Paul Staines. The site itself dealt in scandal and attacks which seemed largely indiscriminate. If you were a politician (or even an apologist for them in Guido's eyes) you were a target. Stylistically the pieces on the site were similar to opinion pieces in a tabloid newspaper. Think "The Sun Says" but slightly longer form and with red writing to add emphasis where necessary.

Guido was intriguing though because unlike most of his contemporaries he seemed able to regularly break stories. "Conspirators" were sometimes the source of these (continuing the Gunpowder Plot linked theme) but like Dale, Staines seemed to be very well connected.

I first came across Order Order following Staines' somewhat disastrous Newsnight appearance in March 2007 where Michael White got the better of him. It wasn't helped by the fact that Staines had insisted on being in shadow and not be referred to by his real name in order to protect his anonymity. Of course White revealed his real name almost immediately during the interview rendering the shadowing pointless.

But despite the car crash nature of this I wanted to know more and became a regular reader of Order Order.

I'll be honest, it's not my style. In fact it's almost as far away from my style as it's possible to be. There are smears, attacks, sarcasm (OK that is a bit like me), mocked up photos to illustrate points (very tabloid), nicknames for the most hated politicians and so on and so on.

In the end though it comes down to what you count most for online writing. Some favour well constructed arguments. Some value rigorous evidence. And while Order Order has its fair share of these, what Staines treasures above all else is viewing figures. And who is to say Staines is wrong in this? In 2008 his was right up there among the most read blogs in the country. In 2014 it is still right up there. He has been able to leverage these figures to ultimately get a column in a national newspaper (The Daily Star Sunday initially and now The Sun on Sunday). Very few bloggers can say that. He is also almost unique among political bloggers in the UK in that he has actually been able to earn a living from his online writing. In fact he has been able to employ several other writers and bring them into the Guido stable. Most notably former "Tory Bear" blogger Harry Cole who Staines once described in a comment on my own blog as "the unchallenged reigning playboy of the blogosphere".

I have met Paul Staines on a couple of occasions. We were on a British Computer Society panel in the run up to the 2010 election and together on a judging panel for some political awards following that same election and had a lunch together with a few others. I have also debated with him on the radio down the line a couple of times. He remains the only person to have turned me down to be a guest on my podcast by just saying he didn't think it was worth his time (which in some ways was commendably honest of him). All the other declines I have had have been much more polite than that. It made it clear to me that he can be very brusque and doesn't mind offending people. Indeed looking at the output of Order Order he obviously thrives on it.

He has a number of political scalps to his name. Most notably former Gordon Brown spinner Damian McBride following the whole "Red Rag" debacle in 2009. This episode demonstrated that Guido has real power and was not to be trifled with.

It would also be remiss of me not to point out that on many occasions Staines (and Cole) have very kindly linked to my work. There are some times when things I write about (usually civil liberties or drugs policy) accords with the libertarian Guido philosophy.

So that's a potted history from my perspective. Now Order Order is 10 years old. But where does that leave us with respect to the question posed in the title of this post? What does the decade of Guido tell us about online political writing?

Well I think one thing it tells us, as if we didn't need telling already is that tabloid newspapers do not exist by accident. When political writing began online the barriers to entry were (and still are) effectively zero. There was no need for the blogosphere to mirror what happened in the world of newspapers. And yet through many, many thousands of experiments in self-starter one-person-band blogs (at least in their initial form) we have seen the one that has risen to the top in terms of readers and income is the one that probably most closely resembles a tabloid**.

No matter how much people like me might argue that there is an audience out there for more nuanced and subtle forms of writing, it is clear that the most success and power has been bestowed on a blog that would probably be offended if either of those adjectives were widely applied to it. The truth is there is an audience out there for my sort of writing but it is nowhere near as big as the audience for a bit of good old fashioned attack journalism.

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from Guido's success though is that you have to be prolific. Staines must have devoted a massive amount of his time to Order Order in the first few years. There were regular posts on most days (usually several). To be able to produce that much content that is interesting and attracts an audience is not easy. Iain Dale once referred to it as "feeding the beast" and he is right. Another way of putting it might be "you're only as good as your last piece and there needs to be another one along in a minute or you're dead".

See I'm not as snappy as these top bloggers am I?

As an addendum to this piece I wanted to point out one other thing. Every now and then, Paul Staines goes off piste and writes a longer form piece on Order Order which does go in depth in analysing issues. It is usually related to the financial markets or fiscal policy where he has particular expertise having worked in the City previously. They are often very readable and would not be out of place in The Economist or a similar publication. But I know from having discussed with him that they get many fewer viewings than his usual tabloid fayre hence he keeps them few and infrequent so as not to distort his brand too much.

* Of course as time has gone on the blogosphere has increasingly become subsumed into the mainstream with brands like The Guardian, The Telegraph and others hoovering up the best and the brightest bloggers.

**Indeed Staines has cited former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie as an important influence on him on more than one occasion.

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Labour agreed with Freud's "Therapeutic Work" idea in 2003

Ed Miliband has managed to dominate today's news cycle with his revelation that Lord Freud, speaking at Conservative conference 2 weeks ago made comments implying that some disabled people may be better off if they were not paid the full minimum wage.

Outrage aplenty today from almost everyone on the left and also lots of disability charities.

But in 2003, whilst Labour were in power, the government published an "Information Note" entitled "The Minimum Wage and Therapeutic Work" (opens PDF).

The document seeks to clarify the legal status of certain groups of people such as those who are disabled with reference to the minimum wage.

With reference to potential therapeutic work it states: "There may be no employment contract if there is no mutual obligation between the parties i.e. the individual is genuinely not obliged to perform duties and the employer is genuinely not obliged to provide the activity or pay the individual."

It then goes on to give a number of examples where it considers the minimum wage would probably not apply such as this one:

(c) A trust runs a facility for mental health out patients, who do various activities such as packing and assembly. They are paid varying amounts up to £20 per week. If they do not attend there are no sanctions. If they go along and do not want to do any activity they don’t have to. There is a production line but the speed is set by the users and if they want to they can turn it off;

Surely this idea is not far off what Lord Freud was saying today? That there may be circumstances where disabled people could derive benefit from a working situation where they were not paid the full minimum wage. Of course Freud did not heavily caveat and nuance his statement and it was clearly not properly thought through.

But the fact that when in power Labour clearly recognised there could be cases where disabled people could provide labour in limited circumstances and not be remunerated to the full extent of minimum wage law demonstrates that Freud's is not such an outlandish idea.

That won't of course stop Labour from continuing to attack him until he eventually has to resign which I predict will happen before the weekend. Because seemingly one thing you never have to worry too much about in politics is being consistent.

Not when there's a shitstorm to kick up anyway.

Hattip to Senior Sceptic on Twitter for highlighting this document to me.

Friday 10 October 2014

Apathy and the attack culture of politics

Ellie Mae O'Hagan wrote a piece for LabourList recently in which she laments political apathy and tries to analyse what the party conference season says about that subject.

Ellie rightly states that "there are large swathes of the electorate who are disillusioned, angry, alienated from politics, and feeling ripped off and unrepresented". Indeed there are and this has been the case for a long old time. So far so obvious as Ellie herself acknowledges.

As to the main question her piece poses she lightly skips over the Labour conference and immediately draws the conclusion from the Tory conference "that they’re aware of high levels of political disillusionment, but they don’t really care as long as the electorate let them get on with it.".

What a shockingly cynical thing to say. And indeed precisely the sort of thing that commentators, activists and politicians saying about political opponents will cause apathy. After all if members of the "Westminster Village" all say that everyone except their own tribe are scoundrels then what do they expect the rest of us to think? I'd say it's pretty uncontroversial to conclude that a good number of them will think all politicians are scoundrels as a result of these sort of tactics.

It gets worse though: "Finally, Nick Clegg branded the Lib Dems 'the party of education,' a claim so ridiculous I won’t even bother to address it.". How utterly, breathtakingly dismissive of a party that has introduced the pupil premium and ensured that millions of primary school aged children now all have free school meals. I am sure Ellie is obliquely referring to the tuition fees debacle which was handled dreadfully but to so sneeringly dismiss everything the Lib Dems have done in government is to again stoke the apathy problem. What is the point of voting for politicians who are so terrible that their opponents don't even feel they need to explain why you shouldn't?

The coup de grace of the Lib Dem section is this little bon mot: "We all know Lib Dem policies are just tokens they redeem in exchange for power anyway.". Yes we all know that Ellie. The Lib Dems are a bunch of unprincipled shysters who crave power so much that they will literally sell their own granny to get their arse on the seat of a ministerial limo. This is despite the fact that for several generations they got nowhere near power. That of course is ignored because we "all" know the dark heart of the Lib Dems now.

I'm singling Ellie out here probably unfairly because all sides do this. It just particularly jarred with me because of the stated intention of the article.

We have a situation where for short term gain, politicos attack the character and motives of their opponents, their opponents do the same back and this carries on month after month, year after year. At the same time trust in politics and politicians keeps falling, people feel more and more disenfranchised and that politicians are "only out for themselves" etc. I know correlation is not necessarily causation but it doesn't take a genius to work out that in this case one has a high probability of affecting the other.

And in this one article we have a very neat, bundled up synopsis of the problem. A bright, articulate Labour activist attempting to write a piece about what we can do regarding political apathy has managed to load it with attacks that are more likely to exacerbate the very problem she is trying to tackle than to help it.

It's enough to make you weep.

Sunday 24 August 2014

It's a disgrace that Alison Goldsworthy has had to leave the Lib Dems

Five years ago when I was a fairly new member of the Lib Dems I was trying to plan my time at my first ever Federal Conference in Bournemouth. I was a little nervous never having attended one of these before and as I was popping fringe events and hall debates into my schedule I realised that I hadn't been invited to anything on the Saturday night which was largely filled with various dinners for local parties and groups. I mentioned this on Twitter and almost immediately Alison Goldsworthy got in touch and insisted that I join her Welsh Lib Dem dinner on the Saturday evening. I pointed out that I am not (nor have never been) Welsh but she was having none of it. I went along and had a really good time being introduced to a number of different movers and shakers in the Welsh party all of whom made me feel very welcome. And despite the fact that I had never met Ali before that evening she treated me as if I was an old friend. I have never forgotten that kindness.

It was clear to me that she was phenomenally well connected within the party, even though she was (and still is) relatively young. She had already stood as a European candidate and was about to stand for a Westminster seat. She was clever, articulate and very funny. Exactly the sort of person you would expect a party like the Lib Dems would want representing them.

But Alison Goldsworthy is no longer a Lib Dem. She left the party in the last few days following the fallout from the Rennard scandal. Ali is one of the women who made allegations about inappropriate behaviour against the peer, allegations that have effectively come to nothing as he was reinstated.

Actually in Ali's case, if what she alleges is true, I would say "inappropriate behaviour" is a severe understatement:

She alleges that in 2004, when she was a 21-year-old candidate in the European elections, she posed for a group photo after a black tie event. She was stood next to Lord Rennard, then Lib Dem chief executive, and was wearing a long, backless dress.
She says that he put his hand down her gown and inside her knickers, past “extremely intimate” areas.
“There was no way it was an accident or that I had invited such an approach,” she claimed. “I couldn’t believe what had happened.”

It is an absolute disgrace that in this situation, Ali is the one who has been left with no choice but to leave the party she loves. In fact all four of the women who made allegations against Rennard which Alistair Webster QC found "broadly credible" have all now left the party.

This is utterly unacceptable. Whatever the Lib Dems think they have done in response to these allegations is nowhere near enough. If the party has any sense it will not consider the "matter is closed" as Rennard so menacingly suggested everyone now needs to do in a recent comment on Lib Dem Voice.

If they don't do something else they frankly deserve the opprobrium being heaped on them and Ali's parting comment that they no longer deserve to be taken seriously.

Friday 11 July 2014

Which of these is more likely to be true?

1) Nick Clegg is totally spineless

2) Politics is inherently very difficult. Those in leadership positions often have to balance many competing interests both within and without their party and at the same time attempt to try and ensure they can maximise their vote in upcoming elections within the constraints they are faced with at any one time.


Thursday 26 June 2014

Our celebrity culture facilitated Jimmy Savile's crimes

The litany of abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile is now becoming very clear following the reports today on a series of reviews carried out by NHS trusts into his behaviour in 28 different hospitals. This is on top of the many hundreds of instances of abuse that he perpetrated in other places including the BBC.

Like everyone who read these I was shocked and disgusted by what he was allowed to get away with and my heart goes out to all the victims. It is almost unbelievable that he was able to perpetrate these acts unpunished for many decades.

There is one aspect of this that I think warrants closer scrutiny because it goes to the heart of why he was able to get away with it for so long. It was how Savile's status as a celebrity afforded him access and respect way beyond what should have been considered acceptable or reasonable.

Time and again in testimony from victims we have heard how he was too powerful or that they were not believed when they confided in someone about what was happening. Sadly not believing victims of abuse is all too common but Savile's fame seems to have made him essentially bulletproof in this area.

We have seen a similar dynamic at play in the cases of Stuart Hall and Max Clifford both of whom also used their fame as leverage to abuse their victims.

As a culture I think we need to reflect long and hard on this. Because our celebrity culture today is worse than ever in terms of how we bestow status and privilege on those who fall under its auspices.

We see this reflected in how people who are famous for being musicians or sports people are invited onto TV and radio programmes to give their opinions on politics, whether they appear to be well informed or not. We see it in how celebrities are invited to pack out the best seats at all our major sporting and cultural events as VIPs. We see it when someone famous for being a moderately amusing dandy comedian and minor film star is treated as some sort of political savant by the media for writing an incoherent article effectively telling young people to disenfranchise themselves. We see it when people famous for nothing at all are able to earn millions of pounds just by keeping themselves in magazines talking about their love lives.

We see it in the eulogies and special retrospective TV and radio shows that the famous are granted when they retire or die (both Savile and Hall were given these in their positions as "national treasures" when they respectively died and retired).

Most industries and professions have anywhere from one to a handful of awards ceremonies each year to recognise achievements. Celebrities have dozens of them plenty of which are televised and most of which are reported on. They afford great opportunities for them to slap each other on the back for being so wonderful.

Of course as a country we have had centuries of inculcation in the art of deferring to our "betters". The monarchy down the ages has taught us this. See this recent ridiculous example where the BBC, reported on how Prince George behaved amongst other children:

"Eight-month-old Prince George appeared to remain calm even though there were tears from some of a similar age."
That's our nation's public broadcaster essentially pointing out how George is better than other children his own age already. Of course he's been a celebrity since birth.

I appreciate that me pointing all of this out might seem a bit beside the point. There are hundreds of victims who will never get justice and surely they should be the focus. Of course they should be and whatever reparations can be made should be.

But we cannot ignore how Savile, Hall, Clifford and perhaps others were able to use the shield of celebrity to commit, perpetuate and in the case of Savile within his lifetime completely get away with their crimes.

Just because somebody is famous, whatever the reason, does not been they are better than anyone else. Respect needs to be earned and nobody should ever be considered to be unlikely to be capable of terrible or criminal behaviour because of any perceived position within society.

Celebrity is not real, it's simply a construct. But the victims of these crimes are real. I hope the legacy of these cases is that the shield these men used has no power in future to hide the guilty.

We all need to make sure it does not.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Why Labour will not be trusted on the economy

Ed Miliband and Ed Balls have been doing their best in recent times to try and convince that they can be trusted on the economy. They have tried to push the message that they will be tough and things are likely to be very tight for years to come and that if they are in government they will have to cut too.

Andrew Rawnsley wrote last week about how difficult it will be for them to do this not least in convincing their own side of the necessity.

But there is another more fundamental aspect of this that is problematic for Labour, perhaps terminally so. It is encapsulated by the following links:

"Tory led government has ideological agenda on cuts" - Angela Eagle (Labour Party Website)

Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson says coalition cuts are "ideological" (Guardian October 2010)

"Be in no doubt - these cuts are ideological" (Seb Dance - Labour Euro candidate LabourList October 2010)

These were just gleaned from two minutes' googling using the keywords "cuts" "ideological" and "Labour". But I remember there being way more than these three instances. Indeed almost every cut the government has ever announced has been opposed as "cruel", "ideological" or "unnecessary" by some Labour party spokesperson or other.

So the idea that they can suddenly in the last few months of the parliament get credibility on the economy by claiming they will be "tough" is laughable, unless they wish to renounce almost everything any spokesperson has ever said about the current government's cuts.

But maybe all of these calls were by lower level people like junior shadow ministers or those such as Johnson who have now left front bench politics....

"Ed Miliband says planned cuts are choice, not necessity" (BBC Website December 2010)

Uh oh spaghettios.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Death of 75 cuts for Clegg?

I am starting to see reports (e.g. here) that small numbers of Lib Dem local parties have held meetings to decide whether to vote to trigger a leadership election for the party. There have only been 4 so far and only 2 of them have voted to trigger the contest. It will take 75 local parties to vote for a contest before it happens.

I also understand that at least a couple of dozen other local Lib Dem parties have arranged such meetings and will hold them in the near future.

One of the problems is that many local parties are playing their cards close to their chest and the information is only leaking out in dribs and drabs.

At first when I heard parties were organising I thought it unlikely the 75 threshold would be reached and that Clegg is probably safe. However that ignores two factors. Firstly, momentum. If we start to reach say 10 or 15 parties voting for a contest and this becomes widely known this could start to feed upon itself. Local parties who hadn't got round to organising a meeting, perhaps because they thought it wouldn't make any difference might just do so. The media may help feed this too. If they start to see a real chance that significant numbers of parties could vote to effectively oust Clegg they are likely to cover the story in more detail and this could cause a feedback loop as described above spurring the undecided or reluctant to action.

The second point is that 75 parties may not be needed. If the momentum is clearly in that direction and it is becoming clear that lots of local parties are voting for a contest we could see a "men in grey suits" moment for Clegg from his senior colleagues who don't want to see the party further damaged by a "death of 75 cuts".

We have seen how ruthless the Lib Dems can be about their leaders once the writing is on the wall. Just ask Charles Kennedy or Ming Campbell whether they have any doubts about their colleague's ability to wield knives...

Thursday 12 June 2014

House of Comments - Episode 114 - May vs Gove

Episode 114 of the House of Comments podcast "May vs Gove" is out. This week I am joined by Labour PPC Uma Kumaran and freelance journalist Bobby Friedman to discuss Gove vs May, the BBC license fee and whether we're ever going to get proper parliamentary recall.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Friday 6 June 2014

After next year the Lib Dems will be finished

I've hesitated for a while about writing this post but I feel that now I need to.

I think that after next year's election, the Lib Dems will be finished as a serious political force in this country.

It gives me no pleasure to write this but it is a reflection of the reality the party is now facing.

When I left the Lib Dems last November I did allude to some of the policies the party had enabled or allowed in government (e.g. secret courts) that I had been very unhappy with although my primary reason for leaving was more a general disillusionment with politics. But what was also becoming increasingly apparent to me was that the path the Lib Dems were continuing to take was doing them no favours. This has been crystalised in the last few weeks with the dreadful results in the local elections, the catastrophic result in the European elections and to top it off the party's candidate in Newark losing his deposit and coming sixth.

I know that in each of these cases there are defences that can be deployed. Parties of government always get a kicking mid term. The press is virulently anti-EU so of course being "the party of in" was always going to be a difficult sell. Newark was never likely to vote Lib Dem in significant numbers and smaller local parties always get squeezed out in by-elections. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But the excuses are wearing thin. very thin.

The Lib Dems are now facing an existential crisis. Parties like Labour and the Conservatives can take a "mid-term kicking" and even lose a couple of million (or more votes) between elections and it only reduce their parliamentary representation by maybe a third. But for an already small party like the Lib Dems, a loss on this scale could mean something close to wipeout.

We have already seen a taste of this in the European elections. I saw Lib Dem after Lib Dem both online and in other media express the view that the party would probably retain "a few" MEPs. The idea that they would lose all of them was not seriously entertained at least publicly. And yet the party only retained Catherine Bearder in the South East by 8,000 votes (I cast one of them). Catherine is now the only remaining Lib Dem MEP. For a party that prides itself on being the party of Europe this is utterly devastating.

The thing is that the polls all pointed to something like that happening, coming within a hair's breadth of total wipeout and yet the Lib Dem party leadership led their troops into battle on a broken prospectus with a leader who has lost all credibility.

It pains me to say this. I have met and spent time with Nick Clegg. He is a very nice man who showed personal kindness towards me. He was generous with his time despite the fact I am sure he had more important people to be speaking to. But the fact remains that he is now politically toxic. He is the punch-line to a thousand political jokes. In the same way as Tony Blair will forever be associated with Iraq, Clegg will forever be associated with the broken pledge on tuition fees. No matter what he says and does he lacks credibility.

During the first debate with Nigel Farage in the run up to the European elections he visibly deflated when asked about that subject. He must know in his heart of hearts that he will never escape it. He has tried toughing it out pointing out that the Lib Dems have introduced a fairer system than Labour. He has tried apologising. He has tried time and again to move on from it. Nothing has worked.

But it is not just Clegg. All Lib Dems who are members of the government are equally complicit in the compromises they have made, and therefore in the eyes of much of the electorate would be similarly poisonous were they to be elevated to the leadership in Clegg's stead.

I am not saying any of this is fair. It is not. I genuinely believe that the Lib Dems came into government at a time of crisis in the national interest and have tried very hard to ameliorate the policies of what would have been a fairly hard right government. But in doing so they have scorched their own earth. You only have to read through the voluminous comments on the many, many soul searching posts recently published on Lib Dem Voice to see how so many of the party's own activists fear this analysis is correct.

Small "l" liberals like me who wanted to see liberal policies like reform of our ridiculous drugs laws have seen things actually move in the opposite direction. Those on the left have seen the party execute what they perceive as a series of betrayals. Those on the right have seen the party thwart the sort of policies they would have liked to have seen. And those who pay very little attention to politics have been exposed to a low-level background drum-beat of a narrative that constantly criticises the party in general and Clegg in particular for all of this.

I cannot see how the Lib Dems can avoid something close to wipeout next year. Until recently I had thought that incumbency would save a decent number of the party's MPs. But at 6.7% nationally which is what the party just achieved in a national election they would be back to the days of fitting all their MPs into a phone box or worse. First past the post can easily deliver that sort of outcome.

And I can see a similar pattern of denial happening with regard to next year's elections that we saw with the Euros. Clegg still seems convinced that the party will ultimately reap the rewards of an improving economy. Even though he was convinced a couple of years ago that that would have happened a year or so before the election and even though the economy is clearly improving and the Conservatives are getting the benefit of that, the Lib Dems are not. Let me spell it out. They will not. The dynamic is all wrong. The Lib Dems are getting all of the blame and the Conservatives are getting all the credit.

The only hope for the party I fear is that the next parliament is not hung. Then they can retreat with whatever is left of their parliamentary party in the Commons and rebuild. Although that could take decades.

If there is another hung parliament and the party somehow manages to get enough MPs to form a coalition and they do so then the party will be dead within 5 or 10 years, whichever way they go and whatever they do. If they go in with the Tories they will just be seen as an adjunct of them. And if they go in with Labour they will be seen as unprincipled political gadflies who will do anything to get and keep power.

I mourn this. I am in favour of pluralistic government. I like seeing parties working together. But a combination of the history of the politics of this country, the crushing electoral system that is so unforgiving, the way the media splits everything into a binary choice and the mistakes the party has made in government mean that they will never get a fair hearing unless something fundamental changes.

It is now clear that Clegg will be leader for the 2015 general election. He has seen off his little local difficulty and got rid of Lord Oakeshott into the bargain. He is probably quietly pleased with that. But all that has done is deferred the day of reckoning. It is coming though and one way or another the most likely outcome in the short to medium term is that the Lib Dems will end up a small rump unable to influence very much or do anything of note, perhaps for many years, perhaps for ever.

Disraeli once said "England does not love coalitions". We are about to see that played out.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

House of Comments - Episode 110 - Small is Beautiful

Episode 110 of the House of Comments podcast "Small is Beautiful" is out. This week I am joined by Green Party activist Sian Berry and leader of The Pirate Party UK Loz Kaye to discuss Cameron's pledge to resign if he can't get an EU referendum, Fracking, copyright law and how the UK political system treats small parties.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Friday 9 May 2014

Pride purges the truth

(not satire - It's Tom Pride!)

Pride's Purge has a somewhat distorted post today.

He has decided to highlight 21 things that the Lib Dems "didn't bother" to veto. And then juxtaposed this against the one thing that he suggests they have vetoed, the mandatory second strike knife crime suggestion from David Cameron. He's even got a graphic and everything, look:

Now I suspect some Lib Dems would quibble with the description of some of those in the right hand column but let's leave that to one side.

The biggest problem with this list is that there is way more than one thing the Lib Dems have vetoed in government. Here is a list gleaned from comments by both Nick Clegg and David Cameron:

  • Cuts to inheritance tax
  • Bringing back O levels
  • Profit making in schools
  • New childcare ratios
  • Firing workers at will with no reason needing to be given
  • Regional pay in the public sector
  • Scrapping housing benefit for under 25s
  • Ditching the Human Rights Act
  • Weakening protections in the Equality Act
  • Boundary changes
  • Various measures on the environment
  • Automatic renewal of Trident
  • Reducing top rate of tax to 40%
  • Snoopers' Charter
And I am sure there are loads of others too.

Tom, if you're going to run a "satirical" blog trying to score points off everyone except Labour, at least get your basic facts right.

Surely you can find real things to attack the Lib Dems for rather than just making shit up?

Saturday 19 April 2014

Since 2010 the Government has been more popular than Labour

In 2010 something quite remarkable happened.

Two parties came together, they claimed in the national interest (although some would of course dispute that motive) to form a coalition in order to govern the country for the next 5 years.

It has been difficult for the Conservatives and Lib Dems. They haven't always agreed and there have been at time bitter arguments between them. However they have managed to remain in government together and nobody now seriously thinks that they will not last another year until polling day on May 7th 2015.

In the meantime, the Labour opposition have tried to find different ways to position themselves against the government. They have been quite inventive in this. They have referred to it as a "Tory led government" as they clearly think this is a good attack line. They have at times accused the Lib Dems of "betraying" their voters and also implied that this government has no mandate as nobody specifically elected the coalition. They have questioned the motives of ministers of both parties in the way they have implemented the cuts, claiming they are "ideological". They have berated the government for being heartless, out of touch, in the pocket of millionaires and many, many, many other such attacks.

This has been rather effective. Look:

Labour climbed ahead of the Tories in the polls a few months after the 2010 general election and apart from a slight blip a year or so later when the Tories briefly overtook them they have basically stayed ahead. The Lib Dems slid down to around 10% and have bumped around at that level ever since.

Surely based on this Labour is winning the argument and the public would prefer Labour then?

Well not quite actually. Look:

If we combine the totals of both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, (i.e. the two parties of government) then that combined total has largely been ahead of Labour. There's a bit of crossover around the time and for a while after the "Omnishambles" budget of 2012. But for the majority of the time and certainly quite recently the "government" total has been ahead.

Of course the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are two separate parties. They won't be merging or standing on joint tickets, or even going for some sort of "coupon" agreement next year. They will stand separately. But Labour consistently attacks and berated the entire government. The pejorative term "ConDem" government is used to great effect in their campaigning. So if they are going to attack the entire government it is only fair to look at the figures in that context. And that shows us that despite the fact that for 4 years the government has had to make swingeing cuts and has launched unpopular reforms in all sorts of areas, they are still more popular than the Labour opposition.

If I was a Labour politician or activist I'd be very worried about this.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

House of Comments - Episode 106 - The Miller Tale

Episode 106 of the House of Comments podcast "The Miller Tale" is out. This week I am joined by Labour PPC Jessica Asato and Lib Dem commentator Mark Pack to discuss the fallout from the Maria Miller resignation, power and harassment in politics and they address the question: "What are the Lib Dems for?".

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Sunday 6 April 2014

I blame the voters

I quit the Lib Dems last year mainly due to a growing disillusionment with politics. This takes a number of forms but amongst the top irritations for me is the culture of "failing to think things through".

I suppose there are many policies that would fall into this category in some way or another. Examples would be the "bedroom tax" which although in principle in a perfect world might work, in a country where it has only been possible for 6% of those affected to actually move to a smaller house (due to lack of housing stock) it instead causes hardship and suffering for the remaining 94% for no good reason.

Another example from the other side would be the policy currently being floated by Labour of planning to reduce tuition fees from £9,000 per year to £6,000 per year. All this is going to do is reduce the amount of money that the wealthiest ultimately have to pay back as those who earn moderate or average salaries after graduation would never end up paying the full amount back before the 30 year limit anyway. So a party that professes to want to help the poorest in society are proposing a flagship policy that will actually help the richest.

And in fact calling this the politics of "not thinking things through" is probably too generous. I suspect in most cases these policies have indeed been thought through. It's just that the temptations to garner the headlines for "cracking down on benefits" or "reducing tuition fees for hardworking families" are too good to resist.

The politicians advocating and implementing these policies are really engaging in a form of willful blindness.

But there is an aspect of this that we should not ignore. Those politicians would not be able to get away with doing this if they were properly held to account. Yes, the media should do it but the responsibility equally falls on the shoulders of all of us.

So no longer being a member of a party I now have the freedom to do something that politicians never do.

I'm blaming the voters.

If we had an electorate that fully engaged with the issues then policies like the "bedroom tax" would never have been risked. Those planning to implement it would have realised there would have been a huge backlash from a well informed electorate that would have quickly worked out there is no way for it to work without punishing some of the poorest amongst us.

If we had a franchise that was fully numerate and understood how tuition fees currently work (and who ends up paying them back in full) then Labour would not chance their arm in pushing a policy that rewards future bankers and lawyers at the expense of everyone else.

If we all read up on the history of prohibition in the US in the 1920s and drew the parallels with the current "war on drugs" it is likely that our current damaging, ridiculous, incoherent and inconsistent drugs policies would have been reformed years ago.

But that does not happen. People are too busy and/or uninterested in matters of public policy to give the scrutiny it would require for them to take a collective and fully informed decision.

I get it. I get that for the vast majority politics is a vague background irritant that only impinges on their consciences very occasionally, e.g. at general election time.

What I am saying is that it is all very well to blame politicians for bad decisions (and I often do - they definitely should do better) but their primary goal is to get and retain power. If they think they can only do that by appealing to the lowest common denominator as they know it will be filtered through the tabloid press and by polemicists who often get the most media coverage then that is what they will do.

I'm not sure there is really an answer to this problem. If anything, political engagement has been on the slide in recent decades. I suppose it is possible that as the internet and social media become ever more pervasive the chance for people to fully engage with political issues and evidence increases. But the amount of times I have seen things that are blatantly false go viral online suggests that this is unlikely to be a good solution either.

One thing is for sure. If the electorate continues to be largely disengaged then we will continue to get these sort of policies.

And whilst I'm happy to apportion the fair share of blame to those vying for or in power I also think a substantial share should go where it is equally deserved.


Thursday 3 April 2014

Could Clegg really be this Machiavellian?

Bear with me here.

The Lib Dems are in trouble. Real trouble.

If the proportion of people who vote for the party in next year's general election is in the low teens as is looking likely they could lose dozens of seats. They could even be back to the days of the parliamentary party "fitting in the back of a taxi".

But one thing that could ameliorate this is if in many of the seats that the yellows are defending where their challengers are the Tories, the blues do not do as well as the polls are predicting. And one way that this could happen is if there is a big UKIP surge around the time of the 2015 general election thus splitting the vote on the right and saving many Lib Dem seats in the process.

Of course most commentators think that the current UKIP polling numbers will fall back to more "normal" levels, say 5% or so and the dent to the Tories will be minimal.

But what if someone helped the UKIP leader Nigel Farage to raise his profile around a year before that general election? What if the profile raising was done in the forum of two debates between him and another politician, a member of the government which effectively elevated him to the status of a senior cabinet minister? What if Mr Farage was then widely seen to have won these debates, thus demonstrating that his views are very popular, far more so than the 10% - 15% that the polls would have us usually think?

In fact what if the fallout from such debates made it pretty much impossible for the UKIP leader to be excluded from the pre-election debates in 2015?

This could then of course lead to a big bounce for UKIP just around the time they need it to do maximum damage to the Tories and inadvertently help the Lib Dems.

Clegg couldn't possibly be so scheming. Could he?

Monday 24 March 2014

House of Comments - Episode 103 - Full House

Episode 103 of the House of Comments podcast "Full House" is out. This week I am joined by Labour PPC Uma Kumaran and Max Wind-Cowie an associate at the think-tank Demos to discuss the budget including pensions and inevitably bingo, student loans and whether there is nepotism in parliament.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Friday 21 March 2014

The "Lump of Criminality" fallacy

There is a widely understood and recognised fallacy within economics known as "Lump of Labour".

The rebuttal to it essentially says that the amount of work available within an economy is not fixed (as the fallacy would have us believe) but rather changes as the economy grows and changes. This can be as a result of organic growth or can also be as a result of other factors such as legislative and technological changes and things like immigration etc.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici
This fallacy is highly reminiscent of an argument I have heard put forward to justify the retention of the current laws on drugs. It goes along the lines of: "Do you really think that if we legalised drugs, the drug dealers and barons would suddenly become nice people and stop being law breakers? Of course they wouldn't, they'd simply find other nefarious activities to replace the lost drugs revenues.".

This argument seems plausible on a prima-facie basis. If someone has got themselves involved in drug dealing they are likely to be something of a wrong-un and it does not take much of a leap of imagination to conclude they might get up to other dodgy behaviours were the drugs option taken away from them.

But this is very similar to "Lump of Labour". It's assuming that there is a fixed amount of criminality in the economy and that nothing we do can change that. Is it presupposing that all of those people involved in the black market drugs world would have progressed to crime anyway and they just happened to choose drugs, as if a criminal lifestyle is somehow predetermined outside of any cultural, legal and economic factors.

We might want to call this the "Lump of Criminality" fallacy. It is surely pretty self-evidently not true. Drugs at the moment are a highly lucrative activity. There are various estimates but one recent study puts the drug trade in the UK as valued at £7 billion per year. That is a huge amount of money currently available to the black market and even a tiny slice of those sort of revenues will make getting involved in criminality a more attractive option for some people. If you bring currently illegal drugs entirely within the legal economy those monies disappear. Yes I am sure some of those dodgy characters will find other illegal ways of funding their lifestyles but it is also likely that a fair number of them will move into the legal economy.

It is also worth bearing in mind that some of those who will decide to remain in the criminal world will be doing so because it's probably all they have ever known. They will have found themselves drug dealing to e.g. fund their own drug habit and now all of their friends and their entire lifestyle is on the wrong side of the tracks. But if drugs had been legal from the get-go they would have been much less likely to be in a situation like this. Hence as time goes on the chances of people in marginal situations turning to crime will be reduced too.

I'm not claiming legalising drugs will be a panacea. Of course it won't be. Drugs can be dangerous and even under a legalised framework some addicts will commit crimes. But the idea that changing the drugs laws will not do anything about the level of criminality in our society is a knee-jerk reactionary fallacy that does not really bear more than a few minutes scrutiny.

Monday 3 March 2014

House of Comments - 100th Episode Extravaganza!

Episode 100 of the House of Comments podcast "100th Episode Extravaganza" is out. This week Mark is joined by Emma and Nick as well as former House of Comments co-host from way back Stuart Sharpe and our first ever guest from back in 2009, LBC presenter Iain Dale to celebrate our 100th episode. Topics discussed this week are the Harriet Harman and Jack Dromey NCCL/PIE story, Labour's special conference (which Emma spoke at) and the move to One Member One Vote and also whether the Conservatives and Labour would be wise to rule out potential coalition in 2015 as a manifesto commitment.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Sunday 2 March 2014

Ed Davey's 24 hour energy switching? - Try 24 weeks

Let us all bask in gas's warm
 glowing warming glow
Back in November following the whole "energy price freeze" political ding-dong I thought it would be a good idea to look into whether I was getting the best deal for my gas and electricity. This was partly to potentially save a bit of money if possible and also as an experiment to see how straightforward the process is.

I had fixed my prices several months earlier and as since then they had gone up across the board for variable rate tariffs I had assumed I would be on a better deal than was available in the market. That turned out not to be the case. There were lots of deals that would have saved me money, in some cases well over £100 per year. I had found this out by going through the uSwitch website (which is one of the main recommended ways to do this I noticed when looking into it).

So I called up uSwitch on a Saturday afternoon in early November and went through a protracted conversation where I explained all my current tariff information which I had had to collate from my existing bills. We went through all the options and I finally decided to go with one of the independent suppliers (i.e. not one of the big six). But just when they tried to progress the switch during the call the woman I was speaking to told me there was a problem and that for that particular supplier they did not have the rights to use the pipeline that supplies my estate. I was a bit irritated by this as I had liked the idea of going with a smaller company but there was nothing I could do about it so instead I arranged to switch to one of the other big six suppliers and was informed soon after by e-mail:

Hi Mark,
We received your energy switch details and want to let you know it is now being processed.
This email contains all the details of your new plan, and can answer any questions you may have.
Congratulations on saving £127.19 a year on your energy!

I was told over the phone that it could take between 6 and 8 weeks so I made a mental note not to think any more about this until the new year.

When January came around and my direct debits for my existing supplier went through again I just thought we were only just outside the 8 week boundary and we'd had Christmas and New Year in between so gave it the benefit of the doubt and assumed it would happen soon.

When February came around and my direct debits for my existing supplier went through again I did start to wonder what was happening but I do know that these things often take longer than hoped for so I told myself to wait a bit longer.

But when yesterday I saw that the direct debits for my existing supplier were going to go through again this week and we are now 4 months on from when I set the switch in motion I called uSwitch to see what was happening and why my switch was delayed.

I was astonished to discover that they had no record of me at all on their system. My name and postcode yielded nothing and looking up my e-mail address also returned no record from their database. They were as perturbed about this as me are still trying to work out what went wrong but it is clear I have been sitting around waiting for a switch that was never going to happen.

I am sure this is not everyone's experience with switching and this will probably just turn out to be a clerical or computer error but I wanted to highlight how difficult this process can be in spite of all the high flown rhetoric from both government and opposition politicians and irrespective of how high up the political agenda the issue of energy prices is. I had to spend a good couple of hours in November getting all the information together and going through a very long phone call. And I have no doubt that when the fixed deal had run out in April 2015 I'd have to have done exactly the same all over again.

Of course irritatingly something went wrong with my switch and I suspect the deal I wanted will no longer be available. But when you have so many deals available from so many different companies to the extent that an intermediate body such as uSwitch is a recommended route for switching things are bound to go wrong. The fundamental problem is that the current system is too complicated to make transparent and straightforward comparison and switching possible.

If my experience here is anything to go by, we've got a very, very long way to go before Ed Davey's "24 hour energy supplier switching" can become a reality.

In my case it looks like it's going to be around 24 weeks.

Friday 28 February 2014

If Cameron rules out coalition he rules out being in government after 2015

Interesting news earlier this week from the Telegraph that David Cameron wants to rule out any coalition involving the Conservatives after the 2015 general election.

It would be very strange if the Tories did include such a clause in their manifesto. The average polling in recent months has them on 33% with Labour on an average of 38%. Even if these positions were reversed, the Tories would still likely fall short of a majority because of the quirky way the blue and red vote is distributed across the country under our current electoral system. And very few people think the Tories will go up by 5% and Labour will fall by 5% in the run up to 2015. Far, far more likely is something that falls short of that.

So the absolute best the Conservative party can realistically hope for is that they will be the largest party in a hung parliament. If this good fortune were to befall them and they then refuse to form a coalition with the Lib Dems the government would collapse shortly afterwards as there would be no impetus for Nick Clegg's party to support a Queen's Speech from a minority government. Unable to command a majority for his programme Cameron would have no choice but to seek a dissolution.

Were this to then happen it is even less likely that the Tories would gain seats in a subsequent election. The public will have just been through a general election and given its verdict. The Conservative Party will have stubbornly refused to compromise and we all know the electorate do not like to be asked twice in quick succession. The party that will be seen to have caused the problem leading to this second election will be the one refusing any deal.

In other words Cameron would be effectively ruling his party out of being in government after 2015.

Given how well he played the original hung parliament game it seems very unlikely he would paint himself into a corner like this.

Another reason why it seems unlikely he would go down this road is that refusing to do any deal after 2015 goes so strongly against what he told us in the early part of this government about "coming together in the national interest" and everything being couched in terms of his "open and generous offer" that it would very much jar with the electorate. Cameron would find it extremely difficult to reconcile the two positions and could easily be painted as unprincipled and being driven by the most extreme elements of the right wing of his party.

This story would seem bizarre in many other countries where coalitions are the norm. The idea that a party should dig its heels in and insist on all the power (or effectively none of it) would be very alien indeed. The only reason this seems even vaguely plausible in this country is because of the history of majority governments we have seen in recent decades (almost always on the back of a minority of votes incidentally) under first past the post. But many psephologists now think with the breakdown in traditional voting patterns and more and more people willing to vote for smaller parties the days of regular majority governments are gone.

Cameron would be far better off reconciling his party to this new reality rather than stamping his feet and insisting he wants all the power to himself.

It simply isn't going to happen.

This post was first published on The New Statesman Online

Monday 24 February 2014

House of Comments - Episode 99 - Free Syria and Free Speech

Episode 99 of the House of Comments podcast "Free Syria and Free Speech" is out. This week Nick Denys talks to Rafif Jouejati (Syrian Opposition Coalition) about the Geneva peace talks and the future of Syria, James Delingpole (Executive Editor – Breitbart London) about free speech and the launch of Breitbart’s new London website, and Peter Franklin (Editor – Deep End, Conservative Home) about why right-wingers need to stop talking about how much income tax the richest pay.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Thursday 20 February 2014


Monday 17 February 2014

House of Comments - Episode 98 - Money is no Object

Episode 98 of the House of Comments podcast "Money is no Object" is out. I am is joined by Lib Dem PPC for Guildford Kelly-Marie Blundell and Former Labour PPC and councillor Paul Blanchard to discuss the latest political fallout from the floods, the recent petition urging the government to review drugs policy and we ask whether voter recall is now dead for this parliament. Spoiler alert - it is.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Saturday 15 February 2014

Tory minister claims he does not understand inflation regarding flood defence spending

I was listening to BBC Radio 4's Any Questions earlier on and I could barely believe my ears.

Tory minister George Eustice was talking about the difference in spending on flood defences between 2010-14 (under the coalition) and 2006-10 (under Labour). The figures are £2.4bn for 2010-14 and £2.2bn for 2006-10. He thus said that in cash terms spending has increased.

Jonathan Dimbleby the host then challenged Eustice on this asking him about what this meant when inflation was taken into account though, and pointed out that it was actually a cut in real terms. Eustice then claimed that he did not know what "real terms" meant and reiterated that spending had increased on flood defences.

This very much reminded me of the famous Upton Sinclair quote:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

It is risible for a government minister to claim he does not understand the difference between real terms increases and cash increases.

The fact ministers are now resorting to this sort of mendacity shows how desperate they are to keep control of the political narrative on floods.

Delingpole is as hidebound as the "Climate Bullies" he so eloquently rails against

There was an interesting change in media-land this week that may well have been missed by many people. Arch anthropogenic climate change sceptic James Delingpole announced that he would no longer be blogging for the Telegraph. He didn't mention so in his swansong piece but he is actually moving to, a muck-raking right wing site that is imminently launching in the UK.

I stopped regularly reading Delingpole about a year ago. There is no doubt he is an excellent writer but the tone of his pieces and the ad hominem attacks on any and all who think there might just be something to this man-made climate change mallarkey was ultimately a turn off for me. I don't mind a bit of baiting (and indeed have done it myself on occasion) but his pieces became about 80% bile and 20% (often poorly backed) substance.

I have been reflecting on the position of people like Delingpole in the last couple of weeks. We have seen horrendous weather here in the UK and flooding on a scale unprecedented in modern times. The sort of extreme weather we are experiencing both here and globally in the last few years certainly seems to my untrained eye remarkable. And indeed plenty in the scientific community think it is no coincidence weather is becoming more extreme.

But of course with a system as complex as global weather patterns it is very, very difficult to be sure about anything. Just because 97% of scientists working in the field think that anthropogenic climate change is real and happening doesn't mean it is definitely true. For my part I think it highly unlikely they are wrong to any significant degree and am willing to go with the vast majority of the best science there is out there. But through the gaps in scientific knowledge and understanding there is space for the climate sceptics such as the erstwhile Telegraph blogger.

Delingpole essentially considers there to be a conspiracy of people who have a vested interest in pushing the agenda of climate change. Some of the conspirators are in it for the money, some are in it for political power and some simply want to impose socialist solutions on the rest of us by scaring the bejeesus out of us. And the rest of us are the "sheeple" who lap this stuff up despite freedom fighters like Mr D and others trying to show us the One True Way. If you think I am being hyperbolic just read a few of his pieces on this subject.

The curious thing is that James Delingpole is as hidebound as any of the supposed conspirators he so eloquently rails against. He has made his name as an arch climate sceptic, indeed he won a prestigious award for his pieces on the "Climategate Scandal*" in 2009. He has also written a book entitled "How Environmentalists are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing your Children's Future". I am sure that a big part of his move to this new site is because of his work and reputation in this area. In other words his career depends on him continuing to write sceptically and vociferously about this supposed climate change conspiracy.

So it is highly unlikely that what has happened in the last 2 weeks will have moved him. He literally cannot allow it to and that would apply no matter how strong the evidence was. In other words James Delingpole is the very definition of an unreliable witness regarding this subject. He has too much riding on it. He will pick and choose "evidence" to suit his cause and will continue to attack those in the scientific and wider community who think the (increasingly strong) evidence points in the opposite direction to his cause.

For regular readers of my blog it would be like the equivalent of there suddenly being very strong evidence that the war on drugs is actually working. How would I react to such evidence? After all a fair bit of my (much smaller) reputation has been built up as a strong advocate of reform. I'd like to think that I'd go with the evidence but I'd find it very difficult to reconcile myself after all the time and effort I have put into the campaigning for reform. I expect what I would be tempted to do is cherry pick my evidence to highlight what backed up my case. It's only human nature. I'd have painted myself into a corner.

This is exactly what Delingpole has done. He has painted himself into an intellectual corner on this issue and simply cannot brook any change no matter what the evidence says. He would now look ridiculous if he started to repudiate what he had previously written in such strong terms.

I fear his move to Breibart underlines this point. Until now he has written for the Telegraph which although right-leaning has been a broad church on this issue. Delingpole was an important writer for them but they equally have writers such as Geoffrey Lean and Tom Chivers who will strongly argue the opposite case on climate change. At his new home it is unlikely that his platform will be usurped by others in this way. He will be amongst like-minded souls. In other words he has gone down a cul-de-sac and will largely be preaching to the converted.

Maybe that's how he wants it now. Nobody likes to be told they're wrong and a lot of commenters on his Telegraph blog would take him to task. In his farewell post he referred to them as "Trolls" but for some mainstream commentators this word has mutated into "people who disagree with me". At least there will be fewer of them where he is going.

I don't wish Mr Delingpole any ill and I hope he is happy in his new role. I can't help but feel though that he has now crossed the rubicon into a right-wing climate sceptic echo chamber which will only serve to bolster his conviction that he is right and the vast majority of the rest of the world is wrong.

*The "Climategate Scandal" has been debunked many times and the smoking "hide the decline" quote has also been explained many times. For a synopsis of what was going on this is a good article.

Thursday 13 February 2014

My (sort of) ideal election result

Now I'm no longer constrained by having to fight for every vote the Lib Dems can get I thought I would have a bit of fun with a hypothetical election result.

My sort of ideal result* in 2015 would look like this:

Conservatives: 35%
Labour: 32.5%
Lib Dem: 12%
UKIP: 13%

Now before you all accuse me of going mad, allow me to explain.

One of my overriding ambitions in politics is to get electoral reform for Westminster. And a result like above would damn the current system in two different ways. Here is what the Electoral Calculus seat calculator predicts from the above national result:

Conservatives: 295 seats
Labour: 302 seats
Lib Dems: 25 seats
UKIP: 0 seats

Labour 24 seats short of an overall majority.

So despite the fact that the Tories would have got 2.5% more of the vote than Labour they would have 7 fewer seats than them and even with the Lib Dems would be unable to form a majority. This would massively highlight the iniquities of the current system. It would be very amusing to see how excruciating this would be for the Conservatives who are so viscerally opposed to any change in the electoral system being hoist by their own petard in this way. Also knowing that the elevated UKIP vote would certainly have split the vote more on the right than the left and also knowing that if AV had won (that the Tories did the most to ensure failed) would also have saved their skin.

The other major point and the reason why I wanted UKIP to poll higher than the Lib Dems is because immediately we see that despite getting 13% of the vote, UKIP get no seats whereas the Lib Dems on 12% get 25 seats. This is of course utterly preposterous and would again be evident for all to see.

One of the problems in trying to persuade people of the merits of electoral reform is that it is difficult to talk in terms of theory. People need to see concrete evidence of what we are talking about and to actually feel the democratic deficit of FPTP in action. Even then I am not convinced that a one off election result like this would be enough in and of itself to provoke a big enough backlash to trigger a change in the system.

But it would be a good and very entertaining start.

*If we can't get the weird quirks we see here then I would rather the Lib Dems did better than 12% as I think they deserve to. As it happens though what I have predicted here is not beyond the bounds of possibility if the economy continues to recover and UKIP maintain their polling levels and manage to get in on the pre-election leaders debate.

House of Comments - Episode 97 - Ever closer union?

Episode 97 of the House of Comments podcast "Ever closer union?" is out. This week what can and should be done about flooding? Would the Tories be happy to see Scotland go? And just what is their problem with women? Emma is joined by Mark Wallace of Conservative Home and Hopi Sen.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.

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

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

Or you can listen to the embedded episode below here:

Any feedback welcomed in the comments below.

PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us. We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from for our theme music.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

White Dee is so much better at being a human than Katie Hopkins

The Future of Empathy?
I know I'm feeding the troll but my God Katie Hopkins is horrendous.

She was one of the main panellists on last night's "Big Benefits Row" on Channel 5. I wasn't going to watch it, really I wasn't. But a bit like Owen Jones (who reluctantly agreed to be one of the other guests having initially indicated that he would not go on) in the end I couldn't resist.

Hopkins is like a parody of a pantomime political villain. She started off by spouting a load of right wing cliches such as how there are 1 million disability benefit claimants who have been struck off (completely ignoring how many of those have since successfully appealed of course). She spent much of her time shouting at the audience about how they need to "GET A JOB" and other such delightful sound bites. She also took every opportunity she could to have personal pops at her opponents such as her claim that Annabel Giles was a "failed model". Giles was actually a very successful model so her slur didn't even make any sense.

But the producers booked her and others will keep booking her because she "challenges people". The fact that she completely derails everything she is on and acts like a caricature of a totally uncaring right-wing boor spraying ad hominem attacks left right and centre appears to be neither here nor there.

Contrast her behaviour with that of White Dee (Deirdre Kelly), one of the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham and a star of Channel 4's Benefits Street. She had never appeared on live television before and a few weeks ago was a single mother of two living in complete obscurity. Dee was politely spoken, articulate and did an excellent job of speaking up for those in our country less fortunate than the majority who have good health and jobs. She came across as intelligent, self deprecating and multi-layered explaining that some of what she was being criticised for on Benefits Street was being taken out of context and that sometimes she was being sarcastic. This point actually seemed to throw Hopkins who defensively claimed she "has a sense of humour".

But more than that, having watched the first episode of Benefits Street Dee comes across as an incredibly warm person. She helps out her friends and neighbours, filling out forms for the ones who are unable to read or write, making phone calls on their behalf and generally being there for them. She even acts almost like a counsellor or sponsor for one of her friends who is struggling with substance addiction, persuading him to let her be in charge of his money and only giving it back to him in small amounts to try and interrupt his cycle of buying alcohol and drugs and upbraiding him when she sees him with alcohol. In short she is exactly the sort of person that is rightly looked up to in communities.

Yes she is on benefits and yes she does not have a job. But that does not make her evil.

And if I had to make a choice between having one of these two people as my friend, the TV "personality" who spends her entire time in the verbal gutter insulting and trolling or the softly spoken and evidently very caring White Dee I know which one I would choose in a heartbeat.