Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

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.

Sunday 2 February 2014

5 things I learned as an activist for a political party

I left the Lib Dems last year after having been a member and activist for just over 5 years. I learned a lot during that time and I think much of it would apply to other parties too.

Such as

1) It costs money

And I don't just means the party membership fees. There are raffles, fund raising events, dinners etc. all of which seek to raise funds for the local party. My local party did not have many active members so the burden for all of this fell disproportionately on those of us who were active. I know there was one member in particular, a stalwart of the party who donated significant amounts of their own money to help keep things going.

But there's more. I stood as a candidate in a council by-election in 2010 and that cost money too in petrol travelling back and forth all over the ward over several weeks as well as on other unexpected things such as buying special chemical hand warmers to stop my hands from seizing up knocking on so many doors!

I'm not saying it cost a huge amount of money but I have a decent job and my own car. For those without those advantages I imagine it would be even harder.

And what's really irritating about this is that...

2) Lots of people seem to think everyone involved in politics is doing it for the money

In the aforementioned by-election one of the things I heard time and again on the doorstep was that politicians are all on the make. As this was being directed at me as a "representative of politics" I felt duty-bound to rebut this claim. I'm not sure how successful it was because as I was trying to get elected to the borough council there seemed to be a residual suspicion that it was in order to get the money. It certainly was not why I was doing it. For a start I knew I had virtually no chance of winning as this is a safe Tory area. But what it did was make me sympathise very much with those activists, especially for the smaller parties who slog their guts out for years and in some cases decades with very little prospect of winning seats. I did it for a relatively short period and it increased my respect for all activists.

3) It's like being a part of a large extended family

Going to party conference (and I think I ended up going to about 7 of them in total in my 5 years) was a very nice experience. There are lots of friendly faces and you know that if you strike up a conversation with someone in a fringe meeting or around the venue you are likely (although not guaranteed!) to share some core political values. As time went on and I got to know more and more people in the party there would come a point when simply wandering around for 5 minutes I would bump into people I knew and often go for a drink or a bite to eat in a completely impromptu way.

Having spent the first 34 years of my life as not a member of any party this was a new and welcome experience. It is the thing I am probably going to miss the most now I am no longer a member.

4) It's pretty damn hard to get on the approved candidate's list for parliament

So having been obsessed with politics since I was about 16 years old and having fairly quickly established myself as a successful political blogger (winning the Best New Lib Dem Blog of the Year in September 2009) I perhaps somewhat arrogantly thought I had what it took to get on the approved list and have a tilt at being a candidate for parliament somewhere (unwinnable) in 2010.

So I applied to go for the half day assessment at Cowley Street and dutifully toddled along expecting that my many years of watching BBC Question Time and reading political opinion pieces would stand me in very good stead.

I could not really have been more wrong.

To be fair to myself I was pretty good at the media task but given I was being asked to respond to the previous week's pre-budget statement by Alistair Darling and I had actually been on Sky News two days before doing exactly that it would have been pretty surprising if I had not been good at it. Of course media skills are an important part of what a candidate needs to be able to do but frankly much more important, certainly in getting elected are the other tasks that I was set such as an "in tray exercise" where you have to decide how to respond to a number of different scenarios as a candidate or a group exercise where I had to role-play within a team (involving some of the other candidates) as if I was on a council committee. Not to mention the "policy and values in action" exam where I had to interpret party policy through the prism of my experience and explain how I would put it into action.

I was pretty bad at these tasks but particularly in the in-tray exercise. I had a very long debriefing with the chap who oversaw the whole process after I failed to get onto the approved list and it was clear that most of my answers were simply plain wrong. In my (partial) defence I had never been in a council meeting or had to deal with any of the scenarios as a candidate so I simply applied my world experience from running my own company etc. It's pretty clear there are a specific set of skills that have to be learned.

And on a final personal note it was also clear to me that...

5) It is very unlikely I would ever have achieved elected office in any capacity

For a couple of reasons.

Firstly I am interested in national politics. When I stood in the by-election I did enjoy talking to people when I was canvassing but only really when it strayed into national issues which as a council candidate I probably should have been steering away from to talk about speed-bumps and dog mess. Which frankly do not really float my boat. And in order to make any headway in getting to a position where I could have had a shot at anything at a national level I'd have had to spend years doing the local stuff, trying to get elected and learning the ropes of everything I had got so wrong during the candidate vetting session.

Secondly I simply do not have the patience to spend thousands of hours of my time doing all of that work over years and years. I have a huge amount of respect for the people who can and do do this but I am now certain I am not one of them. I have a wife, a job, business interests, friends and family (spread all over the country) and various hobbies. There is just not space personally for me to do all of the things that would have been necessary to make headway in the world of elected politics.

As I said in my piece when I left the Lib Dems I am still passionately interested in politics but I have other priorities in my life at the moment and am happy outside of a party. That may change in the future and I may join the fray again some day but it is very likely to be a smaller party or campaigning group and my focus would be on the issues that matter most to me.

I learned a lot in my 5 and bit years as a Lib Dem and for anyone interested in politics I would definitely advise them to join a party and see how you get on. You may well find it suits you better than I ultimately did.