The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Posts Tagged ‘Lib Dems’

Dear tuition@libdems.org.uk…

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 18, 2010 @ 23:13

Hello to whoever is reading this

As a Lib Dem member, and someone who joined the party many years ago because of tuition fees, amongst other issues, which made the Liberal Democrats a truly distinctive choice in British politics, I thought I’d respond to your e-mail.

I fully supported the Lib Dems in 2010 as truly the only genuine alternative to the same old rubbish from the main two parties. So much time and effort committed. When I saw us surging in the polls, only for us to be disappointed on Election Day, it broke my heart.

The choice of our leadership to back the Browne Review turns my stomach. We have done nothing other than sell our policies down the river since we went into government. And all for what: an AV referendum that no one wants?

Yes, I know we didn’t “win” the election, but neither did the Tories. And neither did we have to put our MPs in Cabinet posts which would end up causing the greatest difficulty for our party. Witness again today Chris Huhne issuing yet more screeching u-turns on our policies on nuclear power.

Sorry “Nick”, but if the party is doing nothing other than back solutions which consistently appear to be Tory – the kind of thing David Cameron would have done anyway – then there really is no point in pretending to be a different party any more. Call a special conference to formalise the merger now, and those of us still with a conscience can reform as a genuine centre-left, social democratic party.

Regards

The Futility Monster

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Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

The Return Of Charlie K

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 10, 2010 @ 09:48

Superb. What is there not to like about this kind of photo?

OK, maybe Mr Kennedy has other things on his mind right now, but I can’t be the only Lib Dem thinking and hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Our Charles.

As anyone who’s met him knows, he’s a genuinely warm and friendly guy with a wicked sense of humour. His ease of communication was what made him such an asset to the party, and I was very sad when he was pushed out of office by the parliamentary party.

My long lasting hope, though, was that this wouldn’t be the last of him in a prominent position.

However, four years have now passed, and still Mr Kennedy is languishing on the backbenches, with no prospect of any level of promotion now the party is in power. The torch has passed to Clegg’s allies, and this puts Charles very much out in the cold.

What can be done, then, to bring him back in? At this moment, the Liberal Democrats need all the proxies we can get, working the media, selling our side of the story, reminding the public that we still are a separate, distinctive party, and if only we had a majority (in our dreams, but never mind) then the current policy of X would in fact be X+1, or X-1, or maybe even Y. Gently highlighting our differences, in other words.

Only a backbencher can take that role. Simon Hughes tries to do it, but the fact is he is in too high a position, and every time he speaks he embarrasses Nick Clegg and the Coalition.

Someone else is needed. Someone with charisma, and someone the media will listen to if they speak up, but at the same time the Coalition can clearly say, “That is a personal opinion” – while Lib Dem ministers can give a nudge-nudge and a wink-wink.

Charles Kennedy would be the perfect man for this kind of job. But is his health still in it? I hope so, and Guido is not always the most reliable source.

Is his heart still in it? Surely it must be, considering he just won re-election with another thumping majority?

Maybe he’d be better waiting for the Scottish Parliament election next year. Because if the Scottish Lib Dems take a tumble, there could be a rather interesting parachuting opportunity available. Charles Kennedy, leading a Scottish Lib Dem Party that had the authority to be a distinctive voice against the London Coalition. Party federalism in action.

One thing’s for sure, we need to be using all the talent we’ve got while we still have it…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Naughty Nick Clegg

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 26, 2010 @ 09:47

Hague definitely seemed to enjoy it...

I re-watched last Wednesday’s PMQs over the weekend, especially the bit towards the end of the exchanges with Jack Straw. My main reason for doing so was to try to establish whether it was pre-planned, thought up while in the heat of the battle, or genuinely off-the-cuff thinking on his feet.

It’s my opinion that it was probably one of the first two. Nick is very precise. He sets it up well with the preceding thought about being held to account, and then delivers the punch line. It is slow, executed well, and therefore feels a little planned. He certainly doesn’t look flustered or under pressure. He looks like he had been waiting for the final question all along so he could say it with no come backs.

That degree of execution would seem to exclude it being a genuinely spontaneous remark. But who blames him? Knowing you’re coming up against such an old fraud as Jack Straw, a sly devil who’s spent his Labour career slithering in the grass, changing his mind from one day to another depending on which side is winning, and taking him on face-to-face for probably the first and only time, why miss the opportunity to stick one on him?

In reality though, it doesn’t really matter when it was thought up. It’s turned out well, and sticking by it rather than toadying away like Cabinet ministers who speak their mind usually have to do is very refreshing, and will only help us as a party if we can have a handful of similar incidents in the future.

What also gives me confidence is the giveaway reaction from the Tory front bench. William Hague and George Osborne’s instant facial reactions are priceless and suggest they didn’t know it was coming. Hague looks like he’s saying, “Shit!” in his head, while Osborne is calculating what the right response is and ends up looking rather amused. Sadly, we don’t see why he starts pointing at the other side. Watch for yourself.

We need to see a few more little “blunders” like this, just pushing the envelope of collective responsibility every now and again. The Tories need to be kept on their toes that we are going to keep pressing for what we believe in, and we’re going to feel brave enough to go public with our point of view from time to time. The tactic will work even better when we have a carefully crafted alternative policy which we know has public support. One for Lib Dem HQ to mull over, I think.

It’s the only way we’re going to stay distinctive amidst the coalition morass.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Lib Dems Must Remember: We Want To Cut Ministers Too

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 7, 2010 @ 10:37

Too many ministers...

Still dining out on watching a veritable feast of BBC Parliament + a debate on parliamentary reform (the perfect combo) on Monday evening, where Nick Clegg was the star of the show (*pinch*, *pinch*… no, this is not a dream), it has to be worth another blogpost… surely?

An issue that came up a few times during the debate, a very reasonable one, was that if you cut the number of MPs by some 7%, then you simply must cut the executive by a similar amount. Or, better still, more.

One of the problems of Parliament, and the overlap between the executive and the legislature, is that there are over 100MPs who are either on the government payroll, or are a bag-carrier for a payroll MP. In fact, in October 2008, there were 141. It means that no matter what the issue, no matter when, the government of the day has a banker number of votes on its side.

The logical conclusion of this process is that if you reduce the number of MPs without reducing the size of the payroll vote, you are actually strengthening the proportional power of the executive in some votes.

But what I found most irritating about this argument on Monday was the only bit where Nick Clegg let himself down.

The argument was made only by Labour MPs, and though Chris Bryant, who first raised it, did so in a partisan fashion, it was later put in more measured terms by Chris Leslie

If there is a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament but not in the number of Ministers as set out in the Ministers of the Crown Act 1975, there will be an increase in the ratio between the number of Ministers and the number of Back Benchers. Does he understand that point, and will he now address it?

Clegg’s response was wholly unsatisfying

I simply do not accept that there is an imbalance between the number of Ministers and the manner in which they are held to account by a House which will be about 7.7% smaller. I believe that a House with 600 Members will be as well equipped to hold this and, indeed, any other Government to account as the present House is with 650.

Simply put, it does not answer the question. In fact, it is unashamed, wilful ignorance of the issue in order to play the petty-political game whereby everything we say is right, and everything you say is wrong.

After all, the Lib Dems once supported cutting the number of ministers to 73. And I can guarantee that if the Lib Dems were in opposition too, they would be joining it. Attempting to improve the strength of non-frontbenchers, on any side of the House, is a standard liberal argument. We come out of the womb ready to take on the overweening executive.

The tendency of governments to ignore good ideas if they come from the opposite side was something I thought we might get away from in this coalition.

Whenever I watch BBC Parliament, I realise just how naive I am sometimes…

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Will Lib Dems Get The (Tax) Credit?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 5, 2010 @ 10:22

"Thanks, Obama!" said the US electorate. Not.

I know we’re not America, but across the pond there is something that maybe we should pay attention to.

The stereotypical image of America is that taxes are lower than they are in Europe. I believe that is still very much the case. And last year, they went even lower. Democrats, foolishly in my view, agreed to include masses of tax cuts in the stimulus programme in order to secure a smidgen of Republican votes in the Senate.

And yet… has any of it made any difference to the prospects for the Democrats?

Of course not. Electorates are notoriously ungrateful. You give ’em something, and then they say: “I want more”.

Despite US taxes being their lowest for 50 years…

A Gallup Poll last month found that 48% thought taxes were “too high” and 45% thought they were “about right.”

The Democrats are, at the moment, on course for some pretty big losses this November. Some speculate they could lose control of the House, and several Senators. Sure, the US economy is still in grave difficulty, with its inability to create jobs at the moment, but you would have thought the electorate would at least give the Democrats some credit for the record low taxation?

Apparently not.

And that’s the worrying part. Expectations on government are generally so high, and opinions of it so low, that when they actually do anything for the people they get nothing but continued flak anyway.

The trend could be even worse in Britain. The Lib Dems right now appear to have gotten the blame for the VAT busting Budget. How else do we explain the party’s slump in the polls? Meanwhile, the Tories are riding high at over 40%. What credit there is to be given out seems to have gone in their direction. Isn’t that a bit… unfair?

When the next election comes, and the rises in the tax allowance are a mere memory, who do you think will get the credit? Will the electorate actually even factor it into how they’re going to vote, given the American experience?

The way we seem to be getting the raw end of this coalition deal from the voters doesn’t fill me with hope that implementing our core policy from the last election is going to get us the rewards we arguably deserve.

People are just too cynical.

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

It’s The Changes That Worry Me

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 22, 2010 @ 17:02

Don't we look stupid now?

Today’s Budget has… irritated me. Just a little.

I don’t buy any of this rubbish that the Coalition are spinning: “it’s worse than we thought”.

Frankly, it can’t possibly be worse than they thought, considering the budget deficit is smaller than Labour had predicted, by almost £20bn compared to Labour’s first estimate.

Meanwhile, inflation is stubbornly high. Inflation, disastrous in large quantities, but very helpful in the short term it stays above target. And hiking up VAT is only going to add more to inflation. A crafty way to inflate away the debt, perhaps? All on the Q. T. – you understand.

No. “Worse than we thought” is spin, pure and simple. It’s a way to say “Not me guv!” all the while delivering the ideological love for cuts that is becoming apparent.

So if we ignore this spin, what other explanations could stand up?

The current Lib Dem line, which is being used as an excuse to tear up the manifesto, and make us a total laughing stock considering we stuck it to the Tories thusly, is that the “crisis” in Europe has made us reverse our whole economic doctrine. Yes, Vince Cable really has gone from centre-left neo-Keynesian to Thatcherite neo-liberalism. Or maybe it was just the Bank of England that persuaded him.

Never mind the voters. Never mind everything you told them, promised them and went all round the country trying to convince them of. Never mind your own principles either. There are others, after all.

It just doesn’t stack up to me. Look at the kind of thing Vince Cable was writing last year. And yes, events have changed. But after going through the most turbulent period in our economy’s history since the 1920s and 30s, can anyone claim with a straight face, like Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg do, that the last month in Europe has been even more dramatic that we’ve had to change almost everything we stood for?

It is an insult to people’s intelligence to pretend otherwise. Government has meant we’ve had to close down major chunks of our manifesto, which have been sold out to ensure the coalition’s agenda.

It’s grist to the mill of the opposition, naturally. After all, haven’t they been crowing since the dawn of time that you “cannot trust the Liberals/Lib Dems”? Say one thing in opposition, do another in power. We’ve only gone and proved it.

There was no mandate for a VAT rise. Everyone said they weren’t planning one. The Lib Dems even tried to make political capital out of it. Now, tainted by this decision, we will never hear the end of it.

More Budgety fun tomorrow, perhaps…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

The Strains Of Coalition

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 19, 2010 @ 09:43

Stolen from ConservativeHome.com, but drawn in 2007! Prophetic...

In recent days I’ve been troubled by the cover the Lib Dems are being forced to give to the Tories for the “cuts now” agenda. In truth, I’m probably deeply unsure myself, having argued in the past that we do need to make mega cuts in budgets all over the place, before then saying that those very cuts would do serious damage.

But now I feel quite certain. The economy is still in the tank. Cuts now are definitely going to create the W shaped recession we were all afraid of. The private sector is not sitting on its hands, waiting for the moment 20% is cut off all government department budgets to spring into action. The concept is laughable.

The consequence is that inbetween the cutting and the beginnings of genuine recovery in the private sector, there simply is going to be more of an economic decline.

The seriously worrying part of this, as a Liberal Democrat, is that the party is backing it 100%, and is completely tied into it with its Man in the Treasury, and coalition agreement pledging to be pretty radical with the scissors.

Last night, a Liberal Democrat MP, never mind a Cabinet minister, wouldn’t even appear on Newsnight to defend the agenda. Instead, it was left to former MP Susan Kramer, who was tied up in knots by Gavin Esler and even Ed Miliband over the pre-election opposition to “cuts now” compared with our new position of “why haven’t we started cutting yet?”.

There are some mutterings of discontent on the Lib Dem backbenches, but that’s no surprise. And though there’s still five years till the next election (apparently) early Lib Dem poll ratings are very poor indeed relative to our election performance, and considering all the pollsters massively overstated us in the run up to May 6.

If I’m wrong, and the government is right, and it manages to cut carefully without stoking another recession, and without punishing the poorest in society, then I’ll hold my hands up and admit it.

But right now, with the ideological love of a smaller state on the Tory benches, combining with the libertarian economist streak that is emerging from the Orange Bookers in the Lib Dems, it seems to be creating the perfect storm for a groupthink mentality, coalescing around a slash-and-burn programme.

And that may be exactly like standing on the grasping fingers of a man clinging for dear life on the cliff precipice.

Oh, the next 12 months will be worth watching…

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Lembit For London

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 4, 2010 @ 12:00

Have I Got News For Him...

Being the Lib Dem candidate for mayor is not a job for those who have an aspiration on actually winning it. The main reason for that is London is stuck in a Labour/Tory battle of the beasts, and they absorb all the coverage to the detriment of everyone else.

This is helped by the fact that the election uses a ludicrous system, called Supplementary Vote, which doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world other than Britain. It ensures that, realistically, there can only ever be one of two winners. And yes, I know Ken Livingstone’s first win was as an independent, but, again, it was a two-headed battle between “left” and “right”, with only two candidates that could win.

Consequently, the Liberal Democrat nomination for London mayor is hardly a prize they fall over each for in the Party. It’s a hiding to nothing, which will drain two years of a candidate’s life, and which might cost them financially too.

This time, the Liberal Democrats will probably battle it out between non-entities on the London Assembly, or other London Lib Dems no one’s ever heard of. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If, somehow, the Lib Dems can prise Lembit Opik away from his attraction to a career as a stand-up comedian, and I know that will be difficult, they have themselves the right candidate.

Lembit is a man desperate to prove himself after his general election defeat. A man who has the personality and the charisma to keep the Liberal Democrats right at the centre of the London campaign; a campaign that is going to require sharp elbows if it’s going to match the big beasts of Ken and Boris once more. He certainly passes the Mike Smithson test of being such a well-known figure that you can be known just by your first name.

Futhermore, despite most people not realising it, he is actually pretty damn smart. Whenever he’s been on TV in a Question Time style programme, he always resonates well with the public by making sensible, decent and honestly liberal argument. If only he was more organised, and more disciplined, he would not be in his current, rather embarrassing, position.

I know Lembit is another of these political Marmite figures. People within and without the Lib Dems either hate or love him. OK, maybe love is too strong a word. But he is certainly recognisable, and has the presence to make it a very good battle. And I know he would relish the limelight.

Here’s hoping…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Whither Question Time?

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 28, 2010 @ 12:08

I wonder how many more years our David has left in him...

In the latest in my Bill Withers instalments, today I turn my attention to that venerable institution, BBC One’s Question Time.

I’m not particularly interested in whether the coalition refuses to debate alongside Alistair Campbell, for the simple reason that the answer is obvious: the BBC is right, and the coalition are extremely stupid to think they can dictate the terms of engagement. If it is true that David Laws refused to appear because of Campbell, then I’m embarrassed for my government.

But the real reason that made me want to write this post is that something is seriously amiss about the programme in these days of coalition.

I enjoyed last night’s show because of the interplay between Campbell, Piers Morgan and Max Hastings. They had a great deal of banter, and some fantastical allegations were launched at each other. A real dogfight. Campbell and Morgan on the Iraq War also made for good television.

Meanwhile, John Redwood and Susan Kramer, for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, had a love-in.

That’s not right. Not right at all.

Throughout the programme, it was hard to differentiate between the two. They were both extremely loyal, and you could barely slide a cigarette paper between their answers.

Who’d’ve thought that, eh? One of the Conservatives most uppity backbenchers, combining forces with someone who isn’t even an MP any more, and therefore is free of the party whip. And they agreed with each other continuously.

I know the coalition is in early days, and power is the glue holding everyone together, but it seems right now it’s hard to get an independent thought out of anyone. Unfortunately, turning everyone into robotic drones parroting the party line is not remotely “new politics”. It’s the same old New Labour spin machine, prepped with pre-packaged soundbites and talking points, only now expanded across two parties.

I quipped to one of my friends the other day that I guess I must have missed the party merger…

Question Time is going to have to decide. If the Tory and Lib Dem representatives are going to continue having a love-in, neither wanting to say something different because they could jeopardise the coalition, then there is no point having both of them on there. That would then reduce the panel to four. No doubt they could then squeeze on an extra celebrity. They seem to love doing that these days.

People may pretend they want their politicians to agree (just so long as those pols agree with what “the people” apparently think), but agreement makes for a boring 60 minutes of television.

During this government, which will be the most centrist in British history, it’s going to be important for Question Time, and other political TV/radio shows, to highlight that other opinions really do exist, and are just as legitimate as the hegemonic Lib-Con coalition.

Otherwise, people might resume wondering whether politics is worth bothering with…

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One Green MP, Sitting On The Wall

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 27, 2010 @ 09:49

Caroline Lucas MP

The election of Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion was one of my bright moments of the night. In fact, it was one of a very few for me, given the disastrous result for my party. It’s nice to have a different party in the mix, no matter how extremely unlikely it is her vote in the Commons will make any difference.

There are many amongst the Lib Dems who really dislike the Green Party. They consider their candidates to be spoilers. In 2005, it was argued that the Green vote cost the Lib Dems Oxford East because the Green vote was higher than the ultimate majority of the seat. Norwich South was in a similar boat, but there the Green vote was just short of the majority.

The assumption is that Green votes will transfer to the Lib Dems. Such an assumption will be testable if and when we get the Alternative Vote system. Until then, we go on a hunch…

My hunch is that not much of the Green vote will be heading to the Yellows. We Lib Dems may well be the most environmental of the three main parties, but that’s not saying much. On the other hand, the Greens are seriously radical when it comes to the environment. And by radical, I really do mean rip it up and start again. A severe dose of nationalisation, regulation, taxation and state funding is what the Green Party doctors order.

I read this manifesto and love it. OK, maybe I don’t love the idea of 55mph speed limits on the motorways. But broadly, it’s a much more exciting, ambitious agenda. It actually means something. You can see where they’re coming from. You can feel the values and the ideology behind their statements, even if you disagree with it.

Green Party voters are looking for something very different. They are not quite socialist in the classic sense, but they have a very specific agenda for what to do with the state in order to achieve their vision of society. It is almost agrarian. Local, and surprisingly conservative, with a small c. This is what differentiates them from the socialists.

Is that agenda on offer in any of the other parties?

Is it hell.

So what then of the protest voters – those people who are voting for outsiders because they feel their vote is not valued elsewhere. I strongly suspect they won’t be going to the Lib Dems any more. Not after our little dalliance with power. No longer are the Lib Dems a worthy champion of the protest voter. Now they’ve reached insider status, they simply cannot reflect the hundreds of thousands who want an outsider party.

So Lib Dems will not be “transfer friendly” to the ideologues, looking for a radically different agenda, or the protest voters.

And the more the Lib Dems get used to government, the more their programme will reflect a strategy to keep them there. Making them even more centrist, more normal, more boring than ever.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope my party can survive this period in office and continue to try to think outside the box. I want to see us brave and bold enough to stand up for policies like the earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

I just can’t see it happening.

Maybe I’ve enjoyed that Green manifesto a bit too much…

Posted in Musings | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »