The Futility Monster

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

Posts Tagged ‘Nick Clegg’

11 For 2011

Posted by The Futility Monster on January 2, 2011 @ 11:11

OK, so it’s hardly the return of the Futility Monster, here, but two posts in two days does mark something of a minor miracle. Even so, it’s unlikely to be repeated. Maybe I will try and write something at least semi-frequently. Maybe once a month or something.

But for now, more to get it down in writing than anything else, here comes my top 11 predictions for 2011.

  1. The AV referendum will pass. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe Ed Miliband will drag the Labour Party, kicking and screaming, behind the campaign as a show of his authority and capacity for “change”. This will encourage the Lib Dems to give it their full support. It will scrape home. Just.
  2. The “Other” 2011 referendum – in Wales – will also succeed, but with a larger majority in favour.
  3. Following that, Welsh Labour will win. But perhaps not as big as they will hope. I predict an extremely close finish, with them just falling below the magic 31 seats for outright majority control.
  4. The Scottish Nationalists will lose power in Scotland’s May general election, but they will only be replaced by an enfeebled Labour minority, who may struggle to find partners to get its legislation and budgets through.
  5. Meanwhile, in London, the Coalition will last the whole year, without too many hiccups, despite sluggish economic data.
  6. Somewhere during the year, the Liberal Democrats will hit another low in their post-2010 election opinion poll woes.
  7. In the post-May reshuffle, Nick Clegg will receive a real portfolio in a bid by David Cameron to shore up support for the coalition amongst demoralised Liberal Democrat MPs. Home Office, anyone?
  8. Also to boost the Lib Dems, House of Lords reform (defined here as anything 80% or more elected), will pass the Commons, but die a sad death in the Lords itself.
  9. Looking abroad, Silvio Berlusconi will finally reach the end of his woeful Prime Ministerial career. Having said that, his replacement will hardly be any better.
  10. Barack Obama will have a traumatic year: under fire from the hostile House of Representatives, a ceaseless war in Afghanistan, and unable to achieve anything of great significance. This will seriously damage him running into the pivotal 2012. And if that happens, expect Sarah Palin to run for the Presidency. Whether she gets the nomination, however, will have to wait till next year’s prediction…
  11. Finally, North Korea will come back to the negotiating table at long last. But will a deal be reached? Extraordinarily unlikely. Unless Kim Jong Il croaks it, and his son is, to everyone’s shock, slightly less of a lunatic than his father…

As for who wins this year’s Premier League, alas, it’ll be no one other than Manchester United.


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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.


The Futility Monster

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Comprehensive Spending Review Is Comprehensive

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 18, 2010 @ 09:49

It's not far from the truth. Avoid.

Clearly Nick Clegg has been doing a little too much 4chan lately, trying to keep up, or down, with the kids. Anyone with a bit of internet nous will have heard the meme: “adjective noun is adjective” – and it seemed like Mr Clegg was enjoying using it this morning.

In two separate interviews on BBC outlets, while doing the rounds celebrating the coalition’s 100th day as if it were an achievement equal to the discovery that the Earth orbits the sun, he described the comprehensive spending review as “comprehensive”. Gee, that’s useful!

But the argument itself was rather specious, for the comprehensive spending review (CSR from now on to save my fingers!) is not exactly comprehensive at all. The mere notion that the government reduces every budget to zero and works upwards is a nonsense. Some programs are never going to be cut. We’re not exactly going to stop funding our wars. Meanwhile, we’ve been told the NHS budget is ringfenced. And yes, that milk in primary school scheme isn’t going anywhere either.

So to dodge questions about whether X programme is in jeopardy, or Y is going to be protected, by replying saying the CSR is “comprehensive”, that no decisions have been taken yet, but everything is up for grabs, is misleading. Everything isn’t up for grabs. Child benefit is going nowhere. Neither is the winter fuel allowance.

But that’s how all this started. All of a sudden, journalists have remembered that politicians are politicians, and unless they’ve given a Sherman pledge on something, there is always wriggle room. For instance (page 26):

We will protect key benefits for older people such as the winter fuel allowance, free TV licences, free bus travel, and free eye tests and prescriptions.

“Protect” is the verb. Protect is meaningless. One could argue that increasing the winter fuel allowance age limit to 66 is indeed “protecting” it, because if the government didn’t take such “bold and decisive action to preserve our economy” then the whole benefit would have to be scrapped. Easy.

Nowhere in that pledge does it say the government will not adjust eligibility requirements, or the value of the benefit-in-kind. And because of that, politicians, even in this “new politics”, are always going to be tempted to run things up the flagpole.

Of course, if the coalition document was full of Sherman pledges – comprehensive, shall we say – then it would run to about 3,000 pages, with a verbose explanation of every policy, covering every possible scenario. It would also be very boring and highly predictable. And, of course, it would only exist in cloud cuckoo land.

Not much of a spectator sport then. And that’s the comprehensive truth.

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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.

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The Strains Of Collective Government

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 22, 2010 @ 11:43

Pointing the finger, the cheeky bugger...

Watching last yesterday’s PMQs last night I was struck by the way Nick Clegg was behaving. He was straining hard to stick to the line of collective government, as is required by the constitutional conventions of this country.

And let me just add, they are sensible conventions, and are even more essential in a coalition. After all, Nick Clegg, just because it was his moment at the despatch box, couldn’t exactly go off on one about his own personal priorities and reverse carefully crafted government policy as agreed by various coalition committees on an ongoing basis.

But then again, why shouldn’t he? After all, as Paul Waugh has pointed out, other members of the government and the coalition parties feel free to go off the beaten track just a little.

So Cleggy did indeed decide to join them.

In truth, I don’t blame him. Faced by the appalling Jack Straw, who delivered a truly awful PMQs performance, something must have stirred in Nick Clegg. You could see his level of frustration rising in each subsequent answer. But not just that, a rather passionate anger at Labour’s record.

Jack Straw, during the Iraq War debacle, became something of a poster child for Labour’s pre-war prevarication, dithering, moveable justifications, legalese argument, ludicrous over-analysis and pretentious fake morality. Clearly, Nick Clegg had been paying attention during that time, and also to Jack Straw’s past and present illiberalism as a member of the government.

On his final trip to answer another Straw “question”, Nick just couldn’t resist

We may have to wait for his memoirs, but perhaps one day he will account for his role in the most disastrous decision of all: the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Well! That really did set the cat amongst the pigeons. So much for collective responsibility. The Tories next to him winced. The House murmured. Did he really just say that?

To those of us who opposed the Iraq War from day one, it was a truly joyous moment. Nick Clegg, from the government benches, standing at the despatch box, calling the Iraq War for what it was.

Sadly though, it was just a slip, and the press office immediately issued a clarification that he was “speaking in a personal capacity”. You can bet your bottom dollar that never again will a government member call the Iraq War illegal in full, in public, and very much on the permanent record.

But it was still fun to watch, and though collective responsibility is a source of exasperation to many – “why can’t they just say what they believe?” – its overall use is more of a positive than a negative, especially in a media age where every little slip is scrutinised to the nth degree.

Still, good on you, Nick!

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Would Brown Have Stayed Labour Leader Anyway?

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 12, 2010 @ 09:00

There are so many good photos of Peter Mandelson. Let's hope he returns some day...

The Sunday newspaper story that got the most headlines over the weekend was the serialisation of Peter Mandelson’s book in the Sunday Times, and the bit that’s got the most coverage is the apparent “revelation” that Clegg asked Brown to stand aside.

As Mike Smithson has pointed out, none of this is much of a surprise. It had been rumoured and speculated for a long time that should the election result be inconclusive, amidst a perception of Labour taking a good beating, Brown, as sitting PM, would have to take the flak for it. And yes, even this humble author wrote about it too.

Brown did try to say he’d go on and on, but it was never going to happen.

I remember some arguing that it was hardly the Lib Dems place to dictate who the Labour leader was in these post-election negotiations. After all, the Lib Dems had hardly had a successful election result either. Clegg’s hand should not have been strengthened, yet he still managed to play it in such a manner that Brown felt compelled to step aside.

The most intriguing thing is that Brown was going to quit later rather than sooner in the event of a Lib-Lab coalition. Remember that statement saying he would be going and Labour should put in place a timetable of events, and he would be caretaker leader in the interim? Only to be followed a day later with his immediate resignation from everything…

Something happened in those 24 hours that made him see the writing on the wall. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but in any event whoever made him see the light should have our thanks. Perhaps that’s what Mandelson should be revealing instead?

Labour are in a sorry state at the moment anyway, but if Brown had still been leading the party right now, while the leadership contenders bickered over his legacy, and constantly had to skirt around the issue of whether they “supported” him, it would have made everything rather surreal.

In summary then, what we have is the Sunday Times telling us about something that most people speculated was going to happen, and then actually did. We also probably had the good fortune not to suffer the bizarre instance of a Lib-Lab coalition with a temporary PM, followed by another unelected PM; and a Labour leadership election stifled by power, which would have resulted in an even more boring campaign than the current one.

Brown was going, one way or another. The idea that he could have stayed any longer than he did is just untenable.

The Sunday Time is gonna have to feature something a little better than this if they want people to stump up the cash. Surely the Dark Lord has better anecdotes to share?

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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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Cleggy Takes On The House

Posted by The Futility Monster on July 6, 2010 @ 09:30

It still seems weird...

If there’s one thing that makes me reasonably happy about the coaltion, it’s days like Monday when Nick Clegg takes to the floor of the House as Deputy Prime Minister and delivers yet another good performance on the issue of political reform.

Yesterday the topic was a rather convenient bundling of the issues of the Alternative Vote referendum with the concept of equal-sized constituencies. Being the rather sad individual that I am, I watched the whole thing from start to finish. Long live BBC iPlayer!

It was an excellent debate, and Clegg was confident and competent in handling difficult questions from all sides. I am fully in support of both plans, and I look forward to the referendum. Though I have argued in the past that AV is potentially a disaster, I am, nonetheless, going to support it, in the hope that it might encourage a little reforming zeal in the British public, and that it at least brings us to the threshold of good quality proportional representation with STV.

But enough about that…

What makes Nick Clegg so effective in the Commons, at least at the moment, is that he is blessed with the legacy he has been granted. As something of an “outsider” commanding a portfolio that is encouraging “outsider” thinking, he is in his element. He is able to position himself as the man taking over at a time when the political reform agenda had stagnated, contrasting his radicalism with the conservatism that set in in the dying days of the Labour administration.

Furthermore, Labour are playing right into his hands. Their sudden newfound love of opposition, and opposition for the sake of it, is granting Nick Clegg the opportunity to attack Labour relentlessly for their remarkable shift from progressive radicals to conservative pragmatists. Yes, Labour MPs are right to scrutinise the government, but a mere two months ago they were all elected on a pledge to back such a referendum on AV.

Now they look decidedly shifty, and are already preparing the groundwork for their very own u-turn. But, in doing so, they reinforce the very point Nick Clegg enjoys making, that the 13 years in power have transformed Labour from their early days of constitutional remoulding to true friends of the establishment. That’s not a good place to be when the country is feeling so… bold… about what it would like to do to its political system.

The worry I have about Clegg and Parliament is simple. In time, he too will become an establishment figure. In time he will no longer be able to blame the Labour legacy. Indeed, if he gets his way, and likes what he sees, he will become the most conservative person of all, defending the new status quo.

That won’t be good for his reputation, or the reputation of the Liberal Democrats.

But at least it’s a dilemma of power and influence that we’re actually able to have…

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PMQs: To Attend Or Not To Attend?

Posted by The Futility Monster on June 3, 2010 @ 10:07

Clegg did sit on Cameron's right, honest! This is just an older picture...

Yesterday’s first Coalition PMQs provided much grist to the sketchwriters’ mills. And it also illustrated just how Labour intends to proceed taking on the cosy coalition.

After yesterday, the big dilemma for Nick Clegg will be to decide whether he should attend or not. Yes, it’s a coalition, and it would look mighty suspicious if Clegg was never supporting the Prime Minister, but it would also look mighty suspicious if he never left Cameron’s side.

The problem is this: the Labour Party’s leader is going to bring up, during one of their questions each week, a topic that potentially splits the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. If Nick Clegg is there all the time, the goal will be to make him look stupid.

Hattie tried that yesterday, with her discussion on the comedy married couple’s tax allowance. Nick Clegg sat through it with the same expression on his face. No nods. No shakes. No smiles. No smirks. Nothing. Just that neutral expression he has got down to a T.

Yesterday, he managed to avoid giving the game away and revealing his disagreement with David Cameron. Or, at least, I hope it’s still a disagreement.

But we’re only human.

At some point the body language will slip. The pundits will analyse these exchanges to death – even more than usual – looking for the merest curled lip or furrowed brow to indicate Clegg is feeling a little uncomfortable. That’s not going to be healthy for the coalition.

And it’s only going to get worse. Right now there is a comprehensive agreement outlining where the parties agree to disagree. All current issues are covered, and so they can be deflected by saying that Harriet is just trying to play the “old politics” of division.

But as time goes by, new issues will emerge, and Cameron and Clegg will not agree on everything. At least, I hope they won’t. Then Harriet, or whoever the new Labour leader is, will come forward with quotes from rebellious “senior Lib Dem sources” and make Clegg and Cameron squirm.

Clegg would be wise not to make sitting at Cameron’s right hand a regular fixture. Appearing too close to Cameron compromises the Lib Dems independence. But being too distant would undermine the tentative working relationship they have.

The sensible thing would be for Clegg to sit at Cameron’s side no more than 50% of the time, and possibly as low as 25%. It is just too easy for Labour, otherwise.

Politics in the media age, eh…

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The Zeal Of The Converted

Posted by The Futility Monster on May 24, 2010 @ 08:38

Wot an odd thing to put on a wall

Throughout the election, Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem cast were very much opposed to cutting spending in this financial year. They attacked the Conservatives’ plan to do so. It was not appropriate at this point.

Now they’re all for it. In fact, they’re so for it that our new DPM did the tour of the TV studios yesterday morning to tell us all about it.

I find something rather unedifying about these kind of scenarios. Yes, people do change their minds, and maybe they really have been persuaded once they got to look at the books. But at no point have we had a credible explanation from Nick Clegg about what is responsible for this change…

It’s that that makes me worry. It makes me think that our so-called “new politics” is nothing but the same old shtick. That Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems all along planned to join in the big budget cuts regardless of what they said to the contrary. In fact, you can bet if the outcome was a Lib-Lab coalition that we’d probably be charting the same course around about now, only it would be Labour too admitting that they needed to start cutting now.

Then the biggest insult is the fact that Vince Cable, the man at the centre of all Lib Dem economic policy for at least the last five years, is going to be tasked with absorbing 1/6 of this year’s cuts in his department, which is ludicrous considering how small the budget of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is relative to the spending going on elsewhere.

Did Vince Cable spend the whole election arguing against immediate spending cuts, only to modify his entire position as soon as the ministerial limousines beckoned?

Because it’s either that, or he has been stitched up good and proper. Nice move of the Tories to put him in the department that’s going to take all the flak. He won’t quite be so popular once he starts wielding the axe.

Government is difficult, I recognise that. But it’s made even more difficult by being dishonest.

And that is what I’m, regretfully, concluding about my own party’s behaviour.

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