Sunday, May 31, 2009


Liberal Democrats Or UKIP?

Today’s opinion polls show the Liberal Democrats surging to second place over Labour. But, as you shouldn’t be too excited about one day’s figures, you should note that only most polls are predicting the Lib Dems as this week’s big gainers – a couple suggest the United Kingdom Independence Party. Which should you pick? Unsurprisingly, I’m calling for the Lib Dems… But only on three issues. On the fourth, you should vote UKIP. Either way, it’s appropriate the polls make the big fight one between the two parties with the most straightforward views on Europe: make it work, or retreat. Both the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are promising a referendum on whether Britain stays in the European Union or pull out, but the Liberal Democrats want us to vote to stay in and get things done, while UKIP wants us to vote to close our eyes, stick our fingers in our ears and ignore the world.

The other parties are somewhere in the middle. The Conservatives want to sound as anti-European as they possibly can without actually following the logic of their ranting and getting out – I suspect because, deep down, they realise that leaving the European Union would both destroy the British economy and leave them with no-one to blame, so they’d rather shout abuse than take responsibility. The Tories are even leaving the biggest, most influential group in the European Parliament – where all Europe’s mainstream conservative parties join together to get things done – to form a tiny sect with a Czech party that opposes any action to stop climate change and a Polish party that’s rabidly homophobic and calls President Obama’s election “the end of white man’s civilisation”. And those are the nice ones. The Latvian Fatherland and Freedom Party (clue’s in the name there) have a swastika-like logo and are big fans of the SS. Yes, that SS. No wonder former Conservative ministers are calling Mr Cameron’s plans a “rigid commitment to impotence,” when the modern Conservative Party is even voting to let crooks and murderers go free rather than co-operate to stop crime across borders.

Labour are even less honest, knowing that Europe is good for Britain but too gutless to say so, instead wrapping themselves in the flag and being as vacuous as possible. We got our single Labour leaflet through the other day, which largely consisted of a union flag and very little writing. Until we saw the small Labour logo at the bottom, we assumed it was from the BNP.

Speaking of which, all the other parties are pretty much at one in being rabidly anti-European, so they’re much of a muchness (some bigger liars than others). I hope the polls are right and the BNP are polling too low to win any seats; the only other party that might get anywhere are the Greens, who are likely to keep their existing couple of MEPs but not get anywhere else. And even they, unlike all the mainstream Green Parties in Europe, are on the me-too anti-European bandwagon. I hope they’re being exactly the same as all the other knee-jerk anti-foreigner British parties because they’re cynically trying to get votes, rather than because they actually believe it, but either way, it’s a massive fail on achieving anything. If you want to tackle climate change and protect the environment, you need to work with other countries – pollution doesn’t stop at the Channel. The self-styled “Green Party” talks a good talk, but they don’t do anything about delivery. Only the Liberal Democrats actually want to make the European Union work for real green action.

So, here are the choices.

If you want simply to hit Labour hard, vote Liberal Democrat.

Put simply, most polls are showing that the Liberal Democrats are the party most likely to push Labour into third place. Today’s ICM poll puts us clearly ahead of them. So if you want to give Labour a good kicking, the most effective way is to vote Lib Dem and see us beat Labour in the popular vote. Although I don’t like the top-down nature of the electoral system for the Euro-elections, which gives far too much power to parties and not enough to the people, it does have the advantage that it at least reflects people’s votes for parties more accurately. So while at Westminster we have a two and a half party system in terms of which parties win seats, for the Euro-elections there’s effectively a four and a half party system in terms of who’s got a realistic chance.

Now, though most opinion polls show UKIP on a much lower vote than they got in 2004, there are a couple that put them, rather than the Liberal Democrats, in second place. Assuming for the sake of argument that that’s true, they’re much less worrying to Labour. If Labour are beaten by UKIP, they can say, well, they’re no threat at the General Election, because they’ve never yet won a seat at Westminster (though one MP has left the Tories to join them). But the Liberal Democrats have 63 MPs, winning quite a few seats from Labour at the last General Election, and are an even bigger threat to them next time. Being beaten by the Liberal Democrats – as we’ve done in several local elections in the last few years – leaves Labour with no crumb of comfort.

If you want to get stuck in and make the European Union work, vote Liberal Democrat.

We are stronger together, poorer apart.

The Liberal Democrats are a pro-European party. A lot of the time, we seem like the only pro-European party. And it’s precisely for that reason that we want to make the European Union work better, and work together with a large and influential Liberal group from many countries in the European Parliament. We’ve always called for reform – because we can see the good that Europe can do, it frustrates us when it’s petty, undemocratic or secretive. That’s why for many years we’ve had practical proposals for cutting back waste like the Common Agricultural Policy, for having EU decisions taken by the elected Parliament, not the unelected Commission, and freedom of information at all levels, particularly for the Council of Ministers, where national governments make decisions in secret and then pretend to blame other people. The other parties don’t care about making the EU more open, more democratic, more effective – because they like to campaign against it, and the less well it works, the more they can shift the blame from themselves onto other countries.

In a world of globalisation, the European Union is vital. Not only has it kept the peace amongst all its member states – for the first time in a thousand years – but it’s where the large majority of Britain’s trade takes place. Outside the EU, we’d still have to trade with all the same people… But we’d no longer have any influence on the rules. How mad is that? Countries working together can tackle the global economic crisis, promote free trade, save jobs, make the banks behave – one country on its own simply can’t. They can protect civil liberties, from global corporations and big governments alike. Gangsters, murderers and terrorists can all be dealt with far more effectively in cross-border co-operation, but anti-European parties like the Conservatives have voted to let them all go free rather than work with other countries. And that’s insane. Above all, we need to tackle climate change and other environmental problems, the biggest threat to humanity. And you just can’t do that in one tiny bit of the world. The more we work with other countries, the stronger we push for common standards, the longer our planet will last. Vote Liberal Democrat to get things done.

If you want to stop the world and get off, vote UKIP.

Obviously, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are united on one issue, which is to have a referendum on whether or not the UK should stay a member of the European Union, though if we get that referendum the two parties will be leading the opposite sides. So if you like the Liberal Democrats on every other issue but want to leave, you can vote for us without worrying. However, if you’re anti-immigrant, socially conservative, don’t believe in climate change and your main political aim is to pull out of the European Union and pull up the drawbridge against all ‘foreigners’, please vote UKIP, because they’re very slightly less horrible than the BNP.

Don’t vote for them, though, if you want to affect European politics in any more constructive way than just to stick two fingers up to the lot. Despite UKIP complaining that too many of Britain’s laws are made in Europe, they never turn up to vote against them, or for them, or to change them… They simply never turn up. Their attendance record at the European Parliament proves that, rather than critics or champions, they’re Britain’s laziest politicians, taking the money but not doing any work on the laws they pretend are so important. UKIP are the party of thieves and layabouts.

If you want cleaner, more open politics, vote Liberal Democrat.

This week, Nick Clegg launched a campaign for ordinary people to take back power and clean up politics. This morning, David Cameron and Gordon Brown have been trying to jump on the bandwagon. The Liberal Democrats have spent years voting for freedom of information and reform in Parliament, but being defeated by Labour and Tory MPs – so it’s no wonder that the Liberal Democrats have the smallest share of MPs of any party being accused by the Torygraph (even if all their facts are right) and over the most minor things. Not one Liberal Democrat MP has been accused of the big frauds, like Labour MPs’ house-flipping, non-existent mortgages or tax-dodging, or of the lavish luxuries, like Tory MPs’ duck islands, servants’ quarters or moats. UKIP’s one MP, on the other hand, was a strong supporter of the corrupt Speaker who blocked reform, voted against freedom of information about MPs’ expenses (all the Lib Dem MPs supported it) and has been accused in the expenses scandal. So 100% of UKIP MPs are dodgy.

In the firestorm engulfing all parties about expenses, UKIP were leading the way. Unfortunately, they weren’t leading the way on openness or cleanness, but on corruption. Only one Conservative MEP’s been shown to be a crook, but two UKIP MEPs have – one even went to prison for fraud. Nigel Farage, the UKIP Leader, boasted last week about pocketing two million pounds in expenses when he thought the microphone was off. UKIP and the Liberal Democrats each had twelve MEPs elected in 2004, and both parties have lost one MEP through defections – in UKIP’s case, the man promoted as their effective leader last time, Robert Kilroy-Silk – but, on the bright side, no Liberal Democrat MEPs have been accused of corruption. Instead, Liberal Democrats have been in the forefront of opening up the European Parliament, publishing their expenses and campaigning for reform. Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies has been called the Parliament’s most unpopular man for constantly whistle-blowing and calling for change. When it came to the big vote in the European Parliament on cutting MEPs’ expenses and forcing them to be open, the Liberal Democrat MEPs voted in favour of change. Most of the Tory and Labour MEPs voted against. And the UKIP MEPs, as usual, didn’t even bother to turn up. So if you want to vote to clean up politics, UKIP are the party of thieves and layabouts. Liberal Democrat MEPs are the ones who’ve actually voted to get things done.

There’s one other issue that you might be considering, and that’s how to stop the racist, lying, loathsome BNP. This is more complicated, but I’ll have a go. The first thing is, I doubt the BNP will get any MEPs. They never have before, even when – like now – Labour has been cynically talking up the BNP in the hope of frightening traditional Labour voters back into the fold. And the media talk up the BNP because ‘ooh, scary fascists’ is a sexier story than talking about European issues. I can’t rule out, though, that some people are lying to the opinion pollsters because they’re too ashamed to say they’ll vote BNP, but will anyway. How can you make it even less likely that they’ll win a seat?

In London and the North-West, two regions where the BNP are relatively strong (but still a long way down), the best party to vote for to stop them is definitely the Liberal Democrats. In other regions of Britain, the best way to judge a tactical vote is to look at last time’s results. Each region elects only a certain number of MEPs, so check who was the last one elected, or the runner-up, then judge how the votes are going. Sometimes the tactical vote might be Labour (though they’re likely to be losing a lot of votes and seats), or Conservative, or even, in some places, UKIP, though that hardly counts as a vote against the far right. In the two examples I mentioned, the Liberal Democrats won two MEPs last time in the North-West. Our second seat there was the last elected, and prevented the BNP from winning a seat last time. So your best bet is to vote Liberal Democrat to stop them again. In London, polls suggest that the Greens will hold their single MEP, but have no chance of getting a second. Liberal Democrat Jonathan Fryer, though, was only 0.06% of Londoners’ votes short of becoming the Lib Dems’ second London MEP last time. So, a Liberal Democrat vote should be able to give him just that tiny bit extra he needs to be elected. Besides, if you really want to make the BNP miserable after the election, can you think of a better way to do it than making sure the MEP that takes the place they were hoping for is from the most internationalist party, the most socially Liberal party, and, in London, an out gay man?

Update: For a more personal and considered post on UKIP, read Andrew’s. But then, as UKIP would point out, I’m the son of an immigrant, so I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Update: Mary Reid has more on the Tories’ new partners in Europe, with Ed Davey’s questions on why they find working more closely with other countries offensive, but are happy to form a club with homophobes, anti-Muslims, climate change deniers and Nazi sympathisers, clearly all of which they find acceptable and congenial, as they’re literally going out of their way to do it.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

And in at number 79 on The Golden Ton for 2008-9.

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As Lib Dems Surge To Second Place, Polls and Papers Say – Vote Lib Dem To Really Hurt Gordon Brown

This morning’s ICM poll puts Labour in third place for both the General and European Elections, beaten by the Liberal Democrats, for the first time in two decades. That underlines why the Lib Dems are the best choice on Thursday, whether you’re voting to make the European Union work better or just to hit the Labour Government where it hurts. The negative and the positive cases are clear in today’s newspapers: The Sunday Telegraph calls the Lib Dem surge “the worst possible news” for Gordon Brown; The Observer calls for a Liberal Democrat vote as the best party on Europe. I’m voting for the party that best expresses my view on Europe – the Liberal Democrats. But I have to admit, voting to do real damage to Gordon Brown’s Labour Government is a very satisfying bonus.

The Observer comes off the fence today and calls for a positive, not protest, Liberal Democrat vote in the Euro-elections as the best party on the issues:
“There is a pressing need in this country for advocacy of the EU as a good in itself, as opposed to something distasteful that occasionally suits our interests. That view does not preclude criticism of European institutions, but it eschews wrecking tactics against them.

“Nick Clegg is the most instinctively European leader at Westminster. That is currently a lonely position, but the Lib Dems have a decent record of taking minority stands that are later vindicated. On the environment, on civil liberties and on the mounting debt bubble, the Lib Dems were quietly but consistently ahead of the Westminster curve.

“Likewise on transparency. In 2007, they opposed the Conservative move, tacitly encouraged by Labour, to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act. The Lib Dems alone took a party line for openness.

“While MPs from all parties are tainted, the parties themselves are not equally guilty. A credible record of support for transparency and for constitutional reform reflects well on Nick Clegg's team.

“This Thursday's vote is being held in a uniquely febrile climate. It should be about Europe; it will be about the expenses scandal. On both counts, it is a moment to reward the principled consistency of the Liberal Democrats.”
After the explosion on MPs’ expenses, columnist Andrew Rawnsley assesses the three parties’ proposals on constitutional reform and voting reform and suggests that the party to trust on changing things is the one that’s always argued for it, rather than the ones who’ve always voted against but suddenly find it fashionable. The Guardian, too, issued slightly half-hearted praise for the Liberal Democrats last week. Jennie has a vivid round-up of today’s Lib Dem news stories.

Today’s ICM poll for a potential General Election vote puts the Conservative Party at 40% (+1 from the previous poll), the Liberal Democrats surging to 25% (+5), and Labour at their lowest since polling began on 22% (-6). Asking the same people their voting intentions for this week’s Euro-elections – nothing about the county council elections – the figures are Conservative 29% (-1), Liberal Democrat 20% (+2), Labour 17% (-7), Green 11% (+2), UKIP 10% (no change) and BNP 5% (+4). Even for the General Election vote, where there’s far lower support for the minor parties and all of the three main parties are higher, the Liberal Democrats are slightly up on our vote at the last General Election, while Labour have lost nearly half their vote. Yes, I know, it’s almost impossible to believe. Over half of the people who voted Labour last time are still planning to. Where do they find them?

I don’t trust individual opinion polls, though ICM is usually the most reliable pollster, but there’s been a long run of them now showing Labour’s vote disintegrating. The question is, where is it going, and – for actual votes rather than just poring over polls – where would the most effective place be for you to put it? A Populus poll the other day, for example, gave very similar figures, except for putting the Liberal Democrats noticeably lower than other polls and UKIP noticeably higher. We don’t know what the result will be, of course, but in most polls the Lib Dems have been up on their European Election vote four years ago, with UKIP generally down. So it’s possible that either today’s poll or the previous one may be a ‘rogue’ poll (one that’s simply wrong). I would usually expect the Lib Dems to do worse in Euro-elections than in General Elections, with us getting our best votes in local elections, not just because the system enables other parties to make a breakthrough (which hurts each of the three main parties), but simply because Euro-elections are fought on a massive regional basis, and Liberal Democrat bottom-up campaigning is most effective the smaller the area. I’d say hold your breath, but probably more effective to get out campaigning this week, just in case…

Update: I’ve split this article into two and moved the original continuation of it, on the Liberal Democrats versus UKIP, into a piece of its own; I thought it read better that way. It makes more of the case why if you want to hit Labour hard, you should vote Liberal Democrat.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

And in at number 59 on The Golden Ton for 2008-9.

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Friday, May 29, 2009


Welcome Karen!

Yay! Karen Gillan has been announced this afternoon as the new Doctor’s new companion! We don’t have a name or background for her character yet, but we’ve already seen the actress in the series – last year*, she was the Sibylline Sister who saw the TARDIS materialise in Pompeii. Presumably she thought, ‘I’m ginger and following the Doctor around, too – I could get used to this’. That makes two companions now who’ve previously played minor roles in the previous season’s best story. Though why it couldn’t be the pretty young man in the very short toga, I don’t know. And I’m still holding out, one day, for a talking cabbage…

Anyway, she was very good in The Fires of Pompeii, and though we’ll have to wait until next year to see her travelling in the TARDIS, she’s in a photo opp in front of it across all good (and many dreadful) news outlets, including the BBC press release, the Newsround site (with Sister picture), the main BBC news site, The Guardianagain (I’m not on a retainer), and of course the BBC’s special Doctor Who site, which has a different angle with more exciting hair. Coo. Liberal Democrats should not confuse her with Karen Gillard, whom I met in her previous incarnation and got on with jolly well, but for whose autograph I wouldn’t queue.

Unfortunately, Some Doctor Who Fans Can Still Be Gits

I’ve not gone to see what fans are making of this announcement on the Doctor Who Forum, the husk of what was once the go-to site for fans, “Outpost Gallifrey”; not just because it’ll probably be melting, not just because people will have nothing to say except (no doubt) abuse, but because – although my fellow Doctor Who fans are responsible for much that is wonderful in my life, such as many of our friends, our very entertaining night out last night, and above all the one I’m in love with – there are the odd one or two that are intolerant, intolerable and complete pains. I was reminded of this when I caught up with Stuart Douglas’ blog, one I read from time to time, and saw what an utter git the owner of the Doctor Who Forum is being. Good grief. And you thought there was abuse, idiocy, pettiness and a lack of free speech in politics…

Update: Since all this happened, the owner has decided to close the Doctor Who Forum altogether. He’s gradually been stripping it down from the huge site it was a few years ago, so this isn’t a huge surprise, and I suspect it partially explains – though not in any way excuses – his behaviour. If I had decided I was fed up with something and wanted to stop doing it, I might well ignore my in-tray of nasty stuff to deal with on something that I can’t actually be arsed doing any more (er, thinking about it, I may well have done just that in the past). It’s not a big step from that to try and press a magic button to make the whole thing go away. The trouble is, you just can’t do that when your being fed up gives booster rockets for people to be libelled. Yes, responsibility’s a pain, but if you volunteer for it, you have to take it.

*Actually 1930 years ago, if you’re being picky

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Bill Cash. Bill. Cash. Cash. Bill. We’re Billed For Cash.

You can’t write about every single MP the Torygraph accuses in the extended expenses saga – even they’re taking weeks and weeks over it with dozens of writers, so you’d just never keep up with all the guilty, the dodgy and the smeared. However, some are just gifts. Tory MP Bill Cash’s dodgy claims may be less memorable than Tory duck houses, Tory servants’ quarters or Tory moats, but let’s face it, not only will both parts of his name put both of tonight’s satirical news quizzes into paroxysms of delight, but it also couldn’t happen to a nastier git.

A Tory dinosaur of the old school, ironically one of those closest to the Torygraph’s own dark soul – against Europe, gays, modernity and, well, everything, except money – Bill Cash has been paying, by which of course I mean we’ve all been paying on his behalf, for a flat in London owned by his own daughter.

Now, I’ve said before that a member of an MP’s family working for them isn’t necessarily crooked, and that a lot of the time it even gets a better deal for the taxpayer – but that isn’t the point. Because it inevitably looks crooked, it has to stop. The same applies to paying members of their family with our money for their property. If Mr Cash – who sits for a constituency in Staffordshire and so, if he has a home there as he should (I don’t know), would undoubtedly need a second home in London to do his duties there, too – had paid market rent to his daughter for a flat she would otherwise have rented out to a stranger, because he needed a second home in London… Well, that would have been seized on by the Torygraph, but it wouldn’t have been wrong. Sensible on a personal level, very foolish on a political level, but I wouldn’t point the finger.

But what’s this? Bill Cash already has a home in London. One that he owns outright, and that’s in fact closer to the House of Commons than the one he’s renting! But he doesn’t live there… Because he lets his son live there, rent free, and so Bills the rest of us to stump up the Cash for a flat he doesn’t actually need.

And playing musical flats with your family because you want to give a gift to one of them with public money is morally outrageous. That’s the Cash point.

Read John, too, for the best headline on this story.

Dirty Cash – We Don’t Want You

Bill Cash is a clear case of the sort of wrongdoing, a deliberate scam on the taxpayer, that would be tackled by Nick Clegg’s proposal yesterday to let voters recall and kick out crooked MPs.

David Cameron has said that Mr Cash faces “serious questions” over the Bill. You bet he does. But even if Mr Cameron stops him standing as a Conservative MP at the next election, taxpayers will still have to stump up the Cash to foot the Bill (yes, all right, I’ll stop now) to keep him in employment for the next year, or however long it takes for Mr Brown to reach for the vote-handled revolver. Is Mr Cameron going to back Nick’s plan for voters to take down crooks rather than have to wait for one chance every four or five years? Don’t hold your breath.

You may wonder why Mr Cameron seems so down on Bill Cash in particular, when he’s been noticeably gentler with some of the other Tory crooks. When Julie Kirkbride announced yesterday that she would stand down – though she’ll carry on pocketing her constituents’ cash until the election rather than doing the decent thing and going now – Mr Cameron was full of praise for her, and clearly wanted her back. Can he really be so shallow as to prioritise a pretty, media-friendly (until this week) face, while Bill Cash is an ugly old stick with a braying voice? Well… He probably is, yes. But there’s another possibility.

Bill Cash is in many ways the John the Baptist of Mr Cameron’s anti-European Conservative Party, the one that’s about to form a tiny group in the corner of the European Parliament with the nutters, extreme homophobes and parties that say President Obama’s election is “the end of white man’s civilisation”. Mr Cash was ranting on against Europe back when that reasonable, open-minded Mrs Thatcher was in charge and being far too wet and internationalist for his liking. Now the Tory Party’s caught up with Bill Cash’s frothing, what could possibly go wrong for him? Simple. Bill Cash is the John the Baptist of the Tory Party. Imagine how John the Baptist – dirty, smelly, out in the desert, no social graces, ranting and raving and upsetting everyone in sight – would get on with the Pope. Dripping with jewellery. Incredibly rich. Living in a palace. And you no longer have to ask why Bill Cash and David Cameron don’t mix.

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The Guardian Endorses the Lib Dems – Up To A Point

Liberal Democrats have good reason to be happy for a moment with Britain’s most mealy-mouthed newspaper. Yesterday, Nick Clegg launched his Take Back Power 100-day campaign in a Guardian article. Today, their editorial is full of praise for us:
“The party championed reform when it was unfashionable. The difference is that other parties are now competing to match them. The Lib Dem leader has run a bold pro-European campaign in the current elections (though no one has noticed). The Lib Dems have been ahead of the curve on the three great contemporary crises: climate change, the constitution and the economy.”
Yes, today’s leader column starts off slightly grudgingly, but they have to admit that we’ve got it right, often for years. They put down Nick Clegg, to raise him. All that’s fair enough for a newspaper rather than a cheerleader. They praise Nick’s long-term push for Gurkha rights, and how that “was rewarded when MPs passed a Lib Dem motion in the Commons for the first time in decades,” then hesitantly suggest that the Liberal Democrats can compete right across the country: “Labour’s woes allow him to pitch for progressive votes.” As if Labour was progressive. And there’s the rub. Our opportunity doesn’t come simply because Labour are unpopular. It’s because Labour are wrong. But, like an abused cultist, The Guardian still blindly wants to believe.

The editorial concludes by, rightly, suggesting that “voters may not reward the party just for being sensible,” but then finishes on the eternal Guardian put-down note: “the search for the elusive breakthrough is the ancient curse of third-party politics.”

And the reason I eternally curse the Guardian is that they always have that weasel-worded, mealy-mouthed cop-out.

People slag off The Sun and the rest of Mr Murdoch’s stable because, whatever their true views, they swing with the prevailing tide. No-one can pretend their views were ever genuinely in tune with the Labour Party more than the Conservative Party; but Labour have spent the last decade and a half cravenly surrendering to The Sun’s views, and in return The Sun has shone on them (for a limited time only!) because it couldn’t face backing the losers. It is a popular, and populist, paper. So what’s The Guardian’s excuse?

Over and over and over again, they complain that the government is terrible on civil liberties, the environment, poverty, constitutional reform… But, over and over and over again, because that government is a Labour Government, they endorse them at election time because, oh, they’re probably going to win. They’d rather call for their readers to vote tribally for a party that will let them down in every way than take a risk and put their votes where their mouths are. So, Liberal Democrats, enjoy the moment of praise while you can. At the election, I’m willing to bet that they’ll urge support for the bloated corpse of the Labour Party once again, or (if they’re still bumping along at 20% in the polls and so utterly doomed that even The Guardian can see it) perhaps take a punt on that nice Mr Cameron and his text-message democracy veneer of ‘reform’ because, after all, he’ll probably win. But it won’t be the party that actually puts its arse on the line for the issues on which The Guardian merely pontificates.

Come the General Election, when it counts, when we’re once again the only party that stands up for most of the Guardian’s causes, will The Guardian be full of praise – or just full of it?

Update Sunday 31st May: The Guardian’s sister paper The Observer comes off the fence and calls for a positive, not protest, Liberal Democrat vote in the Euro-elections as the best party on the issues. Watch that space for the General Election…

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Thursday, May 28, 2009


Go Jo!

The best of luck to Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP on tonight’s Question Time. She’s talented, intelligent, engaging, fiercely principled, and one of the few MPs to have been publishing her expenses online for many months. But, because she’s the youngest MP, and a woman, and good-looking – and, I suspect, because she’s a Liberal Democrat – the Daily Telegraph last week dumped a torrent of misogynist smears on her. With wealthy Tories claiming for servants’ quarters, moats and duck houses, and not-so-wealthy Labour MPs dodging taxes and claiming for non-existent mortgages, what did the Torygraph attack Jo for?

They plastered a full page and more on the outrageous slur that she wears make-up. Which she didn’t claim on expenses, and which even the Torygraph didn’t say she did – though the BBC and the Scotsman (clue to the sexual politics in the name there) did claim that even though, er, you can literally see at a glance that’s not true (she handed in a receipt with three items clearly marked as Parliamentary expenses; she explicitly asked only for those; she was only reimbursed for those; but on the same receipt were a few small make-up items she’d paid for with her own money and never asked the taxpayer to give her a penny for). Well smeared, Torygraph.

Why does the Tories’ house newspaper want to damage her with these obvious lies? Because she’s a superb MP. She’s dangerous. Just last week, another newspaper named her as Scotland’s hardest-working MP, and earlier this year the Torygraph themselves praised her for being the MP who led the opposition to the Labour Government’s attempt to exempt MPs and their expenses from freedom of information!

Two political memories spring to mind.

When I was just starting to notice politics, in the early ’80s – about the time that Jo was born – I noticed that all anyone ever said about Shirley Williams was that she was badly dressed, had her hair all over the place, looked a mess… In short, that she was a woman and didn’t look after her appearance, because that was apparently the only thing that mattered. I wondered why I never heard the same about all the men in their horrible ’80s suits that didn’t fit.

You can bet that if Jo dressed badly or didn’t wear make-up, the Torygraph would lead on that, too.

My other memory is first meeting Jo, about ten years ago, at a Lib Dem Youth and Students Conference. We were on different sides in a debate, and it got a bit heated. I had a lot more debating experience, and I won… But she listened, and decided that I’d got it right after all. She’s still grown-up enough to listen to people, but nowadays I suspect I’d lose any debate when she was on the other side. Because not only is she very bright, and usually right, but she’s very much more engaging than my ‘Mr Shouty’ persona.

I hope she wins tonight, as she often does, and sticks it to the Torygraph in the best way possible – by showing that she’s a brilliant MP, and they’re just jealous, sad old men.

Others have written at greater length and with far more detail, evidence and practical tips than I have. For a balanced view, I particularly recommend Caron and Caron again, Jennie, Costigan (on the Guardian jumping on the sexist bandwagon) and James, displaying the Torygraph’s disgusting coverage , and then James again, who makes me seem positively demure but provides an excellent example of his well-deserved reputation as the Lib Dem blogosphere’s tactical nuclear bastard.

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Lock the Bastards In: The 100-Day Lose the Deadweights Programme

Diet’s an old word for Parliament. Today, Nick Clegg’s combined both meanings in a practical, timetabled programme of reform that could start on Monday and slim down our bloated political system in 100 days of MPs’ work (shedding their Summer holidays). Lock the bastards in to open politics up – take back power!
Demand those rights, and help to detoxify British politics in just 100 days.

Nick Clegg’s Success – and His Dilemma

Nick Clegg’s had his best few weeks as Liberal Democrat Leader, partly despite and partly because of the firestorm engulfing British politics. But none of it’s been down to suddenly being a fresh face in the last month – it’s all come out of things he and the Liberal Democrats have been saying for a long time, and Nick’s making the most of his chances on them when they come. The Gurkhas? Nick was raising their case at Prime Minister’s Questions a year ago. It took that long to build a campaign and a cross-party consensus. On Parliamentary reform, whether it’s expenses or freedom of information applying to MPs like everyone else, it’s Liberal Democrats who’ve voted for it in Parliament again and again over the years – and Labour and Conservative MPs who stopped it, aided by the Speaker. When why Nick spoke up and forced him out, it was because enough was finally enough, and we couldn’t wait any longer to change things.

Those two sudden successes by the Leader of a relatively small party in Parliament – though the largest third party for eighty years – don’t just show that persistence pays off, though what a relief that it has, and don’t just show that Nick’s developing excellent political judgement and a killer instinct, though he is. Between them, Nick’s two big Parliamentary victories show the dilemma that a radical reformer faces.

Do you build a practical consensus between parties to get things done, as Nick did over the Gurkhas?

Or should you be a radical anti-establishment voice, as Nick was in breaking all convention to bring down a rotten Speaker?

Nick needs to be both, yet building an anti-establishment consensus that the establishment might deliver is a paradox. That’s what’s the extraordinary gamble in his front-page Guardian article today – punching for a target somewhere short of what we’d do on our own, but well ahead of what either Labour or the Tories would do on their own, all based on issues that have some degree of cross-party agreement already. As Millennium says, politics is the art of the possible.

But what could be more appropriate for a Liberal Democrat Leader than punching a hole in the establishment at the moment when it’s most fractured, but in a reasonable and measured way?

Take Back Power! Take Me Now!

You can’t doubt that the political system is splitting apart. Even without the politicians and the media, the British people are hitting it with sticks in rightful fury. And, hitting MPs until they squeak, suddenly other parties are making noises of reform, running to catch up with Nick at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. David Cameron – the Conservative Leader – has this week called for “a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power,” which he went on to detail rather less impressively as text-messaging and maybe, maybe not, fixing dates for elections rather than, er, fixing dates for elections. Bless him. But, still, if you want to see how hard a bandwagon’s rolling, look for the biggest bandwagon-jumper in the business (it was such a treat to hear Joanna Lumley on PM last week, when the government finally caved in and gave the Gurkhas the right they deserve, saying that she hadn’t done it without help – that the Lib Dems had been campaigning on it for ages, and then she was also grateful that the Tories had recently jumped on the bandwagon, too). And Labour… Well, Gordon Brown’s frowning silently deep in his bunker and has no ideas, no surprise there, but several of his aspiring successors loyal ministers have been launching their own leadership campaigns reform proposals.

Now, Liberal Democrats can hardly believe that the agenda we’ve been banging on about, unloved, for half a century is suddenly sexy (to think, just a year ago the first draft of Make It Happen was dropped for being too revolutionary and disturbing about the system, and went for a reassuring emphasis on the economy instead). We could understandably be hesitant when after decades of sneering at the bookish wallflower at the side of the dance the media and other parties have stepped forward, pulled off her glasses and declared, ‘Why, Miss Constitutional Reform! You’re beautiful!’ We could be shy and standoffish and quite rightly suspicious of the morals and motives of the new suitors. We know they don’t really love reform. Will they toss it all aside when they’ve had their wicked photo opportunity with it?

Nick Clegg’s answer is the bold but dangerous one. ‘I’m gagging for it! Take me now – but show me you mean it, and make an honest political system of me!’

And about time too.

You can see Nick being explicit about what he’s into on TV tonight, or by clicking to follow where he says that, if you get changed out of those old politics you can have a good time with him – I’m sorry, I’ll type that again – you can change politics for good.

If, on the other hand, that’s all a bit racy and you’d like to be wooed, fear not – that old-fashioned, genteel Vince Cable can take you for a turn first.

So What’s the Plan?

You can read what Nick Clegg has to say in today’s Guardian – his main article, the news piece about it, and why David Cameron’s text-messaging democracy won’t do – as well as the full, fully thought-out one hundred day programme on Liberal Democrat Voice. You can sign the petition on the Liberal Democrats’ new Take Power Back website, and harangue your MP – I’ll bet they’re keener to listen right now, when they’re much more frightened of your power than usual – to get serious about changing things. Here’s Nick:
“Real political change is about taking power from those who have hoarded it for themselves, and distributing it to others. So change will only be possible if the vested interests that have benefited from the way things are accept that they can no longer preside over an institutional stitch-up. For generations the Labour and Conservative parties have colluded to keep out competition. They are like a corporate duopoly, setting the rules of the game to maintain dominance. And just like in economics, it's ordinary people who suffer: taken for granted, and deprived of the ability to make different choices to those imposed upon them.

“So instead of long-term consideration of the possibility of tinkering, let us have 100 days of real action: swift, decisive and confident. It really is possible.”

And here are some of the main points: First on the list is sorting out MPs’ expenses – there’s an independent review by the standards watchdog working on it, and MPs can just vote to accept the lot. The Liberal Democrats may well want to add even stricter rules later; but every MP can vote to set the independent review as a baseline, can’t they? And to go along with that, one simple, massive change: if your MP’s done wrong, you should be able to force them into a by-election. After all this corruption, if you want to take back power, taking back an MP if they’re a crook and getting a better one is the best place to start, giving the people power to sack them rather than letting the establishment be their own judge and jury. And as for the people who aren’t elected at all, the House of Commons has already debated and voted on electing the House of ‘Lords’ – all it needs is the political will to make it happen.
Most parties have already agreed to ban donations of over £50,000 – and that could be adopted within weeks. The Liberal Democrats will campaign at the next election for a much lower limit of £25,000, as we’ve long called for, but even the compromise number the establishment’s already given lip service to is a massive improvement on the millions that tumble in today (did you know that, by an uncanny coincidence, every single person who’s given the Labour Party a million pounds or more has been given a knighthood or peerage?).
No messing. As Liberal Democrats have voted for again and again, freedom of information must apply to MPs and ministers and government decisions as well as everyone ‘less important’ – it won’t take long to pass something stronger than Labour’s loophole-riddled ‘Freedom from information’ laws. Just have the same laws for everyone. Simple.
The Prime Minister shouldn’t have the power to look at the opinion polls and fix the election date for when they’re likely to do best, or hang on by their fingernails to avoid defeat ’til the last minute like the Tories’ John Major and Labour’s Gordon Brown. Like local councils, like European elections, like even the American President, everyone should know that the elections come round every four years, so the voters make the choice, not the government stacking the dice. Similarly early on in the process, there’ll be a new Speaker, who can knock heads together to agree new Parliamentary powers for MPs to check government spending and what ministers are up to. And that’s before a massive Liberal Democrat programme of measures like taking the Royal Prerogative powers from ministers and passing a Freedom Bill to roll back many of the government’s powers over the rest of us – but that’ll take a Lib Dem government. With both of the other authoritarian, conservative parties gagging to boss people about, it lacks cross-party consensus!
Nick makes it clear that the Liberal Democrats want the single transferable vote system in which voters elect the person, not the party, but he’s willing to compromise on the cobbled-together, more top-down vaguely proportional system that most Labour reformers want. Labour, after all, promised a referendum on electoral reform in their 1997 manifesto, but didn’t do it. And in 2001. And in 2005. Still, better late than never, you might think. He’s picked something that’s the choice of another party, and far less in our interests that some, and willingness to concentrate on what Parliament might actually deliver is a good thing… For most of this eminently practical, sensible programme, at least. Actually, on this one I think Nick’s got the balance between ‘reaching a consensus’ and ‘anti-establishment’ wrong and has made one vital error of judgement – but I’ll come back to that in a later post.

The most important thing is, this could be done. It’s all thought out – it just might happen. All it takes is for MPs to give up their Summer holidays and get to work; once we’ve got a less rotten system, we can have a General Election that you can have more confidence in. The Liberal Democrats aren’t just putting forward all our favourite things. Instead, Nick’s proposals are concrete and simple and have a record of cross-party support and working-out.

So if they don’t happen – you know which parties to be cross with.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Speaker Rescues Poor Prime Minister Shock

Oh dear. Watching the first few minutes of Prime Minister’s Question Time, today’s out of touch Labour dinosaur and figure of fun that the whole House could see was finished was… Gordon Brown. And, just a day after he was forced to resign presumably because Mr Brown told him he couldn’t protect him any more, the Speaker had to step in and tell the House to stop laughing at a poor pitiable Prime Minister too weak to defend himself. And that was just his hopeless fumbling of a backbench MP’s question – before he jumped into a Tory bear trap.

After sliming praise all over the Speaker he’d abandoned, Gordon Brown was asked about his dismal Royal Mail privatisation plans by Lib Dem MP Paul Rowen. Fumbling and stumbling, Mr Brown talked about the pension fund before going on to claim that “they lose five million letters a year” – and the whole House of Commons simply pissed itself. The more he repeated himself, then tried to correct himself by haltingly finding a way to say that they were losing business rather than sticking sackfuls of letters behind hedges, the more they laughed. To the point where the walking dead in the Speaker’s Chair was forced to plead with the Commons not to laugh at the Prime Minister.

Perhaps it was because he’d been so discombobulated that, when David Cameron dug him an obvious bear trap, he obligingly jumped into it.
“This morning, the Prime Minister said that a General Election would bring chaos. What did he mean?”

“What would bring chaos would be a Conservative Government!”
Mr Cameron looked like all his Christmases had come at once, and who could blame him? Yes, the Leader of the Labour Party had just announced that he wasn’t going to call an election because the Tories would win it. He told Mr Brown how rubbish that was and invited him to have another go. The Prime Minister did, and his second, more rambling but less partisan go was much better, but the damage was done. It wasn’t so much an exchange between them that Mr Cameron won as one that Mr Brown lost, outstandingly.

Labour MPs then howled at Nick Clegg for bringing down their patron in the Speaker’s Chair. Worth more than a standing ovation at Liberal Democrat Conference, that mixture of fear and fury from your opponents was. Unlike Mr Brown and Mr Cameron, who praised the Speaker to the heights with varying degrees of hypocrisy, Nick thanked the departing Speaker… For his resignation statement yesterday. Honest, to the point, and saying it like it was rather than pretending to regret he’d gone. And then Mr Martin, always one to bear a grudge despite his mates queuing up to say how kind he was – to them, no doubt – didn’t call Nick’s second question, and put him down when he stood up for it. The Walking-Ex-Speaker thought it was funny, and so did his Labour mates; to the rest of us, it just looked like either uber-partisanship or incompetence. If only he’d managed to defend all the worst bits of Parliamentary secrecy and corruption at the same time, that’d have been all three of the reasons why he was the worst Speaker in living memory and had to go.

Nick, incidentally, talked about a a once in a generation chance to change politics for good, calling on the Prime Minister to reform the whole system from top to bottom, and (in that not-called second question) pointing out that our unelected Prime Minister wields power at the head of a Labour Government that less than a quarter of people voted for. Wasn’t it true that a system where so few votes give a Government so much power will always breed arrogance and secrecy? And, guess what, Mr Brown flannelled. Though, interestingly, a backbench Labour MP asked about voting reform as well. Has everyone been reading Mark’s reckonings? And, given that I've linked to him before, it’s not just women he’s not spotted, Jennie!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Preparing For the Nuclear Option – An Appeal

The Speaker's gone – good. That’s stage one. But it’s 24 hours since the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive met, and we’ve heard nothing whatsoever of what they decided. My impatience is rising as the Lib Dem hierarchy apparently just doesn’t get the need for speed and transparency in the current crisis. Though yesterday I suggested a set of questions they should ask Lib Dem Parliamentarians, tomorrow I’ll be publishing a much more drastic proposal.

Before then, can I ask readers for one simple piece of information? Which Liberal Democrat MPs have already said they’re standing down at the next election? Because I have a nuclear option to put to all of those who’re planning to go on, and I want to know all the ones I should write to…

Update: Well, I didn’t follow this up ‘tomorrow’, or the next day… I put it off because I heard that the Federal Executive were going to publish their ‘action’ at the end of the week. Then they turned out to be paltry. So I was rather underenthused – try me again after the Euro-elections (though, as on so many things over expenses, however incredibly, the Tories have stolen the thunder)…

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Monday, May 18, 2009


Parliament In Crisis: A Good Day For Nick, But A Lot More Questions To Come

Nick Clegg had an impressive day yesterday, breaking a 314-year Parliamentary convention to call for the worst Commons Speaker in living memory to go. He was very effective on re-establishing our anti-establishment credentials, but there are still big questions that need asking, and answering, and quickly – not just the Liberal Democrats in general, not just the House of Commons, but specifically the Leader, our Parliamentary Parties, and the Federal Executive this afternoon. Replacing the dodgy rules so far, what should better rules look like? And what’s to be done about people who’ve already taken the loot (and the piss)?

First of all, congratulations to Nick. Yesterday, he really found his voice. I thought he had a ropey week last week; there’s no doubt that the Liberal Democrats were the least dodgy of MPs, but we neither built on nor capitalised on that for most of the time. Several of our MPs were completely open with their expenses, having published them all months ago – why didn’t Nick order all of them to do it, especially as they were coming out anyway? Were the Commons and Lords Parliamentary Parties simply paralysed with fear, or hoping the Torygraph wouldn’t find something? Why didn’t we find the right medium between ‘we’re sorry some MPs took too much’ and ‘come on, a feather duster’s not in the same league as a moat and a flipping great fraud, is it’, when even Jeremy-A-Million-Of-Your-Taxpayers’-Pounds-Paxman could say it? Why did anyone let Ming Campbell go on Question Time and get himself in a complete Eric Pickle? And why didn’t Nick announce in advance of the Torygraph’s Lib Dem revelations that anyone who’d made off with a hefty amount of money they shouldn’t have would be for the high jump – again, we all knew something was coming, yet we’ve been stuck in the embarrassing position of sounding less strict than David Cameron, who seized the initiative paradoxically because moats and mansions and tennis courts were far more corrupt than anything of any Lib Dem MP, and so he could be seen to take harsh action.

Calling for the Speaker to go, though, was exactly the right thing to do, and brave – after all, the Speaker has near-unlimited power to fuck a party over in the Commons. And, despite my utter contempt for Mr Martin, who combines all the worst traits of an exclusive old gentleman’s club chairman and an old restricted-practices trade union shop steward, and who is both rubbish and partisan, Nick was entirely right in sticking to the issue rather than having a go at the Speaker personally. And if you listened to the Today Programme this morning, he was boosted enormously by the grumpy Scottish Labour MP who made wild personal attacks on Nick and everyone who had criticised the Speaker, which probably sounded like a defence to him but sounded to me and I imagine the vast majority of listeners like a corrupt old numpty incriminating the Speaker further with every word.

If they do get rid of him, by the way, who should be the new Speaker? Tradition means Buggins’ Turn, and some old grandee. That is exactly the wrong way to go. Instead, the Liberal Democrats should refuse to support anyone who’s been an MP for more than two or three Parliaments, on the grounds that they’ve gone hopelessly native. Not Ming (fat chance now), not Alan Beith (bless him), not Nick Harvey (have you crawled into a ball of embarrassment when he’s popped up to defend the status quo, too?). It should be someone with a proven track record of calling for and voting for reform before it was fashionable, if Parliament’s to crawl back to any sort of credibility at all. Richard suggested Norman Baker to me this morning (update: and Millennium makes the case for him, as well as having much to say about the whole scandal); I have to admit, he’d be great at it, but I don’t want us to lose one of our best attacking MPs. I don’t know who I’d trust, but – breaking my own rule here within a paragraph – I’ve seen Frank Field’s name being floated about, and though personally I don’t want to see his face on TV even more than it is now, he does seem to have credibility with a lot of the media, and that might help rebuild some trust in democracy, which is the most important thing right now. Plus, it’d stop him bashing immigrants and poor people, so that’d be a bonus.

I wish that a member of the House of Lords I’d have trusted with my life as well as my money, my old friend Conrad Russell, were still alive. With the prospect of the first peers to be excluded from the Lords since the time of Cromwell and the first Speaker to be dragged from his chair since 1690, the brilliant 17th Century historian would be having a field day. And though Conrad and I might have inclined on different ways over the British Civil Wars, we’d agree – or, rather, he made the case and convinced me of it – that the Liberal Democrats’ ‘family history’ begins in the 17th Century, with the desire to limit and oversee arbitrary power. That’s what this is all about – people had the power to do something, so a lot of them did it.

No, They’re Not All On the Take

Of course it’s not every MP, nor every peer, still less every politician. Most of the time I regret that my long-term ill health means I can’t stand for Parliament any more. The last couple of weeks? Well, they’ve been enormously depressing, but they’ve not made me miss it. People long said that all politicians are corrupt – and most those of us in politics have long been frustrated, because it's not true of us and we have to fight against that perception as we pour all our time and effort and, yes, money into trying to get things done. After the last few weeks, everyone just thinks they’ve been proved right all along. It’ll be an absolute bloody nightmare for the thousands of honest, hard-working political activists knocking on doors. I remember all the people on the doorstep who assumed that every politician was wallowing in their riches, and that the second-most aggravating question – after ‘But aren’t you going to come third?’ – was all the people who asked how much I got paid as a Parliamentary candidate. No, not a penny of your money, and not a penny of the party’s, either – if you’re a candidate, all the money goes down an enormous funnel the other way, you stupid prat, and how about getting off your arse and doing something rather than just complaining? As I can say now, given that of course I’m no longer standing.

While I can intellectually understand how much of this happened – that allowances grew far beyond what they should have because wages were held down, in a clever dodge by Mrs Thatcher to massage the figures on MPs’ pay in exactly the same way she brought relatively fit people onto incapacity benefit at a slightly higher rate than if they were classed as unemployed, as a silent deal to keep the unemployment figures down – emotionally I can also say, to every MP that has been on the take, I hate you, because you’ve confirmed every prejudice, brought all the rest of us into disrepute and made the task of changing absolutely anything in this country that much harder.

But though not every MP’s been on the make, the ones who have fit precisely into what Liberal Democrats have been saying for years. Not just that ours are more honest than the others by a mile – though that’s now been proven even if you take some of the Torygraph’s desperate partisan smear jobs to make it look like we’re just as bad at face value – but that this has been boosted by the way the whole corrupt, inward-looking political system works. Liberal Democrats have been arguing for decades for better freedom of information; well, look how the whole system explodes when we get it, even if the Torygraph ironically won’t be free with the information about how they got it, because they were paying crooks. I can't criticise them too much, though, because without their dodgy pay-offs, we’d never have found out about the most crooked of all the widespread practices – “flipping” second home allowances to pay out for house after house in turn.

Liberal Democrats have been arguing for decades that the electoral system isn’t just unfair to people’s party preferences, but doles out safe seats that mean worse MPs – well, look, Mark has analysed the minority of crooked MPs and found that, who’d have thought it, they’re very much more likely to be crooked if they have ultra-safe seats and regard themselves as ‘untouchable’. Costigan reminds us that, with elections via the single transferable vote, we don’t support top-down proportional representation but giving people the choice to sling out an individual MP but still keep their party. You want to know how to make STV ‘sexy’? Tell people to imagine if a General Election were held like that tomorrow! And, tying in with all that (and, hurrah, a party leader agreeing with some of what I said in my first conference speech, half my life ago), Nick yesterday was also calling for MPs that are guilty of misconduct to be subject to recall by their constituents – so, if they don’t like the one they’ve got, they can take it back and get a new one.

That’s all well and good, but it isn’t all. There are still awkward questions to be asked, and some of them are very hard even for Liberal Democrats.

What Awkward Questions Do We Still Need To Ask?

Everyone agrees that the rules so far have been dodgy and need changing. Fine. But the single line most likely to make an ordinary, mild-mannered citizen march on one of their MPs’ homes with a blazing torch is ‘It was within the rules’. No, no, no. Fuck, and indeed, off.

First point: any Liberal Democrat Parliamentarian should be banned by the Chief Whip from using those words.

Second, as any fule kno, it doesn’t matter a toss what the rules were if what you were doing was wrong.

Third, that means we have to consider what to do about what Parliamentarians have done under the existing rules, whether they broke them or kept them, as well as work out what the new rules should be.

I don’t have all the answers, but if there’s one thing Liberalism’s about even more than binding arbitrary power, it’s asking questions. Here are a few we should ask…

So far, a substantial minority of MPs seem to have asked the not-too-difficult questions:
And, now they’ve been found out, too many of their ‘It was within the rules’ defenders are trying to restrict any comeback to the very lame:
On the other hand, the public mood is to ask just one question:
With the inbuilt answer, Yes / Yes, do not delete either option.

So here are a few ideas to focus our minds on what expenses should be permissible in the future, and a yardstick for judging what people have done in the past, finding a happy medium between:

Perhaps the central question is:
  • Is this taking the piss?

A few quick thoughts of answers would be that MPs from outside of easy travel of Westminster – and thank fuck every Liberal Democrat MP in London refused to take the second homes allowance, while the Tories and Labour kept their snouts down – should certainly have somewhere to stay but, as Nick Clegg has been saying, they shouldn’t be allowed to make any profit from it. Where there is any, that should all go to the taxpayer. Flats or houses, though; it’d be daft to say it has to be hotels only while the House is sitting. Not only are hotels a lot more expensive, but imagine doing your job while moving house a dozen times a year…

What I don’t think the party’s been saying, but which we should have been since the days of Derek Conway, is that no MPs should be allowed to have a member of their family working for them. Sorry, but no. Yes, most of the time it’s probably better value for money, and it’s good for keeping relationships together, but people just won’t stand for it any more. It looks like it stinks even when it’s a good deal, so it has to stop. But, on the good side, at least all this orgy of castigation over MPs’ allowances in the last couple of weeks has had so much to feed on that they’ve not been carrying on that crazy media idea of counting all the MPs’ employees and offices as ‘perks’ rather than, er, people doing jobs and a place to do them.

And, of course, all our Parliamentary candidates should have to sign up to our own, very strict, rules, before they can stand under the Liberal Democrat label.

Now for the really hard part.

Without getting into all the detail on named individuals – because I don’t know it all, and I don’t trust everything I read in the papers – the people who are going to have to decide about people who have been named in the papers have to do something. It isn’t an option to say ‘They were within the rules’.

So what questions do Nick Clegg, do the Commons and Lords Parliamentary Parties, and do the Federal Executive this afternoon have to ask?
I’ve not read the full Bones Commission on reforming the Liberal Democrats’ internal structures. Sorry and all that, but I’m a policy wonk, not a process wonk. Still, people who have are saying it provides for setting up some sort of audit body that can investigate people’s actions, so we should get those going pronto.

For people who have taken the piss, we need to ask further questions:
And then, what sanctions are appropriate?
Basically, we’re a party of the Rule of Law. It’s pretty much our founding ideal – it’s how we control abuses of power. So we should set out those questions above before we get onto the individuals.

I frequently argue on this blog that laws are there to protect nasty people as well as nice ones. That rights aren’t rights if they only apply to people you like.

Well, the converse of that is also true. Laws have to apply to nice people as well as nasty ones.

There are some of the Parliamentarians who’ve been attacked who I know and like; there are some I know less or don’t like all that much. In a semi-judicial enquiry, that can’t matter. The purpose of all this is not to clear their names, but to clear ours – to make sure that the Liberal Democrats as a whole will deal with dodgy actions if they’re found to have taken place. I’ve had friends who’ve gone into court, and I’ve stood by them and hoped they weren’t going to be guilty. But I wouldn’t have smuggled them out of the country or perjured myself just because they were my friends.

Some of them might be easy. When I heard from the Torygraph, for example, that Andrew George was said to have bought a flat for his daughter with taxpayers’ money, I had one simple question: ‘Were you living there to do your job as an MP, or was it just a student flat?’ And the very next day, yes, it was where he lived to attend the House of Commons, it was a small rather than luxury flat, and he’d even paid for a third of it himself to make sure it was above board. So who the hell should care about who lives there, unless they were claiming any money too?

Some of the accusations of spending money wildly are more difficult, and it’d be easier for the Leader or the Federal Executive to close their eyes and hope it all goes away. They can’t, and it won’t. The biggest two, obviously, are Ming Campbell and the one who most people outside the Liberal Democrats won’t have heard of, Chris Rennard. I have a huge amount of respect for Ming, but one of his drawbacks is that he’s been in the House of Commons a long time and has taken on too much of its culture – he was a disaster on Question Time last week, not because he was corrupt, but because he simply didn’t understand what the fuss was about. And Chris Rennard, a Liberal Democrat peer, for a long time the party’s elections guru and now its Chief Executive, is the person named in all of this that I’ve known for longest and admire the most. I have both a tribal and a personal loyalty to him and I really, really hope that he has a good explanation for what the News of the Screws – a paper I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw Chris and a vanful of Focus leaflets – said about his second home. I hope he comes out of it fine, and people who’ve always had it in for him who’re saying he should be sacked on the spot really aren’t helping. But for anyone – anyone – who really has spent a large amount of taxpayers’ money that they shouldn’t? The MPs got rid of Charles Kennedy, and while over the years I’ve gradually accepted that that was the right decision, I think the public’s far more tolerant of alcoholism than shopping sprees with the public’s credit cards, still less fraud.

Any investigation can’t be a witch-hunt – but it all has to happen if we’re to live up to our ideals of openness, honesty and controlling arbitrary power.

And, above all, it has to be fast. Because people’s patience is at an end.

Apologies for this article being less discursive than usual, and for a lack of links (other than the two I particularly remembered). Two reasons: for the last couple of weeks I’ve been rather ill, having carried back lurgies generously offered to me by my Mum and younger niece on a family visit, and right now my head’s feeling particularly full of cheese; and, also for the last couple of weeks, my Internet connection’s been a bit poorly, too. My computer’s managed to get online just twice in the last week, and while Richard’s gets through more often, typing on it knackers my back and hand – so going between computers with a data stick isn’t the best way to refer to sources.

Now more Lemsip, and back to bed.

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Saturday, May 09, 2009


Barbara Follett – This Poor Needy Millionaire Needs Help

My Internet connection’s frustratingly knackered this week, but while I’m actually online for a moment, spare that moment for poor Barbara Follett. One of many Labour ministers whose expenses have been exposed today through the Torygraph’s backhanders to the criminal fraternity, she’s a tragic case. Why, the Fees Office even churlishly refused to pay all the £528.75 for repairing her much-needed Chinese needlepoint rug (no word on how much we all paid for it in the first place, but worth every penny, surely), which must have been heartbreaking, and who can begrudge her £25,000 in public money for private security?

Apparently, she was mugged, you see, and no-one would know better than a Labour MP that you can’t trust the police in London, can you? I imagine she’s standing on a platform of rolling out £25,000 private security for every one of her constituents who’s been mugged, starting with her, of course, because at least one of her several homes is in her constituency. Funnily enough, I was once mugged the night before I stood at a selection meeting, but I neglected to add £25,000 of private security as part of my personal platform. Must have been the shock, I suppose; that, and being too busy making the case of what my priorities were for spending on other people.

Twelve years ago, I stood against Barbara in Stevenage (coming an heroic third). She was a frail, needy thing there, too, at a huge disadvantage; yes, it’s true that she was a millionaire and I was unemployed, and as her husband had a new book out he’d helpfully plastered the town with “FOLLETT” posters, but every time she opened her mouth, you could tell she needed help. When she told her stories of her hard-luck background as a landowner in South Africa, I could always see Labour members with tears in their eyes. When she told at a hustings of the tragedy of the brain drain, because all our best designers were being lured overseas and you couldn’t get a decent frock in London, journalists were so moved that they ran from the room. You see, Barbara’s problem has always been the reaction she gets from anyone who ever meets her in public. And in that context, a £25,000 private security detail to keep them from her, and in so doing to save all of us from having to hear anything she says, seems a small price to pay.

In other news, Labour Minister for Keeping the Darkies Out and Appeasing the BNP Phil Woolas has issued a furious response to the Torygraph’s allegations about his expenses. ‘No to immigrants!’ he snarled. ‘Be afraid, be very afraid, that they will rip you off – and that’s my job!’

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Cameron’s Call For Change – Throw Out Those Tories!

Did you notice David Cameron’s election pitch this week? He called for “a message of change,” “a vote for change” and, just in case you missed the message, “it is time for change.” And, for once, Mr Cameron is quite right. We should throw out the party in power at next month’s elections – the ones who’ve let us down, who’ve not delivered, who are smug and arrogant and need sweeping away.

That’s the Conservative Party, who hold 19 of the 27 county councils up for election, and who are defending the largest number of MEPs going into the Euro-elections. Or is that not what he meant?

I want to throw out the Labour Party when it comes to the next General Election. But this isn’t it. Mr Cameron wants us to imagine we’re voting in that election, rather than have to defend his party’s record of slashing services and bad administration at local level and of splits and increasing irrelevance in Europe. Of course, for Mr Cameron this is a “change” election anyway – he’s marching his troops out of the biggest group in the European Parliament, where they’re in the mainstream of conservatives and have some influence, to a tiny group of racists, homophobes and other frothing extremists that no-one else will touch with a barge pole. Again, it’s no wonder he’s pretending to fight a completely different election, is it?

Look, I know that Mr Cameron’s used to ‘Let’s pretend’ politics – ‘Let’s pretend to have policies,’ ‘Let’s pretend we know where the money’s coming from,’ ‘Let’s pretend my party of unreconstructed Thatcherites and bigots are as fluffy and metrosexual as I am’ – but you can’t just pretend this is a different election. Because local councils and the European Parliament aren’t pretend levels of government – they have real powers, and make a real difference to people’s lives. So how about pretending we live in a democracy, and voting for constructive proposals, rather than pretending that elections for real things are made-up referendums?

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009


The Stupidest Thing John Prescott Has Ever Said

An impossible competition to judge? Then think about just why people are backing Labour right now. The vast bulk of their heavily depressed (make up your own jokes) support are tribal voters, who’ll stay Labour simply because they always have and always will. Labour wouldn’t even limp into single figures in the polls without tribal voting. How many people are proud of Labour MPs lying their way into the Iraq War, cheating thousands in expenses, abandoning the Gurkhas, taxing the poor more than the rich, smearing opponents with made-up sex scandals and making Gordon Brown Prime Minister without a vote?

I’ll bet three-quarters of Labour’s remaining supporters are ashamed of what ‘that lot’ have been doing, but will grumble quietly and then go and vote Labour anyway because, well, ‘we’re Labour’. You’ve heard them say it. Do you know a single Labour supporter who’s genuinely happy with what they’ve been doing? Who hasn’t been disgusted with what the Party’s been up to, mean, smearing and useless? Who actually praises Gordon Brown’s sunny disposition, willingness to listen and competence? The other week there was a poll even of Labour activists on who the best Labour Leader had been – Mr Brown managed 1%, presumably because Number Ten managed to vote a few times before their cookies were marked. I mean, when even the ultra-loyalists won’t back the one in power, you just know that once Mr Brown’s lost the election he won’t be able to see Ramsay MacDonald’s heels for dust. Labour, in short, are not happy bunnies.

So – with Labour needing their tribal, unthinking, kick-us-in-the-teeth-and-shit-over-us-we’ll-still-vote-for-you support more than ever before, what would the stupidest, most damaging thing possible be for Labour to do? Tell their tribal supporters, out loud, no messing, that if they aren’t actively proud of Labour’s smearing, lying, cheating, fiddling, overtaxing, economy-stuffing ways, they should just fuck off.

I refer you, then, to Exhibit A, Mr John Prescott.

Even the most utterly tribal, steeped-in-Labour, lying, bullying, there-is-no-alternative-but-the-party dinosaurs have now said that Labour are getting it wrong. When David ‘bash the foreigners and the scroungers’ Blunkett says they’re too nasty, Hazel ‘so perky and on-message her eyes are going to fall out’ Blears admits everybody hates them, and Charles ‘Go to war and lock up everyone for ever’ Clarke has finally found something that makes him ashamed to be a Labour MP (that they’re no longer getting away with it, presumably), that’s the Three Stalking Horses of the New Labour Apocalypse, isn’t it? A hint for Mr Brown to say to the public, look, we know we’ve got some things wrong but we’re listening, so stick with us and we’ll do better. Put a little salve on the bleeding wounds of the bleedin’ faithful.

So imagine my surprise on hearing Labour spin-doctors saying with satisfaction that they’d brought out the “big guns” and that John Prescott had crushed the rebellion, as if the problem was the canary and not the coal mine. When what Mr Prescott’s words of wisdom actually were involved shutting up, backing Gordon Brown with no questions asked – not that anyone’s ever been permitted a vote on him – and, most suicidally stupid of all, telling Labour loyalists who were ashamed at anything the party had done, yes, simply to fuck off and leave:
“Charles, if you are ashamed to stay in the party it’s obvious what you should do, isn’t it?”
Any remaining senior Labour figure with a brain in their head must be getting down on their knees and thanking any god they can think of that no-one’s taken anything Mr Prescott says seriously for years, because if Labour voters took him at his word, three-quarters of them would be off tomorrow.

But if I were writing a Liberal Democrat leaflet tomorrow going out in a traditionally Labour area, I’d have a picture of John Prescott on it. The man who is tribal Labour incarnate. I’d have a headline like:

A Message To You From John Prescott: ‘Ashamed of Anything Labour Have Done? Then Clear Off!’

And, underneath, something like this (OK, but shorter)…

Have you always voted Labour, through thick and thin, good times and bad? But you wish they’d just once say sorry for some of the things they’ve been doing? Listen to you when you feel they’ve let you down, and not just take you for granted?

Are you ashamed of your local Labour MP ripping you off with their expenses claims (it’s a fair bet), and all those other Labour MPs getting rich by using our taxes to buy homes they don’t even live in and using our taxes to pay for everything from their plugs to their porn?

Are you ashamed of the Labour Government telling the Gurkhas they can put their lines on the line for this country, but not live here?

Are you ashamed of the Labour Government lying their way into George Bush’s war in Iraq, then not even giving our soldiers the equipment to protect themselves there?

Are you ashamed of the Labour Government smearing opponents with made-up sex scandals that Gordon Brown’s top spin doctor was responsible for?

Are you ashamed of the Labour Government still taxing the poor more than the rich, and putting up taxes on the poor yet again to pay for bankers, even when they’ve wrecked the economy and we’re all finding it difficult to make ends meet?

If you’re ashamed of any one of those things, then former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has a message for you to say just how much the Government is listening:
“If you are ashamed to stay in the party it’s obvious what you should do, isn’t it?”
When he was asked what he thought of people who were unhappy with the smears and the cock-ups, that’s what Mr Prescott said to people like you on the BBC’s Today Programme on Saturday 2nd May 2009.

It’s official – arrogant Labour are ordering you to vote for them, and shut up. If you answer them back or you’re ashamed of anything they’ve done, they don’t want you.

They won’t listen to your complaints. They won’t listen to your concerns. Now they’re telling you to clear off if you don’t agree with everything they ever do.

Maybe you should listen to John Prescott one last time, and try another party who might listen to you. Try the Liberal Democrats.

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