Saturday, 30 May 2009

Friday, 29 May 2009

Why do people think a referendum on AV+ is a prize worth having?

James Graham has done an excellent post on the flaws of AV+ so I won't repeat the same points (writing down exactly what I wanted to say yet again, I must unplug that LibDem hive mind connection...) but merely to pick up on one aspect.

Why is it that anyone thought a referendum on AV+ was a good thing and something that is somehow a prize that should be compromised and fought for? Regardless of the flaws of the system,

WE WOULD LOSE the referendum!

James says "At the height of Blairite hysteria and the depth of the Tory nadir, we MIGHT have been able to pull it off. But can anyone tell me, with a straight face, that it could be won now?"

Here I disagree with him slightly. I don't think it ever could have been won.

The "PR will lead to a politicians' stitch-up behind close doors" argument, whilst we all know why it's wrong, is a very powerful argument in the public mind. Anything that even smells slightly of a politicians' arrangement away from the voters will get short shrift and I'm afraid the top-up element of AV+ does smell wrong and always will to the public at large.

Many years ago when I was at university, we, the LibDems there (and I suspect this is a very familiar story) proposed replacing the current system of inquorate Union General Meetings (UGMs) with a student council. At the time what happened was that every month the UGM would be inquorate and so the small Exec (dominated by career Labourites who thought they were socialists but who magically forgot any principles when they got a whiff of power in the party later - I said it was a familiar story!) would just make the decisions themselves. We thought this through a lot and with the idealism that only a student can have came up with a very thorough proposal. A council of 60 members elected by STV, elected by thirds, UGMs still sovereign etc. We somehow manged to get a referendum called on the same day as the annual union elections (otherwise no-one would vote). We were up-beat, we happily plastered the place with our "Pro-chance" stickers and went round persuading people. Everything was going well until the existing cabal of politicians who held the power started using the simple argument:

"It will just mean more politicians"

That really killed it stone dead. However right we were we just could get over this objection, however much we explained it to people that it wouldn't be politicians it would be them. That was it.

Now, I know that's just a unremarkable story of youthful idealism, but people really don't see politicians as one of them and anything that seems like a system for politicians rather than something coming from the people will lose. I think that's what did it for the North East elected assembly referendum. I bet several of us were surprised by the size of the no vote there.

I was always amazed that we fought so hard for something, to my mind, could never be achieved (winning an AV+ referendum). In retrospect I think we also made a grave tactical error in allowing through the current rubbish system we have for Europe (which really is a politician's system) and not holding out for something better. The PR system for Europe really has set back the argument for electoral reform I think.

But I am straying into a post that's been buzzing round my head for days "How to sell electoral reform", I shall probably commit it to the electronic page once I've dithered and everyone has written what I wanted to say better as usual!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

"They want to go now into bed with a bunch of serious, serial nutters for a start"

There is a great new interview with Nick Clegg in the New Statesman in which he doesn't hold back on his thoughts on the establishment system and parties. I thoroughly recommend it!

Go Nick! Finally I see a LibDem narrative coming over the hill

Nick's proposals to strike when the iron is hot, "bar the gates" and lock MPs in until they agree on reforms is exactly the kind of thing we should be saying. It's almost a direct response to my blogpost yesterday. (Yes, I know, I'm not that naive!)

Exposing Cameron's proposals for the window-dressing they are and drawing a clear dividing line between us and the establishment is exactly what is required.

My heart leapt when I heard the headline on the Today programme this morning. Let's just see how long it takes for this story to permeate the BBC news website.

I know I carp a lot (why are all the minor parties' party political broadcast all better than ours, no matter how loony, for instance!) but sometimes we do hit it spot on (AV+ equivication notwithstanding).

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

LibDems score well in MEP league of working for a more open, democratic EU

This Press Release from Open Europe contains the heartening news that Liberal Democrat MEPs beat both Labour and the Conservatives in their league table of UK MEPs' "openness" voting record.

We are beaten into 3rd place by both the Greens and the SNP who only have 2 MEPs apiece.

The other important point to take from this (bearing in mind Nigel Farage is on tomorrow's Question Time) is that UKIP are way down this league.

We should be shouting this from the rooftops!

Their league table looks like this:

Party Number of MEPs Average score per MEP

1. Green Party 2 39.5

2. Scottish National Party 2 38.5

3. Liberal Democrats 11 35

4. Conservative Party 28 29.5

5. Labour 19 29.3

6. Independents 4 26.75

7. UKIP 9 24.89

UPDATE: Looks like LibDemVoice beat me to it!

BBC can't do maths. Alex Salmond can (for some value of can)

The Guardian's Media Monkey has the story.

Apparently in a BBC webcast, Alex Salmond was asked by a member of the public what 24 divided by zero (24/0) is. He, not unreasonably, said "infinity" (the proper answer is "undefined" but I'd give him that). The BBC presenter said this was wrong and the right answer was zero (sigh, this is the total opposite of being right!).

Funnily enough a newspaper then picked up this story and repeated the unfounded allegations (now where has this happened before?) about Mr Salmond's maths ability.

After a complaint to the PPC, the Scotsman had to apologise for it's article "Salmond stumped by a mother's maths question"!

A Broadcast from the English Democrats was just emailed to me

The above email was just sent to me due to some "green" scheme or other I signed up to (must review that!).

Firstly, I wonder how this will be reflected in their election expenses and secondly, should we be doing something like this? :)

Should be using existing non-political networks like this? Also why not say things like "Clean up MPs, Vote LibDem"? I know we've been shying away from it but we can justify it and think we should welcome the questioning on such a provocative and non-establishment stance (the answer being our extensive reforms that the others wouldn't dare do).

We need to get out from under the establishment and fast

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged in anger about Ming's apperance on Question Time in the wake of the Expensegate scandal breaking. I may have misdirected some of that anger towards the party (although not all of it by a long chalk I'd venture!) and was verily slapped down by the great and the good. (although I note with interest that Alex Wilcox had also posed the same question)

It was pointed out to me that we have to work within the establishment straight-jacket of Question Time (and I suppose just sit idly by whilst David Dimbleby mocks and belittles us and cuts us off).

In the same way that we should have played within the rules of "the game" with respect to the speaker?

Well done Nick for calling on him to go and getting the result!!

Unfortunately, I'm worried we're now falling into the trap (being set for us) of coming across as too much like Westminster politicians.

The "impartial" BBC news introduced the item on the speaker with something like:

"After days of suffering allegation against themselves, MPs have now turned on one of their own"

which nicely sets up the context for Nick to be seen as just one of them.

The establishment is closing ranks to protect themselves and preserve the status quo.

For years we have fought for the media to say "the main 3 parties" instead of "both main parties". Well now they are! And you can bet your bottom dollar that once this "little local difficulty" has been successfully smoothed over it'll be back to how it was. In fact, I have notice several occasions when the phrase "both main parties" is back and used in relation to parliamentary reform proposals! Arrggh!

Apparently "all politicians"/"all party leaders" are now trying to out do themselves with reform proposals. Some in the media have even commented how it's strange that only now they seem to want to know. Excuse me! Over here! Hello!

A few times now on the 6 O'Clock News, the main report has had "both main parties" represented in the main story at 6:02 and then two sentences from Nick is shoved in apropo nothing just before Nick Robinson emotes across the screen at 6:25 (when most people have been bored senseless by the news and turned over surely).

Cameron is being allowed to be seen as the great reforming politician bestriding the UK stage cleaning up the system (Moat, what moat? All forgotten old boy). Last night, Huw Edwards said the main headline was "David Cameron has proposed massive reforms"! When he introduced the actual item he said the reforms were:

"Massive, sweeping and radical"

which must be true as newsreaders only read news, they don't give opinions right?

We know his proposals don't amount to a hill of beans but you wouldn't know it from the news. Do you remember when the news reported news not just opinion as fact? Or am I nostalgic for a past that never existed?

I know it is hard for us to battle against the establishment flow (or is that a BBC finally smelling the coffee and trying to suck up to the incoming Tory government?), but battle we must.

We should have been the first to call for a General Election (yes, I agree with Nick's arguments for reform first but calling for a GE is always win-win as Brown will never call one and if he does he was going to anyway and at least you can claim some kind of victory).

We should have called for all MPs who have been caught flipping or avoiding capital gains tax to be sacked safe in the knowledge that none of our MPs are quite that dubious! If someone calls us on this and says "you're only saying this because none of your MPs are affected" then good in that it brings out that fact which everyone (including us it seems!) is trying to sweep under the carpet.

In response to Cameron's weak "reform" proposals, Nick has been doing the rounds giving eminently sensible interviews. Here is Nick on GMTV.

However, I think he is being too reasonable, He always starts by saying something like "whilst I welcome David Cameron's proposals they don't go far enough" (Warning! Warning! Westimister politician alert! They're all the same). Stop welcoming them! Blogger Jamie Saddler, I would argue makes the same mis-step.

Whilst I understand that we have to be careful not to turn people off by being less than reasonable, I think we should be more explicit and say something like "David Cameron/Labour and the Tories isn't/aren't interested in meaningful reform. They just want to tinker round the edges as their quite happy to continue with the same broken system".

When Nick quite rightly makes the case that we've been going on about reform for a century and the times we have voted the right way in the teeth of establishment opposition maybe he should be a bit more feisty and say something like "it's a shame you/the media have never seen fit to cover it until now".

Ed Davey on The Today programme yesterday finished up his interview by saying:

"I'm glad you're now beginning to take them [serious European issues] up on the Today programme"

I see that another Tory/Labour deal opposed by only us to limit transparency is on the cards. We should be going ape about this all over the media. If this cannot get traction now it never will. This is our narrative calling!

Also why not bring history into it. Why not say "We Liberals first tried to reform the House of Lords in 1911" (or whenever).

On the news earlier in the day in response to Cameron's proposals we got Nick saying "Where are the recalls, where are the Lords reforms and where is the electoral reform". In later reports, his third point was cut off. We can't be seen to be tinkering like the others, we need to make the point that the whole system is broken, the others want to keep it and we want to change it and we need to make it strongly.

Make no mistake the establishment fix is now in, the powers that be think they have navigated through the worst parts of expensegate (notwithstanding the blip of the upcoming Euro elections which can be easily packaged off as a story about minor parties and then forgotten) and they can see clear blue reform-free two-party waters ahead.

I not saying I know exactly how we should act, but we need to act now and fast, that window of opportunity is closing fast...

Where is the East of England Euro Leaflet?

Jo over at A Week is a Long Time asks Where is the SW LibDem Euro Leaftlet? so in that vain, I shall ask where is the East of England one?

I've had leaflets from , Labour, Tory, BNP, UKIP, Greens and assorted minor parties but nothing from us. It's possible it has been shoved in with takeaway menus inside the free paper which could lead to it going unnoticed between the letter box and the recycling bin but I do usually check (sometime they slip in windowed enveloped to catch you out!).

Anyone had theirs?

UPDATE: 29/05/2009 - Our leaflet arrived yesterday! Not bad, I just hope people bother to unfold it!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Have "The" Labour Party made a naming error?

I recently received my postal vote and on the ballot paper for the European election in the Eastern Region there are 15 parties listed. The parties are listed in alphabetical order, so the BNP is at number 2, the Conservatives at number 4, the Liberal Democrats at number 7 but "The Labour Party" due to their preceding "The" are way down at number 12 (UKIP are at 14). Without the "The" they would have been above us.

I know in these fevered times on the political blogosphere, this isn't very exciting by comparison, but surely the addition of the "The" and subsequent loss of position on the ballot is a bit of a tactical blunder by Labour?

Friday, 22 May 2009

Martin Bell - Part of the problem

Having watched the earlier Question Time last night, I was surprised by the performance of Martin Bell, the erstwhile "Man in the White Suit".

He seemed to shy away from any kind of reform and seemed quite happy with the current system. (Having said that, Vince oddly didn't mention electoral reform once, despite being given opportunities)

His main argument seems to be that we need to keep the current system with the current strong parties and all that is needed is the occasional additional sprinkling of Independents. He kept using the phrase "a very British revolution", without really saying what that means other than him and a few other celebrities getting elected and nothing else changing.

He came across as as much a tool and defender of the establishment as any representative or the two establishment parties.

It did seem that he wasn't part of the solution...

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Go Vince! Go Vince!

Vince Cable is on Question Time tonight and the programme has been moved to the earlier slot of 9pm.

I'm hopeful that we'll put in a better performance than we did last week.

Make us proud!

Tory MP: 'People are jealous of my house' :-( )

Blimey! Well at least Anthony Steen MP is being true to his Tory roots!

Hattip: Iain Dale

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Phil Willis rose to fame playing a computer-generated character apparently

Well according to this article in the Yorkshire Post. It says:

"The MP rose to fame playing a computer-generated character in television commercials for internet service provider AOL. He starred in more than a dozen television adverts for the company."

Top quality subbing from the Yorkshire Post there!
(For those who were wondering, it was his daughter who played AOL's Connie)

Vote Match: Aren't we opposed to copyright extension?

I recently took the Vote Match test run by Unlock Democracy. Luckily it said I should vote LibDem (although I only gave it the choice of that and Libertas!).

My results are here. As I was looking through the list of things it thought I disagreed with the LibDems on, I notice all the things on which there was a mismatch were things that either I or the party were open-minded about (phew!). Except:

"Extending the period of copyright protection on sound recordings from 50 years will predominantly benefit music companies and work against the interests of consumers."

I said that it would, the party said wah wah! This doesn't sound right to be (or very Liberal), a quick google turns up this article in which two of our MEP oppose the extension proposal. Andrew Duff MEP even said:

"Europe must stop putting more obstacles in the way of consumer choice. The Commission has been far too weak in giving in to pressure from big business. We should now look at how we can really help performers without penalising those who enjoy music"

I know there are subtleties in this argument but the quote above sounds very much like it's agreeing with the Vote Match statement.

According to the FAQ, the parties had a chance to change any responses but it still doesn't look right to me. Does any know the real position?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Boy aged 12 did not father baby

Well, I can't say I'm shocked. I thought it likely they may be another potential father in the wings at the time. I wonder if there was the involvement of a Max Clifford-like character in the original story?

Friday, 15 May 2009

Why did we put Ming on Question Time???

When, I saw the listings for Question Time 5 minutes before it was about to start, my face fell.

I managed to blog off this quick post questioning the wisdom of this but secretly hoping I would be proved wrong. I wasn't.

That was horrible! Commentators over at the LDV QT post have picked up on some of the "unhelpful"/misjudged things he said but really he was a hiding to nothing from the beginning.

As per usual we have the whole rollcall of establishment rallied against us. (I include Dimbleby in this. When we cut off Ming when he was trying to respond to a direct angry audience question about his food allowance and said we'll just deal with the other point first I said to Mrs. L, "he won't go back to him, he never gives the LibDems a chance" and lo, he didn't. I should have started keeping a log of Dimbleby snubs but don't really watch QT much anymore - I don't watch the smugfest This Week EVER - my head would explode!)

Considering this was probably going to be the most watched QT of the year, considering the opposition we face and considering how people would be tuning in looking for answers/direction, we needed someone "clean" (Sarah Teather?) who could put across our mainly strong position on expenses. We could even have had any of the other MPs will lesser (financically), more easily explainable problems , ie. phone bill, trouser press or even better one of our MPs who have been unfairly maligned.

Now we have successfully let the establishment make it a story of "the three main parties" (how we wish they would do that normally!).

Where was the list of our record in fighting for the release of expenses (and being thwarted by the establishment parties).?

Where was the list of what we had paid back (really small beer) compared to the other parties (obviously this really couldn't have been given by Ming!)?

Where was the demanding of an apology from Ben Brogan for the treatment of Andrew George and Alan Reid?

Where was the case against safe seats and for electoral reform?

This was probably our biggest opportunity of the year to break through in the public consciousness and we blew it! Now we're just as bad as the others in the public mind.

Who the hell thought putting Ming up was a good idea???

I'm actually really angry about this. This is a massive failure on behalf of the party.
Really there is nothing good I can say about this. I am livid with the party. (UPDATE: Got a bit carried away here!)

I wouldn't be surprised if activists aren't even more demoralised now.

UPDATE: A few comments have pointed out that these things are arranged in advance, and would my preferred option be that Ming pulled out (and put up someone else)? Well yes it definitely would be ! (Do we know if the other party guests were the originals or were they replacements?).

Yes the BBC would have made a sarky comment and maybe this would have put us in their bad books for a while but I think this was so important that it was a sacrifice worth making!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Why are we fielding Ming on Question Time?

Surely we needed someone who was "clean"? We have plenty of them!

Maybe I'm over-reacting but this seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity/own goal by us.

I guess we shall see in an hour. Maybe he'll do us proud but I don't think the public is in the mood to hear any politician explaining away their claims...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Conservative candidate loses High Court battle to stop LibDem leaflet revealing meeting attendance using Data Protecttion Act

The Register has the full story.

First Oxford Tory Christopher Quinton unsuccessfully sued the victorious Oxford LibDem councillor Robin Pierce for "publishing injurious falsehood" by revealing that this Tory candidate had attended certain planning meetings and then devining what his views are on certain planning issues. Then he went on to claim that since Mr. Pierce had published personal information about him that he had therefore breached the data protection act!

The judge said: "I decline, however, to interpret the statute in a way which results in absurdity. Plainly, it cannot have been the intention of the legislature to require electoral candidates to give their opponents advance warning each time reference is to be made to them in a document that happens to be computer generated."

National Express trains to charge for reservations - appalled but not shocked

I would be shocked by the news that National Express is to charge £2.50 each way for a seat reservation if it wasn't the kind of thing I've come to expect.

I am appalled though!

This is effectively a mandatory charge as I can't imagine anyone in their right mind these days (except in a really off-peak time) booking a National Express East Coast ticket without a reservation.

Unless there are going to reduce the cost of the ticket accordingly? Are they B*ll****!

National Express said "We find that people are often reserving multiple seats as they're not sure which train they are going to catch."

Er, well don't let them then! Surely it's not beyond the wit of man?

The article also says that "National Express confirmed the charges will be introduced from this Sunday on some seat reservations on its East Coast route between London and Edinburgh and East Anglian routes through Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk."

I think you'd be lucky to manage to reserve a seat of any of their foul sub-standard trains through Hertfordshire (there aren't reservations)!

Jonathan Wallace will be pleased!

Friday, 8 May 2009

A cuddly Beatles-playing monkey toy

Just thought I'd blog about a gift I recently bought for a friend's child, so if they become really popular I can boast about being ahead of the curve!

I seem to have been going into out local "Childrens' boutique" Boutini a lot recently as many friends seem to be sprogging off all at the same time.

However, just the other day, I bought a monkey with a pullstring that plays "Let it be". It just really appealled to us. We actually saw it on a previous visit but had no occasion to buy it. Now Mrs. L is going to be seeing her goddaughter, we now have a reason!

The gift hasn't yet been given but no doubt the recipient's mother will wonder what we're on!
It's a shame we have to keep giving stuff away but I'm assured I can't be buying these things for myself! Although I noticed quite a cool crinkly mouse in there...

Your Friday animals

First, news that the world's smallest pigs are thriving. Pygmy Hogs (I guess Pygmy Pigs would sound silly) released into the wild have been captured routing around on camera:

Also captured on film is the rare Java Rhino in Indonesia.

And lastly, rhinos at a Kent safari park are getting chapped ears in the cold.
Ah bless.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Is there a need for organised Manchester ID card resistance?

When I first heard the news that there would be an ID card trial in Manchester, my first thought was that I hope there was an opposing campaign gearing up in Manchester ready to put the arguments against to the local population.

On further reflection, I think this will be unnecessary as Costigan Quist points out, I can't really see people voluntarily rushing out to spend £30-£60 (and the time/hassle) to get a card especially one that will have no obvious benefit to them.

In fact it seems doomed to failure...which makes me suspicious. What carrots/sticks will the government be introducing up there? A free ID card with every sandwich bought?
Will the local benfits system suddenly need ID cards? One to keep an eye on I think.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A Good LibDem use of YouTube

There have been a lot of posts recently about the use of YouTube by politicians and production values etc.

This video from the Hertfordshire LibDems' Six To Fix campaign for the County Council elections is really good. The use of vox pox is very effective and the whole things looks really professional.

Why did Lembit vote to keep the second home allowance for Outer London MPs?

I was reading the Evening Standard on the train yesterday when I came across this article: MPs say they face hardship after axing second homes cash.

It had details of some of the MPs ("rebels") who voted against scrapping the second home allowance for outer London MPs. Given our London MPs' sterling record on second homes (they don't have any!), I was enjoying going through the list of Labour and Conservative MPs who opposed the scrapping. Imagine my surprise, dissapointment and annoyance when I came across:

  • Lembit Opik (Lib Dem), Montgomeryshire

What was he thinking of? Was he objecting to the way the whole expenses vote had been handled? If so, may I suggest that this nuance isn't going to come across in "the court of public opinion"!

Surely all out MPs should have been voting to scrap this? Isn't this Nick's position? Now we can't say all our MPs voted to scrap the allowance. Saying we all did excpet one doesn't cut it.

Is there a rational explanation for this?