Nick Clegg

Debating debatable debates


leaders debates

I’ll lay my cards out straight off here; I’m not much of a fan of party leaders debates in the run up to general elections. We have a parliamentary, not a presidential, system in which we do not elect our heads of government. We elect our representatives to parliament.

What would, in my opinion, be more helpful would be 650 individual debates, one in each constituency in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That way people can see the candidates that they can actually vote for going head to head, and make the best choice for their local area.

Time was, these were called hustings.

That, however, isn’t going to happen. Unless David Cameron feels he can somehow chicken out of the debates completely, some variation upon the head-to-head party leaders’ debates of 2010 will be happening.

So what would be the best arrangement?

Read on…

The Art of the Politician’s Apology


eric pickles

It’s a funny thing, a politician apologising. Hardly a rare thing, but a fairly rarefied art form in itself, pitched in a certain tone, and phrased in a certain way.

It occurred to me after Eric Pickles’ apology on the Andrew Marr show, yesterday morning. It has been framed in the media since as a mea cupla on behalf of the government, admitting failure on the flooding in Somerset. Which is strange, since that isn’t actually what he said.

Observe; the “apology” of the saintly Secretary of State for (submerged?) Communities and Local Government:

Read on…

Who Loses Most From Huhne’s Downfall?


clegg huhne cameron

It’s been nearly two days now since Chris Huhne surprised everyone and pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice — the plea being the surprising part, not the guilty. The political commentariat have had chance enough to chew it over, myself included.

So given that mere months before his resignation Huhne was being touted as a possible coup leader and alternative to Clegg, the fallout from this will do some fairly profound rearranging of the political landscape. Since the late unlamented Huhne’s Eastleigh seat is beyond a long shot for Labour, I can sit back and enjoy this a bit, and look at who this plays out worst for.

  • Chris Huhne

This is the obvious one. The man will almost certainly be going to jail, and deservedly so frankly. Displaying a staggering sense of arrogance and self-importance, he allowed his lies to turn a trivial driving offence into a career-ending death blow. So he has lost his seat, from all accounts he has lost his family, and he will go to jail. But upon his release, he will probably write a best-selling tell-all book, and in end won’t do nearly as poorly out of the whole sorry situation as by rights he should.

  • Nick Clegg

Again, conventional wisdom seems to say that a disgraced MP’s party leader will pay a price in political capital. After all, this was someone who implicitly had Clegg’s endorsement as a member of his party, and as a (presumably-vetted) one-time cabinet minister — so his personal judgement should come into question somewhat. Except that Mr Clegg doesn’t have a great deal to lose in that respect. His poll ratings are in the doldrums, and as mentioned above Huhne had been something of an agitator against him.

For evidence that Clegg wasn’t terribly sorry to see the back of Huhne, just take a look at his statement on the matter:

This is obviously an extremely serious matter and it’s essential that the legal process is now allowed to run its course. I am shocked and saddened by what has happened, but I believe that Chris Huhne has taken the right decision in resigning as an MP.

Frosty and fairly perfunctory. So long Chris, thanks for nothing!

  • David Cameron

What does David Cameron have to lose here, I hear you ask. Well, take a close look at Eastleigh. Huhne’s majority was only 3,864, and that was before the Lib Dem poll collapse. Toss in a disgraced former MP, and this should be a seat which the Conservatives easily win.

Except… In the 2012 local elections, the Lib Dems paradoxically gained seats. Factor into that the high polling of UKIP and the controversy of gay marriage. It is quite likely that UKIP will poll highly here, splitting the right-wing vote and allowing the Lib Dems to retain the seat.

And imagine what that would do to Cameron’s disaffected backbenchers. They are already, reportedly, planning to demand George Osborne’s head on a silver platter after the May elections. If they lose the sort of Parliamentary seat which they will need to win in 2015 to have any chance of winning a majority, then Osborne’s sacking won’t be nearly enough.

Strangely, Cameron may lose more than anyone out of Huhne’s downfall. After all, nothing gets rid of a Conservative Prime Minister more effectively than the Conservative Party.

RBS Bonuses and Responsible Capitalism In Practice


David Cameron has managed the rather impressive feat of coming across more out of touch with the public than a millionaire banker.

Responsible capitalism (or whatever variation thereon you prefer) seems to be the byword of the moment. Ed Miliband was panned for starting discussion on it at last year’s Labour Party Conference. Then Nick Clegg thought he’d give it a go as the latest “redeeming issue” for his crumbling party. Then Cameron noticed there was a bandwagon gaining momentum that he wasn’t part of, so quickly jumped on.

On the basis that you can discount most of what Nick Clegg says on this (or any) matter, on the basis that a) no one is listening because b) no one trusts him and c) no one believes he has any power, this comes down to Cameron and Miliband- Labour and the Conservatives.

The Tories trumpet that this has been a longstanding crusade of Cameron’s, and yes he did give some speeches on it back in the days of opposition, when he was trying to beat his party into something less instantly repulsive to voters. But judged on his actions, he has been less than inspiring.

The recent furore with RBS boss Stephen Hester’s bonus provides a current and high-profile demonstration. Being a bank largely owned by the taxpayer, not yet having been sold off at a sniff to one of George Osborne’s mates, there is a significant public interest in how much its senior executives get paid. Cameron spent last week telling anyone that would listen that he wanted the CEO’s bonus to be less than £1million, and so when it came in at around £0.96million, presumably thought he’d earned a pat on the back.

I don’t know if he thought there wouldn’t be quite such a storm of public outrage over it, or whether he just thought he thought it would all blow over in a storm of scrounger-bashing. But he miscalculated. Badly. Stephen Hester’s decision last night to refused the bonus made him- a millionaire banker- look more in touch with public opinion than the leading party of government.

Regarding the responsible capitalism debate, there has been a sizable gulf over remuneration. Labour has take the decision to endorse in full the recommendations of the High Pay commission, including putting workers on remuneration committees rather than letting various directors of differnt companies round-robin rubber stamping each other’s paychecks. The Conservatives (and thus the Lib Dems) have shied away from this, and instead encouraged “shareholder activism”.

The problem is, shareholders by all accounts don’t seem to hold much power over these people. Look at the shareholder “rebellion” at the News Corp AGM last year. It didn’t amount to a hill of beans, because near enough a majority share of the company was in Murdoch’s pocket. Some of the shareholders managed to get Tom Watson there to have a stab at him, but that really was only a minor embarrassment to the media mogul.

And now we have a state-owned bank paying what was widely regarded as an obscene sum of money as a bonus to the CEO, and the government standing aside claiming to be powerless. You know that if this was a local government officer, Eric Pickles would be having a coronary. If it was a teacher, Michael Gove would be on the news decrying it. If it was a civil servant, Francis Maude would be doing that nauseatingly slimy thing he does, and if it was a nurse Andrew Lansley would be…well, he’d be too busy crying in the corner regardless, but that’s beside the point.

Strangely, they’ve all been as silent as the grave.

But think, for a moment, of some of the lower level RBS employees. The tellers, the loan officers, the branch managers. None of them will be offered £0.96m bonuses. I wonder, if they were given the choice, just how many of them would have chosen to award the sum to their boss?

One Rule For Them…


Can David Laws really just walk back into the cabinet after being found guilty of fiddling his expenses?

I must confess, I’m somewhat confused about this whole David Laws affair.

The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury (who, let it not be forgotten, was responsible for orchestrating last year’s Comprehensive Spending Review with George Osborne, and is responsible for the current cuts which are causing so much woe) resigned as a minister last year as it came to light that he had claimed £40,000 between 2004 and 2009, to pay rent to a man who happened to be his husband. This blatant breach of expenses rules was explained as Laws trying to keep private his sexuality.

This didn’t wash with me at the time, and it doesn’t wash now. Did he really need to pretend that James Lundie was his landlord? And did he need to pay him a small fortune? It seems incredibly iffy.

Today he was censured by the Parliamentary authorities, made to apologise to the House, and suspended for seven days. This is a fairly harsh punishment, as far as Parliament goes. And yet, the Lib Dems and apparently the Tories are eager for him to return to cabinet. Witness David Cameron; “I think he has a lot to offer public life and I hope he stays in public life.

This is a man who falsely claimed £40k of taxpayers money. This being the man who nearly caused a rebellion in his own party when the original expenses scandal broke, with his hardline approach to expenses offenders. And yet now he wants David Laws back in his cabinet? That doesn’t seem to tally.

And just to add to that, remember Eric Illsley? The former Labour MP for Barnsley Central, who was jailed for his expenses? He falsley claimed £14,000. David Chaytor? £18,500. But David Laws falsely claims £40,000 and he gets an invitation back to the cabinet. Could it be because he’s one of the so-called “Orange Book-ers”? Or because he’s one of the increasingly rare friends of Clegg?

The really galling thing, though, is that the Liberal Democrats spent the 2010 general election campaign running on a “new politics” platform, as the only party untouched by the expenses scandal. David Laws campaigned along those lines- despite clearly knowing that he had breached the rules and abused the system. So he’s a liar and hypocrite. As I recall, Phil Woolas lost his seat for that very crime.

And the idea that he did it to hide that he was gay? This is supposed to be an enlightened age. Sexuality is not supposed to matter. If Laws wanted to maintain his privacy, he could have done. Blaming it on his sexuality seems to me like a cheap, sensationalist attempt at distraction, and really it only brings shame to Parliament and the Lib Dems.

(Speaking of, where did the Lib Dems get this reputation as a pro-LGBT party? Does anyone remember the 1983 Bermondsey bye-election? There’s only one party which has ever done anything of note for LGBT rights, and it isn’t yellow.)

Basically, it just seems strange comparing the reactions between Laws and other MPs who broke expenses rules. Laws seems to be treated as the victim, whereas others are demonised. I’m not sure why this is exactly, but it seems that Lib Dems are still treated as whiter than snow. I haven’t a clue why, given how many promises they have broken, and how much hurt they are causing. But it certainly doesn’t seem fair that Laws should get away with a slap on the wrist and an invitation back into cabinet, for what the public were calling for the heads of other MPs for doing.

Tin-Foil Linings


 

The Barnsley by-election results beg even more an answer to the question, "What is the point of Nick Clegg?"

This morning is wonderfully sunny in Brighton, and I think for left-wingers and Labourites across the country, the whole day will have that character.

 

I am, of course, referring to last night’s by-election victory in Barnsley, which saw the frankly impressive Dan Jarvis elected to replace the disgraced Eric Illsley. Dan’s success isn’t in any way surprising, in a safe Labour seat (though I do think Dan would have done well in any seat), but what is especially heartening is the fares of other parties. I’ll reproduce the full results below, as they’re just so damn amusing:

  • Dan Jarvis (Lab) 14,724 – 60.8%
  • Jane Collins (UKIP) 2,953 – 12.9%
  • James Hockney (C) 1,999 – 8.25%
  • Enis Dalton (BNP) 1,463 – 6.04%
  • Tony Devoy (Ind) 1,266 – 5.23%
  • Dominic Carman (LD) 1,012 – 4.18%
  • Kevin Riddiough (Eng Dem) 544
  • Howling Laud Hope (Loony) 198
  • Michael Val Davies (Ind) 60

Turnout 36.5%

(Source BBC News)

Yes, you read that correctly. 4.18% of the vote to the Liberal Democrats. Sixth place. Glorious, no?

I know it isn’t funny, that they came below the BNP, but on many levels it is. I might be worried if it wasn’t such a safe Labour seat, but there was never any chance of UKIP or the BNP winning, so why not enjoy them sticking the boot into Clegg and friends.

At any rate, the yellow vote has utterly collapsed in Barnsley, dumping them below the 5% threshold which sees them lose their deposit. Any government party can expect to fare less favourably in a by-election (God knows that Labour had enough bad ones), but this is landmark. Already Lib Dems are making excuses that the turnout was low, that their voters simply stayed at home. Possible, but it’s far more likely that those who voted Lib Dem at the general election are so disgusted with the party’s behaviour since entering office, that they politically withheld their vote, or switched to Labour (the only left-wing, progressive party left in British politics).

It’s a humiliating endorsement for the Lib Dem leadership, that they were so heavily punished in an area that will be most damaged by the cuts which have, by and large, yet to come into effect. This is the start of something that the government are denying; that people are not going to sit and accept ideological cuts to the poorest in society. With the local elections coming up in May, and the Lib Dem’s large council base, the party must be really starting to worry.

Still, there’s a silver lining to every cloud. Or, perhaps more aptly in this case, a tin-foil lining; at least they beat the Monster Raving Loonies… There there, Clegg.

Another Win for the Dark Side


"...I have declared war on Mr Murdoch and I think we are going to win." - Rt Hon. Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

Vince Cable’s transformation from national treasure to national disgrace has been staggering in its speed. I remember when I was hoping that he’d get the Chancellor’s job rather than Osborne. Now with the latest scandal to hit the Tory-led coalition, courtesy of the Torygraph, he just seems like a joke. He’s truly transformed into Oswald Cobblepot (The Penguin, from Batman).

Now, for my own part, he lost all credibility with the debacle over tuition fees. He flip-flopped over whether he’d vote for, against, or abstain. This all despite the fact that he was elected on a longstanding policy and a pledge not to increase them, but rather to abolish them. That moment, along with all of the Lib Dem MPs who voted for the rise, he lost all legitimacy in my mind.

The latest scandal has seen a recording of him saying that he could bring down the coalition and would do so if they pushed him too far. When I heard this, I wondered what exactly would be too far, given that he’d already u-turned on tuition fees, cuts, the EU, and countless other things. But hey, I don’t care. It pissed off Tories more than anyone.

And now today, immediately after a bland press conference held by Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Cameron and Clegg) on “how brilliant the coalition is, and doesn’t everyone agree?”, the BBC breaks the news that he also made claims about Rupert Murdoch’s bid to take over BSkyB. Apparently he’d said that he was “at war” with Murdoch, and was going to use all of his powers to stop the takeover.

This matters more to me. Rupert Murdoch already has near monopoly over the print news media,

Rupert Murdoch, the closest thing to Darth Vader in the real world, who has now been pretty much handed BSkyB by Vince Cable

and Sky News’ weird Fox News impersonation caters to the right-wing audience, but Mr Murdoch has never been one to settle. He won’t be happy until he has complete monopoly over the media, and controls all news access.

But now Mr Cable has come out and declared that he won’t let Murdoch take over BSkyB. Fantastic. Except that he’s the Secretary of State for Business, and is supposed to be making impartial decisions. Now he’s tainted his own impartiality, and given Murdoch and his advocates (i.e. Sun-reading, Sky News– watching, Conservative-voting right-wingers everywhere) ammunition with which to argue for his removal from the case and the decision.

So as much as I agree with him being against Murdoch, he’s still an absolute idiot for bringing personal bias into the matter, and even more for publicly announcing it. He’s set back the movement against Murdoch-isation massively, and quite possibly handed BSkyB over to the closest thing to Darth Vader walking around in the real world.

I remember when Vince Cable was acting leader of the Lib Dems (during the election campaign that led to the appointment of Clegg), he said of Gordon Brown, “The House has noticed the Prime Minister’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from Stalin to Mr Bean.” Personally, I think that’s very bloody rich considering his own transformation from loveable OAP, to utterly incompetent berk.

Well done, Mr Cable.

An Open Letter to Students


My fellow students,

 

Those who attacked Millbank Tower were thugs and cowards, who took advantage of students' anger, and who have damaged the cause that they claim to believe in.

Yesterday I marched with you in London, protesting against the Coalition plans to cut the Higher Education budget by 40%, treble tuition fees, abolish EMA, and a host of other ill-advised and regressive policies. For the most part it was a pleasure to be a part of. We marched from LSE down towards Parliament, shouting slogans (and general verbal abuse of Lib Dems/Conservatives) and waving placards (some of which were a bit mental, but hey, it’s a protest- you’re allowed to be a little mental).

Then, after about 2pm, it all went wrong. The attack on Millbank Tower (regardless of whether it was or wasn’t Tory HQ) was a stupid move. It turned what was a respectful, peaceful demonstration, into a riot. And maybe some of you are looking at today’s headlines and realising what a mistake it really was.

The fact is, that most of the 50,000 students gathered behaved completely respectably, and didn’t engage in stupid acts of aggression and violence. The ones who attacked Millbank Tower and tried to occupy it were a minority, hailing from certain factions of the left and of the student community. I won’t specify who, but I’m sure that all of you who know anything about this are aware of who I mean. And I suspect that a good deal of that minority went to the demonstration spoiling for a fight.

I can understand the anger and frustration that led to it. Everyone there was passionately against the unfair moves being taken by the government, and in particular at the broken promises of the Liberal Democrats. I’m sure that if Lib Dem HQ wasn’t hidden down an anonymous sidestreet they would have seen much more aggression than they actually did. In the end, students were angry about policies that would disproportionately hit the poor, and that anger both boiled over and was taken advantage of by certain elements.

The end result is that the protest has been sullied. The focus is on the minority of violent individuals who acted unacceptably, not the overwhelming majority who behaved more reasonably. I think it’s exemplified by the fact that David Cameron was able to give a statement on the performance of the police and the unacceptability of rioting, and completely ignore the issues that we were protesting against.

And the worst part, for me, was that we had the moral high ground. For the most part, we weren’t protesting for ourselves. The impact of these cuts and policies on present students will be minimal. It’s the future generations who will be disadvantaged, and it was for them who we were marching for.

Please understand that my criticisms were aimed at those who perpetrated the attacks on Millbank Tower, and not to the rest of the students. In particular, those who broke windows, tried to occupy the building, and unbelievably dropped things off the top of the building. I am a student. I am a left winger. But I like to think I’m not an idiot. This hasn’t helped anyone, and has hurt our movement and our aims.

Those who gave in to violence, vandalism and thuggery make me ashamed to have been there. However, all of you who didn’t disgrace yourselves, who peacefully demonstrated to make our voices heard. All of you make me proud to be a student, and to have been on the march which will unfortunately be remembered for the idiocy of a few.

 

Sincerely

Matthew S. Dent

(3rd year LLB student, University of Sussex)

I’m Backing Balls


Ed Balls is the man with the passion, oratory skill, and technical understanding to best stand up to the unfair Con-Dem coalition, and make Labour values and principles effective in opposition

So here it is. On 1st September 2010, the ballots will start to go out to Party members for the voting stage of the Leadership contest. And in anticipation of this, I’m declaring my support, and my first preference vote for Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.

When the candidates were announced, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Ed to be my first choice. I didn’t know all that much about him then, he was a figure in the Labour cabinet, Minister for Education, and that was about all I knew.

Since the election, however, he has proved himself to me as a gifted politician, and a man dedicated to the ideals of social justice upon which Labour is founded. After fighting tooth and nail in the General Election almost five months ago to win a difficult seat, and after choosing to fight for the leadership, he has thrown himself into opposition.

Ed understands the dangers of the coalition policies. He understands the terrible risks that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are taking with the economy, placing an unfair burden on the very poorest in society. He recognises the need not to simply focus on his leadership campaign, but that the the fight back has to begin immediately.

In the five short months since the Coalition entered government, Ed has fought them on all the important issues. He has embarrassed and exposed the elitist hypocrisy of the Coalition education policies. On BBC Question Time, he outshone Business Secretary Vince Cable. And he has come out swinging against the cuts that risk our fragile economic recovery. He has put the fear of Labour and of the people into the Coalition front bench already- imagine what he could do as party leader.

This leadership election is massively important, and I would not presume to tell anyone how to vote. All members of the party should take equal responsibility, and take the time to research the candidates to make their own judgements on who is best. We are in a fortunate position, in that all of the candidates are fine politicians, who would bring their own advantages to the party. This puts the party members in an unenviable position of trying to decide which of them is best.

As I’ve already said, I think that is Ed Balls. He has the fire in his belly to fight for the people of this country, who now more than ever need Labour to be standing up for them. He has the economic understanding to be able to outmatch the Coalition’s atrocious ideological mishandling of the economy. I’d highly recommend to anyone considering how to cast their vote, that they read his “There is an Alternative” speech from earlier today. Ed knows what he’s talking about, and is ready to stand up for what is right.

If you’re not yet a Labour Party member, but care about this country and the future we face, then you can still join and cast a vote in the Leadership election, up to September 8th. I urge you to consider this. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be overstated, particularly given the contradictory alliance of Tory and Lib Dem that is currently doling out injustices and irresponsibilities. That strength starts with a strong leader.

If you’re interested in joining the party, then take a look at the Labour Homepage. If I’ve caught your interest in regards to Ed Balls, then please take a look at his campaign page, and see first hand what I’m talking about.