26 September 2015

Lib Dems still in denial

On Monday I spent an enlightening day at Lib Dem conference.  I've been mulling over events then and the various media reports and analysis for the week and although the majority are positive about the party's future I'm less sure.

The lack of corporate sponsors and the wide open spaces of the exhibition areas might have suggested a party on its knees - but the stories of hundreds of first time delegates and new found confidence were only slightly exaggerated by party bigwigs.  But, but but...

The Trident debate was a great traditional political occasion - more than a thousand voting delegates packed into the hall, party big wigs wheeled out to speak in front of the camera - including the venerable (but increasingly mistified Shirley Williams) - and also deployed at the back of the hall  to vote down the insurgents.

The vote was won narrowly on a single and very old argument - that the Lib Dems needed to have serious policies if they wished to be taken seriously as a party of government. There were some other really silly arguments including those of Gerald Vernon-Jackson who said we needed to spend £100bn on a weapons system to stop the poor in Portsmouth going to Tory foodbanks, but they were rightly discounted.

The reality is with just 8 MPs the Liberal Democrats are a very long way from being considered a 'serious party of government' in Westminster.  They are also a long way from government in Edinburgh and Cardiff.  Tim Farron gets to question David Cameron once a month alternating with the DUP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. 

The reality is actually the Lib Dems are a long way from being considered a serious party of opposition.  So the party need to stop playing by the old rules.  Having a small number of clear positions - different to Westinster establishment - would be a good place to start.  Unfortunately the leadership flunked it in Bournemouth on Trident.

22 August 2015

Friday favourite 141

Here are Aussie Beatles tribute band Beatnix performing Led Zep's 'Stairway to Heaven' as if it were 1962.

It's absolute genius...

14 August 2015

Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank in 3 minutes

In a rather strange back to front view - here's the full journey on the reinstated Borders Railway.  What srikes me is the lack of twin track - something that will no doubt will have to fixed at enormous cost as passenger numbers exceed predictions.

21 July 2015

Exclusive - Farage reacts to new Coetzee role

The news that Nick Clegg's 'world class' strategist, Ryan Coetzee, has been appointed to run the yes to EU campaign has at least one supporter:

Put your money on a big NO vote...

8 July 2015

So what did the Lib Dems actually stop the Tories doing?

Today's budget rather gives the lie to the Lib Dem 'Scooby Doo' message of 'look what the Tories would have done if it wasn't for the meddling Lib Dems'.

The budget contained  two major public policy changes. Firstly switching the focus from the government subsidising low pay to the government forcing employers to pay a living wage.  And secondly lengthening the period of fiscal consolidation to smooth the public spending cuts.  These two changes would almost certainly (rightly) have been supported by the Lib Dems if they had remained in government (and the latter was basically the party's economic position two months ago).

The fact that both leadership candidates slammed the budget on the basis that the Tories were returning to right wing form without the Lib Dems was as predictable as it is wrong.  And it is extremely worrying for the future of the party that both contenders simply basically rehashed the disasterous Coetzee/Clegg messaging - the messaging that was comprehensively rebuffed by the electorate a few weeks ago.

The Scooby Doo message was ineffective as it relied on people understanding a bunch of imponderables - it's impossible to judge the effects of things that didn't happen.  And it was part of a wider failure of the Clegg leadership of failing to define a distinctive Lib Dem agenda for government meaning people could not tell what part of the coalition policy was down to which party.

But now that Osborne and the Conservatives have comandeered a fairly major part of both the Lib Dem and Labour economic policy and are likely to dominate the economic centrist space for the foreseeable future some rethinking is needed - and fast.

I don't expect Labour to come up with any credible rethink, but the Lib Dems must.  If whoever wins the leadership can't find a new and better vision for the economy that understands the values being promoted by Osborne's budget today, then there is little hope for the party. 

3 July 2015

Friday favourite 140

Stumbled across this the other night.  And what's not to like a Quebecois rockabilly cover version of Blondies' Call Me...

29 June 2015

A Farron victory is necessary, but it's not sufficient

I've voted for Tim Farron. 

It was a pretty easy choice - Tim clearly understands a different direction is required.  One that builds from the grassroots up. 

In contrast Lamb is campaigning as if we narrowly lost out in the election and with a bit of refining our messages, government is again around the corner.

But strangely if the party had just narrowly lost out and some of the party's big guns had held on - Steve Webb, Ed Davey, Lynn Featherstone etc - a leadership contest would almost certainly have been held involving one of more of them, Tim Farron but probably not Norman Lamb.  He's only in the race because of the lack of other credible candidates.

Back in 2012, I first warned of the existential threat the party faced if it carried on in government as it had been doing.  It sadly did.  And it was routed as a result. 

The Lib Dems are now a minor Westminster party - scrabbling around with the DUP and Plaid Cymru for time and traction.  Its profile as a national political force has gone and the credibility it had in appearing to challenge to win parliamentary seats has been lost.  A Westminster insider strategy won't magic that back and merely not being in government any more won't win back the lost voters - witness Labour gaining another Lib Dem council seat in a by-election in Cambridge last week.

The party needs to park its Westminster ambitions - use what's left of its troops to fight a guerilla war on the green benches and make as much nuisance as it can to the big parties.  But all the party's resources need to be focussed on building a mass liberal movement - using the opportunity of the Euro referendum to make the  liberal political case across the country - just like the SNP used the indyref for the nationalist cause.

But although I think Tim realises the scale of the challenge the party faces I remain unconvinced he knows how best to go forward - the pull of the Westminster establishment is strong - witness his recent appointment of those arch policy wonk insiders - Duncan Brack and Neil Stockley.

Changing policies is simply rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. 

The party needs to reinvent politics itself - finding new ways to communicate and building the skills and expertise of its members and supporters to enable new political solutions, policies and organisational structures to emerge.

It's year zero for the Lib Dems and whoever wins the leadership needs to understand things will never be the same. 

27 June 2015

My favourite Farron endorsement...

I suppose if we're in a fightback we better get some tats...

Norman Lamb's Greville Janner problem

Simon Danczuk - Labour MP for Rochdale - is a typical northern Labour tribalist who can see no good in his political opponents.  However he has worked tirelessly to uncover allegations of child sexual abuse in high places - even though the alleged perpetrators are dead in the case of Cyril Smith or demented in the case of Greville Janner. 

But earlier this week he claimed that Janner had sexually assualted boys in the Palace of Westminster in the 1980s.

Now whether this timing is deliberate or not, it does mean that Lib Dem Leadership candidate Norman Lamb will be asked what he knew given he was, bizarrely, Janner's research assistant for a year at the time the abuse was alleged to have taken place in Westminster.

There is, of course, no suggestion Lamb was involved, but given David Steel is still quizzed about what he knew about Smith's alleged activities, Lamb if he wins won't be able to ignore similar probing..