Liberal Democrat Newswire #1 is out: welcome aboard!

First new year resolution completed – getting out edition number 1 of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

I hope it’ll fill a gap for people who find reading lots of blogs too much and reading Liberal Democrat News too little.

You can read it in full below. Let me know what you think

If you would like to receive the next edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire direct to your own inbox, just sign up for Lib Dem Newswire here. It’s free! You can unsubscribe whenever you want using the link on the bottom of all the emails, and I won’t pass your email address on to anyone else (except if required by law).

Mark Pack

January 2011 newsletter

Monday 3 January 2011

Dear Friend

Welcome to the first edition of my new monthly email newsletter, rounding-up news about the Liberal Democrats.

Tuition fees
Tuition fees dominated the political news over the last month, and I’m sure you’ve seen enough coverage on the issue to last a good long time. But there are three pieces of coverage worth highlighting.

Nick Clegg gave an extensive interview to former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, explaining his approach and – in particular – how he wants to place a greater emphasis on early years education rather than university education:

“I think we as a party, and we put it right at the front of our manifesto, turned a bit of a corner actually over the last few years, where we’ve started placing more emphasis over time on what happened in school, what happened before school, what happened at a young age, which was in line with growing evidence that if you want people to pursue social opportunities through the education system, you’ve got to start quite young.”

On university education itself, he said:

“There’s a huge amount of vitriol being directed at me personally in my own constituency and what I’ve decided to do is make the argument now, but what I’m absolutely resolved to do is to make the argument next month, the month after that, the month after that, talking to people directly on their doorsteps, putting thing through their letter boxes, just patiently, calmly over and over again explaining little facts which at the moment are not getting heard at all, like the fact that all graduates, because of the way that we’ve reorganised the repayment system, all graduates irrespective of subsequent income, will actually pay less per month than they do at the moment. And actually the majority of graduates will never have to pay off their full loan at all.  And I just think when people start asking themselves really basic questions, like what does this mean of me or my daughter or my son or my granddaughter, in terms of monthly payments and all the rest of it, I think hopefully, over time, not overnight, people will see sense in this.”

You can watch the full interview here

Evan himself was not convinced, but in a thoughtful piece for the Guardian laid out both sides of the argument before concluding:

“It still seems to me that general taxation or a graduate tax would be a better system for funding higher education, and I have not been convinced that a graduate tax is unworkable. It is very sad that the last Labour government refused to consider such a tax and failed to ask the Browne Review to explore it in a detailed and consultative way.

“We ought to recognise that were it not for the Lib Dems in government, the proposals would have been a hell of a lot worse. Under a Labour or Tory government we would have had no cap or a higher cap, a market, and a less fair repayment system than is being proposed.

“I understand why Lib Dem ministers, who are part of the coalition that has agreed a compromise with the Tories, are expected to vote for this policy and why the party’s whips want backbenchers to abstain, but I think that Lib Dem MPs are justified in voting against.”

One of those ministers was Lynne Featherstone, who voted for the rise but explained on her blog:

“For someone like me – who has always believed that education should be free – it has been a difficult decision. Sadly, my view of education (free through raising taxation) isn’t on the table – or anywhere near it. That vision was ended when Labour introduced tuition fees and the principle of free education for all fell. So last night I chose to vote for the proposals because they are fairer than either the NUS or Labour proposals. I also could not justify students being the only group in society protected from the cuts.”

Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph’s sting operation on Lib Dem MPs was nicely summed up by the BBC’s Robert Peston:

“What I still feel bemused about is why the Telegraph, for which I used to work, did not publish the one story that would have unquestionably legitimised its under-cover exercise to elicit the private views of Lib Dem ministers.

“Pretty much everything these Lib Dems have been caught saying about their Tory colleagues is what one would expect them to say to their supporters in private. And readers of my blog, among others, say there are questions to be asked about whether democracy is best served by hounding MPs to such an extent that perhaps in future they will feel safe to speak their minds only in the matrimonial bed.

“But Vince Cable’s remarks that he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch” were in a different category … because there was something very special about Mr Cable’s legal status as business minister, in respect of his dealings with Mr Murdoch’s News Corporation and its attempt to buy the 61% of BSkyB that it doesn’t already own…

“Why didn’t the Telegraph publish these remarks when it exposed much of the rest of what Mr Cable said to undercover reporters overnight on Monday? Why weren’t these remarks included in what it called, on its website, a “full transcript” of the secretly recorded interview?”

Liberal Democrat policies in action
More positively, the last month has seen a set of Liberal Democrat policies started or implemented by the government, including Royal Assent being given to the abolition of I.D cards, the introduction of the pupil premium (as explained by Dan Rogerson and which the IFS praised for its simplicity and transparency), major reforms from Chris Huhne to the energy market, removing old convictions for gay sex with over-16s from the criminal records, a firm promise by Lord McNally to modernise libel law, making it more suited for a society that values free speech and one that uses the internet heavily, and an end to the detention of children for immigration purposes.

On political reform, Nick Clegg is pressing ahead with plans for a mostly elected Upper House – most likely 80% elected and possibly by STV (but certainly by proportional representation in one form or another). News from within Labour circles also suggests a deal on reforming political party funding is possible as Ed Miliband will drop Labour’s historic opposition to any reforms that would stop large trade union block donations.

There was also good news for Mike Hancock with the police deciding to drop an investigation into complaints against him.

What will 2011 bring?
As for the Liberal Democrat prospects for 2011, expert blogger on polling matters Anthony Wells had this to say:

“Is there a point when the Liberal Democrat position in the polls gets so bad they withdraw from the coalition (or the party splits?) – I don’t know, I don’t pretend to have any great insight into the views of Liberal Democrat MPs or activists. My guess is that the chances are greatly overestimated by people who would like it to collapse (the truth is I think we all overestimate the chances of exciting and interesting things happening!). Being outside the coalition wouldn’t necessarily help the Liberal Democrats much in the polls (it would give them the independence to promote their own policies, but the damage to their image has already been done) and the last thing the Liberal Democrats would want to risk in their present situation is an early election. I expect, like the Conservatives, Nick Clegg’s strategy is dependent upon seeing the job through until the economy has recovered and then pointing to what the Lib Dems have achieved and contributed to that.”

Most immediately, the party’s prospects will be set by the result in the Oldham East & Saddleworth by-election, polling later this month. For details of how to help, see Elwyn Watkins’s website.

This year also sees Tim Farron now in post as Liberal Democrat President. He’s produced an introductory video on taking up office which you can watch on YouTube:

Book review of the month
The speed with which politics moved during 2010 makes Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister already seem like ancient history. However, the question of whether a better or different deal was really available to the Liberal Democrats in the days after the general election will continue to be at the back of many people’s minds and it is one that 5 Days in Power by Conservative MP Rob Wilson addressed:

“[Wilson] plays up the drama of the events, talking of how “Gordon Brown and David Cameron were both determined to do whatever was necessary to secure the position of Prime Minister” as if the story is one of a cliff-hanging drama which could have gone either way.

“Whilst the outcome is certainly significant for British political history, what the book is far less convincing on is that there was really any serious chance of a Labour – Lib Dem deal that would have kept David Cameron out of 10 Downing Street. Neither Wilson’s book, nor its sister book published at the same time – 22 Days in May by Lib Dem MP David Laws (reviewed here), offers a convincing alternative sequence of events which could have delivered a Labour PM once the election results came in.

“The obstacles to a Labour – Lib Dem deal were threefold. First, the election results made the Parliamentary arithmetic for such a deal extremely tough. “It became a regular refrain at the telephone conversations and meetings between Clegg and Brown that whatever Brown said, Clegg would respond by drawing attention to ‘the sheer unforgiving political reality’ of the figures’,” Wilson records.

“Second, the decisions people in Labour had made over the previous three years to elect and then stick with Gordon Brown had left their party with a leader that others were extremely wary of trying to make a deal with. As Laws puts it in his own book, “If his own Cabinet colleagues cannot work with him, what chance do four or five Lib Dem ministers have?”

“Third, as has come out in all the accounts so far, Labour were badly unprepared for talks, with divisions within their own negotiating team, their team not speaking for all the key figures and little in the way of preparation over what policy areas were up for negotiation.”

You can read my full review of his book here

Mark Thompson returns to blogging

Mark Thompson won the 2009 best new Liberal Democrat blog award and then, in an extension of the Tutankhamun-like curse hanging over those awards, subsequently stopped blogging. However, he’s now back – hooray – and in fine form:

“I have no idea if Christopher Jefferies had anything to do with the death of Joanna Yeates. He has been released on police bail today after 3 days of questioning. The problem is that some of the media coverage of the last few days would make you think that he has already been tried, convicted and is on his way to the gallows…

“I am greatly heartened by some comments made by Joanna Yeates’ boyfriend Greg Reardon and read out at a press conference where he directly commented on the media coverage: ‘The finger-pointing and character assassination by social and news media of an as yet innocent men has been shameful. It has made me lose a lot of faith in the morality of the British Press and those that spend their time fixed to the internet in this modern age.'”

Mark’s blog is at http://markreckons.blogspot.com

Elsewhere on the web…
What state is the Labour Party in? Dan Hodges on Labour Uncut took a brutally frank look, warning how:

“A few weeks ago, it was only Ed’s opponents who were claiming that he lacked a clear vision. Now it’s his closest supporters. “It would be unnatural, it would be strange, it would be precipitate, it would be superficial if he had all his vision intact and his answers set up after three months — that would be absurd”, said Neil Kinnock on Sunday.

“So sayeth the optimists. No longer any pretence of a vision or programme. Just a promise that one will appear at some point in the future. The mañana defence. If Ed’s critics are trapped in the past, his supporters have become trapped in the future.”

You can read the full piece here

In the last month Foreign Affairs magazine has taken a look at the state of the Middle East peace process, and come with up a cautiously optimistic conclusion:

“The newest approach, adopted by Prime Minister Fayyad, a U.S.-educated former International Monetary Fund (IMF) economist, signifies the rise of a third and highly pragmatic form of Palestinian nationalism. Fayyad’s strategy is one of self-reliance and self-empowerment; his focus is on providing good government, economic opportunity, and law and order for the Palestinians — and security for Israel by extension — and so removing whatever pretexts may exist for Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories. Fayyad’s aim is to make the process of institution building transformative for Palestinians, thereby instilling a sense that statehood is inevitable. Elegant in its simplicity and seemingly unassailable in its reasonableness, this third way — dubbed “Fayyadism” by some Western observers — has nevertheless precipitated serious opposition. Some Palestinians fear Fayyad is only making life better under Israel’s occupation, Israelis accuse him of becoming increasingly confrontational, and a growing number of international democracy advocates blame him for Palestinian political paralysis…

“Fayyadism represents, above all, a fundamental attitudinal shift. Its emphasis on self-reliance is a conscious effort to change the role of the Palestinians in their narrative from that of victims to that of agents of their own fate. It is a vision for the future and an implicit critique of the Palestinian national movement’s long-standing fixation on the past. It strives to replace cynicism and hopelessness, rampant among Palestinians, who have repeatedly seen their dreams squelched, with reasons for hope. The process itself is transformational: as the situation on the ground improves and the PA delivers increasing economic prosperity and security for the Palestinians and, ultimately, for Israel, the PA will provide a sense of possibility where one has been sorely lacking. Finally, Fayyadism repudiates the use of violence — a tactic that was long central to Palestinian nationalism and still has widespread resonance in Palestinian society.”

You can read the full piece here (free registration required)

Thank you

Thanks for taking the time to read this newsletter. Please do let me know what you thought of it,  what you’d like to see more of and what you’d like to see less of – especially as this is the first edition.

Finally, if you did like some, most or all of it, please let other Lib Dems know about it so they too can sign up if they wish.

Best wishes for 2011,


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