Liberal Democrat Newswire #3 is out: what Eric Pickles got right, how Labour was going to cut more, our freedoms extended, conference previewed and more

Liberal Democrat Newswire #3 hit people’s inboxes this week. As before it looks to provide something extra for people who want to know more about what’s going on in the Liberal Democrats than you get from following the general news but for whom reading lots of political blog posts each day isn’t their thing.

You can read #3 in full below and there’s going to be a bonus mid-month edition in a couple of weeks, reporting back on the Liberal Democrat federal spring conference in Sheffield.

If you would like to receive the next edition of Liberal Democrat Newswire direct to your own inbox, just sign up 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).

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Dear Friend

Many thanks for, once again, a fantastic response to last month’s newsletter. Looking through the stats, this newsletter series is turning out to be by far the most successful email newsletter of the many I’ve run or helped with over the years. That is a good motivation to keep on tapping away writing them!

It is also why I would like a quick favour of you. I know there are many other people who would like the sort of news these newsletters contain but don’t know how to get hold of it. So would you please take a moment to help others hear about this newsletter via either Facebook or Twitter.

More freedoms on the way
After years of campaigning, February finally saw the publication of the Freedoms Bill, which is introducing a huge range of civil liberties improvements dear to the hearts of Liberal Democrats. These include permanently reducing the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days, restoring jury trials for large fraud cases, removing innocent people’s records from the DNA database and much more.

With Labour’s ID card plans already axed, last month saw the physical destruction of much of the IT infrastructure that had been created for it, and it therefore seemed appropriate that one of my forgotten liberal heroes of the month was Clarence Henry Willcock, the man who helped trigger the previous abolition of ID cards. He is an inspiring reminder of the power of the individual act.

In a good example of just how absurd some government rules have been, one to be axed with this Bill is the ban on marrying people after 6:00pm or before 8:00am (a restricting dating as far back as The Marriage Act of 1836).

The freedom to marry at 6:01pm may not headline many political leaflets (I hope!) but it’s a sign of how much there is to clear out from our statute book. More importantly on the question of marriage have been the government moves, led by Lynne Featherstone, to allow churches to host civil partnerships if they wish and also to move towards gay marriage equality.

Welfare reforms
Also big on the political agenda, and the cause of rather more controversy within the Liberal Democrats, was the Welfare Reform Bill. When it was published the details revealed some important achievements for the party out of the very vigorous debates within the coalition. The plan to cut housing benefit by 10% after a year for people on Jobseeker’s Allowance has gone and the plans to change the mobility part of Disability Living Allowance are going to be rethought.

Minister of State for Pensions Steve Webb highlighted the Universal Credit plans in the Welfare Reform Bill, saying,

It will be simpler, clearer, and will target resources at those who need it most – 85% of the increase going to households with the lowest 40% of income – while fostering responsibility and independence.

Universal Credit will be flexible and dynamic, taking into account the month-by-month changes every person experiences. This will be in marked contrast to the fiendishly complex tax credits system where people faced recovery of overpayments years after they received the cash. In all, this new system will lift 950,000 people – including 300,000 children – out of poverty and 2.7m households will be better off as a result.

How the cuts compare, or how Labour was going to cut more
I’ve been looking through some of the detailed figures on how the government’s plans for cutting public spending compare to what Labour was planning. There’s no doubt the cuts involve many very hard choices for people trying to deliver good quality public services, but two figures have surprised me.

One is that by 2015 the public sector is still set to employ 200,000 more people than it did in 1997.

The other is that outside of welfare and benefit changes, the government is actually planning to be spending £2 billion per year more on public services than Labour was. You wouldn’t guess from Labour’s apparent opposition to each and every cut that outside welfare and benefit changes, Labour was actually planning to spend even less!

Another, rather worrying, figure to have come out is that inequality in the UK was growing even before the recession – a reminder not only how much there was that Labour failed on in government but also of how much the Coalition Government has to do if it is to make the country fairer.

Defending the government’s economic policy, Danny Alexander has written in The Times,

The economic recovery is going to be choppy. So this is going to be a very difficult year. But though it is a long road I think we’re on the right road and I think the destination we’re heading towards is the right one and that’s why I don’t think we should deviate from our plan. The worst thing for the economy would be to step back from our plan and lose the benefits of the confidence that we’ve created in Britain’s ability to control its public finances.

Vince Cable added in the Financial Times:

Our approach is pragmatic, not ideological. There are market failures to correct and public goods in which state investment is vital. Skills are one. Britain has a skills deficit including a shortage of engineers. We are investing in apprenticeships and an increase is taking place, with more to come. Higher education reforms will sharpen incentives to promote marketable skills.

A second area for intervention is science and technology. Governments will not produce the next Google or Microsoft but can help promote the foundation technology. The science budget has been shielded from cuts, while we are now deciding how best to cultivate next-generation technologies through innovation centres that link theory to commercial application.

In his speeches since Christmas, Nick Clegg has continued to stress the importance of social mobility, though as the party’s policy working group on inequality says in its current consultation paper there is often only a weak link between improving social mobility and reducing inequality.

Moreover, the phrase “social mobility” is one that very few non-political people use so the policy working group has a tough task ahead of it coming up with policies that are effective, supported throughout the party and presentable to the public.

Chris Huhne powers ahead on the environment
In tough economic times the environment tends to get neglected by the public and the media as an issue, but Lib Dem Secretary of State Chris Huhne has been pushing on with a radical set of reforms, including winning growing European support for bigger cuts in pollution.

He is also at the centre of a lively debate over how much power the Green Investment Bank should have – though this is less a matter of Liberal Democrat versus Conservative and more a matter of everyone else versus HM Treasury.

The Treasury is playing up to every stereotype of itself in trying to resist having a new body given significant financial powers, which Nick Clegg – a keen supporter of a Green Investment Bank with real teeth – is trying to overcome by taking direct charge of the issue within government.

How and why the Liberal Democrats ended up in coalition
That was the subject of a talk I gave at University College London’s Constitution Unit which is available to watch again.

Meet the blogger: Olly Grender
New blogger Olly Grender was the subject of one of the blogger profiles on Liberal Democrat Voice last month, answering questions such as what made her start blogging, which blog post she most enjoyed reading in the last year and what her favourite YouTube clip is. You can find the answers to all these questions and more in the profile.

In other people news…
Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland is the first convenor of the new Liberal Democrat Backbench Group for our MPs outside government, whilst Julian Astle is leaving CentreForum and Tim Leunig is starting work there (as its Chief Economist).

Lib Dem peer and former Chief Executive Chris Rennard is to chair a commission into the Big Society. Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott was profiled in The Guardian and John Thurso MP by the BBC.

Sharon Bowles, Euro-MP for South East England, has been voted the most influential Brit in global financial regulation thanks to her role chairing the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee.

Former party Policy Directory Richard Grayson, along with seven other former Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidates, has decided to take up an invitation to contribute to Labour leader Ed Miliband’s policy-making exercise.

Erin Harvey, researcher to Lib Dem MP Gordon Birtwistle, has deservedly won Parliamentary Researcher of the Year and Cambridge MP Julian Huppert picked up a prize for Liberal Democrat Backbencher of the Year.

Mike Hancock MP came out the victor in the legal action against an independent candidate who called him a paedophile during the general election. The last three election cases over false accusations – and in fact the only three in recent years – have now all seen Liberal Democrats candidates vindicated for false attacks on them.

Special conference coverage
With the Liberal Democrat spring conference in Sheffield in a couple of weeks, I’m going to do a special post-conference edition in addition to the normal monthly cycle. So if you have a moment either to send a Tweet or post a message on Facebook about this newsletter, please do it now so that any new joiners get on the list in time for the conference special.

Or perhaps if you are a blogger you could blog about it and point people at the email list sign-up page?

In the meantime, here’s my whistlestop guide to what will be the main talking points at conference.

And finally…

Yes, Eric Pickles got something completely right.

As ever, please do let me have your feedback. I personally read every reply sent back in response to these newsletters.

Best wishes and thank you for reading,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.