Liberal Democrat Newswire #5 is out: Lib Dem success away from the headlines

Liberal Democrat Newswire #5 is now out, and you can read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Electoral reform, immigration and more…

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Dear Friend

Welcome to the latest (and already fifth!) edition of my newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

Regular readers will notice a change in the design, and whether you are a new reader or not please do fill out my short survey once you’ve read this edition. Feedback is really important and I personally read every email reply, but this survey will also help collate a few answers on questions such as whether or not this redesign works well.

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But first, the news itself…

Electoral reform

March has seen an upping of the pace for the Yes To Fairer Votes campaign, including 11 senior business figures writing to the Daily Telegraph to back electoral reform:

“AV would force politicians to work harder to achieve more than 50 per cent of the vote. The last election was decided by just 1.6 per cent of voters, in marginal constituencies, who were targeted with intense leafleting and visits by politicians. Under AV, parties would have to pay far more attention to the majority of people during election campaigns…

“A vote for change on May 5 would be a victory for fairness and a break with a system of the past. It would be good for the country and good for business.”

Charles Kennedy has also taken to the Yes campaign trail, both appearing in a joint event with Ed Miliband and penning these words for the party,

“Let’s be clear: AV may not be perfect, but it IS better and fairer than First Past the Post. Even the ‘No2AV’ campaign know that, which is why they’ve resorted to making things up rather than engaging in a debate about the pros and cons of the current system. They have resorted to scare tactics because they know they cannot win the argument otherwise, and we cannot allow them to succeed.

“Many have tried to paint the referendum as a vote on Nick Clegg or on the performance of the Coalition Government but we all know that this referendum is bigger than any individual. It is bigger than any political party. It is bigger than the Coalition. This referendum is the first chance we have to change our rotten voting system and we cannot allow personal politics to get in the way, and I was delighted to see Ed Miliband make the same point in his speech last Wednesday.

“This is about people. It is about making our democracy fairer, more representative and about handing power back to those we are elected to serve. It is about ensuring that when people go to the ballot box they feel that their vote is actually making a difference. It is about making sure that MPs know they can’t just rely on their core support election after election, but instead will have to reach out and work harder for their votes.”

Meanwhile, William Hague has come out in favour of proportional representation … for the Turks and Caicos Islands, for whom his Foreign Office has just drawn up a new constitution which includes a recommendation for PR for their elections.

Lib Dem successes (mostly) away from the headlines

Amongst the Conservative policies which Liberal Democrats in government got changed in the last month were:

Support for education
Over £100m more has been secured by Lib Dem pressure for the government’s replacement of Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs). The topline figure drops from £560m for EMA to £180m for the new scheme, but estimates such as those from the IFS were that only around £32m – £67m of EMA funds went to people who would have dropped out of education otherwise. In other words, with £180m still to spend, it should be possible to reach all of those people – and more.

As Simon Hughes put it,

“In every school or college I visited there were examples of people who had EMA when they didn’t need it or should not have been entitled to it, such as people whose parental income was well over £30,000 but whose domestic circumstances meant that they still claim. There were also examples of people who spent their EMAs on things completely unrelated to education…

“The coalition government was left with one of the most severe financial crises in our country’s history. Under these circumstances, it was simply unsustainable to continue to pay cash payments to around half of all students in further education. This week’s announcement is a sensible, grown up replacement to the EMA which makes sure that funding is kept and in some cases increased for those in real need.”

Action on human trafficking
Euro-sceptics have been overcome and the UK is going to sign up to the EU Anti-Human Trafficking Directive

Immigration and visa reform
Conservative plans for a crackdown on foreign student visas got significantly modified following pressure from the Lib Dems, university and business. Instead of ending the ability for foreign graduates to work here for two years, the government will let those who find a job paying at least £20,000 a year stay. Similarly, plans for a cap on foreign student numbers have been axed. (University seat MP Julian Huppert has written about this subject in more detail.)

Human rights
The Lib Dems also won over the make-up of a commission which, with a different composition, could have recommended Britain pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Spectator even went so far as to call this Clegg’s Coup.

Local government
There was also a welcome, if rather technical, change to the finances for local government – with the capitalisation budget increased by half.

Libel reform
A major libel reform bill has been published – a topic which the Liberal Democrats have long campaign on. The Bill does not meet all the demands of the Libel Reform campaign, but it is already a big step forward and is now out for consultation.

The Budget
The most notable Lib Dem influence, however, was on the Budget with a further planned increase in the basic income tax allowance – right “from the front page of the Lib Dems manifesto” as the Press Office’s Phil Reilly put it.

The Budget also included substantial progress on the Green Investment Bank – with more funds allocated and a promise of full lending powers. It is still smaller and coming later than a Liberal Democrat majority government would have delivered, but then a Conservative-only government would not have followed the Chris Huhne Green Investment Bank plans at all.

Who likes which party?

There has been some surprising polling data from MORI, who found that the question of whether or not people like a party paints a very different picture from the usual voting intention figures:

Like the party:
Conservative 37%
Labour 45%
Liberal Democrat 40%

Do not like the party:
Conservative 56%
Labour 42%
Liberal Democrat 51%

Net figures:
Conservative -19%
Labour +3%
Liberal Democrat -11%

For the Conservatives and Labour these figures reinforce comments often made about them – that the detoxification of the Conservative brand never fully succeeded and that Labour’s apparent popularity at the moment risks turning out to be similar to some of Labour’s periods of high poll ratings between 1979 and 1992, namely hiding deeper weaknesses that need tackling if the party isn’t to fall back when it comes to the crunch.

For the Liberal Democrats the figures reinforce the comments I’ve heard several people make around the country – which is that when they can persuade colleagues to get out canvassing the results are often far better than those reluctant colleagues expected. For all the vitriol in some quarters, there are still many people who take a completely different view of the party.

Mayor of London

The Liberal Democrat selection for a London Mayor candidate is due to start again shortly after the May elections and referendum. Lembit Opik has said he will go for it, and set out his “libertarian” agenda in a TV interview, including plans for a referendum on funding a 24-hour tube service.

Myself, I’m not convinced by Lembit’s pitch for a variety of reasons, including his voting record as an MP. In 2009 he was the only Lib Dem MP to vote against a measure to tighten up MPs’ expenses (requiring receipts for all expense claims), the only one to vote to keep the second homes allowance for outer London MPs and was also one of only four to oppose a tightening of the rules on declaring outside interests. Lembit was also one of only three Lib Dem MPs to vote against the options for having a 100% elected House of Lords or an 80% elected one or a 60% elected one, and to vote in favour of the option for a 100% appointed one.

So during the month I started a grassroots campaign to draft London Assembly member Mike Tuffrey as our Mayor candidate. Barnsley by-election candidate Dominic Carman also talked of standing during the last month but has now decided to back Mike Tuffrey.

Campaign Tip corner

Welcome to a new feature of these newsletters, highlighting a political campaign tip each month. This time it’s the humble delivery slip.

Delivery slips are the neglected corner of Liberal Democrat literature. They should be a crucial tool – being a key communication with helpers, making it easy for them to help and keeping them informed – but far too often they are a poorly laid-out mishmash of minimalist content and third-rate layout.

So here are Six tips for getting your delivery slips right.

Party conference

The Liberal Democrat Spring conference took place in Sheffield this month.

I’ve not covered that as it was the subject of a special conference edition of this newsletter a couple of weeks ago.

You can still catch up on the conference news by reading that special edition online.

And finally…

How do you steal a bridge? And from the military no less? I still don’t know, but having done some research I’m rather surprised quite how often bridges are stolen.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

Two quick requests – please do fill out my short survey and, if you enjoyed reading this, help spread the news about the newsletter by “Liking” the newsletter’s page on Facebook and sharing the newsletter on Twitter:
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Many thanks,


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