Liberal Democrat Newswire #7 is out: electoral reform, Ed Balls, the coalition’s future and more

Liberal Democrat Newswire #7 is now out and you can read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

What will Thursday bring?

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Dear Friend

Welcome to the seventh edition of my newsletter about the Liberal Democrats. Many thanks to everyone who completed the reader survey last month – and in particular those who took the time to point out the layout gremlin with Internet Explorer. That has now been fixed and my face should now be appearing in a more sensible location!

I personally read all the feedback to these newsletters, so if you spot any other problems, have any suggestions or want to make any comments please do get in touch.

And with that, on with the show…

Election by AV underway

It’s a carefully kept secret by many Parliamentarians, but the alternative vote (AV) and variants on it are already widely used in Parliament.

When you next see the Queen’s Speech in Parliament take a good look at the people in the TV footage. There’ll be party leaders there, elected by preferential voting. There’ll be MPs, selected by preferential voting. There’ll be select committees chairs, elected by preferential voting. Not to mention the Speaker in the Lords – elected by preferential voting too. There’ll also be those elected not by first past the post but by elections over several rounds in a way very similar to the alternative vote – including another party leader and the Speaker.

And then there’ll be hereditary peers, elected by the alternative vote. It’s a rather bizarre idea electing a hereditary peer, but each time one of the remaining ones in the Lords dies a replacement is elected – using the alternative vote. In fact, Thursday’s referendum takes place in the middle of a postal ballot for the latest replacement!

Three out of four Liberal Democrat manifesto promises being put into action

Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take the word of any Liberal Democrat in fact. Instead take the word of the independent team at the Constitution Unit who have been going through the Lib Dem and Conservative manifestos, comparing them with what the government is actually doing.

Their verdict? 75% of Liberal Democrat manifesto promises and 60% of Conservative ones are being turned into actual government policy. There’s a lot of understandable angst over the 25% of our policies which aren’t being enacted – but the 75% is of course far higher than any other Parliament since before the Second World War.

If you want a quick reminder of what some of those three quarters are, take a look at the excellent website What The Hell Have The Lib Dems Done?

Two reminders of why Labour was voted out

Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert has done some excellent digging into the deals Labour set up with private health suppliers before May 2010.

Shockingly, £300 million was paid to private health suppliers for health services that were never delivered.

In London, the situation was even worse than elsewhere with ever £3 paid out only resulting in £2 worth of services.

As for Labour’s economic record, just eight words from Ed Balls on whether there was a structural deficit under Labour say quite a lot:

  • “I don’t think so” (BBC interview, 30 January)
  • “Of course there was” (New Statesman interview, 31 March)

What will Thursday bring?

After all the excitement, opportunities and strains of the last year, Thursday brings the first UK-wide test for the Liberal Democrats and our beliefs at the ballot box. It’s no secret that these are likely to be the toughest round of elections the party has faced for many years, but it’s in the details of the results that their long term impact will be formed.

You can watch me explain this in my short video clip (click to play):

Almost regardless of the results on Thursday, the coalition is likely to last for several more years because there are some powerful factors keeping it going. I’ve nailed my pundit colours to the mast with seven reasons the Coalition looks set to last which you can read in full here, but the three main ones are:

  1. Cameron and Clegg have continued to repeatedly say the Coalition is for five years: the more they say it, the greater the political cost to either of them or their parties for ending it.
  2. The economy is recovering but only manufacturing is booming: even the most optimistic believers in the government’s economic strategy do not think it will start bringing significant political benefits for several years.
  3. Labour shows no hurry of wanting to get back in power: for all the sound and fury of opposition, the Labour Party is not acting like a party that is seriously trying to get back into power before the next general election. Ed Miliband’s call for a widespread policy review is a sensible move for a party voted out after such a long period in power, but it also is based on an assumption that Labour does not need to have a program for government for a good few years yet. Moreover, Labour’s style of opposition – such as over the changes to Parliamentary constituency boundaries – has far more often been of a style that drives the coalition partners together, rather than apart.

Like this newsletter? Then let others know

This newsletter’s readership continues to grow by leaps and bounds, but each time I meet a group of Lib Dems I find people who would like to receive it but have not previously heard of it! So if you like the newsletter too, please help spread the word about it too.

Feel free also to forward it on to others, such as via your local party email list.

There’s method in our campaigning madness

‘Our candidate is local!’ ‘We want a fairer country!’ ‘We’ve got a barchart!’

These are probably the three most common features you find in Liberal Democrat campaigns – and with good reason, because voters say they like local candidates, that fairness is the most important value in a political party and (good) barcharts are good at persuading them.

That’s not just me saying that; it’s what the evidence says too but the evidence is only rarely talked about. So I pulled together some of it in three posts in the last few weeks:

“Fair” is of course open to many interpretations, but from the research mentioned in my full piece the public overall (and Lib Dem supporters too) place particular emphasis on fairness of opportunity and reward rather than equality of outcome. In other words, people should have equal chances and good work should be rewarded. The view that rewards should match how hard people work and how talented they are has implications not only for supporting low paid people who get caught in the benefits trap but also for opposing over-paid people at the top end too.

As a result of these views, the public says that one of the most important policies to increase fairness in society is reducing unemployment – a topic often not talked about much in Liberal Democrat policy debates.

Liberal Democrat blogger profile

New on my blogroll in the last month was Richard Morris with his A View From Ham Common. Well worth a read if you haven’t become a reader of his so far.

What next on the policy front?

The two biggest policy announcements on the horizon at the moment are revisions to the proposed NHS reforms (which I spoke about on the BBC) and details of House of Lords reform.

The combination of Liberal Democrat pressure and Tory backbench concerns means change of some sort to the health proposals is certain, the questions being how much and how Liberal Democrat the changes are.

On that the signals coming from Whitehall are very mixed at the moment, though Paul Burstow should be given credit for the regularity with which he is talking at Lib Dem local party events. It’s all too easy for ministers to point to a full diary and shy away from going out and discussing concerns head on with people; full credit to him for doing so.

We should shortly see published the detailed plans for Lords reform, on which the coalition agreement promises “proportional representation”. It’s looking likely that the proposal will be for an 80% elected Upper House that is substantially smaller than the House of Commons. The first round of elections would be on the same day as the next general election with either open lists or STV used for them. Most likely elections will be phased in so that the current peers are not all turfed out of office at once.

And finally…

Who can possibly match the political genius of Ashley Waterhouse in Derby?

Many thanks for reading and watch out for a mid-month mini-update before the next full newsletter in a month. In the meantime, please do share this newsletter with others who you think will find it interesting.

Best wishes,


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