Lucky for some, you can now read in full below Liberal Democrat Newswire #13, featuring the dog that isn’t barking, battling ministers, Paddy Ashdown on Libya, why Polly Toynbee is wrong and more.
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!
Silent dogs, battling ministers and more
Tuesday 1 November 2011
Following the pre and post party conference special editions, November sees the return of the normal newsletter format, with a new regular “Campaign Corner” feature as requested by readers in my survey earlier this year. Whether or not you took part in that survey, if there are topics you would like to see more or less of, please do let me know.
If you like this newsletter, the chances are other people you know would like it too, so please share it with them – either by forwarding it on or via social networks.
Thanks for reading,
In this newsletter:
The dog which isn’t barking
The dog that did not bark in the night-time was a key clue in the Sherlock Holmes’s story Silver Blaze, and in penning those lines of dialogue Arthur Conan Doyle gave the English language a much used turn of phrase to describe the significance of things that don’t happen. Because they don’t happen, it is often easy to miss their significance – such as the absence of no confidence motions being put down in the government.
Consider the world through Labour eyes: day after day they tell us how awful the Tories are and how decent Liberal Democrats should really see themselves as colleagues of the Labour movement. Moreover there is no Conservative majority in Parliament.
And yet… despite votes of no confidence having been the means for bringing down governments without a majority in the past, and even often used in the face of a clear one-party majority, the idea that Parliament might be about to vote Cameron out and force the creation of a new government is not on anyone’s list of predictions.
The reason for its absence tells us something about British politics in general and something about Labour in particular. For British politics the lesson is a simple one: decades of talk about how hung Parliaments bring instability have turned to dust very quickly. The widespread expectation is that a coalition can instead last a full five years. As for Labour, despite the vehemence of much of the party’s rhetoric about the government, it is not champing at the bit to get back into power before Christmas. That shows a shrewd understanding of the party’s current state and the lessons of history, for working out what the party is for, which policies from the last government to keep and which to ditch, are all tasks which usually take years to get right.
Nick Clegg on tackling world hunger
Writing to mark World Food Day, the Deputy Prime Minister said:
Nick Clegg biography published
For a one sentence summary of the book: “Fascinating on his early life, good on the sources and forms of Nick Clegg’s liberalism, but little new about recent events”.
For a longer version, read my review of the Chris Bowers book.
You can buy Nick Clegg: The Biography here.
All the best political news – in one place
I have launched a new political news and blogs aggregator, which brings together the best news headlines and political blog posts from across the ideological spectrum all on one convenient page.
Paddy Ashdown: Libya’s path to democracy
Writing for The Guardian, Paddy Ashdown said:
This month’s local liberal hero: Ruth Dombey
In my experience, the Liberal Democrats are little different from most other organisations in one respect: we don’t say thank you often enough to people who make key contributions. So I have been writing a series of profiles of local liberal heroes, both to thank and praise them and also, I hope, to encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
Ruth Dombey, deputy leader of Sutton Council, is one of my recent profiles:
Electoral registration controversies
The government’s plans to introduce individual electoral registration, originally legislated for by Labour, have generated a fair amount of controversy in specialist political news coverage over the last few weeks.
Having taken part in many of the talks with government and the Electoral Commission about this topic during the last 10 years, it has been rather depressing to see just how poor quality the media coverage of the story has been. In fairness to the journalists involved, it has mostly been a question of no-one having the necessary specialist knowledge and budget pressures meaning no-one can spend much time getting up to speed on the topic.
The primary motivations for introducing individual electoral registration, as already used in Northern Ireland, are ones of principle – it is old-fashioned paternalism to have registration depending on the ‘head of the household’ filling in forms – and pragmatism – it is a way to tackle electoral fraud. (Read more here on the reasons for individual registration.)
However, there were some problems with the government’s original proposals (which I outlined in my response to the official consultation), particularly around making it too easy for people to opt out from the electoral register completely. The most controversial part aspect of that has now been dropped though questions remain over other important details.
How are further and higher education numbers panning out?
With the high profiles rows over tuition fees and EMA (education maintenance allowance), more attention than usual has been paid recently to higher and further education statistics to see the impact of these policies.
However, attention does not always trigger accurate commentary…
Polly Toynbee has repeated the often made claim that further education is in a bad state with half of FE colleges reporting a fall in admissions. Which is true… except that many of the others have seen an increase and the overall figure (completely unmentioned in her piece) is actually only down by 0.1%.
The situation with university application figures is more complicated, but can briefly be summarised as showing that amongst ordinary (non-mature) students, applications have fallen in line with the declining population of that age group. Mature student applications have dropped markedly, but not in a way that suggests the tuition fee changes are the cause. But these are all early figures. (For a more detailed analysis see here.)
Liberal Democrats vs Conservatives in government
The environment: Energy Secretary Chris Huhne has criticised “climate sceptics” and others who he argues are decrying the UK’s potential for renewable power … His comments are being interpreted by some as a riposte to Chancellor George Osborne. (BBC)
Business reform: Vince Cable rejects proposal to abolish unfair dismissal laws … [He] said plan devised by strategist Steve Hilton was unnecessary and unlikely to improve labour market flexibility. (The Guardian)
Maternity leave: [Lynne Featherstone] made her feelings clear over a recent “blue sky” proposal from Steve Hilton, the prime minister’s director of strategy, suggesting that the government could scrap maternity pay altogether. Featherstone said: “Well, I might talk about scrapping Steve Hilton.” (The Observer)
The health service: Liberal Democrat peers are putting forward amendments which require the secretary of state to remain responsible for health services being provided across England. In coming weeks we will seek to ensure that the NHS continues to develop cutting-edge research and that any income from private patients is used solely for the benefit of NHS patients. (Letter from Lib Dem peers in The Guardian)
Total Politics: top Liberal Democrat blogs and bloggers
In the top 50 blogs list, Lib Dem Voice is in at number 12 (up from 27 last year), Caron Lindsay at 25, Jonathan Calder at 38 and the late Andrew Reeves at 44. In the top 50 bloggers list, I’m the highest placed Lib Dem, in at number 20, with Caron at 29, Andrew Reeves at 43 and Jonathan at 49.
Thank you to everyone for your votes – and to everyone who has contributed to Lib Dem Voice over the last year.
Lib Dems pass up on fighting police commissioner elections (mostly)
The introduction of directly elected police commissioners is one of the measures that Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians have voted for most reluctantly – voted for them, because it is in the Coalition Agreement, and reluctantly, because many are deeply opposed to the measure. However, the Conservatives have been adamant on the question, even opposing such reasonable suggestions as first carrying out limited trials of the idea.
At the end of October the Liberal Democrat Federal Executive decided that the party should (mostly) not fight the elections: deciding not to provide funding for any contests and saying that party members could support independent candidates. There was one concession – that local parties can decide to put up a candidate if there is no “appropriate” independent candidate.
This decision followed a lively debate at the FE and in a form that watered down somewhat the original proposal which was even more opposed to the party contesting the elections. It is at odds with the Lib Dem Voice survey of party members, which found 2:1 support for contesting the elections.
My latest books
Campaigning In Your Community – co-written with Shaun Roberts, it is a guide for both the new and the experienced to making the most of genuinely local campaigning, building an effective team to help give residents more power over their own lives.
Just £4 from ALDC.
Peace, Reform and Liberation – a one-volume history of the Liberal Democrats and its predecessors since 1679, I’ve co-authored the first chapter.
Campaign Corner: Should you still target during a PR election?
From my new weekly Campaign Corner series, in which three tips are providing to answer common campaign questions:
A very good question – and one that I could easily write more than three tips about! But here are three:
You can read the other Campaign Corners here – and let me know if there are any particular questions you would like to see answered in future weeks.
In other Liberal Democrat news…
Thank you for reading
I hope you’re found this newsletter interesting, informative, useful – or all three!
If you have enjoyed reading it, why not share it with others?