Liberal Democrat Newswire #14 is out: reshuffles, staffing changes, new think tank and more

Last week saw Liberal Democrat Newswire #14 published – both sent to the largest number of people yet and also, judging by the stats and feedback, the most popular so far too. So if you’ve missed out so far on Liberal Democrat Newswire #14, miss out no more and read it in full below.

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Mark Pack

Reshuffles, staffing changes, new think tank and more

Tuesday 6 December 2011

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Reshuffle rumours

David LawsDavid Cameron has long expressed the view that he wants to be an infrequent Cabinet reshuffler, intending to wait at least two years before any reshuffle beyond mini-shuffles forced on him by events. So far, he has kept to that but it is therefore likely that 2012 will bring one major Conservative reshuffle – and so the opportunity for a Liberal Democrat one too.

The second half of next year is the most likely time, i.e. after both the May elections and also the Olympics (particularly relevant if Jeremy Hunt is to feature in any reshuffle as moving him before them would be very odd timing).

As far as Liberal Democrat names are concerned, the close involvement of David Laws in the party’s strategic planning and in advising Nick Clegg means he is top of everyone’s “most likely to enter government” list. Two MPs consistently highly spoken of as potential future ministers are Stephen Gilbert and Duncan Hames, though the limited number of Liberal Democrat posts means there is little scope for new faces.

Moreover, all three have one thing in common: they are men.

Nick Clegg’s rhetoric on improving the diversity of the party has been very strong. Compared to his predecessors, Clegg’s record in one area directly under his control – appointing Liberal Democrats to the Lords – is pretty good, unlike Charles Kennedy in particular, whose choice of appointments did not match his words.

However, Clegg has so far appointed only two women to ministerial posts (Lynne Featherstone and Sarah Teather) and Cameron’s use of the mini-shuffles forced on him to improve further the gender balance in the Conservative ministerial team will only heighten the contrast if Clegg does not follow suit. As one of his advisors put it to me, “Two is very much a floor rather than a ceiling”.

That means that, for example, brining in David Laws at Education (an obvious move given his interest and expertise in the topic) would require a male minister somewhere else to be dropped in order to make room for Sarah Teather elsewhere. The reshuffle when it comes won’t be an easy one to do.

Danny Alexander, the deficit and the future

Danny Alexander’s comments on Newsnight that the Liberal Democrats were committed to cuts beyond the 2015 general election has caused a lot of debate amongst fellow Parliamentarians. It is an issue my fellow Lib Dem Voice Co-Editor Stephen Tall and I discussed in our recent email debate on economic policy:

Stephen TallStephen Tall: In fact, the party is in no different a position than we would’ve been if we were a majority governing party right now (rather than the junior coalition partner), as our 2010 manifesto did not commit us to eliminating the deficit within the lifetime of one parliament.

Sticking to that would’ve made post-2015 cuts inevitable if we were to balance the budget; the problem is simply more acute now because of the sluggish state of the western economy and the Eurozone’s problems…

Mark Pack: That is not the same as signing up to Conservative policies – unless of course you take the absurd view that all tax cuts or increases are the same as if changing the top tax rate is no different from changing the bottom one. The same fiscal targets can be achieved in politically very different ways.

You can read our exchange in full here.

Nick Clegg on the Autumn Statement

In this short interview Nick Clegg sets out his three priorities for the Autumn Statement more clearly than I’ve heard in any of the other TV clips from senior Liberal Democrats:

Nick Clegg interview

It’s a good trio of points, though there has been some controversy over the housing proposals as making it easier for people to borrow large sums of money with small deposits in order to buy a house is part of what got us into a mess in the first place. Housing Minister Andrew Stunell not surprisingly begs to differ and has also pointed out the other measures being taken to improve housing, including:

  • This year the Coalition is paying out £430 million – more than double the money allocated in the first year.
  • 159,000 homes were eligible for the New Homes Bonus –a mixture of new homes and empty homes brought back into use. This is 10,000 more than last year.
  • 307,000 homes have been eligible for the New Homes Bonus over the last two years combined.
  • 353 councils in England will benefit, including Tower Hamlets (£10m), Birmingham (£7.5m), Leeds (£5.4m), Cornwall (£5.1m), Manchester (£4.6m), Bradford (£3.9m), and Sheffield (£3.3m).

Liberal Democrat staffing changes

Neil SherlockNick Clegg’s team in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office has received a major boost, with half a dozen additional policy advisors, covering the areas where there is no Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member (and hence previously no Liberal Democrat Special Advisor). The new team is full of familar faces with people who previously worked for individual MPs or the party featuring heavily.

In addition, former target seat Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate and high flying consultant Neil Sherlock has come in as Director of Government relations.

Three key members of staff have also left, one permanently and two temporarily on maternity leave. The permanent departure is Clegg’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Alison Suttie, who has given many years of excellent service to the party but finally decided that it is time to work sane hours. Her replacement is Jo Foster, previously Chief Executive of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Off on maternity leave are policy guru Polly Mackenzie, who is being covered for by Julian Astle (briefly David Laws’s special advisor when he was a minister) and media person Lena Piersch, who is being covered for by long-standing Liberal Democrat activist, Newsnight regular and media advisor Olly Grender.

Meanwhile, over in Liberal Democrat HQ, Tim Gordon is the new Chief Executive and the party’s branding work under Collette Dunkley is being wound down. There is much praise for individual items of work she has masterminded, but overall the role is not seen to have worked out. This leaves the much needed work on increasing the clarity and consistency of the party’s message split between several different people – something that is likely to feature high on the new Chief Executive’s “to do” list.

The paradox of thrift

John Maynard KeynesPopularised by John Maynard Keynes, the paradox of thrift highlights how in bad economic times it can make sense from an individual’s perspective to save money but the collective result of those individual decisions is to make things worse, ending up cutting everyone’s savings as the economy falters.

Its relevance to the current economic situation is illustrated by the latest mortgage figures, which show homeowners paying back £92 billion more on mortgages than they have borrowed since June 2008. That is good news for individual households getting to grips with their debts, but is also a big chunk of money taken away from consumer spending.

(One criticism of the paradox of thrift is that increased saving leads to more funds being available to lend out, so the net effect of more individual savings may be beneficial to the economy. However, in current circumstances that is little comfort as increased funds into the financial system are not so much increasing lending as helping financial institutions sort out their own problems.)

New Liberal Democrat think tank to launch in 2012

Plans are well advanced for the launch of ‘Liberal Insight’, a new Liberal Democrat friendly think tank. The two key people behind it are Tom King (formerly Julian Huppert’s Parliamentary researcher) and Tom Smith (Adrian Sanders’s Parliamentary researcher).

Their aim is help fill the gap in Liberal Democrat policy making which has opened up as the loss of Short Money has reduced the party’s own policy making capacity yet at the same time being in government requires more detailed policy than before, with ministers are now making detailed decisions across a huge range of topics.

Senior Liberal Democrat advisors in Whitehall have also commented to me about their frustration at, from their perspective, the lack of high quality relevant policy which means they often go into negotiations with Conservatives with too short a wish list of Liberal Democrat demands.

Liberal Insight sets out its ambition as follows:

Liberal Insight aims to expand the quality and quantity of policy ideas available to Liberal Democrats in Government but also when campaigning. In the immediate future we are looking to replace some of the lost capacity from the shrinking of the Policy Unit, give our Ministers more firepower in coalition negotiations and help to develop ideas for the 2015 manifesto.

Liberal Democrats double free nursery places

Sarah TeatherThe Liberal Democrats have secured an extra £650 million for free childcare to help hard-working families. 260,000 disadvantaged two year olds will now be given 15 hours a week of free education.

Lib Dem Children’s Minister Sarah Teather said, “We are doubling the number of free childcare places to make sure that every child gets a fair chance at the best start in life.”

For more see her article here.

All the best political news – in one place

Have you tried out yet my 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? Enjoy!

Mark Pack's Political News Aggregator

This month’s local liberal hero: Roger Hayes

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.

Kingston’s Roger Hayes is the latest person I’ve profiled:

Roger HayesRoger Hayes is an unusual sort of dedicated community campaigner in Liberal Democrat ranks. Whilst he is certainly devoted to the communities he has stood to represent, rather than spending long periods of time in just the one area he has been a councillor in four different wards, three in Kingston and one in the Isle of Wight. He has also, by his own choice, been an on and off councillor, with three separate stretches as a councillor, each time standing down of his own volition…

Helping create … a local activist tradition is Roger’s biggest legacy to the party, though the communities he has served have their own legacies too, such as the revived Newport Harbour in the Isle of White which he worked hard to turn round from dereliction.

You can read the full piece about Roger Hayes here and you can read all the local liberal hero profiles here.

My latest books

Go on, your know you want to do thisCampaigning 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.

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– and if you like it, please do post up a review.

Campaign Corner: Is there such a thing as too many leaflets?

Lib Dem Focus leafletFrom my new weekly Campaign Corner series, in which three tips are providing to answer common campaign questions: Is it possible to deliver too many leaflets?

A very good question! Here are three things to consider when judging the number of leaflets being delivered:

  1. People vary greatly in their interest in leaflets and toleration of them, which means that if nobody is complaining then you are doing less than the most intolerant person likes to receive – and far less than the average person is happy to receive.
  2. Complaints about quantity often mask problems with quality – people think there are too many leaflets because they find them boring, irrelevant or both. When people are interested in something, they are willing to read huge amounts about it. But they need to find it interesting.
  3. The typical leaflet gets only a few seconds consideration from a member of the public – so you need to do a lot of leaflets to get anything more than the merest sliver of information over.

So yes, it is possible to do too many just as it is (in theory, so people tell me) possible to eat too much chocolate. But beware the common occurrence of people who think too many leaflets are being delivered because they fail to understand these three points rather than because there really are too many leaflets being delivered.

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

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