Liberal Democrat Newswire #21 is out: Clegg goes heavy on social mobility

Liberal Democrat Newswire #21 takes a look at Nick Clegg’s decision to prioritise social mobility. You can now read it in full below.

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Tuesday 29 May 2012

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Welcome to the latest edition of my monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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Nick Clegg goes heavy on social mobility

Nick Clegg is personally deeply committed to the cause of social mobility. For him, improving social mobility comes ahead of reducing social inequality – though it is important to remember that in part that is because he sees increased mobility as the best long-term route to reducing inequality. Moreover, he doesn’t think that targeting reducing inequality would necessarily result in improved social mobility; only by directly aiming for more social mobility can you both increase it and reduce inequalities, Clegg believes.

Since May’s elections, social mobility has featured heavily in the Deputy Prime Minister’s public pitch, taking a central role in his vision of the sort of liberal country that the Liberal Democrat presence in government is helping to bring about. This includes publishing a new set of 17 trackers to measure social mobility, which is lower in Britain than in most of the developed world and has not improved since the 1970s:

One of the things we are doing in these figures that we are publishing today – for the first time ever, it has never been done before – we are lifting a lid, if you like, on an absolute scandal, which is that, in our country more than many other countries, where you are born and certainly what your background is seems to determine your subsequent life.

In a speech, Clegg went on to say:

We must create a more dynamic society. One where what matters most is the person you become, not the person you were born. For liberals, this is core stuff. It gets to the very heart of our politics. We are a party and a creed that is defined by our belief in a fairer, more open society. For me, it’s the reason I do this job.

The new 17 indicators are backed up by a range of policy measures, including the Pupil Premium, extra support for children from the poorest families, name-blank employment to cut out discrimination and the successful moves to get more interns paid, opening up posts to a wider range of people, in industries such as banking, fashion and PR.

However, social mobility has its problems. As I wrote last year, “I’m really proud of my daughter’s social mobility” isn’t a phrase that graces many coffee gossip sessions or Christmas round-robin letters. What’s worse, what research there is (from MORI a few years back) into how people think of the phrase is that not only is it largely not understood in the wider world, but when it is people frequently view “social mobility” as a bad thing because they associate it with situations such as an under-talented celebrity earns huge sums and moving into a posh mansion.

Mind you, as Matthew D’Ancona also wrote last year:

All governments say they are in favour of “social mobility” and issue appropriate platitudes. But this one seems to mean business, thanks in large part to the fire in Clegg’s belly. The ministerial committee exploring the issue has come to be recognised as a forum where important decisions are taken… the policies and governing strategy that are being formulated under this rubric will be deeply controversial, and (in Clegg’s eyes, at any rate) they are meant to be…

It remains astonishing that Clegg has persuaded a Conservative-dominated Government to undertake this project. Labour MPs whisper their congratulations to Lib Dem ministers, and express justified amazement that a Coalition led by products of Eton, Westminster and St Paul’s has embarked on this social crusade.

Lords reform will put Labour/Lib Dem relations to the test

There has been a mini-flurry of different quiet talks between Labour and Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians, especially at the unelected end of Parliament. Partly this has been the natural outcome of the series of legislative controversies where Lib Dem peers, with varying degrees of support from the party’s leadership, have been trying to get amendments through and been looking for Labour votes in support. Partly too it flows from some in the party been keen to keep options open for the future, especially those who would be more instinctively comfortable if any future hung Parliament saw a deal with Labour rather than the Conservatives.

House of Lords reform will soon put these cautious moves to the test. From a Liberal Democrat perspective, the situation is clear: in government and in its manifestos, Labour talked a lot about electoral reform for the Commons and elections for the Lords, failed to deliver and then when the Liberal Democrats and Tories started implementing the policies Labour had previously called for, Labour suddenly found all sorts of reasons to only offer lukewarm support at best. Even on measures such as fixed term Parliament and individual electoral registration, Labour MPs have frequently sounded as if they’ve forgotten their party’s previous support for them. The on, off, on, off prevarication from Ed Miliband’s office over whether he was willing to appear next to Nick Clegg during the AV referendum went down particularly badly.

Which is where Lords reform comes in. Significant Labour support for the measure would massively ease its passage through Parliament, especially on the key timetabling vote in the Commons and during the procedurally more open-ended stages in the Lords. However, there have been some signs already of Labour looking for a reason to oppose, with talk of only a 100% elected Lords being acceptable – and the implication therefore that the party would vote against an 80% elected Lords, even if that left the Lords unelected for another generation.

However, if Labour comes out strongly backing the Bill whilst Tory rebels try to derail it, the general mood music between the three parties could change significantly over this Parliamentary session.

A surprise at the Leveson Inquiry

Giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Andrew Marr recanted on his previous hostility to blogging:

“You look around and a lot of the most influential highly respected political commentators aren’t newspaper journalists, actually, they are bloggers.

“I’m thinking of people like Tim Montgomerie on Conservativehome or Mr Pack on the Liberal website.”

I think I can forgive him this time for getting the party/website name wrong…

Sink or swim together? What the polls say about coalition partners

The idea that Liberal Democrat and Conservative political fortunes are tied together comes in two forms. The basic – that with both being in government, the public’s overall view of the government (and in particular its economic record) will heavily determine its view of both parties come the next election. Sink or swim together then. Then there is version which adds an asymmetric twist. Namely that if the public views the coalition as a failure both parties will sink together, but if the public rates the coalition as a success, being the smaller of the two parties means the Liberal Democrats won’t necessarily get their share of the credit.

What does the polling data show?

Broadly speaking, it shows the the Liberal Democrat and Conservative poll ratings tend to move in the same direction (they both go up and down together), but the Liberal Democrat and Labour poll rating move in opposite directions (when one goes up, the other goes down). There is plenty of variation around this overall pattern, but it tends to confirm that for the Liberal Democrats to prosper, the public needs to see the government overall as a success.

You can see the data and charts in more detail here.

Tory policies stopped by the Lib Dems

Three main policy areas have been in the news in the last month for Liberal Democrats stopping Conservative plans:

  1. Regional pay: “There is going to be no regional pay system, that is not going to happen” – so said Nick Clegg.
  2. Tax breaks for marriage: “Lib Dems are thwarting marriage tax breaks” – so complained the Centre for Social Justice.
  3. Employment law reform: Vince Cable successfully led the opposition to the Beecroft Report, which has seen David Cameron back away from its recommendations.

Queen’s Speech: how it measured up for Liberal Democrats

Major changes to the banking sector, pensions reform, elections for the House of Lords, ending sexism in the rules for Royal Succession, changes to the libel laws, the next steps for the Green Investment Bank – the Queen’s Speech contained many measures that Liberal Democrats have long been calling for. Likely sources of coalition strain include online monitoring.

The real action, however, was not in the Queen’s Speech itself but happening elsewhere. That is because the economy continues to be the dominant political issue, and on issues such as tax levels, how much Quantitative Easing to have or the rate at which the deficit should be reduced, the Queen’s Speech was always going to be a sideshow because either they require no legislation or they are require no more legislation that the usual annual Budget round.

In fact, it was notable that despite critics calling for more on economic growth to be in the Queen’s Speech, the list of Bills they think should have been included was at best scanty and frequently completely absent. (One such critic who I asked on Twitter to name the missing legislation they would like to have seen in the speech, for example, simply came back with wanting one of the Bills to have had more radical content and didn’t name any extra Bill they wanted.)

On economic growth, there are signs of a continuing change of emphasis, with yet more talk about the need to boost investment. The latest GDP figures showing the construction sector’s problems holding back the economy have given an extra edge to this and were swiftly followed a Nick Clegg speech which the Financial Times heralded as a “new economic tone”:

The ruling UK coalition is preparing a “massive” increase in state-backed investment in housing and infrastructure, as Nick Clegg signalled a shift from lurid warnings by ministers about the debt crisis to a fresh emphasis on growth…

The Treasury could now use its balance sheet to underwrite housing and infrastructure schemes and to tackle youth unemployment.

He said some were “neurotic” about using the state balance sheet to assume additional risks on housing, transport and other projects and hinted that officials in the Treasury were hesitant. “From the top of government, a few weeks ago we decided this was the route we’re going to take. That’s the instruction we’ve issued to the Treasury,” he said.

Two major Lib Dem policies come into force

You could easily have missed the news, but in the last month the nascent Green Investment Bank handed out its first funds and the Protection of Freedoms Bill got Royal Assent. Despite the importance of both environmental and civil liberties policies to the Liberal Democrats, this double dose of good news ahead of the May elections got a curiously muted response from the party’s official communications channels, which mostly passed up on mentioning events.

Tom Brake did however pen a piece for Liberal Democrat Voice which sets out some of the achievements in the Protection of Freedoms Bill:

The Act will protect millions of people from unwarranted state intrusion in their private lives, building on some of the things we’ve already achieved like the ending of ID cards and the destruction of the National Identity Register.

I just want to highlight a couple of things that will now happen. Firstly, we will end the storage of DNA of people who are innocent by reforming the DNA database along the lines of the Scottish model. There were 6m people on the DNA database in the UK – nearly 10% of the population. This Act does the right thing by removing the data of hundreds of thousands of innocent people. In future, the DNA of people arrested and charged but not convicted of a minor offence will no longer be kept and a three-year limit will be put in place for the storage of the DNA of people charged, but not convicted, of a serious offence.

This Act puts an end to the misuse of counter-terrorism legislation. We all campaigned against 28-day detention without charge because it was disproportionate and the longest period in the democratic world. This Act will now reduce the maximum period of detention without charge to 14 days.

We are replacing the powers to stop and search persons and vehicles without reasonable suspicion with a power that is exercisable in significantly more restricted circumstances. Did you know that for almost 10 years, all of Greater London was designated as an area in which anyone could be stopped and searched without suspicion?

Elsewhere from me…

  • Political news in one place: Have you tried out 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?
  • My other email lists: aside from this monthly newsletter, you can also sign up to other lists such as more frequent blog post digests.

Local Liberal Heroes: Peter Truesdale

Lambeth councillor Peter Truesdale is the latest person to feature in my Local Liberal Heroes series:

Peter Truesdale’s debut as an elected politician came in 1994 when he was elected to one of the worst run councils in the country, with deeply dysfunctional management and an election result that saw Labour and the Liberal Democrats tied on the same number, with a sizable Conservative contingent to add to the fraught political balance.

Luckily for Peter, politics was not new to him. He had been interested in it from a young age during his Pennine upbringing, with his father having been a Labour councillor and one of his cousins a Liberal councillor…

You listen to their needs, you help with their casework and then on a regular basis you “put a big piece of paper through their doors about things they are interested in”. When doing so, “speak in the language of The Sun, not the Daily Telegraph” and remember to be political, he says.

You can read the full profile of Peter Truesdale here and you can see all the profiles in the Local Liberal Heroes series here.

101 Ways To Win An Election

Out this summer is a new book on how to win elections by myself and Ed Maxfield.

Ever wanted to get a better deal for your community? Ever watched politicians and thought ‘I could do a better job’? This book reveals the secrets and skills you need to take the first step to power – getting elected.

Written by two experienced political insiders, it is a grass-roots guide to running an election campaign. It draws on successful tactics from around the world and presents the lessons in a digestible format.

Find out:

  • What vegetable marrows tell you about political campaigning
  • Why a picture isn’t worth a 1,000 words
  • Why the best form of advertising is also the very worst, and
  • Why communicating is like cooking

Be amongst the very first to benefit from the book by pre-ordering it now from Amazon.

Campaign Corner: 5 of the most common mistakes campaigners make

I have put together a list of five of the Golden Oldies mistakes – common mistakes political campaigners have made for many years and keep on making. They include:

Complaining about too many leaflets
It is certainly possible to deliver too many leaflets (and of course I’m in no way thinking of a certain by-election during which three Lib Dem deliverers met each other on the same doorstep…), but almost always the complaint about ‘too many leaflets’ confuses quantity and quality.

If you are running good local campaigns, if you have interesting news to impart and if the leaflets are written and presented well, then most members of the public has a huge appetite for them. If you’ve got nothing to say the public does get bored with leaflets pretty quickly, but the answer to that isn’t to do fewer leaflets, it is to do more community campaigning so you have more to say.

In fact, you should be in the position where you’ve always go so much you could report on that the big struggle is cutting it all down to fit into the number of leaflets you can get out.

You can read the full list of five common mistakes here.

And in other news…

Who does a nuclear deterrent deter?

Thank you for reading

I hope you’re found this newsletter interesting, informative, useful – or all three!

Best wishes,


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