The Thick of It


Thursday, December 23, 2010

The end of the SDP?

It is bbvious that there are splits of opinion among Lib Dems. They have always been, in effect, two different parties with two very distinct ideologies. I can't see how ex-Labour Party and SDP members like Vince Cable can really stomach acting as puppets for an incredibly right wing Tory government.

If ministers wholeheartedly disagree with the government's programme and they don't feel that they can fairly argue their case within it, they should do the honourable thing and quit. Perhaps the SDP splitters should think about what happened in the early 1980s and come back to Labour.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Are we in football manager territory?

Ed Miliband has not been Labour leader for very long. I spoke briefly on this morning's LBC breakfast show with Nick Ferrari about whether he is doing a good job or not. Is it too early to be making this kind of judgement?

Of course it is. It feels like we are applying football manager levels of scrutiny to our leaders. This is unrealistic but also reflects the political and media landscape today. Everyone is looking for an immediate response to feed the 24 hour news and Twittering demand.

John Reid said today that Ed needs to show some of his cards now. He is right but I get the feeling that Ed is devising his. plan and is taking a long term view and had picked those as the battles he wants to win.

He is now building a team and has appointed his spokesperson. I want to see Ed hit the ground running in 2011. The coalition have plenty of weaknesses that are ripe for exploitation.

Is it too early to judge? Yes, but those judgements are being made already. The time is ready to start running.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just what they would have wanted

Reading through the weekend's newspapers it struck me that the Tories are doing quite well out of this coalition. There have been mass protests against student fees, but the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg were the butt of that. Unpopular decision have not significantly affected their poll rating and neither has a new Labour leader. Yet they are driving through a programme of cuts and policies that they will long have dreamed of and are getting the Lib Dems to do their dirty work for them. Perfect?

There could be trouble around the corner with Ken Clarke's relaxing of criminal justice. The cuts will bite and people will lash back at the Tories I'm sure. The Tories are as guilty as the Lib Dems of breaking pre-election promises. David Cameron gave personal guarantees that Child Benefit wouldn't be cut and nobody ever suggested that VAT would go up, yet it has.

The mud hasn't stuck to the Tories, I bet they cant' believe their luck.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Bother for Teather

Lib Dem education minister and former Islington councillor Sarah Teather will be lining up with her colleagues to vote for trebling of tuition fees tomorrow. That much was clear today when she refused to answer questions from Sky News about why she had changed her mind on fees. Like many Lib Dems she probably hasn't and like most Lib Dems hadn't thought there would be any consequences of any of their policies as they all knew they wouldn't  win the election - except Nick Clegg who still hides behind the claim that the policy only counted if they won.

The Lib Dems are being punished on this issue precisely because they made such play of being honest and offering a new politics and because this policy was used at the election to demonstrate this. They are being punished because it was this policy that garnered so many votes for them. They can't have it both ways.

This isn't about voters not understanding the art of compromise and coalition. People haven't forgotten that the Lib Dems specifically targeted the student vote to win university seats.

Teather might not like it but she and her colleagues have to live in their own mess. Her more than many because she chose to raise the issue of student fees in her maiden speech to parliament. She said: 

"tuition fees are serious issues of concern to my constituents. All the evidence suggests that fear of debt will deter those from lower income families and ethnic minority communities."

Finally, a reminder from her own website in 2008, courtesy of the Wayback machine:

Of course, just like the real Sarah Teather, and despite the issue being so "close to her heart", her current site makes no mention of tuition fees at all. If actions speak louder than words, tomorrow she and the rest of the Lib Dems get to show us what they really think.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Judge Lib Dem MPs on what they do, not what they say

I picked up a great letter in Exeter's Express and Echo reminding us all of the specific wording of the Lib Dems' tuition fees election pledge:

'I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.'

Abstention means they will still be breaking their promise as they pledged to vote against. As is rightly pointed out, the pledge doesn't specify that this is dependent on being in government - when even Lib Dem supporters have to admit there was zero chance of them being the largest party after the election. They pledged to vote against increased fees. Full stop. End of. 

For once the language of the Lib Dems was plain. They should be held to that. 

Monday, December 06, 2010

How many straws can a camel's back hold?

This week's tuition fees vote is the first big tests of the Lib Dems coalition strength. I don't expect any major casualties yet as Clegg's belief in himself and the coalition remains strong. Cracks are appearing underneath though with junior ministers looking set to quit the coalition this week. When you only have 57 MPs there isn't a great choice for the party when selecting for government jobs.

Michael Crockart looks set to be the first to go. More are likely to follow. When the coalition was first announced and Tories were just happy to be back in government and Lib Dems couldn't believe their luck I predicted that the biggest tests were then unknown. The coalition agreement could only plan for what the two parties knew would arise, not for the unknowns to come.

That Clegg is facing his first casualties from the "know" policy agenda should be a worry for him.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Tuition fees: what changed for Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems?

Nick Clegg has claimed the reason his party can't stick to their pre-election pledge to scrap tuition fees is that they didn't win the election. He is right, the Lib Dems lost seats. It is an insult to anyone with half a brain to suggest that the Lib Dems were ever likely to win the general election.

Reading the full transcript of Clegg's Independent on Sunday interview reveals him to be a fantasist presenting himself as a realist. If he really thinks that his party could have won the election he deserves to be given his own three hour Sunday evening television show. Everyone knows that Clegg had no chance of being the first election winning Liberal prime minister since Asquith in 1911.

If we all accept that Clegg was never going to win the election that should be discounted as a reason for not standing up for his party's most prominent election pledge in coalition. Clegg could feasibly argue that not winning the election 'changes' everything so much that his party have no policies at all. If that is so why bother voting for them?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Lib Dem credibility hits a new low

Just over six months ago Nick Clegg was basking in the glow of being publicly recognised for the first time after the televised leadership debates. In Islington his party had clung on to power since a knife edge election in 2006, controlling the council since 2000. How things have changed. Islington went Labour in a landslide result and Clegg faces revolt from his party after selling out to take part in a slash'n'burn Tory government. Golden boy Vince Cable can't even work out whether he supports his own policy of hiking tuition fees.

Not content with letting the Tories push through a severe programme of cuts to education funding nationally, in Islington the Lib Dems are up to their old scaremongering tricks (see leaflet, left). Their latest leaflet suggests that the local Labour council is planning to close a range of primary schools.  What is going on? I thought the Lib Dems were in charge of education now as part of a coalition with their Tory chums? Former Islington Lib Dem councillor Sarah Teather runs the education department with Michael Gove and Cable is pushing through the tripling of tuition fees.

Admittedly Islington Lib Dems have mis-spelt the name of "Hugerford" (sic) school so I can only presume that this latest campaign isn't serious. What I expect is the Lib Dems to "campaign" against the fictitious school closures and then claim victory in a few months when, miraculously, the schools don't close. That means at least two more leaflets.

Local councillors, like me, are perplexed at where these allegations have come from. Perhaps this list was written by another Lib Dem activist, just like when Kingston Lib Dem Dan Falchikov admitted he was behind the bogus claims that Kingston Hospital was going to close. Of course, Clegg was quick to jump on that bandwagon and have his photo taken "campaign" there.

Latest Voting IntentionHaving lived under a Lib Dem council in Richmond and then Islington for many years I've got used to their negativity. I've never got used to the cheek of it all though.

Lets not forget that elsewhere, Lib Dem leaflets are smelling the coffee and encouraging their former voters to go with Labour. At least the Lib Dems have managed to overtake "other" in the latest YouGov poll. There is at least some comfort for the wicked.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

No more mister nice guy

The Economist is there to make me feel guilty. Guilty that I don't read it often enough. Guilty that I'd feel a better person were I to read it regularly. I read it today and found two articles resonating with me. One speculating that the Lib Dems are losing their branding as the "nice guys" of British politics and the other suggesting that Labour needs "to find an updated, outline version of Tony Blair’s election-winning Labour philosophy, combining respect for markets with a belief in strong public services, but fitted to the no-money age."

An election is unlikely to take place until 2015 but the fault lines of party politics are shifting already. We have a coalition for the first time since the second world war. The Lib Dems are in power for the first time since the first world war. Labour is out of power for the first time this century.

Nick Clegg went into the election with a sky high reputation, suffered a poor election result but was rewarded with power. The "sacrifices" made to secure coalition already look like proving fatal for the Lib Dems. Sooner or later "ordinary voters start to think of the Lib Dems and the Tories as a sort of amorphous “coalition party”, if that happens Clegg will be the loser.

At the same time Labour have a huge opportunity. A gap is likely to appear which will need to be filled with only one party able to credibly oppose and argue against the coalition. The faster it works out how to do that the better or it may find that the fault lines have shifted yet further, requiring another reinvention.