On #LDConf – good, bad, indifferent?

This year’s Liberal Democrat autumn conference in Brighton is heading towards its final day. There was a lot of interesting substance to some of the discussions I attended. The conference also raised plenty of questions about the way the party goes about its business. I may return to some of them in future. Here I’ll just note a couple of issues that stood out.

Good

Today’s motion F41: No Government above the law – the Justice and Security Bill was trailed as a likely flashpoint for dissent. And so it proved. The motion called for the Coalition to withdraw part II of the Bill which allows for so-called “secret courts” and for Liberal Democrat Parliamentarians to vote against it if necessary.  The leadership introduced an amendment that would effectively neutralise the motion. People were quick to see this as a wrecking amendment.

This is the sort of issue upon which Liberal Democrats know their own mind. It is an issue that goes absolutely to the heart of the Liberal Democrats’ self-identity. A commitment to upholding civil liberties is just about the only thing everyone can agree on.

Even as the leadership tried to move their amendment all the speeches in favour were carefully structured to argue that the amended motion would do a better job of protecting civil liberties than the original motion. It would have been suicidal to suggest that the original motion was not solidly liberal. It was just the sort of thing that would have been a no-brainer in opposition. The only available option was to suggest that it could be made even better by amendment. The strategy was transparent, but Conference wasn’t persuaded. [Read more...]

What’s your game, Mr Clegg?

Emergency wealth tax, eh? I wonder whose bright idea that was.

[Read more...]

The Tie That Binds

[Originally posted at Dale&Co, 22/07/12]

Last week’s reversal over Lords reform may turn out to be key moment in the life of the Coalition. In retrospect it may appear the point at which it all started to unravel. It was swiftly followed by another Cameron-Clegg relaunch, but that didn’t convince too many people that everything in the garden is rosy. Differences between the parties become ever clearer – witness George Osborne putting the kibosh on Ed Davey’s plans for renewable energy – even without the parties adopting a conscious strategy of differentiation.

But at least there’s the deficit reduction plan. In the national interest the Liberal Democrats put aside their own more cautious and contextually-sensitive plan for deficit reduction in order to form a coalition with the Conservatives. While everything else may seem to be rapidly fraying at the edges, the commitment to bringing down the deficit remains the tie that binds the parties together.

It is therefore rather unfortunate that the plan isn’t working terribly well. [Read more...]

The Queen’s Relaunch. The Coalition’s Speech … Oh look, Tractors …

There was a bit of social media sniping yesterday that, despite David Cameron’s protestations to the contrary, the Queen’s Speech didn’t contain much of any substance to help the ailing UK economy.

That doesn’t seem to me to be entirely fair, for two reasons. First, there were some useful measures in the Speech – on banking or energy market reform, for example – that have the potential to make a difference to the performance of the economy. Second, it’s not obvious that the Queen’s Speech is the place you’d expect to find a menu of measures designed to stimulate the economy. If the Government wanted to get serious with the economy then much that it might consider doing can be achieved without the aid of new primary legislation.

So maybe we need to look back to the Cameron-Clegg relaunch event on Tuesday to get a better idea of policy action on the economy. After all:

The primary task of the Government remains ensuring that we deal with the deficit, and stretch every sinew to return growth to the economy – providing jobs and opportunities to hard-working people across Britain who want to get on. [Read more...]

Pesky Libdems

They’re not happy. The Tory Right are on manoeuvres. And the Lib Dems are in their sights. It seems that the grumbling and the finger-pointing are getting, well, a bit more pointed.

In yesterday’s Express Paul O’Flynn’s column argues: “not only is the Lib Dem presence in the Government damaging the country, it is now also doing potentially lethal damage to Conservative electoral prospects”. He goes so far as to conclude that it is time to end it all: “[t]he coalition is damaging Britain and damaging the Tories too. As the political leader of both, David Cameron cannot evade his responsibility for this any longer. He should bring it to an end”.

But perhaps the clearest statement of the Right Wing case against the Lib Dems was presented on Thursday in the Daily Telegraph by Liam Fox under the heading The Libdems are blocking Britain’s recovery. [Read more...]

Steve Hilton, blues skies thinking and the resurgent deregulatory impulse

Steve Hilton has attracted flak across the old and new media following the FT’s revelations about his suggestions for stimulating economic growth. The proposals that hit the headlines included the abolition of maternity leave, labour market policies that contravened European law and the suspension of all consumer rights. Many have criticised the proposals for a range of offences including apparently overlooking the rule of law. Others have defended the utility of blue skies thinking when seeking ways to deal with the challenges that face us.

Personally I’m not averse to blue skies thinking. But the idea that off the wall thinking is central to the role of a strategy director is curious. One would have thought strategy should entail something rather more concrete and grounded, at some point in the process at least. And as someone more disposed to bottom up decision making and a Parliamentary party that is charged with representing the collective will of its members, I’m not so keen on the idea that one unelected, unaccountable and largely anonymous individual should have such influence over policy in the first place.

But the main thing that strikes me about these revelations is that they are not very “Blue Skies” at all. [Read more...]

Policy, evidence and dogma – the homelessness episode

A leaked memo from Communities & Local Government exposed in today’s Observer has already generated considerable comment. The memo, written by a senior civil servant at the start of the year, sets out perfectly clearly not only that the Government’s welfare reforms ran the risk of making an additional 40,000 households homeless and reduce the number of new homes constructed, but also that – taking these knock-on effects into account – the “reforms” won’t save any money. On the contrary, they are likely to impose an increased burden on the public purse.

A lot of attention has focused upon the former point. It raises important questions about whether David Cameron misled Parliament in statements about the downside risks of the policy. The memo suggests that statements may have been made in Parliament that contradicted the best available evidence and advice to Ministers. The memo also gives some indication of what sort of costs the Prime Minister considers worth paying to drive this policy through. There is a callousness there that many will no doubt find extremely distasteful.

It has been asserted today that Mr Pickles has distanced himself from the memo and is fully behind the Government’s welfare reform agenda. I’d expect nothing less. Or more.

The suspicion of Government hypocrisy is bad enough, but I think it is the second component of the memo is more revealing. [Read more...]