Extracting apologies from the unrepentant

Ripped PapersThe Liberal Democrats seem to be getting into an almighty tangle over the Rennard affair. Stephen Tall offers a good overview of the state of play.

It seems no one, apart from Lord Rennard and his chums, feels the outcome of the Webster inquiry is satisfactory. Many also feel the process of inquiry is problematic. Or, rather, if it is possible to conclude there are credible claims of inappropriate behaviour, but it is not possible to prove them to the required standard, and therefore nothing can be done, then by definition there must be something wrong with the process. The inquiry’s conclusion is not helpful in resolving this specific case. Nor does it help in sending the broader message that – whatever may have happened in the past – today’s party welcomes, respects and supports women.

This all compounds the original problem: the party’s woeful response when the allegations were first made.

The question is what to do now. There is most likely a case for changing internal party procedures for investigating this type of case. But it isn’t right to do so in pursue of a different outcome in the Rennard case. Applying new rules retrospectively is the worst type of arbitrary justice.

Webster recommended that Rennard apologize for behaviour that has caused distress. But that behaviour remains unspecified because details were provided in confidence. Rennard has refused to apologize. He would appear to be interpreting the Webster conclusion as exonerating him. Even though that clearly isn’t an interpretation that can be plausibly sustained.

The apology has now become pivotal. [Read more...]

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Ed and Nick go courting

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Today, as might have been anticipated, Andrew Rawnsley took as his subject the apparent thawing of relations between Labour and the Lib Dems. The opinion polls suggest that an outright Labour majority in 2015 is by no means assured. So it makes sense for them to leave the option of plan B open this time around. The major news this week was Ed Balls’ concession that it would be possible to work with Nick Clegg, rather than demand his head on a plate as the price of coalition. Others in the Labour party – notably Tom Watson in the New Statesman yesterday – are, however, holding firm to the Clegg’s-head-on-a-plate option.

[Read more...]

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‘roots against the machine

Last weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference was hailed by most of the mainstream media as a victory for Nick Clegg over the party’s grassroots activists. Commentators across the right wing press congratulated him on a job well done. Clegg engineered a situation in which the party voted to adopt a range of positions deemed to represent serious and grown up policy, suitable for a ‘party of government’. That is, the sort of policies that tend to find favour with right wing publications. The implicit association of ‘grown-up policy’ with policy that is hardly distinguishable from that of the other main parties is one of the most insidious, but clever, tactics the leadership has employed in volume, over time.

Anyone who believes in offering a radical social liberal alternative must be childish, because they are clearly not interested in ‘grown-up policy’. [Read more...]

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Harman has a go at unprincipled Liberal Democrats

Harriet Harman has post at the Huffington Post today. The theme of the post is that, regardless of what the Liberal Democrats say, they can’t be trusted:

Nick Clegg has repeatedly said one thing and then done another. Time after time Nick Clegg has tried to distance himself from the failures of David Cameron’s Government but the truth is he has ditched his principles and voted in Parliament with the Tories all the way.

Harman then goes on to list her top ten examples of the Lib Dems betraying their principles and promises. The post is slightly odd inasmuch as it doesn’t seem to say much for Labour’s – or at least Harman’s – understanding of how coalition works, particularly for the junior partner, and demonstrates a failure to grasp the concept of political compromise.

It is also useful to reflect on the extent to which things would have been different had the Liberal Democrats been in coalition with Labour.

So let’s review Harman’s top ten. [Read more...]

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Fool me once …

Plenty of political announcements made at this time of year are little more than conference fodder. They grab a headline and a round of applause and that’s the last we hear of them. But George Osborne’s proposals to cut another £10bn from welfare don’t fall into that category. They were buried in the detail of previous policy statements and it was only a matter of time before they bubbled to the surface. Conference season is the ideal time because it allows some posturing against the modern folk devil – the feckless scrounger.

We only have media reports of Osborne’s speech at the moment, and we’ve no idea what’s going on behind the scenes, but a key element to this story is going to be how it plays out within the Coalition.

Clearly the New Victorians of the Conservative party are full-speed ahead for cutting welfare, with a strongly Malthusian undertone that if we lose a few scroungers along the way through starvation then that’ll save us a bit of money.

But the Liberal Democrat position is a bit more complex. [Read more...]

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Membership renewal, or not

It’s that time of year again. Autumn Conference can be reinvigorating. So I guess, from the party’s perspective, this isn’t a bad time to have to be reaching into my back pocket. But I have to confess that there has been plenty of reflection about whether to sign on the dotted line again.

Much of what happened at Conference this year was as liberal as you could possibly want it to be. I was only able to be there for a couple of days. I caught up with some of the rest of the proceedings on BBC Parliament. I went to some interesting fringe meetings raising important issues and – sometimes! – trying to move beyond tribalism. There were votes on several issues – including on secret courts, aviation, welfare reform, housing – that seemed to me to be fine examples of Liberal Democrat values. There were, of course, other elements that weren’t perhaps so congenial, particularly the debate on economic policy.

And then we finished with the Leader’s speech. [Read more...]

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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...]

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Richard Reeves and his hard-driving radical liberal party

A lengthy piece by Richard Reeves has just been published online by The New Statesman. There is much in it that I agree with. Apart, that is, from the main thrust of the argument. It would be worth performing a detailed discourse analysis on the piece, but now isn’t the time.

Reeves ploughs a familiar furrow. He thinks Clegg should stay as leader. That comes as no surprise. But Reeves counsels that Clegg needs to complete his mission to ‘liberalise’ the party. Again, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. [Read more...]

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Why Liberal Democrats?

… as opposed to straight down the line Liberals? This is a question that we perhaps don’t reflect upon as often as we might. Now would seem as good a time as any to do so.

In fact, it is an extremely pertinent question at this precise moment. We’ve just witnessed David Laws in the media promoting his campaign for a smaller state, invoking various liberal icons in support. Fanboys and girls in the Orange Book Tendency have rallied to the cause. His campaign complemented some of the key messages David Cameron has been peddling on welfare reform.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceIn the ongoing debate about appropriate political directions for the party we’ve witnessed some intriguing recent contributions. [Read more...]

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Coalition to end in tears?

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceAn interesting piece by Vernon Bogdanor on the future of the Coalition has just appeared online. His main point is that both Coalition parties are having to look out for their increasingly restless grassroots: Tories pulling to the right, LibDems pulling to the left. And this destabilises the Coalition. The odds of it failing to reach 2015 intact must be steadily shortening.

It is clear that parts of the Tory party – both at Parliamentary and grassroots level – are making attempts to pull the party to the right, and are seemingly getting plenty of sympathetic media space in which to air their views. The evidence that Libdem activitists are trying to pull the party to the left is a little less clear. There is a clear attempt at differentiation, but that isn’t quite the same thing. [Read more...]

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