How to solve a problem like Nick Clegg….

…. and the Liberal Democrats.

I have a confession to make. I’m actually quite impressed with the catch all party Liberal Democrats. I still don’t like them, but they’ve got themselves in Government for the first time since the 2nd World War. A good job, you’d think. They’ve moved away from being the opposition party that is purely opportunistic and has no values, to being a party of Government that still doesn’t have any apparent values, beyond being in favour of them winning and everybody else losing. Cllr Matthew Hulbert, a Lib Dem Councillor, has written a blog on the Lib Dems working with Labour

I guess the question that I’m really looking to answer, is, if the electoral outcome is such, should Labour work with the Lib Dems post 2015.

First of all, let me start with a joke, which is borrowed from Tom Harris MP’s excellent book “Why I’m right and everybody else is wrong”. If you haven’t bought it yet, buy it. But anyway, the joke is this:

A Labour activist is walking along a cliff top. He comes across a Tory and a Lib Dem hanging on to the cliff edge by their finger nails. Who does he push off first?

The Tory, of course. Business before pleasure.

Would you want to work with the Lib Dems? They went into the last election with a very good manifesto, with lot’s of things that I support: Making Britain fairer and greener. Lovely. But what have they done now? Well, first of all, they are propping up a Tory Government. They say that they are getting concessions from the Tories on areas like the NHS, on tuition fees, and assorted other issues. This is true. They are. They also wouldn’t have to be getting those concessions if they weren’t in Government with the Tories. The Tories would not be in such a strong position, and in Government, if it was not for the Lib Dems.

Then again, they needed to actually do something to persuade people to vote for them. They need to show that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is not a wasted one. How well have they done? Not very. They are on about 9% in opinion polls, and they will almost certainly be decimated at the next general election.

Should we work with them? I am inclined to say no. I have no interest in supporting a minority party, with minority interests and putting them in Government in the process. It should be Labour that appeals to enough people, and can form a broad enough coalition by itself, which we are more than capable of doing.

I would never say that we should never work with the Lib Dems. I wouldn’t want to, and in 2015, we shouldn’t need to.

To any Lib Dems who are uncomfortable with the position of their Government, I would suggest that you visit this link.

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Labour in 2011: A Year in Review

Labour has had a pretty mixed 2011. We did very well to gain 857 council seats in the local elections, taking control of an additional 26 councils in may, and 3 more since then.

The Tories had an even better year. They gained more than 20 councils, and had a net increase in the number of councilors.

The Lib Dems, meanwhile, have had an appalling year, but then that’s to be expected. They are Lib Dems, after all.

The 2011 local elections went some way to restoring Labour’s position in local government that had been understandably devastated by 13 years of Government, with both opposition parties being able to make huge gains against Labour across the country, but particularly in the marginal parliamentary seats that Labour needs to be winning to win the 2015 General Election.

I think that it’s pretty easy to say that Labour’s had a good year if you are generally supportive of the present leadership, or that Labour has had an abysmal year, if you aren’t. As the saying goes, anything can be proved with facts, it’s the truth that really matters.

Lots of ink has been spilt on this topic by eminent Labour ‘Comrades’ including Luke Akehurst and Michael Dugher MP . On the other side of the fence sit Peter Watt and Anthony Painter.Take a look at their analysis; I’m going to give my own view.

First, lets start with some facts.

Voting intention.

The first poll of voting intention in 2011 according to ICM* showed that Labour was on 39%, the Tories were on 35%, and the Lib Dems were on 15%.  This gave Labour a 4% lead, which would have left Labour with a 40 seat majority assuming a uniform swing. Nothing to be sniffed at, a year after we narrowly avoided our worst every general election result.

Heading into 2012, Labour is in a radically different position. The Party finds itself either in a statistical tie with the Tories, or barely achieving a small lead in polling intentions.  The final ICM poll, this time for the Daily Telegraph, using an identical system of measurement, Labour would receive 34% of the vote, the Tories would receive 34%, and the Lib Dems would get 14%. This would leave the Conservatives 6 seats short of an overall majority.

There is no way that I can see to say that this is good news, especially when you consider that it is likely that the Labour polling figure is soft, and the Conservatives would have the resources to pump into marginal seats to magnify the swing against Labour. Other pollsters tell a similar story.

Result: C- Must do better.

The next subject to consider is the economy. The economy is undoubtedly the biggest political issue at the moment, and will be the issue that will decide the next General Election. YouGov have helpfully produced a set of compilated data which can be found here.

Who is to blame for the spending cuts?

At the end of 2010, 41% of people blamed Labour for the cuts to spending. 23% blamed the Tories, and 24% blamed Labour and the Tories.

At the end of 2011, 39% still blame Labour. 24% blame the Tories, and 24% blame both.

Pretty poor, considering that we have moved on a year in time, and Labour’s message has been a repetition of the too fast, too far line.

Is too fast, too far working?

Yes and no.

At the end of 2010, 43% of people felt that the spending cuts were bad for the economy. 40% thought that they were good. At the end of 2011, 48% think that spending cuts are bad for the economy, and 35% think that they are a good thing.

That, take alone, would suggest that Labour’s central message is getting through strongly. A 5% reduction over a year in those supporting the cuts isn’t of itself a failure.

The real failure is in convincing people that the cuts are unnecessary. We simply haven’t done it, and the Tories are winning this argument hands down.

At the start of 2011, 55% of people thought that the spending cuts are necessary. 34% think that they are unnecessary.

At the end of 2011, 59% of people think that they are now necessary. 27% now think that they are not.

Pretty terrible, isn’t it? The public agrees that the cuts are too fast, and too far. They think that cutting spending is going to damage the economy. Yet, ultimately, they agree with the Tories. They think that cutting spending and reducing the deficit, whilst painful, is ultimately necessary for the economic well being of the country. The public, unfortunatly, agrees with the swivel eyed fringes Libertarians, and think that public spending should be cut. Shame.

80% of people think that the economy is in a bad position now. At the start of the year, 74% of people thought the same thing. Labour’s message is winning through. But it is being overridden by the Tories. We have failed to convince the public of our credibility on the economy.

Result: D.

Can we salvage our position?

Yes, probably. 2011, has, thankfully, seen the emergence of a really credible alternative to the Government’s economic strategy, and fortunately, it hasn’t come from the Lib Dems. ‘In The Black Labour’, produced by Hopi Sen and Anthony Painter.

I don’t know how you feel after reading the above polling stats. I was pretty shocked at how bad things are. We need a credible position, or frankly, we’re finished. Ed Balls may be right on the economics, but we haven’t convinced the public of that yet.

There is only one really credible alternative at the moment. In The Black Labour provides a radical, and truly Keynesian approach to economics that could restore Labour’s economic credibility. Labour’s polling position, an d the public’s perception of the economic crisis demands that as a responsible opposition, Labour takes all the action necessary to provide a credible alternative to the Government.

Labour’s position is hurting, and it isn’t really working.

What’s next?

*All voting intention figures are based on ICM so as to give the best sense of the change in Labour’s polling numbers, rather than the real figures.

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No to AV

The Alternative Vote system, being put to a referendum on the 5th of May 2011 is fundamentally flawed. The proposed method is that candidates are ranked according to preference, the least popular candidate is eliminated, and the candidate who reaches 50% of the vote first is elected. When put in this way, AV appears favorably over the current system of First Past the Post, where the person who has the single largest body of support is elected.

We must first consider the reasons for the AV referendum. Is it because our constitution is need of revival? Is it because of the expenses scandal? Or is it because the Liberal Democrats are in a Coalition with the Conservatives?

I suggest that our constitution is in need of serious and urgent renewal. The House of Commons needs reform, with power placed back into the hands of the backbenchers who are needed to scrutinize the Government. Open primaries are needed. Allocation of time motions need reforming. We need an elected House of Lords, elected by Proportional Representation (STV), with long, 10-15 year terms,and a portion of seats left to independent experts to scrutinize legislation passed by the Commons, and to give their expert input into Parliamentary Legislation.

The Alternative Vote would seem to tackle the perceived problem that has, to an extent, caused the expenses scandal; AV would supposedly do away with the safe seats that allowed career politicians to be re-elected almost no matter what manner of scandal they were embroiled in. AV will not tackle the safest of seats, where MPs already have over 50% of people voting for them. There is an argument in favour of AV which suggests that it will make MPs truly representative of their constituents by being supported by over 50% of them. In fact, under AV, the person who is elected may well be the 2nd or even 3rd choice of voters. AV will lend MPs a veil of support in their constituencies, which can be used to defend the indefensible.

Is the current referendum down to the Lib Dems being in Government? Yes. Before the 2010 General Election, Labour had a manifesto pledge on a referendum on AV. Was this out of self interest? I suspect that this was one one of reasons for it. From January onwards, polling data suggested that there was a significant likelihood of a Hung Parliament. The AV pledge in our manifesto may well have been to bring the Lib Dems closer to Labour, by offering them the Liberal Holy Grail – Voting reform. The Party that will benefit most from AV, is unsurprisingly, the Lib Dems. Under AV, they would gain between 20-40 seats, thus reducing the likelihood of the two major parties securing an overall majority, and giving the Lib Dems a better bargaining position in the event of a future Hung Parliament.

Given the nature of Coalition Government, where, as we currently have, the Government is free to implement policies for which it has no mandate, particularly the rise in Tuition Fees, and NHS reforms. Coalition Government inevitably leads to deals, such as the Coalition agreement. AV will give people who vote for more obscure parties, like the Greens or UKIP the chance to help both their own candidate and another of there choosing. Surely this is quintessentially undemocratic? By not allowing anything other than the 1st preference to be counted if you vote Labour in a Labour seat, those people who vote for somebody else will, effectively, get more than one vote. This is patently unfair, and clearly rebuts the point made by Nick Clegg of the need for a “fairer” voting system. By increasing the likelihood of a Hung Parliament, AV will lead to a weaker and less accountable democracy.

As the IPPR have stated:

“[We have] recently published a report on electoral reform in which it argues that Alternative Vote is not the answer because:

- it is not a proportional system;

- it can actually distort things to a greater extent than the existing system;

- it does not address the many problems of the current system”

These are three crucial points, the most important of which is the distortion that is created by AV. In 1997, Tony Blair would have had a majority of over 200 if the election was carried out using AV. As this report shows, the Lib Dems would have been able to keep Labour in Government if they has so wished, even though Labour had lost the election. Do I want to see Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister? No. Would I have wanted Gordon Brown to stay in No. 10? Yes, probably, even though Labour lost the election. Nick Clegg and his party said that they would abolish Tuition Fees. Simon Hughes maintains that this is what he wants to see. AV would lead to a situation where politicians would be able to say one thing and do another, and blame “The Coalition”. Do we want to see a repeat of Cleggmania, followed by Calamity Clegg? No. Is FPTP ideal? No. The phrase “Better the devil you know” comes to mind.

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